Monday, 29 June 2009

Pink and Green Should Always Be Seen...

The Date: Saturday 27th June 2009
The Venue: My Gaff
The Guests: Ten Hens
The Theme: English Country Garden (That's lucky then!)

On Saturday we started early.

Sue (my friend, neighbour and 'Cheeky Gin Friday co-conspirator') and I erected the pergola in searing heat - with only a few choice words exclaimed at various intervals - and started decorating it with the saris I bought from Kolkata and pink and green flowers and candles.

We then moved to the kitchen to finish prepping, where my AGA - the most expensive radiator in the world - was pumping out a molten-lava-temperature that transformed my face from English rose complexion to puce, verging on a stroke, red.

A quick cold shower, a change into grown up I know what I'm doing clothes and the Hen's arrived at 4.30 for their early supper. This was to be followed by a trip into Oxford for a night at The Comedy Club and some slick moves on the dance floor.

My daughter Daisy (in between her shifts at the pub) welcomed the ladies at the door and steered them in the direction of the garden where Sue was there to pour them some extremely chilled and rather delicious English sparkling wine.

This wine was care of Chapel Down in Kent - a place I have filmed at in the past for the series Dial a Mum on ITV. Fabulous vineyard and the wine is quite frankly better than some champagnes, as are a lot of English Sparklers - cue large bolt of lightening from France!

So the Hens roosted themselves under the shade of my apple trees and clucked enormously.
Women are very good at that. We may have only just met each other, but we quickly find a common ground.
This patch of earth generally includes the ability to multi-task, the dissapointment of our husband's DIY (and perhaps 'other') skills, schools, children, sex, food, wine, bit more sex...more little more wine...and yes, you've guessed!

Yes gentlemen, when you think we are talking about flowers, children, school grades, recipe swaps and cleaning - what we are really conversing about is sex. Lots of it, lack of it and more of it! Hah!

Right back to the food.

The starter was my English Herb and Flower Salad with Goat's Cheese, Bacon and Beetroot in a rapeseed and Alegar Dressing, spiked with wholegrain mustard and sweetened with a little maple syrup. (Alegar vinegar is made my my friend Alan Coxon..go on google it!) I served this with some home-made bread and butter.

Main was Pork with Green Peas. Originally this dish was Duck with Peas and a favourite dish of Queen Anne, a renowned glutton. I have tweaked it, removed the fatty duck and added tons of mint to freshen the dish. I also have apples and cider in my version. In fact when you look at it, the only resemblance to the original dish is the peas! Tastes delicious though and will be in my forthcoming book, along with all the other recipes.

Sue worked like a trojan, serving and clearing the table, pouring wine and generally being bloody marvellous. Absolutely couldn't have done it without her.

Pudding raised a few sighs and lusty comments. I didn't know a pink meringue covered in glitter and served with local raspberries, strawberries and clouds of whipped elderflower cream could invoke such an emotional reaction.

Actually of course I did, which is exactly why I made them.

Gentlemen, once again I want to open your eyes to girl life.

If you were present at a pink meringue feast, we would hold back, not wanting to look gluttonous or out of control.
But without you there, we turn into she-devils with lustful meringue intentions that would bring tears to your eyes. We bury our faces in the marshmallowy centres, smear the fluffy elderflower cream over our lips and tumble handfuls of berries into our mouths a rapid intervals. We are primeval, rabid and completely gorge-ous!

We won't do this in front of you though, we want you to think we're ladies.

Nicky was chief Hen and organised the whole event for Cat who's getting married in Norway in July. Cat, with her future husband own the 'Little Italy' cafes that are at Bicester North and Haddenham and Thame Parkway railway stations and in the village of Haddenham in Buckinghamshire. If you are lucky enough to arrive or leave from one of these stations, you'll always get fabulous friendly service from truly lovely people.

Nicky really did pull off a fabulous day for Cat and rallied the troops or should I say herded the birds together, after the coffee, into the taxis to finish off the party in Oxford.

Sue and I polished off the unfinished bottle of fizz while we cleared and then some of my other neighbours arrived and we sat under the pergola, whilst it rained and had a barbecue, cooked by Simon and Robyn.

The thunder clapped, fork lightening cracked on the horizon and we were only mildly concerned about the pergola's metal frame surrounding us (wine does that!).

It was such a lovely day and it proves that when the sun shines, the wine flows and you have a gathering of good friends, there really is no where I would rather be than in England.

The pictures above show the Hen party, followed by the BBQ... please click on each photo for a close up

Monday, 22 June 2009

English Herb and Flower Salad; and how to make a boring green salad scrumptious...

Believe it or not, the English have been great fans of the humble salad for hundreds of years.
In the 17th century, there was even a book written entirely on the 'Salat'.

We loved them, we ate them and we titivated them with edible flowers.

I've been cooking with flowers, decorating with flowers and eating them for at least thirty years.
During the summer I grow lots of different flowers especially for consumption.

Soon, edible flowers will be on every table in the land; chefs will say they are the new, trendy decor.
People will exclaim, 'Why have I never thought of this before?'

Others will turn their noses up, but eventually succumb.

And when this happens, (and it will) I shall sit back in a cosy blanket of smugness and say 'Told you'!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Elderflower Vodka. Hic!

Quick, you have just enough time to collect a few more elderflowers before they start to go over.

And this is how you do it:

You should attire yourself, top to toe in white cheese cloth, long and flowing (yes, men too) with some wild flowers in your hair.

Pick on a sunny day, so there is lots of pollen on the flowers. Back light yourself and skip down to the Elder tree with a wicker basket upon your arm.

Now, this is where it could get complicated - you have to do a pirouette, arms up, toes pointed and ... smiling all the time.

... again.

Face the tree, arms up and ask the spirit of Mother Elder for permission to pluck her wondrous flowers.

This is compulsory, otherwise she gets very cross.

Once permission has been granted (usually signalled by a light breeze), you can start to gently remove the precious flowers for your cordial.

It's very simple. I do it all the time.
Apparently next week they are taking me away.

Elderflower Cordial which turns in to Elderflower Vodka.

5 pints of boiling water
2lbs granulated sugar
2oz citric or tartaric acid
1 orange - sliced
1 lemon - sliced
40 Elderflower heads

Pour the boiling water over the sugar in a large bowl. Stir to dissolve and then leave to cool.
Add the citric or tartaric acic, the orange and lemon. Stir.
Now add the Elderflowers.
Cover and leave for 48 hours in a very cool, dark place.
Strain through muslin and store in bottles in the fridge.

Elderflower Vodka

Take 1 pint of your cordial and add another 20 elderflower heads. Leave for 24 hours in a cool, dark place.
Add 3 pints of vodka (according to how strong you want the drink, I've been known to use 4!) and stir.
Keep in the freezer. Best served straight from it.

This drink is excellent after a meal, or even with a dash of tonic and a slice of lime.

Or indeed for breakfast!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Fritter Fest...

Do it. Do it. Do it!

I insist you have a go....pick some elderflowers, dip them in a light batter and deep fry until golden brown. Sprinkle with some icing sugar and absolutely, completely and utterly devour them in their entirety.

They are delicious, free and have the most delicate fragrance and taste - all preserved within the batter.

Pop out now, whilst the sun is shining and eat one of our indigenous flowers. Remember the'll be another year before you can do it again.

Yesterday, I taught Jacqueline my recipe for Elderflower fritters in our monthly lesson...above are the pictures.

As ever, click on the picture for a close up.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Raspberry and Rosewater Tart with a Duck Garnish

Believe it or not, rather delicious!

Here are some of yesterday's shots from my second book photo shoot day. (My ones, I hasten to add)

We managed to photograph an awful lot of food, and Lara in between food shots, wandered around my garden taking beautiful pictures. She even leapt over the fence at one point, into the field to pick some elderflowers for a recipe. She's a star.

It was a full on day, and you know you need a sit down, perhaps with a cup of tea when you think a rubber duck garnish is actually rather funny!

So, hilarious in fact that I sent a picture to Matt at my publishers, suggesting it as the front cover.

He didn't get back to me on that one - how strange!

Monday, 1 June 2009

A Very Silly Evening...

Please click on the photos for a close up.

It all started with an invite for supper to Jacqueline and Graham, two lovely friends. But because I am what I am, it ended in twelve for dinner on Saturday night.

We ate too much, drank a refined amount (ehem) and thought we were all terribly witty, intelligent and enormous fun. As you do after 14 bottles of wine.

The evening culminated in some very silly photos of us with my voluminous pink frilly petticoat in various poses.

Very long story.

These are not/never will be on the blog because I like my friends and they know where I live.

However, these other photos are suitable for publication!

Our starter was eaten with some beautiful English Fizz from Chapel Down, courtesy of Nicky. Salmon, Orange and Bronze Fennel Pate and my Light Chicken Liver, Pork and Bacon Terrine with Chilli Jam on some home-made toasted bread.

I wheeled it down the garden on my pimped up charity shop trolley, doing a scarily accurate impression of Mrs Overall.

Main course was Roasted Pork Belly with roasted vegetables, Crushed New Potatoes with Peas, Mint and Cream, and some Rhubarb, Ginger and Apricot Relish. All devoured with a beautiful rose, white..and red, again courtesy of Nicky and bought from my Master of Wine friend Marcia Waters.

Cheese; gathered together by my neighbours Caroline and Robyn was English, delicious and now attached to my hips!

Pudding was Lis's world famous, beloved and spectacular Chocolate Roulade, accompanied by strawberries and some sticky pudding wine. And I believe, with my rendition of 'bring us some sticky pudding (wine)' in my pleasing soprano! Oh dear.

Oops, I forgot, the cheese was eaten with some of my home-made Elderflower Vodka.

Would love to give you all the recipes for these, but you'll have to wait for my book which is due out in spring 2010!

I'm afraid I don't have a photo of the pud, at that stage the person holding it, was wearing the pink petticoat. All I'm going to tell you was a bloke!