Artisan bread

This last couple of weeks, I’ve been making bread.

Not your common or garden bloomer loaf, either. I’ve been experimenting and been making olive and sun-dried tomato bread. And it’s lush!

Here’s how…

Put 500g of strong bread flour into a bowl, with 7g salt, 7g easy bake yeast and two tablespoons of olive oil. We keep a bottle on the side with rosemary and garlic in – I use that to give it an extra depth of flavour. Add to that chopped black olives and chopped sun-dried tomatoes. I put about a handful of each in, but it’s down to your own taste.

Add warm water until the dough comes together. This needs to be not too wet, and not too dry. Knead (either by hand or in a stand mixer with the dough hook), for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is nice and elasticy (is that even a word???).

Form the dough into a ball, drizzle a little oil to coat the dough. Cover the bowl with cling film (Top Tip – shower caps that you get in hotels are brilliant for this!). Put the bowl in a warm place and leave for an hour or two – until the dough has doubled in size.

Once that’s happened, knock the dough back, taking all the air out. Give it a quick knead, and form into a bread-like shape. Put this on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and put the whole thing inside a plastic bag. Leave again to prove, and the bread will double in size once more.

sundried tomato and olive bread

sundried tomato and olive bread

When that’s happened, sprinkle the loaf with water and dust with flour. Score the top with a couple of slash marks. This allows the bread to grow even more, and as an added bonus, looks rustic.

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees, and put a tray of water on the oven floor. This will create steam, which helps make a lovely crust.

Pop your loaf in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until nice and brown. Turn the oven down to 180 degrees and bake for a further 20 minutes. You’ll know when the bread is done – knock on its base – it should sound nice and hollow.

Let the bread cool down on a wire rack, and you’re good to go. I warn you… this is very moreish!

sundried tomato and olive bread

sundried tomato and olive bread

Rhubarb wine part 3

So… the wine has been blobbing away in the demijohn, turning all that yeast and sugar into lovely alcohol. It slowed down a bit, which I gather is normal, but at the weekend, disaster struck. The wine stopped fermenting!

Now I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that the process isn’t complete – it’s not been in there three weeks. In a slightly mild panic, I decided to consult Dr Google. The word on the street is that the wine is ‘stuck’ (boo!), but it is entirely possible to kick start it again (hurrah!).

To do this, I took about a cup full of the wine out, and added some sugar, a sachet of yeast and a 1/4 teaspoon of yeast nutrient. Before I added these magic ingredients, I had a sneaky slurp to see what I was up against. To my absolute surprise – and I don’t know what I was expecting – it tasted of wine and the rhubarb notes were coming through. (Hark at me – I’ll be swilling it round and spitting it out next – actually I WON’T – what a total waste!)

The wine and yeast starter will sit on the kitchen worktop until it’s fermenting well. At that point I’ll reintroduce it to the mother ship in the demijohn.

Fingers are well and truly crossed!

Rhubarb wine part 1 and part 2 also available…

Heritage tomatoes

Last year, we were lucky to whiz off to France to visit an old friend of mine. Well, she’s not old exactly… just we’ve known each other for ages.

A good few years back, she made the leap and had a house built in the Dordogne region – and has never looked back. When we arrived, we could totally see why. The region is stunning – Chateuxs  and vineyards galore, and totally unspoilt countryside.

Anyway, enough about that (though I could wax lyrical for a good while more). This post is about tomatoes.

During a barbeque at my friend’s partner’s house, he served us a tomato salad. Just a simple dish of tomatoes, onions and a dressing – but I tell you now – it was TO DIE for! Complimenting him on the dish, he replied that he’d grown the tomatoes himself, and ushered us out in the garden to have a look.

There in the vegetable plot were rows of tomato plants, and they had to be one of the ugliest things I’d ever seen. Big, knarly and knobbly, hanging on the vines; if you came across them you wouldn’t give them a second glance. But, my word they were tasty!

Thierry explained that his family had saved the seeds of this particular variety for over 100 years, and asked if we would like some. Of course the answer to this was a resounding “Yes please!”

Back in the house, he took one of the tomatoes and sliced it in half. He then scooped out the seeds, washed and drained them and sealed them between two sheets of kitchen towel. We had strict instructions to keep them like this, then dampen the kitchen towel to release them at planting time.

This, we duly did, and I’m delighted to report that the plants are thriving and growing well. I’ve even gifted a few to friends, so we can share in the beauty of these age-old fruits. I can’t wait until we’re tasting them again!

Heritage tomato plants

Heritage tomato plants


Rhubarb wine part 2

After the rhubarb and sugar mixture had chance to stew for a couple of days in the fermenting bucket, it was time to work some magic on it, and start the process of turning it into wine. I whizzed the rhubarb and sugar with the hand blender until it was nice and pulpy. This then needed to be strained to separate the syrupy liquid.

Rummaging around in the pantry, I located the muslin straining cloth (aka an old net curtain, if we’re being specific), and poured the mixture in, to strain into a new container.

The liquid was then poured into a sterilised demijohn, to which I added 220ml white wine concentrate, one yeast sachet and a teaspoon of yeast nutrient. I then topped up the demijohn with warm (not hot) water, and fitted an airlock.

Surprised at how simple the whole process had been, and looking forward to sampling the results later in the year, I watched with anticipation. Within minutes, the airlock started to blob, meaning that the yeast was becoming active and the fermenting process had begun. It doesn’t look very tasty at the moment, but this should improve as the fermentation progresses.

Rhubarb wine

Rhubarb wine

Happy with that 🙂

Rhubarb wine part 1

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but it’s all been mega busy here at Chook Cottage. What, with finishing the book, juggling work, training for my 5k inflatable run (which, by the way I’m super excited about – what fun!) – AND tending the garden – time has been a tad stretched to say the least.

But… I’ve managed to grab a couple of minutes to tell you about our latest project. We have a rhubarb plant in the garden which, I have to say, has gone a bit bananas. All through the summer, we get a prolific supply of the stuff, and I’m always on the lookout for new ways to use it up.

Last year I made rhubarb gin (lovely!), rhubarb vodka (equally as yummy!), rhubarb jam, rhubarb and ginger chutney – as well as the usual crumbles and pies.

Rustling around the internet for some new ideas, I came across a recipe for rhubarb wine. Well, we like wine and we like rhubarb… what could possibly go wrong?

Gathering together our hit and miss collection of winemaking equipment, I located a fermenting bucket, an airlock and a demijohn. The demijohn is currently on the patio full of fairy lights, but that can soon be sorted.

Following the recipe, I put 1.5kg of rhubarb in the sterilised bucket, along with 1.3kg of sugar. This has to be left for three days, so that’s currently in the pantry stewing. Once that bit’s done I’ll have to mash it up to extract as much juice as I can, then strain it, ready for the exciting fermenting stage.

I’ll keep you informed!

My book

I know, I know… I’ve been a bit quiet of late. Truth is, the garden is ticking along marvellously, and I’ve just been so busy… but more about that, later 🙂

A while ago I published a post all about a fairy tale. It was a jolly little story about broken trust and betrayal, written in the style of an Enid Blyton tale. Just after, I received a message saying my tblog was being investigated. Slightly puzzled, I contacted the bods up top, and that investigation still remains a mystery – it didn’t exist.

I also received another message, which was MUCH more exciting. Apparently somebody liked my style of writing – it’s quite in fashion these days. Anyway, long story short, they wanted me to share my story in much the same tone. I agreed, and I’ve only gone and got myself a book deal!

Watch this space… not sure when it will be out, as apparently publishing can be a bit of a process (hark at me, talking like an author!)

Excited is not the word 🙂

Three years on

Hard to believe that I’ve lived in my little house now for just over three years. Yesterday, on facebook memories, this photo popped up…

Garden - May 2014

Garden – May 2014

This was literally how the garden looked when I moved here. A scrappy path, a rubbish lawn and not a plant to be seen. I remember sitting on the step, gazing out on it, and thinking, “What the actual flip am I going to do with it?”

Well, this is the garden, exactly three years on, and I’m feeling pretty chuffed – it’s now a little paradise in the centre of town!

Garden - May 2017

Garden – May 2017

Garden - May 2017

Garden – May 2017

Garden - May 2017

Garden – May 2017

Garden - May 2017

Garden – May 2017

Cheese and parma pastries

Last weekend, lovely chap got out of bed, wandered off downstairs, and I lay there looking forward to tea being delivered very shortly.

He was gone absolutely ages! Finally, he returned upstairs.

“Where have you been?” I asked

“I’ve been busy”, was the reply. “I’ve put all the washing out, tidied around, made tea, and I’ve made you these”.

He’d used up a bit of leftover puff pastry that had been lurking in the fridge and wrapped this around some cheese and parma ham.

Top start to the weekend!

Cheese and parma ham pastries

Cheese and parma ham pastries

Filo cottage pie with grilled polenta

We had some leftover roast carrots and parsnips, a roll of cheap filo pastry we found in the reduced, and a slab of polenta… what can you do with that little lot?

First, we fried off some frozen beef mince (so much more value than fresh, but that’s just my opinion), added the leftover veggies, transferred to an ovenproof dish and scattered a light dusting of parmesan cheese over the top.

Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta

Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta

Then, we melted some butter and brushed this over one sheet of pastry. Another sheet was added and this too was brushed with butter. The two sheets were then cut into six equal (ish) parts. Each of these was pushed and twisted in the middle to make flower-like shapes, and laid on the top. The whole thing was baked at 180 degrees for about half an hour (or until the pastry is nice and brown and crunchy).

Last of all we sliced some polenta, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and griddled in a hot pan to get the lovely scorch marks. A sprinkling of fresh chives finished it off nicely.

Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta

Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta

Verdict? Scrummy!

Rhubarb vodka

Flavoured vodka isn’t all that common in the UK, so with the first crop of rhubarb ready in the plot, I decided to make my own. I made some last year, and it’s ridiculously simple for such a lovely end product.

Rhubarb vodka ingredients


You’ll need:
1 litre of vodka – any cheap stuff will do – but this was on offer this week
5 sticks of washed rhubarb
1 cup of sugar
Large Kilner jar

Chop up the rhubarb and add to the jar. Add the sugar and vodka and seal. Give it a good old shake to agitate, then pop it in a cupboard out of the way. Every now and then, give the jar a gentle shake to keep mixing the flavours.

Rhubarb vodka

Rhubarb vodka

In about 2 to 3 months, it will be ready. At that stage, drain the liquid through a sieve and decant back into the empty bottle (which you saved). You will be rewarded with a beautifully smooth, slightly syrupy, pink liqueur.