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

 

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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.

Lush!

Chicken and leek pie

We still had a handful of leftover chicken to use up… we throw NOTHING away food-wise!

Today I decided to send it out in style, by transforming it into a chicken and leek pie… so simple, but so delicious.

First up, I heated a little oil and butter in a pan and tossed in two cloves of finely chopped garlic. I added a couple of sliced leeks and a good glug of white wine. After the wine had cooked off, I added a good glug of cream and the leftover chicken. We also had a handful of leftover onions and roasted purple sprouting broccoli from the weekend, so that all went in too. Once warm, I spooned the mixture into a pyrex dish, rolled out some puff pastry and made a lid. This I brushed with beaten egg so it will go lovely and brown.

I then cooked for about 35 minutes at 180 – just until the lid had puffed up and was brown.

Verdict? Delicious!20170412_120832[1]

Sesame chicken and warm salad

The weather was blooming gorgeous this weekend, so as the garden is looking so good at the moment, we had an impromptu barbeque. The tripod barbeque came out of hiding and we proudly set it up on the decking, along with chairs for our guests and outside table laden with condiments, cutlery and the family favourite: spinach and water chestnut dip.

The menu was simple: a couple of chickens started off in the oven and finished on the barbeque, sausages and onions cooked in a pan outside. In addition, we served roasted purple sprouting broccoli in garlic and a huge salad. The food went down a storm, our guests had a great time, and we congratulated ourselves on turning a party around with a moment’s notice.

After everyone had gone, we had leftovers. A large tub of salad and another of chicken. The chicken went into a couple of sandwiches for lunch, but last night we wanted to use it up… and this is where the good bit happened!

The majority of chicken was heated up in a pan with some garam masala and a good spoon of sesame seeds (there’s still a handful of chicken left, but we’ll come to that in a later post). The baby gem lettuce leaves were griddled in the griddle pan so they were slightly wilted but with scorch lines across them. Next, the leftover sliced radish, cucumber and cherry tomatoes were tossed around a pan with some chopped garlic so they were warm but still had a crunch. The whole lot was tossed into a bowl and we tucked in. A sprinkle of coriander leaves and the dish was complete. The verdict? Absolutely blinking delicious – warm salad is so tasty!

Sesame chicken and warm salad

Sesame chicken and warm salad

Spinach and water chestnut dip

This is a really easy dish that goes down a storm at gatherings. The dip is made and served in a hollowed out bloomer loaf. Guests then eat the dip with the bread, cutting or tearing the loaf until there is none left.

Ingredients
approx 300g frozen spinach
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup soured cream
1 small tin of water chestnuts (finely chopped)
3 spring onions (finely chopped)
1 vegetable stock cube (crumbling variety)
Small bloomer loaf

Defrost and drain the spinach – squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Chop up the spinach so that it comes apart easily in the dip.

Add the mayonnaise, soured cream, water chestnuts, spring onions to a bowl and stir together. Crumble in the stock cube and stir again. Add the spinach and mix well. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the flavours to blend together.

Cut the middle from the loaf, and take out the excess bread – you should be left with the shape of a bowl. Put the spinach into the bread, slice up the excess bread into chunks and arrange these around the side.

A guaranteed showstopper at parties 🙂