kale seaweed

Packed full of vitamins, tasty and plentiful, kale is a favourite of mine at the moment. Whether whizzed up in kale pesto, shredded and stirred into Ribollita or added raw to Trine Hahnemann Scandinavian winter salads, there’s something about this hardy no-nonsense brassica that suits January.


Knowing that it’s rich in antioxidants and Vitamins A, C and K helps too. My current passion for cabbage is also partly due to the fact that kale seaweed is proving a great way of getting my daughter to eat a heaped bowl full of greens.


Although she has spurts of being an adventurous eater, particularly when it comes to vegetables she’s grown herself, I have to admit that Ruby is a bit of a reluctant vegetable eater at the moment. She’s gone off old favourites such as Bolognese and pesto, which were great meals for sneaking extra veggies into. And although I’m very partial to a pile of simply steamed cabbage or kale with nothing other than a few twists of pepper and a little butter or olive oil (delicious with the pheasant that’s plentiful around here at the moment and mashed potato), Ruby doesn’t share my enthusiasm. In fact, I may as well lead a herd of goats onto the kitchen table for the look of shock that a plate of steamed greens would draw.

Actually, she’d probably be delighted with the herd of goats….

When it comes to ‘seaweed’ though, now you’re talking. It may be the novelty factor – I’m finding that food from around the world goes down very well at the moment. My daughter loves her Usborne Children’s World Cookbook and is very interested in African food (due to a school project) and Chinese food (just tasty) in particular. Very different to when she was a toddler and was happy to eat veggies in food that was comfortingly familiar, at 6 she’s more likely to be scoffed in something new.

Very easy to make for a quick snack or as a side dish with oriental noodles, kale seaweed is hardly a recipe. You just sprinkle a pinch of sugar, a pinch of sea salt and a drizzle of oil over a few large handfuls of kale 9spread in a single layer in a baking sheet) and pop in a hot oven for 5 minutes until crispy.


I’ve tried this with cavolo nero as well as curly kale and both work well. You really only need a scant amount of sugar and salt so this definitely counts as a healthy snack or side dish to me. Apparently frosts increase the sweetness of kale leaves, so if temperatures dip as forecast, the seaweed may get naturally tastier.


Still keen to find other ways of sneaking in kale, I’m going to give it a go in a version of my Wild Greens Pie and Well Worn Whisk reminded me of this lovely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Mushroom & Kale Lasagne which we enjoyed last night. I agreed with Rachel on the benefit of extra cheese to the lasagne, adding cheddar and the last of the glittery cheese (obviously minus the glitter) to the béchamel sauce. If anybody has other kale/brassica ideas would love to hear of them – tasty and healthy as it is, very keen to make sure the seaweed doesn’t go the way of the Bolognese and pesto!


As this is a good way in my view of sneaking extra greens into children (and adults) would love to join in the fab Four Seasons Food challenge run by Louisa at Eat Your Veg and Anneli at Delicieux with the January theme of Virtuous Food. Kale is very definitely in season and this is a very simple dish, so would be great to be included in Ren Behan’s lovely Simple and in Season too.



meeting buffalo and making mozzarella

Tea tonight is going to be a very simple home-made pizza. Simple but satisfying as it will be topped with mozzarella I’ve made from buffalo milk. Buffalo that I had the pleasure of meeting this week.

buffalo grazing in warwickshire

Before you think I’m sounding either smug or bragging, I have to point out that my mozzarella is obviously far removed from those beautiful silky, smooth little bocconcini that you see in Italian delis. Far more rustic as usual.


Fan as I am of local ingredients though, it’s still very pleasing to make a treat supper from cheese made in my own kitchen. Cheese made from the beautiful creamy white milk of impressive creatures who I’ve seen living a good life.

water buffalo

Although it was cheese-making that drew me to the  Water Buffalo farmed at Napton on the Hill in Warwickshire, I’d also heard that buffalo meat is full of flavour yet low in cholesterol and was keen to learn more about these impressive animals.

Roger Alsop, who now produces delicious water buffalo ice-cream as well as buffalo meat (and burgers which he cooks and sells at village shows and festivals), was able to supply me with rich, creamy milk for my mozzarella making, but also enlighten me about buffalo farming. Having spent 25 years dairy farming at Brookend Farm, Roger found that milk quotas made it increasingly difficult to earn a living from milk and decided to diversify. The Alsops bought 20 Water Buffalo and a bull in 1999 and now have a herd of around 250 buffalo.


Roger has been converting his farm to organic and will achieve organic status by April. I was really interested to hear how relatively easy this has been because of the natural, traditional way buffalo (and previously cows) have always been farmed here.

Water buffalo haven’t been over-bred for years to increase yields and so are incredibly hardy and disease-resistant, hardly ever needing antibiotics. Docile, friendly animals, Roger says that they can be very low hassle to farm, with “none of the health problems you often get with dairy cattle; no mastitis, no feet problems.” Roger, who farms the buffalo with his son and nephew, has found that you can’t artificially inseminate water buffalo, so they’re all naturally served and breed really well. They can also milk for 20 years and calf yearly, despite a 10 month gestation period.


All sounds very easy, and Roger agrees that it is – with one exception:

“You just need to accept that you’ll never force a buffalo to do anything that they don’t want to do.”

Docile, friendly creatures who are often happier being milked than cows, buffalo are, however, very stubborn. You can’t drive buffalo like other cattle, but they do come when called: “They’re so inquisitive that they want to know what’s going on.”

When I visited, the Buffalo immediately peered nosily at me, looking as if they were wondering who on earth I was and what I was up to.


They mature slowly and naturally here, in fact everything about this style of farming reminded me that these were creatures to be respected, not commodities as it often seems modern cattle are treated as.

Interestingly, although they may be an unusual sight in Warwickshire, there are actually more water buffalo farmed worldwide than cows. Very popular in Eastern Europe and Asia, in Vietnam water buffalo are often the most valuable possession of poor farmers and treated as a member of the family. Roger Alsop’s herd came from Romania, where buffalo are still a common sight and are used to pull carts.

As with all grass-fed animals the meat is a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Full of flavour, it’s also very lean and 40% lower in fat and cholesterol than beef. The milk, although rich and creamy is also low in cholesterol, making it perfect for delicious but healthy ice-cream, cheese and milk-shakes.

The healthy meat can be cooked in the same way as beef but, despite its lack of fat, has a richer, fuller flavour. Roger Alsop lets his buffalo grow slowly and naturally, typically for 3 ½ years and the resulting topside, rump and fillet steaks are fantastic. So tender that it suits quick cooking, buffalo meat is delicious rare or even raw in Carpaccio.

Looking forward to experimenting with buffalo and kidney pies. In the meantime, this is how I made the mozzarella.

I’d previously tried the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall method here with cow’s milk. Have to admit that while I’ve been happily experimenting with easy soft cheeses of the world such as paneer, labneh and feta, Mozzarella scared me.  I’m certainly not averse to scoffing little stretchy silky balls of fresh Mozzarella with tomatoes from the garden in the Summer and very happy to cook with gloriously melting mozzarella in Italian classics food such as pizza and lasagne. It’s just that all that re-heating whey, cutting and stretching of curds sounded a little bit intimidating.

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Once I started making Mozzarella though, I found that, like most cheese-making, as long as you have good milk (preferably unhomogenized) and a decent thermometer, it really isn’t too difficult. My first attempt was a lot firmer than the blissfully silky cheese I’d imagined, probably due to draining too much whey. But even then, a mixture of Mozzarella research and eating it cooked with aubergines in gloriously comforting Melanzane Parmigiana reassured me.

The cheese I made with buffalo milk was a lot softer than the cow’s milk version though. This may have been due to something slightly different in my technique or a different diet eaten by the cows/buffalo but I found it easier to make softer, creamier mozzarella with buffalo milk. My cow’s milk version was tougher in comparison.


Although Hugh (and other Mozzarella recipes I’ve consulted) advises not to knead the mozzarella once you’re at the dipping in hot whey stage (I know, I didn’t think I’d ever tackle this sort of cooking either but it’s honestly a great game) as it results in toughness, I found that kneading rather than cutting into strips was more suited to the buffalo cheese I made. Only dawned on me this week that mozzare means to cut in Italian, hence the name, by the way. Anyway, I used some of the techniques from the New England recipe here for my buffalo mozzarella as moulding and gently kneading into balls seemed to work with this softer cheese.


You can choose to shape the cheese into a couple of large balls or mould into little bocconcini style balls. Dip into a bowl of chilled water, refrigerate and use within two days. Alternatively you can enjoy immediately while still warm, savouring the freshest Mozzarella you’re likely to have.




bread for jam – food swaps

Although beetroot and parsnips may be the only current gluts, my attention has been caught recently by Food Swaps. I’ve been finding out about the current popularity of produce swapping in the UK for a magazine article and love the idea of exchanging honey for ham, bread for jam or apples for eggs.


The Food Swapping movement first grew in the US, with some great food swapping in LA and Brooklyn. With so many people now passionate about food and where it’s come from in the UK, food swapping is growing in popularity here too. The idea is that no money changes hands, just good home-grown, home-made or foraged produce. Often recipes and food tips too – food swaps can be lovely, sociable events.

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food swap apples

Turning up at a local farm on a Sunday morning with jars of home-made chutney and walking away with horseradish, parsnips and jam may not be a typical way of doing the weekend shopping but Claire Jeffery has encouraged many locals around the Cotswold village of South Cerney to do just that. Claire set up ‘The Great Cotswold Food Swap’ at her family farm with her friend Lettie Elwin who shares her passion for local food and champions great local producers through ‘The best of Cirencester.’


Claire felt passionately that although there hadn’t been any community Food Swaps in the South-West, the Cotswolds had some great food to offer. Anyone who reads my posts will know that I totally agree.

Following the success of the September Cotswold Food Swap, where lots of locals brought along a vast array of produce from their gardens and allotments, Claire and Lettie organised another Food Swap in December. They feared that there may be a dearth of produce in the winter, but needn’t have worried: an amazing array of produce included a brace of pheasants, home-made blackcurrant cordial, Christmas biscuits, parsnips, home-made mincemeat and fudge.

Food Swaps normally last about two hours; the first hour is about sampling and chatting to the other participants, with lots of recipes and ideas exchanged. After that it’s time to place bids. Swappers weigh up their offers and then exchange their goods. It normally takes around another hour for all swaps to be completed. As long as produce is home-grown, home-made or foraged, it can be brought along and no money changes hands, the only currency is produce.

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During the time when swappers weigh up their offers, further bartering can take place. You can decide that you’d like to swap cakes for carrots but suggest that you’d like more carrots or perhaps reject an offer altogether if you’re not happy with it. Thanks to the lovely vibe of a food swap and the fact that you only turn up for a sociable couple of hours and walk away with lots of produce, you generally end up going with the flow though.

You also often end up feeling you’ve walked away with a complete abundance of produce compared to the few jars you turned up with.

Vicky Swift who set up the thriving community Food Swap Applesforeggs.com puts it down to a simple division of labour:

“It’s an almost magical formula, and it comes down to an understanding of the time and effort that goes into the produce. It might take me a couple of hours to make six jars of jam – but if I swap those six jars for say some cherry tomatoes, a bottle of elderflower cordial, some flapjacks, a sourdough loaf, a batch of muffins and a bag of runner beans I can’t help but feel I’m absolutely the winner. You can’t produce all that in two hours – whereas you can make the six jars of jam. I suppose it’s like division of labour, across a food swapping community.”

Vicky, a bread-making, allotment keeping Mum, set up Apples for eggs in 2011 after finding that she had surplus allotment produce. She encouraged people to swap their surplus produce via a Facebook page initially but soon concluded that face-to-face events where people could bring their produce, socialise a little and share taster samples of food would be far more effective – and more fun.

Eggs for Jam

 Vicky’s friend Sue Jewitt then took up the idea in York, and Apples for Eggs now has swaps taking place in six, soon to be seven locations across the country. Produce is wonderfully varied depending on the seasons, ranging from runner beans to home-baked bread to rhubarb. Edible goodies from the hedgerows and woods can be included too.


As someone who has had to give away sections of my monster Mother Hubbard squash out of necessity (I don’t want to put my family off this delicious veggie by force-feeding it to them at EVERY meal) and been grateful for any takers of the Quince cheese so that we don’t scoff it all with copious amounts of salty Spanish cheese, I’m a big fan of swapping food. I’ve very much enjoyed tubs of sweet cherry tomatoes, stalks of Brussels sprouts, pheasants and apples from family, friends and neighbours too.

So going to an organised Food Swap sounds like great fun to me, a much more interesting, cheaper and sociable way of spending a weekend morning than dashing around the supermarket. As I plant seeds in the months to come I’ll be thinking about what’s going to be plentiful and hoping I have something tasty to take along to the Spring and Summer Great Cotswold Food Swaps.

food swap 1

If there are any other Cotswold gardeners, preservers, allotmenteers or bakers reading this, details of the next Cotswold Food Swaps will be posted on the Berry Farm website and Apples for Eggs are organising a new swap starting in March in Iron Acton, South Gloucestershire.





january in my kitchen

in my kitchen this month…..


…..I’m really enjoying lots of fresh, crunchy food after a few weeks indulgence. The apples may look more suited to an Autumnal kitchen than a January scene, but they’re the last of the apples from Granny’s orchard. And their still crisp, sweet flavour says it all about the sort of food I’m craving so far this year.

Very welcome this week in healthy salads packed full of flavour, the apples have been sliced and added to walnuts, slithers of raw beetroot and parsley with a dressing made with cider vinegar. Or added to a sort of coleslaw that I made to go with home-made bean burgers.


Before you jump to conclusions about my virtuous New Year diet, I have to come clean and admit that they were also cooked to a puree on the wood-burning stove to eat with pork chops marinated in a maple syrup, rosemary and garlic brine. The brine tenderises the chops wonderfully as well as adding a glorious flavour and it’s one of the dishes I regularly cook from Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke.

This swinging between warming comfort food and raw veggies, with a good few spicy dishes in between sums up the food in my kitchen so far this year. Much as I’m craving home-grown veggies and fresh tastes, there have been some cold, grey days when a treat is surely in order. Talking of which, the last quince is saved for a tagine with lamb shanks which I’ll make soon.

In my kitchen…..


….. it all seems suddenly bare now that the decorations are down, and the gingerbread house is derelict; there are missing windows, a back wall and the marshmallow picket fence has come under attack from hungry 6 year olds. Typical of Ruby though, she doesn’t want to see it totally demolished. A hoarder ( we have so many cardboard boxes from Christmas presents around the place that she’s adamant she NEEDS to make things with) she’s also a child with far more willpower than her Mum when it comes to saving precious chocolate/sweet things. She still has an Easter egg in her room for goodness sake – well, a chocolate bunny. Apparently TOO BEAUTIFUL to eat.

Similar to the balance between healthy and comforting food, although part of me relishes the simplicity of the bare kitchen now that the decorations have gone, Ruby’s pictures are bringing some cheery brightness. The wire herb hanger is now devoid of the very scruffy home-made Christmas biscuits that added colour. Can you spot the rogue custard cream by the way?


So while the ribbons dangling from the beams no longer have Christmas cards, at least we have a picture of bright pink candyfloss. Yes, I think it probably did start off as a Poppy.

In my kitchen……


…..there are some very tasty hand-toasted nuts. I was kindly sent some samples from Chika Russell, who has set up Chika’s to provide West African inspired snacks. Now based in Notting Hill, Chika spent her childhood between London and Anambra, a Nigerian village where she was surrounded by a big, warm, noisy family whose focal point was food. Huge slow-cooked stews, fried plantain and roasted yams were served with masses of fresh fruit and vegetables. How I would love to be transported to that kitchen…

The sweet potato crisps and nuts toasted by the village ladies over an open fire inspired Chika to set up her own nibbles business and I love the way that she’s drawn on her rich heritage as well as the fact that they’re all produced using traditional techinques, by hand in small batches and in accordance with Fairtrade and organic principles.

Chika’s snacks include unpopped corn, plantain crisps and sweet potato crisps. The peanuts, toasted by hand, are very tasty but I’m saving some as nibbles for Friday night cocktails. Well, we have been reasonably virtuous all week, resisting the Sloe Gin and Quince Ratafia. Maybe I’ll add a squirt of lime in accordance with my very mixed (some may say weak/dodgy) New Year healthy living.

Would love to be included once again in Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s great IMK where we get to peep into kitchens around the world. Looking forward to the virtual warmth of kitchens on the other side of the world.



making feta & turkish pizza

Having experimented with Labneh, Paneer and ricotta, I’m beginning to understand Miss Moffet’s fixation. Curds and whey can become addictive; the fact that all you have to do is heat milk, add lemon juice, whey or rennet to encourage the curds to form and you have a delicious (sometimes!) soft cheese is so satisfying. It’s a great activity to do with children too – quick, easy and you can eat the results.


  Having a tub of ricotta made in December submerged in brine and a few jars of labneh preserved in olive oil is also proving very useful in my January frugal food plan. Noticing the jars of preserves, freezer still full of broad beans and fruit (from our summer gluts), lamb and pork plus leftover turkey, I’m on a mission to eke it all out with the jars of pulses and make good use of what I’ve got rather than shop for more. The root veggies, brassicas and still lush parsley in the garden are coming in handy too.

The feta that I made before Christmas is very salty, softer than bought feta but great to use sparingly to add flavour and texture to lots of meals. This is how I made it:

Feta style cheese


5 ½ litres fresh raw or pasteurised goats milk

1 tablespoon made up cheese starter (see my post on basic cheese-making)

½ teaspoon liquid rennet dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiled, cooled water

Sea Salt

Clean all equipment thoroughly and scald. In a large pot, bring the milk to 32C, add the cheese starter and stir well. Add the dissolved rennet and stir vigorously. Cover the pot with lid or clean cloth and let it stand for 2 hours or until the curd breaks cleanly when you insert a knife.

Scald some muslin and line a colander, ladle the curds in, then draw up all 4 corners of the cloth, tying in a knot and hang over the sink or a bowl so more whey can drain for  24 hours. Untie and cut the cheese into blocks around 2 inches thick and the size of a playing card. Mine were not exactly uniform as you can see.


Sprinkle the cheese generously with salt and leave in a sterilized container with a lid at room temperature for 2 to 3 days to release more whey.


Make a brine by dissolving 3 tablespoons salt in 1.9 litres water and cool. Drain the whey into a clean container, add the brine and arrange cheese blocks in it. Refrigerate and it’s ready to eat in 2 weeks. Kept submerged in the brine it should keep for months in the fridge.

We bought half a lamb from a local smallholder at the beginning of December and I cooked a leg of it for family over the Christmas holiday (rubbed with garlic and rosemary, cooked slowly over slices of potatoes and onions covered in foil). It was delicious but as usual I’ve almost enjoyed the leftovers more.


Slithers tucked into flatbread cooked on the wood-burning stove with labneh, houmous and beetroot, lime & chilli salad were lovely but I also had a little portion of the cooked lamb stashed in the freezer. Little nuggets of flavour and protein ready to be added to garlicky tomato sauce and heaps of healthy parsley from the garden for Turkish style flatbread pizzas. Slithers of onion, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of chilli added flavour too.

I was inspired by the Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza) recipe in one of my favourite books, Casa Moro. Sam & Sam cook their lamb from scratch rather than using leftovers and use fresh tomatoes (would be lovely in season). I added my feta and a sprinkling of cumin too.


Turkish Style pizza

1 quantity of the flatbread dough here.

300g leftover cooked lamb, chopped into tiny nuggets

1/2 small onion, grated

1/4 teaspoon allspice

100ml water

sea-salt & black pepper

1 400g tin of tomatoes

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, sliced

A handful of roughly chopped fresh parsley

Feta cheese crumbled or the labneh here.

1/2 onion sliced

Chilli flakes

1 or 2 teaspoons cumin

1 lemon, quartered.

Put the grated onion, allspice and water in a saucepan and cook for 10 minutes, then add the lamb and cook on a low heat for a further 5 minutes, adding salt & pepper to taste. To make a tomato sauce, heat the olive oil, add the garlic and as it starts to colour add the tomatoes. Simmer for 1/2 hour or so until you have a thick sauce, adding salt & pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 220C, divide the dough into four little balls (I made some smaller ones too to tempt my daughter) and roll out each piece into a rough oval a few mm thin.

flatbread making

These don’t have to be as thin as Italian pizzas, think flatbread. Place on baking sheets or pizza stones, spread with tomato sauce and sprinkle with lamb. Cook for 10/12 minutes until the bread is cooked.

Chop parsley, put cumin in a little pot and let everyone crumble feta over their pizzas and help themselves to onion slices, lemon, cumin, parsley and chilli.


Would love to include my Turkish pizzas in January’s Cheese Please challenge, hosted by the wonderful Fromage homage. This month’s challenge is Comfort Food and Winter Warmers, should be a great place for cheesey inspiration.






glittery cheese & a happy new year

I’ve obviously been busier using up leftover turkey and beetroot-cured gravlax lately than experimenting with cheese-making. More focused on important tasks such as bashing and melting boiled sweets for the windows of a gingerbread house with Ruby.


Just before Christmas I did have a go at making an easy semi-hard cheese that matures in weeks rather than months though. I rubbed olive oil and coarse sea salt around the little cheeses (very little actually, attempting cheese-making has made me realise quite how much milk goes into producing a tiny amount of cheese and given me even more of an appreciation for bought artisan cheese) and put them in the cold room upstairs in a sealed container with a damp cloth for humidity.  When I say ‘cold room’ don’t misguidedly think I have some room purpose made for hanging hams and letting cheese mature. It’s a very bare, un-plastered room that we’ve been meaning to turn into our bedroom ever since we moved here.

Lack of time and money have meant the bedroom has been a little delayed. As ever, I’m optimistic that this year may be the year we move out of the spare room. In the meantime the unheated bare room is proving very useful. The dark bit behind the door is rapidly becoming pickle corner.

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With a house full of family over Christmas, the fridge was bulging and leftover veggies destined for bubble and squeak were sent up to the cold room. Actually we so enjoyed the Boxing Day leftovers that Guy came up with a suggestion. Next year, we cook Christmas lunch on Christmas Eve, then without eating any of it,  immediately take it up to the cold room ready for leftovers!

Obviously too many days of Bird Bingo, muddy walks across the fields and wondering whether piccalilli or Middle Eastern pickled turnips is the correct pickle for that days’ leftovers has gone to our heads. The festive period has also had a disturbing effect on my cheese. Last time I had a peep at the cheeses ripening in the cold room, I couldn’t spot any mould forming (or much of a rind either) but there was definitely something unique about them. Some artisan cheese-makers may use nettles, even ash to add a distinct look and flavour to their products. I detected something else adorning the rustic exterior of my carefully made cheeses. Something with a definite flavour of my December kitchen. Yes, glitter.

It obviously says a lot about my optimism then that one of my plans for the new year is to have a go at making mozzarella. Yes, I know I’ll end up with strings of cheese everywhere but I’d like to try it. I’m chuffed that the feta has worked out, it’s very salty but good used sparingly, crumbled into flatbreads with leftover lamb – I cooked a leg of lamb slowly over potatoes using a recipe from The Fabulous Baker Brothers book as an easy way of feeding everybody the day after Boxing Day. Will write about how I made the feta soon.

After being inspired by the medieval bread baked at The Hearth in Lewes, would love to experiment more with bread this year too. Using interesting flour, a home-made sourdough and a long prove.

But with the glittery cheese a reminder of the results of my multi-tasking I’m trying to keep my resolutions and plans for the new year simple. While I’m still harvesting parsnips, swede, chard and beetroot from the garden, can’t help but have lots of plans for the new things I want to grow though. And the size of the ewes in the field next to us is reminding me of the delights of Spring already. Lovely to think that it’s not long after Christmas until there are new lambs in the fields and broad beans to be planted. Which makes me look forward to these sort of pleasures…..

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Hope you have lots to look forward to in 2014 too. Happy New Year!