in my kitchen November

in my kitchen this month…..

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the warm hues of Autumn seem to be following me inside. The golden quinces, rosy apples, the burnt orange of the kuri squash and the enticing amber of the cider (we had a little sip when we siphoned it off into the second demi-john and it’s tasting good) echo the crisp colours of the garden. While my jewel-coloured jellies and magenta liquor around the sloes are reminding me of the rich colours of the berries in the hedgerows.


This is obviously on a good day! There have been quite a few damp days lately when the colour that most springs to mind is grey. These are the ones when I’m as glad of the colour in my kitchen as the warmth of the wood-burning stove.

in my kitchen …..


….there are things fermenting in every corner. I know this doesn’t sound ideal but I’m becoming addicted to cheese-making and there are regularly little tubs of cheese culture or tubs of curdling milk lurking. Not to mention the home-made booze – the Quince Ratafia and Fig Liquer just need a shake every now and again and one of the demi-johns of cider will soon be ready for drinking. Guy invested in a bargain bottle capper off ebay so we’ve been soaking labels off old bottles and will soon have a good new game. Hopefully lovely bottles of dry cider to enjoy too.

My latest easy cheese is Paneer. It’s a doddle to make; if you have surplus milk you can decide in the afternoon to make it for supper. And it holds its shape well, making it great for cooking briefly in a pan with a little oil and tossing into Indian spiced chickpeas or a vegetable curry.


Making Paneer cheese


1 litre whole, organic milk

3-4 tablespoons of either lemon juice or leftover whey from previous cheese-making.

In a large saucepan over a medium heat, warm the milk to 80 degrees centigrade. Keep an eye on it as it can boil over quickly. Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice or whey. Stir until the milk separates into curds and whey. If it doesn’t seem to be separating, add another tablespoon of the lemon juice or whey.

Pour the mixture into a colander lined with muslin or cheesecloth which is placed above a bowl.



Gather the corners of the cheesecloth into a bundle and squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as you can. Save this whey as it can be used in future cheese-making or try replacing some of the milk in pancakes for whey, resulting in a sourdough type taste.

To press it into a solid cheese, set the bundle (still wrapped in muslin) in the middle of a plate with a good lip to catch the liquid that will be squeezed out. Put another plate on top and press until the bundle has flattened – weigh the plate down with something heavy like a few cans to help press. I found a use for my extra large jar of pickle at last!


Press the cheese for at least 20 minutes, though an hour is ideal. Drain off the liquid that has collected and unwrap the paneer.


Use or store immediately. The cheese will firm up even more in the fridge.

in my kitchen….


…there’s a dried broad bean. And a copy of Lauren Child’s lovely Princess and the Pea. As we slip from Autumn into damper, colder winter days, reading by the woodburner is definitely tempting.

After I’d read this to Ruby for a bedtime story recently, she decided she’d like to try a pea beneath her own mattress. As I only had dried broad beans to hand (saved for seed) she gave one a go but admitted quickly that she couldn’t feel anything. She suggested that perhaps the bean should be directly under her sheet. A good job we didn’t have the twelve feather mattresses.

Next morning my daughter was disappointed that the broad bean still hadn’t troubled her. I imagine I’ll see a broad bean cellotaped to her pyjamas soon.

In the meantime dried beans and pulses seem very well suited to the warming stews and soups that are needed this month. Recommend Louisa at Eat Your Veg’s Sausage Hotpot, which I sneaked lots of my home-grown squash into and enjoyed with mashed swede from the garden. Chorizo and fish have been cooked in home-made stock (a fishy variety stashed in the freezer since we brought back crab from Wales with tomatoes, potato, paprika and garlic for a sort of Spanish fish stew.

But it’s lamb that is going to be added to lots of slow-cooked winter dishes over the next month. Very local lamb, bought from the brilliant smallholding near us that supplied us with pigs to clear the back garden last year. I’d been talking to Carol recently about how she moves her lambs to different pasture really regularly, thus helping her to avoid the 2 weekly worming that so many farmers carry out. The smallholding is one of those great places that isn’t classified organic but avoids use of chemicals through good practice, traditional rotation etc. Their Berkshire pigs have plenty of space in orchards to root around in and the sheep have lush pasture. So when I heard she was selling half lambs, I jumped at the chance. My head is full of lamb and quince tajine, slow-cooked shoulder eaten with salty home-made cheese and flatbread and lamb koftas. Hopefully the kitchen will be too soon.

Would love to join in again with Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s inspiring In my Kitchen.

And the good photos (those near the beginning of the post) are taken by my photographer friend Chava Eichner, whose vegan food blog is soon to feature some Bavarian foodie treats.



russets, crab apples & an easy peasy apple & cinnamon cake

Apples seem to be everywhere this month. Little rosy crab apples are urging me to make chilli jelly, we have bowls of nutty russets from my mother-in-law and cooking apples are being made into apple sauce, partly for my home-made granola.


I have to admit that our own apple harvest will be exactly one large cooker. A generous sized cooker, one that Ruby has ambitious plans for;we read James and the Giant Peach recently and she’s christened it the Giant Apple. But still, just one apple.

Although our own apple trees were only planted last winter, we live in an area where there’s no shortage of apples.  The village that Ruby goes to school in has orchards right in the middle of the village and everyone’s garden seems to have a plentiful supply. I drive past the village church every morning and see apples falling on to the pavement. Sometimes I treat myself to a walk up the hill after school drop-off and apples litter the foot-path.

In recent years many of the apples in the villages around us seemed to go to waste. Lovely then that our nearest pub, The Ebrington Arms organised a family apple pressing day recently in their garden. It was one of those wonderfully bright, golden Autumn days (before the grey fog and drizzle!) and lots of people turned up with bags, baskets or wheelbarrows of apples to be juiced. Children held cups under the fruit press to have the first taste of the juice from their own apples.

We came away after a lovely afternoon with bottles of apple juice (from Granny’s apples) and two demi-johns of toffee coloured juice which will hopefully be cider. It seems to be bubbling away nicely under the stairs at the moment.


My thoughts also turn to apple cake though at this time of year. Particularly when I walk across the fields to visit our Icelandic friends and glimpse the orchard next to their home.

A couple of years ago we borrowed an apple press from friends and had our own juicing session in our garden. We were joined by our Icelandic friends and their Rome-dwelling, contemporary opera-singing visitor Gulla who turned out to be super-human when it came to operating the apple press. She squeezed more juice out than we thought possible and, having previously joined in wine-making festivities in Italy, became just as enthusiastic about anything to do with apples. In fact every time I visited our friends that Autumn, Gulla seemed to be either picking apples in the orchard, juicing them, fervently peeling them or baking apple cake.

Her apple cakes were delicious, always different variations on a theme, sometimes with added almonds, maybe with vanilla adding to the flavour. I couldn’t pin her dowh to a recipe of course; Gulla seemed to be the sort of instinctive cook I envy who didn’t stick to any precise recipe, just adding what she felt like each time.

So the recipe for this apple cake is one I’ve baked in Autumn for years, is handwritten scruffily and I originally copied it from my Mum. Inspired by Gulla I do vary it according to mood, sometimes using wholemeal self-raising flour, sometimes substituting some of the flour for ground almonds if I have them to hand. A few drops of vanilla essence don’t go amiss either and sometimes it’s nice to add raisins or other dried fruit. Either way, it’s a very easy, bung it all in sort of recipe. The apple keeps it nicely moist and it stores well in a tin. A great one to bake with kids and, although it takes quite a while to bake (filling the kitchen with a lovely, comforting cinnamony aroma) it occupies very little time for the actual making.


This time though, I made it without Ruby. Remembering the recipe came from my Mum, I also have memories of her baking cakes for us to come home from school to. Reminded of this, I thought I’d treat Ruby to cake still warm from the oven after school. Normally I feel she’s too young to be able to scoff cake and still eat a healthy dinner. But she needed extra energy for dancing, it’s been cold, foggy and drizzly for days and I thought we all needed a treat.

Apple and Cinnamon Cake

300g self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

250g soft brown sugar

125g unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, beaten

175 ml milk

250g apples, peeled, cored and chopped. This time I used 1 large Bramley & a couple of russets but I vary cookers & eaters, depending what’s to hand.

Sift flour, cinnamon and salt, stir in sugar. Mix in melted butter, eggs, milk and apples, beat until smooth. Turn into a lined and greased tin (a 20cm square tin or equivalent) and bake 180C 1-1 1/4 hours until a skewer inserted comes out clean.


And actually, who am I kidding that it’s all about after school treats. This cake is of course lovely with a coffee too. Or warm with ice-cream or greek yoghurt as a pudding.



perry, cider and a christmas pud tipple

I know it’s early to think about the drinks for Christmas day but it is the eve of December. The advent calendar’s up, I have the Christmas pud ingredients ready for Sunday – and I visited a great little cider shop yesterday.

I’d already made a few trips to the lovely Dragon orchard where Once upon a Tree harvest fruit to produce their delicious juices, ciders and perrys. But their newly opened Three Counties Cider Shop was a great excuse to visit Ledbury, one of my favourite little market towns. I love the fact that on the one main street there’s an eclectic mix of apothecary, traditional butchers, hardware shops that look as if they’ve been they’ve been there for years, an organic shop and  a great Cookshop, Ceci Paolo.

Ledbury is also surrounded by wonderful countryside with more than its fair share of orchards. In the Three Counties Cider shop you can see (and try) a tempting selection of cider, perry, juices and preserves from the orchards of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Many are displayed in simple wooden crates and there’s a good selection of draught cider (soon draught perry too) to take away in containers that you can bring back to refill.

I couldn’t resist a bottle of Blenheim Superb Dessert Cider to go with the Christmas pud. It’s made with juice that has been frozen then thawed to intensify the natural honeyed sweetness. With spiced apple, orange and apricot flavours it’s perfect to go with pudding, but I’m hoping there will be some left to go with strong flavoured local cheese.

Then there was the Putley Gold medium cider that seemed perfect for the Christmas ham – I reckon a little added to one of the hams from our piggies in the freezer when it cooks will be perfect. Not too much though, the cook will need a tipple.

Hannah, who lives next to the orchard that produces these lovely drinks, was happy to offer tastings and was able to talk me through the cider and perrys from Dragon Orchard but also the other producers. She had great ideas for food to go with the drinks too. I wouldn’t have thought of pairing cider with Asian/spicy food, but now I’m convinced.

I’m also very tempted by a bottle of the Gregg’s Pit  ‘Normandy Method’ sparkling perry, subtle and clear but full of frut flavour. Very tricky to make, good perry requires obsessive attention to hygiene throughout the process. And unlike the mass-produced stuff it requires no additives, extra sugar or chemicals, just great perry pears, skill and patience. A great celebratory drink, the Gregg’s Pit perry is really special – forget pear cider, to be quaffed in quantity, this is a gorgeous drink redolent of the orchard it comes from, to be savoured in a champagne flute.  I really fancy some for New Year or before Christmas lunch. Especially as I’ve seen the lovely smallholding where it’s produced, with its majestic old perry pear trees. Food and drink is so enjoyable when you know the story of its production or the countryside that’s entwined with it, isn’t it.

So it’s great to see the Three Counties cider shop doing their bit to bring farmers/smallholders and customers closer together. It’s made me very keen to enjoy great British drinks for the festive period.

Thinking a little further from home, there are some fabulous Somerset Cider Brandys that I have in mind too. Though I do need to nake sure I’m capable of doing the cooking.  And I suppose it’s not ideal to blow the Christmas budget on booze before I’ve bought the presents either.