Friday, 25 October 2013

What's for Supper Mother??

What's For Supper Mother?  (Or “What are we having for tea, Mum??)

Okay, What's for supper Mother sound terribly old fashioned, even a little bit posh, but every Mum understands that dilemma.  I shouldn't be sexist, I'm sure it's a dilemma that also faces many Dad's too.  So what IS for super in your house tonight?

Believe me, whether you can cook or not, that question is still a reality in every house in the country and it's probably the question I get asked most often! Nobody is too concerned about how NOT to curdle the custard, or even how to make a flavoured foam.... the question on everybody's mind is always, what shall we have for tea!?  

This week brings my food festival season to end. The summer months have been jam packed with events and festivals, displaying the best of what local food has to offer. Love them or loath them, food festivals, large and small, are a great opportunity for small food producers to showcase what they have to offer to their neighbours, locals and keen foodies from further afield. They offer a diversity of foods ranging from cheeses to beers, wines and spirits, cakes, pastries and breads, a tasty range of rare breed meats and sausages, not forgetting the kids favourite ice creams and sorbets. I should know, having been at a festival virtually every weekend since May!

For me, the challenge of the food festival is "what shall I cook today"? As a demonstrator it's up to me to decide what to bring and what to cook, provided of course that I use local produce. This offers a lot of freedom, but also presents that same eternal problem that faces Mums each night of the week!  "What's for super Mother?"  It's not that we can't cook, it's that we can't decide WHAT to cook out of our usual repertoire of dishes.

We all have our favourite meals of course, and the rest of the family have theirs, but we like to try something different occasionally. For me at festivals it's the same. What'll impress? What looks good?  What's just a little bit different to the norm, and what will impress and motivate people to give it go? Sometimes of course, it's the 'simple' and uncomplicated dishes that impresses the most, allowing the natural flavours of good food to take center stage. Not adding, not taking away.  It's the same for home cooking, sometimes less is more. In wanting to create culinary perfection for our families, day in day out, I think we complicate things and in doing so, give ourselves a real headache, metaphorically speaking!

Our Grandmothers had it relatively easy, a meal was simple, it comprised meat, three veg and gravy, done! The influence of overseas travel, and a trend for experimenting in the kitchen, now presents us with such an array of different foods, flavours and styles, that were left spiraling into confusion.

It's a good idea to take a deep breath, a pencil and clean sheet of paper! Why? Well, start by writing down every meal you've cooked during the past couple of weeks. You'll be amazed what you've made, now add all the other meals you sometimes cook and like to cook for special occasions. Add those meals you 'used' to cook, but have forgotten about and have fallen off the family menu. Start thinking outside the box, and add the snack type meals that you don't feel are worthy of including on the menu, and by now you probably have a fair number of meals to choose from! 

Let's assume you had 'poached egg on toast'  down there as a snack meal. And let's assume  you considered that a pathetic addition, right? Now let's jig it about a bit..... change egg to 'free range egg', change toast to ' a toasted wedge of italian ciabatta', add to it 'with smoked salmon and fresh herbs', and voila, you have a meal suitable for placing on the menu of a decent restaurant!! We are our own worst enemy.....Often feeling that our efforts aren't special enough, let alone worthy of sharing with family and friends.The truth is we are a nation of food lovers, just look at the number of TV programs dedicated to cooking!  Watching others trying to knock up great dishes out of next to nothing is entertainment indeed.... Until we’re faced with exactly the same scenario moments later!! 

Where am I going with this? I just want to pat you on the back, if you are one of those wonderful people that cater for the family day in day out, it can be a thankless task. Don’t worry if you  get disillusioned and guilt ridden by the endless repetition and churning out of the same familiar meals. Look at your list and see what you can and have made, and chin up with pride as you meander past the ready meal section of the supermarket. However simplistic, repetitive or plain your family meals are, they are made with love (maybe with a little frustration thrown in for good measure!) If on the other hand you don’t ‘GET’ any of this and you relay don’t know what all the fuss is about, you either need to get a pinny on and get cooking or you really should get back to shining your halo!

If, whilst reading this, you’re getting those awful pangs of guilt, because your ready meal is already in the microwave, fear not, it’s never too late. I have to confess if you look in my shopping basket during a busy week, you'll find that I do occasionally  give in to temptation and succumb to the dreaded foil tray meals. However, life is far too short to be guilt ridden and besides, this weeks recipe can be tomorrow night’s super, ratatouille. Despite being a nightmare to spell, and a great children’s film, it is also a delicious supper. For those of you who never know what to do with a glut of tomatoes and / or courgettes and marrows, this is your solution. 

I made a huge saucepan full about a week ago, it’s a great autumn dish, and full of autumn colour. Spice it up a little if you like things hot, eat it warm with crusty bread rolls drizzled with olive oil and a chunk of your favourite cheese. If the kids like pasta, just add a ladle full to a bowl of penne or pasta bows (farfalle) to warm them up after school. Store it in the fridge for up to three days or freeze portions in ‘Pour & Store’ bags (from any supermarket - freezer bag isle!) ready for another day.  

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

October - My favorite Month :)

There's plenty to write about at this time of year.  If I'm totally honest, I think it's my favourite month.  A month to recover from the summer sun, the children's school holidays, to set new routines and to reap the benefits of long hours in the garden.  At last, the weeds begin to ease their attack on the summer flower and vegetable borders and the harvest is abundant!

Hedgerows have provided us with ample fruit for jams and jellies, and late maturing tomatoes and sun ripened pumpkins and squashes provide good reason to get pickling and storing the incessant harvest.

Life at The Pumpkin Patch is good and busy, long days of clearing away and preparing for the winter ahead, almost as though a huge storm is imminent!  It's great fun to sow seed, to water and weed, to reap the rewards the garden has to offer, but the task of finally putting the garden into near hibernation for a few months is joy indeed!  It's like a happy and great ending to a good book.

At my home, Allt-y-Gôg Farm, a sign that autumn is finally upon us is the chattering and farewell of our resident swallows and the thick cold mists that greet us each morning.  It's bye bye swallows, hello autumn! Though this year, despite the thick early morning fogs in the Towy valley, we have enjoyed the hottest autumnal afternoons I can remember. A great opportunity to prolong our summer habits and to paint fences, tend to the borders and to simply sit out in the garden 'till the sun goes down. Soon the sun's heat will disappear, the autumn equinox last month marked an important change. Now the sun is rising later and nightfall comes sooner, our days in the northern hemisphere are getting shorter.  I always try to get and about in the garden for as long as I can in October, especially making the most of an Indian summer. 

Following the relaxed summer months, the autumn forces the pace a little! The need to use, preserve and appreciate the seasonal produce, to make jams and jellies, chutneys and preserves - the pressure is on!! It's part of my annual ritual, making jams goes hand in hand with dusting off the winter boots and searching for the winter jumpers and cardies!

The pumpkins are my favourite in the garden, hence the name 'The Pumpkin Patch'.  Their bright orange, cream and mottled green colours revealed themselves a few weeks back, as the foliage started to die back. They are now in full glory, like jewels in the garden,  hardly surprising that they feature so highly this time of year and later on at Halloween. Whether or not one supports Halloween, one has to recognise the beauty of the pumpkin.  Christmas trees and baubles brighten up the deep winter months, but the cheerful pumpkins sure do brighten up a dull Autumn day.

At our regular classes at ‘The Pumpkin Patch’ we are spoilt for choice.  Bramble jelly, pumpkin soup, or another favourite of mine ... stinger soup (using a bucket full of stinging nettles - a great detox!),  bean and potato salad to use up the enormous amount of French purple beans we have, or apple and plum tarts and puddings. I could go on and on….this is why I love October. 

This weeks recipe is so simple ant yet so tasty. It’s a great way to use up leftovers from a Sunday roast, or last nights supper. Combine any green vegetables, runner beans, French beans, broad beans, peas and even sweetheart cabbage, fried in a little garlic, with any leftover potatoes. You can make more of a meal of it, by adding bacon pieces or chorizo sausage, and if you really want to, break a few eggs over the entire mixture (in the frying pan) and make a frittata! That’s almost three meals from one recipe! Serve with some home made chutney and fresh crusty bread. Yum!


Warm Salad Potato and Green Bean Salad

4 Pembrokeshire  potatoes, peeled, diced and boiled or leftover boiled potatoes
1 cup green beans (I like French beans) - top and tailed
1 cup garden peas
1 cup broad beans
1 red pepper sliced
olive oil
1 tablespoon, butter
1 clove garlic
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: Bacon pieces, chorizo sausage

  • Place a little oil and butter in a large frying pan
  • Fry the green beans to soften (add the bacon or chorizo sausage if using)
  • Add a clove of crushed garlic and a little more butter.
  • Add the garden peas ( frozen is fine!) the broad beans and the peppers and fry over a low heat until softened. 
  • Mix in the diced boiled potato and warm through.
  • Season with salt and plenty of pepper.