Mulled Pears

Mulled pears...

Last year when I was making cider, you couldn’t move in the orchard without crushing pears with each footstep. Not so this year, with hardly any fruit on the trees, so when I found some pears I grabbed them with both hands. Rather than using the paltry amount to boost the perceived sweetness of my cider, I decided to try mulling them, using the instructions in Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2.

I appeared to have collected two different varietals of pear, so decided to make two batches, one with each. The first batch was the step into the unknown, do I quarter or just half these small pears, how many cloves to stuff into each one, how full do I fill the kilner jar with syrup, the usual kind of stuff. As it turned out, the process was quite simple, although I ballsed it up at the end by inverting one of the Kilner jars when it had just come out of the oven.

I didn’t know that Kilner jars allowed the steam to escape, even when closed, so imagine my surprise to find a load of boiling syrup ejected round the seal when I turned the jar the right way round again. Unsurprisingly, this jar didn’t seal. It also didn’t seal when I tried to reprocess it in the oven the following day. So it’s currently in the fridge and the kids and I are enjoying eating the contents.

I thought the second batch would go slightly smoother, especially as I now know why you don’t touch a newly sealed Kilner jar. The second batch of pears were slightly bigger though, so even with them all being quartered, it was quite a tight fit to get them all in the two jars. Because of this, I’m not sure I managed to get all the air pockets out when add the the syrup, so when they cooled, the level of syrup was far, far too low. Also, one of the jar again failed to seal. So both of those will be reprocessed after having some light sugar syrup added to them.

Baba Ganoush

Baba Ganoush...

I have a love hate relationship with aubergine, but had my eyes opened when I tried some baba ganoush made by a friend. I had to have a go at making my own.

I associate baba ganoush with the Middle East, so when I was looking for a recipe my first query was basically Yotam Ottolenghi baba ganoush. What turned up was unexpected though, as it turns out that Felicity Cloake has done one of her How to make the perfect… for baba ganoush on The Guardian website.

I decided to go straight for Felicity’s recipe, as life is too short to go through the angst of picking one of the others and then being disapointed. I’ve made it twice now, and I have to say that it’s bloody delicious.

If like me, you don’t have a gas hob and don’t want to soften the aubergine under the grill, then buy a disposable barbeque. The small ones are big enough for four aubergines and the smokiness that’s imparted isn’t too much. Although it can take quite a while to soften large aubergines, as some of these wee barbeques aren’t the most powerful.

This will most likely become a staple dish at parties and barbeques going forward, it’s definitely worth trying.

Nettle Ravioli

Nettle ravioli, with wild garlic pesto...

Nettle ravioli sounded like the next logical step after making garlic pesto. I just wish I hadn’t tried to make it for four adults and two children…

My parent were visiting and as we’d picked a load of wild garlic the day before, I decided to make the nettle ravioli recipe from the River Cottage Handbook No.7 Hedgerow book. Partly as I quite fancied making some stuffed pasta, but also due to the fact that it had wild garlic in the filling and the serving suggestion was for wild garlic pesto. Essentially I was going for wild garlic overload.

I didn’t quite follow the recipe when it came to making the pasta dough, as I had a load of egg yolks in the fridge. So I followed the enriched egg pasta recipe from The Geometry of Pasta and added the nettles as it al lcame together. For some reason, half the dough didn’t want to go through the rolling machine, it just fell to bits. The other half went through fine and produced a veritable mountain of vibrant green pasta sheeting.

I could tell straight away that the amount of filling specified in the recipe was never going to fill the amount of pasta sheet I had, let alone all of the pasta sheet that I should have produced. In the end the filling ran out before I’d got through about a third of the pasta sheet. Having said that, I did switch to making mezzaluna (half moon), rather than ravioli in an attempt to speed up the process, as it was supposed to be dinner, but I was running way over time. I also made some tagliatelle with what leftover dough I managed to force through the rollers.

As I’d run over time for making these to feed everyone for dinner, I ended up freezing them and having them for my dinner a few weeks later. They were a touch on the squeaky side and not overly powerful with any of their flavours. I do think they are probably something that is best prepared and eaten fresh, especially to get the proper punch from the wild garlic.

As we have a patch of nettles just out the back of the garden, it’s definitely something I’d like to try again. If I go with the wild garlic filling again, I’ll be making double, maybe even triple quantities. I might have a go at Yvan’s method of making the nettle pasta dough though, as his looked much, much better than mine.

Wild Garlic Pesto

Wild garlic pesto ready to be blitzed...

I missed out on the wild garlic harvest last year, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake this year. This wild garlic pesto is dead easy to make and tastes great.

The recipe comes from the River Cottage Handbook No.7 Hedgerow, but is essentially just a normal pesto recipe, with the basil and garlic being replaced by wild garlic and the pinenuts by pignuts. Everything goes into the food processor and you whizz it up, adding the oil until till you get the consistency you want.

As I have no idea what a pignut looks like, or where you get one from, so I decided to use hazelnuts instead. You could of course just use pinenuts, but I didn’t have any to hand. What ever you do, don’t use walnuts, their flavour is too much, especially if you roast, or toast them, as the recipe calls for.

The resulting pesto is pretty strong when raw and leaves you with a proper garlic hum. I found that it wasn’t nearly as strong after it had been frozen and the defrosted in the pan while the pasta was draining. Just like any homemade pesto, it’s far, far tastier than any bought from a supermarket and as you can freeze it, there’s no excuse to not make an absolute bucket load.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime and Green Chilli

Yotam Ottolenghi's Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime and Green Chilli...

Another Yotam dish that looks amazing in the book, but rarely looks amazing once it’s on the plate.

If you want the squash to have nice sharp edges like in the photo, you’ll need to cut the skin off the squash before you roast it. If you peel the skin off afterwards, the edges will be all rough and uneven. You could try cutting the skin off after you’ve roasted, but you’re not going to get that nice crisp edge you get when you chop a squash before it’s been cooked.

Presentation wise, you’ll need a really big platter, unless you want all the squash slices to be piled on top of each other. Also, if you put all the dressing on top. of the squash, you’ll not be able to see the squash, as there’s quite a lot of it. Similarly, the coriander, if you chop the required amount and sprinkle it on top of the dressing, you’ll not be able to see the dressing.

Other than that, it’s a really tasty dish.


This blog was always supposed to be more of a notebook for myself, rather than a dissection of cooking other peoples recipes. I’ve got this ludicrous backlog of things I was going to write about, all the way back to October last year. So it’s time for a reboot, time to get back to what this blog was supposed to be about, short posts, with little nuggets of information that I can look at to remind myself of tweaks and issues. I’m not one to deface my books with scribblings and I’ve never got on with physical notebooks, as I can’t spell, so online it is…

If you’re wondering what I had in the backlog, here’s some photos.


Cheese Making Supplies

I like love cheese. However, a lot of the more interesting stuff isn’t vegetarian, so what’s a bloke to do, other than make his own…? Thus #projectcheese was born.

I’m not quite sure when I decided that I was going to make my own cheese, but once the thought had wormed its way into my brain, that was it, it had to happen. So I bought a book and started eating all sort of cheese that I normally wouldn’t touch. A few months ago, I would have scoffed at the thought of enjoying a block of stinky blue cheese, although it was quite a mild one to be fair.

I also spent a bit of my Christmas money on some cheese making equipment; a starter pack, some moulds and some disposable cheese cloths. Then it was just a matter of finding some unhomogenised milk and some free time.

The first thing I had to do was make up a starter, or not. The instructions that came with the kit were for making a litre of starter that you could freeze and use as needed. The book seemed to veer between using small amounts (10ml) and a whole freeze dried packet, basically no consistency. So I decided to go with the instructions that came with the starter kit, as this would mean that I wouldn’t have to order more freeze dried starter, as it would theoretically last for the rest of year in the freezer

It was relatively easy to do. Heat some milk to 90°C, crash cool it to 20°C, add the freeze dried starter, leave for twenty four hours and package it up. So that’s exactly what I did. The hardest bit was trying to get it into those ice cube bags without getting most of it in the sink! I have to say that it looked and smelt a lot like yogurt…

It was a couple of weeks after making the starter, that I finally got round to having a go at making some cheese. One of the reasons for this, was the local Sainsbury’s not having enough unhomogenised milk in stock. I’d decided to use supermarket milk for the first couple of attempts, as I figured they wouldn’t necessarily go to plan, as I didn’t really know what I was doing. There didn’t seem much point finding some awesome local milk and then ruining it through ineptitude.

Sainsbury’s either don’t stock a lot of their own label unhomogenised milk, or it’s quite popular, as even when I tried another store, I only managed to pick up 3 litres worth, rather than the 4.5 litres I was really after. Now that I’ve made the cheese though, I’m not sure I’d have got though the resulting cheese if I’d used 4.5 litres, so there you go.

Making cheese is theoretically simple. Heat the milk gently to a set temperature and hold for a bit, add some starter to make it go a bit funky, before adding the rennet and leaving it to set. Once it’s set, pour off the whey, dump the curds into a cheesecloth lined colander, or mould and leave to drain. If you want a hard or semi-hard cheese, then press the curds in the mould to extract more whey. After a bit of draining, salt the curds and then leave for a bit longer to drain off more whey, then you’re good to go.

So I heated my milk to 30°C, actually it was more like 32°C and left it for about half an hour, before getting some of the starter out of the freezer. In retrospect, I think should have got some of the starter out of the freezer in the morning and let it thaw out, so it was revived a bit. After a further half an hour, I added the rennet and left it for ninety minutes to set. When I came back though, the milk hadn’t set and didn’t look any different to when I’d started.

The temperature had dropped slightly, so I gently heated it back up to 30°C and added another couple of frozen starter cubes and went to bed. I figured that maybe the starter hadn’t worked and the instructions made it quite clear not to add extra rennet, so adding a bit more starter might do the trick. When I came down in the morning, the entire contents of the pan had congealed into one rather wobbly and wet mass, so I poured it all into a cheesecloth lined colander to start the draining process.

I’d bought disposable cheesecloths to use, as I didn’t want the hassle of having to clean and care for a proper cloth one. They’re huge though, so I’d chopped one in two, as I figured that would be enough to line a couple of the different moulds I’d bought. I had no idea how of the volume of curds and resulting cheese I’d end up with, so figured that would be enough cheesecloth and mould to hold it all.

It would have been easier if I’d used a whole cheesecloth, as the contents of the pan only just fitted. There was no way I’d have been able to tie the ends of the cheesecloth together to enable it to be hung like the instructions stated. I was quite surprised by this, as I’d expected the curds and whey to mostly separate in the pan, not to form one large blamanche type mass.

The whey did drain out of the curds quite quickly to start with, so after a few minutes, I started ladling them into the prepared moulds. I managed to fill both moulds and should probably have left well alone at that point. But as I didn’t know what I was doing, I gave the cheesecloths a bit of a squeeze to see what would happen. A long story short, in the end the curds all fitted into one mould, where there were left to drain while I went to work.

When I got home that evening, I took the cheese out of the mould to salt it. The book was a bit vague on how to salt it. Should I break it open, add the salt and mush it all up, or should I just sprinkle it on the outside? I figured that since I was trying to make soft cheese, I would break it open and salt it, before putting it back in the mould, so that’s what I did.

I was quite surprised at how hard it had become, it certainly wasn’t as soft as something like Boursin®. The following morning, I added some garlic and chives to it, and again it was obvious that it was a bit too dry to be a proper soft spreadable cheese. If you imagine a slightly dried out and lumpy Boursin®, then you’re on the right track. I put most of it into a container and into the fridge, but took some to work with me to have for my lunch.

It wouldn’t spread, is about that main thing I’d say about it. It stuck to the knife and generally crumbled all over the place. It was also quite bland, but then it was very young and hadn’t had anytime to mature and take on some the flavour. I also dolloped rather a lot of homemade green tomato chutney all over it, which while nice and tasty, wasn’t going to let much of the cheese flavour through.

It’s nearly been a week since I made it and I’ve had some for lunch everyday apart from Sunday and there’s still some left. So I hate to think how much 4.5 litres of milk would have made and I could see that being a touch too much, especially if the rest of the family don’t eat more of it.

I’m happy that I’ve finally got my finger out and made some cheese, even though it wasn’t quite right. I’m looking forward to having another go, mainly so I can try a few different things and correct a few of the mistakes I made. I’ll certainly be defrosting the starter and maybe leaving it for a bit longer before adding the rennet. I’ll probably hang the cheesecloth next time and definitely not squeeze it, to see if that produces slightly wetter curds. Finally though, if it ends up in a similar state, then when I add the garlic and chives, I’ll whack it in the Kitchen Aid and beat it till it’s smooth.

Homemade cheese and homemade chutney, I should really have made my own rolls...

While I’m quietly pleased, I know I can do better. I’m also thinking that I need a cheese press, as I’m already thinking of running before I can walk and having a crack at some sort of Brie or Cheddar

Leek and Goats Cheese Frittata

Leek and Goats Cheese Frittata

Sometime you get an itch that has to be scratched. Once I got it into my head that I wanted a Leek and Goats Cheese Frittata, then that was it, it had to happen.

My wife and I had been in London for a comedy gig at the O2 and had stayed overnight in a nearby hotel. Sitting on the train on the way back the following day, we were discussing what to have for lunch, when I suddenly decided that I wanted a leek and goats frittata. So we popped into Gog Magog Hill Farm Shop, as it’s sort of on the way home from the station, I could pick up a leek and some soft goats cheese, my wife could get one of their Scotch Eggs.

Once we were home, I softened the leek with some butter in one of our small frying pans, before adding three lightly beaten eggs. After mixing it up a bit, I dotted the goats cheese over the top and whacked it in the oven for twenty minutes. Yes, I’m aware that this isn’t quite the traditional way to make a frittata, but it’s quick and easy.

While it was nice to eat, it was missing something. That something being a bit of crunch, or some texture other than soft. As a starting point it was fine, plenty of room for experimenting with differing cheeses and what not. I just need to figure out what else to add to it, so it’s not so one dimensional in the texture department.

Apple, Pear and Ginger Mincemeat

Apple, Pear and Ginger Mincemeat

I decided that we didn’t have enough mincemeat to make it through the Christmas period. As we had some pears left over, I decided to use them to make Apple, Pear and Ginger Mincemeat.

The recipe for this was in the variations section, at the bottom of the page detailing the Plum and Russet Mincemeat recipe in Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2. The method for producing it was exactly the same, so I wont go into details of that, just a couple of things.

I didn’t have any crystallised stem ginger to hand, just a jar of Chinese stem ginger in syrup, so I used that. I also didn’t bake it for quite as long, about half an hour less and I remembered to add the brandy. It did froth and steam at bit when I added it, as per the recipe, which leaves me wondering if all the alcohol was burnt off or not. It’s supposed to be required to aid in the preserving, so you’d hope some of it survived.

Quince and Pear Tart

Quince and Pear Tart

One weekend a few months back, I decided that I’d like to bake a fruit tart. My first thoughts were along the lines of a traditional apple affair, but as we had some quince and pears kicking around, I decided to use those instead.

I knew I wanted to use the quince, but I wasn’t sure what else to use. I opened my copy of the Flavour Thesaurus, expecting it to be replete with quince pairings, but found only the one, mentioned as part of the Apple & Pear entry. Luckily it mentioned that quince was the ideal thing to flavour apple or pear tarts with, which is just as well, as I wanted to use up some pears I’d been given.

The Flavour Thesaurus also mentioned grating the quince, and adding it skin and all, which is what I did. I knew the gratings would have been be cooked for a while, along with the chopped up pears, so decided to adapt Tony Singh‘s Apple crumble with star anise recipe from The Incredible Spice Men, mainly as everyone knows that star anaise and pears go togeather. I was just after the way he par-cooked the filling, rather than the crumble topping.

Filling sorted, I hoicked my copy of the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book off the shelf and opened it at the pages dealing with pastry. I knew I was after some sort of sweetened shortcrust and decided to go with a pâte sucrée, rather than a pâte brisée. I decided not to blind bake the pastry, as being sweetened, I was convinced that it would be fine. So I lined a loose bottomed flan tin with the pastry and ladled the filling into it.

I’ll be honest and say I was a bit worried, as the filling was quite wet, from all the pear and quince juice, plus all the butter. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I put the top on and plopped it into the oven. I needn’t have worried though, as the pastry was fine, even though a bit of juice did come bubbling out of the slits I’d cut in the top. A quick sprinkle with some caster sugar and it was left to cool for a bit, before we had it for pudding. The leftovers lasted for a few days, they made lunchtimes at work just that extra bit tasty.

I’m normally that kind of person who slavishly follows a recipe and gets very stressed when things aren’t going according to the instructions. I was quite impressed with myself for managing to knock this up from inspiration, rather than than from a found recipe. I was going to list all the ingredients and the method I’d used etc, but to be honest, I sort of winged it. If you’ve found this page because you want to make something similar, then I hope I’ve given you enough hints and pointers to the books and recipes that inspired me, so you can figure out what I did.