Saturday, 18 June 2011

Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote

Rhubarb and Strawberry compote
Having had an afternoon picking our own at Millets Farm Centre during the week, we needed to make use of the lovely produce we brought home with us.  An all time favourite of Sous Chef J is this mix of rhubarb and strawberries... using just four ingredients, it's easy to make and is a tasty treat for pud or, as I like it, with natural yogurt at breakfast.
The ingredients
The ingredients are rhubarb (a lovely handful of sticks), strawberries (we used about 350g), an orange (juiced) and a dollop of honey.

Chopped rhubarb

Runny honey...
Rhubarb cooking
First, the rhubarb sticks were washed, the thicker bits of skin were peeled and then they were cut into 2-3cm cubes.  These were placed in a heavy based saucepan and the orange juice and honey were added.  The covered pan was then placed over a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the rhubarb was starting to break down.  

Very berry strawbs
Chopped strawbs

Whilst the rhubarb was cooking, Sous Chef J prepared the strawberries, washing then chopping them.... he cut the small strawberries in half and the larger ones into quarters.

Ready for last stage...
... adding strawbs

Once the rhubarb was looking like it was starting to lose its shape, the strawberries were added, the pan was re-covered and the heat was turned off. This was left for about five minutes.

 At the end, this is what was awaiting us...
Sous Chef J "Ready when you are!"
As a pudding we serve this alone, with meringues or mixed with creme fraiche for our version of a fool.  It's very more-ish and doesn't hang around... although kept in a fridge it is also lovely chilled at breakfast for a summery treat.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Picking Our Own...

It came as a lovely surprise to be invited to go and have a look around Millets Farm Centre's Pick Your Own operation.  We had been intending to go strawberry picking but not actually got around to it so this was the encouragement we needed. 

We went to the centre at Frilford, Oxon, which is well signposted off the A420 Oxford to Swindon road.  There's also a centre at Evesham Country Park and we hope to meet friends there over the summer holidays. 

On arrival, it was clear that there has been a lot of thought about the site layout.  We quickly located the PYO area and made our way there.  Having collected a basket, we saw ahead of us well signposted areas that were looking very appealing.  The sun was shining and there were some lovely cumulus clouds about so it looked set to be a fine afternoon.

The first crops we saw were redcurrants and they looked (and tasted) wonderful.  It seems not many people know what to do with redcurrants - how about making jelly (to go with lamb or in red cabbage at Christmas) or sorbet?

Next we moved onto gooseberries where the bushes were bursting with fruit... Sous Chef J was most taken with the informational signs and, being a keen golfer, was surprised to read that competitive gooseberries used to be grown that were the size of  golf ball!

There were also rows and rows of blackberries (Sous Chef J was pleased to note they were the thornless variety) but these would not be ready to harvest for a few weeks yet.

Next was a field that had recently been planted with brussels sprouts (these will be ready in time for our Christmas meal), runner and broad beans.   Where birds are a problem with broad beans, they were being outwitted by the use of sheeting to stop them from rooting out the newly planted beans... which is something they do 'for fun'... they don't even bother to eat the beans.  However some young rabbits had been eating the sprouts and, it seems, enjoying them rather a lot.

Having looked at where the maize (corn on the cob) was growing, the next crop that we saw was leeks... although, in truth, they looked more like chives... however, they will be ready to crop later in the year.  Next door though, the beetroot was looking almost ready to harvest... and the leafy spinach alongside was being picked.  Asparagus has been allowed to go to flower and will convert all the energy it gets from the sunshine into starch before storing it over the winter and using it to make lovely new spears next year... yum.

Anyone for cherries?!
Then, we were in for a real treat... there was a netted area of fruit trees that were laden with the most delicious looking cherries... the trees were dripping with them and we were allowed first access to pick the fruit.

There was so much fruit... and the cherries were very tasty.
Which to pick first?

The next fruit trees were plums (which, again, were laden with fruit) that will be ready to gather in a month or so.  Then the apples... some lovely bramleys were growing well.  The farm presses and makes its own apple juice as this is a good way to make use of the less perfect-looking fruits.

We then were taken to see rhubarb and carrots and after that it was a trot along the parsnips to the poly tunnels. Here we were able to pick raspberries and strawberries.  The strawberries we chose to pick from were grown in coir bags, which are set on benches about 100cm above the ground.  Great for seeing your "prey" and selecting the juiciest fruits!  

However, Sous Chef J only had eyes for the raspberries and, having done some insect spotting, he was ready to grab whatever fruits he spotted. 

It was a very productive afternoon and were delighted with the produce we'd been able to pick.  Our basket was groaning with fresh fruit and veg as you can see.  Best of all, it was competely gluten free!

 The function room above the restaurant was the venue for a well earned cuppa and some snacks.  Having asked the manager we were supplied with a couple of Mrs Crimbles individually wrapped cakes.  Sous Chef J was delighted with his macaroon.

Finally, we were given a super goodie bag with items from the farm shop and lots of interesting leaflets about upcoming activities.  

Sous Chef J is keen to return to try out the Alice in Wonderland Maize Maze with some pals in a few weeks...
Millets Farm Centre surprised us because there is so much to do there. Sous Chef J checked out the play area and liked the roundabout very much (although did comment it's not accessible to those in a wheelchair).

The farm animal zoo, trout lake, Frosts's Garden Centre, Farm Shop and Restaurant are things we will investigate further on our next visit.

We reckon it's a good venue for an outing even on a rainy day as you can still pick the fruit in the poly tunnels without getting too muddy or wet.  Plus, you'd be bound to have the pick of the crop if others aren't as hardy.

If you need further information, then check out Millets Farm Centre's website  it has all the up-to-date info about which crops are in season and what activities are going on.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Parmesan Crisps

Sous chef J likes crunchy textures and we find that our version of parmesan crisps provide this very tastily!  They are the simplest item to make.  Requiring little equipment and the only ingredient is parmesan cheese.
Once you have the cheese, (this is a good way to use up the leftovers/hard bits of parmesan) it needs to be grated.  We used quite a fine grater and then the cheese was placed in small pastry cutters (an attempt at portion control and neatness) on a non-stick baking tray.
The tray was then placed in a pre-heated oven (180º) for about 4 minutes... they need to be watched as, depending on the size of the crisps, the parmesan can melt at different rates.   Once the cheese melted and started to bubble, we took the tray from the oven and allowed the crisps to cool for a few minutes.

This is a high fat cheese, but a fair bit of fat is left on the tray after cooking....
...however, the resultant crisps are yummy!  They can be stored in an airtight container and are good with dips, soup or on their own.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Nut Butter Cookies

This recipe is one I found a while back on Annabel Karmel's website when searching for a Gluten Free Cookie Recipe.

To make 18 cookies, we needed

  235 g (8 1/4 oz) smooth peanut butter, at room temperature
165 g (6 oz) caster sugar
1 medium egg
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
a large pinch of salt
165 g (6 oz) milk chocolate chips (or milk chocolate, chopped) 

The ingredients are quite limited but, as is usual, we did make a few changes!  Normally, we use any kind of nut butter instead of the peanut butter the recipe suggests - this week it was the turn of almond butter.  Also we only use 100g of chocolate drops plus ours were plain/dark ones (from Doves Farm.)
Having mixed the majority of the ingredients together, which was quite a work out for sous chef J as it's quite a dense blend, the chocolate chips were added...
 ...and then the mix was rolled into small, walnut sized balls and placed on a non-stick baking tray.  Before being flattened slightly and placed in the oven at 180ºC before being checked after 10 minutes.  The recipe states 12-15 minutes but experience has taught us not to wait that long, as nut butter can burn quite quickly... and as all ovens vary, we like to keep an eye on things!

Sous chef J declared that the cookies were done, so they were removed from the oven and left to cool on the tray for 10 minutes (remember to set the timer... you need to move them before they become too cold) and then put on a wire rack to completely cool.
A few of the cookies were packed and frozen for later consumption.... they're great for grabbing from the freezer and adding to a bag of picnic goodies as they'll be defrosted in time for lunch!
They freeze well and, as they have a high sugar content, they are good as a once in a while treat.  Made with dark choc chips like we do, they're also Dairy Free....

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Super Scones

The damp bank holiday weekend brought ample opportunity for baking.  Sous chef J decided to 'risk' making scones as well as his usual Lunar Cookies (see earlier blog entry for details of how to  make them).  He chose a recipe from Phil Vickery's Seriously Good Gluten Free Cooking Book (see link to the right)
Next, he gathered the required ingredients and began to measure out what he needed to make half the amount stated in Phil's book.  (We did make a little amendment to the recipe, using natural yogurt instead of milk... which is something that's been a long tradition as it's a trick my Nana used and her scones were THE BEST!)
The picture above shows some of the equipment sous chef J uses.  He particularly likes the silicone utensils and his set of mini measuring spoons!  Having weighed, sifted and mixed the dry ingredients, the remaining items were added to the mix and the kneading began.  (This is something sous chef J finds particulary difficult due to his sensitivity to textures and his lack of muscle strength to actually work the mix).  After a little help from Dad, sous chef J cut out his scones, "swiped" the tops with egg mix and placed them on a non-stick baking tray in a pre-warmed oven.
Once the scones were cooked... this is what they looked like, although not for long as they were soon devoured having been served up with jam and clotted cream.  

Definitely a good recipe and one that will be made, with added fruit if he remembers, in future!

Apologies for no 'final serving' pic; sous chef J had other things on his mind once he'd finished his culinary creations.