Saturday, 28 January 2017

Saturday Mornings

If you have been indoors for most of the week working on projects, then it is certainly the day to be taken out, particularly if the sun is shining!  Whereas I have been out and about, Mr S has been working hard today still with a little dampness underfoot, we strolled out into Wells....

Some of the streets are cobbled as in Vicar's Close...I'm unsure whether they are more correctly called sets, but sets are smaller..the street is paved and worn smooth.

All along the close are magnificent old buildings

and even if you look up, the details of the chimneys show crowning stone ornamentation.  These date from the 15th century when the chimneys were built taller allowing for the more pungent smoke, from the new fangled coal fires, to be carried away.  This was about the time that coal mining in the Mendips began, though there is evidence that there was coal mining in the area as far back as the during the Roman occupation.

Of course, a few hours out requires a pit stop and today we stopped at the Cathedral Cafe for their special of toasted teacake and cuppa, with lovely views and entertaining glimpses of the pigeons preening in the sunshine.

Earlier in the week, for a walk we took another path leading from the corner of the Bishops's palace, where we spied a few snowdrops,

which led up Torhill Lane, where the path skirts woodland,  then a stream, coming out to just about where the Old Frome Road splits off from the Bath Road.  The woodpeckers were making their hammering noises in the woodland, and we have penciled in the walk through Tor Hill Woods for another day. We then walked back along the road to Wells, admiring various old buildings then popping into St Thomas....and spied my angel for the day there.

Circular Walk from Wells

If its been raining for a few days, cross country walks will make for muddy walks.  Where we have lived before we found circular walks which were fairly clean underfoot, and last Sunday we were delighted to find a similar walk from our home.  We made towards to the Cathedral then simply followed the dog walkers and family groups out for a good Sunday walk to clear away the cobwebs.

The 'City' ends behind the Cathedral where a tarmac path leads through fields towards the boundary of Dulcote Village.  With wonderful views back towards the Cathedral and wood topped hills, it makes for a delightful walk.  We came across two fabulous cattle troughs, in to which we saw several Labradors bounce and then dive in, seeing first the expressions on the dogs' faces and then that of their owners...I wonder whether these were made as cattle troughs or whether they were used for some former manufacturing process.

There is a short walk along a pavement to DulcoteVillage, then taking a right hand turn through the village, we tagged onto a path along the Old Strawberry Line towards Morrisons, then on home.  The cycle and walk route had been carefully tended, with a few interesting sculptures along the way.  Along the left hand side was the A371 with a continual flow of traffic,  screened by a light woodland and scrub.

Pure rye the sourdough way

Since this is the first time I have attempted pure rye bread, and even tasted it, I was not sure how it should taste...and was not sure I would like the taste...but having baked this and tasted it...I can truthfully say, it is delicious.  Mr S also agrees...delicious with cheese, and I do know from having read rather quite a few books on food that a good partner is Smoked Salmon.

Yesterday we had almost half the loaf sliced thinly and forming the base of open sandwiches topped with soft goat's cheese and smoked salmon, with a rather colourful salad of watercress and orange on the side.

Made with 100% dark rye and following Jane Mason's directions on page 45  of her book,  the only deviation is that I used an oval banneton as I do not have the right sized round one!  The directions say coat the proving basket with rye flakes...well my rye flakes just would not balance on the sides, so I dusted the basket with rye flour, and rolled the bread in the flakes before inverting it into the basket.  As it is rather cool as the moment, it took a little more than 5 hrs...7hrs for right level of holes on the surface, but I was happy to wait.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Exploring nearby

A short car ride took us to the Cheddar Gorge and on a cold mid week day it was very nearly deserted.

Most of the shops and tea rooms were closed which meant we were able to slowly walk up the road which winds itself up the bottom of the Gorge, with no cars parked in the bays which line the road.

Its strange that I had never is such an impressive cleft in the hill, but I have a lot more to learn and wonder whether some of the exposed stone had been quarried in the past.

I have just finished ready Sharon Jacksties's Somerset Folk Tales...which is also peppered with Somerset facts, in which I was sad  to learn that rare Cheddar Whitebeam Saplings are being put at risk from the very animals set on the hill sides to maintain the landscape...on one side of the Gorge there are goats roaming.

and on the other side Soay Sheep.  Another warmer day, we shall do the the circular walk along the top of the Gorge.

After an excellent lunch of Fish and Chips at Tuckers...Pensioner Portion for me, with half the chips exchanged for salad, we motored on to Thatcher's Cider Shop....

We bought three bottles of their premier brews and a bottle of apple wine made the Champagne way...and had an eye on the huge barrels...bargain cider if you can drink it in litre quantities!  Looking forward to booking a tour and tasting sometime when the apple blossom is out, and combining it with a walk along the Strawberry Line.

That evening back home, I captured this lovely sunset from the living window.

Khubz Mahala

I seem to have skipped the Fastnachs:  on account of that they have to be deep fried, and we have neither chip pan nor deep fat fryer these days.  I remember the times when the deep fat fryer was on once or twice a week...but that must be over ten years that it was sent to the recycling gods.

The other bake I am passing on is the Sweet Steamed Buns.  I've never been a fan of steamed buns and bread, and since they would be tricky to cook all 16 of them, and then heat up a couple at a time, I have been trying other bakes.  Only when we come to complete all the bakes which must be any time soon, for the sake of saying that I have baked every recipe in the book...I may have to try these.

On of the latest set of buns from the challenge is Khubz Mahala from Iran.  The recipe is on page 52 of Jane Mason's Book of Buns.  Most of the recipes have yielded just the right consistency, but for me there have been problems with this one.  I shall consult with the group and see if they had to add extra water.

I guess it starts with the 200g pitted dates, dried or fresh, which need to be 'just' covered with water and simmered for 30 minutes or so until they are very soft.  Dates can be very soft already or rather hard, well dried and compressed.  Anyway I used the medium sort which are loose and ready stoned which are available from Waitrose for baking.  I put them in a small pan, and made sure the water was just above the level of the dates...simmered them slowly, with the lid on,  till they were soft, which took less than 15 minutes, after which I used the hand blender to get them to a puree, then added the 200g cold water, and the 4 teaspoons orange blossom water given in the recipe.

By the time I had sorted out my trays, and weighed out the 700g flour, and the yeast, the dates and water were cool...BUT mixing them all up did not give me the 'really sticky' dough described in the recipe.  I went a little off piste...I cracked in an egg which was lying on the counter, but that was not sufficient, so I had to go and wash my hands before finding a jug and drawing some fresh water, meaning that I have not followed the recipe exactly. So if you try this recipe and it is have some spare water to hand to add. Usually I keep some extra water at my side but had not done so this time.  There is neither fat nor extra sugar or eggs...

I followed the shaping technique exactly, and before the final proving had rolled each ball of dough into flat circles which remained fairly flat when dimpled for the final egg wash and sprinkle of sesame seeds, and wondered how they would perform in the oven.

The top shelf shows the last four buns just put in, with a tray nearly baked on the bottom shelf,  showing how the Khubz Mahala rise from flat disk to more rounded buns.

The buns are not really sweet enough for us to eat just alongside a cup of tea...but slit with a little butter and some honey or jam they are fragrant and delicious.  With 20 buns...most went into the Freezer, but we had our bun Friday afternoon tea....the next day we had one each, warmed up a little in the oven and they were as soft and delicious as they were on baking day.

My 15 boxes of dates arrived from London yesterday....why not try our after dinner sweetmeat, a nice date stuffed with a whole brazil nut: no baking required, and the flavour combination is great.  Two of these do very nicely instead of pudding!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Somerset Spelt Apple and Cider Cake

When I was deciding what to bake for the first visit of our beloved family, I wanted to find a really local recipe.  I tried books, and I googled and only just now have found a recipe for Somerset Apple Cake which I shall try in a week or two..or course with a twist or two.

I was inspired to develop a new recipe based on the bounty of our new County...just down the road at Shapham Park farm they are now growing Spelt, we have wonderful orchards of apples with numerous varieties at the Wells Market and just beyond Cheddar is the Cider Maker Thatchers.  We have sourced wonderful honey and local free range eggs.


1 small eating apple, cored, then diced small with the skin still on 
1/2 tsp ground mace
150g light spelt flour
50g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
75g Delamere goat's butter
50g honey
100g light muscovado sugar 
60g raisins
75ml cider
2 medium eggs
Flaked Almonds

Soak the raisins in the cider for a few hours or overnight.

Toss the prepared apple in the ground mace.

Add the spelt flour to a large bowl, together with the almonds and baking powder.  Add to this the cold butter and rub it in till the mixture looks even and like fine breadcrumbs.  Add the light muscavado sugar and mix till evenly distributed.

Mix the honey into the cider and raisins, the mix in the eggs gently till you have an even mixture.

Add the honey, cider, raisin and egg mixture to bowl containing the spelt, almond and butter, and stir till even but don't stir too much!

Gently pour into a 500g loaf tin which has been lined with baking parchment.  I used my slightly large Silverwood tin, which gives nice wide slices.  There is no reason not to bake this as a tray bake either!

Bake in a moderate oven...I used 160 Fan in my new oven!  It took about 40 minutes till a skewer came out with just that little bit of moisture which means the cake is done but not overdone.  For the last fifteen minutes I covered the cake with some parchment to stop the almonds from scorching.

Most of the cake was eaten on the day of the visit, and very much enjoyed.  I'll be baking this one for all new visitors so be is  lovely with a dollop of clotted cream or local organic sheep's yogurt when I can get it.  If it isn't in the market that week, I may just get you to cycle across a couple of miles of beautiful countryside and pick some up from Wootton Farm. Mr S prefers goat's yogurt...and his favourite is Delamere's which Morrison stocks.

Visiting New Garden Nursery and Making Mango Chutney

On Thursday I went for the first time this year to my new knitting group...and I was really pleased when Maggie asked if I would like to go with her on  to the Rocky Mountain Nursery which is about three miles out of Wells.  I had looked it up and had penciled in a visit for some time soon!  I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the piercing cold, helping Maggie with her choices and purchases, then helping to unload and split and spread out the bags of compost.  Only two keen gardeners could get the work done this fast in failing light.  I brought back a little pot of crocuses and a small bottle of house plant feed...

Maggie had needed to pick up another ten bags of ericaceous compost for her newly built raised bed, and she also wanted to see what the new green grocery stall which has set up at the Rocky Mountain Nursery every Thursday was like.  We are both newcomers to the area, and this market stall holder used to be in Wells and had a good reputation.

They had some good quality produce and for £2.50 you could get a whole box of mangoes...about 15 medium sized fruit.  Only last week, Mr M was lamenting the fact that  we had used up the last of stashed jars of Mango Chutney.  I was even calculating how to get the fruit on my bicycle and then back home!  Maggie gave me a lift right up to my bike!  We are visiting again next week as Maggie has put in an order for a full crate of Seville Oranges.  I can see that both the businesses will benefit from this association, people wanting fruit and veg will visit the nursery and visa versa!

I now need to get on and design and print the labels...then get these beauties stashed and maturing in a cool dark place! It was interesting making two types of Mango Chutney at the same time and seeing the effect of steeping the fruit in sugar

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Dried Chestnuts: Foodie treasures from Madeira

Last Easter we spent a couple of weeks on Madeira and we enjoyed our various trips and adventures there, and of course I was on the look out for different types of ingredients and foods!

On our trip to the Valley of the Nuns...where we were most expertly driven around mountains with hairpin roads as I have never seen before, we stopped at a viewpoint where I took these pictures

Trees grew wherever their roots could gain anchorage

At the very quiet market place in the Valley of Nuns Village, where there were only two stalls, I started to chat to one stall holder.  She was a very helpful young woman who spoke excellent English.  She and her family farmed on the hill sides.  I looked over what she had to offer and wondered what I could take home.  I chose some wild oregano, which I shared with a couple of friends and is almost gone, and a bag of dried chestnuts.

I was going through my ingredients and decided it was time to use these.  First I had to find out how to 'deal' with them.

I soaked them overnight.  As I walked into the kitchen the next morning, I was surprised by how much water they had absorbed.  It was easy to carefully peel off any remaining outer membrane and inspect them for any 'foreign bodies', of which about 5% were rejected. I then cooked them very gently until half cooked as I wanted to be able to add them to dishes such as casseroles and soups and continue cooking them for a little longer.  

The young woman had explained that they were all from local trees which are organically grown.  What she did not explain is that they had been heated and dried over real smoking fire.  This has imbued the chestnuts with a wonderful wood smoked flavour.  That day I had popped only four into a 'Chicken Chasseur' type dish with some Madeira Wine and realise that these are a real foodie find.

I've boxed up and bagged and frozen the rest for future use!  The cooking liquor is far too precious to throw away.  I am planning mushroom and chestnut soups, venison casseroles, pork, chestnut and bean hot pots etc.  Maybe even some smoked chestnut and thyme infused bread?

I have since learnt that Chestnuts are an important part of the Valley's harvest, and each year there is a very popular Chestnut Festival at the beginning of November.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Japanese Knot Bag

After many years enjoying weekly WI craft sessions under Kay's expert tutelage in Kenilworth, it was with trepidation that I ventured out last night, along dark and very narrow country lanes to Wendy's Home.  I only went to my first Wells WI meeting this month, then joined them this week for their New Year's dinner, and have now got one craft session under my belt.  The needlecase, housewife, scissor keeps and the large bag with felted flowers on the side all made at the Kenilworth WI craft group over a number of years was much admired.

Wendy and other members made me feel most welcome, and I joined in the session cutting up my fabric for the Japanese Knot Bag...then just had to come to a halt.  With so very little sleep over the last few days...I am a little brain addled.....

but I watched Wendy as she expertly machined the base of the bag picking up all those tips, which I hope I shall be able to recall when I get the sewing machine out and get the bag ready for the next stage, for the next meeting of the craft group in about a month's time.

Mosaic Carpet Cushion

Its when my friend Penny came to stay and when I showed her where I was with my latest project, that I realised that it was high time I finished this knitting project.  It was back in April that I spent a lovely day with Linda at Marie Wallin's workshop.  Diane another knitting friend was there and had recommended this workshop to me.

After the workshop, I followed Diane's progress with the cushion on Ravelry, and admired the way she had tackled the back of her cushion.  The kit which is now available only covers the front of the cushion.  Linda being the wonderful seamstress that she is, backed the cushion with fabric, whereas Diane had gone for a knitted back.

That was the option I decided on.  I had some superb ceramic buttons which had been languishing for far too long unseen in a dark corner of a drawer, and found that they matched the colour palet of the Rowan Tweed very well.  I ordered  more Rowan Felted Tweed, and thankfully when I needed only about 5 metres in one of the colours to cast off, both Linda and Ronnie who has a little stash of Rowan yarn came to the rescue.

With a nice plump feather cushion from John Lewis bought to fit the knitted front, I knitted stripes and put in just one repeat of the front pattern... turn over, and the front is revealed.  Usually I do block..but with more pressing things to get on with, I just popped in the cushion, and that is how it has stayed.  Its lovely and warm, and for now on our conservatory chair which is masquerading as a dining chair pending the construction of our new conservatory!

Krachel with Pistachios

I'm still catching up with the bakes from Jane Mason's Book of Buns.  This was one of the December challenges and is on page 133 of the book.  I didn't quite keep to the recipe, which for a first effort is unusual for me...but I only had 100g of pistachios and just did not feel up to going out for more, plus I felt that 200g pistachios as listed in the ingredients would have made for an over nutty bake.  To compensate I substituted 25g of the butter for a tablespoonful of Pistachio Oil which I have had unopened in the cupboard for quite some time.

I followed Jane Mason's technique, but the various provings/risings took far longer, and as a lesson learnt, I would start this early in the morning, rather than later in the afternoon.  My list of ingredients were as follows for 16 buns:

50g runny honey
200g whole goat's milk
600g strong flour
10g dried yeast
10g salt
75g goat's butter melted and allowed to cool
1 tablespoon/ 25g Pistachio Oil
2 teaspoons aniseeds
2 eggs
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
100g shelled pistachios, gently pan roasted and chopped

Glaze...made up of an egg beaten with a little water, and a pinch of salt and sugar.

 As the melted butter was quite hard to knead in, next time I make these, I shall try kneading all the ingredients except the butter and nuts for ten minutes, then kneading in the room temperature butter for another few minutes, with the nuts being mixed in after 30 minutes.  If I had an orange to hand I would also add some grated zest and a little juice.

These are truely delicious and giving off a wonderful aroma during baking.  The smell of Aniseed, honey, and nuts is so heady.  They freeze rather well and are delicious warmed up and then served with butter and honey...I had a few thin slices of the Quince Cheese I made a few weeks ago from the last of Penny's beautiful fruit.

On Sunday I had invited a couple of new neighbours Val and Kay, around for morning coffee...the Krachel were on the table, with Preserves, Honey and Coffee..everyone enjoyed them!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Steam Train ride to Minehead

There are some wonderful days out that I can think of for the warmer and longer days...such as visiting National Trust Houses, and visits to beautiful gardens...but we are a few months away from that that type of activity and sometimes it is nice to find something different to do when we are around the short, cold darker days of mid-winter.  Most people know that Mr S loves trains, the real ones or model ones, and down in our new County, there is plenty to keep him happy.  There seems to be model exhibitions on most weekends, with wonderfully executed layouts such as this one, which we went down to view one then went on to spend a couple hours and have lunch in Sherbourne, last Saturday.

I made Mr S happy when I accepted to spend a day with him at the Steam Festival on the West Somerset Railway.  After driving down to Bishops Lydeard across beautiful countryside, we sat in a carriage compartment, and started our journey which took us down to the coast to Watchet,  past Blue Anchor Bay, then with Dunster Castle on its rock to the right, we arrived at the station in Minehead.  We happened to share the carriage with a two nice fellow travelers, one of whom had just recently moved down from Coventry!

At Minehead we chose to explore a little by walking westwards towards the harbour, and beyond, along the West Somerset Coast Path, until it became a muddy tract more suited for serious walkers with walking boots.

There was an interesting statue at the start of The West Somerset Coast Path, which was worth looking at...

The thatched cottages leading to the harbour added to the beauty of this stretch of promenade.  Most of the coaches were packed with mainly 'grown-ups' was rather a nice way of spending a day off between Christmas and the New Year.

This was a nice day out, interesting locomotives to keep hubby happy, a walk by the sea, and beautiful landscapes.