Marinated olives

The girls have broken up from school and seven weeks of freedom stretches ahead of them. What halcyon days… I remember them well, the sheer loveliness of being able to roam and suit myself and the sun always seemed to be blazing. But I might remember it differently from the actual reality.

What this means for me, of course, is that I will be here less often probably. We will be baking and cooking, I just won’t have the time to tell you about it.

Before the school term ended a few of us mums took the chance to have a sneaky afternoon of eating in my garden. It was really lovely. It was a friend’s birthday, so the perfect excuse for all of us to indulge. Everyone bought something along to share and a proper feast was set before us. I made the birthday cake, a lemon one, as requested, and I dipped into Rachel’s book and made her marinated olives. I am not going to give you the recipe because you really, really should buy the book as it is wonderful and full to the seams with things you will want to cook. I served the olives with manchego cheese, which paired perfectly.

Marinated olivesMay the sun shine for the next six weeks or so…


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Hazelnut cookies

hazelnut cookies

These cookies came about because I love peanut butter. I eat it off a spoon straight out of the jar. I felt like making peanut butter cookies, but because I like it so much there is not enough left in the jar to make biscuits. I did have a bag of hazelnuts in the cupboard though.

I am pleased that I didn’t have enough peanut butter as these are really, really very good, chewy and dense biscuits.

Makes about 16

200g hazelnuts
50g butter, softened
100g soft light brown sugar
1 small egg (mine weighed 45g)
50g white spelt flour (or you can use plain flour)

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking tray and place into a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 7, or on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga for about 3 minutes until toasted. Turn the oven down to 180°c, gas mark 4. Place a clean tea towel into a bowl, spread out to catch the nuts (this keeps the nuts from escaping onto the floor). Gather the nuts in the towel and rub them vigorously. Most of the skins will rub off. Pick out the nuts from their skins. Place 150g of the nuts into a food processor and blitz until really fine. Add the butter, sugar and egg and whizz until combined. Add the flour and whizz again until combined. Add the remaining 50g of hazelnuts and whizz until the hazelnuts are broken up but still chunky. Take a chunk of the dough that’s about the same size as a walnut. Roll into a ball and flatten slightly. You can use the tines of a fork to mark a pattern if you like.  Place onto a greased baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4, or the centre of the baking oven for 12-15 minutes until golden. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Make a cup of tea and have a biscuit.

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Elderflower vinegar

Elderflower vinegar

When I picked the elderflowers yesterday the first thing I made was a vinegar scented with elderflower. I used white wine vinegar, which has quite a strong vinegar taste to it. Now that it’s infused when you take a big sniff you get the vinegar first with a delicious waft of the sweet, intoxicating scent of elderflower at the end. It is really good in salad dressings. We had some last night on our bagged salad and I have just sprinkled some on my lunch of melon, strawberries and goat’s cheese with a glug of olive oil. It is delicious and delicate and well worth making. It is very easy to make. The hardest bit is sterilising the bottle (and that’s hardly hard) and if you use the bottle that the vinegar came in you don’t even need to do that.

350 ml – 500ml white wine vinegar
5- 6 elderflower heads, carefully picked and checked for insects

Pour the vinegar into a non-reactive pan (stainless steel) and place the elderflower heads in the vinegar.  Heat gently until just hot. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. When cool remove the elderflower heads and sieve the vinegar through some muslin to make sure that any stray insects are removed. Pour into a sterilised bottle or back into the bottle the vinegar came out of.

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Gooseberry and elderflower jam

Gooseberries and elderflowers

I haven’t made jam for a long time. I keep meaning to fetch some damsons out of the freezer, but I always find that something else has jogged its way to the top of my to-do list. This morning though, our broadband connection was down. The horror! It’s only when you don’t have the internet that you realise how much you use it.  I decided to change my plans and I remembered that when I had gone to feed the chickens yesterday that I had thought about the elderflowers being ready. I was chatting at the weekend about elderflower champagne. I decided it was now or never.

I went out in my sandals (why do I always do that?) to forage. The tree by the chickens wasn’t very fruitful. I managed a couple of sprigs, but realised that this is probably the tree that the jackdaws sit in waiting for their opportunity to do their own foraging in the chicken corn. There was just too much bird poo. So I ended up half way down a steep, fairly muddy bank in my sandals precariously reaching for the best blooms.

You have to take great care when picking elderflowers. Not only do I suggest your wellies or a pair of sturdy shoes, but that you very gently grasp the bloom and snip carefully. Carry said bloom with care to the waiting bowl and gently lay it in there. When you are ready to use them do a thorough examination for insects and carefully lift any off. Do not be tempted to give the blooms a shake. The sweet scent of the elderflower is captured in its pollen and it is this that you want in your jam/cordial/champagne/ vinegar. No matter how careful you are when you pick them a cloud of pollen will still be released, reminding you to be even more careful with the next snip, whether you are threatened with tipping yourself down that steep bank or not.

I bought my elderflower heads inside and wondered what I should do with them.  I have made elderflower cordial before and I love it, but I fancied something a bit different. I fancied a scented vinegar, so I started with that (recipe to follow in another blog post) and then I thought about the gooseberries that Mr OC and I had been admiring in our garden on Saturday. Mr OC had mentioned gooseberry jam. I took that as a hint. Out I went, still in sandals, to tackle the gooseberries. Those little bushes really don’t want you to take their fruit. Several exclamations later I emerged with just over 1 kilo of gooseberries and my hands prickled and thorn ridden. There are plenty left to ripen further for a fool or an ice-cream. Perhaps gloves might be an idea next time.

The resulting jam is heavenly. It has a sherbet fizz to it, that makes your lips pucker, ever so slightly, then the heady scent of elderflower and the sweet tang of  gooseberries. If someone were ever to ask me what the colour green tastes like I would say this jam, after wondering whether they required help. The jam itself has a rose hue to it that just makes you feel happy. I am glad the internet was broken this morning.

Makes 5-6 random sized but about 300-400g jars

1kg gooseberries, topped and tailed and washed
6-8 elderflower heads, carefully picked and carefully inspected for insects
500ml of water
1 kg white sugar


Place the topped and tailed gooseberries in a jam pan or large saucepan, pour over 500ml water and place the elderflower heads on the top. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook until the gooseberries are soft but still whole. Remove the elderflower heads (which will have gone brown in the heat). Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring the jam to a rolling boil and boil until the jam is set. To test, place a couple of saucers in the freezer to get really cold. After nearly ten minutes of boiling spoon a little of the jam onto a cold saucer and leave for a minute. Push the tip of your finger through and if the jam wrinkles it is set, if not leave to boil for a few minutes more. My jam took about 15-18 minutes today and it is very softly set, which is the way I prefer it. Leave the jam to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then spoon into warm sterile jars and seal.

To sterilise my jars, I wash them really well in soapy hot water, rinse really well in clean water. Place on a baking tray and place in a low oven for twenty minutes. I then fill them as soon as they come out of the oven.


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Salted peanut butter brownies

Salted peanut brownies

We are off to a friend’s straight after school tonight so I have made these brownies to take with us for a treat. I have also asked one of the students attending Sunday’s bread making course for cake requests and brownies are at the top of her cake list. It made sense then, to trial these and cook again on Saturday, ready for Sunday.

They are an adaptation of Ruby Tandoh’s excellent Salted Milk Chocolate Brownies from The Guardian Cook section published on 7 February this year. I can’t resist fiddling with recipes so I have added peanut butter, used dark chocolate instead of milk and used half and half of caster sugar and soft dark brown sugar. I have also swapped the plain flour with wholemeal spelt.

When I made Ruby’s brownies the first time, (with just a few changes), it became quite clear that by sprinkling sea salt on the top of these beauties just makes them even more tempting and addictive.

If you have a fancy for a gooey, deeply chocolatey, salty and nutty cake (and who wouldn’t?) get your teeth wrapped around one (or two, or three) of these.

Makes 9 brownies

175g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate
50g cocoa powder
100g caster sugar
100g soft dark brown sugar
3 eggs
50g wholemeal spelt flour
¼ tsp fine salt
About 100g crunchy peanut butter
Sea salt flakes


Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir in the cocoa powder. Leave to cool slightly.

Whisk the sugars with the eggs in a large bowl until the mixture is thick and doubled in volume.

Pour the chocolate mixture onto the egg mixture and fold carefully together until well mixed. Add the flour and the salt and fold in. Pour the batter into a foil lined 20cm square cake tin. Drop blobs of peanut butter into the batter and swirl with a skewer. Sprinkle the sea salt flakes over the top.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes or in the Aga’s baking oven with the rack set on the bottom rung for 20 minutes until the brownie is crusted on top but still has a bit of a wobble. It should be undercooked so that when it cools it is fudge and dense in texture with a crust.

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Five Quarters

Rachel Roddy Five Quarters

Five Quarters, Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome, Rachel Roddy

Look what I have!

I have been waiting for this book for six years. I found Rachel’s blog when I first started digging round in this world of food blogging. I happened to click on a link from somewhere and I was captivated. I sat there and just read and read. Rachel’s writing is beautiful, inspiring and grabs you. I don’t think she has ever written a post that I have just scrolled down to get to the recipe. You feel the need to read every word. She makes you smile, laugh and very occasionally want to cry. She makes you feel as if you are sitting right there, at her kitchen table, listening to her and watching her as she assembles yet another delicious plateful of food. If not at the kitchen table, then on the chair that used to prop open the door.

The more I read, the more I want to read. I kept asking when she was going to write all of this in a book… and here it is.

So tonight, the tea might not get cooked and the husband might get ignored. I will be reading.

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Blueberry muffins

Blueberry muffins

As we were shopping yesterday I spotted how reasonably priced a large punnet of blueberries was and couldn’t resist. I had some on my yoghurt for my first breakfast (this usually takes place at about 6 it, it was a bit later this morning) and then on some porridge for my second breakfast (usually about 9.30-10ish). I know I am greedy. I felt the need, this afternoon, to make muffins with them. I have made 24 small muffins and I will freeze most of them and pull out a couple each day to put into the girls’ lunchbox. They will either eat them or they won’t. I will find out when it comes to emptying their lunch box. Be assured though that just because my girls may leave them languishing in their lunch box doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious, because they are.

As I was about to search for recipes I noticed that Choclette has made some very delicious blueberry and lemon cupcakes with an outrageously purple icing, which you must take a look at.

These muffins are ones that even I can eat without feeling guilty, as they are made with spelt flour.  This new diet that I have undertaken has really pointed out to me how rubbish I am at excluding foods in my diet. I have been quite strict about  not eating bread for the past two weeks, so that I cut down my consumption of wheat. Then this morning we popped into a café and I found myself eating a scone. Honestly, I am rubbish. I found this my being rubbish at food exclusion out when I was pregnant. At the time pregnant women were advised to not eat peanuts. I thought I had done a really good job of this until I thought about all the bowls of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and Snickers bars I had eaten. Honestly, I am rubbish!

So here is the recipe for the muffins that the girls will be eating (or not) for their lunches.

150g white spelt flour
70g wholemeal spelt flour
120g soft brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
220g melted butter
3 eggs, beaten
100ml greek yoghurt
200g blueberries

2 tablespoons of demerara sugar and 1 tsp ground cinnamon mixed together


Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl. until thoroughly mixed.

In another large bowl mix together the eggs, melted butter and yogurt until well mixed. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and give a quick mix. Don’t be overzealous in the mixing, just enough to combine the ingredients. This will keep the muffins light. Add the blueberries and stir in gently.

Blob spoonfuls of the mixture into 24 cupcake cases or 12 muffin cases, sprinkle each one with a little of the demerara sugar mixture and bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or the middle of the Aga’s baking oven for 15 minutes. Leave in the tin for a minute or two, then cool completely on wire racks.

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