Monday, 17 September 2012

Honey Cake (Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year)

I celebrate 'New Year' on 1st January with much post-Christmas gusto.  I then, as per my own religion, celebrate Ukrainian New Year (which due to it following the Julian calendar), falls on 14th January, and this is marked with merriment on its eve on 13th January (Malanka) and usually with copious amounts of vodka!  With a love of celebration, I raise my glass to the Chinese New Year and enjoy the ritual of dim sum and dragon dancing with friends. 

Then following a spell of genealogy a few years ago, we discovered that my husband's paternal family have Jewish ancestry.  Albeit that the generations have since passed and the Jewish faith isn't practised within the family anymore, we took it upon ourselves to add another New Year celebration to our calendar and mark the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) each September.  Although not observing the religious traits of this festival, we extract the culinary element of it, the symbolism behind it and use it as a respectful acknowledgement to my husband's ancestors.  Namely via the baking of a honey cake.

Honey cakes are exchanged during the Jewish New Year Festival period as the honey within it symbolises 'sweetness' and so it offers sweetness/goodwill wishes for the year ahead.  There are many recipes in existence handed down through the generations, but this is a version I've found which works well and in line with the festival's fruit giving traditions, pomegranates in particular, I use pomegranate icing and seeds to decorate it with.

Honey Cake with Pomegranate Icing
(This recipe is a combination of my methodology and recipe extracts featured in 
The Co-Op Food Magazine)

125g Clear Honey (+ extra for decoration)
125g Margarine/Butter
75g  Soft Brown Sugar
175g Self Raising Flour
2 Eggs (beaten)
1 tsp Cinnamon

Icing:  1 pomegranate and 50g Icing Sugar

· Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 and line a 20cm round cake tin.
· Place the honey, margarine and sugar into a large saucepan.  Heat gently and mix until all the ingredients have melted together.
· Take the pan off the heat and then add the cinnamon, eggs and flour and mix well together.
· Pour the mixture into the cake tin and place in the oven on a middle shelf for 30 minutes.
· Check after 25 minutes to ensure it doesn't burn.
· Once baked, take out of the oven and allow to cool.
· Cut the pomegranate in half, keep one half to one side and taking the other half, remove all the seeds from the skin.
· Using a cocktail stick or skewer, prick the cake all over so that there are numerous holes on top.
· Smear more honey on top of the cake so that the honey pours into the holes that you have made.
· Using the pomegranate seeds you've extracted, sprinkle them top of the cake.  The honey acts as glue and the seeds should stick to the top of the cake.
· Using the remaining half of the pomegranate, using a juice extractor, squeeze it until all the seeds turn to juice.
· In a small bowl place the icing sugar and the pomegranate juice together and mix.  Make sure the icing is thick not runny.  So if it is too 'wet' then add more icing sugar.
· Once ready, gently spread on top of the cake including over the pomegranate seeds and cover the whole cake as much as possible.
· Allow to set and dry.  Then cut and serve with a large hot mug of tea or coffee!

So whatever your faith, this is a lovely cake to make anytime of the year, for whatever the occasion.  But adding a hint of symbolism makes it even more poignant.  Besides, you can never have enough sweetness and blessings in your life and if it comes to you via cake, then all the better!  All that's left is to make a large mug of tea to have with my cake and to wish you a Happy New Year, whichever one you decide to celebrate.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Ludlow Food Festival 2012

Ludlow is a beautiful little town, snuggled within the blanket of Shropshire countryside which has in recent years become renown for quality local food and drink offerings, with artisan deli/bakery/food emporiums nestled within the town's historic streets.  In addition, there are 7 Michelin recommended restaurants in and around Ludlow as well as others that are applauded by The AA Restaurant Guide and the Which? Good Food Guide.  Taking all these factors into consideration, Ludlow is the perfect host for a Food Festival on this scale.

Across the Festival weekend, the main hub of the event was centred within the grounds of Ludlow's historic castle with marquee stalls and demo stages (starring The Hairy Bikers and Xanthe Clay amongst others), a great platform to showcase Shropshire's (and surrounding counties) finest foods and products.

Although extremely busy on the Saturday, I was still able to chat with so many lovely traders and find out a bit more about their businesses, here's who I met.....

'Once Upon A Tree' are award winning cider, perry, apple and pear juice makers based near Ledbury in Herefordshire.  Their orchards are open to the public where you can visit, take an orchard walk and bring along a picnic, making it a great idea for an Autumnal day out!  We sampled one of their gorgeous pear ciders which would make the ideal liquid refreshment on a hot day!

The lovely ladies from 'Forage Fine Foods' make special culinary treats inspired by the fruits of the countryside which are foraged and then turned into fabulous accompaniments, all suitable for vegetarians.  As well as Wild Herb Rub and Wild Rose el Hanout condiments, their lovely pickled unripened blackberries (so seasonal!), make an interesting, tasty addition to an after-dinner cheese board, working well with a mature cheese.  (Also featured in my blogpost: )

I first sampled a Shropshire Spice Co product when I had received a lovely Christmas hamper a couple of years ago and really enjoyed the stuffing flavour I had, so it was great to see their stand at the festival showcasing their full range.  I know we all love a good sage & onion stuffing with our Sunday Roasts, but when you have lovely combinations such as Plum & Ginger or Chestnut, Celery & Chive, you can really give your roasts a flavoursome make-over, especially say at Christmas time.  They also have other products to choose from such as gourmet stuffing versions, spice infusions and dips.

Chelmarsh, near Bridgnorth Shropshire, is home to Brock Hall Farm Dairy who, as they quote themselves, create 'The Art of Artisan Cheese'.  Starting with 2 goats, they now own a large herd of free-range Pure Saahen goats from which they make their own brand of hand-made goats cheese.  Gorgeously flavoured and textured, working well with a salad or any dish featuring goats cheese, personally, I think it tastes beautiful all by itself.  Available from selected nationwide deli's or via

Flying the flag for Shropshire as well, is another Bridgnorth enterprise, Shropshire Granola.   The use of different flavours and fruit combinations with the focus on using local ingredients including Shropshire produced honey, makes it a delicious breakfast or snack option.  From the first packet which was made by hand, it is now a thriving popular brand - - check them out!

I came across a new taste sensation from a company called Fuffles - is it a fudge or is it a truffle?  You decide!  These bars combine the texture and taste of both truffle and fudge with tempting flavours accented with alcohol such Chocolate & Baileys and Chocolate & Malibu to old-school flavour favourites such as Strawberry & Cream and Rum n Raisin.  Contact to find out how you can sample their wares!

It was with great pleasure that I bumped into a former work colleague who now runs a pudding business with his wife in Worcestershire.  Don's passion for cooking and baking was evident from the years we worked together when he would regularly bring in rich fruit cakes for us to try and so it’s no surprise that he now runs his own food enterprise.  From Christmas puddings to traditional English puddings such as Icky Sticky Toffee Pudding, there is a pudding for everyone in The Pudding Shop's range.

As well as food and drink consumables, there were other events organised around the town including talks at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms.  Published author and Tea Poet, Liz Darcy Jones, entertained crowds with her penned poetry and in particular an en vogue piece entitled 'Fifty Shades of Earl Grey'.  Commissioned by Ludlow Food Festival, Liz wrote a poem to mark the occasion which was performed to crowds in the market square.  Liz's fabulous poem, which captures the relaxed mood of the event, is at the bottom of this post for all to read and enjoy.

Being a big fan of food festivals, I adore the opportunity of going along, meeting traders, many of whom are independent, and trying wonderful products that you don't see always see in supermarkets or on a wider scale.  Ludlow Food Festival champions this so well, a clever blend of supporting local traders and celebrating the food of the county as well as still acknowledging wider commercial appeal.

As we drove through the Clee Hills homeward bound, our taste-buds still tingling with the goodies sampled, we left Ludlow happy, sun-kissed and with next year's festival dates firmly in our diaries.




Ludlow Food Festival

The park and ride is great but mind the cow pats
As you're heading for the town led by your nose
And like the cock you're crowing know - well that's
Just why you wore loafers and old clothes!

And we're all salivating as we're getting in the mood
The sausage trail is waiting - it must be Ludlow Food!

We're in! What tasty eats will be unfurled?
A smoked loaf begs a nibble just to see
Is it Lapsang of the baking world?
And where's the stall to get some breakfast tea?

While I'm cogitating - you're all getting in the mood
Your tastebuds are pulsating - it must be Ludlow Food!

I'm feeling like a rantipole my flagon
Is filled with Gwatkin cider and with ale
This tent will shove the dieter off the wagon
Just look! There's crusty tractor pies for sale!

Now they're worth celebrating and they'll put you in the mood
And The Pudding Shop is waiting - it must be Ludlow Food!

Each day I choose a word. Today's? Panache
Kevin Korbet serves it with ice cream
While Daniel Jones has a tea infused ganache
To make the chocolate lovers' senses scream!

Oh! My stomach is gyrating and I'm really in the mood
Knife skills? I'm hesitating... It must be Ludlow Food!

Jungle Coffee made for Shropshire dads
Sells well but so does tea (that makes my day)
Beaman's win the Sausage Trail good lads!
Wil's Smokehouse? Yes, it's gluten free - hooray!

         Hairy Bikers, demonstrating it all gets us in the mood
         No time for vegetating - it must be Ludlow Food!

And here at the Assembly Rooms it's books
Joanna Weinberg talks 'Real Food' and lust
'Picnic Crumbs', just published, tempts the cooks
And Wordsworth's ginger biscuits are a must!

        The bells? They need sedating as they're getting in the mood
        And we're all tête à têting 'cos we're part of Ludlow Food

KK Tiffy serves a spicy wrap
Legges of Bromyard slice off cuts of meat
Locals Joan and Mary can't help nap
On a bench while others eat and eat

And it's all so captivating and we're getting in the mood
For slowly contemplating next year's Ludlow Food!

by Elizabeth Darcy Jones for Ludlow Assembly Rooms

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Blackberry Picking - From Brambles to Crumbles

I read a comment recently by MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace who said that there is a certain sadness when blackberries come into season as they are the last of the summer berries.  I have to agree with him as I feel the same!

Not only sad in the sense of the finale in berry crops, but also as their appearance signals the end of summer.  However, there is a positive spin on this as hedgerows are covered with beautiful onyx coloured fruity jewels which are just begging to be picked.

The ‘Indian Summer’ has descended upon the UK this September (a much welcomed relief from constant rain clouds) makes berry picking the perfect pursuit for maximising those last few weeks of evening sunshine before the dark nights draw in.

Canal-side hedgerows, open fields and recreation parks are great environments for wild bramble bushes which bear an abundance of blackberry fruits and as these are public places, you can pick them free of charge!  (It is worth noting that before picking, ensure you are picking berries on public land as opposed to private property). 
Armed with Tupperware boxes, we made our way down to Knowle Locks which is on the Solihull/Warwickshire border and began picking berries along this locally loved canal side.  With the few days of good sunshine, there were some ready to pick and some that we know will be ripe in the days to come. 
Even though the brambly blackberries aren’t known their perfect form, we picked whatever we could find as ripe.

But there is culinary use for unripened blackberries which I discovered recently. Forage Fine Foods pickle unripened berries which then form the perfect accompaniment for a cheese board, a delicious sourness within the berry which contrasts beautifully with a mature cheese.  To try them, visit for details. 
But back to our own agenda and thinking ahead to making crumbles, picking blackberries which perhaps weren’t perfect was fine as fruit will soften and stew when cooked for a crumble so a perfect specimen isn’t vital (scroll below for recipe).

Picking blackberries feels very idyllic, like going back to basics to more gentler times, reminding me of childhood to a point, perhaps when blackberries and apples were known as Autumnal fruit rather than electronic devices!  But it certainly proved to be a lovely way to relax after a busy day at the office which is a welcomed thing.

As the sun sets on Knowle Locks and indeed on summer itself, with a box brimming with a bounty of blackberries, we headed home with plans of making a late supper of Blackberry & Gooseberry Crumble (with clotted cream ice cream, mmmmm).....

Blackberry & Gooseberry Crumble
100g Blackberries
300g Gooseberries (canned in syrup)
1 Tablespoon Caster Sugar
Crumble Mix: 
75g Margarine/butter (diced/cubed)
50g Caster Sugar
100g Plain Flour
Or ready-to-use Crumble Mix.

·         Make sure the blackberries are washed well in cold water before cooking.
·         Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4-5.
·         In a saucepan gently heat the blackberries with gooseberries (plus syrup) and the caster sugar.
·         Keep heating and occasionally stir the mixture until it becomes stewed and mushy.

·         In the meantime, create the crumble mix if you are making your own.  Place all the crumble mix into a bowl and mix together with your fingers.  You will soon notice that the mixture becomes like little crumbs which is what you are looking to achieve.  Keep mixing until everything becomes crumb-like.
·         Place the stewed fruit into an oven-proof dish and cover with crumble mix (home-made or ready-to-use).
·         Place in the oven for 20 minutes or longer if required, until the crumble mix has become slightly golden.
·         Serve hot with ice-cream, custard, or cream.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Home Made Pasta (Making it from Scratch)

My cupboards are full of dried pasta in varying forms.  Love it.  So versatile, quick and filling.  However, inspired by the wealth of cookery programmes on TV right now, namely 'Simply Italian' on Channel 4 featuring The Chiappa Sisters, I decided to go to the next level and make my own pasta from scratch as demonstrated on the show.

My friend Lucy, who is also a fellow foodie and Chiappa Sisters fan, had made her batch of pasta the week before and encouraged me to make my own.  I was a little fearful as I've not always had success with dough-type mixtures before, so it was great to share best practise with her before I got rolling (literally)!

The ingredients are simple to source and the quantities can be multiplied easily according to number of portions required. 

Each person/portion requires:
~ 100g Flour '00' type
~ 1 Egg
~ Pinch of Salt
~ Semolina grains (for the rolling process)

The full recipe, with tips and hints can be found via this link which is the recipe produced for the TV series.
My husband John came on board to help and here's a snapshot of how we produced our lunch using the above recipe:

Step one, for a 2 person portion, we placed 200g of type '00' flour onto a board, made a well in the middle and then cracked 2 eggs into the well.  Gently with a fork, we mixed the flour and eggs together until it eventually became a dough ball.

Step two, when the dough comes together as a ball, knead it for a good 5 minutes until its texture is like 'play-dough' (see the recipe link for tips and hints for this stage).  Then wrap it in cling-film and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Step three, if you plan to use a pasta machine, see the recipe for instructions.  But we used a rolling pin (and heaps of 'elbow grease'!) to our make the pasta strips.  We coated the board with dried semolina and a little '00' flour on the rolling pin then pulled off a small bit from the dough ball and then rolled it out into a long section (turning it, rolling it, turning it, rolling it etc) until it was as thin as a playing card.

Then using a pasta cutter if you have one, or a pizza slicer as we did (but a knife is fine too), cut it into long strips, imitating pappardelle shaped pasta (or a thinner version if you prefer).

Repeat the above steps until all the dough has been used up.  But be careful not to use too much flour during the rolling process, using semolina is advisable as it won't make the pasta heavy like excess flour would.

Lucy's pasta drying next to her home-grown garlic!

A close-up of our semolina sprinkled pasta strips hanging to dry
Step four, once the strips have been cut, they need to be dried for a short while, ideally for an hour.  We used a coat hanger to hang them on suspended from a cupboard edge (see our photos above).

Step five, after an hour, they're ready to cook in salted water but they will only need 5 minutes, so keep checking during the cooking process to ensure that the pasta doesn't become soggy.  When ready, drain and prepare to serve with sauce or vegetables or indeed whatever you like!

We used the pasta to make 2 portions, one for me (using Linda McCartney Fish Free Prawns) and one for my husband (using a seafood medley pack) based on the recipe in my recent blog post - 'A Star is Prawn'. I photographed our two portions  (see below)- difficult to tell the difference which proves you can have the same meal experience with only one small switch.
But using home-made pasta added a dimension of not only enhanced taste but also beaming pride of a new skill accomplished.  Thoughts now turn to making dried pasta shapes, gnocchi and there is even talk of purchasing a pasta rolling machine - but one step at a time I think ......

For now, I'm pleased as punch with our pasta making experience and ready to make some more in the weeks to come but it is definitely a weekend culinary task when you have more time to play with. 

But I think as a girl that likes to cover all bases, I'll still keep a bag of dried spirelli in the cupboard for those times when I want my pasta faster :)

Non-Identical Twins: Fish Free Prawn Version on the left and Seafood Medley Version on the right