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    • Two Summer Jam's - Apricot & Plum

      It has been a relatively cool start to the summer season down here in this part of the world. The earth has been soaking up the heavy raindrops, much to the delight of my veggie garden which has tripled in size this past week. It seems that the surrounding stonefruit trees that are dotted about our neighbours' yards have also been relishing in the liquid gifts from above too. From our kitchen window the long "claw-like" leaves of a nectarine tree sway in the breeze, revealing the ruby cheeks of the juicy gems that hang from their branches. At the forefront is an apricot tree, to the right is a peach and from over the top of the chooks yard there sits a tree that looks as though it could topple over any moment with the weight of the small rounds that are the colour of midnight. It is around this time that we receive a precious bounty from our neighbours on the high side. A box of blushing apricots, followed days later by another haul accompanied with a bundle of plums cradled into a makeshift newspaper pouch. My eyes were delighted as were all of our tummies - I think we may have eaten our weight in them already. They are by far my favourite fruit. What has not been eaten fresh has been bottled up and now sits on my preserving shelf (which is nothing more than a space carved out in amongst the folders and files in the study) It is these jars of spreadable sweetness that make me happy and that I so enjoy gifting. Wrapping each one up with a piece of twine, a little label and a sprig of something fragrant. I love knowing that it will inevitably be spread on to hot buttered toast, providing comfort with each luscious mouthful, washed down, of course, with a cup of something hot. Because no matter what the days bring, there is always time for tea and toast. Apricot & Rosemary Jam Makes 4-5 medium-sized jars 1kg Apricots 375ml water 850g sugar a large sprig of rosemary Cut each apricot in half and remove the stone. Place the apricots into a large pot along with the water and bring to the boil. Allow them to bubble away happily for 20 minutes or so until they have softened making sure to stir every now and then. Strip the leaves from the rosemary and chop them finely, add these to the apricots along with the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Return to a boil and let it once again happily bubble away, adjusting the heat if necessary. Stir frequently as you do not want to end up with a pot that has burnt bits stuck to the bottom, it doesn't make for a fun clean up! While this is all happening, select your jars and matching lids and place them into a sink full of hot water. Pop them onto a baking tray and place into the oven at about 150 degrees to dry out, this is the way I sterilise my jars and also allows for the jars to be super hot so that they are ready to pour the hot jam into them. After about 20 - 30 minutes your jam should be quite thick and should fall off the spoon a bit like lava. If you want to you can place a small plate into the freezer and then once its cold take it out and drop a little of the jam in the centre and then return it back to the freezer for a moment before running your finger down through the middle of it, if it leaves a mark down the middle your jam is ready to be poured into the jars, if not just continue to cook, but do keep an eye on it as it is at this stage that it can very easily go from being perfect to burnt within the click of a finger! Once you are happy that it is ready, pour into the jars, tightly seal each one and turn upside down for a couple of minutes before turning the right way up once again. Leave them on the bench to cool and then store in a cool place. Once opened, store in the fridge. Plum, ginger and orange jam makes 3-4 medium jars 850g plums 200ml water a thumb-size piece of ginger one long strand of orange peel 400g sugar 300g raw caster sugar Cut the plums in half and remove their stones, place them into a large pot along with the water and allow them to come to the boil. Let them bubble away happily for about 20 minutes or until they have softened. Stir through the grated ginger and the peel of the orange followed by the sugars and stir until dissolved. Bring it back to the boil and allow to cook, while stirring frequently for at least 40 minutes until thickened. You can always use the freezer plate test as mentioned above to make sure. Pour into hot sterilised jars and follow the method above. Always be extra careful when handling jam, it can spit and splutter when you stir it, especially towards the end when it is almost ready and a hot jam splatter on your hands or arms really does hurt! And clean your pots and pans and spoons as soon as you can, dried jam takes a fair bit of elbow grease to remove. I always fill my pots with water and allow the jug and spoon to have a bit of a swim around in there as well to make for an easier cleanup.

    • Pork Chops with Crispy Crackling, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Crispy potatoes. Apple & Rhubarb Pie.

      It was a little after 11 am, I had just set the table. I took a step back as I counted the chairs - 6 in total. A smile spread across my face, it had been far too long since we last had guests over and my excitement at having those 2 extra place settings was palpable. Cooking for others is my way of showing and giving love. Taking the time to decide on a menu; writing down my plan of what has to go into the oven when and navigating the time it will take to have everything ready and laid out on the table at the same time is something that brings joy to my whole being. It is the whole process though, from the initial invitation to our home, right through to the buying of the produce, (or picking from our very own garden) to the prepping, the stirring, the cooking, the setting of the table, the freshly pressed napkins, the foraged florals, the choosing of the plates and platters and then watching as it all comes together - sometimes with ease and others...well, let's just say it can get a little interesting with two small children to worry about as well! It was my Mum and Dad who were the first to sit at our small but mighty kitchen table after lockdown. The table groaned with a piping hot pan of glistening pork chops perfumed with fresh sage and fennel seeds, the crackling so crisp it was as if we were stood upon a carpet of Autumn leaves. Slow-cooked cabbage mingled with crispy bacon and the subtle smokiness of caraway. Burnished florets of cauliflower were dotted with vibrant pickled red cabbage and the potatoes - golden and crunchy, had been showered with a smoky almond dukkah from Gewurzhaus It was a celebration of togetherness, one that was well overdue and one that made it even more obvious just how important it is to cherish these moments of sitting at the table sharing food and laughing. Where the conversation is allowed to flow in between mouthfuls; where cutlery scrapes against china plates and where, as always, some of the best memories are made. So, here it is, a menu for celebrating being together once again. I recommend reading through the whole recipe steps here before starting so that you can get all of your cooking times organised and what needs to go into the oven when. I would generally get my potatoes and cabbage ready and cooking, along with the cauliflower and then concentrate on the pork. The apple pie can be made the day before right up to when you need to bake it so that it is ready to go in the oven once everything else has been taken out. For the Pork *Recipe from Jamie Oliver's cookbook, 30 Minute Meals. Slightly adapted. 7 good-quality pork chops, skin on 8 cloves of garlic 4 eschalots or 1 red onion, skin removed and sliced 1 leek, sliced 1 teaspoon fennel seeds a small bunch of fresh sage leaves honey for drizzling olive oil Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Trim the skin off the chops, leaving a bit of fat behind on each chop. Cut the skin into 3cm slices and put them into a frying pan fat side down, over high heat and cook until it starts to crisp up and turn golden. Leave them to work their magic while you score across the fat side of the chops all the way along. Season with salt and pepper. Squash the unpeeled cloves of garlic with the heel of your hand and add these to the pan along with the onion and leek and stir to combine. Push the crackling to the side of pan and then stand all of the chops up in the pan with the fat side down. Use tongs to transfer the crackling and garlic to a large roasting tray. Scatter over the fennel seeds and place into the oven while you pick the sage leaves. When the fat side of the chops are golden, lay them flat side down and cook for another 4 minutes until golden on both sides. Take the tray from the oven and place the chops and sage leaves into it. Arranging the crackling and garlic in and around the chops. Drizzle with a little honey and olive oil and return the tray to the oven for about 10 minutes until it all looks golden and luscious. For the Crispy potatoes... *This recipe was inspired by the lovely Kathy Tsaples from her book My shared table. 1 kg potatoes (I used sebago) sea salt 1/2 cup olive oil 1/2 cup water 1 tbsp Smoky almond dukkah (from Gewurzhaus) Wash the potatoes and then cut them into largish wedges or quarters. Pat them dry with a tea towel or paper towel and place them into a non-stick baking tray. Scatter over the salt and then pour in the olive oil and water. Bake for at least an hour to an hour and a half until they are so gloriously crisped they shatter in between your teeth. Sprinkle over the dukkah. For the Cauliflower... Half a large cauliflower, broken into small florets and the stems sliced olive oil 1 tsp cumin seeds enough pickled cabbage (homemade or store-bought) to scatter over the top Place the cauliflower into a baking tray lined with baking paper and drizzle with a good glug of olive oil, a scattering of salt and a good crack of black pepper, add the cumin seeds and give everything a good mix. Pop into the oven for about 30 minutes until the cauliflower is golden and slightly charred. You can do this step before anything else, as it can be served either hot or at room temperature. When ready to serve place on to a serving dish and scatter the pickled cabbage over the top. For the slow-cooked cabbage with bacon... *recipe inspired by Jul's Kitchen 6 rashers of bacon, thinly sliced 1 medium white cabbage, finely shredded salt 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar 2 tbsp olive oil 2 tsp caraway seeds 2 tbsp honey 1 tbsp dijon mustard Fill a large pot with water and add a good pinch of salt and the apple cider vinegar, bring to the boil and drop the cabbage in, blanching for 5 minutes. Drain the cabbage and place it under cold running water, using tongs to lift it up to make sure the water gets it all. This will halt the cooking process. Squeeze as much of the liquid out of the cabbage as you can and then place it into a colander. Heat a large frying pan over high heat and add the bacon, cooking until it starts to release its fat and turns golden, add in a little olive oil followed by the cabbage, stirring to coat everything together. Now reduce the heat to low-medium and continue to cook, stirring every now and then for at least half an hour. Add in the caraway seeds and cook for another 3 minutes and then add the honey and dijon and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. And now for dessert... Apple and Rhubarb pie with a fennel seed crust *Recipe inspired by one from Gourmet Traveller by Emma Knowles 100g unsalted butter, chopped 1.2kg granny smith apples, thickly sliced 1kg rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3cm pieces 450g raw caster sugar 4 cinnamon quills 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped juice and zest of an orange and lemon 60g fresh breadcrumbs 1 egg, beaten lightly, for brushing 20g demerara sugar for sprinkling on top 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash For the pastry 450g plain flour 120g pure icing sugar 225g cold unsalted butter, chopped seeds of a vanilla bean or 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste 1 tbsp ground fennel seeds 1 egg 1-2 tbsp cold water Starting with the pastry, sift the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl along with a pinch of salt. Add the butter and the fennel seeds and using the tips of your fingers rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs, a few chunks of butter are ok here. Add in the egg and use your fingertips to break it apart in with the flour, next add in the water bit by bit until it comes together, try not to handle it too much, it's ok if it looks shaggy. Wrap it up in baking paper and place in the fridge to rest for at least an hour or overnight. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat and then add the apple, stirring to combine for about 5 minutes. Add the rhubarb, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla seeds and bean and stir to combine. continue to cook, while stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until it is beginning to soften. Stir in the citrus juices and rinds and then pour this mixture through a sieve which is sitting over the top of a large bowl. You may need to push down on the mixture slightly. Reserve the syrup and remove the vanilla bean and cinnamon. Spread the apple mixture onto a large tray and allow to cool and then stir through the breadcrumbs. (you can always make this the day before too) Simmer the reserved syrup until reduced to a thin syrup, about 10-15 minutes. When you are ready to make your pie, preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. If you have rested your pastry overnight in the fridge make sure to take it out at least an hour or so before so it is easier to roll out. Roll two-thirds of the pastry out onto a lightly floured bench to about 3mm thick. Give a 23cm pie tin, with 4cm high sides a quick once over with some softened butter and then lay your pastry very carefully into the base, picking up the edges and pressing them down into the dish, trim off the excess pastry and then tip in the fruit, levelling it all out so that it sits evenly. Roll out the remaining pastry on a lightly floured bench into a round until 3mm thick. Brush the edges of the base with egg wash and place the lid on top, crimping the edges in whatever fashion you so desire. Cut out a small round in the centre and either discard, give to your chooks or pop it into your mouth, as I do! I am a great lover of raw pastry... Brush the top of the pastry with eggwash once again and then scatter over the combined demerara sugar and cinnamon, bake until dark golden for about 45 minutes - 1 hour. If you notice it is colouring too quickly simply just cover the top with a piece of foil. Make sure if you have little ones that they haven't accidentally hit the oven setting over to grill as my little man did!! Luckily I caught it just in time! Allow to rest for at least 1/2 an hour before serving and then serve with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a drizzle of the reserved syrup. If you find you have leftover syrup it is particularly good drizzled over your morning bowl of granola or porridge...

    • A Rather Good Lasagne, Crisp Green Salad & Tingly Lemon Gelato.

      The latch of our front gate can quite often be heard from inside our little weatherboard home heralding the arrival of guests. Beau more often than not will jump up from whatever it is that he has been doing and race to the door, or to our bedroom window to see who it is! Lately, it has been delivery drivers dropping off our groceries and fruit and vegetables from the local farm. But every so often it is our next-door neighbour, Paul, who so generously gifts us a large container of his mouth-watering bolognese sauce... I have lost count as to how many times we have received this now-famous (in our home) meat sauce and those times have often been on "one of those days" where nothing has quite gone to plan and I feel as if I have been chasing my tail all day long! So it is a welcome relief, to say the least when that container is passed over...Spaghetti bolognese for dinner it is, much to everyone's delight! I don't know why it took me so long to realise that I could in fact use the sauce between layers of lasagne sheets...perhaps it's because, much to Ben's disappointment, lasagne - the meat variety anyway, just isn't something I generally make. until now! For lasagne to be truly memorable it absolutely must have the addition of that creamy white bechamel sauce and at least three types of cheese...now let's be honest here, I am a firm believer in enjoying everything in moderation and this particular dish is something that one would not indulge in every second night but, if you are to enjoy a good lasagne then you may as well do it with all the bells and whistles. All that is needed to accompany it is the torn leaves of a crisp iceberg or cos lettuce; refreshing slices of cucumber dressed in nothing more than a good glug of extra virgin olive oil, pepper and a generous scattering of sea salt flakes to balance the richness of all those comforting flavours. Ben has even gone so far as to say that is the best lasagne he has eaten, and he is my harshest critic. But this story is not just about lasagne and the many cheesy, meaty layers it involves, it's about more than that. It is about connecting with your neighbours, letting them know that you are there for them. It doesn't require lengthy conversations or even an invitation to sit around your kitchen table, it can be as simple as a quick hello, how are you? or a container of bolognese sauce left at the front door, it doesn't matter what it is, what does matter is the feeling that comes with these acts of kindness, and you really can't put a price on that. Oh, and the empty containers...they are of course filled with freshly baked treats and then left at Paul's front door...and so the cycle continues. We recently had this as part of our Sunday lunch and so I wanted to share it here with you in the hope that it may just make it on to your "to Cook" list. Now the sauce does make rather a lot, Paul likes to cook for a crowd! You could halve this recipe (which is the amount that you will need for the lasagne) but why not cook the whole lot and then divide it up and freeze for a quick midweek meal tossed with some pasta. You could, however, pop it into a container and leave it at the front door of a loved one or even your next-door neighbour, you never know you may just get something back in return... And what better way to end such an indulgent meal than with the refreshingly tingly tang of a scoop of lemon gelato. This recipe comes from the always lovely, always kind and extremely generous Belinda Jeffery. It is from her book, The Country Cookbook, which is one of my favourites, not only for the recipes but for the words that are weaved onto the pages as well. We served ours in vintage glass footed bowls topped with a single strawberry, but we have also enjoyed a scoop or two in waffle cones, which is also equally as lovely. You will ideally need an ice-cream churner, however, Belinda does say that it can be done by hand as well, it just won't be as smooth and it will most definitely require a fair bit of elbow grease, but if you are up for the challenge then the results will be well and truly worth it! The meat sauce Recipe kindly shared by Paul, our next-door neighbour This makes quite a lot of sauce, so feel free to halve it, or cook the whole lot and portion it up to freeze. You will only need 1kg of sauce for the lasagne. 1kg pork mince 1kg veal mince 200g bacon, diced large punnet of mushrooms, finely diced 2 large brown onions, chopped large bunch of parsley, remove stalks and chop very finely (Paul states that this is very important to use the stalks) bunch of fresh basil chopped the same as the parsley 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and finely diced 1 carrot, finely chopped 4 cans of diced tomatoes (Mutti brand if you can find them) Ariosto Italian herb mix (or something similar such as Gewhurzhaus Maria's pizza pasta blend) salt and pepper olive oil In a large pot, heat 4 tbsp olive oil and add the mushrooms, onions, parsley stalks and basil stalks, garlic and carrot and cook over a low heat with the lid on until soft and slightly caramelised, about 40minutes to an hour. Stirring every now and then. Add the pork, veal and bacon and once again place the lid back on. Once the meat has begun to cook, mix it all in with the vegetables. Add 1 tbsp herb mix along with a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the tomatoes and mix it all together. Paul uses a potato masher to break up the meat at this stage. Cook with the lid on for an hour or so over low heat. season to taste. You can at this point cool to room temperature and store in the fridge. Paul says that the second cook works really well to break the meat down even further. The flavours will also develop if left for a day or two too. You can also use pancetta instead of bacon, as Paul's son does. Assembling the Lasagne 1kg meat sauce 250g packet lasagne sheets, I like to use Barilla 200g mozzarella, grated 200g parmesan, grated 200g buffalo mozzarella, torn For the Bechamel 100g flour 100g butter 1 1/2 cups buttermilk or cream 1 1/2 cups milk 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg salt and pepper Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and then add the flour, stirring together until it starts to smell slightly nutty. Add the warmed cream and milk mixture bit by bit, whisking constantly until thick and luscious. Continue to cook for another minute and then grate in the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Oil a lasagne dish, mine measures 30cm x 19cm. Mis together the grated mozzarella and parmesan. I also should mention that you can add in whatever cheese you have handy, I have also made this with some leftover fets and grated halloumi too. Cover the base with a layer of meat sauce followed by lasagne sheets. Meat sauce, half of the bechamel, half of the cheese, half of the torn mozzarella, lasagne, rest of the meat sauce, rest of the grated cheese, lasagne, bechamel and finally the rest of the torn mozzarella. Cover with a sheet of baking paper followed by a sheet of foil and pop into the oven for 40 minutes or until bubbling around the edges. Uncover and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes, until golden. Crisp Green Salad Meanwhile, you can prepare your salad... Tear off as many leaves from a midi cos lettuce (or iceberg, something with a crisp green leaf is good here) place them into a pretty serving bowl along with sliced cucumber and perhaps even some sliced radishes. Drizzle over a good glug of extra virgin olive oil followed by a few grinds of black pepper, salt and a swoosh of white wine vinegar if you so desire. And now for dessert... Tingly Lemon Gelato A recipe by Belinda Jeffery You can start this recipe a few days in advance as you need time to churn it and rest in the freezer before serving. Or as Belinda puts it "to ripen the flavours" finely grated zest of 3-4 lemons 2 cups (500ml) of lemon juice, strained 330-440g caster sugar, you can vary the quantity of sugar depending on how sweet you would like it, the sweeter version will result in a slightly softer texture. 1/2 cup (125ml) cold water 1 cup (250ml) thickened cream Put the lemon zest, lemon juice, caster sugar and water into a large bowl and whisk them together until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream and whisk it all until it is very well combined. Make sure you have placed your ice cream churner bowl into the freezer before you start this recipe too. If you have one, pour the mixture in and then churn until frozen. Spoon the mixture into a container, I have an insulated ice cream tub that I use but you can use a loaf tin or recycled ice cream container, cover it tightly and place into the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight, or even a few days before. If you don't have an ice-cream churner you can do this by hand...pour the mixture into a large stainless steel bowl and pop into the freezer for 4-5 hours, or until its frozen 5cm in from the edge, remove the bowl from the freezer and give it a really good whisk either by hand or with a handheld electric beater to break up the ice crystals and to smooth it out. Place the bowl back into the freezer, freeze again and follow the same steps as before, repeating the whisking/beating. For an even smoother texture, you can repeat this a few more times. Your muscles will indeed be stronger for it! The gelato keeps well for up to a fortnight.

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