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Pleasant pheasant…

It may have been noted by regular readers of the blog that Mister North and I do like a bit of game, but I have to admit to being rather challenged when he got a pheasant recently from Stansfields of Todmorden. Thanks to a childhood experience of a pheasant that had been too well hung and gone into a whole new realm of gameyness, I have been dubious about eating this beautiful bird for years, but the suggestion of using the tin of foie gras or libamáj that Mister North picked up in Hungary as a sauce with it convinced me otherwise!

Neither of us had ever eaten foie gras before and while I’m aware of how it is made and that a lot of people find it incredibly cruel, I have to say that I have always wanted to try it at least without getting into a huge debate about the stuff, so being able to test it out at home with someone with a similar mind set was ideal, because more than anything, I was worried it would be too rich and I wouldn’t like it…

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Posh squash nosh…

The festive period is just the time for some serious indulgence, but you don’t need to do it all on Christmas and Boxing Day. New Year needs something to make it more alluring in my household and the idea of staying in with a bottle of fizz (or two) and some delicious mini munchkin squash fondue makes me want to stay up late…

Mister North and I cooked these to accompany a fantastic foie gras and pheasant feast the other week and they were so good, I’ll be making them again to indulge in as the clock strikes midnight. They are incredibly easy and would make a divine dish for any number of people with their individual feel. You could use any type of cheese for them, but we pushed the boat out and used a truffled brie from Hartley’s Crumbly Cheese stall in Todmorden Market…

Inspired by a recipe in Rachel Allen‘s Bake book and adapted by her from a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall idea, I’ve made this my idea of heaven by using the mini Munchkin squash from my own garden and filling them up before blasting them in the oven and serving with little nibbles of sourdough bread. They are indulgent, moreish and super easy to make (even if you’ve already had quite a lot of fizz)  and make a lovely difference from the various sweet Christmas treats around.

You can use any round squash or pumpkin you happen to have, but I do love the greed factor in the individual ones. Chop the top off to make a good sized lid and then scoop out all the seeds, taking care not to poke any holes in your pumpkin. Brush the inside of it with a slight brushing of oil and add a teaspoon (more if using the larger squash) of cream and then fill up with your cheese of choice. I used the aforementioned truffled brie, but this would be brilliant for leftover Christmas stilton. Make sure it’s well filled, but not so stuffed it will bubble over in the oven and waste good cheese. Season well and place the oiled squash lid on firmly and pop in the oven at about 180 degrees and cook for about 15 minutes or until the squash is soft and golden and the cheese is bubbling.

Try and wait just long enough that you don’t burn your mouth so much you can’t belt out a chorus or two of Auld Lang Syne later and then start dipping into the soft sweetly infused cheese with bread, crackers, leftover roast veg or anything else you can think of. Just leave a tiny bit in the bottom to get the full effect when you scoop out the yielding and delicious squash onto you bread and devour joyously.

These little squash look adorable and would be a lovely thing to serve to lots of people if you have people round and fancy a doing dips and chips but need something warmer than a tortilla chip and some hummus. They’re easy to make and can be done well in advance, just needing popped in the oven when the time comes. In fact, do a selection of them and create your own fondue fabulous cheeseboard in front of the fire and then feel smug as you tuck in thinking of all those poor people in the taxi queue…

How does your garden grow?

The long cold winter seems like just a memory here in London (apologies to our  less lucky Northern readers!) and my little garden has been responding well to the fabulous warm sunny weather we been having since late June with things starting to crop abundantly… Read more

Gardeners’ Delight

After a freakishly chilly May, I have finally got everything planted in my little garden (despite the person who stole a bag of soil from me. What kind of person steals dirt?). I am now impatiently awaiting the appearance of tender green shoots like an eager child…

As I had previously mentioned this is my third year growing my own and with my confidence growing, I am hoping my crop will too! Things took on a life of their own slightly when I managed to get hold of some raised beds fairly cheaply online, expanding my growing space hugely and unexpectedly. Getting hold of soil online proved a bit tricky, but the beds were soon ready to go.

Raised beds

A trip to the amazing garden centre at RHS Wisley led to a rather large credit card bill and some new finds for the garden. I will be experimenting with Munchkin squash in the beds this year as well as hopefully bedding in some perennial Holsteiner Blut and Pink Champagne rhubarb beside the beds. As you may remember both Mister North and I are very fond of rhubarb so I have high hopes for this!

Wisley was also the source of several new herbs for the patio. I got my hands on a stunning tarragon plant, some beautiful marjoram and a fabulous oregano in a self composting pot. Along with the chervil, borage, lovage, sorrel, lemon basil, Thai basil and regular basil I have planted in pots, I think I might just have the best herb garden in Brixton! I’m really looking forward to cooking with some of these new herbs, plan to make litres of pesto and my Pimms will be enhanced beautifully by the borage!

herb-tastic

My little raised beds are home to beetroot, salad leaves, pak choi, gherkins, squash, curly kale, carrots and Swiss chard. I’m using a combination of seeds from Just Seed on Ebay, some swaps with friends and family and my freebies from the brilliant Dig in! at the BBC. I planted last week and seven days later, my pak choi and salad leaves are fantastic! My beetroot was a total washout last year, so I’m particularly excited for that…

I’ve gone for two types of potato this year; the sweet nutty Pink Fir Apple and the stunning looking Shetland Blue. Last year I had limited success with the Pink Fir Apples. I don’t think I planted them deep enough or banked them up well enough. So this year, I dug a trench for them both and buried them deep enough that neither squirrels or sun can damage them. I want to make chips with the whole Fir Apples for utter indulgence and the Blues will make the prettiest mash in all the land.

My tomatoes are less than two weeks in their pots and already showing fruit. I’m starting to think I may be some kind of tomato whisperer. Sadly I couldn’t get the amazing Cheriettes of Fire again this year, but I’ve got two Tumblers instead. These trailing plants are so easy to grow I’d recommend them to anyone with even the smallest amount of outside space, even a strong hanging basket. They just need regular watering and a bit of a feed and they crop like nobody’s business. I’ve also got a lovely Gardener’s Delight again and a heritage variety called Black Cherry because I’m a sucker for purple fruit and veg!

pots & planters

I’m also hoping to get some peas and beans going. I did buy runner bean plants at Homebase, but an unfortunate slug infestation means they have been eaten to shreds before even seeing a flowerbed. I hope to get some more this weekend, plus I plan to get my peas and mangetout underway. I’d like to fully grow the mangetout, but I think I’ll simply sprout the peas to feast on those sweet crunchy pea shoots that make a salad a sensation.

I also have several collapsible planters (supposedly for potatoes) on the patio for courgettes. I’ve planted two varieties this year, a striped Italian number and some yellow ones. I had fairly good success with my zucchini last year, but the globe type I planted seemed to run out of steam quite early and I only had about 8 in total. I’ve heard better things about the sort that resemble mini-marrows instead, so fingers crossed!

I’m hoping for a nice mixture of sun and rain this summer to get my money’s worth from the fruit and veg I’ve got going. Planting most stuff in beds or pots makes them quite easy to care for and hopefully I won’t spend all summer weeding! I’m secretly hoping for a glut of tomatoes again as I’ve really been enjoying sampling that fresh grown flavour throughout the winter months thanks to the home made sauce in the freezer. Home made pesto would be a lovely addition this year to perk up pasta!

I’m just keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have too much die on me this year, but if you’ve got any tips on getting any of the plants mentioned to thrive, please let me know! My nerves may not be able to take the stress otherwise!