Elderberry and Blackberry wine…

Having spectacularly failed in my first elderberry wine-making attempt a few years ago (mouldy corks, exploded bottles, carnage everywhere), i’ve recovered enough to try again. This time i’m planning things a bit better and making sure everything is properly sterilised each time.

So, i’ve been inspired by the River Cottage Handbook No.12 Booze, by John Wright! Lots of interesting booze-related information in there and he recommends elderberry wine as the most popular grape alternative wine and the easiest to make.

Elderberry wine 26.09.14 - 03 Elderberry wine 26.09.14 - 04

So, after a trip to Wilkos to stock up on essential items and the previous trips up Robinswood Hill to collect the elderberries and blackberries, i’m ready to start!

1.5kg of elderberries

200g of blackberries

1.2kg sugar

4.5L of boiling water

1 tsp yeast nutrient

5g red wine yeast

So, i’m using Campden tablets (Sodium metabisulphite) to sterilise all of the equipment. I used two of these with boiling water to sterilise the various items. We had frozen the elderberries and blackberries and these were thawed out over a day and tipped into the barrel, then boiling water poured in, to add the liquid and kill most of the unwanted bacteria etc. The sugar was added at this point and mixed in well with the long handled spoon.

This was left to cool for maybe 6 hours, then the yeast and nutrient powder added. This starts the fermentation process and the bubbles! At this point, i’m 1 day in and lots of bubbles so far. I should get 6 full bottles from the recipe and a bit left over to check in maybe 2 months – maybe around Christmas ; )

More to follow…


The bottom of the tray…

Cooking oil meets spinach and metal tray…

Indian tray 12.01.13


Thai coconut pumpkin soup…

Wow, lots of cooking inspiration is coming from somewhere. I think maybe it’s because Autumn has hit and the changing season has altered my internal functions a bit.

Darker days, leaves blowing around, changes everyday and warmer food needed. I’ve got into soups and stews over the last year, as well as baking and puddings. I’m less inspired by the bit in the middle but i’ll keep trying : )

Always on the lookout for a new seasonal soup recipe and with the glut of pumpkin around, the following recipe from allrecipes.co.uk seemed like a good one…


So, Thai coconut pumpkin soup – the first time i’ve attempted anything Thai in style or flavour. The main flavours come from the pumpkin, red chilies, shallots, and lemon grass. All mixed and cooked together to produce an amazing smell.

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 25g butter
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 4 shallots, chopped
  • 2 small fresh red chillies, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped lemon grass
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 350ml coconut milk
  • 475g peeled and diced pumpkin or squash
  • 1 bunch fresh basil leaves
1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil and butter over low heat. Cook garlic, shallots, chillies and lemon grass until fragrant (be careful not to burn the garlic). Stir in chicken stock, coconut milk and pumpkin; bring to the boil. Cook until pumpkin softens.
2. In a blender, blend the soup in batches to a smooth or slightly chunky consistency, whatever you prefer. Serve garnished with basil leaves.

The recipe worked really well and produced a nicely balanced flavour – not too much pumpkin. I also used veggie stock in place of the chicken stock.


Pumpkin magic…

Another Halloween and more fun pumpkin carving.

There are three things that i’m doing differently this year…

1) Buying pumpkins early so I can actually do some pumpkin carving on the actual day rather than running around like a headless chicken trying to find the large orange balls of goodness, from shops which have long sold out!

2) Teeth and ‘advanced’ carving: well, advanced for me anyway! I used a craft knife to slice off the outer orange layer to reveal the whiter areas underneath and also the teeth lines looked quite good.

3) We’re going to really try to use the pumpkin after Halloween for cooking, such as crisps, soups, chips, chutney, juicing even. I’ve lost track of the number of pumpkins i’ve seen around the town which are just rotting and dead outside people’s houses.

We managed to get 3 very pale and small pumpkins from the allotment! Not sure what happened there, whether it was the very damp season with limited light or the variety?! In preparation for the carving I stuck post it note faces on the little guys, which the boys loved – Jac especially liked that!

So, it turned out well and I now have two large bowls of pumpkin pieces for the freezer and can’t wait to start experimenting : )


Pumpkin madness…!

I hope I don’t get sued for ‘borrowing’ the following image!

One of our favourite places – Bristol Zoo Gardens. I just noticed an email from them about a Halloween Festival (which looks good) but the header image really caught my attention.

I’ve been vaguely thinking about what patterns to carve into the pumpkins this year but i’ve never considered using the white inside part as teeth! Bloody hell this is some kind of revelation : ) It looks great.

Another idea which is very effective is to carve out the inside of the pumpkin so that there is only a very thin layer of pumpkin – when the inside is lit up, the whole pumpkin glows, not just the cut out areas.

I’m going to need a few more pumpkins ; )


Veggie feast toast…!

We had some essential ‘must use this stuff up’ in the fridge and I was determined to not waste it! : )

I used 1 stick of celery, a few large tomatoes, the same proportion of cucumber, a good dollop of red tomato chutney (which I made last year – yum!) – all mixed together and slowly fried in a pan, until everything is slightly soft and the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and it has become slightly thicker.

This is then spread thickly on a piece of toast. Yum.


Green juicing…

Being at home more with the kids has defo got me more into the whole food / cookery / baking groove. There is a certain amount of pressure to feed the boys good food and to come up with new and exciting things for everyone to try – doesn’t always work but i’m certainly trying more things out.

One of these i’ve recently started doing (after following my fab wife’s example) is to get the juicer out and start making green juices with the boys helping out.

We have a L’Equip Omni Juicer 6 in 1 brand juicer which does pretty much anything and the benefits are mostly about getting the maximum amount of nutrients out of the vegetables and fruit while not having to eat masses of fruit or veg. Anything goes with this, but we tend to use cucumber (don’t peel them as the nutrients are mostly in the skin), apples, oranges and some kind of leafy green veg, such as rainbow chard or spinach, then with some added apple or orange juice for added sweetness. The flavours balance out and it’s an awesome drink to go with a snack or meal, or some people just have a large juice on its own.

The ingredients

What i’ve found really useful about this is the benefit of using leftovers and things which are just past using to eat, or if there is too much of something – such as a big crop from the allotment.

The tiny amount of ‘waste’

Here’s the juice I made today with Jac (my youngest boy), actually mostly gone from the glass! : )

The green juice – nearly all gone!

The other thing is ways of using the leftover pulp, which is mostly the fiber from the fruit and veg. Seems a shame to waste this part as fiber is so important to general health.

Here’s a good site for some ideas, but i’ll probably try adding some it it to a stew.

Left over pulp (to be reborn in something else soon)!

A final idea is about storing the juice. This can be done by putting it into a sealed jar, with as little air space at the top as possible. Should keep for 24 hours but it’s best to drink fresh.

Happy juicing!


Passion fruit…

It’s been years since I tried one of these bad boys…

The smell of these is just amazing. They remind me of being maybe 7 years old and visiting my aunt when she lived in Hawaii. The first thing they gave us when we arrived at their place were tins of mango and passion fruit drink. Amazing stuff.


Tomato & red lentil soup…

A great soup to have on a chilly autumn or winter day, with crusty bread with butter on.

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 large tomatoes / 8 cherry tomatoes

1/2 pint of vegetable stock

2 handfuls of red lentils

Half a medium onion or 4-5 smaller shallots

3-4 garlic cloves

1/2 a leek

A good sprinkling of parsley

Olive oil

Salt, pepper + a pinch (or a bit more) of chilli flakes

Start by softening the garlic and onions with lots of olive oil. Add in chopped leek – fry for 2 minutes. Add in  chopped tomatoes – fry for further 2 minutes. Add tin of tomatoes and lentils – mix and simmer for 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock + salt, pepper and parsley.

Simmer for 30-40 minutes to let the lentils properly cook and for the flavours to come out. Use a stick blender to lightly blend the mixture, depending on the texture you like + maybe add a bit more water depending on how thick you like it (I added a touch more). Serve with crusty bread – enjoy! : )


Tomato blur with scar…

Some of the very scarce tomatoes from the garden this year, complete with top to tail water-split scar! It’s a tough world out there : )


Champion cooking apple…

The largest apple our tree has produced so far – 475g! This thing was huge. It’s a proud day for me (as you can tell) ; )


Classic apple pie…

This is a GREAT apple pie recipe…

Really nice balance between the tangy apple flavours and the soft and crispy pastry. Awesome with custard too : )


Ultimate apple pie recipe – Recipes – BBC Good Food

I altered the recipe shown on the BBC site a little bit, from the first time I tried this a month or so ago. The last time I followed the instructions and prepared 1KG of cooking apples, but found this was way too much and would have led to a huge amount of filling compared to pastry.

For the latest pie, I used 800g as I prefer more of a balance between the crispy pastry but 900g would work well too.