Winter Warmers

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere the cold chill of winter is starting to bite, some more than others, however, even for those closer to the equator it is starting to cool and become a little wetter.

With that in mind I thought I might look at adding some recipes to the website which were focused on food and drink to warm us through the winter months, perhaps starting with hearty soups.

I thought I could also draw your attention to the Italian Soups recipes already on the website, and the general Soup section has some good warming recipes. Then there is the Pie section; it is always nice to have a midweek warming meal of pie with roasted and steamed vegetables (or even chips). All of these can be found on the Home Baking section.

In the Curing and Preserving section there are such seasonal delights as Chutneys, Jams and Jellies (soon to have Lemon Curd on there too). Italian Cherry Liqueur is in the vanguard of the warming drinks followed by Walnut Liqueur, Limoncello and Pear Liqueur, soon to have Sloe Gin in there too. There are recipes for home made sausages, which, when wrapped in flaky or puff pastry will make fantastic sausage rolls, or they could be cooked into a Toad in the Hole with onion gravy – LOVELY!! Not forgetting the lovely seasonal Confit de Canard recipe, which is such a fabulous winter dish.

So, having thought about what recipes to put on the website, perhaps I have already made a good start!

As always, I would be grateful for any suggestions you can make, or, if you have any recipes please send them to me for inclusion.

Lazy Weekend Artisan

For a while I have been trying to think of a subject for a blog and this weekend decided things for me.

We had a friend over to stay, the weather was not too promising, I therefore decided to have a 'Lazy Weekend' and I even tweeted to say "Allotments or Laze"? The consensus of opinion didn't help, so I decided to take it easy. Because I have such a wonderful wife, being lazy is not a challenge, especially when we have guests; Jan likes to spoil people when they visit.

When it came to writing this little blog, something in the back of my mind was saying "you have written about this before", so I checked and I have, it was posted 10th of February 2014, and was, rather like this blog is going to be saying, that the intention to be lazy was there, but it didn't really happen.

On Saturday, I went over to the shop early and purchased some milk to make cheese. I then went to the allotments to harvest some produce for the weekend (Fig 1). As I was already out, I did the hour-long round trip to pick up our friend who was staying with us; Jan went out to take her mother shopping, so I entertained our friend whilst making some Fontina d'Aosta cheese (Fig 2).

On her return, Jan made some wonderful cream of Mushroom Soup with Porcini and white Paris Mushrooms. We then settled down to sample the recently bottled Cherry Liqueur, Blackberry Vodka and Sloe Gin, along with some very nice Chianti.

We sat around relaxing and then Jan made some Pici with Pesto and fried Green Tomatoes. We had some Cheese and crackers for afters; Jan made a Lemon Mousse for Sunday's dessert, we watched some TV, I put the cheese in its press for overnight pressing and then we all retired to bed.

Sunday was a fine sunny day, but I didn't take much persuasion to not spend it down the allotments. Instead, it was decided as Jan had made such an admirable job of cooking for us all on Saturday, I would prepare the lunch for Sunday.

I rested a ½ Leg of Lamb on a bed of sliced Onion and Garlic in a Tagine with Potatoes, Peppers, Aubergine, Carrots and green tomatoes, added a little stock, some herbs and popped it in the oven at 200°C for a couple of hours (Fig 3). It was delicious especially with the Lemon Mousse to follow.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3


After suitably relaxing for an hour or so Jan took our friend home and whilst she was doing that, I cleared up after dinner.
I then went on to take the Fontina cheese out of the Brine (Fig 4) and set it down to dry; I also cleaned a Stilton cheese I have going at present.

Having done that I then made some soup out of the stock and Lamb bone ready for Dinner on Monday (Fig 5 and 6).

Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6


So whilst it was not a busy or demanding weekend, it wasn't a total waste of time – next weekend it's a cheese making course so that will be full on.

Cheese Making Course Blog

Having just completed another successful cheese making course, I found myself reflecting on how many people had been on the course and still continued to make cheese after the initial enthusiasm had waned. I get the occasional email from people asking questions about cheese, but in general, rarely do I get feedback or information on whether or not people have continued to regularly make their own cheese.

Imagine my delight when I received the email below, it comes from Julie who attended a course I ran in early 2013:

Hi Doug, Hope all going well, I am now working 4 days week with rest of time cheese making. I have a Facebook page. Here is a picture of some of my creations. I am also making my own dry cure bacon, gammon and pastrami and have a smoker and outside wood fired oven. So as you can see it's all go. To think it all started from your course.

Homemade Cheeses

This is what the website and the cheese making courses are all about and feedback like this makes it all worthwhile – I know Julie has a daughter who she includes in her cheese making and other endeavours, so that's another generation being made aware just what we can do for ourselves; thank you Julie for the feedback.

I definitely know of one other person who has continued to make cheese and perhaps there are those who fully intend to make cheese 'once they have the time', but, experience tells me that that does not happen unless the time is made.

I know of others who have taken to making the Liqueurs we have on the website, Chutneys and Jams also are a popular thing.

We get lots of hits on the website, so perhaps people, by dropping us a line, would let us know if we have inspired them? 

Ongoing support from the course

As part of my cheese making course, I offer support for participants after the event. Here's an example of an email I received:

"As you know I had to abandon my immature cheeses for 4 days whilst I went off to Sweden - they were drying out nicely so I took them off the cheese grid and put them onto the cellophane, but left them unwrapped in their Tupperware with a bit of kitchen roll to absorb extra water.
When I came back they were as the picture below - and I have wrapped up and put in the fridge - the mould is green / blue but clearly we were not trying to make a blue cheese - any advice?!"



My reply was: "Wow, that's a lot of mould! I would put a teaspoon of salt with a couple of dashes of malt vinegar in a small ramekin, top it up with tepid water and soak the corner of your cheese cloth in it then gently rub it, or use a pastry brush to gently brush the cheese, that should do the trick. It probably means you will need to wait a bit to wrap. Let me know how you get on. It probably is harmless but not attractive."

The reply from the participant was: "The miracle vinegar cure for the mould worked well and we ate it all up this weekend."

Unfortunately, as you can see, by the time I asked for photographic evidence of how the cure had worked – the cheese had all been eaten!
However, because the reply about the "miracle vinegar cure" had been shared with the other course participants, they all wanted to know what it was, I therefore copied everyone into the simple technique which is also mentioned on the website as part of my article on washed rind cheeses and also the New Cheese recipe.

This got me thinking, should I be doing a problems page?

Bounty of the Wild Hedgerow

Hi folks, we are just back from Tuscany (see my article here) and once again we have had a fabulous time, we visited hillside citadels etc. and did all of the things that Italy is famous for, such things as eating, drinking good wine, sunbathing, visiting museums, magnificent views (Fig 1) etc. etc.

Jan and I have always enjoyed walking around the local countryside whilst we are staying in the Zampugna apartments (Fig 2), I know I have mentioned these walks before, especially as we usually pick some green walnuts to make our Walnut Liqueur with (see recipe here). We may even have commented on the bounty of wild food available in the hedgerows, but on this visit, all of the seasonal vegetation was 3 to 4 weeks ahead of its normal timeframe, therefore the hedgerows were different; gone were the Poppies and even the Orchids were not as plentiful, but the fruit was much more in advance of what it normally is. So much so, that as we walked down to collect the Walnuts, we were able to feast on Morello Cherries, so ripe, juicy and full of taste, they were divine.

This served, to once again, make us think about the bounty of fruit there was in the hedgerow, Apples, Apricots, Plums, Cherries, Grapes, Olives, Almonds, Blackberries, Sloes, Fennel, Walnuts of course, and probably much more, but these are the ones that were readily recognisable and accessible, all within a 1 Kilometre walk from our apartment. No pears though, that's was a bit strange – and don't whatever you do, mention the Mushrooms (Fig 3) !!!

Have we missed a trick in Britain by grubbing up our hedgerows? I think so.

Added to this bounty there is also the Wild Boar, Hare, Rabbit and Deer, all there to be hunted when in season of course – and just to complete our wild hedgerow experience, one evening when returning from a restaurant, driving down our little back road, we at last got sight of the wild Porcupine; I say 'at last' because Porcupines have always been a bit of mythical creature to us when visiting Tuscany; others had reportedly seen them, but this year we saw them for ourselves.


Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Walnuts




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