Easier, better or both?


Crunchy Buckwheat Granola

Before the strawberry jam disaster, I did have some culinary success last week.

During the winter, I saw an interesting recipe in a newspaper using raw buckwheat as an ingredient. However by the time I’d managed to find a shop where I could buy raw buckwheat, I’d lost the recipe. Since then the buckwheat has been hanging out in the cupboard, looking for something to do.

Earlier this month we tried a gluten-free muesli, which was pretty good, but rather pricey (amazing how costly items become once they are labelled gluten-free). Interestingly the muesli contained buckwheat. I wondered if this would work in granola too, so I hit the internet in search of a recipe.Crunchy Buckwheat Granola

I found this super Crunchy Buckwheat Granola recipe on the “Kath Eats Real Food” website.

I made just two changes to Kath’s recipe – I substituted chopped, mixed nuts for the whole raw almonds, and sunflower oil for the canola oil.

For those with metric ovens, 300 degrees F is ~150 degrees C.

The granola was a great success – crunchy and delicious. If you use  gluten-free oats, the granola is gluten-free too. I’ll definitely be making this again & again. Now if only I could remember where I purchased that buckwheat ……??

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Baby Birds and Burnt Jam

StrawberriesI went a little crazy & bought too many punnets of juicy strawberries last week, so they started growing beards faster than we could consume them. Inspired by Alys Fowler’s recipe for Strawberry Conserve (June issue of The Simple Things Magazine), I decided to make some jam.

My initial jam-making attempts in 2011 and 2012 using plums from our tree were quite successful. The most delicious batch was the first. It caramelised slightly because I left it a little too long, while trying to work out what the setting point looked like. (Yes I know the theory about the jam developing a skin when placed on a cooled plate, but it didn’t seem that simple in our murky old kitchen.) Subsequent batches were more “textbook”, but never tasted quite as good as that first one.

This is my first attempt at strawberry jam. After two 24 hour “set aside” steps, I was into the last leg; “Boil rapidly until set, about 20 minutes.” I armed the timer, and made a cup of tea.

Then ……. I the noticed a robin feeding it’s chick on our fence. So exciting, as it is the first time we’ve seen baby robins in our garden. Their perch on the fence was soon taken over by a sparrow family – two chicks vying for mom’s attention, one nearly unseating the mother in an attempt to get to the grub. Then the blackbirds started – chick behind mom, bobbing along to lure worms out of the grass.

Spoon welded to plateWhile engrossed in the antics of the baby birds, the smell of caramel started to waft in from the kitchen. The timer alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but the jam had clearly progressed a little beyond the desired setting point. It was a light shade of brown. “No problem”, I thought, this might be like that first batch of plum jam that was so divine.

I continued to follow the recipe; “To stop the strawberries floating to the top, allow the jam to cool slightly…. before bottling.”

Given the advancedSolid jam & a sticky mess state of caramelisation, this was a big mistake. When I tried to pick up my mixing spoon to pop the jam into the jars, the spoon had become so securely welded to the plate where it had been resting, that the plate came along for the ride. After wrestling the spoon from the plate, bottling commenced. Based on what happened later, I am not sure that I’ll ever extricate the “jam” from that bottle.

As the jam cooled it became stickier, it morphed into caramel and then started to solidify into what looked suspiciously like toffee. I decided to abandon further bottling attempts, go with the flow and make toffee sweets instead.

I started popping spoonfuls of the brown gum onto a sheet of grease-proof paper. But soon golden strands of caramel started to proliferate all along the path of the spoon. As the mixture cooled, the stickiness increased, to a point where it was no longer possible to get the goo off the spoon. By this stage I was giggling uncontrollably and hubby came downstairs to investigate. He tried one of my partly-set “toffees”, which proceeded to stick his teeth together. Not sure that the toffee idea is going to work either. Oh well – I’m off to clean the pan now.

Apologies to Alys for turning her lovely recipe into such a shambles, but I just couldn’t resist those baby birds!


Asparagus

AsparagusThe Vale of Evesham is the place to be this month if you’re a fan of asparagus. The 2013 season started slowly, but it’s been worth the wait.  We are taking every opportunity to eat these delicious, crisp, tender spears at the moment.  Our favourite sources for this luscious luxury are Reville’s Farm Shop in Defford and Collis’ Farm shop on the A44 near Broadway.  Both sell wonderfully fresh asparagus, straight from their own fields. Wayside Farm Shop sell local asparagus, asparagus quiche and even asparagus scones! In fact, everyone goes a little aspara-crazy around here at this time of year at the annual Asparagus Festival.


Spring in Worcestershire

Spring is our favourite season, and it’s particularly lovely here in rural Worcestershire.Spring lamb

Each year our spring starts with the first glimpse of snowy newborn lambs. It’s also fun to spot the single black lamb, a standard occurrence in many of our local flocks. Our walks at this time of year are accompanied by little bleats and answering baas from each lamb’s mother. Over the next few months we watch the bouncy, mischievous, skinny babies grow into stocky, woolly, (much less interesting) adolescents.

Malvern Spring Show garden The Malvern Spring Garden Show is another highlight of our spring. This precedes the bigger and grander Chelsea Flower Show. However the Malvern show is friendlier, less crowded and more accessible.  It’s possible to get close-up views of all the show gardens, there are loads of plants for sale and plenty of parking a short stroll across the road from the show grounds. We still love Chelsea, but prefer to see those gardens with our feet up in front of the TV.

It’s the blossoms thApple Blossomat make spring so special in the Vale of Evesham. Blackthorn and plum start the ball rolling, followed by fluffy pink cherry blossom. The apple blossom has been quite spectacular this year – one benefit of the slow, cold start to spring.  May (Hawthorne) trees, lilac and clematis are now providing swathes of colour.  The wildflowers have also been stunning this year – carpets of deep blue bluebells in Dumbleton and Ashton woods, bright yellow buttercups in the meadow behind St Barbara’s in Ashton and pink campion along the paths and hedgerows. The fat, furry bumblebees seem to be enjoying them too!