Friday, 26 July 2013

Summer on Scilly....

Three businesses a part time job and a baby on the way. That's my explanation for why I've been away since April. Here are some summery shots of food and I'll be back soon....

Saturday, 6 April 2013

A salad for a sunny spring Scilly day...

The first hint of sunshine and we're making a salad. A salad for lunch, then an afternoon on the boat, then a barbecue. It's panic stations at Samson Hill. We decided to make the most of this sunshine as if it will never come again. (The forecast actually says next week should be sunny but still...) We got our new boat in the water. We've called her 'Per Ardua' as that was the original name of Samson Hill Cottage and is the first part of the phrase in Latin that means 'Through adversity to the stars.' And I love that. 

We drove over to St Mary's with the wind in our hair to wander around Hugh Town with dozens of other people enjoying the warm sun trapped between the granite buildings. We popped into Plowman's Food Co for some fresh beef for a stew this week then we headed back to the harbour. Visitors were walking down the quay with their rumbling suitcases being pulled behind them. The Scillonian was filling up getting ready to head back to the mainland. We darted over to Samson and motored along the shore. 

Although it was cold it felt good to be in the fresh air and it was lovely to be filling our conversations with 'In the summer...' and 'On a nice day let's...'

Anyway back to that salad. The rocket is still going strong at Hillside Farm. I bought a big bag yesterday and decided to use it all today for lunch. It was my favourite lunch this year...

Bryher rocket salad with Cornish blue and St Agnes honey dressing (serves 2...)

 2 big handfuls of rocket
3oz Cornish blue cheese
2 small pears
2 tbsp garlic infused oil (or olive)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp St Agnes honey (usually available from the local produce market in the autumn)
6 small slices baguette or bread
herb olive oil

First for my herb olive oil. I've started blitzing herbs from the garden with oil and keeping it in my fridge for a few days. At the moment it's mint, sage, fennel and thyme. It's brilliant for spooning over omelettes and makes blander meals look and taste a little bit more exciting. 

Preheat the oven to 180'c. Slice the baguette into rounds and spread a tsp of the herb mix on each round. Put in the oven for about 5 minutes until crisped up. 

Put the rocket in a large bowl. Peel, core and slice the pear into matchsticks and toss in with the rocket. Crumble the blue cheese in too. In another bowl whisk the oil, vinegar and honey and drizzle over the salad. Give it a good mix with your hands or salad tossers. 

Serve with the herb toasts. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

How to self cater an afternoon tea wedding (part 5)

We wanted the evening part of the wedding to be as relaxed as the day with people helping themselves to food as they chatted, danced and drank. The menu we decided on was....

Huge cheeseboards
A hog roast
Chocolate brownie wedding cake
Ice cream sundae bar
Pick and mix

Starting with the cheeseboards. The cheese tasting was probably one of my favourite parts of the wedding planning as I love cheese! We got all our cheese from The Cheese Shop in Truro which is fantastic. I used to live in a flat opposite and used to love going on a Saturday morning to buy fresh bread and a lump of cheese and fig chutney and read the Saturday papers. It all felt very grown up. We took our best man and his wife with us and we decided on.....

Beenleigh Blue (one of my favourite blue cheeses)
A strong Cornish cheddar
A french sheeps's cheese (very like brie) called Brebirousse d'Argental
A Cornish brie

We served them with homemade chutneys and biscuits. We had about 200 people for the evening part of the wedding and we were advised to estimate about 50g cheese  per person. However, we knew our friends would eat way more than that, as well as hog roast, sundaes etc so instead of 10kg we decided on 15kg and that was just about enough (there was a little left over.)

We then had a caterer in to do our hog roast...again enough for 200 people. thing that always happens at a wedding is some kind of disaster in the planning...recently I found out what our was. Apparently something happened with the hog roast machine which set fire to the marquee it was in. The marquee then melted onto the cooking hog. Anyway the local hotel saved the day and hacked up the roast into lots of piece and cooked it bit by bit. It turns out we'd borrowed the friend's marquee...and I feel awful!

Moving on from the small fire....we decided for pudding to have a chocolate brownie wedding cake...made by my lovely bridesmaid and darling cousin Charlie. (See below).  We also had an ice cream sundae bar with ice creams, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, sweets etc. 

Then there was pick and mix for people to nibble on later on (about 2kgs worth!)

Money Saving Tips

Find someone who loves making cakes and get them to bake your wedding cake! Most wedding cakes cost around £500. Brownies meant people could eat them with their hands and could have them with ice cream if they wanted. Grown up and children loved them. (There were none left by the end of the night. 

What I'm glad we did

We used wooden cutlery in buckets to save on the washing up. 
We over catered. We knew a lot of the guests were staying a week so if there was too much we could always give it to them for lunches etc for the rest of the week. 
Kept it casual. I loved seeing everyone chatting and enjoying themselves.
Chose strong cheeses and a good mixture. 

What I wish we hadn't done

Errrr burnt down someone's marquee?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

How to self cater an afternoon tea wedding (part 4)

Ok so this is embarassing. A year and a half I started a series called 'How to Self Cater an Afternoon Tea Wedding'. Then I got caught up in moving to a small island and opening a B&B and suddenly it's 18 months later. Now my little darling sister is getting married in 4 weeks and it's reminded me to carry it on. So here is part four...and it's all about the drink. 

First you need to decide how you want the wedding to work. Having a wedding on a small island meant everyone was staying or travelling by boat which meant that we knew most people would be drinking. We also knew that we wanted it to be a free bar so we could make it a really great party. 

So we started off deciding what we went like this.

Welcome drinks: Gin and Tonics
Cornish Beers
Elderflower Cordial (for children and non drinkers)

Wine for the afternoon tea

Champagne for the toasts

Kegs of beer for the evening, more wine and spirits for the late nighters.  Coke and lemonade. 

Trying to work out how much to buy is the next challenge.

 * With the welcome drinks we decided that two drinks each would be fine. 

*A bottle of red and a bottle of white per table (8 people on a table, so that's one and a half glasses each)

* Two glasses of champagne

* Evening drinks: We split the evening crowd in half. So half wine and half beer. Now we were told half a bottle of wine is the best estimate per person. We went for a bottle of wine and I am so glad we did as we had none left by the end. We estimated three pints per person. That was a little too much as we still had some left over. (It was drunk at the post wedding events.)

Money Saving Tips:

First if you are getting married after Christmas buy your alcohol at Christmas. We bought the gin, wine and champagne in the Christmas sales. You can save a fortune.

Don't be snobby about champagne. (I was). My mum convinced me to go for Tesco Premier Cru as it had beaten champagne heavyweights at the International Wine Challenge Awards. It was £15 a bottle and again we got it at Christmas so got it a little bit cheaper. 

Do your research. We actually got our wine from Waitrose because they had a really good deal and did free delivery to Scilly.

What I'm Glad I Did: 

Stuck to our guns about the welcome drinks. Both sets of our parents did not like the idea of gin and tonics and beers as our welcome drinks. There was a lot of talk about people not liking gin or beer and what would they drink then? (Our answer a) elderflower b) go and ask the bar for a glass of wine c) wait until afternoon was served.) We arrived half an hour after everyone else. Most people were on their second gin and tonic and seemed very happy....

What I Shouldn't Have Done:

Left the late night spirits on the bar. They had already been opened by 4pm. By 7pm they had gone. My sister ran down to mum and dad's and raided their alcohol cabinet bringing up all the bottles they could. My dad was horrified. The guests were very grateful. We should have ordered more spirits. I think there were 4 bottles. We should have gone for 8. 

Next Post: 

The evening do.... Hog roast, cheeseboard, brownies and ice cream sundae bar. And a fire that burnt down a marquee. 

Saturday, 16 March 2013


Buds are starting to appear on the fruit trees, ferns are bursting through the ground and there's the coconut  smell of the bright yellow gorse flowers whenever the sun shines. We've made use of the sunshine by clearing the garden. It's stage two of the garden plan which should take us about five years to get looking presentable. This week we had friends to stay and they helped Gareth put in the chicken run. (These chickens are going to have one of the best views in the world.) They'll arrive once the passenger boat starts running in the next couple of weeks. 

I've been working on the old entrance. I've been clearing brambles as thick as a 50p piece and as long as swimming pool. I'm constantly followed by a robin and a fat blackbird taking advantage of all the bugs and worms that are exposed as I pull rocks back. 

Then this week the sunshine stopped. The forecast said snow (which we kind of ignored as it's so rare.)  But it did snow and very heavily. Unfortunately it didn't stick. I had high hopes of building a sledge but there wasn't even enough for a snowball.  

On our friends' last night we cooked pizzas in the wood fired oven. We had a few black bananas left and between them they came up with this recipe....which may become a post pizza tradition.

Wood fired bananas with fudge, chocolate and biscuits (serves 4)....

4 bananas
8 chunks of chocolate
4 chocolate digestive biscuits

Chop up the fudge and chocolate. 

 Make a slice down the middle of the bananas (leaving them in their skins.)

Stuff the bananas with the fudge and chocolate. 

Wrap them tightly in foil. Pop them in the embers of the woodfired oven or barbecue for 5-7 minutes (or a 200'c) oven for 15 minutes (using oven gloves). Crush the biscuits in a bowl. 

Carefully take the bananas out and very carefully unwrap the foil using oven gloves. Sprinkle the crushed biscuits over the top. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

St Piran's Day Cornish Blue Pasties...

Happy St Piran's Day for tomorrow. St Piran's Day has become so much bigger in the last few years. (Here's the history). There is only one dish fit for the celebrations and that is a pasty lunch. I got really excited because I had loads of Cornish Blue cheese to use up and thought I would make Steak and Cornish Blue pasties. I did a bit of googling around to see whether there were any recipes anywhere and couldn't find one. Then I felt a bit smug that I was going to put a recipe online, only to realise yesterday that Chough's won World Champion Company Savoury at the World Pasty Championships at the weekend for the same thing. 

So the idea isn't original but it was delicious. If you don't want the blue cheese in it just leave it out. 

I also experimented using strong white bread flour instead of plain and I actually preferred it. Which is handy as I've got 8kgs to use up.

Cornish Blue and Steak Pasties (makes 4 or 6 bite size)

450g strong white bread flour
120g butter
120g hard white vegetable fat or lard
120g butter
up to 200ml cold water
200g beef skirt (I only had chopped beef)
100g Cornish Blue cheese
1 small onion
100g slice swede
120g potato
salt and pepper
2 tbsps clotted cream 

Weigh the flour into a bowl and season with some salt. Grate in the butter and vegetable fat. Rub the fat into the flour until thoroughly combined.

Add the water a little at a time and bring the dough together with a knife. Give it a little knead and bring it together into a ball. Wrap it in cling film and pop it in the fridge for about 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200'c.

Peel and chop the onion and separate the chunks. Peel and slice the potato and swede into slices about as thick as a pound coin. Chop the cheese and beef into rough chunks. (Make sure you haven't got chunks of fat on the beef.)

Take the pastry out of the fridge and chop into four (or six if making smaller ones). Roll out into four circles the size of a small dinner plate (about 25 cms.) Layer up the pasty filling in the centre leaving a good sized edge, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Top with some little blobs of clotted cream. 

Fold the pastry over so you have a crescent shape and press down the edge to keep the ingredients in. I could now tell you how to crimp but I'm rubbish at it. (See below). However, there's a good masterclass here that's much better than I could do.

Brush with a little milk and put in the oven for 30 minutes. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes. Serve on it's own. Not with mayonnaise and ketchup as my other half did. 

The other two pasties I put in the freezer so I can defrost tomorrow morning and have a proper St Piran's Day lunch. 

You can find out more about St Piran's Day and get in the spirit by following @stpiransday on twitter.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Perfect Sunday pancakes....

There's little Spring breakthroughs at the moment on Bryher. Beautiful sunsets turning the buildings on Tresco pink, sunny days which trick you into thinking it's warm enough for a picnic and flowers and buds bursting to life in the garden. 

But there's a cold easterly windy blowing into Samson Hill making gardening hard to tolerate. This week we've had our first visitors who had three days of sunshine. They also had the extra low tides which meant they walk to Tresco two days in a row, stopping to chat to people walking the other way. The house suddenly seems much quieter now they have gone. After a winter of cereal and toast I decided to get up early and do us a cooked breakfast to warm us up for a day clearing the autumn bracken and brambles as long as our kitchen. 

My mum's scotch pancakes and bacon (serves 3-4)

225g self raising flour
1 pinch of salt
1 egg
25g very soft margarine or butter
25g caster sugar
225ml milk
spray oil or a little butter
8 slices of bacon (I used Troytown which are like slices of heaven) 
maple syrup 

 Preheat the oven to 200'c. Put the bacon on a baking tray. Pop in the oven. While the bacon is cooking, sieve the flour into a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix with an electric beating until smooth. 

Spray a frying pan with spray oil or add a little butter. Heat the pan up and add a tablespoon or so of the batter. Once it starts to bubble, flip over with a fish slice. You will need to do several batches. (I keep them warm by getting another big bowl and putting a clean tea towel in it and then I wrap the pancakes in it.

Put the pancakes of a warm plate and serve with the crispy bacon and lots of maple syrup. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Home alone....

I'm in the sitting room watching the rain pour down outside. It's the kind of rain that hits the window like a child throwing gravel. It's a foul day. The waves are rolling in off the Atlantic and are hitting the west coast of the island making a noise like a creaking ship. Last night the wind gusted up to 90mph. It's the perfect day to be inside, to watch Scilly at it's most exposed and at its most perfect. 

We've been decorating the house. Using masking tape to cover the light switches and skirting boards and using big rollers to cover the smudges and scrapes from our guests suitcases as they came and went. Painting over 2012 and creating afresh for 2013. We've got another three weeks until our first guests arrive and it all starts again. We can't wait to share our house with people. To meet new faces and to welcome back some from 2012. But for now we are wrapped up warm, enjoying our solitude.

Chicken and vegetable pie (serves 4)....

1x 500g packet of puff pastry
a little flour
2 small chicken breasts
1 small leek
a little olive oil
1 fat clove of garlic
1 good handful of a green leafy vegetable (I used pak choi)
1 good handful of a sturdier vegetable (cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms etc)
10g butter
10g plain flour
125ml milk
salt and pepper
20g parmesan cheese
egg for glazing

Cut the pastry block in half and roll both out to about the size of an A4 piece of paper (one should be slightly bigger than the other.)

In a pan gently fry the chicken and chopped leek in the olive oil until the chicken is cooked through. Add the other vegetables, stir and take off the heat. Grate in a clove of garlic.  In another pan melt the butter and add the flour. Stir for around a minute. Add the milk and keep stirring until the sauce has thickened a little. Add salt and pepper and stir into the chicken and leek mix. It should create a shiny wet glaze rather than a creamy sauce.

Put the smaller pastry half on a greased baking tray. Spoon the chicken mix on top leaving any remaining sauce in the pan. Grate half of the parmesan over the top and season. 

Lay the bigger pastry half over the top and seal around the edges using a fork. Glaze with the beaten egg and the rest of the parmesan and make a small snip in the top.

Pop in the oven for around 20-30 minutes.

Serve with vegetables.

* I actually made a lower dairy version of this pie substituting the butter and milk for soya spread and soya milk and the parmesan for pecorino. The pastry of course is still full of butter but it justified it to me! 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Eating out in Thailand....

So we are back from our travels in Thailand and it was stupendous. I'm full of predictable plans to cook all kind of Thai dishes. I'll try not to bore you too much....