Rhubarb Memories

My love of rhubarb is a long lasting one. I have early memories of sitting on top of the rabbit hutch, legs dangling and dipping freshly cut rhubarb into a cup of sugar… I wear these sweet and sour  memories like a rhubarb coloured coat that feels really cosy.
The two bunches of rhubarb below were picked at the same time – one from the forced plant and one from the traditional patch. Rhubarb is easy to harvest as all you have to do is pull and twist the stalk at the base and it will neatly come away. From the photos you can see that the forced rhubarb has much smaller leaves but the stems are cleaner and more colourful being a beautiful pinky/red.

Compare The Rhubarb

I washed the rhubarb well, mouth watering and chopped it into bite size pieces and the taste test was completed when the rhubarb was raw. And the results? Well, the forced rhubarb was noticeably sweeter and had more of the rhubarb tang to it so I’d definitely recommend forcing it if you can.
There’s so many things you can do with rhubarb – crumble, pie, cobbler, fools and cakes to mention a few. It is also good with strawberries to sweeten it and even with mackerel (although I have never tried this combo!). Rhubarb and custard are delightful together but I had a hankering for Rhubarb ice-cream. The recipe below is really simple, there’s no churning involved and I ate a quarter of the tub before remembering to take a photograph.

Honey Roasted Rhubarb Icecream
Bear with me – I threw this together so feel free to experiment.

1 carton of whipping cream
1/3 cup of icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups of chopped rhubarb
Enough honey to drizzle

Spread the freshly cut rhubarb onto a non stick sheet and drizzle in honey. Slow roast for 20 mins or so under soft and bubbling slightly. In the meantime whisk the cream into soft peaks (not too much) and stir in the sifted icing sugar (to suit taste). Once the roasted rhubarb has cooled fold in this gently into the cream mixture, pour into a suitable container and then into the freezer for a couple of hours. I like the rippled effect but if your mix it more thoroughly you’ll get a lovely pink coloured ice-cream!

Rhubarb Icecream

Rhubarb Cake

This was a Pinterest recipe treasure I found for Grandma’s Rhubarb Cake at Dulce Dough:

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
  • 1 1/2 cups raw rhubarb, cut small

Topping:
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 325°F  2. Prepare 9×13 or 8×12 pan by spraying with cooking spray  3. Cream butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl  4. Add eggs and vanilla and stir  5. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, and salt  6. Alternately stir in the buttermilk and the flour mixture into the other ingredients  7. Fold in rhubarb  8. Pour into prepared pan  9. Combine sugar and cinnamon for topping and sprinkle on top of cake  10. Bake in 9×13 or 8×12 pan at 325°F for 40 minutes.
Prep time: 15 minsCook time: 40 mins. Total time: 55 mins. Yield: 1 cake

Rhubarb Cake

The cake had the texture of carrot cake (rhubarb is a veg I suppose) and was especially nice on Day 2. It is really delicious warmed slightly and served with a portion of the rhubarb ice-cream… but that might be one stalk too far for all but the seasoned rhubarb muncher!!

For More Rhubarb Ideas Visit My Pinterest Site  (no need to knock, just come on in!)

Snow Scones

There’s nothing nicer than watching the seasons change and relishing those foods that are oh-so-soon-gone. After a poor, rainy Summer the Winter seems to have gone on forever so I was eagerly anticipating Spring. Unfortunately Mother Nature has decided to delay Spring for a while longer. Instead of cold, sunny days and daffodils we now have 6 inches of snow and biting winds. What the heck, if Mother Nature can be contrary then so can I… Summer fruit scones and homemade strawberry jam for afternoon tea!

Fruit Scones and Jam

Scone Recipe
350g self-raising flour, plus more for dusting
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
85g butter, cut into cubes
3 tbsp caster sugar
75g sultanas
175ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
squeeze lemon juice
beaten egg, to glaze

These are so simple to make! Mix the flour, salt and baking powder together and then add the butter, rubbing between fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the caster sugar and sultanas then combine well into the crumb mixture. In a jug combine the milk, vanilla extract and a squeeze of lemon. Don’t mokey around once you add the liquid to the dry ingredients – the secret to a light scone is to handle the mixture as little as possible. Gently roll the dough on a floured surface and cut out the scones out with a small cutter. Glaze with a beaten egg and put the scones on a baking tray into the oven at 220c for approx 10mins.
These are best served slightly warm from the oven with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. As a Summer treat they are great but as an antidote to a snowy Spring day with a nice cup of Assam tea they are amazing!

Fruit Scones

Snow has a particular beauty. A beauty that is perfect for a dark January day when the fires rarely go out and mittens are stuffed into pockets. This beauty doesn’t extend to March however when the birds want to build nests, the hares want to box and the plants want to grow. Mittens should be safely tucked away again… so safe in fact that they can’t be found again in Winter!
The chickens seem very confused (and this wasn’t helped when I gave them a little taste of fruit scone in what they consider the depths of Winter!).

Snow in MarchAs for the kittens; they refused to go outside this weekend. I can’t blame them. They stared out the open front door for a few seconds, sniffed the snow and then ran back indoors. Milo did step outside once and very quickly leapt back inside when the cold stuff hit his paws.

Warm Inside

I look forward to the snow thawing as I’m pretty sure Milo only went outside to bury his collar. You see, Bella has taken to her collar really well and parades around as if she’s wearing a diamond necklace. Milo unfortunately has worked out how to get his safety collar off and hide it from us. This hide and seek game was quite endearing… only this time we can’t find it!

Shoots and Teacups

The garlic has started to peek through but if you watch very carefully  you can almost see the shoots trying to hide from the freezing blasts of wind that have now come to torment us. Last year I used the Utility Room as a greenhouse with good success… but the Utility Room is now the Kitten’s Bedroom and as much as they’d love to have soil and seedlings to play with I’ll have to be more creative with space this year.

The “Nicola” seed potatoes from Sarah Raven arrived in the week so I’ve started to chit them in an old egg tray. I smiled when I notice that one was  heart shaped  as hearts are dotted all the way around our home and it seemed a good sign for the growing year  yet to come.

Garlic and Spuds

I’m quite excited because I’ve made some really tasty bread and it was soooo easy to do that it feels like I’ve missed the point! It’s from a book called Artisan Bread In 5 Minutes which shares the secret of a no knead method of bread making. I followed the most basic recipe and I’m hoping it’s not just a bit of a fluke but it was lovely – I’ll keep baking and let you know. Do you use this method of bread making, and if so, is it successful for you? I’m going to be a bit more adventurous with the recipe next weekend.

Crusty Bread

I seem to have acquired a new obsession – vintage teacups! I’ve decided to hold a small afternoon tea party in early Summer and this has given me the perfect excuse to collect them. I’ll be going full out – home made fancies, crustless sandwiches, scones and gorgeous little cups of tea. They’ll  be bunting, flowers and lots of vintage loveliness and weather permitting we may even be able to sit outside (okay, I’ll stop it now, I’m just getting carried away!).

Teacups

Flippin’ ‘Eck!

Shrove Tuesday is celebrated in many ways around the world and commemorates the Eve of Lent. Over here we usually do this by eating lots of pancakes and arguing about the best toppings! I always look forward to this day as eating and arguing are a couple of things I’m good at and it helps make the February Blahs better. In the past eggs and butter were amongst the foods that were forbidden during Lent so making pancakes was the ideal way of using up these ingredients.

Pancake Day

My husband is the best pancake maker EVER so he’ll be on frying pan duty tonight when he finishes work. I asked if he wanted me to make a start but he’s quite particular about his batter :-) In my opinion the most delicious topping is a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of vanilla sugar whereas the Master Pancake Chef prefers honey, syrup, treacle or chocolate spread (brute).
Here’s A Great Recipe and even if you don’t make pancakes tonight then it’s worth having them at the weekend – they’re lovely for breakfast with sliced banana, for dessert with icecream or even with a savoury filling and salad!

Traditional celebrations always make me think back to childhood memories.  My good hearted parents kept making pancakes until we were all full up. Please bear in mind that this was no minor achievement as I’m the eldest of four girls so the orange quarters usually ran out before the pancakes! Even as I write these words I can hear a faint sizzle of a frying pan and taste the tangy sweetness of being a little girl again. As I close my eyes I can see us all smiling and asking for more… “more?? you’ve already had six each!” x

…. but Pancake Day is not what I’m actually saying Flipping ‘Eck to. The Pyjama Gardener blog is one year old! I can’t believe that this mile stone has been reached and I know the reason for this is down to all you guys who read the posts, comment so generously and inspire me to keep going so thank you. As a thank you I will send you all a virtual pancake, fresh from the pan – you’ll just have to let me know which topping you prefer?

Translation Note: Flippin’ ‘Eck is a phrase used in the North of England that is similar to Good Gracious, Oh My Goodness, Oh Dear… or any of the less polite phrases of surprise!

Mrs Beeton Would Not Approve

The Christmas cake is finally decorated and although I made the cake  myself I decided against home made marzipan and Royal icing. Time is precious and there have been too many  other things to do so I used ready-made varieties instead (at least this way knives won’t be damaged cutting through the cake this year!).

Iced Christmas Cake

The tradition of eating dried fruit and spices go back to the middle ages where it was custom for a cake to be baked for 12th night celebrations. But due to too much Pagan merriment this celebration was banned during Puritan times although fruit puddings remained popular at Christmas. We can thank Queen Victoria for the cake’s revival (as well as many other christmas traditions) and the popularity of the fruit cake recipe by Mrs Beeton.
I had visions of me dropping the cake out of the tin and it breaking into a hundred pieces. You see, I’m clumsy. Not just “oops a daisy, steady on!” clumsy but the whole “Ronald MacDonald feet, custard pie in the mush!” clumsy!! I regularly trip over fresh air, accidently drop most things that I shouldn’t and if the situation arose I could NEVER be trusted to cut the correct wire on a ticking bomb!

Christmas Cake 1

1. Amazingly the cake survived… probably due to the alcohol fumes allowing it levitate out of the tin!
2. Apricot jam was warmed and spread over the cake to allow the marzipan to stick.
3. The marzipan was thinly rolled out and lifted onto the cake. This layer was then gently moistened with boiling water and a thin layer of fondant icing was added.

Christmas Cake 2

4. Goodness knows where picture 4 went LOL (Mrs Beeton probably had something to do with it as I can hear her spinning her grave as I type!). Such a shame as No.4 was amazing ;-) and showed the excess icing and marzipan being trimmed off the cake.
5. A cookie cutter star was used to punch out the decorations.
6. The stars were stuck onto the cake with a little more boiling water.
7. A ribbon was tied around the cake and the whole thing was put onto the lid of a cake tin with the actual tin used as the lid. I reminded my husband not to turn it around the other way in his quest to look for biscuits!

You’re welcome to pop round for a cup of tea (or something stronger) and a slice of cake. In fact I insist that you go home with some… and here is the first glimpse of the magic at Christmas. No matter how many slices of Christmas cake are cut, the cake seems to last forever!

Christmas is coming!

TreesThe first weekend of December is usually when we fetch Christmas tree from the local farm shop… and we also would probably win the award for fastest chosen tree! We seem to have a talent for quickly spotting and buying a good tree within a minute and leaving the other customers to argue over the type of tree to buy! It’s all part of our Christmas traditions now…

When we arrive home the cheesy christmas music is turned on and I eagerly look forward to unwrapping the decorations and smiling at the happy memories that emerge with each one. There’s no colour scheme or fancy theme for the tree but simply the familiar act of pinning little tokens of happiness to the branches that  remind us of Christmas Past.

Christmas Decorations

For some reason this year has been especially busy and the Christmas cake, which is usually made shortly after Halloween, just hasn’t been made so I decided to try a different recipe. I wanted something simple and quick to make and found a great  Christmas Cake Recipe on the BBC Good Food website. As much as I love all-things-Delia I felt like a bit of a change in 2012 and I hope that the final proof will be in the pudding :-)

Christmas Cake Ingredients

The fruit, butter, sugar, zest, spices and roasted macadamia nuts were slowly heated in a large pan on the stove until combined. The flour was then sifted and gently mixed into the batter until no further trace of flour could be seen. The trickiest part of this process was lining the cake tin!

Cake mixture

As the cake slowly baked the house filled with the delicious smell of Christmas…

Christmas Cake

It’s going to be an extra special christmas this year as we have two special furry friends to share it with. They make us smile each day and are so adorable! This morning they were curled up in the egg basket… and had even removed the inner tray to make it more comfortable. Luckily the eggs are no longer stored in the utility room!

Kittens in egg basket

Sniffles Away!

It’s that time of year when the nights start to draw in and thoughts turn to becoming prepared for the chillier days ahead. Colds and Flu symptoms are tedious so it’s good to be armed with a recipe that Mary Poppins would be proud of! There’s certainly more than a spoonful of sugar in this recipe but it’s required to preserve the fruit mixture. Some of the documented benefits are:
1. Immune system booster
2. Powerful Antioxidant
3. Helps to relieve coughs, colds, sore throats & Flu
A spoon can be taken once a day to prevent Winter sniffles or 3-4 times a day if symptoms suddenly appear. There are thousand of recipes on the internet (I recommend that you research this for yourself) but this is the recipe I use and it tastes delicious!

Firstly, you need to locate and properly identify the Elder Sambucus nigra and collect only the fruit that is plump and really dark. We have an Elder bush that lives by the shed (that was helpfully planted by either a bird or squirrel) and luckily there are quite a few Elders down the Lane too.

The Elder is an amazing plant that not only produces pretty and useful flowers (although a little whiffy for my liking) but it also has the most amazing jewel-like berries on colourful red stems. It’s important not to strip the plant completely as many birds rely on these berries for food… and it’s also nice to leave some berries for fellow foragers! The great thing about this recipe is it’s adaptable depending on how many berries you have. If you don’t like the spices below then you can omit or replace as desired.

RECIPE
Ripe elderberries
Sugar (equal amount in weight compared to elderberries)
1 Lemon
2 Star Anise
20 Cloves
Thumb of fresh ginger
Lashings of good intentions ;-)

It’s important to only use the ripe, black berries. Those that are green or dark pink could make you ill… as do the the stems or bark so it’s important to prepare these little rascals properly! My preferred method, whilst sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, is to gently hand pick each berry off the stem. If the berries are really ripe then a fork can be used to ease them off the stalks but this can result in extra stems being added too!

It took about 45 minutes to obtain a decent bowl of elderberries and it’s slightly more interesting than podding broad beans (but not much). The berries need to be washed well – and if an earwig runs out try not to have a screaming fit and throw the berries everywhere.

1. Put the washed elderberries in a large pan
2. Cover with just enough water and put on the stove until boiling
3. Add the lemon and spices and stir well
4. Cover and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Sterilise the bottles in readiness
6. Mash the mixture to release the flavour, carefully remove the large pieces of lemon and ginger and carefully strain into another container (I used a cafetiere as my sieve wasn’t fine enough!)
7. Measure this liquid, return to a clean pan and add equal amounts of sugar*
8. Boil for approximately 10mins and ensure that the sugar has been dissolved.
9. Let the liquid cool a little then decant it into the sterilised bottles.

* some recipes recommend 3/4 amount of sugar to the full amount of elderberry juice. It’s important to remember that the sugar is there as a preservative so your juice may not stay fresh without sufficient amounts!

The containers I used were anything from old whiskey bottles to recycled glass herb pots (which are a great handbag size for taking to work!). They also make thoughtful gifts for friend or family who become ill… or those who can’t afford to be!

The spices give the syrup a lovely, mulled taste and it’s very like blackcurrant cordial. Some culinary uses are:

- Poured over pancakes or vanilla icecream
– In a favourite cocktail (eg with champagne as an alternative to Kir Royale)
– Hot Toddy
– Added to fruit crumble or fruit pie instead of sugar
– Added to sparkling water for a refreshing fruity drink

I maybe should have mentioned at the beginning of the post that these little beauties stain so protect work surfaces and wash your hands well. I still have a black stained thumb that looks like I was fingerprinted at the weekend!

Beetroot Passion

Here goes…

My name is PJ and I’m addicted to beetroot.

I’ve been so welcomed and encouraged into the world of blogging that I feel the need to reveal a little more of the real me – but I warn you that you may never view my posts in the same way again!
I’ve always had an overactive imagination and have managed to mostly restrain the crazy for the sake of this blog. The crazy is seeping out – you have been warned.

My  infatuation started many years ago when I was so small that I have no memory of this story. My Mum likes to remind me, and anyone else who will listen, about the time she found me in the cupboard under the stairs munching my way through a whole jar of pickled beetroot. There were bright pink stains everywhere and I was inconsolable when she tried to remove me from my new found favourite snack. I was promptly put in the bath and scrubbed extremely well but all I wanted was more beetroot!

This episode took a less happy turn when I started to pee dark pink and my Mum rushed me to the doctor thinking it was blood – she was highly embarrassed when he asked if I’d consumed a lot of beetroot recently!?! An unfortunate but harmless side effect of too many beets…

So, all these years later, I manage to keep my addiction under control favouring the more subtle roast beetroot to the pickled variety (although grown up me has now discovered the joys of balsamic…). I love grated beetroot in salads and have you tried beetroot and chocolate cake? Mmmmm.

The grown up me still finds beetroot alluring for many reasons, I mean, talk about the bad boys of the vegetable world… beetroot is deliciously dark, needs to be handled with care and is also prone to bolt when you least expect it!

On Saturday though I was transported to beetroot heaven – did you know that beetroot goes beautifully with so many ingredients such as oranges, thyme, peppercorns, horseradish or bay? It also mixes beautifully with the songs from the Phantom of the Opera. You see, whilst dealing with this devilish root vegetable I have found that it even has it’s own soundtrack….

Life is always better when most senses are engaged so why not match music to food just as you would wine! Crazy – moi? I’m sure there must be sympathisers out there….

Gingerbread Heaven

Our home faces beautiful woodlands, hills and countryside – we truly count our blessings every day when we look around. Being in the middle of England there is only one thing that we miss and that is water… I can’t believe I’m confessing to this after all the moaning about rain I have done lately!
I had a hankering for Gingerbread and the Lake District is only a couple of hours away by road so we had breakfast and took a drive up there.

We couldn’t believe how quiet it was at Windemere – normally there are loads of tourists but the sun was out and it was really peaceful. It was great just to be able to sit at the edge of the Lake and watch the swans glide by. We played our usual game of “… if I had a boat then I’d have THAT one!” and watched people happily sail off into the distance.

We then headed off to one of my favourite places which is Grasmere famous for William Wordsworth who used to live, work and was finally buried there. There is a really peaceful daffodil garden dedicated to him – we’ve visited here in Spring and the daffodils are so beautiful. It certainly has a different feel in Summer but it’s still a lovely place to sit awhile. Once again, it was so quiet!

Next to the garden is St Oswald’s church where Wordsworth is buried and the old schoolhouse where he used to teach. This became a Gingerbread shop once the school closed down and sells one of the tastiest tea time treats ever! The recipe is a closely guarded secret and has the perfect amount of ginger inside each bite.
The shop is absolutely tiny so anymore than a couple of people queuing is a little overwhelming.

We headed home at the end of the day and there were only two things on my mind….

Gingerbread with a nice cup of tea! I still can’t decide whether the Gingerbread from Grasmere is like a cakey-biscuit or more like a biscuity-cake!?! Who am I to argue with a recipe that is over 150yrs old? Especially when it’s as delicious as this :-)

Change of heart!

After waiting four months I’m pleased to say that the first crop of the Broad Beans were ready today… so I dodged the rain and carefully cut some beans as well as some purple sprouting broccoli and salad leaves. The carrots and beetroot will be ready in a couple of weeks and the garlic and shallots won’t be far behind. Exciting times!

The beans were taken from the bottom of the plants and you need more than you think as there are only four little beans inside each pod! They were picked when still small and tender so all I did was remove them from their pods. Mother Nature is amazing – each little bean is perfectly wrapped in a fur lined pod. Seriously, have you taken time to feel the inside of these pods? Damp, cool, velvety… surely only good things come in such heavenly wrappers – I’ve finally changed my mind about Broad Beans Being Evil.

I combined chopped garlic, red chilli and olive oil in a pan and gently cooked for a few minutes. I then added some leftover slow roasted tomatoes, threw in the purple sprouting broccoli and seasoned well. This mixture was added to cavatappi pasta and served with fresh salad and garlic bread.

It was absolutely lovely! The Broad Beans were silky smooth and sweeter than I imagined and far removed from the bitter, squeaky beans of my childhood! The only thing I may do differently next time is take them out of their individual shells, not because they were tough, but because their intense, bright green insides were hidden!

Amy over at  A Healthy Life For Me  kindly posted a recipe for Fava Beans and Manchego Crostini. If you haven’t yet visited her inspiring blog it’s well worth the trip – great recipes, a beautiful garden and useful tips on entertaining.

I’m so pleased that my plan to “grow something I dislike” worked. I’ve watched these beans grow, enjoyed their flowers, nutured them and eaten them whilst fresh. After 4 months of care I would be entitled to finally say that I hate Broad Beans. Lucky for me, I now love them! I would certainly recommend planting some next year if you dislike them… go on, give them a go!