Chocolate Rye Cake (wheat-free)

As lots of you know, I’m on a low-salicylate, low-histamine diet. I’m lucky, because I don’t have to cut out food groups altogether, just not each too much of them. I also can’t eat wheat any more, which is gutting, because I love cake, bread and crumpets. God, I love crumpets.

Anyway, I’m learning how to cook without wheat (and I’m not mad keen on buying too much supermarket free-from food…lot of weird chemicals going on there…).

This is my Chocolate Rye Cake, and I love it. Possibly too much.Chocolate Rye Cake

Notes

I use a loaf tin, lined with grease-proof paper. I set the oven to about 180 degrees (although hard to tell with ours), and anyone who bakes will recognise a simple rule-of-egg cake. Our eggs are laid by different sized chickens, but four usually comes to around 250g.

4 free-range eggs

250g soft, dark brown sugar

250g rye flour

250g butter or margarine

Splash of full-fat milk

1 tbl sp of Cadbury Drinking Chocolate

Handful of dried fruit

Method

Put it all in an electric mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. If you’re doing it by hand, you’d probably want to cream the sugar and butter, add the flour and chocolate powder and mix, then the eggs (beaten) and milk, a little at a time.

Add dried fruit once mixture mixed. Put in loaf tin. Cook for about forty minutes, but check it after 30.

If you’re on a low-salicylate diet, and your levels are high, omit the chocolate powder and dried fruit. If you’re on a low-histamine diet and your levels are high: bad luck. Go and eat some lettuce.

If you’re gluten intolerant, you probably already know not to eat rye flour. This cake is wheat free, not gluten-free.

Anyway, it’s yummy! Give it a go…

 

On Pub-Going – The Rose and Crown in Ratley

I push open the heavy oak door to The Rose, and I’m instantly hit with the roar of Friday-night conversation. The air rushing out to greet me smells of good wine gravy and old pub, and I pause for a moment, blinking at the crowd.

I haven’t been here for perhaps five years – the old gang have all grown-up, moved away. The last time I remember, we’d been the only ones here, our voices carelessly loud in a mid-week hush.

Now though, it’s Friday night and it’s packed – so many people that it’s hard to squeeze in the door. My black-rimmed spectacles steam up and I snatch them from my face, suddenly terribly nervous of walking into a newly-strange place.

‘Carles!’ It’s The Ferg, a local farmer I’ve not properly seen for years, and who has a terrible reputation for havoc-making. It’s The Ferg’s brother and his wife that I’m to have a quick drink with, and I barely say hello before I demand if he’s seen MinanRuss. I run the names together, as if they’re a trusted brand I can rely on.

‘No,’ he tells me. ‘Are they coming here? Do you want a drink?’

I’m flustered by the crowd and the sense of no longer being cool, and I  shake my head, start sliding away through the checked-elbows towards the bar. I forget that I prefer spirits with mixers, and I order a Pinot Grigio; tonight, Matthew, I shall be – God, I’ve no idea.

Discomforted, I take my wine glass to the last table in the tiny bar dining area. It’s a table for four, and I put down my wine, phone and car keys in a semi-circle in front of me; earthworks of technology, fending off invaders. I can’t remember the last time I drank alone in a pub (the Red Lion doesn’t count), and I feel so self-conscious on my table that my shoulders are up near my ears, my hair over my face.

I pick up my phone, pretending I’ve got a signal and have an important message I must send immediately. I want, more than anything, to ring Stevie, tell him I’m coming home. Weed, I hiss to myself. I try not to bolt my wine, and instead force myself to look around me, although I make sure I don’t catch any curious eyes. Every table is crammed with people; laughing, sharing tales of their week gone, planning the weekend ahead.

A woman behind me keeps saying ‘clearly’. Clearly the situation in Crimea is volatile. Clearly the Kremlin must not be allowed – her voice drops, confidingly – clearly the woman in the grey cashmere has been stood up by her date. I put my hand out and my wedding rings catch the light. Clearly you can get stuffed.

The bar is mostly covered in farmers, unmistakeable with their capable, red-chapped hands and sensible Country Wide shirts. They all know each other and talk in half sentences, agreeing with each other in ascending chorus. There is a woman laughing, over and over, and I resent her easy belonging. I hate not belonging – the inevitable by-product of not knowing who to be. I feel awkward.

I turn my glass, thinking how I should stand up, smile, go and hang on the bar and get chatting.

I slug at the dregs of the  Pinot for courage. I stand up just as a man behind me speaks into a microphone, and I end up jumping, clutching my heart. I laugh with him as he introduces the evening’s singer, then I catch the eye of a woman in a black cardigan watching me, speculatively. She’s wondering what I’ll do next.

Put on my coat, run away. Or fling myself at the bar, chat up farmers. The woman’s watching from her busy table, her half-eaten supper ignored.

I decide to go for the farmers.

I make my way towards The Ferg, who is rocking with laughter at a neat-looking blonde man who’s describing something with his hands.

‘Carles!’ says The Ferg again, when he spots me. ‘Drink with us! Come on! Say yes this time!’

For a moment I freeze, but then my smile unsticks itself.

‘I can’t,’ I tell him. ‘I’m too shy.’

‘Rubbish,’ says The Ferg. He comes and collects me, sweeping me up in his arm. He introduces me to the farmers he’s standing with, and I instantly forget their names, but am charmed by their smiles.

I launch into a dreadful have-you-come-far conversation with the blonde. He has naughty twinkling eyes and his girlfriend is the one in the red skirt over by the piano. We stutter through another few stock-phrases (he farms at Avon Dassett. A few sheep, but mostly arable. No, no, he’s not been pleased with the weather either). But then he mentions returning from skiing, and we’re off – ‘It’s my most favourite thing in the world to do,’ I tell him. ‘I just never really have anyone to do it with.’

He tells me all about a deliciously scandalous holiday a few years ago, and we compare resorts.

We’re deep in the merits of Austria versus France when the pub door opens, and two familiar heads appear, pushing through the crowd.

‘Minanruss!’ I cry, waving. ‘That’s who I’m meeting-‘ But suddenly I’m torn. I want to stay with this nice man, and talk about snow, and really, we should wear helmets, but we don’t.

‘Go,’ he says. ‘Go say hello-‘

‘Thank you for chatting to me,’ I say. ‘And being so nice.’

Min is trying to take off her gilet, creating space by wagging her elbows.

‘Good God,’ she bellows. ‘It’s like a Range Rover convention out there! Who the bloody hell is it? Where’ve they come from?’

There’s a cheer from beside the piano.

‘Drink?’ I say, squeezing through, kissing them both hello. ‘So brilliant to see you! Let me get you a drink-‘

It’s past ten when Min and I manage to snaffle a table, and the singer has got into his stride. We’re chattering non-stop, catching up on gossip, who’s doing who, and oh-my-life, I can’t believe that. Are you sure? Outrageous.

I don’t tell Min how nervous I was before, how I nearly went home.

A tall, dark vaguely-familiar brunette comes to say hello. ‘You have such a lovely voice,’ I shout against the music. ‘All deep and raspy.’

‘Oh no,’ she says. ‘I’ve had this ever since that night.’ She and Min exchange significant looks. ‘Let me buy you a drink,’ she says. ‘And I’ll come and join you.’

‘She’s with The Ferg,’ says Min, in my ear. I look at The Ferg with new respect. He really does pull some crackers.

Min introduces us, and I tell Max we might have met before, at the Red Lion. ‘Probably my sister,’ says Max. ‘She’s way more beautiful than me.’ She says the words flatly, with no intention of prompting denials and fluttery compliments.

Min and I raise an eyebrow each. ‘You’re hardly fugly,’ we tell her. I like this girl. We then indulge in premium-rate gossip, the sort of stories friends always start with ‘Carles, don’t blog this, but-‘. God it was exciting.

The singer was really belting out his tunes now, the bar staff were still smiling and smiling.

Something rockabilly-like came on and Min was whooping, shouting I should dance with The Ferg, who once literally swept me off my feet for several minutes years ago, for which the old gang used to tease me mercilessly.

‘I’ve not had enough wine,’ I say, shaking my head, protesting. But then I’m up anyway, being towed down the bar towards the singer; there’s cheering and applause. No one else is dancing, but that doesn’t deter The Ferg. He flings me into a spin, narrowly missing a table of eight. Then he scoops me up, rocking out, and I’m laughing so hard I’ve got a searing stitch, and my hair’s come loose, and I’m not wearing my glasses, so everything’s a warm blur full of music and noise and steps that were out-of-time but exhuberant. The Ferg whizzes me around, still astonishingly strong.

As a finale, he bends me backwards, so I can see the room upside down. I feel like all of the glittery-glee has gone to the top of my head, shaken free from the boring grey silt of the every-day. I’m grinning as we take a bow to the applause, and I catch the eye of the woman in the black cardi.

She’s clapping, smiling, nodding at me as if she knows me. As if I belong.

RoseandCrowninRatley

 

On Food: The Secret Pudding Club

It’s a quarter past seven on a Thursday evening, and I’m driving down dark country lanes towards Edge Hill, in the very north of Oxfordshire. I’m jittery with excitement and nerves – I’m to meet my friend Shiny Gems, and to join the Secret Pudding Club at the Castle Inn.

All day long, I’ve been bumping into people who tell me how fortunate I am to have a ticket, ‘they go in five seconds flat, darling’. Waiting for the school bus, the Mistress of The Horse roars up in her jeep.

‘Pudding club tonight, Carles? You lucky, lucky thing. Hope you’ve skipped lunch.’

Yep. And now, walking down the steps to the Castle’s bar, the tower soaring above me, I’m ravenously hungry. I walk through a low door and see a reserved sign, with ‘Pudding Club’ scrawled beneath. I feel a visceral squeeze of anticipation.Photo

I’m early, so I slide through to the door to the bar, thinking I’d have a lemonade and a chatter with whoever I find. The bar is octagonal, with a huge log fire and bits of battle regalia on the walls – a breast plate here, a pike there. Not a pub to come with warring couples. I accidentally order a gin and tonic, and sit down with my notepad, unashamedly eavesdropping on the conversations around me. There are three men at the bar, all mud-encrusted and horny-handed – a million miles away from the Barbour Brigade. I try to understand their conversation, but it mostly seems made of odd hand gestures and low grumbling ‘aah’s, like rams exchanging tupping notes.

I’m just zoning in to the conversation on my left, when I hear loud laughter from the other side of the bar. It’s Shiny Gems, with lots of other tall girls, all knocking back pink bubbles and waving at new arrivals. I pick up my gin and go through.

‘Carles!’ cries Gems, and introduces me to everyone. ‘And you remember Sue-‘ I nod and grin, and stand very slightly on my tiptoes. The gin has flushed my cheeks and seen off my nerves.

‘Lovely puds tonight,’ someone says, rubbing her hands. ‘Where do we sit?’Photo

We end up on a very long table with boxed starched-linen tablecloths that are impossible to force your knees beneath. I perch sideways, trying to remember everyone’s names, and not knock all of my cutlery flying. Blimey. There’s a lot of cutlery. The tables are pristine, and on each place is a bag of petite-fours, tied with a navy grosgrain ribbon. I slide mine into my sac magique, to take home to the children.

The room is filling up now, with perhaps thirty women – ten of which belong to Gems.

‘Sorry,’ says Gems in my ear. ‘Everyone’s very horsey.’

‘Not all-‘ I begin to say, but then a pretty brunette opposite launches into a story about a horse with a broken jaw. ‘Just snapped it off!’ she bellows, to a woman up to my left. ‘It was just dangling off-‘

I feel myself blanche.

Fortunately, a man rings a tinkling bell, cutting the story short. ‘I’d like to introduce you to your chef,’ he says. ‘Scotty-‘

And we all clap for a merry-eyed bearded man in chef’s whites. He welcomes us and tells us about his menu, and his puddings. We all ooh and aah, and then Jo, directly opposite me, calls for Prosecco. It arrives to much applause in two huge silver ice buckets.

We dispatch the savoury first course, and launch into the first of the puddings, which is flavoured with lavender.

‘Um,’ says Kerry, thoughtfully licking her spoon. ‘Tastes like my grandmother’s drawers.’ We all collapse with laughter.

‘Yum,’ though, says my neighbour.

The wine’s kicking in now, and the volume is climbing. Conversation moves onto War Horse, and how much better the theatre production was than the film. ‘I mean,’ snorts Jo in disgust. ‘They used over ten different horses for Joey alone. And the barbed wire wounds were in no way realistic.’

Anxious in case of more horsey blood-and-guts stories, I ask her opinion on the dessert wine. ‘Very good,’ she replies, and we both drain our glasses.

My immediate neighbour disappears for a cigarette break, and I scooch along to chat to the other end of the table. I meet Jo’s daughter, Holly, who has a waterfall of pale blonde hair and a beaming white smile. Her mum keeps pinching her phone to read her text messages, and making her blush.

I tell her I embarrass my daughters just as much, and that it’s our job as mothers. She starts telling me all about her new job, promoting a top-end car.

‘Ooh,’ I say. ‘What?’

She shows us all her phone, with an impossibly shiny Nissan GT3 on it.

‘It’s a Nismo GTR,’ she tells us. ‘And is a 3.8 Litre V6.’

‘Golly,’ I say, thinking my husband would adore her. She mentions how she makes Bannoffee Pie for her office mates, and conversation moves onto baking.

The other end of the table is in uproar. Gems and Sue are playing an Elf animation on Sue’s i-Pad. The last dessert arrives, and I’m feeling very stuffed. Scotty promises one lucky lady will find a strawberry in her pud, to win a meal for two. We pick up our final spoons in readiness.

‘I never win,’ says the lady next to Jo. Her spoon hits the strawberry and she whoops in excitement. More drinks and drunk, and the music from the Elf Ainmation plays again and again.

‘I really must go,’ I say, staggering to my feet. I’ve had just one gin and a tiny sip of dessert wine; sober me doesn’t last long on nights out. ‘So sorry to be the first to bail-‘ I start inching out, waving, crying nice-to-meet-you’s, take-care, take-care.

Outside, the air is sharply cold, and wakes me from my sugar fug.   I stretch and shake my hair from my face, looking at the star spangles, feeling my waist band bite my stomach. Oh, but it was good. I had fun and ate and ate and ate.

I walk up to the road, cross to the car park. I know tomorrow at the school bus, the others’ll say, ‘Well? How was it? Was it good? What did you have?’

And I’ll grin, give a little shrug. ‘It’s a secret,’ I’ll say. ‘What goes on in the Pudding Club, stays in the Pudding Club. You’ll have to join to find out.’

On Food: The Grouse Sunday Dinner

Before I cooked them:

On Friday, I whizz up to the farmshop for sausages, and find grouse in the outside cabinet. Hellishly expensive, and quite obviously not with the stomach-filling capacities of sixteen Lincolnshire’s. As if in a dream (the one where I’m dressed in tweed, and my husband’s a laird with muscled knees), I put them on the counter.

I ask Mark the butcher how to cook them, and he looks sheepish.

‘Not had them?’

‘No,’ he says. ‘Well…no. Roast them, maybe?’

I take them home and put them in the fridge; they look incongruous next to the Frubes, the cucumber heels and the revolting plastic ham my eldest daughter adores. They look like a supper that might be destined for people other than the Lee’s.

It’s Saturday night now, the Night of the Grouse. But I’m whey-faced, feeble. Knackered. My lovely, lovely husband trundles off to collect an Indian, and feeds me chunks of sag aloo.

So now it’s Sunday, and the Grouse must be eaten. I apply myself to Google, to find out how to do them. I don’t learn an awful lot – the recipes I find involve breasts, rather than whole birds, or else basically, just roast them, because their favour needs no messing. And add some game chips and bread sauce.

These cooks and chefs and foodie types have obviously never had to feed two fussy daughters and a ravenous Roast-Dinner expecting husband.

Crisps ain’t gonna cut it.

Right. I keep reading that the meat can be very dry, owing to the lack of fat in the bird, and that the taste is very gamey. Every recipe I read uses a bacon carapace during cooking, and then advises a quick pan de-glaze job and making a thin  jus. Oh God. I’m doing mine with mashed potato – can you imagine their faces on seeing jus? The Bisto would be out of the cupboard before I’d even sat down.

So anyway…I’m off.

How I Cooked Them

Photo

Ingredients

Two fat chicken legs (with skin)

Two grouse

Hot beef stock

Smoked bacon (back, because I have no streaky)

Hot water (as in, from a kettle)

Vermouth

Juniper

Salt and pepper

Garlic

Plain flour

Cranberry sauce

Method (not including veg instructions)

Oven on at 180, chicken legs in a pot roast jobbie that would fit them and the grouse. I slice a garlic clove and put the shards under the skin of the chicken. Slosh in few slugs of vermouth, and hot water up to half an inch of so. Five juniper berries, because I love them . Tin foil over jobbie; oven.

Grouse inspected for anything nasty (feathers, shot, bits of guts…not all our game meat comes from a butcher, so habit). Grouse turned upside down and its back draped in bacon (did not season – our bacon quite salty).

Chicken legs extracted from oven after 15min. Grouse tucked in between, breast-side down, bacon upper-most, foil back on. Back in oven for 30 minutes. Foil taken off towards last 10 min of cooking.

Out of oven, whole lot transferred to hot plate to rest for 10 min whilst gravy made. Liquid from pan poured off into cup, leaving two or three table spoons. One  table spoon flour into the pan, scrubbed altogether with wooden spoon. Wait until pan really quite bloody hot. Splash in hot beef stock. Stir until flour has made it all into a gravy. Add 1 teaspoon of cranberry and check seasoning. Pour into hot gravy boat.

Put bacon from birds in a frying pan with olive oil, when hot again, put in fine beans and mini sweetcorns (again, bending to will of obstinate daughter). Stir fry.

Serve chicken onto children’s plates, put Grouse on a wooden chopping board to be carved at table between me and him.

Put beans, mini sweetcorns and huge Mash Mountain in hot serving bowl, take to the table with chopping board of grouse.

Oh my Lord. Smells incredible. Eat it.

And What We Thought About It

‘Mummy it tastes like red salmon’

‘What? It’s a bird.’

‘Red salmon. The one you do with the yellow sauce.’

Bloody weird child.

Stephen has given me the breast of the smaller grouse, and from my first mouthful, I know I won’t manage both fillets. The meat is incredibly dense, and close textured. I’ve cooked them medium rare, and the pinker bits melt in my mouth, but the whole thing reminds me of metal, like sucking a copper coin. I’m not sure I like it yet, but I want to like it, the way I used to want to like whisky, and sweetbreads (I’ve never made it with the sweetbreads).

The gravy is incredible – the nicest we’ve ever made with no red wine involved.

Stephen likes the grouse, but not as much as a steak, and we both agree that we’d probably like it more processed, with different flavours. Sliced thinly in a winter salad say, with  pomegranate seeds, or in a game pie, the hot-and-sloppy sort, with a thick crust.

I poke at the carcasses thoughtfully. Stock. Grouse soup. With sour dough and cheddar as cheese-on-toast.

Yum.

Photo
Grouse Sunday Dinner

On Food! Possibly The Most Revolting Venison Dish Ever

It starts badly, when I realise I’ve defrosted a socking lump of venison, rather than the beef stewing steak I’d intended to. Venison in our house is for treats; birthdays, friends for dinner…Friday-nights-with-a-bottle-of-wine at least. It’s not for hurried stuff-it-down Tuesdays, when the children have theatre class and Stephen has poker.

But here it is. Twenty minutes before the school bus (and the flight to the Spiceball), I am searing my (Oh God! Loin!) and praying that pot-roasting at 150 won’t be too awful. I am slicing a Spanish onion as fast as I can, with my last two cloves of fat, local garlic. I have no other veg other than the Value carrots bought for the pony, but I peel them and chop them, and in they go, along with the last few shrunken mushrooms and a snatched handful of rosemary.

So far, so typical of a Tuesday – using odds and ends before the shopping arrives tomorrow. I’ve no bones to chuck in the pot, so I add a frozen brick of beef stock, and I whiz to the drinks cabinet to grab the port.

No port. Seven minutes until the bus.

And I’m under the stairs, rifling Stephen’s red wine, wondering exactly how cross he’ll be if I pinch a 2011 Tempranillo. The ones with the red label, that he was so chuffed to find.

My nerve fails me, and I tear back to the drinks cabinet. Vodka, gin…Galliano. No, no. Chartreuse? Why why why did you drink the bloody port? I’m about to grab the Vermouth (as always), when I see something the Pees bought us back from one of their French forays. ‘Creme de cassis de Bourgogne’. Perfect for poshing up cheap fizz. It has a pretty blue label featuring glossy black currants. Which are almost like blackberries. And blackberries and venison might work.

The worst thing to cook with venison

I’m back in the kitchen and I’m sloshing it in, then the whole thing’s boiling and smelling promising, and it’s in the oven and I’m off, out the door and up the road, cheeks pink, mind racing, onto the next thing, and the next.

*

We sit down to eat past six. The children are tired and stroppy; Stephen’s white with exhaustion beneath the soot. I’ve totally forgotten how I made dinner (was it really only three or so hours ago?), although it smells good – outside it’s raining, inside there’s pot-roast. El prods suspiciously at her sausages (Not eating Bambi, Mummy) and I bustle, serving the rice (sadly no potatoes) and the inevitable petite pois.

I’m the first to begin. The sauce is a lovely colour – very rich and glossy. I remember I forgot to check the seasonong, but hey-ho.

Oh God. I freeze, fork mid-air. It’s terrible; sweet, syrupy, fruity. As revolting as if I’d cooked it in Ribena. I whimper.

Stephen takes a forkful, and looks confused. He takes another, then looks at me nervously (I’m sensitive about my cooking).

‘Darling…’

I groan, and the children guess something’s up. They both taste some, and crow with delight.

‘What happened?’ says Stephen. ‘It looked so nice.’ He gazes into the casserole dish, as if I’d tricked him, and that’s not what it tastes like at all.

I explain, and they laugh. ‘What about brandy? Would that’ve worked?’

I drop my head onto my arms, thinking of the quarter of cream in the fridge. Of course that would’ve worked. And we have no less than four bottles of brandy. I’m gutted.

Jess and Stephen manage to eat quite a bit, helped by ketchup and Parmesan.

‘It’s quite nice, Mummy,’ says Jess. ‘If you can just swallow it quickly.’

I decide to smile.

‘Yes,’ says Stephen, after a while. ‘At least it’s not as bad as the chocolate chilli – do you remember? With all the cinnamon and…’ he catches my eye. And grins.

Crispy Pheasant Risotto

Shot_for_the_Pot_Logo_02_RGB_688We love pheasants. Silly, happy birds with gorgeous feathers and hang-over eyes. However, we like them best on our plate. All through the year, we seem to have a couple of brace lurking in our freezer, and they’re completely  brilliant for those days you can’t think what to cook, but  know you cannot face another mouthful of pasta.

Anyway, I just read about a recipe using chorizo and pheasant, from the very fabulous Mrs Smarty Breeks, and I thought I’d share my own. I’ve also realised that I’ve just missed Shot for The Pot week (http://www.gametoeat.co.uk/) , so this is my (late!) contribution.

This recipe for pheasant risotto was born out of desperation a few years ago – we had no other carbohydrate in the house apart from a packet of pudding rice.

Ingredients

Two pheasants (cock and hen, or three hens. Actually, probably doesn’t matter)

Liquid (see Method)

olive oil

Arborio rice (1 ramekin per person. Two and a half ramekins for family of four with small children.)

x2 onions (finely chopped)

x2 garlic gloves (finely chopped)

something green, vegetable wise (I use spinach, French beans, peas if I’ve nothing else) (chopped in fork-size pieces)

Fresh thyme or rosemary, on stalks

Maldon salt

Method

Put two pheasants (cock and hen) upside down in a heavy casserole dish. Slosh in some liquid a third of way up birds. Liquid can be beer, cider, red or white wine…I’ve even used vermouth. Top up with tap water. In fact, I’ve  done them in just water (with an onion) before, and still tasted good. Not worth using stock, incidentally, as you’ll be turning liquid into stock in a bit.

Right, Pot-roast an hour or so at 160 (done when legs move freely and no blood shows on a knife) , strip meat whilst still warm (absolute bugger to do when cold), and put all bones back into casserole with a quartered onion, couple of cloves and the woody stems of any herbs you might use later. Put it to boil.

Now make risotto. Soften onion in olive oil until translucent, add garlic. Give a stir, put in arborio rice, dry-fry for a few minutes, add couple of slugs of whatever booze you added to your cooking liquid. If you used water, well, add a shot of vermouth. Start adding boiling-away pheasant stock. Keep adding, stirring, adding stirring.

Right, when rice retains a slight bite, turn off heat and add some grated cheese. We like Parmesan, or Cheddar. Give it a stir, put the lid on. Tell everyone to get the table ready, dinner is five minutes away.

Now, heat a frying pan until scarily hot. Add a little olive oil. If a piece of pheasant dropped in sizzles, then put all of the pheasant meat in. Add generous amount of salt and thyme leaves and stir a little, letting it get a bit burnt and crispy.

When it’s all hot, check risotto. If looks a bit stodgy, put in a splash of hot water. Take risotto to table with pheasant crispy gorgeousness in separate bowl with the grater and more cheese. Let everyone dive in.

Serves 2 adults and 2 children for a main, or four adults for a lunch with a green salad.

Awesome gamey-goodness. Watch out for shot…

Blackberry and Elderberry Cordial

I’m hugely rubbish at making jam, and I didn’t really know how to preserve all the fruit we grow in the garden, or that we forage. My lovely neighbour, Caroline, suggested I make cordial, and she started a huge craze for the children and me – we have a freezer stuffed full of gooseberry, raspberry, strawberry, black currant and loganberry cordial.

Anyway, I keep being asked what recipe I use for the cordial, so I thought I’d put the blackberry one up here.

So…go pick your berries.

Blackberries destined for cordial-making

Take off any leafy bits, and as many elder stalks as you can bear before you go mad. Then give them a good wash in a colander (or a salt bath if you suspect any grubs).

Put them in a bloody big saucepan, cover with water, and add any spices or flavourings (I use a vanilla pod, or a bit of grated ginger, or cinnamon…whatever really. Oh! And we like star anise).

Bring to a rolling boil.

Once at the boil, turn down heat and simmer for about fifteen minutes. No big drama if you do it for more, but I suspect you might lose some health-type aspects. If you’re just trying to stop drinking supermarket squash, I don’t suppose it matters massively.

After fifteen minutes, strain in a colander into a big jug (or a series of jugs. Oh God, or any old thing, I think I’m being needlessly prescriptive). Our pan’s too big for my daughters to tip, so they dip jugs in and transfer the cordial that way.

Once strained, put back into first receptacle, but measure it – you need to know how much liquid you have.

Right, then add 3lbs of sugar and 2oz citric acid to every 3.5 pints of liquid.

I use a mix of dark brown sugar and white (I like the caramel-ness of brown). At this stage, it will taste disgustingly sweet, and you’ll be tempted not to use all of the sugar. Fine, you don’t have to, but the sugar is acting as preservative, so the less the sugar, the quicker the mould.

Heat gently until sugar’s dissolved, leave to cool.

Once cool, bottle in portions you’d drink within a week, and keep in the freezer, or as cool as you can if your freezer’s diddy. Keep in fridge once opened. Bottle-wise, our local Medical Herbalist, Fiona Taylor, uses 1 or 2 pint milk cartons – we use old drinks bottles, then decant into glass bottles for presents or to drink ourselves).

And that’s it!

We use it as cordial-with-water, in a jug for meal times. If you don’t add the citric acid, you can freeze it in icecubes and flavour water (doesn’t taste like cordial), or as shots over ice-cream, or in gin or sparkling wine.

My neighbour (the one who started me off) drinks hers with hot water.

I hope to never, ever again buy squash from a supermarket. Suspect may be drinking just tap water come next March.

Um, anyway. I love cooking and making stuff, and always like hearing other people’s ideas and tips. If you fancy, you can write them below, or leave links to your own sites or whatever… country folk-lore a-go-go…

NB: Our chickarockas go mad for the pulped fruit, so that’s where ours ends up…happy birds!