No fuss Naan bread

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No fuss Naan bread

I’m not a huge fan of barbecue cooking in the back garden, although I do love eating outside. I much prefer to put something in the slow cooker or oven, open a bottle and sit outside in the sun secure in the knowledge that my dinner is getting on with it. Lovely smells start wafting outside and you can sit back and pretend someone else is doing the cooking.

You won’t be surprised to know that I love spicy food, Indian in particular.  A lot of people think that when we get lovely sunshine it’s too hot for a curry. I disagree – they seem to cope really well in India! You should really turn up the heat, chilli-wise during a heat wave, it has a cooling effect on your body.

Last Friday was hot and sunny, so I didn’t want to miss a second of such wonderful weather after I got home from work. I refuse to think of Friday night as being anything other than fresh, home cooked Curry Night. I’d prepared a Hare’s Moor Madras Curry Kit (www.haresmoor.co.uk) up to the stage where you add the tomatoes, the night before. When I got in from work, I just mixed the prepared masala with some chicken thigh fillets and par-boiled potatoes and put it all in the slow cooker with a slosh of water and turned the cooker to high.

Naan bread was needed to mop up the gorgeous gravy. I don’t like to buy ready made flat breads, they’re so simple to make and taste so much better. Naan bread is traditionally made in a Tandoor oven: dough is rolled out thinly and pressed against the side of the hot oven which makes the underside of the naan crisp and brown, but leaves the top soft – ready to be brushed with butter. If you haven’t got a tandoor, help is at hand! This recipe doesn’t claim to be authentic – it’s easy and requires the minimum of attention. It makes great tasting soft, spongy bread which soaks up sauce – what more could you ask for?

This is the recipe that I always use – it’s a Dan Lepard one and he says that bread dough doesn’t need lots of kneading, it just needs time. Minimum effort, while sipping cold drinks in the sun – perfect. They freeze really well too. This recipe makes 6 naan.

No Fuss Naan

Put 300g plain flour in a bowl, along with 50g wholemeal flour, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 3/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and 1-2 tsp black onion (nigella) seeds (these give you the stereotypical taste of naan bread, but leave them out if you don’t have any, or substitute with cumin/fennel seeds).

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In a large bowl add 125g plain yogurt (whatever you normally use), 100ml cold milk, 50ml boiling water and 1tsp fast action yeast (the sachet yeast is fine, but don’t use a whole sachet). Stir everything together and make sure there are no lumps.

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Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture and stir well. This will produce a very soft, sticky dough. Make sure that you’ve gathered together all of the flour at the bottom of the bowl and then cover the dough with a sheet of cling film and go back to the garden for 30 minutes.

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After half an hour, pour 1 tblsp of any oil on to your work surface and rub it out to the size of a dinner plate. Tip the sticky dough on to the oil and roughly knead the dough into a ball. This should take around 10 seconds and then put in back in the bowl, cover with cling film and go back to the garden for an hour.

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After an hour, lightly flour the worktop and place the dough on it. Pat it into a circle and cut it into 6 pieces. You already roughly have your classic naan tear drop shape. Put the oven on to 200C/180C fan/390F.

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Melt a large knob of butter/4tblsp oil (or a mixture of the two) in a small pan and grate 1 clove of garlic into it, along with a handful of chopped coriander if you like it – you can use any other chopped herb in it’s place, such as parsley. When the butter has melted, turn the heat off and leave the flavours to infuse while you cook the naan.

Put a large frying pan on a medium heat, don’t add any oil to the pan. When the pan is hot, roll out the first of your triangles to around 1cm thick using extra flour to stop them sticking. Image

Stretch the triangle as you place it on the hot frying pan. Brush some of the garlic butter onto the top of the naan as it’s cooking. Soon you will see little bubbles appearing on the surface.

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Keep an eye on the underside of the naan so that you can take it out when it’s starting to brown.

Using a spatula/fish slice take the naan from the pan and place it on to the racks in the oven. This will finish off cooking the top while you get on with the next naan.

Repeat the process until the dough has been used up. Keep a close eye on the naan in the oven and take them out if they start to get brown.

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They soak up sauce perfectly and taste wonderful. Give them a go when you want to give yourself time to sit in the sun!

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Savoury Steamed Cake – Dhokla

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Savoury Steamed Cake – Dhokla

I’m always on the look out for something savoury and spicy to eat for breakfast and this fits the bill perfectly. It’s a Gujarati snack and Gujarati snacks are the best, in my opinion! They always seem to capture the best in crunchy, sweet, salty, hot and spicy and go exceptionally well with a nice cup of tea (or cold beer!) A lot of Gujarati snacks are deep fried, but this one is steamed and made of lentils – it’s pretty much a health food!

Gujarati’s are very proud of their Dhokla, like British people are proud of their Victoria sandwiches. Everyone who makes Dhokla will have their own ‘special’ twist to make it the best. I’ve tried lots of them and they all do differ – some are light and fluffy, some are dense and chewy, some are fiery hot, some are just savoury. All of them were delicious – it’s tangy and savoury all at the same time. You have to let go of the fact that it looks like the top layer of a Victoria Sandwich with a coconut topping and embrace the fact that when you bite into it, it’s savoury, spicy and nothing like a sweet cake! The more you make Dhokla, the more you can experiment.

Dhokla is best served freshly made, or possibly eaten the next day. Store any leftovers in an air tight container and if eating the next day, make sure that you blast it in the microwave for 20 seconds to warm it through and make it soft again before you serve it.

There are a couple of different ingredients which you may have to get, but none of them are expensive. You’ll probably need to go to your nearest Indian grocery store to find them though.

Different thing #1

Asafoetida (aka ‘hing’). This is a powdered resin from a plant that comes from Afghanistan. Some people think it has an unpleasant smell.  I totally disagree – it is pungent, but I think it smells similar to a truffle with a deep, savoury, garlicky smell. This is the flavour it imparts – just a small amount makes you think that a dish has garlic in it, even when it hasn’t. It’s used extensively in Jain cooking who avoid garlic and onions in their cooking because it arouses passion! It’s sold in little yellow pots and costs around a pound.

Different thing #2

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Eno (a medicine!) Those of a ‘certain age’ will remember being given this as children when you had an upset tummy. Although it seems very strange to be putting medicine in your cooking, don’t worry. The ingredients in Enos are just good old bicarbonate of soda and citric acid which gives it a lemony flavour, along with the scary sounding ‘anhydrous sodium carbonate’, which is a common food agent which just stops powdery things stop clumping together. The acid and bicarb are in the perfect quantities to give your dhokla a bit of a fruity tang along with a raising agent to make it fluffy. It’s also handy to keep in for upset tummies! The only place you seem to be able to buy this now, is in Indian grocery stores. I’ve tried various chemists and they only stock Andrews which isn’t the same as it has a proper ‘medicine’ ingredient in it that shouldn’t be used for cooking! If you really can’t find it, you can use plain old bicarbonate of soda and a squeeze of lemon juice, instead.

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Different thing #3

Moong dal (lentils). These are Mung beans which have had their green husks taken off and split into two. They’re tiny and don’t need to be cooked in this recipe before you use them.

The topping (this is known as the Tarka or Tadka) for the Dhokla is optional, but it’s just not the same without it. It only takes 1tblsp oil to spread over the whole cake and you can use whichever oil you want. Although to be authentic, it should be a fairly flavourless oil such as sunflower/vegetable/rapeseed/groundnut. Feel free just to scatter the topping without the oil, if you’re on a strict healthy diet, although remember that this feeds at least 5 people.

HOW TO MAKE DHOKLA

Soak 1 cup of moong dal in enough cold water to come 5cm above the dal. Soak for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

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Drain the dal and put them in a food processor along with 1-5 fresh green chillies (I use 3 or 4 depending on how hot they are). Blend until the mixture is smooth. You can add a splash of water if needed to make the processing easier.

Put the mixture into a bowl and add 1tsp finely grated ginger, 1 heaped tsp sugar, 3 tblsp plain natural yogurt, 1 tbslp oil, a good pinch of asafoetida, 1/2 tsp turmeric (optional) and 1-2 tsp salt. Taste for salt and heat. Add more of either if necessary. You can add a little more yogurt or a little sifted chickpea flour (if you have any) to adjust the batter if you need to. It should be thicker than pancake batter, but not as thick as cake mixture. Mix thoroughly. You can now cover with clingfilm and leave this somewhere cool overnight if you want to cook it fresh for breakfast or use it straight away. There’s no need to refrigerate as it will start to ferment slightly which improves the flavour.

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Leave the mixture to one side while you prepare to cook the Dhokla. Very lightly grease a Victoria Sandwich tin and find a saucepan that it will fit inside of. Practice this bit before you have hot water in the saucepan. If you have a steamer that the tin will fit inside of, even better – it doesn’t have to be a round tin. If using a saucepan, put something like a metal cookie cutter in the middle of the saucepan so that the sandwich tin won’t be sitting on the bottom of the pan. Fold some tin foil into a long strip so that you can put it under the sandwich tin and to use as handles hanging over the edge of the saucepan, to help you lift it in and out of boiling water without hurting yourself. You’ll need boiling water to cook the Dhokla, so practice how much water you need to put in, enough to cover the metal cookie cutter. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel so that any condensation is absorbed and won’t fall onto the dhokla.

Put the amount of water that you practiced with (plus a splash more, you don’t want the pan to boil dry), into the saucepan and let it simmer while you get everything ready.

Stir the mixture once more and then add 1 large tsp of Eno. Stir thoroughly, but be quick. Pour the now bubbly mixture into the sandwich tin with the folded tin foil underneath. Using the foil, gently lower the tin onto the cookie cutter. Let the ends of the foil strip hang over the side of the saucepan and cover with the wrapped up lid (make sure the tea towel that the lid is wrapped in has the ends piled on top of the lid, well away from the heat source so it doesn’t catch fire!).

While the dhokla is cooking prepare the following ingredients for the Tadka – 1tsp mustard seeds, 1tsp sesame seeds, 1/2 – 1 green chilli chopped finely, 1tblsp chopped coriander, a pinch of asafoetida, 1tblsp lemon juice, 1tsp desiccated coconut. All of these are optional, leave out what you don’t have.

Keep the pan simmering and covered (don’t peep) for 18-20 minutes until the dhokla is risen and spongy when you gently press it.

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Using a toothpick, prick the dhokla all over ready for the Tadka to sink in – this will keep it moist.

In a small saucepan, heat 1-2 tblsp oil and add the mustard seeds and when they start popping add the sesame seeds, asafoetida and chilli, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Stir well and pour over the dhokla making sure that everything is evenly spread out.

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Cut into 3cm slices across the pan and then turn the pan a quarter way round and do the same again making diamond shapes.

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Eat while it’s warm!

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Popcorn is dead – long live Sev!

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Popcorn is dead – long live Sev!

We’re always looking for something to munch on Saturday nights – dinner is prepared and cooked at a leisurely pace in between glasses of wine, while we all catch up on what’s been happening to us all during the week. The evening usually ends up with us all of the sofa, watching a film or something on TV, with a big bowl of home made sweet or salty popcorn.

On Friday, we ventured into the new snack territory of Sev and now we’re all convinced that no other snack will ever do! (Although, we did have to turn the volume up quite a bit, so that we could hear what was going on over loud crunching!) We’d eaten Sev before, you can buy it in bags from Asian shops, but it hadn’t really made a huge impression on me. I was talking snacks with my Gujarati friend (Gujarati’s are experts in the savoury snack field, to my way of thinking) who said that I should try a freshly cooked batch of Sev, instead of popcorn. She promised that there’d be no going back once I’d tried it.  I did some recipe research and decided to give it a go. It’s one of those recipes that you can barely believe: can 2 spuds and some chickpea flour really taste that good?

It was so supremely wonderful, that I have to share the recipe with everyone so that you can all see what I mean! It’s spicy (or not, if you don’t like spicy things), crunchy potato, salty – everything you want in a savoury snack!

Ok, it’s not exactly a health food – but it’s gluten free, suitable for vegans and kids love it too. I fried it in rapeseed oil, to try and convince myself that we were all getting lots of essential fatty acids in a fun way! It will also last for at least a couple of weeks if you put it in an air proof container (and hide it), although I haven’t tried this out as there’s never any left over!

You can only make this snack if you have either a special sev making machine or (which you can pick up from an asian store for a few quid) a potato ricer (which you can pick up at Morrisons for £4).

A potato ricer is like a huge garlic press which you use in the same way, but with cooked potatoes, making them completely lump free for mash, gnocchi etc. The potato that it produces looks like grains of rice. You can put the ‘riced’ potato straight on top of Cottage/Shepherds/Fish Pie with a few blobs of butter and some cheese over the top of it before baking in the oven, to make the topping extra crunchy. Everyone needs a potato ricer in their lives.

You’ll also need to buy a bag of Chickpea flour (also known as Gram flour). You can buy a small bag in Asian shops for around 70p. Normal flour can’t be substituted.

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Boil 2 medium sized potatoes in their skins until cooked through. Peel them while they’re still hot so that the skins come off easily – I hold them with a fork so I don’t burn my fingers! While they’re still hot, put each one through the potato ricer and leave in a bowl to cool completely.

When the potato has cooled, gauge roughly how many cups of potato you’ve got by patting it into any cup/mug you have to hand, so that you know how much Gram flour to add. You’re going to need roughly half to three quarters of the potato that you’ve measured, of flour. I had 2 small mugs of potato and so I used 1 mug and a bit more of chickpea flour. Don’t worry about being exact.

Put the potato back in the bowl and add: a big pinch of turmeric, 1 dessertspoon of lemon/lime juice (fresh or bottled), 1 tsp sugar, 1tsp salt (you may need a little more, taste it at the end), chilli powder (or cayenne pepper), you can use paprika if you don’t like heat, or don’t put either in. I put a heaped half teaspoon of chilli powder in mine and it was moderately spicy, so add less or more to your taste.

Get your hand in there and mix everything together really well.

Still using your hand, put half a mug of chickpea flour into the potato mixture and combine it thoroughly. Continue to add flour until you have a dough that isn’t too sticky. The amount you use will depend on how much moisture was in your cooked potato. At this point, taste a bit of the dough, it should taste savoury/salty. Add more salt if you think you need to and more chilli powder if you want to turn the heat up. If adding salt and chilli powder now, you’ll need to knead the dough thoroughly to combine it.

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Heat some oil in a wok/deep medium sized pan over a medium heat. You’ll need around 5cm oil. When you can put a cube of bread in the oil and it takes around 30 seconds to turn golden, the heat is right.

Put a large satsuma sized piece of the dough into the potato ricer and hold it over the hot oil. BE CAREFUL AROUND HOT OIL. Press the handle of the ricer down over the hot oil, so that the bottom of the strands of dough start to fall into the oil. Keep a knife handy, so that you can scrape the strands off, as they’ll cling to the ricer.

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Keep the heat at medium, making sure that the oil is bubbling gently around the cooking sev (like in the picture). After a minute, turn the sev over to cook the other side. Fry for another 1-2 minutes until the Sev is light golden and crisp. It will crisp up more when you take it out of the oil. Don’t let it get too dark in colour.

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Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the cooked Sev and leave to drain on kitchen paper while you cook the rest in different batches until all of the dough is used up. Obviously at this point, the cook’s perk is to have the first taste (just don’t eat it all before anyone else gets to taste it).

I had some raw peanuts to use up, so I fried some of those at the end too, to add to the mixture.

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To make it look authentically Indian, make cones out of newspaper and stuff each one full of sev to hand out to everyone.

Enjoy! You. Are going to be SO popular.

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Chilli and Garlic slow roast chicken

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Chilli and Garlic slow roast chicken

Every winter, I fall in love all over again with my slow cooker. Walking in after a tough day at work, I’m greeted by the olfactory equivalent of a big hug. It’s like someone has got in before me and started cooking, leaving me just to put the kettle on and sit down with the paper for half an hour before I start on the side dishes.

Slow cooking is as old as cooking itself. It’s origins are from when fires used to be kept alive 24 hours a day not only for cooking, but for warmth and protection. Beans and pulses collected and dried during late summer, were put into a cauldron over a fire with water (or beer!) and herbs and left to bubble away all day. Sometimes this soup would be flavoured with a small piece of gammon or some bacon fat being lowered into it which was also left to cook – this was our early soup, known as pottage and was devoured by hungry people as their main meal of the day. Slow cooked meat was cooked on the embers of a fire from the day before – a hole was dug and lined with bricks and all of the embers were put on the bricks. The meat was wrapped in large leaves and put on top of the bricks and then the dry soil/sand was put on top of the meat and left all day to cook underground. A lot of hassle for slow cooked meat! Hurrah for slow cookers!

The best tasting meats take a long time to cook, making them release their natural fats, flavours and juices – melting away any fat which flavours the meat, basting as it goes ensuring that the whole joint is flavoured as it makes its lazy way out. The resulting meat falls apart and is definitely not for carving – rustic meals rule!

I like to add a bit more to our roast chickens to make the meat super tasty for left overs during the week and I like to use butter to emulate the fat that would melt through a fatty cut of meat. This week we’re having Chilli & Garlic chicken because everything tastes better with chilli!

Take a couple of cloves of garlic, around 50g – 100g butter, 1/2 tsp salt, 1-2 cloves garlic crushed, 1tsp fresh ground pepper and 1 or more tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (turkish chillies are semi dried and flaked without seeds or membrane, making a sweet semi hot chilli flake, substitue with normal chilli flakes if you can’t find them but use less as they will be hotter).

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Blast the butter in the microwave to soften and mash the other ingredients into it.

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Using your hands (or a spoon if you’re squeamish) paste the flavoured butter inside the cavity of the chicken, making sure you cover all areas, reaching in as far as you can. If you have a lemon, cut it in half and squeeze half of it inside the chicken then place both halves of the lemon inside the cavity along with the top leaves of some leeks if you have them, or some parsley stalks or the outer peelings of onion skin (not the papery part). You can use an onion that has started to go a little soft if you need to use it up, or some dried out spring onions! Or you can just leave it at the flavoured butter. There is no right or wrong. Place a piece of silicon paper in the base of the slow cooker and smear any leftover butter from your hands or spoon onto it.

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Place the chicken breast side down onto the paper in the slow cooker. The paper is there to protect the chicken from the base of the slow cooker – you could use a couple of celery sticks if you prefer to lift it away from the base.

Tuck another piece of silicon paper around the chicken – this creates another seal, apart from the lid which will keep all of the precious flavoured steam underneath.

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Cook for 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Half way through cooking you can turn the chicken the right way up, so that the meat underneath is flavoured too.

When your chicken is cooked, baste it well with the juices at the bottom of the pot and lift it carefully into a heated dish.

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Pour the juices from the pot into a casserole dish and add some peeled new potatoes. Toss them around. Put the lid on and cook them in a hot oven 200C for around 30 minutes. Take the lid off and gently turn them over. Cook them for another 20 minutes (or until done) with the lid off. These won’t be crispy roast potatoes because they are a super tasty version of fondant potatoes – waxy and deeply savoury, which instead of being cooked in butter and stock are cooked in butter and chicken juices. Believe me, they’re delicious!

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Enjoy with veg of your choice, or just with crusty bread!

Making cheese from scratch – Paneer

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Making cheese from scratch – Paneer

Paneer is an Indian cheese which doesn’t really taste of much – it’s gently milky, but is perfect to absorb the flavours of Indian cooking. It has a good texture, doesn’t melt when cooked and is also a great source of protein. It’s also exceptionally easy to make. You can’t substitute it for any other cheese, so if you can’t buy it – make some!

If you’ve ever wanted to have a go at cheese making, but you’re not sure where to start, making paneer could be the step you’re looking for. You don’t need any special equipment or cultures and it’s very satisfying when you see the end result.

You will need:

Equipment

  • a large saucepan
  • a large bowl such as a washing up bowl
  • wooden spoon
  • large sieve or colander
  • a piece of thin cloth such as muslin, a tea towel, an old t-shirt! Make sure that the cloth is very clean but doesn’t smell of fabric conditioner or washing powder as the smell will taint the cheese.
Ingredients -
  • 2 litres (3 1/2 pints) whole milk (don’t be tempted to use semi skimmed or skimmed – it doesn’t work)
  • 1 lemon (2tbsp lemon juice), you can also substitute the lemon juice for live whole milk yogurt or white vinegar, although the vinegar can sometimes leave a vinegary taste to the finished cheese if you use too much.

Put the milk into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Keep stirring the bottom of the pan, so that the milk doesn’t catch, if it does you’ll end up with the brown bits of burnt milk in your cheese.

As the milk comes to the boil and starts to rise up the pan, add the lemon juice and stir gently. This will make the milk separate into curds and whey. If the curds (the white lumps) look like the ones in the picture, add a little more lemon juice so that bigger lumps form. It should happen quite quickly within about a minute. If it doesn’t, keep adding lemon juice splash by splash until the curds have separated from the whey.

Curds starting to form

The whey will look a watery greenish/grey colour with the curds floating on top.

Line the sieve/colander with your cloth and put it into the washing up bowl.  Put the bowl into an empty sink. Very carefully pour the hot curds and whey through the colander, empty the bowl and then run some cold water onto the curds to wash the rest of the whey out. Move the curds around with your fingers. Gather the sides of the cloth and lift the curds out of the sieve.

Lift the cloth full of curds away from the liquid

Gently squeeze the ball to get rid of as much liquid as possible.

The cheese is ready to be pressed with a heavy weight

Place the wrapped cheese onto a clean tray, laying the cloth across the cheese and put a heavy weight, such as a saucepan filled with water, on top of it. Leave for around an hour to solidify.

When you unwrap your cheese it will look something like this:

Paneer – ready to use

The finished paneer can be cut into blocks, or crumbled (home made paneer doesn’t grate very well, it’s better to crumble it) depending on what recipe you’re making.

Paneer freezes very well in a sealed container or zip lock bag.

Wild garlic & cheese scones with ‘gathered’ salad

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Wild garlic & cheese scones with ‘gathered’ salad

I love Spring (when it’s not raining!). Go out for a walk and everything is bursting into life.

Foraging is in my nature, my Dad’s grandmother had Romany gypsy roots and taught him about the edible things that were safe to eat, when they went for walks. My Dad passed that on to me and I love the walks I have with my own children which enable me to give them a taste of ‘living off the land’.

We went out and about today to try and gather some very simple wild food for us to enjoy when we got home (with lots of wayside snacks along the way!)

We found a huge ‘field’ of wild garlic which we started to gather, along with our first snacks to see us along the rest of our adventure.

A whole ‘field’ of wild garlic!

The smell of wild garlic is really pungent and you’d think that the leaves would taste really strongly of garlic. You’d be wrong – it’s a very mild taste. A cross between spinach and chives which you can add wherever you’d add these well known herbs would be used. Great in omelettes, quiche, pesto, dressings etc.

Wild garlic flowers are the thing that I like best about this time of the year. They are delicious! Each little white flower is a concentrated tiny bomb of garlic flavour. They taste like a cross between a fresh very sweet pea and garlic. They’re much stronger than the leaves and are quite hot. If you like watercress – you’ll love the lovely white flowers of wild garlic. Good to munch as you walk along.

The new tender leaves of the hawthorne were shiny next to the buds that had just started to form. Both the leaves and the buds are a lovely snack and part of our salad. The older leaves aren’t so good (they just taste of ‘green’). The buds have an astringent quality to them, the same as the berries when they appear.

The new leaves, buds and flowers of the hawthorne are edible

Next we found some Jack by the Hedge.

Jack by the hedge or Garlic Mustard as it’s sometimes known

This is a useful addition to a salad as the leaves bulk out the other things that you might have. It’s supposed to have a ‘garlicky’ taste, but it’s not as overtly garlic as you may think. You may pick up a hint of garlic in some of the younger leaves, but other than that it’s pretty much the same as raw spinach but a bit sweeter. The flowers on the other hand have a much punchier flavour and are quite spicy. The seed pods when they form are a great wayside snack and do have a garlic taste.

Everyone knows about Goose grass (or Cleavers and it’s also known). It’s the thing that children throw at each other because it sticks to clothing. It’s covered in tiny hairs which cause it to ‘stick’ onto anything that it touches which means that the older growth is difficult to eat raw. It can be cooked as spinach which makes the hairs disappear. But if you want to eat it in a salad, just choose the very top new growth, it has a lovely fresh pea taste which is ideal in salads. I’ve heard that you can dry and grind the seeds which make a kind of coffee, but I’ve never tried that myself.

Goose Grass/Cleavers. Just pick the top new sprouting growth to eat in a salad.

We stumbled upon lots and lots of wonderful Wood Sorrel which is a magical find and normally only happens every so often to me. Today we saw it everywhere!

A patch of Wood Sorrel

It has a zingy lemon flavour which makes it a wonderful addition to salad or just as a garnish to fish or chicken. It’s a lot like sherbet and the flavour becomes apparent after giving it a good chew – you won’t notice anything if you give a couple of chews and then swallow! It’s a very ‘trendy’ wild food and something that you would definitely find it on the menu at the best Michelin starred restaurants. You should be careful not to take the whole plant. Just take what you need and leave the rest for another day. It doesn’t transfer well to other soil and it’s a shame to move it somewhere else when it’s obviously so happy where it is.

Wood Sorrel

We headed home to feast on our bounty, discussing what to do with it all on the journey. We came up with Wild Garlic scones with cheese. We happened to have some feta that needed using up and the pairing was genius!

Wild Garlic Scones with Feta 

In a food processor (or large bowl) add 150g plain flour and 50g wholemeal flour (or any combination of the two, making up 200g), 2 tsp mustard powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and 2tsp baking powder.

Add 50g soft butter and whizz until it disappears or rub in. If using a food processor, empty the whizzed mixture into a large bowl.

Chop 150 – 200g cheese (your choice, I used 120g feta and 50g strong cheddar) cut into 1cm cubes. Add the cheese to the large bowl and stir around.

Add around 10-15 leaves of wild garlic (washed, dried and cut into strips) to the bowl and stir around. You can add more wild garlic if you want to, but don’t overdo it. I also added the flowers from around 5 stems, just to intensify the garlic flavour.

In a jug/mug/bowl whisk 1 large egg and 2tblsp plain yogurt and stir into the dry mixture. You need to make a slightly sticky dough so you may need to use upto another 2 tbslp plain yogurt. Add it 1 tblsp at a time so that the dough doesn’t get too wet.

Tip out onto a well floured surface and roll out to about 2-3 cm thick.

Rolled out dough

Cut into rounds with a glass or cutter, or pat the dough into circles if you prefer. The dough will make around 8-12 depending on the size of cutter.

Bake in a hot oven 210C or 190C fan, Gas 7 for around 10-15 minutes or until golden.

Wild Garlic and Cheese scones

Wild Garlic and Cheese scones

The only thing left to do is to assemble the salad, making sure to add lots of the lovely white wild garlic flowers for extra punch! A drizzle of olive oil and your favourite vinegar (we used some dandelion vinegar made a couple of weeks ago!) and you’re in heaven!

Gathered salad

You must try this!

Wild berry picking in Shropshire

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Wild berry picking in Shropshire

Every year during October half term, we head towards the Shropshire Hills for a long walk and to pick berries in the last of the watery autumn sunshine.

Shropshire hills

The berries that we go to look for are Crow Berries, Cowberries (also known as Lingonberries) and Whinberries. Mostly Whinberries, but it’s a shame to leave the other berries there when they’re easily picked along with the whinberries.

Crow Berries

These are probably called Crow Berries because they’re black, or because Crows eat them? I don’t know why they’re called that, but they’re good to pick. Their flavour isn’t in the same league as the other two berries – they taste sweet but a little watery. They’re known as ‘pie fillers’ because of their ability to be thrown into pies along with other, tastier fruit to make a little go a long way. However, they’re incredibly high in vitamin C so are a good addition to your pie. They grow very close to the ground and you can sometimes see them as a massive carpet over rocks and hills.

Crow Berries – easy to see, easy to miss!

Cowberries

Cowberries (commonly known as Lingonberries) are fantastic little things! Packed full of vitamins and good amounts of omega oils in the seeds. They are tart, like cranberries but a lot smaller. In fact, Lingonberries and Cranberries are interchangeable. Because they are so sharp, they aren’t really good for eating raw, but they are so good made into a jam which you can use in place of Redcurrant Jelly or Cranberry Sauce.

Whinberries

Whinberries, depending on where you live are also called Whortleberries, Bilberries, Blaeberries and Huckleberries! Whatever you call them, they’re well worth seeking out. They’re a smaller version of blueberries – just as tasty, packed with as many nutrients – but free for the picking! It can be back breaking work collecting enough for a pie, but believe me when I tell you that it is WELL worth the effort! They grow low to the ground like the other two berries, so it’s great to take children with you as they’re lower to the ground to start with! I’d recommend taking a small plastic bag that you can hook over your arm to put the Whinberries in, with a couple of smaller bags inside to separate any other berries that you find.

Your fingers quickly get stained with the juice from the berries, but we look on it as a badge of honour and think that whoever has most purple on their hands, must have picked most berries and thus deserves a bigger slice of pie!

We left with a good amount of berries and definitely enough Whinberries to make a pie when we got home. Put the berries in a bowl of cold water when you get home and stir around with your hand. Leave them to soak for a few minutes so that all of the tiny leaves and bugs can float to the surface and you can scoop them off. Leave to drain in a sieve. Don’t leave them to soak for too long, you don’t want them waterlogged.

Our haul

Whinberry Pie

This recipe makes a buttery, crumbly pastry base and a thin, almondy top. You can make it with as many Whinberries as you’ve managed to collect – maybe bulk it out with some Blueberries from the supermarket or some Crowberries if you managed to get some of those – but the amount below makes for a lovely thick filling of delicious Whinberries.

Pastry

The pastry is a rich one made with 125g (8oz) plain flour, 25g (1oz) cornflour, 2tsp caster sugar, 110g butter (4oz), 1 egg yolk and 2tblsp cold water. Sift together the flours, add caster sugar. Rub in the butter. Add the yolk and water – stir together with a knife until it comes together into a ball of dough. Put in a plastic bag and chill for 15-30 minutes. Oven 400 F, 200 C Gas 6. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and line a 22cm (9 inch). Line with foil and beans and bake blind for 10 mins or so until beginning to firm. Cool.

Spread the part cooked pastry case with around 500g whinberries (1lb), or a mixture of whinberries/cowberries and bought blueberries. You could also make this recipe just using blueberries. You won’t need to add any sugar to them – you want to be able to taste all of that gorgeous fruit.

Pie Topping

Oven 325 F 180 C Gas 3. Mix together 50g icing sugar (4oz) with 2 eggs, 85g ground almonds (3oz) with a whisk or an electric hand mixer. You can add a couple of drops of almond/vanilla essence to this mixture if liked. Blob the mixture over the whinberries until you’ve blobbed the mixture over pretty much all over the blueberries. You may have some gaps – don’t worry, this pie is all about the whinberries. Bake for 45-55 minutes until golden brown. Dust with icing sugar if liked.

Serve with cream.

Well worth the back ache…mmmmmm.