Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Wonderful Chanterelle Mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius

Frying off the robust Chanterelle

The Photo which opens this blog, at the top of the page at the moment is a Chanterelle. Photographed in the Scottish Highlands this delicious mushroom can be found in abundance if one looks in all the right places! It's a fat, chunky, solid  fungi that feels as good as it tastes. It has sometimes the smell of apricots about it and its robust nature and fine taste make it a superb meal on its own. My wife and I either have them in omelets with a  hint of garlic and a sprinkling of chives or in a risotto where the mushrooms are fried off in garlic, butter and a squeeze of lemon juice and then folded in to the risotto after it has been cooked.

Being a wonderful, delicate shade of mellow yellow may seem to make them easier to find, but in the autumn woodland floors are littered, carpeted and sometimes swathed in acres of yellow leaves! The false chanterelle is similar in shape and size, though it is spindly, more fragile and more orange than yellow, so a careful check will ensure you have the correct fungi, but the false version is not poisonous - just pointless. 

A Scottish find...

If you find a bed of chanterelles, make a note; they will return year after year in the same area faithfully although not necessarily at the same time as their fruiting depends on the weather. Once you have them, keep them! Those below we found about a mile from our cottage in Kent.

Chanterelles and Amethyst Deceiver - a colourful dish.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Kelly's Chili Jelly

It's another easy one....four ingredients, a few minutes to prepare and less than 20 minutes to cook. Now, to be fair, I was put onto this recipe by a special friend of mine, Jan Berry who is a mine of information about jams, jellies and chutneys and she has pinched this one from Nigella Lawson who pinched it from...well, and so it goes on - there isn't much that new around anymore. 

Here are the ingredients:

1 KG of Jam Sugar (sugar with added pectin)
600 mils of Cider Vinegar
150 grams of Sweet Peppers
150 grams of Chilies

I prefer cider vinegar as it has more depth and I don't actually put in 150 grams of chilies because I love this chutney on cheese and half and half can be quite hot! Adapt to your own taste - as long as you have 300 grams in total it's fine. Also use red, yellow or orange peppers and chilies - not green - green chutney just looks weird!

So blitz the peppers and chilies in a food processor until it is finely pureed but still with small flecks in it. I actually de-seed mine first, which is a bit of extra work, but it does stop the conspicuous white seeds from appearing beacon like in the jam.

In a large pan warm the cider vinegar, add the jam sugar and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the processed pepper/chili mix and bring to a rolling, rollicking boil. Time this boil for 8 to 10 minutes and then remove from the heat. Let the mix cool a little and stir well to evenly distribute the flecks of pepper and chili. Pour into clean, steralised jars and seal well. If the flecks still insist in floating upwards, just keep turning the jars over until the jam has cooled enough to suspend the particles evenly.

You can use this jam as a sweet chili sauce for oriental and asian meals, it goes great with cold meats and fish and it is a great compliment to a nicely matured cheddar and other cheeses of your choice.

It's also another great Christmas present!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Stuffed Pumpkins

Ready for the oven...two different pumpkins

At this time of year pumpkins are at their most widely available and as I prefer to eat seasonal food rather than produce which has been shipped half way around the globe to satisfy the British requirement for favourite foods all year round, I thought I'd share a meal I prepared for us both this week after a ;ate return from an Exhibition in East Anglia. It's quick, it's easy and, as always, it uses whatever you have handy in your store cupboard.

Obviously you need a pumpkin or two and in this instance I stuff it with couscous because the its flavour really combines well with the pumpkin. You could use cooked rice, pearl barley or a delicate risotto if you wish.

Cook the couscous (two or three tablespoons full, but this depends on the size of your pumpkin!) by barely covering it in boiling water and allowing it to soak. When it has plumped up  and absorbed all the water, you can add whatever you like. I added chopped sweet pepper from the poly tunnel, garlic, Greek basil, sultanas, salt and pepper. You could add to the couscous anything that you though might combine well, or just leave it plain with seasoning and maybe some chopped parsley or chives.

Carefully slice the top off the pumpkins (you need these as the lids) carve out the pips or seeds and the soft pith and stuff the cavity with the couscous mix. Put the pumpkin lid back on and place it on a hot tray. Cook in a medium oven for 20 minutes or so or until the pumpkin is cooked through.

It's a lovely dish, perfect for a cold evening and at this time of year pumpkins are cheap - especially after Hallow'een.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera

A hand basket with the large Parasols dwarfing the Boletus
Every Autumn on the estate on which we live there is an explosion of a mushroom so large and tasty that only one or two are needed at a time to provide a tasty dish or two (or three). This is the parasol mushroom which stands up to twelve inches high and can be seen from a considerable distance even though its dinner plate sized cap and its tall, lean stem are well camouflaged with a snakeskin pattern.

So astonishing is the sight of a stand of these huge fungi that it can be all but impossible to stop oneself from running towards them, foraging basket it hand, reminiscent of Julie Andrews singing 'The Hills Are Alive' to pick them, but it would be well worth the embarrassment, believe me. As if the size alone was an insufficient indicator of this mushroom, it smells very strongly of warmed milk. It is often useful to smell the fungi you pick as many have individual aromas that are helpful clues to their identity

A stand of Parasols
There are some smaller mushrooms that look similar to the Parasol, especially the related and nastily poisonous Dapperlings, but these are much smaller and open their caps far sooner, the Parasol stays closed in its tallness, drumstick like and opens late as can be seen from the picture below. Don't pick any diminutive mushrooms only the large Parasols. Partially opened specimens are at their best and tastiest. The gills are flaky, but if the 'shroom is not completely open it will afford these delicate undersides some protection.

I don't eat the stalks which are quite woody, but they can give an extra depth if added to a stew or a stock. The flavour of the remainder of the mushroom is delicate and nutty, quite distinctive and I think delicious with garlic - in fact Garlic creamed Parasol Mushrooms is a fantastic side dish to many meals. It's robust enough for risottos, pastas and omelets as well as casseroles and stews. 

As always, please be extra careful when eating mushrooms, make sure you have correctly identified your quarry and only pick sufficient for your immediate needs.

I can never think of the word "Parasol" without reminiscing about an old Two Ronnie's sketch from the 70's

"Down in the barn where the candlelight flickers
I lost my shirt and she lost her... parasol..."

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Holland Photographs

A Big Sky

We have just returned from another wonderful few days in Holland, and travelling around with the iPhone is quite fun when you look about you and find some strange, weird and wonderful sights to photograph.

Don't get me wrong, the device on the phone is merely adequate, but the availability of a camera, both still and movie, at all times is a very useful convenience and one I am getting used to having. It certainly means that in these technological times when everybody from the ages of thirteen to sixty have smart phones, iPads, laptops and home PCs, nothing will go unrecorded. George Orwell's Winston Smith would be even more dismayed to discover that everything is on display; all crimes are filmed, all activities photographed, shared and discussed, and there appear to be no taboos, everything is available on the net. 

..well, er...good.

As always, the availability of a camera can be misused as well as utilised  for good and there are many who believe that the advent of total exposure has sinister connotations for Human Rights. Be that as it may it's here to stay and we'll have to get used to seeing everybodys' lives displayed and open for discussion. If you don't want to be talked about or ridiculed, then don't publish it, don't open yourself up to scrutiny. That's why some choose Twitter over Facebook, why others choose neither and why both can be a minefield to the unwary. 

Autumn is here....

I love it because while out on walks I can capture anything that takes my fancy - whether it's scenery, people, a funny shot or a candid one topic for my next blog or a mushroom that's of interest - I can take a photograph with the minimum of fuss, unnoticed and unhampered by a big DSLR which is not easy to hide at the best of times.

Pretty and Still

The shots on this page are a mix of all that I found interesting, funny or picturesque on our recent trip to The Netherlands. The days go by, the seasons change - but I've got it all on my iPhone - ah, but I'm not going to show you all of them am I?


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus)

This is an often seen mushroom , yet seldom tasted. It turns rather rapidly to black mush and so should only be eaten when very fresh and young and when cut should be white throughout. It's not poisonous at these later stages, just like most of us as we grow older - it becomes more unpleasant to look at....You can't, therefore keep it until the next day - it has a zero shelf life, but that's ok - fresh is good.

It's mostly found along path and road edges. Like many mushrooms it seems to like broken ground and verges - the annual crop outside our cottage grows in and around a hole that was filled in a couple of years ago. This increases its usefulness as one does not need to look to far nor too hard, being as it is, bright white and shaggy, it's therefore also easy to identify. 

Give it a go, but eat it young....

Monday, 1 October 2012

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup with Nutmeg


1 large white onion
1 or 2 sweet potatoes
1 large butternut squash
2 or 3 garlic cloves crushed and sliced
1 nutmeg
1 bayleaf
1 litre of vegetable sock or plain water

Gently fry off the sliced onion in the pan in a good tablespoon or two of nice oil (put the lid on the pan as we are sweating them and don’t want them to burn).

After 5 or 10 minutes, when the onions are transparent but have not gained much colour, add the garlic and continue to gently sweat for another 2 or 3 minutes.

The sweet potato and squash should be roughly chopped into 1 or 2 inch cubes and placed into the pan and stirred into the onion and garlic mixture for a minute or so before adding either the stock or water. This should just cover the chopped vegetables.

At this stage add half the nutmeg, grated into the pan with some freshly grated black pepper and salt, throw in the bay leaf and put the lid on, simmering gently for 10 to 15 minutes or until the squash and potato are soft.

It’s important not to boil away all the goodness, but we are going to use either a stick mixer or a food processor to turn the contents of the pot into a puree (removing the bay leaf first) so it needs to be soft enough to do so easily. If you don't have a stick blender, then pour the contents into a food processor and blitz until smooth and creamy.

I then serve this lovely, tasty and robustly sweet soup with a dollop of yoghurt, more grated nutmeg and a sprinkling of chopped chives or coriander. A side plate of chunky home-made bread is a great accompaniment.