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Why “Valentine” ? This recipe was inspired by one that Valentine Warner did on “What to eat now” – a seasonal ingredient cooking programme that I particularly enjoyed. Courgettes are one of those veg that go a tad prolific in season – you pick a load for dinner and by morning you could be having the next lot for breakfast. This version of the recipe is quick & easy – great for a veg side dish, a salad for summer buffet, and combines quickly with other veggie dishes too.

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Ingredients (Serves 6)

3 Courgettes
1 lemon
3 cloves of garlic
Salt
2 tbl Olive oil
Handful of fresh basil

First ribbon your courgettes. Ribbon? Grab a potato peeler, hold your courgette flat and make long thin ribbony courgette pieces. If you rotate the courgette you can get a good load of it used up in ribbons, then you’ll probably end up with the central seedy bit left. Chop that up & add it in too, or bung it in some soup.

Ribboning courgettes

Courgette Ribbons

Crush the garlic, juice the lemon. Mix 2 tbl of olive oil, about 3/4 of the lemon juice together and add the crushed garlic cloves.

Add a bit more olive oil to a large frying pan, and cook the courgette ribbons gently until starting to go soft but still holding a little bit of texture.

Take off the heat, sprinkle with salt, pour over your lemony mixture, and shred the basil over the whole lot. Mix everything lightly together, leave for a few minutes and taste – adjust seasoning till you have a good tasty lemony garlicky basily yum. It often needs a little more salt, sometimes a little more lemon.

Valentine Courgettes

Valentine Courgettes

Want a quick veggie meal? Simply heat up some cooked chick peas, boil up some new potatoes or rice, and smother the whole dish with warm valentine courgettes.

Lemony courgette chick peas

Quick veggie meal

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What makes these Welsh Cheese Scones? Well, they taste pretty good after a walk in the Welsh mountains, and they also taste particularly gorgeous when made with the fabulous and deeply cheesey Snowdonia Cheddar – widely available in Deli stores, grocers, butchers and some supermarkets. The Parmesan which adds extra cheesey notes is of course not so very Welsh, but hey… a little poetic license.

Cheese Scones

Mmmm.... Cheesey

Cheese Scones (makes 8 scones)

250g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
100g grated strong cheddar like Snowdonia Cheddar (aka “Black Bomber”)
75g grated Parmesan
200ml whole milk
A little beaten egg to glaze

Pre-heat the oven to 220C – or check that your Aga is still there. Sprinkle a little flour on a baking tray or line with baking paper. I like the reusable non-stick liners, which you can wash and use again – brilliant.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cheddar and half the parmesan into a large bowl.

Add the milk and mix with spoon or hands – it will be sticky. That is right. Panic not.

Tip the sticky dough no to a lightly floured surface and knead gently for a few minutes until it feels soft and has quit sticking to everything.

Flatten or lightly roll the dough to quite a thick layer – about 1 inch thick.

Grab a cutter (or a drinking glass), dip in some flour to stop it getting attached to your dough, and start cutting out your scones. You’re after 8 scones: I get about 5 from the first cutting then re-shape the dough and get another two. The last one is squidged together by hand from whatever dough you have left.

Put the rounds on a lightly floured baking tray, or on a sheet of baking paper. Brush the tops with egg, sprinkle over the rest of the parmesan and a bit of cheddar.

Bake for about 15 minutes until the scones have risen, gone golden & are filling your kitchen with warm cheesey scone aroma.

Most DEFINITELY best served warm, with a bit of butter.

Melting butter on cheese scones

Warm from the oven

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Simple rich flavours, quick to cook… this is my version of fast food. Fresh ginger and garlic are part of my regular store cupboard – they keep well and have so many uses! So the only shopping needed for this dish is to pick up some nice fresh salmon and some kind of stir fry veg like Pak Choi. Then – bish bash bosh … proper food :)

Ginger & Honey Salmon

Ingredients (per person)

1 salmon fillet, skin on
Half a mug of Basmati rice
1 pak choi (or bunch of spinach, chard or similar)

Sauce
Small piece of fresh root ginger (about 1cm chunk)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon soya sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon honey

First off, make your little saucey marinade thing:

Peel and finely chop the ginger. Crush the garlic. Mix together all the sauce ingredients into a small saucepan and leave it to sit whilst you prepare the rest.

Put your rice on to cook… use twice as much volume of water as rice. Add a sprinkle of salt, bring it to the boil, give it a quick stir. Put the lid on and turn down to lowest possible heat. Watch out for it boiling over – if it tends to do that even on the lowest heat, just leave the lid a little tilted to let steam out.

Check your packet for cooking instructions – ours cooks in about 12 minutes. After that, turn the heat off and leave it to sit whilst you cook the fish and veg.

To cook the salmon: put a drizzle of olive oil in a frying, put it on quite a high heat to warm up, then add your salmon skin side down. The heat should be high enough for the salmon to be sizzling but not spitting oil everywhere. I use a simple “all four sides” cooking method for salmon: Cook for 3 minutes on the skin side, then knock it on to its side and cook just for a 20 seconds or so on that side.

Meanwhile, start gently warming your sauce – it just needs to heat through for 3 minutes or so.

Back to the salmon: Turn it again so that the skin side is now facing up, and cook for 3 minutes. On the remaining uncooked side, you should be able to see the colour changing, with an small area of pink still in the middle. Finally flip it on to this last side and cook for 20 seconds.

Salmon nearly cooked

Place the salmon on a warm plate with a serving of rice and pour over your honey and ginger sauce. Keep warm.
Finally, add chopped pak choi to your frying pan and stir fry for about 60 seconds until just starting to wilt.

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This is a great dinner to make if you’re cooking for people that don’t like herbs, onions and spices. This version really is just meat, potatoes and a few vegetables in gravy. It is also nice simple cooking for you … there’s only 6 main ingredients, and it mostly cooks itself. Can’t ask fairer than that!

Cooking lamb hotpot

Lamb hotpot, nearly ready for the potatoes

Lamb Hotpot (Serves 3-4)

700g diced stewing lamb
4 carrots
4 sticks celery
1 kg potatoes – preferably something like Desiree potatoes
3 oxo cubes
4 tsp cornflour
A drizzle of olive oil or other vegetable oil

First turn your oven on to 140C

Put a drizzle of oil into a casserole dish and heat briefly. Add the diced lamb and stir till the lamb pieces are brown all over.

If you’re good at multi-tasking, prepare the vegetables whilst the lamb is browning (otherwise prep the veg first!)

Peel and chop the carrots into 1cm chunks. Wash the celery and chop into 1-2cm chunks. Wash the potatoes and slice into half centimetre slices. I leave the skins on – lovely texture and taste and helps them hold their shape whilst cooking. Choosing a waxy potato like a Desiree is a good move as they don’t crumble up. But if you’re not fussed on presentation, any potato will do ok :D

Once the meat is browned, add the celery and carrots and continue stirring occasionally on low heat.

Crumble the oxo cubes over the top, and add 700ml of boiling water. Stir till the granules have dissolved.

In a mug, mix 4 teaspoons of cornflour with a little water till you get a smooth paste, add a little splash more water so it is easy to pour. The mug should still be only about a quarter full.

Pour the cornflour into the hotpot, stirring. Bring the hotpot back up to the boil and you should see the gravy all nice and thick.

Once it’s simmering, arrange the slices of potatoes all over the top, drizzle them with a little more oil and sprinkle over about a teaspoon of salt.

Put the lid on your casserole dish and put it in the oven at 140C for about 2 hours. Take the lid off and cook for a further half hour or so to get a bit of browning on the potatoes.

Serve with a nice green veg like kale, broccoli, spring greens, spinach or chard.

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This recipe is based on one from “Supper with Rosie,” my current favourite cookbook. In turn, her recipe was inspired by Cranks, which was my first ever favourite cookbook in the 1980s. So, strong Drizzle Cake Foundations, and Rosie’s addition of lemon icing as well as drizzling is definitely A Good Thing!

I’m more likely to have lemons in stock than limes, so in this version I’ve dropped the lime. If you have a lime, it subs for one of the lemons in the cake / drizzle ingredients.

Delicious lemon drizzle cake

Lemon Drizzle Cake (Serves 10-12)

For the cake
125g butter at room temperature
2 small lemons
225g caster sugar
3 large eggs
200g self raising flour
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
4 teaspoons natural yoghurt (or cream)

For the drizzle
Juice of lemons zested for the cake
3 teaspoons caster (fine) sugar

For the icing
180g icing sugar
1 lemon
Sprinkling of poppy seeds

First, check you have the right size loaf tin! The quantities here need a 30cm loaf tin, a 2lb tin – it’s a big ‘un!

Grease and line your tin, get the oven up to 180C.

Cake
Using an electric hand whisk, whisk up the butter until light and fluffy. Add the caster sugar and whisk again. Add the 3 eggs and whisk again until light and fluffy. That’s your whisking bit done.

Grate in the zest of 2 lemons, and put the naked lemons aside to juice later. Add the poppy seeds and yoghurt (or cream if you don’t happen to have yoghurt in stock) and mix in lightly. Add the self raising flour. Fold in lightly with a spatula.

Transfer the mixture immediately to your loaf tin, and bake in the oven at 180C for 45 minutes (Aga roasting oven with cold shelf for 35 minutes, then check and finish in simmering oven if need be).

Once the cake is cooked, (e.g. a skewer stuck into the cake comes out clean etc. etc.), leave it in its tin on a cooling rack whilst you rustle up the first drizzle:

Lemon Drizzle
Juice the two zested lemons, and put juice plus three teaspoons of caster sugar into a saucepan. Warm over a low heat until the sugar is melted, then pour over your warm cake. If you have an URGENT need for Lemon Drizzle Cake, probably best to stab the cake a fair bit with skewer first so that the drizzle can get into the cake quickly. If you have planned in advance, feel smug – and just pour the drizzle over the cake to seep in gradually.

This is one of those cakes that does actually taste better the next day … but let’s face it, waiting till the next day is not always going to happen, is it??!

Wait to eat? Hmm … maybe

Leave the drizzled cake to cool, and when cool turn it out on to your serving plate.

Lemon Icing
To make the icing, add the zest and most of the juice of one lemon to your icing sugar. Mix well to get read of any lumpy bits, and get the consistency right: Ideally, runny enough to ooze over your cake, but not so runny that it floods off the cake on to your plate – add a little more lemon juice if need be. Once satisfied, pour the lemon icing rustically over your cake, sprinkle with poppy seeds, and if you still can resist, leave it for an hour or so for the icing to set a bit.

For walks, I make this cake the night before so the syrup has overnight to soak the cake. I add the icing first thing in the morning, and it’s safe enough to slice and pack into a container by the time we’re off walking.

 

Cake in the Mountains :-)

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Banoffee Cakes

Take one new recipe book purchased in a lovely Hay-on-Wye bookshop by the lovely Melanie. Add one brief browse through to choose what cake to bake for our final evening of a wonderful week’s retreat at the farm. No dulce de leche toffee stuff in the larder? Easy, the sauce from our sticky toffee pudding recipe will do perfectly. What’s more, as well as putting toffee into the cakes, we’ll pour toffee all over them too. And so, the banoffee cakes were born. And eaten.

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Ohhhhhh .....

Banoffee Cakes (Makes 12)

225g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
0.5tsp bicarbonate soda
150g caster (fine) sugar
2 ripe bananas
2 medium eggs
4 tbl yoghurt
½ tsp vanilla essence
80g butter

Toffee Sauce
110g Brown Sugar
60g Butter
70ml Cream

First make the toffee sauce: Gently melt the butter & brown sugar in a non-stick pan, and stir until the sugar has all melted. The butter is unlikely to get absorbed, don’t worry about that. Just get the sugar melted, then take it off the heat, beat in the double cream. It’ll all look & smell irresistible. However, resist and put to one side.

Now for the cake:

Pop cases into a 12-cake muffin tray.

Mash the bananas to a pulp. Beat the eggs.

In a big bowl, mix together all the dry stuff – the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and caster sugar.

Melt the butter on a very gentle heat – you want liquid yellow butter, not burny brown butter.

When you’ve got everything ready, add the bananas, eggs, yoghurt, vanilla and melted butter to the flour etc. and beat briefly until all combined.

Spoon the mixture into your 12 cake cases.

Add a teaspoon of the toffee sauce on top of each cake. It doesn’t need to look pretty, its job is to seep through your cakes as they cook.

Bake in the oven at 190C (Aga roasting oven with cold shelf) for 15 minutes, then check them and turn the tray around if one side is going browner than the other. They should be done after 15-25 minutes depending on your oven.

Turn the cakes out on to a baking rack to cool (or get nearly cool if someone is already pleading for afternoon tea.)

Put them on a plate, drizzle with the toffee sauce – which will probably overflow with happy toffeeness… and eat.

Sweet :-)

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Delicious, easy, a discovery waiting to be made…. Have you got this lovely roast in your repertoire? The first time I cooked belly pork, I tried a recipe that suggested a high temperature and roast for an hour. Nope, wrong, tough as boots, it seemed to actually require some proper cheffing! No thank you. Follow the advise of my wise friend who knew the magic, easy way: Use a low temperature and hours of slow cooking. The pork falls of the bones, is full of effortless flavour, and to date I have had at least one vegetarian asking for seconds (sorry).

Ingredients for Slow Roast Belly Pork

 

Simple Slow Roast Belly Pork (serves 3-4)

1kg Belly Pork, on the bone (ask the butcher to score the skin)
3 carrots, peel and chopped in half lengthways
3 sticks celery, washed and chopped in half
2 red onions, peeled and halved
Sprig of fresh sage
1 bay leaf
Sprinkling of fresh rosemary
Salt
Balsamic vinegar
Red wine (optional)

 

First step is to rub the pork belly with salt and pop into a hot oven, uncovered for about 20 minutes. If you’re using an Aga, put it skin side down in your roasting pot, on the floor of the roasting oven. Otherwise, put it skin side up with the oven temperature at 200C.

Veggies into the pot ...


... Pork sits on top

After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 140C. Lift up the pork, pop your prepared vegetables and herbs in the pot, sit the pork back on top of the veg, add a splash of water, and seal up the pot with foil and/or a good fitting lid: You want to keep all the moisture and flavours in.

Cook in the oven at 140C for 4 hours (Aga simmering oven), or an even lower temperature (110C) for longer.

Half an hour before serving, remove the skin from the pork. It will probably lift off, but if not just slice it off gently. Put the skin on a baking tray, and put it back in the oven at maximum (200C or more). I’ve never sussed reliably perfect crackling, but this seems to produce something pretty good every time :-) Just keep an eye on it and take it out of the oven before it carbonises.

Whilst your crackling crisps up, put the pork onto a warmed serving dish, together with the carrot, celery and onion. Keep it warm to rest.

In the roasting pan make a nice little gravy – remove the big herb sprigs, add a little balsamic vinegar, splash of red wine. Boil it down so it thickens a bit; or add a bit of cornflour, or that gravy powder that makes you go Aaaah, mixed with water.

Don’t even think about tidy carving, this is a flakey, spoon and fork sort of roast. Serve with roast potatoes, braised red cabbage with apple, green veg, and whatever wine you didn’t consume whilst making the gravy.
 

Cooks whilst you're out walking too

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Where to start… this has been so what I needed: The views, the ambiance, the ‘away-from-it-all-ness,’ the wonderful food that so calmly and magically appeared, the log fire…. You have created a perfect space for people just to be – thank you so, so much. It’s been a joy to relax with other people ‘just being’ and have your quiet, wise support. The perfect recharge, refocus, relax…

 

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I love finding vegetarian and vegan recipes that are tasty enough to turn a carnivore, and the veggie recipes I cook at our tasty Mountain Retreats have done exactly that rather often. Perception of vegetarian food is so often based on unfortunate experiences with cardboardburgers or bland pulse dishes, which is a bit of a shame. Far better to have a few wonderfully tasty, filling veggie meals in your repertoire, ones that will satisfy most appetites and produce suitably yumming-it-down sounds. This one’s a great winter filler – and if you’re still phased by the idea of a veggie meal, you can always cook these up anyway and serve with a steak!

Earthy porcini, sweet potato, ginger, parsley, spring onions and cumin

Sweet Potato & Chestnut Cakes (Serves 4)

450g sweet potatoes
25g dried porcini mushrooms
50g butter (or dairy-free spread for vegans)
10 spring onions
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbl fresh ginger
200g cooked chestnuts
2 tbl parsley
salt and pepper

The Potato Bit
First stab the sweet potatoes with a fork a few times, place in a roasting tin and cook in a hot oven (200C or Aga roasting oven) for 40-60 minutes until soft.

Whilst they’re in oven, put the porcini in a jug and add 250ml of boiling water. Cover and leave to soak for at least twenty minutes, then strain and chop up fairly small. (If you’re in a cooking mood, use the strained liquid to make a mushroom sauce, or add to soups or gravy).

Once the potatoes are cooked and really soft, cut them in half and scoop the soft inner flesh out into a bowl. Mash it until it is really smooth – a spoon should be fine for this. Add the chopped up porcini, crumble up the cooked chestnuts and mix the lot together.

Flavourings
Finely chop the spring onions, peel and grate the ginger, chop the parsley, and powder the cumin seeds in a pestle & mortar.

In a saucepan, fry the spring onions, cumin and ginger in butter (or a vegan dairy-free spread) for a minute or so until softening. Add them to the sweet potato mix, together with the chopped parsley. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper, taste check.

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Gentle sizzling spring onions, ginger, cumin

Shaping & Cooking
Spread a generous amount of plain flour onto a plate, then take a heaped tablespoonful of the potato mix and with a very light touch, roll it in the flour to form a ball, then flatten gently. Repeat for each potato cake.

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Ready to cook

Chill the shaped cakes in the fridge for about half an hour which will help them firm up, then fry gently for about 5 minutes on each side until the outside is crispy.

Serve with rich wintery green veg like spinach, curly kale or maybe with some roasted onions.

Who do you know who could do with someone taking care of them for a change?
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All food preferences catered for

OMG. The food. THE FOOD!!!! Amazing. My belly salutes you.

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This is a meal full of flavour, easy to cook for numbers and a bit different too… There is a little bit of preparation to do, but the actual cooking is pretty effortless, just a slow roast for the pork and a slow simmer for the beans – perfect! Inspired by a wonderful recipe in “Supper with Rosie” by Rosie Lovell, this combination of hearty foods has the warmth for winter evenings and zingyness for summer feasts. That’ll be a year round favourite then!

Twice Cooked Belly Pork with Black Beans & Herbs

Twice Cooked Belly Pork with Black Beans and Herby Salsa (serves 4-6)

Pork and Pork Spices
1.5kg Belly Pork, with skin scored
2 star anise
1 tsp black pepper corns
1 tsp juniper berries
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 bay leaves

Marinade
1 orange
2 tsp honey
1 tsp ground cloves

Black Beans
500g black beans
4 red peppers
1-2 red chilli
1 large red onion
3 cloves garlic
3 strips lime peel
1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Herby Salsa
5 spring onions
Small handful fresh coriander
1 tablespoon lemon thyme, leaves stripped from the stalk

Night Before
Put the black beans into a big bowl and fill with cold water – leave to soak until needed next day.

Cooking
You need to start this recipe about 4 hours before you want to eat it … but the actual preparation is not so very much. Honest.

Pork – first cooking
Put the belly pork into a large saucepan or casserole, add all the pork spices and cover with boiling water. Bring back to the boil, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

Flavoursome

Black Beans Prep and Pork Marinade
Whilst the pork is simmering, quarter the red peppers and remove the seeds. Cut the chilli in half – remove seeds if you’re a chilli woose like me, or leave seeds in and add extra chillis if you’re a fan of heat. Place all pieces skin side up on a baking tray, cover liberally with olive oil and sprinkle over a little salt.

Put into the oven at 200C and roast for about 30 minutes, until the skin is blackening.

Whilst they’re roasting, finely chop the onion, crush the peeled garlic and saute both gently in sunflower or olive oil until translucent.

Once the roasted peppers and chilli are ready, put them in a plastic bag, seal it and leave it to steam whilst you do the next bit. Save the oil in the baking tray, that’ll be added back in later.

Make the marinade for the pork – grate the zest of an orange into a small bowl, add a tablespoon of the juice of the orange, large teaspoon of honey, a teaspoon of ground cloves and a large teaspoon of salt.

Back to the belly pork – second cooking

Take the pork out of the water and put it skin side up into a large casserole dish. Rub the marinade over the pork (use spoons or rub in by hand if you have heat-resistant fingers) Add a strained ladle full of the pork cooking water, cover well and put in the oven. Turn the temperature down to 140C, and leave the pork to slow roast for up to 4 hours.

Black Beans
Peel the skin off the peppers, chop roughly, and chop the chilli roughly.

Strain the rest of the pork cooking water into a jug. Cover the black beans with pork cooking water. Add the chopped red peppers and chilli, and slices of lime zest. Do NOT add salt at this stage – that’ll come later.

Bring it up to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes before turning the heat down to a low simmer and cook for 2-3 hours. Keep an eye on the water level and top up with more pork water whenever it gets low.

Lastly
For the last 20 minutes or so, take the pork out to rest, and lift off the skin. Return the skin to the oven to crisp up a bit.

Mash the beans briefly so the crushed up beans add a nice richness to the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning – it’s likely to need a little more salt at this stage.

Make the little herby salsa by mixing together finely chopped spring onions, lemon thyme leaves and coriander

To serve: Flake the pork from the bones – it should fall off very happily :o Add the bits of crackling. Ladle black beans into bowls, pork on top, sprinkling of herb salsa, and serve with some baked potatoes or potato skins. Yum.

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I find early season walking particularly exciting … daylight gradually extending, bright sunshine on the wintered slopes and the weather can vary from deep winter to Lets Have Breakfast Outside at the drop of a bobble hat.

Last year, we enjoyed the Breakfast Outside sort of week:

I spent St. David’s Day grinning madly all over the route from Capel-y-ffin to Bal Mawr. March 1st gave of its best!

Walking along towards Twmpa aka Lord Hereford’s Knob, the mountain ponies were enjoying the early Spring warmth too.


And this chap was wonderful!



Crisp mornings continued all week, my early morning mug of tea accompanied by a mesmerizing vapour show at the farm.





The sheer exhilaration of the mountains is there whether you get sunny days or wild days or something in between. So if you know you’re going to be hungry for a fix of hills after the winter, go for it!

Black Mountains in March

Black Mountains in March

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Guided walks, coaching, massage/reflexology, and a lot of lovely, local home cooked food
Season opens March 1st 2013

We support Crickhowell Walking Festival March 1st-10th 2013

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