CF Eats: Leon’s ‘Happy Salads’ cookbook review

This new cookbook from Leon has seriously upped my salad game in time for summer in France

Is anyone else completely uninspired by the prospect of ‘salad’ this summer? We arrived in France on Sunday and on a whim I grabbed this new book from Leon in Waitrose before I left, in the hope that it may be my salvation over the next two months and help steer me out of the cheese aisle.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

I have no excuse not to eat well here, our nearest market town has the most incredible bi-weekly street market – yes there are cheese and cured meats aplenty to indulge in but also tons of fresh, local fruit and veg – 101 different types of lettuce leaves and tomatoes (why do European tomatoes taste SOOOOO good?!)… but what else do I need for a killer salad? I can make a mean Niçoise and a half-decent Caesar, but that’s about it.

I’m only 4-5 recipes in but it has been a total game-changer. And a bit of a ‘duh’ moment. It’s full of really simple ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ combos. I really like that I can find all of the ingredients easily and inexpensively at the supermarket (capers, gherkins, avocados, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, oils, vinegars etc), and lots of them double up. There’s nothing worse then having to buy a dozen ingredients that you only use a teaspoon’s worth off before letting them fester on the top-shelf of the fridge for all eternity.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

My winner so far is the ‘chargrilled chicken and chorizo club classic’ a meaty, garlicky, finger-lickin’ salad. It was so good I FaceTimed my husband back in the UK to share the a-mazingness. I’m good like that.

Plenty of veggie, fish and meat options – all divided into ‘Classics, Naturally Fast (great for speedy lunches), Lunchbox (ditto picnics), Food for Friends, Food for Family – then a great section at the back for ‘crunchy things’ (who doesn’t love a crouton?!) and dressings.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

It’s just a fab little book. If you need some oomph for your summer lunches, or ideas to pimp your BBQs, look no further. It’s rare that I find a cookbook where I know it is going to be my ‘go-to’ foodie inspiration week after week – this summer, this is it.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

Leon ‘Happy Salads’, Octopus Books, £15.99

February Challenge: Go supermarket free all month

So, I’ve been toying with this idea for a while. Since moving to the country we have been buying more and more of our food from independent shops – bread from the bakery, meat from the butchers, fish from the fishmongers, cheese from the erm… cheese shop… not out of some token, on-trend nod to ‘live local’ but because we’ve come to appreciate the fact that we can happily (and affordably!) live off food that is grown and reared around us in Devon.

When we lived in London we would shop at our local farmer’s market at the weekends, but not as a viable ‘weekly shop’ – but in the country it’s just the norm to buy direct from the producer. You buy your fish from the fisherman, 100 yards from the boat he caught it in; the butcher will have blood under his nails and a great little recipe idea for that shin of beef… I love it and it’s what I want for Country Bebe. He adores going to the bakery and watching the baker put the bread in the oven. I want him to know that is where bread comes from – not off the shelves at Waitrose, wrapped in plastic.

So, this month, the plan is to not step foot inside a major supermarket once. It’s not going to be that hard as we are 15 minutes from the AMAZING Greendale Farm Shop, which has a butchers, fishmongers, cheese/deli counter and fully stocked grocers, all under one roof. Oh, and there are also tractors to ride on, which pleases one particular member of the Countryfille team A LOT.

2014-01-19 12.22.44I did a ‘dummy run’ last week, and so far so good. Between there and the amazing independent health food store we have in town, I’m all set.

2014-01-21 11.22.32

2014-01-13 17.18.11I’m hoping it will make us much more aware of the food we ‘need’, as opposed to simply grazing up and down the supermarket aisles, flinging yummy looking things into the basket with gay abandon. It also means there is no danger of being sucked into the marketing evils of ‘buy one, get one free’ – why are those offers always on chocolate bars, never on bags of kale?

We do already get a weekly order of fruit and veg from Abel & Cole, and have done for the last 8 years; I order our Ecover cleaning products through them too.

There will inevitably be the odd Boots trip for nappies etc, but I’m hoping that will be it!

I’ll be posting throughout the month on Instagram, with shopping hauls, recipes and new brands I’ve discover under the hashtag #supermarketfree – wish me luck!

 

 

30 second review – Chi coconut water

2014-01-08 09.22.43I added this coconut water brand to my weekly shop, I’m not ashamed to admit, purely on the basis of its beautiful packaging. Isn’t it stunning? We are usually a Vita Coco household but what can I say – new year, new coconut water (isn’t that how the saying goes?!) and 3 litres in, I’m a convert.

Country Bebe has a real addiction to coconut water (you can take the boy out of West London…) – it all started when he was really poorly with croup before Christmas and not eating at all, it was the only thing we could coax him into drinking and as it’s great for rehydration and is full of electrolytes we were happy for him to keep swigging. That and a Nakd bar and he’s all set on the snack front.

Now, without sounding like a complete ponce about it, the difference between Chi and other coconut waters is that it really does taste as close to ‘hacking the top off a green coconut and sticking a straw in it’ as you can get. A lot of other brands have added sugar or are messed around with to get a sweeter flavour but this is as raw and pure as it comes. Because of that, I’d say it was a tad more ‘savoury’ than other brands but FULL of flavour that is much more nuanced than other sweeter brands. The one with added pineapple was great too, tropical and slightly sweeter, without being tooth-achingly so. They do a chocolate coconut milk and an espresso version too that I’m intrigued to try, as well as an organic cold-pressed coconut oil, too.

You can buy Chi Coconut Water at Planet Organic, Wholefoods, Nutricentre and online at the brilliant Nature’s Healthbox – it is around £3.49 a litre.

 

 

 

CF Christmas: Delia Smith Christmas recipes

It is with rather a sleigh-load of trepidation that I am taking over the reins of Christmas Day hostess this year. Gulp.

As the first year without Daddy, we figured being in the family home was probably not going to help, so have decided to do everything differently this year in the hope that by eschewing all our family traditions, his absence won’t be as painfully marked. To be honest, as everyone keeps telling us, the first of everything – Christmases, Birthdays, Anniversaries – they’re all going to be utterly grim. So, it is with fierce determination that I have decided, if we’re all going to be sad on Christmas Day, we’re going to be sad and FULL.

New to all this hostess malarky, I figured I was going to be stressed enough, so wrestling someone for the last bag of sprouts on Christmas Eve in a supermarket rugby scrum probably was best avoided. So, I’m planning ahead: I have already made my first ever Christmas cake, plus a huge batch of homemade mincemeat; ordered a turkey the size of a small labrador plus chipolatas, bacon and a ham from the local butchers and a barrow load of veg from Abel & Cole (they do a brilliant Christmas Day box), to be delivered just before the big day. The local cheese shop will do me up a cheeseboard, complete with crackers and chutneys, and I have delegated puddings to various sisters/mothers/grandmothers and alcohol to the husband. Phew.

For recipes and timings, I am clinging with all my might to the reassuringly bossy Delia Smith.

Printing in 1990, it is gloriously outdated, but that is part of it’s charm. Besides, when it comes to cooking a Christmas feast – not much has changed has it?!

It really is a bible of all things Christmas related – cakes, puddings, meats, canapes, vegetarian options and even a step by step timed guide for Christmas Eve prep and the big day itself. I will have this timetable stapled to my forehead come the 25th. There are great leftover recipes for Boxing Day, too.

What could possibly go wrong?!

 

Current obsession: Whitworths shots – healthy snacks on the go

Regular readers will be more than aware of exactly how much I love Nakd bars, as an on-the-go gluten-free snack that I know isn’t going to deliver me one enormous sugar high and then subsequent slump.

However, as a bit of a change, my coat pockets/bike basket/desk top have been littered with these little ‘shots’ from Whitworth recently. I picked a handful up in Waitrose a couple of weeks ago and I think they’re such a great idea.

Sensibly portioned, all under 100kcal a pop and 49p each – I think they’re a brilliant snacking option when on the go – the raisin and chocolate is my favourite (mini milk chocolate drops with flame and golden raisins), while Country Bebe is partial to the blueberry and seed one.

The ‘Morning Munch’ breakfast range looks good too; a range of fruits, nuts, seeds and spices to pimp your porridge with with flavours like apple and cinnamon, maple pecan and honey nuts.

Yum.

 

 

Treasured possessions: Le Creuset volcanic orange cookware

I’ve featured a variety of my treasured possessions in this series of posts (as an antidote to my otherwise rather fervent love to buy, buy, buy) – from heirloom jewellery to my beloved Kenwood Chef mixer. Next up is an item that in one brightly coloured item of kitchenware, manages to stir up 30 years worth of foodie memories – from childhood Christmases to my husband and I’s first date – the Le Creuset volcanic orange cookware range.

Le Creuset started making their porcelain enamelled cast-iron cookware in France, in 1925. When I came along in 1983 our kitchen in Devon was already filled with their pots and pans, from huge casserole dishes to three-tiered steamers that weighed more than me. I remember my mum cooking everything from slow-cooked stews to fruity jams in these cheerful, heavy-based pans – with me stood on a chair dutifully at her side, stirring and watching.

Fast forward 20 years and one mortgage later, my parents bought me a collection of pans as a moving in present for my first home. As a singleton I only needed the basics, but it was a comforting reminder of home when I was 200 miles away in London.

I love their reassuring weight, their ability to retain heat and cook things evenly – the thickness of the pans means you get that gentle, referred heat rather than a ‘flash in the pan’ type of cooking that lets flavours develop slowly. Also, in a world of constant consumption, they come with a reassuring ‘lifetime guarantee’.

A few years on and I arrived on the Bristol doorstep of a brooding Italian I had met through a friend, for our first date. It was New Year’s Day 2005. 12 hours later, and not quite able to break the spell of a perfect day together (Clifton Zoo, cosy pub lunch, trashy NYD TV) the Italian lured me into the kitchen with the promise of a bowl of homemade pasta before I went home and there, sat on his hob, was an array of Le Creuset volcanic orange pots. Perhaps not a conventional sign that someone is, The One, but a sign none the less. The Italian and his collection of Le Creuset moved in with me 8 years ago and we have been adding to our little cookware family ever since.

In another twist of fate, we have moved relatively near Street and the Clarks Outlet Village. Beyond the Whistles, Gap, Barbour and Jaeger delights, is a brilliant Le Creuset outlet store where we have picked up pie dishes, a salt pig, mugs and measuring bowls, all at a heavily discounted price. Yes, they are not cheap bits of kit, but when you consider some of our treasured pans are older than us (30-something), that’s pretty good going, I reckon.

www.lecreuset.co.uk

CF Health: Colds, Croup and a cup of Pukka tea

This box of Pukka teas was sent to me by their PR back in August and I thought ‘ooh, I’ll stash those for autumn, when ‘cold season’ hits’. Reader – that time has come.

I might as well daub a cross above our front door and be done with it, we are so germ ridden.

Firstly, last week Country Bebe came down with croup (an infant-specific viral infection of the voicebox and windpipe) – which entailed a cough to rival a 60-a-day smoker, fever, aches, sleepiness and culminated in a brief trip to A&E after some rather laboured breathing and a nasty viral rash. All in all, grim. It is CB’s first illness, so at 2yo we are pretty lucky. Just as he started to perk up (i.e. showed an interest in his Duplo box), I was knocked for six by a killer cold.

I’m still knee-deep in snot, with fevers and headaches a plenty, so sorry things are a bit slow on the post front this week.

However I thought I’d post a quick review of the lemon, ginger and manuka honey tea from Pukka, which I’ve been sipping my way through this week:

Imagine a healthy lemsip that is more soothing and gentle, and you’re close. It’s zesty with lemon but fiery with root ginger (great for sinuses) and has a lingering sweetness that is really calming, thanks to the manuka honey. There is liquorice in there, and turmeric too – so it is deliciously spicy. I am *obsessed* with their three ginger tea, and this is a lighter more delicate cuppa.

Definitely one for the store cupboard over the winter months.

*coughs and crawls back under the duvet*

£2.29 for 20 sachets from www.pukkaherbs.com

CF Travels: Vale House Kitchen in Somerset, Foraging course

After the first part of my ‘Solo Mummy Adventure’, cossetted in the luxury of the Bristol Hotel, came rather a rude awakening the following morning, as I dashed off in the pelting rain and fog to the depths of the Somerset countryside:

Nonetheless, neither the early start, nor the inclement weather, could dent this level of excitement for the day ahead:

As I was booked in on a full day foraging course at Vale House Kitchen.

My first port of call was the Carpenters Arms pub car park, where I was instructed to rendez vous with Vale House Kitchen owner, Bod Griffiths. Part of the deal that allowed them to convert part of their gorgeous listed home into the school was that they had a ‘travel plan’ in place to ensure no increase in vehicular traffic to and from the property. Rather than being irksome, it’s a win-win. The pub offers accommodation for those booked onto 2-day courses, while those on a one-day course can always pop in for a drink with fellow attendees before heading their separate ways. They’ll also rustle you up a coffee if you arrive early, too.

No need to linger however as right on cue however, Bod skidded into the car park in a very smart emblazoned Landie, bounding out to greet me like a large, enthusiastic Labrador. Charming, warm and infectiously in love with his new career as chief chauffeur, host and general ‘man Friday’ for the school (Bod and his wife Annie moved to Vale House in 2011 after 20 years in London). Bod and I nattered away for the short transfer, about making the London-Country leap, his first week in business (the school only opened in September) and the plans for our day ahead…

Dashing in out of the persistent drizzle, we snuck round the back of the ‘big house’ to the converted workmans’ cottages at the rear and into the school:

Pretty as a picture isn’t it? Bod and Annie have LAVISHED attention on this conversion that they’ve captured brilliantly in this video.

Ready and waiting for us was course tutor Chris Westgate of Heavenly Hedgrows. A connoisseur in the edible wild plants and berries of the UK, plus award-winning producer of jams, jellies and liqueurs, she had a three-hour stomp through the Somerset hills planned to gather and forage our ingredients. Then an afternoon cooking up our spoils.

After a fortifying cafetiere of coffee, a coo over Bod and Annie’s 4-month old son Michael and a natter with the other course attendees (including the lovely Bristol Blogger Kathie Auton) – wellies were donned, baskets distributed and off we toddled.

15 mins from the Bath-stone pillared drive and we were straight in – nettles (for soup), elderberries (for a perfect Vitamin C packed winter cordial), hawthorns (for steeping in brandy) and lots and lots of sloes (my love of sloe gin is well documented). Chatting away, picking our chosen edibles together, we were surprisingly productive. Filling our baskets, tubs and rucksacks in no time.

We gathered Chamomile for tea, crab apples and the plentiful blackberries laden heavy on nearly every hedgerow – interspersed with some much more unknown herbs and ‘greens’ – like the gorgeous citrusy wild sorrel. Chris also squealed with delight after spotting this ‘chicken of the wood’ fungi – while mushrooms are not part of the foraging course, she took a little piece back to HQ for further identification.

Chris was a non-stop walking resource of not only practical advice for when foraging (don’t pick nettles in flower as they will be very bitter – pick new growth that is 40% protein and packed with iron), but full of amazing folklores that added colour to our trek – such as the timely advice to pick blackberries before the 10th October else the devil will spit on them. Or the fact Yarrow is also known as Soldiers Wound Wort as it was used by Achilles to soothe his injured army, due to its astringent properties. One of my favourite finds was the pineapple weed – so named as when squeezed between your fingertips, it gives forth a gloriously tropical aroma.

There were also cautionary tales of what NOT to eat, or even touch – namely the giant hogsweed that is phototoxic and causes blister-like burns that last for SIX YEARS. It threw into stark relief how important courses like this are if you are interested in foraging for yourself. A little knowledge goes a long way to keep you safe and unblistered.

Chris had seriously done her homework. Walking the route every week since February – every field, hedge, riverside and wood bore fruits that we sensitively harvested, sampled and learnt to identify.

Before we knew it, Bod was waving cheerfully over the 5-bar gate and our carriage awaited to whisk us back to the school to dry out and fill up on Annie’s homemade chilli around their Homes & Garden-worthy kitchen table, complete with Aga and the gorgeous Lab pup, Bonnie.

Refuelled we settled in at our individual workstations (seriously high-tech kit mixed with gloriously homely, no-pretense approach).

First up, using the ingenious stacking bottles (below, top left) – we made a trio of sloe gin, blackberry and apple gin and hawthorn brandy. Whilst we got steeping, Chris whipped up a batch of Nettle Soup and the ‘foraged greens’ quiche (below, bottom right).

Nettle soup had always conjured up a vision of some prickly, watery broth that tasted like grass cuttings – HOW WRONG I WAS. Imagine a MUCH tastier spinach, with plenty of good stock, garlic and a swirl of cream… HEAVEN. I have since made half a dozen batches and it never fails to stun me that such a garden pest of a weed can be converted into this.

Before the course I had done my fair share of amateur foraging – elderflowers for cordial, sloes for gin and blackberries for crumbles – but since the course I am seeing the hedgerow anew. Not only am I inspired to make the most of the Devon countryside and its spoils, but I feel confident in my newly gained knowledge that I can forage safely and broaden my ‘wild eating’ horizons – I’m hooked!

Thank you for having me Bod and Annie – it really was the most brilliant, fun, informative and inspiring day – Chris, thank you for sharing your knowledge so generously!

Course dates run continually through the year from £135, from Christmas cake cooking to seasonal cookery, bread making, fly fishing and butchery.

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