Thursday, 31 December 2009

How to raise your own chicken for the table

Many of us like to buy free range or organically raised chicken these days for our sunday roast, as well as free range eggs. And many more people are keeping the odd few hens in the garden for a fresh supply of free range eggs. Which is how I started. If you try keeping two or three chickens, and you enjoy doing it, it's not such a long way from trying your hand at rearing chicken for the table. In modern farming practice, egg rearing and chickens for meat are entirely separate operations, as are dairy and beef farming, but this is a modern convention, and traditionally both operations would form part of poultry, or indeed cattle husbandry. If you keep a traditional  breed of bird and allow them to breed, (ie you keep a cockerel) each year you will have on average half females for your egg supply,and the other half cockerels that you can fatten for the table.

Or, if you don't want, or can't keep a cockerel, you could just buy in day old chicks as I did this year for my first experiment in raising birds for the table. I used Hubbards, (from FAI Farms in Oxford,) a modern hybrid specially bred for free range production. They were very good, and not difficult to rear, but I would like to try some traditional breeds and next time I will probably have some Marans,or Light Sussex, and see how I get on. I have had Light Sussex before but I failed to fatten them effectively and they were a bit disappointing. With my Hubbards I fattened them on rolled barley, and if it weren't illegal to say so, I might say that I had given them a plentiful supply of table scraps, but of course, such cavalier disregard for the law of the land would be quite reprehensible. In fact, I think the current madcap Defra legality is that it's ok to feed scraps if you're going to eat the chickens yourself, but not if anyone else is going to have any. You might conclude that the best thing is to please yourself and say nothing, but of course, I couldn't possibly comment.

My Hubbard  chicks cost me about 80p each. If you don't have a broody hen, you have to keep your day old chicks under a heat lamp for the first few weeks of their lives, until they are well feathered enough to keep warm on their own. But the broody really is the way to go if you can, she does all the hard work for you, and after about six weeks, she will decide that they are old enough to manage on their own, and will gradually leave them to it.

Hubbards are hybrid chickens intended to be raised on free range or organic methods, and are expected to be ready for despatch at around 12-14 weeks. And frankly if they had been, my costs would have been quite a bit less.  Most supermarket chickens are killed at around 6 weeks or so  but my chickens were despatched at 22 weeks, and weighed between 4 and 8 lbs, most being around the six pound mark or three kilos. With hindsight, I would have preferred to have had some smaller birds, around 3-4 lbs and I could have killed these at an earlier stage. I also think I should have had the birds in their own enclosure, instead of just generally roaming around the garden with the layers and the ducks, as I think I could have kept a closer eye on their diet and probably fattened them a bit sooner. Also this would have enabled me to keep a closer account of the costs of raising the birds, since I really don't have much of an idea of what the total costs really were.

We have roasted two of the chickens so far, and the flavour is really lovely. I roasted them for slightly longer than usual, and at a lower temperature. The dark meat is darker than usual,and the breast tender and full of flavour. I have some birds jointed, but with Christmas getting in the way we have yet to try any stir fried etc. but I think it will be very good.

Raising your own chicken certainly isn't something you should be considering for economy reasons alone - it probably cost me than you would pay in the butchers, partly because this first effort was very much a learning curve for me and I don't mind paying for "education". I fully expect further efforts to be more cost effective. It did give me enormous satisfaction, and the chicken is indeed delicious.And I've got a freezer full of it!

Here are a few pictures of the birds from June to November this year. First from June,the broody, with the newly arrived day old chicks. I slipped them under her late in the evening and she took to them straight away. This old bird is an Araucana crossed with a Maran, she has raised several broods of chicks, is very hardy, and still lays a lovely blue egg on a regular basis. She's definately my best bird.

These two are from June - the broody still looking after the chicks, showing them how to find insects, in this case a delicious ants nest in the woodchip path in the veg garden, and all the while keeping a lookout for any danger

This is how they looked in September, growing well but not fat enough yet

October and still growing well


I know that lots of people have a problem relating the living creature with the roast dinner on the table. I think it's a normal reaction, and for myself  I still don't find the despatching of any living creature easy. But if you're going to have meat on your plate the simple fact is that something has to die in order for it to get there.  I have to steel myself to it, and ensure I acheive a quick end for the birds. On this occasion, because there were so many birds to go at once, I employed the services of Sid my retired butcher friend who killed the birds for me and with the use of his plucking machine, saved me many hours of work over that weekend.  And I have  the consolation that my birds had lived as good a life as any chicken could have wanted, enjoying fresh air, grass, small numbers and a quick and stress free end. I wish I had the means to ensure that every pork chop and beef steak we eat has had a similar history and provenance.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Florentines - recipe for luxurious little chocolate biscuits

Florentines are very expensive little biscuits to buy, and if you make them yourself they are frankly only as good as the ingredients you use, so you have to shell out for quality stuff. But having said that, a little goes a long way with this recipe,and once you've got the idea with them you can make yourself a large enough supply to keep a batch in the freezer and stll have some spare to take along with you when you're invited to friends houses around Christmas and New Year and need something luxurious other than wine to take along.

As I said this is the time to shell out on decent ingredients, don't waste your time and money on cheap chocolate, and ancient dried peel. I recommend Waitrose Italian candied peel, and a good 70% dark chocolate. I buy ready flaked almonds, as I don't have the patience to do them myself,  but get them from a source with a good turnover like Julian Graves, as the surface area of exposed nut means that they go stale quite quickly. You're supposed to have a little candied angelica in the mix, but I find it's quite difficult to find these days so I bought a tub of coloured glace cherries also from Julian Graves, as some of them are green and this gives the necessary hint of green-ness to the end product.
You will need
8 oz caster sugar
1oz flour
2oz butter
half a pint double cream
4oz candied peel
8oz flaked almonds
4oz pot red and green glace cherries, chopped
200g dark chocolate
Melt the butter and sugar together gently in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the flour to make a smooth paste. Stir in the cream and cook over a low heat for a minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the candied peel,almonds and cherries.
Drop teaspoonfuls on to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or Bake-o-Glide, and bake in the middle of the Aga, Gas 5 or 6 for about 10 minutes, until golden round the edges, but keep an eye on them as they catch quickly and burn. They will still be soft when you take them out, so let them set for a minute or two, then transfer to a wire tray to cool and firm up.

When the little biscuits are cold, melt your chocolate in your chosen way, I put it on the Aga before I start and it's just about ready when I need it later. Holding the biscuits carefully at the edges, coat them generously with the dark chocolate and using a fork, mark them with the traditional wavy lines before it sets.
You can make lots with this amount, especially if you keep them small. You may find you need more than 200g of chocolate depending on how generous you are with your coating. And you could do some with milk, or white chocolate if that's what you fancy.
They freeze very well and take virtually no time to defrost, which means that very handily you can take a couple out, put the kettle on and they'll be ready to eat by the time it boils. All too convenient for the weak of will I fear.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

And now for something completely different...

Round about now, you just get a bit bored with all the trad festive fare and in need of something rather fresher tasting... try this delicious lemon tart - rich and luxurious but tart and refreshing as well. Just the thing for a jaded post christmas  palette

 For the crust
This is a very good use for my luxury almond pastry if you used it for mince pies and have some leftover or you can use a pack of ready rolled shortcrust from the supermarket if you're feeling too cooked-out from Christmas to be bothered.
Roll out and line an 8" deep metal flan tin. Because the filling for this tart is delicate and only lightly cooked, you really need to bake the pastry blind, which is not something I normally do, as it's a fiddle faddle, but in this case it's worth the extra effort. Just line the tin with pastry as normal, cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and weigh it down with dried peas or beans, and bake for about 20 minutes, until firm but not browned. Remove beans and paper and allow to cool.
For the filling you will need
4 lemons, grated zest and juice
4 eggs
8oz 200gr caster sugar
 half pint/300g pot of double cream
Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and creamy, add the lemon zest and juice, and the double cream.  Pour into the flan case and bake for 40 mins in a slow oven, the bottom oven of the Aga or gas 3 until set but not coloured. Cool in the tin and chill in the fridge before serving.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Deck The Halls with Boughs of Cupressocyparis Leylandii..Fa-la-la-la la..

or how about "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana"? No, I know it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, but it does a lovely job of Decking the said Halls, all the same. You don't need to buy your Christmas greenery from a shop or garden centre.If you can manage to spare half an hour or so you can easily put together a lovely wreath for your front door from stuff you can usually find in your garden, or along a hedgerow, or a neighbour's garden. The ubiquitous Leylandii hedge will yield more than enough prunings to make a nice wreath for your front door as well as one for the neighbour in whose garden it's growing. And if you don't have your own shrubbery or hedge, you could always consider raiding the local supermarket car parks where there is often a good supply of shrubbery (far be it from me to lead you along the path of criminality),
Most instructions tell you to start with a base that you have to buy, but I never do. Just find yourself a good selection of reasonably bendy twiggy branches, things like willow, hazel, and more or less any wood produced during  the last summer  will be flexible enough to use. You will need a selection of sticks something like this

plus a roll of wire available from any garden centre, this on is sold as "Garden Wire Light Weight", and is the cheapest and is ideal.

and of course you will be armed with your trusty


Start by binding together your bare branches by winding the wire round and round, making a long "rope" of

flexible twigs.
Use plenty of wire for your first attempt as it will make life easier. When your twig rope is long enough bend it round into a rough circle  shape

and secure with your wire.

Snip off any protruding ends where the wood is too hard to bend and then  push in your branches of leylandii, holly, ivy or any other green stuff you can find, and wind on more wire to secure. Just keep going round and round with the wire and greenery until you're happy with the look. Something like this

I had a bit of trouble finding any red berries in my garden just now, since the birds have cleared up all the available supply, so I will probably get something in red plastic from the decorations box to finish the job, or I might just wire up a few cranberries for the finishing touch.
Fa-la-la-la-la Fa-la-la-laah!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Living In The Past

We were having a  conversation over a coffee, my daughter and I, and she said Ian was a fan of Jethro Tull, (that's Jethro Tull the pop group, not the 17th century agricultural engineer, although he might be a fan of him as well for all I know). I had no idea they were still going, (the group not the engineer, obviously) but I do remember their best hit from the sixties - it was called Living in the Past, and it's not only a good song, but has the unusual distinction of being written in 5/4 time, that is five beats to the bar. Almost everything in western music is written in variations of four or three time, and five time is quite unusual and distinctive. Not a lot of people know that. But why do I remember this obscure bit of information? It was in the sixties, and although nowadays, I frequently go upstairs and find myself wondering what I came up here for, it seems I still hve no difficulty remembering that Jethro Tull wrote a song in 5/4 time forty years ago. Humans brains are truly amazing,even mine.

Anyway Living in the Past makes a nice link to what I've been doing today, which is putting up the Christmas decorations, many of which are 30 or more years old. Obviously I hope I don't "live in the past", since that would be unhealthy and boring, but hanging up the decorations that your children made in primary school all those years ago is a lovely way of keeping a kind of family history. If you have small children do keep at least some of their efforts for the future. They will obviously go through a stage, usually in the early teens,  of being horrified and embarrassed at your displaying their childish efforts, but persevere, and eventually they will look back with you rather than just at you (in a horrified teenager kind of way) as the Blue Peter Red Hanging Bird Decorations come out yet again. The birds are made of red card with red tissue paper and tinsel for their wings and tails, and after nearly thirty Christmasses are a bit delicate, some might say tatty. There's always some discussion about what they are actually meant to be, turkeys, partridges, doves, or something else, who knows? Anyway, very Christmassy, very old, and very lovely don't you think?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Mince Pies

I've already given my  mincemeat recipe, and my favourite sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, so I'm not suggesting that you Dear Reader need any extra prattling on from me to just marry the two together to make the mince pies. Not at all. But I just thought I would give a recipe for a really luxurious sweet pastry that you could use, since let's face it, mince pies are a bit of a fiddle faddle, and you might as well gild the lily a bit if you're going to the trouble of making them. Mind you, from what I've encountered so far this year in the way of packet mince pies, you'd be better off donating them to the local cricket club for bowling practice than considering eating them. That's probably a bit unfair of me - you can get some quite nice mince pies if you shop around, but if you heard Delia on Woman's Hour on radio 4 in the week, she reckoned that home made mince pies cost about 9p each and decent bought ones anything from 30p to over a £1 each! And they still won't be as nice or as free from "stuff" as yours.

Luxury Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
8oz/250g flour
2oz/50g ground almonds
6oz/150g butter
2ox/50g caster or icing sugar
grated rind of 1 large or 2 small oranges
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk

Put everything except the egg into the food processor and whizz to breadcrumb stage. At this stage I normally tip the mix out into a large bowl and add the egg by hand. This is because I have a Magimix processor that clumps the bottom layer into a, well a clump really, at the bottom of the bowl. If you have a processor with sloping sides it probably won't do that, but the point is you need to handle the dough as little as possible, and you certainly don't want to beat it to death with a Magimix blade. Anyway, beat the whole egg and yolk together and mix in quickly to form a smooth dough. This is a very rich dough and it's a good idea to rest it in the fridge for half an hour or so to firm up if you can.

Roll out and use to line bun tins in usual way, and fill with your lovely home made mincemeat. Should make a dozen and a half or more if you don't make them too big.

You'll notice from here that my mince pies are cooked in little bun cases. This is because my bun tin is a very ancient tinny thing, and I find the cases ensure that I can get the MPs out of the tin in quick order and onto the cooling rack so the tin's ready for the next lot (there's always a next lot), without having to hang about waiting for cooling down. Also any leaked mincemeat doesn't get so easily welded onto the tray. I might treat myself to a nice non stick one for next year.

In the interests of research my daughter Sarah is trying a frangipane topping on her mince pies, (she has a bit of an almond thing going on at the moment) and hopefully she will post a report on how she gets on with that and  the supply of mincemeat she took home with her this weekend, as it does sound rather delicious. And Claire down in Cornwall seems to be making MPs for the whole county, our little grandson can't be eating them all can he?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Somethings still growing out there...!

I've been so busy with Christmassy stuff lately, that I've hardy had chance to get into the garden, so just to show that, somewhat surprisingly there's still lovely stuff growing out there (amongst the weeds and the mud), here's a couple of carrots, a turnip, and a rather overgrown, forked parsnip. Well nobody's perfect.

But it does represent the makings of a lovely vegetable soup, as I happen to have a big jug of chicken stock in the fridge just waiting for these. Simmered with a couple of chopped onions and a potato, a handful of parsley and served with a hunk of home made bread, lunch is covered for the next few busy days.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mulled Wine

If you've ever been offered a glass of generic mulled wine at a pre Christmas bash, you will recognize the mouth puckering horrible-ness of the commercial product. I'm convinced most people say they don't like Mulled Wine because they've had the misfortune to be aquainted with the ready made stuff which Mr Supermarket makes with the cheapest rough old plonk, too rough probably to go in a bottle on its own, and whose taste is masked with tongue stripping artificial citrus and spice flavouring.

So get your own cheap plonk - nothing wrong with using an ordinary red wine for mulling, I used Tesco's Sicilian red wine,for our village do,  at around £3.30 a bottle it's full flavour makes an excellent mulled wine and is even ok for everyday vin ordinaire type drinking as long as you're not Jancis Robinson. Not the kind of stuff you'd want to offer your friends coming round for dinner, but still ok for Keith Floyd style casseroles (that's one for me and one for the pot, and then maybe another one for me). And a bottle of economy own brand dark rum. I know I seem to be always recomending economy options, - I make no apology for this, it's not that I'm mean you understand, I love a really good red wine, and will enjoy several over Christmas, but I don't believe in splashing out in a situation where most people just can't tell the difference. If you are Oz Clark, then go ahead and use your Chateau Lafitte Rothschild and your matured Jamaica Rum, but I really don't think the rest of us will mind.

Mulled Wine
1 bottle red wine
2-3fl oz / 50 -75ml dark rum
2 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
10 allspice berries
10 cloves
1 star anise
about a half inch/1 cm of fresh grated ginger
a good grating of nutmeg
zest of half an orange and half a lemon (peeled off with a potato peeler not grated)
2 oz/60g sugar or up to 3oz/90g if you prefer

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat gently until warm enough. Warm enough means warm enough to be a hot drink, but not boiling, as you'll be boiling off the alcohol which you really don't want to do. It's a good idea to heat it gently once and then leave it for an hour or two with the spices in if you can, to get a really good flavour, and then gently re-warm it when you're ready to drink. Pour it through a sieve into a warm jug and serve with your warm mince pies, preferably standing round the village Christmas tree singing Jingle Bells. And think how much money you could have saved Oz and Jancis.

This is a very bad picture of our village christmas tree, I will go out tomorrow and try to get a better one.

And finally it's quite a good idea to have non alcoholic mulled "wine" as an additional option for children, and drivers, which can be easily made from a bottle of Ribena (don't use the low sugar version for this) diluted with hot water, and with a slice or two of orange and a cinnamon stick.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Sweet Treats for Christmas

Apologies for the lack of postings this week, I've been occupied, like almost everyone else, with Christmassy things entailing much baking of these,

and some of these

and also some of these
I realize these last ones are indistinguishable from a heap of rubbish from my terrible photograph, but they are in fact Christmas Wreaths, adapted from a recipe of Nigella's. If you want to see a picture of what they really look like, have a look at Nigella's Christmas, where you will find a sensible photo. I was making treats to eat at our village Christmas tree lights switching on ceremony last night, and although I made a good stack of mince pies, I know from past experience that small children often don't care for dried fruit generally and mince pies in particular, so I made these treats as an alternative. And very succesful they were too, allowing adults to consume generous amounts of Mulled Wine and mince pies, while they, the children got stuck into the Christmas Cupcakes, Gingerbread Christmas biscuits, and the aforementioned Christmas Wreaths, extracting extravagant sugar fuelled promises along the way from Santa who made his welcome appearance to switch on the lights. Fortunately for the health of the residents, other more sensible people brought some lovely savoury items to counteract the sugary overload of my offerings.

Christmas Cupcakes
I used an 8:8:4 recipe for all in one sponge for these. By which I mean 8 oz SR flour,butter and sugar and 4 eggs ( you see how simple this old imperial measurement is - far easier to remember than metric where the number of eggs, ie 4 bears no relation to the amount of other ingredients ie 250 grams, stop me before I start ranting again....).
Anyway, this amount made around fifty odd cupcakes, so you may like to halve the amounts unless you are considering entertaining the whole neghbourhood's offspring, or you could make larger ones using American style muffin cases instead of little bun cases. You can do the maths. You will need a spot of milk to make the mixture soft enough,and a teaspoon of vanilla essence and be sure to make them small enough to allow for the topping to cover them completely after they have risen.
The topping is royal icing, very easy to make if you have an electric mixer. Just beat 3 egg whites with a 500g packet of icing sugar for about five minutes until the mixture holds soft peaks. I use fresh egg whites because I have an abundance of eggs available to me, but I have used a packet of instant royal icing in the past and it works just as well. I always add a teaspoon of glycerin to the icing to stop it going rock hard, although you should not attempt to keep these little cakes more than a day anyway as they dry out too much. I'm amazed that Christmas Sprinkles for cakes are not available everywhere, at least not in the seasonal red and green colours I like - Tesco's missing an opportunity here - so you have to send off for them, either from Wilton, the US baking supplies people, or sometimes on Ebay. I've also made a lovely discovery that you can buy edible glitter for sprinkling on your cakes to give them that special magical touch - I got mine from the cake decorating department at Hobbycraft. It comes in a tiny pot that will probably last me forever, it looks just like ordinary glitter, but you can eat it without poisoning yourself. Lovely!

As for the little Christmas Wreaths, they are again based again on Nigella's idea

 ( strikes me this picture is almost as bad as mine!)

but I've messed about with the recipe a bit while still keeping to her lovely idea.

6 oz 150g butter
1 200g bag of marshmallows
1 200g bag of caramel toffees
half a teaspoon almond essence
half a teaspoon vanilla essence
 200g cornflakes
Melt the first three ingredients gently together, then bring to a full boil for a minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the essences and the cornflakes crunching them up quite a bit as you go with your wooden spoon. Leave until cool enough to handle and then form into balls, squash down and make a hole in the middle to form a wreath shape decorate with christmas sprinkles and leave to cool. Add little ribbon bows when cool if you like.
Make sure Santa gets some Mulled Wine, recipe tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Bread for Beginners

I go in phases with bread. Making it, I mean, not eating it. It's easy enough to always have a sliced wholemeal loaf in the freezer, so that you're never without supplies but then I have a bread "moment" and before you can say Jack Robinson, the kitchen is filled with the smell of rising bread, and browning golden crusts are everywhere. For a start , once you've got the knack, it's so easy, just flour, water, and yeast, really, and a bit of salt. Unsalted bread is horrible. Elizabeth David said you should have plenty of salt in your bread, and none in your butter, personally I like a nice abit of salted Welsh butter as well.

And time, you do need some time, which is often the percieved problem with baking bread at home. It does take a few hours to make bread it's true, but you only spend a few minutes out of those hours actually doing anything. So really it comes down to organizing your  bread making around your life, so that it fits in with everything else, and you only have to fiddle about with it when it suits you.

If you've never made bread before, or if you've tried once and got a "brick" and gave up, I recommend trying the New York Times No Knead Bread, which is fully described here. It's a slow, easy to do method which gives you a rustic, rather holey, but still delicious loaf, and well worth a look.

However, if you want to make a good slice-able white crusty loaf you could try my recipe
The Cottage Garden Farmer's White Crusty Loaf
When I want to make an ordinary white crusty loaf I use about half a 3lb/1.5kg bag of strong white flour. You can make any size you like as long as you remember that for each lb of flour you will need 1 teaspoon of fast acting dried yeast ( I use Dove's Farm) and 1 teaspoon of salt, and about half a pint of water. Nothing else, no oil, no sugar, no butter, unless you're making one of the endless variations which will be at your disposal once you've mastered the initial technique. It's one of those things that it's easier to show someone than to describe, but here's a few pictures to help.

Place your chosen amout of ingredients in a roomy, preferably wide bowl.
Make your hand into a "claw" like this

and stir the dry ingredients round to mix in.  Add the water and mix in using your claw hand until it comes together in a sticky mass. It will seem too wet, but persevere.
Tip the lot out onto the floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. There is an accepted method of kneading bread involving pushing and pulling the dough in a rhythmic fashion, but frankly you can fling it about  however you like as long as you stretch it enough to allow the gluten in the flour to develop and transform the sticky mass into

a smooth and elastic lump
Put it back in the bowl and leave, covered with cling film or a damp teatowel until doubled in volume.
Then turn it out on to your worktop again, and handling gently this time, fold in the edges to the centre a few times pressing gently down to get rid of big air bubbles, and place in a loaf tin. Dust with flour, or oatmeal. Leave until risen and puffy again,

and then bake in a very hot steamy oven (see below) for about 30 - 40 minutes. Turn out of the tin onto a wire rack to cool.

 Tips for success
1.Make sure your yeast is fresh even if it's dried! I use Dove's Farm yeast and I keep it in the fridge after opening, and replace it within 6 weeks.
2. The half pint of water to one pound of flour is a minimum. Dry dough will mean dry bread.
3.Make the oven steamy. I throw half a cup of water into the bottom of the Aga just before I close the door, but if you're nervous about throwing water in your oven, try putting a few ice cubes in the bottom of the oven with your bread - they'll instantly melt and give you the steam you need to get your lovely crusty loaf.

4. If you can let your dough rise over a longer period, up to 24hours, you will get a fuller flavoured loaf, but you can adjust this to suit yourself. If you mix your dough in the evening aiming for next day bread, use cold waterin the mix and leave it in a cool place or even the fridge, for 24 hours or more until you're ready to bake it next day. But if you mix it say in the morning  for bread for lunch, then you would use warm water, leave it in a warm place to rise, for an hour or two, you get the general idea.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Make Your Own Cereal Bars

Have you seen the price of cereal bars? I know they're not the most exciting foodie must have. But lots of us buy them, they're great for childrens' lunch boxes, and make good breakfast on the run for adults, and like lots of processed food, they're a complete ripoff. For a start, look at the size of them. Tiny. You'd need a whole box of them to make a decent breakfast for a Doyle. And that would be assuming that they contain wholesome tasty ingredients, which they don't.

I suspect people like cereal bars because many of us don't have the time or inclination for breakfast, (the retail market for cereal bars is worth £314million a year) and grabbing a cereal bar on the way out of the door in the morning seems like an improvement on a double chocolate muffin at the coffee shop later. Which indeed it can be, if you make them yourself.

If you have one of these

from the supermarket, you might just as well have the muffin, for all the good it's going to do you.
So I'm suggesting you make your own. It's easy and you can make them as opulent or as  austere as you wish. I tend to make them fairly spartan because they're for breakfast and I like to see them as a healthy start. No matter that it all goes downhill from there, a good start at least shows willing.

This amount makes enough to fill my large Aga baking tray, which is 14" x 10". It's worth making a good quantity once you've established just how you like them, as they keep reasonably well in an airtight tin.

Cereal Bars Recipe

12oz/300g golden syrup
4oz/half a packet butter
half a cup/4 fl oz sunflower oil

Put these to melt over a low heat,while you assemble the dry ingredients, in a large bowl, which can be almost any combination of the following. Quantities are a rough guide, because you can adjust to whatever you like best, frankly I use up what I have half packets of, and what I fancy adding - just try to end up with around 4 pounds of mix in total for the above amount of liquid.

1 lb8oz/ 750g rolled (porridge)oats
8oz/200gr wholewheat flour
8oz/200g dessicated coconut
12oz/300 gr bag of trail mix chopped up or other dried fruit
several handfuls of puffed rice cereal
several handfuls of mixed seedsof your choice such as sunflower, pumpkin, flax,sesame
several handfuls of mixed nuts of your choice brazil, almond, hazel, walnuts chopped
several handfuls of raisins
3 eating apples, grated coarsely, don't bother to peel

Mix your dry ingredients together thoroughly, pour on the contents of the saucepan and stir until well blended. Turn into your tin and press down fairly gently. Bake for about half an hour on the bottom rung of the Aga roasting oven, probably Gas 4 Electric 180  until just tinged golden. Don't overbrown. Burnt raisins are horrible.

Cut into bars and cool on a wire tray. These bars should be reasonably chewy and soft, if you like them harder and more crisp, reduce the amount of apple.

I don't want to harp on about the economy of making your own, lest you should run away with the idea that they're not going to be very delicious, which they are, but I've costed it out roughly and my cereal bars are at least a quarter of the price of the average shop ones. Plus they're jam packed with nuts seeds and fruits, and low in sugar, contain no preservatives or dodgy fillers, and don't leave 30 plastic wrappers and 6 cardboard boxes behind. The recipe above will give you around 25 -30 good size bars (around 4 oz/100gr each) as opposed to the measly 1oz/30gr ones from the shop. Quarter of the price, ten times the quality,you can't lose.

So it's this...                            ...... or this? (It's a no brainer!)                 

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Chicken Liver Pate

I received my thirteen chickens back from Sid yesterday,

and I was amazed to find that I have no less than 75 lbs of beautiful free range chicken, ready to go in the freezer. The birds ranged in size from seven and a half pounds down to four and a half, with most being at the top end of that range. They look plump and delicious and I can't wait to try one. But in the meantime there's this big tray of giblets to deal with. (I made the photo small in case you're reading this over breakfast, how considerate am I?)

The necks, hearts and gizzards all go into a big saucepan, and simmer in water in the aga for a few hours, and will provide me with a good supply of stock, but the livers are reserved for a special treat.

Chicken Liver Pate.

This recipe is based on the one in Elizabeth David's Summer Cooking from about 1970, although I've altered  it quite a lot over the years. You'll notice it's not for slimmers,  my husband always maintains that artichokes are just an excuse to eat loads of butter, and I'm afraid this pate is a similar case, but you can always justify it with the thought of all that healthy liver you're having with it. Do try, by the way, to get some livers from decent free range birds, as most supermarket ones are from battery birds  - Waitrose do some good ones.

8 oz chicken livers, cleaned, trimmed, and cut in half
8 oz butter
1 onion
1-2 fat cloves garlic
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons medium sherry (the kind you keep for making trifles or for when Aunt Mildred comes)
salt pepper nutmeg

Whizz the onion and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped, and then saute them in 6oz of the butter until soft.

Should take about 10 minutes, watch it doesn't brown, the butter will easily overheat and burn. Tip into the food processor, retaining some butter to cook the livers.
Add the chicken livers, and cook for a few minutes until browned on the outside, but still pink in the middle. Add generous amounts of salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Tip into the food processor.
Add the brandy and sherry(or port) and scrape up any sediment and allow to bubble for a minute or two until syrupy, then pour into the processor and whizz everything together until smooth.
Turn into a dish and smooth out.
Gently melt the remaining butter and use to cover the pate when it has cooled. 

You should really leave it in the fridge for a day before eating, but I've just had some for supper that I made this afternoon and it was delicious, with hot brown toast and a dollop of chutney. Also makes a luxury starter for a dinner party.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

D Day

At last Sid has judged my Hubbard table chickens fit for despatch. They are 21 weeks old, so about half as long again as I had originally planned. He will be coming round late this afternoon to do the deed. I will not be giving the birds any additional feed during the day, apart from what they forage for themselves,- this makes for a less messy job - and of course water. The weather is atrocious, gale force winds and rain, we will be lucky if they don't blow away in the storm at this rate. After despatch he will hang the birds in his garage overnight, and prepare them tomorrow. As he has a plucking machine he can get through my thirteen birds in a fraction of the time it would take me to pluck them by hand.

I will do a  post on  this whole experience of raising birds for the table in due course, explaining whether I will do it again and what I have learned. Quite a bit will depend on the quality of the chicken on the table - if they turn out to be tough and stringy, I may have to re-think my future plans, but I'm hoping, and Sid tells my they will be, quite delicious, with a better "chickeny" flavour than anything I could get at Waitrose, or indeed, as Sid gleefully says, than the ones they sell for fifteen quid at the local organic farm shop.

I do feel quite sad that the birds have reached the end of their lives, but I will ensure that I complete my obligation towards them by ensuring as quick and stress free an end as possible.  It's not an easy thing to do, when you've raised any creature from day-old to fully grown, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that they have lived a good life,  felt the sun on their backs and the wind ruffle their feathers, and will have eaten as many worms and slugs as any chicken, or indeed any gardener, could ever wish for.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Brazilian Christmas Cake

 I wanted to try something a bit different from the usual rich dark fruit cake this year, so if you fancy a change, try this boozy version of a carrot cake, inspired by my trip to Brazil. Many people find a traditional christmas cake a bit too much on top of all the seasonal excess anyway. Not that you could describe this cake as abstemious or frugal in any way, but a nice change of flavour.

If you don't have any Cachaca (and why would you really?) you can use rum instead.

For an 8" round cake tin you will need -
4 oz raisins
4oz sultanas
2oz chopped ready to eat prunes
4 oz natural colour glace cherries
2oz mixed peel

soaked in -
2 fl oz brandy
2fl oz sherry or port
2 fl oz Cachaca (or rum)
1 teasp Angostura bitters
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest and juice of 3 limes and 1 lemon

either in the fridge for a few days, or overnight in the kitchen for the flavours to be absorbed.

When you're ready to make the cake, measure out -
12 oz plain flour
2 teasp ground cinnamon
1 teasp freshly grated nutmeg
2 teasp bicarbonate of soda
into a bowl and set aside.

In your Kitchenaid/Kenwood or with your very strong arm, beat together -
half a pint of sunflower oil
6 oz caster sugar
6oz soft brown sugar
4 eggs
until smooth and creamy

Sieve your flour mix in gently.
Then add
12 oz peeled and finely grated carrot
4 oz dessicated coconut
4 oz chopped walnuts or pecans
all the contents of the pre soaking bowl
It's a bit of a squash in my mixer but mix on a slow speed to incorporate everything.

Then turn into a lined 8" tin and bake in a slow oven about gas 2 until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Should be around the hour and a half mark. It's a bit less in my Aga, maybe more in some ovens. If it looks to be browning too much cover it with a piece of foil towards the end.

While it's baking make up a syrup by warming gently together until melted -
4 oz chopped Rapadura Caipira (this is a Brazilian sweet basically just a solid block of cane sugar but you could easily substitute light brown sugar)

zest and juice of 4 limes
zest and juice of 2 oranges

Cool and stir in
2 or 3 fl oz Cachaca (or rum)

When the cake is cooked, stab it with a skewer and pour the syrup over while the cake is still hot.

Leave it in the tin to cool and absorb the syrup.

I would normally store a christmas cake in the larder, but I think I will keep this one in the freezer until I'm ready to decorate it just before Christmas, just to be on the safe side. It will easily keep for a couple of weeks though, in an airtight tin if you want to make it anytime before Christmas. I will give it a coat of good quality marzipan and fondant icing in the week before Christmas.


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