Time to return to traditional remedies?

I don’t know about you but after yet another bout of the ubiquitous sore throat, cough and cold this winter (or is it just the same one and I never really got over it the first time round?), I’m reaching out for anything which might just boost my immune system or, at the very least, provide a little relief. A friend recommended mixing up a non-alcoholic ‘toddy’ of fresh ginger, lemon, honey, coconut oil and turmeric in hot water and while it didn’t prevent me going back down with the virus, it was incredibly soothing and surprisingly tasty. She also gave me a ‘woodland’ tincture she’d made which included St John’s wort, hawthorn leaves and berries, sloes, pine and rosehips and although I can’t pretend it was delicious, with a base of vodka it certainly wasn’t unpleasant and it got me thinking about other traditional remedies using natural ingredients.

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We know that many prescription drugs are originally derived from natural sources and the World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of the population of some Asian and African countries use herbal medicine are part of their primary health care. We also know that there’s a long history of using plants as remedies although it’s worth remembering that until relatively recently these were the only ‘medicines’ available and just because they have been in existence for hundreds of years, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can be relied upon as effective treatments. Care should always be taken when self-medicating and medical advice sought for serious conditions. Nevertheless, interest in traditional remedies has increased as people have become more health conscious and more aware of the health benefits of natural ingredients and there is undoubtedly more to be learnt about the power of plants. Below is a selection of preparations and potions which are easy to make, using store-cupboard or common garden ingredients, and can be used as remedies for common complaints, not just in the winter season but throughout the year.

It is perhaps not very surprising that the hot concoction my friend suggested I drink was soothing. Honey and lemon have long been favoured as a cold and sore throat tonic and both turmeric and ginger are supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric has also been in the news recently as a possible preventative for several human diseases, including Alzheimer’s, although studies are not yet conclusive. When you are feeling stuffy and bunged-up, you often don’t feel like drinking tea or coffee, particularly with milk which can clog rather than ease congestion, so drinking something ‘clean’ tasting is certainly preferable.

Another remedy for the common cold and a traditional ‘favourite’ is the vitamin C boosting Rosehip Syrup. Ripe in autumn, rosehips can be harvested from the hedgerows when you gather your blackberries and sloes. The syrup was advocated during the Second World War when the importation of fresh fruit was severely limited. The syrup is delicious mixed with water as a cordial or with stronger mixers as a cocktail!

Method:

Gather about 1kg of fresh rosehips. Crush them (a potato masher is good for this) or chop and add to about 2 litres of boiling water. Bring back to the boil and then remove from the heat and leave to steep for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the mixture through muslin or a jelly bag and put aside the drained liquid. Repeat the process with the crushed rosehip pulp by adding a little more water to ensure you extract as much goodness as possible. Put both lots of strained liquid back into the pan and add 750g of granulated sugar for each litre of liquid you have. Bring to the boil for just a few minutes and then the syrup is ready to bottle. Some recipes suggest adding cinnamon and/or cloves to the syrup for extra flavour.   

Ginger is widely reported to alleviate travel sickness and general queasiness. Try crystallising pieces of fresh ginger for ease of use. Chop or slice the ginger and boil gently in water until al dente. Drain and add an equal amount of caster sugar to the weight of drained ginger in a pan with a small amount of water (just enough to wet the sugar). Simmer until the mixture becomes syrupy and then reduce the heat until it starts to crystallise. Tip the ginger into a bowl of caster sugar to coat each piece.  Store in a sterilised jar.

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One of the easiest home remedies must be Peppermint Tea, allegedly good for digestion and symptoms of IBS. Simply steep peppermint leaves in hot water (not boiling) for at least 5 minutes. It is also said to lesson wind and heartburn.

If you suffer from Athlete’s Foot, try making a crushed garlic, salt and cider vinegar mixture to dilute in warm water and then soak your feet (avoid using on broken skin though as the mix will certainly sting!). A few drops of tea tree oil in warm water will act as a less potent anti-fungal alternative!

To improve your circulation and prevent cold toes, try massaging chilli and mustard oil into your feet. Chop fresh red chillis and mix with sunflower oil, grated fresh ginger, black pepper and mustard powder. Warm the mixture gently for half an hour in a bowl resting on a saucepan of simmering water (a bain-marie). Strain and store in a jar.  

At this time of year, there is plenty of advice out there for beating the winter blues including making your environment brighter (either with artificial light or by simply sitting closer to the window and maximising the natural light in your house), keeping active and getting more exercise, particularly outside. We all know that a healthy diet will boost your mental well-being and give you more energy so make sure you balance your winter craving for carbs with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

If all this fails to do the trick, chocolate seems to be the answer to many complaints and certainly enhances my mood!   

And as for that winter cough and cold, it always seems to hit you when you stop and relax.  Perhaps the remedy is to just keep going… 

Next month, ‘free-from’ February. Gluten free, dairy free, sugar free etc.

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Forage a feast!

It’s been a very busy and eventful summer for us both in and out of the kitchen. We were honoured to be part of several fabulous garden parties and some simply stunning weddings this year which were, for the most part, celebrated in glorious sunshine.

However, autumn is now upon us. With hazy mornings and distinctly chilly evenings, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ has well and truly arrived. It has become extremely trendy to get out and about to take advantage of this fruitfulness; foraging along hedgerows, in meadows, woodland and parks. Foraging is not, of course, a new phenomenon; we’ve been gathering wild food as long as we’ve been eating and it wasn’t that long ago that it was part of day-to-day life in this country. There is food to be foraged all through the year but at this time, nature’s harvest does seem particularly plentiful.

Fruit and berries, leaves, nuts, fungi, are all available for the picking during autumn. Many have medicinal properties and were traditionally sought out as ‘food supplements’ and preserved in order to improve a limited diet during the winter months. Rose hips, for example, are known for their high vitamin C content and were commercially gathered during the Second World War as citrus fruit was hard to come by.

Food in the hedgerows

Rose hips…

...and blackberries

…and blackberries

Foraging for mushrooms has become so popular in recent years that there are fears that it might lead to varieties being wiped out in places like the New Forest and Epping Forest so the message is to forage responsibly and sustainably. Pick only what you are going to use; remember animals and birds often rely on these foods for their survival. Be absolutely clear about what you are picking; carefully identify and double check, particularly when it comes to mushrooms and if in doubt, leave well alone! There are several deadly mushrooms in this country and several others that will make you very ill.

Wild mushrooms

Wild mushrooms

Below, we’ve listed some of the top foods to forage at this time of year with suggestions of how they can be used. There are countless other examples of wild food available for the taking but thinking gastronomically, it is worth remembering that the only reasons for using an ingredient is because it enhances your dish and tastes good. Just because it’s foraged doesn’t necessarily mean it should be served up for dinner!

Top foods to forage at this time of year:

  • Crab apples – high in pectin so ideal for jam or jelly and particularly useful paired with low pectin fruit/berries. Use as you would apple and purée, juice or stew the fruit, remembering they are usually very tart and you will probably need to add more sugar or honey. Make chutney ready for Christmas or try poaching the apples (with their stems still attached) in sweet wine and spices to serve with a creamy cheese as a first course.

  • Rowan berries – traditionally used with crab apples to make a jelly (it is low in pectin so crab apples are a good partner) but also used as a sauce for game (they have a slight bitter taste which works well with rich meats) or in a fruit or tea loaf. Like other berries, rowan berries are apparently sweeter when gathered after a sharp frost.

  • Rose hips – Traditionally cooked with sugar and strained through a muslin to make syrup, cordial or jelly, rose hips are very high in vitamin C and A. Rose hip syrup is delicious poured over pancakes and ice cream or pour a little into a glass of chilled Prosecco. Also try making rose hip vinegar.

  • Blackberries – one of the best known wild hedgerow food. Bramble jelly is a firm favourite at FFO for an autumn cream tea and who doesn’t like a blackberry and apple crumble or pie? Blackberries are also delicious pickled and served with cheese or try making a sweet, rich liqueur to enjoy at Christmas, if you can wait that long!

  • Sloes – another hedgerow favourite and packed into bottles of gin by enthusiasts all over the country! Also try making sloe and apple jelly.

    Sloe Gin

    Sloe Gin

  • Damsons/Bullaces – both types of plum make very good jams, fruit cheeses and tarts or make a sweet damson vodka liqueur as an alternative to sloe gin.

  • Elderberries – elderberry vinegar or wine are popular uses for these black, jewel-like berries. Elderberry jelly is an excellent accompaniment to venison. Remember elderberries must be cooked before they are eaten as they are poisonous raw.

  • Wild Garlic – can be harvested throughout the year. Use the leaves in a stir-fry or salad or to add flavour to winter soups or stews.

  • Mushrooms – September and October are key months for picking mushrooms. Always cut mushrooms at the base rather than pulling them out of the ground, this way the mycelium won’t be damaged and the mushroom will be able to regenerate.

  • Seaweeds – use to accompany fish dishes, in stir-fries or in risottos. Don’t take the whole plant when harvesting, leave something to grow back!

  • Nuts – a rich source of protein and energy. Delicious roasted, use as the base for a vegetarian bake or tossed into a stir-fry. Soak, pulse with a little water and press through a muslin to make a dairy-free ‘milk’ or extract the oil to use for frying and dressings. In particular, look out for sweet chestnuts, cobnuts and beechnuts.

Happy picking!

Summer cooking with children

Summer Fruit

Summer Fruit

With a couple of weeks of the long holiday still to go, perhaps you’re looking for a few more ideas of things to do with the children this summer?!  Spending time in the kitchen might not be your first thought in the hot weather but cooking is an exciting and rewarding activity for children and you can certainly enjoy eating the delicious food you make with them outside in the sunshine even if the cooking is done inside.Many of us will remember cooking as a child with a parent or grandparent.  I have fond memories of baking with my mother or, if I’m totally honest, of licking the spoon and dipping my finger in the cake mixture but I did also learn key basic baking skills and started a life-long passion for cooking.

Although it would be true to say that cooking with children requires time and patience and there will inevitably be extra clearing-up and cleaning to consider, the rewards are well worth the effort.  It is well-documented that when children are involved in the preparation and cooking of food, they are more likely to eat it.  With today’s concerns about children’s nutrition it is now more important than ever to get them interested in trying healthy foods and children who learn to cook and eat well are also more likely to eat healthily as adults.  All in all cooking with your children is quality time spent together on a fun, hands-on, creative and ultimately valuable activity. 

It’s worth remembering that the whole process is a learning experience for children.  From the planning, shopping, weighing-out and preparation of ingredients to following a method, cooking techniques and skills, food hygiene and information about food sources and production, not to mention the tasting, the learning opportunities are plentiful.  Even children under the age of five can help with many of the activities; there is never a too young to get involved in the kitchen and of course never a too young to help with the clearing up! 

With the abundance of fresh vegetables, salad and fruit at this time of year, the summer is an ideal time to get children involved in the kitchen.  We’ve put together some seasonal recipes for you to make with your children or grandchildren this month. 

Encourage your children to eat more fruit by making these non-alcoholic cocktails with them.  Children will enjoy using the blender (under supervision of course!) and the idea of mixing up a ‘cocktail’ is sure to appeal!    

Shaken or stirred!

Children will also love making berry fruit jellies as they can be creative about choosing their own combination of fruit and layering it before pouring over the jelly and allowing it to set.  You can use a packet of jelly or try making your own using fruit juice and leaf gelatine.  For younger children, try making fruit kebabs allowing your child to come up with different combinations and sequences with the fruit.  For a little luxury, these could be served with a chocolate dipping sauce (white chocolate is particularly popular with children).  Fruit smoothies or fruit juice frozen in lolly moulds is a great treat when the weather is hot or try making a fruit sorbet, a winner with children and adults alike.   

Jelly & Sorbet!

Need an idea for a picnic or a tasty snack to take on a day out in the holidays?  Why not get your children to make these cereal bars for the family?  

Making burgers to cook on the barbecue in the summer is another great idea whatever your age.  Home-made burgers taste so much better than shop-bought ones and are really very simple to make.  The seasoning and additional flavours in this recipe can be adapted to suit individual tastes.

I remember making this lemon pudding as a child and we ate it both warm in the winter with pouring cream and cold in the summer with fresh berries.  It might not be particularly healthy but it does involve many cooking techniques for children to begin to get to grips with!

No cook cheesecake is another great idea to make with children.  To make the base, ask children to crush biscuits (place into a freezer bag, seal and encourage them to crush enthusiastically with a rolling pin!) and then help them to stir the biscuit crumbs into melted butter (the butter could be melted in the microwave rather than the hob if wanted).  Press down firmly in the tin before adding a creamy cheesecake topping.

Happy cooking!

Next month: Tips on which drinks to serve at a late summer party.

 

Blooming marvellous!

MarigoldsIt seems that using flowers in food and cooking has, well, blossomed in the last few years!  That’s not to say there is anything new in the idea though; in fact, flowers have been part of world cuisines for as long as some vegetables and fruit.  They’ve been used in the same way as herbs and spices to complement, enhance, add flavour to food or bring a splash of colour to the plate.  We know that roses were used in both cooking and medicine in Ancient Rome and violets and primroses have been eaten since the Middle Ages.  Flowers were particularly popular additions to salads in the Victorian era.  Saffron has long been used in world cooking to add both flavour and colour to food; just think Spanish paellas, Italian risottos, French bouillabaisses and Indian biryanis. 

Elderflowers

There are severaPimmsl familiar examples in our own food heritage.  Elderflower, used for cordials or wine, is an obvious example but who else remembers putting borage in their Pimms?  With a taste similar to cucumber, the leaves in particular work well in the classic summer drink but the slight peppery taste of the flowers means they have had a culinary use in this country since Medieval times. 

Nasturtiums

Another spicy tasting and versatile plant, the nasturtium was introduced into Europe in about the 18th century and has been used in cooking ever since.  The flowers and leaves are great in salads and the seed pods can be dried, ground and used as an alternative to pepper or soaked in vinegar and used as a substitute for capers (they are sometimes even referred to as ‘poor man’s capers’).  Nasturtium leaves are sometimes used as an interesting alternative to basil in a homemade pesto.          

Edible flowers are so much more than a pretty garnish.  Why not try some of these ideas:

  • Chive flowers look great on a potato salad but like the stems they have a subtle onion flavour that works particularly well with the earthy taste of new potatoes or try using the blossom to flavour a pot of sea salt
  • Use flowers to flavour vinaigrettes or marinades – basil or thyme flowers work well
  • Or try crushing peppery nasturtiums or citrus flavoured marigolds and mixing into softened butterDaylily
  • Daylilies have been eaten in China for centuries.  The flower buds add a lovely crunch to salads or try them sautéed or stir fried with vegetables

Courgette Flowers

Stuffed courgette flowers are popular in Mediterranean cuisines.  Try stuffing them with ricotta and herbs and deep-frying in an airy, light batter

Pink Rose

Rose petals are often used in desserts as their scented flavour works well in sweet recipe (Turkish Delight is an obvious example).  The best tasting roses are, of course, those with the best scent.  Try making rose petal jam or steep the petals in sugar syrup and use to poach strawberries or peaches

  • Infuse cream with chamomile before whipping to add another dimension to desserts, particularly good served with summer berries

LavendLavenderer is another versatile flower in cooking.  The flavour works well in both sweet and savoury dishes.  It is often paired with lemon; try making lavender shortbreads to serve with lemon posset or try roasting with a joint of lamb  

  • Crush pansies or violets and use to flavour buttercream.  Delicious on cup cakes or between layers of a sponge cake

Elderflower Cordial

  • Elderflowers make such a delicious cordial that it is a must-make each year in our kitchen but we also use the flower heads in the same way as rose petals, to flavour poaching syrups and liqueurs
  • We were first introduced to the idea of putting hibiscus flowers in champagne in Australia but jars of the flower buds preserved in syrup and ready to pop into a glass are now widely available in this country
  • Many edible flowers make lovely floral teas.  Calendula, chamomile, rose, rose geranium and hibiscus to name just a few.  Use on their own or combine with fruit or herbs

The flowers included above are probably the ones we use most often in the kitchen but there are many more out there.  We should point out that if you do use flowers in your cooking then make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides etc. and rinse them well if you have foraged from the wild.  Better still, grow your own then you’ll know what they’ve been exposed to!  There is wealth of information available on edible flowers but remember; never eat a plant that you can’t identify and if you are eating something for the first time, it is perhaps sensible to try a small amount just in case you discover it disagrees with you!    

Enjoy the sun and happy cooking!  

Spring forward!

Spring forward!

Time must surely be speeding up; it’s already March and it hardly feels like we’ve had time to adjust to the fact that it’s a new year.  What a start it’s been too; snow drifts, icy winds, lingering coughs and colds, more depressing news about the state of the economy…at least there are a few signs around that spring is just around the corner to give us a little lift! 

Thinking of springtime, new life, renewed energy (we hope!) etc. we’ve been making a few goals for the new season (much better than resolutions which often seem to be about depriving yourself of some of the few pleasures in life!).  They are all food related of course; well, what else would we be talking about?!             

  • Bake more bread – we’ve been making our own bread at home for many years now but we’re interested in trying out some of the alternatives to wheat, particularly as the number of people with intolerances seems to be on the rise.  We’ve already had good results with spelt but have yet to try khorasan wheat.  Although both are closely related to wheat and not gluten-free they are possibly more easily digested and certainly nutritious substitutes.  For gluten-free alternatives we know buckwheat flour makes good blini but it would be good to look into using it in other ways.  Amaranth and quinoa flours are also gluten-free, high-protein possibilities; does anyone have any experience of using them in baking?   
  • A proper cup of coffee in a proper coffee pot – well ok, the coffee pot’s not strictly necessary but we really think we should go to the trouble of making a cup of decent coffee if we want a drink.
    Coffee cups from Couvert, bespoke event hire in Surrey

    Coffee cups from Couvert, bespoke event hire in Surrey

     Trying different types of bean and from different countries for example or a new blend; on this note, there are 2 local roasteries we can recommend: Coffee Real and Beanberry who now roast on demand for the coffee house Pinnock’s in Ripley (the UK’s first drip coffee bar).

  • Buy fresh, buy seasonal, buy local – yes, we’ve said it before but it’s always worth reminding ourselves of it, particularly as the horse meat scandal still persists in the press.  This is in no way an excuse for false labelling but isn’t it true that you get what you pay for?  Anyone who has bought meat from an independent butcher knows this is true and is prepared to fork out a bit more to guarantee the quality of the food we eat.  Buy it local, buy it fresh and from known and trusted sources; what more is there to say?! 
  • Make more time to read and follow other people’s blogs – there are some amazing people, doing amazing things with food out there and the best part is they’re willing to share their ideas with us.  The least we can do is show some support!   
  • Spring clean the pantry – it seems a good time of year to check through our dried goods and have a bit of a clear out, particularly the spices and dried herbs.  Although they might not ‘go off’ in the way fresh produce does, their strength, taste and aroma does deteriorate over time.  We know most dried products should be kept away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight but we’ve been reading recently that chilli powder, paprika etc. are actually best kept in the fridge to maintain their colour (although this advice does seem to come from countries with considerably hotter climates than ours!).      
  • Get out and about – there’s nothing better than finding a hidden gastronomic gem.  A delicatessen, café, farmer’s market, specialist producer, ingredient etc. it’s exciting to discover something new for the first time, only trouble is they don’t stay hidden for long!     

Tell us about your goals for this spring!

 

 

 

It’s THAT time of year again!

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been up to our elbows in dried fruit and nuts, spices and an excess of brandy here in the FFO Kitchen as we’ve made preparations for the festive season.  We’re now well into the swing of things; sorting Christmas orders for cakes, puddings, mince pies, meals for those moments when friends and family drop in at short notice, chutneys, pickles, gift hampers… and that’s not to mention the drinks parties, dinners, carol concerts and winter weddings we’re also catering for!  With our new menus out, this time of year is always busy for us but it hasn’t been all work and no play; we’ve also found time to taste test some great new products and ingredients ready for winter entertaining.  There was great excitement in the kitchen last week when a new range of chocolate arrived for us to test in our desserts and this week we’ve put aside an hour or so to try some different coffee and tea blends.

Brandy soaked Christmas pud

Brandy soaked Christmas pud

When it comes to our own Christmases (it still seems a long way off at the moment, many mince pies still to make!) we’re anticipating the usual arguments at home over tradition vs. ‘something different’!  Should we eat turkey or goose on Christmas Day or go for venison, beef or perhaps rabbit this year?  Will it be fish again on Christmas Eve or shall we ring the changes with an Indian or Thai meal?  We’re about half and half in our families for those who’d welcome a bit of variation and those in favour of convention, although everyone seems to agree that whatever is eaten for the main course, there must be a Christmas pudding to follow, even if the alternatives turn out to be more popular!

We’re also about half and half of those in favour of or anti brussels sprouts; there would be outrage from some if they didn’t appear at the Christmas table but for others their absence certainly wouldn’t be missed!  If you are serving them this year, there are countless ways of adding a bit of interest; in the past we’ve shredded them and served with crushed juniper berries, tossed them with broken chestnut pieces, sautéed them with cubes of pancetta, added lemon and thyme or apple and walnut oil…no doubt they’ll appear in a new guise this year!

If you are looking to keep the Christmas flavours classic this year but would like to vary things just a little bit, why not try serving mulled cider (apple or pear) or white wine?  You can use the same spices that you would for mulled red wine (try experimenting with cardamon and star anise) but honey works well instead of sugar and ginger and slices of apple (and some juice) are also good additions.

Don’t forget to look out for those ingredients in season and at their best at this time of year.  Among the highlights:

rabbit, goose, mackerel, apples, pears, celeriac, brussels sprouts, turnips, beetroot, salsify, jerusalem artichokes, leeks, chestnuts, wild mushrooms…

So, what was on the menu 25 years ago?

So, what was on the menu 25 years ago?

When we first started cooking in the 1980s, Mediterranean flavours were all the rage: sundried tomatoes, olives and olive oil, antipasti, pesto, hummus etc.  Pasta, in all its different forms and varieties was widely popular and pizza restaurants were well established and well frequented (as they are today of course, though this was before eating carbohydrate heavy meals had become frowned upon!).

There was also great enthusiasm for microwave and ready meals, fast food and take away, instant and convenient, packets, packaging and generally all that was over processed and over produced.  Well, just because something’s popular…!   

In restaurants, French influences prevailed.  Reductions and emulsions, glazes and purées spattered the menu and in the nouvelle cuisine fashion, greater attention was being paid to aesthetics although, sadly, this was sometimes over taste.     

Today, you are more likely to see gels, jellies, foams, alginate pearls and other chemistry wizardry on the menu.  There are new ingredients and old or forgotten ones to taste and a greater concern for sustainability and fresh, local and seasonal produce.  

A First Course from our 2012 Spring/Summer Menu

For nostalgia’s sake, we thought we’d hunt out a recipe from our early cooking days to share with you.  Some ingredient combinations really do stand the test of time! 

(Click on either picture below to take you to the recipe).

An old favourite…

Happy Cooking!