Friday, 13 December 2013

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Sloe Whisky

I'm a big fan of Sloe gin, but the pursuit of different ways of using my wild gatherings is an addictive and enjoyable one. A fruit-whisky-sugar combination works fabulously well in the Scottish classic Cranachan; I see no reason why this should be any least successful. High hopes rest on getting a bit of game involved with the soon-to-be ruby mixture during the cold winter months of the new year, not to mention a cocktail or two.
40cl Whisky (it's best not to use anything to fancy/expensive, in a similar fashion to Sloe Gin making)
125g Granulated sugar
Roughly two large handfuls of Sloes
Half a cinnamon stick
A couple of cloves
Pour the sugar into a bottle with the Whisky, add the spices and then fill to the rim with sloes. Gently agitate the bottle daily for the first 7 days and weekly thereafter to help everything blend together. It'll taste good after about three months, but patience is rewarded.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Pumpkin gnocchi with wild mushroom and chestnut butter

29th October
The willows seem to have been worse affected by the storm. Jagged splinters of wood fissure skyward along the river bank as we trudge down the hill towards the wood; the weather is brooding and unsettled. Clear blue sky and blazing sun one moment, a dark cloak of slate cloud and rain the other - we shelter under an old Oak during one particularly enthusiastic monsoon and stumble upon a large Hen of the woods mushroom nestling at the base of the trunk. Teamed with a pocketful of Sweet Chestnuts that we found earlier on in the walk, lunch appears to be gradually coming together. This is the beauty of foraging for me - the element of chance involved in any one given foray. You can use pumpkin or squash in this recipe; a sprinkle of crispy sage leaves are a worthy addition if you have them at hand.

600g Pumpkin, skin removed and cut into chunks
Fresh Thyme
Freshly ground nutmeg
Olive oil
3/4 Pint chicken stock
200g Plain flour
A handful of wild mushrooms (I used Hen of the woods, but shop-bought mushrooms work equally well)
1 Garlic clove, finely chopped
1Tbsp Chopped roast chestnuts
A large knob of Butter

1 Heat the oven to 180c/160c fan/Gas 4. Spread the pumpkin chunks out evenly in a large roasting tin. Season, add a drizzle of olive oil, teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves and a pinch of nutmeg, then roast in the oven for 30 minutes.
2 While the pumpkin is roasting, heat the stock in a saucepan. Add the roasted pumpkin to a blender, then pour over the stock. Blitz until you have a smooth, thick, soup-like mixture, then pour back into the pan.
3 Keep the pumpkin mixture on a low heat and slowly sieve in the flour, stirring continuously as you do so. It'll gradually start to thicken to a dough-like consistency. Spoon into a bowl and leave to cool.
4 There are plenty of ways of shaping gnocchi, but in this instance I found this technique to be a quick and easy way that suits the dough consistency of this recipe. Take two spoons. Use one spoon to chop off a gnocchi-sized portion of mixture in the bowl, then scoop up using the side of the bowl to form a rugby ball-shaped gnocchi as you do so (see step pic). Use to second spoon to scoop underneath the little gnocchis (gnocchlets?) and let them drop into a hot oiled pan. Fry until golden.
5 Melt the butter in a pan with the garlic, then soften the mushrooms in the hot butter for 5 minutes. Just before serving stir in the chopped chestnuts then spoon over the crispy gnocchi.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Friday, 26 July 2013

Crispy chicken thighs with griddled peaches, rosemary and honey

The promise of a glut of Autumnal fruit is swelling in the hedgerows. I think that our year of strange weather has been beneficial in it's own off-kilter way; the brambles along the lane jostle with little green blackberries, while there also looks to be a good crop of Wild cherry plums (albeit a late one, as everything is this year). In the interim we're making the best of the strawberries from the Pick your own, plus sunshine fruits like peaches and apricots. This subtly spiced chicken dish is perfect for a dusky evening supper, washed down with a crisp glass of dry rose.

2Tbsp Plain flour
2Tsp Ground cumin
6 Chicken thighs (skin left on)
3 Large peaches, cut in half with stones removed
A sprig of rosemary, leaves stripped from stem
2 Red onions, roughly chopped
2 Garlic cloves, crushed
1 Cinnamon stick
2 Star anise
2Tbsp Honey
Salt & pepper

1 Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Mix the flour and cumin on a plate with a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Coat the chicken in the flour, then fry in a splash of oil until golden. Pop onto a baking dish and cook in the oven for 25 minutes.
2 While the chicken is cooking, drain any excess fat from the frying pan and place back on the heat. Add the rosemary, garlic, onions, cinnamon and star anise, then keep on low so that the onions start to soften. Heat a griddle pan with a brush of olive oil, then cook the peach halves; cut side down first, then for a slightly shorter time on the underside.
3 Stir the honey into the softened onions, then spoon over the chicken and peaches.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Gooseberry and elderflower pies

I love the ease of a free-form fruit pie. No need for a tin or dish; just gather up the sides of the pastry and carefully press around the filling. You've essentially created a scruffy-looking pastry bowl; one that looks all the better for it's irregularity and absence of uniformity. Gooseberries are at their best right now; there's a wonderful Pick Your Own just down the road from us, and these little jade marvels were half the price of the Strawberries a few rows down - always a bonus. Makes 4 small pies.

700g Gooseberries
100g Granulated sugar
A generous splash of Elderflower cordial
600g Shortcrust pastry
1 Egg, beaten
Demerara sugar

1 Heat your oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Simmer the gooseberries on a low heat with the sugar and elderflower cordial for about 5 minutes; the berries need to soften slightly but still retain their shape.
2 Roll the pastry out on a floured surface until approximately 3mm thick. Place a dinner plate onto the pastry before trimming to leave a circular disc of pastry. Gently position a smaller, saucer-sized plate in the centre of the disc, then use the blunt back edge of a knife to lightly score an inner circle.
3 Spoon gooseberries into the inner circle, taking care not to go over the score line. Bring the pastry sides up around the sides of the filling, then shape around the fruit. If the filling sits a bit low in the pie once the sides have been brought up, spoon in a few more gooseberries. Brush the pastry with beaten egg, then sprinkle with Demerara sugar.
4 Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and crumbly. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whatever takes your fancy.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Spring foraging

Pic 1
• Wild sorrel

Pic 2
• Ramsons
• Garlic mustard (Jack-by-the-hedge)
• Wild sorrel
• Wild mint
• Vetch shoots

Friday, 10 May 2013

Spiced roast lamb with lentil & tomato salad

Recipe and Food styling: Jane Hornby
Prop styling: Polly Webb-Wilson

Monday, 22 April 2013

Mussels steamed in cider with hop shoots

This is our first spring in the new house. The garden cautiously brushes colour onto the bare branches and weather-beaten soil; previously concealed Primroses, Crab apple blossom and Sweet violets emerge in a gentle April flourish. Part of the joy of being new to the area is discovering what the nearby hedgerows have to offer; this morning Amelie and I found an expanse of hop shoots growing just yards from our front door; hence their inclusion in this quick mussel recipe...

1.5kg Fresh mussels, rinsed and de-bearded
A good handful of fresh Hop shoots
2 Banana shallots, finely chopped
A wine glass of dry cider
Olive oil
Finely chopped Ramsons to serve (optional)

In a large pan, soften the shallots in a little olive oil for about five minutes, then stir in the hop shoots for a further three. Tip in the mussels, pour over the cider and then pop the lid on the pan. Cook for about six minutes, until all of the mussels have opened. Serve with a sprinkle of finely chopped Ramsons and crusty bread.

Monday, 15 April 2013

10 Food photography tips for beginners

This piece originally ran on last year. I've been getting a number of Twitter messages and emails recently asking for advice on how to get started with food photography and styling, so thought I'd put it up on the blog. These ten points are only the merest tip of the iceberg (lettuce?), but I hope that you might find them useful...

1. Get the right kit
It's a myth that you need a super-wow camera to take nice food photographs. Entry-level DSLRs are quite reasonably priced these days and if you're shooting for a blog, the picture quality will be more than adequate. It's worth investing in a nice lens if you're feeling flush, but I honestly think it's how you apply the technology you have that really matters.

2. Try not to use a flash
Camera-mounted flashes are pretty much off-limits for food photographers; pouring in light front-on will flatten your dish and dispel any delicate natural shadows that were present beforehand. Unless you have access to specialist studio lighting equipment, your best bet is to…

3. Always carry a tripod
Poor light is just one of those things. Having said that, there's nothing worse than getting the composition spot on, only to discover when you get home that camera shake has rendered your shot a grim, blurry affair. If you're using a DSLR, any exposure longer than a 1/60 of a second could really do with the aid of a tripod.

4. Choose props carefully
While your viewer may only acknowledge them on a subconscious level, the choice of tablecloth/surface, plate and cutlery all subtly contribute to the mood and success of your shot.
5. Find the best angle
Certain recipes have a strong graphic identity and will look striking when photographed from directly above, while other subjects (tiered cakes being a good example) often need to be shot from a lower angle. Try to get your composition in place in advance so that you can concentrate on the food when it's ready to photograph; you don't really want to be worrying about glassware, cutlery and napkin placement when the dish is ready.

6. Trust your instincts when a composition isn't working
If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Break the set down and start again; you'll probably bring in a few elements from your previous composition, but often it's good to re-approach an idea from a different angle.
7. Don't let the food sit around for too long
Many herbs and salad leaves (coriander being a perennial offender) whither at the mere sight of a camera; the longer your dish hangs around, the more it starts to look tired and un-appetizing. Food like meat begins to dry out quickly on set and will benefit from a light brush of oil, but be careful not to overdo it otherwise it'll start to look greasy.

8. Honour the accident
If you're taking a slice from a cake and a few crumbs fall onto the tabletop, have a quick look through the lens - it might be worth leaving them there. A bit of mess adds charm and can make a recipe more approachable to the viewer; sometimes rigid perfection makes the prospect of re-creating a dish oneself feel like a daunting one.

9. Give it a spritz
When taking still-life pictures of fruit & veg a few misty bursts of water with an atomizer (Muji have a good selection) can transform a shot. Subjects that looked a bit lifeless will appear as if they've been plucked from a crisp, dewy garden.

10. Be prepared
As odd as it may sound, I always have a few props rattling around in my bag wherever I go. From a distance it may sound like there's a one man band approaching, but there's always the chance you're going to stumble across the juiciest wild strawberries you've ever seen down a quiet lane and need something at hand to photograph them in.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Forager's cookcard #3: Sea beet

It's widely thought that all of our domesticated Beetroot varieties were originally cultivated from Sea beet. There's a familiar, beetroot note to the raw leaves, which narrow to a spear headed point in much the same way as its garden-dwelling cousin. As the name would suggest, it almost exclusively favours the coast; I've found it in abundance from the beaches of Devon to the furthest reaches of Cornwall. 

Try cutting a large handful of leaves into thin ribbons, sauteing them gently with a finely chopped onion in olive oil, before stirring in cooked orzo pasta and finely chopped Ramson leaves. Serve with grated Pecorino and a good grind of black pepper.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Migas with fried Quail's eggs

This is my take on the popular Spanish dish Migas. Recipes differ from region to region; more than often chorizo is used in addition to the bacon. I've tried to adhere to a breakfasty ethos with my ingredient selection here, but the dish can be easily adapted to include chorizo. Serves 2.

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped into small pieces
A large chunk of stale white bread
2 large garlic cloves, grated
2Tsp smoked paprika
1Tsp dried oregano
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley
6 Quail's eggs

1 Tear the bread into small pieces (alternatively, give the bread a brief whizz in a food processor - not too much though, you don't want fine breadcrumbs). 
2 Fry the bacon in a glug of olive oil until crispy, then add the garlic. After a minute or so stir in the bread (you might need an extra splash of oil at this point); fry until it starts to take on some colour, then add the paprika, oregano and some seasoning. Keep on the heat until the bread is golden.
3 Serve with fried Quail's eggs and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Sage and thyme calves' liver with wild mushrooms and pancetta

Shot for BBC Good Food Magazine, April '13 issue
Recipe: James Martin
Prop styling: Polly Webb-Wilson
Food styling: Jane Hornby

Thursday, 10 January 2013


Food styling: Cassie Best
Prop styling: Sue rowlands

Monday, 7 January 2013

Roast chicken, squash and juniper one-pot

Juniper is a wild quarry that stubbornly continues to evade my capture. I've trudged through untold heaths in search of its dark, indigo-hued berries, but I fear the odds are against me. Juniper’s fruit ripens only once every two years, so even if I do ever chance upon one, it could be a lengthy wait. Juniper and Squash/Pumpkin work wonderfully well together, especially in this Wintry one-pot that uses up leftovers from a roast chicken.

200g Roughly torn roasted chicken
A medium-sized Butternut squash, skin removed, de-seeded and cut into 2cm cubes.
1 Onion, cut into wedges
1 Garlic clove
A dozen Juniper berries, crushed gently (but not too much)
A sprig of Rosemary, leaves stripped from the stalk

Bay leaves
About a pint of chicken stock

1 Heat oven to 180C/160C/gas 4. In an oven and hob-proof dish, Gently heat the garlic and rosemary in a splash of olive oil, before adding the onion. Stir through for a few minutes, then add the chicken, squash and juniper berries. Let everything get to know each other on the heat for a further 5 minutes, season, then pour in the stock.
2 Pop a lid on the dish and cook in the oven for 30 minutes, or until a sharp knife easily slips through a chunk of squash.