Category Archives: Cooking

From frosty leeks to hearty winter leek and potato soup

Post-Christmas we often turn to soup as a way of getting over the inevitable feeling of over-indulgence. For a home-grown homemade ingredient, this time of year is all about leeks for us in the Willow Cottage Garden. So rather inevitably soup du month is leek and potato.

This morning was one of those beautiful winter frosty mornings. Fantastic for walking the dog, but not so great for harvesting a couple of rows of leeks. I always find prepping leeks a bit of a faff to be honest, so prefer to do more han I need when I’ve got the time to do it. The frosty leaks were frozen through. They haven’t been looking so great this year either, but we had plenty for what I needed today.

Frost leeks

Frosty leeks


I use the spade to do some of the rough trimming of the roots and leaves which saves bringing any of the mud (and lumps of clay) into the house.

Leek trimmings

Leek trimmings, for the compost when I warm up


My hands were so frozen I’ve decided to leave these for when I’ve warmed up a bit and can pop them onto the compost heap.

Next up is cleaning the leeks up for cooking. I usually do this in the sink, and drop the trimmings straight into a bucket. 

Prepping leeks

Prepping the leeks


One thing I’ll never understand is how bits of mud work their way right into the leaves of the leek. It’s impo rant to get the mud out or you’ll end up with gritty soup!

Cleaning leeks

How does the mud get in here?


Onto cooking…
Ingredients (for serving 4-6)

Butter for softening onions and leeks

1 onion, diced

225g/8oz potatoes, cubed

2 medium leeks,sliced

1.2 litres/2 pints vegetable stock

150ml/5fl oz double cream, crème fraîche or a pinch of greated cheddar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Homegrown leeks and onions

Homegrown leeks and onions


Method

1. Soften the leeks and onions in a pan. Add the potatoes and cook for three to four minutes.

Softening leeks

Softening leeks. I do this in a frying pan then add to the soup pot.

2. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Add seasoning and simmer until the potatoes are soft.

3. Blend the indregients together. Reheat and add the cream, crème fraîche or cheese to serve.

Leek and potato soup

Leek and potato soup, with cheddar cheese


Yum, and now I’ve warmed up, back to the garden!

Him

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Beautiful berries – raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, red currants and dessert gooseberries.

The berry patch looks like a jungle; all the rain has produced loads of lush green growth that has tangled together. The fruitcage looks like it may fall down at any moment, but  it is doing its job. The birds seem to be leaving the berries alone and despite the weather the berries  are ripening.

Picking them is not for the faint hearted as you really do need to fight your way in. During a break in the rain this afternoon, I braved the jungle and was rewarded with a fine selection of produce!

There are still many un-ripened berries on the bushes with no sign of any blueberries yet. I picked a few from each bush but the glut has still to appear.

I think the first berry crop needs to be eaten as it is, fresh and unaltered. Others I will jam, freeze, stew and jelly but these I think will just be enjoyed in the pure form – yummy! I love the taste of fresh summer berries and hope this harvest will be the first of many more.

Can you spot the glimmer of berries hidden in the bushy, wild and overgrown fruit cage?

The only pests we have are slugs! They have been having a wonderful  munch on my strawberries that I having lovingly tended all spring.  The straw surrounding them is very soggy, probably providing a cosy home for slugs and snails. Hubby suggested a beer trap – I think I will give it a try!

Her x

First garden grown meal of the year – homemade minestrone and fresh stawberries (not together)!

The garden is soggy but productive. We have not spent as much time out there as we would want to; the rain has been horrid and the packing has kept us busy. I thought I would have a wander down the garden this week to see what I could find.

I was delighted to pick the following selection of lovely garden yummyness.

If you look carefully you may spot courgettes, baby carrots, celery, fennel, spinach, purple sprouting broccoli, new potatoes and spring onions.

This all inspired me to turn it into a hearty minestrone soup.

I only added some tinned tomatoes, chorizo (to provide a depth of flavour), ready cooked leftover pasta and some stock. The result was delicious and is always a favourite in our house. It’s never the same twice and is a great way of using up a vast selection of pickings.

This is even better the next day, so we make plenty!

To top it all, as I was picking the spinach I noticed a glimmer of red in the fruit cage, could it be? Yes, we have our first ripe strawberries!

The other berries were not quite ripe but these tasted great as they were.

Her x

Birthday cake – Big Girl’s 10th birthday!

Birthday cakes in our house are long thought about creations that the birthday child gets to choose.

Last year’s cake had a long story behind it. It was a wonderful creation produced by a lovely friend. This year it was going to be hard to beat it, so I didn’t even try, I just let my daughter decorate her cake herself. She did a wonderful job and the end result was fantastic.

We had bought some food colouring pens that provided the initial idea.  We made a chocolate cake and iced it with a plain ready roll icing. The rest was up to her…

She was so careful and creative. It was a wonderful way to involve her in the party preparations and the other children have already requested a decorate- your-own cake for their next birthday!

She also made some thank you party biscuits to give out at the end of the party.

It was a great day and a great way to celebrate a 10th birthday!

Her x

Homemade birthday party thank you biscuits

We have just celebrated a 10th birthday in our house. It was fab and the Big Girl absolutely loved it. She particularly loved getting involved in the preparation for the party. I thought I would share some of our ideas.

These are chocolate chip biscuits with a cut out of ready roll white icing stuck on with apricot jam.  They are decorated with some fantastic food colouring pens.  My daughter enjoyed making these all herself!

These are the food colouring felt tip pens. I am not a big fan of food colouring usually but as it’s a party, I thought a little couldn’t hurt!

After decorating they were packaged in little cellophane bags ready to give out to the guests at home-time.

Even the rest of the family wanted to have a go…

In fact you could use this idea to make biscuits for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter or just as gifts.

Happy making!

Her x

Party ideas for a girl’s 10th birthday party

Birthday’s can be a really tricky to get right. I really like a good home party and have put together a list of things we recently did at my daughters 10th party. It was a huge success and we have had loads of requests for a repeat next year. The party lasted two hours and we filled the time perfectly.

Meet and greet over fruit cocktails.
We printed out a menu and the girls enjoyed mixing up their own drinks.

We provided plenty of juice and mixers for the cocktails.

We provided water play in the garden.
We had a water slide that you plug into the hose pipe. This provided endless fun. It was helped along by some washing-up liquid to make it extra slippery!

We ate party food.

After a few savoury snacks we provided all the ingredients for ice cream sundaes. The girls loved inventing their own desserts!

We served the ice creams in my vintage ice cream bowls and used a random selection of glasses too. The overall effect was beautiful and was appreciated by the girls. I think they noticed we trusted them with glass rather than the usual paper party bowls.


We had cake.

We ended with party bags and thank you biscuits.

The party bags contained a tatoo, bath confetti ( from a multi pack I split-up) and a few sweets. They looked great with some printed labelled attached – all put together by my daughter!

I will post separately about these biscuits – they were so easy and can be adapted for any occasion!

I can’t believe my Big Girl is 10. The time has flown by. The children are growing faster than the weeds in our garden.

Her x

Chocolate jubilee birthday cake

I made a cake this weekend for my brother-in-law’s birthday. He loves chocolate so the flavour was sorted, I just had to decide how to decorate it. I felt inspired my the recent jubilee celebrations and decided to go for a Union Jack. Some red, white and blue M&M’s on offer at the local supermarket sealed the deal.

I had two little helpers (both the girls) and we were all really pleased with the result.

 

 

The peanut M&M’s are stuck on nicely with chocolate ganache (150ml double cream heated with 150g of chocolate). The ganache makes a good (and tasty) coating for the cake. The cake is edged with Cadbury’s chocolate fingers and finished with some red ribbon.

The children enjoyed copying a picture of the Union Jack – a bit like painting by numbers! I would recommend this method of cake decorating.

 

 

The cake itself is a duck egg sponge. I am always looking for ways to use up my eggs and making huge sponge cakes can easily take 6-8 eggs.

In fact I will be posting more about my egg mountain later this week.

Her x