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Back to Work and a couple of Quick and Easy Recipes

Hello!

This is a bit of a catch-up post today as I have started back at work again so am currently struggling to find the time to write on here every day while I get back into the swing of things.

I had a look back at a few of my blog posts from this time last year when I was just starting at my school and it has made me realise how different I feel this time around. I think part of it was a slight fear of the unknown but I am definitely much happier going back to work this September. I feel rested after a lovely summer off and my new class seem absolutely gorgeous! This may be the calm before the storm but so far, so good!

It has however been a bit of a shock to the system having to get up early again, be on my feet all day and make what feels like a thousand important decisions a day again. I finished work on Friday feeling quite worn out so made sure we had a lovely chilled-out weekend.

This didn’t quite go to plan when we headed up to the local pub for a few Thank-God-it’s-Friday drinks and soon realised that, in our haste to get there and start on the beers, neither of us had a key with us! Cue some tall ladders and Ian scrambling through an upstairs window!

Our house is a bit chaotic at the moment as we are having a new bathroom fitted next week. Here is our hallway at the moment:

Just out of shot is the new bath tub which is positioned so close to the front door that you have to kind of shuffle into the house through a half-open doorway! One of the spare bedrooms upstairs is filled with tiles and grout and the bathroom itself looks like a building site with bare plaster on the walls and half the floor missing…watch this space for the finished results!

My Dad is staying with us this week to help with the decorating and tiling which means we get a week of delicious home-cooked meals! On Friday it was steak:

Last night was a BBQ:

And tonight we have a poussin each currently roasting in the oven!

I am absolutely loving this weather at the moment, and it has made the early mornings that little bit more bearable; lovely refreshing mornings and sunny afternoons.

We spent all day yesterday in the garden, tidying it up  and cutting back all the weeds that seem to have flourished over the wet summer we have had. I am ashamed to say that I actually found a stinging nettle that was taller than me, which made me feel like we really had neglected our garden!

In between working in the sun, we had lots of drink and snack breaks and I whipped up a batch of iced coffees which turned out to be a lovely and refreshing drink with that added caffeine hit to keep you going!

There are pages and pages of literature online dedicated to making the perfect iced coffee drink involving cold brewing, leaving the liquid overnight stewing and all manner of other tips. I however just wanted something quick and easy so I simply brewed a couple of shot of espresso (by the way, a major pet hate of mine is people using the word expresso!) from our coffee machine, added some sugar and then milk until it was the colour of a latte.

As it was the weekend I also poured in a shot of amaretto liquor (!) but you can leave it as ordinary coffee or add another flavoured syrup.

I then popped this lukewarm concoction in the freezer for an hour or so  until it was nice and chilled. You can pop a couple of ice cubes into the coffee at this stage to speed up the chilling but be careful not to put too many in or it will dilute the coffee too much.

Serve with lots of ice. I was really excited to use my new vintage milk bottles to serve these in and they looked lovely in their white tray:

For me, there was only one possible option for dinner last night to make the most of this sunshine…BBQ!

I wanted to share my new favourite canapé that was served at the wedding I went to last weekend and I have now nicked and will totally claim as my own at future dinner parties! On a cocktail stick, simply pop on a slice of chorizo, a cube of hard goats cheese and a piece of sundried tomato…easy yet absolutely gorgeous!

My Dad made some substantial burgers to go on the grill, with a surprise filling of blue cheese which had melted and made for the most gooey, delicious and flavoured burgers.

Having cleared lots of wood, weeds and other junk out of the garden yesterday we had a huge bonfire to keep us warm as the night drew in and the temperature dropped…

…although the flames did get a bit wild at one point !

I am hoping this lovely weather continues for a bit longer as the seasons slowly shift. I found these gorgeous colourful leaves yesterday and already my mind has started to wander to Autumn and crunchy leaves, bonfire night, comfort food, scarves and mulled cider!

Recipe – Elderflower Cordial

I love elderflower cordial and I seem to spend a lot of money on buying it from the supermarket.

Seeing as homemade versions of these things nearly always taste better, I was looking forward to making my own this year.

And after seeing how easy it was and how lovely the results were from only 4 ingredients, I’m not sure why I haven’t done it sooner!

I was very happy to discover lots of elderflower bushes bordering our school field so I sent my kids out to fill some carrier bags for me!

I feel I should warn you that the freshly picked elderflower heads have a very pungent smell!

You can do so much with this cordial once it is ready. On a hot day, it is the ultimate thrist quencher mixed with cold sparkling water or lemonade and served with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint.

You can also make it a bit more adult by adding it to a white wine spritzer, gin, vodka or my personal favourite which is in some champagne or prosecco.

Another idea I have seen is to freeze the cordial in ice cube trays so you can just pop them into sparkling water when you want them and it ensures the drink will be ice cold.

Elderflower cordial does not just have to be limited to drinks either. You can use it to flavour ice cream and sorbet, drizzle it over strawberries, make a jelly or a jam from it or even add a glug into your next crumble…endless possibilities!

Ingredients

About 30 elderflower heads

4 lemons, juice and zest

1kg of caster sugar

1 litre of water

How to make it

  • Shake the flower heads to get rid of any lingering bugs
  • Strip the little white flowers from the stems and put in a large saucepan
  • Add the juice and zest of the lemons into the pan
  • Stir it up so the lemon mixes throughout the flower heads
  • In a separate pan, add the sugar and water and cook on a high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the water goes clear
  • Allow it to boil for a few minutes
  • Pour the syrup over the elderflowers and lemons and stir
  • Pop a lid on the pan and allow to ‘brew’ for about 3 days
  • After 3 days, pass the liquid through a fine sieve and bottle it
  • I got this much from the amount above
  • Enjoy on a hot summer’s day…if we ever get one!

Buns, Bruschetta and Bonfires

This has been a week of firsts…

We have enjoyed our first hot-cross buns of the year, a monumental event I think you’ll agree! What a delightful breakfast; a bit spicy, a bit sticky and perfect with butter melting on the top. They are one of those things, like pancakes, that we should be eating all year round!

The first Pimms cocktail of the season has been polished off. My lovely limited edition bottle (thanks Sandy!) didn’t last long and we enjoyed a few glasses in the sun. This traditional British summer drink, with its lovely warm citrusy notes, reminds me of sitting with a good book in the sun and I can foresee lots more of it being drunk this summer!

It does divide people though; do you keep it as a minimalist cocktail, with just some ice and lemonade, or go the whole hog and turn it into a boozy fruit salad, with strawberries, apples, oranges and cucumber? I went somewhere in the middle this week with some cucumber and mint for good measure.

Finally we had our first bonfire in the fire pit. We spent last weekend clearing out a lot of dead plants from the garden and decided that burning it was a much more fun way to get rid of it compared to a trip to the skip or putting it in the recycling bin!

The stars and moon were shining brightly, so armed with glasses of red wine we headed outside to watch the sparks fly and even though we came in absolutely stinking of smoke, it was so worth it!

Today’s post isn’t really a recipe but more of a suggestion for some good bruschetta ideas.

These little Italian treats are great for using up a bounty of in-season vegetables and even when you keep it simple, with just some garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, they are still delicious.

We had this tray of bruschetta as a starter, but I would have been quite happy making it our main course!

Here are some of the combinations we had:

  • Tomato and parmesan cheese
  • Sundried tomatoes, anchovies and goats cheese
  • Basil pesto and goats cheese

I love topping bruschetta with cheese; brie, goats cheese, parmesan, cheddar…I’m not too fussy as long as it melts and adds a lovely gooey top layer!

Finally, I wanted to share another gift from my garden – these gorgeous sunshine-coloured tulips which look even better basking in the sunshine.

Pomegranate Punch

We had a power cut yesterday evening. The whole village was plunged into darkness, which meant torches were grabbed, candles were lit and all the surrounding houses had a warm glow coming out from behind the curtains. It looked so cosy that I was almost disappointed when the power came back on!

Lots of neighbours were popping next door to check on people, which made me feel really happy to be living in a village that has that kind of community feeling where we all look out for each other.

It did of course mean we had to create our own fun, so out came the ukulele and I played the only two tunes I currently know, until I was finally asked to stop! Hehe

We now need to try and figure out how to reset all the timers on various kitchen equipment, and catch up on the new series of The Apprentice!

My Dad is still staying with us meaning we have had dish after dish of gorgeous home-cooked food;

Ribs (which were left to marinate and tenderise in a brine before being cooked until they were literally falling off the bone)

And Chicken Cacciatore, a lovely Italian dish

It is lovely to be able to come home after a long day at school and not have to worry about cooking, although his services don’t include the washing up!

Today’s quick recipe is for a summery punch, and it also meant I got to use my new stripy straws for the first time!

I can see myself making this cocktail time and time again over the summer. The pomegranate is sweet, yet crisp, and mint adds a refreshing element to the drink. I made this sans alcohol, but I plan to experiment with adding dashes of vodka and amaretto to it too.

Ingredients

Pomegranate juice

Fresh mint

Sparkling water or lemonade

A teaspoon of sugar (optional)

How to make it

  • Begin by picking sprigs of mint and tearing them to release their sweet flavour
  • Put the mint in the bottom of the glass or jug and fill it roughly two thirds full with pomegranate juice then top with the sparkling water
  • Add the sugar if needed and give it a stir
  • After a few minutes, the mint will start to infuse so enjoy over ice, with pretty straws and preferably in the sun!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ok, I know it is a bit of a cheesy and commercialised day, but like it or not it is tradition and I don’t see anything wrong with an excuse for a nice dinner and a little token of your affection for your loved one.

I wanted to post this yesterday but that would mean spoiling the surprise for Ian so I am posting this early today for those that are planning to do a mad dash into town during your lunch hour to grab a gift!

For a present with a personalised touch, you cannot go wrong with a mini food hamper. All you will need is:

  • A nice box
  • Some pretty paper (pinks and reds are best)
  • A selection of foodie goodies

Simply line your box with the paper and fill with a range of treats that you know your partner will adore. I always think it’s nice to have a combination of items they love and something they would like to try.

For me that included:

  • A good local ale
  • Some interesting looking savoury popcorn (I fear this may invoke a love/hate reaction!)
  • His favourite biscuits
  • Chocolate
  • Something sweet (we both love Amaretto!)
  • Something savoury
  • Something fishy
  • And finally, something they can have for lunch today

Pop it all in the box, along with your card, and there you have it – a thoughtful gift that you know they will love and which will definitely earn you some brownie points!

These mini-hampers are a great idea for birthday presents and you can theme them too – if you know your friend loves Indian food then why not buy them a selection of Indian spices so they can try and recreate their favourite dishes at home? Or if you have a friend who is a keen baker then some pretty cupcake cases and a range of cake toppings will go down a treat!