Once upon a time, I created a character – Maxine Henderson, although she prefers to be called Max. Max lived in Brookford, a village in The Cotswolds, worked at Blossoms and Buds, the village garden centre, and wrote a monthly newsletter known as Harvest Happenings. In Harvest Happenings she wrote about what was in season and what you could do with it – and given that Max had spent much of her childhood helping her grandfather Horrie in the local allotment she knew a thing or two about vegetables. She also knew a thing or two about baking.
The garden centre has since been taken over by one of those national franchises – not that it matters, Max now lives in Queenstown and spends her time baking in Jess Fletcher’s café on the lake – Beach Road. She has a blog, of sorts called Rambling Rose – a play on both her English and horticultural background.
When I decided I needed somewhere to record the recipes from my novels I decided to go with Max’ example – but Rambling Rose was already taken. Brookford Kitchen Diaries, however, was not.
It’s here that you’ll find recipes from all of my novels – as I add them, that is. You’ll also find recipes that I’m faffing about with for new novels, and recipes inspired by books I’m reading.
Inspired by the women of The Cotswolds Culinary and Cookbook Society, I’ll also be posting a cookbook of the month here – sort of like a virtual cookbook club.
Finally, coming soon will be Brookford Bakes – a series of interviews with other writers (both bloggers and authors) who bake.
Keep your eyes open for new recipes each week, or better still, subscribe to the website so you don’t miss a post.
And, if you haven’t yet read Wish You Were Here, here’s an excerpt from the book – Max’s Harvest Happenings from February…
February in the Kitchen
February might be the shortest month of the year, but it always seems so long. Is that just me? When you’re feeling like that it’s difficult to find some enthusiasm in the kitchen. It doesn’t help that there’s nothing new coming into season, but it is the last month for the best of some of our winter standbys. Parsnips, brussels sprouts and Jerusalem artichokes are all on the way out for the year. Before the brussels disappear, you should try this fabulously simple salad. No, don’t give me that look ‒ this tastes nothing like brussels sprouts when your mother overcooked them.
Shave or slice the sprouts finely ‒ if you have a mandolin, it’s a cinch. Just don’t rush it ‒ my fingers are still covered in plasters from when I made this last week. Lightly toast some walnuts ‒ say, a cup ‒ in a pan, and then crush them in your hands. Don’t be too precious about this ‒ you don’t want walnut crumbs, but rather walnut pieces. Grate over some pecorino or parmesan, and toss it all together. As for a dressing, whisk a few tablespoons of lemon juice into a quarter of a cup of good olive oil. To finish, some crispy fried bacon bits give a delicious crunch.
We’re well and truly over spiced parsnip soup here at Blossoms. Most weeks I’ve made a batch, varying the spices each time to add a little difference to the sameness. I’ve done a version where I roasted the parsnips first in the spices, and another where I cooked the parsnip in spiced milk. The Lamb here in Brookford has been doing a lovely parsnip soup with pear and ginger; and I tasted one last week in a pub on the road to Cheltenham that included apple. For me it was just that tiny bit too sweet, but (thankfully) we all have different tastes.
You know that pumpkin makes a fabulous risotto ‒ remember the one I posted in October’s newsletter? It was made with sage and pancetta, just a touch of chilli, and finished with creamy mascarpone. I’m hoping to persuade Seb from The Lamb to part with his recipe this time, so watch this space.
Parsnip works well in risotto too. Simply peel a couple of large parsnips and chop them into small pieces, and do the same with an onion. Heat a dollop of butter in a pan large enough to hold your risotto ‒ the unsalted butter we’ve been getting in from Westfarm Dairy is well worth trying ‒ and crush a clove of garlic. Actually, crush two ‒ no recipe ever really calls for one clove of garlic, does it? Besides, garlic helps keep winter colds away ‒ possibly because no one comes close enough to pass on their germs.
Cook the onion gently in the butter for a couple of minutes ‒ you don’t want it to colour too much ‒ and toss in the parsnips and garlic. Cook these down until the parsnip is tender and your kitchen smells wonderfully garlicky. The arborio rice can be added now, and a splash of wine. (Just pour some out of the glass you’re drinking.) Now make your risotto as you usually would ‒ adding ladlefuls of simmering vegetable or chicken stock, stirring until it’s absorbed and then adding another. You’ll know it’s done when the rice is tender but not soft inside ‒ a fine, but not insignificant detail. Finish it off with handfuls of parmesan and plenty of butter. I’ve added some chilli oil too ‒ not just because it looks better in the photo, but because it gives a little extra kick. You can serve this as a side dish or a stand-alone one-bowl, one-fork meal.
Given February’s the coldest month of the year, it’s only fair to share a variation of the ultimate comfort food with you: a leeky cheesy mac. Yes, macaroni cheese with finely julienned and fried leeks stirred through the sauce before baking. For even more luxury, fry up some diced bacon, then toss some fresh breadcrumbs into the bacony fat, and scatter both across the top before you pop the dish into the oven. For best results on this one go for a less saucy sauce ‒ if you know what I mean.
Also, because it’s February and we all need a little decadence to cut through the gloom, why not try my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies? Perfect with a cuppa on a cold wintery afternoon. Full recipes are available, as always, on the website.
Don’t worry, spring is just around the corner.
Wish You Were Here is on sale (Amazon ebook only) for just $0.99USD until March 12 only. You can grab yourself a copy here.