Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower 5

There is masses of elderflower around at the moment and I mean to make as much cordial as I can before it fades and leaves us for another year.  I have mentioned it before but I just love these seasonal treats – so much more special because of their fleeting presence.   Like the wild garlic which is now long gone from the river bank where it flourished only a month ago and all the other delights about to spring from the garden.   You might be able to buy raspberries year around in the supermarkets but do they ever taste better than when picked and eaten straight from the cane, warm from the sun?  Strawberries which can so often be a let down once liberated from their plastic shop cartons yet which carry that unmistakeable scent and flavour of summer when you find one perfect crimson specimen hiding under the leaves of a plant at your feet.

This cordial is floral, fragrant and delicious.  It has the most extraordinarily true flavour of elderflower and is unbelievably thirst quenching and refreshing.  As you will from the recipe it does contain a fair amount of sugar which I admit makes me wince a bit when I put it into the pan – what with trying to cut down on sugar and all that.  The thing is I like to offer my children squash and don’t think they should be limited to water or milk – after all I have wide range of drinks I can choose from!  What I don’t care for so much is the commercial drinks full of colouring, additives and other unpronounceable ingredients.  I may be conning myself but this just seems a little more natural.   You can reduce the sugar a little, play around and see what level of sweetness you prefer and don’t forget it is going to be highly diluted.

Elderflower Cordial

You need roughly 20 heads of elderflower for this but don’t panic if you can only find, or reach 15 or so,  it will still taste delicious.  Get citric acid from health food shops or the chemist.

20 elderflower heads, shake them gently to release any bugs

750g golden caster sugar

750ml water

50g citric acid

1 lemon, halved

Put the sugar and water into a pan and bring to the boil.  Put the elderflower heads into a large bowl and carefully add the sugar syrup.  Add the citric acid and squeeze in the juice from the lemons and add the halves to the bowl.  Give it all a good mix then cover with a tea towel and leave overnight.  The next day pour it through a sieve into another bowl or wide jug squeezing out the elderflower to get every drop.  Decant into a bottle and keep in the fridge.  Dilute as you would normal cordial with cold fizzy or flat water.  You could of course add it to a cocktail too….

 

Grissini with Rosemary

Grissini

When I lived in London there were several favourite Italian restaurants that I would frequent from time to time.  There is something particular about entering such an establishment, the clamour and enthusiasm, the noise and bustle, the smell of herbs and garlic cooking that fills the air.   Following the greeting and seating a proper treat awaits you.  The grissini – slender, crunchy breadsticks all the better for gouging through the butter.  Not as filling as the proffered focaccia but the perfect nibble with a glass of wine whilst perusing the menu.  I love them and so do my family so we make our own.

Now I can’t pretend that dining in my kitchen offers quite the same experience.  Different certainly but just as much fun I would hope.   These grissini however are definitely up to those of nostalgic, rose or should that be frascati touched memory.   Crispy, savoury and in this case taken to new heights with the addition of chopped rosemary.   I serve these before and alongside lunch or dinner, take them on picnics and they are much in demand for packed lunches.   Very delicious and moreish to eat and so easy to make.  The rolling out takes me back to the days of plasticine and playdoh and is repetitive and relaxing, in a black clad Italian Mama sort of way.  Think Sophia Loren….

Grissini with Rosemary

Children love making these which is always a help and last week, rather than making the traditional stick shapes, my daughter fashioned each dough snake into an initial to place in each diners place at the table.  It looked charming and went down a storm.

250g plain flour

250g strong white bread flour

7g sachet yeast

7g fine salt

300ml lukewarm water

25ml olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200.  Put both the flours, yeast and fine salt into the bowl of a stand mixer, turn it on and then add the water and oil until it comes together in a ball (you may need a drop more water).  Leave it kneading away in the machine for 10 minutes, adding the chopped rosemary for the last minute so it is evenly mixed through the dough.  Pinch off pieces the size of a large cherry and roll these out until about a foot long and pencil thin on a non-floured table or surface.  Gently and with fingers splayed seems the best way to do this.  Put them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 15 minutes.   After this time they should be golden brown and crispy, leave to cool on a wire rack and then store in an air tight container.   Makes around 40 grissini but if you get bored whilst rolling these out the dough will sit happily in the fridge for a day until you feel like making some more.   I’d say they last for a week but I’ve never had any hang around for more than a day or two.

Finally, they make a fabulous present to take if you are going to friends for supper.

Grissini 2

 

Cannellini Bean, Parsley and Lemon….dip

Cannellini bean dip

Now I will be frank and say I am a little nervous about the title of this – if my children were reading (having not previously tasted and devoured it as they do) I am pretty sure they would move on, pulses not being much to their liking.

For me, I struggle with the word dip, it is just a bit…. you know.  Dip covers a multitude and can be a tub of generic supermarket gunk or a red, oniony side dish to uh, dip things in.  Rarely have I come across anything with the moniker dip that I have wanted to love or, in many cases, finish.  This little beauty will, I hope, shatter all preconceptions.

It came about, as many things do out of my kitchen, from necessity over organisation.  I wanted something to offer with drinks but frankly the larder was pretty bare but for a few tins of beans.  I always have parsley, lemon and garlic on hand and so it was that these were the volunteers, the ingredients that stepped forward from a skeleton line up.

I actually made this three times over Easter, once to serve with said drinks and twice to put on the table along with a mezze type picnic lunch.  With some toasty baked pita my children scoffed this with unseemly speed and didn’t even stop when they discovered the star ingredient.  I could not believe my eyes at this nor my ears when they asked me to make it again.  Today we are having it with some roast chicken, new potatoes and a big salad.  It is really good, beyond easy and properly useful of have up your sleeve, but what are we going to call it?

Cannellini bean dip 2

Cannellini Bean, Parsley and Lemon Dip

Taste this when it is all whizzed together, it should have lots of lemon juice to give it zing and you will need a really good pinch of salt, possible two as pulses seem to lap them up.  Serve with chopped carrots, baked pita bread, breadsticks or alongside a roast chicken or with a collection of other mezze type dishes.

1 can of cannellini beans

1 small clove garlic

Half a small packet parsley, approx 20g

Juice of 1 large lemon

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Put all the ingredients into a small blender or a jug if you are using a hand held blender.  I find it easiest to put the lemon juice in first then you can pick any rogue seeds out easily, followed by the salt so it can dissolve in the juice.  The order doesn’t really matter though.  Whizz it all up, taste and check you are happy with it before decanting into a dish.  The four of us will polish this off between but that said, my husband and I could probably eat it all too.  You can double or treble easily if you have a crowd to feed.

 

Frozen Raspberry Daiquiri

Frozen Raspberry Daiquiri 4

A glass of wine versus a cocktail.  It’s a bit like having a wardrobe full of clothes but still wearing your jeans every day.  A familiar favourite to fall back on and in all honesty a bit easier than bunging various things together and hoping you like the look/taste.  You get what I mean.

Cocktails invite mixed opinions, for some they are the American Bar at the Savoy, the height of sophistication.  For others they are Stringfellows…  The thing is though, I rather like the occasional cocktail and have been known to press a glassful into friends’ hands as they walk in the door.  The Negroni had mixed reviews, the Passion Fruit Fizz had us practically scrapping over the last drop and the Sloe Vespa has always gone down a treat.

This then is a homemade slush puppie really.  Fabulously bright pink, heady with raspberries and with a sharpness from the lime.  Oh and did I mention there is a drop of rum in there too.  These are so delicious that their frozen state is almost essential in order to stop you gulping them down too fast.  Could there be a better start to dinner?

Parental disclaimer – I realise my recipes are meant to be family friendly and for every day but I think it might have been a mother/child moment that got me thinking about a cocktail in the first place…

Frozen Raspberry Daiquiri 2

Frozen Raspberry Daiquiri

This recipe is a guideline and you may like yours with a little more or less of lime or sugar syrup.  Really the best way is to make one for yourself, customise it and enjoy.  Then make some more.  Sugar syrup is simply equal quantities of caster sugar and water simmered until the sugar is fully dissolved.

100g frozen raspberries (about 1 cup if you use cup measures)

2 tablespoons (30ml) white rum

1 tablespoon (15ml) sugar syrup

60ml lime juice (about 1 lime)

Put all the ingredients into a jug and whizz with a hand held blender or for greater quantities you could use a liquidiser.  Makes 1 glorious pink cocktail.

 

Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt

Cheese Biscuits

I remember dinner parties when I was a child – those were the days of going the whole hog – long dresses, velvet jackets, hair up and that 1970’s phenomenon – a selection of puddings.  Now, what was that all about?  If it wasn’t enough that you would wade through a starter and main course, there would always be cheese served with biscuits, grapes, a jar of celery and whatever else but then a choice of puddings.  Perhaps oranges in caramel, a lemon soufflé – the chilled kind rather than oven baked – chocolate roulade or profiteroles.  Always three, always cold.

So different from how we entertain now.  When we have friends for supper, I might make a big stew, pie or paella which can be served at the table (no hostess trolley) with perhaps a salad to follow.  Then depending on our mood, the weather and many other vagaries, cheese (sometimes served with the salad) or a pud.  Rarely both as I am incapable of leaving one or other alone if presented with them both and will then feel like a beached whale at the end of supper.  What I would do with three puddings I don’t know….well I do.  I don’t often serve a starter but prefer to offer something with drinks beforehand.  I can’t quite bring myself to call these canapés as I am not dextrous enough to create those little masterpieces you see in smart restaurants.  No, spiced cherries in bacon, a little onion tart or these cheese biscuits with rosemary salt.

Can there be anything more fantastically savoury and moreish to have with a cocktail than a little cheese biscuit?  That tang and crunch just go perfectly.  These ones are crisp with a good bite from strong cheese and a kick from the cayenne.  Despite the feisty flavour my children adore them.  Make a load to stash away in your freezer ready to whip out when entertaining over Christmas.

As you can see from the photograph I served these with a Negroni and I thought they went together perfectly but naturally the choice of drink is up to you.  Admittedly, one of the friends I gave a Negroni to made a face like I’d give her soapy water to drink and gave me the glass straight back.  You can’t please everyone…..but at least she loved the cheese biscuits!

Cheese Biscuits 2

Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt

100g soft butter

100g self raising flour

100g strong cheese, grated (I use 50/50 parmesan and vintage cheddar)

A pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180.  Whizz the flour and butter together, add the cheese and cayenne. Mix to a dough and form into a roll, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up a little as this will make the cutting easier.  Cut into thin slices and put onto a parchment lined baking tray.  Pound the rosemary in a mortar with a pinch of sea salt and sprinkle a little of this onto each biscuit.  Cook for 13-15 minutes until golden on top.  Cool on a wire rack where they will crisp up.  Makes about 25.