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By Well Seasoned, Apr 30 2019 12:40PM

March and April are an exciting time in the forager's calendar. After a quiet couple of months, the warmer weather prompts new growth in the hedgerows and woodlands.


We kick off the new season with a real corker - wild garlic. I'll be popping down to my favourite spot to bag a haul this weekend.


In terms of recipes, we have two fantastic ones in the book. There's a brilliantly simple pesto that has a multitude of uses (we pair it with home made gnocchi) and whilst that is probably first on my list to make, just because it's so versitile, this chicken pie comes a close second.


Crisp, buttery pastry, tender chicken and a wonderfully pungent, garlicky sauce mean this is a dish of bold flavours. Simple greens as an accompaniment make a good foil and both cavolo nero and purple sprouting broccoli should be plentiful at this time of year. It is hard to decide whether the chicken, the pastry or the wild garlic is the star of the show but the garlic is such a seasonal treat. The same quantity in a fish pie is really good too.


Chicken, leek and wild garlic pie

serves 4 as main course


For the flaky pastry


200g plain flour

1 tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

150g salted butter, chilled

1 large free-range egg yolk

100ml cold water


For the filling


2 tbsp olive oil

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into large dice

4 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon, cut into 1cm pieces

500g leek, trimmed, sliced and washed

100ml dry white wine

300ml chicken stock

1 tsp Dijon mustard

75g crème fraiche

cornflour to thicken

50g wild garlic, stalks removed

1 large free-range egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp of water to glaze the pastry

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C.


2. For the pastry, sift the flour and salt onto the bench, grate the butter over the flour using a coarse grater. Stop every now and again to toss the butter through the flour with your fingertips and to dust the grater with flour.


3. Make a well in the centre, then beat the yolk into the water and pour into the well. Gradually bring in the flour with your fingertips to create a dough. Knead briefly and then wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before using.


4. To make the filling, season the chicken breast and fry in the olive oil in a very hot pan. This is just to colour the chicken, not to cook it through. Remove the chicken to a plate and add the bacon to the pan. When the fat is starting to render, add the leeks and cook until just beginning to soften. Add the leek mix to the chicken.


5. Pour the wine into the pan. Reduce the wine to a syrup and add the chicken stock. Reduce this by around two-thirds then whisk in the Dijon mustard and creme fraiche. Mix 1 tsp of cornflour with a little cold water and use this to thicken the sauce – a thick double cream consistency is what you are looking for.


6. Add the chicken mix to the sauce and adjust the seasoning. Finely chop the wild garlic and stir it in.


7. Divide the pastry into two pieces; one-third and two-thirds. Roll out the larger piece to line the base of a 22cm x 16cm pie tin. Add the filling to the tin and then roll out the remaining pastry for the lid. Egg-wash around the rim of the pie base and lay the lid over. Crimp the lid onto the base, sealing well, and trim off excess pastry. Egg wash the lid.


8. Bake the pie for around 40 minutes until the pastry is a dark golden colour and there are signs of the filling bubbling.


9. Serve immediately with your chosen veg. Any leftover pie is delicious cold!


By Well Seasoned, Mar 19 2019 01:59PM

When does spring start for you? I’ve been asking around recently and it’s clear that Spring means different things to different people.


Perhaps the earliest start date for the new season is Imbolc, the pagan celebration which falls exactly half way between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. It has long been celebrated as a turning point in the calendar when the days start to get noticeably longer and with the emergence of snowdrops, the first sign of the end of winter.


Candlemas, on 2nd February is the Christiana equivalent of Imbolc, also marking a return of the light.


For meteorologists who, for convenience, divide the year into four very equal quarters, the date is the beginning of March.


Today (20th March) the vernal equinox will mark the point that the days are supposedly the same length as the nights in the northern hemisphere. Although, technically speaking, due to refraction of the light over the horizon, that day actually passed a few days ago, on a day known as the Equilux, around the 17th of March.


And finally, of course, there’s the moment on 31st March when the clocks will “Spring forward” and make the artificial, yet at the same time very real difference to the length of our evenings.


So there you have it – at least six different points when Spring "traditionally" starts. But, of course, those are all fairly arbitrary and essentially fixed points in the calendar. In truth, Mother Nature will decide when winter’s over and we each have our personal milestones that mark the real start of Spring.


For me, the renewed dawn chorus is a really important one and, being partly Welsh, the flowering of golden daffodils in the hedgerow is another. For others it's bluebells, the waft of wild garlic, Easter or the hawthorn blossom.


There’s undoubtedly some stormy weather still to come but there’s a real sense of relief and optimism that comes with the changing of this season. Whenever it starts for you, Happy (nearly?) Spring!

By Well Seasoned, Feb 13 2019 02:08PM

We're creeping slowly towards the warmer weather of spring. Although we may well still have some snow and sleet before we get there, we're starting to notice some of those early, welcome signs. In the last blog we looked at snowdrops. Today, we listen out for the beginnings of the dawn chorus...


The chorus of garden birdsong signals the start of the mating season as our feathered friends start looking to attract partners and defend their breeding territories. Beginning with blackbirds and robins in late February, other species will gradually join the chorus through to late May, when it reaches a glorious crescendo.


The sunrise singing provides a fascinating insight into the world of our birds. With a little patience, you’ll soon learn to distinguish individual species and the order in which they start to sing each day. They stick to a fairly rigid timetable and you might well prefer simply to soak up the atmosphere as you lie in bed – it begins around 4.30 a.m. this month, and as early as 3 a.m. as we reach the early summer.


The order of the birds song is dictated by the foods they eat and their ability to see in the low morning light. The early birds (blackbirds and robins) literally do catch the worms. These species have comparatively large eyes compared to their bodies and are able to see in the earliest, dim light of dawn. As the sun rises and light levels increase, insect-eaters (wrens) wake from their slumber. Finally, the seed-eaters (finches and sparrows) take their time and wait until just before daybreak.


So, expect to hear, in order:


Blackbird – monotonous chink, chink, chink followed by a distinct, low-pitched melody

Robin – high-pitched tick, tick, tick, followed by a cascade of warbling notes

Wren – chur, chur, churrrrr (at an impressive volume for such a small bird)

Chaffinch – distinct pink, pink, pink, followed by one of several flourishes

House sparrow – chattering and repetitive chirrup, chirrup.



By Well Seasoned, Apr 8 2018 04:00AM

Chocolate, mascarpone and raisin cake


There is very little around in the way of fruit at this time of year; some rhubarb, yes, and maybe the late blood oranges, but it is a tough time if you enjoy something sweet. This cake relies on the store-cupboard staples of chocolate, dried fruit and spice, which also brings in some of the flavours we associate with Easter. The mascarpone filling is not at all sickly, and good-quality dark chocolate brings its own bittersweet notes.


serves 10-12


For the cake


100g dark chocolate

150g unsalted butter

50ml vegetable oil

60g golden syrup

3 large free-range eggs

50g plain yoghurt

80ml semi-skimmed milk

250g self-raising flour plus ½ tsp baking powder

25g cocoa powder

1 tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

150g light muscovado sugar


For the filling


125g raisins

1 cinnamon stick

½ vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out

1cm piece of root ginger, peeled

water to cover

50g light muscovado sugar

150g mascarpone


For the ganache topping


100g good-quality milk chocolate, broken into small pieces

80ml double cream


1. Preheat the oven to 160˚C.


2. For the cake, melt the chocolate, butter, oil and syrup together in a large bowl, either on a low setting in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water. Combine the eggs, yoghurt and milk, beating together well. Sift the flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt together and rub through the sugar, making sure to remove any lumps. Mix the egg mix into the chocolate mix, then make a well in the flour mix and add the everything is completely combined.


3. Pour into a greased and lined 20cm loose bottomed cake tin and bake for 60–70 minutes (check after 30 minutes and cover with foil if it is starting to get too dark). The cake should be well risen, may have some cracking and a skewer will come out virtually clean.


4. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove and wrap in cling film while still hot. This helps to keep the cake moist. Place on a wire rack to cool completely.


5. To make the filling, place the raisins, cinnamon, vanilla and ginger in a small pan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the liquid has completely evaporated. Tip onto a plate, discard the vanilla and cinnamon and chill. Beat the muscovado

into the mascarpone and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Beat again and check the sugar has dissolved. Fold in the cold raisins and grate in the piece of ginger from the pan using a fine grater. Mix well.


6. For the topping, heat the cream to simmering point in a pan, pour the chocolate over it and let it sit for 5 minutes. Use a small whisk to emulsify the cream and chocolate together. Press cling film directly onto the surface and allow to cool.


7. To assemble, split the cake in half and trim the top if it is really uneven. Fill with the mascarpone and raisin mix and then coat the top with the ganache. Shave some chocolate curls over the top using a potato peeler if desired.


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