Grown in Mediterranean countries, Blood oranges have a very short season during the months of late winter here in the UK. They are tarter than regular oranges with a spicy, raspberry-like flavour in addition to the citrus notes and have a distinctive dark-red flesh. You may also notice that the exterior of the rind may also show some dark colouration, depending on the variety. Blood oranges can be used in soufflés and other puddings such as steamed sponge, cakes, sauces and salad dressings, marmalade, and ice cream and sorbets.
The blood orange is a natural mutation of the regular orange which itself is a hybrid of the pomelo and the tangerine. The crimson flesh colour of the blood orange is due to the presence of anthocyanins, a family of polyphenol pigments commonly found in many fruits and flowers, but unusual in citrus fruits. The anthocyanin pigments begin gathering in the vesicles at the edges of the segments of the orange segments and at the blossom end of the fruit, and continue to build up in cold storage following harvest. The main compound found in red oranges is chrysanthemin (cyanidin 3-O-glucoside) and the flesh develops its crimson colour when the fruit matures over the low temperatures of the night. Sometimes the rind is tougher and harder to peel than regular oranges.
This yummy loaf cake showcases the versatility of blood oranges and is gluten-free. A light, airy sponge, it makes the perfect teatime sweet treat. If you are unable to source blood oranges you could substitute them with red or pink grapefruit. You could also substitute the vanilla with poppy seeds, if you prefer. You should get up to 12 slices from this cake.
For the cake:-
50g melted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 vanilla pod
1 blood orange, juiced and zested
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds only.
200g gluten-free plain (all purpose) flour
50g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
3 medium free-range eggs
220g caster sugar
75ml sunflower oil
140g full-fat Greek-style yoghurt
For the icing:-
1 blood orange, juiced and rind peeled into thin strips
Up to 200g icing (powdered) sugar
50g caster sugar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to gas 3, 170oC, fan 150oC. Grease and line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with greaseproof baking paper or a ready-made cake liner.
2. Zest and juice the blood orange and set the juice aside in a small bowl along with the vanilla seeds for approx. 10 minutes.
3. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour, ground almonds and baking powder together.
4. In a larger mixing bowl, beat the eggs with 220g caster sugar and the orange zest until light and fluffy. Mix in the oil, melted butter, yoghurt, and the vanilla and orange juice mixture. Fold in the dry ingredients in #3 above until combined.
5. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45-55 minutes. Check it after 40 minutes and if it is browning too much, cover with foil. To check that it is ready, insert a skewer into the centre of the cake and see if it comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning it out on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
6. Meanwhile, peel the rind of one blood orange into thin strips (or use a zester) and juice it thoroughly. Set the juice and zest aside separately. If you would like to make candied orange peel for decoration, heat 50g caster sugar with 50ml of the orange juice in a small saucepan over a fairly low heat until the sugar has melted. Add the orange strips and simmer for 5-10 minutes until translucent and softened. Remove from the heat and transfer to baking paper to cool.
7. To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with blood orange juice, 1 teaspoon at a time to achieve the consistency of double cram. If you prefer the less sugary decoration of an icing drizzle to full coverage, you will need less icing sugar and a runnier texture more like the consistency of single cream. The icing will take on an attractive light pink colour.
8. Pour the icing over the cake and top with the orange peel or candied peel and allow the icing to set before slicing. The cake will keep covered and stored in a cool place for up to 5 days.
If you are unable to source blood oranges, substitute them with pink or ruby red grapefruit and follow the recipe. You will need 1 grapefruit for the cake and one for the icing and decoration.
If you prefer, substitute the vanilla seeds with one good teaspoon of vanilla extract or 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds.
You can also make this cake with regular plain (all-purpose) flour for a non-gluten-free version.
You can freeze this cake un-iced. Cover in cling film, pop it into a clear, sealable food bag and label ready for the freezer.
First of all, I would like to wish all my subscribers (and other readers of my blog) a very healthy, happy and empowering 2023. If you are new to my blog, welcome, and I do hope you enjoy reading my content.
I guess it’s true to say I’ve been gone a while; there’s been a lot happening the last few months; most notably juggling balls and spinning plates in the air (metaphorically-speaking), the whole festive thing with its gift-buying-and-wrapping, tree-buying and decorating and taking down again, cooking, washing and tidying up, making and editing videos for my various platforms, wading through mountains of admin and paperwork and accounts, doing my music, making and pricing up and photographing of items for my two pitches at the Petticoat Lane Emporium in Ramsgate plus my Etsy shop and my Ebay site (basically, doing what I can to earn some money whilst also running a household and helping my piano tuner husband to be a success in his trade), visiting nearest and dearest and those further away up and down the motorway . . . and looking after our two young cats and one diabetic, arthritic and incontinent senior tabby cat, our lovely loyal boy Merlin who follows me around or sits on his favourite chairs watching me with love hearts in his eyes. Merlin was diagnosed with diabetes in October of last year, following the suspicions I had carried around for a while, watching and observing his habits and demeanor. Several months had passed before Dan would believe me and when he did, he admitted he had been in denial. We have put a lot of work in with Merlin as it takes him time to adjust to change. We have had to change his mealtime regime to twice only daily – to which he was not at all receptive for several weeks – source wet food and biscuits for him that are diabetic friendly and made of the most natural ingredients (which of course are far more expensive than regular cat foods, but anything for our boy), inject him twice a day 30 minutes’ after he has finished eating, change his pee pad in his special tray sometimes multiple times a day and mop the floor, as he often dribbles urine when he’s finished his business. I sometimes cook him fresh chicken or turkey and he might get a little of this if he’s very hungry during the day and needs a small snack; the vet said it was better than giving him more biscuit. I also groom him regularly and massage extra virgin olive oil into his fur as he is prone to flaky skin. This he enjoys very much and likes to lick the oil on his fur. Twice we also give him a fish oil powder capsule which we break into his food and mix in well. This also helps to ease his skin condition though it seems to have made only slight improvement to his mobility.
He sees the vet once a month for a checkup, to get weighed, examined and bloods taken to monitor his insulin levels. This time we discussed his mobility problems which suddenly came on more recently and seem to affect his pelvis and back legs from what we can make out when we watch him move around awkwardly. The vet was very gentle with him when she examined him thoroughly and agreed that his hip joints appear to be arthritic and at one point we heard a ‘click’. She also said that the muscles in his back legs are weak, which of course is probably due to the fact that he is no longer to move about comfortably so the muscle is wasting. At home, he is no longer able to jump on to the side of the bathtub to drink from the cold running water from the washbasin tap, something he has enjoyed for most of his life; nor is he able any longer to run up the stairs when I call to him and instead he makes a slow hop up one stair at a time, which breaks my heart. One day last week he tried to jump up on to the kitchen chair beside me and was unable to do it, his claws caught in the fabric seating, so I picked him up gently and lifted him on to the seat though mostly he can still manage without help. It is, though, heartbreaking to see him in discomfort and unable to do some of the things he used to enjoy. The vet recommended a full panel of bloodwork this time to check that Merlin doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions other than the diabetes and to rule out anything else such as side effects from his insulin. If the results come back clear, we can perhaps start him on Metacam medication and see where we go from there, though she understands I prefer the natural way and she definitely thinks animal healing is a good idea and told me she used to work at a practice that encouraged it for their furry clients.
Anyway, I digress, since this is intended to be an article about goals and New Year’s resolutions. As we journey the days in the life of January, it is perhaps opportune to think about what we might all wish to achieve during the Chinese New Year of the Water Rabbit (ironically, in which I was born almost six decades ago, in 1963) when celebrations start on 22 January.
It is customary, as one year ends, to formulate our intentions for the coming year and this is often done at New Year’s Eve or it’s equivalent, for example the Pagan festival (Sabbat) of Samhain (Halloween) or, yes, at Chinese New Year. Whether we be adult or child, deciding to set ourselves a few tasks or objectives can be both life-affirming and empowering, however resolutions often fail because they are too vague and lack real focus. For example, a desire to “eat more healthily” or “take more exercise” is not specific enough, as neither address how you are going to eat healthier or how or what exercise you intend to do. However, if for example, you say: “I am going to grow and harvest my own salad greens” or “I am going to eat a salad at least five days a week and enjoy one glass of wine a week” or “I am going to go for a swim three times a week”, then those are specific goals. This is how New Year’s resolutions are more likely to be successful.
If living a more healthy lifestyle is on of your goals, perhaps you felt guided to give Veganuary and/or Dry January a try in order to kick-start the process and shift a few pounds after the excesses of the festive season. If, at the end of it you begin to feel the benefits of the initiative and find you are enjoying trying different foods and the creative aspect of preparing a healthy, balanced meal with fresh ingredients or can see the benefit of limiting an alcoholic drink to once a week then perhaps you might decide to make it part of your everyday life. On the other hand, if you tried it as an experiment and decided you missed some foods too much but you don’t mind cutting back on them a little in future and you did lose some weight and you learned more about yourself in the process then that’s good too. Everything in life is a learning process and one size does not fit all. Do not think either that you have failed if you despised most or every aspect of Veganuary/Dry January, you didn’t lose any weight or you just couldn’t ride it out right to the end; at least you gave it a try and know beyond doubt that what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another. We only fail if we think about doing something but don’t try it out at all.
I take on board that vague resolutions may work for some people, but personally I never found they worked well for me and I need the structure and clear intention that a solid goal gives me, something to aim for at which I can monitor my progress and at the same time stay positive and focused. It needs to be something that challenges my capabilities and mindset but at the same time is realistic and achievable. Here are a few of my goals:-
To grow my social media:-
Do at least one video per week for either my Rumble channel catevansartist or one of my three YouTube channels – @catevansartist, @catevanscuisine or @electrickwytchofficial.
To do at least one video a week for either my Facebook or Instagram on whatever topic feels appropriate
To do two Facebook or Instagram live streams per month
To upload a new blog at least twice per month
To drop one dress size this year by continuing my healthy regime. This includes going out for a walk or disco-dancing at home both at least three times a week. Also my newfound interest in sprouting seeds and fermenting, as well as continuing to eat a salad every day and by growing a wider range of organic salad greens in my back garden which I can pick what I need each day and when they are at their freshest. I have already made a start on this by purchasing four “growing tables” which are wide, wooden planters at table height with shelves below for storing compost – or even more planters containing healthful goodies, especially useful for tender plants which do not fare so well in full sunlight. I have called it “My Garden Project” and will be discussing more about this in a future blog post.
To focus more on my music by:-
Piano practice 5 times a week (often I manage four).
Composition/songwriting one half-day per week
Record the 4th movement of my sonata in preparation for the studio.
“How will you achieve all of this when you already lead such a busy life?” you may ask. As a self-confessed workaholic I take this on board and one of my tasks this year is to slow down a little and make more time by cutting back on activities that have the least importance. Non-negotiable are some household chores, seeing to the cats and meal preparation. Also, paperwork and general administration is vitally important; I do my husband’s as well as my own and failure to do paperwork will land us in a mess. Plus, at some stage it would need catching up on, resulting in a potentially stressful situation. However, I am able to free up a bit more time by the way I do it, for example spending an hour a day on paperwork and admin rather than, say, two or three hours twice a week. I am also able to fix crafting activity to maybe one morning or afternoon a week. I still have outlets and online to produce items for but I have fewer of them now and no longer need to hold larger quantities of stock and can therefore produce just as much or little as I need, which also increases efficiency and turnaround. I am also an avid maker of ‘to-do’ lists and have been using these more as an exercise to see exactly what I can achieve without filling up every second of my day, as being kind to ourselves and having sufficient rest and recreation time does help with focus and productivity. I can comfortably complete four or five tasks a day but if I complete any quickly or if I choose to push myself I can manage half a dozen. I am no longer minded to tackle more than that.
Neither do I need to concentrate on all goals at once. Some goals may be ongoing, others may be achieved quickly or may not work out as planned or may need to be ‘tweaked’, or put on hold, and new ones may present themselves instead. We should remember that personal and business circumstances may change either suddenly or over time and these circumstances may have a knock-on effect on what we are able to achieve. The point is, sometimes goals take longer to achieve even if we have put in some good work, but as long as the foundations and groundwork are there they can be picked up again in the future, by which time we may have more wisdom of experience and learning that will help bring our goals to fruition in a more effective way. As long as we enjoy doing what we are doing and gradually see some results or learn more about ourselves and our aspirations in the process it’s all good. If we don’t enjoy doing what we are doing, then perhaps we might find something else to try that might work better. We are all a work in progress and there is no need to beat ourselves up about it if something isn’t quite working out. Even taking a little time out might revive and refresh our vigour.
What are your goals in 2023? Is there anything that is going particularly well for you? Is there something you are struggling with or does not inspire you? I would be interested to know, as sometimes by sharing our experiences we might learn from one another.
This cake makes the most of autumn fruits and is so simple to make, and is delicious and versatile. I baked one for my birthday last month when Dan and I were renting a holiday cottage on a working farm in north-west Suffolk in the middle of nowhere. It is made with basic ingredients plus locally-grown fruit which for us was either abundant on the trees or bought cheaply from the gates of people’s houses (paid for by cash or coin into an “honesty box”) and the free-range eggs I used were only £1 per half dozen from a shelter outside our nearest public house 20 minutes’ walk down the road! You can substitute the fruit used in this recipe with any you have available, such as apricots or peaches, the zest of oranges, cherries, blueberries or blackberries.
Ingredients(makes 9 larger or 12 regular pieces)
175 g gluten-free self-raising flour, sifted
175 g soft brown sugar
175 g softened butter or sunflower margarine
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 free-range eggs
2 local apples washed, peeled, cored and chopped
5-6 local plums washed and halved, stones removed
1. Preheat the oven to 170oC/150oC fan (340oF/ 300oF fan) or Gas Mark 4.
2. Grease a 20 cm traybake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
3. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter or margarine together until smooth and fluffy.
4. Add an egg and beat well into the mixture, then add some of the flour and fold in completely. Repeat this process until the flour and eggs are all combined.
5. Add the ground cinnamon and fold in.
6. Gently fold the apples into the mixture
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and give it a gentle shake to even out.
8. Mark the mixture into 9 or 12 with a halved plum facing upwards. If you are allowing for 9 pieces put the remaining half plum in the centre for decoration.
9. Bake for about 35 minutes in the centre of the oven or until a skewer comes out clean. Oven temperatures vary so the cake may need a few minutes longer.
10. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes, then turn out carefully on to a wire rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with sifted icing sugar and cut into pieces and serve with a slice of mature (sharp) cheddar.
This recipe is also good made with spelt flour. Substitute the same quantity as for gluten-free self-raising flour and sift with 2 heaped tsp baking powder.
You may substitute the 1 tsp ground cinnamon with 1 tsp ground ginger or ground mixed spice.
If you prefer, serve the traybake cake warm as a pudding served with a dollop of creme fraiche or clotted cream. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the tin for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
In June this year Dan and I visited my beloved Lake District for a few days and it was a welcome opportunity to see my step-mum Gil and my step-sister Annabel, as well do some sightseeing and to visit my father’s grave, for the first time since the Pandemic.
The weather during most of our trip was warm and sunny and on our last day in the area Dan and I chose to take an “AA Short Walk” around the boundary of Staveley’s Mill Yard and Craggy Woods, four miles in a two-hour stretch which was very pleasant especially along the pathways shaded by trees.
We returned to our starting point and after a sandwich lunch and coffee in a local cafe we decided to have a mooch around the Mill Yard as we had heard there was a chocolate shop there – and I am never one to pass up a chocolate opportunity!
The Blind Chocolatier is on the right-hand side inside the main entrance to Staveley Mill Yard and is a cute little shop with neat rows of delectable artisan chocolates and chocolate bars attractively and clearly displayed for easier choosing, although in practice choice may be something of a novelty when everything on offer appears scrumptious and irresistible.
Whilst deliberating, we chatted to the chocolatier himself to find out more about he and his craft. A pastry chef and member of a multiple-award winning team since 2007, in July 2015 local man Stuart was diagnosed with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a rare eye condition characterised by loss of vision which is often the only symptom. LHON is a mitochondrial inherited (transferred from mother to child) degeneration of retinal ganglion cells and their axons that leads to an acute or subacute loss of central vision and typically affects young males. It is only transferred through the mother as it is primarily due to mutations in the mitochondrial, rather than nuclear, genome and only the egg contributes mitochondria to the embryo which means that men cannot pass the disease on to their offspring. Although registered legally blind, Stuart has not only continued to maintain his role in a 2 Rosette Standard kitchen but has finally achieved a long-held dream of having a chocolate shop in Staveley, where his business has flourished.
Stuart told us that Christmas trade last year was very successful and hoped that despite the Cost of Living Crisis those healthy sales would be repeated as he had just invested in new tempering equipment. I said that I am sure he will continue do well; after all, who doesn’t love chocolate?!
Dan and I eventually chose two chocolates each, including cherry and blackberry varieties which Stuart put in a little box to take out, although we assured him they wouldn’t last 5 minutes and of course they didn’t; we were barely outside the door before we got stuck in and they were scrumptious and flavourful with a smooth, velvety texture. I could have eaten two or three times the quantity without any help at all from Dan!
The Blind Chocolatier has a page on both Facebook and Instagram, sometimes showcasing new flavours in production or activities going on behind the scenes such as new product development, sneak-peaks at Christmas confectionery or making a special batch of wedding favours, as well as a website at http://www.theblindchocolatier.co.uk with an online shop offering both delivery and collection services. Choose from a wide variety of tempting and beautifully-wrapped artisan chocolate bars for £3.20 each, including Dark Chocolate with Pistachio and Almond for ‘nutty’ moments, Vegan Oat Milk and Dark Chocolate and Ginger; or what about a 6 Selection Box of Chocolates for £6, a Milk or White Chocolate 12 box or a 12 box All Rounder for £11.50 each? Postage and packing costs £6 for delivery within 1-2 days so I ordered a box of the Chef’s Selection containing 25 chocolates for £23 to send straight to my stepmother for her birthday, along with a note, and she was thrilled to receive them especially as they were made locally. I shall certainly be ordering more in the future.
If you are planning a trip to the English Lake District, why not put Staveley Mill Yard on your ‘to visit’ list? The Blind Chocolatier and his neighbours look forward to welcoming you soon.
The Blind Chocolatier is open Monday – Saturday 10 am to 5pm and on Sunday 10 am – 4 pm.
Who can resist a classic cheesecake for dessert with its rich, buttery base and creamy filling? Whether baked or simply prepared and refrigerated, cheesecake is so versatile and adding chocolate even as a final flourish and finishing touch elevates it to another level. Whether you go for something traditional, fruity or laced with alcohol, there is a cheesecake to please everyone.
We are currently having a new custom-built kitchen at home and have no cooking facilities other than a one-ring electric countertop hob (which I usually use for my candle-making) and a traditional coal-fired barbecue in the back garden. The next-door neighbours were coming over for dinner and I wanted to create a no-fuss dessert that was quick and easy to make and could be chilled and stored in the refrigerator until needed. Although I do enjoy a traditional baked cheesecake, I actually prefer the non-baked variety and in any case it was not possible to prepare a baked one due to the lack of kitchen facilities at present. I had decided on a Mexican-themed dinner cooked on the barbecue and rather than settle for lime, which can be a little sharp for some tastes, I thought about using a twist of orange for more subtlety combined with the gentle heat of ginger to marry the two citrus flavours, and then sprinkle over a little grated 72% dark chocolate just before serving for a further dimension; ginger and citrus flavours pair very well with dark chocolate and of course chocolate features in a wide variety of savoury Mexican dishes.
Assuming you are mindful to remove the double cream from the refrigerator at least half an hour before you intend to start making the cheesecake filling – for example, when you put the biscuit base in the refrigerator to chill – then it will take you less than 30 minutes in total to prepare in two separate stages.
200 g Gluten-free Ginger Biscuits (Cookies)
80 g Unsalted Butter
500 g Cream Cheese, such as Mascarpone
110 g Icing Sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
Juice and zest of 1 orange and 2 limes
150 ml Double Cream, whipped
Dark Chocolate, to decorate
Grease the inside of a 20 cm loose-base cake tin and line the base with baking parchment to fit.
Place the ginger biscuits in a clean polythene bag, tie, place on a board and bash into crumbs with a rolling pin. Alternatively, put the ginger biscuits in a food processor and pulse until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, remove from the heat and quickly add the biscuit crumbs stirring well to combine.
Spoon the buttery biscuit crumbs into the cake tin, spreading evenly over the lined base and pressing them down well with the back of a metal spoon. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours to harden.
Meanwhile, tip the cream cheese and icing sugar into a large bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the juice and zest of one orange and two limes and stir into the cream cheese and sugar mixture.
Pour the double cream into a separate bowl and beat with an electric or balloon whisk until it forms soft peaks and then combine with the other ingredients, mixing in thoroughly.
Pour the mixture evenly into the cake tin over the hardened biscuit base and smooth over with a palette knife and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Carefully push out the base of the cake tin and place the cheesecake on a board. If you are lucky you may be able to remove the cheesecake itself from the base of the tin but often I don’t risk it! Decorate the top of the cheesecake with a little grated dark chocolate before cutting into slices.
You may substitute regular ginger biscuits for gluten-free, if you don’t wish to make your cheesecake “Free From”.
Quark, mascarpone, Philadelphia store’s own brand cream cheese will all work well in this recipe.
Remove the cream from the refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for AT LEAST 30 minutes and it should whip up in no time at all, even with a balloon whisk!
If you don’t have a cake tin you may make and serve the cheesecake in individual ramekins, which look pretty for fuss-free dinner parties. For 4-6 people, you could halve the ingredient quantities depending on the size of the ramekins. Grease each ramekin with a little melted butter, omit the baking paper but follow the recipe. Garnish with a slither each of fresh orange and lime before serving, if you like.
Last year I composed a short piece of music which I named “Tranquillo” and recorded earlier this year. In Italian, Tranquillo means ‘calm’, ‘peaceful’, ‘quiet’ and I wrote the piece with meditation and relaxation in mind.
The recording incorporates natural wave sounds, sampled whilst visiting my local beach during the first Lockdown in 2020, not with anything particular in mind but with the idea that at some stage I might use the wave sounds for some kind of project in the future.
“Tranquillo” is written in C major with a 4/4 or ‘common’ time signature. It starts in the octave above middle C, in the Solfeggio frequency of 528 Hz which enables meditation, healing and transformation. To learn more about the Solfeggio scale and the role it plays in Healing and Sound Therapy, please refer to my previous blog here:-
The tempo is Andante, which in music means ‘moderately slow’ and is written as 120 at the top left-hand side of the music score, beneath the heading. It is an easy piece to play at beginner to intermediate level. Sustain pedal may be added for phrasing at the player’s discretion and the recording has been given echo to soften the tone.
The standard recording of this short piece is 2 minutes 28 seconds and this and the score is in Ternary Form, or 3 parts. Parts A and B are repeated and Part C is played once. To hear it, please visit my Bandcamp https://catherineevans.bandcamp.com/track/tranquillo
The extended (meditation) version has been looped to 11 minutes 11 seconds for YouTube (11:11:50 which they rounded up to 11:12) and the video comprises various random footage of sea and skies filmed over the last few years mostly around Thanet in coastal Kent, with certain of the sunset stills taken in Aberystwyth, South Wales in August 2019 while Dan and I were there for a family wedding.
My blog content is always offered freely but if you enjoy what you read, please tip me a peppermint tea by clicking on the PayPal button at the top of this blog. Thank you and blessed be!
I believe that in music we are often subconsciously drawn to frequencies that resonate with us or offer something which we need. Whether we simply enjoy listening to music or whether we write music or song, I believe we automatically choose particular frequencies and key signatures without necessarily intending to do so. In fact every note has its own unique frequency and wavelength. For example, I have discovered that middle C (otherwise known as C4) on the piano has a frequency of 262 Hz and vibrates to L4 – the fourth vertebra in the lumbar spine. I find this fact interesting; I have sometimes been drawn to playing pieces and indeed have composed music in this key signature without even giving it any deep and meaningful thought and simply going by instinct, despite my history of lower back problems stretching back nearly 30 years!
Sound therapy uses a variety of approaches to using vibrational frequencies to aid healing and therapy and even just playing or listening to music can help you to relax and focus. For example, Mantra is based on the resonance of specific chants. The mantra ‘OM’ vibrates to 432 Hz and has been used for thousands of years for meditation. However, if a piano is tuned to this frequency it sounds inferior to one tuned to A440 concert pitch due to calculations of the scale in the factory intended for A440 – determined by wire gauge, string length and tension.
Another tool of meditation is the use of Binaural Beats. The purpose of these frequencies is to play two slightly varying tones in each ear which then creates a third sound inside your brain in order to change the oscillation of brain waves and thus encourage a more positive state of mind and ultimately a greater sense of wellbeing.
The Solfeggio Scale is one we may be familiar with in the form of the vocal warm-up exercise: “Doh-Ray-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti-Doh” and please note the first syllable ‘Sol’ meaning ‘sun’, associated with warmth, growth, happiness and positivity. This scale is said to have been created by an 11th-century monk named Guido D’Arezzo, comprising a set of 6 tonal scales or frequencies for use in sacred chants in Latin – although in effect it existed in some form as far back as the 6th century AD. These chants contained special tones or frequencies which, when sung in harmony, and in Latin, were believed to impart tremendous spiritual blessings during religious masses. When these special frequencies were sung in harmony they were believed to bring spiritual abundance during religious masses; the combination of these ancient sacred tones and the Latin intonation had the power to penetrate throughout the recesses of the subconscious mind and support deep healing and transformation. “The Hymn to St John the Baptist” is renowned for being the most inspirational hymn ever written, featuring all six Solfeggio notes. At some point the Scale was lost only to be rediscovered in the mid-1970s by Dr Joseph Puleo, an American naturopathic physician and herbalist, and 3 lower tones were added making a total of nine, derived from numerology.
Our modern-day musical scale is slightly out of kilter from the original Solfeggio frequencies and consequently is a little more dissonant, as it is based upon what is known as the “Twelve-Tone Equal Temperament” and falls within the frequency of A440 Hz The ancient music scale was simply called “Just Intonation.” Furthermore, our modern music falls within the A 440 Hz frequency (concert pitch, as described above), which in circa 1914 was changed from A417 Hz. All nine Solfeggio frequencies together with their potential for healing and transformation are briefly addressed in turn.
174 Hz (F3 or 174.614 Hz, rounded up to 175 Hz) is the lowest of the frequencies and the first of the three more modern, lower tones. This frequency reduces and heals pain and lowers stress. It contains certain nodes and background tones that target the chakras and develop the healing power and energy to bring about a sense of wellbeing. This frequency can also help to lessen emotional pain and open you up to greater love and courage and may act as a natural anaesthetic or “painkiller”, so if you are feeling in a bad way emotionally and/or are still holding on to deep emotional wounds or scars, listening to music in this frequency may help you to release emotional damage and find the strength and courage to move forward more boldly in life, no longer holding on to ghosts of the past.
285 Hz is the second of the three lower frequencies and lies between C#4 (277.18 Hz rounded up to 278 Hz) and D4 (293.665 or 294 Hz) on the piano. This frequency is soothing and calming and “sends a message” through energy fields to heal and restore tissues and damaged organs in the body. The 285 Hz frequency also helps speed up the healing of burns, fractures, sprains, cuts, burns and other injuries to the limbs and boosts the immune system. It is believed that this frequency creates positive shifts to those near them so if, for example, you are recovering from an operation or injury or, say, you are recovering from an illness or have been feeling “under the weather” then listening to music in this frequency may help to support you in your recovery.
396 Hz is the third of the lowest frequencies and is found at G4 (391.991 Hz rounded up to 392 Hz). This frequency vibrates to the Root Chakra and also helps to balance that energy centre. It is good for letting go of grief and loss and for removing negative blocks such as fear and guilt. It is one of the fundamental frequencies in sound healing. When we have negative feelings our bodies start producing more cortisol which then affects our sleep and our general health and wellbeing. Listening to 396 Hz frequency music helps to create a strong magnetic energy field which gives us the power to achieve our ambitions, and its vibrations release us from the chains of negativity. The frequency is also used for awakening and turning grief and sadness into joy, and may be very helpful in helping to overcome bereavement particularly if you are finding it hard to come to terms with things.
417 Hz or note G#4 (415.3 Hz rounded up to 416 Hz) is the first of the original set of frequencies and vibrates to the Sacral Chakra located just below the navel. It is known as the ‘Frequency of Change’ and is used to cleanse and unblock negative or stale energy. A deeply transformative frequency, its powerful vibrations heal the brain, enabling us to overcome trauma and manage any negative thought patterns, thus it shares some aspects of its therapeutic power with the lowest frequency of 174 Hz whilst going the extra mile.
528 Hz or note C5 (523.251 Hz rounded up to 524 Hz), the octave above middle C and twice the frequency of C4, is the ‘Love’ frequency which is said to repair DNA. This frequency is equivalent to a piano tuned at A442 or C4 +16 cents on the tuning fork. I recently recorded “Tranquillo” which I composed in this key signature – again, I was simply guided to it – intended for meditation. It was only afterwards when I started looking more into the Ancient Solfeggio Frequencies when I discovered that 528 Hz music is the ultimate frequency for meditation and is best played softly. The 528 Hz frequency vibrates to the Solar Plexus. It increases positive thoughts and feelings and has been found to be the source of healing and recovery for the entire body, mind and spirit – so important for offering up the potential for DNA repair. It is linked to a natural, deep rooted link with the natural world and reinforces relationships with creativity and is perfect for when you feel in need of deep healing and to overcome traumas carried through from past lives as well as those of your ancestors. Now for an interesting scientific fact: if you tap your hand on a table, then you will have just been exposed to 528 Hz sound waves. White noise has no pitch and also has 528 Hz sonics and almost every sound except for a pure sine wave (a continuous wave as shown on a graph in mathematics, engineering and physics for example and with a smooth periodic function) contains white noise!
The 639 Hz frequency lies between D#5 (622.254 Hz rounded up to 623 Hz) and E5 (659.255 Hz rounded up to 660 Hz). This frequency is known as the Miracle Tone and vibrates to the Heart Chakra to manifest pure positive love energy. Listening to music in this frequency helps us to emotionally reconnect and attract love both from ourselves and those around us. This music can also help us to feel closer to universal consciousness, or self-realization by allowing us to look at a particular situation in a different way than before. Listeners may start to experience greater harmony in their relationships and navigate through life with better communication skills, deeper understanding, tolerance and love. Anyone struggling with turbulent or toxic relationships and co-dependency, or who is going through a rough patch in their personal life may find that listening to 639 Hz music enables them to heal and go on to transform areas of their life that no longer serve them well. The 639 Hz frequency may also be used to balance a blocked Heart Chakra which may manifest itself through low self-esteem, depression, lack of trust, low blood pressure, poor circulation and other heart and lung problems of the physical body.
The 748 Hz or note F#5 (739.989 rounded up to 740 Hz) frequency vibrates to the Throat Chakra and is used to cleanse all types of infections and dissolve toxins and electromagnetic radiations. It is directly connected to the Principle of Light – a higher form of bioenergy. Listening to music of this frequency may enable you to open up to communicate with your higher self, awakening your inner strength and intuition. It can also be used to cleanse blocked negative energy and overcome fear, overthinking and worry. Are you an overthinker? Do you spend hour after hour, day after day, week after week picking over and trying to analyze or make sense of a situation or an experience, whether it occurred recently or even long ago in your past? Then perhaps the 748 Hz frequency will enable you to take a step back and start to look at the situation more objectively and realize that’s where it belongs – in the past – and that today is for living without “what if’s” or regret. Nobody will think any the worse of you and even if they did, it is their issue to deal with, not yours.
The 852 Hz frequency (G#5 or 830.60 Hz rounded up to 831 Hz) corresponds with the Third Eye Chakra, which is known as the Seat of Intuitiveness. Music in this frequency may be used for clarity of thought, connection with the spirit world and a return to self-awareness, particularly if you have been feeling detached or disconnected from what is going on around you. In other words, if you have been feeling ungrounded or distracted and not always present in the moment.
The 963 Hz frequency lies between A#5 (932.328 Hz rounded up to 933 Hz) and B5 (987.767 or 988 Hz) and is also known as the ‘Frequency of the Gods’ or ‘Seat of the Soul’; its sound vibrates with the Crown Chakra and activates the pineal gland, which is a small pine cone-shaped gland found in the middle of the human brain, in between the two hemispheres of the epithalamus, and was one of the last glands to be discovered. The pineal gland is particularly important for the secretion of melatonin, a serotonin-derived hormone which regulates the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, and sleep pattern. The gland is also rich in calcium levels, which act as a radiographer to find the middle of the brain in X-ray images. The 963 Hz frequency enables us to awaken the perfect state and make direct contact with the Universal Light, to which this frequency is attuned.
As I mentioned earlier, the contemporary music scale is a little out of step with the original Solfeggio frequencies, however there are ways of attaining a closer connection, particularly where the nearest notes on a keyboard lies further away from, or even where two lie between, the sacred frequency; for example in the case of 285 Hz, 639 Hz, 852 Hz and 963 Hz frequencies. Even note F#5 corresponding to 748 Hz frequency is a little further out than is ideal. Where a particular frequency lies between two notes, the lower of the two notes is usually taken but to the purist this is nowhere near perfect.
An alternative to the keyboard may be to apply a pitch-bend technique and/or by using a different musical instrument such as strings, pipes, gongs or Tibetan bells, for example, in order to reach the intended frequency more accurately. Please remember of course that the voice is a very versatile instrument capable of a wide variety of sounds and techniques. Holding a note at a particular frequency may be used in chant or as a popular warm-up exercise. You may try it for yourself and find that over the coming weeks and months your singing and speaking voice and vocal range improve significantly and out of that your confidence also grows. YouTube is populated by a wide variety of channels offering music full of love and light intended to heal, cleanse and uplift the body, mind and soul; if you prefer your music darker, check out the channel Atrium Carceri on YouTube for its more Gothic, sacred chants.
Please go to my YouTube Channel Cat Evans Artist to watch the video which accompanies this blog.
Thank you and Blessed be!
My blog is always free but if you like what you have read, please feel free to “tip” me a herbal tea!
Home-smoked salmon is delicious with scrambled eggs on sourdough and garnished with fresh dill.
One of my favourite treats is smoked salmon, always a winner at parties and get-togethers and other special occasions, as is gravadlax (lox).
Smoked salmon and gravadlax both involve curing a whole salmon fillet, after which it may be thinly sliced and eaten or – as in the case of smoked salmon – hot or cold smoked over wood. Smoked salmon is relatively expensive from a supermarket being as much as £5.99 or more for 100 grams, and is therefore considered a delicacy so preparing it at home with a little know-how is usually great value for money.
An interesting fact about smoked salmon: the technique of smoking salmon was brought to the UK by Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland who settled in the East End of London in the late-19th century. Here they smoked salmon in order to preserve it as methods of refrigeration were rather primative.
Cold smoked salmon is cured salmon that is then smoked at very low temperatures for at least 12 hours which allows it to develop a silky-smooth texture with a fresh taste and bright colour similar to that of raw salmon, whereas the higher temperature of hot-smoked salmon will give the fish a flaky texture and smokier flavour. Both types are delicious served in salads, quiches or on party canapés and are also tasty ingredients in mousses, terrines and patés.
I first tried curing and smoking my own nitrite- and nitrate-free salmon earlier last summer during the first Lockdown and bought an 800 g fillet of sashimi-grade salmon from Fruits de Mer fishmongers in Broadstairs which turned out to be a great success, so later in October I bought a 1 kg side of salmon for around £16, which yielded a generous quantity of 100-150 g packets with a total retail value of around £50 had I purchased them from the supermarket.
I researched smoking and curing methods on the internet and was surprised at the wide variations in techniques and ingredients, which might appear quite confusing to a novice as, for example, some recipes call for a large quantity of salt and a shorter curing time while others are much less salty, and the choice of salt and sugar varies too between recipes. I also referred to the ethical River Cottage Handbook No. 13 Curing and Smoking by Steven Lamb and in the end devised my own method drawing on a combination of the recipe for gravadlax (with a small amount of curing salt and a few variations) and curing times and smoking techniques gleaned from what I considered to be the best sources on the internet.
I used Cornish PDV salt and organic juniper berries from Beech Tree (beech-tree.co.uk), together with soft brown sugar and some dill – we do not use any chemicals on the produce we grow. The salt and sugar in the cure prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and, along with the other ingredients, as a seasoning for the salmon.
Once the dry rub has been applied it may be left to cure in the refrigerator between 12 hours (which will provide a milder flavour) and 48 hours, but I went for 36 hours to provide a fuller flavour that isn’t too salty. As the salmon cures in the refrigerator, massage the curing mixture into every area of the fish after 24 hours and flip it over so that no areas are missed. Generally, unless you are using a very large side of salmon, I personally do not think it is wise to leave the salmon curing for longer than 36 hours as it will become too salty. After the curing time, remove the cure under cold running water and then leave it to soak in a large bowl of cold water to cover by 3 inches for 30 minutes and then drain well in a colander. pat the salmon dry with kitchen paper and place it skin side down on a wire rack over a food standard tray (which should have the symbol of a knife and fork on the base) or a board or baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and refrigerate it uncovered for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight to allow the pellicle to form so it is ready to smoke. The pellicle is the surface of the salmon that is most exposed during the curing process and will become slightly ‘tacky’. It develops a smokier flavour and drier, firmer texture than the flesh underneath and is very nutritious, being rich in protein and Omega 3.
If you are cold smoking your salmon, it needs to be done at an ambient temperature not exceeding 150°F (66°C) – as low as 80°F (27°C) is fine. Assuming you are smoking your salmon outdoors you may use a normal smoker (with no fire in the firebox) with a 12 inch tube filled with wood pellets, but you don’t need a professional smoking kit or anything fancy. You can use a kettle barbecue or even a fire pit with a lid and a small foil package of wood chips, or even just a stove-top smoker or a baking tray with a rack and foil and some wood chips if the weather is not on your side and you need to do the smoking indoors. Oak, maple or beech wood chips are good, we have also tried apple wood chips for a more delicate flavour. If you are using a baking tray, make sure it is one you don’t mind getting marked by the flame of a gas hob. In all cases, make sure that you soak your wood chips for an hour before use, wrap them securely in heavy-duty tin foil pierced at intervals before lighting to allow the smoke to escape and place them to one side in the base of your smoker, place the salmon on a wire rack and position it over the smoker, ensuring that the salmon is not sitting directly over the parcel of wood chips and cover with a lid or with foil. Check the temperature of the smoker regularly to ensure that it does not rise above 66°C and if it does, remove the lid to allow it to bring it back down to temperature. This process will take at least up to 24 hours depending on which cold-smoking method you choose, outside/indoor temperatures and the weight and thickness of your fish. The salmon should have an internal temperature of 120°F (49°C) when a temperature probe is inserted into the thickest part of the flesh.
Cold smoked salmon should last 3-4 days in the refrigerator but if you cannot eat a while side of salmon within this time frame, separate the fish into smaller portions and vacuum seal or alternatively wrap the portions in cling film and put into ziplock freezer bags. This should extend the life of your smoked salmon to 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator or 3-4 months in the freezer, but it will keep almost indefinitely in a deep freezer.
If you are hot smoking your salmon, it can be done perfectly well in your kitchen with a baking tray with a rack and wood chips. Line the tray with foil and cover the bottom with wood chips. Place the salmon skin side down on to a wire rack and position over the baking tray and either put the lid on (if there is one) or cover with foil, ensuring that the foil doesn’t touch the fish. Put the tray over a medium heat to allow the wood chips to smoke; you will see smoke come out of the edges of the foil or lid. The temperature in the smoker should reach a maximum of 225ºF (107ºC) and the fish should reach an internal finished temperature of no greater than 140ºF (60ºC) to avoid the salmon from drying out. If the temperature in the smoker begins to exceed 225ºF, you may lift the lid to bring it back down again. Remove the tray from the heat and stand, covered, for 20 minutes. Test the internal temperature of the fish by inserting a clean temperature probe and if you are satisfied, lift the salmon from the rack. The flesh of the salmon should be an opaque pink and a skewer should be easy to insert but if the fillet needs extra cooking, give it a few minutes in a hot oven. To enjoy the salmon at its best, either serve and eat it right away or leave it to cool and store in a refrigerator until the next day before either using it in hot or cold recipes or wrapping it in foil and heating in the oven until warmed through.
Hot smoked salmon can be refrigerated for two-to-three weeks or one week after opening, and can be frozen for up to three months. Store the salmon in the original packaging or wrap it tightly in cling film to prevent it from drying out and to maintain its quality and succulence.
1. Rinse salmon fillet under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place skin side down on a clean board and your fingers along the flesh side of the salmon, checking for the sharp ends of any pin bones, and pull out any you find with sterilized tweezers or needle nose pliers.
2. Prepare the cure, combining all the ingredients in a bowl.
3. Spread half the cure over the bottom of a baking dish or over the inside of an extra-large ziplock bag and lay the fillet on top of the cure. If possible the cure should extend about half an inch beyond the edges of the fish on each side. Then spread the rest of the cure on top of the fish, and massage it into the flesh to distribute it completely.
4. If you are using a baking dish, cover with cling film; if you are using a ziplock bag seal it and place it on a food standard tray and if you like, weight it down with something heavy. Refrigerate for 24-48 hours.
5. After 12 hours of refrigeration, massage the cure into the fish, flip the fillet over and massage the other side. Return to the refrigerator. Do this every 12 hours.
6. At the end of your chosen curing time, carefully rinse the cure off the salmon under cold running water. Then place the salmon in a deep dish or large bowl with cold water to cover by about 3 inches and soak it for 30 minutes. Drain through a colander. This process will also help to remove some of the salinity in the fish.
7. Blot both sides of the salmon fillet with kitchen paper and place it skin side down on a wire rack over a baking tray and allow the fish to dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight to allow the pellicle to form – the flesh will feel slightly tacky.
8. Smoke the salmon according to your preferred hot or cold method (as described in the narrative above this recipe).
9. When the salmon has cooled completely, transfer it to the refrigerator and chill completely before slicing or flaking (if hot-smoked) or slicing very thinly and serving with your favourite accompaniments such as cream cheese, rye bread or bagels, lemon wedges, capers, thinly sliced pink or red onions (perhaps dressed with a little white wine and tarragon vinegar) or mixed salad garnish.
When slicing cold-smoked salmon use a very sharp knife preferably with plenty of length and breadth, these slicing knives are expensive but high quality and well worth the hefty price tag – Lakeland Limited sell a good one for around £63. Keep the salmon in the refrigerator until you need to slice it. If you are right-handed place the salmon in front of you so that the thinner tail end is on your right-hand side. Position the knife about a quarter of the way up the salmon (tail end) holding it almost horizontal but so that the leading edge barely cuts into the fish. Move the knife backwards and forwards along the full length of the knife as you gradually move towards the tail and slightly downwards, which should give you a slice shaped like a long D. Continue slicing towards the tail as you gradually move up the fish. The knife blade should be visible through the salmon. When you reach the skin, cut along it to remove all the salmon. Once you get to the other end of the fish, turn it and cut the other way to remove the last few slices. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right straight away, practice makes perfect, and Dan and I are not quite there yet either!
Back in June, my husband Dan and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary in Lockdown with a day of sausage-making followed by a socially-distanced barbecue with our next-door-neighbours, Aidan and Sophia.
The art of sausage-making involves some scientific know-how and there is an obvious difference between making fresh sausages and those that you do not intend to eat right away.
Fresh sausage does not normally need curing salt, just a teaspoon of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, whatever herbs, spices and other flavourings you like such as apple, sun-dried tomatoes or ale, breadcrumbs or oatmeal and the best quality meat you can afford. However, if you intend to experiment with curing some of the mixture or wish to store fresh raw sausages in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, then you will need to substitute curing salt for sea salt. You may also store your fresh sausages in the freezer well-wrapped for up to 3 months, but freeze them on the day you have made them and consume them within the time frame. Making your own sausages also gives you control over the quality of the other ingredients as shop-bought sausages often contain more unsavoury parts of the animal such as snout, gums, connective tissue and so forth.
If you want to keep your bangers in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before eating them or intend to have a go at producing air-dried sausage, such as chorizo, it is important to add a special curing salt, such as potassium nitrate or pink curing salt, to your sausage recipe in order to avoid botulism. The amount of curing salt varies according to which curing salt you choose and which type of sausage you are making but in the case of chorizo, for example, it is common practice to add 0.5g of potassium nitrate per kg of meat or 2.5g of pink curing salt per kg of meat, which is about half a teaspoon.
The method of curing also varies and is often very precise. Chorizo is often air dried by hanging up in an area with a steady temperature of between 50 and 60F and a humidity of 65-80F, but some people prefer to use an air dryer. Temperature and humidity are very important to avoid problems such as case hardening, which occurs when the cases cure faster than the meat inside. This usually happens when there is not enough humidity and the meat inside will not cure properly, although it is more of a problem with fatter sausages such as salami.
Occasionally mould will form on the sausage casing. White powdery mould is usually safe, but if it forms simply wipe it off with apple cider vinegar. If green mould forms on the outside of the casing do likewise, but if it is another colour such as blue or black you will need to throw the sausage away.
If the sausage does end up dryer on the outside than the inside, wrap in waxed paper or cling film and pop it in the refrigerator for a few days which will usually correct the problem, as the humidity left in the sausages will even out, leaving a more balanced sausage.
Air dried sausage is ready to eat when it has lost at least 35% of its original weight, so make sure you weigh the sausage before you hang it up to dry and then weigh it again before cutting, when it is firm to the touch by squeezing it.
If you are thinking about curing your own sausages in this way, making a small batch of fresh sausage (containing curing salt instead of sea salt and a variety of other seasonings) for eating right away and air drying one or two of the links to experiment, may be a step forward.
Dan and I chose to make fresh sausages by hand after grinding the ingredients in a food processor, as we did not have a sausage-maker or meat-grinder.
Because I wanted to make some vegetarian haggis sausages for myself, I bought one stick of Viscofan 30mm diameter 100% plant-based sausage skin from the Ebay UK seller butcherssundries_online, which cost me £8.99 including free p&p for one 15.24 metre stick. Viscofan are world-leaders in producing the finest quality sausage skins, using state-of-the-art technology to form their ingredients into casings. The casing I bought is 100% vegetarian, gluten-free, GMO-free, allergen-free and are also suitable for vegans. They are also marketed as having an excellent natural look with good frying qualities and a tender bite. The all-one-length stick is sectioned at approximately 2.5 cm intervals in folded form, which we found produced an average yield of 6 sausages and also allowed us to cut off the length of casing we needed without wasting any, knotting the cut-off end to secure before stuffing.
We started with the ingredients for the vegetarian haggis sausages, then the pork and tomato and finally the beef and red wine ones, washing the food processor thoroughly afterwards between each batch of ingredients to avoid cross-contamination. As we had no sausage-maker we first tried piping the mixture into the skin, which wasn’t very effective, but I had a brainwave and we inserted a small funnel into the open end of the casing and pushed the mixture through the funnel with clean fingers and the handle of a wooden spoon. We made sure the sausage casing was well-filled before twisting at each interval to form the individual sausage shapes, but this was the tricky part as the casing seemed less pliable than we expected so we needed to twist it several times to stay in place.
All the sausages cooked perfectly on the barbecue, the skins did not burst and had a tender bit. We set the grill higher over the coals to allow the sausages to cook evenly. There is nothing worse than a sausage burnt on the outside and still half-cooked on the inside. We wrapped the haggis sausages in foil and placed them in a foil tray with some water and steamed them over the barbecue. All the sausages had a good consistency and tasted delicious and we all enjoyed what we ate. I served all the sausages with a good vegetarian red wine reduction, a foil tray of onions gently fried and then placed over the barbecue covered with heavy-duty foil and some creamy mashed potato, and we shared a good bottle of Champagne.
Below are my sausage recipes – simply combine all ingredients in a food processor or meat grinder before making into sausages. I eyeballed most of the ingredients based on instinct, but if you’re not a confident cook then feel free to use your own weights and measures.
BEEF AND RED WINE SAUSAGES
500g minced beef – drizzled with a good glug of Merlot and allowed to marinate overnight
A good handful of fresh breadcrumbs or oatmeal
Fresh thyme, leaves only
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
PORK AND TOMATO SAUSAGES
500g minced pork
A good handful of fresh breadcrumbs or oatmeal
3 tbsp tomato paste
Chopped sun-dried tomatoes if liked
Fresh thyme and chopped sage, leaves only
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
VEGETARIAN HAGGIS SAUSAGES
Can butter beans, drained and mashed
A good handful of oatmeal
Chopped garden herbs, leaves only – thyme, rosemary, marjoram
A good handful of vegetable suet
A glug of sunflower oil
1 tsp ground allspice
Sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
We have since invested in a combined sausage-maker and meat-grinder and had a date making turkey and chorizo sausages seasoned with hot and smoked paprika, which turned out really well. We gave some to my brother and he loved them!
During the Lockdown period I have seen a few TV programmes featuring celebrity chefs preparing gnocchi.
Now, I have tried pre-packaged gnocchi from the supermarket several times in the past but it was never to my liking. It often has a strange, slimy texture and is under seasoned, tasting of very little at all; an underwhelming dining experience, it must be said.
For me, texture is a very important consideration when preparing meals. If something looks and tastes ‘wrong’ to my palate I am unable to eat it and I am sure many people share my sentiments. Gnocchi has usually had this effect upon me, thus I tend to avoid it.
However, recently having watched TV programmes showcasing tempting plates and inventive recipe ideas with gnocchi, and then discovering that gnocchi is a slightly healthier alternative to traditional white pasta, I did wonder whether I might be missing out on a taste sensation and might perhaps have more luck making my own gnocchi and, at the same time, make it gluten- and egg-free, so I decided to give it a go.
Gnocchi are little Italian soft dough dumplings often made with a blend of semolina or wheat flour, mashed potato, egg and seasoning and can be fried, baked or boiled. Other ingredients might include cornmeal or breadcrumbs, cheese or egg, and flavourings such as vegetables, herbs, cocoa or prunes.
I used Doves Farm plain (all purpose) gluten-free flour which is a blend of rice, potato, tapioca, maize and buckwheat and is also suitable for a Kosher diet. Recipes online suggest baking rather than boiling gluten-free gnocchi but I saw no reason why the little dumplings could not be boiled as long as handled with the love and respect any handcrafted product deserves.
One of the most important things is to use floury potatoes and make sure they steam dry before mashing and that it is well-seasoned with salt and pepper. The potato can be boiled first or baked in its jacket in a microwave oven before mashing A potato ricer, if you have one, makes it easier to get a nice smooth texture with no lumps, otherwise use a conventional potato masher and some elbow grease, but for my recipe do not add milk or butter or any beaten egg. Simply combine the potato with the plain flour, add chopped sage or any chopped herbs of your choice, and season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Form the gnocchi dough into little balls or lozenge shapes and use the back of a fork to create a crinkle effect, before boiling in a pan of salted water for a couple of minutes. When they are ready, the gnocchi will rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon on to kitchen paper to drain and then serve with any sauce of your choice – or even a simple drizzle of garlic infused olive oil and torn basil leaves, or a little pesto or sun dried tomato tapenade.
For a heartier plate and to keep this recipe vegan, any tomato-based sauce goes well with gnocchi, whether you roast whole cherry tomatoes in an oven with garlic and balsamic vinegar or use tinned chopped tomatoes. For a vegetarian, gnocchi can be enjoyed with roasted butternut squash and goat’s cheese or perhaps some spinach and ricotta. I decided to serve the gnocchi simply with a side of roasted Mediterranean vegetables – diced aubergine (eggplant), roughly chopped onions, tomatoes, courgette, tomatoes and bell peppers and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
I found the gnocchi cheap to make and easy to prepare, and the time taken was worth the effort as the result was delicious. I have discovered a liking for freshly-prepared gnocchi, they are tasty, filling and versatile and I will enjoy experimenting with different flavour and texture combinations.
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the gnocchi
400g Potatoes, mashed
50g Gluten-free Plain flour
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh or dried basil
For the vegetables
1 Aubergine diced into 2cm chunks
2 courgettes diced into 2cm chunks
Whole cherry tomatoes or quartered vine-ripened tomatoes
2 red onions, roughly chopped into chunks
Red and Yellow Bell Pepper, deseeded and sliced into strips
Crushed garlic cloves (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Torn basil leaves (to serve)
Boil floury potatoes in their skins in salt water, drain thoroughly and return to the pan to steam dry. Alternatively, microwave potatoes in their skins until cooked through.
Wash and prepare the vegetables, drain well on kitchen paper and place in a roasting tin with some crushed garlic cloves if liked and a good glug of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in a medium oven and roast for 20-25 minutes or until tender.
On the hob, heat a large pan of salted water and bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, as soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skins away with clean hands and either push the potatoes through a potato ricer or mash to remove any lumps. Turn potatoes out on to a large board.
Measure out 50g plain flour on to the board and gently mix into the potatoes, along with chopped fresh or dried basil to your liking and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a little more flour if you think it is necessary, but only add one tablespoon at a time to avoid the dough becoming too dry.
Carefully knead the dough for a few minutes until pliable and then roll into four thin sausage shapes 2-3 cm thick and cut each sausage into 3cm slices. Then either roll into balls or carefully mould into lozenges, using the back of a fork to create grooves which will help the sauce to stick to the dumplings.
Carefully place the gnocchi in the pan of salted water and boil for about 2 minutes. They are ready when they rise to the surface and they will have puffed up a bit. Cook the gnocchi in two batches of two servings to ensure they do not stick together.
Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, toss with a little garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil and serve with the Mediterranean vegetables and torn basil leaves.
Salad vegetables at any time of year are a good source of insoluble fibre, which helps you to maintain a healthy digestive tract and reduce LDL, or bad, cholesterol. By adding nuts, seeds or beans (maybe even some pea shoots or alfafa sprouts) to your salads you will also get a boost of soluble fibre which helps to lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar well-balanced, which is particularly important for diabetics and more generally to control mood swings, irritability, depression and cravings for sugary things. Other symptoms of blood sugar imbalance include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, feeling hungry after only a few hours of eating, blurred vision and fat storage around the midriff. These are also symptoms of clinical hypoglycaemia which is when blood sugar falls below below 55 mg/dL. Salad vegetables contain high levels of water providing our bodies with hydration necessary for youthful skin tone and various basic bodily functions such as urination and bowel movement.
Salads are so easy to prepare at home and a salad a day provides multiple health benefits at any time of the year. The main difference of course is that the various salad vegetables have their seasons, which is when they will be at their most nutritious especially if they are organic or homegrown and free from chemicals and pesticides rather than flown in from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, although even these will have some nutritional value and not everyone is able to afford to buy organic or grow their own produce, Please remember to rinse all your vegetables thoroughly in clean, cold running water before preparing in order to get rid of any grit, soil and pests or residue of chemicals and pesticides.
One of the best things to include in your salad is leafy greens rich in Vitamin K such as baby spinach, Romaine lettuce or watercress in the summer and shredded kale in the winter. Low levels of Vitamin K have been linked to low bone density in women and just one cup of leafy greens per day will promote bone growth and improve the performance of the mitochondria which are the tiny cell structures that help us produce energy and effective muscle maintenance and growth. Romaine lettuce in particular contains significant levels of folate which helps to prevent stroke and cardiovascular disease. Grated or fine julienne strips of carrot, beetroot and celeriac and some finely shredded red cabbage also pep up your winter salad and help to make it super nutritious. Aim to make your salads as colourful as possible to maximise your intake of vitamins and minerals and to increase the level of powerful antioxidants in your blood. “Red” fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, red and orange peppers, carrots, stone fruits like peaches and apricots and berries such as blueberries, pomegranates and cranberries are of particular nutritional benefit as they contain carotenoids such as Vitamin A, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin as well as providing the body with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory attributes. Carotenoids – which are also found in the green leafy salad vegetables – also help the eyes to adjust between light and dark and to filter out high intensity light levels and thus protecting the eyes from the formation of damaging free radicals.
A fibre-rich salad will help you feel full faster so you will consume less calories than you might otherwise and including as many raw vegetables as possible will maximise their positive effects. If you can, try incorporating a handful of chopped nuts or seeds in your salad and a homemade salad dressing provide a good source of healthy oils, as does adding some sliced avocado which enables the body to absorb all the protective compounds, lutein and phytochemicals it needs for optimal health and wellbeing and a strong immune system. Nuts and seeds are also a good source of zinc and selenium, which help to prevent heart disease and develop antibodies in the immunocompromised, improve metabolism and thyroid function. Selenium also contains antioxidants that help to boost male fertility by increasing the sperm’s mobility to help it to swim and fertilise the ova. Zinc helps to keep white blood cells healthy to fight disease and infection, enable wound healing and encourage cell production in the body. A paper published in 2003 in the Folia Microbiologica noted that zinc and selenium are both important in modulating immune function and selenium in particular is necessary for the functioning of three different types of immune cells – neutrophils (they comprise 40% of white blood cells and 60% of the immune cells in the blood), macrophages (they help to eliminate foreign substances and microorganisms and other harmful organisms by overwhelming them and triggering an immune response) and ‘natural killer’ (NK) cells (lymphocites, which belong to the ‘B’ and ‘T’ cell family but respond quickly to a whole host of pathological challenges such as killing virally infected cells and detecting and controlling early signs of cancer).
TIP: Try making your own salad dressing. To a small jar add 6 tsp extra virgin olive oil, 3 teaspoons of raw apple cider vinegar, 3 tsp honey, 3 tsp Dijon or wholegrain mustard, season with salt or pepper, screw the lid on and shake thoroughly to combine. Depending on what salad you are making you might also like to add a squeeze of fresh lemon, lime or orange juice and this kind of salad dressing also stops fruits such as chopped avocado and apple from browning. Also try adding antioxidant-rich chopped herbs to your dressings and salads such as coriander, thyme, dill, garlic, chives, rosemary and mint (which pairs particularly well with apple) to bring a further dimension to your plate.
Below is a basic winter salad using some of the fresh raw seasonal fruit and vegetables that Dan and I had bought from our local farm shop at the weekend or had delivered from Riverford Organic. I dressed the salad with my basic homemade salad dressing (as detailed in the above paragraph), adding a dollop or two of home-fermented cabbage with its health-giving probiotics and a handful each of walnuts and mixed seeds for a bit of crunch. Quantities are random – it is entirely up to you how large you want your salad to be or for how many people you are catering – but this one will feed two.
A wedge of red cabbage, thinly shredded
A good handful of organic curly kale, thinly shredded
Organic carrot, sliced into thin julienne strips
Large stick of celery, chopped
2 small local apples, cored and chopped
handful of organic black grapes, halved
Handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
Handful of mixed seeds
Two tablespoons of fermented cabbage (optional) – my homemade one is fermented with grated carrot and cumin seeds.
1. Wash and prepare the fruits and salad vegetables and place in a large bowl.
2. Add the roughly chopped walnuts, drizzle in the salad dressing and mix into the salad to combine thoroughly.
3. Pile the salad into the middle of one platter or two large plates.
4. Spoon the fermented cabbage (if using) on to the bed of salad and sprinkle with mixed seeds.
This salad is vegan if served on its own or with sliced avocado or some falafels.
This main course salad can also be served with shaved parmesan or vegetarian substitute, some hot smoked mackerel or salmon or even charcuterie. However you choose to present your salad, it is very versatile!
Live, or bio, yoghurt is a very healthy food source containing “friendly bacteria”.
Live yoghurt is fermented with live cultures, also known as probiotics, and can be beneficial to the digestive system and contribute to the balance of natural bacteria in your body, specifically the stomach and intestines when they have been aggravated by illness or medical treatment, for example. Live yoghurt may also be useful for treating irritable bowel syndrome or diarrhoea and it has always been one of my go-to’s if I’m feeling under the weather although I should point out that this happens only rarely; I often have a couple of tablespoons of live natural yoghurt at breakfast time with orange or apple or with berries if I have any and I also enjoy it with homemade fruit compote which I poach gently in a pan on the stove and then take it off the heat to cool in its own juices which enables the natural sugars to be released, although if the fruit is quite sharp I might add a tablespoon of honey as it starts to cool down.
Live yoghurts are a valuable source of lactic acid and contain species of bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families of bacteria. According to the National Yoghurt Association, pasteurised milk is converted to yoghurt during the fermentation process. Live yoghurt is usually safe for most people to eat unless their immune system is weak or compromised and if you have a good immune system it may help to strengthen it even further. If you don’t consume probiotics at the moment but are interested in doing so and are unsure whether they are right for you, perhaps discuss it with your GP or other health professional.
Whilst you can find a wide range of yoghurts and other probiotics, such as kefir, in the supermarket it is easy and fun to make your own live yoghurt at home. There are a number of ways of adding probiotics to yoghurt to make live yoghurt, some requiring more investment than others. One method might be to buy an Easi-Yo kit consisting of a large wide insulated flask and a yoghurt pot with a screw on lid and some sachets of probiotic powder. These all contain instructions and are super-easy to use although they can work out quite expensive, especially if like Dan and I you get through a lot of live yoghurt but the method is simple and fuss-free and the yoghurt is delicious every time with a lovely, creamy texture and flavour. The Easi-Yo range is stocked in the Lakeland Ltd and The Range stores and the powders are available in many flavours including natural, vanilla and even fruity ones such as strawberry.
Another way is my new favourite way which is to add a few spoons of premade live yoghurt such as Yeo Valley, Onken or Helen’s Farm (if you prefer goat milk products) to a yoghurt recipe, and this is your ‘starter’ – a principle similar to making sourdough bread, for example – and well, I felt it was necessary to research other methods of yoghurt making and perhaps save a few pennies in the cost of living crisis we are experiencing on a worldwide scale. Traditionally, the starter uses a well-balanced blend of bacteria that ‘eats’ the sugars that occur naturally in milk and then turn the milk into lactic acid, which then changes the taste and texture and will give your starter a thicker, creamier and tangier taste.
Very little equipment is needed to make your own live yoghurt. All you need are things most of us have around the kitchen: a large saucepan, a measuring cup or jug, a food thermometer, a wide-necked Thermos flask or insulated cup with a tight-fitting lid, a large sterilised jam jar, a balloon whisk (a cheap one is fine if you are short of money), a carton of full-fat or semi-skimmed cow’s milk or goat milk or UHT milk and a small pot of store-bought live yoghurt. If you like your yoghurt thicker, creamier and a bit more tangy then you might also add a little skimmed milk powder. Simply add 25 g (1 oz) of skimmed milk powder to every 500 ml of milk. If you prefer flavoured live yoghurt just buy a small pot of store-bought live yoghurt in any flavour you like to use as your starter. You will need 3 tbsp of the starter to every 500 ml of milk.
My recipe below is for 500 ml of live natural yoghurt because I only had a 500 ml capacity insulated cup that I could find right away! We had a new kitchen recently which we are still re-populating and I cannot remember where I put my Easi-Yo flask!
500 ml fresh full-fat cow’s milk
25 g skimmed milk powder
Small pot Yeo Valley bio yoghurt
Large heavy-based saucepan
Digital scales or measuring jug/cup and measuring spoons
1. Remove the small pot of store-bought Live Yoghurt and leave on the counter in order to bring it to room temperature. Warm up your flask or insulated cup ready to use and according to manufacturer’s instructions (for ease of reference, you can usually fill it with hot, not boiling water, and put the lid on to stay warm and then tip out the water when you are ready to use the flask/cup).
2. Measure 500 ml milk in a jug or measuring cup and pour into the saucepan.
3. Weigh out 25 g skimmed milk powder (the cheaper ones work perfectly well – I use Tesco’s own brand) and add it to the pan of milk and whisk it in well to fully combine.
4. Clip the thermometer to the side of the saucepan so the metal probe has contact with the milk and place the pan on the stove over a low heat stirring with the balloon whisk occasionally. The liquid needs to reach 86oC on the thermometer and this may take up to 10 minutes. NOTE: if you are using UHT milk just heat it to 46oC and immediately follow step 5.
5. When the milk reaches the required temperature take it off the heat and set aside until it cools down to 46oC and quickly add 3 tablespoons of live yoghurt and whisk it in thoroughly before pouring it into the warmed flask or cup and then screw the lid on tightly.
6. Leave to stand on the counter for at least 8 hours or overnight. The longer you leave it there the thicker and creamier it will be.
7. The following morning, check to see how your yoghurt has set and then spoon it into your sterilised jam jar. If you prefer Greek Yoghurt to the set variety strain through a piece of muslin cloth over a bowl and then decant into the jam jar. Screw the lid on tightly if you have one, otherwise cover the top with cling film and an elastic band and store in the fridge. Consume within a few days.
COOK’S TIP: you can produce your next batch of Live Yoghurt with your own starter by reserving 3 tablespoons of your homemade yoghurt!
In the UK, the wild garlic (allium ursinum) or ‘Ramsons’ season is a short one: these pungent plants are usually ready for picking around the beginning of April until the end of May or early June, though it is normally at its most prolific from April until the beginning of May. Wild garlic plants have pretty white blooms and coat the shady floors of woods at springtime. Although it may also be found in scrub and hedgerows, it prefers the damper conditions of woodland and chalk soils.
Other names for wild garlic include ‘buckram’, ‘broad-leafed garlic’, ‘gypsy’s onions’, ‘wood garlic’, ‘bear leek’ and ‘stinking Jenny’. Its leaves are long, oval and pointed with untoothed edges which grow from the base of the plant and the bulb. They are sometimes confused with lily of the valley when not in flower but you will know it is wild garlic from its strong garlicky smell if you crush some of the leaves in your hand, and lily of the valley flowers are bell-shaped. Lily of the valley is poisonous so make sure you know what you are picking if you are out foraging. The flowers of the wild garlic are small and white with six petals on a thin stalk and around 25 flowers make up each rounded flower cluster on a single, leafless stalk.
Wild garlic reproduces through bulbs, bulbils and occasionally from seeds which are 2-3mm long and are black and quite flat on one side. They scatter when the parts of the plant above the ground die down. It is important not to over-forage wild garlic, which would badly affect regrowth and availability in the following year. Unfortunately, as this plant has become a highly-prized gourmet ingredient this practice is becoming a major problem in certain areas of its habitat. The whole point of foraging is to take only what you need with a respect for nature and mindfulness of its bounty, and not with ruthlessness or for large-scale material gain.
It is the leaves of the wild garlic that are eaten, with the bulbs left intact in the ground, and the taste is quite mild, similar to that of chives. It is best picked before the flowers appear, but in any case it is best to try and avoid picking stalks that bear flowers to ensure the survival of the plant in following years.
Wild garlic leaves can be eaten raw or lightly cooked; they are very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of recipes. Make sure you wash and drain them thoroughly. Some recipes might also ask you to blanch the leaves for a few minutes in boiling water. Wild garlic can be stirred into risottos or omelettes, added to lasagnes and bakes, soups and stews or used in sauces such as pesto or gremolata, or in salads and dressings. In a soup or stew they are best added at the last moment to wilt down, rather like watercress or spinach.
I particularly enjoy making wild garlic pesto which I use in salads or to smooth over my homemade pizza base before adding toppings. I also enjoy the taste of wild garlic soup so I am sharing with you one of my recipes which is prepared in a slow cooker. If you like, use coconut milk instead of double cream to finish to keep it vegan. Please see the cook’s notes at the end of the recipe for other variations.
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
Large handful of foraged wild garlic leaves (or a small packet), larger stalks removed
1 onion, roughly chopped
500 ml vegetable stock (or enough to cover)
Double cream or coconut milk to finish
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
In the crock of a small slow cooker place all the ingredients except for the wild garlic leaves and add enough cold vegetable stock to cover approx 2.5 cm above the vegetables. The stock can be made with water and a teaspoon of Swiss Bouillon granules or you can use reserved water from steamed vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Place the lid on the crock and cook on high for 1 hour, then cook on low for a further 1-1.5 hours or until vegetables are tender. If you prefer to use hot stock, please remember to switch on your slow cooker to high to heat up 30 minutes before you add ingredients and hot liquid as the crock is heat sensitive and may crack.
Meanwhile prepare the wild garlic leaves, removing any flowers and larger, thicker stalks, place in a colander and rinse thoroughly in cold running water, leave to drain.
When the vegetables are tender add the wild garlic leaves to wilt down for 30 seconds or so with the lid on and switch off the slow cooker, leave the soup to cool down a little.
Blend soup thoroughly until smooth with a stick blender, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Stir through a swirl of double cream or coconut milk, check and correct seasoning again and gently reheat on the low setting. Serve with a few garlic croutons and a chunk of good bread.
If you prefer your soup to have a milder flavour, replace the onion with a small finely sliced leek.
Try adding some finely chopped chives or parsley to the blended soup.
A stick of lemongrass cooked with the vegetables might add an Asian twist if you are finishing the soup with coconut milk. Remember to remove the lemon grass before blending.
Meat eaters might like to garnish the soup with a scattering of pan fried bacon bits or some crispy pancetta.
If you don’t have a slow cooker, just use a saucepan as usual. Cook the vegetables in the stock until tender. Once tender, remove from the heat and quickly add the wild garlic leaves and allow to wilt down in the residual heat. When the soup mixture has cooled slightly blitz with a stick blender, adjust seasoning, add cream or coconut milk, adjust seasoning again if necessary and gently reheat before serving with garnishes as you like.
If you have neither cream nor coconut milk, just add a splash of milk before reheating or simply reheat with its bright green colour, ladle into a warm bowl and perhaps add a dollop of natural yoghurt or creme fraiche.