This summer we had a wonderful family holiday in Turkey staying at the delightful boutique hotel, Dionysos. The hotel was the brainchild of the owner Ahmet who 8 years ago set about creating a cluster of pretty stone cottages, the main hotel and stunning infinity pool overlooking a dramatic canyon which sweeps down towards the Kulumbuk bay. This was in fact our second visit, and as we never repeat holidays as a rule just goes to show how much we enjoyed ourselves. The staff were the best we’ve encountered, welcoming, charming, informed, always there when needed but never in your face – perfect. We really wanted to take them home with us and it was quite a wrench to leave again. In fact the staff hadn’t changed from last year to this, they are like one big extended family looking out for each other and this shows which again is exceptional in a tough business like theirs.
The other reason to visit the Dionysos is the amazing cooking. Ahmet’s daughter, Didem Senol trained as a chef in New York and then Istanbul before becoming the chef at the Dionysos. Her cooking is creative, exciting and uniformly delicious. She and her fantastic team scour local markets and use produce from the Dionysos farm further up the mountain. From the start Ahmet created an organic farm growing a lot of the vegetables, olives, fruit and herbs used in the hotel. More recently he invested a considerable amount of money in building an olive pressing unit to extract their own oil. Their extra virgin olive oil is a very high quality oil which they use in all their cooking. The oil is called Amos organic olive oil and is the oil extracted from the early harvesting of their olives around the farm and Dionysos estate. Amazingly they won a coveted award at the annual olive oil “Oscars” in Italy the first time they entered last year! Amos olive oil is now ranked in the top 100 extra virgin olive oils in the world. Not bad for a fairly new venture. Sadly they don’t produce enough to satisfy both the Dionysos requirements and commercial outlets so you can’t buy it except at the Dionysos. Fortunately this year Didem has put together a wonderful book containing a lot of her recipes which I highly recommend. Called Aegean Flavours it is a great way to sample her take on the best of Turkish ingredients in ways I would never have tried. However one recipe which isn’t in the book is the following recipe for White Yoghurt Soup which my husband adored and so I got Unda to tell me the recipe on our last night. Here it is with a few tweaks as I was slightly worse for wear when he dictated it to me after several Margharita’s!
This amount will serve 10:
2 litres water
100g easy cook rice
Mix the above ingredients and cook for 15 mins until the rice is cooked.
500g natural yoghurt
1 free range egg
125g plain flour
1 litre water
half lemon juiced
small handful of oregano or 1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
handful chopped mint
small handful chopped tarragon or 1 tsp dried tarragon
handful chopped parsley
1 tablespoon salt
1 x 400g tin drained chickpeas
Mix all together except the chickpeas and herbs and bring to a gentle simmer. Use a whisk to stir in the flour as it tends to clump. Add the butter and herbs followed by the chickpeas, continue simmering for a few minutes and serve.
There hasn’t been much to report on our three Gloucester Old Spot pigs that hadn’t happened to our last three rare breed pigs. Twice a day stand well back and sling a bucket of food in the general direction of trough and repeatedly go out to refill their water butt which they love up-ending! I don’t know how they managed to do it but every time they splashed me with mud. Because they insisted on knocking over the water butt we ended up with a small corner pond next to the butt which never dried out. Like the last pigs they loved rolling, sitting and walking around in this muddy sludge and because they were so greedy and assertive they would jump up at the fence whenever they heard me coming, hence the splatterings!
Anyway this last Monday was D-Day for them. This time Neale had booked them into a relaunched abattoir at Bishop’s Castle run by a consortium of local farmers/producers which seemed to be a well run, small operation. There Fatima, Flora and Freya were unloaded along with a variety of other rare breed piggies. Unlike last time I didn’t have any pangs of guilt or sadness, just relief at not having to get changed again every morning! This time I was present during the butchering. Glynn and Radek did a splendid job of creating an enormous number of a variety of joints, chops, boned and rolled bellies as well as producing a nice stash of sausages from all the trim, and a lot of face meat for Neale to attempt brawn. Wow, what a taste sensation that was. Absolutely delicious, so succulent and tasty. Served with our Dukeshill Piccalilli and one of our lettuces from the garden it was a sublime summer lunch. Slightly fattier than our Dukeshill potted ham hock and with a subtly different flavour it took an age to make, mostly because it was so fiddly to remove the meat from the fat, so in fact using the head meat from our three pigs we only managed to produce two loaf tin sized brawns. We will keep you posted as to how the brawn development at Dukeshill goes!
Last time I mentioned about Neale’s first attempt at growing a variety of fruit and veg in his four raised beds was back in March when he had just created the actual beds. It’s amazing how quickly, just four months on, we now have a glut of the most delicious vegetables. We’re learning hard and fast from our mistakes as well as our successes such as one large lettuce a day is too much for just the two of us, peas need covering with netting to prevent the pea moth maggots from spoiling numerous pods and our broad beans are covered with little black bugs. As for the raspberries, big mistake not covering them with netting. Every morning for the last week I walk past the raspberries on my way to feed the chickens but if I don’t pick them there and then they are gone by the end of the day. I’ve even caught a pheasant repeatedly jumping to snatch gooseberries from our standard gooseberry trees – quite cute to watch!
One of the nicest parts about growing your own is deciding what to cook based on what looks ripe and ready right outside your door. All the food magazines have countless seasonal recipes to try and it has been really fun to try lots of them out such as the chicken with broad beans in a creamy dijon sauce; linguine with goats cheese, peas and broad beans; spinach & red chard lasagne; french bean, pea & hazelnut salad; raspberry and gooseberry jam; beetroot in white sauce; lamb with carrots, new potatoes, shallots, garlic, peas & broad beans …… The other really good reason for growing your own apart from the freshness is the savings it’s made to my housekeeping budget. I have been surprised though at how little difference there is in flavour to freshly dug or picked to some of the veg you can buy locally at farm shops or even supermarkets. Perhaps that has more to do with the varieties we have chosen to grow this year but I must admit I was expecting to be blown away by the flavour which I haven’t been for the most part. All tastes perfectly nice and I’m sure side by side with the usual supermarket veg ours would have the edge on flavour. We have much to learn – a work in progress as you might say!
Neale and I have just returned from a wonderfully relaxing holiday in the most stunning cottage in Plockton. We went with my sister, cousin and their spouses for what turned out to be a week long walking, drinking and fishing competition! The girls won the fishing by the way. Plockton is really sweet and a great place to stay with three pubs, three restaurants, a fish & chip kiosk, several shops and a post office. The kiosk and post office shared the same opening hours, minimal ie. two(!) which were whenever we weren’t around it seemed. Our cottage was right on the waters edge with the most stunning views and even better had been done out beautifully, no shag pile carpet or musty smells anywhere, just the sort of place you wished you could live in full time. Strangely I did find myself agreeing with a visitor to Plockton on Callum’s seal and dolphin spotting trip (highly recommended – we saw both) who said how they really didn’t rate Plockton as a tourist destination for a day trip and neither would I. It was great as a base because it was so pretty and had all you needed but not much else for a day out.
Situated just up the road from the beautiful Eilean Donan castle of BBC logo fame, Plockton was just round the corner from the Kyle of Lochalsh from where you could drive over the bridge to Skye. My sister had pre-booked the Three Chimneys on Skye for a lunch thinking it was just up the road! Surprising considering she got an A for geography and did town planning but then that might explain a lot. We had all wanted to visit the restaurant having read various reviews over the years so off we set. An hour and a quarter later we arrived on an incredibly isolated peninsula with the most beautiful views, with seals sunbathing on the exposed rocks just off shore.
The restaurant has been run by the same family for about twenty years we were informed by the really lovely staff. They have always used local produce in season and the menu reflected this. The starters ranged from Asparagus and Ramson (wild garlic) soup to my starter of Charred Blade and Tongue of Lochalsh Beef with Tattie Scone, Celeriac Slaw, Pickled Walnuts and Onions – divine. My main course was the Bourride of West Coast Hake, Monkfish, Razor Clams and Squid with Crushed Jersey Royals, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Sorrel and Neale’s the Seafood Platter with Loch Dunvegan Prawns, Dressed Drumfearn Mussels, Seared Sconser King Scallops, Loch Harport Oysters, Potted Colbost Crab and Winkles with salads.
The puddings were equally delicious. I had the Hot Toddy Parfait with Rhubarb and Aniseed Brittle to finish. Cost for three courses was £35. My cousin in law, Tony, who lives and works in London didn’t feel the food was as clever as in the best London restaurants or the flavours as intense but I think he chose badly always going for the very rich, heavy dishes. For myself I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch. Would I recommend this place? You bet and only fourteen hours drive from London!
This recipe is adapted from one featured in this months Olive magazine, an excellent foodie magazine which we subscribe to at Dukeshill. I noticed that the ingredients comprised three of my favourite things, honey, olive oil and pistachios. Having just launched our great friend, Susie’s olive oil this month at Dukeshill, been inundated at home with eggs and having twenty or so jars of our home produced honey left it seemed the perfect recipe to try. My capricious chickens being rare breed girls produce when they want to but by goodness they’re worth the wait! You can see how yellow all our eggs are from the colour of the sponge above but then we do have the most spoilt hens in the world. They are fed on ridiculously expensive organic layers pellets and corn and are allowed to roam round an acre of orchard. We go from feast to famine but at the moment it is very much feast on the egg front. I end up giving eggs away to anyone who pops round whether they want them or not! I also wanted to use up our delicious, runny honey Neale harvested from his bees last summer before he harvests the next batch shortly.
I have doubled the quantity of honey for the size of the cake as it was much more squidgy when drenched with the delicious honey/pistachio syrup. Our lunch guests seemed to really enjoy it. In fact the photo was of Bill’s plate who I had to restrain whilst taking the photo! Perfect with some fresh English strawberries and cream or Greek yoghurt.
5 properly free range, organic eggs
225ml Greek yoghurt
225g golden caster sugar
100g ground almonds
zest of 2 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
150g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
200ml Fino olive oil
150g shelled pistachios, toasted and crushed
300ml runny honey
juice of 2 oranges
juice of 1 lemon
This is really dead easy. Just mix together all the sponge ingredients in a bowl and put in a large cake tin greased with olive oil and dusted with flour. Bake at 180′C/350′F or the top of the baking oven of an Aga for 50 mins or until an inserted knife comes out cleanly. Leave to cool slightly for 15 minutes then cut the top of the cake all over.
Meanwhile place the toasted pistachios in a dry frying pan and heat then add the honey and orange and lemon juice and bubble for two minutes. Allow to cool for 10 mins then pour the nutty syrup over the cake, still in the cake tin and leave for 30 mins to allow the syrup to be soaked up by the cake. It’s easier to serve straight from the cake tin.