Saturday, 24 December 2011

Seasons Greetings


Whatever you celebrate this time of year, may you be surrounded by love & laughter, good food & fine company.
Enjoy the little things, they're what make's it all worthwhile, my friends.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Black Fox Cake

Hello, blog. Sorry for the disappearing act.
Things are a little unsettled here at the Shack in the Marshlands. Have been for a while. No one is sick, and there have been no disasters, don't worry about that. There's only so many months of herbal teas & Putting A Brave face On It before you have to come to your senses and get help. So tomorrow there will be a long talk with my doctor, and words like 'medication', 'tremors', 'therapist' & 'serotonin' will be used.

Until then, there is cake. This cake in particular is inspired by the untitled poem by Stephen Crane
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter -- bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

This isn't your regular chocolate cake. It's a damp cake, almost like a brownie. It isn't sweet & crumbly, but dense & firm to the tooth, with the earthiness of beetroot & the intense bitterness of cocoa.

200g raw beetroot, finely grated
3 eggs
150g demerara sugar
150g ground almonds
130g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
250ml yoghurt
2tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/G3. grease a springform cake tin & dust with a little cocoa powder.
Whisk the eggs & sugar in a large bowl until light & fluffy. Add the beetroot & yoghurt. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder & almonds. If the mix looks too dry add a splash of milk. scrape into the cake tin & spread out level. Bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean (albeit stained purple). this is a dense, fudgy cake, so don't expect it to rise much. Remove from oven & leave to cool a little before removing from the tin.
Serve with a dollop of cream, a splash of cream, or if you can find some, a scoop of peanut ice cream.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Doce de abóbora

Doce de abóbor is a sweet pumpkin compote popular in Brazil & Portugal. It is available either as a firm, chewy sweet (much like the fruit cheese I've posted about), or more commonly as a thick, cinnamon scented preserve. It is usually served with fresh cheese as a dessert (it goes beautifully with quark or ricotta), but can also be added to cornbread or muffin batter or warmed and dolloped over ice cream. My favourite use for it is to spread it on toast - yum! You can also find Doce de abóbor com coco, which is pumpkin & coconut preserve. Whatever version you try, it's a great way to use up a cheap Halloween pumpkin and will give you a sweet, buttery jam that will be a happy companion to pancakes, waffles & toasted muffins. Using a well flavoured, dense textured winter squash like Crown Prince or Hubbard will give you deeply complex, rich flavour (not that I'm biased!). This is a fairly simple recipe, but don't be tempted to omit the water, it's there to keep everything from catching on the pan & burning.

Doce de Abóbor

1.6kg pumpkin or squash, peeled & cut into 2cm chunks (if you want to make Doce de abóbor com coco you'll need 800g pumpkin & 115g dessicated unsweetened coconut)
450g sugar (I use demerara)
200ml (just shy of 1 cup) water
1 cinnamon quill

Tip the water, pumpkin, sugar & cinnamon into a large pan & slowly bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. If it needs a little assistance breaking down to a puree, mash with a fork, back of a spoon or potato masher (if using coconut, stir that in now). Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened, but not stiff (think porridge consistency. As ususal). Spoon into clean, sterlised jars & store in the fridge once opened. Not that it'll last long.

The next post will be about something other than pumpkins, promise!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Pumpkin Muffins

Muffins are one of those recipes that I'm never entirely satisfied with. Partly because I insist on baking them with hardly any fat & a lot of wholemeal flour, partly because there are some recipes that I just tweak into infinity (like cornbread & spaghetti squash with mushrooms), always adjusting & altering the recipe a little bit each time. There may come a day when I finally crack it & have the perfect recipe, but not have written anything down anyway!
In the meantime (while I keep tilting at my windmills), this comes pretty close, and I'll be fiddling around with the recipe (replacing the milk with cream cheese). I used cranberries this time, but any dried fruit, chopped pecans, walnuts or plain chocolate chips will work well too.

Pumpkin Muffins

225g wholemeal flour (I used spelt, but you can use any. You can even use plain flour, which will give you a lighter, fluffier muffin. Not everyone likes chomping on grit!)
200g mashed cooked pumpkin
1 egg
50ml groundnut or vegetable oil
100ml milk
75g demerara sugar
75g dried cranberries
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. line a muffin tin with paper cups. Mix together egg, pumpkin, oil, milk & sugar. Stir in the spices, cranberries & baking powder. Add the flour & stir until everything is incorporated. Spoon into paper cases & bake 20-25 minutes, or until risen & golden.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Fruity Pumpkin Scones

Another sweet recipe here. I don't usually make a lot of sweet things. I'll happily whip up a cake if visiting people for dinner, or a coconut & mango rice pudding if MikeyFox & I have a rare (usually Great British Bakeoff related) urge for pudding. But mostly I'd rather eat an apple. But right now I'm in need of comfort, and these still warm from the oven are pretty damn comforting.

Fruity Pumpkin Scones

250g wholemeal spelt flour (or plain flour, I just use it because I like my scones dense & nutty*)
50g demerara sugar
50g butter
100g mashed cooked pumpkin
75g dried mixed fruit
50ml milk
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 200C. Line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper or dust with flour. Combine flour, spices, raising agents & sugar in a bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the pumpkin mixture, and add as much milk as you need to bring it together into soft dough (how much depends on how wet your pumpkin is, you might not even need milk at all). Flop the dough onto a floured surface & roll out 3 or 4cm thick. Cut out shapes (I used a pumpkin cookie cutter, but you can use anything to hand) & arrange on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with a little milk & bake for 20-25 minutes, or until risen & golden on top.
Serve warm or cold with butter, or cottage cheese and a cup of tea.

*Cue I-like-my-women-like-I-like-my-scones jokes (covered in BEES!)

Friday, 28 October 2011

Squash & Barley Bake

Here's another favourite recipe that I've been making for years. I like using pearl barley because it's cheap* & has a lovely nutty flavour that goes beautifully with squash. If you're feeling flush, pearled spelt works really well too. If you've been organised enough to soak them overnight, sprouted wheat berries are delicious too.

Squash & Barley bake

175g Pearl barley
600ml vegetable stock
1 onion, sliced
2 tbs vegetable oil
450g winter squash, peeled & cut into 2cm-ish chunks
250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
200g passata (or fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped)
50g stilton or strong cheddar
1 tbs sage, chopped
salt & pepper

Rinse pearl barley & put in a pan with the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil & simmer for 40 minutes, or until barley is tender. Preheat oven to 180C/350F & grease a large ovenproof dish. Heat the oil in a pan & fry onion until translucent. Add the squash, mushrooms & sage & cook for 5 minutes. Add passata (or chopped tomatoes) & simmer until squash is tender, adding a little water if necessary. Stir in the barley & season. Pour into the ovenproof dish & top with the cheese. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted & golden. Serve with a salad, or if it's too cold for salad some steamed green beans or peas. This was eaten with some roasted beetroot - om nom nom!

*It kept us well fed in the as poor as a mouse that has just had a visit from the We Break Thumbs Collection Agency years.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fruity Pumpkin Loaf

It's damp & misty here in North Lincolnshire. The kind of weather that is more suited to getting comfortable on the sofa with some daft TV & a cuppa rather than doing anything useful with yourself. This pumpkin cake requires a little bit of faffing around with an egg whisk, but is worth it for a dense, moist cake with sweet burst of flavour from the dried fruits. It's also made with ground almonds rather than fat, so must surely count as one of your 5-a-day. You can use any kind of pumpkin you like in this, from lovingly nurtured heirloom varieties to orange behemoths dragged home from the supermarket. You can use raisins, chopped apricots or any dried fruit you fancy. In this recipe I used a mix of dried raisins, sultanas & cherries.

Fruity Pumpkin Loaf

200g finely grated pumpkin
3 eggs
200g demerara sugar
100g ground almonds
200g spelt flour (preferably wholemeal, but if that's a bit heavy for you, half spelt & plain flour will also work. It won't be quite as deliciously sweet & nutty flavoured)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
a grating of fresh nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 170C/350F/Gs. Grease a 1lb loaf tin. Divide the eggs & put the whites in a clean, grease free bowl for later. Whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar until pale & creamy (it'll take a couple of minutes). Stir in the almonds, pumpkin & dried fruit. Add the flour & spices & stir. Remember the egg whites? Beat them until they form soft peaks. This won't take too long. If the house is empty, sing the daftest song you know to keep yourself going ('Tinker of Rye' by Christopher Lee). If the house is occupied, sing anyway, and threaten those who berate your singing with a long and cakeless existence. Using a metal spoon, stir a spoonful of the whisked egg white into the cake mix. This will loosen it up and make folding in the rest of the egg much easier. be gentle when adding the rest of the egg white, and pour into the loaf tin, getting everything nice & level.
Bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer prodded in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so before turning out. serve with a cup of tea, or a smidge of jam and always say yes to a second slice.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Porotos Granados

Porotos Granados is a hearty Chilean pumpkin & bean stew (the name comes from a Chilean bean called Cranberry bean in English packed full of flavour, and despite being a summer dish in its native land, its the perfect thing to eat in the colder month before we get into the seriously chuffing freezing weather. And yes, I'm rather fond of Chilean food these days, it's a cuisine that really appreciates its pumpkins & beans (there is a common saying in Chile eres mas chileno que los porotos - You're more Chilean than beans!). Cranberry beans aren't available in the UK (I've not found any yet, so they may have to join Anasazi beans on the long list of Fine-I'll-Grow-It-My-Bloody-Self vegetables*) so I usually use chickpeas or pinto beans but whatever you have available will work well too

Porotos Granados (serves 4)

750g winter squash (preferably a good, flavoursome variety like crown prince or kabocha, or good old butternut) peeled, deseeded & cut into 2cm-ish chunks
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
400g can of chickpeas (or 100g dried beans soaked overnight)
200g french beans, cut into short lengths
200g sweetcorn
1 tsp smoked paprika
a handful of fresh oregano, chopped
salt & pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan & fry the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, pumpkin, paprika & half the oregano. Add the vegetable stock & simmer for 10 minutes. Add the beans, chickpeas & sweetcorn & simmer until pumpkin is tender (5 minutes or so). Season & stir in the rest of the oregano. Leave to stand a few minutes & serve.

Om nom nom!
Right-o, off to make some Doce de abóbora!

*Because cephalopodic gods forbid that I abandon a recipe just because the ingredients aren't available in this country!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Pastel de Choclo

Pastel de Choclo (which translates as 'Corn Pie') is Chiles favourite home cooked meal (according to Chilean internet site www.terra.cl), beating Porotos Granados (more on that tomorrow) and Empanadas. If you've ever tried it, you'll know why. Pastel de Choclo is real comfort food, a sort of Chilean version of shepherds pie. A rich stew (traditionally made with beef or chicken, but here I'm using chickpeas & winter squash) topped with a creamy mashed sweetcorn, like a richer, softer textured version of Tamale bake (but even more delicious!) They've been eating it in Chile & Peru since the 1800's, and it's about damn time we got in on the action too.

Pastel de Choclo (serves 4)
500g winter squash (I like butternut or crown prince), peeled, deseeded & cut into 1cm-ish chunks
2 onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, sliced
2 tbs vegetable oil
500ml passata
400g (1 can) chickpeas
2 tbs raisins
handful of sliced green olives
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp oregano
salt & pepper

Topping
3 cups sweetcorn (thawed if frozen)
3 tbs cornflour
100ml milk (or non dairy milk to keep it vegan)
1 tsp basil
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. If you have a good sized cazuela, use it. If not, a deep ovenproof dish works fine too. You can also divide it into 4 individual dishes too.
Heat the oil in a large pan & fry the onion until translucent. Add the carrot & squash & cook for 5 minutes. Add the herbs, chickpeas, passata, olives, raisins & cook until the squash is tender. Season & pour into the baking dish.
To make the sweetcorn topping, put all the ingredients into a blender & pulse until you get a coarse mix that's somewhere between hummus & porridge. Spoon over the squash mixture, making sure to seal all the edges & bake for 45 minutes, or until the sweetcorn topping is golden & the tomato sauce bubbling up around the edges.

If you must serve it with something, fried plantains & green beans are happy companions.
Once you've tried it, experiment with different fillings! Mushrooms & beans in a mole sauce is pretty heavenly, as is seitan & pinto beans. A few chopped hard boiled eggs in there will go down well too.

Om nom nom!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Pumpkin Week

All the Winter Squash & Pumpkins have been harvested, cured & brought in for storage overwinter. I say 'storage' what I actually mean is 'fill every available surface in the house, even if it means moving a few cats first'.
There are pumpkins piles on perilous perches, squashes stacked on spare shelves, curcubits clumsily cast... well, you get the idea. The spare bed is currently unavailable to guests (sorry folks, unless you're okay with sharing!)

So it must be Pumpkin Week!
Every year around All Hallows Eve I post pumpkin recipes, for the next week I'll be posting recipes for squashes & pumpkins (though you can still check out recipes from previous years by casting your gaze to the right & clicking on 'Pumpkins'). So lets start with something simple, a recipe from my Ma-in-Law that we never tire of eating.

Pumpkin & Coconut Soup
750g Squash or pumpkin (butternut works well), peeled & cut into chunks
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
3 tbs vegetable oil
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
400ml can coconut milk
500ml vegetable stock
juice of 1 lime
salt & pepper
handful of fresh coriander leaves

Heat the oil in a large pan & fry the onion until soft. Add the ginger, chillies & garlic & stir for a minute or so. Add the pumpkin & stock, stir & simmer for 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk & cook another 5 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender. Add lime juice & whizz up in a blender. If it's too thick for you (I like thick soups!) add more vegetable stock or water. Season & stir in the coriander leaves, leaving a few for garnish.
Ma-in-Law also stirs in a cupful of cooked white rice, rice noodles or cellophane noodles after the soup has been blended, which gives a it a nice bit of texture. You could also top it with a drizzle of chilli sauce.


Om nom nom!

Herboristeria Del Rei

In Barcelona we spent a morning trying to find the Herboristeria Del Rei. This gloriously old place is tucked away in a little side street off the Plaça Reial, and can only be found by removing all the iron from your pockets & turning thrice widdershins (okay, so not exactly. But a detailed map & the address won't make it any easier to track down, it's the sort of place you can only glimpse out of the corner of your eye under the midday sun). It is the first Herbalist shop in Catalonia, opening in 1823, and then renovated in 1860. It hasn't changed much since then, from its glass roof to the beautifully carved shelves that are lined with bottles & jars. If it looks eerily familiar, it's because it was the perfumers shop from the Tom Tykwer film 'Perfume: the story of a murder'

The shop was run by a very lovely gentleman who was extremely patient with me and my terrible Spanish. The shop is a herbalists dream - wooden drawers & jars filled with bundles of dried herbs, bottles of oils, tinctures & herbal wines & piles of hand made soaps & lozenges. In the center is a statue of Linnaeus, the smutty minded botanist who gave us Binomial nomenclature, without whom the lovely gentleman & myself would have had a much harder time communicating with each other. As we both know our botanical names we quickly understood each other, and MikeyFox watched with amusement as I sniffed and snuffed and nibbled my way through handfuls of herbs, and managed to discuss medicinal properties & flavours in a clumsy mix of English, Spanish & French.
I left with a bundle of soaps, teas, honey throat lozenges & bundles of hierba luisa (Lemon Verbena), tilo (Linden) & menta (mint).
A simply wonderful place, and the closest I'll get to what it feels like to step outside of the tardis and into another century.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A l'aquari

While in Barcelona, we went down to Port Vell, which until not too long ago was a run-down area of empty warehouses & factories but was given an overhaul for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. We avoided the shopping centre, IMAX cinema & blistering heat and headed for the Aquàrium de Barcelona (well, you know how I feel about aquariums, right?). 1.5 million gallons of sea water, 8,000 fish and 21 tanks displaying the various marine life of the Mediterranean. I was a happy little fox!

The tanks were arranged in ways that were really interesting & informative. You got a close look at life in shallow coastal waters, underwater caves, coral reefs & atolls (to name a few!). I could have spent all day staring at the shoals of grouper & bream. It was also fascinating to watch moray eels & sea anemones going about their business. And it was quite sweet to see lots of children clustered around the tropical tanks looking for Nemo & Dory (and yes, I was looking for them too!)

And there were Rays, yay! Rays are actually closely related to sharks, though you wouldn't think it to look at them. They have no bones, their skeletons being made of cartilage. Having no ribcage means that if a large one ever got out of water the weight of their own bodies would crush their internal organs before they could suffocate. Ouch. But it does give them the ability to move efficiently & beautifully through water. Rays mostly eat crustaceans, snails & small fish, the manta ray prefers plankton.

The most spectacular feature of the aquarium is the tunnel - an 80 meter long glass tunnel that curves across the bottom of the Oceanarium, giving you the sensation of walking along the sea bed (but without the stressing over oxygen supplies or being gnawed at by one of the Sand Tiger sharks). The first half of the tunnel curves along one edge of the Oceanarium, so isn't too unsettling. The way the light plays on the wall opposite was too lovely to ignore too.

The second half of the glass tunnel is breathtaking, taking you right underneath the Oceanarium (and the 1.5 million gallons of sea water. Did I mention that?). There is also a moving walkway in the tunnel, so you can drift along with the fish. I found it a little too disorientating, so stayed on solid ground (less likely to fall over when a shark swims overhead that way). It was an unforgettable experience, and deeply soothing, while being utterly terrifying.

Of all the creatures that we encountered, I fell in love with this one - Mola mola, the Ocean Sunfish (though the Spanish name translates as Moonfish, as sailors used to mistake them for the reflection of the moon on the water. Their shimmery silver colour makes me think Moonfish is a much better name for them) probably the weirdest creature I will ever see. Mola is Latin for Millstone, describing its rough textured skin & rounded body (yes, that is a body, it's not just a floating head with fins - the German name for it is Schwimmender Kopf - swimming head). They can grow up to 3 meters in length, and can swim surprisingly fast. They are docile & friendly, and this one followed me all the way around the the Oceanarium, occasionally bumping into the glass (clearly we are kindred spirits). I felt very privileged to spend time with it, there are very few Sunfish in captivity (the only other examples being in Japan & Portugal).

So if you find yourself in Barcelona, go visit the aquarium, you won't be disappointed!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Passata, Pussycat! Kilner! Kilner!

We've had a good year for tomatoes this year, and Tomato Mile has lived up to it's name - it's been endless! More than MikeyFox could possibly eat while bimbling around the garden or make into salsa. So I've spent the last couple of months making passata (a lot of passata. Next year I'm getting a passata mill, instead of spending endless hours pushing it all through my 50p Wilkinsons nylon sieve. After 6 or 7 litres the brain starts to rumble off in strange directions). Passata will keep for a couple of days in the fridge and there are lots of uses for it, like ketchup or pasta sauce. But if you've got a lot of tomatoes, you'll end up with more passata than you can really use over such a short period. You can pour it into lidded containers & stash away in the freezer, but with a bit of effort, you can further process passata or roasted tomatoes & store it in the cupboard for months (I do keep a lot of passata in the freezer, but that does mean having to plan when to use it a day or two in advance, to give it defrosting time). So it seemed like a good time to get myself some kilner jars & learn how to do some serious preserving.

Kilner jars are rubber sealed screw-top glass jars first made by the Kilner family in Yorkshire. The real trick to them is their two-part lid - a metal screw band & separate rubber-bottomed metal lid. This ingenious little system means that air can escape when processing, but not get in (bringing its friends bacteria & micro-organisms). You can process all sorts of fruits in syrup or brine using kilner jars, but vegetables are a bit more complicated. The biggest concern when dealing with tomatoes is the dread botulism, but if you're careful with keeping things sterile & clean, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. Acid prevents botulism spores from developing, so adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar (red wine or balsamic really brings out the flavour of tomatoes) should solve any problems. Bringing the passata to the boil for 10 minutes when using will also kill off anything nasty (and, of course, not eating anything from a jar that is bubbling or fermenting, turned a funny colour, gone mouldy or is attempting to communicate with you is also a smart move).
There are two methods of preserving in kilner jars - the Water Bath method & the Oven Method. Both methods need clean, sterilised jars (and work with screw top & clip top jars) filled with hot passata leaving a 2cm gap at the top, but you already know that.

The Water Bath is the most common method. For this you need a pan deep enough to keep your jars completely submerged, a large preserving pan works well. You'll also need a thermometer. Place a folded tea towel on the base to protect the jars from the direct heat(they will crack otherwise). Fill the jars with hot passata (about 60C) and srew on the lids, loosening by a quarter-turn (to give steam a chance to escape). Place the jars in the pan & cover with warm water. Slowly bring to a simmer (I mean slowly. Take about 20-30 minutes over it. You don't want a pan of watery tomato & glass shard soup) & simmer at 88C for 40 minutes. Remove from the heat & stand on a wooden board or folded towel, tighten up the screw bands & leave to cool overnight. In the morning check the seal (the dimple in the top of the jar should have depressed, and alarmed you at some point in the evening with a loud pop!). If there is no seal, either use up immediately or process again.

Te Oven Method takes longer, and can get a bit messy, as the passata will bubble & spit while its in the oven, but doesn't require a big preserving pan. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/G2. Fill the jars & place on a thick pad of newspaper, or a folded tea towel in a baking tray filled with 3cm of water (to disperse the heat, and prevent any distressing breakages. Place the jar lids on top, but don't fasten with screw bands. Leave in the oven for 60 minutes, then carefully remove, clean off any tomato that has escaped & put on the screw bands tightly. Leave to cool overnight & check the seal. Store in a cool, dark place (i.e. a cupboard) for up to a year.

Yellow passata! Eeeee!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Barcelona!

So MikeyFox & I, people who abandoned life in a big damn city due to our aversions to a, people and b, all the things that go with people decided to go on an impromptu trip to Barcelona, the most populous city in Catalonia, with a population of over 1.6 million folks and 2nd largest city in Spain. During an unseasonal heatwave. A daft idea? Probably, but I was holding onto what shreds of sanity I still have like the last slip of soap in the bath, and MikeyFox really needed a break from work.

We were lucky enough to find a cheap place to stay in the l'Eixample (Catalan for 'the extension', where Barcelona expanded into surrounding towns due to the increase in the population), where the streets are arranged in regimented blocks with chamfered corners (which makes crossing the road a bit strange). many of the buildings in the area were designed by Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi was not only an architect, he was also a skilled craftsman adept at ceramics, stained glass, ironmongery & carpentry. He also pioneered Trencadís - making mosaics with broken tiles & shards of ceramic. His mosaic works are scattered all over Barcelona. He was heavily influenced by nature, and his buildings are undulating, surreal & beautiful. Everyone will tell you to visit the Sagrada Familia, his still unfinished magnum opus, but I'd recommend the Casa Milà, also known as La Pedera (Catalan for 'the Quarry', though it looks more like Neptunes Summerhouse). Built 1905-1912, it's a breathtaking piece of architecture, with it's curves like lapping waves & balconies like tangled seaweed.

Barcelona is one of those places that will give you a crick in the neck. Everywhere you look there are mosaics on fountains, buildings & pavements, elegant ironwork on doorways & balconies, stone carvings on buildings & things that make your breath catch in your throat. Even the pavement beneath your feet is richly decorated. Everything from giddy swirls, block prints of flowers or hexagonal tiles that fit together to create seascapes of corals & starfish.

You could spend weeks just walking around, and never tire of what you saw. It's a wonder we did anything but stumble through the streets, open mouthed. But we also visited museums, galleries & the delightful l'Aquarium de Barcelona (which I'll save for another post, along with the Herboristeria del Rei). We explored tiny little streets & alleys, and I dragged MikeyFox into far too many little herbalists & tearooms, while he shepherded me into vegetarian restaurants & tavernas, and nearly lost sight of me forever in the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (locally known as la Boqueria)

There have been street markets in Barcelona since 1217, but la Boqueria was built in 1840-1853 (the plans being constantly modified & adapted). If you want to eat it, la Boqueria has it for sale. There are stalls piled high with beautiful fresh fruit & vegetables (some I've never seen before), candied whole fruits, nuts, strings of chillies, spices, herbs, cakes, breads, pastries, tapas, meat, fish (and benthic horrors that were too much for MikeyFox, who retreated to a juice bar for some aguas frescas).

Eventually I was tempted out of the market (albeit with an armful of xerimoya, kaki, tamarillo & kiwano) with some horchata. Horchata is everywhere in Barcelona, a refreshing iced drink made with almonds, sesame seeds or most commonly tigernuts. It is an unusual drink, milky but without containing milk, with a sweet nutty flavour & a slightly gritty texture. There are many stories as to how it got it's name, my favourite being the story of when James the 1st of Aragon (calm down, not that Aragon, the one that's in north-eastern Spain) first tried is, he exclaimed 'Açò és or, xata!" ('That's gold, darling')
Fear not, dear readers, there will be more horchata, as I have recipes!

As usual, I haven't returned with the usual sort of souvenirs. My case was crammed full of dried herbs, chocolates, chia, polvorón (a crumbly shortbread), tea, dulce de membrillo (quince paste), herbal soaps, black rice, artichoke pate & all sorts of little bits & pieces, many of which will be making their way to friends over the next few weeks

Until next time!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

North Lincolnshire Food Fair

Lincolnshire was recently voted the UK foodie capital as part of the British Food Fortnight (which ends today, and yes, I should have mentioned something about it sooner!) And it's no wonder, for the last few months tractors loaded with potatoes, rapeseed, corn & barley from the nearby fields have been trundling back & forth our little patch of Lincolnshire (leaving the greatest harvest of all - Road Potatoes. This delicious, easy to forage food occurs on sharp bends & T junctions. The keen-eyed forager with a good rucksack can find several kilo's of Marfona & Maris Piper easily. When not scrumping apples for cider). Yesterday was the annual North Lincolnshire Food Festival, so MikeyFox & I went along.

There was an impressive range of locally produced preserves, cakes, breads, fruity booze, chocolates & beer. And samples of plum bread, marmalade's & alcohol that were nibbled & sipped. Well, it would be rude not to. As well as stalls promoting recycling, local produce, reducing food waste & even cookery demonstrations.
The whole event was held at the Pink Pig, a working farm run by the lovely Sally Jackson & her family. There is an adventure trail where you can get up close & personal with the chickens, pigs, goats & turkeys, a cafe where you can relax & enjoy a slice of home made cake or scones with a nice cuppa, and the incomparable farm shop, where you can purchase Pink Pigs own produced sausages & bacon (if you're into such things), home made preserves & salad dressing, vegetables, eggs, cakes & milk, as well as local cheeses, breads, chocolates, beers, cider & all manner of delicious bits & bobs. If you're ever in the area, do pop in and say hello. And have a slice of the coffee cake.

I'll not be blogging for the next week (yes, yes. You all fell over with shock, I know), as I'll be in Barcelona, subjecting the good people of Catalonia to my terrible Spanish, and gawping at architecture without getting in the way too much. Hopefully upon my return I will be slightly less mad, slightly less skinny, and have shaken the unnerving conviction that Martin Freeman is made of kittens.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Fruit Cheese

When I say fruit cheese I don't mean wedges of wensleydale with nuggets of dried cranberries or apricots in them, I mean fruit puree cooked until it's a solid, sliceable preserve. The most famous example is dulce de membrillo, a delectable Spanish quince paste & the Brazilian goiabada, guava cheese, which is possibly the most delicious thing I have ever eaten.

Fruit cheese isn't the easiest thing to make, but it is very satisfying. And you can still make it if you don't have quince or guava available (my quince tree produced 4 fruits this year, so it'll be a couple more years before I'm making my own membrillo). Damsons, plums, pears & apples (especially when combined with blueberries or cranberries) all make delicious cheeses too.
Since the cheese will set firm, you can use it in a variety of ways. The simplest is to pour it into heatproof containers, shallow trays, moulds or ramekins & leave to set. Get creative with your moulds, as long as it's heatproof, and you brush it with vegetable oil or glycerine to stop things from sticking, pretty much anything will work. I like to use soap moulds (they come in lovely shapes & are a nice size too), loaf tins & even ravioli moulds (which make adorable little fruit pastilles)

But before I get to the recipe, a few things to warn you about.
This is a recipe that you can't wander off & leave to it's own devices for half an hour. It'll burn the minute your back is turned. It will also spit like Chantico* on a bad day, so wear long sleeves or wrap your arm with a tea towel for the last half hour of cooking. And for the love of all things good get the longest wooden spoon you can. And tie it to the end of a broom or something. 'Luckily' I have a long history of self-harm, feral cats & weeding without gloves on, so am fairly impervious to burns, boils, cuts and furry things gnawing at me, but I don't encourage others to try it. Be careful, and put a dab of lavender oil on any burns. Okay, health warning over!

Plum Cheese

1kg plums
500g-700g sugar

Place the plums, skin, stones & all in a large pan. Just cover with water & bring to a simmer. Cook until soft & mushy. Leave to cool. Rub the plum mush through a nylon sieve (or a mooli if you're fancypants enough to have one). Weigh the pulp & return it to the pan, adding an equal amount of sugar (it will look like instant diabetes, but trust me, it'll be fine). Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for an hour or more, maybe even 2 hours depending on how juicy the plums were, until the mixture is thick & glossy. And when I say thick, I mean seriously thick. There will be a moment of yeah, that's pretty thick, and then it will suddenly be thick. You'll not only be able to scrape the spoon across the bottom of the pan & leave a line, it'll take a few seconds for the mix to realise what's happened, and then slump back together. Scrape into whatever vessels you're using (and make sure they're heatproof. This stuff will melt thin plastic & clingfilm) & either cover with greaseproof paper, or if you're feeling fancy, spoon into greased moulds & top with food grade paraffin wax. The cheese will keep for a year (it's mostly sugar after all)

As for what to do with it, well the world is your fried mock oyster. You can serve it in slices with cheese, cut into cubes, or if you have teeny tiny cookie cutters cut it into pretty shapes & roll in sugar to make fruit pastilles. You can chop into chunks & add to tagines, bread & butter pudding, fruit crumble or rice pudding too.

*What do you mean who? Chantico is the Aztec goddess of fires & volcanoes. She has a bit of a temper.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Ketchup!

8 days of blogging? This must be some sort of record! After a week of chutneys & relishes, here's something a bit different. Well not that different, as it's still preserving. Today it's all about ketchup!
Ketchup has been around since the 1690's, but was very different to the red gloop we're so fond of today. It was made in China out of pickled fish & known as kê-tsiap (meaning 'carp juice'. Yum). The sauce made its way to Malaysia where it was known as kechap & by 1740 British explorers had cottoned on to it, and started calling it ketchup. It wasn't until the early 1800's that it was made with tomatoes (and a lot of salt). Prior to that, most ketchups were made with mushrooms, oysters or walnuts, and were similar to soy sauce in consistency.

I know it seems a bit odd to make something yourself that is so cheap & readily available, but I love making my own ketchup. It's not just that I like making it out of yellow or green tomatoes & alarming friends & relatives with weird coloured ketchup (okay, so maybe it's a little bit of that) but the flavour is so much better than shop bought ketchup, and you can really mess around with your ingredients. I like to make a spicy red tomato ketchup with Mexican flavourings like cumin, oregano & a few minced up pickled chipotle chillis. Yellow tomato ketchup gets yellow mustard powder & ground ginger. So do whatever flavours you like.

The basic tomato ketchup recipe requires 1 litre of passata. My favourite way of making passata is to roast around 2kg of tomatoes, halved & arranged in a tray with whatever herbs you fancy (oregano or rosemary work well) in the oven at 180C until softened. Leave to cool & rub through a nylon sieve with a wooden spoon to get rid of all the seeds & skins. You should end up with about 1 litre of the tastiest pasta sauce you'll ever eat.

If you don't have a glut of tomatoes to use, you can still make ketchup with other fruits. Tomatillos make excellent ketchup (replace the lemon juice with lime & add a couple of green chillis for a spicy kick), as does rhubarb (2kg of rhubarb baked in the oven until tender & pushed through a sieve will make enough puree for this recipe, though I'd recommend leaving out the lemon juice as rhubarb is pretty tart). Elderberries, pineapple, mango, plums, bananas & gooseberries all make delicious ketchups too.

Ketchup

1 litre of passata
100ml red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar if using yellow or green tomatoes)
100g sugar (or you can use honey)
juice of 2 lemons (about 50ml)2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt1 tsp oregano1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper

Put all the ingredients into a pan & bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring regularly, until the sauce reaches & thick but pourable consistency (remember it will get a little thicker when cool). Pour into sterilised bottles & seal tightly. It sounds like an odd thing to do, but turn the bottles upside down & leave to stand for a few minutes (this is to sterilise the tops of the bottles & give them a longer shelf life). Use within 6 months & store in the fridge once opened.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Apple, Honey & Ginger Chutney

It's the last day of Chutney Week, and I'm taking a break from the Great Cider Caper 2011 to post another favourite. This is a very sweet chutney, it's almost jam-like (without actually being jam), stuffed full of apples with a sharp bite of ginger & the mellow sweetness of honey. This is another large recipe, and a good way of using up an unexpected bagful of cooking apples from your in-laws (unless they get made into cider). I like cutting my crystallized ginger quite chunky, about the same size as the raisins (which are there to give the chutney body, as just apples makes it a bit too much like baby food for me), so you get little bursts of spice & texture. If you like it finer, then chop away!

Apple, Honey & Ginger Chutney

2kg apples
250g raisins (or sultanas. Or any dried fruit)
250g crystallised stem ginger (you can also use stem ginger in syrup, the syrup can also be used to substitute some of the honey too)
250g brown sugar
250g honey
600ml cider vinegar
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp salt
1tsp allspice (or ground mixed spice)

Peel, core & chop the apples. It'll take a while, so having the radio on makes it less of a slog (or learn Spanish with Michel Thomas, and spend all your time muttering 'loh noh ness-e-sEE-tow a oor-a'). Put everything in a pan & bring to the boil. Simmer until thick (40 minutes to an hour, depending on your apples), spoon into sterilized jars & leave for a month before eating.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Carrot & Chilli Chutney

Despite it being a bit of a rubbish year for parsnips here (I have maybe 5 in the whole garden that survived the dry spring) it's been an excellent year for carrots. This year I've grown White Satin (as the name suggests, it's a white carrot with good sweet flavour & lovely long roots), Yellowstone (a favourite of mine, with a lovely earthy flavour & good texture) & Kingston (an orange variety that stores well, and was used to make this chutney!). So I've had enough to do some preserving with (and hopefully even have a go at making some halva at some point!)

Carrot & Chilli Chutney

1. 3kg carrots
175g sugar
175ml white wine vinegar
juice & zest of 1 lemon
50g tomato puree (or 50ml if it's easier)
8 tbs yellow mustard seeds
8 tbs groundnut oil (or vegetable oil)
3 tbs tomato puree
3 tsp coriander seed
2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp turmeric
1tsp chilli powder (cayenne if you're feeling brave)
1 tsp salt
4- 6 red chillies, finely chopped
thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated

Grate the carrot. better still, sucker someone else into grating the carrot (MikeyFox will always oblige if there's cider available whilst doing so). Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the mustard seeds & wait for them to start popping. Once they start cracking away add the other spices. After 2 minutes of stirring, and getting giddy with the smell of frying cumin, add the tomato puree, stir, then tip in the carrot & remaining ingredients. Mix well, reduce the heat & cover. Leave to simmer for 25-30 minutes, giving it the occasional prod to make sure nothing sticks or burns. If you feel like it needs more liquid, add a few spoons of vinegar. A splash of balsamic works surprisingly well. Spoon into sterilized jars & cover with a little more oil. Seal & stick in the back of a cupboard for a few weeks, preferably a month, before eating.

Delicious on toasted pitta bread or roti. Highly addictive.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Winter Ale Chutney

This is a bit of a blast from the past - my first ever chutney recipe! I came up with this waay back in 2005, when I inherited my Grandmothers preserving pan. I love this big old thing. I remember when my Nanan bought it from Harrods on a day trip to London in the early '80's, and every June we would spend a morning strawberry picking, and in the afternoon she would make strawberry jam in her mighty preserving pan.

Since it has been in my possession, no strawberry has met its unfortunate end within, my being of the opinion that cooking them or adding sugar is the cruellest thing you can do to a beautiful ripe strawberry. So it's been used to make chutney, the occasional relish, and even a few rare sweet things like damson cheese & apple butter (yes, recipes will be posted. Eventually!). As this is my first attempt, I used cup measurements rather than weighing things out, which I'm more likely to do now, but I really like the ease & simplicity of the cup of this, cup of that approach. You can substitute the dried fruit (and the spice bag) for whatever you have, or whatever you fancy. A honey beer goes well with dried pears & figs, a darker ale goes well with currants & sour cherries. There are lots of dried fruits out there, so let you imagination go nuts.

I've made this recipe many times, and try different beers each time. Real ale, especially brown ales & bitters, work best. Pale ale is too hoppy, and doesn't have that depth of flavour & bitterness that the chutney needs. A spiced ale works surprising well, and honey beer is really special. Basically, as long its a good, well-flavoured beer you'll be making something special! (This beer was made with Thorne Brewery Best Bitter, which is MikeyFox's brewery. I know it's good beer because he makes it!)

Winter Ale Chutney

2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup beer (there will be some left, so you'd better drink it!)
1 cup dates, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup raisins
1 onion, chopped
4 apples, peeled, deseeded & chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp each of peppercorns & cloves, tied up in a piece of muslin
juice of 1 lemon

Put the dried fruit in a bowl & add the beer. Leave to stand for 20 minutes, so the fruit can get nicely soft & sozzled.
Put the vinegar & sugar in a large pan & bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Tip in the dried fruits & beer & add the remaining ingredients. Stir & simmer for around an hour, or until the mixture is thick & glossy. Fish out the muslin bag of spices (or it could be a nasty mouthful for someone!). Spoon into sterilized jars & tuck away in a cupboard for a month before eating. If well stored, it will last until the next Ice Age*. You may be battling giant radioactive serpents, Cthulhu & his Excessively Limbed KinThings may have eaten next Tuesday, but you'll still have chutney!

For those interested, the Happy Squid T-shirt is from the lovely Kate Beaton, who is right up there with Blackadder & Horrible Histories when it comes to making history disgustingly amusing.

*Honestly. I'm still eating chutney from 2006 & I'm fine *twitch*


Thursday, 22 September 2011

Red Hot Relish (Aka Mike Salsa)

This year I created a long raised bed for growing tomatoes in (nicknamed 'Tomato Mile', as it's very long. About 17 meters) and filled it with varieties from Eastern Europe & North America that wouldn't sulk & die in our, ahem, robust North Lincolnshire climate. The names make me smile - Stupice, Latah, Blodkompfchen, Galina, Czech's Excellent Yellow... so I'm awash with tomatoes at the moment. I'm making passata, sauces & ketchup mainly, but MikeyFox requested a spicy tomato relish, and who am I to refuse?

Alas, he has been reading too much Raymond Chandler, so decided Mike Salsa would be a perfect name for a detective. A wisecracking, hard-drinking salsa that could either punch you on the nose or read you his poetry.

Red Hot Relish
(aka Mike Salsa, detective)

800g tomatoes
400g red onions, sliced
3 red peppers (bell), deseeded & halved
3 - 4 red chillies, thinly sliced
2 tbs pickled jalapenos, chopped
200g sugar
200ml red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin seed

Arrange the tomatoes & peppers on a tray & roast under a hot grill until blistered. leave to cool & peel off the skins (they should slip off fairly easily). Put the sugar & vinegar in a pan & bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the rest of the ingredients & simmer until you have a thick, jammy consistency. This will take anything from 20 minutes to and hour & a half, depending on how wet your tomatoes are. Spoon into sterilised jars & store for 2 weeks before eating.
Goes brilliantly with guilty pleasures like Tex-Mex, chips, burgers, sausages & battered onion rings.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tomatillo Salsa

I love growing tomatillos (also known as tomate verde - green tomato in Spanish, even though they're not actually tomatoes, though they are very green), a staple ingredient of Mexican cooking. They are a member of the Solanaceae family along with tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines & chilli's (right up there with the curcubits when it comes to awesome things worth having) and various plants that will kill you or give you the screaming ab-dabs. They are ridiculously easy to grow, and don't need any fussing over. They make smashing sauces & salsas, both raw & cooked. And don't go listening to thundering idiots telling you to substitute tomatillo for green tomato or gooseberries in recipes. They are talking shite. If you have space for a few pots, or a square meter or so of sunny garden, get some seeds (or ask me for some if you can't find any) & grow your own. They're beautiful to look at, with sunny yellow flowers, and will keep cropping right up to the first frosts. Anyway, enough with the enthusing, I'll do a vegetable blog post on how to grow them.

So here's a recipe for a preserved version of the classic Tomatillo salsa, traditionally a dish made with raw or boiled tomatillo, rejiggered into a cooked chutney. It also uses serrano peppers (another thing I had a go at growing this year. I can really recommend them, they're easygoing plants that don't mind a bit of neglect, and happily take care of themselves in a corner of the polytunnel or sunny spot in the garden), which are very hot, but the heat doesn't linger on the palate, giving you intense little bursts of heat. Fresh is best, put pickled works really well to. If you don't have serrano peppers, jalapeno is a good substitute, either fresh or pickled. Or you can use green chilli.

Tomatillo Salsa

900g tomatillo
450g onions, chopped
4 fresh serrano peppers
200g sugar
200ml white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp salt
large handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped

Arrange the tomatillos on a baking tray & roast under a hot grill until the skin starts to blister. Put the vinegar & sugar in a pan & bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the onions, roasted tomatillos & salt. Simmer until you have a thick, glossy mixture. Add the juice of a lime & the coriander (don't be shy with the coriander - the more the merrier!). Spoon into sterilised jars & try to resist temptation for a month.
Goes well with tostadas, chalupas, tortillas, tacos, nachos and anything that needs a dollop of something fresh & spicy!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Mediterranean Pickle

This was my first year of growing aubergines in the little polytunnel. I grew Listarda de Gandia, a very pretty purple variety with white stripes, early ripening & very reliable (you can see it in the picture on the right, along with the tomatoes, green peppers & courgettes that went into the recipe. How pretty are they?!)
I also grew Diamond, a Ukrainian variety with clusters of long, intense purple fruits, and Orlando (the unnervingly long, curly purple things skulking under the courgette in the picture)I will be growing both varieties again next year! (and maybe one or two more!)

Rather than chomp them all (mostly in a Spanish style ragout with roasted tomatoes & chickpeas - om nom nom!), I decided to make some pickle, so I could continue to appreciate them in the cold winter months.

Mediterranean Pickle

450g onions, chopped
900g tomatoes
1 aubergine, thickly sliced
450g courgette, sliced
1 yellow pepper, halved & deseeded
1 green pepper, halved & deseeded
300ml red wine vinegar
300g sugar
4 cloves garlic
1 tbs paprika
1 tbs salt
1 sprig each of rosemary & thyme, tied into a bundle with 2 bay leaves

Place the tomatoes, peppers, aubergines & courgettes on a large tray & roast under a hot grill until the skins blister. Leave to cool, and remove the skins from the peppers & tomatoes. Chop the roasted vegetables into even sized pieces, as coarse or as fine as you like (I like them chunky). The aubergines can disappear into this chutney, so if you want aubergine chunks in it, set them to one side, to stir in at the end of cooking. Heat the vinegar in a large pan. Add the sugar & stir until it's dissolved. Add the salt, paprika & herb bundle. Add the onions & garlic, then the roasted veg. Stir gently, so everything doesn't get too mashed up (or stir vigorously if mashed up is your kind of thing) & simmer until the mixture is thick & glossy. This can take as little as 20 minutes, or over an hour, depending on how wet the vegetables are. Remove the herb bundle & spoon into sterilised jars. Leave for at least a month, preferably two.

Goes beautifully well with pasta, sharp salty cheeses, grilled tofu & burgers.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Chutney Week - Beetroot & Mustard Pickle

It's that time of year again. I've been spending every spare minute in the kitchen, making pickles, chutneys, salsas, sauces, ketchup's & cheeses (not the dairy kind, the molten, skin-stripping, fruit & sugar kind). So that must make it Chutney week! So I'll be posting a chutney, pickle or relish every day for the next 7 days.
Also a reminder, not that you need it.

Sterilise! Be it boiling water from the kettle, 20 minutes in a hot oven, the steam setting on a dishwasher or gamma radiation. make sure your jars are clean, dry and as sterile as you can get them. Your chutney will last longer, and a cheese toastie won't give you the dread lurgies.

To get things started, here's a favourite of mine, Beetroot & Mustard pickle. It's a bit different from my usual pickles, as there is oil in it, so it is similar to the Indian style of pickles where oil is used to protect the vegetables from exposure to air, rather than a thick sauce of sugar & vinegar. So when you open it, if you're a more restrained individual than myself, and the jar will sit in your fridge for more than 3 or 4 days, pour a little oil on the surface before resealing when you've used it, and it will store for ages. It's also quite hot, and yes, the recipe does say 12 tbs of mustard seed!

Beetroot & Mustard Pickle

1kg beetroot (I used yellow beetroot, but you can use red if you prefer)
175g sugar
150ml white wine vinegar
juice & zest of 1 lemon
12 tbs black mustard seeds
8 tbs groundnut oil (or vegetable oil)
3 tbs tomato puree
3 tsp coriander seed
2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
4 or 5 chillies, finely chopped (6 if you like it hot!)
thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated

Grate the beetroot. It will take forever. You will curse my name. It will be worth it, I promise. Toss the beetroot in the vinegar, lemon juice & zest & set to one side. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the mustard seeds & listen. Once they start popping add the other spices. After 2 minutes of stirring, and getting giddy with the smell of frying cumin, add the beetroot & remaining ingredients. Mix well, reduce the heat & cover. Leave to simmer for 25-30 minutes. It will look like there's not enough liquid, but trust me, it's fine.
Spoon into sterilized jars & cover with a little more oil. Seal & stick in the back of a cupboard for a few weeks, preferably a month, before eating.

Om nom nom!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Curried Vegetable Relish

It's definitely autumn here in the flatlands. There's a chill in the air, and I'm starting to ogle shawl patterns on Ravelry*. There's also the frantic rush to get veg from the garden harvested, processed & tucked away safely for winter. Yeah, that's a bit of a clue.
So along with roasting tomatoes & tomatillos for making sauces & pasatta, podding beans for drying, bagging up potatoes & processing beans, beet leaves, chard & courgettes for freezing, I'm also making pickles!

So here's a nice little recipe that's good for using up whatever veg you have an excess of. I used courgettes, carrots, cauliflower & peas, but you can use runner beans, sweetcorn, turnips, beetroot, radishes, aubergines - anything really! The recipe uses Garam Masala, which is a mixture of ground spices. You can buy it ready blended, but you can also make your own. My blend has cumin, cinnamon, fenugreek, black pepper, turmeric & ludicrous amounts of coriander seed. No chilli for a change, as this is a warm, pungent sort of blend, rather than a hot & spicy one. Though you can add chillis too, if you fancy.

Curried Vegetable Relish

225g courgettes
225g carrots
225g cauliflower
225g peas
225g onion
400ml white wine vinegar
170g sugar
1tsp yellow mustard seed
1tsp ground ginger
2tsp garam masala
1tbs salt
1tsp cornflour

Chop the vegetables, as coarse or as fine as you like (I like my pickles chunky). Pile into a colander & scatter with the salt. Cover & leave overnight. The salt will draw the moisture out of the veggies, so they'll still have a bit of bite to them.
Next day, rinse the veg & drain. Blend the cornflour with a little of the vinegarin a small bowl & set aside. Put the remaining vinegar, sugar & spices into a large pan & bring to a boil. Add the cornflour mixture & boil 3-4 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat & stir in the vegetables. Pack into warm, sterilised jars & try not to touch for a month.

Goes well with cheese, vegetable fritters, veggie burgers & hot dogs. Yum!

*Turning leaves are all well and good, but nothing says autumn to me quite like the twitching of the crochet hook!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Day in Manchester

As well as taking me to the lovely Hardstoft Herbs, MikeyFox also took me to Manchester to celebrate my birthday. I am a lucky wee fox!

We spent most of our time walking around the city. I used to visit it often as an art student, and later MikeyFox & I would go to gigs at the Academy, Bridgewater Hall, and even saw Will Oldham* at the Manchester Cathedral, so it didn't require hours of making maps on Google.
We visited a lovely health food shop called On The Eighth Day, it's a workers co-op shop & cafe, run by a lovely group of people. If you're ever in the area, I really recommend a visit, if only for their excellent range of dried chillies!

Whenever in Manchester, we always go for lunch at the Arndale Market. Tacked onto the end of the Arndale shopping centre, the Market is crammed full of food stalls offering everything from the usual Greek, Italian & Chinese stuff to Japanese, Mexican, Jamaican, Korean & Brazilian. We resisted the tostadas & decided to visit the Brazilian snack bar, where we had pastels. Pastels are a typical kind of fast food in Brazil, somewhere between empanadas & deep fried pasties. MikeyFox said they reminded him of Findus crispy pancakes. These fried treats were filled with cheese & vegetables. Yum! They were washed down with a pint from the Boggart Brewery's Micropub. Dessert was a paçoca each. Paçoca (a Brazilian native word meaning 'to crumble') is another Brazilian treat, a peanut candy with a texture similar to fudge. Sweet, salty & crumbly, I'll have to learn how to make them, they were delicious!

Fortified with beer & fried things, we went in search of excitement in China Town. We bought some lotus seed Mooncake & red bean paste buns (an allotment treat for the next day) from Ho's bakery, along with some Pearl Tea, which we drank under the beautiful archway. I even finally found a Jicama, which made it the Best Day Ever. After 3 years of trying to track one down I can safely say that they're delicious, and worth looking out for! (though possibly not as obsessively as I have been).

For dinner we went to Las Iguanas, a Latin American restaurant on Deansgate. The menu was excellent, with lots of Vegetarian options that weren't just flour 'n' beans. I was sorely tempted by the Moqueca - a dish of sweet potato & coconut served with rice & plantain, but in the end opted for the Chilean pastel de choclo. I'm glad I did, I loved it! I could have eaten another one! How could you not love a South American version of Shepherds pie with a base of squash, sweet potato & chickpeas topped with creamy mashed sweetcorn! MikeyFox went for cheesy pumpkin chimichangas. For dessert, we fought over macadamia & dulce du leche cheesecake & a sticky Ipanema mess of guava, yoghurt, raspberries & crushed meringue.

You might have noticed drinks in that photo too. Yes, there were drinks. MikeyFox, being the designated driver (ie. the one who has passed his driving test, and never made his instructor, a burly man in his 50's, cry and hug the steering wheel) had cranberry & lemonade. I had caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil (again with Brazil), which means 'hillbilly' or 'bumpkin'. How can you not love a drink with a name like that? It's a giddy blend of a whole lime bashed with sugar & lots of cachaça. What's cachaça? It's a bit like rum, only its made with fresh sugarcane juice rather than molasses. It's Brazil's favourite liquor, with 1.5 billion litres quaffed annually. It has over 700 nicknames, my favourite is omim-fum-fum!
Turns out Las Iguanas has their own sugar cane plantation in Brazil, where they make their very own cachaça. The lovely staff were happy to provide us with a bottle to take away, and instructions on how to make caipirinha. Bless 'em!
I also got a Lemon Grenade T-shirt, which makes me unreasonably happy.
Until next time, when I'll be back to talking about vegetables. And possibly ketchup.

*I kid you not. Alas, he didn't sing 'Drunk at the Pulpit'

Friday, 26 August 2011

Hardstoft Herbs

I always forget just how busy August gets for me. There's not only the edible explosion that is the garden, but also the birthday of Ma-in-Law and myself (36! A square triangular number! 36! That's how many gallons are in a standard barrel of beer!).
I was very spoiled by MikeyFox, who took me out for a number of day trips this month. The first being to Hardstoft Herbs in Derbyshire. A herb garden set up in 1983 by the lovely Lynne Raynor & her husband Steve. In 1991 they opened an additional 3 display gardens at Hardstoft; the Lavender garden, the Pot Pourri garden & the stunning Physic garden.

I have been mulling over turning the front garden into a herb & flower garden (its currently a mish-mash of culinary herbs, edible flowers & the odd clump of salsify & beetroot), as since with the back garden & allotment up & running, I don't really need any more vegetable growing space (yes, I know it's a shock. It surprised me too!). But I would love to grow more medicinal herbs & wildflowers, so next years big project will be turning out front into something a bit prettier and a little less shambolic.

Visiting an established herb garden was such a great inspiration for me. Being able to see herbs & wildflowers at their full height & spread, what works well in full sun & what needs some shade really helps you when planning out your own patch, whatever its size. And seeing the height that some plants get too, whether they shoot straight up, or bush out, what spreads and what remains compact, was invaluable. It was also interesting to see how formal garden designs compare with informal ones. How you can take aspects of formal gardens (like box edging, brick paths & clipped hedges) & soften them into more relaxed affairs.
This is the main garden, and the original. It's a parterre, meaning it's a formal design with clipped hedge edging & level paths arranged in a symmetrical pattern. The garden is dotted with sculptures & beautiful little benches like this cartwheel seat. A beautiful place to sit & watch the world go by!

The Lavender garden is a real feast for the senses! A collection of over 40 varieties of lavenders, from the elegant Old English Lavender to the charming bract or 'bunny ears' lavenders. The colours were enchanting, from white to pink, even deep red! And the fragrance was heavenly. I will definitely be splashing out on some interesting varieties of Lavender, and plant for height & colour as well as fragrance.

Speaking of fragrance, the Pot Pourri garden was quite overwhelming! It was very popular with the bees too, and who can blame them? Scented Roses, Geraniums, Lemon Verbena & Mints all jostled around the central pathway along with more unusual herbs like Southernwood & Hyssop, as well as interesting flowerheads like Thistle & Teasle. I plan to grow lots of Southernwood, I love the camphorous aroma, and the feel of running my fingers through the feathery leaves.

And finally the Physic garden. I probably wouldn't grow many of the herbs from here, though it was fascinating to finally see herbs that I have read so much about, like Mandrake, Belladonna & Aconite. It was also interesting to see herbs like Tea Tree & Ginseng growing in the UK, and much more familiar herbs like Marigold, Rosemary & Peppermint, which I'm much more likely to have in my own herb garden! It also reminded me of the medicinal herbs I used to grow. My old garden was full of Wormwood, Goldenrod, Angelica, Sweet Woodruff, Feverfew, Echinacea & St John's Wort. And I look forward to growing them again soon.

Hardstoft Herbs also has a shop where you can buy many of the herbs on display in the gardens (though not Mandrake!). So I was allowed to run riot, and got myself a selection of lovely little plants to get me started!
So if you find yourself in Derbyshire on a sunny day, do go and say hello. It's a beautiful place to visit!


Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Savoury Bread Pudding

Bread & butter pudding has always been a favourite of mine. There's something about the soft, souffle interior and the crusty brown sugar & cinnamon dredged topping that hits the spot for me. I can't remember when I first thought about making a savoury version, but I'm pretty sure that beer was involved somewhere.

I'd like to say that over the years I have honed & refined this recipe into the masterpiece you see today (and called it Deconstructed Ploughman's Lunch or something poncy), but no, it's pretty much the same wet-weather or post-pub comfort food, the only thing that changes is the vegetables. I use whatever is in season to make this, so cold & bitter February means chopped kale or shredded cabbage. October is slices of pumpkin & chestnut mushrooms scattered with pecan nuts & crumbled Stilton. Right now its courgettes. This recipe uses round courgettes, because I really liked arranging the thick round slices between the slices of bread, but you can use courgettes of any shape and size.

Savoury Bread Pudding

4 thick slices of good bread (or a stale baguette, or whatever you have to hand)
2 courgettes
2 eggs
200ml milk (or yoghurt, single cream or quark, depending on how decadent you're feeling)
30-50g cheese (I had some Spanish Manchego, so used that, but experiment - goats cheese, Stilton, chedder & mozzerella all work well in this)
salt & pepper
home made chutney (come on, you must have some!)

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/G4. Grease a baking dish.
Whisk together the egg, milk & seasoning. Set to one side. Spread the bread with chutney & cut into whatever size makes them fit in your baking dish (if you're using a baguette, you don't need to do that, just cut into slices). Slice the courgettes thickly. Arrange the bread & courgettes in the baking dish, poking & prodding until you're happy with how it all looks. Carefully pour over the egg & milk mix, making sure you cover everything. Leave to stand for 10 minutes (this allows the bread to soak up all the egg, otherwise you'll end up with bread pudding on an omelettey base. Still tasty, but kind of weird). Top with cheese & bake for 20 minutes, or until golden on top.
Serve with salad to assuage any guilt, and there's no shame in having seconds.

You can use any chutney in this, chunky or smooth. Ploughmans pickle & piccallili are favourites, and cut through the richness of the egg & cheese, but mustard or pesto work really well too.
Om nom nom!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Courgette & Tomato Chutney

MikeyFox & I went to the allotment on Sunday to harvest our onion patch (I've spent years trying to grow onions, and been disappointed with the results. In March I handed MikeyFox a bag of onion sets & told him to try - we harvested boxes and boxes of huge, perfect onions. Jammy sod!) and plant some leeks. One of the committee members sidled up to me & shyly asked if I could donate some chutney to the open day at the end of the month (I seem to have got myself a reputation of the Chutney Maker. Can't imagine why).
So since I haven't posted a chutney recipe in a while, and they're a great way of using up excess courgettes, here's a recipe for a favourite of MikeyFox, King of the Alliums.

Courgette & Tomato Chutney

1 kg courgettes (the seedy middles removed if they're quite large), diced
1kg tomatoes (red, green or yellow, whatever you have an excess of!), chopped
500g onions, chopped
500g brown sugar (you might want to use white sugar if you're using yellow courgettes)
400ml white wine vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 red chillis (or green for green tomatoes etc), more for a hot relish, less for a mild one.
1 ts salt
1 tsp oregano

Put the sugar & vinegar in a large pan. Bring to a boil & stir until the sugar is dissolved. If you don't like tomatoes skins in your relish, place the tomatoes in a large bowl & cover with boiling water. Leave for 10 seconds, then drain & plunge into cold water. Slip the skins off, and chop as usual. Add the remaining ingredients & simmer, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, for 1 hour, or until thickened & glossy (this can take up to 2 hours, depending on how wet the courgettes & tomatoes are). Spoon into clean sterilised jars & leave for 1 month before opening (having said that, we opened one jar straight away and thought it was delicious!)

This chutney is actually more like a tomato relish. It's great on burgers, sausages & fried egg sandwiches. If you like it spicy, add some chopped pickled jalapenos to the recipe too!