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The Beginning of Autumn-a Dessert Dilemma

Posted on 1st September, 2019

September 1st, the first day of meteorological autumn but really we’re still in summer, late summer granted but summer nevertheless. Which means there’s a natural conflict between wanting a dessert or yearning for a pudding, the dilemma between making ice-cream or making a warming fruit crumble with custard (it’s a British thing!).

 

Anyway we have plums in the garden, we actually had so many we had to freeze them en masse in carrier bags so they weren’t wasted (shudder), so I could make the ever popular plum crumble and custard or I could wander down the lane near the house and forage some blackberries to add to it, they seem to be a bit behind this year but there was enough to fill a small container.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a couple of handfuls of  plums plus a a couple of handfuls of blackberries I decided to chop and de-stone the plums and stew them with the blackberries, both are quite tart so probably need more sugar than you think but let’s be honest this is an occasional treat not an everyday occurance. Now you could use ready made custard but I had a pot of cream in the fridge from last week, bought to go with raspberries but I’ve been eating these as they are rather than slathering them with cream, so I made a simple custard with an egg, sugar and vanilla.

 

Here we are then, we have stewed fruit and a simple custard, but with the idea of crumble firmly to the fore I decided to make a crumble topping. Flour, butter or margarine, sugar and a sprinkling of oats and cinnamon. With the sun streaming through the window and dinner to be eaten out in the garden I plumped for blackberry and plum crumble ice cream. I’m nothing if not inventive when it comes to ice cream ideas. It’s a happy marriage, the satisfying aroma of a fruit crumble with the gorgeousness of creamy ice cream.          

 

This should be the time of plenty in the garden but this year it’s been a bit hit and miss, a continual battle against slugs and pigeons plus the choking effect of oxalis around the peas, rocket, spinach and chard. No sooner do I pull it up it’s back so it really is a losing battle. Oxalis is invasive, it spreads by tiny bulbs and if you spread it accidently from one bed to another you’re doomed. I might have to be brutal over the winter to avoid the same thing next year.

I do have plenty of runner beans and the courgettes and squashes are getting there now so hopefully I’ll be sharing some ideas of what to do with these two vegetables soon.

 

Back to the ice-cream, below is the basic recipe I created but as always you can swap or switch ingredients depending on what you have to hand.

Fruit compote (posh for stewed fruit!):

Around 8 good sized plums, chopped and stones removed

Couple of handfuls of blackberries

Sugar to taste, I prefer it slightly tart but add more if you prefer super-sweet

 

Place in a heavy base saucepan with only a spoonful of water, cook until soft. Set aside to cool completely.

 

Crumble:

Equal parts flour to fat (I used a couple of handfuls of each)

Pinch of salt

A couple of spoonfuls of porridge oats

Sugar, again to taste but this doesn’t need to be overly sweet.

Sprinkling of cinnamon (leave out or replace if you’re not a fan)

 

Rub the fat and flour together until they look like fine breadcrumbs, stir in the porridge oats, the sugar and cinnamon. Spread onto an ovenproof tray and bake until golden, forking it through to make sure the colour is even. When done set aside to cool.

 

Custard: (I cheated I’m afraid, I had no time to make a classic crème anglais)

1 egg

¾ pot of double cream

Sugar to taste

Vanilla paste or a vanilla pod

 

Pour the cream over the well beaten egg, mix in the sugar and the vanilla paste or the seeds from the vanilla pod. Heat gently, it needs to be gently to avoid scrambling the egg, as it heats it will thicken and all you need is a consistency that covers the back of a wooden spoon. Add a little arrowroot or cornflour if it doesn’t thicken enough (instructions on the packaging)

 

Set aside to cool.

 

When all three elements are cold you can stir the crumble into the fruit and amalgamate thoroughly. Then stir in the custard, as you stir you’ll see swirls of custard through the fruit crumble mixture and I left it like this before pouring into the ice cream maker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There we have it, Plum and Blackberry Crumble ice-cream the answer to that late summer dessert quandary. Give a try before the weather gets too cold for ice-cream (does it ever?). Happy cooking and let me know how you get on.

                                  

 

SOMETHING FRUITY IS GOING ON

Posted on 7th August, 2019

Well the weather never ceases to amaze me, blazing sun so hot we couldn’t be out in it and now pouring rain so fierce everything in the garden looks like it’s been flattened by a herd of goats. My poor vegetable patch is struggling but the runner beans have started to flower and the rocket, at least, is looking OK. The plum tree is so full of fruit the branches are heading earthwards so there will be a plethora of plum recipes soon I’m sure, providing the wasps don’t get it all.

The raspberries are in stasis, the summer fruiting plants are looking very sorry for themselves, with a few edible berries appearing every now and then, but the autumn fruiting varieties are starting to appear now. I’ve picked a lot of the summer variety, frozen some and used some in or with ice-cream but a few weeks ago week there were so many I struggled to use them or freeze them.

 

If you have bought or picked raspberries (or other soft fruits)  one way of using them before they go off (which is usually very quick) is to put them in a blender with fine sugar or honey and sieve the seeds out to make a fruit coulis. Sounds very cheffy because you see it on menus, but a coulis is nothing more than a smooth fruit puree. You can pour over ice cream, serve with plan yoghurt (think Mueller corner) or add to milk (or milk alternative) to make raspberry milkshake. You can add a few teaspoons of a fruit liqueur to the coulis if you’re trying to impress dinner guests.

 

What about the other fruit you bought with the intention of eating fresh but now find it’s just about to go over? Well don’t bin it because it’s all usable.

Apples can be simmered with a little sugar for apple sauce, or baked apples with the core removed and filled with brown sugar, or sliced into a fresh green salad to add a sweet crunch, stewed with a little sugar or sweetener to make apple crumble, apple pie (eating apples require much less sugar than traditional coking apples for this) or Eve's Pudding.

Peaches, nectarines and plums can be roasted with a little spice such as allspice or cinnamon and served with cream, mascarpone, plain Greek yoghurt or even a traditional custard. They can also be peeled and the stones removed and blended into a smoothie with yoghurt or yoghurt substitute, sweeten with maple syrup or honey.

Oranges are best juiced but can be peeled (remove the white pith as well) and sliced into an oriental style salad. Why not make an orange drizzle cake? Or an orange polenta cake? Slice them and add to a summer punch (alcoholic or non-alcoholic).

Pineapples are lovely roasted, again with a touch of spice and served with lashings of cream but can also be used in salads, juiced or blended with other fruits to make smoothies. Or why not try a traditional pineapple upside-down cake.

 

The possibilities are endless but the real point is if you buy it, grow it or are given it fruit should be used not binned. Ignore the use-by date because your eyes and nose will tell you if it’s alright. Happy experimenting!

 

SPEEDING THROUGH JULY

Posted on 22nd July, 2019

I rather cleverly scheduled this post after writing it on a Sunday-however the weather gods intervened so bear with me until the end of the piece as it’s been amended accordingly.

 

 

We’re speeding through July at a rate of knots, yet it feels as if summer has passed us by. Earlier in the year we had scorching temperatures but since then it’s been a combination of dull, almost chilly, days and plenty of rain. I hear a rumour this will change for a few days next week but as it stands it’s just a ‘meh’ day here. This state of affairs can play havoc with meal planning, although let’s be honest here I am no planner when it comes to food. I’m lucky in that the choice is generally mine so what I fancy usually goes.

 

One of the most common questions I get asked when people discover I’m vegetarian is ‘what do you have for Sunday dinner?’ I’m sure I’ve blogged this before but the answer invariably is ‘whatever I like’. Of course I’m not bound by the vagaries of feeding a family, my brood fledged many moons ago, so I’m not governed by who will eat what, who doesn’t like this, that or the other. I cook, serve and we eat. Simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On that note, under miserable grey threatening skies, I decided to use up half a cauliflower and make soup. Soup is simple and not just for Winter, I’ve shared several soup recipes on this site before. We always have onions in our larder don’t we? If not why not (unless you’re allergic of course). Onions are always a basic ingredient in any soup I make, I’m sure there are exceptions but I can’t remember what they are. So onions, cauliflower, a few potatoes (remember how I’ve said before they act as a good thickener to most soups. Then the only other thing I had to hand was celery. A great choice to add a depth of flavour to soups and stews. So far so good. Just a case of chopping all of these ingredients up (including the cauliflower leaves), sautéing them off in a little olive oil (or oil of your choice) in a large saucepan, adding enough water to cover plus a little more. Add 2 bouillon cubes of your choice, or home-made stock if you’re that organised and simmer until everything is al dente, not so soft it falls apart but not hard either or it won’t liquidise well. When cooked, allow to cool a little and either hand liquidise or use a blender. Remember the trick I’ve mentioned before, which is to set aside around a third of the soup and blend the other 2/3rds, this adds a little texture. Add the 1/3 back in before seasoning to taste and serving. Don’t like texture? Liquidise it all. Don’t like smooth soup? Make sure your vegetables are chopped fine enough and don’t liquidise at all. Before serving mine I crumbled in a handful of cheese that had been sitting in the fridge, in this instance Stilton, but any hard cheese will do but obviously omit this step if you’re vegan or have vegan guests.

 

Pesto Bread

Nothing goes better with soup than fresh bread, I have a bread machine if the urge comes along to make a quick loaf, although I just as often make bread by hand. Today there was no time for that. I’ve had a jar of Genovese pesto sitting, opened, in the fridge so remembering a basil bread I’d had years ago I experimented with pesto bread. How hard can it be? Very easy as it turned out.

For a medium loaf I used

240ml warm water

460g mixed bread flour (as always there’s never enough of one type so this was a mix of French Bread flour, rye flour and spelt flour-approximately a third each)

1 tsp. salt

3 tsp. sugar

Around 85g pesto

2 1/4 tsp dried yeast

 

In a bread machine the ingredients are placed into the bowl in this order and I used the ‘rapid’ programme which is 2 hours start to finish. (I planted shrubs while it was doing its thing).

 

Enough soup for 3 days although I doubt if any of the bread will be left given it has already had a chunk cut off and devoured.

 

So here comes the weather related amendment, I can almost here your screams of horror that I should blog about soup on what is potentially going to be the hottest day of the year, not quite that hot here but hot enough. The good thing about this soup is that it’s just as lovely when chilled, so if you fancy chilled cauliflower soup my suggestion is-

Let it cool completely, place in the fridge for a couple of hours, swirl in some ice cold cream or if you need it vegan try a dairy-free plain yoghurt, silken tofu or full fat coconut milk, bearing in mind it has the distinct smell and flavour of coconut. To chill quicker place the soup in a large bowl and stand in a bowl of ice. Sprinkle the soup with chopped herbs or finely chopped wild rocket.

 

Serve with any bread, or try making corn muffins follow the link to a great site I've found. This is a simple conbread recipe so do have a go. You could also serve crackers, open sandwiches, oatcakes etc. A chilled soup is a wholly different experience to hot soup. Experiment, try your own combinations, roast the cauliflower first, add a little spicing, the possibilities are endless

 

Happy days, I hope the sun hangs around for a few days so I can make a fresh salad with the lush salad bowl lettuce from the garden. Let me know what you think. Happy cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the weather all over the place the garden doesn’t know what to do. While some things are growing like triffids others are languishing, either waiting for a bit of warmth or hoping for some rain. Well they’ve had rain by the bucketful these last few days so hopefully the sunshine will follow. This time last year I was cutting salad leaves, pulling radishes and almost picking strawberries but apart from a few sad radishes there’s nothing ready to harvest. Yes my natural impatience expects miracles but it is June after all. There are signs of things to come, a few mixed lettuce leaves, a few strawberries appearing, although weeks off ready yet. The raspberries may be good this year and the bees are happy as there of plenty of flowers on the canes to keep them happy. The plums look good this year, yield is dependant on good weather early on when it’s in blossom so there may be a glut of plum recipes later in the year. They’re also good to freeze if you have too many.

 

The flower borders are fairing better, huge voluptuous oriental poppies, delicate field poppies, blue geraniums, alchemilla mollis, campanula all bursting into flower, very pretty but we can’t eat those…

 

If the rain holds off this weekend I have sweetcorn to plant, the plants are nice and strong so I’m hoping for a cob or 2, remember if you’re tempted you need to plant them in a block as they’re wind pollinated. The potatoes are starting to show now but they’ve been slow too, the rocket has fallen foul of pigeons, I fear the 1st sowing will struggle now so I’ve sowed a 2nd row and will probably sow a 3rd later on to overwinter. I hope.

 

I’m looking forward to the real salad days of summer, the odd BBQ, foraging and camping trips to the wilds of Ynys Mon. I’ll endeavour to keep the blog updated with ideas and recipes but feel free to ask me anything you’d like to know about using leftovers, making something from nothing and growing your own veggies. Roll on summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring into free food

Posted on 22nd April, 2019

 

Spring’s in full swing and apart from the urge to get outside to sow vegetable seeds and tidy up the plot it’s a great time to forage wild greens. OK so I’m lucky as I’m in North Wales, plenty of rural, off the beaten track locations to choose from but really wherever there’s a scrap of land wild plants will take off. Obviously in well-manicured parks, graveyards and roadsides you need to be wary of over-enthusiastic councils spraying anything that is deemed to be a weed nevertheless there is still scope to find common plants that are not only edible but nutritious.

Why bother I hear you ask? Well it’s a way of re-engaging with the natural world, it’s seasonal, it teaches children about nature need I go on? I’m sure you have a picture in your head of a forager, bearded, scruffy, open-toed sandals, crumpled hat…well here’s the thing you’d be wrong. There are professional foragers out there these days with their own special places, places where the best mushrooms are, places where they can collect nuts, leaves, samphire. You name it, if it’s edible they’ll collect it. Yet few ‘ordinary’ people have a go and I’m not sure why. I guess it’s a mix of fear of being poisoned and disinterest, yet there is a movement back towards real food, slow food, natural food so it’s worth a try (the link is to a website created by Wild Food UK Team-they do courses too). For example, you’re camping (glamping, caravanning & motor-homing all count) and you’ve got the ubiquitous burgers, sausages (veggie or otherwise) but the campsite has no shop and the nearest village is too far to walk and you’ve already started on the beer/wine/gin so driving is out of the question. Why not take a walk around the campsite, along a footpath, along the seafront or through the woods and see what you can collect?  Some leaves are great as salad leaves, others may need a little cooking but it’s fresh and free.

 

This Easter weekend we have been really lucky with the weather and I collected ‘Hedge Garlic’ (Jack by the hedge) and white deadnettle to add to a few leaves of rainbow chard and a handful of chives that have started to sprout in the garden. The chard has overwintered really well and the chives have sprung up since the weather has warmed up. The joy of a vegetable garden is that some plants survive and provide when there’s little else growing, chard is a great example. The first veggie BBQ of the year then was accompanied by steamed greens, wrapped in a foil parcel and cooked in the coals.

 

Follow this link for a more in depth look at what you can and can’t collect across the seasons in the UK and I hope you’ll have a go.

 

This isn’t a recipe as such but if you collect your greens, wash thoroughly, chop into medium sized pieces you can pile into the centre of a foil square, sprinkle with wild garlic puree (simply wash wild garlic add a little oil and seasoning and whizz up in a food processor. Put into sterilized jars and keep in the fridge), I added a little lemon juice but be aware hedge garlic is sometimes a bit bitter and lemon accentuates this. Season with a little sea salt. Bring the edges of the foil together and scrunch together to seal the parcel, make sure there is space for the moisture to create steam. A few minutes in the hot coals, while the burgers etc are cooking will be enough time.

  

Hedge Garlic (Jack by the hedge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve added photos of the plants in situ, plus the selection I used and the parcel before and after. Enjoy, experiment, don’t be afraid. But have fun 😊

LET'S GET SPICY-Indian Street Food

Posted on 9th February, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'd probably live on Indian food if truth be told, proper street style dishes not the ubiquitous takeaway offerings that usually bear no resemblance to the authentic dishes. To this end I always, and I mean always, have basmati rice, gram flour, jars of spices and spice mixes, garlic (usually the lazy kind but often fresh) and ginger (again the lazy kind but occasionally fresh when I see it).

On a cold February evening there’s nothing as good as the spicy aromas coming from a rice dish such as Tawa Pulao or Masala Rice. I’m sure by now though you’ve come to understand I’m not a recipe collector as such, don’t get me wrong I have a huge collection of recipe books but they are really only used for inspiration. Let’s be honest here we all know that you may find an ideal recipe in a book but then realise you have ingredients missing. So what if you don’t have a particular spice to hand? Just swap it. Use cumin instead of coriander, use turmeric instead of cumin. Of course the final dish will be a bit different but that’s the joy of cooking, experiment. Don’t like fennel seeds? Leave them out. Like spicy but not heat? Cut down on the chillies or leave them out. Not all Indian food is chilli hot, some dishes rely on black pepper for heat or mustard seeds. Anyway I digress, the point here is that Indian street-style food can be simple, should be simple in fact so there’s no reason not to give it a go. Experiment with ingredients, the basics are easily mastered so what’s stopping you?

I quite often make my own spice mixes and store in jars for those evenings you simply don’t have time to start grinding spices from scratch. Sambar Powder is a good example but one I particularly like is Tandoori Spice Mix. Now I’m sure some of you are thinking we’ve been here before and that  ‘life’s too short to grind spices’ but the taste is so much fresher than some shop bought varieties it is worth it, however if you can buy ready-mixed spices from a good outlet then by all means do so, I’m not averse to buying ready ground mixes if I see something a bit unusual (it’s got to be tried after all!)

Now of course Tandoori is usually associated with meat dishes and really refers to recipes made using a Tandoor but let’s not nit-pick here I’m referring to Tandoori-style spices and these can easily be adapted to use in vegetarian food. Anyway back to the main gist of this post, on this particularly cold and miserable February night I made a simple Tandoori Masala rice dish and served it with dosa, another simple but staple South Indian accompaniment, cucumber and mint raita and lime pickle (mine is courtesy of my daughter the lime pickle queen) or a fruit chutney. You could use chapattis instead of dosa (easily bought or better still made) or the more usual Naan bread but dosa are delicious and relatively easy to make too.

Serves 4 but obviously adjust quantities depending on numbers, I like to have enough left over for lunch or dinner the following day. Why cook twice if you don’t have to.

Tandoori Spice Mix

 

Dried red chillis – 7 to 8

Cumin seeds – 1 tbsp

Coriander seeds - 1 tbsp

Fenugreek seeds – 1 tsp

Black peppercorns – 1 tsp

Cardamom seeds–10 or so (if you have both black & green then 5 of each)

Cinnamon stick – 2 or 2 tsp already ground

Clove – 15 or so (just the actual cloves not the hard sticky bits)

Turmeric powder – 1 tsp (3 grams)

 

This list is not set in stone so feel free to add/subtract things to taste.

 

When all is ground to a fine powder then you can add in ground red paprika for colour if required.

 

Tandoori Masala Rice

Ingredients:

Approx 250gr Basmati rice

Good handful of Quorn pieces or use TVP, tofu or paneer (preference s the key here) or use a pulse such as butter beans or chick peas-we’re just aiming for a protein source after all

1 onion (red or white depends on what you have)

1 carrot

1 pepper (any colour)

¼ cauliflower

3 small potatoes

1 or 2 sticks celery

3 fresh tomatoes (I actually used roasted tomatoes from last season’s crop from the freezer)

2 or 3 dstspn Tandoori spice mix

Stock or bouillon cube made up with boiling water

Salt/pepper

Vegetable oil or coconut oil

 

 

Method:

Chop the vegetables into similar sized pieces, not too large but not finely chopped.

Heat oil in a heavy based pan and sauté gently until soft but not brown. Add the rice (now the purist will say wash it first but in my opinion basmati rice doesn’t need to be washed as there’s less starch in it than long grain rice but it’s your choice), making sure the grains are coated in oil and allow to sauté with the vegetables. Add the protein source (see above) and again allow to cook for a few minutes. Now sprinkle in the Tandoori spice, stirring to make sure all elements are coated. Add the chopped tomatoes (skinned if preferred).

Now you’re ready to add the stock, pour in enough to cover the other ingredients and allow it to reach simmering point, stir occasionally and as the rice starts to absorb the stock just add more stock until the rice and vegetables are cooked. If there seems to be a bit too much stock add a little tomato puree to thicken. Season to taste. What you should have is a vibrant red and tasty main dish ready to serve with your dosa, chapattis or naan.

 

Dosa:

 

I won’t pretend this version is authentic because the batter should really ferment before using but when you’re in a hurry this simple version is more than acceptable. If you’ve read any of my ramblings before you’ll know I keep a store cupboard and there are always several types of flour in there. For this easy dosa recipe I use gram flour (also know as besan or chick-pea flour), salt and water. Effectively that’s all you need; however, I often add a little spice such as cumin and on this occasion I toasted sesame seeds and added those too. Feel free to adapt to your taste.

Depending only on the number of dosa you want to make you simply put the flour and any other dry ingredients in a bowl and add sufficient cold water to make a batter, similar to a normal pancake batter consistency, when thoroughly mixed and smooth leave to stand for an hour if you can (as you would with normal batter).

You’ll need a non-stick frying pan or Seasoned (cast-iron) skillet and a little oil. Heat a small amount of oil until hot but not burning and pour in enough batter to coat the bottom, be careful not to make them too thick, think French crêpe. The batter will form tiny surface bubbles when it’s cooked on the bottom, just flip or turn over to cook the other side for a few seconds.

 

Raita:

Hardly needs instructions as it’s usually plain yogurt, chopped cucumber, chopped mint (an ideal way of using up that mint you put in the freezer last year!! Just me then?) with a little salt and pepper to taste. You can also add toasted cumin seeds for variety, worth a try.

 

So there you have it-in truth this post probably took longer to write than the recipes took to cook so give it a go, let me know how it goes plus there’s a couple of links to dishes I mention. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTO THE NEW YEAR

Posted on 1st January, 2019

Finally it's here, 2019, with it's promise of a new you, new goals, new challenges, more money etc but wait a minute isn't this a little deja vu? Doesn't this remind you of 2018, 2017, 2016 etc etc? Well of course it does because despite our protestations that this year will be different to all those that have gone before we still conciously or subconsiously fall into the trap of promising to do things better, do things right, get thinner, like ourselves more, sign up (yet again) to the gym/swimming pool/pilates class (insert your own choice here). Does this ring a bell? OK so let's cut to the proverbial chase, if these promises to ourselves haven't come to fruition thus far why do we believe this year will be any different? Maybe last year ended well, you lost a few pounds, had that edgy haircut you promised yourself, walked/ran to work a few times a week instead of driving (a tick in the environmental as well as fitness box for you then) or maybe it ended as it had begun with a vague idea of eating healthier food, cooking from scratch using fresh ingredients more often but instead figuring you didn't have the time so you headed to the sandwich shop/takeaway/works canteen and filled up with over-processed food (because it's only one day isn't it so it can't be that bad?). 

I suggest that instead of making these mega-changes just make small incremental changes to our daily life. One less spoonful of sugar in our coffee, walking around your workplace for a few minutes rather than standing by the vending machine working out if a Mars bar has less points than a Crunchie. You could make a fresh soup to take with you instead of pouring boiling water into a Pot Noodle/slimmers instant soup cup, do a few yoga stretches while you catch up with the soaps/reality show, swap your takeaway coffee for a herbal tea (or a bog standard ordinary tea come to that-you'll save calories/points and cash), borrow your neighbours dog and walk off the work fug, make sure you always have simple, cheap ingredients in your store cupboard, a selection of fresh vegetables in the fridge. Don't resolve to never eat junk food again, it's too big a promise, but do stand back and ask a) can I afford to eat takeaway again tonight (both healthwise and moneywise) and b) can I whip up a tasty supper with what I have to hand instead? (clearly the answer is yes-be it a simple pasta with salsa verde or tomato sauce or even a straightforward rice dish).

I sincerely hope that 2019 will deliver your hopes and dreams but even if it doesn't I hope you will have make a few critical changes to your lifestyle that will deliver health and monetary benefits. Happy New Year-live long and prosper.

BREAKING OUT THE PASTA MACHINE

Posted on 14th December, 2018

I’ve never been someone who has to have the latest kitchen gadget or appliance. Most have appeared in my kitchen through necessity, as a gift or as a random purchase. One such is a pasta machine that was given to me by lovely ex-colleagues a few years ago. I have to be honest it scared me to death after seeing contestants on Masterchef , including professionals, fall at the first hurdle. My first attempt at making pasta came pretty quickly after I had it, the results were indescribable. More akin to the stuff you put windows in with than any kind of culinary triumph. The experts make it look simple but it takes practice and patience, and for anyone who knows me patience isn’t my middle name (there are some rare exceptions to this rule).

Anyway time moved on and a few weeks ago I rescued the abandoned device from the depths of the kitchen drawer and had another go. Never one to make life simple I decided to use wholemeal spelt instead of 00 Pasta flour, this worked well but I had to include eggs so not vegan friendly. The beauty of using wholemeal spelt is that the pasta has a rougher texture which makes the sauce stick better, however I have since used white spelt and this works just as well. Anyway my efforts this time were satisfactory, perfectly good but not Masterchef standards. Do I care about that? Not a jot. Food doesn’t have to be perfect to make it delicious. The recipe is below.

To match my new found skill with the pasta machine I made a straightforward tomato sauce. Using tomatoes from the garden that I ripened in the kitchen,  plus a few ripe cherry tomatoes from my neighbours greenhouse. Made in batches, I froze several containers for use over the winter.

My neighbour and I have swapped veggies over the years and this summer, he grew peppers and cucumbers and I swapped some of those for courgettes & chard. Sadly though our mutual produce sharing has now ceased as he unexpectedly passed away recently. I’ll miss our chats across the fence, he was a fellow veggie, with a keen interest in nature, travelling all over the world bird-watching. R.I.P Nick Bird it was a pleasure knowing you.

 

The recipe for the sauce is below too.

 

Spelt tagliatelle:

280 grams of spelt flour (wholemeal or white or a mixture of both)

2 eggs

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (or try extra virgin rape seed oil for a nutty twist)

2 level teaspoons of fine sea salt

Cold water (amounts will vary but 3-5 tablespoons usually does it)

Method:

Pasta purists like to mix their dough on a flat surface, it looks good but makes a mess, but I used a very large mixing bowl as it’s easier to clean up afterwards (although be aware pasta making is not a tidy past-time).

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, making a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs and oil together in a jug or bowl and pour into the well. Add a little of the water and bring together the ingredients with a flat knife or spatula. Flour your hands and adding more water if needed draw the dough into a ball, kneading gently until smooth. You don’t want to knead it like bread because we don’t want to overwork it, nor do we want to add to much water or it will lose its elasticity and become too hard.

When smooth cover and let it rest in the fridge as this makes it easier to roll out to put through the pasta machine. Fear not if you don’t have one as the dough can be rolled out thinly and cut into strips with a sharp knife. For my first few efforts I only used the machine to roll out the dough, advancing to using the cutting rollers when I was happy with the consistency of the dough. Trial and error makes many a good cook.

When you have rolled and cut the pasta you can hang it over a pasta dryer rack if you have one lurking about (who does?) or improvise as I did.

Cook in plenty of rolling boiling salted water for around 5 minutes for white spelt or 8 minutes for wholemeal. Test it before draining because you may prefer it cooked less or more than me.

 

Fresh Tomato Pasta Sauce:

Fresh tomatoes (in all states of ripeness and colour)

Fresh garlic cloves or wild garlic leaves when in season (or any kind of lazy garlic)

Onions-finely chopped

Handfuls of garden herbs-I used basil, oregano and a little rosemary from the garden plus the ubiquitous rocket for that peppery zing

Olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste.

 

Method:

Chop tomatoes and onions and sauté in olive oil in a large pan, skin the tomatoes first if you prefer but I don’t. Add the crushed/chopped garlic and rosemary (if using) and when these ingredients have softened add a little vegetable stock or water, not too much as the tomatoes provide most of the required liquid. Simmer until it thickens slightly. Add the chopped soft leaf herbs and season to taste. Don’t overcook the softer leaf herbs as you want to be able to taste their freshness.

Set aside any excess sauce to freeze when cold.

 

When the pasta is cooked to your taste stir in the sauce, the Italian way is to coat the pasta rather than letting it swim in too much sauce.

Grate parmesan or strong cheddar over the top and add a few grinds of black pepper and a swirl of olive oil.

Simple, tasty, economic-what more do you need.

On this occasion I only took photographs of the making rather than the finished dish-it was delicious-what can I say. Give it a go, splash out on a pasta machine if you fancy, or simply hand-make it because it really is worth it.

 

Spelt pasta tagliatelle

SUDDENLY IT'S SUMMER

Posted on 2nd July, 2018

Phew the heat is on, and on, and on...to be honest this 'heatwave' is playing havoc with both the garden and the kitchen. Crops sown in the Spring are at last coming into their own but it's a constant battle to keep some of them going. The radishes are doing well, rainbow chard is looking lush and at last the rocket is marching away from the nGlobe Artichokeever ending armies of slugs and snails. I'm watering, there's no option not too really, but we have large water butts and so far these are holding up (not sure for how much longer). The globe artichokes are looking fantastically structural too but I've faced the fact that OH isn't keen and it's a lot of work to prepare just for me so my plan is to let the globes flower, I believe they are pretty spectacular when they burst open. I'll harvest a few smaller ones but the bigger ones will be sacrificed for beauty. I'll post some more photos when the flowers emerge.

 

Salads of course are the go-to choice on blisteringly hot days but you don't need to stick to lettuce, tomato and cucumber play around with fresh young vegetables too. Young carrots add crisp sweetness, fresh uncooked cauliflower gives an interesting flavour and texture as does sliced radish or baby turnips. Instead of the ubiquitous cheese or hard boiled eggs, add drained chick peas or cannelini beans. Make up salad dressings using a good oil and wine/cider vinegar or lemon juice as the base. You can liven this up with a dash of spice, fresh herbs (finely chopped) a good dollop of Dijon mustard or a spoonful of wholegrain mustard. If all of these ingredients plus a pinch of salt and pepper are put into a clean jar with a lid you can shake them into a great dressing. I have mentioned this before so remember to hang onto a couple of jars when they're empty for this purpose.

 

Last but not least the raspberries seem to really enjoy this weather so there has been copious bowls of raspberries and cream to enjoy but also fresh raspberry ice-cream has made a regular appearance. More on that later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm afraid that writing up all the recipes I've made since I last posted will be a job and a half but I'll be back in full swing soon I hope. Holidays, weekends away and life in general seems to have brought this particular creative endeavour to the doldrums but I'll be back. Take a tour around the recipes and blogs I've posted to date, add comments and suggestions but most of all make food prep a fun thing, get the kids involved, share food and gossip, share recipes and tips but most of all enjoy.

 

 

 

 

SPRING HAS FINALLY SPRUNG

Posted on 2nd June, 2018

Sowing seeds, planting out vegetable seedlings and tending the globe artichokes, strawberries and raspberries have pretty much taken up my evenings and weekends for the last couple of weeks. However it does mean that peas, runner beans and borlotti bean plants are all now in the ground and responding well to the warm damp days. I’ve also sown rocket, what else!, and in 3 days there’s signs of green all along the row, it’s such a rewarding and easy plant to grow even if all you’ve got is pots on a patio. There’s still time to pick up salad leaf seeds, radishes and a host of other easy to grow seeds and plug plants so I hope you have a go this year.

 

I’m particularly pleased that I managed to get the borlotti beans in as these beans are so useful to freeze when ripe. I still have a few left from last Autumn’s harvest and as the weather has turned a bit wet and grey I decided to make a fresh borlotti stew rather than another salad. Fresh or frozen beans are much quicker to cook than dried beans but feel free to use a canned variety instead. This dish is cooked in one pan but stew always suggests hours of cooking so I suppose ‘stew’ is a bit of a misnomer but for want of a better description it has to do. I always advocate keeping tins of plum tomatoes in the cupboard as a standby, either whole or chopped, and along with onion, garlic and fresh herbs you’re pretty much there.

 

I have a really good clump of oregano in my herb patch and its vibrant green scented leaves shouts ‘Italy’ and any recipe with fresh oregano in it takes me back to those small bistros dotted along any Italian town’s back streets where you can smell the deep herby sauces before you reach the door. Again I would urge you to plant up a pot or two with Mediterranean herbs if you haven’t got a garden or if you have no space left in the garden.

 

Any simple Italian inspired dish like this one can be served with crusty bread, rice or polenta but as I only had white maize-meal rather than yellow polenta that’s what I used for the accompaniment.

 

Ingredients: Serves 4

Frozen borlotti beans  (about a handful per person)

1 medium onion-finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic-crushed (wild garlic is ideal

1 stick of celery-chopped

½ green pepper

Green leafy vegetable-I used finely chopped rocket and kale leaves but spinach would work.

A good handful of fresh oregano (basil would work here)

1 tin chopped plum tomatoes

Vegetable stock cube

Salt & pepper

Olive oil

 

Method:

Gently sweat the onion, celery, green pepper and garlic in a little oil. When the onions are translucent add the borlotti beans, tinned tomatoes and stock cube topping the liquid levels up with a little water. The vegetables need space to cook in the liquid but don’t add to much water otherwise the finished dish will be more soup than stew. The beans will need around 20 minutes if frozen or fresh (if you use tinned beans then you just need them to heat through) so simmer gently for around 10 minutes then add the shredded greens and chopped oregano. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes, the sauce should have thickened by then. Check the fresh/frozen beans are cooked, they should yield but not fall apart.

Season to taste and serve with your chosen accompaniment. If using white maize-meal follow this link for the simple dish I made to go with an African Stew previously. Scroll down the linked page for recipe.

 

I hope you have a go at both growing your own beans and cooking this dish but as always you can swap ingredients to suit yourself. Let me know how you get on.

 

Fresh borlotti beansBorlotti stew