Showing posts with label In the kitchen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label In the kitchen. Show all posts

10 Jan 2014

A tasty Quince-essential shrub...

Or, as I read elsewhere, Quince Charming.

 ~ January blossom on Chaenomeles x superba 'Crimson and Gold' ~

Why am I writing about quince now, when the season for quince harvesting has passed? Well, one of my lovely nieces is getting wed tomorrow and her fiancé proposed with the gift of a runcible spoon, so owls, pussycats, quince and spoons have loomed large in my week as I've made quince jam for the wedding feast and also had to pick up the emergency baton of designing her Order of Service and wedding breakfast menu cards after her graphic designer went awol.

An enduring memory from last January was the sight of fallen fruit under the Chaenomeles x superba shrub in the Capel Gardens. The class was trotting briskly around in the snow in mid-January doing the plant ident walk; this plant was one of the few shrubs offering winter interest with its deep red blossom but my eye was drawn to the fruit which looked very edible.

Japanese quince in November 2013 
I remarked to our tutor about the yellow fruits rotting under the bush. Oh, yes, she said, those are edible, they're known as Japanese quince. I tucked this information away in my head for further research and future use.

Spin forward to late summer and thoughts of quince resurfaced when my niece's fiancé produced the vintage runcible spoon. (The Tiffany jewel duly appeared after a trip to New York.) I kept a watch on the shrub with thoughts of making a quince preserve, otherwise known by its Spanish name of Membrillo, and was rewarded with a 2kg haul of fruit in mid-November. The fruits are usually ripe by early October but last year was a bit skewed, weather-wise.

The preparation is relatively simple but needs time. An internet search* caused confusion, particularly with regard to the ratio of sugar to pulp or liquid. Eventually, a decision was made - and it turns out quite a few folk have a sweeter tooth than me! For my second batch, I used less sugar and added spices: star anise, cinnamon, juniper berries, cardamom and a vanilla pod. I read that quince jelly is a great addition to Morrocan stews and tagines, or served with lamb in place of redcurrant jelly. Has anyone tried using it this way?  Or you can use it as a chutney, in sandwiches or with cheese. My favourite is with Manchego, a salty Spanish cheese; luckily there are a lot of crackers to be used up after Christmas.

Chopped quince fruit can also be steeped in water with a little sugar for a healthy hot drink, packed with vitamin C; it tastes surprisingly good, like apple flavoured lemon tea. (This tip came from a Lithuanian friend whose mother made the tea to keep the family healthy throughout the year.)

I've now made both membrillo and quince jelly and found that they keep very well in the fridge or sealed jars, as you'd expect.  As I used Chaenomeles fruit, rather than fruit from Cydonia oblonga, the true quince tree, I was curious to know how the taste compared so bought a slice from Waitrose (where else?). There is a very slight difference, the true quince membrillo being slightly more perfumed and that's enough for me. Naturally, I want it all, so a quince tree went onto my plant wishlist … and there's good news on that front from the veg patch's friends at Victoriana Nurseries in Kent. They are giving me a quince tree for the community garden! I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful start to 2014!

For future reference, these are the blogs I found helpful for recipes:
Edible Things - recipes for quince brandy, jam and a clear jelly.
Cottage Smallholder who recommends oven baking quince to add to pies.
Oh for the Love of Food who writes of her mum's quince chutney recipe.
Veg Plotting - writes of roasted quince with a link to quince tart.

Or there's always The River Cottage Preserves handbook. I never knew there were so many ways to preserve edibles. Excellent.

27 Sept 2012

Grab n Go breakfast!

The sun is once again shining here today which always lifts both mood and motivation.  Just before heading down to the garden, and thinking about the early start to college tomorrow, I've just made a batch of these oat and honey pancakes. I'm not ready to eat breakfast for at least an hour after waking up/cup of tea which posed a problem last Friday as I have to leave home by 7.30 a.m. on college days in order to avoid heavy traffic.  This means that I have to be on the road at the same time as I'm ready for my breakfast. (I suppose I could always get up at 6 a.m. but where's the fun in that when it's cold and dark?)

Oaty pancakes

I read the recipe for these pancakes on the Lavender and Lovage blog a few days ago and immediately thought that a batch of these, warmed through before leaving, sandwiched together with honey and eaten with fruit, might be an ideal portable breakfast.  I've just made a batch (10 pancakes) and can report that they're easily made and delicious! Because I'm currently watching my weight (so I really shouldn't be eating these at all!), I made these with skimmed milk and used a spray oil in the pan rather than butter; both worked well.

The batter is mixed with oats (for energy)and Manuka honey (immune system booster). Eaten plain, there's a hint of sweetness from the Manuka honey; eaten with crème fraîche or Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, they're both tasty and filling.  With more time to spare, I bet they'd be just awesome with bacon and a poached egg (and the latest gardening mag to read).

The test will be how well these re-heat tomorrow morning (even I can't make pancakes at 6.30 a.m.). Undoubtedly they'll be better freshly made but needs must.  Hopefully this post will strike a chord with others having to dash off first thing in the morning, not least my teenager.  My thanks to Karen for sharing her recipes with the internet!

Here's the link (scroll to bottom of page for printable recipe):

Karen's Fluffy Porridge Pancakes

Now, at last, for some gardening!

5 Aug 2011

Tempura, tempura!

At this time of year, as the tempo of the garden increases, it can feel a bit overwhelming to deal with the sheer volume of produce that is hurled at us after months of hard work.  A glut of produce can turn to repetition in the kitchen and boredom at the supper table.  I was heading in that direction myself with my courgettes - in pasta, or meat sauces, stir fried, roasted, sliced, chopped, grated. Hoping for culinary inspiration, I nipped over to visit my friend who runs our local deli.  Actually, it was his quest for courgette flowers last summer which had motivated me to plant them in the veg patch in the first place.

He took a dozen flowers from me.  A few were returned the following day, stuffed (with ricotta, parmesan, chives and pancetta), ready to be battered and fried but I had to do this myself.  The recipe given to me was so loose it would have given even Jamie Oliver (with his pinch of this, dash of that) cause for alarm.  I googled and I read, then I got on with it.  The batter was simple, the oil not too deep, the results delicious, although slightly rich for my taste.

I had some extra flowers so, fired up with enthusiasm, I made some more, this time with a simpler filling (ricotta and herbs). For me, that was more like it. The result was sensational: the initial crunch gave way to the softness of the filling, the last bite being the sweet, crisp and juicy courgette sepals or flower base. These would be impressive served for a special lunch but why wait?  I think it's worth making them for a summer supper.

The simple batter I made was an amalgamation of two recipes. Some batters use an egg, some use beer or wine instead of cold water. Others don't use an egg, fearing that this makes the batter too heavy but balance is everything and you find your own preference.  For the stuffing, it seems there are endless variations on this particular theme; I've found potato and greens, meat, cheeses and herby rice.  If you have Mark Diacono's Veg Patch (River Cottage Handbook No. 4) you'll find that he stuffs the flowers with the chopped and sautéed courgettes themselves!

I'm quite taken with the idea of battered veg, and I've read of applying this way of cooking to the unstuffed flowers but why stop at courgettes?  I haven't tried it (yet) but I think that the same principle could be applied to pea pods, mange tout, baby carrots and baby corn although courgette flowers visually steal the show.

Fried flowers may not be to everyone's taste but don't let that stop you from making the most of your courgette flowers:  I've found plenty of other ways of using courgette flowers on this Australian website.

However, if you'd like to try fried flowers for yourself, here's the batter recipe I used, found in the Telegraph's 'Jamie Oliver At Home' - it's a light eggless batter and I used white wine because I just happened to have an open bottle sitting nicely chilled in the fridge:

200g self-raising flour
350 ml sparkling water - or use a decent white wine
A good pinch of salt

Put the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in the liquid until it's the consistency of double cream.  If too thin, add more flour; too thick, add liquid.  It should nicely coat a dipped finger.

Prepare your filling (Jamie Oliver suggests adding grated nutmeg, parmesan, chopped mint, lemon zest and chopped chillies to 200g of ricotta).  Gently prise open the flowers and, using a teaspoon or piping bag, fill the courgette and carefully twist the top of the flower to seal it. Repeat with all flowers.  Pour oil into a pan up to a depth of about 8 cm. Heat the oil (sunflower is best) to around 180 C - if you don't have a sugar thermometer, drop a piece of potato or bread into the oil; when it turns golden, your oil is ready.

Holding each stuffed flower by the stem (or bottom for female flowers), dip it into the batter and carefully transfer to the hot oil. (Don’t fry more than two flowers at a time or the oil temperature will drop.)  Fry for about a minute (you’ll be able to see when it’s done as it will turn golden and crisp). You may need to turn it in the oil to cook both sides.  Remove with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper. (I used a silicon spoon which works just as well.) Serve as soon as possible, with lemon wedges and a lovely salad.

14 May 2011

The Saturday Snap...

I'm introducing this as a new feature on the blog - a regular weekend gallery for photos. I always have a camera of sorts to hand, whether indoors or out and can't resist pressing the shutter button! So, to start with, today's offering is...

Kitchen basil May

This is the basil that sits on my kitchen windowsill.  With the sun streaming through the window onto its leaves this morning, it inspired my Saturday shopping list towards salads and pasta dishes.  I happened to have a cup of tea in hand while I skimmed through the Waitrose Kitchen magazine for ideas (I love cooking but get bored eating the same tried and tested recipes) and, serendipitously, there was a small column about keeping potted basil at its best:

  • Keep in a well-lit, protected area away from cold draughts.
  • Water when the leaves start to wilt and the compost is dry - it only needs a little water, especially in winter.
  • Stress the plant by not giving it too much warmth and light - it will fight harder to survive and this strengthens the flavour. 
  • When using the leaves, tear them off with your hands as using scissors or a knife may blacken the stem and bruise the leaves.
  • To encourage bushy growth, occasionally cut back the stems to just above a pair of new side shoots.

Apparently too much water will dilute basil's flavour so it's best to try not to water it for a day before using - something I was previously unaware of.

By doing all of the above, I've managed to keep one basil plant (supermarket bought at the beginning of 2010) going right through the winter months! (Admittedly, it has just about had it now and, once they've flowered, the leaves turn bitter.)

I've most recently used basil in a make-it-up-as-you-go-along pasta dish which turned out surprisingly well and was a big hit with my teenager.  If you want to give it a go, I've typed up the recipe here.

8 Dec 2009

An elegance of lemons …

Still enthralled by my fine dining experience, I had to share this little bit of table elegance as it's something I haven't come across before. (I realise that I may be proving exactly how far removed my wellies really are from the rarefied kingdom of Martha Stewart devotees!)

Whenever the option of a squeeze of lemon has been presented to me, it's usually in the form of a slab of lemon on the side of my plate. At Fortnum's on Sunday, those who ordered smoked salmon as a starter received, as a garnish, half a lemon wrapped in muslin cloth and tied with an olive organza ribbon. Not only did this look very beautiful - and so refined! - turns out it's also enormously practical. The pips stay within the muslin and only you get the juice, as the muslin directs it to drip  onto your plate, rather than into the eyes of your fellow diners! Plus you can grip the lemon more easily and you get less lemon oil from the rind over your hands (however pleasant it may smell). The cost of the meal was probably worth that top tip alone. So obvious, but, wow, I just love that.  Oh, and by the way, that funny shaped bread at the back of the photo?  Reindeer's antlers, of course …! (Before being eaten - too yummy to ignore.) 

1 Dec 2009

Christmas Soup!

Here it is!  Phase three of Getting to Know Beetroot:   
Beetroot and Parsnip Soup!
 (which will forever now be known as 'Christmas Soup')

I was going to post this last week but, when I saw how gorgeously Red, White and Festive it was, I had to save this for Day One of my Christmas Countdown.  First of December - Yay!

Back to the soup: I returned to the Good Food Channel (where I found the chocolate beetroot cake recipe) and tweaked their soup recipe to the amount of beetroot which I'd harvested. (I didn't want to pull up too much beetroot in case I didn't like the soup!)  As I only had a third of the beetroot required, the soup leans more towards the parsnip and carrot flavours but retains the beetroot colour which, I think, makes it a soup which children will love.   And this soup, for me, ticks many boxes:  looks, taste,  nutrition, ease of cooking. I never thought I'd hear myself saying that about beetroot!

Here's my version:
Parsnip and Beetroot Soup
 (heh, heh - note the subtle change of name)

For 4 good sized bowls, you will need:
150g Onion; 250g Carrots; 300g Parsnip (approx 2 medium); 700ml stock; 200g Cooked Beetroot; 1/2 tsp Garam Masala; Olive Oil; seasoning to taste; Dill & Yogurt for garnish.
  1. Cook beetroot and leave to cool before peeling and discarding stems and roots. Chop into smaller chunks.  Peel and chunk carrots and parsnips.  Slice onions.
  2. Heat oil in heavy based pan.  Add onions, carrots and parsnip. Stir to coat. Put on lid and sweat for 5 minutes until starting to soften.
  3. Add Garam Masala.  Stir in and cook for 2 minutes more.
  4. Add stock and beetroot.  Bring to boil then simmer for 20 minutes, lid off.
  5. When cool, blend soup until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper as needed.
  6. Serve with a swirl of yoghurt (drop in over the back of a spoon, as with Irish Coffee) and a sprinkling of finely chopped dill fronds.  (To make swirls, use a fine knife/ chopstick/ skewer. Dip into yogurt and pull the yogurt gently into the soup in small circles. Repeat.)
 And here it is in pictures!

Onion, Parsnip, Carrots about to be 'sweated'.

Stock and Beetroot added. Mmm, getting redder!

Simmering …

Cooled and ready to blend …

First tasting?  Wow!  Yum.
(You should know that I love parsnip and carrots.)
(And that I added a little more stock after this pic was taken, and adjusted the ingredients list accordingly.)
  1. The original recipe calls for Ground Coriander which I didn't have.  I used Garam Masala, which has about 50% ground coriander in it, and it was delicious. (It harmonises well with the parsnips.)
  2. My first bowl didn't have Dill in it and was very nice.  I bought Dill at the weekend for the soup and it added a whole new taste dimension, as did the yogurt - and both are quite important for the Christmas look!
  3. Did you know that Dill is traditionally the Ancient Sign of Fortune? Another reason to include it, I think!  (It is a herb described by Waitrose as "feathery fronds of fragrant flavour". Love that.)
  4. I used homemade chicken stock but if you use vegetable stock (or a veg stock cube), this recipe would be completely vegetarian.
Nutrition facts* that make this a very healthy soup:
Beetroot: A wonder food! A good source of soluble fibre, packed with Vitamins A, C and B6, and folic acid.  It is both an appetite stimulant, easily digested and contains an abundance of calcium, potassium, choline, organic sodium and natural sugars.  Helpful for anaemia, anxiety, fatigue, skin problems, liver problems, circulatory weakness, menstrual and menopausal problems, high and low blood pressure.

Parsnips: Another good source of fibre and packed with vitamins and minerals. The organic chlorine (not the sort used in swimming pools!) is a natural mineral and as such is used as a body cleanser. Parsnips are rich in sulphur and silicon which is very helpful for skin and hair health.  Parsnip juice is also very beneficial for anyone suffering from lung conditions, but small to medium sized parsnips are best for this.

Onion:  Rich in vitamin C, copper and iron, as well as sulphur, calcium and phosphorus.  The juice was used by the Romans for treating skin disease and healing wounds but is equally good for the immune system today!

* I firmly believe that being aware of what you eat is better than spending hours at the doctor's surgery.  I occasionally juice fruits and veg and the above facts are taken from a book called "Getting the Best out of your Juicer" by William H Lee.  Published in USA, it's not widely available in UK and  may be out of print.  I think I bought mine in a health shop about ten years ago.

I think that I've now probably had my fair share of the community beetroot, although there's still a few little ones left. Having discovered this soup, I shall finish my beetroot quest on a note of success and resolve to grow it again next year (sow under cover from March). So, no more beetroot recipes from me for now, especially as I hope to turn my attention towards Garden Inspired crafts in the Countdown to Christmas.

Caro x
PS. Sorry this is such a long post - I had a lot to say about this exciting soup!

22 Oct 2009

Temptingly Tasty … (lovin' this lunch)

Loving this lunch …

One of my gardening books that I'm re-reading - and thoroughly enjoying - is 'Veg Patch:  River Cottage Handbook No. 4' by Mark Diacono.  He's the Head Gardener at River Cottage in Devon (the restaurant/farm/venture that put chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on the media map) and also teaches on the River Cottage courses.  He's written the book in a way that makes a first-time veg grower like me feel excited about what I'm doing – his passion for gardening is evident on every page; listen to this: "If you've got better things to do at 8 o'clock on a mid-June evening than pop freshly shelled peas into your mouth as you amble round your vibrant plot with a glass of what you fancy, then life must be pretty special."  (Definitely a  kindred spirit, especially the addition of "a glass of what you fancy", although I would also add a friend or two into this scenario.)

On making a wish list for what to grow, Mark advises:  put away your growing books,  get out all your food books and make a list of all the food you like that can be grown.
"Think firstly of flavour and you won't go far wrong."

And that's what I thought of when I sat down to eat my lunch: a delicious mix of Rainbow Stir Fry, rice noodles and coriander cut fresh from the kitchen windowsill.  Every crunchy, flavoursome, filling mouthful tasted of good health on a fork.

So now I know…  next year I have to grow bean sprouts, cabbage, red and yellow peppers, baby corn, red onions, carrots and edamame soya beans.  In the meantime, there's always Waitrose* …
*For non-UK readers, Waitrose is one of the big 5 food retailers in UK.

Foodie Fact:  
A lunch like this will make you feel good beyond it's sheer visual delights:  A rainbow of veg will supply fibre as well as a range of vitamins and minerals.  Vitamin A is found in carrots and peppers as beta-carotene, an antioxidant that converts to VitA when the body needs it. (And did you know carrots are more nutritious when cooked?) Soya beans supply protein and are rich in potassium and a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, iron, folate and Vitamin E (needed for healthy bones, teeth, nerves and muscles).  The peppers are excellent for Vitamin C (green peppers contain twice as much VitC as oranges, red peppers three times as much) - as are the Sprouted Mung Beans (one portion provides three-quarters of the adult daily requirement for VitC).  Cabbage is vitamin rich and well known for it's anti-cancer properties, especially bowel cancer - and only 16 calories per portion when boiled (hence the famous Cabbage Soup diet - which I loathe to mention as I hate "dieting".)  Small bunches of Coriander are used in Herbalism as a tonic for the stomach and heart and also strengthens the urinary tract.  Rice is a good source of starch protein which steadies blood sugar levels, but you can't grow it in the UK.

See?  Yum, yum - and anti-aging from all that vitamin C (vital as a building block for collagen).
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