10 Oct 2009

Seedy Saturday …

 Share the Love…  
Butternut Squash seeds (I hope you don't throw yours away!)

Have I  mentioned that we're in the Borough of Camden (yes, reasonably close to that Market/tourist magnet -  more info here).  Far more interesting though, I've just heard that today is the launch of Good Food for Camden with various events being staged across the Borough, including Apple Day (with prizes for the best Apple Cake!), tours of growing spaces and my nearest event a seed and produce swap (with food tasting and plants to take home) at Somers Town (round the back of the British Library).

Gosh, I do love the fact that we have all this great stuff going on.  So, spur of the moment decision, I'm off to flaunt my wares. Don't look at me like that.  I'm talking about my veg - as you well know - and possibly a few swopsy seeds in my little seed packets.

I'm going with my Investigative Reporter hat on, and camera, and will report back on Monday.

Thrilling times, folks, thrilling times. 

If you can get to this event, check out What's On in Camden for times, etc. (the map's wrong, go by the postcode).

9 Oct 2009

Oh My Gourd!

Change of plan folks - and my Secret Surprise cakes will have to wait for another post.  (Sorry, 'bout that but I have an urgent veg/soup situation).

I've been granted permission to harvest one of L's butternut squash, lovingly grown on her YorkRise allotment and, having recently tasted the most delicious B'nut Squash soup made by my niece, I had to make a batch and bring this bowl of goodness to your attention.  A soup, by the way, which can be made in haste whenever a quick and satisfying lunch (or supper) is needed for extra guests or hungry children – my family are all soup-makers and use whatever veg we have available.

Here we go:

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

You will need:
1 Squash, 1 Sweet Potato, 1 Onion, 1 litre (2 pints) chicken (or veg) stock, 1 oz butter.
Optional:  a few fresh herbs (dill, coriander, parsley) - finely chopped, swirl of chilli sauce, homemade croutons.

Melt butter slowly in large pot or casserole dish.  Chop onion, add to pot. Cover with lid so that the veg 'sweats'.  Peel and dice squash and sweet potato.  (In case you're wondering, I don't use garlic in this recipe as I make my chicken stock with garlic, but you can add a clove or two if you wish.)

Add diced veg to the onion in pot, replace lid.  Leave to cook for about 10 - 15 minutes on a very low flame (we're still just softening the veg), but check and stir round from time to time.  Add the stock.   Season with a quick grind of sea salt and pepper.  Bring just to the boil, then simmer on a low heat for about 40 minutes.  Allow to cool and blitz in a blender. (If you blitz before cooling,  you'll blow the lid off your blender if it's over half full - and scald yourself in the process.  Believe me, I know.)  Or leave chunky if you prefer. 

Blitzed to a puree and waiting to be heated through for lunch.
Either way, heat up a bowl for lunch, garnish with herbs, croutons, creme fraiche or chilli sauce - any or all of these! - and chunks of warm crusty bread …

Here's a thought:  Instead of adding chilli sauce at the end, you could chuck a finely chopped chilli in at the beginning with the other veg - or add a dash of Tabasco sauce during the simmering. 

8 Oct 2009

Just Sow Stories …

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."  
~Theodore Roosevelt

Excuse me while I just chortle gleefully and give thanks for the fantastic weather we've been having.  And, yes, I am talking about the rain over the last three days.  It was just what we needed to give our newly sown seeds a good start, and - correct if I'm wrong - aren't the clouds supposed to keep the warmth down on earth level and keep the frosty nights at bay?  And today's glorious warm sunshine has been the icing on the cake. (Mmmm, caaaake…  check back tomorrow for the weekend recipe - cupcakes with a surprise!)

Anyway … last weekend, as I worked in the VegPatch, I decided that it's only just no longer September.  We're an Urban VegPatch (cities being warmer than the countryside) and taking global warming into consideration as well, I thought there might just be time to get some more seeds in the ground.  ("He that waits upon fortune is never sure of a dinner."  Wise words indeed from Benjamin Franklin).  So, maybe it was a bit foolhardy, but another five lots of veg have gone into the raised beds and I'm keeping my fingers firmly crossed for a slow descent into winter.

So, what d'ya reckon?  Could I be channelling Percy Thrower at the moment? (What do you  mean, who's he! I'm not that old.)

The view this bright and sunny morning. The parsley is huge after all that rain!

October Overview 
Still eating: lettuce and other salad leaves, radish, parsley (and from YRG allotments: butternut squash, tomatoes, sweetcorn, tomatoes).
Almost ready:  beetroot, salad onions, green tomatoes
Watching:  L's enormous Hallowe'en pumpkin ripen!
Just sown:  Kale (Nero di Toscana), winter spinach (Scenic & Viking), Raab (broccoli), garlic, blue radish (Hils Blauer Herbst und Winter).
Still to sow:  Green Manure (Phacelia tanacetifolia) for next year's beds. Allegedly improves soil structure and revitalises soil.  I've also just dug sand into our heavy soil… we'll see.
On order for November delivery:  Fruit trees (apple, pear, Victoria plum, Morello cherry); UK hardy lemon, early and late raspberry canes, blueberry bushes, watercress seeds.
Still to buy:  Horticultural fleece for the chilly months ahead and some cloches.
On the lookout for:  a nice cheap wooden greenhouse.  Anyone got one going spare near London?

6 Oct 2009

From Plot to Pot …

 (Photo courtesy of BBC Dig In Recipe booklet)

Here's a little something you gardening cooks might enjoy… a little pdf booklet of simple vegetable suppers from Nigel Slater (well known TV chef in UK).

His recipes are inspired by the vegetables grown from free seeds distributed as part of the BBC's Dig In project, for example - Carrot Fritters, Stove Top Squash with Toasted Crumbs.  As Nigel says, "Growing your own grub is the best seasoning your food can have."  (Er, Nigel, let's just keep it real. Home grown might taste better but nothing substitutes for salt and pepper in my book.)

See what you think.  Download the booklet from the BBC website here.  (And enjoy the rest of the site while you're there … there's a little blog about the project with some good tips for winter veg.

5 Oct 2009

Cardoons (I think)!

 Found on a recent walk round …
Okay, I may be getting a teeny bit obsessed with seed collecting.  My eyes now rake across the content of other people's gardens and process the location of any seeds worth gathering.  This beauty stopped me in my tracks a couple of days ago.  A seed head about 9 inches across, fluffy and spiky.  What a beaut! But still standing up (and in someone's front garden) so off limits.  However … on the return journey I noticed quite a few seed heads lying on the ground within easy reach (Yayy!) - and quite obviously neglected by the householder.   So I've rescued one and have since been dissecting, pulling and photographing.

I didn't know what it was but after a very satisfying flick through 'RHS Garden Plants and Flowers', I have my answer: it is a Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) or, possibly, Wild Thistle Artichoke.  

Apparently it's almost a weed, grown for architectural interest in UK gardens, loathed by farmers as its parachute seeds (plumose hairs with achenes attached) settle happily into their crop fields.  See what a little bit of reading will do?

Forgive my naiveté, and stop laughing seasoned gardeners, but this learning curve is what makes gardening so compelling.  And imagine my surprise when I found out from Sarah Raven's book 'The Great Vegetable Plot' that you can eat the stems! Awesome. Apparently they do it all the time in the Mediterranean.  

Yes, you're right … I really should get out more …

Achenes (ahem) on blue linen

4 Oct 2009

Tasty Tomatoes recipe …

Well, I promised … and I like to think I'm a woman of my word.  So for those of you that fancy packing your lunchbox this week with a few tomatoes on Ciabatta (or an oven-dried tomato salad) and want the recipe(s), go here. (This will open up in Google Docs and allow you to view and print.)

And from the reader's forum of Grow Your Own magazine, I've found Green Tomato Soup - which sounds, er, fascinating… I'll let you know.  More Green Tomato recipes on that website here.

Green Tomato Soup (courtesy of http://2-sheds.blogspot.com/ ) serves 6

1 oz butter
1 lb green tomatoes, sliced
8oz potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 pints stock
1 tin beans like barlotti/pinto/cannellini
1/4 tsp dried sage/thyme/mixed herbs/whatever
salt and pepper
a handful of rice
125ml single cream or a splash of chilli sauce (optional)

1. Fry the tomatoes, potatoes and onion in butter until softened.
2. Add the beans, stock, herbs, rice, salt and pepper and bring to the boil.
3. Simmer for 30 mins or until the veg is tender.
4. Blend 2/3 of the soup and return to the pan (If you like it a bit lumpy)
5. Stir in the cream/chilli sauce and reheat.

Bon appetit, lovely readers!  Let me know how you get on if you decide to give these a go …

2 Oct 2009

An Excess of Delight… (Gardener's variety)

From this …
… to this

Those two days of heavy rain earlier on seem to have worked wonders on Miss P's outdoor reared tomato vines. (Or could it be that she's been talking to her plants again … Hmmm.) I found her in her growing space carrying off a huge bag of toms - with plenty more ripening on the vine and masses of green tomatoes still waiting.   One option is to freeze the ripe tomatoes (I'm told it works well and the skins slip off easily when defrosted) but also worth mentioning is a version of Nigella's moon-blushed tomatoes - one of my favourite kitchen makes (after cake, of course! - priorities, people).  

It's incredibly basic but very yummy (if you like tomatoes … um - duh).  Preheat oven, chop tomatoes in half, lay out on a tray, sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of fine sugar, dried herbs, salt and a glug of olive oil.  Bung in oven.  At this point Nigella would have us turn the oven off and leave overnight (hence 'moonblushed' - how sweet).  What suits my tastes (and greediness) better is to leave in the oven for 10 minutes with it still on, then turn off and leave tomatoes in oven until it's cold (about an hour). They're still juicy but the flavour is probably less concentrated than it should be. (I tried the original way once and found the tomatoes too dry.) 

What I did this time, though, was to remove the tray of tomatoes after 15 minutes to the smaller oven above my main oven (which had heated up nicely from the cooking going on below), and then I quickly knocked some bread together. (That'll be my inner domestic goddess showing off…)  When the bread was ready, the tomatoes were taken out of the oven and spread over slices of warm bread (are you feeling hungry yet?); and the remainder spooned into storage pots.  (I always save those small lidded pots as they have many, many uses. Take note.)  I also tried using fresh chopped herbs from our various gardens, which I feel worked well (and with the added bonus that I'm not dead yet).

If you want the full recipe (my version), I will shortly add a pdf link to a downloadable page.

Foodie Facts:  This recipe is good for you! Tomatoes contain lycopene which is concentrated by cooking and which may help to prevent some forms of cancer.  Tomatoes are a good source of vitamins C and E so very good for fighting off those Free Radicals.  Fresh herbs (Sage, Thyme, Oregano) are also beneficial.  Sage is antiseptic and antibiotic; Thyme aids digestion, helps break down fatty foods and is also antiseptic; Oregano (sweet marjoram) eases bad colds and has a calming effect on nerves.   Olive Oil helps in the absorption of Vitamin E and is high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids which lower blood cholesterol.
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