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.) 

7 Dec 2009

Fine Dining (with Beetroot) …

I thought I was drawing a line under the culinary beetroot adventures last week but yesterday, as an early Christmas present, I joined my sister's family for some fine dining in the restaurant of a very renowned London retail establishment.  Among a very tempting choice of Starters, I spied (with my little eye): 'Salad of Cheltenham Beetroot, Caramelized Chicory (Endive) & Walnuts'.  Oooh!

Well, I had to give that a try and so, so glad I did - it was delicious! So much so that, despite dining protocol, I whipped out my camera and quickly snapped it, mid-munch.  Doesn't it look yummy? 

In addition to the more obvious ingredients, there was frisée lettuce and, I think, chopped spinach - or, more probably, baby beetroot leaves.  Sophie Grigson's recipe for caramelized chicory can be found here and uses butter, honey and freshly squeezed orange juice for roasting the chicory, which thickens into a coating sauce by the end of cooking.  (A quicker stir fry version can be found here.)The beetroot was absolutely scrumptious - whether because it was Cheltenham Beetroot (so growing those seeds next year!) or whether the way it was cooked (perhaps with Juniper berries and Bay?), I don't know.  I think some experimenting is called for.

I'm guessing the recipe but, if I'm right, I can recommend it as a very nice salad - whether on it's own or as part of a meal.  Gosh!  I'm converted!  Who'd have guessed?

Oh yes.  And where was this fine dining taking place, I hear you ask?

Given a small fortune burning a hole in my back pocket, I'd definitely go again.  I count myself fortunate indeed, even having gone once.  It was a trip back to a bygone age of impeccably polite staff, delicious food, and a relaxed ambience where you can be as unhurried as you wish.  And don't even get me started on the Ladies Powder Room!  By the way, if you're in London, their Christmas windows are fab - based on the theme of swans, which continues throughout the store.  Here's a spoiler:

Happy Monday everyone! 

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!

30 Nov 2009

And another thing - Leaf Love …

I  like walking on my own and I look all around, but rarely down.  Quite serendipitously (love that word) as I photographed a little woody glade on my Heath walk, I looked down at the carpet of leaves and saw this:

Honestly, I swear, I have not altered this photo! (Honest.)  The leaf was just there at my feet and perfectly summed up Thanksgiving Day.  Serendipitous indeed.  Had to share…

Caro x

A Walk on the Wild-ish Side …

It seems that many people in blogland were giving a nod to the American tradition of Thanksgiving last Thursday.  I spent a part of my childhood living in the USA (Florida) so it's a day that still gives me pause for thought.

I mentioned at the time that I was off for a walk in appreciation of a beautiful sunny afternoon and winter colour on Hampstead Heath.  So an hour and a half of fresh crisp air later and what have we got?  Yup. Plenty of colour still out there!

Blue sky, Yellow leaves, Purple Hebe, White Fatsia, Green Moss, Red berries:


And on the way home, growing in someone's garden, a new plant to me:


which, thanks to the December issue of 'Gardens Illustrated', I now know is Callicarpa bodinieri.
(My photo doesn't do this plant justice; the berries are a real pop of purple and the leaves a deep, glossy green.  A real treat for colour-starved eyes!)

So what am I thankful for?  Winter sunshine, gardeners who make the world a more beautiful place, the opportunity to grow veg and flowers outside my own door, good friends to share this with, living so close to one of the great London green spaces and - of course - all of my family and friends.
Hope you also had the space and time to reflect.

Caro x

26 Nov 2009

Chopping and tweaking …

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.  ~Author Unknown

Well, I've made a start on clearing the ivy in the long bed - five bags waiting to go into the compost maker at our local recycling centre.  (Although it doesn't look much sitting there, I'd like to point out - ahem - that those white bags are quite large - really huge, in fact.)  I paced out the task (to ease my aching back from all the bending over) and I reckon another six sessions should do it.  (On the other hand, we'd get it all done in one session if the Commuuuuuuuunity gets behind it.  Perhaps an appropriately applied welly boot would do the trick… )

On another note, anyone who's looked at these pages before might notice that I've finally put aside the time to figure out how to install a subscription feed.  Yup.  Now you can have my latest mutterings delivered to your mailbox!  (But only if you click the link in the sidebar on the left.)

Now, as I've been sitting at my computer for too long and have got a bit chilled, I'm off to look for rainbows of colour via a nice long Thanksgiving walk on Hampstead Heath, and to warm up and enjoy this beautiful, but cold, London day. 

Phase 3 of Beetroot Mania will be revealed tomorrow.  See you soon friends! 

25 Nov 2009

It's a piece of cake, really …

After quite a storm last night, the day has dawned clear and bright in London.  The Gods have been kind to us as today is earmarked for more Ivy Clearing - this time, hopefully, with a small team working together.  So before I go outside to get on with the hacking and chopping, here's phase two of Getting to Know Beetroot.

Next up in my bid to like beetroot:  Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.

Your tea, Milady, is served. 

I'm told that this is what is described in Australia as "bonzer".   So I scoured the web and found several versions and chose this one by Simon Rimmer.  Verdict: Actually, not bad.  Moist, chocolatey and not too sweet but with beetroot undertones (unsurprisingly) and incredibly easy to make. (I think I must have quite a sweet tooth, though, because somehow the chocolate hit wasn't as intense as the look of the cake promised.  Does that make sense?  Next time I'd add more chocolate.)

Edited!  Have just taken a piece round to L for a taste test.  Verdict:  "Mmm.  Mmm.  That's really nice.  No, I like that.  I think that's just right.  Is the recipe on the blog?  I'm going to make that.  What size tin did you use?"  And, actually, I enjoyed my taster piece as well.  As did my teenage son (who had two pieces yesterday.)  Because it's moist with good 'keeping' qualities, L thought it nicer than straightforward Chocolate Sponge Cake.  Wouldn't it be nice if you could all come round for a tasting! Caro @ YRG x

The original recipe came from the Good Food Channel and made an enormous cake (23cm tin) so I made a two-thirds mix (17cm tin), using 2 eggs rather than 3.  My quantities below, or go here for the original recipe.

(1)  Heat oven to 190C.

(2)  Cook and peel the beetroot. (You can have fun with this part: it can look as though you're the victim of a nasty Kitchen Accident as the juice drips!)

(3) 116g plain flour; 50g cocoa; 6g baking powder; 150g caster sugar.
      Sift all these ingredients together into a bowl.

(4)  2 large eggs; 133ml corn oil; 150g cooked beetroot 
      Place all the above in blender and whizz up together.

Woohoo!  Now that's what I call pink!

Fold (4) above into (3) above.

This looks disgusting, but don't be put off.

Put into a lined 17 or 18 cm cake tin.  (I like to keep it simple by using these from Lakeland in UK.)

Bake 30 minutes but be prepared to give it an extra 5 if the skewer doesn't come out clean.

See how I cut the liner to fit the tin better?
  1. I couldn't get Corn Oil so used Grapeseed.  Seemed to work okay.  
  2. Recipe asked for raw beetroot which I thought would be a bit crunchy in the cake so I pre-cooked by boiling, then cooled and chucked in the blender.  My logic was that the recipe wanted un-dressed beetroot rather than salad beetroot soaked with vinegar.
  3. The cake was nicest with a blob of squirty cream, which was the genius idea of my son.  (It's also nice with homemade chocolate custard but if I gave you the recipe for that, I'd be getting right off the subject of gardening, garden produce and your 5-A-Day veg!) 

See, it's quite nice in close up too!
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