Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Beetroot and Ginger Chutney

This is a great time of year in the garden and it’s been such a good year for growing.

Our carrots are doing really well and the onions and shallots have been pulled and are all lying out in the sun to dry for a day or two. The plum tree is laden with fruit which is ripening nicely, but sadly the damson hasn’t been so lucky – some beasties have been munching on the fruit and it’s looking a bit sorry for itself. Plenty of fruit on the tomatoes, though, after a slow start; we’re just waiting for them to turn red.

And last but not least, I give you….drum roll please....beetroot! This is the fabulous bunch of little beauties I pulled on Friday – how gorgeous are they?

I'm chuffed to little mint balls with them - they’re the best we’ve ever grown and there are plenty more to come. I think I can feel lots of lovely beetroot, feta and walnut salads coming on.

Given that we’re so well endowed with beetroot I started looking for a chutney recipe to play around with, although I could quite happily eat the entire crop in salads. I based this Beetroot and Ginger chutney on Nigella's but I changed the proportions a little and added a couple of extras in the way of spicing as well as a splash of balsamic to perk things up a bit. It’s a stunning colour and sort of sweet but sharp; I think it'll make a great addition to a toasted cheese sarnie when it’s had time to mature for a few weeks.

Looks like chutney-making season has started early this year – I’m now on a quest for carrot chutney. Wish me luck.

600g beetroot
300g red onions
600g Bramley apples
25g fresh root ginger
60g preserved ginger
250g soft brown sugar
375ml red wine vinegar
25ml balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
⅛ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger

Turn the oven on to 200C. Wrap the beetroots individually in foil, place directly on the oven rack and roast for 30-40 minutes until tender then set aside to cool.

Peel and chop the onions and the cooking apples, place in a deep wide pan or preserving pan. Finely dice the cooled beetroot and add to the pan. Blitz both the gingers with a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar then add to the pan along with all the other ingredients. Give everything a really good stir, bring to the boil then turn down the heat a bit and allow to bubble for about an hour or so, stirring occasionally, until it's nicely thick.

Draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and if it doesn’t fill up with liquid you can pot up your chutney into hot sterilised jars. Cook for a little longer if it's still too runny.

Makes seven 190g jars.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Three Bean and Asparagus Salad

Sorry about the slightly iffy picture of this Three Bean and Asparagus salad; I made it last weekend when DS, DDIL and Gorgeous Granddaughter came round for lunch; everything else was already on the table so I didn’t have time to faff about. I was originally planning to do a cold lunch because I was expecting it to be warm and sunny – proper summer weather; needless to say it was cool and showery…grrr!

Anyway, we had the salad along with a Nut Roast Wellington and some of our crop of new potatoes from the garden cooked with olive oil and rosemary. Our potatoes have done really well this year – I think they enjoyed all the rain we had in May and June, unlike my tomatoes, poor things, which are looking as sick as a pig. Heigh-ho…you can’t have everything.

We’re having a heatwave for the next few days, apparently; it's about 4pm and I’m sitting here in the gloom with the shutters and windows closed to keep the heat out. It’s 29°C – ghastly! I might have to put my thinking cap on and come up with a few more salads to keep us cool.

150g fine green beans
125g fine asparagus
125g edamame beans
150g baby broad beans
100g feta
40g hazelnuts

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp runny honey
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp walnut oil
1 tsp lemon juice
ground black pepper

Roast the hazelnuts in the oven at 200C for five minutes then set aside to cool.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a small jam jar and shake like billy-o until emulsified.

Cook the green beans and asparagus together in boiling water for 1 minute; drain and run under cold water then drain well.

Cook the edamame beans and broad beans together for three minutes; drain and refresh in cold water then drain well.

Arrange the green beans and asparagus on a shallow serving dish followed by the edamame and broad beans.

Crumble the feta over the top and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts.

Drizzle over the dressing and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Rhubarb, Orange and Vanilla Trifles

I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m not great at puddings; to be honest I never will be because they don’t really appeal to me. I’m prepared to spend time on starters and mains but by the time I get to thinking about pudding I tend to run out of steam and enthusiasm. However, I was inspired to have a go after seeing Gino D’Acampo on TV doing a lemony mascarpone trifle type thing (you can tell I wasn’t really listening, can’t you?) which sowed the seed of an idea.

Rhubarb is one of my favourite fruits and we’ve had a fabulous crop in the garden this year so, shamelessly following Gino’s lead, I added some to a mix of mascarpone and custard, added a smidge of orange juice and alcohol and, even though I say it myself, it was pretty damn good and well worth doing again. It was as easy as pie and it also looked quite pretty. If you happen to grow strawberries or raspberries it could also be adapted to utilise some of those.

(We’ve had three strawberries from our plants so far this year - I won’t get the jam pan out just yet…!)

400g rhubarb, topped and tailed
grated zest and juice of half an orange
75g white sugar
125g mascarpone
200g tub custard
seeds from half a vanilla pod
8 sponge fingers (boudoir biscuits)
juice of half an orange
2 tbsp Cointreau
2 tbsp toasted hazlenuts, chopped

Chop the washed rhubarb into 3cm pieces and place in a pan with the orange zest, juice and sugar. Cook over a gentle heat until the rhubarb is just tender. Set aside to cool.

Stir the mascarpone, custard and vanilla seeds together until completely combined.

Mix the orange juice and Cointreau together.

Break the sponge fingers in half and place four halves in the bottom of four serving glasses. Sprinkle over the mixed orange juice and Cointreau, then spoon over half the rhubarb divided between the four glasses; cover this with half the custard and mascarpone, then repeat. Sprinkle over the toasted chopped hazelnuts.

Best served immediately but it can be kept covered in the fridge for an hour or two.

Serves 4

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Halal Meat

Well, I’m just about to commit a social solecism – I’m going to talk about religion and politics (as well as food, although somewhat obliquely).

Let me say first off… religion is not my thing; I prefer to think for myself and live in the real world rather than follow arbitrary rules laid down by a sky-fairy in a book of fiction. However I’m quite happy for anyone to worship any deity they choose, whenever and wherever they like (you can feel a ‘but’ coming here, can’t you, and you’re quite right)…BUT their chosen belief should not give them any special dispensations or allowances. It is only a belief after all; there's no factual foundation to it despite what its adherents may say.
This is what's getting me hot under the collar – my blood pressure went into orbit this morning. What the hell is our Government doing in allowing special rules for halal and kosher meat in this country? Why are they faffing about discussing meat labelling, for crying out loud? Can’t they see the bigger picture?

If I was to slit the throat of any conscious animal I would, quite rightly, have the full force of the RSPCA and the laws of the land thrown at me; so why are Muslims (and Jews) allowed to flout those same laws with impunity just because of their belief? Should religious beliefs allow people to ignore animal welfare?

There is something deeply wrong with this country when the Government panders to religious minorities and allows their brainless beliefs to trump the welfare of sentient beings. Sadly we are governed by hand-wringing, weak-kneed, weary willies who are too frightened of the religious lobby to speak up and say NO. How exactly do they find this barbarism acceptable?

There’s nowhere to go with this, nowhere to take it; there isn’t a politician in the whole bloody country who will say anything against this – they’re all too frightened of the mouthy Muslims (the Jews are saying nothing, they've been getting away with it quietly for years) and too interested in keeping their seat at the next election.

Well, I am not frightened of Muslims or any other religious group nor am I trying to hang onto my job. I can’t do anything to stop this awful practice but I can at least say it stinks and so do the politicians who allow it to continue. It has no place in a civilised society and neither do the appalling people who practice it and defend it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Asparagus and Cheese Tart

I’m not someone who slavishly buys and eats ‘locally’ and ‘seasonally’; if something is in the shops, and I like the look of it, I really don’t care if it’s been flown from Timbuktu or from the Moon, quite frankly.

There are a few things though, that are so much better when they’re grown in season in the UK: strawberries and asparagus spring immediately to mind, closely followed by Victoria plums. I’ll have to wait a while yet for the strawbs and plums, but I found the first of this year’s English asparagus available at the end of last week. Yum.

The timing was brilliant because we had DS, DDIL and Gorgeous Granddaughter coming for lunch on Sunday, so I made this Asparagus and Cheese Tart served with new potatoes and a mixed salad; I have to say it went down very well. It must have done - we ate the entire thing!

I used a 14” x 5” rectangular tin (which I bought years ago in a fit of baking enthusiasm, but had only used once!) but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use an 8” round tart tin – the amounts would be roughly the same, give or take.

I'd planned to use soft goat's cheese in this recipe but I couldn’t lay my hands on a vegetarian one for love nor money; yes, I know, you wouldn’t think it’d be too difficult but there you go… however, if you’re luckier than me I think goat’s cheese would work really well. I used a mature cheddar but any well-flavoured cheese would be fine.

Apologies for the slightly iffy pic…it was the result of a lethal combination of a new camera and being in a hurry.

500g block of ready-made shortcrust pastry
300g asparagus, trimmed
100g mature cheddar (or goat’s cheese)
3 eggs, beaten
250ml milk
a few grinds of black pepper
1 tbsp snipped chives

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Roll out the pastry to fit your tin, line the pastry case with baking parchment weighed down with baking beans or uncooked rice and bake for 15 minutes.

Take off the paper and beans then brush the surface of the pastry with a little of the beaten egg. Return the pastry case to the oven for 5 minutes.

Mix the remaining egg with the milk and a few grinds of pepper. Lay the asparagus spears in the tin, cutting to fit if necessary; sprinkle with the grated cheese and chopped chives then strain the egg mixture carefully over the top.

Bake for about 30 minutes until the filling is puffy and golden.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

5-a-day? 7-a-day? 10-a-day?

Who knows? Who cares?

You must have seen it – it’s been all over the news today. 7-a-day fruit and veg 'saves lives'. Saves lives, eh? I’ll believe that when I see it. The fact is we will all die at some point so the best we can do is extend life, not save it, otherwise the world would be full of decrepit people living forever!

I really feel these stupid pseudo-research projects should be consigned to the dustbin; they come up so often… eat this, don’t eat that, eat more of this, eat less of that. God, it’s tiresome; we’ve heard it all before and we all know the ‘researchers’ are just putting out this rubbish to make sure they get another research grant for next year.
These people would have us believe their ‘research’ is vitally important when, actually, we're bored rigid and we don't believe a word of it anyway. They can't even get their stories straight; some countries say 4-a-day, some go as far as 10-a-day. So which is it? Do you suppose our Grandmothers were told what to eat in such a prescriptive way? Furthermore, do you suppose they would have taken any notice?

Some days I have barely any fruit and veg, some days I have so much of the stuff it’s a wonder I don’t explode. I’m too old to live my life by arbitrary rules made up by people who just want to keep their job, so I’ll stick with what works for me and they can stick their research papers where the sun don’t shine.
Just a thought... I wonder if I could get a grant to prove that the main cause of death is life?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Potato, Red Pepper and Spinach Pithivier

I feel as though I’ve been AWOL for ages! We’ve certainly been eating but I haven’t cooked anything new for a while. To be honest I got into a bit of a rut and just couldn’t be bothered, so I fell back on old favourites and things I could cook almost with my eyes shut.

I’m still not firing on all cylinders yet, but I did drag myself into the kitchen at the weekend to cook this rather fetching Potato, Red Pepper and Spinach Pithivier. It was inspired by a recipe I saw on the BBC pages from the Great British Bake Off.

I have a confession to make here: I have never watched Bake Off! Yes, I know…shocking, isn’t it? I realise Mary Berry is supposedly a national treasure but she irritates the life out of me and, frankly, I think Paul Hollywood is just creepy. I don’t like cookery programmes much at all, really, and I very rarely watch them; I just don’t see cooking as a spectator sport. It’s OK if you think I’m odd – I don’t mind!

Anyway…. having never seen the programme I have no idea whether my modified effort would pass muster or not, nor do I care, but I think it was pretty good and we enjoyed it. There’s nothing very tricky about it and no fancy ingredients, but the flavours seemed to go together really well and, as a bonus, it was just as good cold the next day.

In making this I'm sure you won’t be surprised to see I’ve used ready-made pastry – I’m making no apologies; life’s too short and I’m far too old to faff about making puff pastry.

250g new potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp thyme leaves
150g baby leaf spinach
1 large egg
100g feta
500g puff pastry

Boil or steam the potatoes until tender, allow to cool, then cut into 5mm thick slices.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and fry the onion and pepper until softened and starting to colour; add the garlic and fry for a minute more. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.

Add the other tablespoon of oil to the same pan along with the thyme leaves and fry the mushrooms until golden; take the pan off the heat and add the spinach leaves. Stir the spinach around in the hot pan until wilted. Set aside.

Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin and cut out two circles – one of 20cm and one of 25cm – I cut around a saucepan lid and a plate.

Turn the oven on to 220C.

Put the smaller circle of pastry on a baking tray lined with bakewell paper; place the potato slices in overlapping circles on the pastry, leaving a border all round of about 2cm, then cover the potatoes with the onion and pepper mixture.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and add most of it (keep a tablespoon back to use as egg-wash) to the mushrooms and spinach; stir well then pile this mixture on top of the onions and pepper.

Crumble the feta on top then brush the border of the pastry with a little of the reserved egg; cover with the larger pastry circle, smooth down, and press the edges together to seal. Crimp the edges of the pastry with a fork or the handle of a spoon.

Make a small hole in the centre of the pithivier to allow the steam to escape, and poke a few extra holes around the sides, then brush all over with the reserved beaten egg. Make a sunburst pattern radiating from the central hole by lightly scoring the pastry with a sharp knife but DON'T cut all the way through, for goodness sake, or you'll find all the filling on the baking tray!

Bake at 220C for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200C and bake for another 15 minutes or so until a deep golden brown.

Place on a wire rack to cool a bit and serve warm.

Serves 4.