Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Warm Beetroot, Mushroom & Leek Salad

As a student of nutrition for 4 years in Dublin I sought out a fitting place to work – Cafe Fresh in the Powerscourt Townhouse.  It’s a vegetarian/vegan/wholefood restaurant run by Mary Farrell.  Mary was good to us there and staff lunches were by far the healthiest fare in Dublin.  My dingy flat diet was mainly lentil soup/stew; with fish, mashed potato and broccoli on a splash out day.  Cafe Fresh provided welcome variety and some great recipes that I still use.  They served a lovely organic roast beetroot, mushroom and shallot salad.  This version is inspired by that and is a real earthy dish for November.

Warm Beetroot, Mushroom & Leek Salad

Serves 1 for lunch or 2 as side-salad for dinner

1/2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp butter

2 egg-sized fresh beetroot, boiled until tender

3 flat mushrooms, roughly chopped

1 leek, roughly chopped

sea salt

1/2 tsp English mustard

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1/2 tsp dried marjoram

sea salt & black pepper

toasted seeds to garnish

Heat the butter and rapeseed oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and season with salt – cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, thyme and marjoram and another pinch of salt and continue cooking until the mushrooms are just tender.

Peel the beets and slice them into wedges.  Stir the warm beets, mustard, black pepper and balsamic vinegar into the mushroom/leek mix off the heat.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve with toasted pumpkin & sunflower seeds on top.

This is good by itself but I ate it with beetroot cous-cous (yes, I am turning pink!).  I had some fresh beetroot juice leftover from my kids class (where we made beetroot icing for beetroot and chocolate muffins), which I brought to the boil and poured over dry cous-cous.  The cous-cous absorbed the colour and earthy flavour of the beet juice.

 

Preserving basil

We need some space in the tunnel so the basil had to come out.  There were two types of basil – the regular stuff and holy basil.  I set about preserving some of their summer flavour for the dark days ahead.

Holy Basil!

Very fragrant in a different way, holy basil smells a little like a slightly out of date body cream – weird I know but finding it really hard to describe!  Luckily it doesn’t taste like gone off cosmetics and is actually delicious thrown into a curry (especially coconut based) at the very end.  It’s no more difficult to grow than basil but does go to seed quite a bit sooner.  And it also goes very well with tomatoes.

Basil is not one of those herbs you dry – it retains no flavour this way (lack of oils).  I usually freeze basil pesto without the cheese and it works so thought why not just whizz up the basil with some oil and freeze?  It’s not space consuming and this method means you have little nuggets of intense basil oil to add to a dish.

For the regular basil blitz 2 handfuls of basil with 100ml olive oil and transfer to ice-cube trays.  For holy basil use rapeseed oil instead (not too mediterranean incase it’s for curry).

I put these in the freezer for a few hours, then emptied them out to store in a freezer bag and popped them back in the freezer for later use.

If anyone has a more eloquent description for the flavour of holy basil please share!!

Preserving tomatillos & tomatoes

This year I’ve grown tomatillos in the tunnel and have sent some up to Cafe Azteca in Dublin. Hugo from Cafe Azteca visited us here with his family last January and gave a great Mexican Cookery Class.  He then sent on tomatillo and jalepeno seeds.  We had grown tomatillos before but really hadn’t much idea what to do with them.  I tried out a few recipes this weekend and can report good results.  Good news for the future of tomatillos here because the head gardener wasn’t too impressed with all the space they took up!

tomatillo june 2011

A tomatillo is sort of a green tomato, except it has a more interesting growth process and quite a different flavour. The plants flower and then drop down a hollow, green ‘lantern’, into which the fruit then grows.  The taste is sour/sweet.

I first tried a couple of cooked salsa recipes.  This one turned out like a ketchup so I’m calling it:

Tomatillo Ketchup – Mexican-style

makes 8 jars

3kg tomatillos, roughly chopped

3 white onions, roughly chopped

8 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped

6 fresh jalapenos, chopped

2 dried chillis – e.g. guajillo – lightly toasted over gas flame to soften & roughly chopped

Place all these ingredients in a large saucepan.  Heat and bring to the boil – reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the onion is soft.  Now add:

1 bunch fresh coriander

225g sugar

Heat to dissolve the sugar fully.  Blitz with a hand blender to a fairly smooth puree. Bring back to the boil and store in sterilised jars or bottles.  Place sterilised lids on immediately.  Store in a cool, dark press.

It’s lovely and would be a great, flavoursome ketchup replacer, but I wasn’t really going for a ketchup.  I flaked and added sugar towards the end of cooking because I thought it was going to be too sour.  Then it turned into ketchup.  So I started again and came up with a yummy, hotter salsa.

Tomatillo Ancho Salsa

This recipe is exactly as above but instead of 2 dried chillis add 8 dried ancho chillis (lightly roasted over gas flame and roughly chopped).  DO NOT ADD SUGAR. Preserve in the same way.  This salsa would be lovely drizzled over quesedillas, tacos, burritos….and also good for dipping good quality sausages into as I found out yesterday morning.

Hugo had explained that I could use tomatillos in place of tomatoes for ‘pico de gallo’ – the everyday fresh tomato salsa.  I had a look through Thomasina Miers ‘Mexican Food made Simple’ and she has a great recipe for a roast chilli tomatillo salsa.  The only changes I made was to leave out the lime juice ( I think the tomatillos lend plenty of sour on their own) and stick to jalapenos (which I have in the tunnel) instead of serranos.  This was the tomatillo triumph of the day!

Classic Roast Salsa Verde

500g tomatillos

2 cloves garlic

1 large jalapeno chilli

1 large tbsp chopped coriander

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

1 pinch sea salt

First you roast the tomatillo, jalapeno and unpeeled garlic cloves in a dry frying pan. You do this until the tomatillos are blistering and become soft (10-15 minutes).  Take the jalapenos and garlic out of the pan earlier (after 5-10 minutes).  Once they are done, roughly chop the tomatillos, take the stalk off the jalapeno and peel the garlic cloves.  Add these ingredients to a blender and hit blitz a few times to give you a rough puree.  Pour into a bowl and stir in the finely chopped onion, coriander and salt.  Taste – is it good?  Serve with tortilla chips.  Delish!

That is the salsa at the front of the picture, with classic pico de gallo next to it.

Pico de Gallo (not roasted)

3 ripe tomatoes, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large jalapeno chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 large tbsp chopped coriander

1/2 white onion, finely diced

juice of 1/2 lime

1 pinch sea salt

For pico de gallo just mix all the ingredients together and enjoy with chips.

I’m reading a book called ‘A Year in the Village of Eternity’ by Tracey Lawson.  It details the authors food year spent in Campodimele, Italy where people live particularly long, healthy lives.  There are lots of recipes included and I wanted to try preserving tomatoes as described in the book.   We don’t have tons of tomatoes but I gathered up the surplus from a few people and made 5 jars thick tomato sauce.

Preserved Tomato Sauce

6kg fresh, ripe tomatoes – halved or quartered

6 pinches sea salt

Place the tomatoes and salt in a wide saucepan and heat.  Simmer for about 1 hour until you have quite a thick tomato sauce.  Stir often to prevent sticking at the base. Meanwhile sterilise jars and lids.  Place a basil leave in each jar.  Use a funnel to transfer the hot sauce to the hot jars. Seal immediately with the lid and wrap the jars in newspaper and a blanket (a very important step apparently).  This would be the method my mother uses also but she usually freezes the resulting puree to use later in the year. It will be a bit of a treat to open summer for a pasta sauce some dark winters evening.

Even Better Courgette & Almond Soup

A year ago I posted a recipe for Courgette & Almond Soup that’s had quite a few hits. It was delicious…..however, I’ve improved the recipe.  I’ve made this a few times recently with small, young courgettes from both the tunnel and outside.  It’s a richer affair and would be a perfect starter  in an elegant, shallow bowl served at a summer dinner party.  It could in fact be called courgette, white onion & almond soup since the flavour of new season onions makes a huge difference to this recipe.  I’m talking about onions that haven’t developed a crispy russet skin in storage, but still have a soft cover and taste really sweet after sweating in butter.  I’ve seen some for sale in bunches in the local veg shop.  The amazing thing about this creamy soup is that it can be made completely vegan if you substitute a vegan cooking margarine or olive oil for the butter. Try to get small courgettes that haven’t travelled too far and only make this soup in summer – it really shows off the youth and freshness of the courgette at this time of year.

Even Better Courgette & Almond Soup 

For 4

2 tbsp butter

2 medium white onions

2 cloves garlic

8 small courgettes

4 tbsp ground almonds

800ml – 1 L very light vegetable or chicken stock

salt & pepper

Heat the butter in a saucepan to melt.  Chop the onions roughly and add them to the butter.  Sprinkle with sea salt, cover with a lid and leave to sweat over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the onions are lovely and soft add the garlic – finely chopped and the courgettes – chopped into even pieces.  Cook for 5 minutes with the lid off.  Sprinkle with a little more sea salt and add the light stock – enough to cover the vegetables.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the courgettes are just tender – 10 minutes or so.  Be careful not to overcook so that none of the vibrant green colour is lost.  At this stage stir in the ground almonds and remove the pot from the heat.  Blitz the soup to a puree – taste and season with salt and pepper.  If it’s too thick add a little more stock.  If it doesn’t seem creamy enough, try adding a little more ground almonds. Heat gently to serve.

Amazing blackcurrant sorbet

Working for oneself has its ups and downs.  Sunny days often lead to cancellations in my clinic – I understand, who wants to see a dietitian on a hot day when you’re eating lots of salad, drinking plenty of water and very excited about exercising?  It’s all good. Today was probably one of the hottest we’ve had this year.  Everyone cancelled! At the moment, I’m really limited to catching up on weeding, harvesting, preserving in the long evenings.  The silver lining to my many cancellations was I got to spend the whole day between the garden and the kitchen!

We’ve gone past strawberries – the freezer is stocked with frozen whole strawberries, strawberry puree and I have jars of strawberry jam in the press.  It was time, the head gardener told me yesterday, to pull out the strawberry plants in one of my beds.  This is their second year to fruit.  Last year we took ‘runners’ off them – a process of potting the rooting part of the long tendrils strawberry plants send out after fruiting.  The runner, after taking root in a small pot of compost left under it, is then separated from the mother plant.  It can be planted (around September) into a fresh bed for fruiting the following summer and left there for 2-3 years, providing runners if required every year.  Today I dug out the strawberries before they started sending out runners.  They will be discarded.  You’ll see me below in the Massey Ferguson 135, which I haven’t driven for quite a while – a real treasure to the head gardener.

MF 135 & ME

To be taken away

Blackcurrants, raspberries and red currants have followed the strawberries.  Our blackcurrants are really at their best now.  I picked 6lb of them and decided to make the most amazing blackcurrant sorbet with 4lb and jam with the rest.  This sorbet is one of the best things to do with any soft fruit as far as I’m concerned.  It comes from a recipe in Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course Book and ascribed to Julia Wright. If you have blackcurrants make it!  It’s so beautiful and a great way to capture summer.

Blend 4lb blackcurrants in a food processor until you have a rough puree.

Pass the puree through a nylon sieve in batches, pushing it around the sieve with a rubber spatula.  This will take a while…..for 4lb maybe 20 minutes!

Now take 1.5 lb caster sugar and stir it into the smooth blackcurrant puree until it has dissolved.

Pour the mixture into an ice-cream machine and churn until set before freezing.  You can also just put it into a lunchbox and into the freezer – take it out to mix every 30 minutes for a couple of hours to prevent any ice crystals forming.

This is the time of year I relieve my presses of all the old jars & cleaned out cream-cheese containers and congratulate myself for being such a good hoarder.

This needs no accompiament – eat it all by itself.

You might be wondering what to do with the lovely pulp you have leftover.  I thought the same.  I still had 2lb blackcurrants, as well as 1.5lb fresh raspberries that I picked at the same time.  I love raspberry jam but made some a couple of evenings ago.

For this Blackcurrant & Raspberry Jam mix:

2lb fresh blackcurrants with 2lb blackcurrant pulp (that’s what it weighed) and 2 pints of water.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the blackcurrants just burst. Add  1.5lb raspberries and cook for less than 5 minutes. Next in is the sugar – 5lb of it – with a good stir so it all dissolves.  And bring to a good boil for at least 20 minutes.  Then it’s time to start checking for set – spoon some jam onto a cold plate and place in the fridge for a few minutes to cool.  Run your finger up the cooled jam – does it wrinkle?  That indicates setting point.  It should show a good wrinkling skin.  By this point your clean jars should be in the oven sterilising.  I boil the lids for a couple of minutes too.  At setting point, ladle the hot jam into a jug and pour into the hot jars. Seal, label and store for winter!

Pesto Peas, Supper Club & Garden News

We would grow a lot of peas when I was young.  I’m thinking now that large families provide a lot of podders……there isn’t so many peas or young podders around these days.  In later years the ‘posher’ variety of pea ‘mange-tout’ was grown.  The taste of freshly pod peas or mangetout holds a lot of memories.  When first faced with a huge bucket of peas to pod, one would eat plenty – munching on the small sweet peas, making the odd mistake and getting a hard, dry one.  By the end one was truly sick of peas……until the next day.  The podded peas went into bags for the freezer.

I made these ‘pesto peas’ with frozen peas as we don’t have any in the garden as yet. Anyway, it’s probably best not to alter freshly podded peas too much.  They impress us just the way they are.

As a quick, last minute, “what will my 2nd vegetable be?” moment while you’re waiting for whatever it is to finish cooking these are brilliant.  Take your frozen peas and cook in just enough water for 5-10 minutes.  Drain the water and add a couple of tablespoons of basil pesto.  Bash them around with a masher or fork, adding some seasoning – salt, pepper (and a little cream cheese if you have it).  This could also be blended for a lovely pea puree.

pesto peas

On supper club news I’ve just made the ‘pernod’ ice-cream for one of the desserts…..now to keep it safe until Sunday!  The menu is still pretty much as previous post.  A couple of spots opened up today because of cancellation – we’d be happy to have a few more eaters. Get in touch to find out more (Sarah: 0879439446). Very excited!

Cockails will be served in the Gazebo

Eric Humburg, landscaper, has cleaned up around the gazebo with some nice beds and laid a deck floor within.  There is loads of work going on around the garden – check out this ranch-style fence love it!!

And here’s a 2011 view of the front:

One vegetable I’m looking forward to this year is the aubergine in the tunnel.  I’ve a good few plants in and they’re doing pretty well.  I spotted it’s flower today.

Picking about 2kg strawberries every day so best go and deal with them before they soften.  I’m not complaining – I will love these frozen strawberries in the depths of winter – but I will have enough of them when it’s done.  By the way – I’m washing them, laying them on a tea towel to dry, hulling them and freezing the perfect ones whole on a tray in the freezer.  Once frozen I bag them and return to the freezer immediately.

Pickling Wild Garlic seed heads

Heading to the woods to pick the seed heads from the wild garlic has been on my to do list for a while!  Nature waits for no woman, but luckily I found them still intact today.  I’m thinking this would be better done sometime earlier (like 3 weeks ago) since they do feel a lot tougher and definitely ready to pop.  The flavour, however, is still definitely of garlic and green.  And I’m not willing to wait until next year to try this process that I first heard through twitter from chef Enda McEvoy and later found this brilliant post with great pictures on The Hunter Gatherer Cook: (http://huntergathercook.typepad.com/huntergathering_wild_fres/2010/06/wild-garlic-pods-hop-shoots-and-some-other-stuff.html).

So these are what I picked.

What’s left to do is use a fork to pull the heads from the light stalks and in a jar, cover with infused vinegar (Hunter Gatherer used pine needle vinegar which I don’t seem to have…).  He recommends infusing with mustard seeds and rosemary.  Well, all my rosemary died with the frost and I’m not sure if I have any mustard seeds but I’m going to make a pickle – maybe with cider vinegar and a touch of honey.  Will let you know how this delicacy goes.

I’ve been gardening a little too so my Circles are starting to take shape, if not a little later this year than last.  I have beets, chard, rocket and other leaves in one.  Summer sprouting broccoli takes another and I’ve just put 3 courgette plants into a third.  Last night I left out a little treat for the slugs who really love hiding in the stones that make the surrounds of my circular beds.

Slug Trap

A lot of slugs were harmed in the making of this blog post – today I counted about 20 slugs in the beer trap.  Sorry guys but we have to eat greens too!  I just used an empty tuna tin buried flush with the soil and poured in some out of date ale.  It really was quite satisfying to finally catch up with the slugs.  I’m planning a few more slug parties around the garden.

Back in January, Hugo from Cafe Azteca in Dublin sent me on some seeds for tomatillo and epazote, which I promised to sow for him in the tunnel.  Tomatillos are difficult to get here and go into making the green salsa for real Mexican cuisine.  Epazote is a herb Hugo used to flavour a black bean soup he made at his Mexican cookery class here.  It has grown just fine after being started on a heated bench in the glass house.  I transplanted some in the tunnel and outside to see how it gets on.  It was the dried version Hugo used so I should be able to harvest and store if it goes well.  A very distinctive aroma and flavour that’s difficult to describe (I wrote this before looking up widipedia!) but apparently very dear to Mexican cooks.  I would say it has an almost metallic/chemical smell that reminds me of chlorine.  Weird I know, but here’s what widipedia has to say on the herb:

Epazote is used as a leaf vegetable and herb for its pungent flavor. Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to anisefennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. Epazote’s fragrance is strong but difficult to describe. It has been compared to citruspetroleumsavorymint and camphor.

Epazote

The tomatillos are really taking off since transplanted into the tunnel a couple of weeks ago.

Tomatillo tunnel

Going to try some wild garlic seeds with boiled baby beets for dinner.  Garlic and beetroot – a great combination.  Try it!