Thursday, 30 April 2009

Back to the seasonal cauliflower

...and store cupboard ingredients, plus I had a packet of puff pastry in the fridge reaching it's use by date. So I took inspiration from a good cookbook, combined it with puff pastry and had a Cauliflower, sun-dried tomato, garlic and capers tart on the table in no time. And I have to say that it was quite delicious.

I think you could even prepare the cauliflower topping a day or two in advance, and then when you come home from a long day at work, all you have to do is cover the ready rolled puff pastry, put it in oven and presto, it’ll be ready in about 30 minutes.
Cauliflower, sun-dried tomato, garlic and capers tart
Serves 4 – 6
Ingredients
1 medium cauliflower
Ready rolled puff pastry
4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 pieces of sun-dried tomato in oil, drained of oil and cut into pieces
1 tablespoon of capers, minced
2 – 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 generous teaspoon of chilli flakes
Optional: Beaten egg for glazing

Method
Slice cauliflower, then steam until al dente. Cool.

In another large pan, heat oil and add garlic and cook gently for a few minutes without browning, then add sun-dried tomato, capers, chilli flakes and cauliflower. Cook for a few minutes until all the flavours are well combined. Turn off to cool.

Roll out puff pastry, prick the middle so not to rise leaving an inch border. First put the sun-dried tomato on the base. If you decide to leave these on the top there is a danger of them drying up and charring. Then arrange the cauliflower pieces on top of the pastry, double layer if you have to get on all of the cauliflower pieces.

Optional:
coat the border with beaten egg. I sometimes do, other times I don’t and let is brown naturally.

Cook according to instructions on puff pastry packet.

When ready, allow to cool and cute into 6 or 4 pieces and Enjoy.

Idea inspired by recipe from Sophie Grigson Country Kitchen

Saag and Palak: the difference

Unfortunately, some Indo- Anglo, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants and take-aways continue to confuse the Western diner with misinformation on their menus especially when presenting saag as spinach, which is usually accompanied with paneer, an Indian cheese.

I think the mistake was originally innocently made in the 1970s and 1980s by some employees working in the ‘Indian’ catering business, whose first language may have not been English, and therefore were not familiar with the English translation of Sarson ka saag, so it was much easier to describe it to interested diners as spinach puree, than Mustard greens. After all mustard greens were not a familiar vegetable in the West, it was not even available at supermarkets and still isn’t, similar to that of calalloo. But this misinformation has continued to be perpetuated by even some of the more well known ‘Indian’ establishments and 'celebrity' chefs who should know better.

So let me try and help clarify this a little. Palak is spinach and Sarson is mustard greens and Saag is a generic name for cooked and pureed greens. There are many variations of saag dishes. Saag dishes can be made with many other greens or a mixture of these such as kales, spring greens, perpetual spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, fenugreek, even spinach in which case it should be known as palak saag. Essentially a real saag is made with mustard greens and is traditionally known as Sarson ka saag.

Another thing, mustard greens are not cooked in little time. Unlike spinach that only needs a few minutes of heat to be wilted and it is ready. A real sarson ka saag dish takes all day to cook, as its leaves are much thicker and robust to break down. Traditionally, some Asian women start cooking these large bundles of chopped greens the evening before, and the pot is still bubbling away in the morning being gently stirred with love now and again. Traditional Sarson ka saag is a labouring dish, not one to be rushed. It is this slow cooking method that gives it that creamy and thick silky texture. Saag should cling thickly to the gorscht (lamb), murgi (chicken), or the vegetarian option of paneer (Indian cheese), whereas palak saag would simply fall off the spoon. Palak upon cooking also has a watery consistency. Connoisseurs of real saag would spot and smell the difference immediately.

Sarson ka saag is very popular in parts of the Punjab and amongst traditional south Asian families: whether they are Sikhs, Hindus, Christians or Muslims. It is often eaten with either plain boiled basmati rice or with home made maize or corn makki ki roti (flat round bread) that is yellow in colour. Makki ki roti also takes time to make. As a child, I never liked saag or the texture of makki ki roti. Not many kids do like greens when they are young. For me first it was the fact that they were greens, second it was the lingering smell of sarson ka saag cooking, it was very reminisce of cabbages being boiled, but as I got older I have grown to like and not love the taste that I relish at the thought of my mother making it. It is even more delicious with tarka: ghee or butter infused with garlic and onions and poured over, very fattening, and very moreish. An authentic and good saag dish is hard to find, unless you go to a reputable Indian or Pakistani restaurant; or are ever lucky enough to be invited to share a meal at the house of a South Asian colleague whose womenfolk indulge in such culinary pleasures.

I want to share a childhood memory that returned to mind while I was writing this piece. My mother is very familiar with wild food; especially those ‘edible weeds’ used in the South Indian cuisines. As a child of 9 years, I remember my mother and a number of south Asian women picking wild mustard greens in the middle of a busy town roundabout junction. Yes that’s what I said a busy roundabout in the middle of a road. Madness! I was literally shrinking with embarrassment as drivers would beep their car horns at the danger they were causing, some of the drivers even went so far as hurling (racist) abuse at these South Asian women, which also included me. Ah some things don’t change.

These days my mother makes a journey (just over 2 hours) to either Southall, London or Small Heath or Sparkhill, Birmingham to purchase bundles of mustard greens if she so desired to make Sarson ka saag at home, as these are still hard to come by at South Asian grocery stores in Wales. But I bet you, if she was to see mustard leaves growing wild and free on the side of the road on a motorway, she’s be there, picking.

Sarson ka saag is not a dish I would create myself; as it is so labour intensive and I do not have the patience, so instead it is one that I hold dear as part of my childhood and only eat when my mother makes it for me, lovingly. To end, something my mother once said ‘real saag is king and palak is the prince’ and I think this is true to those who know the difference.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Signs of the first berries

Look signs of my first strawberry! The ones in the bed are starting to bud. I know I have placed these unsightly plastic tubs around, but I do not have enough, and I think I need double reinforcement. I don’t mind sharing my strawberries with beasties, but last year I got none. This time I am determined to have some. So I am considering planting some sacrificial lettuces and marigold around the bed to, so that the slugs are attracted to them rather than the juicy red berries. Let’s see if it makes a difference, otherwise I may have to consider organic slug pellets and I really don’t want too.
Other pretty berries starting to establish themselves are the currants: red currants, white currants and black currants.


I will be throwing netting over these in not too long, as I am sure the birds are watching them closely too!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Lonely Asparagus Shoot

Ah the asparagus season is upon us, which lasts about 10 – 12 weeks. Asparagus is Ds favourite vegetable. Personally asparagus does nothing for my taste buds, other than occasionally serving as soldier dips for soft boiled eggs, but D was so keen to grow some of his own, especially as they are so expensive to buy. So he planted six crowns in the ground. I was doubtful whether they will grow outside in the Scottish climate, but he was optimistic and anything is worth a try.

So last year, much to my amazement a couple of shoots did come up, I was so astonished that I had to take a photograph to prove to other disbelievers that this little asparagus grew outside.

Unfortunately for D, it was not worth harvesting. I wonder if this year they will fair any better? Looking at the asparagus bed earlier this afternoon, I don’t think so. I am going to give the asparagus crowns another chance this year, if they do not come up tall, green and glorious, then I will dig them up, and give the plot over to something else that will produce. Or should I still be patient a little bit more?

Cheats Thai Red Curry

He made me do it...he made me buy these 'out of season' ingredients. He did, he did... No he didn't - I just couldn't resist the prices today, plus my tongue is wanting something spicy. So the thrifty consumer in me gave in today and bought 100g sugar snap peas 50p, 100g baby sweetcorn 50p, a handful of carrots and 100g shiitake mushrooms reduced to 50p (the mushrooms and the carrots were the only two ingredient grown in the UK). The other ingredients I required for my dish were already at home: Thai red curry paste, basmati rice and coconut milk. So Thai Red curry it was to be.
The recipe is similar to the Thai green curry I've made before, the only difference is that I steamed the vegetables before adding them to the oil for a little braising. It was a nice change to our usual working day meal.

Female bloggers: sounds like a PhD proposal

I was talking to some colleagues at work today about the phenomenon of blogging which was likened by some of them to the traditional diary. However, unlike the paper diaries that contain private feelings and observations and are ultimately only for the eyes of the owner. The web blog is so different in that it is an open on-line diary allowing the blogger to use it much more widely, to express and share their creativity with appreciative on-line readers.

One of my colleagues asserted that blogging was akin to mobile phone texting, it is predominantly technology oriented towards females. Do you think there is any truth in this observation? I am still thinking about it. To some extent I agree, as the majority of the blogs I have come across are written by females. it's got me thinking...

Monday, 27 April 2009

Leeks and sour cream flan

This dish was made with the baby leeks I had left on my plot on Saturday, fortunately it had not rained overnight, so I was able to rescue them the following day.

Leeks are notorious for hiding soil in between its layers. A few months ago, I learned this very good tip of getting grit out of leeks on TV from the chef Jun Tanaka, so I pass it onto those of you not familiar with it. Begin by making a vertical split about halfway down the centre of each one, then do this again, so you have four fantails. Then wash clean of grit by running them under cold water. Amazing. I use this method all the time now when cooking with leeks.
This leek and sour cream flan was made with the baby leeks I had left on my plot on Saturday, fortunately it had not rained overnight, so I was able to rescue them the following day. This recipe is adapted from Delia’s Vegetarian Collection. I made the shortcrust pastry base according to Delia's recipe, which included 50g grated cheddar cheese in the base, but the filling is adapted. On cooking, the pastry had shrunk quite a lot on the sides. I have read a tip somewhere, either to put it in the freezer for twenty minutes (my freezer is 6 cubic feet, so too small to do this) or in the fridge for 40 minutes to firm up before baking in the oven. I would have tried the latter, but patience was not on my side. So visually it is a hotch potch pastry, but it did taste good, nice crispy base.

Ingredients
Make your own pastry case or use a prepared one
For the filling
250g baby leeks, washed, sliced and rinsed
150ml sour cream
50g butter
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 medium egg, beaten
50g cheddar, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Method
Melt butter in large pan, add the garlic, leeks and some seasoning. Cook gently for 15 - 20 minutes until soft. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven gas mark 5

Now combine sour cream, beaten egg, with the leek mixture and combine well.

Spread the mixture over the pastry case, sprinkle with cheese and bake in centre of oven for 35 - 40 minutes until brown and crispy.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Haircut No. 11

One of those days when I think, 'why am I not out at the shopping malls like some other girls shopping with their friends, looking at pretty floral dresses for their holidays, looking at bags and shoes'. No, today here I was ready to put in another day of hard labour, this time on Ds plot. I like it really!
All that grass needs cutting, all that comfrey, that nettle, and weeds
Err where do I start? No not my hair, it's the grass that needs cutting!
We have a manual grass cutter. No electricity or petrol required, but physical labour. It's not the best, but it has served us well for four years. It was originally bought for the home garden, but has moved onto bigger pastures - Plot 11. While D got on with the manual grass cutting, I got on with the shearing. Down on my knees, cutting where the grass cutter could not: around the beds, around the pond and around the borders. One of my other jobs was also to collect the comfrey leaves as D wanted to make some liquid feed. Comfrey is really a weed, but for vegetable growers like myself it has many benefits. It provides veg growers with free liquid feed for plants, as it contains high levels of basic NPK nutrients. It is also a great compost activator.
Ds plot is covered with comfrey. I managed to collect loads, i couldn't tell you how much exactly, but it was a lot, but once compressed down into two small tubs by some bricks and my feet, it didn't look like much.
D then topped the crushed comfrey with some water and put a lid on it. Now it will ferment for a month or so, before it can be used on plants as food.
What a difference a haircut can make? Whilst clearing parts of Ds plot, especially a corner masked by nettle. As I chopped and pulled away the overgrown nettle, wearing thick gloves of course, I came across a good pile of natural compost - compost not made by D and me, but by nature. This was a corner, where D and me were throwing branches, twigs, dead wood, weeds and the such. It was never designed to create compost, just a dumping corner. But once again, nature has rewarded us well. This time with compost, that would have probably cost us about £10.00. We had to use a soil sifter, also known as a 'riddle' to remove some small stones and glass shards. Otherwise it was really good stuff. I shovelled it into two wheelbarrows, both without wheels that I have transformed into planters.
As we both left Plot 45, we smiled - we did good.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Cool Coleslaw and British wine

As I had forgotten the baby leeks at the allotment, the Leeks and sour cream tart is a meal for another day. Instead we decided to have something really simple, as it was too warm to be in a small kitchen. So jacket potatoes with coleslaw is what we had.

Now time to chill out with a glass of British wine. yes, that's what I said British wine which happens to be vegan friendly too. It is actually not too bad; or maybe I am easily pleased.

Wig wams and peas

We spent most of the afternoon at Plot 45. Yet again, after inspecting the greenhouse for new seedling life, I noted that my all my golden beetroot seeds; all my golden apple; and Blue baby squash seeds; and all my goldie; and sarzana courgette seeds had been pilfered by those dastardly mice. The mice have won here drats! I have decided now to raise these at home on the windowsill, where I had successfully germinated the tomato seeds.
D got on with constructing some wig wams with canes for the peas, that are so wanting to get out of their pots. I got on with transplanting some cabbages into the ground. These were red cabbages known as Marner, which I then covered over with netting.
We also stuck some CD discs and empty travel sweet tins to make clangy noise, hopefully this will deter the pigeons and magpies and let the peas establish.
I also pulled out some baby leeks and left them on the ground for the sunshine to dry the soil off. I was planning to make Leek and sour cream tart for tonights meal, but guess what, I forgot them at the allotment. Will they still be good tomorrow; or will the sunshine have got to them?
The mint is starting to perk up. Fresh mint tea at the allotment soon.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Not Welsh Red Dragon Pie, but just as good

Vegetable growers all over the U.K are beginning to grow sweet potatoes either in greenhouses or under polytunnels, but for the likes of me where space is a premium, I still have to buy them. The season for sweet potatoes is October to March, but here you will be able to find them all year round, usually imported from America.

There are two types of sweet potatoes, one with pale cream flesh, and the other bright orange flesh. I like using the latter, but it was not an immediate liking of the vegetable, it was taste that developed with time. Sweet potatoes have a very creamy texture that makes them ideal for savoury dishes. One way I like eating sweet potatoes is baking them; or roasting them.
This pie started off as as a version of Welsh Dragon Pie (adapted from Sarah Brown's Vegetarian Kitchen).  This vegetarian Welsh Pie is traditionally made with aduki beans fondly called by some Chinese people as "red dragon" or "red wonder" beans. For this recipe I had also decided to make it with Sweet potatoes instead of mashed potatoes, I thought the orangey-red of the sweet potato would be a nice touch.

After having cooked the beans and ready to assemble the dish, it dawned on me that I had cooked with mung beans, not aduki beans. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking, but the result was still really nice.
Serve with green vegetables.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Chilli and garlic Pasta with braised cabbage

Working day food. I know it don't look like much, but it really was delicious!

Make the pasta according to packet instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, slice 1 medium savoy cabbage into thin strips. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive in in a large pan, add cabbage and slow cook for 15 minutes, then add 4 cloves of sliced garlic with a generous teaspoon of chilli flakes and cook for a further 10 minutes, till really soft.
Drain pasta when cooked, add to cabbage, season with salt and pepper and stir well and serve between four plates

My gooseberry bush

Look at the state of my gooseberry plant! That is what happens when you forget to prune - unruly.
I hope it does not get mildew.
Last year, I did not get to harvest any of my redcurrants or gooseberries at Plot 45 because the hungry and greedy birds got them before I did, this year the plan is to cover them with netting. Yes, I know this will make the plot look rather unattractive, but I have written before sometimes, taste comes before beauty.

Vegetarian 'mock meat' substitutes and Labels

After attending the Incredible Veggie Show and viewing the stalls, many showcasing 'mock meat' substitutes, it got me thinking about its relevance in our diets.

My husband D is not a vegetarian, he eats fish now and again. He also always happily eats everything I cook for him and never complains once, but offers critiques now and again that I welcome. There are times when he misses substance on his plate. He grew up eating from a plate laden with meat, two veg and gravy. So understandably he occasionally misses the flavour or more to the point, texture. He has never gone behind my back and sneakily eaten a bacon sarnie, or hot dog. The one time he occasionally makes a point of eating meat is during Christmas, he gets a few slices of turkey for a sandwich, but that is pretty much it. Because he misses the texture of meat sometimes, he is content with the occasional 'mock meat' substitute on his plate, whereas, I can give these a miss. However, I understand and appreciate that I have to accommodate his taste buds, so now and again you will find me delving into experimental cooking with mock meat substitutes. Early this month was the first time I had ever cooked with TVP (Textured vegetable protein), previous to that I have cooked with Quorn. I also cook a lot with Tofu, but I don’t always see that as a meat substitute and just enjoy it for what it is.

I occasionally have family come up from Wales, who also like their meat, they are generally quite good and will eat whatever I cook for them, none of this take away palaver, unless it’s pizza of course. My mother had particularly enjoyed all the experimental vegetable based cooking I did last year with our allotment grown produce. Praise from your mother I think is the best accolade a person can get, forget about those Michelin stars. But my nephews are another story; they occasionally stay longer than a week and will start feeling a little deprived of their meaty textures, so I will make veggie meat-balls, or vegetarian Bolognese. This kind of food is easy to knock up for a crowd and informal and everyone enjoys it. So again there are times, when meat substitutes creep into my meals.

I think it is okay now and again to enjoy eating 'mock meat' substitutes and they do have a use and place in peoples diets, but they should never dominate your whole diet. Not every plate should be accompanied by a 'mock meat' substitute; well that’s what I think. I think you can and should enjoy the versatility of fresh and tinned vegetables. So enjoy them.

Finally, I don’t like labels, although my diet is heavily vegetable based topped off with rice and pulses, I donot overtly label myself as a vegetarian.  It is a very confusing term as there are so many subcategories: lacto-ovo vegetarian, ovo vegetarian, vegan, fruitarian, raw food diet etc.

I also donot think there is anything wrong with people who are demi-veg, and those individuals that describe themselves as either fishetarian, piscetarian or aquatarian (err is that right), but I know it is something that some committed vegetarians and vegans take umbrage with, but we all have to make decisions for ourselves on what we like to put in our bellies and what diets suit our lifestyle and our pockets. These should not be imposed by anyone meat eater or vegan.

One thing for sure though, is whether or not you are a vegetarian or vegan; vegetables should be enjoyed by everyone, not just by those who choose to wear a particular label.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Forced rhubarb cheesecake

I saw the Rhubarb cheesecake on a fellow bloggers blog about a month ago, and I couldn’t wait to make a variation of this cheesecake with my own allotment grown rhubarb. But my impatience and greed got the better of me. I had decided to make it with the forced rhubarb growing in the garden.
So here it is...
I am well chuffed. It looks great, then you cut into it with expectations to see the pinkness of the rhubarb, but there is barely colour against the creaminess of the cheese.

Although quite light and enjoyable to eat, especially the day after, it lacked that tang and sharpness you expect to get from rhubarb. So I have promised D to make this again, this time with allotment grown rhubarb, not forced rhubarb. Forced rhubarb should be enjoyed as a compote I think. Oh the lessons I am learning this week. I will post my variation of the recipe on my next attempt.

Roundabout diet

My diet and my in-laws diet is so many worlds apart. My diet is primarily vegetable, pulse and rice based, whereas theirs is meat based. I love spices, they like mild flavours. I like trying new foods whether I am at home or when I am abroad, they like sticking to what they are familiar with, saying that Ds Dad with his overseas holidays has become a little bit more adventurous in his eating habits than his mother. Anyway, you get the picture. When I stay Ds parents, I think I throw a spanner in the works as Ds mother gets puzzled as to what to feed us. At some of our previous visits, we consumed so many supermarket brand mock meat substitutes: veggie sausages for breakfast, and veggie meat pies or steaks with two veg for evening meals.

Although I am a very fussy eater, my attitude is when you are a guest at someones home you have to make do with whatever is given to you to eat, simply out of respect and consideration. However saying that, when I am there for a while or even at my parents, I sometimes start getting fidgety, as I feel like rushing to the kitchen and conjuring up something even if it is simple as a bowl of plain rice with dal, but I donot as they would be deeply upset at the thought that they had not catered well for us. This time whilst we were at Ds parents, my diet consisted of chips (twice), beans and eggs, cheese and pickle rolls, sweet pastries and one day we had a lovely light buffet that included various salads, onion rings, garlic mushrooms and quiche. I was really glad at the lack of supermarket mock meat option this time, but I think that was partly down to my in-laws watching their pockets too. Economic downturn and the credit crunch is affecting everybody.

Ds parents are due to come up to Scotland sometime in June, and it will be the same when they come to stay with us, but the difference is my culinary and kitchen skills will be on hold. Firstly, Ds parents don’t want us fussing over food preparation, even though I don’t mind, but the second reason is they are not always fond of my vegetarian creations. Fair enough. So on the first day of their arrival, we will probably get a fish supper for them, the next day, we will have the same vegetables on our plate, but they will have real meat pie, whereas D and me will have vegetarian mock meat substitute. On another day, we may get a Take Away, something that I don’t like doing at all, especially as I can make this food very well at home, but Ds parents are used to eating Indian (and Chinese) take away food, which many of know are not always made traditionally, but that’s what they like. In between all this we will probably have a few cheese sandwiches.

So the food situation is something that swings in round abouts, whether we are at Ds parents home or if they are at ours. One thing for sure though, no one ever goes hungry.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Veggie Bites

On Saturday, I must have spent about over an hour at the Incredible Veggie Show in London. It was quite an obstacle to get too many of the free food sample stalls, but when I got to them and taste their offerings, it was an experience. I tasted some vegan chocolate, vegan cakes and one that was quite delicious, a strawberry cake with vegan cream. Also some vegan cheese, that didn’t do very much for me, but D was impressed with the vegan cream cheese; and the vegan jelly babies.

It was really difficult to get photographs of the stalls in all there glory, as people were all budging each other to taste every veggie bite on offering. Lesson one: to be at a food event a little bit early in future so can take photographs without too much hassle. I was rather selective of what leaflets I took from the stalls and what I purchased. In fact I had only purchased three things, neither of them edible: a vitamin chart; a Vegan cookbook; and a jute bag to carry these.
Although there were a few stalls promoting growing your own vegetables. I noted that there was very little focus on fresh vegetables and fruit, but more on vegan and vegetarian substitutes, in particular meat substitutes, many trying to imitate and taste like a meat products: whether it was beef jerky, beef slices, chicken pieces or pork medallions. I guess this was targeting those who were thinking of becoming vegetarian or vegan, or even converts who occasionally miss that flavour or texture. I am not one of them.

You could see many of the stall holders were very passionate about what they were promoting. I was particularly impressed by this popular stall Veggie World. It was hosted by a lively group of people. What caught my eye was this plate of prawns. No way, prawns at a Veggie food event.
But on closer inspection these were not prawns. Very convincing and very impressive.
D just had to try them and said it tasted more like prawns than prawns did.

I may have purchased some food from this stall and one or two others, but I was aware that D and me would still be wandering the streets of London and this would not do the food any favours in the bag or in the heat of the sun. So I had decided not to buy perishables, plus after getting back to Ds parents, we still had the long journey to Scotland. Lesson two: Next time think and plan in advance and take a cool bag.

I did not stay around for any of the food talks or cookery demonstrations, although I would have liked to have seen Rose Elliot MBE, Britains most reputable and well respected vegetarian food writer.

The Incredible Veggie Show was more of an Awareness raising event focusing on eating and living responsibly, the environmental impact we as human beings are having on planet earth, animal welfare, cruelty free beauty and ethical fashion products and so on. It was an event where local food groups and organisations, could promote their good and services, as well as a networking opportunity for local community activists and groups. What was really good about this event was the presence of new vegan and vegetarian producers and their edible goodies. The Show did not play host to many stalls by the more well known veggie brands that you find at supermarkets. This event gave new vegetarian and vegan producers a platform to promote their goods and this can only be a good thing.

This time I was able to attend this Veggie food event in London, as I was able to coincide it with the remainder of my annual leave for this financial year, but under normal circumstances I would not have been able to attend such an event in London. It would be good if there was something like this in Scotland.
Even though we had been grazing on morsels most of the day, we stopped by a shop and picked up something sweet to eat: pecan pie and light juice to drink: Cracker drinks company mango and passion fruit. A nice way to end a good and rain free day in London.

Wild stinging nettle

When I got back home from the allotment yesterday, I took the nettle leaves of the stems and weighed them. I only managed to collect 60g nettle leaves, not the 150g I needed for the gnocchi recipe. The amount I had would have to do for our meal. Surprisingly nettle loses most of its stinginess after an hour of so after picking.

I tried nettle for the first time last year, encouraged by Denis Cotters recipe for Nettle Risotto which was absolutely delicious. It is a taste that I cannot describe, but I would encourage you to try it, even if it is as Nettle soup. And no, it won’t sting your tongue whilst your eating it.

Wild Nettle and potato Gnocchi
Serves four or six as a starter
Ingredients
600g floury potato, peeled
60g young nettle leaves
60g hard goat cheese, grated. I used St Helens Farm goat cheese
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper to taste
100g plain flour, you may need extra depending on potato consistency
1 tablespoon of olive oil
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of fresh sage leaves, if small keep whole, if large chop them.
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
100g goats cheese, grated for sprinkling

Method
For the gnocchi
chop the potatoes into even sized pieces and boil them until tender. Mash the potatoes. Cook the nettle leaves for 5 minutes in boiling water, and then cool under cold water. Squeeze out all the water and mince the nettles as fine as you can with a knife of mezzaluna, then stir into the potato mash. Add 60g of grated cheese, egg yolk and season to taste. Add the flour and blend thoroughly.
Take a handful of potato mix and roll into a long tubular shape and cut of pieces into an inch long and place onto floured surface. Do this until all the potato mix has been used.
To cook gnocchi, drop batches into a large saucepan of boiling water. The gnocchi is done when it floats to the surface. Remove the cooked gnocchi with a slotted spoon until all are cooked. You can refrigerate at this stage, or freeze them for up to 10 days, but do coat in a little plain flour.
For butter sauce. Add oil and butter in a pan and fry garlic and sage leaves for a couple of minutes, then add the gnocchi stirring gently to reheat.

Share out the gnocchi between plates and sprinkle over the grated goats cheese. Serve immediately.
Inspired by Denis Cotters Wild Garlic, gooseberries and me

Farewell Pear Tree Wullie

You may remember from previous blog entries that I was going to show you a digital film of some of our worst plots and the allotment site itself. Well, there have been some massive improvements since the last Committee meeting early this month. Personally I think some of this positive step forward is due to the presence of a new Committee member. Four of the vacant plots on my strip have finally been allocated to new people with small families, and two of these plots have seen a whirlwind of activity. Amazing stuff. Oh I wish I had taken a picture and shown you of them before and after. Wow, just in a couple of weeks and the visible change, it’s so nice to see that buzz and maybe the start of a communal ownership. However, amongst the recent good energy, there are still a lot of poor practices, thieving is still continuing, a large hole in one of the wire fencing apparently big enough for a small vehicle to get in was found by one of the older committee members, plus rumours of some aggressive and bullish behaviour over the weekend by one or two old faces. So much can happen when you are away.

We spend most of the yesterday morning at the allotment. We worked at Ds plot for 2 hours. D put the broad beans into the ground. He had decided to support them with bamboo sticks as last year the weight of the beans were making them topple over. So far we have 18 plants in the ground and another 16 to go in. Broad beans were one of the legumes the acrobatic mouse had nabbed. I have decided not to sow anymore broad bean seeds. I think we have plenty to enjoy and. to share with those around us.
I continued with the never ending task of weeding, then gave up for the day and decided to pick some nettle growing wild around Ds compost bin for our dinner later. I needed about 150g, but stopped picking when I felt the carrier bag was heavy enough, plus the stings had gotten to me.
I also picked a twig of sage from Ds herb plot, which is starting to fill up. The mint is and lemon balm are starting to emerge from the ground. What was a surprise was the lovage had come out of nowhere. I like lovage, but you have to enjoy it in small quantities.
As I closed the gate behind us, I noted that the grass at Plot 11 needs cutting but that is a job for the weekend now. On our way to Plot 45, we saw Fitzy and Thanked him for watering our seedlings.

We also found out that Pear Tree Wullie had passed away a couple of months ago. Sad thing, people have only just found out that Wullie has passed away and you could see some of the long term plot holders casing his Plot for treasures. This was one thing that annoyed me about some of the Committee members, you rarely saw these two particular individuals doing anything in relation to the upkeep of the allotment or addressing irresponsible behaviour on the site, but when someone left the allotment or had passed away, they were very quick to ‘take’ things from that persons plot. I had witnessed this first hand when I was given Plot 45, when I viewed it was packed with pots, tools, chairs ….even when I was finally allocated the plot, the Treasurer kept the keys to the hut so that she could take the stuff for her plot from the hut at her ease. It was a month before I got the key. She left behind the junk. Anyway, the past is past and I should keep looking forward.

At the front of my plot, D planted an eating apple tree which we purchased at a supermarket. While I got on with sowing some seeds, especially those that had got nabbed. I also transplanted my turnips and parsnips into the ground and then covered them over with netting so that the magpies and pigeons could not feast on them. I was excited to spot tiny buds on some of my strawberry plants. I am sure the slugs and snails have noticed them too!!!

Monday, 20 April 2009

London Calling!

Whilst visiting my in-laws over the Easter holidays, we had also planned to visit the city of London as I had purchased tickets for the Incredible Veggie Show. But as the doors to the venue were to be open at 10.30am, D and myself decided to head into London early and behave as tourists. It was great. Look! It's about 8.20am and barely a soul around.
D got to try out our camera. We were impressed with our new expensive toy.What was funny was there were other people beside us taking photographs, professional looking with bigger cameras, bigger lenses, and you could sense mutterings mines bigger than yours. As amateurs, we are content with what we have : )
Then we took a slow stroll through St James Park where the tulips were dancing in the wind.
We had a light bite to eat at a French cafe, then walked over to Covent Garden. It was not what I had expected, its not that food orientated at all. I was expecting marvellous displays of fruit and vegetables, but all I saw was artists, jewellery makers, glass, pottery and so on setting up their stalls to sell their handmade crafts to tourists.
I was sad to learn that Cranks had closed down in December 2001, as I was looking forward to a special treat from one of U.Ks most reputable vegetarian eateries, but that was not to happen. Well at least I can cook from the cookbooks.
After that discovery and disappointment, we left pretty sharpish. We also took the underground to Camden, where D revelled in some of his youthful memories. Camden market was a bit of a shock to my system - I think I must be getting old. It was mobbed. There were a lot of people there, many young, others trying to hold onto yester years youth. It was very cosmopolitan, very eclectic, very fashion orientated and very 1977. It reminded me of my visit to Berkeley's Fourth Street in California in 2000. I was impressed with the number of vegetarian and vegan outlets there.
At Camden market we stopped by this African food stall and had a bean cake, it was only 50p, a little greasy but delicious. D said it reminded him of spam fritters.
We stopped again to rest our feet and graze on more vegetarian food offerings of wider London - we shared a veggie hot dog.
Now that something you don't find at a Scotland market.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Say Cheese!

On our way back to Scotland the thought of food started to enter my head. What were we going to eat when we got home as I would be too tired from the seven hour journey to cook from scratch. I am not one for take away meals either, so that was not an option, nor were chips, I've had them twice while at Ds parents. So we stopped at Westmoreland Farmshop which is in Cumbria near the Lake District, about 20 minutes from the Scottish border. It is a much nicer stop than those faceless Motor Service Stations.

I picked up some brown bread that was still warm from the oven and three vegetarian cheeses. I was really impressed with the way Westmoreland Farmshop labelled it cheeses, everything that was suitable for vegetarians was clearly labelled as vegetarian, unlike I J Mellis Cheesemonger in Glasgow were you have to keep asking what is vegetarian and what is not, that after awhile you feel like you are being a nuisance. The other thing I liked was when we got back home, all the cheeses were clearly labelled, something else that I J Mellis seems to have lapsed on my past two visits. I will have to say something next time as the cheese sold there are not high street prices.
Anyway, the three cheeses from right back to left are: Smoked Cuddys Cave; Stumpies; and Blue Wensleydale.

I was looking forward to enjoying these with a glass of wine, but we then realised that we had no bottle at home, and we were both too tired to go back out again, so no wine.

Acrobatic mice

We got back from Ds parents about a few hours ago. It was a seven hour drive, but before we got home, we had to stop by the allotment and check our plots, especially my tiny seedlings in the greenhouse. Fitzy has done me proud : ) All my seedlings are looking good, nothing was waning but still glistening from being watered earlier. While I was delicately stroking a seedling and smiling to myself that everything was looking very good, D says take a look at your seed trays under the netting. I did so and what did I see? scurried soil dents in each cell, some with discarded husks - all my legume, beetroot and expensive squash seeds had been got at by some small creature. I was stunned, but I covered them so well, how did it get underneath? D responds well you know what those acrobatic mice are like? Yes I do...

Oh well, these flowers made up for the loss. Nice welcome home.

I have tomorrow off from work (one more day of annual leave), so I am looking forward to spending some time at the plot, hopefully the weather will be as good as today. As we left the allotment site, I noticed some big visible changes, but more about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Unexpected gifts from nature

Just spent a couple of hours on Ds plot today. The weather is not too inviting today. Typical as its the official start of my holidays. The sky was clouding over as if it were to burst with rain any minute, plus I got the sniffles and I don't want it to get worse especially for my travels and visit down South. The lupins are looking quite pretty with the water droplets on them though, like little diamonds.
D had to put in the last of the maincrop potatoes in the ground, so while he was doing that I cleared up one of his beds that was overgrown with weeds. And guess what I found, some purple sprouting broccoli - Yipee. I am so delighted with this unexpected gift from nature, as I thought all my PSB had been nabbed by those pigeons. This will be part of a light lunch later.
All the potatoes are in now.
We have asked Fitzy to water the plants in the greenhouse while we are away visiting family and friends down London way. But I will still be worrying about the plants like a mother leaving her children behind, or a pet behind. Who would have thought that growing fruit and veg would have such an effect on you. Plants are a bit like children I guess, you water them, feed them, nurture them, tend to them...
Please note my dear in-laws don't have Internet yet, so I will not be able to blog for the next few days, so please be patient with me. I will however be back with some photos and reviews of my visit to the Incredible Veggie Show and maybe some images from Covent Garden. Who knows?