Just fabulous, swedey! It’s vegbox heaven!

I have been doing a comparison between three organic vegbox schemes which operate in Devon, where I live. I was finding that my little veg patch couldn’t produce the consistent volume of food I needed, especially through the winter, so I turned my attention to the veg box scheme.

The suppliers I put to the test were Abel and Cole, Riverford and Shillingford Organics.

I had a bumpy start and a disappointing end with A&C, although they did refund me entirely, so I won’t hold it against them. I was impressed with Riverford, and Shillingford Organics were probably the most ethical with all their produce coming directly from the farm. They also offered free range eggs and award winning Emma’s Bread to be delivered with your veg at strategic points around Exeter.

My weekly or fortnightly vegbox forces me to take on and conquer ingredients I might not have come across before, and to taste and create with new flavours. Two new items which I would not usually tackle are kale and swede. Kale is a dark green, leafy vegetable, similar to cabbage and extremely healthy, packed with the anti-cancer chemical, sulforaphane. However, it’s important not to boil it if you want to retain the goodness. Stirfrying and steaming are the way forward.

I won’t be presenting a menu today, but will be suggesting a few avenues (and asking you for your tips) to explore if you happen to have some kale or swede hanging around, and can’t think of any use for it apart from the compost heap.

On the kale front,  I am imagining a nutritious kale and butterbean soup or maybe a tasty kale and red pepper frittata? Any other suggestions for kale? My thoughts on swede are on Indian spiced swede cakes, or maybe a velvety swede soup with goats cheese and tapenade croutons…

Do you think swede could be made into a savoury cheesecake…? Has anyone tried swede cheesecake?

Hmm, I feel a challenge coming on!

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Home baked goji berry and pumpkin seed granola

 

I am in the process of clearing out my cupboards, living as frugally as possible and minimizing how much *stuff* I have. As someone who tends to accumulate ingredients because I am so curious about different cuisines, it’s therapeutic to do some decluttering. It also means you can eat for weeks (if not months) on a very basic shopping list. I wouldn’t say the following ingredients are necessarily cheap, but it’s a good way to use up things that have been lingering…

Let’s start with breakfast, and a home baked goji berry and pumpkin seed granola.

1. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

2. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees.

3. In a large mixing bowl measure out  400g of rolled oats

4. Add in a generous sprinkling of whatever you fancy until the ratio of oats to yummy things is to your liking; I chose pumpkin seeds, goji berries and linseeds, but you add whatever you like – nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruits (cherries, apricots, blueberries), sunflower seeds etc.

5. Mix together with 400g of runny honey

6. Spread out in the baking paper lined tin and bake in the oven for approximately 20 mins or until it’s toasted golden.

7. Allow to cool before serving with nut, soy or other milk.

Note: I have also done this recipe with maple syrup, but found it browned a lot quicker, so keep your eye on it! You can also use the granola as a basis for a dessert, served with yoghurt or ice cream. If you’d prefer to eat it raw just omit the baking!

Other suggested combinations:

Dried apple, pecan and maple syrup

Cherry, dried coconut and honey

Toasted hazelnut, dried/fresh raspberries and chocolate chips with honey

Hmmm! Gooooood morning!

Asian Flavours…

Today I am in the mood for an Asian-themed menu. Asian cookery is a favourite of mine, as it’s possible to create really healthy, really fragrant dishes with herbs and spices. Lots of taste does not have to equal inchage. Or square footage.

I am well aware that saying ‘Asian’ is like saying ‘European’ in terms of just how many national cuisines come under the umbrella. One cuisine, that quite rightfully in my opinion, is enjoying a lot of exposure in the UK’s supermarkets is Japanese. Long gone are the days when tempura batter or Japanese pickled ginger were only to be found in the deli. Now most large supermarkets stock a pretty decent range of goods.

One thing I couldn’t get at the supermarket or at the deli was green tea powder. I had been on the hunt for a few weeks, as my new agar-agar cookery book called for it in relation to a pudding. I managed to locate some matcha powder at www. japanesekitchen.co.uk. The beautiful packaging of this particular brand caught my design eye – responsible also for the purchase of a  $12 jar of jam in the past because the packaging was so beautiful. I’d particularly like to recommend Japanese Kitchen as their customer service was excellent. They didn’t have any of my preferred brand in stock due to the terrible devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but they promised to email me when supply was resumed. With this I created a green tea ice cream, which is the featured dessert in today’s menu.

To start with I decided to pick an old favourite of mine, tempura. Whilst the batter mix I bought from the supermarket, you can make it yourself pretty easily. I decided to serve the tempura mushrooms with a wasabi, sesame and soy dipping sauce. I had forgotten how good tempura is, and I was pleased with the tangy, sweet, sharp sauce.

The main course would be an aromatic Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili and Garlic tofu, flavours not strictly Japanese, hence the title of this post ‘Asian Flavours’…

 

And to finish up, the green tea ice-cream.

Most of my English friends and colleagues make a ‘yucky’ face when I mention green tea. I do like it, but I think the two or three years I spent in Japan might count for part of that. I might have become immune to it. One interesting snippet that I didn’t know was that all tea, black, olong, green, Russian Caravan, you name it, comes from the same plant Camellia sinensis but it’s the type of processing which gives the resulting flavour and colour. Obviously some types of tea are named after where they are grown, such as Assam and Darjeeling.

The green tea ice cream has an interesting flavour and a very smooth silky texture, but I would recommend serving just a little as the taste might be unfamiliar to most people.

Spontaneous Soups…

As October arrived with the glow of Indian summer, it seems unseasonal to speak of soup. However the weather man has it on good authority that cooler weather is on the way.  I find the autumn a very melancholy and nostalgic time. I remember walking around the park in November in my teens, when every exhalation hung like fog in the air.  With the chill, my mind wanders to hearty, homemade soups which for me is one of the highlights of autumn. There were still things to be harvested in the veg patch, and I had various bits and pieces in the fridge that I needed to use up. Soup is great way to use up odds and ends, including herbs, and when you make them yourself they are more delicious and healthier than the ones you can buy at the store. In addition, it means you don’t waste food, and that is key to my current frugality drive (more of that later!). The veggie patch has given up its last fruits of the summer, including a little surprise, a sweet dumpling squash. When I say a surprise, I admit it wasn’t a total shock, after all I did plant, but this is the first time I have had a sweet dumpling from it.

This small green striped squash was the only offering from that particular plant, and rock hard when I when preparing it for the oven. I decided to bake mine in the oven with just a dash of maple syrup, then to make it into soup. Goodness only know what the result would be! In fact, it had quite an unusual texture and flavour. I have seen lots of recipes for these hollowed out and baked with maple syrup as a side dish, and I wonder if that wouldn’t be too sweet.

I also had half a punnet of mushrooms, (I always think the word ‘punnet’ should be some kind of comic medieval song, half way between pun and sonnet), some carrots, half an orange pepper and lots of herbs.

So, on the menu (and in the liquidizer) today are:

Mushroom soup

Carrot, orange pepper and coriander soup

Sweet dumpling soup with a dash of maple syrup

These soups are not only yummy and delicious but also super-cheap to make. Try making soup with leftover bits and pieces, pretty much you can’t go wrong. Enjoy!

The Passion of Parsnips…

My post today isn’t a three course menu, but rather more a ‘What can I do if I have X ingredient?’ No prizes for guessing which ingredient that might be…

Like most things in my life, my veg patch planning is a bit haphazard. Sometimes though, within the chaos of vegetation, a surprise can present itself. A long forgotten planting can bear fruit. And so I found these little beauties.

I had totally forgotten I had planted parsnips aaaages ago, and although I was quite bewildered by the mystery mid-green leaves that grew tall and spread over the summer, it didn’t jog my memory. I am passionate about growing my own, and that passion seemed to have transferred itself into the ground. That, or it was a really cold winter last year.

There is no question of course that these specimens would be rejected by the European Community, or have to be re-classified under adult entertainment. There’s something a bit creepy about all the tendrils coming off them, but horrowshow aside, I decided that these parsnip lovers were destined for something a little spicy themselves. And so, parsnip and ginger soup came into being. The soup is a nice combination of the smooth and the spicy, with a real kick of ginger. Just the thing to keep the immune system strong over the colder months.

I did discover some other parsnips in the patch, but these clearly were less desirable and definitely single. I paired them up with some tasty butternut squash in a savoury tart, and it was a happy ending all round.

Turkish Delight… or Disaster…

Turkey… I spent a long weekend in Istanbul a few years ago and loved it.. The Spice Bazaar, the fabulous hammams, and the delicious and reasonably priced food.  Turkish pizza, or pide, is also very popular in Australia where I lived for several years. It’s served with wedges of lemon, has fillings to tempt both vegetarians and non veggies alike, and was just delicious.  I found a recipe for pide dough recently and so was inspired to attempt a Turkish themed menu.

The starter is called Muhammara, and is a walnut based dip, sweetened with pomegranate molasses. I was particularly interested in this recipe, as I have a bottle of pomegranate molasses and was looking for different applications for it.

For the main course I made a Spinach and Feta Cheese Pide, the possibilities are endless however. Roasted red peppers, chargrilled aubergines,  and salty black olives would be fabulous too. The dough recipe calls for olive oil, which not all do, but I really think it transforms the dough. My human taste guinea pigs all declared it was really delicious.

So we have had the delight, now the disaster. I was attempting to make Turkish Delight, which traditionally uses gelatine, with agar agar. Currently it’s banished to the freezer in an attempt to get it to set. I will have another go with it, and this batch might have to end up as Turkish Delight ice-cream.

Until then Afiyet olsun!

Agar agar

A new addition to my larder is agar agar, the vegetarian version of gelatine. After a couple of false starts it seems I am getting the hang of it. Derived from seaweed, agar agar has no taste or odour. The pot recommends one tablespoon of agar agar to a pint of liquid, and I find a quarter teaspoon mixes into 65ml of water and has enough setting power for pâté.

The three courses I have prepared today are:

Mushroom, Roasted Pepper and Almond pâté

Goats Cheese and Sweet Pepper Tart

Strawberry Shortcake

It would have been nice to be able to produce my own peppers for these dishes, but I never seem to have much luck –  peppers seem to take an age to grow and I suspect we might need ten degrees more heat to really encourage them. The aubergine plants have flowered, so I am hoping they will produce enough baby aubergine for a dish in the next week or two.

Enough about vegetable tribulations, it’s a bank holiday here and I want to get out and enjoy the late summer sunshine!