Cabbage

We spent last Sunday planting a new hedge at the bottom of our garden (excellent excuse to use the gardening equipment I got for my birthday) but it was absolutely freezing, so cold that I had to de-ice the padlock on the shed door before I could get into it, so I needed something warm and comforting for lunch.

We don’t eat a lot of potatoes in fact I asked the veg box to stop sending them as they were sprouting in the bottom of the box every week. Most of our meals lend themselves better to rice, noodles or pasta. Plus the form of potato I like best is mash potato with tons and tons of butter so not the healthiest of options. However a fabulous looking purple tinged January King Cabbage came in the veg box this week so I decided to try and counteract the butter with loads of cabbage if I wanted to claim it as vaguely acceptable for lunch so mash soon turned into Colcannon.

Now I’m sure purists would object to my addition of the onion and fennel topping but I think it adds a little extra and plus it’s delicious to use on everything.

Colcannon with Fennel and Onion

  • Half a cabbage
  • 6 small potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • Copious amounts of butter
  • 2 tbsp of crème fresh

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Peel and chop the potatoes into quarters and add to a pan with boiling water and simmer until soft – around 25 mins depending on variety and size.

Meanwhile finely slice the onions and add to a frying pan on a low heat with a large knob of butter, after around 10 mins they should be soft and light brown, add the fennel seeds to the pan and cook for a further 5 mins over the low heat until sticky and soft. Remove from pan and leave to one side.

Wash the cabbage leaves, slice finely and add to the frying pan – the water on the leaves will help them soften and wilt – cook for a couple of mins until soft but not coloured.

Drain the potatoes, add back to the pan and mash with copious amounts of butter and the crème fresh along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Once lovely and smooth mix through the cabbage and serve with the onion and fennel on top.

If you’re feeling extra greedy and want to balance that goodness of cabbage you added to your mash – grate some cheese on top. If you’re feeling more patient and less greedy serve alongside sausages or roast chicken.

PS this is me being super excited about my new wheelbarrow! Note the accidental handle/Wellie combo

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The Orange

Joel had an idea for this new year, instead of setting resolutions that are inevitably negative and about deprivation we are setting goals for the year instead, for me its to write more on here, to see more paintings out of my 1001 paintings to see before you die and definitely getting started on our garden, I’m sure over the next few weeks there will be more set but I like the idea of striving to achieve something rather than giving something up, which in the dark days of January feels twice as miserable as any other time of year.

I think January is a tough month for people, the depths of darkness with no Christmas to look forward to, the weather tends to get colder, and of course everyone is feeling a little tight on funds after the festive period. Therefore I think we could all do with something bright an fresh to cheer us up, this is a great salad for sharing and you could definitely justify it if unlike me you are trying to stick to those resolutions – plus the dressing uses up some of that cheese board port you still have knocking around (the booze doesn’t count in food, everyone knows that) so why not invite a few people over and brighten up January together.

Oranges always feel like a bit of a faff to me and would normally grab a clementine or tangerine over their full size cousin as the convenience of being able to peel on the go is so easy so I think when you go to the effort with peeling and carefully slicing an orange it feels a bit special. Particularly when they are in season and at their best from closer to the UK at this time of year.

Caramelised Orange and Fig Salad

Adapted from Ottolenghi’s in Plenty More

Serves 4 as a light salad.

  • 75g of caster sugar
  • 4 Medium Oranges – peeled and cut into 1cm slices
  • 8 Fresh Figs – quartered
  • 200g Feta
  • 1 bag Rocket
  • 1 Bag Baby Kale – or other sturdy salad leaf

Port and Lemon Dressing

  • 3 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 3 tbsp Port
  • 1 tsp Fennel Seeds – toasted
  • 4 tbsp Rapeseed or Olive Oil

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Warning: I am crap at making caramel – its gone wrong so many times in the past but the last few times I have done it right so here is the best way I’ve found to do it.

Using a (clean and very dry!) flat based frying pan pour the sugar in ad shake the pan to distribute evenly, put onto a medium heated hob. DO NOTHING, do not touch, do not shake, do not stir, just stand and hold your breath. The sugar should begin to melt and turn a lovely well caramel colour.

If not – if it clumps into a horrible mess unlike me don’t throw a paddy just add a cup of water to the pan and stir to the sugar all dissolves and makes the washing up a lot easier, clean and dry your pan and try again – hey at least sugar is pretty cheap.

Whilst your sugar is melting (or before if you are really anxious to watch it) spread your salad leaves over a serving platter, arrange half of the figs on top and crumble over half the feta.

Once you have your lovely golden caramel add half your orange slices whilst keeping on a medium heat, turn them over after about a minute, by which time they should have a lovely shiny caramel coating, allow another minute on the reverse side, set to one side then repeat with the rest of the oranges.

When all your oranges are caramelised remove the pan from the heat and add your dressing ingredients into the pan along with the caramel, give a quick stir to combine then pour into a jug.

Arrange your Caramelised Slices of orange over your salad platter, scatter your remaining figs and feta over the top.

Serve warm with the warm port and lemon dressing.

Note: If you would like to use this dressing on other things – which I highly recommend as it’s delicious then add a 1½ tbsp of honey to the above ingredients as you wont have the sugar from the caramel to balance!

I hope you have a wonderful new year and you achieve all those goals you set big or small.

Spinach

It feels like we have skipped autumn and jumped right into winter with all the storms we have been having, its not that its cold but it sure as heck is rainy. I love being back up North but I do miss those cold crisp winter days we used to get in London, Manchester is more mild and soggy, the leaves never quite dry up enough to crunch underfoot but its our city and I love it despite the rain.

We have a large Oak tree and a sycamore at the end of our garden which have been keeping us well stocked in soggy leaves so I have been making leafmold ready for the wonderful garden I will have built by this time next year when it is ready. By making leafmold, all I really mean is squashing up the leaves and packing them into black bin bags with a few air wholes in then piling them up at the bottom of the garden. Absolutely minimal effort for what Monty Don assures me will be the gardener’s equivalent of gold dust.

The wild weather does call for something soothing, warm and dare I say it healthy. So time for some green sludge soup. Spinach is a tricky one I add it to a lot of dishes but mainly ones where I can hide the cooked texture a bit, I love the flavour but I find the texture a little slimey so give me it pureed, give me it hidden into dishes or in a stew but never fried on the side – and only ever chopped up minutely in eggs. Soup therefore is the perfect vessel for this veg in my opinion.

Full of vitamins that boost energy levels it should give you a little boost in these rapidly shortening days.

Green Sludge Soup

  • 400g of Spinach
  • 2 Potatoes
  • 2 Shallots
  • 4 cloves of Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp of Vegetable Bouillon Powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper

To serve – and make more elegant, less sludgy

  • Crème Fresh
  • Poached Egg

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Chop the shallots finely and add to a large saucepan with a splash of olive oil, ry until the onions are soft then add the chopped garlic.

Peel and finely dice the two potatoes and add to the pan. Along with the bouillon powder and a litre of boiling water.

Simmer until the potato is cooked through – about 15 mins then add the spinach to the pan – half at a time, it will look like there is no way it is going to al fit in the pan, but trust me it will reduce to almost nothing in the steamy soup. Once all the spinach is added cook for a further 5 mins.

Take off the heat and using a stick blender blend until smooth. Grate in half and nut of nutmeg and a good pinch of salt and pepper, stirring to combine.

To serve mix crème fresh with equal parts of water in order to make a runny cream, drizzle into the bowls of soup, top with a poached egg and another grating of nutmeg and black pepper. Toasted and buttered soldiers are great with it too.

 

 

 

Chinese Cabbage

With everything going on at the moment I’m glad to say we have still had time to cook although we are relying on tried and trusted favourites rather than anything particularly creative but there is definitely something to be said for healthy meals you can shop for and cook when you are shattered, have lost your list and wouldn’t be able to remember which cookbook the recipe was from anyway.

When we came back to Manchester I re-signed up to our local veg box scheme that I used to get as a student which is great, every Tuesday evening we get a surprise mix of local and organic vegetables and I get very over excited like a weekly veg equivalent of Christmas morning. Currently we are getting a lot of brassicas – Broccoli, Romonesco, Sprouts and a new variety of cabbage every week – so we can at least feel like we are getting our greens. A couple of weeks ago we received a Chinese cabbage and I thought I’d try something different to my go to shred it and fry in in butter (don’t get me wrong that is still delicious!).

I thought given the name I may as well try an oriental themed dish – I cant promise this would be the most authentic of recipe but the flavours were great and it was surprisingly quick to cook . I’ve never really tried cooking with cabbage leaves as a wrapping and I was a little skeptical that they would hold together rather than collapsing into a pile of mush, but low and behold my off the cuff technique worked really well.

Cabbage Rolls

  • 1 Chinese cabbage
  • 400g pork mince
  • 4 spring onions – finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger
  • 3 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

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Add all the cabbage roll ingredients other than the cabbage to a bowl and combine to make a meatball like consistency.

Carefully separate the leaves of the cabbage and wipe each one clean. Layer the leaves up in a steaming pan and steam for 3 minutes until the leaves are soft but still maintain their structure.

To assemble to rolls take a cabbage leaf, add a rounded tablespoons worth of meatball mixture to the innermost side and roll up towards the green end carefully tucking the sides in so that the cabbage covers all of the meat mixture, repeat until you run out of cabbage leaves or meatball mixture.

Arrange the rolls in a steamer and steam over boiling water for 20 minutes.

Serve with noodles or a crunchy stir fry or both!

Chicken Soup

Busy job, house hunting and marriage preparations are apparently taking it out of me, my first week off from work and my body decides it has had enough and just needs a rest. Well that is how I’m interpreting me getting ill.

It turns out a day in bed watching Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries and a couple of big bowls of chicken soup were exactly what was required.

Now I know everyone will have a view of what the perfect “feel better” chicken soup will consist of, probably based on what they were given as a child – I like sweet corn in mine as it reminds me of my mums chicken pasta bake and I much prefer (on this one occasion) to have dumplings rather than noodles or rice to make it more filling. My brother on the other hand would always insist on chicken noodle cup a soup when ill rather than the real deal.

Stock is the basis to a good chicken soup and homemade really does make it better, whenever I roast a chicken I make sure I make and freeze a load of stock, however when you are feeling unwell you want your hit of soupy goodness as soon as possible and I do use a good quality bought stock if I’m out of homemade, as I was this week.

I use brown meat as I think it gives a much better flavour to the soup and a more interesting texture in this case I used thighs but a mixture of thighs and drumsticks would work just as well. If you do have some left over roast chicken just skip the first step and make sure you use whichever meat you have whether brown or white.

My soup does have some light spice in it – no where near enough to be spicy, just to add that touch of warmth that makes it feel so nourishing when your not feeling your best – it you were bunged up I would up the chilli and ginger a bit as I find the kick really helps.

Feel Better Chicken Soup

For the Soup

  • 400-500g of boneless free-range chicken thighs.
  • 1 tsp herbs de provence
  • 2 white onions
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 400ml of good quality chicken stock
  • ½ a red chili
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • Small bunch of thyme
  • Small bunch of basil (I used thai basil as I had it)
  • 200g fresh or frozen sweetcorn

For the Dumplings

  • 100g butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • ½ tsp of baking powder
  • ½ tsp of dried thyme

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First roast the chicken for 30 mins in a medium oven with a little olive or rapeseed oil drizzled over it and the herbs de provence.

Whilst the chicken is cooking dice the carrots, onions, garlic, chili and grate the ginger. Sauté all these in a casserole dish in a little olive or rapeseed oil with a pinch of salt and pepper for around 10 minutes; they should be becoming a little soft. Add the chopped herbs and bay leaves to the pan and sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock to the pan along with 200-400ml of water (enough to cover all the vegetables plus 2cm of liquid) allow to cook for a further 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the dumplings and shred the cooked chicken.

For the dumplings simply rub the butter into the flour and baking powder with a pinch of salt and pepper and the thyme until it forms a wet sand like consistency, add just enough water to form into a workable dough then roll into walnut sizes balls.

Add the cooked chicken and sweet corn to the pan and drop in the dumplings, cover the pan with the lid and continue cooking for a further 15 minutes by which time the dumplings will have floated to the top (meaning they are cooked) and the soup delicious.

If I fancy a little extra texture to the soup I put the whole casserole dish without lid under a hot grill for a few minutes just so the top of the dumplings crisp up.

 

The chicken soup and rest clearly did its job as I’m feeling much better and ready to tackle work again tomorrow.

 

 

 

Bilberry

A month ago Joel and I left London to start our next adventure back up north in Manchester, well Stalybridge to be more exact. We have moved into a nice little flat and have both started new jobs so things have been a little hectic to say the least. It is very exciting though, particularly the new roof terrace that I have already planted up with rosemary, Basil, 4 types of mint, salad leaves and some radishes – pretty much anything I could squeeze in before winter arrives.

I was lucky enough to arrange my new role so I had a couple of weeks off in between finishing my London job and starting my new one. I somehow also managed to land it so one of the weeks was glorious sunshine which gave me some time to explore the glorious countryside around where the now live.

One of the main factors for moving up here was that we would be able to spend more time outdoors, walking, climbing, breathing fresh air (we were severely lacking this in London). We timed moving here perfectly to see the moors when they are at their best, covered in a blanket of pink heather and with a clear view over the hills to the glistening reservoirs. In August and September the moors of the North West have another treat to offer, Bilberries by the tubful.

The Bilberry, also known as Winberry or Wortleberry is a cousin of the North American blueberry, but far superior in both taste and texture, although admittedly rather small in comparison. Unlike the blueberry the inside of the berry is dark purple and full of flavour and they hold up very well when cooked (unlike the horrible mush blueberries can make if your not careful).

I have to thank our friends Jenny and Peter and their excellent collection of books on wild food and foraging for sending me some recipe ideas for Bilberries because as excited as I was to find a huge haul of the berries other than making flavoured gin (which we also made) I was at a bit of a loss as to what to make with them. The below in an adaptation of a recipe they sent me from The Hedgerow Cookbook by Caro Wilson and Ginny Knox which I will defiantly be asking to borrow next time I see them.

Whilst Bilberries are small we found that after an hours good picking with 2 people we had enough for the below recipe plus 2 bottles of Bilberry Gin that will be ready for Christmas – not a bad afternoon.

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The lovely Beth busy picking in this beautiful scenery 

Bilberry and Lemon Tart

I used a 30cmx15cm rectangular baking pan for this as my tart cases are still in boxes!

For the Pastry;

  • 100 g of soft butter
  • 100 g sugar
  • 200 g plain wholemeal flour

For the filling;

  • 2 tbsp ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp plain wholemeal flour
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 350-400 g bilberries
  • 250 ml crème fraiche
  • 4 egg yolks
  • The zest of 2 lemons

To make the pastry beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy then rub in the flour until you have a wet sand like texture then add 1tbsp of water and combine, if more water is needed to form a roll able dough add 1 tsp at a time (I needed 2 tbsp of water). Roll into a ball and refrigerate for at least 30 mins. (You can always do this step the day before).

When you are ready to make your tart preheat the oven to 200C, roll out your pastry as thin as your can and then lay into your tart case, patching up the pastry where you need to – you want this pastry to be thin so it will be nice and crispy against the creaminess of the tart. Prick the pastry all over with a fork then back blind for 15 mins or until lightly golden. I didn’t bother with baking beans for this recipe. When you take out the pastry reduce the oven to 180 C.

Spread the bilberries over the tart and put back in the oven for 10 mins to allow the bilberries to soften.

Whilst the Bilberries are softening make your filling; mix together the almonds, flour, sugar, lemon zest crème fresh and egg yolks, once these are combined quickly whisk in the lemon juice.

Pour the filling over the bilberries at bake for 15-20 mins until the mixture has only the slightest of wobbles when you shake the tin.

Leave to cool then enjoy.

Looking forward to the Bilberry Gin in December!

 

Asparagus

That time when I came up with a cool recipe, cooked it, took photos and wrote a blog post but then our somewhat hectic lives got in the way and its been sat in the ether for about 8 weeks…. Asparagus season is now pretty much over but if you can get some of the last spears or save this recipe for next year, I swear its delicious.

A true sign that summer is on its way is when British Asparagus raises its spears out of the mounds of soil and into the shops of Britain in all its green and purple glory. My mum laughed at me when I called her a few weeks ago just before a visit home, when she asked me what I wanted to do for the weekend visit I had two requests – spend some in the garden in the sun and cook some Asparagus using her cask iron griddle pan. Both seem like perfectly reasonable requests to me for a girl trapped in a London flat with no garden and no space in her tiny kitchen for such specialist (not to mention heavy) equipment.

I love Jane Grigson, and I love her Fruit and Vegetable books – as you may have gathered but I have to say I do disagree with her on the best way to cook asparagus, she favours the boiling/steaming in an asparagus pan method. I could not disagree more, I feel like adding water to asparagus destroys all its delicate flavours – an exception could be made for the white thick spears that are preferred in most of Europe. I tend to fry my asparagus or even better if I have the equipment I cook it on a grille pan – all the flavour locked in with the delicious addition of charred lines along the outside.

Other than that I like to keep my asparagus simple, I do think it needs some fat with it to show it at its best – doused in herby butter, dipped in a soft boiled egg or maybe dressed with a nice vinaigrette as below.

You of course don’t need a griddle pan for the below recipe – it would work great on a bbq or if like me you are stuck in your flat a frying pan would work well too.

Asparagus with preserved lemon vinaigrette

  • A bunch of Asparagus
  • 1 small preserved lemon
  • 2 ½ tbsp. of rapeseed oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp. of white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp of suagr
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the griddle pan over a high heat until it’s smoking hot. Whilst the pan is heating up finely dice the preserved lemon, whisk into the oil, vinegar and sugar.

Use 1 tbsp of the oil to lightly coat the asparagus then lay them into the pan perpendicular to the griddles. After 3 mins turn over the spears, after another 3 mins the asparagus should be beautifully charred on each side and still with a little bite.

Take the spears straight out the pan and into a bowl with the vinaigrette so the warm asparagus really takes in the flavours.

Serve simply either on its own with some nice crusty bread or as a side so something that needs a little sharpness – perhaps some lamb.