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.

 

 

 

Runner Bean

So things have been very quiet on the blog for a few months, there has been a lot going on for me in the real world, Joel and I have bought and moved into our own house, we got married on a gorgeous sunny day surrounded by all our friends and family, Joel had a nasty bicycle vs car accident, which thankfully he has now recovered from.

We are spending time working on the house, making it ours and I have so many plans for the garden. Although with everything going on this summer the furthest I got with growing veggies was popping in the runner beans Joel’s parents gave us, and my usual salad leaves and herbs. Considering I literally stuck the small runner bean plants in the ground and stretched some string across the fence for support the runner bean plants did amazingly well, we have had a more beans than we could eat since the start of July. They are now coming to an end, the big chunky ones I have left on the plant till they dry out and I can harvest the beans to plant next year, the rest of them I have turned into chutney.

Our family friends Jenny and Peter make this chutney every year and it is always delicious – just the right balance of sweet and tangy so of course I had to get the recipe from them to make with my last batch of beans from the garden. The recipe came from the queen of reliable recipes – Delia, I should have known.

Spiced Pickled Runner Beans

Adapted from Delia’s recipe

  • 900g of Runner Beans – trimmed and sliced
  • 700g Onions – finely chopped
  • 850ml Malt Vinegar
  • 40g Cornflour
  • 1 tbsp Mustard Powder
  • 1 tbsp Turmeric
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 675g Demerara Sugar

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Add the chopped onions and 300mls of the vinegar to a large pan and simmer until softened – around 20 mins.

Boil the sliced beans in a separate pan – Delia suggests 5 mins but I cooked mine for 10 due to now being a little tough, drain and add to the onion and vinegar mixture.

Mix the spices and corn flour with a little of the remaining vinegar to make a paste then add to the onion mix along with the rest of the vinegar.

Simmer for 10 mins, then add the sugar and simmer for a further 15 mins.

Pot the pickle into warm sterilized jars and leave to mature for at least a month.

Also here is a few pictures of our adventures over the past few months I’ve been away from the blog.

 

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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!

Marmalade

I never saw the appeal of marmalade; I found it a bitter imitation of jam, however a few weeks ago I braved some a family friend had made on toast with a big mug of tea and found it irresistible, the balance of acidity, bitterness and sweetness is just perfect. I think the bitter flavours are something you develop into so I’m classing my graduation from jam to marmalade as a sign that I am a grown up and therefore should be getting married and buying a house.

The crucial ingredient in marmalade is the bitter Seville orange, which are only available for a short window from the end of December to the start of March, not exactly local for me (as the name may suggest) however the bright citrusy flavours on a cold Febuary day are hard to resist and the scent in my kitchen was amazing. I had a few Seville oranges left and I’m finding more uses for them – a squeeze of the juice into an Old fashioned gives it a lovely bitter orange edge (and is turned into a real treat when you use chocolate bitters – Chocolate orange in a glass). I am also enjoying having a slice in my morning hot water rather than lemon.

Like any convert I am getting a little evangelical in my new obsession. I’m hoping to go to The Dalemain marmalade awards, held in mid March in the Lake District to buy some excellent new jars and to get ideas for my next years production. Whilst waiting for the award winners I thought I would try a recipe from my favorite preserving book “Salt, Sugar, Smoke” by Diana Henry.

Diana’s recipe calls for blood oranges however as my greengrocer didn’t have any so I used another variety nicknamed “pink oranges” so the finished marmalade still has a pinkish hue rather than the deeper red of the true recipe. My greengrocer also suggested adding a bit of lime juice for a sharp edge – I can’t honestly say I can taste the lime but the marmalade is fab and maybe without it it would be missing something – we wont know until I make it again without.

Note – you need to start the recipe the day before in order to leave the skins to soak.

Breakfast Marmalade

  • 1 pink or red grapefruit
  • 4 pink oranges
  • 3 Seville oranges
  • 150 ml lemon juice
  • 1 lime Juice
  • 2 kg of granulated sugar

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Day 1

Wash all the fruit, peel the grapefruit and cut the skin into fine shreds. Juice all of the oranges (retaining the skins) Measure how much juice you have and top it up with water to 2.5 ltrs in a large mixing bowl.

Scoop the flesh out of the grapefruit and tie into a muslin bag, add to the bowl of juice. Shred the orange skins as finely as possible and add to the bowl.

Leave everything to soak overnight.

Day 2

Add all the contents of the bowl to a preserving pan (or large saucepan) and cook over a medium heat until the skin is completely soft it took mine about 1 hour 45 mins. Strain through a sieve, retaining the shreds but discarding the grapefruit muslin bag. Measure the liquid and top up with water or reduce to 1.5 ltrs, Return to the pan.

Add the lemon juice, lime juice and sugar to the pan ad gently heat to dissolve. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum. Add the shreds and return to the boil.

Continue to boil until it reaches the setting point, either on a sugar thermometer or use the wrinkle test (see below).

Skim off any scrum then allow to cool for 10 minutes before spooning into dry sterilized jars.

The Wrinkle Test

A sugar thermometer is great but if you don’t have one or like me its boxed up at your parents house with most of your other kitchen equipment whilst you wait to move house. When making preserves the wrinkle test is a great way of checking if your jam or marmalade will set without the need for a thermometer.

Before you start making your jam pop a couple of saucers or small plates in the freezer (I use one of my enamel ones as they cool quicker). When you think your preserve is almost set drop a teaspoon of the mixture onto the cold saucer and leave for 60 seconds, push your finger through the middle of the mixture. If the mixture wrinkles as you push through – great you have reached setting point, take it off the heat. If not then cook for another 5 minutes and then perform the test again.