Home Grown Exotica!

Despite the cold and frosts of winter, some of my favourite, most beautiful & versatile vegetables have survived in the garden… And have proudly grown to gigantic proportions.   Less tender than when young, but still packed with flavour and nutrients.  We wanted to find a recipe that would let us indulge and enjoy, while  waiting for this year’s newly planted seeds to spring into life.

I’ve just planted seeds out for this year’s batch of Rainbow Chard (we always grow a variety called ‘Bright Lights’ ).

Chard makes a striking, fun edging to flowerbed boarders if you haven’t got the space or inclination for a veg patch.

It can be eaten in a similar way to spinach, and has similar nutritional benefits – just more colourful, hence the name.

I found Ottolenghi’s Iranian Vegetable Stew with Lime to be the perfect recipe –

We adjusted the ingredients using fragrant, freshly picked leaves from our lime tree, lemon slices in place of the fresh limes and chard leaves from the garden in place of the spinach.

It has an exotic depth and complexity of flavours – a wonderful main course with rice or pitta, or as an exciting side dish; I promise it will hold its own & not be out-staged by the main act  🙂

Ottolenghi's Iranian Vegetable Stew with Lime. Can be made Vegetarian, Wheat / Dairy Free.

Ottolenghi’s Iranian Vegetable Stew with Lime. Can be made Vegetarian, Wheat / Dairy Free.

http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/recipes/cooked-vegetables/iranian-vegetable-stew-with-dried-lime-shop

'Bright Lights' - even in the winter; on a good day, anyway.

‘Bright Lights’ – even in the winter; on a good day, anyway.

What is your favourite recipe using home-grown produce?

 

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Experiments with Polenta –

Half term has just finished 😦

Making the most of ‘time’, I’ve been doing some seasonal Spring Cleaning… therapeutic.

Going through the cupboards, I found that we had rather a glut of polenta.

So to correct the balance of ‘store cupboard essentials’, we had a polenta evening, trying lots of different polenta dishes.  Here are the top two: Orange polenta cake steeped in fruit syrup, & Mushroom herb polenta – more tricky to make, but an education in polenta cooking if like us you’re not familiar with it.  I have to say, I  always just thought of polenta as something which lacked good looks and taste, even when served in the smartest restaurants, and never really ‘got‘ it..!

Mushroom, Herb & Polenta 'Pizza'.

Ottolenghi’s Mushroom, Herb & Polenta ‘Pizza’.

Orange Polenta Cake with orange syrup.

Orange Polenta Cake with orange syrup.

Mushroom Herb Polenta; like a homemade pizza.  Bubbling with mushroom juices, grilled cheese & fragrant herbs.  Orange Polenta cake; lovely for desert with a dollop of creme fraiche; equally good for tea the next day.

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Ottolenghi’s Mushroom & Herb Polenta.  Vegetarian.

We found it best to let the prepared polenta rest a little before use, allowing it to settle.

I’d love to hear what other people do with polenta – do let me know (I’ve still got quite a stash in the cupboard!)  We used thyme and sage in this recipe, as they both needed trimming ready for their spring growth!

http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/mushroom-and-herb-polenta-shop

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Orange Polenta cake with Orange Syrup.  Vegetarian.

Light, textured and aromatic – a grown up cake to serve with rich ice cream, creme fraiche and / or dark berry compote.  It’s plain, not a stunner – but simple is sometimes good…

250g softened butter

250g sugar (I used unbleached cane sugar)

4 large eggs

140g polenta

200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

Grated zest and juice of 2 large oranges.  Grate gently or the zest will be bitter.  Save 100ml juice for syrup.

Orange Syrup – 100ml orange juice and 100g sugar.

Line a round 23cm cake tin with baking paper.  I used a smaller tin with only 2/3 of the mixture and it was perfect, so adjust carefully to suit your needs.

Heat oven to 160 / 140 / gas 3.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Gradually add eggs, beating well.  Feel the burn in those arms!

Reserve 100ml juice for syrup in a small saucepan.  Add the rest, with zest and dry ingredients to the creamed butter & sugar, sifting in flour and polenta.

Gently plop into the tin and smooth the top.  Bake in the oven for around 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre.

Make the syrup by gently dissolving sugar in remaining orange juice over a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Once dissolved, bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes to reduce & thicken slightly.

Slowly pour the syrup over the cake, allowing it to seep in.  I did this before taking the cake out of the baking paper, to stop the syrup from running off.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy – some people won’t like the texture of the polenta, but I think it’s quite sophisticated… I’m going to try this again in late summer, with lavender flowers in the syrup to give it a more floral aroma.

Recipe from the fab BBC good food website.  What’s your favourite recipe website?

Kitchen cupboard - a bit more sorted, but will never be 'tidy'!

So for the moment, my kitchen cupboard is sorted, but it’ll never be ‘tidy‘!

Traffic Light Soups.

We have enjoyed a tasty exploration into the world of vegetables over winter, celebrating a wide array of flavours and combinations.

Home made soups can be so nutritious, packed with flavour, richly smooth or rustically chunky, and versatile.  Simply and quickly made.  Comforting and bursting with natural wonder.

All can be made vegan, wheat and dairy free.  The three shown here are amongst our top tastes for this season.   By varying the amount of stock used, or omitting it altogether, you can make them thicker to serve as a sauce to pep up plain vegetables, fish or poultry.

Tomato Soup, Sweet Potato and Butternut Soup, Pea Soup.

Tomato Soup, Sweet Potato and Butternut Soup, Pea Soup.

The smell of hot soup, cupped in a deep bowl as I sit in front of a dancing fire, is as much part of winter as dark walks to work and chilblains on my toes.  Ouch.

Last night, to start a special evening, we served three soups; chilled rather than hot, in tiny shot glasses as interesting, colourful appetizers.  I love tiny tastes – conversation pieces to break the ice; easy accompaniments to drinks before dinner.

The details below are not so much recipes as guidelines.

I like to make my soups very simply, adding just a few ingredients.  I vary according to the herbs etc that are around at the time so that they totally reflect the seasons… the combinations are as extensive as your own imagination.  But here are the basics; encouragement just to have a go. Cook your veg in good stock, having fried off onions / garlic / spices (bacon bits if you’d like…) then blitz with enough added liquid (more stock / cream…) until you have the consistency you need.  Serve steaming  hot or chilled; garnished or not.

You just need a powerful blender, a big lidded pan, and a wide imagination.

Tomato Soup.

Hot tomato soup.

Hot tomato soup.

This makes a store cupboard tomato soup – you’ll get a livelier flavour by using fresh, ripe, late summer tomatoes when in season.  Looking forward to that  🙂

Gently fry off 1 Onion & 1 plump clove of garlic in just enough olive or sunflower oil.  Sweat with the lid on the pan for a little while.

If you have, you can add: Stick of celery, peeled, chopped carrot, herbs that compliment tomato such as thyme, basil, marjoram, bay… If not vegetarian you may like to add a little bacon / chorizo…  put a lid on so they all gently steam until soft.

Add 2 tins of tomatoes – cook for a while with the lid off, to allow flavours to develop.

Add well-flavoured vegetable stock, depending on how thick you want the soup to be: blitz as you’re doing this so you can judge the finished consistency.  If you want tomato sauce to serve with beans, roasted vegetables, fish or poultry, blitz smooth or chunky and you may want to reduce down rather than adding  extra stock.  Add capers / chopped olives / gherkins / chopped soft herbs such as basil or chervil and seasoning to taste.

Optional: Splash of cream / sprinkle of paprika or black pepper / a drizzle of thick, sticky well matured balsamic vinegar / scoop of avocado sorbet to serve, depending on whether you’re having it hot or chilled.  No limit to the options, really…

Sweet Potato and Butternut Soup.

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I love this, particularly as a winter warmer – the golden colour and smooth texture are as comforting as this soup is healthy.  Sweet Potatoes are packed with Vitamins B6, C, D, Iron and Magnesium.  Great for skin, healthy bones, heart and energy; they’ve also been linked with cancer toxin reduction.  As a significant added bonus, they apparently promote healthy red and white cell production, which increases immunity to disease and stress.  Wow – who needs vitamin pills?!

Nigella Lawson’s recipe is a great starting point – vary as you like.

http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/butternut-and-sweet-potato-soup-66

Green Pea Soup.

Green Pea Soup.

Green Pea Soup.

Again, no rules here.  Fry off some onion in oil (or butter if not dairy free and like the taste).

Add around 200g frozen peas and 200 ml good vegetable stock.  Gently simmer, with herbs if desired, with the lid on for a few minutes.

Blitz in a food processor.  Adjust quantity of stock and seasoning until you have the consistency and taste that you like.

Serve hot or cold – with sour cream and snipped chives, mint (especially good added to chilled pea soup in the summer), or topped with ham lardons for non vegetarians.

Hot Tomato Soup.

I’ve just planted some beetroot seeds, so am looking forward to beautiful deep purple Borsch later in the summer.

Soup thricolour bright

Couldn’t be easier – What’s your favourite soup?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Whoever you are,

Whoever you are with, or without,

Make to most of this special day, in whatever way fits best for you.

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Here are my thoughts for sharing

with a few of the photos that I love, too…

Slightly off beat from the usual February 14th angle, perhaps,

but aren’t there many ways to look at it..?

My First Attempt at Growing Carrots!

My First Attempt at Growing Carrots!

***

“You don’t love someone because they’re perfect,

you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.”

Jodi PicoultMy Sister’s Keeper

***

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
William W. Purkey

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‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’

Oscar Wilde

***

“You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.”

Wayne Dyer

***

‘If you’re on your own this valentines day,

why not give yourself a budget – treat yourself, indulge, enjoy –

just because you’re worth it!’

Emma 🙂

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

Stephen ChboskyThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

***

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well)

***

‘If you have integrity, nothing else matters.

If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.’

Alan K Simpson.

Perfect Pair

Perfect Pair

***

‘In this life, we cannot do great things.

We can only do little things with great love.’

Mother Teresa

***

‘Love is a game that two can play and both win.’

Eva Gabor

***

“I would die for you. But I won’t live for you.”

Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

An even more perfect pair.

An even more perfect pair.

*** 

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”

Elbert Hubbard

***

“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.”

Bessie Anderson Stanley

***

Love is a just a word, but it comes in many different forms and means different things to different people.  I spent many years in a relationship with a wonderful man, who gradually, sadly, turned out to be an alcoholic.  A very different person from the man I married.  For years, I thought that the power of love could overcome the poison of the alcohol and it’s increasingly destructive effects.  But love isn’t that powerful.  To work, it needs to be nurtured with respect (for oneself as well as another, on both sides) and honesty (again, with oneself as well…on both sides).  Alcohol  is a strong and pervasive poison.  It twists minds over time, and irrevocably shapes the everyday and long-term lives of the alcoholic and of each person living with them.   Like a weed that’s out of control, gradually suffocating a beautiful garden.  Turning away from the man I loved was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  The circumstances of that time, and picking up the pieces for our family single-handed nearly destroyed me.  Sheltered by the ‘love’ of his family, trying to do the right thing, but not prepared to admit that he was an alcoholic until very recently (years later), has nearly destroyed him.  Literally.  ‘Love’ does mean different things to different people.

Hence the focus on integrity, truth, and respect in my list of quotes.

Love, it seems to me, is not enough if it doesn’t encompass those attributes too.

And my song for today speaks to me about love – honest love, which knows and accepts the real person, understanding that if that is not going to come from / be received by  another, it must come from within

‘I can’t get used to living without you by my side… I don’t want to live alone.  But God knows, I’ve got to make it on my own.

No bitterness, just sadness about what could have been.  Alongside Positivity (most days!), and strength about the future.

Here’s my song for today – what’s yours?

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“In the end, only 3 things matter –

How much you loved, how gracefully you lived, and how gently you let go of things not meant for you.”

Buddha.

***

Spread a smile,

and enjoy this Valentine’s Day…

What’s not to love?!

Good Friends appreciate / love their differences, and stick together!

Good Friends appreciate their differences, and stick together!

Chicken with Dates, Olives and Capers.

I’ve just stumbled across Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful recipe for chicken, dates, olives and capers.  Comforting, exciting, fresh and zesty: what more could a girl ask for at the end of a long day..?

ottolenghi's chicken with dates, olives and capers 1:2

Perfect for family suppers, easy entertaining, or prepare ahead & freeze suppers for one.

Treacly, dark sugar mingles unexpectedly but perfectly with sharp capers, green olives, white wine and vinegar.  Preparing ahead and allowing to marinade for a day or two tenderises the chicken, and adds to the all-round chilled out personality of the dish. Serve with your favourite green salad and crispy herb coated potatoes, basmati rice, or a hunk of fresh bread to mop up the juices.

A warming blend of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, this is an inspiring, easy dish to prepare for long, cold winter’s evenings, adding a spark at the end of the day when the dark has drawn in.  Having said that, I know I’ll be enjoying it outside, on balmy summer evenings too.

Roast Chicken with Dates, Olives and Capers.   

Serves 4 (ish).

8 chicken legs, drumstick and thigh attached, skin on (2kg )
5 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
15g fresh oregano, torn, plus extra for garnish (be flexible  – I use basil, marjoram or similar)
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
3 Tbs olive oil
100g pitted green olives ( I use pitted olives stuffed with pimento, as I like the flash of red)
60g capers, plus 2 tbsp of their juices
70g , pitted and quartered lengthways Medjoul dates (or the best dates you can afford)
2 bay leaves
120ml dry white wine
1 tbsp date syrup or treacle
Salt and black pepper

Skin the chicken or not as you wish – I always do half and half, as some do and some don’t like to eat the skin.  I’m definitely in the latter camp.

Place the chicken in a large bowl and add all of the ingredients, apart from the wine and date molasses, along with ¾ teaspoon of salt and a good a few turns of black pepper. Gently combine, cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to marinate for 1 to 2 days, stirring the ingredients a few times during the process.

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Spread out the chicken legs on a large roasting tray, with all the marinade ingredients poured over. Whisk together the wine and molasses and pour over the meat. Cook in the preheated oven for 50 minutes, basting 2 or 3 times, until the meat is golden brown on top and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and transfer onto a preheated large platter.  Sprinkle your herbs over to garnish and add to the melange of flavours… yum 🙂

This recipe is from Yotam Ottolenghi’s website – well worth a visit if you haven’t found it yet: http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/roasted-chicken-legs-with-dates-olives-and-capers-shop

Local Jewels on a Winter’s Day: Herne Hill Farmer’s Market.

P1000271Last Sunday was warm(ish) and sunny (for February!)

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Boz and I took the opportunity to walk down to the Herne Hill Farmer’s Market.

It’s a half hour walk each way, if walking at approaching  jogging pace, which we love to do.

Everyone seemed to be out, enjoying the gift of such a beautiful sunny Sunday in February.

The vast green expanse of Brockwell park was filled with different people doing their thing – joggers looking red, hot and worried (why did they all look so worried?  Those watches they glance at with a rhymetic regularity that matches their pace, seem to contribute to the stress…)  Children with brightly coloured wellies and scooters (but no sense of direction), parents pushing swaddled babies in pushchairs, couples perfecting the ability to walk in unison, arms tightly entwined around each other.  A great view of London basking in Spring rays from the top of the hill.

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Herne Hill Market was its usual frenzy of excitement and eccentrics, enthusiastically engaging their urban admirers about the origins and authenticity of their products as they so reliably do.

The apples and pears are always worth the walk in themselves – a burst of flavour and texture that is way beyond anything that the ‘super’markets can offer… Worth paying more than you could get away with, for a bag of non picture-perfect fruits – duller, rougher skinned and less uniformly shaped than usual.  But for all of that, far more perfect.  Crisp, juicy, ripe and so full of flavour that you can almost totally taste the goodness, the lack of air miles, refrigeration and  polish.

The last picture had to be sprouts – my fav!

Note the 6-Nations cup cakes too – these enterprising entrepreneurs don’t want to miss a trick (!)

And here’s the magician / comedian / musician giving a free performance on the ‘street piano’,  a very welcome growing trend in London –

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What better way to combine the green ethics of ‘upcycling’ with an increasing awareness in the importance of celebrating social spaces and local communities than by individuals donating their unwanted pianos to their community.  (The bucket was a ‘drum’ that he was encouraging a spectator to use to add to the musical splendour – not for collecting coins, and the piano, as the photo shows, was well covered in art…)

Finally, to make the absolute most of the welcome rays on that first weekend of February,                       someone had laid out deck chairs and fake grass, to create a ‘beach’.

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If nothing else, it proves what a great imagination we Londoner’s have 🙂

New feathers, New thoughts…

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Ava, one of our lovely girls, had an out of season full moult mid January.

The sight of her, wandering sadly around in the cold biting winds, with no down or feathers to keep her warm, was awful.

She was much quieter than usual, and slow to come out of her house in the morning.

So it’s wonderful that she’s now a busy, happy hen again – with a fluffy new white coat… Here she is, in all her newly feathered glory – about to dig a deep nest, as she so loves to do, which she and Clemmy spent most of Saturday sitting in, giving the occasional contented cluck…  Those feathers won’t stay white for long, but it’s so lovely to see her tossing the bark chippings around again, like a pre-occupied old lady on a mission!

I haven’t posted for just over 6 months –

Somewhat struck, all that time ago, when a someone I look upon as a good friend said that although we hadn’t been in touch for a while, it was ok – he knew how I was by reading my blog… I was put off blogging for a while… Work then got very busy, time went by, I turned around twice, and here we are… February 2014!

The blogs I enjoy are those that are written straight from the heart – as though the author was having a 1:1 conversation with me – a glimpse into their personal thoughts on a particular topic, whatever it may be, and into the range of topics that matter to them personally…  But reading someone’s blog is, of course, a very narrow vista into their life – an interesting peep into a file, but without knowing what else the file contains, or the complexity (or otherwise!) of circumstances for the author at the time of writing… Without knowing how big the filing cabinet is and what the titles – or content – of the other files may be…

I’ve missed making that quiet time, once in a while, to read blogs that I enjoy, discover new ones, learn, ponder different perspectives – share thoughts with people, wherever they may be in the world.

In reading their blogs, even those that I ‘follow’, I realise that I don’t know that person – a point that was clearly proved when, last month, I met someone whose blog I have been following – their blog is a glimpse through tinted spectacles, a crack in the wall that surrounds the writer, keeping all but their most intimate friends from knowing the true person.

So, having learnt a little more about a good friend and different views on what constitutes keeping in touch(!), I’m looking forward to sharing more thoughts in 2014, and hope that you’ll share yours in response, as you have done in the past – either through private message, or leaving a note on the blog… 🙂