Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Drink your garden

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Apparently more Brits watch gardening programmes than tuned in for Game of Thrones. I can see why – in the penultimate season of GoT the action was so slow that it would have been more interesting to go outside and watch the plants grow. I didn’t bother watching the latest season (but yes, I know who died, thanks).

The gin gurus from Portobello Road Gin reckon that half of consumers aged 24-44 grow plants in their garden, and so they’re encouraging us to use our garden like a fridge.

True, it can’t keep your drinks cold, but it can provide some tasty treats from which we can rustle up some cocktails for a summer evening.

“The adventurous home bartender can grab a large red wine glass, plenty of ice, a generous measure of Portobello Road Gin, a decent tonic and head to the vegetable patch for ingredients and garnishes that you normally might not consider. We chose ingredients that compliment but don’t overwhelm the flavours of the gin or the tonic. These might not be the first flavours you’d think to use but we think they work really well.”

So, once you’ve got your hands on a large glass and plenty of ice, head out into the garden to put the finishing touches to your drink!

Vegetable Patch Copa
Looks like that bunny’s got his eye on your drink!

The Vegetable Patch Copa
50ml Portobello Road Gin
200ml Tonic water
25ml carrot juice made from around 8 baby carrots
A sprig of basil
Juniper berries for garnishing

Pour the carrot juice over the ice, then slowly add the gin and the tonic, give it a gentle stir and garnish with a basil sprig and a sprinkle of juniper berries.

garden cocktail collection
Head Gardener’s perks

This next one will require a little bit of preparatory shopping and a trip to the allotment…

The Good Life Copa
50ml Portobello Road Gin
200ml sparkling water
Pinch grape seed extract (apparently a great source of antioxidants)
1 tsp powdered dextrose
Frozen gooseberries
Pomegranate pieces
A large twist of your favourite citrus
Rose petals

Stir the dextrose, the grape seed extract and the gin to create a smooth paste.
Add the ice, pomegranate and the frozen gooseberries and top with sparkling mineral water, then finally drop in a few rose petals.

What do you think? Do you see your garden as a ‘fridge’ from which to forage ingredients for your G&T – or just the ideal place to enjoy one?

Posted in Blog on Jul 22, 2015 ·

Last modified on Jul 22, 2015

Tag: food

Time for a tea break

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A study of 2,000 British workers, commissioned by Tetley, has discovered that 44% are ‘too busy’ to stop for a tea break at work. A British institution is at risk! (And so is our health.)

They’d like to encourage us all to take the time to make a brew at least once a day. Of course, they do have a vested interest in the topic – 36 million cups of Tetley are drunk each day. Just, clearly, not in the office. Working in partnership with Lee Maycock, Vice President of the Craft Guild of Chefs, they have devised a series of dishes “that perfectly complement our diverse range of tea solutions” (I think they mean flavours, or possibly infusions ;).

I thought I’d share a couple of their recipes with you. Not only do they look tasty, and take us into the evolving world of tea and food pairings, but they involve some very interesting plants!

Teff porridge

teff porridge

A different way to start the day, Teff (Eragrostis tef) is an Ethiopian grain packed full of calcium, iron, protein, and amino acids, and is gluten free.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

120g jumbo porridge oats

40g teff grains

1.2 litres skimmed milk

40g dried fruits

40g fresh blueberries

20g pumpkin seeds

0.5 tsp cinnamon


Their instructions are a bit on thin side, saying only “Make the porridge in a thick bottom pan with the oats, teff, cinnamon and milk. Place into four bowls and top with the dried fruit, seeds and blueberries”.

I make my porridge in the microwave, so some experimentation may be in order. First to source some teff….

Teff porridge apparently pairs well with Tetley Original (I have my morning porridge with builders’ tea, too).

Pairing your office lunch with the perfect tea might be a step that very few of us have time for, so let’s skip that and head straight to the heavenly dessert that’s waiting for us when we get home… (I wish!).

Chocolate Quinoa Pot

chocolate quinoa pot

Heading over to the other side of the world, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is an Andean pseudocereal (which means that it looks like a grain, and is used like a grain, but doesn’t come from a grass species).

Ingredients (Serves 4)

300g dark chocolate

300g double cream

300g vanilla custard

200g quinoa

200g raspberries

Honey cress* or mint


Cook the quinoa until soft and drain well, then gently fry it until crunchy.

Heat the cream slowly and add the chocolate and the vanilla custard, then warm though until melted and mix together.

Place the raspberries in four glasses and pour over the chocolate mix.

Refrigerate until set, and serve sprinkled with a little toasted quinoa.

The ideal pairing for this one is apparently a nice cup of chamomile tea.

*It seems Honey cress is the brand name for a particular variety of microherb used by the catering industry. I have no idea whether it’s available directly to consumers, but I’ll let you into a little secret – it’s Stevia (Stevia rebaundiana) sprouts, so you could try and grow your own! (Suttons is one company that sells Stevia seeds.)

Are you a Are you a #TeaTaker or #TeaMaker? What would entice you to stop for a tea break? Join the conversation @tetley_teafolk.

(Images courtesy of Tetley.)

Posted in Blog on Jun 29, 2015 ·

Tags: tea & food.

Outdoor cooking, indoor side dishes

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BBQ :)
Not quite a fire pit – our BBQ bucket

One of the things I’d like to do when the garden is finished (or, you know, as finished as it gets) is more outdoor cooking. Ryan likes barbecues; I fancy getting into more elaborate things such as outdoor soups and stews. I saw a ‘BBQ wok’ the other day, which looks very much like a colander, and that’s intriguing. We’re aiming for a nice fire pit; at the moment we have a cheap BBQ bucket :)

We fire up the bbq every time the sun comes out. So far, Ryan has done most of the work on starting the fire and cooking the food. I have been in the kitchen, doing the side dishes (it’s still cold outside!). The recipe links below will take you to our new website, The Outdoor Kitchen, which is charting our journey into this fiery, unknown territory.

The first one was a simple potato salad, which goes very nicely with flame-grilled meat (or anything else, if you’re veggie :). Ryan keeps wanting to have it again, but we can’t because it used up all the mayo until we go shopping.

Leftovers will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, if you can stop people from eating them!

For our second barbecue we’d had a veg box delivery – fresh supplies of potatoes. But no mayo. Potato salad was out, so I made potato wedges instead. The result is lovely, tasty wedges that are less of a guilty pleasure than chips :)

The veg box also contained courgettes, so I thought I would try barbecuing one. I went with simplicity, bbq naked courgettes. I loved the result, with the flame-grilled skin and tender insides. I ate the whole thing – because Ryan really didn’t like it. He’s not a fan of courgettes, and there was nothing there but the courgette.

Next time I might try a marinade, or perhaps a dressing to pour over them after they’re cooked. I might even go crazy and try grilling a big mushroom (Ryan doesn’t like them either).

Freshly-made charcoal
Freshly-made charcoal, from Harcour Arboretum

So we’re off to a flying start with the outdoor cooking (especially as we made our own charcoal last year, at Harcout Arboretum) and keen to continue experiments.

Are you a fan? Do you have a favourite recipe to share?

Posted in Blog on May 9, 2015 ·

Tag: food

Review: Urban Orchard cider

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Urban Orchard cider
Urban Orchard cider, made with apples from urban fruit trees

On Friday evening we nipped out to buy some paint for the garden. When we got home we found we had no water – a burst water main in the village was the source of the problem. Fortunately I’d planned a meal that involved very little water, and we settled down to a chicken curry with onion flatbreads. It seemed like the perfect moment to open the two bottles of cider I’d been sent to review!

Food waste is high profile at the moment, and there’s nothing worse than watching heavy crops of fruit from urban trees go to waste – but for their owners the glut can be more of a problem than an opportunity. London-based drinks maker Hawkes has developed an innovative solution to the issue; Urban Orchard is a craft cider made from a mixture of culinary apples and apples sourced from urban orchards and apple donors, and champagne yeast.

The end result is a “beautiful medium dry cider, smooth and harmonious in body, complex and rich in texture with a crisp wine-like finish”. Each batch will be unique, depending on the source of its urban apples. The apple varieties they’re currently using are Bramley, Braeburn, Cox, Jonagold, Ida Red, Gala, Golden Delicious and those ‘various unknown varieties’, and Hawkes are hoping to increase the percentage of urban apples in the mix, year on year.

Apple donors get a personalised bottle; community groups can receive apple trees to plant, in exchange for their crop. Hawkes also aim to donate 10% of their profits to community groups and projects. The company is rooted in the Victorian London tradition of ‘costermongers’, or greengrocers, who hawked their wares from carts around the city. The word comes from ‘costard’, which is a now-extinct Medieval variety of large, ribbed (!) apple, and ‘monger’, or seller. This is their first cider; they already sell an alcoholic ginger beer.

I found Urban Orchard to be a nice, smooth and highly drinkable cider. My first thought was that it’s similar to Aspalls. It doesn’t have even the slightest hint of the ‘smokey’ flavour that I know some cider aficionados love (but I really don’t like). I’ll be keeping an eye out for it when its distribution widens later in the year – at the moment it’s only available from independent pubs and bars in London.

With an RRP of £4.50 for a 330 ml bottle, Urban Orchard weighs in at 4.5% per volume, and is suitable for vegans and coeliacs. You can find out more (and sign up to be an apple donor) via the Hawkes website. They’re also on Twitter as @wearehawkes, and are using the hashtag #urbanorchardcider to talk about their brew.

Posted in Blog on Mar 10, 2015 ·

Last modified on Mar 9, 2015

Tags: reviews & food.

Review: Graze (with discount code!)

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Gone Graze
This one was too tasty to photograph uneaten ;)

Whilst I was at university doing my Masters degree, my food options were a bit limited. The shared kitchen was quite often monopolized by two of my flatmates – two Chinese guys who loved to cook, and fill the kitchen with their friends, for hours. If you were very lucky, they also filled the kitchen with chilli fumes, an experience which I think must equate to being tear-gassed. They also monopolized the shared freezers with an amazing array of ingredients, some of which I even recognised! My slow cooker was well-used, as I set it up whilst the kitchen was quiet and came home to something I could just quickly scoop into a bowl. But with a limited budget, and any decent food shops a bus ride away, my diet was reduced to a handful of dishes, and I rapidly lost weight.

To relieve the monotony and give myself an affordable treat, I signed up for a weekly Graze box. Their tagline is ‘healthy snacks by post’, and I thought they might make a nice change from my daily packet of crisps and a Twix finger (and yes, I was still losing weight!). They have a large (and expanding) range of options, of which four are packed into each box they mail out. You build up a set of personal preferences by rating each snack – ‘bin’, ‘like’ or ‘love’. They’re all listed on the website with their ingredients, so if you have special dietary requirements you can eliminate any that contain things you can’t eat when you start.

Part of the draw was that their selection contains a lot of things I wouldn’t normally choose for myself. I don’t spend a lot of time in the snack aisle of the supermarket, and I don’t tend to like dried fruit, or nuts. I thought by trying some more exciting things I could expand my foodie repertoire.

And it worked, really well. It was lovely getting a little ‘gift’ each week, even if I was paying for it myself. The little snacks are eminently portable, and I could take them with me onto campus. I arranged them on my desk in order of ‘eat by’ date, and worked my way through them. And some of the things I liked/ loved surprised me, although there were some I couldn’t stand. They generally send a mix of sweet and savoury snacks, so you can choose something that suits your mood.

Graze box
One of my early Graze boxes, mostly intact

But then my Graze boxes started disappearing from the communal post area. It’s obvious what they are, they have very distinctive packaging. And apparently one or more of my fellow students thought that stealing a Graze box was an acceptable way to get ‘free food’. With no other options, I cancelled my order rather than pay for someone else’s snacks.

When I started work last year, I considered restarting it – but I was living in a flat with a tiny post box, and it didn’t seem right to have them delivered to work, where the post room people do a sterling job of delivering the mail but shouldn’t be overburdened with personal stuff. But now that I live in a proper house with a proper post box, I have restarted my Graze deliveries, and am thrilled by the service once again (as is Ryan, as I’m nice and I share!).

My first box contained lemon curd flapjacks, which Ryan put on his ‘love’ list for the future, Thai crackers with sweet chilli sauce (a favourite from before), a mixture of chocolate buttons with brazil nuts (which is yummy, although not one I would have selected for myself) and a ‘herby bread basket’ selection of tasty little crackers.

The second had honeycomb flapjack, which is divine. I have yet to eat the ‘mango chutney with black pepper dippers’ and the ‘natural vanilla seeds’, but they’re old friends and I know they’re good. As you can see, I’ve just eaten the ‘olive and rosemary bruschetta’, and that has been given a ‘like’ as well.

Waiting for us when we get home is one with toffee apples (love!), apple and cinnamon flapjack (love! They’ve got me sussed…) and two new ones. I’m not convinced I’ll like the ‘super kale and edamame’, but the ethnobotanist in my will give it a go. ‘Pomodoro rustichella’ is earmarked for Ryan, as it contains cheese croutons I shouldn’t eat; if he likes it then it can stay on the menu. Ryan said to me yesterday that he’d never before seen a Graze box in which there wasn’t a single snack he didn’t think he’d like – but that’s the beauty of the ‘rate or slate’ system, you can tailor your subscription to your taste.

This isn’t a glorified advertorial for Graze, I genuinely do think this is a wonderful service, and it’s really brightening my afternoons to see what I’ve got to nibble on with my cup of tea. I would class it as an affordable treat – the current price is £3.99 for a box with four different snacks, including delivery. They send you a little leaflet with the ingredients and the use-by date for each snack, and they have little symbols that show you which ones count as a vegetable portion, are ‘lite’ bites or sources of protein, etc. If my review has inspired you to try your own Graze subscription then you can get your first, fifth and tenth boxes free if you sign up using my reward code (EMMAC663U). They’ll also give me a £1 off my next box, so it’s a win-win situation.

Once you’ve set up your account you can order a regular box, or one-offs (you can even send them as gifts, I sent Ryan a special Valentine one last year!).

Mmmm… snacks :)

Posted in Blog on Nov 23, 2014 ·

Tags: reviews & food.

Book Review: Qaqamiigux

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Shortly before I moved, I came across references to a new book with an unpronounceable title – Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. I was intrigued, especially since I had to look up where the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are. It turns out that they’re off the south western coast of Alaska, with a cool, wet and stormy climate. The region is volcanically active.

Qaqamiigux (if you’ll forgive the ongoing lack of accents, I can’t quite get them to display correctly in HTML!) is the word for subsistence in the local language – hunting and gathering. The book arose out of anthropological work in the region, and aims at improving the diet of local people by ensuring that they still have the knowledge and expertise needed to harvest and process local foods. A lot of the information included was gathered through interviews with elders; some of whom have since died.

The diet in the islands has changed considerably in the last few centuries. The population was once entirely dependent on the local environment for sustenance, but new foods were introduced by the Russians when they arrived in the islands in the 1700s. From an anthropological perspective, it’s interesting to note how they were not immediately accepted by the locals – for one thing, they were too expensive. But the Russians did successfully introduce vegetable gardening.

The Americans brought more new foods, and livestock, when they bought Alaska – but again, they were not initially accepted by the local population. Even in times of hardship (and famine seasons are a feature of the environment), the islanders clung to their traditional fare. Only social changes, and being made to feel that their traditional foods were ‘inferior’, led to their wider adoption. [It’s interesting to juxtapose this BBC article on which meats are considered ‘normal’ and why – which looks at this scenario from the opposite direction.]

The Russians brought food such as flour, sugar, tea and salt. Whilst they were useful additions to the diet, and allowed new methods of food preservation that are still in use today, you can see that they may also have been the start of a problem. When the Americans brought their packaged and processed foods, which are widely available today, the islanders began to adopt the Western diet that is making so many of us overweight and leading to chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Qaqamiigux is an attempt to reverse that trend, by bringing the younger islanders back in touch with their local foods and a healthier diet. It is a mixture of traditional stories and wisdom, practical knowledge on harvesting and processing local foods, and recipes to add them into a modern diet. There’s information on safe canning, nutritional information for all of the ingredients covered, a pronunciation guide and a full set of references in the back of the book.

I feel I have to offer a warning at this point – do not buy this book if you are vegetarian, and are offended by images of dead animals. They abound in the book, and the animals featured are ones that we would not normally see on the dinner table. Marine mammals loom large, with the traditional diet including seals and sealions. Whales and sea otters were once (but are no longer) on the menu.

Fish and bird eggs are included, as are reindeer and caribou (although these were introduced into the islands). For each species there is hunting/harvesting information, details of butchery and preservation, recipes and traditional stories and the values they encompass. Coming from a culture that wouldn’t dream of catching and eating animals like seals, it makes for fascinating reading.

There’s also a section on edible plants, some of which sound very interesting. The Chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) is also known as wild rice, as its bulbs look like tightly-packed rice grains when they are harvested in summer and early autumn. They’re a starchy staple, as are the bulbs of the bog orchids (Platanthera convallariaefolia and Platanthera dilatata). The roots of the blue lupine (Lupinus noot-katensis) are mentioned as ‘Aleut potatoes’, which I found interesting as unusual edibles have been marketed to the UK population as ‘like potatoes’ ;)

The local berries we would now doubt find familiar (if not immediately palatable), but you would have a harder time convincing people from outside the region to eat Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum), which is called Putchki. Toxic chemicals in the ‘skin’ of the plant can cause burns on human skin in conjunction with sunlight (parnsips can do the same, for reference – same plant family). The book notes that harvesting on a cloudy day is preferable, and that the plant has to be peeled before being eaten, but is used much like celery.

There are sections on tidal foods harvested from the beaches, and seaweeds, and one on ‘other foods’ – the ones that were introduced by the Russians, and are part of the culture now.

So… Qaqamiigux offers an interesting insight into the food culture of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands for those of us who live elsewhere. However, it is important to bear in mind that this is a cookbook aimed at the modern inhabitants of the region. Its recipes are not entirely traditional; many of them call for packaged ingredients, or canned soup – like most American recipes. If you buy this book wanting to recreate ‘authentic’ recipes in your home kitchen then you may well feel disappointed (although most people would struggle to get hold of sealion intestines anyway).

If you live in the US, you can buy a hardcover copy of the book direct from the publisher, or via Amazon. The RRP is $55.

To avoid a wait, and overseas shipping, I bought the Kindle version instead, which is £6.33 or $10.19. Remember that you can get a free Kindle app for most devices now, you don’t have to own a Kindle to read the books.

Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands
by Suanne Unger

Kindle edition, £6.33
Hardback, 381 pages, $55, published 15 November 2014
ISBN 9780991459100
Publisher: Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association,Inc

Posted in Blog on Oct 26, 2014 ·

Tags: books & food.


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Ethiopia is in the news today, remembering the famine of 30 years ago. Rather than dwell on the past, I thought I would share this upbeat video from Perennial Plate – celebrating Ethiopia’s food culture:

Ethiopia! from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

The description of the video on Vimeo says “We travelled to Ethiopia for two weeks and filmed the making of injera, false banana and coffee as well as everything else we saw. Please watch, enjoy and visit this amazing country!”

For those of you who are intrigued by the ‘false banana’, it’s Ensete ventricosum, also known as the Ethiopian banana, Abyssinian banana, or simply ensete. I found a nice article that explains how this multipurpose plant is turned into different foods – ensete doesn’t produce fruit, but has edible pseudostems (the ‘trunk’ is formed from tightly-packed, overlapping leaf sheaths).

Posted in Blog on Oct 23, 2014 ·

Tags: food & ethnobotany.

Simple Suppers: Dairy-free creamy pasta

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I don’t have photos of these recipes because… well, they were tasty and we ate them. So feast your eyes on my new route to work instead :)

One of the great challenges, during our summer of waiting to move, has been feeding ourselves. We packed away a lot of the ‘unnecessary’ cooking equipment for a few weeks, only to find it was out of action for a few months. With numerous false starts, I kept running down the cupboards and the freezer, in anticipation of a move date that never came. Stress levels rose, cooking mojo vanished and we ate far more oven chips than you can imagine.

So I am looking forward to settling in to my new kitchen, having everything to hand, and beginning my culinary explorations once more.

One of the things that I struggle with is Italian food, due to its fondness for dairy products, and the fact that I don’t love tomato-based sauces. But I had half a carton of Oatly oat cream to use up, so last week I invented a dairy-free spaghetti recipe that turned out nicely – it’s a good, quick, store cupboard meal:

Ingredients (to serve 2)
1 onion, chopped (roughly or finely, it’s your choice!)
2 large cloves of onion garlic, crushed and sliced
1 packet (about 2 handfuls) of chopped, smoked cooking bacon
1/2 carton Oatly* oat cream
2 servings of pasta (we only had spaghetti….)
1 large sweet pepper, or a handful of smaller peppers, chopped
A little oil for frying


  1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

  2. Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic together over a low heat, until they start to turn translucent. (I like my onions soft, not crunchy.)

  3. Turn up to a medium heat and add the peppers and cook for a couple of minutes.

  4. Add the chopped bacon, and stir for a couple of minutes, until the bacon is cooked through.

  5. Drain the cooked pasta, combine with the bacon and onion mixture and stir in the Oatly cream. Gently heat through; your supper is ready to serve when it’s hot enough for your tastes! There’s no need for the sauce to boil….

*You could use soy cream if you like it (I think it tastes like cardboard), or regular cream if you don’t have issues with dairy.

Yesterday was a cold day in the office, and when I got home I had a hankering for something involving hot, bubbling cheese. And so the final carton of Oatly cream in the cupboard came out for another pasta extravaganza – this time a pasta bake.

Pasta bake is an awesome way of turning leftover pasta into a new meal – simply pop it into a suitably-sized casserole dish, sprinkle with grated cheese and pop into a medium oven for about half an hour, until the cheese is golden and starting to bubble. The trick is not to overdo the cheese – it seems like more would be better, but when you cross the line you get a gooey, greasy mess…. A generous sprinkling, but not a complete layer, is what you’re aiming for. This one isn’t dairy-free, unless you forgo the cheese :(

Anyway, digging through the last remnants in the freezer, it was the chicken breast’s turn to take a bow. With its more subtle flavour, it was going to need a bit more attention to seasoning….

Ingredients (to serve 2)
1 onion, chopped (roughly or finely, it’s your choice!)
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed and sliced
1-2 chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
1 carton Oatly oat cream
2 carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 handfuls of sweetcorn kernels
2 servings of pasta
Small chunk of hard cheese, grated (mine was goat)
A little oil for frying
Teaspoon of dried mixed herbs


  1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, and preheat the oven on a medium setting.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic together over a low heat, with a sprinkling of mixed herbs, until they start to turn translucent.

  3. Turn up to a medium heat and add the carrot chunks and the chicken, frying for several minutes until it is browned on all sides and well on the way to being cooked.

  4. Chuck the sweetcorn in with the pasta for a couple of minutes to defrost (if frozen) or cook a little bit (if fresh), and then drain when the pasta is cooked.

  5. Combine the pasta with the chicken mixture, add the carton of Oatly and mix well. Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle with the grated cheese.

  6. Bake in the middle of a medium oven for about half an hour, until everything is hot and bubbling and the cheese is melted to your liking.

The dried mixed herbs added a lovely note of sage to the proceedings, so you could use fresh sage leaves instead if you have some handy.

You’ll notice that in neither recipe have I mentioned seasoning – in the first the smoked bacon took care of any salt requirements, and I didn’t feel pepper would add anything. In the second recipe I mostly forgot, but in actual fact it didn’t taste as though anything was missing – the cheese adds a salty note. You should, of course, feel free to season to taste :)

So… not gourmet standard, perhaps, but tasty and filling and a nice change from heating up some form of convenience food, and created from what we had on hand.

How do you like to dress up your pasta?

Posted in Blog on Oct 7, 2014 ·

Last modified on Oct 8, 2014

Tag: food

Write Club: Lavender and Oregano Salt: A recipe (of sorts)

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Today’s Write Club 2014 entry is a recipe from Beth Tilston of the seed blog. You can also find her on Twitter.

You can vote for this post by using the social media buttons in the sidebar to like it, and by leaving a comment.

The other day I noticed that the pots of herbs which sit outside our back door were giving me clear signs that they were about to give up the ghost for the year – and the lavender, which a month ago was humming with bees, was now beeless and gone to seed. Time for the final, and biggest, herb harvest of the year. I cut them all back and put them on trays on a high shelf to dry out, ready for use in the winter.

With some of the herbs, oregano and lavender, I made what has become known in our house as ‘special salt.’ Now I’ll admit that the idea of herbed salts might seem a first to be a little, well, unnecessary. After all, what is wrong with straight up, common or garden normal salt? Isn’t lavender and oregano salt a little bit aspirational? A little bit… Pinterest? It may very well be, but the fact of the matter is that this salt is magic. By magic I mean it takes food from, “These potatoes are nice, Beth” to “Wow, these potatoes are amazing! Wait, is that… lavender?”


3 teaspoons dried lavender
9 teaspoons dried oregano
9 teaspoons peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed
250g quality salt

The process of making ‘special salt’ is so easy it can barely be called a recipe. First, cut your herbs a few days (or more) in advance and let them dry out in your preferred manner. I had good results with just putting them on some paper on a tray. Next, put all of the ingredients except for the salt in your pestle and mortar (actually, put them in your mortar, the pestle is the club bit – thanks Wikipedia!) and grind until the peppercorns and coriander are broken up and the oregano is in small flakes. Because of the lavender, your kitchen should be smelling like a perfumiers by this point. You must be ready to remove any scoffers and naysayers from the vicinity – they’ll change their minds. Now add your salt and mix it all together. If the salt is in particularly big chunks, you might need to grind the whole concoction a bit more. Spoon into a receptacle with a lid and allow to infuse for a week. I’ve never done that because I am weak-willed and can’t stop myself from using it, but you might do better…

Posted in Blog on Sep 22, 2014 ·

Tags: competitions & food.

Book Review: Taste of Beirut

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One of my all-time favourite restaurants (which sadly closed, after the smoking ban came into being) was a Lebanese restaurant in Oxford. (There are two more, but they can’t match the quality of the food, or the jovial atmosphere.) It was a wonderful place to go in a large group, as they would just keep bringing out plates of mezze until everyone was stuffed. I found two of the dishes particularly moreish – small triangular pastries (sanbousek) filled with feta cheese, and a salad of garlicky broad beans. When dining in a smaller party I tended simply to order those, along with some grilled chicken and rice with vermicelli.

I have never managed to recreate any of them successfully (although I came close with the rice), and once we’ve moved and I’m settled into my new kitchen, it will be time to try again. This time I will have more of a clue, because I have been reading Taste of Beirut: 150+ Delicious Lebanese Recipes from Classics to Contemporary to Mezzes and More, which is written by Joumana Accad, the blogger behind the Taste of Beirut blog. I have been following the blog for some time (I can’t remember how long!), and it has an interesting flow of new and traditional Lebanese recipes, along with snippets about Lebanese life and plants. I am glad that it has solidified into book form (I have the ebook version; a paperback is being released on 10th October).

Accad was born and raised in Beirut, but has spent thirty years living in the United States, giving her a unique insight into the difficulties of cooking a cuisine from within a different culture. Her philosophy is to reach the highest level of flavour with the smallest number of basic ingredients – for her Lebanese food is about conviviality rather than complexity. Perhaps that’s why I like it ;)

Accad walks you through the basics of Lebanese cuisine, including her shortcuts for busy modern cooks. The Introduction explains some basic do’s and don’t’s, and Chapter 1 explores the crucial ingredients you would find in a Lebanese larder. Here you will learn about freekeh, mahlab, mastic and the elusive Sahlab (a starch extracted from Turkish orchids that I know as sahlep).

In Chapter 2 there are recipes and instructions for staples such as a basic bulgur pilaf, flatbread dough, the rice and vermicelli pilaf I’m so fond of and various sauces and condiments (including toom, the garlic paste). Many are quick and easy, or can be made in advance and stored in the freezer.

Chapter 3 introduces the hearty Lebanese breakfast, centered around flatbreads (which would traditionally be made in the local bakery). Chapter 4 moves on to lunch, and a variety of ‘sandwiches’ that are really wraps with traditional Lebanese fillings.

It’s party time in chapter 5, with a selection of mezze recipes for when you’re feeding a crowd. Although we tend to think of mezze (or Spanish tapas) as an entirely foreign way of eating, as I was reading through this book I remembered the British love of buffets. Our finger foods might not be quite as exotic, however….

Accad’s recipe for pumpkin fries will draw the attention of Americans, and gardeners will love her use of Swiss chard. She offers a dip recipe that makes use of the troublesome stalks, as well as stuffed chard leaves in place of vine leaves. If you tend towards lazy gardening then the dandelion leaf salad might be more up your street!

Chapter 6 looks at main courses, concentrating on the stews that are a home cooking mainstay, and the kibbeh (a mixture of minced meat and bulghur wheat) that is Lebanon’s national dish. Vegetarian options are available, known as ‘sad’ or ‘tricky’ kibbeh, as they were traditionally served during times of fasting… or hardship.

And chapter 7 rounds out the book with desserts, including an easy way to make baklava, and some other recipes that look (to my eye) more modern than traditional. There is a glossary of Lebanese words at the back.

I would have expected some recipes for drinks, but none are included. Arak gets a mention, as does ayran (a yoghurt drink), and there’s mention of the use of sahlab to thicken drinks. Perhaps there are none – I don’t know. But if it is an omission then it’s a minor one. There is plenty here for the adventurous cook to get their teeth into, everything is explained clearly enough for anyone less experienced, and there’s a good photo of each finished dish so that you know what you’re aiming for.

I am thoroughly looking forward to trying a number of these recipes over the coming months, although I will have to look elsewhere for clues on how to recreate my beloved broad bean salad. In the meantime, I need to find those Swiss chard seeds….

Taste of Beirut: 150+ Delicious Lebanese Recipes from Classics to Contemporary to Mezzes and More
by Joumana Accad

Kindle edition, £10.93
Paperback, 320 pages, £11.51, published 10 October 2014
ISBN 9780757317705
Publisher: Health Communications

Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of the ebook by the publisher, but these words are my own.

Posted in Blog on Sep 20, 2014 ·

Last modified on Sep 19, 2014

Tags: books & food.

Unless stated, © copyright Emma Cooper, 2005-2014.