There’s a weekly tradition at work of a meeting that involves cake. A nominated person brings in cakes for everyone else, and we sit and have a natter for half an hour or so. Some people bake; some people buy cakes. There is a slight snobbery about it – baking is better, and if you can produce nicely iced cup cakes, that’s a bonus. I think some of my colleagues are avid fans of the Great British Bake Off.
We have various allergies and intolerances we have to cater for, and one week one of my colleagues brought in a packet of Mrs Crimble’s Coconut Macaroons, which are gluten and dairy free (it’s worth noting that although they don’t contain any dairy ingredients, they are made in a factory that uses them, which might be an issue if you have a severe allergy). My cow’s milk intolerance doesn’t usually bother me when it comes to baked goods*, but I thought I would try one of the macaroons, and I’m glad I did!
They’re truly lovely – moist, coconutty and distinctly moreish. They come in packets of six, and at the moment I am having a macaroon most days, as my afternoon treat. They also come in a chocolate variant, which involves a chocolate layer on the base and drizzled stripes. They’re great if it’s not hot enough to melt the chocolate, at which point they become a little messy to eat.
I recently discovered that you can also buy individually-wrapped giant versions, so I had to try one. They are made to the same high standards, but I didn’t find that bigger is better. As you’re chomping through the great dome of the middle bit, it does become a little bit of a chore….
So… coconut macaroons. Thoroughly recommended by me, so don’t eat them all! You can read the full ingredients and nutritional information on the Mrs Crimble’s website, along with some lovely sounding dessert recipes that use macaroons. Nom.
*I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s one of the proteins in cow’s milk I have a problem with. Perhaps baking denatures the pesky protein.
Posted in Blog on Aug 19, 2014 · ∞
Tags: food & reviews.
My temporary spice rack
“The important thing is the spices. A man can live on packaged food from here ‘til Judgment Day if he’s got enough rosemary.” Shepherd Book, Firefly
We still don’t have a moving date. It feels oh so close, and at the same time, so very far away. It is months now since we put a lot of our things into storage to declutter the flat; my collection of herbs and spices was one of the things deemed non-essential, and I have been left with a limited range in a collection of tiny storage boxes. Ryan has a selection of herbs in the freezer, and there are some odd bits and pieces left in the cupboards, and that’s my lot. For the most part it’s OK, but it’s occasionally frustrating to realise that you just don’t have something.
Necessity is the mother of invention, however. When we discovered last night that we didn’t have a packet of our usual fajita seasoning, I had to improvise a suitable sauce for our tacos. Ryan was a little sceptical at the list of ingredients I collected:
- Ground cumin
- Mixed herbs
- Hoisin sauce
- Tomato ketchup
- Steak seasoning
But after dinner he proclaimed it better than the packet mix. It’s not quite perfect – it lacks a certain smokiness. Ryan suggests replacing the hoisin with BBQ sauce; I’m leaning towards smoked paprika. Either way, it will have to wait until we’ve moved. I’m a dab hand at improvised pizza topping as well (usually tomato ketchup and basil pesto) – what’s your favorite foodie improvisation?
Posted in Blog on Aug 18, 2014 · ∞
Tags: food & spices.
Mayfly Television is making a new Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall TV show called Plate of the Nation (working title), which will take a look at how we cook and eat as a nation to provide an insight into the very heart and soul of modern British home life.
The show is about what we cook and eat, how we behave with each other in the kitchen, who our self-appointed household head chefs are, what we talk about at the dinner table and how food brings us all together.
They are now searching for foodie families and households across the nation!
They are looking for everyone from carnivores to vegans to showy self-styled chefs to people who don’t know how to boil an egg, and everything in between.
They want couples, solo chefs, shared communal kitchens and raucous family homes.
Most of all they want households where the kitchen is busy and filled with laughter.
If this sounds like your house or one you know, they’d love to hear from you.
Email: email@example.com or tel: 0207 148 6731
NOTE: expressing interest in a show is not a guarantee you will be chosen to take part
Data Protection: Mayfly Television will not share your contact information with any third party without your consent and have in place systems and practices to protect your data. If you are under the age of eighteen, please ask your parents to make contact on your behalf. www.mayflytv.com/privacypolicy
Posted in Blog on Jul 1, 2014 · ∞
My cow’s milk intolerance makes it quite difficult to shop for processed food – once you start reading labels it’s amazing how many products milk (or a milk derivative) makes its way into. In an ideal world we’d all be cooking every meal from scratch, from fresh ingredients, but it’s not always possible. I haven’t yet mastered the art of making a decent curry by hand, for example.
Curry sauces can be particularly problematic, so I’m glad to have found one that’s almost dairy-free (it contains some clarified butter) and that I really like. Waitrose Makani curry paste is £1.65 for a 200g jar (avoid the ready-made jars of Makhani sauce if you have a problem with cow’s milk, as they contain double cream). Each jar contains enough paste to make 2 or 3 meals, depending on how many people you’re serving, and how strong you like your curries. Once the jar is opened, it will keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks. If you don’t have a local Waitrose, you may be able to order online via Ocado.
I have three go-to options for using the paste, which is best added at the start of cooking. The first is the simplest – simply stirring it in for a dryish curry. You may need to add a little water to stop the sauce from sticking.
The second involves adding a tin of chopped tomatoes – you get a milder, saucier curry, with plenty of healthy vegetable content.
The third is my favourite, and by far the most decadent. I use either coconut milk or coconut cream to make the sauce. Again, the result is a milder and saucier curry – it’s divine, but you may want to factor in the extra fat content.
All three versions reheat nicely, if you find yourself with leftovers. Your home will smell like an Indian restaurant for a little while – it smells like a ‘proper’ curry!
This is, to date, the only curry paste/sauce I have found that I like and that I can eat, and I have been buying it now for several years. I am a genuinely satisfied customer, so if you’re a fan of the occasional simple curry then I recommend you give it a go :)
Posted in Blog on Jun 23, 2014 · ∞
Tags: food & meh!.
If you’ve ever wanted to sneak a peek into the kitchen gardens of famous chefs, then Kitchen Garden Experts by Cinead McTernan, with photographs by Jason Ingram, will be a must-have book for you. Published by Frances Lincoln at the beginning of May, it takes us on a tour of twenty kitchen gardens in the UK that supply produce to famous chefs. For each site we get introduced to both the chef and the head gardener, and are treated to a selection of recipes for using homegrown produce in a very up-market way.
When I was doing my dissertation last year, I came to the conclusion that for an unusual edible crop to make it in a garden, it had to be supported by both a gardener and a cook (although those two roles could be played by the same, multi-talented, person). My idea is borne out by the gardens visited in the book – in many of them exotic edibles have been included by the gardener, often at the request of the chef.
We’re told that, at The Grove in Pembrokeshire, Head gardener David Butt “likes to grow unusual crops that are generally unavailable or expensive”. David has a pink variety of oca (Oxalis tuberosa), a tuberous vegetable originally from the Andes that allows chef Duncan Barham to add novelty to the menu. David and Duncan don’t think of their vegetable garden as a way to cut their food bills, but as the “very best way to ensure provenance” – a philosophy that will resonate with many home growers.
The citrus flavour of oca is also appreciated at River Cottage, where the leaves are used as a leafy salad vegetable or a garnish, in addition to the tubers.
At The Ethicurean in Somerset, grower Mark Cox shares my love of experimenting, and gives the chefs an intriguing array of crops. He includes quinoa and achocha, and loves electric daisies (or alien eyeballs!) – although the book notes the Ethicurean’s customers have yet to share his enthusiasm for this tongue-tingling flower!
A L’Enclume (Cumbria) staple dish involves a perennial crop that will be familiar to permaculturalists – Good King Henry. It sometimes gets bad press as one of those old-fashioned plants that was “forgotten for a reason”, but at L’Enclume it is a key ingredient of a signature duck dish. The restaurant also grows its own oyster plant, “an indigenous sea vegetable from the west coast of Scotland” that previously had to be sourced from a grower in the Netherlands.
A willingness to seek out and try new ingredients is a theme throughout the book, but the main focus is on more familiar crops. There are growing instructions for plants such as baby beetroot, rhubarb and radishes, courgettes, tomatoes and turnips. A plant has to be deemed delicious to be worthy of inclusion in these gardens; the section on Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons talks about their signature microgreens and courgette flowers.
Most of us won’t get the chance to visit these places in person, and to nose around the gardens. But Ingram’s photos bring the book to life, and make it the next best thing to being there. The only problem being that you have to cook the food yourself!
Kitchen Garden Experts
by Cinead McTernan
Hardback, 192 pages, RRP
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher, but these words are my own :)
Posted in Blog on May 29, 2014 · ∞
Tags: books & food.
My allotment doesn’t have a shed. I wish it did, because it would be somewhere to keep the rake (which is too long for my tool store) and to shelter from the rain. But on my fantasy allotment I wouldn’t use my shed for storage at all – I’d turn it into an ice cream shed. I’d need to run up a power cable for the ice cream maker and the freezer. Then all summer long I’d hide away in there, concocting flavours worthy of Willy Wonka himself, from the cool things I’m growing on my allotment (or that I could forage from the local hedgerows). And then, on summer days, I could open up the doors and sell ice creams to my allotment neighbours. When they’ve got to the point where they’re too hot to do any more digging, they can sit down and have a breather and sample one of my wares.
The most memorable ice cream I ever tasted wasn’t an Italian gelato, but a buffalo milk ice cream flavoured with lavender. It neatly avoided my cow’s milk intolerance and introduced a new flavour at the same time. It was the first ice cream I’d had in months, and a real treat. The trick with lavender is not to make the flavour too strong – like rosemary it has a bit of a medicinal edge to it that people find unattractive. It might take me a little while to perfect that one, tinkering away in my shed.
I started my ice cream experiments last year. This oat milk strawberry ice cream was delicious, and an easy one to make from homegrown strawberries. The flavour really floods out, even seducing Ryan (who is not a big fan of strawberries). One my old friends sprinkles black pepper on her strawberries when she eats them; I can try adding a dash to the mix and see if my strawberry ice cream gets even better.
Frozen yoghurt is another speciality, easy enough for me to make with goat’s milk yoghurt. (The Nutella-flavoured sheep’s milk fro yo turned out to have a strange mouth feel, but I liked it.) Lemon curd is a lovely flavour, and a good way to use up some eggs if you have your own chickens.
The simplest flavours might prove to be bestsellers. The allotment has lots of fruit plants (blackberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants), and cooked down into a compote they are easily mixed into frozen yoghurt for a fruity sensation.
I can even do sorbets – the gooseberry bush furnished us with a lovely one last year, which barely made it into the freezer before it was scoffed. With mature rhubarb plants producing plenty of stems, there’s an opportunity there as well.
So… if I build my ice cream shed, what’s your suggestion for an allotment-inspired flavour? What would entice you back for a second scoop?
Posted in Blog on Apr 30, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Apr 30, 2014
Tags: allotment & food.
Ryan and I have been clearing out our cupboards and running down our food supplies, inadvertently doing so at the same time as the Guardian’s Live Better campaign was looking at food waste. In one memorable day I used up four spare eggs, making pancake batter and two batches of Snickerdoodle dough (one which went into the freezer for later) and roasted the butternut squash that had been sitting on the counter for… a while.
Mostly it has been less eventful, just making use of things we have on hand rather than buying more stuff at the supermarket. It amazing how many packets of this and that we have hanging around in the cupboards – it’s not even a big kitchen.
However, one of the cupboards has me stumped. It contains a lifetime’s supply of tinned lentils. Now, I quite like lentils, but I’m not Ryan is converted yet and my usual trick of just frying them up with an onion and some spices doesn’t make the most appetizing-looking dish. I could use one can to pack out the beef in a spaghetti bolognese. But what to do with the rest? I can’t even give them to a food bank, since technically they are past their use-by date, although I’m sure they’re perfectly fine to eat.
So… over to you. What can I make with my tinned lentils that will tickle the tastebuds. Leave your ideas and recipes in the comments. The more the merrier! There’s at least a dozen tins lurking in that cupboard ;)
Posted in Blog on Apr 12, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Apr 10, 2014
It’s a couple of days until the next stop on my virtual book tour, so it’s time to take off the pith helmet and put my feet up with a cup of tea and a biscuit. In my Smashwords author interview I respond to a question I was asked about my favourite biscuit – which has to be Snickerdoodles. You can’t buy them, you have to make them, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with Snickers chocolate bars, or peanuts in general. They are a divine, spiced* biscuit (cookie) that’s very moreish and goes very nicely with a good cuppa.
It turns out there’s a hierarchy of treats in our house. Snickerdoodles are at the apex, being preferred over everything else. Although they will physically last a few days in an airtight container, it’s hard to test that theory as they get eaten too fast. I made some to bring in to work, and the four shown in the photo above are the only ones that survived the onslaught. They won’t make it through another night….
The recipe I use for them is from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. According to the book, this recipe “makes about 12”, but Nigella either has the biggest walnuts on the planet, or she can’t count. There were 22 in my last batch….
Nigella’s Snickerdoodles recipe
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
125g butter, at room temperature
100g plus 2 tbsp* caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp* cinnamon
2 baking sheets, greased or lined
- Preheat oven to 180°C or Gas Mark 4.
- Combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt and put to one side.
- Cream the butter with 100g of sugar, then beat in the egg and vanilla.
- Stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth dough (I tend to use my hands to bring it all together).
- Mix the remaining sugar with the cinnamon on a plate. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into walnut-sized balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and arrange on your prepared baking sheets.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, by which time they shoud be turning golden-brown. Take out of the oven and leave to rest on the baking sheets for 1 minute before transferring on to a wire rack to cool.
*I find this to be far too much cinnamon sugar, and there’s always a lot left over. It keeps well, so you can save it for the next batch. I have taken to making half the amount of cinnamon sugar, which is still plenty. You could always sprinkle it on your muesli in the morning, but it’s also a nice addition to flapjacks.
You can freeze the dough and defrost it to bake at a later stage. This is great if you’ve got an egg that needs using up, but no current desire for biscuits (is that even possible??). You could make a double batch of dough for some now, some later, but I’ve tried it and it makes working the dough hard, so you might want to make two separate batches at the same time.
What’s your favourite biscuit?
*the perfect choice for a plant hunter, since the spice trade did so much to drive exploration and the spread of plants across the world :)
Posted in Blog on Apr 11, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Apr 10, 2014
Tags: food & spices.
As promised, an exclusive new oca pizza recipe from Carl Legge. I also have instructions on how to grow oca, if you’re giving it a go this year.
Oca is a very tasty and useful vegetable tuber. It grows well for me in North Wales. It’s good ground cover and polycrops well with taller partners such as tomatoes. Fresh picked and raw, many varieties have a lemony (oxalic acid) taste which goes after exposure to the sun. The cooked taste is sweet. The texture ranges from that of a slightly less crunchy water chestnut to a soft puree which depends on the variety and how much you’ve cooked them.
Cooked they can be steamed, boiled, roasted, fried or sauteed. They can be used in sweet or savoury dishes and preserved or frozen.
When we first started to grow them in 2011, I tried to find traditional recipes for them, without much success. Lost Crops of the Incas says that: “In Mexico, oca is commonly sprinkled with salt, lemon, and hot pepper, and eaten raw.” The other recipes for them I could find were for roasted oca, or oca used in meat stews.
So I thought I’d have a go at producing a set of new recipes for oca in its new home. I’ve already written about Oca Homity Pie and Warm Oca Salad.
Here I give you oca used as a pizza topping. I think this is a first on the internet, although I’m very happy to be proved wrong.
This is delicious! The oca are sweet and they have a little bite still. I think the oca look like jewels: the colour variation with fresh coriander garnish certainly makes a visually striking pizza.
Oca Pizza Recipe
This makes one pizza of about 23cm (9 inches) circumference.
Pizza is best cooked in an oven as hot as you can get it, with the oven shelf in the top half. So preheat your oven to at least 230°C, higher if you can. I cook my pizzas on baking paper on a granite baking stone. If you’re not lucky enough to have a baking stone or a pizza stone, make the pizza up on oiled greaseproof paper or tinfoil and then place on a pre-heated oven tray to cook. This will give you a nice crisp bottom.
This pizza is great at room temperature too.
For the topping
350g of oca, cleaned and any damage cut away
Some pesto (any of basil, wild garlic, rocket will do) or parsley persillade or similar (there are recipes in The Permaculture Kitchen for these)
1-2tsp ground coriander (best if freshly done with coriander seed)
1/3-1/2 nutmeg, finely grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olilve oil
Fresh coriander to garnish
For the pizza
This quantity of dough makes enough for two 23cm (9 inch) pizzas. It’s not really worth doing any less. So make a second pizza with another topping, or cover and pop in the fridge to make a pizza or garlic bread the next day.
500g of strong white bread flour (or Typo ’00 flour)
5g (1tsp) fast action yeast
5g (tsp) finely ground sea salt
30g (1tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
350g warm water (it’s best to weigh for accuracy)
Make the pizza dough first.
Pop all the ingredients together in a bowl. You can use your hands, a food processor, or a stand mixer with dough hook. Mix the ingredients together until all the flour is wet and the ingredients are well incorporated. The dough will be sticky, don’t worry. The wetter dough helps you get a thinner base. Cover and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes.
Then do a quick knead of the dough like this. Bring the top (North) of the dough to the middle. Then do the same with East, South and West parts. Then do North-East, South-East, South-West and North-West. I call this a ‘Compass Knead’. Cover again and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes.
Then do another Compass Knead and leave, covered in a warm place for 10 minutes. Do one final Compass Knead and leave in a warm place for 30-50 minutes until the dough has risen by 50-100%.
The dough is now ready to use. You can keep it in the fridge, covered until you need to use it.
While the dough is proving you can prepare the oca.
Steam the oca for 5 minutes and allow to cool. If you don’t have a steamer improvise with a sieve or colander over a saucepan, or just put 5mm of boiling water into a pan and pop the oca in there, cook covered and then drain & cool. The vibrance of the colours fades a little, so don’t worry.
Cut the oca lengthways in half.
Now assemble the pizza (your oven is preheated isn’t it? And if you need a heated oven tray, you’ve got that in too?).
Get your oiled greaseproof paper or tinfoil ready. You may find that it’s easier to handle the dough if you oil your hands.
Divide the dough in two. Make one of the parts of the dough into a rough flat disc with your hands and pop the other in the fridge, covered.
Place the dough disc in the middle of your paper or tinfoil and then gently press and the dough into the shape you want. Coax it, you want to gently stretch it into shape and size, not tear it. You can make a little border round the edge to keep everything in place.
Then take your pesto or similar (I used wild garlic pesto) and spread it thinly over the pizza base, but not the edges.
Arrange your oca halves prettily over the base with the cut side down. Press the oca in slightly to fix.
Tear the mozzarella into small walnut sized pieces and arrange these between the oca, overlapping them slightly.
Sprinkle the ground coriander and grate the nutmeg over the oca and mozzarella. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Drizzle a little extra virgin oilve oil over the pizza.
Pop the pizza onto your hot oven tray or baking stone and bake until the dough is brown and crisp and the mozzarella is nicely melted and has some colour.
Sprinkle over some fresh coriander leaves to garnish and lift the flavours and tuck in.
Simple and delicious, I hope you enjoy it.
There are recipes for delicious pizzas and much more in The Permaculture Kitchen.
Carl is launching his new book, The Permaculture Kitchen at the Edible Garden Show today, so if you’re going then make sure to seek him! If, like me, you can’t make it to the show this year then you can buy a signed copy direct from Carl, and there are details on his website
Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation
Ad Hoc Panel of the Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation, Board on Science and Technology for
International Development, National Research Council
ISBN: 0-309-54691-5, 428 pages, 6 × 9, (1989)
Posted in Blog on Mar 29, 2014 · ∞
Tags: food & unusual.
1950s shoppers queueing, by Paul Townsend
My mum showed me this list last time I went to visit – she’d received it via email from a friend, and I don’t know where it originated, but it is certainly thought-provoking. While I was doing my Masters degree, I wrote an essay on the factors affecting the adoption of new crops. When he marked it, the lecturer made the following comment:
The scale and speed with which the nutrition transition is unfolding world-wide – a fact not mentioned in the essay – attests to that and contradicts the assertion that ‘Societies have tended to absorb new foods slowly.’
One of my frustrations of writing the academic essays needed for my degree was that you’re not allowed to say anything that you can’t support with a proper academic references. Given the limited time you have for research, this does occasionally put a crimp in what you’d like to say. That societies tend to absorb new foods slowly was someone else’s opinion; I probably hadn’t given it too much thought.
My mum, who lived through the 1950s, confirms a lot of what is written below, and has volunteered to add plenty more anecdotes besides. I think it’s helpful sometimes, when frustrated by what feels like a very slow rate of change, to ruminate on just how far we’ve come.
Eating in the 50’s
- Pasta had not been invented.
- Curry was a surname
- A takeaway was a mathematical problem.
- A Pizza was something to do with a leaning tower.
- Bananas and Oranges only appeared at Christmas time.
- All crisps were plain; the only choice we had was whether to put the salt on or not.
- A Chinese chippy was as foreign carpenter.
- Rice was a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our dinner.
- A big Mac was what we wore when it was raining.
- Brown bread was something only poor people ate.
- Oil was for lubricating, fat was for cooking.
- Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.
- Coffee was Camp, and came in a bottle.
- Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.
- Only Heinz made beans.
- Fish didn’t have fingers.
- Eating raw fish was called poverty, not sushi.
- None of us had ever heard of Yoghurt.
- Healthy food consisted of anything edible.
- People who didn’t peel potatoes were regarded as lazy.
- Indian Restaurants were only found in India.
- Cooking outside was called camping.
- Seaweed was not recognised as food.
- “Kebab” was not even a word never mind a food.
- Sugar enjoyed a good press, and was regarded as being white gold.
- Prunes were medicinal.
- Surprisingly, muesli was readily available, it was called cattle feed.
- Pineapples came in chunks in a tin: we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.
- Water came out of the tap, if someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than petrol for it they would have become a laughing stock.
- The one thing that we never had on our table in the fifties…was elbows!
Posted in Blog on Jan 26, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Jan 25, 2014