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Rapid pulse

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Lentils

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

Tag: food

Time for tea and snickerdoodles

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Snickerdoodles

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

Ingredients


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

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C or Gas Mark 4.
  2. Combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt and put to one side.
  3. Cream the butter with 100g of sugar, then beat in the egg and vanilla.
  4. Stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth dough (I tend to use my hands to bring it all together).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Notes


*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.

Carl Legge's Oca pizza recipe

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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 tubers

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

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.

Ingredients


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)
200g mozzarella
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)

Method


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.

pizza dough

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.

raw 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.

oca pizza

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.

References
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.

Eating in the 50’s

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1950s Bristol Shoppers queue to get a bargain in the sales1950s 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

Tag: food

Book review: The Great British Vegetable Cookbook

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Sybil Kapoor, author of The Great British Vegetable Cookbook, has impeccable foodie credentials. And this is a book from National Trust Books, so you know you’re getting a high quality product. Its premise is that “cooking with lots of seasonal vegetables has always represented an ideal way of life in Britain”, and that we should be making the effort to cook and eat British-grown vegetables whilst they are in season. This isn’t a gardeners’ cookbook, there are no growing instructions – it assumes you will be buying ingredients, not harvesting them.

That said, some of the vegetables included will be hard to find unless you grow your own, or are a member of a vegetable box scheme with a large palette of ingredients. As the book says, one of the goals of the National Trust is to “nurture forgotten plants, such as Clayworth Prize Pink celery at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, Cottager’s Kale at Knightshayes Court in Devon, and scorzonera in the seventeenth-century inspired kitchen bed at Ham House in Surrey.” The book isn’t prescriptive – you won’t find recipes calling for a particular heritage variety – but you will find nice photos of National Trust gardens, and vegetables harvested from them.

There’s also the occasional historical recipe, including one from Upton House for buttered and spiced beetroot that is believed to come from the 1920s, and may not be the kind of dish the modern palate is expecting.

Beyond the introduction there is a chart showing when the various vegetables are in season, and then the recipes themselves are divided – somewhat arbitrarily in some cases – into seasons.

So you have recipes to use purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and radishes in spring, but you also have new potatoes. There are some unusual inclusions – nettles and sorrel don’t normally make it into mainstream British cookery books. For those of you looking for new ways to use your mustard seeds, there’s a tasty looking recipe for stir-fried spring greens.

Summer begins with broad beans and spring onions and works its way through globe artichokes and tomatoes to aubergines and chillies – items not impossible to grow in a British summer, but easier commercially with a nice heated greenhouse.

Autumn follows on, with cauliflower and broccoli and a range of root crops, including salsify and scorzonera. Courgettes (and their flowers) are included here with squash and pumpkins, although Kapoor does have the decency to admit they should be in the summer section. You’ll also find recipes for lovage, fennel and celery, borlotti beans and mushrooms.

The list of seasonal vegetables is shorter for winter, as you would expect, visiting such winter favourites as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, chicory and endive, leeks, celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes.

The final section of the book, called “In a perfect kitchen” contains a selection of basic recipes for use if you have the time, space and inclination. It’s about making homemade stock, bread and pastry, and pasta. If you buy these in then none of the preceding recipes should take you too long; if you’ve got a free weekend and are in the mood to start from scratch, then you can do so.

All-in-all this is an attractive and reliable book that does explain how to make use of the seasonal bounty that Britain has to offer. It’s not all traditional recipes – it recognises that British tastes have changed over the last few decades, and there’s recipes for our favourite dishes from overseas.



The Great British Vegetable Cookbook
by Sybil Kapoor
Hardback, 320 pages, RRP £25
ISBN 1907892621
Publisher: National Trust Books

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

Posted in Blog on Jan 22, 2014 ·

Last modified on Jan 19, 2014

Tags: books & food.

Cutting the Mustard

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Apple mint mustard mix

We know that mustard has been a common ingredient in European food since the late 14th century. Prior to that we know that it was used medicinally, with its benefits mentioned by both Pliny and Pythagoras, and we think the Romans are responsible for spreading white mustard throughout Europe. A ‘hot’ plant, it has also long been considered an aphrodisiac.

English mustard powder is a mixture of brown and white mustard seed, milled into flour, with sugar, spice, salt, and citric acid. The white mustard seed provides the initial kick; the brown mustard the longer-lasting pungency. English mustard was originally made with a mixture of white and black mustard seeds, but after the end of WW2 this was gradually replaced with brown mustard, which is more heat- and drought- tolerant, and easier to harvest mechanically, and hence more economical to grow.

I have just mentioned the three types of seed mustard. Black mustard is Brassica nigra, brown mustard is B. juncea, and white mustard is S. alba. The pungency they provide can also be found (in differing levels) in other brassicas – horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) and wasabi (Wasabia japonica) being two more examples of plants used to deliver some heat to meals.

Mustard seed in its natural state hardly smells and doesn’t make your eyes water. It contains chemicals called glucosinolates (which vary according to the species). To produce the pungent mustard we know and love, the glucosiolates have to be mixed with the enzyme myrosinase – which is held separately. The two chemical mix together when the seeds are ground, but the reaction also needs water.

A basic mustard condiment therefore involves mixing ground or crushed mustard seeds with water or vinegar. Cold water gives you the hottest result; rather paradoxically, heating mustard makes it lose its ‘heat’. Mustard made this way is best used fresh.

There are plenty of ways to jazz up your mustard with other flavours – for starters you could try these mustard recipes from Mother Earth News.

Mustard seeds are also used in pickles, and can be fried as the first stage of preparation of some Indian dishes (an eye-watering procedure, I have found). And you can sow them and use the resulting sprouts as spicy microgreens.

There’s also a fourth type of culinary mustard – the pungent, leafy greens. These are varieties of brown mustard, usually considered to be Oriental vegetables, although their consumption is widespread throughout Asia. Some of them grow into large plants, so check the variety, but many are useful as microgreens or cut-and-come-again salad and stir-fry leaves.

Elsewhere in the garden, quick-growing mustard plants are often used as cover crops and green manures (remember they’re brassicas, and fit them into your crop rotation accordingly). Mustard has also been developed into biofumigants – plant-based pesticides.

Which just goes to show, these versatile plants really do cut the mustard. Are you a mustard fan?

Posted in Blog on Jan 18, 2014 ·

Tags: food & spices.

Book review: The Land of the Five Flavors

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When you step off the beaten garden path and into the realms of unusual edibles, you come across a lot that come from China, because parts of it have a temperate climate and the plants that grow well there can grow well here. And so it’s not surprising that I have a ‘professional’ interest in the plants and food of China. But in fact I have been a Sinophile from a young age – I love the art and embroidery, the lacquers and the calligraphy, the architecture and the food. However, I am not an expert, unlike Thomas Höllman, the author of The Land of the Five Flavors: A Cultural History of Chinese Cuisine, soon to be published by Columbia University Press.

This book is a very detailed and scholarly work. It begins, in chapter one (Rice Doesn’t Rain From Heaven) by looking at the historical and archaeological record, to show what we know of Chinese eating habits from ancient times onwards. There’s a careful sifting of the mix of myth, hyperbole, propaganda and truth, to examine the diets of everyone from peasants to royalty and the ethnic minorities.

It’s in chapter two (A Taste of Harmony) that we come to understand the title of the book: “Five basic flavors have been distinguished in China since ancient times: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty”. It talks about agricultural crops, beginning, of course with rice. Although I knew that there are long grain and short grain types of rice, I didn’t know that there are ‘sticky’ (glutinous) varieties of both; the stickiness is due to higher levels of dextrin and amylopectin.

Hemp seeds were classed as a cereal crop in the traditional Chinese system, and as carrots arrived relatively late there, they are known as “barbarian radishes”. Which shows how well radishes became integrated, since they only arrived in China a few centuries earlier.

Chapter three (Fire, Ice and Flavor) mainly covers methods of food storage and preservation. Chapter four (A Culinary Cosmos) shows us the diversity of China. The temperate regions are only one of a number of different climate zones – the coastal zones are different from the continental interior, and China is home to the Gobi desert. it has tropical, subtropical and temperate zones, with a third of the country classified as hill ranges and another third as highlands.

Despite the diversity in the landscape, and the peoples, of China, there are some striking similarities with modern Western life. A book published in the 14th century detailed 414 edible plants that destitute people in the city of Kaifeng could eat – an urban foraging manual, complete with instructions on which parts of the part to consume. Chapter five (Heavenly Dew) begins with a discussion of drinking water, with a note that “people generally regarded a remote place of origin as proof of superior quality”. (Fiji water, anyone?) It then moves on, through tea to alcoholic beverages (and the dangers of drunkenness).

Chapter six (Regulations and Conventions) offers a glimpse of the nitty gritty of Chinese life, covering everything from the laws controlling (or not) the slaughter of animals, through the ideals of healthy eating to the social etiquette of relieving oneself. (The book doesn’t pull any punches on the less savory aspects of life in China; by the time you’ve got this far you will already have read about eating dogs and people.)

Chapter seven (The Tavern of Eternal Happiness) is all about social eating, from family meals and picnics right up to banquets, and table manners. Chapter eight is the Epilogue, discussing the Westernization of food in China, but also the rise of Chinese cuisine in other countries. Then there’s an appendix with tables of plants mentioned in the text, and an extensive bibliography of references and further reading.

There’s a lot of information in this book, and it will only really appeal to those with a keen interest in China, or in food (I haven’t, as yet, read every word). However, it’s not dry. It is illustrated throughout with images and quotes from historical volumes. It also includes some more modern propaganda posters. And, although it is not a cookbook, there are recipes that will appeal to Western tastes – I picked out glazed apples, lemon chicken, lamb skewers and sesame balls (amongst others). I also love the evocative names mentioned in the text. ‘Heavenly Dew’ is a variety (possibly a brand) of tea. If you enjoy reading a book with a good cup of tea, then I suggest brewing up a pot of Liquid Jade, Water Nymph, Fragrant Flake, Dragon Well, Lion’s Peak, Jewel Cloud, or Heavenly Pillar when you open this one :)



The Land of the Five Flavors: A Cultural History of Chinese Cuisine
by Thomas O. Höllman
Hardback, 304 pages, RRP £24
ISBN 9780231161862
Publisher: Columbia University Press

Disclosure: I was provided with a digital preview copy by the publisher, but my words are my own.

Posted in Blog on Nov 22, 2013 ·

Last modified on Apr 4, 2014

Tags: books & food.

Popcorn Fiesta

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Popcorn Fiesta

When I went to the launch of James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution seed range last year, I was given a small sample of popcorn ‘Fiesta’ – a multicoloured popcorn to try. It’s taken a while, but we got round to popping it last night :)

Ryan is a popcorn veteran, and has a sure-fire technique for perfect popping. He puts a thin layer of vegetable oil in the bottom of a heavy pan (for which there is a well-fitting lid). He puts the pan over a high heat, with one or two popcorn kernels in the bottom. And the lid on. When the kernels pop, he takes it off the heat for 30 seconds – to allow the oil temperature to even out (he says). Then he throws in the rest of the kernels, puts the lid back on and whacks it back on the heat.

Popping commences. The pan is shaken, at intervals, to move all the unpopped kernels to the bottom. After several shakes, if there haven’t been any pops for a few seconds then it’s time to take it off the heat (not all of the kernels will pop) and let it cool down a bit before you take the lid off. It’s not that flying popcorn kernels will do much damage (although the unpopped ones can get very hot), but they do make a big mess.

You end up with this:

Popped corn

ready for eating au naturel, or slathering with some kind of unhealthy topping. What do you put on yours?

The verdict is that Fiesta makes very nice popcorn, so I will be trying to grow my own on the allotment next year. If you fancy a bit of multicoloured popping too, you can buy seeds online from Suttons, or look out for one of their Homegrown Revolution seed stands at your local garden centre. I’ve also always fancied trying Strawberry popcorn, so that’s still on the cards for the future. Victoriana Nursery Gardens have advice on their website on harvesting, drying and popping sweetcorn.

Popcorn



You may also enjoy:
Photos from James Wong’s garden
Book review: Homegrown Revolution
Sweetcorn, on the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show.

Posted in Blog on Nov 14, 2013 ·

Last modified on Nov 14, 2013

Tags: food & veg.

Book review: Grow Harvest Cook

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Grow Harvest Cook

When I agreed to review Grow Harvest Cook (by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair), I got more than I bargained for. I’m not sure it’s obvious from the photo above, so here’s a different perspective:

Thick

Yes, it’s as tall as a Lego Minifigure. And it’s not so much a hardback as a hardboardback. The cover is half a centimetre thick. It’s not the easiest book to hold up, let alone to hold open, so is it worth the weight?

Subtitled “280 recipes from the ground up”, Grow Harvest Cook calls itself “the essential companion for anyone wanting to grow, harvest, and cook their own produce – whether you have a tiny urban garden or a sprawling yard.” It works its way through an A to Z of homegrown produce, with instructions on how to grow it, how to harvest it and how to cook or preserve it.

So far… so familiar. But there’s a twist here – Grow Harvest Cook was written for the Australian market, so although it does cover the usual suspects (onions, carrots, potatoes, beans) there’s a lot more here than you’d find on a traditional allotment. It covers plants that we would have to grow indoors (including tea and coffee), and some we won’t be able to grow at all (sadly including avocados and macadamia nuts). Australia is a big place with a range of climates, and some are considerably more tropical than old Blighty’s.

In each case the growing instructions are brief. They’re not going to tell you everything you need to know to grow a plant, especially in the UK climate. The harvesting notes are perfectly adequate, combined with both storage advice and recipes for preserves. Some sections are longer than others, and there’s the odd double-page spread to illustrate particular favourites:

Alliums

Sue Stubbs’ photography is good throughout, doing justice to both the plants and the dishes. And it’s in the recipes that the book comes into its own. You may have noticed, in the photos above, that I’ve marked one or two pages to come back to later. Shall we have a look at what caught my eye?

The A section starts in seductive fashion, with almonds, apples and apricots. You just know there are going to be desserts in there, and there are. But my first bookmark is in the avocado section. There’s no chance of me being able to grow my own (unless I win the lottery and buy a giant, heated greenhouse), but that’s no reason why I can’t enjoy creamy chocolate mousse. With no cream, and no eggs; nothing at all to make me feel poorly.

There are two little bay trees waiting for me in Malvern, which I grew from seed (Esther’s baycorns), and their new mission in life is to grow big and strong so that I can make bay-infused vodka. Broccoli hummus might come first, as I have PSB planted on the allotment.

Chilli salt. Choc-coated roasted coffee beans (although I think it will be a while before the little coffee plants on my desk at work produce any). Dill and parmesan-crusted fish fingers. Kiwi choc pops. And this is where they really had me – mango ice cream.

Those were just the ones that instantly gripped me, there are plenty more that look and sound delicious. Even so, the book isn’t perfect. The section on grapes and vine leaves offers instructions on harvesting vine leaves, and preserving vine leaves, but no recipes for eating vines leaves. It seems like an odd omission, but even in a book this size there’s never enough space to include everything.

It doesn’t matter that there are plants in here I’ll never be able to grow, because I can buy them and Grow Harvest Cook works perfectly well as a cook book. The recipes reflect the multicultural nature of Australia, and there are interesting snippets about what (and how) people grow on the other side of the world. There are even sections on keeping chickens and bees.

And the A to Z layout means you can easily find a recipe for what you have to hand, which is always useful in the midst of a glut. It also leads to a serendipitous juxtaposition: tea is next to thyme :)



Grow Harvest Cook
by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair
Hardback, 400 pages, RRP £20
ISBN 9781742706085
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books

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

Posted in Blog on Nov 12, 2013 ·

Last modified on Apr 4, 2014

Tags: books & food.

Recipe: Nutella Frozen Yoghurt

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Ingredients

The ice cream experiments continue, with a spate of frozen yoghurt trials. I have never been a big fan of chocolate ice cream, but something I read online (and a half-empty jar of Nutella) prompted me to give Nutella frozen yoghurt a go!

As you can see, the base for this one was a sheep’s milk yoghurt. I’ve had it many times, simply served with maple syrup stirred through it. It has a distinctly different mouth feel to cow (or goat) yoghurt, which I enjoy, and it’s nice to be able to have a cow-free dessert now and then.

In the mix

And so the yoghurt went in to the bowl with 3 dessert spoons of Nutella and 3 of caster sugar, and I blended the whole lot together. Sheep’s milk yoghurt is quite firm when it comes out of the package, but after blending turns pretty runny. After tasting the mixture, I added the rest of the Nutella, which was only about another dessertspoonful. The nice thing about making your own ice cream is that you can make it to your taste, you just have to remember that the mixture needs to be slightly too sweet for you before it gets frozen, as the cold makes it less sugary.

Ready to go

Here it is, all mixed up and ready to go in the ice cream machine. It came out slightly soft (as usual), but nice enough to eat there and then. Once the leftovers have been frozen they set very firm and you have to leave them to warm up for a few minutes to be able to get a scoop into them.

This recipe has an unexpected tang to it, which I’m guessing comes from the sheep’s yoghurt rather than the Nutella. Some people might find it unpleasant, but I didn’t. And that lovely sheep’s milk mouth feel translates very well into ice cream.

I might make this one again, if there was Nutella kicking around, but it’s not something I normally buy and so the experiments will move on to the next flavour. I need to recreate the best one I’ve found so far, which is absolutely divine and the closest I’ve come to ‘real’ ice cream – I forgot to take any photos! Still, I like to leave you guessing :)

Posted in Blog on Jul 12, 2013 ·

Tags: food & meh!.

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