Memory Loss and Pea Soup

The weeks seem to fly by with a veg box, remembering what I ate last week unless I blog it just seems to slip clean out of mind. However, seeing a fresh bunch of oregano on top of this week’s box today, reminds me that it made an appearance last week and I mindlessly steamed ahead and turned it into Pea and Mint soup . . . or so I thought . . . now I remember thinking it wasn’t quite as sweet as I was expecting and added a teaspoon of sugar.

Admittedly oregano, also known as wild marjoram is from the same family as mint but how could I mistake it? There’s even some growing in my herb bed along with oregano country cream, a variegated variety and more aromatic, very pretty. With the second bunch of oregano I’m going to have a go at drying it as the flavour should be all the better for it and I can store it. Here it is upside down in the bag, stapled at the bottom to allow some air in as it dries over the next 2 weeks. Find somewhere warm and dry to hang it.

Apparently, rosemary is good for sharpening one’s senses and an aide to memoir whereas, lavender which I use liberally in liquid form for insect bites, headaches, burns and other minor life crisis is a natural calming sedative.  Perhaps I need to change my medication?

Anyway mistakes often lead to the best inventions and I can definitely recommend a big handful of fresh oregano in pea soup. Here’s how:

Finely chop 1 medium onion, saute gently in a little olive oil and butter, I then added a handful of leftover, cold new potatoes, mix up with the onions to soak up oil. Add 1 litre of vegetable stock water, boiling. Simmer for a couple of minutes then add 300g of frozen peas and simmer for 5 minutes. Add fresh oregano (or mint) and allow to wilt a minute or so.

Blitz in a food processor or liquidiser, return to the pan heat up and then add another 300g of frozen peas and simmer another few minutes till peas are cooked. Season to taste and add a little sugar if you like. Eating whole peas in a pea soup which is traditionally a very smooth affair is a delightfully, refreshing unexpected experience; they do actually go pop in your mouth. Try it … let me know if it works for you.

Last word over to Hippocrates: According to the Oracle, H used oregano as an antiseptic as well as a cure for stomach upsets and respiratory troubles. Worth a try.

Ready Steady Cook

This week’s veg box: potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, leeks, curly kale.

It’s the day before my next veg box delivery and I’m staring at 1kg Valor potatoes, 5 carrots, 3 leeks and a couple of sprouting onions from the week before and wondering what’s for supper. I’ve also brought to the table a large red chilli (not organic from Tesco) and a couple of pork and apple sausages from the Riverford organic meat consignment  I ordered in for Easter weekend. I feel the need for meat and some heat.

Outside the temperature’s dropped and rain is spitting (bring it on otherwise the water shortage here in Hampshire will get worse, and my newly sown broad beans from Jim will not grow big and strong). The rest of the bed is reserved for the veg plants due tomorrow in a box to grow from Riverford.

A quick recap on what happened to all the other veg rations this week:

A big bag of bushy curly kale turned into a Grecian Greens Pie wrapped in filo pastry, otherwise known as Spanakopitta which provided supper for two and enough leftovers for two lunches. Turns out curly kale is a really good stand-in for spinach in this recipe.

The one legged veg, i.e. cauliflower, broccoli and mushrooms gave themselves up to a stir fry lunch then went on to provide two cold lunches after getting mixed up with quinoa and excited by a little bit of chilli jam on the side.

That’s eight meals provided for out of a possible fourteen over the week including dinner tonight: grilled sausages and potatoes with red chillies and saute leeks. The unclaimed carrots and onion will roll over into next week’s vegetable lottery.

I’ll cook all 1 kg of the Valour potatoes and they will valiantly re-appear in Chocolate Potato Cake because Easter is coming (more on that later) and in Smoked Salmon Quiche with potato pastry because my mum is coming. All the potato recipes have been inspired by the Potato book. Somehow every vegetable finds it’s place in the end including the veg peelings that wind up in the compost bin (food for the garden).

Red Hot Potatoes Take: 1 red chilli, finely chopped (de-seeded), 1 small onion sliced, a pinch of cumin seeds, 2 tbsp olive oil, 3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and quartered, 1 rasher of bacon cut into bits (optional), coriander leaf (pinched a leaf of the Vietnamese coriander growing in the kitchen) and seasoning. Serves 2

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water. Heat oil and cook chilli and cumin seeds for a minute or so, add bacon bits. Add sliced onions and cook until softened. Stir until bacon crisp then add cooked potatoes. Toss together with other ingredients until potatoes start to brown. Remove from heat and add chopped fresh coriander. I used the first leaf from my Vietnamese Coriander growing in the shelter of my kitchen until it’s warm enough to grow outdoors. Wow, this dish punches above it’s weight in flavour, that and the melt in the mouth texture of the Valor potato, I’ll definitely be making this again. Meanwhile there is a second helping in the pan!

The combination of the flaming potatoes and the sweetness of the apple and pork sausages and the no nonsense leeks makes this a very hearty meal. Just what I need to warm me up on this cool, damp April evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riverford Calling …

Forget Avon and Tupperware parties think Green and Wholesome. Think Lunch with friends on the house!

There have been many delicious and surprising happenings since starting out with my weekly organic veg box. 

The most recent one was, when Riverford Organic Farms came calling and invited me to host a lunch. They provided the food, (organic veg in boxes, delivered the day before) the cook and six recipes, all I had to do was gather up a dozen, or so friends. Well that wasn’t too difficult and better still, my friend, Sarah offered her lovely big kitchen, as the place where we would all gather to watch the action, chat and chop, if required.

Sancha, arrived sharply at 9.30 with her own knives, wrapped in something like a jewellery roll, naturally I was curious, a bag full of kitchen cupboard food items and a head full of interesting recipes planned for our menu of the day:

To start with Crushed Cumin Carrots Crostini as finger food followed by: Sweet Potato & Barley Salad, Smoky Sweetcorn Salad, Leek & Cabbage Gratin, Cauliflower & Feta Salad and Roasted Broccoli & Romanesque. Here’s two of the recipes that Sancha prepared:

To make the Carrot Crostini (or Bruschetta) start with slices of sour bread, place on a baking tray and sprinkle with a little oil and place in a medium oven until baked crispy. If in a hurry make toast. Take a large bunch of carrots, wash, trim and cut into batons, layout on a roasting tin, sprinkle with crushed cumin seeds (first, bash them about a bit with pestle and mortar) and a little olive oil and roast until caramelised for about 25 minutes at 180 C. Lightly toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry frying pan. Mash the roasted carrots roughly with a fork, add pine nuts, spread on bread. Top with fresh mint and a little fresh lemon juice. Very delicious and very unexpected, who would have thought of mashed carrots on toast? This would go down very well served with a crisp Italian white wine as an aperitivo … Ooh yes let’s have one of those and soon!

Sweet Potato & Barley Salad was an interesting combo of flavours, colours and textures and very wholesome too, what’s not to like?

Take: 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed, 1 tbs olive oil, 250g pearl barley, 200g cherry tomatoes, 1 head of broccoli, floretted and steamed, 1 small red onion, 1 tbs capers, handful of pitted black olives, 1 bunch of basil chopped.

Dressing: 5 tbs Balsamic vinegar, 6 tbs olive oil, 1 tbs Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.

Place sweet potato on baking tray, drizzle with oil. Bake at 180 C about 25 minutes until tender and slightly charred edges.

Rinse barley in cold water, boil for approx. 30 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain.

Make the dressing. Add to cooked barley, stir and leave to cool. Add remaining ingredients and serve. This is one of those dishes that can go on for days. Make a large batch, keeps well in the fridge for fast food lunches or meals on the run.

Smoky Sweetcorn Salad

Leek & Cabbage Gratin and Cauliflower & Feta Salad in the foreground.

Pudding (off menu) was an impromptu affair made with my home grown apples, a sprinkling of crumble, one I made earlier and served with a big jug of hot custard, out of a convenient carton … we tried not to have too many cooks in the kitchen!

If you’re interested in hosting a Riverford lunch and spreading the word about cooking and eating organic vegetables, even trying your own veg box (be part of the revolution), Riverford would love to hear from you. Contact Kirsty Hale, Riverford Cooks organiser at the farm on 01803 762019 or email kirstyhale@riverford.co.uk.

Eating Humble Pie

Turning a much loved traditional meat dish like cottage pie into a vegetarian option is likely to leave the meat eater feeling short changed. And that’s usually because the substitute ‘meat’ content feels and tastes the same as the topping because the gravy disappears into all the layers, homogenises all the flavours and turns it into something like baby food.

Florencia Clifford’s recipe for Lentil Cottage Pie from her book Feeding Orchids to the Slugs raises the bar and turns an old English favourite into a multi-cultural dish with ingredients from all over the world whilst firmly rooted in some very British vegetables. The recipe comes in two parts. It’s starts with Braised Lentils, a dish that is a complete meal or make a lot and keep some to use as the base for the Cottage Pie.

Braised Lentils. Flo recommends Puy lentils because they are more flavoursome than other lentils and keep their texture. Puy lentils come from a particular place in southern central part of France (the French are very precious about this fact, and rightly so) and are considered to be the Rolls Royce of lentils and probably the only lentil you’ll find served as an accompaniment in top restaurants.

Take: 345g Puy lentils, 1 large onion peeled and sliced, 1 carrot chopped in chunks, 3 celery stalks chopped in chunks, 1 red chilli, finely chopped small, 3 cloves of garlic, chopped, 3 Bay leaves, a bunch of parsley, a glass of white wine or light beer (optional), 1/3rd cup of Tamari sauce, 2 tbsp oilive oil, 1/2 tsp of cumin seed, 500ml home made strong vegetable stock. Flo’s recipe includes 2 cloves and 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika but she suggests you leave these out if you’re using the lentils for a cottage pie.

Toast the lentils in a pan over heat to bring out the flavour, set aside. Heat oil in a large pan add cumin seeds, cloves and onions. Cook gently until the onion is transparent. Add garlic, carrots, celery and chilli, cover and allow to sweat on a low heat. Next add lentils, paprika and wine/beer, mix well and simmer to allow the liquid to evaporate. Add Tamari. Pour enough stock to cover lentils and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Slow cooking is important, so as not to shock the gentle flavourings. Add bay leaves and half the parsley. Lower heat and simmer until lentils are cooked but not overly cooked, check at 15 minutes and thereafter in short intervals. When cooked remove cloves and add rest of the parsley.

Serve as a meal or side dish to fish or chicken or take it to the next level and turn it into Flo’s Lentil Cottage Pie.

To make the topping any root vegetable or combination works, experiment or go with favourites. Traditional cottage pie is beef, or lamb (shepherd’s pie) with mashed potatoes on top, grilled to make a crispy topping then serve with a green vegetable like peas or cabbage.

I chose parsnip and sweet potato for contrasting colours and textures placed as two separate layers. Celeriac and potato mixed together would work or a mash up of different root vegetables. Add butter or olive oil to the vegetables when mashing, this will hold the texture and flavours together and give structure to the pie. Use a shallow or a deep pie dish, it all depends on what you prefer. I went for a deep layer effect to make the most of the contrasting colours. Finish in a medium hot oven for about twenty minutes.

This dish is right up there on my list of comfort foods and as a complete meal in one very yummy. I’ve named my version the gourmand’s lentil layer pie due to the posh lentils and layers (your could have several vegetable layers if you were feeling up to the challenge . . . and more than three pans).

 

 

Every Living Thing

In between showers this bank holiday weekend I moved the veg plants into their new homes: the Wall Patch (raised bed), the Salad Basket (trendy hazel wood patio container bought in a sale), overflow of potatoes (Amorosa x 2) tastefully planted in a flower bed alongside the Wall Patch and resembling a burial mound for a departed pet, complete with marker. There is also a Berry Bed (work in progress) for three flavours of currants awaiting a transplant. Note to self: don’t take on too much if as I have discovered you are a fair weather gardener or else put on the wet weather gear and get over it. As for the tomato plants and herbs they are all enjoying more space in the cool cupboard while I come up with an alternative address.

During showers I took to the sofa and carried on reading about a missionary who drags his family off to the African Congo in 1959, intent on taming every living thing:

‘But my father needs permission only from the Saviour who obviously is all in favour of subduing the untamed wilderness for a garden. He beat down a square of tall grass and wild pink flowers . . . and he began to rip out long handfuls of grass in quick energetic jerks as though tearing hair out of the world . . . to hack out a square dominion over the jungle, surely and soon to have tomatoes and beans coming out our ears.’

Well he didn’t get those things coming out of his ears instead it all ended in tears and a lot of things dying.

And I am trying to do the same, without the violence against nature, reading books (not all novels), reading the notes that came with my seedlings and searching the internet. George Monbiot (vegetable evangelist and nuisance to the government) has lots of good advice: keep compost heap hidden at least 10 feet away from your veg or every living thing in the garden will come and help themselves to your food. And why wouldn’t they?

Learning by doing is my preferred method of going about things but a plan is good and taking time to get organised could pay off quicker than jumping in.

So here’s my plan for the Wall Patch and one for the Salad Basket.

 

This is how it looks on the ground and the plan was made after planting (courgettes on the left, broad beans on the right) because that’s the way round I discovered the free trial for planning on the Veg Grow website.

I like the way it provides a space to hold the whole project all together and I can see at a glance order out of chaos, meaning all my scribbled notes and good intentions are now in one place. It’s free for a month and then £15 annual subscription if I decide to go with it.

A Potato by Any Other Name

Before I discovered potatoes had proper names and real character traits like the Amorosa that ended up in a cake all because of certain fleshy attributes, the full extent of my knowledge about potato varieties ran from Jerseys, King Edwards, Whites to a Maris Piper. A potato was a potato and a boring, tasteless one at that unless it was a Jersey.

Now organic potatoes arrive in brown paper bags clearly labelled as to what’s inside and where they come from and then I find out from the Riverford newsletter that there’s a reason why a particular variety is available at certain times of the year and how best to cook it. And then I discover that I can taste the difference between my Cosmos and my Amorosa, organic of course. The potato is my new best friend. RESPECT!

When I told Jim, my neighbour I was chitting potatoes to grow in my garden, he gave me a pat on the shoulder and a big smile. Welcome to the club, he said. To date, I’ve been given a dozen dwarf broad bean plants and lent two books.

Jim said he’d never heard of the Amorosa and we didn’t find it in his book, Potato but we did find the other variety I’m growing: Red Duke of York from the Netherlands originally, born 1842 and quite rare. Apparently not unlike the Amorosa in appearance, also from the Netherlands (now growing in Hampshire and perhaps in my garden too if the specimens from my veg box are successful) but a relative newcomer: long, oval very red skin with light tasty yellow flesh. I shall compare and contrast in due course.

Last word: There are 36 pages of named potatoes from around the world in the Potato book, starting with Ajax and ending with Yukon Gold. In the middle of all that is the Red Pontiac. If you can name a nail polish Black Cherry Chutney, there’s no good reason not to name a potato after a car.

 

A Cake is Born

If I ever said potatoes were boring I take it all back. Put one in a cake with vodka and Bitters and all sorts of mischief happens. The Amorosa potato variety in this week’s box is described by Duncan Jannaway, the organic Hampshire farmer who grew it, as ‘pink skinned with creamy firm flesh’. That makes it the ideal spud for this decadent cake with a reputation for being a bit of a lush.

This is a grown up sophisticated cake not too sweet with lots of mystery and a bit of spice. Delightfully light and bouncy with a fine texture not unlike a Victoria Sponge but without the immaculate reputation. Add a spoonful of raspberry jam, a drop of fresh cream, put out the best china and Voila! . . . an innocent cream tea for two and no one need know what’s going on with the cake.

Amorosa Cake is inspired by the combination of Harry Eastwood’s recipe for Miss Marple Seed Cake and the name of a luscious potato, see above. I had intended to make Ms Eastwood’s recipe but lacked caraway seeds and brandy, hence my improvised version. If you’ve invented a cake with vegetables, with or without a tipple, I’d love to hear about it.

Take: 240g raw potato peeled and grated, 100g rice flour, 50g ground almonds, 2 tbsp of vodka, 1/2 tsp Angostura Bitters, 2 tsp baking powder, 3 medium eggs, 160g caster sugar, pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg. 18cm cake tin (spring release best)

1 Preheat the oven 180C/gas mark 4. Prepare cake tin with baking parchment lining the base and butter the insides.

2 Whisk eggs, sugar and salt till pale and volume doubled.

3 Fold in grated potato, don’t let the colour of the grated potato put you off as it turns into grey matter after a minute or two. I’d probably grate it straight into the egg sugar mix next time. Fold in all the other ingredients in stages to get an even mix.

4 Pour mixture into the tin and position mid oven. Bake for about 40 minutes. Mine was done in about 35 minutes.

5 Remove cake from oven and leave on a cooling rack. Sprinkle top with caster sugar for serving and all’s set for a delightful afternoon tea.