Allotment Glut – Strawberry Time

My first strawberry of the summer.

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It’s never long before I have more strawberries than I can easily cope with. In the last week I have picked about 6kg from our badly overgrown strawberry patch. They grow despite me, not because of me.

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I have no idea what variety they are but they don’t keep very well and actually, they don’t have the best flavour when eaten ‘raw’. They make good jam though and I have some steeping in sugar ready to make strawberry conserve later today.

Last week while the country was enjoying a 30C heatwave was NOT the time for making jam. Instead I decided to go back to a recipe I haven’t made for a very long time – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s strawberry granita. Since I bought a mouli attachment for my Kenwood mixer this recipe has become even easier – no more pressing all the fruit through a sieve. Last time I made this I did as the recipe suggested and froze it all together, serving it by scraping it into piles of red crystals with a fork. That got a bit tedious after a while though so this time I froze the mixture into ice lolly moulds and the first batch has disappeared already.

Here is what to do. Mash and sieve (or put in your mouli) 1kg of hulled strawberries. Mix in 200g of icing sugar and the juice of a lemon. That’s it. Just freeze the mixture in whichever way you prefer.

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Of course, you then have the challenge of getting the lollies OUT of the moulds. I’ve been dipping mine, briefly, into a cup of boiling water and then squashing them gently. That seems to have worked.

Today I made a second batch of this mixture. Despite buying a second set of lolly moulds I still had a bit of strawberry juice left over.

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It made an awesome milkshake. Just what the doctor ordered for my littlest person who is at home with a raging temperature. Since strawberries are very high in vitamin C it might just help to fight off whatever virus is bugging him.

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Cheap Dinners: Tomato Risotto with Butter Beans.

Lately I’ve been feeling less and less like eating meat. I haven’t given up eating it but I just don’t feel inspired by cooking meat dishes.

I also find that if I need a quick meal, meat is not my friend. I tend to buy meat cuts that are better cooked long and slow, because they are cheap. I rarely have chicken breasts in my fridge or freezer.

However, I ALWAYS have tinned tomatoes, rice and usually some sort of tinned bean. Together they can be combined into a simple, nutricious supper.

Here is what you need.

1 onion diced

2 small cloves of garlic diced very finely

tablespoon of tomato puree

25g butter

1 tbs oil

250g risotto rice

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin butter beans

IMG_5034Gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in the oil and butter until soft. It’s very important to do this well because you don’t want hard, sharp tasting onions in the final dish.

Add the rice and mix well. Fry the rice for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes a splash of boiling water and a tablespoon of tomato purée.

Allow the mixture to simmer and stir frequently or it will stick. You may need to keep adding a little more boiling water.

When the rice is cooked it should be soft and without ‘bite’. Stir in the beans and allow them to heat.

Season with salt and pepper. I garnished mine with a little grated parmesan and a small blob of wild garlic pesto but basil pesto would be nice too.

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There are a million ways you could change this recipe – more onions, different beans, some herbs, diced chopped vegetables, a few frozen peas or sweetcorn. In it’s most simple form it is cheap, cheerful, tasty and nutritious – I’m sure I heard someone once say that all the amino acids a person needs can be found in a combination of rice and beans. So, if you’re stuck for a quick meal, this could be just the thing.

What to do with left over egg whites?

Last week I finally made some gooseberry ice cream. The recipe I use calls for egg yolks, but not the whites. Unfortunately I miscalculated the quantities I was making so when all the ice cream was packed away in the freezer, I had eight egg whites to use up.

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Lemon meringue pie? Making a pastry case is too much effort.

Lots of egg white omelettes? Nice, but no good if you want to use them all up at once.

Angel food cake or some other whipped cake? Apparently the egg whites need to be at room temperature for a good result and mine were chilled.

Coconut haystacks? Just the thing, quick, easy and I happen to have bought a large amount of desiccated coconut recently.

This recipe is from a children’s cook book we were given a few years ago. I don’t feel too guilty about repeating it as it is a pretty generic, basic recipe. It does lend itself to baking with children because the whisking and mixing are pretty straightforward.

Coconut Macaroons

The basic ingredients are egg white, caster sugar and desiccated coconut.

I will give you the quantities for one egg white and you can multiply it up depending upon how many you need to use up.

1 egg white, 35g caster sugar, 70g desiccated coconut. This should make about seven.

Whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks. Whisk the caster sugar in a third at a time. Your mixture should now be quite shiny. Gently fold in the coconut using a metal spoon and a figure of eight motion trying to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.

Mould the mixture into heaps using an egg cup, removing them with a tea spoon. They should hold their shape well when cooked so you can fit quite a few on a baking tray at a time. We bake ours on a good quality non-stick tray but you could line a regular tray with some parchment. In either case a very light coating of oil will reduce the risk of them sticking.

Bake them for 15 minutes at 140C or gas mark 3. They should be golden brown on top when done. Lift them off using a spatula or palette knife and place them on a cooling rack.

coconut haystacks or macaroons

When they are cool, melt some chocolate by breaking it up and placing it in a bowl resting on top of a pan of boiling water. Either dip the macaroons into the melted chocolate so that half is covered or drizzle them with lines of melted chocolate.  Leave to cool again on a piece of greaseproof paper.

coconut haystacks macaroons chocolate

Enjoy as a gluten free treat with your coffee.

 

Simple, leeky, cheesy risotto

In the interests of getting the allotment ready for spring, all our leeks have now been pulled up. Some of them were reasonably sized but mostly they were on the slim side. However, as with many things in life, size is not everything and our leeks were full of flavour. I have been enjoying them in various forms since the turn of the year (lemon, goats cheese and leek tart was my highlight) but last week I turned them into a cheesy risotto. What I really wanted was some pasta in a cheese sauce with sautéed leeks but having given up wheat for Lent, that was off the menu…

IMG_9311Here is my recipe. I ate this quantity all by myself (in my defence I have been running a lot further lately and that makes for hunger) but it would be enough for two if accompanied by a chunky salad.

150g leek

1 clove of garlic

5g butter

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

100g arborio risotto rice

125ml of white wine (optional – just add 125ml more stock if you don’t have any wine)

200ml of vegetable stock (I just use basic stock cubes)

50g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated (or whatever cheese you fancy, parmesan would likely work)

a few chopped walnuts to garnish

The first thing you must do with leeks is wash them very carefully. This means splitting them lengthwise from a few cm into the white part right through the leafier, green part. Put them, upside down, under cold, running water and gently clean the inner parts of the leaves, making sure there is no dirt or grit remaining. Shake the leeks to get rid of excess water then slice them. I like mine about half to one cm wide and I use the whole leek, white and green.

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Melt the butter in the vegetable oil and gently fry the leeks and garlic with the lid on the pan, lifting it now and again to stir.

When the leeks are softened, add the rice and stir well for a minute or two.

Add the wine and cook everything gently, stirring regularly so that the rice doesn’t stick. As the mixture becomes drier add more hot stock. Keep stirring and adding stock until the rice is cooked. It should be soft but still retain some bite. About the time that you add the last bit of stock, add the grated cheese too. It doesn’t matter if you put it in at the end, it will melt with the heat of the cooked rice.

Taste your risotto and add any salt or pepper you think necessary, or indeed, more cheese.

Serve with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts. Or a great big handful, like I did, if you prefer.IMG_9537

 

 

 

Cunchy, nutty, oaty, wheat free treats

Lent has never really meant much to me. I’ve never been one for ‘giving up’ but a few years ago I decided to give up wheat. The experience was an interesting one, interesting enough for me to repeat it last year and again this year. Although I can give up bread, biscuits and cake, it’s nice to have a little treat now and again. I have been playing around with this recipe for a while now. The original version is from ‘Yoga Mind and Body’ by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre who also publish a yoga cookbook. It started life containing wholewheat flour and peanuts but they have gone now. If you are looking for a wheat free, egg free, dairy free recipe these flapjack style  biscuits are perfect.

flapjack mixture

Ingredients

250g oats

100g ground almonds

100g chopped nuts  – any you like, I have used pecan, brazil, hazel in various ratios

100g brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp mixed spice

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

150ml vegetable oil

50ml milk,soya etc is fine if you want dairy free or water is fine.

Method

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C and lightly grease a swiss roll tin. Mix all the dry ingredients well. Add the oil and stir. Add the milk or water a little at a time, checking as you add it to see how well the mixture is sticking. It should be able to hold together reasonably well (see picture above). Press it into the tin, squashing it flat with the back of a spoon. Bake until it is golden brown, probably for 15 to 20 minutes. When the flapjacks come out of the oven they will still be soft. Mark them into appropriately sized pieces with a round bladed knife. Remove from the tin when they have cooled and hardened. Enjoy!

Note

You can play around with the proportions and types of spices that you use. Personally, I like quite a lot of ginger and not too much cinnamon.

flapjack in tin baked flapjack cut flapjack

Foraging

Even by the August Bank Holiday, summer is slowly slipping into autumn and a walk out in the country can unintentionally turn into a foraging trip.

IMG_8085In this case, we set off to simply blow the cobwebs away with a walk near this flooded quarry and the neighbouring woodland.

IMG_8089The path we were taking passed some exposed rocks that I think are limestone pavement. The dips and troughs in the rock are like little micro-habitats. Look at the delicate plants and bright lichens within them.

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IMG_8087As I was taking pictures, the rest of the family were beginning to hunt for something else: mushrooms. My husband has often reminisced about mushroom picking in his younger days.  As I was brought up in town and warned never to pick or eat wild mushrooms, it always seemed like a mildly risky thing to do. However, I figured that in the company of two older family members who have been picking  (and eating) mushrooms from this area for years, we were probably safe. We sent The Husband back to the car to collect a bag and we all spread out on the great mushroom hunt, combing the field and darting off after white blobs on the horizon. Alas, many of them were just stray bits of fleece from the sheep that were grazing nearby. By the time he got back we already had a couple each. We searched for a while, with reasonable success but soon the children wanted to retrace our steps and head into the wood. The Husband’s Aunt decided she would go on alone and look for some more, so the rest of us trooped off to explore a different habitat.

IMG_8102Son Number One was keen to build a den. Between him, Babykins, The Husband and Grandma, they did a pretty good job. The Middle Miss was not so keen to pick up soggy, spiky bits of wood and haul them across rough ground so I took her off to explore and again, I was taken by the smaller plant life of this damp woodland.

IMG_8092We enjoyed looking at these tiny, star-like plants and spotting the even smaller creatures running among them. Then I gave her a little lesson in using a compass, with the built in app on my phone. We tested the theory that moss grows on the north side of tree trunks but it didn’t seem to be a very good theory in this particular conifer plantation. All the time, The Middle Miss was looking out to see if her Great Aunt had returned. As soon as she was spotted we ran to see what she had found.

IMG_8143Sure enough, the little bag she had taken was full up with mushrooms of varying sizes. By that time, everyone was ready to head back home.

IMG_8100I tried really hard to capture the view of the fells as we drove back in the car, they looked so dark and dramatic. The eastern Lakeland fells that surround Haweswater hold special memories for me and I will enjoy looking at this picture, despite the poor quality image my iPhone produced.

IMG_8105And finally, the only way to eat foraged field mushrooms (according to The Husband anyway). Mushrooms cooked in milk, with a little cornflour to thicken the sauce and served on toast. A taste of his country childhood.