Bank holiday Monday: Burgers & crumble

It’s been a full-on bank holiday weekend. We have seen two of our favourite families; the Olivers on Friday night and the Osbornes Sunday night. The weather yesterday was not too bad, by British bank holiday standards, so we got out the barbecue and planned a sumptuous vegetarian feast. Now, one of the best things about spending all day cooking for friends, is that dinner the next day is always fast to prepare and delicious.

We got up to the allotment for about five hours this afternoon and left it feeling like it was finally looking not too bad for May. We emptied the loam from the wooden compost area, filled it with manure to rot down, got the runners and broad beans into the bean bed, got the red onion sets in and transplanted the parsnips, wired the raspberry bed posts even higher, attached the guttering that fell of the shed to the polytunnel frame and had a fire! Okay, stuff that should have mostly been done in March, but at least we have some greenery in some of the beds now. Late May allotment

The strawberries are fully in flower, and we have some ripening in the polytunnel, the raspberry flowers are developing and the rhubarb is looking plump. So we cut some off to bring home for crumble. Burgers and crumble not a classic combination, but so quick, simple and fresh tasting.

Menu: Carrot and chickpea burgers and Rhubarb crumble. The burger mix, pitta breads, bulgur wheat salad and tikka marinated vegetable skewers were left over from yesterday’s dinner.

The vegetables were cooked as a curry and served with the bulgur instead of rice, and the burgers were fried on the hob – much faster than trying to barbecue although they suit the char-grilled taste well.

Carrot & Chickpea burgers:

  • 750g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp tahini paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • zest 1 lemon, plus 1 tsp juice
  • 150ml pot natural (or soya) yogurt

Based on the bbc good food recipe –
Method:

  1. Put 1/3 grated carrot in a food processor with the chickpeas, onion, 2 tbsp tahini, cumin and egg. Whizz to a thick paste, then scrape into a large bowl. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan, tip in the remaining carrot and cook for 8-10 mins, stirring until the carrot is softened – it will become more golden as it is cooked. Add this cooked carrot to the whizzed paste with the breadcrumbs and lemon zest. Add seasoning, then mix together well with your hands.
  2. Divide the mixture and shape into burgers (we got around 12 small burgers from this quantity). Cover and chill until serving. Mix the yogurt with the remaining tahini and lemon juice, then chill.
  3. Fire up the barbecue, or heat a non-stick frying pan and brush the burgers with the remaining oil. Cook the burgers for 5 mins on each side, until golden and crisp. We served with pitta breads straight from the oven.

Pittas served with burgers. Carrot and chickpea burgers.

While the burgers were in the pan, the rhubarb was washed, chopped and put on the hob. It was not too long a wait for piping hot crumble, again, courtesy of a quick search on the BBC good food website.

Rhubarb oat crumble:

  • 500g rhubarb, chopped into chunks the length of your thumb
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 50g oats
  • 85g butter, chilled (or vegan equivalent, like Pure)
  • 50g light brown muscovado sugar

Method:

  1. Tip the rhubarb into a saucepan with the sugar. Cover and simmer on a very low heat for 15 mins. When soft and sweet enough, pour the rhubarb into a medium baking dish.
  2. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. To make the topping, rub the flour and butter together until you have a soft, crumbly topping. Then add the sugar and oats, mixing together by hand or machine. Spread the topping over the rhubarb and bake for 30 mins or until golden brown on top.

Cooking rhubarb.   Mixing the crumble.   Crumble out of the oven.

Rhubarb oat crumble.

We served with a spot of Alpro soya cream.

A delicious end to a wonderful weekend full of friends, laughter, fresh air and good food.

A family dinner despite the news

Okay, this isn’t really a place to discuss politics, or the news…except that we do not live in a vacuum and everything we do or believe we are choosing is influenced  at some political level.

Friday 8th May 2015 was the day we woke up to the news that the Conservative party had done comparatively well in the General Election, and over the day the news led to the conclusion of events: we have a majority, albeit a small one, tory government.

Neither of us really knew how we were going to vote, right up until walking into our village hall. We live in a ‘safe seat’ constituency, so for us, it was all about how to most effectively register our protest at the current political system. I have met our Conservative MP several times. I quite like the guy; engages at whatever level in community affairs and has come out on a Saturday morning at my request to attend to a localised issue that is really important to our local youths, with – at the time- a three month old baby: I respect that. However, I do not share a political perspective with him, or the majority of voters locally. I believe there is a better way to organise social living on our precious planet; only one party represents my views remotely closely.

I am proud that I added my voice to the 1.1+ million voters who support the Green Party, and in proportional representational terms, lend legitimacy to Caroline Lucas‘s sole voice in Westminster, even though she only -technically- represents Brighton on a national scale.

So what can a green-minded family do in times of such despairing news? Well, we cooked a lovely meal and reflected on what is important to us.

Dinner: Tempura vegetables followed by Thai Green Vegetable Curry with a nice bottle of relatively local Pinot Gris. Heavier whites go better with stronger spiced foods, and wines from the Alsace region are usually a safe option for curries, particularly Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Dinner menu: Tempura Veggies followed by Thai Green Vegetable Curry with a bottle of Pino Gris from AlsaceTempura Veggies:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 10g baking powder
  • Iced, sparkling water
  • Selection of vegetables cut into chunks

Method: Stir the flour and baking powder together in a bowl and gradually add the water until it is thick enough to cover your spoon / finger / mushroom quarter. Don’t over mix: you are trying to slow the developing gluten and any lumps in the batter mean less absorption of fat. The colder the water, the better. Ale (for a heavier batter) and other carbonated waters (soda, tonic) aid the lightness of the batter, literally through the air bubbles.

Plunge into a wok with heated vegetable oil and fry until lightly browned.

Remove and drain as best you can.

Serve with soy sauce, infused with chillies / coriander /  finely chopped spring onions – to taste (chilli-free for our boys).

Frying tempura battered veggiesDraining tempura veggiesAubergine, purple sprouting broccoli and mushroom Tempura battered vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thai Green Vegetable Curry:

Damian based this course on Jamie Oliver’s dish, but with the following ingredients (and no fish sauce, obviously):

  • Butternut Squash
  • Yellow pepper
  • Aubergine

I can’t recommend making your own paste enough. We have a Magimix Micro for whizzing up all our massalas and curry pastes. It makes all the difference when you can pick fresh herbs from your allotment or select them from your local Asian foods store.

Serve on steamed Jasmine rice and top with loosely chopped fresh coriander.

Infusing the vegetables in the pasteThai Green Vegetable Curry DSC_1810

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fabulous family dinner that gave us time to reflect on what is important to us, what we must keep on striving towards to do our part in sustaining a fairer society and reducing impact on our planet. None of the vegetables in this dinner, apart from the garlic in the paste, were grown on our allotment: it is too soon in the season for us. But what is important is to do what we can to reduce our environmental impact and to keep talking about politics at home!

To finish, here is a photo of Sarah meeting Natalie Bennett (leader of the Green Party) along with Fiona Protheroe, a local Green Party council candidate in Skipton in 2013…a very positive moment in local activism.

Fiona and Sarah with Natalie Bennett - leader of the Green Party - in 2013
Fiona and Sarah with Natalie Bennett – leader of the Green Party – in 2013

A winter of windbreak fencing

One of the things on my list last year was to install windbreak fencing along the East and West borders of our plot. It took a fair while to clear the area, get the poles, get help to place the poles in situ and get the fencing up – several months in fact. Stakes installedErecting East fenceInstalling the fencingWest fence in

We noticed a difference in the level of wind immediately. By October, when we finally got both the East and West fences completed, we could also feel a slight temperature increase inside the plot.

2014-10-18 15.28.04

We have been up there this afternoon starting to dig over the beds (a bit late, I know), and we are so pleased that we invested in the windbreak. Despite several gales over the winter, nothing has been flung into the side of the poly tunnel, and everything seems fairly in tact. Sadly, we have also made it more comfortable for the resident rabbit, but hopefully the dogs will help to persuade our furry visitor that it’s not a safe haven after all.

Windbreak fencing West

You can just about see in this photo that the wind coming up the valley has bent the poles inwards – a strengthening job will be required in the next couple of months. It was expensive – around £200 for the fencing and another £50 for the wooden stakes (we got half and our plot neighbours the other half). They helped us to hammer them all in.

Time to start focusing on our planting plans – and watch the rhubarb grow :-)

Emerging rhubarb

Broad bean risotto

I ended up having quite a disastrous year at the allotment: Too many unplanned jobs arose through the key seed-sowing time. That, plus stories from our allotment neighbours of mice decimating their ground-sown peas and beans, led me to never quite getting around to planting enough in time. I did, however, manage to sow enough field beans (var. ‘Wizard’).

2014-08-13 20.20.542014-08-13 20.21.05What a star crop! They fared better than the few longpod broad beans in the ground through the drought, and were less scarred by the winds a few weeks back. They are smaller than standard broad beans, but are prolific and taste fabulous. What’s more, if you crop them young there is no need to remove the skins. In fact, it’s our first year of growing this crop, so I have not seen old beans – you may never need to skin this variety.

As soon as I had enough broad & field beans, we sat down to a favourite risotto:

Broad bean & lemon Risotto
Serves 4

1-2 handfuls de-podded field beans
Other veg from allotment, chopped

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5oz Carnaroli or Arborio risotto rice
A good glug of dry white wine
1 pint Marigold veg stock, near boiling
1 Strip of lemon peel
1 Bay leaf and handful chopped mint
Handful herbs from garden (thyme & oregano both work)
Seasoning

Juice from 1/4 lemon
25 g butter/vegan equivalent
Small handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped

1. Prepare the vegetables and herbs, and make the stock. Good risotto requires you to stir and add liquid gradually, so ideally you need to be ready to go before you add the rice. If you have time/space, make the stock in a pan next to the rice pan and keep it heated. Use a large, flat-bottomed pan for the rice.

2014-08-13 18.01.122. Lightly fry the onion in the oil. Well before it browns, toss in the garlic and stir for another minute. To brown the rice or garlic would spoil the flavour.

3. Add the rice, lemon peel and bay leaf and stir to coat with oil. After about 30 seconds, you will hear the rice beginning to crack. Stir to make sure the rice is toasting evenly for a minute or so.

4. Add the wine. Prepare for the sizzle and steam cloud! Stir until evaporated.

5. Add 1 ladle of stock to the rice and stir, gently and consistently.

6. When the rice has absorbed the stock, add another ladleful. The stock should be hot when added, which is why it is best to have it in a pan over heat, rather than poured from a jug.

7. Add the vegetables at around this point. It takes about 20 mins for risotto, so allow 8-15 mins for the veg depending on cooking times. Field beans require about 10 mins using this method, as does courgette.

8. Keep stirring and adding a ladleful of stock when the liquid has been absorbed / evaporated. The rice and liquid should be keeping a creamy consistency by now.

9. When cooked – al dente rice and liquid gone, remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf, lemon zest and woody herbs if used. Squeeze the lemon over the rice and stir. Add the butter or vegan spread and seasoning, and stir. Do this step quickly, stirring fast to cool the rice to slow further cooking. This dish should be glistening!

10. Serve with fresh mint.

I may not make the most perfect risotto in the world; I believe it is quite an art. But the kids love it, and it’s a great Monday night dinner to finish off any white wine leftover from the weekend.

Pea and mint is another tried and tested recipe, that works ever so well with mangetout from the plot. I grow 3 varieties of mint in the herb garden; the spearmint complements the peas fantastically, and I find the chocolate mint works very well with the broad beans.

2014-08-13 18.54.26

Garden plans

Despite the gloom, I’m getting outside as often as I can to make a start on the changes I’ve planned for 2014. It’s very late though, especially given it’s been relatively mild.

Note: To maximise time in my own garden, I should really stop volunteering to get involved with other and bigger green spaces!!

I sowed the sweet peas around 2 weeks ago. I should have started with veg, but I never get around to it with sweet peas. Last year only one of the three that germinated actually survived after transplant at the allotment. The scent is intoxicating and they look so pretty clambering up cut branches. So far 24 have germinated, so I hope I will have many cut flowers in the house and around the veg plot.

Toilet rolls and potted papers for the sweet peas
Toilet rolls and potted papers for the sweet peas

I have finally been out with my secateurs to neaten the woodland wildlife garden. I needed to, to cut back the rampant Kerria japonica alongside the fence. The starlings in particular have been giving me a helping hand with taking last year’s perennial stems, but it felt good to finally start tidying and making space. I still have a long way to go, but it’s a start.

Forks at the ready
Forks at the ready

Our fence is in quite a bad state. It needed treating, so I thought a pretty colour would brighten up the back garden on a gloomy day. It draws attention to the crumbling frames, but I hope it will last another year or two. We have windbreaks to put up in the allotment before we can think about replacing this!

'Wild Thyme' Garden Shades fence paint
‘Wild Thyme’ Garden Shades fence paint

And the sorry state of the frog pond… The Scirpus had fallen completely under water while we were away, the stones put in to create shelves when the pond was built have moved, and there are no hiding places for the frogs, or easy places to get out. I still haven’t sorted it out, but I have bought a collection of water plants. Once I buy a new net (the small one I was using this morning snagged on a stone and went in AGAIN) and get even longer rubber gloves, I will be able to locate the stones, rearrange them and create some planting spaces to help the frogs. Hopefully then they will reward me with frogspawn, but it might be too late this year now.

Planted basket with marginals
Planted basket with marginals

Still, the sparrows are keeping busy. When a bunch of 6 or so screaming males descend in the garden at the same time it is wonderful to stop and watch. A pair of hungry great tits have just been to visit, and the dunnocks are coming a bit more frequently again.

Not strictly veg-growing, but all things that contribute to biodiversity by providing habitat and food for wildlife. Oh and I finally ordered raspberry canes today after dithering for weeks. So I will HAVE to get those beds finished over the next few days.

Friday Frogs

I’ve been keeping my eye on the small wildlife pond in the back garden for signs of awakening. When I was topping up the bird feeders this morning I spotted a single frog in the back corner. When I went out to collect the laundry basket in at twilight, there were four.

I was so excited, but by the time I went back with my camera only three were there. It’s clear to see that there is a male piggy-backing on a female, so I hope there will be frog spawn very soon.

As happy as I am to see the emergence of my wildlife friends in the garden, I also feel quite sad. This time of year usually sees many amphibians squashed on the roadside, as they sluggishly make their way back to their breeding ponds. If you live near toad breeding areas, you might find the Toads on Roads campaign helpful. So please take care in your cars and on bikes to look out for frogs & toads crossing the road.
Frog Toad crossing

Come on girls!

I have wanted to keep hens for quite a few years. A few of my friends found a way to do just that, and I have enjoyed hearing their tales. My main motivation I suppose is being able to collect eggs and knowing exactly what diet the hens have had and how they are cared for.

But with only small spaces, and two dogs bred for hunting birds (we occupy their minds elsewhere), hens are not likely to grace our garden any time soon. But I saw this card the other week, in the most fabulous little independent bookshop in Llanidloes, and it will be getting framed and put up at home soon. Reading about Green Lizard’s hens in The Netherlands has made me want to care for my own all the more. But for now, this picture will have to do.