Category Archives: cooking

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
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Winter home-grown dinners

With home-grown dishes far less frequent over the winter months, dinner on Monday night was a real treat. During a break in the rain I managed to spend about half an hour at the allotment. I dug a few leeks and snipped a selection of leaves: Bright Lights chard, Cavolo Nero and (what we think is) Red Ursa Kale.

Our stores of home-grown produce are really depleted now.  Given the small size of our plot that is no surprise. But in this dish our home-grown ingredients include garlic, leeks, the leaves and our 2013 chilli jam.

Stir fry with home-grown leaves & smoked tofu

In a wok, heat 1cm covering of vegetable oil

Smash 1 garlic clove and add to the oil

Fry the cubed, drained smoked tofu

Set aside on kitchen paper to drain

Wedge  1 small onion and finely chop 1 inch of ginger root

Prepare leaves, leeks and 1 stick celery

Add 1 tbsp sesame oil to wok

Fry ginger, onion and garlic in that order before adding leeks

Keep tossing the wok. Add 1-2 tbsp tamari sauce

Add 1-2 tsp Chilli Jam, or a freshly chopped chilli and a dash of honey if none

Add the celery and then the leaves

Squeeze half to a full lemon, and more tamari to taste

Season, then toss through smoked tofu cubes

Serve hot with egg-fried basmati rice

– Happy tummies, happy kids –

Greens 'n leeksGreensLeeksFrying cubed tofuChilli JamWinter stir fry

Roast tomato and yellow lentil soup

I found this recipe in a magazine in 2003, and it was one of the few things I could tolerate making and eating with morning sickness, despite the spices.

Every autumn, it’s usually the first recipe I hunt for in my folder when the herbaceous perennials start browning and the hint of wood smoke hangs in the air.

Menu
Menu
Roast tomato and yellow lentil soup with spiced yoghurt
Roast tomato and yellow lentil soup with spiced yoghurt

Roast Tomato and Yellow Lentil Soup with Spiced Yoghurt
Serves 4

6 ripe tomatoes, skinned

2 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp turmeric
1 red chilli, chopped
25 g butter/vegan equivalent
200 g yellow lentils, well rinsed
1.25 L vegetable stock or water.
Small handful of fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped

For the spiced yoghurt:

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp soya /greek yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/gas mark 6. Chop the tomatoes in half, crossways. Put on a baking tray, season, then dust with the curry powder and drizzle over the olive oil. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes.

Place the onion, garlic, cumin seed, coriander seed, turmeric and chilli in a pan with the butter/vegan equivalent and fry gently on a low to medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until the onion turns translucent. Add the lentils, turn up the heat to medium, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the stock, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the roasted tomatoes, and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the garlic, ground coriander, cumin and a pinch of salt to the yoghurt. When ready, pour the soup into warmed bowls, serve with a swirl of spiced yoghurt and scatter with the chopped mint.

On this occasion, I made a tomato-topped foccacia to serve with the soup.

For vegan equivalents, I substituted the butter with light olive oil and used soya yoghurt. Soya yoghurt (I had Alpro this time) is much runnier than the greek-style yoghurt, but it takes the spices beautifully and still sits on top of the soup for better presentation. I use marigold bouillon for making stock, it is both delicious and vegan!

Tomatoes!

Barely time to share all the amazing things we’ve been eating from our plot this year, I really hope that will change now my studies are coming to an end. The poly tunnel has made a massive difference this year.

Early August
Early August

Our allotment neighbour John gave us a few tomato plants, plum, sub-arctic and cordon (Sungold?) varieties. They complemented the tiny-tom, beefsteak and gardener’s delight that we grew. Marvellous! I have to say that the sub-arctic have been no earlier than the others to ripen, considerably later than the cordon varieties, the latter of which have been far superior in taste and texture.

Late August
Late August
Early October, plenty left to ripen
Early October, plenty left to ripen

Everything went in late this year, partly the late spring and partly the poly tunnel taking our weekends up…but we have been enjoying the tomato harvest over the last fortnight. We picked 3.5kg last week, and another 3.5kg on Monday this week. There are a fair few ripening on the vines still, maybe another 2kg, and we must have had about 1kg’s worth of the first to ripen last month, plus those we picked for the village show.

I’ve been trying to get creative with recipes so no one gets bored of this very small window of home-grown harvest goodness.

So far, the tomato dishes we have made are:

“Mediterranean soufflé”

“Tomato foccacia”

“Roast tomato and lentil soup (served with spiced yoghurt)”

“Pappa alla pomodoro soup”

We have also been using them in generic minestrone and stew type dishes, as well as including a handful of sweet cherry toms in the boys’ lunch boxes for school. I’m just about to go and make a big batch of roast tomato and pepper sauce for the freezer while they are still fresh. Recipes to follow…

Redcurrants

I was never the biggest fan of redcurrants in the past. Perhaps the available varieties were more bitter then the blackcurrants I loved. When we took over our allotment, we inherited 2 blackcurrant bushes and one redcurrant. I have to say, that the redcurrants have always been better fruiters and far sweeter to the palette.

After two years of leaving them to get on with it, we’re going to make sure we prune properly this autumn, as the bushes are starting to look straggly. It’s also quite difficult reaching to the other side, for the leggy wooden growth in the middle. I will have to research if there are pruning groups and what the suggested rules are.

Redcurrents
Even after 2 afternoons stripping currants, there were still enough to do something useful with. So Damian set to and decided to make some redcurrant jelly.

Redcurrent jelly pan

Method:

Add sugar to the washed redcurrants in a pan.
Cover with water.
Boil vigorously for a while.
Once the mixture is reduced, strain through a muslin to remove the
pips etc.
Decant the jelly to sterilised jars and leave to set.

Redcurrent jelly jar

The result; two jars of the (naturally) sweetest redcurrant jelly that complements many lunches, salads and even cooked dinners.

Buying locally

YorkshireVegBoothsWe are huge advocates of buying locally, and, that’s not as easy living in the UK as say Australia, never mind in the north.

We are busy planting our seedlings up at the allotment, but are far from harvesting much beyond salad leaves. I stopped in at Booths in Ilkley on my way home last week, and was delighted to see not only Yorkshire grown asparagus, but also sweet peppers. I also picked up some Yorkshire Fettle (Dales-made Feta like cheese) and British spinach and created a fabulous dish for the children in about 15 minutes. I was so pleased, I thought I’d share.

StuffedSweetPepperWithAsparagusI deseeded the peppers and washed them without drying them. I placed them under the grill and turned every couple of minutes. I then stuffed them with spinach leaves and cheese. They went back under a low grill until the cheese melted, and the juices wilted the spinach beautifully.

I served with steamed asparagus and toasted pine nuts on top of pasta.

I was disappointed to discover that the pine nuts I buy from our Health Food shop are imported from China, but I felt we could allow that extravagance given the few food miles the majority of our dish had traveled.

Having been served a lattice of asparagus drizzled with clarified butter once in a London restaurant and simply loving it, I clarified some of our vegan spread (we use Pure sunflower) and added some freshly-picked chopped oregano and sage from the herb garden and drizzled on top.

The boys loved it, as did we! And this is seasonal food at its finest…can’t wait for the allotment to start burgeoning!

Recycling eggshells

I’ve known about sprinkling broken eggshells around young plants for a while, but until last year I wasn’t sure how to reuse my eggshells in such a way.

Last summer we spent a disastrous fortnight camping in Wales, the weather was awful. We did visit my Great Aunt in Swansea for the day however, who told me what she does with her eggshells. So simple and obvious really, but now I know it works I’m happy to make my own.

She keeps an old baking tin at the bottom of her oven and puts used shells in it. So when the oven is on, it bakes them.

I’ve found the smell of baking eggshells a little unpleasant, so I tend to keep the tray to bake in the other oven. When I remember, I put the tray in the hot oven after removing the cooked food so that the shells bake in the cooling oven. I usually do this twice, just to make sure they are brittle enough.

They then get crumbled and stored in a tub for use in the garden.

In terms of effectiveness against slugs and snails, well I wouldn’t rely on eggshells alone to prevent favourite young plants being eaten. But every barrier helps, and the eggshell pieces can always be dug into the soil after the season.

eggshells

This photo implies we eat A LOT of eggs :-) On the contrary, actually. We had omlette tonight for the first time since the start of lent. The broken shells are about 8 months worth of eggs.