Joy is: gorgeous blackberries and magic summer sunshine

Are there many things more fun and magical than simply hanging out with your  kids, whilst they enjoy nature’s playground, and do some of the fruit and vege shopping for you?

Quality control in action; sampling the blackberries that are being gathered

If there are, please let me know in the comments section, because it would take something pretty awesome to top our afternoon’s out at our local pick-your-own farm. We are actually very lucky to be living in outer/ Greater London .. also known rather pompously as The Home Counties .. not so much because I put ‘The Home Counties’ in my postal address, but because there is still enough space in between the ancient villages that comprise modern London suburbia that we can have amazing pick-your-own farms, allotments and producers growing fruit and vege that is truly local.

 

We are at the very beginning of the summer holidays at the moment and I’m intending that pick-your-own expeditions will be a regular weekly outing. It’s lovely to be able to show the kids their food growing, how to know when it’s ripe, how to harvest it, what it looks, smells and feels like to be in the fields.

putting the kids to work gathering blackberries for an apple and blackberry crumble

This is because I believe that it’s incredibly important to know where your food is from. It engenders respect for nature, for the environment and for the food itself. I find my kids are more willing to eat food that they’ve gathered themselves, that they are more interested in preparing and cooking it with me and that they are less wasteful at the table, too. It’s a wholistic win-win!

And so, to the first of our summer pick-your-own excursions. We gathered raspberries, strawberries, new potatoes, beetroot, some carrots, a few early cherries and overflowing punnet of the most amazing blackberries.

Those blackberries that survived the trip home made it into an apple & blackberry crumble on the weekend … but that didn’t last long enough to be photographed, I’m afraid.

 

Oh well … we’ll just have to head back to gather some more berries. For the sake of a blog post, you understand!

Do you have any favourite food-related summer  activities? Or blackberry recipes, for that matter! I’d love to hear them. Pop me a note in the comments below.

carefully selecting the ripest blackberries, and avoiding the thorns
Delicate work required delicate hands! Photo credit: Marion Wotton Photography – food, lifestyle and product images
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strawberry fields forever

Last night heralded a ‘strawberry moon’ – the first since the heady summer of 1967. Perhaps auspiciously (or quite possibly entirely by happenstance) it coincided with the summer solstice this year. I’d never heard of a strawberry moon before .. and I’m guessing that’s the case for a fair few people as well. The only time I’ve ever seen the moon appear a pinkish hue has been in Australia when there’s a fair amount of bushfire smoke in the atmosphere, and that certainly wasn’t the case this week in the UK!

It turns out that 2016 sees the first full moon coinciding with the summer solstice since 1948. And given that the sun is at it’s maximum in all things on the solstice, the full moon last night was at it’s minimum in all things. While the sun was at it’s highest, most ‘curving’ arc yesterday, the full moon was at it’s lowest, flattest arc. This meant that the moon was viewed at a flat angle through thicker air throughout last night  – leading to the moon appearing a gorgeous golden colour. Throughout time this has been known as the Honey Moon.

So why call it a ‘strawberry moon’? Why not keep calling it a Honey Moon?strawberry wave

Many tribes of Native Americans measured the year by a lunar calendar, with the June full moon heralding the start of the wild strawberry season. Now this sounds quite right and proper!

20160610_121923The strawberry season is actually well underway already in the UK. I know this, because my little guy and I managed to collect a decent haul at our local pick-your-own farm 10 days ago. At this point, I should express my gratitude for our local PYO farm – our garden isn’t (yet) in a state to be host to a mini allotment.

So going to the PYO farm gives me the chance to start educating my kids about where their food comes from, whether it’s grown above, under or on the ground, what the plants look like, how can you tell when the fruits, vegetables and berries are ready for harvesting … and just how satisfying it is to eat food that you have gathered yourself. And seeing the tractors in action is pretty awesome too!

With thanks to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. If you’re intrigued to learn more of the traditional (perhaps slightly north American) names for the various full moons throughout the year, here’s a webpage with a listing of them.

the humble radish

That these are called (in the UK, anyway) French Breakfast radishes is a complete misnomer. As far as I can ascertain the French don’t eat them for breakfast. Nor are they particularly and solely French. But this aside, radishes are now in season and my weekly shop would not be complete without a leafy bunch of radishes sitting proudly atop the other sundry vege.

radish bunch 2

Radishes fall within the mustard family of plants, although we eat the roots (and sometimes leaves)of the radish, rather than the seeds (and sometimes leaves) of most mustard plants.

Generally, radishes have a light, crisp, texture and a peppery flavour. Select firm roots that are blemish free. If you prefer your radishes very crisp a good way of ensuring that they are is to soak them in iced water for a couple of hours before preparing them.

It’s best to prepare radishes as close to serving them as possible, as the gorgeous peppery flavour has a tendency to dissipate somewhat if they are left for a time. Because of this I always leave the radishes until last when compiling a salad, or using them as a garnish for warm grains.

Other ideas are to simply wash the roots, trim the leaves and serve them as a snack or side with a meal – they are a great palate cleanser. Alternatively you can slice them lengthwise and either salt them or butter them. You can have them sliced thinly and layered on an open, buttered baguette.

Another option is to sauté them in unsalted butter (as you might do with asparagus or green beans). Or you could finely slice the roots and the leaves and add them to a stir fry. And of course, the leaves can always be washed and added to a salad in and of themselves for a spicy kick.

There’s so much you can do with these root vegetables. I’d love to know how you serve yours.

single radish

samphire, seafood and grains

This meal was born of necessity. In the fridge I had samphire and mixed seafood that needed to be eaten, that I bought about 4 days ago and not had the chance to use yet. So I riffed along with what else was available, and what my palate told me was required (also known as ‘what I wanted to eat!’).food - samphire seafood grains 190516 (15 of 25)-Edit

Ingredients:

  • 200gm cooked mixed seafood (prawns, calamari, mussels)
  • 1 medium brown onion, chopped
  • 4 – 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (I don’t do easy on the garlic!)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 2 handfuls of mushrooms, chopped
  • 90gm samphire
  • 2 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped (optional)
  • 125gm farro dicocco (pre-cooked spelt grains)
  • 10 – 12 leaves of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1/4 of a lime
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • coconut oil
  • olive oil (optional)

Method:

I’m very much a ‘prep everything, then cook’ kind of girl. I simply can’t stand multi-tasking in the kitchen to the extent of chopping, slicing, stirring, tasting and monitoring multiple things at once. It drives me to distraction and invariably something goes wrong.

So, prep all the various items that need chopping/ dicing/ mincing/ etc. Put water on the boil for the farro dicocco. Once the water is boiling, put the grains in (they will take about 12mins until al dente).

In a high-sided sauté pan, warm the coconut oil (and olive oil, if using it) over a medium heat. Sweat the onion, carrot and garlic until soft & fragrant. Add the bacon, ginger and mushrooms and cook a further 5mins. Then add the seafood and samphire, stirring reasonably frequently for two minutes, then turn off the heat.

Once the grains are cooked, drain them and add to the sauté pan. Mix everything together, adding the mint and squeezing over the juice of the 1/4 lime.

Serve, and enjoy

food - samphire seafood grains 190516 (19 of 25)-Edit

  • Serves 2 – 3 people
  • For a pescatarian/ halal/ kosher option, simply omit the bacon
  • suitable for egg, soya, rice, dairy and nut allergies

I’d love to know what you think of this – my family inhaled it. But if there are adaptations or evolutions of this that your family enjoys, pop me a message as I’d love to know about your version.

nb – I promise that there were prawns in this dish! Unfortunately none made it into the serving I set aside for my shoot … despite my best efforts :-/

Watercress

Watercress is a lovely plant. It’s small, delicate, peppery leaves can pack a surprisingly strong punch, and it’s amazingly versatile. You can cook with it – it makes a lovely spring or summertime soup, or sauce … or a riff on the traditional green pesto for pasta.

Alternatively, you can add it to salads, serve it washed and undressed as a side on a plate, sprinkle it atop an omelette or simply stuff it into an otherwise ordinary salami & cheese sandwich!

watercress & salami sandwich 1
Watercress, German salami and cheddar cheese sandwich on seeded sourdough from Gail’s Artisan Bakery (available in store at Waitrose)

Essentially, anywhere you would think of putting the equally delicate and peppery rocket (arugula) leaves, you can put watercress.

For such a small plant, it is an incredibly good one to have as a part of your diet. It is actually classified as a ‘superfood’ – it’s that packed with nutrients and vitamins! Actually, if you take watercress and analyse it on a gram-for-gram basis, you’ll find that it:

  • has more calcium than whole milk (!)
  • has more vitamin C than your typical orange
  • is a better source of vitamins  B1, B6, K & E and of the minerals magnesium, iron, manganese, calcium and zinc than pretty much any other plant food

This is due (in part) to that fact that watercress is generally eaten fresh, meaning that none of the nutrient value is lost in a cooking process.

Watercress is in season from Spring through to early Autumn in the UK (April to September). Make the most of it!

For some more ideas on how you can incorporate watercress into your kitchen, there are some specific recipes here.

 

 

Moroccan lamb, grains and Spring veg

Part of my transition from a south-east Asian focus in my cooking to a seasonal, more ‘European’ focus has been seeking ways to incorporate the fast cooking method employed in much south-east Asian cuisine with the ingredients and flavours most readily available to me in the south-east of England.

food - grains and seasonal veg 050516 (42 of 52)-Edit-EditThe inspiration for this meal came one evening when, after a long day of parenting the very thought of cooking was almost beyond me. So the solution (given that there were no leftovers in the fridge begging to be eaten), was to come up with something easy to prepare, quick to cook and satisfying to eat.

The result was lamb, cut into bite-sized chunks and dry-marinated in Ras el Hanout, quick
cook grains, vegetables and pomegranate as the finishing touch. Given that this meal now makes regular appearances on our dining table, I’d say that this is a success!!


Ingredients

  • 300gm lamb* fillet, trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks and coated with approximately 2 teaspoons of Ras él Hanout spice mix
  • 160gm quick cook grains** (80gm per person)
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • handful of purple-sprouting broccoli
  • handful of spring greens, washed and chopped
  • the seeds of half a pomegranate
  • toasted sesame oil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper
  • coconut oil

Method

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 litres of water to the boil. Add the grains (which will take approximately 12 minutes to cook al denté). After 4 minutes, add the broccoli and carrots to the grains, adjusting the heat to ensure the water maintains a simmer. When the grains and vegetables are almost done, add the spring greens to wilt in the final minute or so of cooking.

In the meantime, warm a medium sauté pan/ frying pan over a medium heat. Add the coconut oil to the pan and once hot, add the diced lamb. Cook the lamb to your preference – personally I go for medium rare.

Drain the cooked grains and vegetables, dress with a splash of toasted sesame oil, extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Serve the grains and vegetables, topped with the lamb and garnish with a generous sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

Enjoy!


  • serves 2 as a main
  • good for wheat intolerances (contains gluten); to
  • organic (always my choice, if possible)
  • Spring

* I’ve found that 2 pork chops, on the bone, or 4 lamb loin chops also work really well

** my go-to grains for this dish are the Love Life Italian 5 Grains from Waitrose – hearty and scrumptious! For a gluten-free option, use quinoa instead

 

ancient grains

Modern day, ‘western’ cuisine often feels like it is completely dominated by the basics of the Italian kitchen – pizza, pasta and rice. I can only speculate as to why this is … an exceptionally long hangover from the days of the Roman Empire, when everything (the majority of European languages and legal systems included) either emanated from, or was significantly shaped by Rome?

Or perhaps it is a more recent phenomenon, from the days of the Renaissance and ‘The Grand Tour’ when Italy – Venice and Tuscany especially – were the height of culture, learning and sophistication.

A third option is that it is a more modern influence even than this, and is purely a side-effect (or benefit?) of mass migration following the end of WWII. In any case, pasta, pizza and white rice are now absolute and firm staples in many homes … but does it have to be this way?

Personally, I found that having just these as basics led to a lack of inspiration on my part and boredom for our palattes. Not to mention the fact that if you (or someone in your family) has an intolerance to commercial wheat then chances are that they will find the after-effects of a pasta meal made with mass-market, dried pasta to be somewhat uncomfortable!food - grains 050516 (25 of 82)-Edit-Edit

So, what are the alternatives? Ancient grains and products made from ancient wheat flours. Dried pasta products made from ancient wheat flours (buckwheat, spelt, khorasan and rye) are increasingly available, especially in health food stores and online. They all have slightly different cooking properties and tastes, so some experimentation may be required for you to hit on the right pasta + sauce combinations for your table.

Ancient grains, however, give us a huge range of possibilities since this category of staples includes spelt, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, couscous, brown (unhusked) rice and wild rice, amaranth, bulgar wheat, freekah, millet, einkorn, emmer, sorghum, rye, teff, polenta, oats …. and many are gluten-free to boot.

millet 1When presented with a list like this, it’s a wonder that we have allowed our horizons to be narrowed SO MUCH to so FEW grains varieties!! Many grains can be purchased as both whole and quick-cooking varieties, with the quick cooking grains taking 12 – 15mins in boiling water. Whole grains either need a longer cook or pre-soaking. All have a subtle, nuanced flavour, but if you want to impart a stronger flavour profile it’s simply a matter of adding a stock cube or flavour pot to the cooking water.

One of my favourite ways of doing grains at the moment is to serve them with seasonal vegetables (cooked in the same pot as the grains – seriously, one-pot cooking is totally where I’m at!), served as a main, or as an accompaniment to either meat or fish.

purple-sprouting broccoli

The season for purple-sprouting broccoli here in the UK is traditionally early February through to late April, but with the weird weather and cold start to spring mean that the season has been pushed back a bit. So yay for being able to enjoy this fabulous, peppery brassica for a little bit longer! food - purple sprouting broccoli 300416 (25 of 33)

This is an incredibly versatile vegetable, but one of my ways to enjoy it is to have the stalks (spears?) simply steamed, tossed in a peppery extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with a teeny pinch of sea salt, sliced Santini tomatoes and Parmesan shavings as a side-salad.

However purple-sprouting broccoli works well in stir-fries, quiches, warm salads, vegetable gratins, with pasta, blitzed into a pesto paste, with eggs … the list is extensive as your imagination! (see my spring greens and sausages recipe for a little inspiration)

As long as this variety of broccoli is in season I’ll be cooking with it – I’ll post some recipes in the near future.

Do you have any particular or favourite ways of enjoying this brilliant and vibrant vege?

khorasan and thyme shortbread

Throughout this blog, as it grows, matures and hopefully blooms bright and wonderful, you will notice a distinct lack of references to ‘plain flour’.

This is due to not everyone in my house being able to eat plain, commercial flour without experiencing rather uncomfortable side effects. This is true of commercial wheat products in the UK and in Australia, but curiously not in continental Europe, which leads me to think that it must be a combination of farming methods and perhaps the variety of wheat grown for flour.

Happily, flours produced from ancient wheat varieties don’t cause the same symptoms … even more happily, ancient wheat flours are increasingly available in the UK. So my store cupboard is stocked with wholegrain and plain spelt flour, khorasan (or kamut) flour, buckwheat and rye. Most of these are available as organically certified, whickhorasan-shortbread 3stackh is brilliant. I tend to mix my own blends of self-raising flour as and when required by a recipe.

I predominantly use spelt flour in my cooking and baking, but for this shortbread I use organic khorasan flour. Khorasan flour is incredibly fine – think ’00’ pasta flour and you’ll get the idea. It has a mild, nutty flavour that, together with the dried thyme give a pleasing savoury edge to these otherwise sweet, crumbly biscuits.

 

Ingredients

  • 125gm unsalted butter, softened (organic if preferred)
  • 150gm golden, granulated sugar (organic if preferred)
  • 175gm organic khorasan flour
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 dessertspoon of golden caster sugar
  • either a silicone baking mould (approximately 18cm square) or a greased loose-bottomed cake tin (18cm diameter)

Method

Heat your oven to 150deg Celsius (300deg Fahrenheit)

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar until combined. Add the flour and dried thyme, mixing to combine until a loose, crumbly ‘dough’ forms.

Pour the crumbly ‘dough’ into your baking mould/ cake tin, pressing the dough down to form an even, smooth-topped layer in the bottom of the mould.

Prick the surface lightly with a fork – go ahead and be artistic with patterns if you wish! – and dust the top with the golden caster sugar.

Bake for approximately 55 – 60mins. Once done, the shortbread should be a golden-brown colour, and still soft. Cut the shortbread into bite-sized pieces while still hot and pliable, and leave it to cool and harden in the mould.

Once cooled, remove from the baking mould and enjoy!

Khorasan shortbread blog header (1 of 1)

  • recipe yields approximately 20 biscuits that last for a week in an airtight tin (unless eaten first!)
  • organic
  • good for those with intolerance to commercial wheat flours
  • vegetarian