shaken berries

Wild strawberries, redcurrants and raspberries are all plentiful in our garden at the moment. Tempting me to grab a handful as I walk past on my way to plant purple beans or to pop outside with a bowl before eating my breakfast granola. And Ruby is telling me she’s ‘fed up’ of the regular strawberries that have been our dessert most evenings for the last two weeks.

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While I’m definitely not fed up of red berries, it’s perhaps time to do a little more with them than pour on the cream. Redcurrant cordial beckons (how lovely to drizzle on to vanilla ice-cream or use in salad dressings as well as for a summery drink) but first I’ve made something even easier.

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We’ve had such amazing summery weather lately, it’s seemed more important to savour it, whether it’s pottering around the garden, sneaking into the hammock on a lazy weekend afternoon or eating outside.

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Or making sure that warm evenings are not all about dusk gardening; remembering to sit with a drink and enjoy the golden glow of the hay field next door and the changing look of the garden as the sun sinks and a bat starts to circle the house.

You may think I’ve spent a little too much time doing the above if you saw the parsnip forest (I’ve left them to go to seed, enjoying the flowers until my squash are ready to plant in their place) or the wild growth around the redcurrants. But the parsnip flowers are very pretty and there’s a definite hum about them suggesting the honeybees are appreciative of my tardy ways. While my wild growth is doing a good job of protecting the redcurrants from greedy birds, keeping them hidden like little jewels in an unkempt forest.

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Shaken berries (or currants) seem to be popular in Scandinavia, and it’s a wonderfully simple way of drawing attention to their jewel-like beauty. Trine Hahnemann inspired me to try them when I read the Nordic diet and Diana Henry reminded me in her wonderful recent book, a change of appetite.

You can use any sort of berries/currants - I used a mix of wild strawberries (cultivated strawberries don’t work brilliantly in this) redcurrants and raspberries but will be trying blackcurrants too when they’re ripe.

These berries are meant to be shaken, not stirred, so I’d recommend using a deep sided baking tray. My first attempt was in a container with shallow sides which encouraged me to do the opposite.

300g berries/currants

75g raw cane sugar

Rinse the fruit but don’t dry. Spread them out on a large tray and sprinkle with the sugar.

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Leave for a couple of hours until the sugar has dissolved, shaking from time to time.

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Pour into a sterilised jar (I used one straight from the dishwasher) and they’ll keep for about 3 weeks in the fridge. Great with mascarpone for a summery dessert – the juice makes a lovely, easy syrup to sweeten the mascarpone – these make a tasty breakfast too with thick, Greek yoghurt or labneh.

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Would love to join in Four Seasons Food, co-hosted by Louisa of Eat Your Veg and Anneli of Delicieux, with this month’s theme of The Colour Red hosted by The Spicy Pear and to Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season.

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salald, edible flowers & higgidy pies

I have to admit that the words pie and salad are not often paired in this house. Pie and mash, yes regularly. Pie and steamed veggies even. Salad, flowers and pies, not really. But thanks to some totally delicious and very summery pies that I was sent recently by Higgidy and a selection of salad seedlings from Sarah Raven we’ve been turned.

Imaginative fillings such as Sweet Potato & Feta with pumpkin seeds, Chicken & Smoky Spanish Chorizo Pie had something to do with it. Then there’s the fact that the side dish was very handily growing just by the back door.

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The mizuna, red mustard, rocket and red & green lettuce seedlings were sent to me by Sarah Raven back in April, with fab seed markers and a feed to encourage healthy growth. The idea was that I would grow my own side salads to accompany the pies that would follow in June.

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Some of the seedlings were planted in a little area next to my strawberry bed, but I have to admit that the ones that fared best were planted in a pot right next to the back door. Sheltered, against a sunny wall and very handy for watering they also provided handy leaves for lunchtime sandwiches before the arrival of pies.

I don’t normally buy pies, although I’m very partial to a home-made chicken and mushroom, buffalo and kidney or wild greens and ricotta version. As these turned up when we were just back from holiday and I had lots of work to catch up on, they were particularly welcome.

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Pies that taste like properly handmade pies too, but with lovely fillings I hadn’t thought of. As well as including classics such as the Little Smoked Bacon & Cheddar Quiche (Ruby’s favourite).

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There are some great, imaginative ideas for side dishes both on the pie boxes (Warm White Bean Salad to go with the Chicken & Spanish Chorizo Pie, Moroccan spiced Carrot & Orange for the Sweet Potato & Feta) and on the Higgidy web-site. Because I was looking forward to an easy supper, and I returned from holiday to a garden full of edible flowers, I popped outside and then tossed the following ingredients together for this salad to enjoy with my pies:

Garden Salad with Edible Flowers

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A few handfuls of mizuna, rocket, red mustard, lettuce (grown from my Sarah Raven seedlings)

Purple & red radish sliced

A handful of flat leaf parsley tips

A few fennel fronds & pea-tips

Salad Burnet (for a cucumber-ish flavour)

A handful of edible flowers – borage, violets, chop suey green flowers, chive flowers, calendula)

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1 tablespoon cider vinegar

4 tablespoons local rapeseed oil

A little sea-salt

 

Very glad I have a few pies still in the freezer – the first new potatoes are nearly ready and I’m thinking already of tossing a few with sorrel & butter to scoff with a Chicken & Chorizo pie.

With thanks to Higgidy and Sarah Raven for providing me with delicious pies and salad seedlings.

 

 

accidental colour & slug-fests in my june garden

We spent the first part of half term in Wales and my morning walk down to the village bakery took me past hedgerows bursting with purple foxgloves, ferns, red campion and sunny yellow buttercups. I was guilty of overusing the word ‘lush.’

Now we’re home, there may be fewer ferns and foxgloves (and glorious glimpses of sea), but lush is still the word that keeps springing to mind. Along with slug-fest that is.

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I’ve been hardening off lots of seedlings in and alongside my cold-frame and before we went away I was in a rush to plant them out. Some have fared better than others during the rainy days we were away; courgettes are doing fine, whilst French beans have been munched away so only their stalks remain.

I’ve been loving wandering in the garden and across the fields in the gentle after-rain warmth, enjoying the feeling of freshness and the shimmering droplets of water caught by ladies mantle:

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Slugs and snails have been similarly enjoying a wander around my garden. Salad leaves are being munched and the peas are nibbled as fast as they appear:

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Blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry and raspberry bushes are heavy with fruit, inspiring me to dream of summery puds to come over the next few months. The rain is plumping up the strawberries well too.

Weeds from the field next door are also enjoying the great growing conditions but the comfrey I’ve planted along the field edge and around fruit trees is giving the weeds some fierce competition. And adding lots of nutritious layers to the compost heap.

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Even with all this growth, there are still some bare batches. Namely, around Ruby’s tree-house. We’ve cleared quite an area of nettles and docks and, inspired by our Welsh hols I’m thinking of encouraging more comfrey, ferns and red campion to spread wildly in the area behind the tree-house and around the pear tree.

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In the meantime, I’m loving the colour elsewhere, and very grateful as much of it is accidental – from self-seeded calendula to splashes of orange poppies (that have kindly picked a spot next to nicely clashing purple aliums), chop suey greens that were meant to flower last Autumn and walking onions that choose their own places to roam.

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Joining in once again, with Lizzie Moult’s fab Garden Share Collective.

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griddled asparagus with halloumi & myrtle berry oil

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The sun is shining, the kitchen doors are flung open all day and it’s definitely the weather for griddled asparagus. I may live up a Cotswolds hill but all this glorious sunshine and simple meals enjoyed outdoors is making me crave Mediterranean flavours too.

I still have a long wait for home-grown asparagus – in fact I was starting to worry that the asparagus I grew from seed last year had disappeared during the winter. Happily thin little spears have started to appear, but I need to wait a couple of years until I can harvest from these plants.

Living not far from the Vale of Evesham, there’s a plentiful supply around here of locally grown asparagus though.

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My favourite is from a farm in the next village that I love cycling to for extra veg (especially at the moment when the garden is so lush but there’s still a wait for lots of Summer crops). The asparagus is freshly pulled, in large crates that I choose from – excellent value too as it isn’t yet graded or washed.

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I love it simply steamed with olive oil or butter but today it seemed like the weather for griddling. While the griddle pan was hot I couldn’t resist adding slices of halloumi too; with a drizzle of olive oil and some good bread it made a quick but delicious lunch.

The olive oil was sent to me from Marina Colonna, a Masseria (farm) in Italy that looks lovely – I had a peak at the film here. The extra virgin olive oil is fruity and full of flavour in its own right but I’ve also become very inspired by their flavoured oils. I love the fact that they’re flavoured with fruit and herbs grown on the family farm and they’re also more unusual than any flavoured oils I’ve come across before.

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Natural Zest of Organic Oranges or Lemons is going to be delicious drizzled over simple, summery grilled fish but how about olive oil with natural zest of organic citrus Bergamia or cardamom flavoured oil? The olive oil with natural rose essence is earmarked for a Middle Eastern inspired cake with ground almonds, while the truffle oil is heading for pasta and risotto. I’m definitely going to try some of Marina Colonna’s own recipes here too – really fancy the octopus with mandarin oil and when my broad beans are ready some will be heading into the broad bean puree with chicory and toasted bread.

Anyway, back to my lunch. Hardly a recipe, I simply heated the griddle pan, brushed it with olive oil and griddled thin spears of asparagus for a few minutes. Next into the griddle pan went slices of halloumi for 30 seconds or so each side. The myrtle (I’m thinking I must grow some!) oil was drizzled over both and I added a few basil leaves. As I had some leftover bread, this went into the griddle pan too. Delicious.

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And nicely quick to cook, so it didn’t keep me too long from this:

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Would love to link up with the fab Simple and In Season hosted by Ren Behan and Louisa of Eat Your Veg’s Spring Four Season’s Food (great for healthy, family friendly recipe ideas) which she co-hosts with Anneli of the lovely Delicieux.

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chicken with marigold petals & rampant herbs – may in my kitchen

My chicken with red peppers & marigold peppers was inspired both by Sophie Grigson and a visit to herb guru Jekka McVicar’s herb farm. I loved the open day at Jekka’s fabulous Herbetum and came away with some enticing new herbs to plant and enthusiastic plans for cooking with the herbs already to hand outside my kitchen. DSC07308 DSC07316 DSC07322 I reached for a copy of Sophie Grigson’s herbs, which I bought a few years ago from a second-hand bookshop and adapted her recipe for ‘Chicken Red Pepper and Marigold Fajitas’ to use up some of the leftover cooked cockerel I had in the freezer from Easter lunch: Chicken with Marigold Petals & Red Peppers 1 tablespoon cumin seeds 1 tablespoon coriander seeds 1 teaspoon dried oregano 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into strips 1 onion sliced 2 garlic cloves sliced 1 chilli, sliced A handful of cooked, leftover chicken A teaspoon of chopped fresh lovage juice of 1/2 lime petals of 3 marigold flowers A handful of chopped fresh parsley Dry fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a frying pan until they give off a heady aroma. Grind them in a pestle and mortar with the oregano. Heat the oil in a wide frying pan over a moderate heat and cook the peppers, lovage, onion, garlic and chilli for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle over the spices, season with salt and pepper, stir, cover and reduce heat to low then leave to sweat for 10 minutes or until tender. Raise the heat and add the chicken, stir fry until heated through then stir in the lime juice and serve strewn with parsley and marigold petals. This would be fabulous with fajitas as Sophie suggests, or with rice. I’d been baking focaccia with rosemary (Ruby’s fingers are still perfect for those indents where all the lovely olive oil, rosemary and sea salt gather) that morning – we had a weekend away around the Jekka McVicar herb farm visit and much as I enjoy the treat of a couple of meals out, I’m always crazily keen to cook when we return home. So we happily scoffed a tasty mismatch of food at lunchtime. DSC07323DSC07324 Skipping away from my kitchen for a minute and back to that wonderful herb farm, it was brilliant to see such an amazing selection of unusual herbs. The brilliant thing about Jekka’s Herbetum is that you can also see well established versions of the herbs that are on sale growing in lovely raised beds, with great labels that suggest ways to use them, often culinary. For instance I couldn’t resist buying a ‘Jekka’ thyme after seeing this lovely profusion of flowers and being very taken with the suggestion of using the thyme flowers in salads. DSC07267 And when we felt how soft this low-growing thyme ‘Minimalist’ was, both Ruby and I Ioved the idea of planting it somewhere where we could walk over it. DSC07268 I hadn’t seen mace growing before and couldn’t resist buying some to cook with at home. DSC07273 So many lovely herbs to choose from: DSC07283 Ruby decided she wanted to buy a herb too and found it as hard to choose as her Mum: DSC07262 My enthusiasm for planting seems to have rubbed off too. In a dubious way. For Ruby, it’s not herbs in pots; my daughter decided she’d love to grow dandelions in her hair: I’ll spare you the pics of the shower cap propagation method she used later. DSC07302 Back home, the rampant herbs that I spy from my kitchen window are tempting me to experiment more in the kitchen: DSC07307 I’m hoping the bergamot seeds I bought will germinate as I enjoyed a wonderfully fragrant tea made simply with dried bergamot flowers at Jekka’s herb farm and am hoping to replicate it at home. While I wait for bergamot to grow, I’ve been enjoying some lovely tea samples kindly sent by Teavivre. Sipping some freshly brewed Ripened Tangerine tea while watering my seedlings or savouring the organic fragrant black tea has made me realise how much of a rut I’ve got into with my mid morning coffee. Will definitely be varying it now, especially as I’m finding a morning cup of green or black tea very refreshing in the lovely sunshine we’re having. These teas are much more interesting than reaching for a tea-bag:

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I do like what Teavivre told me about their visits to the Tea Plantations in China too: “Our regular trips allow us to not just find the best teas, but also visit our supplier’s farms to personally verify their growing and production methods.” They tell me that they use organically farmed tea wherever possible. Will write more about my herby experiments soon, wondering about making tea-bread while I have these interesting teas too. In the meantime I’m off to have a peep at some other kitchens around the world in Celia of  Fig Jam & Lime Cordial’s fab In My Kitchen. Although I seem to have meandered away from my kitchen in this post, growing and planting are so intertwined with what I cook, so would love to join in. And as this is a very herby post, would love to join in this month’s herbs on Saturday which Karen of Lavender and Lovage hosts. If you like growing and cooking with herbs too, it’s a great place for recipe ideas. lavenderandlovage_cooking2

persian salad & beautiful broccoli – a change of appetite

Lamb scottadito with summer fregola was the first thing I cooked from ‘a change of appetite’; I had some local, organic lamb cutlets and Diana Henry’s marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and chilli flakes was simply delicious. I couldn’t wait to try her smoked mackerel, beetroot and poppy seed relish the following evening. DH_Day4_097 Next was the sweet-tart gooseberry, almond and spelt cake. Inspiring ideas to use the last of my purple sprouting broccoli before it flowers too. And so it continued – a pattern of hungrily reading Diana’s beautiful prose then cooking my way through the enticing recipes immediately. a change of appetite jacket This is a book about healthy eating, and it arrived at my home at a time when the wild cherry tree is covered in blossom and the warmer weather is forcing me to shed those more forgiving layers of clothes. Lighter, less calorie-laden dishes are obviously welcome. But that isn’t why I’m so keen to eat my way through ‘a change of appetite’ – it’s just all so blooming tempting. Even Ruby, my six year old daughter who’s begun looking suspiciously at my chocolate brownies recently (asking if I’ve sneaked in any beetroot) has bookmarked the date, apricot and walnut loaf cake. It’s brimming with dried fruit, malted brown flour and healthy seeds, so I’ll happily bake it for her. And scoff it too, it looks wonderful. Definitely one of my new favourites for a feel-good browse at the end of a busy working day, ‘a change of appetite’ is such an utterly beautiful book. The gorgeous photography helps but Diana Henry’s recipes and descriptions are just as seductive. From her Persian salad (I note happily that most of the ingredients including borage flowers and violets are currently growing just outside the kitchen) to squid with couscous, chilli, mint and lemon, this may be healthy food but there’s not a hint of self-denial. Written by a food writer who blatantly adores eating, none of the recipes are going to be joyless. In fact Diana stresses that her latest book is about food that’s “accidentally healthy” and I love her assertion that: “I’m much more into living life to the full than I am into thinking of my body as a temple.” Diana set out to “explore what a ‘healthy diet’ actually is and come up with dishes that were so good (and good for you, too, but first of all delicious that you wouldn’t feel you were missing out” and there are lots of interesting facts and opinions about which fats are fine to use freely, which to keep an eye on and why switching from refined carbs to whole grains is sensible. The emphasis though is on drawing on the robust flavours of Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, Japanese, Thai, Burmese and Vietnamese food – with food so fabulously fragrant with herbs and spices, you don’t crave excess fat, salt or sugar. With scandi salmon burgers, Sicilian artichoke and broad bean salad and Persian saffron and mint chicken amongst the many recipes still on my to-cook list, this book is influencing my planting plans as much as my shopping. While dried sour cherries and lots of interesting whole-grains are on the shopping list, Diana Henry has inspired me to be more imaginative in salads with the many garden herbs that are already emerging. And to grow more radish. Many hued radish in fact. Rather than use herbs as an afterthought in salads, Diana has reminded me that “…in the Middle East, they can be the salad.” And with dill fronds mingling with flat leaf parsley, mint and edible flower petals (violets and borage I think) as well as mauve and pink radish in this Persian salad, look at how beautiful this can be: DH_Day8_067 With thanks to Octopus books for my review copy of ‘a change of appetite’ by Diana Henry, published March 2014 and for the use of the lovely photos above from the book. If you’re as addicted to books about food as I am, I can also recommend a read of this piece on Diana Henry’s blog about her favourite cookery books. It may prove expensive though.

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