Plot to Plate: Courgette Tea Bread

Last week the courgettes were destined for savoury fare in my courgette and chilli cornbread. This week’s courgette production shows no let up, so I’ve been experimenting with sweet uses of courgettes. First I tried a courgette chocolate cake using a recipe from the Delemere Farm Goat’s Milk carton. It was meant to be avocado and chocolate, but ended up with grated courgettes in too (as with so many things in our house…) It tasted good, but I need to work on the moisture levels as it was a little dry – probably due to my substitution of gluten-free flour for ordinary flour.

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First attempt at a sweet courgette recipe – the homemade blackcurrant jam between the layers of the cake worked particularly well

So then I embarked on an old favourite – tea bread, but substituting some of the dried fruits for grated courgette. This worked a treat – the loaf was moist with no distinct taste of courgette – just a general fruity deliciousness.

Courgette Tea Bread

Ingredients

300g mixed dried fruit

150g grated courgette

200ml cold tea

250g gluten free self-raising flour (or could use ordinary wholemeal self-raising flour)

170g soft brown sugar

30g melted butter

1 egg

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Dried fruit and grated courgette soaking in the tea

 

Method

Soak the dried fruit and grated courgette in the tea for several hours or overnight. Add the flour, sugar, butter and egg to the soaked mixture and combine thoroughly.

Line a long loaf tin with greaseproof paper and pour cake mixture into the tin. Bake at 170ºc for 1-1.5 hours until the tea bread is firm to the touch.

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Hard to leave it to cool before slicing as it smelled so good…

Enjoy with a cup of tea, preferably in the sunshine.

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And relax…

 

 

 

 

 

Plot to Plate: Courgette and Chilli Cornbread

Everywhere you look at in my house at the moment there are courgettes of different shapes and sizes. In the sinks, the fridge and on the worktops. It’s a lovely problem to have and I’m intending to conquer it by including courgette in every meal and snack for the next few weeks. I might just let the kids off having it grated into their breakfast cereals if I’m feeling generous 🙂

So I’m starting a series of courgette recipes in Plot to Plate, beginning with this delicious cornbread which we’ve been enjoying for years and moving on to other ideas including some yummy courgette Earl Grey tea bread which I’ve been experimenting with this week.

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This beauty has been split between the cornbread and the teabread

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And this monster is lurking in the utility room sink…

 

Ingredients:

1 onion

1 red pepper

2 medium courgettes (I used 2/3 of this big one)

1 egg

4 tbsp olive oil

1 chilli (vary heat levels of the chilli to taste)

2 small sweetcorn cobs with kernels removed or 1 cup frozen sweetcorn

125ml crème fraiche

125g polenta

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp baking powder

250g grated cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp paprika

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Cooking the vegetables – the courgette, onion and chilli in the cornbread were all from the garden or allotment

 

Method:

Chop the onion and red pepper and grate the courgette. Add to a frying pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil and cook until soft. Cool in a bowl.

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Ready to be baked – I didn’t put the chilli in the bread because the kids don’t like it spicy, so I sprinkled it on top of one half and put paprika on the other half to show which was which

Beat the egg with remaining olive oil and add chopped chilli and cooled veg. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (except the paprika and 50g of grated cheese). Pour into a 21 cm diameter shallow cake tin and sprinkle the cheese and paprika over the top.

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Cooked and ready for action

Bake at 180ºc for 40 mins. I usually serve warm with salad, vegetables or soup.

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Courgette and chilli cornbread with olive and beetroot from the allotment – nourishing and tasty

Plot to Plate: Apple and Cinnamon Butter

If you have a glut of windfall apples and have already made a sticky apple traybake with this irresistible recipe from A Bookish Baker (for a gluten free version I just substituted gluten free self raising flour for ordinary flour), I would heartily recommend turning the rest into apple and cinnamon butter. You can then enjoy your harvest on toast, pancakes and in porridge throughout the rest of the year and into 2017…

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Teatime this week has been a nice cup of assam with a slice of sticky apple traybake 😁

Ingredients

450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

450g eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

675g granulated sugar

475ml dry cider

1 tsp ground cinnamon

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Apples ready to go…

Method

Boil cider and continue heating until volume is reduced by half, then add apples, lemon rind and juice

Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook for 20-30 minutes until apples are soft

Once mixture has cooled a little, blend to a puree. Press through a fine sieve into a bowl

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This shiny puree is ready for the sugar

Measure puree into into large pan, add 275g for every 600ml of puree. Add cinnamon and stir well to combine

Gently heat the mixture, stirring continuously, until sugar had completely disappeared. Increase hear and boil steadily for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture forms a thick puree that holds its shape when spooned on a cold plate

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Decanting the butter…

Spoon the apple and cinnamon butter into warmed sterilised jars. Seal and label, then store in a cool, dark place for 2 days for flavours to develop

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This little lot will keep us happy for months

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Apple and cinnamon butter on gluten free buttermilk pancakes 😁

This recipe is based on one in a great book called Preserves and Pickles, by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhem which we use for many of our preserves, especially in the autumn.

Plot to Plate: Stuffed Summer Squash

I’ve sometimes grown fruit and veg in the garden and then had insufficient time, in the whirl of hectic family life, to harvest and/or cook it, which rather defeats the object of growing it in the first place. Now my youngest is at school I’m resolved to make more time to enjoy the fruits (and veg) of my labours and to share some of the recipes that have proved popular on the blog.

So here’s one I made last week with summer squashes I swapped locally for some of my excess chilli peppers…

Stuffed Summer Squash

Ingredients

1 summer squash

Approx. 50g soft goat’s cheese

1/2 red pepper

Handful of mint leaves

Method

Cut out the top of the squash and scoop out the seeds and membrane, discard

Roast the squash in the oven at 180ºc until just soft – around 40 minutes depending on size

Cut the pepper and cheese into chunks

Finely cut the mint

Mix pepper, cheese and mint together

When the squash is soft, stuff the centre with the pepper, cheese and mint mixture (the amounts will depend on the size of the squash) and put back in the oven for around 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the peppers are soft

Serve as a vegetarian supper for 2 with buttered crusty bread or a vegetable accompaniment to a meal for 4

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Like a cake, it looked rather too good to eat

 

We’ve also enjoyed a tasty alternative squash supper where we stuffed the cooked squash with chopped, fried chorizo and mushrooms mixed with cooked quinoa. Great for a complete gluten free supper in one delicious vegetable bowl.

Bon appetite 🙂

Hey Presto – Pesto!

It was too hot tonight to spend much time in the kitchen – what was needed was a quick supper for the family to eat in the garden. Salad is plentiful at this time of year, so add a bit of pasta on the side and job done. Pesto is great to mix with speedy pasta and luckily I’d made some earlier in the week. Here’s how I made it, plus some top tips on how to grow and harvest the basil and store the pesto afterwards…

Sowing Basil

I grow basil on the top shelf of the greenhouse (away from all but the best ninja slugs) and I usually grow sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) as it has the sweetest taste for pesto and salads. I’ve grown Thai basil in the past – I grew Ocimum x citriodorum ‘Siam Queen’ primarily for cooking Thai dishes. It has a stronger liquorice flavour which is lovely in a curry and is a more ornamental plant with its purple/red stems and pink flowers. It didn’t make such good pesto though, so I went back to sweet basil for my pasta dishes.

Seeds can be sown from February to June and take a couple of weeks to germinate in a propagator or a pot/tray inside a polythene bag. Once the seedlings are large enough, they can be pricked out into small pots. I tend to grow mine in pots (I pot them on a couple of  times over the growing season into larger pots and probably would grow them in bigger pots still if I had the room.) They can also be grown on a windowsill for the duration or hardened off after the risk of frost is over and planted outside in a sunny, sheltered spot. I’ve found this to be less productive due to low temperatures in past summers, but in a hot summer this would probably be more productive than greenhouse growing if you have enough space.

If you like the idea of growing different types of basil for pesto or other recipes these seed suppliers are a good place to start. Here are a few on my seed list for next year…

Thompson and Morgan – I like the idea of Basil ‘Lemonade’ adding a ‘sherbert lemon twist’ to a bowl of summer strawberries.

Kings Seeds – Cinnamon basil sounds tasty and ripe for some culinary experimentation. Lemon basil also appeals and I like the idea of adding it to Earl Grey tea. Especially when the tea is made from bergamot from the garden.

Nicky’s Seeds – Basil ‘Floral Spires White’ and ‘Floral Spires Lavender’ combine the ornamental and culinary, with pretty flowers on a compact plant. Sounds like it has real potager potential.

Top Tip 1:

If you don’t want to raise basil from seed it is easy to buy a cheap supermarket pot of basil and divide it. I did this one year when I needed plants for the school plant sale and mine had all been gobbled by the hungry and increasingly skilled ninja slugs.

Basil in pots is overcrowded and often doesn’t last long – convincing cooks that it is a hard plant to grow. With a few extra pots and a bit of compost, all the seedlings in the pot can be pricked out, given their own space and then grown on in a greenhouse, on a windowsill or in the garden. This gave me over 30 individual plants which all matured to be stocky sizeable specimens with many leaves over the course of the summer. Bargain!

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Some of the basil after its first mini haircut

 

Growing Basil

Basil likes warm conditions and plenty of water. It should also be fertilised once a month over the summer.

Top Tip 2:

I grow my greenhouse basil in pots placed in gravel trays. Although the plants shouldn’t be sitting in water, I do find they are happier in a more moist environment than many of my greenhouse plants. Without a gravel tray the water quickly drains away, but with it they can absorb more of the moisture and then any excess can be tipped away. (Although in practice I’ve found an occasional few days here or there sitting in water doesn’t seem to do them any damage.)

Even managed to squeeze some basil into the tomato hanging baskets

Harvesting Basil

Basil can be harvested throughout the growing season and is lovely in salads and well as in pesto. I particularly love it at this time of year in a basil, tomato and mozzarella salad with a mix of our red, purple, orange and yellow tomatoes.

Top Tip 3:

I generally harvest basil for pesto twice in the season. Pinching the plant out stimulates side growth, leading to a sturdier, more productive plant. I use the pinched out leaves for salad early in the season and then leave them for a few weeks to grow back. I then take most of my plants back to the lowest set of leaves and make pesto. Finally towards the end of the growing season I pinch the plants back to the lowest leaves again. This set of leaves usually makes the largest amount of pesto.

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This plant has been pinched back hard twice and is branching enthusiastically

 

Making Pesto

I collect a basketful of leaves from about 20 plants and then pick off and wash the leaves. These are blended with 50-100g of pine nuts, 1-3 cloves of garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 100g grated Parmesan cheese and enough oil to blend to a fairly smooth paste. I generally try the pesto when it’s blended and add more garlic, salt and/or nuts to taste.

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Late summer pickings

 

Top Tip 4:

This week I discovered I only had half a pack of pine nuts in the cupboard – disaster! I read about using other nuts in pesto so I added cashews to make it up to the right amount. The pesto was delicious and I’ll be trying different types of nuts in the future (pistachios and walnuts for starters) to see what works.

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Pesto ingredients with a mix of pine and cashew nuts

 

Top Tip 5:

The second batch of pesto invariably makes more than we can eat fresh, even in a particularly pesto-loving household. I have frozen it in little pots before which is a bit of a nuisance as it ties up all my containers for months, so this year I froze it in ice cube trays and then popped the pesto ice cubes into a bag when frozen. Leave out the cheese if freezing and add when you defrost. The pesto ice cube can just be stirred into hot, cooked pasta and it will melt with the cheese to create perfect easy tea.

Pesto ice cubes

What have you made pesto with and how successful was it? I’d love to try other greens in the future as well as different types of nuts…

Pesto pasta for all the family with a colourful garden salad

More delicious recipes from the garden to come in later posts. Follow the blog to get tasty updates…

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Grow your way to happiness…

It’s not been the easiest time in my life, but the past 5 years have been the making of me – mentally and physically. I’ve been a full-time mum for 7 years, having left the teaching profession to focus on being with the kids in their formative years. I’ve loved being at home, but have also had to deal with illness, culminating in a diagnosis of coeliac disease. Compared to what many people have to cope with it hasn’t been too bad, but it has still required a change of mindset and re-education where food and cooking is concerned.

During this time gardening has been a really positive force in my life and has inspired me to follow a new direction – training as a garden designer and setting up as a gardening blogger and writer. I’ve also become involved in several community garden projects including The Wynd Garden, The ‘In Bloom’ Garden and The International Garden Cities Garden in Letchworth, and the Triangle Community Garden in Hitchin. Through my volunteering I’ve seen how gardening can help people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to develop confidence, overcome problems and enjoy a meaningful relationship with the natural world.

I’ve recently had an article published in Free-From Heaven (a great magazine with endless lovely healthy recipes and stories) and hope it might help others to grow their way to happiness. I’m not sure I’m a prolific gardener and I don’t spend much time crimping pasties, but apart from that it’s all true!

The full text is reproduced below the image – do leave me a comment below with feedback and let me know how gardening/cooking has influenced your life. Thanks.

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My Free-From Life…

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be up at dawn, exploring the natural world at its most active, listening to the dawn chorus and engaging with the day in its infancy. In reality most mornings I struggled to rise for work, or in the early days of motherhood, to soothe night-time toddler traumas. And much as I loved interacting with my kids, games, for me, were generally conducted from the sofa rather than the floor.

Then five years ago I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, like my father five years previously and slowly I began to understand the reasons why my expectations so far exceeded my abilities. I was tested because of my family history and registered positive in both the blood test and a biopsy. Initially we thought I was asymptomatic, but after a year on a gluten-free diet I realised other people didn’t try harder than me to get out of bed in the morning – they just had more energy than I did. My general health and energy levels, which I’d never thought of questioning, improved rapidly.

Over the past five years I’ve rearranged my life around new rules. I generally choose not to eat out as I’m extremely sensitive to gluten and have had a couple of bad experiences in the past, so as a full-time mum I turned to my house and garden, to growing, harvesting and cooking my own food as a way of regaining control of my life. Using my gradually developing energies, I learned to create the kind of food I feared I’d be missing now eating out was off the menu.

Initially I used the garden to provide ingredients for my cooking, but it quickly became something greater, an inspiration, an education and a growing passion. My garden became a haven, somewhere I felt comfortable, but also somewhere I was finally able to develop my relationship with the natural world. I started laying the first border into the grass at a stage where I could only manage an hour’s digging before retreating to bed, then laid paths, developed flower borders, nature areas and set up a productive, although small, fruit cage and three vegetable beds. As a family space, the garden gives us a base for finding essential oddments for craft activities, gardening with the children (as I write, they have a thriving bed filled with carrots, oca and enthusiastic nasturtiums) and a willow den, which my father and I built using willow whips, and which now can entirely absorb passing small children into its frondy interior in summer games of hide-and-seek.

Produce from the garden has been an inspiration in my cooking. As I’ve begun to master gluten-free cakes, biscuits and a variety of different pastries, the garden has provided. It has offered vegetables for Cornish pasties, raspberries and alpine strawberries for adding magic to cupcakes with the kids and baskets of fruit which my husband carefully transforms into jellies, jams and chutneys to see us through the winter. As my confidence in gluten-free cooking has grown, I have begun to create more ambitious foods. Birthdays now always mean a big gluten-free cake – anything from rainbow cakes to flower garden cakes and even an entirely gluten-free gingerbread house! Most normal recipes need a little alteration, but we think my cakes and biscuits are generally pretty similar to gluten alternatives.

Bread is the latest challenge – one of our New Year’s resolutions for 2016. Soda bread has been very successful, especially when eaten on the day it’s made – with a homemade soup based on seasonal vegetables from the garden. My first focaccia attempt would have been extremely useful as a building material, but had little culinary merit. Since then I’ve experimented with different flours, psyllium husks and flax seeds. The results are slowly improving and I’m hopeful that a soft, tasty loaf with plenty of added fibre is just around the corner. Perfect to spread with home-grown jam or to make into a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, with salad freshly picked from the garden.

I no longer feel the need to rise at dawn because I now engage with the world in a more immediate way. I’m out there, doing what I love, greeting the days with renewed energy, grateful for my new life and my good health.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please do follow the blog below:

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If you’d like to get involved with volunteering in your local area there are many community gardens throughout the UK. The BBC has a list of local gardening projects, the RHS runs the Britain in Bloom and It’s your Neighbourhood projects which offer local volunteering opportunities and the social and therapeutic gardening charity Thrive also has four community gardens around the country supported by local volunteers.

With thanks to my friends and family for their support and to all the garden volunteers who give so much and make so much of a difference.

 

Scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream – perfect for a summer afternoon tea

The best thing about scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream is that you get two bites of the raspberry. You can make the jam in July with a glut of summer raspberries as we did, or wait until the autumn fruits begin and then start jamming. Or even make jam all summer long with both types. Our summer canes haven’t stopped producing yet although they have passed the glut stage and the autumn canes are already producing fruit – mostly the lovely yellow ‘All Gold’ raspberries.

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A mix of summer raspberries ‘Glen Moy’ and ‘Glen Ample’ and autumn raspberries ‘All Gold’

All the rain in June and early July suited the summer raspberries perfectly, swelling the fruit and providing us with baskets of delicious berries for adults, children and jam pan alike. We didn’t have many autumn fruiting canes, but the allotment we took on in March has two 6m rows of autumn raspberries, so I think we’ll have our first year with not one, but two raspberry gluts.

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At the allotment the raspberry canes go on and on…

I’ve always loved raspberries best – there is an intensity about their flavour which can’t be matched by even the best strawberries or blueberries. I collected them from the hedgerows as a child foraging in Welsh lanes and then planted them as soon as I had my own garden. I love their long season, their varied colours and their cheerful, robust nature.

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I enjoy our blueberries, but I’m still a raspberry lover at heart

So here’s my (or actually my husband’s) recipe for raspberry jam and gluten free scones. He’s the preserve enthusiast in the family and makes excellent desserts too, whilst I tend to make the cakes and biscuits (once you have lots of jam you have to use it up in jam tarts and Victoria sponge cakes!) We run a gluten free kitchen because of the severity of my coeliac disease and we’ve both enjoyed getting to grips with new recipes over the past 5 years. I avoided scones for a couple of years as the shop bought gluten free ones were dry and crumbly, so this recipe allows me to indulge in a spot of clotted cream and jam all over again. The jam can, of course, be spread on whatever type of scone comes to hand.

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Raspberry jam also turns homemade rice pudding into an indulgent supper

Raspberry Jam

Ingredients

450g raspberries (make sure some of the raspberries are slightly under-ripe as this ensures there is enough pectin)

Approx. 450g granulated sugar (or weigh the raspberries you have and add an equal weight of sugar)

Method

Put the washed fruit in a jam pan or other large pan and gently crush it with a wooden spoon to release some of the juices. Gently heat to boiling point.

Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture cool a little, then push it through a stainless steel sieve to remove the seeds and create a puree.

Measure the puree and pour it into the clean jam pan. Add 450g sugar for each 600ml of puree (450g of raspberries should make about 600ml of puree.)

Gently heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly until it reaches setting point. (Stick a small plate in the fridge until it is cool, then remove and test jam after 10/15 minutes of boiling by putting a teaspoon of the jam on the cold plate. Leave for a minute, then slide finger across jam on plate to see if it wrinkles. If it wrinkles only a little, boil for another 2 minutes and try again.)

When setting point is reached, skim any froth off the surface with a slotted spoon and pour into sterilised jars. Seal and leave to cool.

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This year’s glut reincarnated

Gluten Free Scones

Ingredients

115g gluten free plain flour

115g rice flour

60g caster sugar

4 tsps. gluten free baking powder

1½ tsps. xanthan gum

75g unsalted butter (cubed)

200ml buttermilk

80g sultanas

Method

Preheat the oven to 220ºC (200ºC fan). Sift flours, sugar, baking powder and xanthan gum into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub with fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Stir the buttermilk into the mixture. Add the sultanas. Mix with a round bladed knife to make a soft dough. You may need to add a little more plain flour at this point if the dough is too sticky.

Kneed the dough a few times, then roll out onto a floured surface to around 15mm thick. Using a round cutter of any size, cut out scones and place on lightly greased baking sheet on a baking tray. (We don’t have a cutter of the size we like, so we use a child’s plastic cup to cut out the scones!) Rubbing the top of the cutter/cup with flour stops it sticking to the dough.

Make sure the scones aren’t too close together on the baking tray. Bake for about 15 minutes. Serve warm or cold with jam and cream.

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Don’t mind if I do…

I suspect these scones are probably at their best in the first couple of days, but to be honest they’ve never made it to day 3 for empirical testing! They can also be frozen – but why would you want to??

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Teatime…

If you’ve enjoyed reading about our crops and recipes, you can subscribe to the blog here:

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and read more of my recipes for Thai Curry, Elderflower Cordial, Rhubarb Recipes and Nettle Soup.

It’s uncanny how similar scones with jam and clotted cream are to Gladioli ‘Flevo Sylvia’ which I think should be renamed Gladioli ‘Scone’!

How To Grow Your Own Thai Curry

Kaffir lime leaves from India, chillies from Zambia and lemongrass from Thailand – although I love cooking food from all round the world, I’m sometimes dismayed at the air miles which an international meal requires. So last year I decided to have a go at providing most of these ingredients from my own garden and allotment, without resorting to lots of produce from overseas. I’ve had fun growing lemongrass and chillies from seed, trying Kaffir lime and vanilla grass as house plants, substituting lime balm and lemon verbena for lime juice and experimenting with Vietnamese coriander, garlic chives and vegetables for the base of the curries.

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Home grown ingredients ready for blending into a green Thai curry sauce

Here’s the recipe for aromatic Thai green curry which serves 4 people, to prove that anyone can grow their own Thai curry at home:

Ingredients

1. Kaffir lime leaves – 2 leaves

I’ve been growing Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) in the kitchen for the past 3 years and it is thriving. I have two pots (I repotted the small seedlings I received into 2 groups when they arrived). I water them regularly and feed them with liquid citrus feed over the summer. The fresh leaves are amazingly aromatic and are far better than dried leaves in my opinion. For very little effort, these plants are a lovely addition to my curry collection and they are very cost effective as 1g of dried leaves can cost upwards of £2!

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One of my Kaffir limes with its fascinating hourglass shaped leaves which are actually a leaf blade and flattened leaf stalk and very sharp spines

 

2. Vietnamese coriander – a handful

I bought my Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) recently at Hampton Court Flower Show and it beats growing regular coriander which I found tricky to harvest before it bolted, not to mention the necessity to repeat sow throughout the summer. It will need overwintering in a heated greenhouse – or in my case I’ll be putting it on the spare room windowsill with the chillies and lemongrass. I love the fact that it’s perennial, so no need to sow each year. It tastes remarkably like ordinary coriander too and is a pretty prolific grower.

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Vietnamese coriander

 

3. Lemongrass – a stick or a few leaves

I love growing lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and this is the third year I’ve sown from seed and had a good success rate. This year I’ve used the leaves in cooking as harvesting a whole stick would decimate the plant, but last year I was able to pull the whole stick off my 2 year old plants and still leave a sizeable plant to produce more offshoots. Unfortunately a cold spring this year was the final straw for last year’s plants, which died in the cold. Next spring I’ll be much more careful about temperatures when returning the lemongrass to the greenhouse.

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Lemongrass sown from seed this year – I lost all last year’s overwintered plants by rather stupidly putting them out in the greenhouse too early in our extremely cold spring

 

4. Garlic chives – a small handful

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are a lovely addition to the herb border. They have beautiful white flowers in the spring and can be grown just like ordinary chives. They have a mild garlic/onion taste and are great in salads.

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Garlic chive flowers can also be used in salads

 

 

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Difference between garlic chives and ordinary chives – the garlic chive (at the top) is much flatter and also has a lovely mild garlic flavour

 

5. Lime balm and lemon verbena – small handful of each

I’ve been growing lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) for a few years and it never fails to please me with its sherbet lemon scented leaves. I have propagated plants for friends and my original plant overwinters successfully in the unheated greenhouse every winter. I always think it has died, but without fail, each spring it sends up new shoots and flourishes. Lime balm (Melissa officinalis ‘Lime Balm’) is a new plant this year and combined with lemon verbena it makes an alternative for lime and lemon juice in curries and salads. It is best grown in containers as, like its relation lemon balm, it has a tendency to be vigorous (aka. invasive). It has a lovely lime fragrance and can also be used in teas, ice creams and as an insect repellent.

Lime balm and lemon verbena ready for harvesting

6. Chillies – 1-4 chillies to taste

This year my chilli obsession has got a bit out of hand and the most recent count reached 39 plants of 14 different varieties: ‘Cayenne’, ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Purple Gusto’, ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’, Rocoto – Alberto’s Locoto, Hungarian Black, Numex Twilight, ‘Aji Limon’, ‘Joe’s Long’, ‘Habanero Red Devil’, ‘Habanero Big Sun’, ‘Prairie Fire’, ‘Piri Piri’ and ‘Alma Paprika’. I love eating them for suppers stuffed with cream cheese and baked. Now the kids are getting a bit older we can finally introduce a bit of heat into family meals too. For this recipe I used ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Aji Limon’ and ‘Purple Gusto’ because they happened to be available, but any chillies would be fine and the variety can be adapted to suit the level of heat required.

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The chilli jungle in the greenhouse

 

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The ‘Aji Limon’ chillies successfully overwintered in the house and have been amongst the first to fruit this year

 

7. Garlic – 2 cloves

I’ve been growing garlic for a few years in large potato containers after we got white rot in our garden soil. They seem to thrive and give relatively big crops for very little work. I grow ‘Early Purple Wight’, ‘Red Czech’ and elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) which is, as the name suggest, enormous and with a very mild flavour. I save some cloves each year for planting the next which makes this crop cost effective. We also get to eat the garlic scapes or flowering stalks in early summer, so get two crops for the price of one.

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First of this year’s elephant garlic bulbs harvested this week

 

8. Mint – small handful for the salad

I’m also a bit of a mint fanatic, because it’s so easy to propagate. I have 12 varieties at the moment – orange mint, banana mint, berries and cream mint, grapefruit mint, apple mint, peppermint, garden mint, basil mint, lime mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and Indian mint. It all started last year as a plan to create an interesting collection for the school plant stall, but since then I’ve become fascinated by all the different tastes and uses. Watch this space for a post soon on the different varieties and their uses.

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Mint collection

9. Seasonal vegetables – potatoes, kale, broad beans (enough vegetables to feed 4 people) carrots and cucumber (3 carrots, 1/2 a cucumber)

I would just use any vegetables for the curry and salad which are available from the garden or allotment at any given time. At the moment this includes new potatoes ‘Lady Christl’, broad beans and kale (Cavolo Nero) for the curry, and carrots and cucumber for the accompanying salad. That’s the beauty of recipes like this – they allow you to celebrate whatever’s in season and try different combinations throughout the year.

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Pick of the July veggies

10. My prize coconut tree – 1 coconut (or a 400ml tin of coconut milk)

Every summer I send the kids up the coconut tree with small woven baskets to collect the coconuts to crack open for curries…

OK – so this is one ingredient I can’t grow in the UK and thus should be taken with a large pinch of salt, which incidentally, is another ingredient not harvested from our garden/allotment, along with sesame oil, 200ml vegetable stock (either made with with left over vegetable cooking water or vegetable stock powder and water) or chicken stock (either from boiling a roast chicken carcass with bay leaves or ready made) and fish sauce (nam pla). Leftover roast chicken is good added to the curry if it is available.

If anyone knows of a home grown alternative to coconut milk, (or has a tree with coconuts on it in the UK!) I’d love to hear from you.

Method

To make the green curry sauce I blend the garlic chives, lemon verbena, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, Vietnamese coriander, lime balm leaves, chillies, garlic and a 2cm piece of ginger in the food processor and then add the cold stock, a few drops of sesame oil and a splash (2-3 tsps) of fish sauce to allow the mixture to be completely blended. I find if I try to make a green Thai curry paste (without the liquid) with these ingredients, it tends to end up with stringy bits throughout. Then I add the sauce to the pan, add the coconut milk and begin to heat it gently.

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Green Thai curry sauce

Next I add the vegetables, suiting the cooking time to the type of vegetables I’m using. With the new potatoes I added them for 15 minutes until soft and then added the broad beans and kale for a further 5 minutes until all the vegetables were cooked.

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The kitchen smells amazing during the cooking

 

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My lunch bowl

To Serve…

Serve with rice (yes, I know, not many rice paddies in Hertfordshire) and a Thai salad.

Recently I’ve been adding a few vanilla grass leaves (Pandanus amaryllifolius) to the rice as I boil it to add a subtle vanilla flavour. This lovely houseplant has been happy in our bathroom for the past 3 years and only needs rainwater and ericaeous feed in the summer to keep it producing leaves for the kitchen.

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Adding the vanilla grass leaves to the cooking rice

 

For the salad I usually shred some of our carrots, cucumbers and/or courgettes, spring onions or chopped chives, chopped mint, lime balm and Vietnamese coriander. Then I add chopped chillies, crushed garlic, a pinch of salt, a few drops of sesame oil and a squeeze of the honey produced on a neighbouring allotment to mix with the raw vegetables.

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Fresh salad to accompany the curry

 

Other Ideas…

How do you create international dishes with local ingredients? If you grow other useful ingredients please leave me a comment as I’d love to broaden my range of different ingredients and different cuisines. I’m hoping to grow Japanese hardy ginger (Zingiber mioga) on the allotment next year so I’ll be able to add that ginger tang to my curries. I’ve also grown Thai basil from seed in previous years and used it successfully in curries, so I’ll be sowing it again next year to add extra depth to the flavour – and thanks to the reader who suggested this lovely ingredient ☺

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Next I’m planning more mouth-watering summer recipes for gluten-free scones with homemade redcurrant and strawberry jam. (Our favourite jam and very useful if you’re struggling with a glut of redcurrants!)

8 Delicious Recipes for Surviving a Rhubarb Glut…

It’s June, the weather is warming, there’s been plenty of rain (!) and the rhubarb is looking on top of the world. From the small knuckles of underground potential, huge forests have grown in a few short weeks and now, in a Jurassic corner of the fruit cage, garden or allotment a jungle threatens to swamp any passing gardeners.

If this sounds familiar then maybe you, like me, need some new ways to turn your rhubarb riot into snacks, puddings and store-cupboard treasures. Here’s my old favourites and some new twists to help you turn excess into success…

1. Rhubarb and Ginger Compote

This is one of my favourite ways of cooking rhubarb. It’s so simple and can be used as the basis for many other recipes and meals.

Ingredients:

4/5 stems of rhubarb, washed and chopped

3 pieces of stem ginger and some of the ginger syrup from the jar

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Our utility sink is usually full of some Jurassic vegetable or other… usually with its very own ecosystem!

Method:

Put the chopped rhubarb in an ovenproof dish. Add the stem ginger chopped into small pieces and 1-2 tbsps of syrup (to taste).

Roast in the oven at 180 °C until the rhubarb is soft (usually around 30 minutes).

The compote can be added to porridge, natural yoghurt and used as the base for crumble. We have also been known to add it to heated leftover homemade chocolate birthday cake to make chocolate fudge cake and rhubarb (a particularly fine pudding).

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Compote with natural yoghurt and a little ginger syrup on top

 

2. Rhubarb and Mint Jam

We first made this jam last year for the school plant stall as we were selling food (alongside the plants) with herbs as the theme. The idea was to include herbs in the produce and then for the fete-goers to guess what the herb was (part of my attempt to get people smelling, tasting and growing all things herbal.) The jam was so successful that all the jars went at the beginning of the day, with only the tasting jar left for samples!

Ingredients:

1kg rhubarb, chopped

1kg granulated sugar

Large bunch of mint leaves

2 tbsp finely chopped mint

Method:

Leave chopped rhubarb layered with the sugar in a bowl overnight. Next day, add the rhubarb and sugar mixture to a preserving pan and add the mint leaves tied together in a bunch. Cook gently until the rhubarb is softened (about 30 minutes).

Remove the mint and bring the mixture to the boil. Cook over a high heat until it reaches setting point (105°C). Leave to stand for 10 minutes, stir in the chopped mint, pour into sterilized jars and seal. Enjoy on toast or scones with jam and cream.

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Toast and jam? Don’t mind if I do...

3. Rhubarb Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting

I love baking cupcakes for the kids – especially when we can fold treasures from the garden into them, like tiny alpine strawberries, blueberries, Chilean guavas or, in this case, rhubarb.

All the recipes in this blog are gluten free (I live in a Coeliac/gluten free household), but the cake mix would work just as well with ordinary self-raising flour.

Ingredients:

12 pieces of rhubarb, roasted until soft (recipe makes 12 cupcakes)

3 eggs, weighed

Equal weight gluten-free self-raising flour as the eggs

Equal weight golden caster sugar

Equal weight softened butter

A few drops of vanilla extract

250g icing sugar

125g butter at room temperature

2-4 tsp milk

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My little helper carrying half filled cupcakes with rhubarb chunk

Method:

Mix the equal weight of eggs, caster sugar, flour and butter in a blender or with a hand whisk. Spoon into cupcake cases, adding a piece of roasted rhubarb to the centre of each cake. Bake at 180°C for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the edge comes out clean (rather than the middle as then the skewer will hit the rhubarb.)

Top with swirls of cinnamon buttercream icing (whisk the butter and icing sugar together with 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon mixed in and add 2-4 tsp of milk to soften to desired consistency) as a sweet contrast with the tart rhubarb in the centre. Sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy!

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It’s cupcake time…

 

4. Rhubarb and Apple Sponge

This one is a family favourite with whatever fruit happens to be in supply from the garden or allotment. (I secretly even prefer it to rhubarb crumble.)

Ingredients:

4 stems of rhubarb, chopped

2 cooking apples, cored, peeled and chopped

A handful of raisins or sultanas

Splash of water

2 eggs

115g unsalted butter

115g golden caster sugar

115g ground almonds

 

Stewing the fruit

Method:

Gently stew the apples, rhubarb and raisins in a little water, stirring as they cook (takes abut 30 minutes). I don’t tend to add sugar as the topping is sweet, but additional sugar can be added to the stewing fruit to taste.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds. When the fruit is soft, put it in an ovenproof dish and cover gently with the sponge mix. Cook at 170°C for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve with yoghurt, cream or ice cream.

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The way to my family’s hearts – a good pudding

 

5. Rhubarb, Strawberry and Elderflower Sorbet

I love recipes which celebrate seasonal produce. This one uses produce from the garden, allotment and hedgerows, and epitomises the taste of summer.

Ingredients:

200g strawberries, halved

500g rhubarb

5 tbsp. elderflower cordial (I used my homemade cordial, but any undiluted elderflower cordial would work well)

50g sugar (could add more if preferred – we like fairly sharp sorbets)

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Homegrown rhubarb and strawberries ready for roasting

Method:

Roast the rhubarb and strawberries in the cordial at 180°C until the fruit is soft (about 30 minutes). Remove from the oven, cool and blend to a smooth paste. Put in the freezer for at least 2 hours (until the mix has partly frozen). Take out and mash the sorbet with a fork to break it up or mix in a food processor. Repeat process 2/3 times and then the sorbet is ready to serve in a gluten-free cone, on its own or as an accompaniment to other desserts.

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A refreshing summer treat

 

6. Green Rhubarb Salsa with Mackerel Paté on Toast

This is a lovely summery lunch or snack, packed full of omega 3. The tartness of the salsa complements the salty fish paté perfectly.

Ingredients:

4 smoked mackerel fillets

250 cream cheese

1 tbsp lemon juice

50g rhubarb (1/2 stem)

50g cucumber

1/2 shallot

1 chilli (I used the first chilli of the season – a ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ which has a medium heat, but any chilli or amount of chilli can be used depending on tastes)

2 tsp lime juice

1/2 tsp sugar

pinch salt and pepper

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Green rhubarb salsa

Method:

Mix the finely diced rhubarb, cucumber, shallot and chilli. Add the sugar, lime juice, salt and black pepper. Mix together. Leave for an hour to marinate.

Put the flaked mackerel, cream cheese and lemon juice in a food processor and mix until smooth.

Serve the pate on toast with salsa on the side.

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Tasty lunchtime treat

 

7. Spicy Rhubarb Relish

Cheese and crackers with relish or pickles is a favourite supper of mine. So I’m always after tasty recipes to liven up pre-bedtime snacks.

Ingredients:

200g rhubarb (about 2 stems)

1 small onion

1 chilli

1 clove garlic

50g muscavado sugar

50ml white wine vinegar

1 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp turmeric

Large pinch salt

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Small jar: big taste

Method:

Fry spices in oil, stirring well until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add crushed garlic and chopped chilli and fry gently for a few minutes.

Add chopped rhubarb, diced onion, vinegar, salt and sugar to a pan with the fried spices. Cook over a low heat until the rhubarb is soft and the relish thickens (about 30 minutes). Bottle in sterilized jar (makes one small jar.) Store in the fridge for up to a month.

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Going to bed happy tonight…

 

8. Rhubarb and Banana Smoothie

The kids love smoothies and they are a great way to use up left over fruit and old bananas. I use our rhubarb ‘Champagne’ rather than our ‘Timperley Early’ for this recipe as the stems tend to be thinner, less fibrous and sweeter.

Ingredients:

3 very ripe bananas

1 large stalk of young rhubarb, with the skin peeled off

4 dessertspoons of natural yoghurt (we used our homemade yoghurt which we’ve been making for a year or so, but any natural yoghurt would be fine)

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A great way to use up excess and over ripe fruit

Method:

Chop the rhubarb into 5cm pieces and add to a blender with the yoghurt and bananas broken into 2/3 pieces. Blend until smooth. We didn’t need to strain ours, but if there are any fibrous strands in the mix then strain before serving.

Generally the smoothie is sweet enough to please the kids because of the ripe bananas, but if it needs further sweetening, runny honey can be added to taste.

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Smoothie never lasts long in our house

 

These recipes will hopefully help you deal with some surplus rhubarb and then, when you’ve given so much away that your friends hide when they see you coming, maybe it’s time to line up the jam, relish and smoothie in the fridge and admit defeat until next year 😉

I really enjoy trying out new recipes and inventing meals with ingredients from the garden, allotment and from foraging trips. If you have enjoyed reading this post, please subscribe to get more recipes in later posts. If you have other lovely ways to use lots of rhubarb do leave me a comment. My rhubarb just keeps on coming, so I need as many recipes as possible!

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After all that cooking, I’m off for a cup of tea and a cupcake

 

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

 

A Taste of Summer: Elderflower Cordial Recipe

A couple of years ago I planted a black elderflower (Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Black Lace’) in the front garden. I’d hoped by now I would be harvesting armfuls of flowers to make pink elderflower cordial. Unfortunately it has spent the past year sulking and refusing to reach beyond 50cm despite its normal habit of growing over a metre a year. So until it cheers up, or I give up and replace it, I’m still harvesting white elderflowers from the local park for my summer cordial.

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Straining the mixture

It’s a good idea to check the flowers of each elder as you harvest. Some can have a rather strong smell which affects the taste of the cordial, so only gather flowers with a mild, sweet smell. I generally harvest between 20 and 30 flowerheads, depending on size.

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Straining through double muslin

Ingredients 

20-30 elderflower heads

1.8 kg granulated sugar

50g citric acid

4 sliced lemons

1.2 litres water

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Elderflower syrup ready to be decanted and diluted to make cordial

Method

1. Add the water and sugar to a pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.

2. Put the elderflowers (shaken to remove insects and bits, but not washed) in a large bowl and add the sliced lemons and citric acid.

3. Pour the cooled sugar syrup over the other ingredients and leave overnight. (A plate can be used to weigh down the lemons and elderflowers if they float at the top of the liquid.)

4. Strain first through a sieve to remove large pieces of elderflower and lemon. Then strain through a double muslin to remove smaller bits.

5. Decant into sterilized bottles. Enjoy the cordial diluted with still or sparkling water. Keeps for around 3 months.

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Fizzy elderflower cordial as sampled today by my chief tasters (the kids!)

 

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The finished product

 

 

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.