Super Sunday cook up!

I really enjoy having a mass Sunday cook up so I have meals prepared for the week and to keep feeding my freezer, sadly it is getting a bit full now so I may have to slow down!

This time of year is very veg heavy for anyone that likes growing things in the garden. I have a very clever, enthusiastic recent convert to gardening for a husband and a doubly enthusiastic, so experienced he could be on Gardener’s World, neighbour. My neighbour has acres of garden and grows a vast amount of produce (by yours and my little standards) and he is so kind and generous with both his time to discuss gardening traumas and also sharing produce. We share ours too!

So this weekend, I had potatoes, Kestrel and Charlotte varieties, some strange heirloom carrots in cream, yellow and orange. Runner beans, French beans, spring onions, lettuce (three carrier bags stuffed full) and radishes. Then my neighbour popped round and brought me another carrier bag of apples, a huge bowl of raspberries (wow!) and more courgettes.

Now I hate wasting food, especially organic home grown yumminess …. So I had to get a plan! I have limited space in my freezer so it had to be a compact plan! The lettuce I really liked in the lettuce soup that I posted about recently but I would end up with oh so many containers. So I took a short cut and did the first stage of the soup, by wilting the lettuce in chicken stock and then pureeing. That way I only had 5 containers to store!  The apples, hmm, well despite my daughter suggesting her horse ‘needed’ a constant supply of apples, these were too delicious to part with but we don’t eat many puddings these days (dieting grumble, grumble!) so I turned the apples into apple purée and am going to freeze it in little containers that can either turn into apple sauce or be added to parsnip and apple soup.

Then I started on shepherd’s pies to use some of the potatoes and added squash to the mash. Then I made quiches, one for this week and one will just have to freeze, they are ok defrosted but improve with reheating. I now have close to zero room in my freezer but it feels as though I have had a good and successful day – phew!

 

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Lettuce make soup!

We have had huge success with lettuce this year. So huge in fact that I am worried about how to use it all! So I started asking friends and reading up on the internet – hmm I wonder if you can make lettuce jam? Lettuce fritters?

Well, the sensible answers I got, bearing in mind this is a one person family for feeding lettuce related dishes to (Richard doesn’t like greens very much) were all headed by lettuce soup. My first reaction was yuk, how can that be nice and the answer is – try the recipe and see! I used mainly Cos and Romaine lettuce as that’s what was threatening to bolt in the garden.!

I am now definitely a fan of lettuce soup, I have multiple pots sitting neatly in the freezer and if I have another glut in a month or two, I will be making it again. I have to say if I was being given a blind taste test I would just say it’s a green soup but would not have guessed lettuce. The butter I think adds flavour but of course, if you really can’t have the fat content there are ways around it like using a spray oil instead for cooking.

The other thing I must mention if we are on the topic of lettuce, is how often I use the leaves as a wrap. So my smoked salmon/lettuce or hard boiled egg/lettuce sandwiches are just that – no bread just a wrap made from a large crispy lettuce leaf. I like it – give it a try and see what you think!

Lettuce Soup

The quantities in this are fairly arbitrary, I tweak them to match what I have coming out of the garden or in the fridge at that moment.

Ingredients

  • Large handful of chopped spring onions
  • 1 garlic clove chopped (or skip if you don’t like it)
  • 3 tablespoons or so butter
  • Salt (small teaspoon) and pepper maybe half a teaspoon
  • I medium to large potato chopped into slices or diced
  • Then about 12 ounces of lettuce – I often use even more
  • 3 cups of really nice chicken stock – or use a chicken stock cube

Method

  1. Sauté the spring onion and garlic in a large saucepan with about half the butter. Stir gently until they are soft and then add the salt and pepper and cook for another minute or so.
  2. Now add the potato chunks, the lettuce roughly ripped to pieces and the chicken stock. Bring to boil and simmer for 12 minutes or so, until the potatoes are cooked. I leave the lid on the saucepan to preserve the liquid.
  3. I have been known to add more lettuce at this point if I felt it was too thin, in which case I just simmer a little longer to soften the lettuce (it wilts pretty fast) and then continue.
  4. Let the mixture cool a bit and then purée with either a hand blender or a food processor.
  5. Finally, stir in the rest of the butter and then taste for seasoning. This freezes well, just defrost and then warm in a saucepan.

I realise this is a fairly loose recipe but each time I have made it, I have tweaked the amounts of the main ingredients. It is a very flexible concept that can work with whatever you have to hand!

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A glutton for punishment

While growing your own veg is a wonderful and rewarding thing you can find yourself becoming a glutton for punishment. If you get too good at it, there can be one big problem – a glut! After weeks and months of nurturing, everything seems to ripen at the same time, so you have tonnes of tomatoes, more lettuces than Sainsbury’s and, possibly the worst of all,­ a mountain of courgettes! I don’t know what it is about courgettes, but they creep up on you. One minute you have one, the next 10 and at least two of those will have turned into marrows overnight.

The only thing to do with any glut is to ensure you have freezer space and some great recipe ideas to ring the changes and stop you getting completely bored with whichever veg is in glut.

I am currently wrestling with the annual courgette glut. Not only is my neighbour kindly giving me their excess, but I have quite a few of my own to contend with too. It is clearly a very well catalogued problem – there is even a book called ‘What Will I Do With All Those Courgettes?’ obviously written by someone who has endured many a courgette excess.

If you haven’t got time to rustle up a delicious courgette soup or veggie bake, don’t despair – some genius has invented the spiralizer! If you haven’t tried courgetti yet, you’re in for a treat. Courgette spaghetti can be made and served in less time than it takes to make conventional pasta. All you need is a spiralizer or even just a vegetable peeler. You can turn the humble courgette into the perfect healthy meal in minutes with a couple of minutes (no more) in boiling water.

If you pick your courgettes before they get too big – about the length of your hand from palm base to finger tips – you don’t even need to cook them as they are delicious eaten raw if sliced, shaved or grated.

They are very versatile and can even put on a show on the BBQ – slice thickly and brush with oil and you can griddle them. Alternatively, braise slowly in butter with crushed garlic and thyme leaves and you get a delicious pasta sauce.

But if you really feel you are sinking beneath the weight of courgettes then why not knock up a batch of soup and freeze in portions, then you can remind yourself of summer when you tuck into a warming bowl in the depths of winter. Enjoy!

This Simple Courgette Soup really is very easy to make, it freezes well and is delicious with homemade bread. It is great eaten hot or cold!

Simple Courgette Soup:

Ingredients

  • 450g courgettes thickly sliced
  • 700ml chicken stock, or vegetable stock if you want to keep it completely vegetarian
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano (fresh is best!)
  • ¼ teaspoon rosemary (fresh is best!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Place all ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to boil
  2. Reduce heat and cover and simmer for 15-20 mins
  3. Blend in blender/processor till smooth, reheat when ready to serve, or chill and serve cold.
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Think of summer… and think of sunflowers!

Think of summer… and think of sunflowers! Surely the sunniest flower there is, their huge golden faces cannot help but bring cheer.

I think most of us will have grown a sunflower at some time in our lives. Well, this year, we have had the pleasure of watching our granddaughter Grace plant and nurture her own sunflower. She planted the seed herself and waters it every time she comes to visit – and it has now grown to about 7 feet high! Pretty good for a first effort Grace!

The sunflower is actually an important plant in many areas. Grown as a crop for its edible oil and edible fruits – those delicious sunflower seeds – sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient.

The tallest sunflower on record achieved an extraordinary 30ft, or over 9 metres! Goodness knows how they kept the thing upright, perhaps it was draped over something?

Sunflower seeds are sold as a snack food, raw or after roasting in ovens, with or without salt and seasonings added. Sunflower seeds can also be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter, which sounds pretty yummy to me.

Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel, as it is cheaper than olive oil. Sunflowers also produce latex and are the subject of experiments to see if they can be used as an alternative crop for producing non-allergenic rubber.

A common misconception (and one that I thought was true) is that the glorious golden sunflower heads track the sun across the sky. Actually, it’s only the immature flower buds that do this, the mature flowering heads point in a fixed, usually easterly, direction. Ah well, that’s another lovely image shattered!

But these gorgeous plants are useful across so many areas of life – have a look at the list of facts below, I think you’ll be surprised…

Here are a few sunflower facts for you:

  • There are two basic types of sunflower seeds: black and stripe.
  • Young sunflower plants orient their heads toward the sun – a phenomenon known as heliotropism.
  • The sunflower is the national flower of Russia and the state flower of Kansas.
  • Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamins of the B group and vitamin E, and minerals such as copper, phosphorus, selenium and magnesium.
  • Black sunflower seeds are a rich source of oil that is used for cooking.
  • Striped seeds are popular as snacks.
  • Seeds of sunflower are an important food source for birds, squirrels and insects.
  • Sunflower seeds are used for the production of biodiesel, an eco-friendly type of diesel, designed to reduce pollution of the atmosphere.
  • The sunflower is able to absorb heavy metals and toxins from the ground and it is often planted in the heavily polluted areas. These plants were used to reduce nuclear pollution after Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. How amazing is that?
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Peas, please!

Peas – those round, sweet, green things – even people who don’t much like veggies seem to approve of peas. It’s the perfect instant veg, to be whipped out of the freezer and cooked at a moment’s notice, but let me assure you they are even better when picked and eaten fresh.

Lots of people think growing peas is a bit of a waste of time and space… but they have probably never picked them and eaten them straight from the pod. They are so sweet and so delicious! I pick a few at a time, as they mature on the plant, and steam them for a couple of minutes, then run them under cold water and add to my salad alongside my home-grown leaves and broad beans creating a garden salad ­– delicious.

Peas are one of those things that we think of as essentially ‘British’. Fish, chips and mushy peas, pie and peas, pea soup… but as is so often the case when you look into it, they are a relatively recent arrival on our shores and originate from north-west Asia!

But our climate suits them perfectly and they thrive here. As a nation we certainly love them – we eat far more than any other country in Europe, chomping around 9,000 each per year. That’s a lot of peas! Fortunately, they are good for us combining fibre and protein with vitamins and minerals and must be the most popular of the ‘5-a-day’… or is it ‘10-a-day’ now? I can’t keep up!

They are relatively easy to grow either from seed, or you can buy them as small plants. The only real problem is with pigeons… they love them! Having lost an entire crop in one day a few years ago, I now cover them with netting. Even then, they still get a bit nibbled. But to me, the sweetness, the vivid colour and that pleasing ‘pop’ of the pod makes them all worthwhile

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