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Healthy, easy and delicious!

Richard has resorted to netting his carrots… and suggesting the rabbits might like to try next door instead!!

Phew, hasn’t it been hot? I can’t remember such a continuous spell of hot weather for years, perhaps as far back as 1976. Richard has been working hard on our vegetable beds and is turning into a bit of a Percy Thrower… or should I say, Monty Don? Showing my age again! Besides a forest of tomatoes, we also have beans, potatoes, lettuce, courgette, cucumber, radish, carrot and parsnip… and probably several other things I have overlooked. As long as he can keep the badgers, deer and rabbits at bay it should be a good harvest!

I enjoy cooking but while it’s as hot as this, I tend to live on salads, as standing over a hot hob is not a lot of fun. Shoving a pan into the oven and leaving it to cook isn’t so bad and, what with all the vegetables we have growing, my eyes lit up when I read a review of this fab book ‘The Green Roasting Tin’. I was straight onto Amazon to buy it!

The book contains 75 one tin recipes, all vegetarian or vegan and, from what I’ve seen so far, all delicious. As it says on the cover ‘You simply pop your ingredients in a tin and let the oven do the work… this book is for anyone who wants to eat easy veg-based meals that fit around their busy lives’. See why it appealed?! If you, or anyone else in your family, really like a portion of meat and fish with their meal – well that’s fine! Simply prepare it as normal and serve alongside these delicious veggies.

I am determined that after all Richard’s hard work I am going to make the most of all our home-grown produce – it really does taste so much better than shop bought. Having said that, I know a lot of you don’t have the space to grow much yourself, but of course, these recipes are not fussy about where your veg comes from! The recipes are so delicious even our most common veg such as cabbage, carrots and potatoes can all be turned into really tasty dishes.

Just one of the many delicious recipes in this book.

I think we quite often tend to just eat salad for a healthy option (guilty!) and fear that cooking something vegetarian that’s delicious (rather than bland) is going to be a lot of faff. Well, this book dispels that myth once and for all.

Apart from gorgeous photography, the book also includes a clever section in the middle that shows you, in a really simple picture format, how to assemble the dishes. It also divides up the dishes into ‘quick’, ‘medium’ and ‘slow’ recipes that are also very useful. While a few of the recipes include more exotic ingredients, such as spicy pastes and unusual cheeses, the majority are straightforward.

I haven’t come across the author, Rukmini Iyer, before, but this is her second recipe book. The first ‘The Roasting Tin’ was very successful and includes meat and fish recipes… and I suspect that one may well end up on the kitchen shelves too!

Mouthwatering images from Rukmini’s first recipe book ‘The Roasting Tin‘.

 

 

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Natural winter tonics

What a winter it has been for coughs and colds! I think almost everyone I know has suffered from some sort of nasty lurgy. I’ve seen people on Facebook sharing all sorts of remedies, both traditional and slightly more eccentric – I think my favourite was rubbing Vic’s Vapour Rub into the soles of your feet before bedtime! Um, can’t say I tried that one myself! My partner in crime writing, Julia, cannot take any cold remedies as she has an allergic reaction to something in their ingredients so, apart from taking paracetamol, she just has to grin and bear it! This year, she had a stinker of a cold and ended up trying a couple of natural winter tonics to see if they helped. Here, she shares them with you. I hope you manage to escape cold-free, but if not, you might want try some of these.

“Whenever I had a cold as a child, I always remember my mother making me sit hunched over a bowl of very hot water with a towel draped over my head forming a lovely warm tent of steam. I think she used to put Friar’s Balsam into the water and it was a great way of clearing a blocked nose. I tried this again a few weeks ago, minus the balsam, and the effect of the steam and the generally lovely warm cocoon did make me feel a bit better. I also got a free facial, which was quite soothing!

My foraging friend from Wales who knows a huge amount about natural remedies, sent me a recipe for Ginger & Garlic Soup. This certainly woke up my senses, big time! This recipe is referred to as ‘medicine in a cup’. The mix of ginger and garlic should help protect you from cold, flu, sinus infections and many other diseases that can be easily caught during the cold winter months. I will be a little more cautious with the chilli next time!

Garlic & Ginger Soup

Ingredients:

  • Two cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • Four spring onions, also finely sliced
  • Seven cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 50g of grated root ginger, finely sliced too
  • And last but not least… one finely diced hot or medium-hot chilli
  • Chopped or whole mushrooms (optional)

Method:

  1. Put the Garlic, onions, mushrooms (if you are using them) and the ginger in a big pan and put it on low heat for a few minutes, and sauté them.
  2. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn to a simmer and stir gently, until all of the ingredients become soft.
  4. Last add the chopped chilli, and stir for another 5 minutes. Then you can serve the soup while it is warm. Combine it with lemon water and crusty bread. This will provide more anti-bacterial effects and improve your digestion too.

Winter Tea

The final remedy I tried was a Winter Tea. Herbal teas are good for all sorts of things and boost our physical and mental health. Fresh herbs are full of antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation. Keeping yourself hydrated when you have a cold is important, I loved this and found it very soothing.

Ingredients:

  • 300ml water
  • ½ a lime
  • ½ a lemon
  • 3cm piece of ginger root, sliced
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • I sprig each of fresh mint, thyme and rosemary
  • ½ a cinnamon stick
  • Honey to taste

Method:

  1. Boil the water in a saucepan.
  2. Squeeze the lemon and lime into the pan, then lob the whole pieces of fruit in as well.
  3. Add everything else – except the honey. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add honey to taste before straining to serve.

 

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The not so humble cabbage

Today, I feel inspired to write about the cabbage! Many people think of the cabbage as a bit of a poor relation in the veg world, a dull old veg and one that many of us were presented with at school in a disgustingly overcooked state. This is very unfair as cabbages are versatile, great to grow in your veg plot and good for you.

Cabbages come in many different shapes, sizes and colours and every variety has its own character, texture and flavour. With a little planning it’s possible to pick them fresh nearly every day of the year in your garden. They can be used raw in salad or coleslaw, and as ingredients in soup, boiled, steamed or braised.

The savoy cabbage, a wonderful dark green and heavily textured individual, is wonderful when slowly braised with onion and finished off with a dash of cream. You can also give it a quick plunge in boiling salted water and then toss it with butter and black pepper, simple but so delicious.

Other thick-leaved cabbages, such as January kings, are excellent for using as wrapping and making parcels for meat stuffings.

The pale green pointed spring cabbages have sweet, delicate leaves that are tender enough to stir fry or even char on a griddle.

In contrast, red cabbage is sturdy and tightly packed and traditionally used for pickling. Braised red cabbage has become immensely popular as a Christmas vegetable when cooked slowly with red wine, cinnamon, apples or cranberry. It is also superb for adding some colour to a boring winter salad when shredded finely.

Last, but not least… the classic white cabbage! A tightly packed, football-sized bundle of excellence it is the mainstay of coleslaw, a popular healthy salad at any time of the year and certainly one of my favourites.

Cabbage is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and is a good source of fibre, so it’s a good way to fill yourself up for very little calories. What’s more, it is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin K. We all know how important vitamin C is in our diet, while vitamin K makes bones stronger, healthier and delays osteoporosis. Like other green vegetables, cabbage helps provide many essential vitamins such as riboflavin, pantothenic acid and thiamine that we need for a balanced diet.

So if you tend to think cabbage is a bit of a dullard, please think again and, if you can, try growing some yourself – they taste even better!

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No longer the ‘has bean’!

beansAh the joys of growing your own vegetables… you stare at your courgette, runner bean or tomato plants for weeks and weeks and nothing happens. And then suddenly – whoosh – they all ripen at the same time!

We are currently awash with courgettes and runner beans and trying all sorts of different recipes and playing ‘swapsies’ with other veg growers. But it is all great fun and tremendously satisfying to eat what you have grown.

I love runner beans (luckily!) but coming up with different ways of preparing them can be a challenge. The beans have to be trimmed before cooking, so they need top and tailing and the fibrous strings on each side need to come off as they can be tough and difficult to digest. An old farmer friend who used to grow masses of runner beans every year recommended this nifty bean slicing device (pictured). It is brilliant at producing beautifully cut beans quickly and easily. I can buy the bean slicer in my local Devon ‘sells everything’ shop, but if you can’t find one, try online. It really is a fab kitchen gadget!

beanslicerThe key to good runner beans is to pick them before they get too big and woody and not to cook them for too long, otherwise they become tough and grey and they lose flavour and nutrients. The poor old runner bean does get a bit of a bad press as so often we just boil them and stick them on the side of the plate next to sausages or Sunday roast. But they are great in their own right and versatile and you can do much more with them.

Quite often it is just a case of combining the cooked beans into a salad. I always steam mine, retaining the colour and texture and often add them to salads. As soon as you have streamed them, run them under cold water, shake dry and mix in with whatever salad takes your fancy. For a quick and healthy lunch, I love mixing them with feta cheese, spring onion and a sweet homegrown tomato or two finished with a drizzle of salad dressing. If you like fruity salads, why not try grilled nectarine and parma ham with a runner bean salad – it’s the perfect summer salad, chock-full of seasonal flavours. If you look online you will find thousands of recipe ideas for how to deal with your runner bean glut.

beansfriedHow you cut your beans will dictate what you can do with them. Thinly cut with my magic bean slicer and they are great in salads… but if you want to cook them in a dish, such as a curry or a stir fry, top and tail them and then cut into angled chunks. They are then quite robust and won’t fall apart. For an interesting hot dish, you could try sautéed runner beans with onion and garlic. Simply crush a clove of garlic and fry with some chopped red onion in olive oil until the onions are soft and golden– make sure you don’t burn the garlic or it will be bitter. Add in the beans (top and tailed, raw and cut into chunky slices) and sauté until they are crisps and also tender. Sea salt and fresh ground pepper are the finishing touch, although a splash of really good balsamic vinegar added at the end of cooking lends a sweet and pleasantly tang. Delicious!

 

 

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Dry your eyes!

OnionChoppedI use onions in cooking most of the time. However, it can be a very tearful experience, as I am sure you all know! I find red onions seem to catch me out more than most and I can be found sobbing over a Bolognese sauce if I get a really strong one.

So why do onions make us cry? I decided to look into it, after a recent tearful stir fry experience, and discovered something I hadn’t known before – much of it is linked to the sharpness of our knives!

Apparently, chopping onions with a blunt knife makes tears much more likely. When you chop onions with a blunt knife, the blade bruises the surface of the onion rather than slicing straight through. This means enzymes are released that can irritate your eyes. Using a very sharp knife when cutting onions can reduce that as it’ll slice right through, rather than crush the skin.

But what is it in onions that causes our eyes to water? It all starts underground as onions absorb sulphur from the earth. This creates a class of volatile organic molecules and when you push a knife through an onion it crushes the cells and releases amino acid sulfoxides to form sulfenic acids.

OnionsThese then react with the air to create a volatile sulphur compound that, when it comes into contact with our eyes, creates a burning and stinging feeling. The tears are our eyes trying to wash the acids away. Most of the acidity is concentrated in the onion’s root.

But dry your eyes and try some of these helpful tips the next time you’re making Bolognese or any other onion-based delight.

  1. Use a sharp knife
    As identified above, make sure you use a sharp knife – this will cut through the onion more smoothly and cause less crushing which will release less acid.
  1. Put it in the fridge/freezer
    Try putting the onion in the fridge 30 minutes before chopping it or in the freezer for 10 -15 minutes – the cold will inhibit the release of the gases. But don’t keep them in the fridge all the time as this will soften them and make them go off quicker.
  1. OnionGogglesOpen a window
    Chop your onions near an open window so the breeze can waft away the acidic fumes – or even a fan or vent if you have one.
  1. Leave the root
    Chop the onion while leaving the root on so as not to release fumes from the most concentrated area.
  1. Soak it in water
    Chop the end off the onion and then put it straight into a bowl of water to soak. The water will draw out the acid making you tear up less when you chop it. However, this could make your onion taste slightly weaker.

And if none of those work… why not treat yourself to some very fetching ‘onion goggles’ now widely available on line!

 

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