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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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Absolutely freezing fabulous!

Oh alright, I admit it, I am a bit of a freezing fan! It’s such a great way to preserve and store food, plus it’s easy to do. It cuts down on waste as you can freeze gluts and leftovers so it can be a real money-saver. I have a range of foods that I always freeze, but I’ve recently come across some other ideas that were new to me. See what you think of this selection:

1. Nuts
Freezing nuts makes them last longer as it keeps the oils in them from going rancid. Simply remove some when you need them and leave them to defrost on your kitchen worktop.

2. Ripe bananas
Freezing ripe bananas is brilliant for all your last minute banana baked goods needs. They’re also terrific for adding to smoothies since it makes them creamier and you can use less ice and mixing frozen bananas with fresh or frozen strawberries makes amazing ice cream – yum!

3. Cooked rice
Cooked too much rice? Store it in a freezer-proof container and store it in the freezer until you need it. When you’re ready to eat it, add the amount you want to a microwave-safe bowl or saucepan with a few tablespoons of water to warm it back up – just make sure it’s properly hot before serving.

4. Grated cheese
Grated cheese freezes really well and is a great time saver. If you’re cooking lasagna, enchiladas, or anything cheesy, just thaw and use. Great sprinkled over the potato topping of shepherd’s pie too! No more abandoned lumps of cheese wasted or going mouldy in the fridge!

5. Wine
Now I realise this is unlikely… but if you ever have some wine left in a bottle after dinner, pour it into an ice cube tray! Just add a cube into the casserole the next time your recipe calls for some wine.

6. Champagne

Like wine, you can freeze bubbly in an ice cube tray and put one (or two or three) cubes into a glass of orange juice for an instant Buck’s Fizz! I regret I can’t ever see that happening in this house… left over Champagne? I don’t think so!

7. Uncooked bacon
Wrap three to four slices of bacon side by side in parchment paper before putting in a freezer-proof bag. Bacon thaws really quickly at room temperature – and you can grill, fry or just place on kitchen paper in the microwave.

8. Butter
Frozen butter is a baker’s secret weapon. Grate frozen butter into dough for really light piecrusts and biscuits. Freeze the butter in its original wrapping inside an airtight bag or tightly wrapped in foil.

9. Egg yolks and whites
Like wine and herbs, egg yolks and whites work well in ice cube trays too. You will have to thaw the cubes completely if you are using them to bake, but the whites can be apparently be defrosted right in the pan for omelettes – I haven’t tried that yet!

10. Fresh herbs
And finally… this isn’t actually a new one for me (It’s something I do regularly) but in case you didn’t know this excellent tip – chop herbs finely and place them in an ice cube tray covered with water. Then you can add a herb cube directly into your pan to liven up sauces or stews.

If you’ve got any freezer tips you can recommend – please share!

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It’s always time for tea!

This beautiful box of teatime goodies was made by Suzanne Saltwell – it is really intended to be an advent calendar, but it occurred to me that it’s always time for tea and it would make the greatest birthday present any time of year!

Many people now are drinking fruit or speciality teas instead of the usual builder’s best cuppa, myself included. I had never been a fan of ordinary tea but nowadays I am often seen with a mug of peppermint tea in hand as I wander round the garden checking on what’s doing what.

There’s a lot to be said for growing a few herbs in the garden so you can make your own fresh teas – some flowers also, I have yet to try chrysanthemum tea or any of the other more exotic ideas, but mint sprigs grabbed from the garden and dunked unceremoniously in boiling water – yummy! I also have dried mint that I harvested last year and stored. The one thing you can be sure of is that mint will flourish and spread – hence advice always to keep it in a pot even when it’s in a flower bed.

So back to the tea box, here you can see the mug, tea bags and coasters that came inside the box, it’s such a lovely idea, perhaps there are some other themes we could create? Does coffee come in little packets? Has anyone got other ideas we could fill boxes with, for advent or any time of year? Do let me know!

Here’s the link to a downloadable PDF file that Suzanne has prepared so you can work out how it is made. Have fun!

 

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Elderflower and strawberry jam

Making your own preserves is a very satisfying thing to do. Those pretty rows of little jars full of homemade goodness make me feel very pleased with myself! It’s always good to try and ring the changes and, although strawberry jam is a huge family favourite, I thought the addition of elderflower sounded fun.

Ingredients:

  • 2kg (4lbs) strawberries
  • 2kg (4lbs) preserving sugar
  • Juice from three lemons
  • 8 large elderflower heads

Method:

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

To intensify the strawberry flavour, prepare the berries and put them in your preserving pan (or large saucepan) add the sugar and lemon juice and leave (covered) overnight.

Now start to heat them slowly and add the elderflowers. This should be done by first shaking the flowers (adding creepy crawlies to jam really isn’t a good thing) and then picking off the flowers and add to the strawberry mix.

Stir well and bring to the boil for about 5 minutes. Skim off the scum that may form on the surface.

If you have a sugar thermometer then boil until it reaches 105ºC and then test a small spoonful on the cold saucer. Place the test spoonful and saucer in the fridge and within 5 minutes it should have formed a skin that wrinkles when you push it. If this doesn’t happen then boil again for another couple of minutes and try again.

Once you are happy that it has reaching the setting point, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes and fill the sterilised jars.

This is particularly nice with scones and Devon clotted cream – me biased, not a chance!

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