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Books for Christmas!

In another life, I would have time to sit and read every day. I love reading, it is such a wonderful way to escape and lose yourself. Hey ho, not just yet Joanna! But that doesn’t stop me drooling over books I see reviewed online or actually stroking them lovingly in shops (I’m sorry, but it has been known!) It’s been very hard to narrow my choices for 2017 down to five, some that I’d like to give, the others to receive, but here they are:

Dairy Diary

Look, I know this isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but my Mother always had this diary and, when it comes to keeping track of appointments I am still very happy with good old paper and pen rather than technology, thank you very much. But of course, this best-seller is much more than just a diary, it is both practical and pretty with delicious weekly recipes, year planners, calendars, home budgeting, interesting garden and leisure features plus kitchen tips and tricks, stain removal and laundry tips – phew! It’s a traditional treasure trove and I’m very fond of it…and anyway, it reminds me of my Mum.

 

Down to Earth by Monty Don

I will hear no wrong about Monty Don! Here, he shares 50 years of his gardening experience with us in this easy to digest gardening book which covers a wide range of subjects including shrubs, containers, pests and compost, to growing your own edibles and useful pointers on what to do in each month of the year. In his gentle, easy way, he tells us not to worry about the plants in the garden – they are tough, and can look after themselves. Thank goodness for that! There is sensible design advice for small gardens in here too. It’s really rather good and both a great starter book for a novice gardener and a handy reference guide for others.

 

Little Miss Busy Surviving Motherhood (Mr. Men for Grown-ups)

Mr Men arrived too late for me, but my older daughter Pippa enjoyed them when small… but now, thanks to this new range I can enjoy them as a grown up! These are no great literary works, but they are fun and make a super stocking filler with their various characters getting into all sorts of humorous adult predicaments! The author of the original Mr Men, Roger Hargreaves, is Britain’s third best-selling author of all time having sold more than 100 million books. He wrote the first Mr. Men book in 1971 when his 8-year-old son, Adam Hargreaves, asked ‘What does a tickle look like?’ In response, Roger drew a figure with a round orange body and long, rubbery arms and Mr. Tickle was born. And the final twist to this rather lovely story is that Adam Hargreaves himself, now draws the characters for the modern day stories that his late father originally created.

 

Mary Berry Everyday by Mary Berry

If, like me, you are a Mary Berry fan, then you need to add this book to your collection. The blurb says: “In this brand-new, official tie-in to Mary’s much anticipated 2017 BBC series, the nation’s best-loved home cook will show you how to inject a little Mary magic into your everyday cooking, with over 120 delicious recipes.” And indeed it does! Mary is so no nonsense and has so much knowledge, you can’t go wrong with her recipes – easy to follow and using normal ingredients. Although these are billed as ‘everyday’ recipes, there are plenty that would do well for special occasions too.

 

5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver is a clever chap. This is yet another brilliant cook book from him and one that I shall be both giving and (thanks Richard!) receiving. Every recipe uses just five key ingredients, ensuring you can get a plate of food together fast, whether it’s finished and on the table super-quickly, or after some minimal hands-on preparation – just my sort of cooking! As the blurb puts it: ‘We’re talking quality over quantity, a little diligence on the cooking front, and in return massive flavour.’

 

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Seeds like a good idea…

Apart from seeds on breads and biscuits, or a few mixed in with muesli, I can’t say I was ever that interested in eating seeds. Somehow, they always sounded a bit too healthy and virtuous! As times change, ingredients go in and out of fashion and, today, seeds are very definitely ‘in’!

Seeds are full of protein, fats and other nutrients and, as people try to limit their intake of meat and eat more healthily, seeds are definitely worth a look. Modern research has revealed that most seeds are packed with B vitamins, essential for metabolic function and energy production.

If seeds strike you as rather bland, try toasting them – ­they can take on a whole different personality! For example, I have always found pumpkin seeds rather ‘green’ in taste and dull in texture. I was cooking a recipe that called for toasted pumpkin seeds, so I dutifully toasted some and discovered one of the tastiest healthy snacks ever! I now quite often toast a mix of seeds including pumpkin and sunflower and use it as a delicious crunchy, nutty addition to salads or veggie bakes.

Toasting seeds

Bake or roast seeds to enhance their flavour and give them a crunch. Dry bake seeds on baking parchment in a cooling oven or dry fry them over a medium heat in a heavy bottomed frying pan. You need to be careful not to burn them! I will often bake a whole batch, let them cool and then store them in Kilner jars (or anything airtight) for use later – they stay nice and crunchy and look lovely too!

You can create your own ‘sprinkles’ and add them to cereals, yogurt, porridge, cakes, breads, fish or veggie dishes or pretty much anything! The best seeds for toasting, in my view, are:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Linseed
  • Sesame seeds

Once baked, you can add seasoning, such as salt and black pepper to create a delicious savoury sprinkle.

The maximum nutritional value of seeds can be released by soaking and sprouting them, triggering enzymes and making them easier to digest. You’ll need to buy edible seeds suitable for sprouting – not the type of seeds you sow in your veg beds! You should be able to find these in health food shops, or online. The sprouting process is probably something you did at school, it’s pretty easy and, after 4 or 5 days, you’ll have some lovely edible shoots to liven up your salads and your metabolism!

Sprouting seeds

Try these, they are nice and easy to grow, and delicious!

  • Mustard
  • Pumpkin
  • Alfalfa
  • Sunflower

 

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Rebel, rebel!

I hate wasting food. I always fear my grandmother will send a bolt of lightning down if I waste so much as a crust. But I have a slight problem… I am off on holiday and I have way, way too much food in the house, but I do not want to throw it away. Well, I have got braver over the years and despite my grandmother’s dire warnings of what happens if you waste food, I do occasionally give up on things, but not if I can avoid it.

But, argh, you have no idea how badly my food planning has worked out over the past few days. Over the weekend I was expecting to feed a lot more people than it transpired I actually had to. I also reckon I was half asleep when I did my last online Tesco shop. So… I have very little time and an awful lot of food! What to do?

Runner beans:

I’m not taking the blame for the mass I have of these – it’s that time of year and I don’t buy them, they appear magically in my garden! Now I have always thought you had to blanch veggies before freezing, well guess what, seems you don’t! I agree it will probably be at most three months before I use these as we will pounce on them once we return. Maybe the blanching is more important if you are leaving them in the freezer for a year, but I have experimented and they are fine unblanched. So beans… get slicing. One food item down, several to go.

Eggs:

I have talked about freezing eggs before. I often have an omelette for breakfast in my trusty omelette maker that I wrote about here. So I am freezing two lightly beaten eggs and a couple of twists of salt – pink Himalayan salt actually. No, I can’t believe it is any better for you but hey I like pink, it pleases me! So gently mix that lot and pour into a little container. I had 10 eggs left and so have 5 little containers waiting for the next time I plan to have an omelette for breakfast. In the same size containers I froze spring onions that can go with it. That’s another foodstuff ticked off!

Assorted fruit:

What do you do with multiple grapefruit, satsumas, pineapple, and watermelon, oh and not forgetting the butternut squash? (Told you I wasn’t concentrating on my last Tesco shop). Butternut squash, chop into small chunks (ready for roasting or adding to a soup mix) and freeze flat then bag. Pineapple likewise. Grapefruit and satsumas, chop them into small chunks too, trim off any pith and freeze flat, then bag. These are delicious floated in a glass of sparkling water (or still water come to that) and as I drink many bottles of that every week, result!

The final hurdle was the massive watermelon – that wasn’t really my fault either! Sometimes they are quite small but this one could house a couple of small people if you hollowed it out – well maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture! Thank you, Mr. Tesco for £2.50! So I got out my trusty Nutribullet (or any other blender will do), removed a few of the pips and then gradually blitzed the lot. Result – several containers of melon juice. This is lovely served cold and is a happy freezer inhabitant!

So now I am wondering about freezing leftover beer and wine – oh, wait! It seems that despite the lack of visitors, there wasn’t any …. (I’m teetotal, so take a guess who’s responsible!)

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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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