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This week has been a bit mad and I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and tell you about our lovely visit to the Potato Day at Hulme Community Garden Centre last weekend. I am finally getting that chance.
Hulme Community Garden Centre is what it’s name says – a community run garden centre. It is based in Manchester and is a little oasis in what is an area of concrete and tarmac. I have long been on their mailing list and receive regular updates about the lovely events and things that they are doing. But I hadn’t ever been in.
Last weekend they held a Potato Day. Having just taken on an allotment I have plenty of space for those large vegetable plants (like potatoes), so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit the garden centre and stock up on potatoes and onion sets.
It was everything I was hoping it would be, and although looking like most gardens rather dreary at this time of year, you could see that it is a well loved green space. There were community gardens, a green roof, ‘pot rescue’, and a small shop selling local handicrafts and artwork.
The potatoes of ‘Potato Day’ were laid out in a large polytunnel. A huge long table was laden down with hessian sacks and there was a fantastic display celebrating the many different varieties. We came away with a bag of salad and maincrop potatoes, some onion and shallot sets and a small bag of garlic. There was a good selection of fruit bushes and other lovely plants that I was tempted by, but with N there I was quite restrained.
There were baked potatoes (how appropriate) and chunky soup for lunch and berry cupcakes for hungry children. I am planning on going back during the summer to see the community gardens in bloom and perhaps without N so I can be a little less restrained…
For more information on Hulme Community Garden Centre please visit their website: http://www.hulmegardencentre.org.uk.
Simple. Easy to make. And delicious. I could quite happily eat this from the bowl until none is left. But it’s also quite good on fresh sourdough bread or toast.
We used, what is possibly my favourite bread, French Campilou, a sourdough loaf from Barbakan (www.barbakan-deli.co.uk).
I am not that good at measuring things out, and for a recipe like this I don’t think you need to be exact. I used a glug of wine, and roughly the right weight of creme fraiche and cream cheese, but just added more to suit how I wanted it to taste. These are the joys of cooking.
Serves 4 -5
1 small onion or 2 medium-sized shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic cloves, finely chopped
200g (or more) fresh mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tbsp dry white wine
75g creme fraiche
100g cream cheese
large knob of butter
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then add the onion and garlic and cook until soft.
Add the mushrooms, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook on a medium heat until the juice from the mushrooms has almost gone.
Pour in the glug of wine and cook until its evaporated. Transfer the mushrooms mixture to a bowl and let it cool.
When it has completely cooled, you can blitz it up – a coarse texture is nice. Finally, you stir in the creme fraiche and cream cheese and mix until its all incorporated.
Taste it and adjust the seasoning if needed. At this point you can put it in the fridge for a couple of hours to let it set, or just smear it onto some fresh bread and enjoy!
My friend Maria is a great cook and a fabulous host. She has two lovely guinea pigs called Rufus and Ruby – Rufus came from the same rescue shelter that Borage did. This is her recipe for Marmalade Gingerbread that even those (like myself) who refuse to put marmalade on their toast will enjoy.
Usually I’m not one for taking photos of the different stages of cooking. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t have a beautiful wooden worktop against which to frame my pictures – it’s some manky plastic fake-marble stuff that I really dislike and swore that I wouldn’t buy a house with it in… Secondly I can’t be faffed with arranging stuff nicely in all the beautiful bowls and dishes that I have – I just want to get on with cooking. And finally, I make quite a lot of mess when I’m cooking, so the effort involved to tidy it up for glamorous shots of beautiful ingredients is a bit beyond me, especially if it’s the end of a long day at work.
We made Maria’s Marmalade Gingerbread on the weekend, so there was a little bit more time, but the photos are still highly unglamorous and set off nicely by the fake-marble laminate worktop. So…
The ingredients you need to make Maria’s Marmalade Gingerbread are: self-raising flour, butter, golden syrup, a jar of marmalade, an egg, ground ginger, ground cinnamon and a dash of milk.
In a pan you melt the butter, golden syrup and the marmalade. It looks like this…
In a separate bowl sieve together the flour, ground ginger and ground cinnamon. Something like this…
When the syrupy-buttery-marmalade mixture has cooled slightly, add a beaten egg and a glug of milk and mix it well. Then you pour this into the flour mixture…
…and fold it in…
Finally you tip the mixture into a greased baking tin and bung it in the oven for half an hour or so. It is transformed from this…
Ideas we had on how to eat it included a dollop of creme fraiche or a simple drizzled icing. Maria’s recipe recommends that it is best eaten after 3 days – N was very unhappy at this prospect so we made biscuits to get him through. The first taste will be tomorrow! Having tasted Maria’s a month ago we are eagerly anticipating it. Below you can find the full recipe which hopefully you will try and enjoy making.
Maria’s Marmalade Gingerbread
150g golden syrup
225g self-raising flour
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp milk
Preheat your oven to 170°C.
Select your cake tin (Maria used a smaller tin than we did which produced a thicker gingerbread – we would do this next time). Grease it with a knob of butter and cut out a square of greaseproof paper to line the bottom.
In a saucepan, melt the butter, golden syrup and marmalade over a medium heat. Allow the mixture to cool a little.
In the meantime, sieve the flour, ginger and cinnamon into a bowl.
When the butter and syrup mixture has cooled a little, add the beaten egg and milk. Mix well and pour into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Use a spoon to fold it in.
Pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin and put in the oven for 30-50 minutes (this all depends on how thick the gingerbread will be). You can test the gingerbread to see if it’s ready by seeing if a skewer comes out clean.
Allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
This cake stores really well and is best eaten after three days – if you can wait that long!
I’ve got lots I could write about from last weekend, and will try and cover as much as possible in the next couple of days.
Friday night we made homemade fishfingers and chips. We also turned over lots of our flower beds and dug out compost to add to our vegetable beds.
Saturday we made mushroom pate, Marmalade Gingerbread, and spicy prawns. I went to B&Q in search of lights, and anti-weed membrane (how exciting!) and N spent most of the day unsuccessfully trying to remove stubborn wallpaper glue.
And Sunday we made bunny shaped dunking biscuits for my colleagues little girl – they came round to see the rabbits. We also had a lovely morning at the Hulme Community Garden Centre’s ‘Potato Day’ and came home with a basket of goodies for planting out.
Borage was a bad bunny – he was caught in a wooden trough, digging up bulbs and chomping on them.
This recipe should be tried by all – it’s delicious. A fantastic winter soup that will bring a little ray of summer sunshine into these cold and dismal days. It bursts with rich tomato and zingy lemon, but with deep earthy lentils and hearty pasta twirls. And what’s more, it is made from store cupboard staples. We ate large bowlfuls with grated Parmesan and a sprinkling of torn parsley. For lunch the next day I finished up the leftovers with a pile of sunflower sprouts and a drizzle of oil.
Tomato, Lemon and Lentil Soup
(this is what the recipe says, but really it’s two large bowlfuls and one for lunch the next day)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
400g tin plum tomatoes
60g red lentils
900ml (1 1/2 pints) vegetable stock
Salt and Pepper
Delicious garnishes: torn flat leaf parsley or sunflower sprouts
Heat some oil in a large saucepan and gentle fry the onion, garlic and carrot until soft.
Add the tinned tomatoes and break up a bit. Add the red lentils and stock and stir well. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until the lentils are tender.
While the soup is simmering, cook the pasta in a separate pan. This is really important – the first time I made this soup I thought I would save on washing up and bunged the dry pasta in with the soup to cook. The soup turned out more like a stew as the pasta absorbed too much of the cooking liquid.
When the soup has had its 30 minutes, use a hand blended to blitz it up a little bit so that it is a mixture or smooth and coarse textures. Add the pasta and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you taste the soup and add more lemon juice, salt and pepper until the soup bursts with flavour in your mouth.
Serve in warm bowls with plain or with a garnish of your choice.
This recipe is taken and slightly adapted from Family Food by Silvana Franco.
Two summers ago we went to Sweden for a family wedding. We decided to make it into our summer holiday as it seemed like a long way to go for a wedding. We travelled by boat to Denmark with our little car, then drove around a large part of the west coast of Sweden. At the time, it felt exhausting, and by the time we got back we weren’t sure it had felt much like a holiday.
Now as I look back on our time there and the experiences we had, it was actually quite a lovely holiday. Despite the terrible weather and the hours and hours of driving, we ate some lovely food and saw some fantastic things. It is an amazing country and somewhere I would definitely like to return to one day.
We sailed from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark, then drove along the E20 through Denmark to Copenhagen. We crossed the huge bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo – our first stop in Sweden. Our parks conference the February before we went away had included a speaker from Malmo, and it inspired me so much I knew we had to visit.
Everywhere that we stayed on our journey along the coast was a member of the Bo på lantgård – ‘staying on a farm’ – http://www.bopalantgard.org. Our first farm was Vragerups Gård (http://www.vragerup.se/) in the countryside outside Malmo. It was an idyllic farmhouse with beautiful furnishings and we really didn’t want to leave.
In terms of eating out our plan was to drive around and see what looked nice, which means on one hand you might find a real gem of a restaurant, but on the other hand it could be dire. Our first night we found this place…
It couldn’t have been a more stunning location, and the food was equally nice. I have managed to find out that the restaurant is called Kallbadhus (this might be the name of the whole complex) or Kalendarium, but it is also Sweden’s longest swimming pier (http://www.kallbadhus.se/).
Nearby to where we were staying, we discovered this unusual village, which we think it styled on a medieval style town. It felt like a film set, especially as it was seemingly deserted.
We had a somewhat miserable day out in Malmo as it rained, and rained and rained. So much for visiting parks – we ended up on a coach tour of the city, which was not quite what we were hoping, but there wasn’t much choice short of getting soaked. We did also discover a cluster of craft workshops and a quaint sweet shop – perfect for gifts for younger brothers!
Our plan the next day, with storm clouds looming, was to head for the sun and blue clouds wherever they were on the horizon. This worked out quite well, and we came across a little cafe-cum-farm shop. We sat in a beautiful glasshouse and ate tea and cake under a canopy of kiwi fruit!
That evening, we found a lovely little restaurant in a nearby town and enjoyed a great meal. That was until the roof above me sprung a leak, which turned into a waterfall, and the whole restaurant was swamped! We sat in the car wondering what kind of holiday we were on…
One thing that Swedish hospitality does well is a fantastic spread for breakfast: cooked meats, jams, compotes, fresh fruit, yoghurt, cheeses, and breads including the dark rye breads. I fell in love with what I like to call pillow bread, what it’s real name is I’m not sure – but it’s soft, flat, with dimples in it like a sofa. I ate a lot of it during this holiday, and brought a lot back with us.
As we travelled up the coast and slightly inland to our next stop – an incredible looking colonial style house – there was more rain…
Drip, drip, drip, little april showers…
We started to see signs for a vaffle stuga (spelling probably not quite correct) and ended up in a log cabin deep in a huge forest eating waffles! They were delicious and it was nice to sit inside by a fire while it drizzled outside. There was a hamlet of houses selling artisan made items and we came away with a lovely rug that now sits in our living room.
Hults Gard (http://www.hultsgard.com/) the next place we stayed, looked beautiful, but our room was small and felt like we were staying in a hostel. One of the things I enjoyed most about the incredible amounts of driving that we did, was it meant we could watch the landscape change – from the rolling farmland and towns near Malmo, to dark evergreen forests, then through great expanses of farmland with railroads, and finally to the rocky coastal islands with their clapboard fishing villages.
The wedding was held in a fairytale castle near Gothenburg and was a whole weekend of eating and celebrating. We were treated to a gourmet meal featuring some delicious Swedish dishes – sadly no pictures.
Our final leg of the journey took us further up the coast and out onto an island. We were staying at a strawberry farm called Tyfta Ostergård (http://www.lekander.nu/eindex.html) which had the perks of fantastic jams and compotes for breakfast.
It was run by a lovely family with three generations of the family living and working there together. The guest accommodation including a lovely kitchen and sitting room were decorated with that impeccable Swedish knack for style.
It was out on these islands that we had our best meals of the holiday. It was also probably the poshest and most expensive meal that we have ever eaten – but worth every penny. Situated on the “herring island” of Klädesholmen is Salt & Sill (http://www.saltosill.se), a small restaurant with a stunning view and excellent food.
The highlights of this meal by far were the starters. I wish at the time I had written down exactly what we had eaten, because now I just have the photos as a reminder, but don’t know any of the more interesting details!
N had a trio of pickled herring, each piece pickled differently, on a different bread or cracker, topped with a different sauce. Each mouthful was pared with a different shot of snaps.
I chose salmon, which turned out to be THE best salmon dish I’ve ever eaten. I think that salmon dishes often run the risk of being a bit boring, but this was incredible. I think it was poached somehow – it was so delicate, and still so pink, and came on a bed of green vegetables with a sauce that I think was broad bean.
For mains we had fishcakes and a piece of cod with a foam – sorry I can’t recall the details more accurately.
Desserts were also a highlight. N had a(nother) trio of handmade truffles with a strawberry coulis.
I had a delicate dish which comprised a miniature panna cotta dusted with vanilla, a chocolate fondue sauce, and a caramelised banana wrapped in filo pastry and finished with a scattering of nuts. This restaurant would come highly recommended from me to anyone looking to visit this part of Sweden. It’s not to be missed.
The island of Tjörn had a wealth of interesting places for ‘foodies’ to visit. We found a pick-you-own tomato farm!
It was run by a lovely couple who showed us around their giant pollytunnel where there were growing unusual organic salads. I have never seen or heard of some of the incredible vegetables, salads and herbs they were growing, so it was a fantastic experience. Ever since this experience, I have always loved the idea of setting up a pick-you-own tomatoes, what a fab idea!
There was one cafe that I had read about on my internet searches before we left for Sweden that I was determined we would visit. It is a small cafe-restaurant in the fishing village of Mollösund, which is right on the far tip of an island called Orust. Café Emma (http://www.cafeemma.com/eng.html) is a member of the Slow Food movement, and serve homemade food using seasonal and local ingredients.
We both had their signature rich fish soup for starters, which is made with saffron, shrimp and two kind of fish. It was served with bread, aioli and a herb mayonnaise. I must admit this isn’t the sort of starter I would normally order, but it was incredible.
It was a no-brainerwhat N would choose for his main – a homemade burger. It was served in thin pillow bread, with a fresh tomato salsa and a bean salad. Who said burgers have to be unhealthy?
I chose a quinoa salad with asparagus, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, olives, roasted beetroot and micro salad leaves. This is food to die for.
Café Emma serve the kind of food that you never forget. Food that you dream about. Food that you spend hours trying to recreate. These are my food memories.
I’m back from the conference – tired and full – 17 hour days and a week of 4* Marriott food will do that to you. I then had a lovely weekend with the ‘in-laws’ in Yorkshire, but that meant more delicious food. I feel like eating salad for the next week.
Food with N’s family in Yorkshire is always fantastic. His parents live in an old bakery, and N’s mom lives up to the house’s history by making most of her own bread. We had fish lasagne one night, a fantastic fry-up brunch, a Valentine’s Day meal out, and afternoon tea at N’s granny’s.
We don’t normally go for the whole Valentine’s Day thing, but there is a pub-cum-restaurant that I particularly wanted to go to, so it was a nice treat. The General Tarleton (http://www.generaltarleton.co.uk) is beautifully furnished – simple, elegant, cosy – and serves fantastic food with an emphasis on local and seasonal. N had their ‘moneybags’ which are seafood bundled in filo pastry with a lobster sauce, steak and chips (what else!) and a slice of lemon tart with raspberry coulis. I had a divine grilled goats cheese salad with poached pear, beetroot and pesto, followed by salmon en croute and a Valhrona chocolate pudding. My desert was so rich that I couldn’t even bring myself to lick the spoon!
Afternoon tea at N’s granny’s was equally delightful. She lives in a beautiful flat in Harrogate with lovely views of the park. Afternoon tea is served on a trolley on delicate china plates. There was cucumber and mackerel sandwiches, crusts removed and cut into dainty fingers; hot cross buns which she had cut into wafer thin slices and buttered; and finally a homemade Victoria sponge cake oozing freshly whipped cream and raspberry jam (made by N’s uncle). I hope that if I have children that granny will still be wheeling out the trolley of afternoon tea goodies for them – it’s a lovely occasion that I feel children should experience and relish.
When I’ve had a chance to catch up on a week’s worth of emails I will be back with some more posts, including that delicious Marmalade Gingerbread I promised before I went away.
I won’t be able to post anything for about a week as I’m off to run a week-long residential conference for green space managers! Very exciting, done a lot of work leading up to this point, and this is what I love to do – organise events.
I am leaving N and the bunnies to fend for themselves – N left for work this morning with a sleepy reminder to make himself nice dinners while I was gone. The Co-op and its frozen pizzas are sometimes a temptation too many for a bloke home alone. Even still, I am tempted to leave him a list of all the lovely bits and pieces that are lying in the fridge and cupboards, and a reminder that pasta is so versatile.
Will be back in a week with a lovely recipe that I can’t wait to make, using the homemade marmalade that I don’t like on toast. This recipe, however, from one of my best friends, makes marmalade quite delicious - Maria’s Marmalade Gingerbread. Yum!
I’m not quite sure where I would be without food at the moment. It is my little bit of space to escape to, whether it’s lovingly prepared home-cooked food, or the guilty pleasure of frozen pizza comfort food – it’s there for me in a quite, steady way.
Last night we made a simple but delicious dish of Purple Sprouting Broccoli with a Mustard Holandaise sauce. It was the first glimmer of those summer dinners which are flung together from a few ingredients but turn out to be to be the most satisfying and memorable. Amidst the snow storms and freezing temperatures that have descended on us this week, this was my first taste of the new year.
Delicately cooked spears of purple sprouting broccoli smothered in a glossy egg yolk sauce have been a food dream for a couple of weeks now, and one of my favourite recipe books helped my realise this meal. The recipe was taken – and always it seems in my case, adapted – from the Riverford Farm Cook Book from the people who bring us the Riverford Organics box scheme. This is a fantastic book for anyone who needs a bit of inspiration for cooking with vegetables, although it does include some meat elements in some of the recipes. It is truly a celebration of the humble vegetable.
The recipe, slightly adapted to my just-got-in-from-work-and-not-enough-time needs, is simple – boil the spears of purple sprouting broccoli. Whip up a hollandaise sauce (a sensible thing to attempt for the first time, I feel, after a long day at work…). Pile the broccoli on a plate and drizzle over the sauce. Eat standing up, at the kitchen counter, with a fork (and a knife if you wish). And don’t forget to mop up any remaining sauce with your finger!
It took my two attempts to make the hollandaise, the first I cooked the egg yolk and lemon juice just slightly too long and it went all lumpy. I am not good at admitting defeat, but it was well worth it to accept it had gone wrong, wash the bowl out and start again. The resulting sauce was beautiful.
Our local box scheme – Northern Harvest (www.northernharvest.co.uk) – supplied the first of the seasons English purple sprouting broccoli, and the eggs were laid by my colleagues hens. That’s local enough for me!
Purple Sprouting Broccoli with a Mustard Hollandaise Sauce
200g purple sprouting broccoli, trimmed
For the hollandaise
125g unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add your broccoli – cook until just tender but still a vibrant green.
In a separate pan, gently melt the butter then remove from the heat.
Whisk the egg yolk and lemon juice in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, just until it starts to thicken. Then start to gradually add the melted butter, a little at a time, whisking it until each amount has been incorporated. This is when the sauce will start to thicken and go glossy.
When you’ve whisked in all the melted butter, you can take it off the heat and stir in the mustard, and season it with salt and pepper.
Drain the broccoli and let if briefly steam dry. Pile onto a plate and drizzle over the hollandaise sauce.
This recipe is taken and slightly adapted from the Riverford Farm Cook Book by Guy Watson and Jane Baxter.
Last week we made our first attempt at homemade marmalade. I must admit that I am an avid reader of Country Living magazine, and February’s issue had a selection of marmalade recipes. I personally don’t eat marmalade – probably haven’t even tried it, but like with many things I want to make them even if I don’t take pleasure from eating them. Perhaps this is my moment to try marmalade!
We did it over a period of an afternoon and two nights as we didn’t have enough time to do it all at once after getting home from work. I bought a kilo of luscious smelling Seville oranges from an Asian grocers in Chorlton. After a good hour of careful slicing of the peel – N doesn’t like it too thick – it went into a large pan with water, and a bundle of the pith and pips tied up in muslin (the full recipe is below). This was then soaked overnight, before being simmered for about two hours until the peel is soft and tender. Then the muslin bundle is removed and discarded.
The sugar – kilos of it – is added to the pan, along with the reserved juice from the oranges. This is the boiled gently to dissolve the sugar, and then on a hard boil until it thickens and sets when smeared on a cold plate. It is allowed to cool before making its way into jam jars.
This marmalade has quite a deep burnt orange colour from the addition of dark muscovado sugar. One of my best friends has a fantastic recipe for a ginger cake with marmalade in it – she made it last weekend and its delicious – hopefully I can get the recipe from her and post it on here for everyone to try.
The recipe: Firstly, I would recommend getting some of the equipment out that you will need before you start. A large metal pan - I don’t have a preserving pan, so just used my largest saucepan. A citrus reamer - mine is a great wooden one which gets out as much juice and pith as possible. A square of muslin and a sieve. Some string. A jam funnel - I don’t own one of these, but I wish I did – it’s quite possible to manage without, just expect lots of sticky drips! A ladle and jam jars that have been washed carefully.
Seville orange marmalade
Makes about 2kg – we filled about 10 jars of different sizes
1kg Seville oranges (go for those that are hard and fragrant)
2 litres of water
2kg preserving sugar
200g dark muscovado sugar
Wash and dry the fruit. Cut it into halves or quarters.
Line the sieve with the square of muslin and start to juice all the segments over the sieve. Make sure you scrape the shells out well, dropping into the sieve the pips, the flesh, and the pithy membranes. Country Living’s tip for getting these out is to use a teaspoon to grab a piece of membrance, the rip it out.
Once you have finished juicing, put the peel to one side and tie the muslin up into a bundle. Place the bundle into your large metal pan. Reserve the juice for later.
Using a very sharp knife, slice the peel into thin pieces – or thicker if you prefer. Add all these to pan. Pour in the 2 litres of water and leave to soak overnight.
The next day, bring the pan with the peel, water, and bundle of muslin to the boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 2 hours – the liquid should have reduced by half and the peel should be ‘meltingly tender’.
Making sure you let the mixture cool first, remove the bundle of muslin and squeeze out as much liquid as you can – then discard.
Add the sugar and reserved juice. Slowly bring the mixture to the boil and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, raise the heat and boil hard until you reach setting point – I personally didn’t know what this meant, but a friend had mentioned she tested hers by smearing a bit of it on a cold plate and left it for a few minutes to see if it was starting to set. I used this idea, and it seems to have worked.
Allow the marmalade to cool before stirring, and then pouring into jars – either with a jam funnel for the neat and tidy option, or for sticky fun just use the ladle to scoop it in!
This recipe is taken and slightly adapted from the February 2009 edition of Country Living magazine.