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Yesterday we spent a couple of hours at the allotment digging up our potatoes – I can’t believe the amount and size of some of the potatoes we dug up.

So just from one row…

We dug up this overloaded basketful of gorgeous red skinned potatoes…

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Our first potatoes dug from the allotment, already eaten this week as baked potatoes with plenty of salt, pepper and butter, and the tiny ones in a pasta dish with green beans and pesto.  I know it’s a bit late to be digging the first potatoes, but we were a bit behind in getting them into the ground this year.

One day I hope to make this meal again, with everything but the sausages grown in my garden or on our allotment.  I do believe that the best food is made with what’s available seasonally and from an idea of what it is you want to eat.

What started as a simple meal (and possibly one of our favourites), of grilled sausages, new potatoes and salad, turned into something a bit more interesting.  The sausages came from the fab new Kenyon Hall Farm Shop, the new potatoes were boiled and violently shaken with salty butter and lots of mint from the garden.

But it was the salad that became something far better, using up odds and ends from the garden and the fridge.  To a bowl I finely sliced spring onions, added a splash of white wine vinegar and some salt – I like to do this to take the edge off the onions.  Otherwise I find that all you can taste is onion.

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It has been ages since I last posted a recipe – as a result I can’t remember what I’ve been eating over the past few months and I don’t have the notes written down anywhere to recreate anything nice that we made.  Last night’s dinner was worth finding some time to sit down and share it with you – I could have eaten platefuls.

To start with, there was scrambled eggs on lightly toasted bread.  I like to make my scrambled eggs by melting butter in a pan, cracking in the eggs, letting them cook a little before breaking them up a bit, letting them cook some more, stirring, and so on.  This produces a scrambled egg with bits of white and yolk rather than just a uniform pale yellow version.

I also fried some pieces of streaky bacon, before using the same pan to whistle up a warm tomato dressing.  I didn’t tip away the bacon fat, instead I chopped up the tomatoes and tipped them into the hot fat, cooking them quickly so until they almost disintegrated.  To the tomatoes, I added salt and pepper, and a tiny splash of sherry vinegar.

So, to buttered toast I added the scrambled eggs and popped the crispy bacon bits on top.  Then I realised that I hadn’t stirred my chopped garden chives through the egg, so resolved to sprinkle them on to at the end.  I spooned over the warm tomato dressing, and topped it off with a good handful of chopped chives and purple chive flowers.

I just love the colours as well – it’s like summer on a plate.  This will be one version of scrambled eggs that I won’t be forgetting soon and will definitely make again.

We are busy picking platefuls of raspberries, loganberries and strawberries from our garden.  The first of the raspberries appeared at the end of June, which seemed really early to me – anyone else finding that their raspberries are out earlier this year?

For all the cursing I do during the year about the raspberry canes that pop up in all the wrong places (like the middle of my raised veg beds!), and all the promises I make to pull out all of them over the winter, I can’t help but leave them when we get such a bounty during the summer.

The strawberries have all but disappeared from their original location (overtaken by the raspberries) but have sprung up in unlikely places.  If you pull back their parasol shaped leaves you discover lots of very sweet fruits – a wonderful surprise.

The loganberries are prolific growing over an archway, but I find if I don’t pick them in time many of them that still look ok have yucky little white maggot/caterpillas inside them – those ones go on the bird table.

We have too many raspberries and loganberries at the moment to eat, so I bung them in the freezer until a time when we have enough to maybe make some jam.  The strawberries are fewer so those we are eating.

Perhaps an unconventional Christmas meal, but with only two of us to feed a turkey or goose would be too much, and with some exquisite stewing venison in the freezer from Dunham Massey it seemed only natural to have venison stew.

We bought our venison from Little Heath Farm a few weeks ago when they received a delivery from the National Trust property just down the road.  It is nice to know that the main ingredient in our Christmas meal came from within 5 miles and most likely had a lovely life roaming the parkland at Dunham Massey.

With a large part of my University days spent studying Native Americans both in the UK and Canada, it seemed only apt to follow the recipe for venison stew from Jamie’s America book.  Based on a Navajo stew, this recipe is incredibly delicious and is the second time we’ve made it.

My only addition was to make some parsley and suet dumpling, which I popped into the stew towards the end of cooking.  There is something very moreish about dumplings – I think I could eat a plateful drenched in a couple of spoonfuls of stew liqueur.

Mash potato was made with our allotment grown potatoes, which must be said have been a bit disastrous.  Whether it’s the variety, how we’ve grown them, or how we cook them, but the potatoes just disintegrate into soupy glue if not watched carefully. 

I have learnt that the trick with them is to watch them carefully in the water, looking for the moment when the outside starts to break down, but leaving them long enough to make sure they are almost cooked through. 

This time I put it through my wonderful French mouli that I picked up at the carboot – it was fantastic!  With the help of a little cream (maybe a lot…) and butter, and some seasoning, the mash turned out all right.

What did you eat for Christmas dinner?

Tonight we tried one of Hugh’s latest recipes – his version of pot noodle with spicy chorizo, spring onions and fennel seeds. 

It’s really simple.  In a bowl you pop dried egg noodles, chopped chorizo, sliced spring onions and crushed fennel seeds.  To make this less pot noodle lunchtime snack and more dinner for two, I lightly fried the chorizo and crushed fennel seeds, and half the spring onions.  Just to soften them a little.

The recipe then tells you to pour enough boiling water over the noodles, and stir in tomato passata that has been well seasoned with salt and pepper.  Then you leave it for 5-6 minutes.  We did this, but found that the noodles didn’t quite cook enough and the sauce was lukewarm by the time we came to eat it.

So we transferred everything to a pan and heated it up.  I added a good-sized spoonful of sundried tomato paste which gave a depth of flavour.  Lastly we stirred through some chopped flat leaf parsley from the garden.

All in all it was a pretty tasty and good dinner with a few little tweaks – really a delicious bowl of soupy noodles, spicy with chorizo and fragrant with fennel.

Spanish style chorizo and spring onion noodles

Feeds 2

2 nests of egg noodles
60g chorizo
8 spring onions
200ml tomato passata
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste
salt and pepper
handful of parsley or basil

Chop up the chorizo and spring onions, and crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar.

Heat up a small frying pan and gently fry the chorizo, spring onions and fennel seeds for a few minutes.

Mix together the tomato passata, sundried tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste.

In a pan, place the egg noodles, chorizo, spring onions, fennel seeds and tomato passata.  Pour over just enough boiling water to cover.  Put over a medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes or until the sauce is hot and the noodles are cooked.

Stir through some chopped parsley or basil and eat.

This was one of those cheats lunch that feels incredibly satisfying.  We went to the farmer’s market this morning and picked up a bag of onion and potato bhajis from one of the stalls, and from these our lunch was inspired using up some bits and pieces.

The other week we pulled up the last of the carrots from the garden – these were scrubbed, sliced into lengths and roasted in the oven tossed in a little olive oil. 

Once soft and starting to crisp at the edges, you take them out and mash them roughly with some ground cumin and dried oregano.  A final touch of crumbled feta cheese and fresh mint.

We warmed the onion bhajis up in the oven along with a couple of naans from the freezer – I used a new technique learnt from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals of scrunching up a piece of baking paper, wetting it then wrapping up your naans or tortilla wraps before putting them in the oven.  They come out beautifully soft.

In true Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals style we served everything on a wooden board, with a small bowl of Greek yoghurt and ate the lot with salad and much finger licking!

Still on the phone camera – new camera to come soon I hope!

Last night’s dinner was something I dreamt up and I’m so delighted with the results I had to share it with you.  The amounts are largely guessed as I do a lot of “made-up” cooking by looking and tasting, rather than measuring.  I’m sure – should you wish to make it yourself – that you will be able make it your own and just as yummy.

I couldn’t resist using lots of chives – my plants are full and healthy at the moment and are treating us to another display of pretty purple flowers.

Warning – these photos are taken with my camera that is broken…the screen is broken but it turns out it still takes pictures…I just can’t see what I’m photographing – as a result my photos are not very well composed or focused!

Baked potatoes with honey roast smoked salmon, cream cheese, wholegrain mustard and chives

Feeds 2

2 large baking potatoes
approx 135g hot smoked roast salmon
200g cream cheese
couple of generous spoonfuls of wholegrain mustard
bunch of chives
sea salt
black pepper
olive oil
splash of milk
purple chive flowers (optional)

First of all bake your potatoes – my favourite way to cook baked potatoes is to rub them with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt before baking them on skewers – the end result is gorgeous slightly chewy and crispy skins.

In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese with a splash of milk to loosen it.  Stir in the wholegrain mustard and snip in lots of chives.  Leave some chives to decorate at the end.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and mix well.  Finally, gently stir through about two thirds of the flaked salmon – don’t overmix as you don’t want the salmon to break down to mush.

When your potatoes are baked, remove from the oven and cut them in half.  Scoop out all the hot potato into a mixing bowl and pop the empty skins onto plates.

Mix most of the cream cheese mixture into the hot potato – leave a little if you want to dollop on top at the end.

Once the potato is mixed into the cream cheese mixture, spoon it into the potato skins.  Dollop on the remaining cream cheese mixture and top with the remaining flakes of salmon.

Snip over some chives and top with chive flowers – just pull the tiny purple flowers away from the green bit.  Eat with a crisp green salad (we’re loving red-tinged Little Gem lettuces and Lambs Lettuce at the moment) – I squeezed over a little lemon and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Today I drove the many miles southward to Hanbury Hall – a National Trust property near Droitwich, just south of Birmingham.  I went to interview the Head Gardener for the sustainable food bulletin I edit as part of my volunteer role for the National Trust.

Hanbury Hall is possibly one of the prettiest Trust properties I’ve ever visited.  The formal gardens are immaculate and full of colour – lots of orange and purple. 

The house is very similar to my local Dunham Massey, but a little bit fancier and with more detail. 

They have an Orangery and a Mushroom House (where mushrooms were grown for the Vernon family back in the 1860’s), and a large orchard full of ancient apple varieties. 

But I was there to see the Walled Vegetable Garden.  Down the end of long walkway, surrounded by high Yew hedges (very Alice in Wonderland!) are two old wooden gates set into a high red-bricked wall.

Inside was an idyllic scene of a beautiful working kitchen garden.  There were chickens picking happily at the grass, neat row of vegetables – cabbages, Rainbow chard and lettuces to name but a few, bee hives and polytunnels (one bursting with a stunning display of colourful pumpkins and squashes).  Sorry – I didn’t take any pictures inside the garden!

Hanbury Hall’s vegetable garden not only supplies the tea rooms with a bounty of fresh produce, eggs and honey throughout the year, but visitors can buy vegetables direct from the garden – simply ask a gardener for a celeriac, and they will go and pull one up for you right before your eyes, or maybe you’re after ruby red forced rhubarb – they can pick that for you while you watch.

How cool is that?! 

After having a tour of the kitchen garden and doing my interview, I said goodbye to Neil, the Head Gardener and went for lunch in the tearoom. 

In the tearoom you are greeted by a counter full of cakes (like most National Trust tearooms), but here at Hanbury they are quite different – perhaps you are tempted by a slice of their rich and moist Chocolate Beetroot Cake (I certainly was!), or their Parsnip and Caraway Seed Cake, maybe it’s their Honey Cake or my favourite a Victoria Sponge?

What’s special about these cakes is they feature vegetables and ingredients from the Walled Garden – beetroot, parsnip, caraway seeds, honey, eggs, and homemade jam (made with their own fruits, of course).  I was also told their made courgette cake and even potato cake!  All sweet.

In addition to my slice of Chocolate Beetroot Cake (which I didn’t eat first, I promise!), I had a bowl of vegetable soup with vegetables from the kitchen garden, and an apple and blackcurrant juice from a local producer in Worcestershire.  The cake defeated me – I couldn’t manage the last mouthful – shameful, I know!

What a lovely visit and a delicious lunch, and a big thanks to the friendly staff at Hanbury Hall. 

If you’d like to visit Hanbury Hall you can find more details here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hanburyhall.

*Photos taken with camera phone – not looking too bad!

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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All pictures are my own unless stated. I would kindly ask that you don't use them elsewhere unless you ask permission first. Many thanks x

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