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Tonight we enjoyed a picnic dinner at our allotment after an hour or two of raised bed construction.  This is what we managed to achieve – one half of my new herb bed:

We ate Majorcan new potatoes boiled then smothered hot in goat’s butter and lots of salt and pepper … grilled blackened sausages from Little Heath Farm in Dunham Massey dunked in Wilkin & Son’s tomato ketchup …

sliced tomatoes sprinkled liberally with salt and garnished with torn basil leaves (totally unseasonal but irresistable as the weather starts to warm) …

and slices of coffee coloured seeded bread from Red House Farm smeared with Oxford Blue cheese …

Sitting on an old rug looking out over our allotment eating good grub – what a blissful way to spend a weekday evening.  Buddy peered down at us from the boot of the car, his nose twitching as the smell of sausages wafted up his nostrils.

Two little robins hopped around the allotments, perched on the spade…

then a tub of chicken manure pellets…

and finally an orange plastic bottle balanced atop a bamboo cane…

Heavenly.

Brie and Onion Tart

Brie and Onion Tart

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter

200g puff pastry
100-120g Brie
6 onions
50g butter
Thyme

In a large frying pan heat the butter.  Peel the onions and cut into segments.  Cook the onions in the butter on a gentle heat until they are meltingly tender and slightly caramelised.  Let them take their time.

Preheat the oven to 220°C.  Roll out your puff pastry until it is only a couple of millimetres thick.  Carefully place the pastry onto a baking tray and score a border around the pastry about 2cm for the edges.  Prick with a fork.

Once the onions are cooked, spread them out over the pastry leaving the border free.  Brush some of the remaining oniony butter from in the pan around the border – this will help it to go lovely and golden.

Cut the Brie into pieces and scatter over the onions.  Sprinkle over some thyme leaves and a little salt and pepper.

Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the cheese has melted and oozed amongst the onions.

Eat with a big pile of crisp and crunchy salad tossed in a tangy homemade dressing – just a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is all it needs.  Scrumptious.

Bried and onion tart

This delicious recipe is taken from the fabulous Nigel Slater’s Appetite.

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I picked this pretty bunch of flowers and herbs from my allotment and back garden.  It’s a mixture of pink and white cosmos, orange marigolds, yellow daisies, purple chive flowers, green mint, and delicate white parsley flowers.

I fear this may be one of the last sights of summer as the leaves are already beginning to change colour and fall.

This is my recipe for homemade tomato soup.  It’s got a nice tang to it from the addition of some sundried tomatoes, and is a delicious meal in winter or summer.  There’s so many ways you can serve it – with crusty white bread spread thickly with butter, a dollop of cream cheese, crème fraîche swirled through it, a drizzle of olive oil, toasted pitta bread, a sprig of basil.  Or what I really liked as a child was to put a big knob of salty butter into the middle, wait for it to melt and then swirl it in – probably not very healthy, but I loved that extra smooth salty edge it gave the soup.

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Homemade Tomato Soup

Feeds 2

2 small shallots or 1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 sundried tomatoes, chopped
Tin of plum or cherry tomatoes
Bunch of thyme, leaves only
400-500ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Start by softened the chopped shallots over a medium heat.  Once they have softened and started to turn translucent, add the sundried tomatoes and thyme leaves. 

If you can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to pick off all the leaves, pop the whole sprigs in to impart their flavour – just before you blend the soup remember to remove the sprigs or you’ll end up with bits of twig in every mouthful…it’s not pleasant!

After a couple of minutes, add the tinned tomatoes and break them up with a wooden spoon.

Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.

Turn off the heat, remove any sprigs of thyme if left whole, and blend to a smooth puree.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and eat straightaway however you wish.

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I am currently holed up in bed, for what looks like the week, with suspected swine flu – oh joy!  N is picking up my dose of Tamiflu on his way home from work, and hopefully I will be back to good health in no time.  So, after spending the night sleeping upright on the sofa and not getting to sleep until about 3.30am I am trying to cheer myself up by sharing the latest from the allotment.

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Last week N and I lifted all the onions and shallots growing on the allotment.  I have never grown onions or shallots, but grown from sets they are pretty hassle-free, apart from the odd weeding session.  I’d noticed the last time I’d been to the allotment that their green spiky tops had started to wither and fade, so pulled out my Grow Your Own Veg book by Carol Klein to find out how to harvest them.

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N used a fork to carefully lift the clusters of shallots and onions out of the soil, and I followed behind breaking up the shallots, rubbing off large clods of earth and popping them into my basket.  It was that simple.

Once we got home, we set about putting them out to dry.  Rather conveniently we were away over the weekend at a friend’s wedding, so we cleared the draining board and counter top next to the sink – the sink has a large window that lets in lots of light, which I thought would be the best place in our house for the onions to dry out.  We lay down a couple of tea towels and used the wire stand from inside the grill tray to allow air to circulate around the onions – which is what the book had recommended as ideal.

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They look really beautiful, these soil encrusted orbs which glow a brilliant amber where the papery outside layer has been removed.  Now we just need to store them properly in order to keep them as long as possible into the autumn – that’s if we can resist making a meal from them.

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One of my favourite onion recipes is Pasta with Lemon and Onion.  Simply saute an onion (any kind will do, ordinary, white or red) in some olive oil and a knob of butter until soft.  You can pop a couple of sprigs of thyme in to impart its flavour if you like.  Add in the zest of a lemon, season with salt and pepper.  Remove the thyme sprig before tipping into your drained pasta.  Loosen it up a little with some extra virgin olive oil, squeeze in lemon juice to taste, and add a good handful of finely chopped parsley.  Eat with a sprinkling of Parmesan.  We had this for tea last night and it is just so homely – like a big hug.  Perfect for people suffering from swine flu or other flu-like bugs!

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The weather in the UK is positively balmy, and what we really want to eat lots of is salad.  Most other food just seems too much in this heat.  So here is a healthy but most importantly delicious salad, with tomatoes, beans and new potatoes and a zingy citrus and chilli dressing.

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Zingy tomato and bean salad

Feeds 2-4 people

1 x tin haricot beans, drained and rinsed
200g new potatoes
200g cherry tomatoes
2 spring onions
Bunch of flat leaf parsley
1/2 red chilli
A couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper

Cook the new potatoes, drain and cut into chunks.  While the potatoes are cooking, slice up the cherry tomatoes and spring onions.

Mix the potatoes, beans and tomatoes together in a serving bowl.

Roughly chop the parsley and pop into a separate bowl.  Finely chop the chilli and add it to the parsley.  Tip in the sliced spring onions, olive oil, zest and juice of the lemon.  Give it a good mix and add a bit more oil if you want it a bit runnier.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the potatoes, beans and tomatoes and mix well.  The potatoes gently start to melt and the dressing will seep into them and the beans and this is just scrumptious.

Eat on its own, or with some grilled chicken or fish. 

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So the Mexican party last night was lovely, lots of sombreros and homemade ponchos, Maria brought maracas, and we ate a lot of chilli, baked potatoes, tortilla chips and wraps.  Ours friends Katie and Kate, who’s party it was, have just finished doing their back yard and it looked stunning – they’ve painted the walls a cream colour and trellis in a mossy green, they’ve put some decking down and built raised beds that are full of interesting plants.  It was just a really lovely place to sit out with friends.

Here are some pretty flowers and herbs from my garden that I made into a posy for our friends as a gift.  This little bunch was so fragrant – with lavender, sweetpeas, marjoram and mint – I would definitely recommend using popping a couple of sprigs of herbs into a bunch of flowers.

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Today has been another warm day in Cheshire, so N and I headed straight down to the allotment to trim the long grass, water and put in a few more plants I’ve been growing from seedlings.

The strawberries we inherited on the allotment are plumping up nicely, we are just waiting for then to start blushing and turning red…and hope the rabbits don’t get to them first!

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The purple sprouting broccoli (the green plant towards the back of the pic) has shot up since we last went down, and Maria’s brussel sprout plants (the purple plant in the foreground) are looking equally healthy.  Even the three smaller plants that aren’t enclosed by my snazzy wire fence are doing well and haven’t (yet! touchwood!) been decimated by the rabbits.

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I also discovered a number of small cabbage white caterpillars on one of the broccoli plants, so I have carefully pinched the leaves off, brought the caterpillars home and have lovingly encouraged them onto some of my nasturtium plants.  Mad you may say, why didn’t I “dispose” of them you ask, well I like butterflies and I’m happy to sacrifice some of my nasturtiums for them.

Some of the sweetcorn (like this one) are doing well, others look a bit piddly, but rumour has it we’ve got rain this week, so hopefully that might pick the smaller ones up a little.

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N cleared a patch of ground where pumpkins had previously been grown, and I planted four Uchi Kuri pumpkin plants that I have tended from seed.  In between them I also dug in a couple of nasturtiums because I just love the way they trail and ramble over everything and their jolly flowers.

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So overall the allotment is looking pretty good, taking into consideration that this year we just haven’t had the time to clear and tidy it properly.  Rather things are just growing between the tall grasses and weeds, but growing they are.  Next year we will work on making it look pretty and neat.

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The second in my series of simple summer salads, a delicious plate of young beetroot with a delicate tasting goat’s cheese crumbled over the top.  For dishes with so few ingredients it’s essential to choose high quality produce with fantastic flavour.

These smallish beetroot are around in my local grocers and farm shops, and are about the size of plums.  The goat’s cheese I used, and would recommend if you can get hold of it is called Picandou and is from the Périgord region of France.  It is a fresh soft goat’s cheese with a smooth creamy texture.  I bought mine from the Barbakan in Manchester.

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I have made this salad twice in the past couple of weeks.  The first time, when the photos were taken, I accompanied the beetroot and goat’s cheese with some roasted Cheshire new potatoes (I parboiled these first, and tossed them in olive oil and a little salt and pepper before roasting) and some salad leaves – this served as our evening meal.  The second time, when my parents visited me for the day, I served the beetroot and goat’s cheese on it’s own, with only a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of marjoram leaves from the garden – this accompanied a smoked trout and dill tart that I’d made (more on that another day).

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So the recipe is as follows…

Beetroot and goat’s cheese salad

Serves 4 as part of a meal

approx. 8 medium beetroot (use two per person)
3-4 small Picandou goat’s cheese (or if using other goat’s cheese, about a tablespoon per person)
extra virgin olive oil
marjoram or thyme leaves (or whatever you fancy from the garden)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. 

Remove the tops from the beetroot – leave about an inch of stalk and don’t cut of the rooty ‘tail’ – otherwise the beetroot will bleed.  Scrub well in water. 

Take a roasting dish, fill it with about 5mm water then place the beetroot into the dish.  Cover with foil and pop in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the beetroot is tender.  (Don’t be tempted to remove the foil…I did the first time and the beetroot dried out and didn’t look very pretty!)

This dish is best at room temperature, so let the beetroot cool.  Once cooled, remove the stalky bit and the ‘tail’ – you can also remove the skin if you want, but this is messy and if you’ve scrubbed them well I don’t see any issue with eating it.  Cut the beetroot into quarters, or more if the beetroot is larger.

Arrange the beetroot on a nice platter, and crumble the goat’s cheese over the top.  Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil, a little black pepper and some marjoram leaves to finish it off.

*Also great served with rosted new potatoes and some green leaves*

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My little brother, who is 13, loves fishing.  He is lucky that we have friends with riverside houses who let him sit on their banks and fish for trout for free.  The weekend before last when N and I went home to visit them, the little brother went out fishing and brought me back a handsome trout for my birthday present.  What a treat!

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And what a beauty he caught!  I accepted the gift on the premise that the little brother would gut it and clean it for me.  He did so willingly.  I must add in here that only a year ago he was too squeamish to even touch raw chicken, so he has come a long way.

So the following day, having returned to our little house in Cheshire, N and I decided to cook the trout for my birthday tea.  The weather was scorching, so N prepared the barbeque and I faffed around trying to decide what to do to my trout.  In the end, we just bunged a couple of thin slices of lemon in its belly along with a handful of garden herbs.  We scored deep gashes into the flesh and poked in some slices of garlic, finishing it off with a drizzle of oil and salt and pepper.

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The trout was then wrapped in foil and popped straight onto the hot coals and took hardly any time at all to cook.

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In addition to the trout, we boiled up some Jersey Royals and tossed them with lots of butter and mint.  We picked a bowl of salad leaves from the garden and dried them off in our new kitchen toy – a salad spinner!

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I was so pleased with the way we cooked the trout, it was absolutely perfect, just cooked, still moist and a beautiful blush of coral pink.  If in doubt, just keep checking it.

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Next I painstakingly removed all the succulent flesh from the bones, which took a while, but as the kind of person who can easily be put off by chomping on a bone, I felt it was worthwhile.  This was all that was left of the fishy when I was done with it (avert your eyes or quickly scroll down if you’re squeamish – I must say I think there’s something rather beautiful about it):

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We were left with a big pile of gorgeous pink trout flecked with thyme leaves (we devoured the whole lot!):

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So there you have it – an incredibly simple, incredibly delicious and in fact incredibly cheap meal: baked trout, new potato salad and a pile of salad leaves. 

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We realised that ignoring the minor ingredients such a lemon, oil, salt and pepper that our meal had only cost the price of the potatoes.  The rest was free – a fish from a beautiful Cotswold river (the one below in fact), and homegrown salad and herbs from our garden.

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A big thanks to the little brother for catching us such a tasty tea!

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Feeling that a cold might be creeping up on me gets me planning all the ways I can try to fight it off.  These ‘ways’ usually involve food.  We have been eating lots of garlic, onion, lemons, herbs, chicken stock, and drinking orange juice and hot honey and lemon.  If my throat gets stratchy and sore, I head for the cupboard, grab a teaspoon, scoop out a spoonful of ‘spring flower’ honey brought back from our travels in the Loire, and slowly suck on it.  It coats your throat and tastes delicious, plus I’m sure I’ve read that honey has antibacterial properties.  It certainly does the trick.

So when N woke up on Saturday morning with a sore throat too, it was essential to fill our bellies with something healing for lunch.  We opted for a firm favourite in our house, a pasta broth.  Its part soup, part broth, part bowl of pasta.  At its most basic you cook some teeny pasta in stock rather than water and add any combination of tiny diced vegetables.  Every time we make cook this dish it is slightly different, a different combination of vegetables, herbs and seasonings.

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This time we cracked open a tub of frozen homemade chicken stock, to ensure the best possible healing powers, no stock cubes today.  I used the vegetables that we had lying around in the fridge – a lonesome carrot that had got forgotten at the bottom of the salad draw, a small white onion, a chunk of celery, some sunblushed tomatoes, a few oyster mushrooms, and a bulb of fresh garlic. 

Firstly, I finely diced everything – except the mushrooms and sunblushed tomatoes, which were roughly chopped.  The onion, celery and fresh garlic were sweated in a little oil.  Next the carrot was added, stirred a little, then the mushrooms added.  The mini pasta was added (we used a small pasta shaped like rice) and stirred in, then the chicken stock added and the whole lot simmered. 

With a couple of minutes to go before the pasta is cooked, the sunblushed tomatoes are added.  I also added a sprinkle of dried herbs.  Once the pasta is cooked, I added a handful of chopped parsley and the juice of a lemon – the lemon juice just lifts the whole dish and transforms it – for me it wouldn’t be the same without it.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  You will find that most of the liquid gets absorbed by the pasta, so it’s more like a sloppy pasta dish.

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Serve it up with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and an extra grinding of black pepper if you’re me.  You could also add some grated Parmesan or a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves.  Bread or toast with a smear of butter is also a must to mop up any remaining broth.

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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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