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Christmas Eve lunch – a simple winter salad of warm potatoes, crispy bacon, chopped celery leaves and a dressing of mustard, cider vinegar and shallots. 

This was my first attempt at this delicious sounding salad from Rose Prince’s The New English Table – I tried to follow the amounts for the dressing, but it wasn’t quite how I wanted it, so I just tweaked the ingredients until I was happy. 

Winter potato, bacon and celery leaf salad

Feeds 4

20 new potatoes
6 rashers of streaky bacon
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
175ml olive oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
Handful of celery leaves
2 shallots
Salt and pepper

Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water until done.  Drain and cut in half or quarters.

Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crispy.

Mix together the sugar, mustard, olive oil and water – I like to use a jam jar as you can screw on the lid and shake it.  Add the shallots, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pop the cooked potatoes into a bowl.  Tear up (or cut up) the crispy bacon and add to the potatoes.  Drizzle over the dressing and sprinkle over chopped celery leaves.  Stir everything together.

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marinated green beans

Marinated Green Beans

Feeds 2 as part of a meal

Good handful of French green beans (enough for two people)
1 small shallot
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Glug of white wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Small bunch of flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

Pop a pan of salted water on to boil.

Wash and cut the tops of the green beans.  Once the water is boiling, drop the beans in and cook for about 5 minutes.  Drain them and set aside.

To make the marinade, finely slice the shallot and pop it in a bowl.  Add the Dijon mustard and a glug of white wine vinegar and give it a good mix. 

Add the warm beans to the marinade and mix well.

Chop up the parsley and add it to the bowl along with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  Give it another good mix and season with salt and pepper.

This salad is best served after the beans have had a chance to marinate in the shallot, mustard and vinegar mixture, so make this ahead of time – 15-20 minutes is great.

Up next: Mixed Tomato and Basil Salad

augustsummermeal

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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!

It’s been a while since I posted any pictures of my newly acquired allotment.  I feel that we’ve done quite well with our plot, considering that we only get down there occasionally.

This photo was taken almost a month ago – we had just finished planting five large beds of potatoes! 

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With N out playing cricket, I made a trip down there on Sunday and ended up there for about 3 hours.  The garlic, onions and shallots seem to be doing well. 

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The shallots have started to split, which is quite exciting for someone who’s never grown onions or shallots before:

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I planted some Cosmos that I have grown from seedlings, which had probably spent a couple of weeks too many in their tiny pods, so we shall have to wait and see how they fare on the allotment.  I also managed to plant out some Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants that I bought at least a month ago and have been hanging on to as it said to plant them out in May.

I spent a good while erecting a chicken wire barrier between them and potential death – I’m not sure whether bunnies like broccoli plants, but I’m not about to wait and see:

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Overall I was quite pleased with my attempt, especially as it was quite a challenge with no one to hold the other end of the roll of chicken wire:

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I do feel that having put a fence to prevent the wild rabbits from munching on my tiny vegetable plants that it will attract them.  I worry they will see it as a challenge, that because there’s a fence whatever’s behind it must be even tastier, and therefore they will try especially hard to get it.

The potatoes have finally shown their faces – I was beginning to think that maybe all five beds were lost…but fear not, they are growing:

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The fruit canes (believed to be raspberry) behind the ‘shed’ are now green and leafy with lots of flower heads appearing, which means (fingers-crossed) lots of berries – my mouth is already beginning to water at the thought of harvests yet to come:

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I burnt off at least one of the three-and-a-half-bars-of-chocolate brownies that we made for N’s birthday by hoeing a piece of ground at the bottom of the allotment.  I am undecided as to whether I will sow it with purple clover (which is a green manure) or whether I might try making it into a mini meadow. 

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I do think it’s a shame you don’t drive along country roads in this country and find odd patches of meadow brimming with colour and buzzing bees like these we’ve found in France:

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And finally, the rhubarb has shot up thick stalks topped with a foam of white flowers.  How pretty.

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Recently I have taken on an allotment.  It’s in the small town next to us, about a five minute drive away – I put my name down on for all the allotments in our town, and the next, because I was told it would be about a three year wait (!!!) for allotments here.  Back in February, when I’d given up all hope on the allotment front, I received an email from the council and went to visit a couple of allotments that had become available.  For a start, the plots were a lot larger than I imagined the would be – a full plot is 250 square metres!!  The first plot I was shown was overgrown and had been unloved for over a year – this one filled me with fear, I just didn’t have the time to sort it out.  The next looked more manageable, so I signed up and I now have an additional 125 square metres in which to grow.

my new allotment

my new allotment

There are a lot of raspberry canes at the bottom of the plot, in amongst the rubbish.

raspberry canes and rubbish

raspberry canes and rubbish

And quite a lot of rubarb.  It’s quite exciting to be given a plot that already has things growing on it.

rubarb coming through the weeds

rubarb coming through the weeds

A couple of weeks after I’d taken it on and still hadn’t been down to do any digging, I was beginning to think I’d taken on too much.  I finally managed to spend a couple of hours there on Monday last week and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

freshly dug raised bed

freshly dug raised bed

I dug over a number of the raised beds that were left by the previous owner, and put in all my garlic and shallots, and half the onions I’d bought. 

rows of garlic, shallots and onions

rows of garlic, shallots and onions

N dropped in on his way home from work on Friday afternoon to check that they hadn’t been decimated by some naughty bunnies (wild ones, not the cheeky pets this time), birds or mice.  They were fine – thank goodness! – and still sat neatly in their lines.  I’ve never grown shallots or onions before, so I shall keep you posted with how they go.  I adore all things onion-ey and couldn’t live without them in my kitchen, so I am looking forward to the day in autumn when I can (hopefully!) cook some of them.  Garlic I haven’t had much luck with in the past, so fingers-crossed I’ll do better this year.  If anybody has any garlic growing tips – please leave me a message in the comments as I would love any help I can get!

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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.

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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. 

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one of the community gardens

one of the community gardens

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the pots of 'pot rescue'

the pots of 'pot rescue'

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.  

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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.

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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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