Tag Archives: No Oven Required

Salad Daze

Boiled Egg and Salad

Salad as Protein

Obviously, we are now at the height of the salad season. I have an abundance of rocket, leaf salads, radishes, cress, mustard greens and more. And yet, I am about to do a post that focuses largely on the less usual salads and ingredients that I have been having since last I updated you on the 52 week Salad challenge.

Chickweed Stellaria media

Salad as Easy

I remain loyal to chickweed, and luckily it seems to remain loyal to me. I have been eating it for what seems like months now. I remember that I lamented the lack of chickweed back in the spring, and thought that the conditions in the Netherlands were not suitable. It turns out that I was wrong. Chickweed loves the growing conditions here, but it does appear about 6 weeks after it would in the UK. It has kept me and the guinea pigs happy for quite a while. I have no idea why people write this off as a weed, I think it is delicious.

Mixed Salad with Broad Bean Tips

Salad as a New Kind of Shoot

Back in June, I was also including broad bean tips to my salads. These really are the gardener’s treat, as they don’t keep well, so must be used fresh from the plant. This year, I was also fortuitous in that I hadn’t quite got round to eating my dock and digging it up. I have discovered that blackfly love dock much more than my beans, so they remained pretty free from these sap suckers. Since dock is edible, and has proven to be so effective, I shall probably not be so hasty to remove it all in future, as long as it stays out of my raised beds.

Salmon Fishckes, collaboration salad, Taboulleh & Sauce Grib-ish

Salad as Leftovers

This past month, herbs have also featured heavily. I am finding that herb fennel, dill, mint, basil, and parsley have become a regular addition to my salads, as well as providing me with lots of tabbouleh, and sauces.  I have also been adding herbs to salad dressings. I’ve always used thyme, of course but lately, my oregano has gone crazy, so I have been looking for recipes to use it in. I found this lovely oregano, mint and lime dressing by Laura of How to Cook Good Food. It was an entry in Karen’s Herbs on Saturday Challenge, and has been on heavy rotation in our house since I came across it. It is really a salad dressing for summer.

Mixed Family Salad

Salad as a Family Affair

Back when it was my Mum’s birthday, I made a lovely collaborative salad of leaf lettuce from my sister’s garden, fennel, mint and chives from my mum’s garden, and foraged chickweed. I also added carrot and radish leaves, and was very happy when it all went at her birthday barbecue. I also livened up a simple pasta and chive salad, by mixing in a separated chive flower. I think I converted one of Mum’s friends, who was pretty amazed when she found what it was. She didn’t know chive flowers were edible, but said she would try them from now on.

Summer Vegetable Nage

Salad as Soup

Another herb that has been featuring in my cooking of late is chervil. Although you rarely see chervil in the shops it is really easy to grow, and I have many pots and planters with it. I love this delicate little herb, and it makes a great addition to any salad. It goes so well with broad beans and peas too, as you can see from this vegetable nage I made a while ago.

Something else I really love, especially when the weather is a little too cold for salad is to braise lettuce, beans and peas in a good stock. A dish that is made even better by the addition of a little chervil just before serving.

Braised Salad, Beans & Peas

Salad as a Side Dish

(c) P. Caspar 2012

Recipe: Braised Lettuce, Beans and Peas

Ingredients

This will serve four people as a side dish

100 g podded weight broad beans

100 g shelled weight fresh peas

2-3 Little Gem lettuce, depending on size. This dish also works well with Witloof chicory, and other firm hearted salads

400 ml chicken or vegetable stock

Small bunch chervil, finely chopped

Method

Briefly cook the beans and peas in unsalted boiling water. You can use the same pan, but the beans will need 3-5 minutes, depending on size, and the peas will need 1-2, so add the peas to the pan after the beans have had a couple of minutes. Once they are cooked, drain and refresh in cold or iced water.

Double pod the beans.

Halve and rinse the little gems. You need to keep the stalk, so that the lettuce stays together during the cooking.

In a sauté pan, heat a little oil. Once hot, add the lettuce and cook briefly. You want a little colour on the leaves, but be careful, as they will burn easily. Turn them once to get similar colour on each side. If you prefer a thicker sauce, you could stir in about a tbsp. of flour at this point, and cook it out briefly. I don’t often bother with this stage, unless I am going to use this as a soup.

Add the stock, and cover. Bring to the boil then simmer for about five minutes. Add the peas and beans and heat through for another minute or so. Just before you serve, season a little, if needed and stir through the chervil.

This makes a great accompaniment for most main courses, or you can shred the lettuce a little when it is cooked, stir through a little cream, and serve as a light soup.

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A Spoonful of Elderflower Sugar

Preparing to infuse sugar

This Will Help the Medicine Go Down

I have been frantically trying to preserve a lot of elderflowers. Last weekend, the Big Guy and I went out picking elderflowers and rose petals.

I greedily decided to try a second champagne recipe, and went off picking without really reading how much I would need. The recipe I chose to use required far less than I had imagined, so I had a lot leftover.  Of course, not being one to waste them, I have lots of recipes to share in the next few days. I’m waiting for some of them to finish brewing.

However, if you are going to be able to take advantage of these this year, you can still find some flower bracts now, but we are definitely coming towards the end of their display, at least here in the Netherlands. Go out and get some, and keep them in the fridge for some of the elderflower recipes to follow.

The simplest thing to do to preserve the flavour of these short-lived but beautiful flowers is to infuse sugar with them, in a similar way to the vanilla sugar that makes the use of high quality vanilla beans worthwhile.

The elderflower sugar keeps well and is a lovely reminder of the early summer when the flowers are in full bloom. You can use it in cakes, biscuits and many other things, and I will be experimenting with some baking in the coming weeks. If you only have enough elderflowers for one more thing, this is the stepping-stone recipe you should probably make.

And this is how you do it:

Get a large glass jar with a lid. The amount of flower bracts that you will need will be determined by the size of the jar.

Pick through elderflower heads, and remove any brown flowers or bits. Remove the flowers from their stalks. This is easily done, by gripping the stalk between your thumb and forefinger, and pushing them down to the flowers. They will pop off with very little pressure.

You need to keep as much of the pollen as possible, because that is where the flavour is, so try to get the blooms in the jar as you strip them from the stalks.

Keep going until you have filled about a quarter of the jar. Top up the rest with the sugar, give it a stir and leave it to infuse for at least 3-4 days.

Sieve out the flowers before use.

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Flowers and Spice and All Veg – Nice!

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Cous Cous and Coriander yoghurt

Souk Food

The other day I wrote about going foraging with Liz Knight with Mum on her birthday. What I didn’t mention is that she also had one of the stalls at the Tudor Farmhouse Market. She sells all manner of spice rubs, sauces, and syrups at fairs and some shops, and they are also available online.

We came away with a honeysuckle and tarragon syrup, and a Wild Rose el Hanout, based on the Moroccan spice mix. The original translates as “head of the shop”and is a blend of the best spices that a merchant has on offer, and is therefore supposed to act as both a luxury product and the best marketing tool that the merchant as at his disposal.

As the name suggests, the Forage version uses wild roses and spice, giving a heady blend that is every bit as luxurious as the Moroccan version. Liz also recommends adding it to a fish and tomato stew, which I will definitely be trying. If you haven’t managed to get hold of a pot of this lovely spice rub, you can use Ras el Hanout instead.

You may also remember that I resolved to make more Middle Eastern food back in January. I had a Moroccan spice, although Morocco is not exactly the Middle East, I was thinking of the fragrant dishes and spices that also encompass much North African cuisine. This seemed like a good place to revisit those resolutions, and get the whole commitment to them kicked off again.

I made this for a vegetarian dinner party. Because I used fresh tomatoes, I found that the sauce was quite liquid. I actually liked it that way, but you could thicken this by using tinned tomatoes, or add some tomato puree to the stew about 15 minutes before the end of cooking.

It is traditional to keep the vegetables quite big in Moroccan cooking, which also cuts down on the preparation time, making this a pretty easy evening meal.

I garnished it with some yoghurt with chopped coriander stirred through, although it is perfectly good without it, so you can leave this out if you want a vegan dish.

Recipe: Moroccan Vegetable Stew and Couscous

Ingredients:

For the Stew: 

2 shallots, peeled and quartered

1 red pepper, cut into very large dice

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

2 tsp wild rose el hanout

2 carrots, cut into chunks

1 large courgette, quartered lengthways, then in cut into chunks

1 aubergine, cut into chunks

About 400 ml vegetable stock (enough to come about 2/3 of the way up the pot)

1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 tomatoes, quartered

Bunch coriander, including the stalks, chopped

For the Couscous: 

400 g couscous

500 ml vegetable stock

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp wild rose el hanout

2 tbsp good olive oil

This recipe serves four people

Method

 

On a low heat, soften the shallot for about 3-4 minutes in a deep saucepan. Add the pepper, and continue to soften. When you can see changes in the flesh of the pepper, after about another 5 minutes, add the wild rose el hanout, and the garlic, and cook until the fragrance hits you.

Add the carrots, courgettes and aubergine to the pan, and cook down for 5-10 minutes, until the courgettes and aubergines start to give and soften. You will need to stir them well when the veg first go in, to distribute the spice mix, then occasionally as they cook down.

Add the stock, and bring to the boil, cover, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are soft.

While the vegetables are cooking, make the couscous. In a large bowl, stir the wild rose el hanout and the lemon zest through the couscous. Add the warm stock, so that it covers the couscous by bout 1cm. Cover and set aside to allow the couscous to absorb the stock.

Add the chickpeas, tomatoes and the coriander to the stew, and warm through for five minutes.

Add the olive oil to the couscous, and fluff up with a fork.

Serve the stew atop the couscous.

I liked this couscous so much, it s difficult to imagine that I won’t be stirring through some wild rose el hanout every time I make it from now on. At least until the jar runs out.

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A Soup for Summer

Summer Vegetable Nage

Summer Soup A-Swimming

For the past two years I have been experimenting with poaching. I have poached chicken, fish and even lamb. I love the tenderness that poaching lends meat, and it makes it really difficult (though not impossible) to  over cook.

The basis of a really good poached dish is the poaching liquid itself. This can be really simple, such as using water and maybe a few drops of vinegar when poaching eggs. More commonly, the poaching liquor, or nage is used to impart flavour and herbal notes to the thing you are poaching.

Nage comes from the French verb nager: to swim. The basis is a really good stock, and probably adding extra vegetables, which are then discarded.

Lately, nage has come to mean a delicate broth that gets served with the dish, but that can hold its own on the plate. The vegetables that were added for flavour are usually still removed. I hate wasting perfectly good food like this, and have been thinking that the basis of a poaching nage would make a delicious soup in its own right.

I had a vegetarian friend coming to dinner, the weather was stuffy, and I had broad beans, peas and herbs reaching their peak in the garden. I decided that I would experiment. The peas and beans should impart their soft sweet taste of summer, and the other vegetables needed a little bite. Unless you have few teeth, soft mushy vegetables are not pleasant, and certainly not what I wanted to represent a light summer soup. I served this dish as a delicate starter.

One of the herbs that I have in my garden is chervil. This delicate herb is often quite difficult to find in shops or markets in the Netherlands and the UK, but it really easy to grow, in the garden or on a windowsill. It has a delicate aniseed flavour but it really can add a lot to a salad, soup, fish or chicken dish, and will add a lot to a herb sauce. I really recommend that you have a go at growing this delightful little herb.

Herbs on a Saturday Challenge badge

Because I have used chervil and parsley in the soup, I am entering it in the June Herbs on Saturday, hosted by Karen Burns Booth at Lavender and Lovage. I really feel that this summery dish really captures the light herbal notes that are perfect for June.

The lemon zest trick was inspired by Nathan Outlaw, I think, but I’m not really sure where it came from. Don’t miss out that step though, it is important.

This soup really needs a good stock. You won’t be able to make it with a powder or a stock cube, it will be far too salty, and will also take away from the light herb flavours. Luckily, using the trimmings from the vegetables from this dish and a cabbage leaf or two, you can make a really good stock to use as the basis of the dish, with no waste. You definitely won’t regret it.

Recipe: Summer Vegetable and Herb Nage

Ingredients

Juice and zest of a lemon

700 ml of good quality vegetable stock (no cubes please)

100 g peas, shelled weight

200 g broad beans, shelled weight

2 shallots, finely chopped

4 summer carrots, finely chopped

1 bulb florence fennel, tough outer leaves removed and finely chopped

4 sprigs chervil, finely chopped (including stalks)

Small bunch curly leaf parsley, finely chopped (including stalks)

Any fronds from the fennel, finely chopped.

Salt to season

Method

Cook the lemon zest in a dry pan until you can smell the essential oils have been released. You will need to keep stirring, to help prevent burning.

Add the stock to the pan, and bring it to boiling point. Then lower the heat and simmer it for five minutes. Take it off the heat, and let it cool.

Cook the beans and the peas in unsalted boiling water. You can use the same pan, if you like, but the peas will need to go in after the beans have been cooking for a couple of minutes. Please take care not to over cook the vegetables. They really only need minutes, although the exact time will depend on their size. You will definitely not need longer than five minutes, even for large beans.

When cooked, drain the vegetables, and run them under a cold tap, or add to an ice bath to stop them cooking any further. Double-pod any broad beans bigger than half a centimetre in length. I know that this can seem like a hassle, but it really is necessary, and will give a much better balance of flavour overall.

When the stock is completely cold, add the lemon juice.

The next stages are very quick, so as not to overcook the vegetables, so please make sure that you have done all the chopping, don’t be tempted to continue chopping stuff while something  else cooks.

Soften the shallots for a minute or two on a low heat. You don’t really want the flavour of your best extra virgin olive oil here, so use a light olive oil, or sunflower oil. Be very careful, shallots can catch quickly, and you don’t want them to even start to colour. Keep stirring them.

Add the carrot and the fennel to the shallot, and sweat them all off for a minute, again, not allowing them to colour.

Add the cold stock, and bring it up to boiling point. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables just begin to soften. This will take no longer than five minutes, as the vegetable pieces should be quite small.

Taste and season with a little salt if you need to. You don’t need pepper for this dish, it will totally change the delicate balance of the flavours.

Add the peas and beans, and simmer for about a minute to allow them to warm, but not really cook more.

Finally, stir through the chopped herbs and serve this light, refreshing summer soup immediately.

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A Very British Affair

Salmon Fishcakes with tabbouleh, sauce grib-ish and a green salad

A Succulent Summer Plate

This past week, I have been in the UK again, mostly for my Mum’s birthday. We had a lovely weekend, starting with a bracing walk around the old English towns of Burnham on Sea and Weston Super Mare. Unfortunately, we also went on days when almost the entirety of both towns were closed, probably due to the weather. We still managed to have some lovely fish and chips, and an ice cream. And a poke around the end-of-pier arcades, but that really was mostly to get out of the wind for a bit.

Last week, I also noticed that Liz Knight of Forage was going to be doing a family forage at the Tudor Farmhouse Market  in Clearwell in the Forest of Dean. As that is pretty close to where my parents are, and it is a beautiful place to go, I cheekily asked if they would take a family with grown up kids. When they kindly agreed, I had a plan for Sunday too.  We enjoyed a short walk around the grounds of the hotel, and picked up loads of delicious treats, and all of us learned about things that we didn’t know were edible. There were also local food producers and a folk duo playing live.

As you know from yesterday’s post, Liz has been very helpful over Twitter, so it was lovely to meet her in person. She is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable, as well as being great with all the kids that came. She kept everyone engaged on the walk. There were bread and syrup making demonstrations afterwards, using our bounty. Liz runs a number of foraging walks and classes, so you could look out for them, I guarantee that you will learn a lot.

We also had a barbecue for Mum’s friends and family. I was happy to lend a hand with home-made burgers, salads, and dips. Many of them will appear here soon, but I have so many things to post that they may be over the course of a few weeks.

The important thing is that she enjoyed herself, and there were actually few leftovers. This is a good thing, but you do know how I love using up leftovers. My dad had baked a salmon, and there were a few new potatoes that we had cooked up in their skins, in water with a few mint leaves in it. We served these simply in butter. What better way to use these ingredients up than to have fishcakes?

No Waste Food Challenge by Turquoise Lemons

This is also my entry to this Month’s No Waste Food Challenge, hosted by Turquoise Lemons. For June, Kate is challenging us to produce a recipe using leftovers of any kind. This entire meal was to use up the leftovers from the barbecue, with only the addition of freshly cut herbs for the fishcakes, so it definitely qualifies.

I served the fishcakes with tabbouleh, sauce grib-ish, and a fresh salad. A perfect way to round up a birthday weekend. And at last the sun had arrived, so we ate this meal in the garden.

Prepared Salmon Fish Cakes

Pat-a-Fishcake

Recipe: Baked Salmon

Ingredients

1 whole salmon*, gutted and cleaned.

4-5 sprigs tarragon

Small bunch flat leaf parsley

Cucumber, sliced

Butter, softened enough to be able to brush on the delicate fish

Method

Check that the salmon will fit into your oven, on a baking sheet. If you are having problems, then you can remove the head or the tail, or both. I like to leave the head on if I can, the cheek meat is the cook’s treat.

Pre-heat the oven. Dad just says a low oven. I would suggest that this is no higher than 160°C.

Place the herbs and the cucumber in the cavity of the fish, and season to taste.

Brush the fish with butter, then wrap it in foil, as you would for cooking en papillotte (the parcel making starts at 2.16). Place the parcel on the baking sheet, and cook in the oven until the fish is just done. Exact times will depend on the size of your fish. As a guide, our fish was 1.3 kg and took about 40 mins in a low gas oven.

This gives a lovely, moist fish, that is delicious hot or cold, served on the bone.

Recipe: Salmon Fishcakes

As this is intended to use leftovers, this is more a guideline than a recipe, so I have listed the ingredients, but not the amounts, use up what you have.

New potatoes, boiled, or leftover mashed potatoes

Cooked salmon

Cream Cheese

Parsley, finely chopped

Method

The next day, I had about 7-8 new potatoes (not the really tiny ones). I peeled them, then heated them up in the remainder of the butter. New potatoes are not the best kind to use for mash, but when they were warm, they mashed really well. I added a scant tablespoonful of cream cheese to help bind it. Horseradish cream would also have been great, but my Dad won’t eat that.

Remove skin and any bones from the salmon, and flake it into large chunks.

Mix the mashed potato, fish and herbs, until they are well combined. Form into patties by rolling balls in your hands, then flattening and shaping on a chopping board.

I had worried that the new potatoes wouldn’t mash too well, so I was going to coat them in breadcrumbs to help. As this wasn’t needed, I decided just to fry them in a little oil until they were browned on both sides.

These fishcakes will keep in the fridge for a few days, and they also freeze well.

*When sourcing a salmon, due to recent overfishing, it is better to get a farmed  one. Fish farming can have serious environmental issues, particularly where the fish are fed other fish by-products and are routinely fed antibiotics (mostly required in overcrowded nets). In order to avoid this, please look for organic farms, that feed a plant-based diet. This is what the Marine Conservation Society have to say on the issue.

NB: This is not a sponsored post, I mention Forage and the Tudor Farmhouse because I really enjoyed the experience.

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Respect Your Elders

Elderflower cordial

Extending the seasons

It is that glorious time of the year when lots of delicious produce is in season. In the garden broad beans, the last of the asparagus, courgettes, the very first tomatoes (if you can grow them under glass); and in the hedgerow you will find nettles, dock, sorrel, mallow, and many other delicious treats. It is also your shortish window for the elderflower.

Gathering Elderflowers

Harvest Festival!

The elder has been used and revered for centuries. It has provided stakes, shelter, medicine, fuel and food to animals and man since prehistoric times. There is a lot of folklore and superstition around the elder, and in some places people would leave offerings for the Elder Mother before they picked from the tree.

Harvested elderflowers

An Exuberance of Elderflowers

In early summer, hedgerows froth with white elder flowers at hedge height, and moon daisies at their feet. It is a time of great potential, and great recipes. Although, it is also important to remember that the potential of this tree is not just about summer, but that there are also good things to be had at all stages of fruiting, as well as the berries being a valuable food supply for many bird species, who will be laying down reserves for the coming winter.

Luckily, the elder is ubiquitous in most parts of Europe, and they seed themselves easily, even in places where there is no tradition of a hedgerow (such as the Netherlands). As long as you don’t take all of the blooms from a single tree or shrub, there will be plenty left throughout mid-May to mid-June to allow for your own use of elderberries and for the birds, as well as allowing the tree to reproduce.

This year, I have also learned some other tricks from wise women on Twitter about uses for this wonderful tree.  Cally from Country Gate mentioned that elder leaves make a good pesticide against aphids. I have been plagued by them this year, seemingly more so than in previous years. She says to simmer 500 g of elder leaves in 3.5 l of water (use an old saucepan if you can for this), and replace any water lost as steam. Strain, and bottle. This concoction should keep for 3 months, and is great for aphids.

Elder buds

Bud of Delights

Liz from Forage also mentioned that the buds of elderflowers are delicious in salads and omelettes, and lend a smoky flavour to a dish. I picked a couple of elderflower brackets in bud to test this, and they are really very good in an omelette aux fines herbes. Although it is probably a little late in the year to get the buds now, I am definitely going to play a little more with this next year.

When picking the flowers, try to go in the morning, on a sunny day, when the pollen levels will be at their highest. Try to pick fresh, white brackets with no brown patches or blemishes, as these have the best taste. Elderflowers will keep for a couple of days, but they start to go brown quickly, and will deposit pollen and nectar, which is essential for the flavour, so it is best to try to use them on the day that they are picked.

This is my recipe for elderflower cordial. I originally cut it from a reader’s letter to the Guardian, years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t have that cutting anymore, so I don’t know the name of the person who sent it in. As you will see, the recipe is basically based around the number four, so once you get the amounts, then you will understand why I have misplaced the clipping.

Elderflower cordial is a great way to preserve the delicate taste of summer, and is the basis of many things, from refreshing drinks and summery cocktails, to use with other fruits and in many desserts.

I’m going to be writing about some of my elderflower cordial recipes in the coming months, but I’d really love to hear how you use it in your recipes, in the the comments.

Steeping elderflower cordial

Steeping to Success

Recipe: Elderflower Cordial

Ingredients

40 elderflower bracts

4 pints boiling water

4 lb (1.8 kg) sugar

2 lemons, sliced

4 tsp citric acid.

Method

I often only have raw cane sugar in the house, which makes the cordial slightly darker than you may be used to – it still tastes delicious, but most people use white sugar.

You can get citric acid from home-brew shops and possibly the chemist (in the UK). If you cannot find citric acid, then add the juice of another lemon. If you use this method, I would recommend freezing the cordial once bottled, to make sure that your cordial does not go mouldy.

Method

Steep the blooms in the boiling water in a large, non-corrosive container.

Add the sugar, lemons and citric acid, and stir until the sugar has all dissolved.

Cover with a tea towel, and leave in a place that you will walk past daily. Leave for four days at room temperature, stirring well twice a day.

Sterilise some bottles, and a funnel. You can use new ones, or old oil, vodka or screw-top wine bottles will also be fine. I find that bottles are much less likely to get thoroughly clean in a dish washer, so I clean mine by hand with a long bottle brush, then I sterilise them with campden tablets, which are also available from home-brew suppliers. This recipe makes a little over 4 l, so you will need an appropriate number, plus one for luck.

Strain the elderflower through muslin, then bottle and seal tightly.

This should keep for up to a year. Once it is opened, store the bottle in the fridge.

Then pour yourself a nice tall glass of diluted cordial, add mint and some ice, and think about what recipes you could use the cordial in.

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A Test of My Nettle!

Edible hedgerow

An Edible Hedgerow

I love nettles – in tea, as plant food, in pesto.My favourite thing to do is to eat them as a vegetable,briefly wilted with chopped shallot that has been softened in butter. One of my favourite foods, made even better that they are in plentiful supply.

There are loads of good things about nettles: they are high in protein, and fibre, and rich in iron and vitamins A and K; they are a brilliant wildlife habitat; you are highly unlikely to get into trouble for picking them (although people might think that you are a little bit mad); and you get a double hit on them (in the wild), as you can pick them in the spring, and again in autumn. They are also really easy to identify.

As well as following some basic foraging rules, you will also need long sleeves and rubber gloves if you don’t want to get stung!

Flowering nettle

Too Late for this Nettle

If you are going for the wild variety, we are drawing towards the end of the first flush for this year. When the flower heads appear, almost like catkins (see above), the nettles will develop calcium carbonate crystals in the leaves, which are unpleasant to eat. However, if you strim back nettles, then they will grow fresh and you can eat them again. If you look carefully, you should still find some that are yet to flower, so just pick those.

Picking the nettle tips

Taking the Tips!

Because of the aforementioned abundance of wildlife, and the fact that even the tallest dog can’t reach, only pick the tips and the first two leaf bracts after them. These leaves won’t be tough, as some of the older leaves might.

I was originally going to enter this recipe into  Simple and in Season, for May, but the recipe needed a bit more testing. The first version I did was a bit mushy, so I didn’t make it. I am entering it for this month instead. Ren Behan at Fabulicious Food runs this challenge, and this month it is being hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food.

I love to entertain, and I also love to forage. I don’t often combine the two (unless it is booze) because I often think that people might not like the idea. However, I was having a vegan friend over for dinner, so many of my fall-back staples were off the menu. I had some freshly picked nettles, and I saw that Carl Legge had tweeted a link to his nettle gnocchi recipe. I was inspired, but couldn’t use the recipe, because he uses an egg as a binder. Instead, I have played with this a bit. I have to admit that I did not add enough flour to the first recipe, which was why it didn’t hold its shape. I apologise to my friends who had this as a starter that day, but I have improved on it now, to give the recipe below.

Jo's Version of Mr Potato Head

Soggy Gnocchi Disappointment: an Impressionist View

To make up for the gnocchi, Jo entertained us all with her food faces. This was a stray potato, with her partner as a size comparison.

Nettles go well with tomato sauces, but I decided that I was going to use a really simple pasta sauce (not at all traditional for gnocchi, but it went really well) of oil, chilli flakes and garlic.

This recipe is a good introduction to foraging, if you have always fancied giving it a go, but not dared so far. Nettles are easily accessible, and much tastier than you might think.

Nettle Gnocchi and Salad

Nourishing Nettles

Recipe: Vegan Nettle Gnocchi

Ingredients

200 g nettle tops, washed well in cold water

500 g floury potatoes. You want a variety that makes good mash

300 g plain flour, plus more for dusting

1 tbsp hemp oil (optional)

Salt

Pepper

You can also add spices to the dough, if you like, nutmeg is particularly good.

For the pasta sauce:

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

Pinch of dried pepper flakes

Method

Firstly, remove the nettle stalks and discard.

Put the potatoes, with their skins on, in plenty of cold water and boil until they are just done and you can pierce to the middle. This should help stop them getting waterlogged, but only if they don’t overcook.Allow to cool slightly, then peel and mash them, preferably in a potato ricer or food mill, if you have one.

Add the nettles to boiling water and cook off briefly, the exact time will depend on the age of your nettles. Drain them, but don’t discard the cooking liquid. This is nettle tea, which is refreshing and all sorts of  good for you. You can drink it hot or cold, and it keeps well in the fridge.

Nettles retain more water than spinach, so use the back of a spoon and press them quite hard to get the liquid out of the leaves. Chop them roughly and mix well with the mashed potato, hemp oil, some salt and pepper, and any spices you are using.

An idea of how the  dough should look

The Dough Should Hold its Form Really Well

The exact amount of flour that you need will depend on the nettle and potato mix on the day. Initially, I used way too little, and the gnocchi were soggy. The best way around this is to tip the potato and nettle mix onto a floured surface, then add the flour, a little at a time and mix in well. You want to form a quite stiff dough, then knead it well. If you are unsure if there is enough flour, drop a test piece into some boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes. If it retains its shape, you have enough.

Bite sized gnocchi pieces

Bite Sized

Cut the dough into four. Flour your surface , and roll each piece of dough into a sausage 2-3 cm  in diameter. Cut these into 2-3 cm pieces. It is traditional to press a fork into each small piece to score it. The reason often given for this is so that a sauce can sit in the grooves. This is a great tip for a thicker sauce, like a tomato sauce or a ragù, but not really necessary for the sauce I used. I did it anyway, for aesthetics.

Marking grooves in the gnocchi to hold a sauce

Get Into the Groove

Get a fairly large pan of salted water to a rapid boil, and then drop the gnocchi in. They will take literally minutes to cook, so don’t be tempted to go and check e-mail or something similar.

The Finished Nettle Gnocchi

The Finished Product

For the sauce, gently heat the oil and garlic until the garlic starts to brown. Then add the chilli flakes. This sauce will take about the same time as the gnocchi, which will be cooked when they float. Drain, toss in the sauce, and serve immediately.

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What A Difference A Day Makes

Herby Bread Dumplings

Seems so inappropriate now, but I was eating this on Monday!

Wow, what a difference from the wintry weather we were having at the beginning of the week to what seems to be the height of summer today! This recipe is much more suited to the beginning of the week than now, it had to be said, but this is what I have for you, and as this month’s entry to the No Waste Food Challenge at Turquoise Lemons.

Her challenge for May is bread, which is brilliant, as most people end up with the odd stale crust or half a loaf here and there. I look forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with. I certainly got quite excited by this, as the possibilities are endless.

I thought I would get the opportunity to make a treacle tart with breadcrumbs, but have not really had the urge for heavy puddings.

This week I have eaten Caesar-style salad with crunchy bread croutons, which I made the quick way, by frying them off in a little oil and butter (for the flavour, you understand) but this is not the easy method, as you need to watch them like a hawk, because they will catch easily.

A little later in the year, when one can rely on really ripe tomatoes, I would have entered Panzella, which is one of my favourite lazy leftover suppers. Similarly, I make a number of cold soups that use bread to thicken them. Probably my favourite of these would be Ajo Blanco – made with almonds, bread and grapes. It sounds wrong, but it is actually really very good indeed.

I have also made bread as a way to use up some bits and bobs – such as a loaf stuffed with a pepper glut I found myself with, as well as various bits and pieces on focaccia.

Despite my comment when Kate first issued the bread challenge, I found myself with two things: some stew, and most of a dog-eared baguette left over from a picnic. It was cold, and so I decided to play around with dumplings

Us Brits are more familiar with the stodgy, suet variety. I have never really liked these dumplings, to be honest. Especially if you don’t flavour them with herbs, but even if you do I find them unappealing.

Many European cultures make the suety-bullet kind of dumplings, but they also make a lot of dumplings with bread. You can find varieties from Germany, and across most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

If you do a quick search on google, all of the recipes there recommend that you boil these little blighters in salted water. I did this for the stew, and they were everything I used to hate about dumplings; stodgy, claggy, bland, boring. I almost relegated this to the “experiment too far” category, never to be blogged about.

However, I had made quite a few of them, and you know I never throw anything away, especially if it is edible. I knew that I would be meeting them again at some point later on.

Last weekend, was huge. As well as the Rollende Keukens, we also went to Logical Progression – an old school all nighter, which was brilliant. It also meant that I knew I would need easy, but filling food for the following Monday. I thought ahead, and made our favourite fall back soup – Smoky Root Vegetable Soup. It was a good idea, come Monday, with all the socialising, and some serious gardening achieved over the weekend, I was too tired to cook.

Those remaining dumplings were beckoning from the fridge. I knew I had to use them, and so I decided that they would have to go in the soup. Normally, it is thick enough without the addition of bread, but I wasn’t going to waste them, so I thinned the soup with some stock I had in the fridge, which I had defrosted earlier in the week, but only used a little of. I guess I added about 300 ml in the end.

I decided to experiment, and fried half the dumplings in a little oil with a knob of butter (I needed these to taste of something). The other half I cooked through in the soup.

What a revelation both of these methods were! They were both lighter, and tastier. I guess that the addition of stock as a cooking liquor is a really important one. So for dumplings, like the weather, a day (or two) really can make all the difference.

Recipe: Herby Bread Dumplings

Ingredients

250 ml milk

Bay leaf

250 g stale bread (you can leave the crusts on)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4-5 sprigs thyme, leaves only

2 long stalks of fresh rosemary, leaves only

Bunch of flat leaved parsley

Method

You can adjust the herbs to go with the dish you are going to have them with, these happened to go with my stew. The garlic is also optional, if it won’t go with your stew/broth then leave it out.

A small onion, chopped

A little oil for frying

An Egg

Heat the milk up with the bay leaf until it reaches boiling point. Meanwhile, tear the bread into chunks. When bubbles start to appear at the sides of the milk pan, take it off the heat, and remove the bay leaf. Pour over the bread, and mix it up a bit. Leave aside for half an hour to soak up the milk.

Finely chop all of the herbs, including the parsley stalks, which you need for the flavour they will lend.

Sweat the onion in a little oil, and take it to the point where it is just beginning to colour. Please don’t allow it to go  anything darker than a light golden colour, or it will lend an overpowering bitter taste to your final dish.

Add the herbs and the garlic, but remove from the heat. You want to add the onion mixture when it is cool, or you will scramble the egg later.

Add the onion and herbs to the bread, and mix really well. The bread is quite dense at this point, and you want to make sure that you get an even distribution of the herbs.

If the bread mixture is cool to the touch, add the egg, and mix it in well. If your dumpling mixture seems really wet, roll a very small piece into a ball and put in some water. If it breaks up, add some more breadcrumbs.

Raw Dumplings

To Poach or Fry – Make Your Choice

Roll all of the mixture into balls, and refrigerate for about half an hour.

Cook these in a flavourful stock, or add to a stew – although you will need to make the stew more watery than you would be used to, so that the dumplings can absorb the extra and the flavour. Either way, they need about 20 minutes, and will all be floating when they are done.

Or you can boil them in salted water for 20 minutes, then drain  them. Dry them well, and fry them in a little oil and butter before adding them to your dish.

Much better than just plain boiled.

Turquoise Lemon's No Waste Food Challenge

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We Need to Talk About Salad

Wild Garlic & Qualis Egg Salad With Wild Garlic Pesto

Salad as Celebration

I have been neglectful of my salad posts and chat of late, which I undertook to do as part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge that was issued by Michelle at Veg Plotting. This is not to say that I have not been diligently sowing, foraging and eating at least one salad a week, but I have been away a lot of late, and even without internet for a lot of it (and enjoyed it, actually!) so I haven’t really had the time to tweet and post about it in time for the monthly Salad Days round up that Michelle takes such care over every month.

To make amends, I am doing a bit of a salad round up in time for this week’s Salad Days, and I look forward to reading all of the links and the discussions from all of the others who are joining in with the challenge on Friday.

Where to start then? The last time I blogged specifically for the challenge (as opposed to cheekily tagging it onto other posts), I had been finding and eating the weeds in my garden.

Clockwise from right: Hairy Bittercress, Wood Sorrel, Chickweed

Salad as Weeding

Clockwise from right: hairy bittercress, wood sorrel*, chickweed.

The weeds have continued to form a part of my salads, but since then, the hedgerows have burst forth, and there has been plenty to eat, from there and from my garden.

Wild Garlic

Salad as Wild Food

We have been eating hedgerow staples, such as the carpets of wild garlic (pictured, in my favourite spot), sorrel*, jack in the hedge (aka garlic mustard), and nettles. all of these have appeared in a variety of tarts, salads, fritters and as side dishes in their own right.

The first of these was the wild garlic. For my celebratory birthday meal, back in March, I made a starter of poached quails egg on a bed of salad, including wild garlic leaves. I dressed this with a really lovely wild garlic pesto, which used hazelnuts instead of the ubiquitous pine nuts. The quail’s eggs are slightly richer, and much smaller than hen’s eggs, and the soft yolks were a perfect foil to the pesto.

At the permaculture course I was eating a variety of the salads that they grew there, as well as a number of edible flowers, including nasturtium, herb flowers, those from the various brassicas that had been allowed to go to seed, and borage. If you have never eaten a borage flower, I suggest you give them a go, they are surprising, they taste almost like cucumber, and are a lovely bite to have in a salad. I also found some very old borage seed this year, which I have given a go. I was given this packet of seeds years ago, so I have lost nothing if they don’t come up, and if they do, they will form part of the new polyveg system I am putting in place this year. Hopefully, it will seed itself and attract bees as well as looking beautiful and being really tasty. Apparently, it is a good pot herb to. If the seeds are too old to germinate, then I’ll get some for next year in any case.

Duck Salad

Salad as a Project

I have already told you about the duck salad I made as part of my duck week. On the 2nd week of April, we held our first barbecue of the year, by way of a baby shower for my friend. It was flipping freezing, but it was dry, and a good time was had by all. I made my go-to barbecue salad of radish, cucumber, feta, parsley and mint. This is based on a quick and easy dish by Nigel Slater. I was very proud to be able to feed my guests with homegrown parsley and radishes in this salad. It went down so well, I didn’t manage to get any pictures.

Things are continuing apace in the garden. I have been eating lots of rocket and cut and come agains, as well as the odd leaf chicory. Because of my desire to embark on a polyveg system, I have also been sowing a number of other salad things this year. I have multiple lettuces, beets, and turnips for some tasty salads, well as a number of herbs. I have also discovered that you can eat poached egg plants, so I’m going to give them a go. Inspired by all the people following the Salad Challenge, I’m also giving a few new leaves a go – notably some of the chinese greens, and shiso. I also got hold of some morning glory, which features in Japanese cuisine quite a lot, I think. I am hoping this is the right one, as I really enjoyed it in soups and salads when I was over there a couple of years ago.

Although I love foraging, I would love to be able to grow sorrel in my garden. To date, I have been unsuccessful, although the partially shady conditions are more favourable for me growing sorrel than tomatoes (which I can manage). I have tried for the past three years to no avail. Do any of you have any tips? I don’t even think I have seen any germination. Do you pre-soak? I have been using the same packet, and suspect that it may all be sterile, but any other ideas will be gratefully received. I hate to see seeds go to waste as much as I do food!

Garden Salad with Caesar Dressing

Salad as Supper

Tonight’s effort was garden leaves and some of the aforementioned weeds (all my own), with a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, broad beans and asparagus (sadly not my own, mine aren’t ready yet, and the asparagus won’t be available this year) in a caesar dressing. I cannot really call this a caesar salad though, since it didn’t have any romaine lettuce, which I planted a bit late, and haven’t even made decent baby gems yet. I ate it with a potato salad and a soft-boiled egg, and it really hit the spot – satisfying, yet cool for the hottest day of the year so far.

One of the great benefits of growing-your-own is the tops off the broad beans. Mine are almost ready, although the cold spell put them back somewhat. You can hopefully expect them in a salad post very soon.

* Please note that neither wood sorrel or sorrel should be eaten in large quantities, due to containing oxalic acid, which can inhibit calcium uptake by the body. They can aggravate kidney stones, gout, rheumatism, arthritis and hyperacidity, so should be avoided by people with those conditions. The amount of oxalic acid does reduce with cooking, but wood sorrel would wilt to nothing at all, as the leaves are not very big in the first place.

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Cherry Cripes – My First Guest Post

Cherry Cripes

Cherry Cripes, a Bit Like the Cadbury's Version, Only Available Outside of Australia

I was offered my first ever guest post recently by my friend who has had to pop back to her native Australia. I have been thinking of trying to recreate a chocolate bar that I fell in love with there, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to do so.  Please go and have a look at her blog, she is funny and a great cook as well. Add to the fact that she was a quarter finalist in Masterchef, then you know that her food is worth checking out. She blogs at Average Baker. She is being modest, she is not at all average – in either cooking or in blogging.

Anyway, it turns out that getting Cherry Ripes right, especially before the cherry season is upon us, is pretty difficult, and took me several attempts. It would also not have been possible if it weren’t for Divalicious, who recently did a post on homemade “Bounty” bars, and this really helped me out with the right texture and taste for the bars. I have linked to Diva before, for the delicious aubergine, tomato and sumac salad that she does. In case you weren’t aware, she has changed her blog name to Divalicious Recipes in the City, so now she can be found here.

I may have another go at these little bars, using real cherries and cherry compote, when I can get hold of them, but for now, this is my best attempt at Cherry Cripes, and you can read all about it here. Please do have a look, and let me know what you think. Yes, even my Aussie friends….!

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