Tag Archives: Taste Not Waste

I Want (Fennel) Candy

Candied Fennel

Sweet and Fresh

Having been inspired to start blogging again, I have been making the most of recent inspiration for the next few Feast posts. The cooking and recipes, as always, are my own, but credit for the dishes are definitely due elsewhere. I take a magpie approach to food, often finding shiny little pieces here and there. Maybe one day I’ll enter the 21st century and get myself a smart phone, but for now, I forage for ideas, as well as edibles, and record them all in a series of notebooks, which I have to go digging through in order to remember the inspirations. Does anyone else do this? Please tell me that I am not the only one scribbling things down furtively in restaurants, shops and even the street. For me, it is like foraging and farming in note form, and as much of an obsession as they are for me in real life.

I’m sure we are all familiar with candied peel, and even crystalised angelica, if you are fond of cake decoration. These days , it seems that candied vegetables of all nature are appearing on both sweet and savoury dishes in restaurants and pop ups up and down the country. One of the first, and the one that instantly caught my magpie eye was candied fennel. I have also seen candied celery and beets (especially chioggia beets) among other things on menus, although I find the idea of them much less appealing.

Fennel is one of my favourite vegetables, and I love it in risotto, soup, and salad, braised, roasted and raw. This is a great way to use the tougher outer leaves and stalky bits if you are not keeping them for stock, too.

This version is really simple, despite my fears that it may require multiple exposures to sugar syrups of varying strengths, it isn’t the case. I kept mine plain, but they are also good served as sweets, and sprinkled with sugar.

Today’s recipe was inspired by Simon Rogan, who is a far better forager and cook than I could ever hope to be. I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but I suspect it was on a cookery programme, because  I have written down “candied fennel, Rogan. V. interesting, possibly for strawberry tarts? Experiment”. I finally got round to making this, as part of an even wider experiment, that does not involve strawberries or tarts of any kind, but you’ll have to wait until my next Feast post to find out more about what I wanted them for. This cliffhanger is not quite of Eastenders Duff Duff proportions, but hopefully, you’ll want to keep reading.

Recipe: Candied fennel

Ingredients

50 g sugar

50 ml water

1 tbsp lemon juice

Half a fennel bulb diced

Method

Make a simple sugar with the water, sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the fennel. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer until the fennel is translucent, but retains some texture. It took me about 15 minutes, but it depends on the size of the dice,  and how much bite you want them to have.

Remove from the heat, and strain off the cooking syrup. Don’t discard this, it is perfectly good for other uses, and you know it’s a shame to waste such a tasty sauce.

Put some greaseproof paper, wax side up on a baking tray, and spread the fennel dice out into a single layer. Allow to cool on the tray, then store in an airtight container before use.

Enjoy them on their own, with sugar or as part of something delicious.

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Sugar and Spice

 

Spiced Japanese Quince Jam

…Makes This Jam Nice!

Following on from yesterday’s jelly making escapades, I had a load of fruit pulp from the Japanese quince to use up. I always try to use up the fruit pulp leftover from making jelly, and frequently make fruit butters, or even add them into a pie.

Japanese quince is perfect for this kind of repurposing, and you can make all manner of things, like pies, crumbles, stewed fruit, and many other things. Had I found these earlier on in the year, I may have been tempted to use the pulped fruit in a mincemeat of some kind, but I will probably experiment with that later. I could also have made a sweetmeat, like the membrillo I made last year.

However, this quince needed to be transportable, so I decided upon jam, since it had to get lugged all the way back to the Netherlands and needed not to leak into our luggage.

In keeping with the Persian theme, I wanted to spice the quince with flavours from the Middle East. I decided upon cardamom and cloves, to give it heat. A lapse of concentration also meant that a teaspoon or so of cinnamon also found its way in there, but it’s none the worse for it.

This jam is sweet, although not as sweet as it could be. I used a bit less sugar than the standard 1:1 ratio of the traditional set jam. I had the pectin from the fruit, and the bag of seeds in any case, and I wanted it to be more spicy than sweet. I think the spice mix would also have worked well had I decided to make a membrillo with it.

The only unfortunate thing is that Japanese quince do not turn the beautiful red that ordinary quince become after a long cooking time, so this is a rather brown jam, but it is no less tasty for it. Like the jelly, this will also be good in stews and gravies, but this will work better with lamb, and chickpeas.

Recipe: Spiced Japanese Quince Jam

Ingredients

Jam jars with lids

Boiled Japanese quince pulp, once drained of liquid

Seeds from the quince, tied up in muslin

Sugar (in the ratio 3:4 with the pulp)

Water (equal weight to the fruit pulp)

5 cardamom pods

6-8 cloves

1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon or one cinnamon stick

Waxed discs

Method

While the fruit is still warm, after boiling, pass it through a sieve, so that any skin and remaining pips are retained by the sieve, and you only have fruit pulp left. You will probably need to push it through with a wooden spoon.

Sterilise the jam jars and lids, in a dishwasher, in a low oven or in a pressure cooker.

Weigh your pulp. I got 400 g of fruit pulp from mine. Then you need 3 parts granulated sugar to four parts fruit, so I measured out 300 g of sugar.

Put the seeds in muslin that you used to produce the jelly into the pan with the fruit pulp, sugar, and equal weight of water. Tie the spices up in more muslin, or in the same piece of muslin as the seeds if it is big enough. If you are using ground cinnamon, add this straight into the pulp and mix in well.

Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved completely and then bring it up to a rolling boil. Again, the jam will set when it reaches 104.5°C, or passes the fridge test.

As soon as the jam reaches setting point, sterilise any ladles, jugs or jam funnels you are going to use with boiling water.

Pour the jam into the jars, and fill it to within 2mm of the top. This jam is quite thick, so give it a bang if you can to dispel any air bubbles. Put wax discs on the top, with the wax side down, and seal with the lids while the jam is still hot.

 

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A Silky Soup for September

Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

A Change in the Seasons

OK, so I was clearing out the fridge, but this is a great way to use the last tomatoes and aubergines of the season, and the first sweetcorn of the next one.

At the moment, we are trying to avoid calorific food, but I am determined that does not mean that we will miss out on flavour. This is easy when you can pack your salads and other dishes with loads of fresh herbs, but as we near the end of the herbs in the garden, I am looking to spices to plug the gap. And they are doing a great job.

My Sister just had her hen do, and I made everyone roasted aubergine with a chermoula spice rub. Partly because I was doing vegetarian, and also partly as part of my quest to make more middle eastern food.

When I found a couple of aubergines in the fridge, I initially thought I was going to make a chermoula and aubergine soup. When you roast or burn aubergine in its skin, it develops a lovely smoky, silky texture, as you can see from Baba Ganoush and similar dips. That was also going to give the soup a richness without the need for fat or cream, which is perfect for how I’m trying to eat at the moment.

As I kept poking, the fridge also relinquished some tomatoes and half a red pepper. In the spirit of not wasting food, I decided that they could go in the soup as well. And since I was already roasting the aubergines, I may as well roast these too, making the oven use more efficient, making it easier to peel the veg, and also to develop a bit of flavour, especially of the later developing vegetables that may not quite reach their full potential.

At this time of year, the sweetcorn are just appearing too. The Big Guy loves fresh corn, and we had a few cobs, though not yet from our garden. Since the soup was to be spicy and smoky, I didn’t want to just let the golden little kernels cook in the soup itself, I wanted them to add to the overall smoky flavour, so I decided to put a cob under the grill until the kernels were browned.

I had also intended to use some preserved lemons to add to the soup, in keeping with the chermoula idea. I was going to chop them fine, and use them to garnish the soup, but when I tasted it, it definitely didn’t need a sour salty note. Instead, I opted for a spoonful of yoghurt, to counter the fact that the chilli I had used was much hotter than expected!

This soup is great for the start of September, as the summer turns to autumn, and the nights get that bit colder. And it turns out that aubergines are great to add creaminess to a soup without the need for dairy too.

Recipe: Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

2 medium aubergines

½ red pepper

6-8 tomatoes

4 cloves of garlic, still in their skins

salt and pepper

2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

1 cob of corn, with the husk removed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

750 ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

Method

Heat the oven to 200 °C

Cut the aubergine and the tomatoes in half. Arrange the aubergines, pepper and tomatoes in an ovenproof dish, and season with the salt and pepper. Slosh over 1 tbsp of the oil, and toss the veg to coat with the oil. You want the aubergine and tomato cut side up; but the pepper skin side up, because you want it to char.

Put in the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on a bit of colour. After about 15 minutes, add the garlic cloves, so that they don’t burn to a crisp. You want them to be golden and soft, not crunchy.

Once the vegetables are roasted, put the grill on high, and put the corn underneath it. You will need to turn it as it cooks. If you have a separate grill, which I don’t, you can do this at the same time, it may take a while.

Meanwhile, dry fry the cumin until it is fragrant, then grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar, or a spice grinder.

Sweat the onion in the rest of the oil, until translucent. Add the chilli and cook for another minute on a gentle heat, then add the spices, and just cook through.

Squeeze the garlic from their skins, and add to the spice and onion. Allow to sweat on a gentle heat while you scrape the creamy flesh from the aubergine. Add this to the saucepan, and cook for 2-3 minutes to combine the flavour.

The tomato and pepper should also be really easy to skin as well by now. Mine just slipped off. Discard the skins, as these are indigestible, and hopefully the pepper skin will have blackened and blistered, so will be bitter and unpleasant anyway.

Add the flesh of the tomatoes and the pepper, along with any juices in the roasting dish to the saucepan. Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or a food processor, until it is smooth and rich.

Run a knife down the corn, to remove the kernels, which should be brown and succulent, not black.

Divide the soup between 2 bowls, add a tablespoon of yoghurt to each, and sprinkle the corn kernels over the top.

Perfect to come home to after a day’s foraging, whether that be outside or in the fridge!

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Simple Ways to Avoid Onion Breath

Sliced Red Onion

Not Your Lunch Time Friend

Raw onion: a lot like Marmite, it is a very divisive ingredient in any dish. Alliums in general are used to impart flavour to a wide range of food, both raw and cooked, but they are pungent and packed with sulphur compounds that make you cry and give you bad breath.

There is a growing trend amongst lunch venues to put red onion in a variety of salads and sandwiches almost everywhere I have been or travelled to. Why do they do this? Apart from making me really thirsty, raw onions are a little antisocial, especially if you have to return to breathe onion fumes all over your colleagues, and anyone that you happen to be having a meeting with that afternoon. I also think it is really lazy. There are several easy ways to avoid this, without compromising on flavour or crunch.

If I am going to be using shallots in a salad dressing, or taboulleh, I address the problem by soaking them in the vinegar of the dressing before I add the rest of the ingredients. A good 10 minutes in the vinegar will reduce the affect of sulphur compounds, as well as develop the flavour.

Similarly, if I am going to make guacamole, a 10 minute pre-soak of the onion in the lime juice sorts out the problem of onion breath. It really isn’t difficult, and in reality doesn’t add loads of time to your prep, you can do it first, then get on with another element of your salad.

I have been eating a lot of salads, not just because of the 52 Week Salad Challenge, but also because they are healthy, low in fat and they are a great way of tasting the best of the seasons.

In the past, I have omitted the raw onion in a salad, but there are a couple that really are made better by the crunch and flavour of onion, but I don’t benefit from the unquenchable thirst I get when I’ve eaten them in any amount.

Panzanella is one of my favourite salads, but it loses a lot by leaving out the onion. Keeping the onion slices as crunchy as possible is also integral to the necessary contrasts of the dish too. For this reason, soaking it in the vinegar is not the best way forward, as this will reduce the crispness of the bite a little.

I am sharing my recipe for panzanella, because it contains the easiest tip for avoiding onion breath, it’s a fantastic salad, and it uses up leftover bread. What’s not to like?

Panzanella

Scented With Summer, Not Onions

Recipe: Panzanella

Ingredients

This will serve two people on its own, or 5 as a side dish

4 thick slices of stale bread, cut into large cubes

400 g tomatoes, different varieties, if you can get hold of them. They need to be ripe, and at room temperature.

½ cucumber, in large dice

1 red onion, finely sliced

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp blackberry vinegar, or red wine vinegar if you don’t have blackberry

1 tbsp capers

6-8 anchovy fillets (optional)

salt and pepper

15-20 basil leaves

Method

If the bread you are using is not stale (although this salad is much better with stale bread), you can dry out the bread in a low oven, or one that has been turned off from cooking something else.

Chop and slice the tomatoes. If you have pretty heirloom varieties, slice some of these and set aside as a decorative touch later. I was using a mix of varieties, which included marmande, plum, tigerella and black Russian. I put the red ones into the salad, and sliced the tigerella and black Russian for the plate.

Combine the cucumber, tomatoes and bread in a large bowl, and set aside.

Cover the onion slices in boiling water, and leave them there for about 2-3 minutes. This removes the sulphur from the onion, but does not cook it, so you still get the crunch, but none of the bad breath. Drain the onion, and leave to drip while you make the dressing.

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, capers and the chopped anchovy fillets. Adjust the acidity or oil to taste, but bear in mind that the tomatoes are also going to add acidity. Season well with salt and pepper.

Add the onions and the dressing to the salad, and mix well. Set aside to allow the flavours to develop for at least a couple of hours, or overnight in the fridge, if you can, but serve it at room temperature.

Just before you serve, roughly tear the basil leaves and mix them in.

If you like, you can add punchy salad leaves, like spinach, mizuna and rocket to add extra bulk. Do this when you add the basil, or the dressing will cook them.

This is a great salad to serve at a barbecue, or summer picnic, or as a side dish. It is also the tastiest way to use up leftover bread.

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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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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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Logical Progression

Duck Salad

Salad as Leftovers

Having eaten fairly rich meals all week, today I was craving something a bit lighter.  I also had a little rocket, parsley and the cut and come again lettuce I planted earlier, so today’s post is both leftover loveliness, and my entry for the salad challenge.

Lately, I have been reading about using miso as a marinade for meats. Obviously, it was a little late to marinate my duck, but I was convinced that it would make a good dressing for a salad. I had the duck, and leaves, and decided that using bulgur wheat would add the bulk, and a lovely nuttiness and some bite to the dish. I would have liked to add some thinly sliced spring onion, but as they are out of season, I satisfied myself with the leaves and the dressing.

The resulting dish was substantial enough to satisfy, but light enough that we weren’t eating more rich food, which really hit the spot for me. Even though we had eaten the duck all week, I had made it different enough not to bore, and it was sad to actually come to the end of this versatile ingredient.

I do have one more dish to post on the topic, but I am travelling in the UK, and managed to leave the pictures on the hard drive at home. As it will be a step by step guide, I think the pictures will be necessary, but I hope that you have enjoyed Duck Week, in any case.

Recipe: Duck Salad

Ingredients:

100 g bulgur wheat

Hot vegetable or chicken Stock – to cover the bulgur by 2-3 cm

60 ml miso paste (I used the darker variety)

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp rice vinegar

4 tbsp sesame oil

2 cm piece of ginger, grated

Little water to thin

Remaining meat from a roast duck carcase

Small bunch parsley, leaves removed from the stalks.

100 g rocket

100 g cut and come again lettuce, or a mixed bag of salad

5cm chunk of cucumber, cut into matchsticks

Method

Pour the hot stock over the bulgur wheat, cover, and set aside for the bulgur to absorb the stock. I like it al dente, so I make sure that I test it after about 15 minutes. If the grains are as you like them before all of the liquid is absorbed, then drain them, and leave aside.

Meanwhile,  mix the miso, soy, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and ginger together to make a dressing. Taste, and adjust the soy or thin with a little water, as required.

When the bulgur is done to your liking, add the miso dressing, and set aside for 5 minutes to let the bulgur absorb the flavours of the dressing.

Mix in the duck, parsley, cucumber and salad leaves, and serve immediately.

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Progressions on a Theme

Duck & Mushroom Risotto

Woodland Flavours

Today I stripped the carcass, separating the meat from the bones and the skin. Of course, these will become stock, but I have something specific planned for this, of which more later. I also found an escapee clove of garlic, nestled in the back of the cavity. Roasted garlic is so good, there was no way that I was going to let that go, and it will only add to the flavour of today’s dish.

So, to a risotto, but this time I wanted to develop the flavour with earthy base notes of woodland and wild mushrooms, building the flavour layers as I went, instead of making a simple white risotto, and adding the flavour at the end.

You can dry your own mushrooms or buy them. If you were going to buy them, I would suggest porcini mushrooms. I was lucky, the Big Guy’s sister had been out in the woods and taken the trouble of gathering and drying the most amazing chanterelles and trompettes des mort. I got a jar full as a present, and I love them. I love that someone has taken the care to go and forage for them and preserve them, and I really love that she also knew that I would love some of them.

Dried mushrooms, particularly of the chanterelle variety, have a really deep, almost woody quality,and I knew that they would be perfect with this duck, and would help layer the flavours, as I could soak them, then add the soaking liquor to the stock.

Then I started thinking about red wine, but decided that a better match would be sherry. I only had the Pedro Ximénez that we bought for the sherry trifle, so I knew I couldn’t use a lot of it, for fear of making it too sweet. But it all builds up.

This has all the earthy richness that I wanted, given that the weather has taken a turn for the colder, despite it being spring.

Recipe: Duck and Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients

10 g dried mushrooms

400 ml boiling water

A little oil for frying

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Bay leaf

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 roasted garlic clove, mashed

4-5 sprigs thyme

200 g arborio rice

Splash Pedro Ximénez

500 ml chicken stock

150 g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

200 g cooked duck meat

2 knobs butter (to be used separately)

75 g Parmesan cheese, grated

Small bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Method

Soak the dried mushrooms in the boiling water, and set aside while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.

Sweat the onion in a little oil, until translucent. Add both types of garlic and the thyme and bay, and allow them to sweat together.

Meanwhile, drain, and squeeze out the dried mushrooms, but do not discard the water that they were soaking in. Roughly chop the rehydrated mushrooms, and add them to the sweating vegetables.

Carefully pour the liquid that the mushrooms had been soaking in to the chicken stock, and warm them both on the hob. No matter how carefully the mushrooms were cleaned before drying, there will probably still be a bit of grit or debris in them. When you add the mushroom stock to the chicken stock, don’t pour the grit in. It is easy to see, and is heavier than the stock, so it is easily to avoid if you pour the stock in carefully, and maybe leave the last few ml, which will have the most grit in it.

Add the rice, then follow the method for the basic risotto. You will be developing some big, earthy mushroom flavours, by adding the rehydrating mushrooms, and using the mushroom stock. However, the duck can take it.

So, while the risotto is cooking down, fry the sliced chestnut mushrooms over a low heat with a little more thyme, and a little salt.

When you feel that the rice is nearly ready, add the duck meat, and the now cooked mushrooms with the last half ladle of the stock that you need. This will heat the meat without it going tough, and will help to bring the flavour of the chestnut mushrooms into the dish.

Once the last lot of stock has been absorbed, add a knob of butter and the parmesan, then season with a little salt and a lot of pepper. Finally, stir through the parsley, and serve with a peppery salad.

Not only is this risotto a great way to use up leftovers, but it is really earthy, with the mushrooms and the duck packing a real punch. Leftovers done like this really are not humble, and nor should they be.

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Gravy, Gravy, Give Me a Meal for Two

Vegetables, Gravy & Polenta

It’s All Gravy

I read an article online somewhere (but can no longer remember where) about food waste, and was shocked that loads of people in the comments were saying that they hated leftovers, and even the thought of leftovers. On further reading, these people were just reheating their old meal. This has a place for some meals, especially if you take the leftovers to work for a cheap lunch. I have done this many times, but only for certain things – some foods just taste horrible when reheated in the  microwave.

To me, the whole point of leftovers is actually what might be termed “upcycling” in other areas that use waste. I have mentioned before that I am not fond of the term “food waste”, when describing bits and bobs of perfectly edible food. Once you stop seeing leftovers as the same tired (or even stale) meal from dinners past, and start seeing leftover food as ingredients it’s like opening a gate to a whole new world of delicious dinners. This is where you can really let your creativity flow – the trick is actually to get  meal that is a reminder of that lovely supper, but is different enough to maintain interest, and keep you excited about the ingredient. After all, it is this kind of thinking that has led to a number of delectable pie fillings, moussaka, or shepherds pie, not to mention numerous soups, and stir fries!

I love gravy. I always make mine from scratch, and it is an invaluable way to stretch out leftovers. The gravy I made for the duck was actually with rabbit stock (I may also have mentioned that I like to make stock too…), which was actually more meaty than I had anticipated. I think I will use chicken stock for making gravy to go with a duck in the future.

It was still great gravy, and I have been plotting the best use of this. Because of the glaze, the gravy had already got a hint of Asian spice, so I was thinking along the lines of chinese flavours. Having eaten meat yesterday, I wanted the dish today to be mostly plant based. For some reason, I fancied pak choi as well. Then I had it – it was close enough to pak choi in oyster sauce, and so I decided  I was going to do something like this. I knew that the gravy would be great in a dish like this, and would be a lovely balance for the iron tang of the greens.

I also have a thing about polenta. I love it with any dish with a sauce to mop up. I often have it instead of mashed potatoes to accompany stews and casseroles. And it is so easy. I made up a wet polenta, which should have a similar consistency to mash, but it holds gravy better in delicious pools, cuddled by the fluffy maize. If you do not share my joy in cornmeal, this dish would also be great with rice.

Of course, making polenta means that you can fry any leftovers up the next day until a golden crust has formed. Then you can eat it with a tomato based ragu; or a few mushrooms in garlic; or some shredded duck; or some herbs and tomatoes; or…well, I think you  get the picture.

Recipe: Asian Inspired Gravy and Greens

Ingredients

A little oil or duck fat for frying

1 onion, sliced

1 leek, sliced

100 g mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Pinch chilli flakes

1 medium carrot, sliced

Pak choi – ½ large or 2 baby ones

2 star anise

200 ml gravy

Water to cover

150 g polenta

700 ml boiling water

75 g grated cheese (eg piquant belegen or mature cheddar)

Method

Prepare the vegetables. Cook the onion in the oil, on a medium heat, until they are translucent. Add the leek and the mushrooms, and cook until the mushrooms look done to you. You don’t want the leeks to catch, so you will need to stir the veg.

I like my carrots to retain their crunch, so I don’t ike them to sweat for too long. If you are like me, add them now. If you like them softer add them with the onion at the start of cooking.

Add the garlic and chilli, and cook until the scent hits you, them pour in the gravy, star anise and any water that is necessary to cover the vegetables. Reduce the heat to a simmer.

Start with 700 ml of boiling water in a deep saucepan. Shake the polenta into the water, and whisk to combine. If you do it the other way around, you will get lumpy polenta, and it won’t cook through properly. I often use stock to add flavour to the polenta, bu the gravy was rich enough to carry it in this case, so water was fine.

As you whisk the polenta will thicken, and start to sputter. You can turn the heat down a little at this point, and allow it to cook through for 5-10 minutes, whisking occasionally.

As the polenta is sputtering away, cut the pak choi in half or quarters lengthways. You want the stalks to remain attached to each other, so it retains it’s shape. Add it to the gravy mixture, and push it under the liquid, so that it wilts.

When the polenta is cooked, add the cheese, and a fair bit of pepper, and stir it in thoroughly.

Serve the polenta so it forms a sort of well on the plate, with the gravy and vegetables on top.

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