Monday, 31 May 2010

drinking glykos, eating spanakopittas, olive and tahini pies

Hello dear readers, I am back from my long blog break. I have to admit I have missed blogging both writing and reading, but it was a welcome change to my daily routine. So where was I for two weeks? Can you guess from the title? Greece...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Mangocheeks goes on holiday

Tomorrow will officially be the start of my holidays.
So I have decided to take a break from blogging too. This will be a challenge for someone who has been blogging pretty much every day since this blog began.

Anyway, if you are a regular reader, I hope to see you when I get back. If you are just passing by, stick around awhile and enjoy your time on my blog.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Jalapeños, coriander and avocado pasta salad

I was drooling over fellow bloggers Mexican inspired vegetarian dishes, such as Barbaras tempeh stuffed rellenos, Morgan's Black bean Tacos and Dee's Mexican feast, it wasn't all vegetarian, but gosh I'd love to have been sitting at her table. These dishes were all created in recognition of the Mexican holiday known as Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de mayo is celebrated on the 5th of May. It commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1867. It is primarily a Mexican holiday, but is celebrated in some U.S cities that hosts large Mexican communities. I too suddenly felt the urge of wanting to participate and was greedily looking for an invitation, albeit through food. Then as if by magic the invitation came in the form of a monthly blog event. This months No Croutons Required challenge is to create a Mexican inspired soup or salad. I was originally going to make a soup, but with both the weather changing and me getting into the holiday spirit literally. I decided on a light salad.

For inspiration I flicked through my small collection of Mexican cookbooks. One of which was Café Pasqual’s cookbook: Spirited Recipes from Santa Fe. I picked up this Mexican cookbook a few years ago from the charity bookshop Oxfam. I have to admit I was completely enticed by the colourful images, ironically not of the dishes. Some of the pictures would surely make my young nephews heart race. The women are certainly sultry and exquisite just like a 1950s movie star.


Thursday, 13 May 2010

Natural Food Colourings

When I was growing up, my mother would use artificial food colouring for only two dishes: deep red for the Tandoori chicken; and every other food colour dye was used for a sweet rice with raisins, coconut and almonds (dubbed rainbow rice). Both these dishes were made for special or celebratory occasions.

I have never used artificial food colouring in any of my cooking ever, but a little while back I had wanted to experiment and make some novelty cakes with colour. I have struggled to find decent natural food colouring, those that are available via specialist stores are either too expensive, or not very good as the colours are not intense you want. I even did my research and read of ways to get natural colouring into your food without resorting to artificial food dyes.
Yellow – mix powdered turmeric with a little hot water.
Pink – The liquid of canned beetroot will give a pale pink.
Red – cook raspberries over a gentle heat, until very thick, the colour would be a reddish pink.
Violet – cook blueberries over a gentle heat, stirring often, until very thick.
Green – Use freshly juiced spinach.
Brown – Use sifted cocoa or carob powder.
Which is all fine and dandy if all you want is one particular colour, but what if I wanted a range of colours to be on hand for when I had the desire to conjure up some iced cakes. Plus I have to admit, I do know if I would have the patience or dedication to always make these from scratch. So I was nearing to making a compromise with myself to use artificial food colourings. The justification to myself was because I don’t use food colouring that often, I would only use it tentatively and on certain occasions. But then fortunately, I came across one of the supermarket stores in the UK that had its own brand of natural food colouring. The colour red was achieved with a balance of paprika and curcumin. Pink colouring includes beetroot extract, while yellow has turmeric root and blue with spirulina.
Oh my goodness could it really be true and for a fraction of the price from those specialist stores on the internet charging extortionate prices. Well I picked up some of the tiny bottles. I had tried the red in a meringue to achieve a pink cream, not a red cream and a green in my St Patricks day scones. Well a few months ago, I attempted to have a go at the famous rainbow cake, from which many other versions including cupcakes have evolved.

Oh my goodness, not only did it come out of the oven looking like dirty sponge, it tasted pretty awful too. It was so terrible looking that I dare not take a photograph to share with you, just in case it left you with a shudder and eeky feeling and that’s not good on a food blog. Plus the last thing I want to do is put anyone of a rainbow cake. To be fair, these may have been designed purely for colouring cake icing, but that is not made clear on the label. Mmm I may have try that, if it doesn't work, then I may have to go back to my original plan and compromise in using artificial colours, a little and not too often. I’ll think about it.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Rich Vegetarian Pastitsio with spinach

In an attempt to use up what was in my fridge: namely spinach, spring onions, home grown lettuce and a number of dairy products, I ended up making a Pastitsio. Pastitsio is a Greek baked pasta dish made with pasta, tomato based sauce (sometimes including meat) and a béchamel sauce. The dish originally comes from the Italian tradition of "pasticcio (di pasta)", literally medley, mess or scramble. It is so interesting how dishes are created with a hotch potch of ingredients.
Its not the prettiest plate of food oozing all over the place, but you won't be hungry after eating it I assure you. And if your on a diet, please, please don't look at the sauce ingredients - you'll pile on the pounds just reading it.
Pastitsio with spinach and feta
Serves 6 – 8
Ingredients
For the rich tomato sauce
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
50g butter
2 x 400g cans plum tomatoes with juice
4 teaspoon sun dried tomato paste
1 generous teaspoon of dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
For the filling
225g dried penne
Salt and pepper to taste
Bunch of spring onions, sliced
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g spinach, roughly chopped
lettuce leaves (optional) roughly chopped
100g feta cheese, crumbled
For the sauce
100g feta cheese, crumbled
4 egg yolks
200g fromage frais
150g crème fraiche
Method
For the rich tomato base
Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onion and garlic and cook over a medium low heat for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and break them up, together with sun dried tomato paste and oregano. Simmer uncovered over low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sauce it thick and pulpy. Discard the oregano sprigs and season to taste.
For the base
Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain thoroughly, then toss with a little oil to prevent it from sticking and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large pan, add the garlic and fry for 5 minutes, then add the spring onion and spinach to the pan and cook until it wilts.
Add the sauce and feta to the pan, along with the pasta and mix well. Spoon into a lightly oiled deep baking dish.
For the sauce
Put the egg yolks, fromage frais, crème fraiche and feta into a food processor and process briefly until smooth; Or mash and blend in a bowl with a fork. Season to taste.
Pour the cream mixture over the pasta mixture and bake in the oven gas mark 5 for 30 – 40 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Leave to stand for a few minutes before serving, accompanied by a crisp salad. This dish reheat well in the oven. Adapted from Good House Keeping.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Wild garlic soup with sparkle flowers

After enjoying the colours of the exotic flowers at the Botanic gardens, D on impulse decided he still wanted to enjoy the sunshine.
So we took a drive, taking the same coastal drive as we did at Easter, but instead of stopping at Helensburgh for an ice-cream, we continued to drive on and paid a relatively quick visit to Glenarn gardens. The parking facilities were quite poor and a coach blocked the pathway, so we had to squeeze past to get inside. This was followed by an even quicker visit to Hillhouse - Charles Rennie Mackintosh house. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect and designer. He was a designer in the Arts and Crafts movement and also the main exponent of Art Nouveau in the United Kingdom. He had a considerable influence on European design. I’m impressed with the uniqueness of the bold geometric designs that are instantly recognisable as Mackintosh, but sadly the house did not do very much for me.
On our way back, I had seen more wild garlic, this time much of it had flowered and the leaves were thick. Of course, I could have easily picked up a fresh bunch, but I decided not to as I already had some wild garlic soup made at home from my pickings last week. However, I did pick a couple of wild garlic flower heads so that I could garnish my soup. The flower heads proudly standing on a thin green stem reminded me of sparkles children proudly whirl on Bonfire night. It even reminded me of those that sometimes dress up a cocktail drink.
These sparkly flower heads are edible. We had one each. Oh my goodness, it was like eating a clove of garlic, there was flavour: garlic, chive and onion all rolled into one, but also heat like mustard. D was convinced he would have garlic breath, but that was okay, he wasn’t going anywhere now. By the way, for those of you who have been reading about my wild garlic finds. You may like to know that this is my last recipe of the year with wild garlic. I have thoroughly enjoyed eating my share of this wild weed and look forward to it, come next year.

Talking of green, seasonal ingredients, fellow blogger Monica who has lovely little blog called Smarter Fitter, full of innovative and tasty looking recipes of her own; is having a giveaway that may just tempt you. Some of you may remember the Bourguignonne of chestnuts, mushrooms and roasted garlic, Olive and sun dried tomato sausages, and celeriac and horseradish burgers on my blog. Well all these recipes were inspired by Rachel Demuths Green World Cookbook. Monica was recently invited by Rachel Demuth, the owner of Demuths Vegetarian Restaurant in Bath to attend her cookery school Chateau Ventenac in France. Lucky her. So to be in a chance to own your very own copy of this book, please do follow this link. Good luck and please let her know that you heard about it from me. Thanks.

Wild pickings

Sunday morning, I went on a group walk with a countryside ranger to learn a little about wild foods that grow locally, and how to pick and store them. There were about a dozen people. Fathers with sons, couples and people like me on their own some. The session lasted two hours. We walked round in one big circle. First we were shown a beech tree of which the young tender leaves were edible and could be used for a liqueur called Noyau. A liqueur traditionally made with brandy flavoured with nut kernels. There is a classic British recipe called Beech Leaf Noyau.
Then we were taken to a marshy part of the field and were shown this sight. On first glance it looked like little baby owls perched on the stick, but closer inspection showed otherwise. It was actually a plant called reedmace, a natural fibre that is often used for starting fire in the woods.
Hawthorn tree – young hawthorn leaves can be used salads.
I was rather surprised at the versatility of the dandelions too. I would really like to try some in a cooked dish, but there are not many places where I live that is free from the pee of the walked dog, so me actually cooking with them may actually take a while, but do watch this space.
Wild Garlic mustard, also called Jack-by-the-hedge.
Sweet Cicely has an aniseedy taste. The dried seeds are used in baking. We were introduced to mugwort, yarrow and were given a rather quick lesson into how to tap a Silver birch tree for its sap to make recipes such as birch syrup. For me the most interesting thing was learning that cleavers, also known as goose grass were edible. Finally it was the turn of the stinging nettle. We were all made welcome to pick the stinging nettle if we wished, but i don't think anyone actually did (no gloves!). The countryside ranger also demonstrated making nettle tea. Simply pour hot water over some fresh leaves and allow to steep, before removing. If you add a slice of lemon to the hot liquid, the green colour should turn a faint pink.

Then it was back to our starting point for some non-alcoholic ginger wine, which was lovely and light compared to one I had last year, which was alcoholic. I purchased mine from a bakery in the Barras for a couple of pounds. It was powerful stuff: thick, syrupy and sweet. I really liked it and wanted to go back for some more, but never did. We also got to try some 'plum cordial' and 'Nettle and potato soup' which was warmly received by all as it started to cloud over.
We were also shown a selection of books on foraging and cooking with wild weeds.

I have to admit this walking around re-energised me, so when I got back home, I spend about a couple of hours in the garden, putting in the Brassica plants I had picked up from an independent garden centre. These were: all year round cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. D came down and helped me put some netting over these, so that the bigger birds, namely the collared doves, and common pigeons could not munch on them. My next concern was the slimy slugs. I better start saving those egg shells, which were actually going into the compost bin. Now I have other ideas for them.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Asparagus Flecked tart

T'is the asparagus season. Need I say more?!
What I really like about this savoury asparagus tart is the filling. Most egg based fillings are rather plain looking, this one is flecked and flavoured with the asparagus. It is also a surprisingly light dish. This would make a lovely picnic dish too. Next time I may just make it in individual tartlet tins.
Asparagus flecked Tart
See below for link to wholemeal shortcrust pastry recipe. Or make your own.
Filling
300g asparagus spears, snapped already of their tough ends
3 egg yolks
150g soured cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Method
Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Blanch the spears for 5 minutes or just until tender. Drain. Cut the asparagus in half, bearing in mind the top tips has to fit neatly into the tin (see photographs above) and set the tips aside.
Chop the remaining asparagus bottoms and put into a food processor. Add the egg yolks, soured cream, seasoning and process until a smooth puree forms. Pour into the pastry case, arrange the reserved tips on top. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until golden on top. Remove from the oven and let cook. When cool, remove from the tin, cut into slices and serve. Adapted from New Kitchen Garden Adam Caplin and Celia Brooks Brown.
The wholemeal shortcrust pastry recipe that I used can be found here.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Come on over to my place

for some Rhubarb and ginger muffins
and some tea, or coffee if you wish.
And lets just enjoy the 'present'.
I saw these flower petal tea-cups and saucers (two of them are not pictured) in a charity shop about a year or so ago. It reminded me of my childhood and playing with a child set of tea-cups and sauces. I remembered how pretty and dainty those were tattooed with flower patterns. So how on earth could I resist these 'sweeties'. Of course I did not and treated myself. There was also a cake stand in the shape of a glorious golden sunflower. I decided not to get that, but immediately regretted it later. These muffins are the same recipe as the Rhubarb and ginger loaves with only a slight variation. The buttermilk was replaced with a mixture of sour cream lightened with a little milk, and the crystallized ginger with 1 teaspoon of ginger powder.

Friday, 7 May 2010

I eat weeds

One of the things I got used to when I had my allotment plot was the weeds, including the edible ones such as stinging nettle. Whilst weeding, one of challenges was getting past the 'pins and needles' like sting that lingered under your skin for hours. I even got courageous and decided to become intimately acquainted with with the taste of cooked young, spring nettles. I have to confess, the flavour was absolutely delightful. It is a unique flavour, one that I cannot easily describe. But I will try, it is peppery, rocket (arugula) and spinach like. It also reminded me of Welsh laver bread.

I read somewhere that you can actually eat nettles raw, but I have not braved that yet. Instead before attempting to eat them in any state, I have washed them, then blanched and drained them. Before chopping them up for whatever dish. In the past it has been used in recipes such as stinging nettle soup and wild nettle gnocchi. Both highly recommended.
The bowl above has actually come from my very own garden. Strange as this time last year, I had none at all and now I have it sprouting here and there. So I feel somewhat blessed. I carefully prized the stinging nettle leaves away from the stalks, they weighed just over 100g. Unfortunately it was not enough to make nettle wine with, so I will have to make a point of foraging for some in the lovely Scottish countryside or wherever the opportunity presents. Anyway, it was enough to make some wild nettle risotto. Wild nettle risotto was the first dish I ever made with stinging nettle and I was totally converted to eating this weed.
If you do decide to pick nettle, firstly wear gloves and try to pick it away from the beaten track, or in locations where traffic, hence pollution is low. When picking them, pick the young tender leaves and wash thoroughly, you don’t know what four legged animal has been near it.
Stinging Nettle Risotto
Serves 2 - 3
Ingredients
2 – 2 ½ pints of vegetable stock
100g nettle leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 shallots
250g Arborio rice
2 – 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Method
Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan and drop in the nettles for 30 seconds, remove and cool them under cold water, drain and chop them quite finely. Lower the heat and keep the stock at a low simmer.
In a saucepan, heat the oil, add the shallots and cook until translucent then add in the rice and stir well to coat the grains. Cook the rice gently for a few minutes, stirring often, then add the garlic and nettles and cook for a couple of minutes, before adding a ladle of the stock, and continue to simmer until it is all but absorbed. Add another ladle of stock and carry on stirring until is absorbed and adding more until all of the rice is just cooked and the dish is still moist. This should take about 25 – 35 minutes. Season well and serve immediately with optional grating of hard cheese. Adapted from Denis Cotters Wild Garlic, gooseberries and me.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Wigwam of sorts and some green things

Okay, I admit its been a while since I written about progress in my garden plot, containers and pots. So here's a little up-date.
On Monday morning, taking advantage of the public holiday and the dry skies. We did some work in the garden. D built me a couple of pea wigwam with sticks we picked up on our travels around the Scottish countryside. I was erring whether to put the peas in the ground as its hardly that warm, but took the decision to do so. We are due to visit family soon, so while we are away some of these growing seedlings and plants will just have to fend for themselves. So the sooner I get them into the ground, the sooner they will be able to stand up for themselves in the Scottish changeable weather.
My baby carrots in a container pot have emerged. Hopefully this container is high enough for the horrid carrot fly to just pass on by.
On the left is my garlic planted in two long containers. They seem to be doing okay so far. The cluster of starry white flowers is from the wild garlic plant I lifted and transplanted in my garden border about a fortnight ago. It seems to have taken okay. I think being located near the water feature is helping, it is the damp part of the garden. If I am still living here next year, I may get to enjoy some of my own home-grown wild garlic, but if not - I have an idea where to go to pick some for free. And finally, the tight crimson buds of the chives that I had neatly lined in the border are starting to peek through. I look forward to seeing their lilac heads soon, as well as eating.
Above image is a picture of my wild alpine strawberries that I carefully lifted from my mothers garden in Wales and transplanted in pots. These tiny strawberries can only be described as little bullets of flavour. I am so looking forward to eating them when pottering about in the garden. I am not sure what variety the strawberries below are, as I had inherited these when I had an allotment. What I do remember though is that they are fat, red and juicy. Everything you would want in a good strawberry.
This is the 3 by 3 plot with a variety of lettuces, salads and radishes. I also put in a Gold Rush courgette plant bought from a garden centre. You can see it on the bottom left. It is beginning to flower, but it is not happy there. I think part of the reason is drainage. This weekend, I will transfer it to the other plot where the ground is established.
We've enjoyed eating some of our own home grown lollo rosso this week. Looking forward to these little ones bulking up. Home grown salad leaves taste so much superior than supermarket vacuum packed ones. The sleepy herbs such as the mint, including this particular one called black pepper mint is finally starting to come through. When I had my allotment one of the herb plants that I really cherished was a lemon verbena. It took me so long to find one. When I finally acquired my own lemon verbena, shamefully I had neglected it, leaving it out in the cold. I thought it was gone and was ready to put it in the compost bin, then miraculously it came back to life. I was ever so delighted and ensured I took care of it, giving it special treatment and attention, moreso than any of the other herbs. Then sadly I lost it with many other things in the allotment fire. Anyway, the point of all this, fortunately this weekend I found another lemon verbena. I will do my best to safeguard it. The scent is so enchanting.
On the window sills inside the flat I have a number of trays with seedlings. This is beetroot.
This is strawberry spinach.
And Swiss chard in its many different colours. I also have 4 chilli plants and 2 Golden Queen tomato plants growing well. In fact one of the tomato plants is actually starting to flower. Even though we may not harvest the same amounts of tomato as we did last year, I am very happy in the knowledge that I will still get the opportunity to taste some of our own.
Happy Growing my fellow readers. I do hope you get the growing bug and enjoy it as much as I do.