Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Luscious Strawberry Curd

Last summer when my strawberries were at their most abundant at the allotment plot, I had made my first ever jar of strawberry curd. I was so pleased with myself and with the luscious texture of the curd. With a big smile on my face, I carefully poured the curd into a jar and stored it away in a dark place. Then one weekend, we decided to the strawberry curd with some home-made waffles. With much excitement and a little trepidation, I opened the jar only to be disappointed. I found a blue skin had formed on top of the surface and the curd had turned to a milky dew. Sadly it had to be washed down the sink.

At the time, I didn’t know if I did something wrong, or whether I should have put a waxed disc over it, but whatever I did wrong, it put a dent in my confidence especially as I was still new to preserving, especially with curds. Later I realised, once cooled the jars should have gone into the fridge as the curd has a short shelf life. Well these two jars are definitely not destined for the sink. One has been designated to our fridge to be opened and enjoyed this weekend. The other has been given to our neighbour as a 'Thank you' with the instructions 'keep refrigerated. Once opened, enjoy within the week'.

If you don't fancy the idea of strawberry curd. There are a number of other strawberry recipes on this blog of mine that you may enjoy such as Strawberry cream muffins, strawberry cheesecake muffins, strawberry almond slices and finally a strawberry sorbet, that I pretentiously called strawberry ice roses. You'll see why if you follow this link.
I'm not very artistic, so please be kind with my poor attempt at drawing a strawberry for the label, that's of course if your not too dazzled by the colour of the next picture.
Strawberry Curd
Makes 2 x 454g jars
250g strawberries, hulled and chopped well
185g caster sugar
125 unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 egg yolks
Put the strawberries in a saucepan with the sugar, butter and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Simmer gently until the strawberries dissolve, then remove from the heat.
Lightly beat the egg yolks in a large bowl, then stirring constantly slowly add the strawberry mixture stirring in a thin stream. The mixture will thicken as you add it.
Return to low heat and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow the mixture to boil or the curd will separate. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal while hot. Curd will keep in the fridge for up to two months. Once opened the curd will keep for a week.
UP-DATED: 2013 - a version of this was made by Hannah at Home Baked.  Please follow this link.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Purple Kale

I have to admit when I picked up this beautiful bunch of purple kale at the weekend, I had grand ideas of making a big bowl of purple kale chips to enjoy in front of a movie. I had discovered kale chips 3 years ago and absolutely adored them. It is perhaps my preferred way of eating kale.

Oh actually there is another way that may interest you. In one of the cookbooks I have, the kale chips recipe is taken a step further. Once the kale chips are made, cool them on a rack. Then whizz them in a food processor briefly either to rough flakes or ground fine, like pepper. You can then use the ‘kale flakes’ or ‘kale pepper’ to sprinkle over roasted vegetables, soup or even popcorn, it’s a bit like the toasted seaweed nori really, just more flavoursome. Well neither of the above recipes were enjoyed at the weekend as the working week was upon us rather quickly. Instead I made a 'Purple Kale tart'. It was inspired by a recipe I had seen at the dentist. Let me explain, a couple of weekse ago whist waiting for my check-up, I had picked up one of those lifestyle magazines. Like a football fan interested only in the recent sports coverage, transfers and so on found in the back pages of tabloids; and in my case to avoid benile WAG and celebrity gossip, I too go straight to the last few pages, where you tend to find recipes.

I remembered one particular photograph leaping out at me. It was a pizza topped with glossiest sauteed kale and sharp white feta cheese. It looked really good to me. Now had I a pen, I would have jotted the recipe down; or dare I admit slowly ripped the recipe page out, but as there were a number of people also waiting for their dental appointment, periodically glancing up and down, I dare not. Instead I decided to look over the recipe and convince myself that it was actually a rather simple recipe and one I could easily remember. So I logged some of the ingredients in my head, the quantities of course I would have to work out according to taste. So this is my take on that sauteed kale pizza, except mine is not a pizza - more of a tart.
As I had cooked this dish today straight after work, I was too lazy to ‘knock up’ a pizza base from scratch. In its place I used an ingredient that can always be found in my fridge: a packet of ready-made puff pastry. I rolled it out to fit and 8 inch round cake tin. Roughly chopped the purple curly kale and sliced a medium red onion. Then I added this to a frying pan with some good olive oil and sauteed. When the kale began to wilt, I seasoned it with a little pepper before spreading it evenly over the puff pastry base. To end I crumbled some feta cheese, (can be omitted for vegans). Then baked it in the oven at gas mark 6 for 25 – 30 minutes.
The purple kale still retained its vivid colour. The kale itself was both soft and crisp. I think some sliced black olives would have enhanced the flavour a touch more, but that's up to you. When I was a child, I really disliked black olives. Oh how our tastes change.
If you like the look of this savoury purple kale tart, and are liking the theme of 'purple' please take a peek at my sweet lavender hearts, lavender lemonade, purple cabbage potato cakes and finally some purple blueberries. They may just inspire you. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Lemony coucous with chermoula mushrooms

Like the spices sumac and za’atar that have recently begun to appear in the food columns of lifestyle magazines, it was only a matter of time that chermoula would make its appearance too, as either a dressing or a sauce. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with chermoula, Chermoula is a thick, powerful green herby paste. It is often made with a mixture of herbs namely coriander, cumin, lemon juice, olive oil, pickled lemons, garlic and salt. Its roots can be found in North Africa. Chermoula is used as marinade in Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking to coat either fish or seafood. You will find a number of recipes on the world wide web and cookbooks, but there is no fixed way of making chermoula. Everyone seems to make it according to their palette and each recipe seems to use different spices, but the two main ingredients that are constant are fresh coriander and garlic.
I flew from my parents nest in the mid 1990s for college and then eventually university. Although my mother had successfully instilled every domestic goddess skill there was to learn into me from a very early age, I was never sold on the idea of being 'a good housewife' or even remotely interested in being in the kitchen. In fact, I actively rebelled against these assumed gender roles and subsequently viewed such skills as a chore and a way to keep women in the house.

The only reason I found my way to the kitchen and more importantly the cooker, was the fact that I really missed my mothers cooking, the associated aromas, as well as certain flavours: fresh, herby, spicy, earthy, sour, zingy and so on. Whilst at Uni, I was always hankering for bold flavours to make my tongue feel alive and looking for ways to satisfy this urge and thus my interest in cooking was reignited, first for myself and then for others. It was around this time, that I also discovered the adventurous and experimental cook in me, and the hanging out at cookbook section and shops with vaguely kitchen related things became more than a habit.
All of this is way of saying how I first came across chermoula. I was introduced to it by Nadine Abensur, not literally of course but via the book Cranks Fast Food. I made it from scratch and served it with oven baked sweet potato chips. Oh my goodness - it was really flavourful – one I recommend especially if you love coriander. Chermoula is so versatile that it can be used to coat vegetables or even grains. This recipe is adapted from the chef Paul Gayler. Here the ‘chermoula’ gives mushrooms a tantalizing aroma as they cook. Now my husband is no fan of couscous, but this is the second couscous dish he has declared 'Delicious'.
Lemon Couscous and chermoula mushrooms
Serves 4
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 generous teaspoon dried chilli flakes
200g - 300g chestnut mushrooms, halved
1 tablespoon harissa paste (for a harissa recipe follow this link)
400g can tomatoes, chopped
Small handful of fresh coriander, minced
200g couscous
250ml vegetable stock, boiling
Juice of ½ lemon or to taste
1 tablespoon Lemon pepper (see below for recipe)
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the couscous in a bowl with the vegetable stock and lemon juice, and cover. Leave for 5 minutes until the couscous has swollen. Fluff it up with a fork, cover again and leave for 5 more minutes. Add the lemon pepper, season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion and garlic over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the cumin and chilli and cook for a few seconds before adding the mushrooms and harissa. Fry for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 8 – 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped coriander. Serve with lemon couscous topped with the chermoula mushrooms.
When finely ground (unlike this one), dried lemon zest is a useful ingredient for flavouring grains and perking up other bland food.
Making Lemon pepper
Preheat the oven to gas mark 1. Peel 2 lemons with a potato peeler.
Spread the peel out on a clean baking sheet and bake for 1 hour until the skins are dried and shrivelled. Leave to cool.
When cool, place the peel in a coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder. Store the lemon pepper in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Slightly adapted from Paul Gaylers Vegetarian Cookbook.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Smelling like a strawberry field

Despite having wild strawberries growing in pots, these are the only two regular strawberries I've harvested from the containers. As lovely and tasty as they were, I don't think I am due to get many more. So it is onto plan B. Pick your own (PYO) from a local farm.
This PYO farm is near Glasgow Airport. A few years ago, before I had an allotment plot. I had taken my nephews here and we picked loads of strawberries to eat with cream. I am pleased to say that both my nephews actually stated it being one of their favourite and most enjoyable days out. This time between D and myself, we managed to pick just under 2kg of fat, ripe and juicy strawberries.
I also wanted some vegetables and the farms broccoli was not ready yet. D suggested instead of us going to the farmers market, we venture a little further to Geilston Gardens. The last time we went there was for the Easter weekend. D remembered that they were due to begin selling some fruit and vegetables from their walled garden to the public. Geilston Garden does not actually have a shop, the volunteers display whats been harvested on the day, as well as plants on an open stall with the prices listed. You take what you want and put the coins or notes into the 'Honesty box'.
While we were there, we took a walk around the gardens. I came across a rose bush that was covered with bees. The bees were really lively, so it was difficult to capture them on camera, unlike those I've pictured in the past looking rather sleepy. Not only were these particular bees lively, if you CLICK on the image, you will see that the bee seems to be carrying a yellow sack on its side. I am sure its obvious what this is, but I don't want to assume, so would like someone to confirm it. So if any one of you wonderful and far more knowledgeable readers know what this actually is, please dolet me know. I would really appreciate it. This was not the only bee carrying these yellow sacks, pretty much all of them were. Bizzy workers.
I wanted to see the walled vegetable garden as the last time we visited nothing was planted. What a difference a couple of months make.
As well as comparing notes, I also took interest in the vegetables that were not growing on my little patch such as these green courgettes.
and reddy spinach.
I came back home with some strikingly gorgeous purple kale and bites of broccoli, as well as the strawberries.
About 1kg of them were swiftly turned into strawberry jam. The others await edible transformation - that is of course if we don't pick and eat them every time we visit the refrigerator.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Celia's Rhubarb and lentil curry

I’ve been trying to get hold of a copy of Celia Brooks Brown 'New Urban Farmer' since it was published, but every time I went to the bookshops, even the mainstream ones – none of them had a copy. I know what some of you are thinking, why not order it. Well I am one of those people who actually likes going into bookshops - old and new. I like flicking through cookbooks, for ideas, inspiration and sometimes, dare I admit it - my dose of food porn through the colourful, glossy photographs. Then I completely forgot about it, until last week when I came back home from one of my overnight excursions, D presented the book to me. He had remembered it was on my ‘wish list’. What a treat for me and its not even my birthday.

Unlike the majority of her books, this one is not exactly a cookbook. It's much more than that, its an allotment - growing manual and journal. I've always liked Celia's friendly writing style, so was pleased to read about her personal experiences and observations on her allotment space, or lottie as she affectionately calls it. But she does not completely overlook cooking - how can she, after all it is one of her passions, so Yes, the book does contain a number of seasonal recipes. The ones that are leaping out at me are the spiced cornmeal crusted squash blossoms, green tomato curry and courgette jerky. I made Celia’s tofu jerky last year, so have no doubt that I will like her courgette jerky. I just have to wait a little until I get to harvest some of my own courgettes, but one recipe just got me curious, so curious I wanted to make it as soon as it could. It was the Rhubarb and lentil curry. I'm not the only one who wanted to try it, fellow blogger Fran of A Taste of Tottenham felt the same way too as you can see from her review of the book.
I must admit and perhaps you will concur that rhubarb in a savoury dish does sound rather bizarre, but Celia reassures us that the sharpness of the rhubarb marries beautifully with the lentils and the spices. Having tried and tested some of her recipes such as Asparagus Flecked Tart, Lavender heart scones and Roasted Teriyaki Tofu steaks, I knew I could trust her. So decided to make this. It was also a welcome change from all the sweet rhubarb cakes I’ve been making recently.
Well, how was it?! I am not sure how to describe the dish. It was not bad at all. In fact, it was really good. I can only compare the addition of the rhubarb to swollen sultanas in a savory dish, but in place of the expected sweetness there were subtle undertones of sourness, which I really I enjoyed against the nuttiness of the puy lentils and the bite of the celery.
Oh I did have to tweak the recipe a little. I couldn't find any local leeks, so I replaced them with some British Eschalon (long) shallots. I hope Celia doesn't mind.
Celia Brooks inspired rhubarb and lentil curryIngredients
Serves 4
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
4 long shallots, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 - 3 celery stalks, sliced
3 – 4 cloves of garlic
1 generous teaspoon cumin seed
1 generous teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon coarse crystal sea salt
2 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon turmeric
3 thick stalks rhubarb or equivalent, cut into 1cm chunks
150ml Puy lentils
700ml vegetable stock
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the shallot, and celery and cook, stirring frequently until soft.
Meanwhile place the garlic, cumin, coriander seed and course salt in a mortar and pound the garlic to a paste. Add this mixture to the pan with the softened shallots, along with the paprika and turmeric, and stir for about a minute, until fragrant. Next add the rhubarb, lentils and stock, cover and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for half an hour. Add the sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Leave the pan uncovered and simmer for a further 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve with plain boiled Basmati rice, with a dollop of natural yogurt. Slightly adapted from Celia Brooks Brown The New Urban Farmer

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Courgette Potato cakes and an experiment with a pepper

I know, I know what some of you are thinking - yesterday it was potato wedges and today its potato cakes!

Is this girl a potato head?!

If you think I'm mad about potatoes, you haven't met my nephew.
Anyway, once you've cut through the crisp, golden outside and into the soft mash, you discover the grated green courgette aka zucchini. The real vegetable on the plate. I enjoyed eating these, but I think if I was to make them again, I would add some crumbled feta cheese the mixture, as I think the courgette flavours were too subtle.
Here is the experiment that came about when Gardeningbren commented on my Stuffed peppers with brown rice. Gardeningbren wrote that she saw 'a recipe using the (cross) rings of peppers...and you put in the fry pan..crack an egg in the middle/center..cook and do a turn over and serve. Well of course I had to try it especially as I had a couple of peppers still in the fridge. I was impressed with my first attempt espcially with the flipping over. The green pepper was not bitter at all, however, I do think it may have benefited from a 'little parmesan...and maybe....some herb' as Gardeningbren suggested or maybe some homemade tomato sauce. So credit for this recipe must go to her not me. If you have not had a chance to see her blog, please do go by Gardeningbren in Nova Scotia, I know she will be most welcoming.
Courgette aka zucchini potato cakes
Makes 8
2 medium courgettes, grated
500g mashed potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced parsley
egg and breadcrumbs to coat
Vegetable oil to lightly fry
Mix all the ingredients, except for the egg, breadcrumbs and oil. Shape into potato cakes. Coat the cakes in egg and breadcrumbs. then fry in hot oil until each side is light and golden.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Za'atar wedges, tomatoes and spiced runner beans

For those of you who are not familiar za'atar, za'atar is a Middle eastern spice mixture. It is blend made from dried herb(s) namely wild thyme and wild oregano mixed together with flecks of sesame seeds, sumac and salt. For me the flavour is zesty and the fragrance can only be described as earthy.

In parts of the Middle East, zaatar is traditionally eaten as part of a breakfast with labneh (a yogurt cheese), olive oil and flatbread. But some of us will be more familiar with it as an hors d'oeuvre, aperitif or as a exotic salad dressing. Popularised in recent times by celebrity chefs, TV cooks or up-market fast food eateries in London.

I can't remember exactly how i discovered za'atar, I think it may have been one of the spice jars my mother in law brought back for me from Turkey along with sumac. Then I remembered the first time I went to Cyprus I had eaten a spiced flat bread at a market. This was made by a Turkish vendor selling home-made Turkish delights from his mobile van. I really wanted the lahmacun, something described as a Turkish pizza. Unfortunately for me it was made with minced meat, so I settled for a pizza like bread that was seasoned with herbs. I have to admit I thought it was going to be dull, but I was hungry and waited becoming slowly fascinated by the cooking techniques. I watched closely, first make the pizza like flatbread on a hot griddle, then drizzle it with olive oil, generously scatter over some za'atar and olives. This was then rolled like a cigara boregi and eaten on the go. It was truly one of the most delicious things I had eaten. I still remember the unique flavours .

Anyway, back to the present, whilst hunting through my tardis like kitchen cupboards, I came across a jar of za'atar. I remembered picking it up at a fair trade event during Refugee Week a little while ago, along with some delicious Palestinian olive oil. Both ingredients had been pushed to the back of the cupboard, so had not been used much, until today.
For those of you know of my greed for potato wedges, will not be surprised to learn that halfway through the roasting process, I generously sprinkled over some za'atar.
And after cutting the tomatoes in half, they too were given the same treatment, drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven till they began to droop a little. Oh My gosh they were so tasty. But the overwhelming flavours did not stop there. Oh no there had to be some green on the plate and these spiced runner bean finished the dish off perfectly.
Runner Beans cooked in oil with paprika
Serves 2
250g runner beans,
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
garlic clove, crushed
150ml water
salt and pepper to taste
Wash and top and tail the beans. Cut into diagonal slices. Heat the oil, paprika and cayenne pepper in a saucepan, then stir in the garlic and the beans. Pour in the water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the beans are tender. Check seasoning and serve. Adapted from Rose Elliot's Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Work till your Musselburgh

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but recently my workload has increased meaning wider coverage of Scotland. I really do enjoy the work I do, but as you can imagine additional responsibility for anyone can have its positives and negatives. To name a few of the positives, well two actually, sometimes I get to go to pretty little places and sometimes I get to meet some interesting characters. However with the good comes the negative: such as the early starts, the long distant travelling (sometimes driving, sometimes train and dare i say it sometimes flying). The majority of the places I have to go are based on industrial sites, so quite faceless, grey and dreary. In some cases travelling to these places has resulted in staying away from home. Once upon a time I enjoyed this exploratory aspect. But now with age, experience and time and the fact it happens too often, I no longer want to be away from my home turf especially overnight or more than one night. I love being surrounded by my things being with my husband, and as small as it is, I like pottering in my own kitchen and garden; and ultimately sleeping in my own bed.

However, I am realistic and I know work pays the bills and unlike some people in these trying economic times, I am extremely fortunate to have employment so these small sacrifices have to be made now and again. So despite the 5.00am start and drive from the West of Scotland to the South coast of Scotland, which in itself whacks my body clock and impacts on my eating habits. I'll try focus on one of the positives. I recently got to go to one of the pretty places.
So where was this.
Musselburgh one of Scotland's oldest towns.
It is famous for its Horse Racecourse.
and Prestonpans. Both these places are just outside of Edinburgh.
I'm making more of a habit to take my camera, as I never know when I have the opportunity to play tourist, especially at a place I've never been to before. I was amazed to see this totem, but this was not the only thing attracting me.
Every so often you would come across a mural. Here are a few that were on route.

Before heading back home, I parked the car near Prestongrange Museum to drink my flasked black coffee and sandwich made lovingly by my husband.
What amazes me every time I come to the East-South Coast of Scotland whether its by train or driving, are the poppies this time of year.
The poppies here seem to be prolific. They seem to be everywhere, even on the side of rail tracks. So delicate, wispy and deep passionate red.
Unlike the West of Scotland, where i hardly see any. I think this must have something to do with the climate; or perhaps I am not looking in the right places where I live. I really haven't seen that many growing wild in the West Coast for a number of years now.
Before leaving this quiet place, I couldn't stop myself from admiring this old abandoned train walkway. There is something just romantic about it; or maybe its just the rampant wild flowers around it that are making me feel that way.