Sunday, 24 July 2011
What do you do with the end pieces of bread loaves and other odds and ends of bread? I know a couple of people who absolutely love eating these bits but to me they're less appetising - especially since they're the last of the loaves to be eaten at our home and therefore a but 'crusty'. But I hate wasting food so I've learned to make delicious and crunchy home-made croutons with mine.
I tend to save all my bread bits in the freezer until I have enough to make it worth my time. Then to make them, I simply defrost the bread, cut it up into rough 2cm square pieces and put it into a large bowl. It can then be drizzled liberally with olive oil and stirred well. After letting the bread soak up the oil for a minute or so, I shake sea salt, black pepper and herbs over the cubes, stir well and then bake them on a tray at 200°C/400°F until well browned and crackling. Once cooled, they can be eaten immediately or stored in a sealed bag for up to two weeks.
These croutons are an excellent topper for salads or even a tasty base to a stuffing but I have to admit that I love snacking on them too ;)
Friday, 22 July 2011
Well, what do you think? It's neither a pumpkin or a courgette (aka zucchini)... so does that make it a Pumpkette? Or perhaps a Pumpkini? What about Courkin?
Last year I saved seeds from a pumpkin a fellow allotmenteer gave me with the plans of growing my own Jack'o'lanterns this year. It didn't quite work out that way though, since it seems that my pumpkin-present had an illicit inter-racial affair with the neighbouring Courgette! Who would have known?
I've learned a couple of things from this experience:
1. If you're going to save your own seeds, especially if they are heritage variety, you need to be aware and careful of cross-pollination
2. When sowing found, gifted and non-certified seeds, or indeed seed from your own vegetables that you saved the previous year, make sure to plant a couple back-ups. Otherwise you're just going to have to celebrate Halloween with a carved Butternut squash!
PS - I have yet to slice this baby open but wouldn't it be crazy if it were orange? :)
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
I took some pictures of my allotment last week - it needs a bit of weeding still but am fairly happy with the harvest so far this year. Tons of new potatoes and the greens have done exceptionally well with all the showers we've been getting. Of course there are not so successful crops this year too...but let's not dwell on them ;)
It seems that everyone who makes sauerkraut has an opinion as to how sauerkraut has to be made. But whether it's packing pure cabbage into a crock or using whey as a starter, there are really many ways to ferment a head of cabbage. It doesn't stop at cabbage either - you can ferment most vegetables, including radishes, cucumbers, green tomatoes and many more. And I'll bet that fermenting each and every one of those veggies has as many recipe variations as sauerkraut does.
The way I make sauerkraut is very simple really and needs only a few ingredients aside from your cabbage. It's ready in 2-3 weeks but can be left for much longer, especially if it's refrigerated. It's also a very flexible recipe so you can make it with what you already have at home.
Makes ~ 2 pints
1 medium cabbage (or half of a really big one)
1.5 Tbsp Sea Salt
Glass jar with lid or any other non-metallic tall crock/pot
Additional spices and veggies - not required but really gives the kraut some flavour. I'm listing what I used in today's sauerkraut but you can use whatever you have at hand and the proportion which suits your family's taste. Carrots, dill, caraway and coriander seeds are all great!
6 Shallots, finely sliced
1 Tbsp Black Peppercorns
1. Shred your cabbage and put it into a large bowl with the sea salt. Then take the end of your rolling pin or other non-breakable blunt object and bash the cabbage up a bit. The idea is to break down some of the fibers and allow the salt to penetrate more fully. Cover your bowl with a kitchen towel and leave over night.
2. The next day, have a look at your cabbage. It should be slightly wilted and the bowl should be filled with quite a bit of liquid.
3. Using your freshly cleaned hands, layer first a bit of the whole spices into your glass or ceramic jar/crock, then a layer of shallots then a layer of cabbage. Bash down with your fist and repeat until all your ingredients are in the jar. Then pour over the remaining cabbage juice and place a barrier layer on top. This barrier could be an uncut and clean cabbage leaf, a plate, a linen cloth or even wax-paper which I've used this time (see above picture).
4. Now you'll need a weight - this is also a flexible item and can be anything heavy, such as a cleaned rock, or something that will press against the lid of the jar when its closed to help push the cabbage down to under the juice level. Fermentation is an anaerobic (oxygen-free) process and your ingredients need to be under the juice level at all times. The barrier will help keep bits from floating up but the weight makes sure the barrier doesn't float up either.
5. Close the jar up either with its attached lid (without the rubber ring) or even a loose fitting lid or plate. You want it fairly closed but not completely sealed so that gases can escape.
6. Leave it in a cool dark cupboard for at least 2-3 weeks for crunchy summer sauerkraut or for more of a traditional texture leave it for a month or more. Check it every few days and if any scum or mould starts growing, clean it off the top of the liquid and discard it. As long as your cabbage, onions and other ingredients are below the liquid's surface they're perfectly safe.
Easy peasy, isn't it? :)
Friday, 8 July 2011
I'm really taking advantage of this year's berry harvest down at our local 'Pick-Your-Own' berry farm...it's a joy that it's only a five minute drive away!
While I was picking strawberries for my Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam, I spotted the blackcurrant bushes absolutely laden with juicy black berries. Hanging from the branches as they do, they remind me of trusses of mini black grapes - which is a good thing because that also reminded me that they make excellent wine. As John Seymour said in his book 'The New Self-Sufficient Gardener':
"Blackcurrant Wine - This is the best of the fruit wines, except of course grape wine."
My wine is already in its airlocked fermentation stage as you can see in the first picture of this post. It's a gorgeous crimson-magenta and is happily bubbling away in the kitchen now. After fermentation is complete, I'll rack it into another demi-john and put it away in a cool, dark place for about three months before I rack it again into bottles. So this batch of summer goodness should be ready to drink in the darkest days of the coming winter.
Makes 6 bottles of wine
900g [2lb] Blackcurrants
1020g [2.25lb] Sugar
3.8L [1 gallon] Water
1 tsp Yeast Nutrient
1 tsp Pectolase
1X 5g Sachet of Wine Yeast
Well sterilised bucket, bowl and utensils
For AFTER fermenation: 1 Campden Tablet
1. Rinse blackcurrants well and remove any leaves and as many stems as possible. Place them into your primary fermentation bucket and crush with a potato masher.
2. Bring your water to a boil and then remove from heat. Stir the sugar into it until it's completely dissolved and then allow this sugar-water to cool to room temperature.
3. When cooled, mix the Yeast Nutrient and Pectolase into the sugar-water and then take about 1.5 cups out and place into a small bowl. Pour the rest of the sugar-water over the berries. Blackcurrants contain a lot of pectin, which is great for jam making but will cause your wine to go cloudy or even slightly jelly - the Pectolase will make sure this doesn't happen!
4. Empty your sachet of yeast into the 1.5 cups of reserved sugar water, stir well and wait about 15 minutes or until the yeast has been activated and it's built up a good foam. Stir this into the primary fermentation bucket.
5. Now cover the bucket with a clean dish-cloth and let sit in a quiet corner of the kitchen for five days, stirring gently once a day. The yeast will be going mad at this moment and will be putting off a lot of carbon dioxide, thus protecting it against bacterial contamination.
6. At the end of the five days, have your demi-john sterilised and ready. Mine are glass so I'll first wash the demi-john with soapy water, rinse it well and then put it in the oven for 30 minutes at 130°C [275°F]. Allow to cool before pouring your wine in.
7. Now strain your berry mixture through a sterilised fine-mesh strainer or a muslin and into a sterilised bucket. Squeeze as much of the liquid as you can out of the berries and then discard the pulp. Then you need to get your liquid into the demi-john: you can either siphon it using a small hose or you can pour it in using a funnel and a ladle. Fill the demi-john up to at least its shoulder. Just make sure that there's some space between the bottom of the cork when you put it in and the top of the liquid. Also try to avoid pouring in any of the sediment that forms at the bottom of the primary fermentation container.
8. Once the liquid is in, fit your air-lock cork into the demi-john and then pour a little sterilised (but cool) water into your air-lock before fitting it into the cork. The temperatures that the wine should be at during its fermentation vary depending on the type of wine yeast you're using - take a look at the sachet for this information.
9. Fermentation in the demi-john will take about a month, more or less.
10. Once fermentation is complete, you'll rack the wine out, add a crushed Campden tablet to it to inhibit bacterial contamination. Then siphon it back into another clean and sterilised demi-john to age for about six months before racking the wine into bottles. You can technically drink it at this time but it's best to allow the wine to age at least a further 6 months to allow the flavour to mature.
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
If there's anything more delicious than Strawberry and Rhubarb pie, it's Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam! Though I fine Strawberry Jam on its own quite nice, many find it a bit too sweet or even a bit boring. Adding contrasting flavours, such as the tartness of rhubarb and lemon, is all you need to do to add a bit of sass to your classic strawberry. It's also a bonus that the lemon juice sets the jam so no additional pectin is required in my recipe.
I recently made a batch using rhubarb from the allotment and strawberries I hand-picked at the local PYO (Pick-Your-Own). And not only do we love it, but we gave a bottle to a friend who has also been enjoying it. I stole the below picture from her Facebook where her caption included the words "...yum yum" ;)
Strawberry & Rhubarb Jam
makes 5-6 jars
425g Rhubarb, finely chopped
575g Strawberries, sliced
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
Dollop of butter
Sterilised preserving jars - I recycle jars from supermarket purchases
1. Place the strawberries in a large sauce pan with the lemon juice and the sugar
2. Mash the berries up with a potato masher - however, if you like having chunks of strawberries in your jam then skip this step.
3. Add the rhubarb and slowly bring the mixture up to a rolling boil; stirring regularly, allow to boil for about 10 minutes.
4. The top of the mixture will be covered with foam, which you don't want to pour into your jars. So break your dollop of butter into small pieces and scatter on the jam's surface. Slowly stir the butter into the foam and you'll see most of it magically disappear.
5. Using a butter-knife to hold back any remaining foam, pour the jam into your sterilised jars. If any foam is sitting on the surface in the jar, use a sterilised spoon to carefully clean it out. Seal with the lid and set aside - as the jam cools, you'll hear a pop as the lid seals the contents.
The jam in this recipe will not set completely solid but will tend to be a gooey and easy to spoon out of the jar. All the better for spreading onto toast, crumpets, yoghurt, pancakes or whatever else you'd like to enjoy it with.
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
The sourdough loaf is a resounding success! The doubtful husband even claims that it's better than my traditional loaves (Phew!)
I made this loaf with 100% Manx Wholemeal and so it's a bit denser than other sourdoughs I've had - but the wheaty taste followed with a sour kick is absolutely brilliant.
I'm so pleased with the work of my wild little yeastlings - this is definitely a loaf that I will be making on a regular basis.
Monday, 4 July 2011
Summer has finally arrived! We celebrated the warm sunshine this weekend with a trip down to the annual Queenie Festival in Port St Mary. The Queenie is one of the island's best known exports and the delicious little dollops of the sea are well worth the party planning.
Queenies are local scallops which are seasonally harvested from June to October. They are protected on the Isle of Man and have been given two conservation areas where no 'mobile' fishing is permitted. The amazing thing to me is that it's the local fishermen who help support regulation and protection of these tasty mollusks. It takes no more than common sense to connect the dots between overfishing and decreased future harvests, but too often you hear of fishermen defiant of regulation.
Everyone loves touch-tanks, kids and grown-ups alike, and we are no exception :) A wonderful display of hardy sea creatures where fished up for the day and placed into tanks, tubs and barrels for the public to have a gape at. I laughed to hear several mothers yell at their kids to 'Put that down!' but really, the kids were very gentle from what I saw and everyone was enjoying themselves. And there's just something about the sea and everthing in it that lends itself to artwork. In one tub I was even reminded of one of my favourite paintings - 'What the water gave me' by Frida Kahlo. I wonder what would have happened if I jumped into the tub for a recreation of it! ;)
Like most of the festivals on the island, there is a reigning 'Queen' of the ball but other local foods and crafts are also in attendance. I was really happy to see Faye Christian and her beautiful pottery in one of the very first tents. I've been chatting to her about her offering a pottery class and it seems likely that she'll be able to do one in August...Yay! She's a local artist who regularly sets up shop at events and who also has her work on display and for sale in shops such as Tynwald Mills. Very excited to take a class from her...love her style, sense of colour and the fact that we'll be able to take home a couple of self-made pieces in the end. Sign me up please!
Dessie Robinson Reed Weaving was also on site displaying their wares and also doing demonstrations. The woodsy smell of the willow baskets and crafts was wonderful as was watching something so intricate as a 'Bumble Cage' being made in a matter of minutes. I listened in to hear the history of this unique little rattle: In centuries past the folk on the Isle of Man were very much believers of Fairies, and other mystical creatures, and some even today believe in them. Children were brought up being told of the mischievousness of the little folk and also that bumble bees were in fact bad fairies who had been transformed into insect shape. So what do you do with a bad fairy? You build a 'Bumble Cage' to trap them in. It's like a little rattle made of reeds and when it's nearly finished, you pop a bumble bee inside and seal it up. Bumble bees are more fortunate these days in that pebbles serve as a substitute!
Suzanne's Flowers had such a beautiful presentation of blossoms and feminine display-crafts that I just had to take some pictures. It would be so easy, and cost-effective, to recreate some of this in your own home with cut flowers and upcycled objects. This is definitely some inspiration for a rainy day! Wine crates, empty preserves jars, paper doilies, wire ribbon, old kitchenware, paint and some found objects are all that's needed.
In one of the large marquees we quenched our thirst with a pint of Bushy's Bitter and watched a cooking demonstration by Simon Wadham, Head Chef of the Rivington Grill in London. On the menu were of course Queenies! We actually were able to sample one of the dishes he whipped up - 'Marinated Queen Scallops with Red Onion, Coriander and Ginger Salsa'. It was so inspiring for three reasons - no cooking was required, the presentation was gorgeous and the taste divine! Good thing he handed out the recipe because I'm definitely going to give it a go at home!
All in all, it was a fantastic day of seafood, sea-life, local crafts and good fun. It's really a joy to enjoy the sunshine with local artisans and supporters of local industry, food and crafts. Long live the Queenie and see you again soon - most likely on my plate ;)
MARINATED QUEEN SCALLOPS with Red Onion, Coriander and Ginger Salsa
24 Queen Scallops (they should be very fresh as they will be eaten carpaccio style)
1 small Red Onion, finely diced
1 clove Garlic, crushed and chopped
Small piece of Ginger (thumb-sized), peeled and finely chopped
2 Tomatoes, finely diced
A handful of Coriander [aka Cilantro], roughly chopped
100ml good quality White Wine Vinegar
50ml extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 Lemon
Salt and Pepper
1. Loosen scallops from their shells and give them a quick rinse to remove any sand. Scallops soak up water so don't leave them sitting in water or rinse for too long. Pat the scallops dry with a dish cloth, put to one side and keep the shells.
2. In a bowl, take the rest of the ingredients and mix together to make the salsa. For the best effect, leave to sit for half an hour.
3. Cut the scallops in half or thirds across the way, spoon a little of the salsa into the shell and lay the scallop on top. Then spoon a little more of the salsa over the top, leave to stand for a few minutes and eat.