Welcome to my blog all about the things I love to grow and cook. You'll find a collection of seasonal gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly recipe posts, as well as a round up of my gardening throughout the year. I wish you good reading, happy cooking and perfect planting!
The mild spring weather and fine, early summer days has brought on my greenhouse vegetables a treat this year. It looks like I’m in for another bumper crop of courgettes. I thought I’d try to grow a new variety, and decided on this round, globe courgette called Tricolour. I only raised 4 plants from seed, so it is completely by chance that I’ve ended up with 2 yellow and 2 dark green vegetable plants. The third colour is pale green, and, I guess, is to be saved for next year.
Providing you give them plenty of water, I think growing courgette plants offers little challenge to the gardener, and for a modicum of effort, you are usually rewarded with plenty of produce. I have mine growing in grow-bags; the roots don’t stretch very deep so it is an ideal way to grow them if space is limited.
Here’s an easy recipe for a courgette starter or vegetable accompaniment. Chives or rosemary work well in the batter instead of thyme, if you prefer. If you’re not dairy-free, add a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the batter for extra flavour. The batter goes with any vegetable that’s suitable for deep-frying such as rings of onion, baby leeks, spring onions, sliced mushrooms, strips of pepper and carrot, sliced aubergine, etc.
Courgette and thyme fritters – serves: 4
65g self-raising gluten-free flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teasp freshly chopped thyme leaves + extra for serving
90ml soda water
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Wash and pat dry the courgettes. Trim away the ends and cut into thin slices, approx. ½ cm thick. Arrange in layers in a wide, shallow dish, sprinkling lightly with 25g of the flour as you go. Make sure both sides of each slice have a light coating of flour.
For the batter, mix the rest of the flour with the cornflour in bowl and season. Stir in the chopped thyme leaves. Using a small whisk, gradually blend in the soda water. Heat the oil for deep-frying to 180°C.
Carefully pour the batter over the courgette slices, lifting them up so that the batter seeps right through to the bottom of the dish – the slices don’t have to be completely covered in batter (this is a very light, crispy batter that cooks better when used sparingly) but make sure there is a little on each slice. Tongs are useful for lifting individual slices.
Cook the slices in the hot oil, in 4 batches, for 4-5 minutes, turning occasionally, until crisp and lightly golden. Drain well and keep warm whilst cooking the remaining slices. Serve as soon after cooking as possible, sprinkled with more fresh thyme and some crushed sea salt flakes.
It feels like summer is here now that my strawberries are ripening. The aroma of sweet berries fills the air every time I open the greenhouse door. I have been growing strawberries in my unheated greenhouse for several years. The soil is free draining and the plants have plenty of room to spread. Apart from an occasional feed, and plenty of water, I leave them alone to get on with the business of berry production.
Strawberries are best eaten fresh. They don’t freeze well as a fruit by themselves, but you can purée them and then serve as a sauce. The fresh purée makes excellent ice cream and sorbet too. I sometimes pop a few in with a fruit compote with other berries, but on the whole, I don’t cook them other than to make jam.
One of the best ways I’ve found to preserve them, is to dry slices in a dehydrator; this way you can enjoy them once the season is over. The perfume of drying strawberries is divine. If you have a dehydrator, slice the berries and brush them with a little lemon juice to help preserve the colour. 500g prepared strawberries, spread over 3 tiers in a dehydrator, will take between 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours at 70°C/158F. This amount yields about 65g. Sealed completely in an air-tight jar, and stored in a dark, dry cupboard, they will keep for several months. The dried slices add a splash of colour and a fragrant, fruity flavour to any bowl of cereal – especially good with Coconut granola (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) – and they make a pretty, natural cake decoration too.
All round the garden borders, the wild strawberries are also beginning to turn colour. Whilst they are much more time-consuming to pick, they have a more perfumed flavour and make a lovely addition to a fruit salad. Leave them to ripen fully for the sweetest flavour, and eat them as soon after picking as possible – they really don’t keep well. I have a battle with the birds every year to get to them before they do! The plants are prolific spreaders, but give good ground cover and make a pretty display when in flower.
Strawberry serving suggestions
Fresh strawberries go well with smoked salmon, Parma or Serrano ham, and peppery leaves like rocket or watercress. They are also delicious with slices of ripe avocado.
Spread almond nut butter over warm toasted bread and top with lightly mashed strawberries and a little sugar for an indulgent toast topper.
Add finely chopped tarragon, lavender syrup, rosewater or passion fruit juice to a bowl of strawberries to enhance the floral flavour of the fresh berries.
For very sweet strawberries, halve and sprinkle with fruit or balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with goat’s cheese as a starter with salad ingredients.
If you have sufficient wild strawberries, fold them into whipped cream with a little dessert wine and strawberry jam for a topping or filling for meringues.
For a special fruit salad, mix halved strawberries with chopped mint and sugar, then toss in some lime juice, dry white wine or crème de cassis.
Mash strawberries with vanilla sugar and fold into soft cheese to spread over pancakes.
Pop a handful of wild strawberries into white balsamic vinegar to make a sweetly scented berry dressing for fruit or leaf salads later on in the year.
After my post on Fresh globe beetroot a couple of weeks ago, I finally got round to a spot of beetroot-baking with the fine specimens I took pictures of. This is a great tasting recipe which makes the most of how naturally colourful the vegetable is.
You’ll find plenty of recipes for brownies and blondies, so now, here’s one for “pinkies”. For all intents and purposes, it is a blondie recipe with cooked beetroot added to it. I used natural raspberry extract to flavour my recipe but a good quality vanilla extract or freshly grated orange rind would work just as well. As with the more traditional blondie (and brownie) recipes, this one is better the day after baking. By the way, if you cook beetroot from raw, the cooking water turns very pink. I used a little of this to make the icing. The pinkies also freeze well. By the way, the recipe also works with cooked carrot instead of beetroot.
Makes: 9 pieces
100g white chocolate drops (or dairy-free alternative)
75g butter (or dairy-free alternative)
75g caster sugar
75g silken tofu
115g cooked, peeled beetroot in natural juice
75g gluten-free self raising flour
75g ground almonds
¼- ½ tsp natural raspberry extract
150g icing sugar
2-3 tsp beetroot cooking water or water and natural pink food colouring
Freeze-dried raspberry pieces, to decorate
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160° fan oven, 350° F, gas mark 4). Grease and line an 18cm square cake tin. Put the chocolate chips, butter and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently to melt together. Cool for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, blend the tofu and beetroot together to make a purée.
Sieve the flour into a bowl. Add the ground almonds, beetroot purée and melted chocolate mixture. Add the extract and mix well to make a smooth batter.
Spoon into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes until lightly crusted but slightly soft underneath. Cool for 20 minutes then turn on to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap in greaseproof paper and foil and store for 24 hours to allow the texture and flavour together.
To decorate. remove the wrappings and cut the cake into 9 equal squares. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Stir in a little beetroot or tap water to make a smooth, spreadable icing. Add pink colouring if using.
Spoon a dollop of icing of over each piece of cake and spread to cover the tops, allowing it to drip down the sides. Sprinkle with freeze-dried raspberries. Leave to set for about 30 minutes before serving.
From the last few days of May, I think my garden looks at it’s best. There is so much colour, so many fragrant blooms, it is a real joy to be outside, and even the weeding seems less of a chore! The weather has been kind, and I have been outside more than I have been indoors. The lupins are great value in the garden; the flowers with their rich, spicy aroma, are in bloom for a long time, and once the long heads have finished, cut them off and smaller blooms appear for a second showing.
The last of my spring bulbs are in flower now. I planted alliums for the first time a couple of years ago, so this is their second late spring showing. I love the intricate web of tiny star-like lilac flowers that make up the globe shaped bloom.
It’s been a fine year for rhododendrons and azaleas. Most have past their best now, but this scarlet beauty stands at the bottom of the drive-way and is always one of the last to flower. It makes a stunning display. The later varieties are particularly sweet-smelling. The peachy-pink one below is heavily scented although sadly not quite so many blooms this year. The pure white azalea and the apple blossom-pink rhododendron, on the other hand, are almost overloaded with blooms.
One of the finest trees in the garden is the laburnum. On a bright day, the rich yellow glow from the petals is quite dazzling, and the heavy scent is intoxicating. The flowers look particularly glorious against a blue sky. Sadly it’s not in flower for more than a few days before the petals start falling like vibrant confetti, all over the garden.
I have been patiently waiting for this iris to come into flower. For the first time, I split the rhizome back in the Autumn and was delighted (and relieved) when the buds started to form about a month ago. This variety is a real beauty called Iris Pallida; the pale sky blue flowers have the aroma of slightly spicy bubble-gum. It’s planted in a dry, sunny corner by the front house wall, and flowers from the top down. I believe the rhizome of this particular iris is used as a botanical in some gin varieties.
My final image to share this month, is from a crop of plume thistles Atropupureum which are growing in the back garden. Not only popular with me, but the bees love them too 🙂