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!
I hadn’t intended to write another post about plums this week, but after making several pots of jam with the largest, juiciest plums, I was down to my last kilo of the smallest fruit. Flicking through an old book on preserves, I happened upon a recipe for making damson “cheese”, and I decided to have a go. It turned out to be very similar to Spanish quince paste, so I’m calling it membrillo. And very delicious it is too 🙂
It takes a bit of time to make plum membrillo because you need to keep stirring the fruit mixture to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan, and it can’t be rushed otherwise you will end up burning the mixture. Other than this, there are just 3 ingredients and a little water. I like the herbal aroma of bay with stoned fruit, but cinnamon would work well, or you could omit the extra flavour altogether for maximum fruitiness.
The flavour is intense and fruity. It is very rich so serve in slices as a sweet treat or as an accompaniment to cheese and cold meats as you would quince paste. It needs to be stored in the fridge, but will keep for a month in a sealed container, or it can be sliced, wrapped and frozen. It would make a nice gift for a foodie friend – wrap in waxed paper for keeping at it’s best.
I also cut a couple of slices into small cubes and rolled in granulated sugar to make melt-in-the-mouth home-made fruit pastilles.
Makes: 8 slices
1kg small plums (damsons or apricots would also work)
4 fresh bay leaves or 2 dried
Approx. 500g granulated sugar
Line a 500g loaf tin with baking parchment. Wash the plums and place in a large saucepan (there is no need to stone them). Pour over 200ml water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until very soft. Cool for 10 minutes, then rub though a nylon sieve to extract as much pulp as possible – I ended up with about 1l of pulp.
Pour the pulp back into the saucepan, add the bay leaves, and bring to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring to prevent sticking, for about 15 minutes, until reduced by half. I find a spatula is good for stirring preserves because it enables you to scrape the pan more thoroughly. Cool for 10 minutes, then discard the bay leaves.
Measure the pulp and pour back into saucepan. Add the equivalent amount of pulp in sugar – I had 500ml reduced pulp and added 500g sugar. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved completely.
Turn up the heat and cook the mixture until it becomes very thick – about 30 minutes – until the spatula leaves a clear line across the bottom of the pan. If you prefer, it needs to reach 105°C on a sugar thermometer. You need to keep stirring the mixture which will be very hot, so do take care. I find it easier to wear a long rubber glove when stirring, because the mixture can spit.
Scrape the thick, pulpy mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top and leave too cool completely. It will set firm as it cools. Chill until required.
When ready to serve, remove the lining parchment, and slice the membrillo with a sharp knife – a warmed blade should make for easier slicing. Wrap and store in the fridge for up to a month, or freeze for later use.
The garden’s taken a bit of a battering this week. It’s been very windy since the weekend and yesterday the remnants of the recent US Hurricane blew through. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been too much damage, but any plums that I left on the tree are no longer.
I had been picking the Victoria plums since the beginning of last week, and thankfully harvested the majority of what was left at the weekend. I’ve been busy making jam, and freezing a few in bags for later use. The tree is only small, but it has done very well this year in spite of the dry summer, although some of the plums are smaller than usual.
Stoned fruit like plums, apricots and peaches go very well with the flavour of almond. If you crack the stones open, the inner part of the kernel has a strong almond aroma – I always add the kernels, in a muslin bag, to jam as it cooks, to give it more flavour. I realise marzipan isn’t to everyone’s taste, but is one of my favourite ingredients and in my mind, is perfect for eating with plums. This week’s recipe will work fine without it, the cake will be lighter in texture and will cook slightly quicker.
You can make this cake with most fruit, just be aware that if a fruit is very juicy, the bottom of the cake will be quite sticky and may not completely cook through. The cake also makes a great pudding served warm with custard. I use spelt flour, the white variety, for this cake, but use gluten-free plain if you’re intolerant to wheat, and ordinary plain white flour if you don’t have spelt.
300g golden caster sugar
175g dairy-free margarine
175g non-dairy yogurt (coconut or soya work well)
175ml unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used soya)
190g white spelt flour (or gluten-free plain flour)
12g gluten-free baking powder
175g ground almonds
175g marzipan, cut into small pieces
20g flaked almonds, toasted
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Grease and line a deep, 23cm round cake tin. Sprinkle the base of the tin with 2 tbsp. sugar and put to one side.
Halve the plums and remove the stones, then arrange in the bottom of the tin to cover it completely. If you have any plums left over, chop them and sprinkle them over the layer of plums.
Put the margarine in a bowl with the remaining sugar and whisk together for 3-4 minutes until creamy and light in texture and colour. Gently whisk in the yogurt and dairy-free milk with half the flour until well blended. Sieve the remaining flour and baking powder on top; add the ground almonds and marzipan, and mix everything together until thoroughly blended.
Spoon the cake mixture on top of the plums and smooth over the top. Put the tin on a baking tray and bake for about 1 ½ hours until richly golden and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes in the tin before serving warm, or leave to cool completely in the tin if serving as a cake.
To serve, turn the cake out on to a serving plate and sprinkle with flaked almonds to serve.
Over the past week or so, I’ve picked more runner beans from my 3 plants than I can possibly eat. The beans do keep well for a few days in a container of water in the fridge, but even so, this year, I have resorted to freezing some down. Not ideal as they do lose some texture, but it’s a good way of eking them out a while longer.
I like my runner beans cut thinly in fine ribbons. I inherited a tiny, wee gadget from my grandmother which is perfect for this. If the beans are very fresh, you can whip them through the fine, grill-like slicing plate in next to no time, and sliced this way, they take just a few minutes to cook.
For freezing, it helps preserve texture if you cut the runner beans into chunkier pieces, and that’s what I did with the majority of these beans. I blanched the prepared beans in rolling, boiling water for about 1 ½ minutes, then drained them and cooled them completely in cold running water. Before bagging your prepared vegetables, shake off the excess water, pat dry with kitchen paper and then pack into freezer bags. Make sure the bag is free of as much air as possible. I do this by screwing the bag closed, and then sucking out the excess air via a straw inserted into the top. It’s very effective. Seal the bag tightly with a wire bag tie or clip, and don’t forget to label – remember how time flies! Blanched vegetables should keep perfectly fresh in the freezer for at least 6 months. If you don’t do the blanching, use them up in a couple of months.
This week’s recipe is a tasty vegetable noodle dish that can be eaten hot but I usually enjoy the dish served cold as a light lunch. Try and cut all the vegetables thinly and evenly so that they cook to the same texture. If you don’t have a bean slicer, cut the beans into short lengths and then slice thinly lengthways. For the dressing, if peanuts aren’t to your taste, use cashews or almonds and the associated nut butters instead.
225g runner beans
1 large carrot
1 medium leek
200g soba noodles (or use your favourite variety and cook accordingly)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
40g roasted peanuts, crushed
For the dressing:
50g smooth peanut butter
1 tsp sesame oil
25ml gluten-free soy sauce
1 tbsp. white rice vinegar
15g light soft brown sugar
Trim the beans. Peel the sides of the beans using a vegetable peeler and slice into thin shreds. Peel and trim the carrot; slice into thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler. Trim the leek. Slice down the centre and run under cold running water to flush out any trapped soil. Shake well to remove excess water, then cut in half, and slice into ribbon-like strips. Arrange all the vegetables in a steamer, colander or large sieve.
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil (unsalted if you’re using soba noodles). Put the vegetables on top, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Add the noodles to the boiling water, bring back to the boil, put the vegetables back on top, and cook everything for a further 5 minutes, until the noodles are tender and the vegetables are just cooked through. Drain the noodles well, and return to the saucepan. Toss in the sesame oil and then the vegetables. Mix well and either leave to cool if serving as a salad, or cover to keep warm.
For the dressing, put all the ingredients in a small screw-top jar. Seal and shake well to mix into a thick, dressing.
To serve, pile the hot or cold vegetable noodles on to a serving platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds and peanuts. Serve with the peanut dressing.
It has reached the time of year that sees the end of my supply of home-grown courgettes. The three plants I sowed from seed have been growing happily, side by side, in a grow-bag, in my greenhouse over the past few weeks. The plants have given me a good, steady and tasty crop of yellow and green globe-shaped fruits. I am sad to see their demise.
To use up the last of the crop, this week’s recipe is for a mildly spiced, Indian-style fritter, based on a classic takeaway favourite, the onion bhaji. The flour used is chickpea (or gram/besan) flour which very is earthy and nutty in flavour, and the flavourings used are fragrant rather than over-powering: cumin, fenugreek, black onion seeds and toasted sesame seeds. Add some minced green chilli or chopped fresh coriander for some zesty freshness if you like.
Serve the bhajis as a starter with wedges of lemon to squeeze over, some fresh coriander, and a traditional cucumber and yogurt salad.
190g chickpea (gram or besan) flour
1 tsp salt
200g courgette, trimmed and coarsely grated
1 small leek, trimmed and shredded
1 tsp ground fenugreek
1½ tsp ground cumin
2 tsp black onion seeds
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
Sunflower oil for deep-frying
Fresh coriander and lemon to serve
For the cucumber salad
150g cucumber, trimmed and chopped
Small bunch fresh chives, chopped
A few sprigs fresh mint, leaves chopped
100g free-from coconut yogurt
Salt to taste
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the courgette, leek, spices and seeds. Mix well. Put to one side. Heat the oil for deep-frying to 180°C, then mix 75ml cold water into the spiced vegetables to make a thick batter. Add the water just before cooking to make sure it stays thick.
Use 2 dessert spoons to form scoops of batter and gently drop into the oil – cook 7-8 scoops at a time for 7-8 minutes, turning in the oil, until golden and crisp. Don’t make the bhajis too big otherwise they won’t cook all the way through. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm while you prepare the other remaining batter.
For the cucumber salad, mix all the ingredients together and season to taste.
Serve the bhajis while they are warm, sprinkled with fresh coriander and accompanied with lemon wedges and the cucumber salad.