The end of winter

White_Pieris_Japonica_and_pale_pink_Rhododendron
In full bloom at the end of February, white Pieris Japonica and pink Rhododendron. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Today is officially the meteorological end of winter, which means that tomorrow is the first day of spring; hoorah to that! It has been a very warm and sunny end to a month that has been one of the mildest Februarys on record across the whole of the UK. It has been a pleasure to be out-of-doors, so many birds are singing and there are many insects buzzing all round the garden.

An_early_dogtooth_violet_with_bee
A busy bee in the sunshine collecting pollen from a dogtooth violet. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Looking back over previous blog entries, I can see that every image I am posting this week is 2 to 4 weeks earlier than in previous posts. The snowdrops have been glorious this year, and have grown in thick white and green carpets both in the garden and in nearby hedgrows. For the first time I can recall I was able to detect their sweet and spicy fragrance as the sun shone on the blooms. I took this image a few days ago just as the fine weather started in earnest. The snowdrops in the sunny parts of the garden have gone over now, but there are a few clusters still lighting up the shady corners of the borders and under the thickest hedges.

Scottish_snowdrops_in_February_sunshine
Snowdrops enjoying the sunshine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It has been a good year for crocus too. The bulbs I planted last year in an old wooden barrel have put on a very colourful display. They have recently been joined by Tête-à-tête, which are also growing all round the garden, giving a sunny glow and a sweet aroma to many of the flower beds.

Yellow_white_and_lilac_crocus_in_wooden_barrel
Large wooden barrel of crocus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
Narcissus_Tête-à-tête
Narcissus Tête-à-tête. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Last weekend I spotted the first tiny blue dot in one of the paths which was a sign that my favorite of all spring flowers, the Chionodoxa, were on their way. Sure enough, over the course of the next few days, small electric-blue clumps of star-shaped flowers have sprung up all over the place.

Chionodoxa_in_gravel_paths_in_a_Scottish_garden
Striking blue Chionodoxa. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not only the flowers that are excelling themselves this year, the rhubarb patch is very much alive and kicking. I love the bright red stems of the new shoots and curled leaves. The stems look tempting enough to eat already, but I will resist and be patient.

Young_Scottish_rhubarb_stems
A fairy ring of young rhubarb shoots. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I have posted plenty of Hellebore pictures in the past, and I end my post this week with another one. This beauty was new to the garden last year and has only 3 flowers, but the blooms are delightful. I hope it thrives in its new location, and look forward to seeing more blooms in the future. Until next time, happy Spring 🙂

Double_white_speckled_Hellebore
Double white speckled Hellebore. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Curried root vegetable dauphinoise (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Swede_sweet_potato_and_potato_baked_dauphinoise-style
Spiced up roots. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A comforting winter-warmer recipe for you this week, although the weather is unseasonably mild here at the moment, it seems less appropriate to write that now.

I used to really enjoy eating potato dauphinoise, but the heavy dairy content of the dish just doesn’t agree with me any more. After a few try-outs, this is my deliciously spicy and pleasantly creamy alternative. The recipe is light enough to enjoy at any time of the year. You can use any combination of root vegetables, and it works well with other spice combinations like a Thai curry paste or Chinese curry powder. I simply replaced the cream content with coconut milk.

A_spoonful_of_sliced_of_swede, sweet potato_and_potato_cooked_in_coconut_milk_and_curry_powder
Comfort in a spoonful. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I chose turnip (swede), sweet potatoes and potatoes for my bake, and opted for a medium curry powder. As with any layered root vegetable dish, make sure you slice up the roots as thinly as possible and arrange them in the dish neatly so that everything cooks evenly. Once the vegetable preparation is out of the way, the rest of the assembly is very simple.

Whole_turnip_King_Edward_potatoes_and_sweet_potatoes
Turnip, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

So without further delay, on with the recipe. By the way, it tastes just as good (if not better) reheated the next day, and freezes well too. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 75g dairy-free margarine, softened
  • 1kg mixed roots such as turnip (swede), sweet potato, potato, parsnip, carrot, etc.
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 3-4 tsp medium curry powder (depending on your taste)
  • 1 tsp black onion seeds
  • Fresh coriander and chopped chilli to sprinkle
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C fan oven, gas 3. Use half of the margarine to thickly smear round the inside of an approx. 1.8l baking dish.
  2. Peel all the root vegetables and slice very thinly. Either mix all the vegetables together and arrange neatly in the dish, or arrange in individual layers, sprinkling with salt as you go.

    Layering_sliced_root_vegetables_for_dauphinoise
    Layering the roots. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Mix the coconut milk, garlic and curry powder together and pour over the vegetables.
  4. Dot the top with the remaining margarine, place the dish on a baking tray and cover with foil. Bake for 2 hours. Remove the foil and continue to cook for a further 30 minutes until golden and all the vegetables are meltingly tender.

    Pre-baking_and_after_baking_root_vegetable_dauphinoise
    Ready, steady, baked. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Remove from the oven and sprinkle over the black onion seeds. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving sprinkled with coriander and fresh chilli. To freeze, omit the coriander and chilli sprinkle. Allow the dauphinoise to cool completely, and then either freeze whole (if the dish is freezer-proof) or divide into portions. Wrap well, label and freeze for up to 6 months. To reheat, defrost in the fridge overnight, then cook, covered in foil, at 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4 for 25-35 minutes depending on portion size, until piping hot.

    Whole_serving_dish_of_curried_root_vegetable_dauphinoise
    Curried root vegetable dauphinoise. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Salame al cioccolato (Chocolate salami) (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Chocolate_salami
Chocolate and orange treat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I thought it was time to deliver a little treat. This week, I’ve broken into the chocolate to make something deliciously decadent. Still feeling inspired by my culinary adventure with Sicilian red oranges in last week’s post, I used some to flavour this rich Italian confection which is traditionally served at the end of a meal with coffee and liqueurs, or in my case, Marsala wine.

Slices_of_chocolate_salami
Sliced Italian chocolate salami with coffee and Marsala wine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I was watching a travel programme about Sicily over the festive holidays. It really does seem like a food and drink paradise, and I hope to pay a visit some day. In the meantime, I tracked down some of the island’s Modica chocolate which is so very different from any other chocolate I have eaten or cooked with. It is naturally vegan as it is made with just cocoa, sugar and vanilla. The texture is grainy and slightly crunchy, with a flavour that is rich and intense. Modica chocolate is very like the chocolate the Aztecs would have been familiar with; it was introduced to Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish, and I’m delighted to have finally made its acquaintance.

Bar_of_Sicilian_Modica_chocolate
Sicilian Modica chocolate. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

You can add any flavourings you fancy to the basic salami recipe. I opted for all things Italian and went with pistachios, marzipan and the red orange. Candied peel is often added but I’m not a huge fan. Because I had the fresh red oranges to hand, I made my own non-candied peel which is much softer and much more zesty than the preserved variety. However, feel free to use the more traditional candied peel if you like it.

I put some red orange juice in the salami mixture as well. If you fancy something with more oomph, you can use 2 tbsp.  liqueur instead. I used a dairy-free margarine which has a lower fat content than a solid fat. The combination of the margarine and the added liquid gives a more fudgy texture to the salami. If you prefer a firmer set then leave out the liquid altogether and use something like coconut oil  (or unsalted butter if you eat it) which will give a much firmer set.

Red_orange_juice_and_rind_chopped_marzipan_and_shelled_pistachios
Italian flavours. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes 16 slices

Ingredients

  • 2 medium oranges, red or other variety
  • 100g 50% cocoa Modica or similar free-from plain chocolate
  • 75g dairy-free margarine
  • 150g free-from ginger biscuits, lightly crushed (or use your favourite variety)
  • 50g natural pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
  • 75g natural marzipan, finely chopped
  • 15g each ground almonds and icing sugar
  1. First prepare the orange rind. Using a vegetable peeler, pare off the orange rind thinly. You need about 40g rind to achieve a rich orange flavour.
  2. Slice the pared rind into thin strips. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and cook the strips for 4-5 minutes until soft. Drain and cool under cold running water, then drain well and pat dry, before chopping finely. Extract 2 tbsp. juice from one of the oranges – and enjoy the rest of the juice at your leisure 🙂

    Steps_to_making_fresh_orange_peel
    Making fresh orange peel. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Break up the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Add the dairy-free margarine and place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, and leave until melted. Remove from the water and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Put the biscuits, pistachios, marzipan, chopped orange rind and juice in a bowl and mix together, then stir in the melted chocolate. Leave in a cool place for about 30 minutes to firm up but not set completely.

    Mixing_up_the_chocolate_salami
    Chocolate salami mix. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Line the work top with a large double layer of cling film and pile the chocolate mixture in the centre to form a rough rectangular shape about 24cm long.
  6. Fold over the cling film and twist the ends closed to make a fat sausage-like shape with slightly tapering ends. Chill for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight until firm.

    Steps_t0_shaping_chocolate_salami
    Shaping chocolate salami. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  7. To decorate, place a large sheet of baking parchment on the work top and sift the ground almonds and icing sugar down the centre to cover an area the same length as the salami.
  8. Carefully unwrap the salami and roll evenly in the sweet almond mixture to coat it lightly. Slice and serve. Store any remaining chocolate salami in the fridge – the sugary almond coating will start to dissolve in the fridge but this doesn’t affect the flavour or texture of the salami. Buon appetite!

    Close_up_of_chocolate_salami
    Delizioso. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Moorish red orange and carrot salad (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Sicilian_red_orange_and_carrot_salad
A seasonal salad to banish the winter blues. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

This is a great time of the year for oranges. Last weekend, I bought a bag of Seville oranges and made some marmalade, something I haven’t done for many years. It took me much longer than I remembered, but the effort was worthwhile as I have 12 large jars to see me through the year. The other citrus fruit that caught my eye this week comes from Sicily. Beautiful, blushing red oranges (or “Blood oranges” as I remember them being called). They look as lovely on the outside as they do on the inside.

Sicilian_bloor_or_red_oranges
Sicilian red oranges. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It may not seem the right time of year to be serving up a salad, but my recipe this week is a good choice for eating now, it oozes health and vitality, is robust in flavour with a crunchy texture, and makes a great accompaniment to pulse, rice or grain dishes or can be served on its own as a simple light lunch with bread and a dollop of hummus. The flavours and colours of this salad are the perfect tonic to pick you up if, like me, you are suffering from the winter blues.

Moorish_red-orange_and_carrot_salad_with_toasted_seeds
Robust flavours and crunchy textures. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The salad is dressed with a simple combination of olive oil and freshly squeezed orange juice flavoured with the warming, earthy spices toasted cumin seeds and dried chilli. I also fried some sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds for 4-5 minutes in a little olive oil with some sea salt, to add bite and nuttiness as a sprinkle on top. I hope you enjoy the recipe, and if you can’t find red oranges, any orange or even pink grapefruit would work.

Image_of_orange_salad_dressing_ingredients_and_toasted_seeds_in_a_pan
Salad dressing and toasted, salted seeds. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 2 to 4 (lunch or accompaniment)

Ingredients

  • 250g carrots (for extra colour I used a heritage variety which were purple, orange and yellow)
  • 3 red oranges
  • Red orange juice (you should have sufficient leftover from peeling the 3 oranges)
  • Approx. 25ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 – 2 tsp caster sugar or maple syrup (or honey if you eat it), optional
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • ½ tsp toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 100g pitted black olives
  • Fried, salted sunflower and pumpkin seeds to sprinkle
  1. Peel and grate the carrots. Place in a bowl and put to one side. Slice the top and bottom off each orange, then using a small sharp knife, slice off the skin, taking away as much of the white pith as you can – see images below. Slice each orange into thin rounds and remove any pips.
    Purple_orange_and_yellow_carrots
    Heritage carrots. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Step_by_step_to_prepaing_red_oranges_for_salad
    Preparing red oranges. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Drain the orange slices, reserving the juice – any pieces of orange skin that have orange flesh attached can also be squeezed to obtain precious drops of juice.
  3. Measure the juice and mix with the same amount of olive oil, then stir in the salt, spices and sugar, if using. Toss the dressing into the grated carrots.
  4. Carefully fold in the orange slices (you may prefer to cut the orange into smaller pieces) along with the olives. Cover and chill until ready to serve, but allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for the flavours to develop.
    Moorish_red_orange_and_carrot_salad_ready_to_eat
    Ready to eat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    I’ve been enjoying freshly squeezed red orange juice for breakfast this week as well. Such a pretty colour, and a super-zingy start to the day.

    Juicing_Sicilian_red_oranges
    Freshly squeezed red orange juice. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    I have another Sicilian inspired recipe lined up for next week, so until then, I hope you have a good few days 🙂

Bare trees and blue skies

Bare_pear_and_cherry_tree_in_winter
Small pear and cherry trees in winter. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Happy February everyone! Any thoughts I had of an early spring have gone out the window these past couple of weeks as temperatures in the UK have plummeted. So far, there has been little snow to speak of, but there have been many a frost-laden night and day. The saving grace amongst all the chilliness is a beautiful blue-sky and bright sunshine we have been blessed with most days.

A_bare_copper_beech_tree_in_winter
Copper beech in winter. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
Ice_crystals_on_the_inside_of_a_house_window_in_late_January
Icy sunrise. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

So, on with my quick round-up of what’s going on in the garden right now. The snowdrops and crocus have been in flower for a couple of weeks and seem to be coping well with the sunny days and freezing nights.

Snowdrops_growing_in_a_gravel_path

Golden_yellow_crocus_growing_in_a_wooden_barrel
Early 2019 snowdrops and golden crocus. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The first Hellebore of the year has now been joined by a couple of other blooms, but other varieties are still firmly in bud.

3_flower_stems_of_white_Hellebore_flowers
Hellebore trio. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Most of the winter pansies have been chewed. Each flower head lasts about 24 hours once it opens before some wee beasty makes a meal of it. I managed to capture this pansy’s delicate, pretty petals before it becomes part of another insect supper.

Delicate_petalled_winter_pansy
A winter bug’s next meal. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a good season for the winter heathers. This pink heather is full of blooms. There aren’t so many pink flowers around at this time of year, so this one is  a welcome burst of colour. Sadly the early flower heads of the pink rhododendron I photographed at Hogmanay have inevitably perished in the frost.

Heavily_laden_with_blooms_a_pink_winter_heather
Pink winter heather in full bloom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Perhaps my next garden post will be more spring-like – who knows? So until then, wrap up warm and keep cosy. Have a good few days 🙂