Sweet potato, spinach and coconut stew (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Sweet potato, spinach and coconut stew. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A deliciously fragrant and comforting recipe for you this week. An old favourite of mine which works just as well with potatoes if you’re not a fan of the sweet variety. It makes a good side dish, but I usually serve it as a main course, spooned over rice.

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Preparing sweet potatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The stew is very easy to make. You can change the proportions of the individual spices to suit your taste. The overall flavour is reminiscent of a green Thai curry without the lemongrass or lime leaves. I’m not a huge chilli fan, I like a hint of heat rather than a major blast, so you may want to increase the chilli-factor for more of a spicy kick. If you have fresh green chillies, grind them up in the spice paste as an alternative to using the dried flakes.

If you have any leftover, the stew makes a good soup the next day. Just blend it up in a food processor with stock or more coconut milk. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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Spice paste ingredients. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 teasp each of coriander and mustard seeds
  • 1 small red onion or shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3cm piece root ginger
  • Dried chilli flakes, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 400ml canned coconut milk
  • 650g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3cm thick chunky pieces
  • 225g prepared spinach
  • 1 teasp salt
  • A small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  1. Remove the green casing from the cardamom pods and put the seeds in a pestle and mortar along with the coriander and mustard seeds. Lightly crush them, then toast them in a small frying pan, over a medium heat, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant and lightly toasted but not brown. Leave to cool.
  2. Peel and roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger and place in a food processor or blender. Add 1 tbsp. oil and the toasted spices and chilli flakes to taste. Blend for a few seconds to make a paste.

    Toasting_spice_seeds_in_a_small_frying_pan_and_blending_ingredients_to_make_a_spice_paste
    Toasting spices and making a spice paste. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a large, deep-sided frying pan or wok and gently fry the paste for about 5 minutes until softened but not browned. Pour over the coconut milk, bring to the boil, and stir in the sweet potato pieces. Bring back to the boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about an hour until tender.
  4. Add the spinach in batches, stirring well to make sure it gets completely coated in the coconut liquor. Add the salt, cover and continue to cook gently for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until then spinach is wilted and the sauce is thick.
    3_steps_to_cooking_sweet_potato_and_spinach_stew
    The 3 stages of stew. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

     

  5. To serve, sprinkle the stew with a generous amount of chopped, fresh coriander, and extra chilli if liked. Serve immediately,  spooned over rice.

    Serving_bowl_of_sweet_potato_coconut_and_spinach_stew
    Sweet potato stew, ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Curly kale – recipe ideas and serving suggestions

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Green and red curly kale. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The hardiest of all the Brassica family, and probably the closest to wild cabbage, kale (or kail) is one of the most traditional of Scottish vegetables. The robust leaves withstand harsh frosts and snow, and are said to taste all the better for it. In the past, kale was dismissed as animal fodder, but today it is one of the most trendy vegetables on the menu.

Kale is one of my favourite greens. I love the strong flavour, it is bursting with vitality in every bite, and it is one of the few vegetables tasty enough to stand its own on a plate with other bold flavours.

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Keeping kale fresh in a bowl of water. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As with all leafy vegetables, cook as soon as possible after purchase. Choose firm stalks with fresh, dark or bright green leaves. If you do want to keep them for a couple of days, arrange the stems in a bowl or large jug of water as you would a bunch of flowers, then put in the fridge. I find kale is one of a few vegetables that doesn’t freeze very well – it loses texture and flavour, and becomes a bit slimy when cooked.

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Kale leaves. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Simple to prepare, just rinse kale well in cold, running water to flush out any trapped earth caught in the tight, curling leaves, and then shake off the excess water. Pull off the lower, frilly leaves and keep to one side – these softer leaves are perfect for eating raw in winter salads. Slice out the central stem, and then shred the leaves into the desired size.

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Preparing curly kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

If you are steaming kale, pack the wet leaves into a steamer and cook for 10-15 minutes until tender. Alternatively, pack the wet leaves into a saucepan, turn on the heat and when the contents begin to steam, put the lid on, reduce the heat to medium and cook with the lid on, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes – don’t have the heat too high otherwise the leaves will dry and burn. Drain well and chop finely.

For baking and deep-frying, rinse the leaves then make sure you dry them as much as possible in order to cook them to a crisp. Blotting them between layers of absorbent kitchen paper is a good way. If the leaves are too damp, you will end up steaming them in the oven rather than drying them out. In hot oil, the contents will spit and hiss if water still clings to the leaves.

Recipe ideas and serving suggestions

  • Shredded kale makes fantastic “crispy seaweed”: deep-fry in hot vegetable oil for a few seconds, then drain well and toss in a little salt and white sugar. Season with Szechuan pepper or Chinese 5 spice.
  • Toss raw, small, tender kale leaves with finely shredded raw leek and grated apple in a lemon vinaigrette and season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve as a crunchy, bold winter salad sprinkled with toasted walnuts.
  • Steamed kale is delicious, finely chopped, tossed in butter or good quality olive oil and seasoned with black pepper and ground nutmeg. An ideal accompaniment to a bold, red wine gravy based game, meat or bean stew.
  • Add finely chopped, steamed kale to a garlic mash. See My favourite mash (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan
  • Mix finely chopped, steamed kale with cooked brown rice or pearl barley, toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan (or Vegan cheese) and use as a filling for baked Portobello mushrooms.
  • Tray-baked kale leaves make a healthy sprinkle for salads, soups, rice and pasta dishes. Here’s what to do: preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C fan oven, gas mark 2). Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Prepare 200g kale leaves as above, then rinse and dry thoroughly. Roughly chop the leaves and place in a large bowl. Toss in no more than 2 tbsp. sunflower oil and arrange over the trays – too much oil will make the leaves go soggy. Mix 1 teasp smoked salt, ½ teasp ground black pepper and 1 teasp ground cumin together and sprinkle over the oily kale.
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Baking kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp. Drain well, leave to cool, then pack into air-tight containers or jars to store. The baked kale will keep and stay crisp in this way for up to 2 weeks.

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Cumin-spiced, tray-baked kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Baked root vegetable squares (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly baked root vegetable squares. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I like all root vegetables, but sadly I struggle to grow anything other than potatoes. Fortunately, I am able to buy a good variety from local farm shops and this feels like the next best thing to growing them myself. This week’s recipe can be made with any root you have to hand. The cooking method bakes the different vegetable layers to a melting-tenderness and is a perfect choice if you want a vegetable dish suitable for preparing ahead. Once the basic layering and baking is done, the cooked vegetables will sit quite happily in the fridge for a couple of days before baking again to serve. You can scale the recipe up easily if you’re feeding a crowd and mix and match the vegetables you use.

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Turnip, sweet potatoes and King Edward potatoes ready for preparation. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My version makes an 18cm square layer which cuts neatly into 9 portions and uses sweet potatoes, turnip (or swede, depending on where you come from) and potatoes, but carrots, parsnips and celeriac work fine as well, and you can also use just 1kg of your favourite root, if you prefer. The most important things to remember are to slice the vegetables thinly and evenly (preferably use a food processor or mandolin) and make sure you cook the vegetables until completely tender during the first baking – test with a skewer to be completely sure.

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Thinly sliced root vegetables. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes 9 portions

Ingredients

  • 300g sweet potatoes
  • 300g turnip (swede)
  • 400g main crop potatoes such as King Edward or Maris Piper
  • 75ml vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 40g dairy-free margarine (or butter if you eat it)
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly chopped parsley
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Grease and line a straight-sided, deep 18cm square cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. Peel and thinly slice all the vegetables – I use a food processor for this. Either layer in the tin individually or mix all the vegetables together and arrange evenly in the tin.

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    Layering the root vegetables in individual layers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Pour over the stock and drizzle with the oil. Cover the top of the tin with foil and bake for at least an hour until completely tender. Remove the foil and leave to cool completely.
  4. Cut a square of firm cardboard the same size as the inside of the tin and wrap in a layer of foil. Place a sheet of baking parchment over the vegetables and sit the foil-wrapped board on top. Weigh down the vegetables evenly using 3 or 4 same-weight cans or jars and chill overnight or for up to 2 days before serving.

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    Pressing the vegetable layer. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6). Remove the weights, foil board and baking parchment and carefully remove the pressed vegetable square from the tin.
  6. Cut into 9 squares and arrange on a lined baking tray. Melt the margarine (or butter) and mix in the garlic and seasoning. Brush the mixture generously over the vegetable squares.

    Preparation_steps_for_baking_the_vegetable_squares
    Ready for baking. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  7. Bake the squares for about 30 minutes until golden and hot. Serve immediately sprinkled with chopped parsley. A great accompaniment to any kind of roast.
    Tray_of_baked_root_vegetable_squares_just_out_of_the_oven
    Just baked root vegetable squares. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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    Root vegetables: meltingly tender and packed full of flavour. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

     

Cauliflower – the king of winter vegetables – 3 recipe ideas (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

 

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Cauliflower roasted, stir fried, and steaks. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

When it comes to the winter months of the year, trying to buy only home-grown, British vegetables (as is my want) can be quite challenging especially if you desire something other than starchy root crops. In my opinion, the humble cauliflower reigns supreme at this time of year as it is a welcome diversion in flavour, taste and texture.

However, my thoughts haven’t always been so positive towards the cauliflower. At school, cauliflower was boiled beyond all recognition and served as a watery, soft mush – enough to put anyone off the vegetable for life. Yet, today, it is one of the “on trend” vegetables. If you cook it correctly, cauliflower has a  meaty texture, sweet flavour, and best of all, it can be cooked in many ways. It’s full of vitamin C and K, as well as B vitamins and dietary fibre. Easy to prepare, you can eat just about all of it from the inner the cream-coloured curds  to the outer wrapping of juicy leaves.

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Preparing cauliflower. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The leaves help protect the curds, so try to buy the vegetable with as much greenery as possible. If you want to store cauliflower for a few days,  keep the leaves intact and place the stalk-end in a shallow depth of water in a bowl, in the fridge, and the cauliflower should keep fresh for up to a week.

To prepare, discard any damaged outer leaves, but keep the inner, more tender leaves – these can be cooked like cabbage. Once the curds are free from leaves, slice or break the head into florets. Prepared cauliflower florets dehydrate quickly so are best cooked soon after preparation.

I rarely cook cauliflower in water, but if I do, it is for a very short time only – the curds can get very spongy very quickly when cooked in water, and the flavour will be lost.

Following are my current 3 favourite ways of cooking cauliflower for maximum taste and texture: roasting, griddled steaks and stir-fried sprouting stems.

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Roast cauliflower with Indian spices. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Toss chunky florets of cauliflower and  thickly sliced red onion in sunflower oil. Season with garam masala to taste. Spread out on a baking tray, season with salt and pepper and roast at 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6) for about 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Mix in cooked chick peas and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes until everything is lightly browned. Drain well, then serve sprinkled with black onion seeds. For a main meal,  mix into freshly cooked Basmati rice and sprinkle with fresh coriander and roasted cashew nuts.

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Freshly roasted spiced cauliflower. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Probably the most popular way to serve cauliflower at the moment is as a steak. I usually cut the prepared curds into 2cm thick slices and poach them in simmering water for a couple of minutes before frying or placing on a griddle or barbecue – a large frying pan is good for poaching as it enables you to lift out the steaks more easily. Use tongs to make sure you drain the steaks well,  and dry them on kitchen paper so that excess cooking water is removed before cooking in oil.

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Pre-cooking cauliflower steaks. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Cauliflower steaks with Italian flavours. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Brush the prepared cauliflower steaks lightly with vegetable oil on one side. Heat a griddle pan or frying pan until very hot, then add the streaks, oiled-side down. Press into the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 2-3 minutes until golden or lightly charred. Brush the top with more oil, and turn the steaks over. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until cooked to you liking. Serve straight from the pan drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic glaze or reduction, and toasted pine nuts. Top with griddled cherry vine tomatoes and fresh basil.

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Sweet sprouting cauliflower. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

One of the new kids on the block in the cauliflower world, is a variety with fine green stems and small, flowery curds. I was a bit sceptical when I first saw it (mainly because of the price), but I have since been converted. The stems are best cooked for a minimum time, just as you would for asparagus – steamed, griddled or stir fried – in order to retain the crisp texture. Unusually, the stems become even brighter green when cooked. The flavour is mild and sweet. To make sure the stems cook evenly, break or cut the stems up so that you have same-size thickness pieces.

You can keep these stems in a jug of water in the fridge for a couple of days to keep them fresh, as they do lose texture quickly. These sweet stems are a perfect choice for a single serving or to add to a combination of other vegetables.

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Freshly steamed in 3-4 minutes, sweet sprouting cauliflower stems. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a deep-frying pan or wok until hot. Add prepared raw stems and stir fry in the hot oil for 3 minutes. Cover with a lid, reduce the heat, and cook for a further 1 minute. Turn off the heat,  add finely chopped garlic to taste and drizzle with a little honey or agave syrup and gluten-free teriyaki marinade. Put the lid back on and leave to stand in the residual steam for a further minute. Drain the stems, reserving the juices, and pile into a warm serving bowl. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Mix a little sesame oil into the pan juices and serve alongside the stems as a dressing or dip. Utterly delicious 🙂

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Teriyaki and sesame dressed cauliflower stems. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

Rumbledethumps (gluten-free; dairy-free & vegan alternatives)

 

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Freshly baked Rumbledethumps. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Great name for a recipe eh? What’s more, I haven’t made it up. This is a Scottish classic, and I’ve chosen to post it now for 2 reasons. It’s been very cold here this week and this is fabulous comfort food, and also with the festive season nearly upon us, it is an excellent recipe for using up leftovers. It uses 2 of my favourite vegetables, potatoes and kale (or cabbage).

I love kale. So much flavour and texture, I think it out-strips cabbage and other greens in every way. Up until a couple of years ago, Cavelo Nero, Italian black kale, was my favourite variety, but then along came mini kale and my mind was changed. Very quick to cook, simple to prepare, with a milder, slightly sweet and nutty flavour, it looks very pretty too. The small leaves are  also excellent raw in winter salads.

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Mini kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Heads of mini kale, up close. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

So on with the recipe. Traditionally, this is a very simple combination of leftover cooked potatoes and cabbage fried with onion and then grilled with cheese on top. What’s not to like? The name, by the way, is believed to come from the combination of the “thumping” sound associated with mashing potato and the mixing together of the ingredients (a “rumble”). Here’s my version.

Serves: 3 to 4 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 150g mini kale, kale, cabbage or other greens (if you have leftovers, you’re halfway there with the recipe already)
  • 500g cooked potatoes (I had some boiled small potatoes with skins on to use up)
  • 25g butter or dairy-free margarine
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 leek, trimmed and shredded (or use thinly sliced onion if you prefer)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 50g grated Scottish Cheddar or dairy-free/vegan grated cheese
  1. If you are starting from scratch, prepare the greens and cook them in lightly salted water for 3-5 minutes until just tender. Drain well.
  2. Put the potatoes in a bowl and mash them to crush slightly.
  3. In a large frying pan, melt the butter with the oil and gently fry the leek for 3-4 minutes until softened (if you’re using onion, cook it gently for longer, until tender).
  4. Stir in the potatoes and greens, and stir fry the vegetables gently together for 5-6 minutes until thoroughly heated. Season well and transfer to a heatproof dish.

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    Basic preparation of Rumbledethumps. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Preheat the grill to medium/hot. Sprinkle the vegetables with grated cheese and grill for about 5 minutes until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.
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Comfort with every spoonful. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Tattie scones (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly cooked tattie (potato) scones. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The best things in life are often the simplest. These wise words certainly apply to my recipe this week. There aren’t many dishes more straightforward than a tattie scone. Just 3 ingredients, plus some oil to cook them in, and that’s it.

The tattie (potato) scone is synonymous with Scotland. Just about every self-respecting baker makes his or her own, and no supermarket bakery aisle is complete without them. The scones are a good way of using up leftover boiled potato which is mashed and bound with wheat flour, but gluten-free works fine. Tattie scones are  usually quite thin, but I make mine a bit thicker  (about 1cm) as I find the mixture easier to work with. Eat them warm as part of a savoury meal (often served as part of a hearty breakfast) or  as a snack spread with butter and jam. The scones make a great alternative to bread as an accompaniment to a soup or stew as they are perfect for mopping up gravy or a sauce.

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A tea-time favourite: tattie scones and jam. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I dug up the last of my home-grown potatoes this week, and decided that there was no better way to enjoy them, than by making up a batch of my own scones.  I’ve been growing the same main crop variety (Pink Fir Apple) for a few years now, and haven’t found any other to rival it in texture or flavour. The potatoes are pink-skinned and can be very knobbly indeed. The flesh is creamy-yellow in colour, sometimes flecked or ringed with pink, and when cooked, it becomes dry and floury in texture. The flavour is slightly sweet and earthy. Pink Fir Apples potatoes are perfect for crushed or mashed potato. and also roast well. They can be cooked and eaten peeled or unpeeled.

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My last harvest of Pink Fir Apple potatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s my recipe.

Makes: 6

Ingredients

  • 400g main crop potatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 40g gluten-free self-raising flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  1. Peel the potatoes thinly, cut into small pieces, and place in a saucepan. Cover with water and add half the salt. Bring to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes or until completely tender. Drain well through a colander or strainer, and leave to air-dry for 10 minutes.
  2. Return the potatoes to the saucepan and mash finely with a potato masher. If you have a ricer, use this to achieve a super-smooth texture.
  3. While the mash is still fairly hot, add the remaining salt and sift the flour on top. Gently work the ingredients together to make a pliable dough.
    Potato_preparation_for_making_tattie_scones
    Ricing the potatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Making_rolling_and_shaping_potato_dough_for_tattie_scones
    Making and rolling the potato dough. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Turn the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and roll to form a round about 18cm diameter – roll to 20cm for slightly thinner scones. Cut into 6 triangular wedges.
  5. Brush a large frying pan or flat griddle pan generously with oil and heat until hot. Cook the scones for 2-3 minutes on each side until lightly golden. Drain and serve warm. You can reheat the scones successfully, by either popping them in the frying pan again or under the grill to lightly toast them.

    Serving_of_tattie_scone_with_jam
    Straight out of the pan and spread with my favourite topping: homemade raspberry jam. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Sweet baby sweetcorn – growing your own baby corn and serving suggestions (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly picked baby corn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The month of May seems like a long time ago now, but this is when my quest to grow my own sweetcorn began. I am quietly astounded that I managed to raise 12 plants from seed to fruit in an unpredictable Scottish climate, yielding their first harvest this very week. It seems that Mother Nature’s combination of a mild spring, intermittent sunshine and showers, along with my interventions – fussing like an old mother hen, protecting the plants from the slightest breath of wind and giving them an occasional feed – has paid off.

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Sowing sweetcorn seeds in early May, and planting out one month later. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I chose a hard variety of baby corn called Snowbaby. All varieties of sweetcorn need to develop a firm root structure in order to grow to the height they needs to produce cobs. If you take this into account from the very beginning, you will find the crop easy to grow. Pack the sowing compost firmly into compostable pots – using biodegradable pots will enable you to plant the young seedlings into the soil without disturbing the roots. From sowing the seeds at the beginning of May and keeping them sheltered in an unheated greenhouse, it took 4 weeks to develop seedlings with 5 or 6 leaves which were then ready to plant out after acclimatization.

Sweetcorn likes a nutritious, well-draining soil; a sheltered spot; plenty of sunshine, and frequent watering. I put 6 plants in an old barrel and the other 6 went in a suitable spot in the garden. Sweetcorn requires little maintenance and is virtually pest resistant. Triumphant, some 4 months later, I picked my first bunch of cobs.

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Mature baby sweetcorn plants and cobs. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Home-grown baby corn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The tall sweetcorn stems with their draping, long, ribbon-like leaves and fine feathery flowers make an attractive architectural plant display, and the way the baby corn cobs develop is very intriguing. The cobs form in the gap between stem and leaf. Once the cobs are large enough, the silky threads protecting the cobs inside the leaf wrapping, burst out of the tops to indicate that the baby corn cobs inside are ready to be picked. Simply twist the cobs from the stalks or snap them off outwards. Cook them quickly as they are prone to drying out, although I have kept the cobs, still wrapped in leaf, in a jug of water in the fridge for 3 or 4 days, and they stayed perfectly fresh.

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Preparing baby sweetcorn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Carefully strip away the outer leaves and gently pull away the silky strings to reveal the mini cob in the centre. Either steam or boil the cobs for 3-4 minutes and serve immediately. For best results, don’t salt the cooking water but add a pinch of sugar instead to bring out the sweetness. Freshly picked cobs have an earthy, sweet flavour so avoid over-seasoning in order to appreciate the difference between home-grown and mass-cultivated crops.

Serving suggestions:

  • Strip away a few leaves from the cob but keep a few in place so that you are able to wrap the cob up again; carefully remove the strings. Secure the remaining leaves round the cob again with string and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain well and cook over hot coals for 2-3 minutes until tender and lightly charred. Remove the string and leaves and serve as part of a barbecue feast.
  • Simmer baby corn cobs in coconut milk with a little chilli and garlic and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander and toasted sesame seeds.
  • Slice into chunks and stir fry with shredded leek, pak choi and chopped garlic for 3-4 minutes until tender. Dress lightly with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a spoonful of honey or sweet chilli sauce.
  • Blanch sliced baby corn pieces for 1 minute; drain, cool and mix with cooked sweetcorn kernels, a handful of raisins, and toasted pine nuts. Dress with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

No recipe pictures from me this week. I enjoyed my first harvest of freshly picked baby corn cobs steamed and served with a dollop of lightly salted butter and a sprinkling of black pepper – nothing fancy but completely and utterly delicious. I couldn’t resist taking this last picture though. I hope “she” makes you smile.

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My sweetcorn fairy. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Home-grown tomatoes – recipe for fresh tomato sauce, a salsa, plus other serving suggestions (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Freshly picked tomatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

With the fine, warm spring weather we had this year, my tomato plants have done very well. The fruit started to ripen earlier than usual, and I have been picking a steady supply tomatoes since the end of July. By this time of the year, I’m usually left with a greenhouse filled with hard, green fruit, wondering how on earth they are all going to ripen as the days shorten and the weather turns.

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Ripe and ready to pick. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Of all the fruit and vegetables you can grow yourself, the tomato has to be in my top 5 as having the most marked difference in flavour compared to most commercially grown varieties, and it is one that I never tire of; I would happily consume a plateful every day if given the opportunity.

To preserve the flavour, avoid putting tomatoes in the fridge as this seems to destroy a lot of the taste – the unique fragrance also seems to disappear. I try to pick only what I need for eating or cooking that day, but if there are a lot that are ripe, I store them in a cool place in the kitchen and use within a couple of days.

Last month I made a batch of my favourite tomato preserve: Smoky Tomato Jam (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) and semi-dried a batch which I have preserved in olive oil – Preserving the Summer (Semi-cuit tomatoes – gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) If preserving isn’t your thing, and you have too many ripe tomatoes to eat, you can freeze them whole in bags for use in sauces and soups later on. Making a batch of tomato sauce is a good way to use them up too, and it also freezes well. Homemade tomato sauce makes a deliciously intense flavoured base for soups and pasta dishes, or as a tasty pouring sauce for meat, fish and vegetables.

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Homemade tomato sauce. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To make about 450ml fresh tomato sauce: simply wash and pat dry 1 kg tomatoes; cut in half and place in a large lidded frying pan or saucepan. Try and keep them in a single layer if possible, for even cooking. Season lightly with salt and pepper and add a bunch of fresh herbs – I use rosemary, thyme, oregano and a bay leaf. Place over a low heat until beginning to steam, then cover with a lid and continue to cook very gently for about 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the tomatoes, until soft and collapsed. Cool for 10 minutes, then discard the herbs and push the tomatoes through a nylon sieve to make a pulpy juice.

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Preparing tomato sauce. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Pour into a clean saucepan, add 25g butter or vegan margarine, 1 tbsp. good quality olive oil, and 1 tsp caster sugar. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Heat gently until the butter or margarine melts, then raise the heat and simmer steadily for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened, but still thin enough to pour. Use as per recipe or allow to cool completely, then cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Freeze in sealable containers for up to 6 months. Note: you can add garlic to the tomatoes before cooking – peeled, whole cloves work fine and will cook into a pulp with the tomatoes. I prefer to keep the sauce plain and add my garlic when I use the sauce in a recipe.

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Homemade tomato sauce, ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Here are a few other ideas for serving up fresh tomatoes:

  • Dress a plate of sliced fresh tomatoes by simply seasoning with a light dusting of white sugar, a little salt, freshly ground pepper and a few toasted and crushed cumin seeds.
  • For a quick “chutney”, gently fry 2 finely sliced red onions with a crushed clove of garlic in olive oil. Add a pinch or 2 of chilli flakes and cook until very soft. Add 225g chopped fresh tomatoes, 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp. caster sugar. Season and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until thick. Leave to cool, then store in the fridge for up to a week. Lovely with barbecued meat, vegetables and as an accompaniment to cheeses.
  • Roughly chop a few ripe tomatoes. Blitz in a blender; push through a nylon sieve into a jug. Season with Tabasco sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce. Put ice in a tumbler, add a slug of vodka and pour over the seasoned juice.
  • Bake halves of tomato, side by side in a shallow dish, in a moderate oven with a topping of fresh breadcrumbs, capers, slivers of garlic and a drizzle of olive oil, until tender. Serve scattered with lots of freshly chopped parsley.
  • Small pieces of sweet tomato make and interesting addition to a citrusy fruit salad. Pour over a plain sugar syrup and scatter with chopped, fresh mint to serve.
  • For a delicious salsa to go with Indian food: combine chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and fresh mango with a little finely chopped red onion. Sprinkle with black onion seeds and toss in a little white balsamic vinegar. Serve at room temperature for the best flavour.
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Tomato and mango salsa Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Lemon-soaked cucumber cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan option)

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Lemon-soaked cucumber cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

This week has seen the end of my home-grown cucumber supply. I picked the last one yesterday. The greenhouse is beginning to look a wee bit shabby and tired. I have only the tomato plants bearing fruit and still standing proud alongside the withered vines of the once productive cucumber plants.

I love experimenting with vegetables in baking. Carrots and courgettes get a lot of coverage in cake making, as do beetroot and sweet potato, but the humble cucumber doesn’t get much of a look in, until now.

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Fresh cucumber. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The delicate, refreshing flavour of is just about detectable in the finished bake, and the texture of the cooked skin gives a little bite to the mix, but above all else, cucumber as a cake ingredient, gives a lovely moist consistency to the cake.

There aren’t many flowers left on cucumber plants at this time of year, but in the height of the season, you can pick off a few male flowers (the ones without the fairy-sized fruit attached) and add the to salads or a mild cucumber flavour. They make pretty edible decorations, and look good floating in a glass of Pimms of a gin and tonic. Don’t pick off too many otherwise you won’t get any more cucumbers.

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Male and female cucumber flowers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s my recipe for a lemon and cucumber cake. Let me know what you think.

Serves: 10

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten, or 100g silken tofu, mashed
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 225g gluten-free plain flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 2 level teasp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 8g arrowroot
  • 115g grated cucumber
  • Cucumber flowers to decorate, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin. Using a vegetable peeler, pare away 2 strips of lemon rind, and put to one side. Finely grate the remaining lemon rind and extract the juice.
  2. Put 150g sugar in a bowl and whisk in the eggs or tofu and sunflower oil until well blended. Sift the flour, baking powder and arrowroot on top, and gently mix all the ingredients together until combined. Stir in the cucumber and lemon rind.
  3. Pour into the tin and bake for about 55 minutes until risen, golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  4. While the cake is cooking, prepare the lemon glaze. Very thinly slice the reserved strips of lemon rind and place in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and leave to soften for a couple of minutes. Drain. Mix the remaining sugar with the lemon juice and stir in the blanched lemon rind to make a sugary glaze.
  5. As soon as the cake is cooked, skewer the cake all over, and spoon the lemon glaze all over the top of the cake. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin. Then remove, wrap and store for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop.
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    Preparing the cake mix. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
    Pared_lemon_rind_and_lemon_and_sugar_glaze
    Preparing the lemon glaze. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    The next day, your delicious cake is ready to serve. Decorate with cucumber flowers if you have them, then simply slice, sit back and enjoy! Until next week, I’m off to the greenhouse for a tidy up…….

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    Sliced and ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

French (Green) beans – tips and serving suggestions

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My first French beans of the season. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I haven’t grown French beans for a few years. I like the vegetable very much but have preferred to grow runner beans instead. This year I fancied a change. I decided to make holes in the bottom of an old wheelbarrow, fill it with compost and raised a few plants from seed. Much to my delight, my first harvest was ready to pick this week, and there are plenty more to come. I had my doubts about the barrow; we have had so much rain on and off over the past few weeks, I was convinced it would become water-logged and the beans would drown. In fact,  I have been fussing around them like an old mother hen for weeks. But all to the good, the plants seem very healthy and my efforts have paid off.

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My barrowful of beans. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I grew a dwarf variety, which doesn’t usually require support. However, I did tie each plant to a thin cane as the barrow is quite shallow and the plants were beginning to sway around in the wind. Ideally, French beans thrive at their best in a sheltered spot; they love the sunshine, plenty of feeding, and whilst they like a lot of water, they need a free-draining soil – hence my worry over the barrow becoming water-logged.

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French bean plant in flower and in bean! Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Once the dainty, cream-white flowers have formed, the young beans develop quite quickly, and the full-grown beans are ready for picking in 4 to 6 weeks – the perfect bean for the impatient gardener! Pick the beans young to enjoy the super-tender texture, and also to encourage the other beans on the plant to grow. In spite of their name, it appears the beans originated in South America, although they have long been associated with the cooking of France. If you leave the bean pods on the plants, they will form beans inside the pods which can be picked, shelled and eaten as flageolet beans (another French delicacy and favourite of mine). Leave them longer still, and you’ll have your own haricot beans for drying and storing. Sadly, I don’t have the climate for haricots, or for that matter, the ability to resist picking the pods!

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Preparing French beans. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Preparation is simple, just nip off the stalk end and cook the beans whole, either steaming them for 6-8 minutes, or cooking in a little boiling water for 4-5 minutes. They freeze well: just blanch them in boiling water for barely a minute and then refresh, dry and pack as for any other freezer-destined vegetable.

Serving suggestions:

  • All beans are best picked, cooked and served as fresh as possible. Dress with a knob of butter or a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and a few freshly chopped, soft-leaved herbs sprinkled over the top – basil, mint, parsley, coriander, tarragon and chives are great flavours for all beans.
  • Once cooked, chop French beans into short lengths and mix with lightly cooked and mashed butter beans. Season and mix in lots of chopped parsley, then dress with a lemon and honey vinaigrette. Perfect served on freshly toasted bread.
  • Add chopped, cooked French beans to a frittata, omelette or scrambled egg, and flavour with chopped chives.
  • Dress a plate of freshly cooked warm beans with a few shakes of balsamic vinegar and a light dusting of brown sugar.
  • This is one of my favourite French bean recipes: heat 2 tbsp. olive oil with a finely chopped garlic clove for 1 minute over a low heat. Add a chopped ripe tomato and a few chopped, pitted dry-pack black olives. Season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar. Heat through gently for 2-3 minutes. Pour over freshly cooked warm French beans, and serve sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and a few tarragon leaves. Bon appétit!
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    A favourite warm French bean salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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    Home-grown French beans. Image: Kathryn Hawkins