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

Lemon_and_cucumber_loaf_cake
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.
    Cucumber_and_lemon_cake_preparation
    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…….

    Close-up_on_slice_of_lemon_soaked_cucumber_cake
    Sliced and ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Rose and pistachio cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Iced_rose_and_pistachio_loaf_cake
Rose and pistachio loaf cake. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

When I lived in London, a trip to the Edgware Road meant I could get my fix of my favourite Middle Eastern pastries. Full of chopped almonds and pistachios, the crisp, buttery, layers of filo pastry soaked in rose and lemon flavoured syrup were so sweet, my whole mouth “jangled” with the sensation of a sugar-overload.

Those days are long past me now, but this cake combines the flavours and some of the textures I love so much. In my post last week Cooking with rose petals – make your own rosewater, rose petal syrup and dried rose petals (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) you’ll find all the rose-scented recipes you need if you want to make this very floral cake from scratch. However, I realise that rose isn’t to everyone’s taste so if you fancy the cake without the floral flavours, it works very well with the grated rind of a lemon added to mixture instead of vanilla, and make the icing made up with freshly squeezed lemon juice instead of rosewater. It is utterly delicious however you flavour it, I guarantee!

Serves: 8-10

Ingredients

  • 150g ground almonds
  • 100g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 8g arrowroot (optional, but I add it to gluten-free cake mixes to help bind the textures together)
  • 2 level teasp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 100g finely chopped unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 175g caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 175g silken tofu
  • 175ml sunflower oil
  • 2 teasp good quality vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tbsp rose petal syrup (optional)

To decorate:

  • 115g icing sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp homemade rosewater
  • A few drops natural pink food colouring
  • Dried rose petals
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre.
  2. Blend the tofu, oil and vanilla extract together in a food processor or blender for a few seconds until smooth. Spoon the mixture into the centre of the dry ingredients and gradually combine all the ingredients together until well blended.
  3. Spoon into the prepared loaf tin, smooth the top and stand the tin on a baking tray. Bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes, or until golden, firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then if using rose petal syrup, skewer the top in several places and spoon over the syrup. Leave to cool completely, then remove from the tin, wrap and store for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop.
  4. To decorate. sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add sufficient rosewater to taste (Note: if you’re using distilled or shop-bought rose water, you will need to add less than homemade) then add a few drops of warm water and pink food colouring to make a smooth, spreadable icing.
  5. Spread the icing on top of the cake and sprinkle with dried rose petals. Leave for a few minutes to allow the icing to set before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

    Rose_and_pistachio_cake_sliced_and_ready_to_serve
    Sliced and ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Cooking with rose petals – make your own rosewater, rose petal syrup and dried rose petals (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

 

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Trug of freshly picked fragrant rose heads. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It is pleasantly fragrant in the garden at the moment, thanks mostly to two highly scented rose bushes. One variety is very old, a Felicia rose, with gnarled, stooped stems. However old it is, the foliage is vibrant green and  healthy-looking  and the bush produces an abundant supply of pale pink, Turkish Delight-scented flowers from late spring through to late summer. The other, a Gertrude Jekyll, I planted last year. The flowers are larger, deeper pink in colour and the fragrance slightly sweeter and more aromatic. Both roses have lots of petals per head, and are perfect for use in the kitchen.

Albertine_and_Gertrude_Jekyll_roses
Pale pink, Felicia rose, and the deeper pink, Gertrude Jekyll rose. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The preparation for any recipe using rose petals is the same. Choose fragrant roses with undamaged petals; they need to be free from pests and chemical sprays. Rose heads are best picked when almost fully open and still fresh. Cut the stems in the morning before the sun becomes too hot – this helps preserve colour and fragrance. Carefully pull the petals from the head, keeping them as whole as possible, weigh them, and then place in a colander or strainer. Fill a bowl with cold water and dip the colander in the water to submerge the petals. Swirl gently the colander and then lift out. Shake gently to drain and shake further to remove the excess water.

The petals are fine to use damp for rosewater, syrup and any recipe where they are cooked in liquid, but if you want to dry them, spread them out carefully on sheets of absorbent kitchen paper or a clean tea towel and pat them dry with more paper or  clean cloth. Leave to dry naturally, uncovered, at room temperature for about an hour or until they feel dry to the touch.

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Making homemade rosewater. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Rosewater – makes approx. 250ml

  • 25g fragrant rose petals – approx. 4 full heads of rose petals
  • 250ml boiling water
  • 1 tsp vodka (optional) – this helps preserve the rosewater for slightly longer
  1. Prepare and rinse the rose petals as described above. Place in a sterilised, clean preserving jar or heatproof jug, and pour over the boiling water.
  2. Cover the top with a piece of muslin or kitchen paper and leave to steep until completely cold.
  3. Strain through muslin into a sterilised, clean jug and then squeeze the muslin to obtain as much liquid as possible. Mix in the vodka if using.
  4. Decant into a sterilised, screw-top bottle or jam jar. Seal, label and store in the fridge. Use within 4 to 6 weeks.

Note: homemade rosewater is weaker in dilution that the distilled rosewater you can buy ready-made, so you will probably need to use more in your recipes.

Preparation_for_making_homemade_rose_petal_syrup
How to make homemade rose petal syrup. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Rose petal syrup – makes 350ml

  • 85g fragrant rose petals – approx. 9 full heads of rose petals
  • 450ml cold water
  • 265g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  1. Prepare and rinse rose petals as above, then place in a clean, large stainless steel saucepan. Pour over the cold water.
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 20 minutes – all the colour will come out of the petals. Strain through muslin into a jug, and then squeeze the muslin to obtain as much liquid as possible.
  3. Return the liquid to the saucepan and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir well over a low heat to dissolve the sugar – the liquid should now be, magically, very pink.
  4. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes until lightly syrupy. Pour into sterilised bottles or jars and seal well. Label and cool. The syrup will keep unopened for 6 months, once opened keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Rose petal syrup is perfect for fruit salads; adding to cocktails; diluting with sparkling water for a refreshing summer cooler; for pouring over pancakes or for drizzling over freshly baked cakes.

How_to_dry_fresh_rose_petals
Drying rose petals. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Dried rose petals – prepare rose petals as described above and dry thoroughly. Spread out across the layers of a dehydrator, making sure they are well spaced out, keeping them in as much of a single layer as possible. Cover and dry at 40°C for 1 ½ to 2 hours, swapping the trays around every 30 minutes, until the petals are dry and parched. Leave to cool then place in a clear screw-top jar and store in a dark, dry place. Petals will fade after a few months, and are best used within 4 to 6 weeks. Sprinkle over salads, fruit desserts or use as a natural cake decoration.

Homemade_rosewater_dried_rose_petals_and_rose_petal_syup
Homemade rosewater, dried rose petals and rose petal syrup. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My next post will be very rosy and will use all 3 rose recipes. See you in a few days!

For other recipes using rose petals see my previous posts Rose and raspberry vodka (gluten-free, dairy-free) and Sugared rose petals (gluten-free, dairy-free

Freagrant_roses_and_petals

 

Asparagus and sesame sushi rice bars (gluten-free, dairy-free; vegan)

Sushi_rice_bars_topped_with_fresh_asparagus

Asparagus is my favourite vegetable. It has been highly prized since Roman times, and it is peak asparagus season at the moment. I had my first taste of the new season’s crop a couple of weeks ago when I was on holiday in Sussex, and I have consumed quite a lot more since then!

The season here in the UK is brief: just  6 short weeks in late spring. In my mind, asparagus is one of the vegetables that tastes noticeably different when locally grown and freshly picked. The flavour is sweeter, fresher and nuttier than the varieties that are flown in all year round. I think it is well worth the wait each year and I am taking every opportunity to savour and enjoy it whilst these magnificent steams are available.

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New season British asparagus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Keeping asparagus fresh. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As with any vegetable, buy and eat asparagus as soon as possible after picking to enjoy the freshest flavour and juiciest texture. But if you do end up with more than you can eat, trim away the woody ends as you would with fresh flowers and pop the stems in a vase or jug of cold water. Either store in a cool place or put in the fridge. This way, the stems will stay fresh for at least 48 hours. You can freeze it, but I really don’t like the softer texture of frozen asparagus once it is cooked – I think it over-cooks too easily – however it makes the perfect base for soup-making or blending with mayonnaise or very ripe avocado for a dip, so it is worth freezing a few stems for this purpose alone.

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Preparing fresh asparagus for cooking and keeping. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I like my asparagus best when it has been griddled or roasted. Thin spears cook very quickly in a hot, lightly oiled frying pan or on a griddle pan brushed with oil. Larger stems are good for roasting –  brush with oil and spread out on a lined baking tray, and bake in a moderately hot oven for 10-15 minutes. If you prefer to use water, try to cook the stems so that the tips stay out of the water. You can buy tall upright asparagus steamers if you’re a big asparagus fan – these enable you to stand the stems upright in bunches – only the stalks are in the water whilst the tops cook in the steam. Otherwise, steaming, covered, over a saucepan of water is the next best way – keep the cooking water to add to your recipe as stock if you’re making a soup or risotto.

Here’s my recipe for sushi rice bars topped with asparagus tips – a delicious light snack for a spring lunch. If you need to trim away lots of stalk to make this recipe, keep the leftovers, and either use them to make stock or soup, or slice them into thin rounds and add to a stir fry.

Sushi_rice_bars_topped_with_fresh_asparagus
Homemade asparagus and sesame sushi bars. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 12

  • 150g sushi rice
  • 25g piece root ginger
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp freshly chopped chives
  • 4 tsp mirin, sweet sherry or white balsamic vinegar (Agredolce)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 12 fine asparagus spears
  • Fresh chives and flowers to garnish

1. Double line a shallow 18cm square cake tin with cling film so that the film overhangs the sides. Rinse the rice in cold running water. Put in a small saucepan and pour over 200ml cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes undisturbed. Turn off the heat and leave to stand with the lid on for 20 minutes. It is worth checking the manufacturer’s cooking instructions for the particular rice you are using as timings and water quantities may vary between brands.

2. Meanwhile, peel the ginger and garlic and chop finely. Heat the vegetable oil in a small frying pan and gently fry for 2-3 minutes until softened but not browned. Leave aside.

3. When the rice is ready, scrape it into a heat-proof bowl and fork through to break up the grains. Add the ginger and garlic along with the seeds, chives, wine, sherry or vinegar and salt. Mix well.

4. Pile into the prepared tin, press down with the back of a spoon and leave to cool completely, then fold over the cling film and chill for 2 hours until firm.

Ingredients_and_preparation_of_seasoned_sticky_rice
Making seasoned sushi rice. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

5. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Trim the asparagus to approx. 8cm lengths and place in a steaming compartment over the water. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until just tender – insert the tip of a sharp knife into the end of the stalk is a good way to check it is perfectly tender. Cool under cold running water, then drain, place on damp kitchen paper and chill until required.

6. To serve, remove the rice cake from the tin and remove the cling film. Place on a board, cut into 12 bars and arrange asparagus on top of each bar. If liked, wrap a length of chive stem around each piece and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle with chive flowers, and serve with wasabi paste if liked.

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New season fresh, British asparagus spears. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Rose marshmallow (gluten-free, dairy-free)

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Homemade rose marshmallow. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

One of my favourite flavours married with a much loved sweetie are a match made in heaven in this recipe. Some shop-bought marshmallow can be a bit on the chewy side to my taste, so my version may be a bit different to what you’ve come to expect. This recipe makes a lighter, fluffier marshmallow, but if you want a firmer texture, it is worth experimenting by adding more gelatine.

If you can make meringue, then marshmallow is just one step on. You will need a sugar thermometer to take away the guesswork when making a sugar syrup. Other than that, the most important thing I can say before you get started, is to get yourself organised and have everything lined up and ready to go.

Makes 1 x 18cm square of marshmallow which cuts into 9 chunky pieces

  • 5 leaves good quality gelatine
  • 2 medium egg whites or 2 single egg sachets dried egg white powder
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 50g liquid glucose
  • Pink food colour gel
  • Good quality rose water (I use Nielsen Massey)
  • 25g cornflour
  • Sugared rose petals to decorate
  1. Line a deepish 18cm  square cake tin with baking parchment. Cut up the gelatine into small pieces and place in a small heatproof bowl. Add 75ml cold water and leave to soak for 5 minutes, then place in the microwave and cook on High for 30-40 seconds until dissolved – microwave in 10 second blasts to avoid overheating, and do not boil. Leave aside.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites or powder in a large, grease-free, heatproof bowl until very stiff.
  3. Put the sugar in a small saucepan with the glucose and 50ml cold water. Heat gently, stirring, until melted, then raise the heat and let the mixture bubble until it becomes clear and syrupy and reaches 118ºC on a sugar thermometer.
  4. Remove the syrup from the heat. Start whisking the egg whites again and gently pour over the hot syrup in a slow and steady stream. Keep whisking as you pour in the liquid gelatine.
  5. Continue to whisk to form a thick and glossy meringue-like mixture – this may take up to 5 minutes depending on how much heat I retained.
  6. Working quickly before the mixture begins to set add sufficient food colour gel and rose water to taste.
  7. Scrape the marshmallow into the lined tin and smooth over the top as best you can. Leave to cool, then put in a cool place (not the fridge) for 3-4 hours until completely set and firm to the touch.
  8. To finish, dust a tray with the cornflour and turn the marshmallow on to it. Peel away the parchment. Using a large bladed knife, cut into 9 squares and toss in the cornflour to coat lightly. The marshmallow is ready to eat, or it will store, layered on pieces of baking parchment in an airtight container, in a cool place for up to 2 weeks. Note: homemade marshmallow does not like the fridge and will start to dissolve in damp conditions.

For an extra rose flavour, top each piece with a sugared rose petal – I gave a recipe for these in my July 19th 2016 post.

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Homemade rose marshmallow. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Geranium leaf sugar (gluten-free, dairy-free)

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Potted rose geranium (Pelargoneum graveolens). Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m not a huge fan of cultivated geraniums growing in pots, but I do like the wild pelargoniums and the fragrant, culinary variety, pictured above. The leaves smell of exotic, spiced rose and the petals are not only very pretty, but make a lovely addition to a summer salad – see my post: Salad herbs and edible flowers on July 16th, 2016. The leaves make a lovely flavouring for syrups and sugars, perfect for livening up a fruit salad.

The plants aren’t hardy enough to survive outside without shelter and consistent good weather, so for convenience, in the summer months, they most often stay in my greenhouse, in pots. I bring them indoors once the temperature drops and the days get shorter in length.

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Ingredients for rose geranium sugar. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Choose small to medium sized leaves, undamaged, and snip off the stalks. Rinse gently in water, then pat dry with kitchen paper, taking care not to bruise them, and making sure they are completely dry. Put 125g caster sugar into a small bowl and mix in the leaves, then transfer to a small clean, dry, sealable jar. Cover securely and label. Store in a cool, dark cupboard for about a month before using. Discard the leaves before serving. Ideal for sprinkling over berry fruits – especially raspberries and strawberries – pancakes and cakes. The sugar will keep for 3 to 4 months; the sugar will form clumps if condtions are damp.

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Homemade rose geranium sugar. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
Rose_geranium_sugar_sprinkled_over_fresh_raspberries
Fresh raspberries with rose geranium sugar. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Sugared rose petals (gluten-free, dairy-free)

One of my favourite culinary flavours is rose but it is a flavour that can easily overpower other ingredients, so you do have to use just the right amount in your cooking. One of the best ways to achieve this is to use the petals.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I realised that the  beautiful rose pictured above, Rosa Felicia, well established in the garden when I moved in, was not only abundant with flowers, but the fragrance and flavour is sublime.

Whilst I haven’t managed to make my own rose water with any success, I have put some in white balsamic vinegar to use as a dressing, and I usually steep some in vodka, ready for a festive tipple – post to follow soon. Most often, I use dried and fresh rose petals to decorate cakes and fruit dishes, and I coat some with sugar to keep as an out of season decoration.

To make sugared rose petals, always choose a rose with a scent otherwise there will be no flavour, and  choose smaller, softer petals as these will be nicer to eat. Choose rose heads higher off the ground so there is no danger of animal “spoiling”, and pick the rose once it has just opened – if it is too tightly in bud the petals will be difficult to break open; a rose that is too open will have lost colour and fragrance.

Gently wash the petals – I put them in a sieve or colander and dip them in a bowl of water to remove any dust – then lay them out on kitchen paper to dry. It is better to leave them to air-dry if it is warm, but if time is short, gently pat them dry using kitchen paper, taking care not to bruise them. All you need then is egg white, caster sugar, plus a bit of time and patience.

My preference is to use powdered egg white – a one egg sachet is more than sufficient to cover lots of petals. Alternatively, you can use a small fresh egg white, just beat it until it is fluid and frothy. Put the egg white on to one saucer or small plate, and sprinkle a shallow depth of caster sugar on another.

Using tweezers, dip a petal in egg white and then brush off the excess white using a small paint brush. For best results, brush off all bubbles or pools of egg white to achieve a smooth, thin coating. Gently push the lightly dipped petal into the sugar and sprinkle over a little more to coat the top. Lift out with tweezers, gently shake off the excess sugar and place on a board lined with baking parchment. Continue the process to coat as many petals you need.

Once you have coated a few petals, you will need to remove clumps of sugary egg white from the sugar, and replace it with fresh. Leave the petals to dry at room temperature, covered loosely with another sheet of baking parchment, for 24 to 48 hours until dry and crisp. The sugared petals can be stored in between sheets of parchment in an airtight tin for several weeks. After about 3 months, rather disappointingly, the colour will fade and the flavour will be lost, so make sure you use them up in time – they do make a lovely sugary, floral snack as well!

 

 

 

 

Salad herbs and edible flowers

 

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Summer salad herbs and edible flowers. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

It seems a bit weird writing a post about salads today when it’s gloomy, grey and lashing down with rain. No matter, it is the time of year when a salad is on my menu just about every day of the week, regardless of what’s happening with the weather!

I stopped growing my own lettuce and salad leaves a while ago because they were taking up too much space in my greenhouse. Instead, I started to grow some more interesting herbs and edible flowers that you can’t buy very easily. Now, I have a variety of lovely looking plants in the garden, with the added advantage of alternative flavours, textures and colours for my dinner plate.

Smoked_salmon_with_salad_herbs_and _edible_flowers
Scottish smoked salmon salad with sweet wild strawberry vinegar.          Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

At the end of my post, I have compiled an ID photo of the herbs and flowers in my salad above. Below is a brief description of what each one tastes like (by the way, you can make the strawberry vinegar by following the same instructions on my previous post for Sweet Lavender Vinegar):

  • Land cress (American cress) – looks and tastes like watercress; grows in small clumps of glossy green leaves; loves damp soil. Leaves are best eaten small (the larger ones can be bitter and very pungent).
  • Sorrel – larger leaves are cooked like spinach, but the smaller ones are delicious raw in salads. They have a citrusy, tangy taste.
  • Salad burnet – one of my favourites; serrated leaves and tufty pinkish-red flowers, both with a mild cucumber flavour. Makes a lovely potted plant. Prefers limy soil.
  • Nasturtium – you can eat the leaves large or small, and also the flowers if you like – I find them a bit big for my palate and I prefer their vibrant splash of colour in my garden. I prefer to eat the smaller leaves which have a cress-like, earthy flavour. Very refreshing.
  • Herb flowers – herbs with tougher leaves like thyme and rosemary are a bit chewy and pungent to eat with soft salad leaves, but if you pick the flowers, they will add a subtle flavour of the herb, and are much easier to eat.
  • Edible flowers – these add a splash of colour to any dish. Flowers from scented plants like rose geranium are often slightly sweet or earthy with a faint flavour of the plant scent. Flowers such as Viola or Garden pansy have very little flavour but do make a pretty addition amongst the green leaves and herbs. If whole flowers seem a bit daunting, break up the petals and sprinkle “confetti”-style over your plate – they make a beautiful natural decoration on iced cakes and cookies as well.
Salad_herbs_leaves_and_flowers
An assortment of the Summer salad herbs and edible flowers from my Perthshire garden. Copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

A taste of Summer: Sweet lavender vinegar (gluten-free, dairy-free)

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Scottish garden lavender. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

We haven’t had the best of weather so far this month, here in central Scotland. Too much rain to be able to spend quality time outdoors, but it has been warmer, and we have had a few precious sunny hours. The lavender buds are just about to bloom, making them perfect for harvesting.

I have several lavender bushes all round the garden, ranging in colour from pale, pinky-lilac to deep, blueish-purple. Apart from looking delicate and pretty, the soothing scent that lavender brings to the garden is one of the true aromas of Summer.

One of the best ways to continue to enjoy this sensual memory, even when the gloomier months of the year set in, is to pop a few stems in a bottle of vinegar. In a few weeks, you’ll have the sweet smell of lavender and its delicate floral notes, preserved perfectly, in a bottle. It makes a lovely gift too.

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Sweet lavender vinegar ingredients. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

For best results, choose lavender stems with buds that have swollen and are about to break flower. Lavender keeps fresh in water for 3 days after cutting, but keep out of sunlight in order to prevent the buds opening. Change the water and trim the stems a little each day.

To make sweet lavender vinegar:

  • Wash and sterilise a sound, sealable glass bottle large enough to hold 250ml liquid.
  • Trim down 12 stems of lavender to fit neatly inside your bottle and discard any leaves. Gently rinse and pat dry – dip lightly in a bowl of water and dry on absorbent kitchen paper.
  • Gently crush the bud end of each stem between your fingers to release the aroma, and arrange in the bottle, buds downwards.
  • Slightly warm 250ml white balsamic vinegar (agrodolce white condiment) – place on a sunny windowsill, just to take any chill out of the liquid – then pour into the bottle using a small funnel. I use white balsamic vinegar because it is naturally sweet and enhances floral and citrus notes in herbs and flowers. For a more traditional vinegar, choose a good quality white wine or cider vinegar.
  • Seal with a non-corrosive, acid-proof lid or stopper. Label and leave on the kitchen work top for a couple of weeks, gently turning the bottle upside down and back each day.
  • After 2 weeks, taste for flavour and either strain and rebottle ready for long-term storage, or continue to store as it is, allowing the flavour to slowly increase. For an intense flavour, strain the vinegar after 2 weeks, rebottle with more fresh lavender, and store until required. Stored correctly, in a cool, dark cupbaord, your vinegar should last for up to 12 months.

You can use the same method with other fresh flowers and herbs. Rose and Calendula petals work well for flowery vinegars, whilst bay, fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are good choices for herbs to flavour vinegar.

 

Home-grown courgettes with chive butter (gluten-free)

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Home-grown courgette with chive butter. Images copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

One of the vegetables I have great success in raising is the courgette. This year I have a couple of varieties on the go: Tristar and Jemmer. My single Tristar plant has produced 6 courgettes already and there’s a few more to come. It is in a grow-bag on the floor of my greenhouse. Jemmer is a yellow variety; the first courgettes are just forming.

To enjoy the delicate, slightly earthy, flavour of my “home-grown” courgettes, I cook them very simply: either sliced and gently fried in sunflower oil, or as bigger chunks, lightly seasoned and roasted in the oven. The slices only take a few minutes on each side, just cooked until lightly golden round the edge.

To liven things up a wee bit, I make a herb or spice butter which I allow to melt over the cooked vegetable just before serving. At the moment, the chive bush in the garden is a combination of soft, juicy stems and pretty flower balls, and is the obvious choice for flavoured butter these past couple of weeks.

I make up a small batch at a time which will keep, well wrapped, in the fridge for 2-3 weeks or can be frozen for up to 6 months. Use half a pack of lightly salted, soft butter with 2-3 tablespoons of freshly chopped chives – snip the stalks into small pieces using kitchen scissors to avoid bruising the stems.

Beat the butter well to start with and then mix in the chives. Pile onto a small square of baking parchment and chill until firm enough to roll.

Pop the parchment square on a small sheet of cling film, and wrap the paper round the butter to make  rough tube. Continue rolling until you have made a cylinder of butter, to the thickness you prefer. Wrap tightly in the cling film and chill until required.

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Fresh chives in flower. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Chive butter is lovely melted over grilled salmon, pan-fried chicken or tossed into freshly cooked seafood and pasta. Don’t forget the flowers: gently pull the flower heads apart and scatter the delicate lilac star-shaped petals over salads, pasta or your finished dish for a subtle oniony flavour.