Welcome to my blog all about the things I love to grow and cook. You'll find a collection of seasonal gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly recipe posts, as well as a round up of my gardening throughout the year. I wish you good reading, happy cooking and perfect planting!
I had planned a garden round-up for this week’s post. However, the long spell of fine weather has finally broken and I haven’t been able to get outside that much this past week. To be honest, the hot spell has left the garden looking a bit sad and lacking in colour. So, instead of a weekend in the garden, I got the jam pan out of the cupboard and made some jelly preserve with the last of my raspberries.
A jelly preserve takes a bit more time to make than most other jams, but if you do find yourself in a preserving mood, I can recommend having a go, as the reward is great and the flavour, intense and rich.
You will need some clean muslin if you don’t have a jelly making bag, but if you are only making a small amount, as per the quantity below, you don’t need any other special equipment, although a sugar thermometer will help take the guess-work out of judging when the jelly has cooked sufficiently. All you need to ensure is that all the equipment and jam-jars you use are very clean; this will enable you to store your preserves for as long as required.
Makes: approx. 650g
450g prepared raspberries, washed
450g prepared rhubarb, washed and chopped into small pieces
Approx. 500g granulated sugar
Approx. 25ml fresh lemon juice
Mash the raspberries to release the juices and place in a saucepan. Stir in the chopped rhubarb and 2 tbsp. water. Heat gently until steaming, then cover and cook for 6-7 minutes until very soft.
2. While the fruit is cooking, set up the muslin or jelly bag ready for straining the juice. I use a tall jug which I can suspend a jelly bag over the top. Otherwise, a large nylon sieve lined with muslin, suspended over a bowl will work well. The volume of liquid produced by following this recipe will not be much greater than 500ml, so you don’t need a massive collecting container. Make sure it is stable so that it can’t tip over when you add the fruit.
3. Carefully spoon the hot fruit and juices into the bag or muslin, and then leave undisturbed for several hours until the fruit stops dripping. Don’t be tempted to press or squeeze the fruit as this will make a cloudy preserve. Discard the pulp. Measure the juice and work out the quantity of sugar and lemon juice required. You need 75g sugar and 5ml lemon juice per 100ml juice.
4. Pour the juice into a large saucepan and heat gently until hot, then stir in the sugar and lemon juice, and continue stirring over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.
5. Raise the heat and bring to the boil, then boil rapidly until setting point is reached – between 104° and 105°C on a sugar thermometer. Skim away any scum that rises to the surface during boiling. Pour into clean, hot jars and seal immediately. Leave to cool, then label and store in a cool, dark cupboard for up to 6 months, but the preserve is ready to eat as soon as you want! Delish 🙂
All the fabulous sunshine we’ve been having has done wonders for the fruit this year in the garden, although it has meant a lot of watering.
I picked my precious harvest of Morello cherries last weekend. I had had the tree netted for several weeks and successfully managed to fend off the birds. One small espalier tree produced just under one kilo of cherries 🙂
So what to do with such a precious harvest. Decisions, decisions. Last year I made my usual compote and with the remainder I made cherry jam. Sadly, I over-cooked the mixture and ended up with cherry toffee! This year, I was determined not to be so fool-hardy. I got my old-fashioned cookery books out and bottled a jar for a treat later in the year. With the rest, I made this rice dish, based on the Iranian recipe for Alo-balo polo or sour cherry rice. Traditionally chicken is added and the dish is served at a celebration. I made my meat-free version to serve as a side dish. It is only mildly spiced so will go with anything.
I appreciate that not everyone will have access to fresh Morello cherries, but dried sour cherries are readily available, and cranberries will work well as an alternative. Just stir dried cherries or cranberries into the rice towards the end of cooking time – use about 150g dried. If you have fresh or frozen cranberries, you can follow the recipe below exactly, using 250g berries.
Serves: 4 as a side dish
250g basmati rice
Generous pinch of saffron strands
300g fresh whole sour cherries
65g caster sugar
1 tsp salt
5 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
Handful of chopped pistachio nuts
Put the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 2 hours, then drain and rinse well. Meanwhile, put the saffron in a small bowl and spoon over 1 tbsp. very hot water. Leave to infuse and cool.
Stone the cherries and place in a saucepan with the sugar. Heat gently, stirring carefully, until the sugar dissolves, then bring to simmering point and cook gently for 2-3 minutes until tender and juicy. Leave to cool.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the salt, and gradually sprinkle in the rice so as to keep the water boiling. Cook in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes until slightly opaque, then drain, rinse well and shake off the excess water.
Divide the rice equally between 2 saucepans. Stir the saffron water into one portion and level off the surface of the rice. Mix the cardamoms and cinnamon into the other and level off the surface. With the end of a wooden spoon, make indents in the rice and drizzle 1 tbsp. oil into each saucepan.
Cover each with a layer of foil across the top of the saucepan; put the lid on top, and cook over a very low heat, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. After this time the grains of rice will be tender and slightly crisp on the bottom of the saucepan. Fork through the rice in each saucepan to mix well. Discard the spices.
While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion, covered, for about 15 minutes until very tender.
To serve, drain the cherries, reserving the juice, and mix the cherries into the spiced rice along with the onion. Pile into a warmed serving dish. Spoon the saffron rice on top and gently mix the two rices together. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts and serve immediately with the cherry juice to pour over – reheat this if preferred.
Amazingly, the heat is still on full blast here in the UK. The sky has been gloriously blue, day after day, and the sun is shining down strongly. No rain in the forecast; the water butt has been dry for days!
Plenty of time to enjoy the garden at a more leisurely pace. The thought of preparing and eating hot food is not so appealing at the moment, so salads are featuring heavily on my menu. I picked my first courgettes this week – all the extra watering by hand has been worth it – and made an exception by doing a little bit of cooking. I made them into a tasty cold dish with some canned beans and a rich tomato sauce.
You can adapt the recipe to use other vegetables and pulses – aubergine and chickpeas make a good combination too, especially seasoned with some cumin and fresh coriander. The salad makes a good sauce for pasta when served freshly made, and I have also served it as a filling for a warmed pastry case.
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
150ml dry white wine
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato purée
2 teasp caster sugar
1 teasp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
250g cooked cannellini beans
500g courgettes, trimmed and chopped into 2cm dice
Fresh basil, fried pine nuts, gluten-free flat bread and extra virgin olive oil to serve
Heat the oil in a large covered frying pan and gently fry the onion, garlic and herbs, with the lid on, over a low heat, for 15 minutes, to soften without browning.
Pour in the wine and stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves.
Stir in the beans and courgette, making sure they are well covered in the sauce. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer gently for 7-8 minutes until the courgette is just tender. Leave to cool completely.
Transfer to a bowl and chill until ready to serve. Best served at room temperature for more flavour. Delicious spooned over warm flat breads, sprinkled with fresh basil, fried pine nuts and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Bon Appétit 🙂
Time for a recap on what’s been happening in my fruit and veg garden. It’s been a mixed bag of weather this month, although it doesn’t seem to have affected anything I’ve been growing for the kitchen. In fact, even though the sun hasn’t been shining as often as I’d have liked, I have never had tomatoes ripen so early in the year – it’s usually September before I get my first taste!
Home-grown tomatoes, above all else, are the best produce to grow for flavour and sweetness, and remain unrivalled by any tomatoes you can buy. I grow them in my unheated greenhouse, planted in grow-bags. I never put the picked fruit in the fridge, I store them in a cool part of the kitchen and eat them as soon as possible after picking. Served simply with some fresh pot basil, a little salt and pepper, and drizzle of balsamic vinegar, this is one of my greatest foodie pleasures.
I have been picking runner beans for a couple of weeks now and, with lots of flowers still blooming, I hope to be enjoying them for a few weeks longer. I don’t usually do much with them, other than chop them up, cook them lightly, and enjoy them as a vegetable in their own right. Occasionally, I make a frittata with any leftover cooked veg and combine runner beans with cooked potato, onion – sometimes a little bacon if I have any – some seasoning and chopped fresh thyme. Delicious served warm or cold with salad.
Most of the fruit I grow gets made into jams and jellies, or I freeze it for cooking later in the year. The cherries were made into a compote – I didn’t have enough for jam this year. Rhubarb is cooked in muffins, stewed as a simple dessert, or cooked as pie filling. I have just made rhubarb and custard ice lollies for the first time, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out.
The yellow courgette plants are growing like triffids in the greenhouse. Thank goodness I only planted 2! They are both producing heavily, so it looks like I will have to get creative with my courgette cookery. I prefer the yellow variety as I find the flesh firmer and there is slightly more of an earthy flavour to them. I also love the colour. I have been chopping them and simply frying them in butter with smoked bacon and black pepper, and then stirring in a little bit of maple syrup before serving. Very tasty with just about anything.