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 pulled my first stems of rhubarb at the weekend. The 3 crowns I re-planted back in the Autumn are doing well in their new patch (watched over by 2 stone rabbits), and it is looking likely that there will be plenty more stems before the summer is over.
To celebrate my first harvest, I have a simple rhubarb recipe to share this week. It’s a pastry classic, and gets its name from a slatted louvre window because it has thin slits cut across its top which give a glimpse of the filling inside. I’ve combined the tartness of the fresh rhubarb with the sweet, richness of marzipan, but I realise this is an ingredient not to everyone’s taste, so if you’re not a marzipan fan, simply leave it out altogether or make a thick vanilla custard instead and spread this across the pastry instead.
Serve this delicious pastry warm as a dessert with custard or leave to go cold and enjoy a slice as a pastry with a cup of coffee.
300g fresh rhubarb
40g caster or vanilla sugar
325g gluten-free, vegan puff pastry (such as Silly Yak)
125g natural marzipan, coarsely grated
A little dairy-free milk, optional
50g icing sugar
A few drops almond extract
A few toasted flaked almonds
Trim the rhubarb and cut into short, even-thickness lengths. Place in a frying pan, sprinkle over the sugar and heat gently until steaming. Cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes until tender. Leave to cool completely. Cooking rhubarb this way means you will have little juice which is important in this recipe in order to keep the pastry crisp.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan oven, gas 7). Line a large flat baking tray with baking parchment. Divide the pastry into 2 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of pastry to make a rectangle 28 x 15cm.
Sprinkle over the marzipan, leaving about 2cm pastry showing all round the edge, and spread the rhubarb on top. Brush the pastry edge with water or little dairy-free milk if preferred.
Roll the other piece of pastry to a rectangle slightly larger than the bottom piece and carefully lay the pastry on top. Press down the edges well to seal them together and slice off any ragged pastry to neaten the edge.
Using a sharp knife, cut thin slashes through the top of the pastry to make the slatted effect. Carefully transfer the pastry to the baking tray, brush with dairy-free milk if liked and bake for about 30 minutes until browned. Leave on the tray to cool for 30 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool further.
To decorate, sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl and mix in a few drops of almond extract and about 2 teasp warm water to make a smooth, drizzling icing. Use a teaspoon to drip the icing all over the top of the warm or cold pastry and then scatter with almonds. Transfer to a serving plate or board to slice and serve.
For the first time in a while, I didn’t have a clump of rhubarb to put under a forcer pot back in January. I had transplanted all my rhubarb crowns to a new bed at the end of last year, and I decided that I would be sensible and let them recover and leave them to grow in the open for a harvest later in the year. Now, of course, I regret not having the lovely pink, tender stems to cook, but, never mind, I look forward to a home-grown harvest whenever it is ready. Actually, the clumps are doing very well, so I don’t think it will be too long before I get to pull my first stems of the year.
In the meantime, I bought some rhubarb from the local farm shop this week and baked up a batch of muffins. Serve them hot with extra stewed rhubarb and custard as a pudding, or enjoy them slightly warm for a spring-time breakfast or tea. Best eaten on the day they are made, although they will freeze, and can be reheated successfully in the microwave for a few seconds.
I made my own tulip-style paper cases, which make large “coffee shop” sized muffins. You will need 15cm squares of baking parchment and a jar or glass the same size as a muffin tin, and then it’s just a case of pressing the paper into the tins to make the case shape. If you prefer, divide the mixture between 12 ready-made paper muffin/cupcake cases and cook for slightly less time.
Makes 7 large muffins (or 12 traditional size)
For the crumble top:
85g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
2g gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
55g dairy-free margarine, softened
55g caster sugar
For the muffin mix:
225g gluten-free plain flour blend
8g arrowroot (optional, but I find it does help bind the ingredients together and gives a chewier texture)
10g gluten-free baking powder
115g caster sugar (or half caster and half vanilla sugar)
60g dairy-free plain or coconut yogurt
115g dairy-free margarine, melted
150ml soya milk
2 teasp good quality vanilla extract
175g rhubarb, trimmed and finely chopped
150ml free-from custard
First make the crumble top. Put the flour and baking powder in a bowl and rub in the margarine until well blended. Stir in the sugar and mix until it all clumps together. Cover and chill until required.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6). Line a muffin tin with 7 large tulip-style paper cases or 12 traditional sized cases. For the muffin batter, sift the flour, arrowroot and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in the sugar and make a well in the centre.
Mix the yogurt, melted margarine, non-dairy milk and vanilla extract together in a jug. Gradually pour into the dry ingredients, mixing well to blend everything together. Stir in the chopped rhubarb.
Spoon half of the mixture equally between the paper cases, and spoon a dollop of custard on top, then cover the custard with the remaining muffin batter. Sprinkle the tops generously with the prepared crumble mixture.
Bake for about 35 minutes for large muffins, and 25-30 minutes for the smaller size. Cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Best served warm and eaten on day of baking.
The recipe works well with chopped apple or pear (add a little cocoa powder to your custard for a chocolate filling), or you can add fresh small berries like raspberries, blueberries or cherries. Until next week…….happy cooking!
At last, my forced rhubarb was ready to pick this week! Now I feel the season of Spring has begun. Long before all other fruits in the garden are even formed, forced rhubarb gives us a flavour of all the sweet delights yet to come.
To me, rhubarb is associated with fond memories of my childhood. My grandparents used to grow “forests” of the thick, leafy stems in the summer – no summer holiday was complete without one of Grannie’s rhubarb crumbles.
If you fancy having a go at growing your own, now is the best time of year to buy yourself a rhubarb plant (or “crown”) and get it in the ground ready for next year.
Rhubarb grows best in an open site, ideally in the sun, but it will grow anywhere. It likes a good mulching and needs plenty of soil depth as the roots, once established, run deep. Give it a good feed once in a while and it will do well. It is very easy to grow and a single plant will provide a good yield for a small family. Rhubarb is really a vegetable, but most of us regard it as a fruit because we serve it mostly for pudding. Only the stalks are edible – the leaves are high in oxalic acid and are, subsequently, very toxic.
Hold yourself back and avoid picking any stems in the first year of planting a new crown. In the second year, pull a few stems, leaving about half of the plant untouched. Once a plant is established – after 3 years – you can pick as many stems as you want. A rhubarb plant can be “forced” at this age, ready for an early crop in spring. You can buy special rhubarb forcers – very tall, slim, terracotta pots – which go over the crown in late winter. These are very expensive; I use the tallest pot I have and this works fine – as you can see in the image above. Although the pot covering doesn’t produce really long stems, they are good enough for me. I’ve put the pot back over the crown again, ready for the next batch of stems to grow – usually the plant produces four good batches of stems before I leave it to recover and rejuvenate for next year.
I have 3 rhubarb plants in the garden now. Each year, I rotate a plant for forcing, and the other 2 are left for summer eating rhubarb, and for freezing. Here are a few tips and ideas for cooking and serving rhubarb:
High in acidity, there are a few flavours that help temper the tartness of rhubarb: ginger, cinnamon, orange rind and juice, coconut, banana, angelica and liquorice.
Trim the leaves from spring rhubarb and discard, then rinse the stems well and slice off the base. Cut into 3cm pieces for really quick cooking, but leave in longer pieces for gentle poaching and using to top tarts or desserts. Spring rhubarb takes barely 4-5 minutes to cook. I usually place the pieces in a frying pan and sprinkle with sugar and add 1 – 2 tablespoons of water. Once it begins to steam, cover with a lid and cook gently.
For a tangy sweet and sour sauce, cook rhubarb in a little water with sufficient sugar to make it edible, then add a dash of raspberry or balsamic vinegar. Served cold, it goes well with roast duck, smoked mackerel or pan-fried herring.
A favourite simple dessert of mine is to mix mashed banana, coconut (non-dairy) yogurt and vanilla extract together and layer in glasses with poached, vanilla sugar-sweetened rhubarb. It is absolute deliciousness guaranteed!
For an easy pastry, bake-off a sheet of (gluten-free) puff pastry and allow to cool, then top with thick (dairy-free) custard and lightly poached stems of sweetened rhubarb. Always a winning combination…..rhubarb and custard.
For me, one of the signs that Spring is on its way is the first harvest of my forced rhubarb. I love the rich colour of the stalks, their tenderness when cooked and the mild astringent, tartness of flavour that really packs a punch on the palate. Sadly, my rhubarb is not ready for picking just yet as you can see below, but I couldn’t resist the fresh stalks I saw in the local farm shop this week.
One of my favourite pairings with rhubarb is raspberry. Whilst it seems like a long time ago I had raspberries ripening in the garden, I have a few packs in the freezer, and this recipe is the perfect opportunity to delve into my supplies.
I love the name of this dish. I assume it comes from the hybridisation of the pudding called “slump” and the one called “crumble”. The recipe works fine with any cooked fruit baked underneath the glorious, melt-in-the-mouth topping. The custard is a recent addition to my recipe and brings an extra spoonful of comfort at this time of the year.
350g fresh rhubarb, trimmed
50g vanilla sugar (or you can use plain caster if you prefer)
175g frozen raspberries
115g dairy free margarine (or butter if you eat it), very soft
75g caster sugar
175g gluten-free plain flour blend (I use Doves Farm)
5ml good quality vanilla extract
500ml gluten-free, dairy-free custard
Trim the rhubarb and cut into 5cm lengths. If you have thin and wider stalks, cut the stalks down so that they are all roughly the same width – this helps the rhubarb cook more evenly.
Arrange neatly in a large, lidded shallow pan. Spoon over 2 tbsp water and sprinkle with the vanilla sugar. Heat until steaming, then cover with the lid and simmer gently for 5-6 minutes until just tender but still holding shape.
Remove from the heat, sprinkle the frozen raspberries on top and leave to cool completely. Transfer to an ovenproof baking dish, about 1.2l capacity. If the fruit is very juicy, drain off a few spoonfuls and keep as a separate serving syrup.
For the topping, put the margarine (or butter) in a bowl and beat in the caster sugar until smooth and creamy. Mix in the flour and vanilla to make a lumpy, sticky mixture, resembling a soft cookie dough. Cover and chill for 30 minutes until firm.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas mark 6). Spoon over about half of the custard in small dollops. Break up the chilled topping into clumps and scatter over the top, covering the fruit and custard as much as possible. Stand the dish on a baking tray and bake for about 35 minutes until lightly golden, bubbling and the topping has merged together. Serve hot or warm with the remaining custard and the fruit syrup.
Happy New Year everyone! Hope you’ve all had a good holiday, and are looking forward to the year ahead. Let’s hope it’s a good one for us all. It’s been a sunny, blue-sky start to the year here in central Scotland – a very uplifting day.
I have had a good, relaxing festive break at home. The weather’s been quite kind and I’ve managed to get outside every now and then. We did have a little snow on Boxing Day, but it cleared by the end of the day, and didn’t cause any damage. On the whole, the garden’s looking a wee bit dull at the moment but there are signs of new life about if you look lard enough. Lots of bulbs are pushing their way through the soil, and the rhubarb plants are shooting up. I have put a large pot over the top of one clump, with the hope of getting some fine pink shoots next month.
For me, the late December holiday is a good time to do some cutting back and pruning, and if the weather permits, I undertake my annual attempt at getting the old apple tree back in shape, ready for the year ahead. I had a good crop of fruit last year; I am keeping everything crossed so that the tree does just as well in 2017.
On the floral front, the Winter jasmine is lovely and vibrant and has a delightful sweet smell; there are also a couple of hebes in flower. One much-treasured little gem, is a perennial primrose which is in bloom for most of the year. I didn’t plant it, it appeared a couple of years ago in a shady, damp part of the garden. The delicate blooms and foliage add some welcome colour and interest through all the mulch and undergrowth that surrounds them.
Another sign this weekend that summer is fading fast, I picked my final stems of rhubarb for the year. Rather than freeze it for later use, I decided to cheer myself up and make a batch of delicious rhubarb and custard ice lollies. Here’s the recipe.
Makes: 6 x 100ml lollies
250g prepared rhubarb stems, washed and chopped
75g granulated sugar
6 tbsp water
150ml ready-made (gluten-free) custard – at least double the sweetness of your usual custard (you need the extra sugar to prevent the custard from freezing too solid and icy)
150ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla paste
Put the rhubarb in a shallow pan with the sugar and water. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is beginning to steam.
Cover and simmer gently for 7-8 minutes until soft and collapsed. Remove from the heat and mash with a fork. Leave to cool completely. If preferred, blitz in a blender for a few seconds to make a purée.
Mix the custard with the cream and vanilla paste, and chill until required.
Using a long-handled teaspoon, divide the rhubarb between 6 x 100ml ice lolly moulds. Pour in the custard mix and then marble the 2 layers together a little using the spoon or a skewer.
Place the lolly moulds in the freezer for 1 ½ to 2 hours until semi frozen, then push a wooden lolly stick into the centre of each. Put back in the freezer for at least 2 hours until frozen solid.
To unmold, dip the lolly moulds in very hot water for a few seconds, and then pull out by the stick. Serve immediately or pop back in the freezer on a tray lined with baking parchment until ready to serve.
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.