Sunday, 19 August 2012

When space is lacking, think up!

Now I'm not short of space at my allotment so my reasons for growing vertically is purely an experimental one. However if space is a premium for you and you have a handy shed door to hang something on then read on and discover the joys of growing upwards.

Here's how I did it

First I popped to Argos and bought their shoe holder, it's the cheap 6.99 one which is made out of fabric; this is the best kind as it allows drainage. Along with that I bought 30litres of basket compost, this has moisture retaining crystals in it which is ideal for these small exposed pockets as they could dry out quickly. Finally I popped to my local Sainsbury's and picked up two packs of their living salad, basically lettuce already growing in plugs and it only cost a pound! All in all this project cost me less than 15.00 to set up.

Hang up the shoe holder using the metal hooks provided, you will need to adjust them so they don't stretch out and let the shoe rack slip. The weight of the compost, water and growing plant could cause that to happen. If you have the ability to, screw it in to the door for even more sturdiness.

Fill up the pockets with the compost.

Water them, ready for planting and then put in the plugs of lettuce.

They will need regular watering, as you would a hanging basket. I'm also not sure on how the slugs will treat them, hopefully they will ignore them. I've just remembered that I left the other pack of lettuce on the floor so they may have eaten that as a sacrificial feast.

If you have a go at this, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Sweet and Savoury Shortbread (part 2)

I know I haven't shown much of my allotment recently, well I've been having the same trouble as everyone else, too much rain! The slugs have loved it and the cold weather has meant stunted and troubled growth. However there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I can see how it will all fit together and next year hopefully it will be much better. I've also been asked to put myself forward to be on the allotment committee which is great, it means I could help organise socials and also work days as well as get to know the plot holders.

I have managed to salvage a cop of onions, shallots and garlic. A courgette is finally establishing itself and the potatoes are ready to be dug up. All in all I'm pretty happy, there is still much work to do though. Here's some shots...

Jerusalem artichokes.



Red onions, shallots and garlic.

Right this second post is to share the recipe for the cardamom and white chocolate shortbread biscuits.

What you need
  • 250g butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 125g cornflour
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 100g white chocolate
What you do

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then pour in the flour that you have sifted. Slower bring it together to form a dough, before you tip it out and chaff it (as before) add the rosewater cardamom and white chocolate. Honestly an electric mixer such as a Kenwood Chef or Kitchenaid really make baking so easy. 

I removed the cardamom from the pod and put it in a pestle and mortor and then ground it into a powder. I added the rosewater to this to enable it to be all poured out and into the dough.

I find that chopped fresh chocolate has a better texture when cooked than preformed chunks, they also lack all the emulsifiers what are needed to keep a chocolate chip shaped like a chocolate chip. 

Roll the dough up into a log about 12" long, wrap in cling and chill in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 180C, line two baking trays with greaseproof and using a sharp knife and a sawing motion (don't press down on the dough), cut 1cm thick slices. Bake for about 20 minutes until just golden brown.
Remove from the oven and decorate with melted white cooking chocolate.

They really have the cardamom flavour but the white chocolate chunks burnt, so I should have cooked them for a shorter time. I think I'll just stick to a chocolate topping in future with these. 

Hope you have enjoyed these two posts, leave a comment to let me know what you think of the blog.

Sweet and Savoury Shortbread (part 1)

God bless Ina Garten! Who doesn't love her? She is, as someone once put to me so affectionately, a plump bundle o' fun. Her show on the food network, Barefoot Contessa, is on daily and usually served up as a double helping. I think I have probably seen all of them now, but every now and then an episode crops up, like an episode of the Simpsons, that I've never seen.
She is responsible for my love of the food network UK. I first saw her when I was in Minnesota staying with friends, and when I discovered that they were showing her programme over here in the UK I was hooked. 

Ina lives a simple lifestyle, writing foodie columns for a magazine, living in a enviably massive colonial house in a town that feels like a rural idyll. It is quite a quirky town, all of her neighbours seem to be interior designers or florists, they are all pretty much in civil partnerships and the fleeting nature of her own husband Jeffery means that Ina pretty much mother hens the whole community. She holds endless parties and serves up good wholesome food, even if it is a bit heavy on the butter and salt.

Anyway for my Christmas 2011 my good friend bought me one of her books, barefoot contessa how easy is that? Named after her famous catchphrase, it is a collection from one of her series. So It's ideal in that I can watch the recipe being prepared by Ina on the TV and then recreate it from the book. So far I have made her tabuleh salad and also her banana cake, which being cooked in a round tin, put a refreshing turn on a classic banana bread. I know she loves her salt but actually it does make things taste better... After years of not using it at all in my cooking I'm finding more and more that I'm adding a pinch here and there.

So this evening I'm heading to my book club, now it's been a long while since I last attended which is bad on my part. I set it up about 2 years ago now and because I moved away from the area, getting to meetings has proven tricky. To make up for my lapse in attendance I'm taking some shortbread but with a twist. One batch will be from Ina's book how easy is that? and will be her stilton and walnut crackers (I'm not sure why they call them crackers, I suppose they would serve them with cheese and therefore classify them as crackers, I'd call them savoury shortbread). 
The second batch are cardamom and white chocolate shortbread, I love the taste of cardamom and it reminds me of wintery bowls of porridge, I would pound up cardamom with demarara sugar and then pour it all into the oats before making the porridge. 

Ina's Stilton and Walnut Crackers (Cheesy Savoury Shortbread)

You will need:

  • 4oz room temperature butter
  • 12oz of stilton (8oz with rind cut off)
  • 7oz plain flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1tsp black pepper
  • 1 egg for washing
  • 1 hand of walnuts, chopped finely.
Chop up the walnuts until fine and set aside for later.

Chop off the rind from the stilton, I freeze it to add flavour to soups and things later on. Also if your butter and cheese are fridge cold, slice them into 1cm thick slices, smoosh them against the side of a bowl and pop in the microwave for 10 second bursts until they are soft. 

Fit a paddle attachment to an electric mixer and cream together the butter and cheese until smooth, pale and fluffy. 

Now with the mixer turned to a slow beat, add the flour a little at a time, along with the salt and pepper, until it's all mixed in and a dough has formed. You may need to add a splash of water to bring it all together. When the dough has formed, tip it on to a floured surface and chaff it into a smooth ball. 

Roll it into a 12" long log and then brush with the beaten egg. Roll this log in the chopped walnuts, and then wrap in clingfilm. 

Put this log into the fridge for at least half and hour, you could even freeze at this stage.

Warm up your oven to 180C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper. Cut the log into 1cm thick slices (3/8"). Bake them until very lightly browned (about 20-22 minutes). Cool them on the baking tray and then store in a tin. 


Check back very soon for part 2.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Broad Bean Falafel Flatbread

In-spite of the weather the broad beans have done reasonably well. The rain has meant they haven't been ravaged by hordes of black fly this summer, although they have taken some time to grow.
I picked a pan full of them and wanted to use them, food network UK is showing Eat Street and Street Feasts which gave me the idea of making falafel with them.

I first ate falafel in Bangkok, my travel companion at the time, a Californian, was quite surprised I had never even heard of it before, this was before they really took off in the UK. After trying them there, from a street vendor, I was hooked. I tried many packet mixes but they always let me down, too doughy or floury. This is the first time I have made them from scratch and they are well worth it.

For the mix, I had about 3/4lb of broad beans, podded but still in their shells. I blanched them for 3 minutes to soften them up, and make them easier to shell.

I'm assured that it's the shell around the inner cotyledons that caused the bitter flavour so that needed to come off, after I had shocked the blanched beans in some cold water.

This took some time, but it really is worth it. Just look at the insipid nature of the discarded shells and the lush green of the bean proper that they concealed. 

Using a potato masher I mashed the beans in a bowl until they were broken down into a coarse pulp. I didn't was a fine mash, lumps add character in my opinion. Into a mini food processor I poured some pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and hemp seeds. A good shake of each, I'm not sure of the measure but nothing too excessive really. These were blitzed until they were finely chopped, not powdered. I added these to the beans and then in the same chopper I put a clove and a half of garlic, a tsp of cumin, ground coriander and herbs du provence. These were blitzed until the garlic was chopped and mixed with the herbs and spices. This was added to the main bowl and mixed in along with 1tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper.

Using olive oil I greased my hands and started to mould small walnut sized rounds of the mixture.

In a large pan I heated up about 1" depth of sunflower oil. I am not a fan of deep frying so I opted to shallow fry. When the oil was up to temperature (tested by dropping a little loose falafel mix into it and watching it sizzle and bubble) I fried the balls 5 at a time, turning after 1 minute or so. It's important that not too many are done at once as this can lower the temperature of the oil and also make turning them over tricky.

After they were an even golden brown all over, with some green still showing from the beans underneath, I removed them from the oil using a slotted spoon and put them onto kitchen paper to drain off the excess oil. 

Now for the flat bread

Mix 2 cups of bread flour 3/4 cup of water, 1/2 tsp salt and 1tbsp olive oil. Mix all of this together and knead for about 10 minutes until the gluten has developed and given it a bit of elasticity. I didn't have a standard cup measure so I followed my own rule of just use the same cup to measure everything and you'll be okay... It seems to work.

Divide into 12 balls. I do this by rolling sausages of the dough and cutting it in to halves and thirds until I have 12 balls all roughly the same.
Roll them out with a rolling pin, turning a little after each roll so they end up round in shape.

Heat up a frying pan, but don't put oil into it, dry fry the bread 1min on each side. Don't let them burn, but brown spots on them is usual. When done keep on a plate covered with a damp, clean tea towel.

Load up the flat bread with salad, mayo and falafel, serve in pairs like a soft taco and enjoy!