Up until now one of the chinks in my culinary armour has been sponge cakes! The Victoria sponge has been a particular nemesis, if the batter doesn’t curdle I get over excited and open the oven too soon and watch my gorgeous pillowy cakes sink! That is until my Mum bought me Baking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale. I’ll be honest, I haven’t cooked much from it yet but I’ve high hopes after having a go at her Victoria sponge recipe. Ta da..
This one has been adapted with some added elderflower cordial as a practice run for a Clandestine Cake Club event I’m going to in June. It looked like a Victoria sponge*, tasted like one, and was light and fluffy with not a hint of curdled batter insight. Result! The non standard icing is a mixture of 2 tbsp of freeze-dried raspberries and 1tbsp icing sugar pushed through a sieve over the cake. A fruity, tangy alternative to the traditional sugar topping.
*Purist would argue that it isn’t a true Victoria sponge because of the elderflower, non standard sugar topping and even for some because the jam wasn’t raspberry. I however was too proud to care!
I love rhubarb! As a kid my Dad used to let me eat the very young stems raw with an egg cup of sugar on the side to dip them in. When we first took over the allotment Dad split one of the crowns in their garden and gave it to us, I could get quite sentimental about it but I’ll try not to. It was the first thing we planted, well I planted (The Man was away) and I still remember an old man wandering over to tell me that was exactly the sort of thing I should be planting, but “why wasn’t my husband helping me”, kindly meant I’m sure so I didn’t challenge it!
Luckily rhubarb seems to travel well and it’s been very happy in it’s corner of the allotment ever since. It’s a versatile vegetable, yes vegetable, and can be used in meat dishes as well as more traditional desserts and puddings. This was a gorgeous pud, but it didn’t photograph well.
Inspired by Peck Peck’s honey and lavender ice cream at the underground night market, and with a big lavender bush on the allotment I wanted to try adding lavender to my cooking. This combination was picked on a whim when I was weeding round the plants but a quick google shows it is fairly common. The highly perfumed flavour of the lavender seemed to make the rhubarb, well more rhubarby and more complex tasting than straight up stewed rhubarb.
3 sticks of rhubarb, leaves removed
50g caster sugar ( more or less to suit your taste)
3 sprigs of fresh lavender
4 tbsp water
Place all ingredients in a pan and simmer gently until rhubarb is soft ( I went over board and over cooked it ). Can be served hot but I left it to cool and served it with Greek yoghurt with honey from Tims Dairy which I love! It’s rich and creamy with a lovely but not overpowering honey taste. Lavender in cooking, watch this space for more ideas..maybe brownies next, any suggestions?
I’ve been practicing my courgette recipes ready for later in the year! Only kidding, but with the weather turning warm I instinctively move away from heavier food and towards lighter more summery food.
Quinoa has an interesting history, it is much beloved of Gillian McKeith; but don’t let that put you off! Originally grown in South America it was regarded as a sacred food by the Incas with its cultivation actively suppressed by Spanish colonists for its links to non-Christian ceremonies. Now widely available, it is mild, slightly nutty little bundle of protein and easy too cook and use much like rice or cous cous. The Man pronounced this dinner ” a triumph”, the highest level of praise in our house; and is a great light and tasty supper.
2 courgettes cut into rough slices, drizzled with oil, salt and pepper.
2 tbsp pesto, your choice but I used nettle
1 can chickpeas
1 red chill finely chopped
1/2 bulb fennel finely sliced
1 can chick peas, drained
100g feta diced.
squeeze of lemon juice
Heat the oven to 180 degrees, and roast courgettes; this should take 20/30 minutes but how well you want them done is up to you. Boil the quinoa with 300ml water, for approx 20 minute, until tender. The rest is really and assembly job. Drain the quinoa and place in a mixing bowl, add the pesto and mix well. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together. Serve with lemon squeezed over to taste.
Although it still hasn’t rained very much here, Windsor seems to have a dry micro climate ( I think the Queen has something to do with it) things are growing really well.
The DIY cloches have worked a treat and all the courgette and squash seeds have germinated and haven’t been nipped by the very cold night last week which has trashed the potatoes. Too embarrassing for a photo but they have been set back a good month, but we lost a whole row last year so I should look on the bright side. They are now covered up with fleece just in case there are a few more cold nights.
Luckily the strawberry patch hasn’t been affected and is doing really well. If the weather stays fairly sunny we should have strawberries earlier than ever, fingers crossed and with some help from some of these…
The Man and I picked up some gorgeous treats at Ms Marmite Lover’s Underground Market including some lovely smoked salmon and smoked cheese from The Artisan Smokehouse their products are more widely available in Norfolk and Suffolk (they are based in Suffolk) but you can buy online too. As both products are a bit special I wanted to try to make the most of them so decided to combine them.
Not bad for a first attempt ( I’ve never made quiche before) but it confirmed that The Man makes better pastry than me; cold hands!! Here is the recipe I used, based on my Mum’s and one that could be adapted for almost any filling.
Short Crust pastry, enough to cover 10 inch dish. I used this recipe doubled. Or you can buy it!
4 eggs whisked
1/2 pt milk
handful chopped chives
50g grated smoked cheddar cheese
120g smoked salmon, sliced
5 florets or broccoli, broken up into little “trees”, part cooked.
pinch salt and pepper
Pre heat over to 180. Roll out pasty, line quiche tin with pastry and blind bake for 15 minutes. While pastry is cooking, part cook the broccoli for 2 minutes and allow to cool. Next mix together, eggs, milk, cheese, salmon, broccoli, salt and pepper. Take pastry base out of the over and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Pour filling mixture into the base and bake to 25 to 30 min or until the middle is just wobbly.
Serve with green salad or the seasonal recommendation, new potatoes and asparagus.
Last year they got rid of the taps on our allotment, meaning all our water now has to come from a tank and we can no longer use the hose pipe. This has made The Man and I much more mindful of the amount of water we use, mainly because we now have to carry it and I decided to have a go at alternative ways of planting to reduce how much water we need to use and carry, good for us and a little better for the environment. So take selection of household items,
and you too can make one of these;
an upside down tomato planter.
It was quite easy to make and time will tell how well it works, but it should reduce the amount of water needed to feed the plant and would be a great space saver.
To make one you will need; 1 large plastic bottle, duct tape, a chopstick, string, scissors and compost. Be warned it is a bit fiddly!
Cut the bottom off the bottle and poke some small holes in it, you will need this later. Next make holes in the side of the bottle to pass the chopstick through, this will be what you attach the string to hang it up with. Then, VERY GENTLY feed the tomato plant through the neck of the bottle, use some rolled up news paper to help stop the plant falling through. Hang the bottle up in your chosen spot and fill with compost and wedge the inverted bottom back in the body of the bottle; it will act as a drip feeder. Lastly wrap the whole lot with the tape to hold it all together and protect the roots from the light. Feed and water regularly and keep your fingers crossed!
On friday evening The Man and I and hundreds of others descended on Ms Marmite Lovers gaff for the Underground Night Market or “a food rave”. Bringing the US trend to London and building on her previous events the dynamo behind the Underground Restaurant opened her home, garden and summer house for what was interesting mix of market and party.
If you haven’t heard of Ms Marmite lover I urge you to check out her blog The English Can Cook ; but back to the market. There was music from a fab band, cocktails, hot food, food and drink to take home, some gorgeous craft stalls (I loved Avarea17) and demonstrations in the kitchen, giving me huge shelf envy! Sad but true.
Not living in London and not having easy access to more established markets, and not always being able to travel in for one-off events I thought the Underground Market was a great was of finding out about and making contact with a group of makers and producers I wouldn’t normally have been able to. They were a pretty twitter savvy bunch,
so I imagine an event like this would be a great place to make contacts. I know that as well as picking up cards I’ve followed people I met on friday on Twitter.
Of the hot food, the stand out’s for me were kimchi sliders from Street Foodie
Mauritian Street Food by Jason and Jaque all the way from Nottingham was a revelation.
The pulled pork from Anna Mae’s Smoke House was seriously good and the bbq sauce stunning, but was too quickly and messily eaten to be photographed! We even had room to squeeze in on of Peck Peck’s ice creams for pudding. The Man loved his Lemon Curd, which seemed to be a popular choice but I wouldn’t have swapped my gorgeously floral and perfumed honey and lavender flavour.
We went away laden with other goodies for the weekend; flamiche from Squisito was a very tasty brekkie on Saturday, cheese and salmon from the Artisan Smokehouse helped make a stunning Quiche (not a contradiction in terms), recipe to follow. Sunday morning was definitely pepped up by opening my Mauvaise Maman Gooseberry and Gin jam and we are looking forward to eating our way through our other purchases. All in all it was a fun evening, great to see something supporting small independent producers so well supported and well worth the muggy trek into London! I’m certainly going to keep my eyes peeled for other events.
This is a mixture of what could have been three dinners ( if there had been enough of each). Linguine with nettle pesto, roast asparagus with parmesan and a foraged salad ( allotment weeds again*) with feta cheese.
English asparagus season is brief, about eight weeks from early May through June, but thanks to the gorgeous Spring we have been enjoying its early this year and has been on sale locally, and in some shops for a few weeks now.
As I’ve already mentioned I love asparagus but wince at both how much it costs at other times of the year and at the ecological of it being shipped half way round the globe (most often from Peru). Also I think the fresh stuff tastes so much better! You can still get ropey asparagus at this time of year but many shops are good at getting it on sale quickly, if you can pick it up from the farm or pick your own, so much the better. So for the next few weeks I will enjoy eating asparagus with a clear conscience, go get some and give it try, but be quick it won’t be around for long!
*Chives, hawthorn leaves, mint, garlic mustard and sorrel.
I’ve already mentioned that previously courgettes have grown very well for us, we now have an ever-growing list of recipes for using them up; from courgette bread to courgette jam to go on it and all sorts in between. This year, in an attempt to achieve a mixture of flavours we are growing a green variety, yellow, the amusingly shaped tromba d’albenga and
butternut squashes (last chance saloon for these as they didn’t do well last year). This year, to try to make finding the fruit less of a challenge and for a bit of crowd control in the planting we have tried a more structured way of planting, rather than just chucking the seed in the ground and crossing our fingers!
It might not look like it but there is a plan at work here…honest. Each half bottle sits on top of a mound of soil, compost and manure and has two seeds planted under it. It should act like a mini green house helping the seeds germinate faster and helping keep them warm if the temperature dips. That’s the theory. They might need it as I have a sneaky feeling we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the recent lovely weather but fingers crossed the seedlings should stay warm in their little domes and we will have another bumper crop.