January on the allotment

22 Jan

January is the month I usually start to tidy up the allotment after the ravages of winter, I spent this afternoon spring cleaning the shed, digging over the vegetable beds, rescuing our very over grown strawberries and generally taking stock. I got a bit carried away and did more work than one person probably should so I’m typing this while nursing a medicinal G&T.

Sundays on the allotment also come with the ammusing accompaniment of local league football being played just over the fence; today it seemed very important that man called Gary should “keep his head up”. I’m not sure what that meant and from all the shouting going on neither did Gary!

Although the winter so far has been much milder than the last one, it has been very windy and there has been one major casualty on the allotment, the greenhouse. Here it is…

Doesn’t it look sad! The Man and I found it with the cover completely ripped off by the winds a few weeks ago and all we could do at the time was pick up the plastic cover which luckily hadn’t gone too far and stuff it in the shed. For reference here is the view in January 2011.

The Man thinks it’s fixable, but I’m not sure where to start.  I’m impressed it has held together for the three years we’ve had it, we snapped part of it on the day we put it up, it had to be majorly re enforced last year, and the other allotment holders around us looked pretty sceptical when they saw it. We shall see, I hope there is life in the old girl.

On a brighter note the rhubarb is starting to come through.

The first thing we planted and still coming back for more.

Despite the hard graft which always accompanies the first proper session on the allotment in the New Year it’s nice to return to something cyclical, look back at where things were last year and what might be this year. One thing is for sure Cabbages are now added to the list of things I won’t bother with again (soon there will only be weeds on this list), but something has been eating them despite all my attempts at protecting them so I’m giving in if I can’t eat them then nothing else is going to!

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Love Food Hate Waste: left over Christmas Cake

12 Jan

Do you still have a house guest left over hanging around after Christmas? No…check your cake tins, I once found a remnant of forgotten Christmas cake lurking in a tin in March! It probably had so much booze in it that it would have been edible but I just couldn’t face it. That story probably means I’m a very slovenly house keeper, but since I make my own Christmas cake I’m more keen than every to use it up and not let it go to waste.

If you have thrown out any left over Christmas cake shame on you because you are missing a real treat. Warm Christmas cake with Christmas pudding ice cream. Oh yes dear reader, it may be January, chocolate rabbits and eggs may have appeared in the shops already and this may not even be a recipe but you will thank me for it!

Ingredients & Method

For the Christmas Pud ice cream I used a tub of butter scotch ice cream but vanilla would be fine; allowed it to soften and then stirred through the crumbled remains of a Christmas pudding. Re freeze, and you’re done.  Don’t worry if you haven’t got any left, serve this with any ice cream you like.

Cut a portion of Christmas cake, place in a bowl and warm it (I use the microwave for speed).

Serve with a dollop of ice cream.

I find this a particular pleasure with a drop of whisky, when all the decorations have come down, Christmas and New Year seem a long time ago, the Weight Watchers ads are on TV and things feel a bit grim. Perfect pick me up I’d say! Thrifty too if you’re feeling the pinch after the festive season.

Jamie Oliver’s Dan Dan Noodles

9 Jan

The Man and I have a major cook book habit; whilst this means we are never short of inspiration, it does mean we tend to forget books we have had for a while. Whilst this means that yes there are a number of  infrequently used books taking up a lot of shelf space,  it also means that you get the joy of rediscovering a cracking book you had sort of forgotten about, in this case Jamie’s America.

I loved this book when I we first got it, but haven’t  cooked from it a great deal as I’m easily distracted by new cook books. However, after out trip to New York I decided to have another look and see what Jamie made of it. The book provides a number of Mr Oliver’s (i.e not necessarily totally authentic) takes on key New York dishes and I settled on his Fiery Dan Dan Noodles* as a feisty, New Year pick me up of a dish at the end of the dreaded first week back at work!

I was really pleased with the end result, a quick, tasty, spicy dish that I thinks will become part of the Hungry Sparrow repertoire. The only issue I had, and this may be due to me using a not very spicy chilli oil and Szechuan pepper that is loosing it’s spice but I didn’t find is as searingly hot as Jamie warns it might be, which was puzzling as I’m sure I halved the recipe quite carefully. The Man and I do like spicy food but I’m sure we haven’t burned our taste buds off too much.

Ingredients

  • 1 stock cube, chicken, veg or beef
  • 250 g wheat noodles (quite thick ones)
  • 200 g of minced beef
  • 1 tbsp of honey
  • Could of handfuls of green veg (I used broccoli and pack choi)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp of Szechuan ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp of chilli oil
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 1/2 lime quartered ( put the rest in a gin and tonic as you are preparing and cooking)

Method

  • Put the stock cube in a big pan of water and bring to the boil ( this will be for the noodles later)
  • Dry fry the beef in a large pan until dark and crispy ( about 10-15 minutes), add the honey, stir for 30 seconds, then set aside.
  • Place the noodles in the now boiling stock and cook as the packet direct, with a couple of minutes to go remove a cup full of the water and throw in the veg and cook until done to your liking.
  • Drain the noodles and vegetables then return to the hot pan with cup of stock, garlic, soy sauce, Szechuan pepper, and chilli oil.
  • Divide this between two bowls and top with the crispy beef ( re heated if you like) and the chopped spring onions.
  • Serve with a quarter of lime to squeeze over the top.
  • Don’t bother trying to eat tidily, this isn’t a first date dish (or maybe it is depending on your outlook).

* A quick Google suggests this version is very far removed from actual Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles, it is however a great recipe, if not one for pureists.

A Refreshing New Year

5 Jan

I love Christmas and New Year but there comes a point when I know I should eat something other than mince pies and drink something other than gin and tonics! I look in the mirror and my skin looks awful and the extra pounds are all too obvious. I think it happens to a lot of people at this time of year, hence the popularity of detoxing. I would never advocate detoxing Ben Goldacre does a much more eloquent job of explaining why here but there is a point after Christmas when I need to return to a more sane way of eating, for the sake of my health and my wallet. This salad is from the River Cottage Veg Every Day book and is colorful, zesty, light enough to feel like it’s doing you some good but the avocado makes it a little more substantial. It’s very quick to prepare and the only fiddly bit is preparing the grapefruit.

Serves 2

  • 1 ruby or pink grapefruit
  • 1 avocado
  • 1⁄2 small or medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • A small handful of coriander leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Slice the top and bottom from the grapefruit. Stand it upright on a board and work your way around the fruit with a sharp knife, cutting off the skin and all the pith. Now hold it in your hand over a bowl to catch the juice and slice carefully down between each segment to release from the membrane, letting the segments fall into the bowl, be careful with the knife while doing this! Squeeze the juice from the remaining membrane in too. Halve, and stone the avocado, cut lengthways into thin slices. Arrange  grapefruit segments  and avocado on a plate and pour over the saved juice. Sprinkle a little salt and the chopped chilli over the salad. Finish with the coriander and a generous splash of olive oil.  Serve straight away.

The Hungry Sparrow goes to New York

1 Jan

The blog has been quite quiet in December partly because I’ve been very busy,  partly due to poor planning if I’m honest, and because The Man and I have been on holiday to New York. I don’t want to waffle on about it, apart from to say it was amazing, if slightly disconcerting to be in a city you have seen so often in films, on TV in books etc. However, it’s fair to say food featured pretty heavily in what we did so here is a quick canter through some of the highlights.

Lox Special on a pumpernickel bagel in Brooklyn; salmon, cream cheese, red onion and capers.

Fresh and tasty vegan sandwiches from Peace Food Cafe , spiky service though perhaps they were having a bad day.

Chippotle turkey at the trendy and packed  Westville East

A Kasha (buckwheat) Knish,  substantial Eastern European Jewish food designed to keep out the cold of a harsh winter. We also ate them from Yonah Schimmel Knishes, tasty pastry cannon balls; it’s a good job we did a lot of walking to burn them off.

Tacos from Brookly Taco Company, hot sauce mandatory!

Green mango chips with chili sugar salt at Fatty Crab, wow!

Moreish but lethal cocktails from Temple Bar, The Man and I got very merry on these.

So those are the highlights, a nod should also go to this fab food tour  of the Lower East Side that the Man found online which filled a damp afternoon with interesting sights, smells and tastes! We also managed to have brunch at Shopsins somewhere I’ve wanted to go since The Man bought me this book. I loved it and it was every thing I sort of hoped it would be, but there are no photos as we followed “the rules”. Some people hate it and I can see why that might be, a read of the Google Reviews sums up the two schools very well. For what it’s worth I loved the food and they were borderline friendly to us!

further adventures without the bread maker.

2 Dec

Since my fab bread masterclass with Warings I’ve been honing my kneading skills and playing around with different recipes. Recently I picked up some lovely local-ish apple and cinnamon bread mix from the Wessex Mill, down the road in Wantage. I’ve never used a bread mix before and the instructions on the packet were designed for the bread maker but said it could be made by hand without altering any of the amounts so off I went.

Following the instructions on the packet I mixed the ingredients together with 320ml of warm water and kneaded for about 8-10 minutes. At first I was a little worried that the dough would be too wet, the packet says that if  the loaf collapses in the bread maker and to use less water if this is the case, so I was concerned; but the dough came together nicely as you can see.

I left it to prove until it had doubled in size, knocked it back and the left it to rise again in a greased round tin.

As the packed didn’t have any baking instructions (assuming you know or are using a bread maker) so I used my Waring’s instruction sheets and gave it about 25 minutes at 200° ( or until it sounds hollow when tapped which I will admit is a concept I still don’t fully understand). I was pretty pleased with the results.

I even managed to slash the top properly, the structure of the loaf was pretty good too, by my standards anyway.

It rose very well and wasn’t overly cinnamoney (sic) or sweet, I did add sugar which was optional in the recipe and whilst I’m not sure it would work with savory foods it was a lovely breakfast loaf with butter, honey or jam.  I must confess I’m still enjoying making bread by hand when I have the chance, it’s a little bit magical which is a good job as I’ve got to loaves worth of this flour left in the cupboard!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

24 Nov

Having a mid November birthday I try to hold off doing anything Chirstmassy before it, and increasingly difficult task with Christmas sneaking in earlier and earlier, but I try. Once my birthday, and that of a very good friend even later in November are over I let myself start thinking about Christmas; I build up slowly otherwise I think I could get a bit carried away.

The first step is making a Christmas cake, a bit of a faff yes but always in my experience nicer than a bought one and while people are want to joke about turkeys lasting far to long, but a large Christmas cake soaked in enough booze will keep well into the New Year, whether you still feel like eating it then is another matter! But here is the best recipe I have found and one which has drawn the most complements for Jamaican Black Cake; a rich, fruity, boozy cake which everyone seemed to enjoy. I don’t know if this is authentic, a search of the internet shows up a variety of methods, some involving soaking fruit for a month or longer, but this recipe suits me.

Ingredients

113g mixed peel

113g glace cherries

227g prunes

454g raisins

grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 lime

2 cups dark rum

1 tsp vanilla essence

227g margarine or butter

227g dark brown sugar

2 tbsp caramelized brown sugar (browning sauce)

170g plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp salt

1tsp baking powder

4 eggs

Method

  • 24 hours before baking finely chop the fruit, zest the lemon and lime and place in a large bowl with 1 cup of the rum and vanilla essence and leave to infuse.
  • Grease and line a 9 inch round cake tin
  • Pre heat the oven to 180°
  • In a large bowl cream the butter, sugar and caramel until light and fluffy
  • In another bowl sieve the dry ingredients together
  • Beat the eggs and last cup of rum together then add to the creamed butter mixture in two halves, adding a spoon or two of the flour mixture if it looks like curdling.
  • Fold in the remaining dry ingredients and pour into the tin.
  • Level the top of the cake and bake in the centre of the oven for approx 1 ½ hrs, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool in the tin and store in an air tight tin, you can feed the cake with an additional shot of rum every week until it is needed.

Make no mistake this is a very rich cake, and ideally it should be made a month in advance so it can be topped up with rum and to allow the flavours to develop. However, I think you could make it quite a bit closer to the big day and still get away with it. It also ices very well, although I did over do it with the edible glitter!
 

Treacle flapjacks

17 Nov

For the past few years I’ve make my own Christmas Cake…but this post isn’t about that, it focuses on an annual problem; what to do with the left over ingredients from making the Christmas Cake. Which ever recipe I use there are always a few things left over.

Glace cherries tend not to hang around for very long as both The Man and I will happily eat them from the packet, raisins etc are also eaten swiftly. Candied peel usually lurks in the cupboard until some time in the summer, and this year there is treacle too. Trying to cut down on food waste I don’t want to throw these things out if I can help it so I am on a quest to use them up. First up, treacle flapjacks.

I used to hate treacle with a passion, Mum would make treacle toffee every bonfire night and watch as her ungrateful daughter spat it out or turned my nose up at it. I have since made my peace with treacle, good job as there is the rest of a large tin in the kitchen; and this recipe is quick, easy and delicious.

Ingredients

  • 150g butter
  • 75g dark brown soft sugar
  • 75g dried fruit of choice (I used sultanas)
  • 75g  black treacle
  • 225g porridge oats
  • pinch salt

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas mark 5.
  • Melt the butter, sugar and syrup or treacle in a saucepan, but be careful not to let it boil. Stir in the porridge oats and the salt and mix thoroughly.
  • Press the mixture into a 20cm (8 in) round baking tin and bake for 25 minutes, don’t be tempted to leave them in the oven for longer or they will set solid and be really difficult to get out of the tin!
  • Remove from the oven and mark into slices. Lift from the tin and leave to cool before cutting. Store in an airtight container.

TA DA! Not the best picture in the world, but they are much darker than standard flapjacks too. You could replace the treacle with golden syrup, but these had a very comforting old-fashioned taste too them. They aren’t very healthy either, with all that butter and sugar; but as a treat or an energy boost I don’t think you can beat a good flapjack. Luckily there is plenty of treacle left so I think we will get through plenty of these.

Autumnal allotment

8 Nov

Although I think it’s still unseasonably warm the allotment is winding down, and we should really get on and do those end of season tasks we always put off until the weather turns really wintry; we never seem to learn! Most of the vegetables are over now and the beds have been cleared but there are still a few plants still hanging on though.

We still have a few chillies left, the others are drying at home.

These little chillies are supposed to be mild but a taste test suggest otherwise! I had to pick them all as the plant was looking a bit bedraggled.

The very last of the cherry tomatoes were sweet and delicious,they have benefited from the extra warmth and staying on the vine for longer.

It’s not all digging up and the end of the line, these cabbages are starting to develop hearts and as long as we can keep the slugs off them should be ready in spring. Our cavalo nero is also doing well and should see us through the winter and into spring nicely.

Ox cheeks with blood orange and green polenta

30 Oct

I’ve had a bit more time to do some cooking recently and as the nights draw in and it gets colder I like start craving warming, comforting dishes and a favorite cut of meat to use are ox cheeks. Not only are they cheap, a little goes a long way and they can be bulked up with other cheap ingredients to make something quite wonderful like this.

The inspiration came from this recipe for Pork Cheek Tacos by Helen Graves which I had a feeling would work with ox cheeks and I was right, the result is a perfect Autumn/Winter dish that The Man described as ” a triumph” the highest level of foodie praise in our house! It takes a long time but you don’t have to keep an eye on it and the results are so good I’d urge you to give it a try, it is seriously tasty

Ingredients, serves 2

1 tbsp oil

2 tbsp plain flour for dusting

1 large ox cheek

2 onions finely sliced

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 glass of red wine

juice of 1 blood orange or 1 cup of blood orange juice

1 chippotle chilli crushed ( or a heaped tsp of paste)

1 tbsp tomato puree

500 ml vegetable stock

½ cinnamon stick, 4 cloves, 4 allspice berries and 2 bay leaves, preferable tied in muslin bag so you can pull the out at the end.

Method

Lightly dust the meat with flour.

In a large lidded pan, heat the oil and brown the ox cheek on both sides then set aside on a plate. Turn the heat down a little and fry the onions for 5 minutes, add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes being careful not to let it burn. Next deglaze the pan with the wine and orange juice, add the chilli, tomato puree and stock, stir until combined then add the spices in their bag before returning the ox cheek to the pan. Place the lid on the pan and cook on a very low heat for at least 3 hours, longer won’t hurt.

After at least three hours the meat should be soft and tender, remove from the pan and on a plate or chopping board, use two forks to shred the meat and then return it to the pan with the sauce which should now be thickened. Remove the bag of spices taste and season as you wish.

I served this with quick cook polenta with kale stirred through to give it a green colour and Thomasina Mier’s pink pickled onions, which marinated in lime juice give a nice crunch and tang to the meal as well as looking beautiful with the other colours.

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