Monday, 30 April 2012

Rotocco Chilli

Last year I grew my chillis out doors, surrounded by glass to give them a bit of help, and they did very well, I still have bags of diced red rotocco chilli in the freezer!
So having set up the space at the allotment for another chilli patch, and having saved some seed from my favourites which were "Rotocco" and "Nigel's outdoor" I have started some off again for this year.
Nigels outdoor are a standard chilli which give flavoursome  green chillis that are perfect in curries as a contrasting crunch.
 Rotocco are an utterly different plant, producing a rounder shaped chilli that is better left until red but are a stunning plant that is amazingly prolific and produces lots of tasty hot hot chillis that I have been adding to lots of meals through the autumn and winter. Due to the weather getting frosty here rather early last year I pulled the entire plants while the chillis were still green:
You can see how big the plants were! We had trouble getting them all home from the allotment intact, but it was managed and I hung them upside down in the kitchen window until the chillis turned red:
And harvested gradually, this meant I did not have to dice and de seed in bulk!
This year I have again started these off early indoors on window sills as I want sturdy plants before I risk them outside.

This is Nigel's Outdoor Chilli, a typical looking chilli plant, but these are Rotocco:
and as you can see it would be difficult to muddle them!
So if you want to grow chillis this year, why not try a few of them outside? I originally got the seed for these varieties from "The Real Seed Company" [] but lots of places stock chilli seed, I am also thinking of trying "Scotch Bonnets" but haven't got them potted yet!

Friday, 27 April 2012

cauliflower, lettuce & asparagus!

So dodging rain showers again I visited the allotment today!
a cauliflower,
a lettuce
and more lovely asparagus!
The rain is making everything grow wonderfully and I even had to earth up the potatoes,
so a  little fresh veg to be muchly enjoyed,
I see cauliflower cheese with steamed asparagus in our future....
but for now I need to go check the bread [its Friday so its sour dough!]

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Red Onions....

So in between dodging rain showers [I hid in the grow house] and after earthing up the potatoes, I managed to plant out some red onion seedlings at the allotment. I do not really have enough space for onions, but I try and squeeze in a row of salad onions each year and this year I have also  found a gap for a row of red onions.
I love red onions, so tasty sliced with tomatoes and mozzarella and drizzled with a little olive oil in a simple salad, or caramelised in a tart. Last year the only veg I bought were onions and mushrooms so this year I want to grow some onions at least!

I know onion and goats cheese tart has been overdone as "the vegetarian option" but I actually enjoy a good caramelised red onion tart, with softly melted goats cheese,  lightly flavoured with thyme and served with home grown potatoes and peas.

I usually make my onion tarts with a short crust pastry base, however I had a pack of filo defrosting as I was going to make Greek cheese pie until I discovered we were out of spinach so I made this one with filo.

Red onion and goats cheese Tart

Five sheets filo & some melted butter or enough short crust pastry [chilled] to line a flan tin
2 large red onions thinly sliced
a knob of butter
leaves from a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme ~ or 1 teaspoon of dried
Soft goats cheese
balsamic vinegar

Line your flan tin thinly with either your short crust pastry or layers of filo pastry spread with a little melted butter, and pop into the fridge to rest. [If you are using shortcrust pastry then you might also want to blind bake the pastry case in a low oven before putting in the filling]

In a large pan melt the butter add your onions and slowly, slowly, cook to soften adding the thyme a couple of minutes before you turn up the heat and add a splash of balsamic vinegar stirring now until the onions fully caramelise. Don't rush the cooking of the onions as this is where all the rich flavour of the tart comes from!

Spoon the onion mixture into the pastry lined flan tin and spread out evenly, then crumble [or lay slices of] your goats cheese over the top. If you are using filo pastry then fold the edges in and scrunch to create a rustic looking edge and brush with a little more melted butter before putting into the oven.

Cook in a medium hot oven at a temperature appropriate for the type of pastry you are using until the pastry is cooked and the goats cheese is melted and starting to colour.
This is great hot from the oven with home grown veg, or served warm with a salad.

Do you have favourite red onion recipes?
I think this one is worth getting wet and planting a few onions for.
Needless to say when I got home from the allotment the rain stopped and the sun came out, so tea was a little delayed while I sat out and enjoyed the sun.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Recipe for Sour dough

Recipe as requested!
There are really three parts to this, the "mother" the "starter" and the bread  and the way I do it comes from trial and error with several methods from books and bits brought in from the amazing sour dough day course I went on at Tracebridge.
My main piece of advice is use it as a starting place and adapt it to fit your no doubt busy life!

1. The "mother"
 The easy way is to find some one you know who already makes sour dough and get them to give you some of theirs... but if you can't do that then it is going to take you about a week to create your own,  but don't panic you only have to do this bit once, when you have your own "mother" as long as you look after it will last for ever
This is how I made the "mother" [I have read other more complicated methods but this worked OK for me**]
10oz strong organic white flour with
10fl.oz water
to create a thick paste that you then put into a kilner jar and leave with the lid open a little in a place at room temperature [warm but not hot ~ and out of drafts]
Stir it a little if it starts to separate and move it somewhere slightly warmer.
after 3 to 4 days it should smell a little of vinegar and be bubbling a bit
throw away, give away or compost 1/2 the mixture and add 5 oz strong white organic flour that has been mixed with 5 fl.oz water into a smooth paste. Transfer the whole lot into a clean lidded tub or jar.
The next day you can use some to make the "starter" and bread  - then add another 5oz flour mixed with 5 fl.oz water to top it up again and put it in the fridge [lid closed] where it will keep for about 3 to 4 days before it will need feeding again [with the 5 + 5 mix of flour and water] just remember to take it out of the fridge and feed it the day before you want to make bread! [for me this is Thursday morning]

2. The night before you want to make bread [for me Thursday evening] make the "starter"

These quantities should give you two to three loaves or two loaves and a batch of 8 small rolls,
in a large bowl mix:

1lb 2oz strong white bread flour
650ml warm water
1 ladle of your sour dough "mother" [which you can then feed with its 5 + 5 mix and put back in the fridge!]
cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave it over night

3, In the morning take a look at your "starter", it should be bubbling, add

1lb 6oz flour
1oz salt
and mix into a soft sticky dough which you then turn out onto a lightly oiled surface and knead. Most books will say for at least 10 minutes - I do 300 kneads, [as taught at Tracebridge] scraping the surface clean and re oiling after each hundred [this allows me to go at my own speed and copes with interruptions such as 'phone calls]
shape into a round, put it into an oiled bowl, cover and leave somewhere warm for an hour.

After the hour tip the dough out onto an oiled surface and using the tips of your fingers press it out flat then lift the sides into the middle and form it back into a round and put it back in its bowl, cover and leave somewhere warm for another hour!

Do the tipping out, flattening, forming into a round and leaving for an hour twice more - the dough should be soft and smooth and there will be small bubbles forming just below the surface.
This is when you divide the dough into three and shape it into loaves or rolls as you wish and put them onto grease proof  paper or baking trays, cover with cling film or a damp tea towel to stop it drying out.
Then you get to leave it for a further 2 or 3 hours until it has doubled in size, as this is a soft dough it will spread out more than it goes upwards but don't panic it will rise in the oven.
While the bread is rising heat the oven to at least 250 oC which is I believe gas mark 10.
Cook the loaves for 10 minutes then check and turn down the heat to 200oC if they are browning, cook for a further 20 to 30 minutes when they should be a nice crusty brown and sound hollow when you tap the base.
Let them cool for a while on a wire rack before you slice.... they carry on cooking for a bit even out of the oven and are better for it if you let them cool down...


**if you have any problems getting the "mother" going let me know and I will try to trouble shoot

Friday, 20 April 2012

Friday so its sour dough...

As I may have mentioned I make bread each week, each Friday, and lately it has been sour dough bread.
Sour dough is tasty while not being heavy and lasts an amazingly long time [provided it doesn't all get eaten up fast!] it is simple to make it just takes time throughout the day, and as I work from home on Fridays it makes it the perfect day for bread making.
Thursday morning I get the sourdough "mother" out of the fridge where it lives through the week and feed it with a mix of flour and water, that is then left till last thing at night when I mix together flour, water and a ladleful or two of "mother" to create the "starter" that I then cover with cling film or a damp tea towel over night.
This is the line up of flour/salt mix, "starter" and "mother"

Friday morning I feed "mother" and put it back in the fridge and add more flour and salt to the "starter" stirring and mixing until I get a very soft and sticky dough which I then turn out onto the lightly oiled table to knead

then I knead 300 times and pop it back into an oiled bowel, cover and leave it for an hour. After the hour tip it out, stretch it, form it back into a ball and put it back in its bowl for another hour ~ you can feel it getting softer and start to see bubbles forming under the surface.
after three times of tipping it out, and shaping leave it for a final hour before tipping it out and dividing into loaves and rolls which I then cover and leave to rise for a further two hours
they grow!
then heat the oven and bake in batches
the bread is light and chewy
and perfect with cheese and relish for tea
our regular friday evening tea, this week as I made extra I dropped a loaf off to mum too.
If you'd like the full recipe details let me know and I'll post them, otherwise....
I am off for another slice of bread and local cheddar with home made tomato relish, yumm.....

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


Salsify was one of my 'ooh must try that' attempts at the allotment, I had heard it described as a vegetable oyster, so how could I resist?
I have planted two rows of seed each year since, it grows well producing lush foliage and last year, the first time I let it go to seed, it produced little yellow flowers on three foot high spikes that left me with plenty of seed to grow from this year.
The root is the bit you eat and that is where the fun begins,
when you see pictures of it there are these lovely long whitish roots  [looking like long white carrots but a little hairier] well I do get lovely long white roots,
but that is the problem I can never seem to get them out in one piece, as my lovely long roots are always snapping!
So I end up very muddy when I go to dig up some salsify and I always end up with a collection of broken roots, not that it affects the flavour at all, but they do discolour which is a little annoying when you want to be able to produce that perfectly pale bowl of delicious saslify soup for dinner.

But I digress
When you get your salsify home, [broken or otherwise] it then needs a wash and a peel and popping into a bowl of water that has a little lemon juice in it - the lemon juice stops the discolouration occurring [or in my case getting any worse!]. This all sounds very easy but I always find it very fiddly and time consuming ..... so why do I bother?
Well the answer is simple,
it is really quite delicious.
There are two meals that I have tried so far that make all this worthwhile
a salsify soup and a salsify version of a dauphinoise
this is the recipe for the soup.
Salsify, diced [at least two large roots]
one onion, diced
good vegetable stock [ about 1.5 litres]
one large potato, diced
olive oil
a little cream [optional]
truffle oil or truffle infused oil or a few diced and pan fried shitake [optional ]

Melt a knob of butter in a large pan with a splash of olive oil and gently fry off the onion until softened, add the salsify and potato and coat in the oil, add a little stock to prevent it sticking and cook for a few minutes, stirring.
Add the rest of the stock, bring up to a boil then cover, turn down to a simmer and cook until the salsify is very soft. You now need to either press it all through a sieve, or use a food processor or whizzy whizz to make it into a velvety smooth puree.
Taste, season and return to the pan, add additional stock or a little cream if you would like it thinner and serve garnished with a swirl of truffle oil or a sprinkling of pan fried shitake mushrooms.

The truffle oil or mushrooms are something that seem to compliment the salsify perfectly, and the potato adds something too, it is not just there as a thickener. 

The richness and subtle depth of flavour of this simple soup make it all very worthwhile.
I will be planting this years salsify soon.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Today in pictures

just a brief post in pictures as the garden is glowing and growing......
The Cherry is in blossom....
the red hazel is coming into leaf....
the woven willow is sprouting...
 and so green it almost seems to be glowing!
basically, the garden is coming into leaf and I love it!
but now I have to get a meal together so I am off to create soup,  [often a Monday evening meal as I work long hours on Mondays] probably  mixed vegetable as there are bits and bobs that need using up, which along with some home made sour dough bread will go down a treat......
recipe will no doubt follow later!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Asparagus & Oca

Exciting times at the allotment!
I am trying to grow Oca for the first time, which is meant to be like growing potatoes so I hope not too difficult but a little dependant on a long growing season so we will see, I am trying the variety 'unknown rose' and although harvesting is not until very late October I am already thinking about recipes I would like to try with it...

today I cut the first fresh asparagus of the season and although it is just a few spears it is a delight, gently steamed and served with butter as a simple starter,
first real  treat of the season - the comment when I served it was:

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Blue Bananas

Blue Bananas are a rare type of winter squash that I grew for the first time on my allotment last year, it is a rare trailing vine variety that seemed to like my allotment and last years weather very well. I get the seed  from an amazing little company based in Wales called the Real Seed Catalogue [] who are avid seed savers. When picked last autumn it was a kind of steely blue colour but now after having been stored in my garage through winter it is no longer blue:
One of the reasons I like to grow squash is because they save, and this variety saves well !
So next I trimmed the top and bottom off, cut in half lengthwise, scooped out all the seeds and cut  off the skin.
[It is worth noting that I could not save the seeds to grow on as squash do cross pollinate and I did grow a bunch of types all in one patch]
Then having diced the flesh I ended up with about 3lb of beautiful golden squash:
 If you taste it now it has a great nutty flavour but I wanted to have a hot dinner so I am adapting a recipe from one of my favourite cook books 'wild garlic, gooseberries & me' by Denis Cotter, a beautiful book full of interesting, useful and inspiring recipes, his recipe calls for using some of the smaller and more common sweet dumpling squash but with a few changes the blue banana squash works well too despite its very different texture.
I only needed about half of the squash but that is not a problem as it freezes easily and well ~ another reason I try to grow as much squash as possible!
Squash always mixes well with the flavours of thyme or sage, this recipe combines both and also adds in lemon and cannellini beans to create what I enjoy as a regular meal.

1 1/2  lb diced blue banana squash
Olive  Oil
Salt & Pepper
2 Small full flavoured onions thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme ~ lemon thyme if you can get it! [strip leaves from stem]
10 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 tin Cannellini beans
Zest  & juice of 1 lemon
4 fl. oz of vegetable stock

  • Tip the diced squash onto a baking tray and coat in a little olive oil & salt before roasting in a medium hot oven [200c] for half an hour to 45 minutes until tender but not too soft - its better with a bit of a bite.
  •  When the squash is nearly done:
  • Melt a knob of butter in a large pan and add a splash of olive oil, gently soften the onion then add in the garlic, thyme and sage and simmer gently for a couple of minutes before adding the beans, stock and lemon zest and juice. Bring this all briefly to a boil then turn it down and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  • Tip the cooked squash into a serving dish [or individual bowls] 
  • Stir a knob of butter into the cannellini bean mixture, season with pepper and pour over the squash
Eat and enjoy!
I think that this recipe brings out the great flavour of the squash while providing a fairly easy meal to prepare.
Let me know what you think

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


I grow my own Basil,
I love the flavour it gives to meals and I also have a thing about fresh home made Pesto, so I grow my own and I grow three varieties!
Finissimo basil, is a lovely little bush like plant with tiny tiny little leaves that are excellent sprinkled onto any tomato pasta dish as a finishing touch, or over freshly sliced tomato that is then drizzled with a little olive oil, yummy salad or side dish
Mammoth lettuce leaf basil, is exactly that, it grows Huge leaves that scent the air heavily when picked and have an amazing slightly anise type flavour, I pop a few leaves into any green salad for a zing of flavour
Sweet Genovese, is the final one, it is a medium sized leaf that has the traditional basil flavour and is the one I use for home made pesto.
So now I am happy, I planted the seeds a little while ago and have just potted up the seedlings, my kitchen table is covered with little tiny Basil plants that will all be transplanted into pots for windowsill, allotment and sunny spots in the garden [and a few gifts for friends]
Once they are bigger I will post the pesto recipe,
if you'd like?
Do you use Basil in your cooking? I still have one plant I grew from seed  last year on my windowsill having managed Not to strip it bare through the winter,
Basil is easy to grow, and such a great addition to your cooking.