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The rain we have been so desperate for has come at last, but it would be the day I am helping Lee to pack the organic vegetable boxes for delivery tomorrow.

I have come in with wet feet after discovering, too late, a hole in my work boots. I am very attached to my steel toe cap boots and generally can make them last for up to 2 years per pair. It doesn’t seem long but the wear and work they get  means they do work very hard for their living.

It was a lovely damp misty morning  on the farm and all the vegetables I have been picking and pulling were glossy with rain. The earth smells so warm and rich after heavy rain. Whilst packing the boxes I have been planning what we will be eating this week .

I will make a small salad with the lettuce, some of the onion, some grated carrot, some thin  slivers of the turnip, and some thin slivers of the lovely beetroot.

With the beetroot tops I will make a gratin. Simply steam the tops like spinach and pour over a rich cheese sauce. Sprinkle with a little grated cheese and bake in the oven.

Stir fry the cabbage with a little garlic and serve with cold meat and boiled new potatoes.

Par boil the new potatoes and store in the fridge until needed. Once par boiled you can quickly roast or skewer and BBQ or sauté.

I always make a vegetable soup with what’s left of the veg box every week, and freeze it. Most weeks it comes out of the freezer again and we eat it as a late supper with crusty bread,  garlic croutons, or cheese on toast. Something hot, tasty, and easy to eat when you come in late and tired.

The chard is one of our favourite summer vegetables and I will often just steam it and add a quick grating of nutmeg and some salt and pepper to serve. Treat it in a similar way to spinach, so you can eat it raw in a salad if you prefer. Chard also make a lovely sag aloo (potato and spinach curry).

Some of the beetroot can go into a moist and lovely chocolate and beetroot cake . This cake freezes very well. There are lots of recipes for chocolate beetroot cake but a quick and easy one is a simple chocolate sponge recipe (100g of flour/cocoa) with a fresh peeled and grated beetroot added. Bake as a normal sponge cake. I always add a tablespoon of milk to a chocolate sponge recipe to slacken the mixture. There are, however, some lovely rich recipes which contain real organic chocolate instead of cocoa powder which are worth making for a special treat.

 One of my favourite ways with beetroot is to roast it in wedges. Par boil the beets with their skin on. Rub off the skin (wear rubber gloves because the juice stains), cut into wedges, and splash with a little oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven until tender and caramelized.

If I can rescue the broad beans before the kids eat them all raw I will pod them and give them a gentle boil. They are nice crushed up and eaten on thick buttered toast with lots of black pepper – no need to share them!

We hope you all enjoy your organic vegetable boxes, wherever you buy them from.

You can look and see what we are up to on the farm on www.gandsorganics.com – check out the link to the farm blog.

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Organic veg boxes

As you probably know, I farm a small organic farm with my partner Lee. We raise chickens, cattle, sheep, pigs, and grow vegetables, and deliver our produce locally through our organic box scheme.

These are just some ideas and an insight into the way we us the box at home.

My normal plan is to prep up the whole box when it arrives. If you have read any of my other posts you will have gathered that my plan for world domination is firstly to organise my own life, my fridge, and then take over the world. So I guess we are all pretty safe, for now!

This week I have made from the veg box:

  • Potato and nettle soup (nettles out of the fields)
  • Red cabbage coleslaw (using half a red cabbage, one grated carrot, and mayonnaise) to go with the salad bag, and eaten with cold meat or burgers, and possibly a potato rosti
  • Purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflower gratin, with an oat, bread crumb  and herb crust ( great kids tea or late supper dish)
  • Carrot and onion bhajis (one carrot and one onion makes 8 bhajis), served with some homemade pickle.

I feel compelled, no, driven, to make bread. No ordinary bread, but a living breathing thing. After an amazing bread-making day with Mathew Rawlings of the Great Northumberland Bread Co I have become obsessed. I am in possession of a sour dough starter. Quite simply flour and water and a life of its own.

I’m lovingly tending it, feeding it, and watching it as I would a newborn. Waiting, just waiting, until the magical time when it’s ready to turn my strong flour into wholesome bread, no yeast required. Delicious sour dough loaves.

Once the starter has come to life and you feed it and grow it you can use portions of it to add to strong flour and make your own homemade loaves. It is possible to keep your starter alive and working its magic for many years.

Today is day one of the starters life with our family. It is now that I realize just how cold our house really is. Not many cultures grow in sub-zero temperatures and warmth is certainly required to grow and multiply my pet. Many recipes to follow.

This savoury scone recipe is a must in your culinary armoury. It is so flexible and can be a simple afternoon snack, breakfast, or indulgent treat.

Cheese Scones

  • 175g  self-raising flour
  • 25g fat (butter, margarine or hard fat – it depends what you have in stock)
  • A pinch of ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of mustard powder
  • 1oog grated really good mature cheddar (organic of course)
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 tablespoon of cold milk

Put all the dry ingredients, except the grated cheese, into your mixing bowl or mixer. Combine them with the fat, or rub in with light movements using the end of your fingers. You’ll achieve a bread crumb like mixture.

At this point add the grated cheese and stir to distribute. With the mixer running, very slowly add the beaten egg and the milk. You may not need all the milk, just enough so that the mixture comes together into a ball, but not sticky.

Tip the ball out onto a floured board. Gently and lightly shape into a circle approx 3cm thick. Cut the circle into four triangles. Place on a greased baking tray and brush them with a little beaten egg.

Bake in a hot oven (220°C or gas mark 7) for 15 minutes until golden brown. Keep an eye on them after 10 minutes as you may need to turn the oven down slightly.

Remove the scones from the oven and allow too cool on a wire rack. Or just eat with as much butter as you can get on them!

Lists about lists

I’m often teased about my list making – you are either a list maker or you are not. I’m an olympic list maker and when, after a bout of micky-taking, I stop making lists I am somewhat out of sorts, i.e. general household tasks and work just don’t get completed, and sometimes not done at all.

So yesterday I was exceptionally pleased with myself after making a rather comprehensive list in the morning. I dispatched George off on his school trip and arrived in work before 9 o’clock. I had rather a busy day serving customers (OK a lot of them are friends), and still made 3 cakes, 2 batches of date scones, and a tray of flapjacks.

Once home from work, Billy and I completed his maths homework. I hoovered and dusted whilst nodding in agreement (maths has really changed since I was at middle school). I made casualty chicken curry (long story involving a fox) and rhubarb crumble for supper. Nic, our neighbour, who’d called in the shop earlier complaining about cash flow (which I think we are all feeling at the moment) came round with her hair dye. The outcome of our financial  discussion resulted in us both agreeing we didn’t have anything left in the household budget to have a fancy salon cut and colour.

We cut and coloured her hair, and do you know it’s not quite as hard as you might think! In fact I got quite carried away with myself and rooted out some old curling tongs I must have once thought I may use, and set too curling and styling the newly coloured hair, and with quite satisfying results. I must say at this point I’m pleased I have boys – hardly any need to brush their hair. So last night I sat down glass in hand, basking in the glorious knowledge of list plus some completed, with pen and paper to write tomorrows list!

Chocolate orange cake

At last, a busy day in the coffee shop due, I think, to the lovely change in the weather. Actual heat in the sun, and people sitting out in the shop garden. Lots of happy smiley faces! The day goes so much more quickly and I managed lots of baking too.

An excellent offering for tea at home, which always goes down well in the shop, is a chocolate orange marble cake. Really easy to make, but you simply have to use good organic oranges. The zest is fantastic with lots of orangey oil and colour in the skin.

Chocolate sponge recipe

  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 100g sugar
  • 100gs butter
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoon of milk
  • ½ tsp of vanilla essence

Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well together.

Orange sponge recipe

  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 100g butter softened
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 organic oranges, zest and juice

Mix ingredients all together.

Chocolate butter icing

  • Chocolate
  • 60g butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Blend together and beat until smooth.

Orange butter icing

  • 60g butter, softened
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • zest from 1 orange

Again, blend together and beat until smooth. You can always add more icing sugar if too soft, or more liquid if too stiff.

Method

Make two sponge mixes, one orange and one quite dark chocolate.

In a well greased cake tin lined with greaseproof dollop alternate heaps of chocolate then orange mixture. Take a large metal spoon and swirl, with a cutting action, the sponge. Don’t over do it.

Bake in a moderate oven  gas mark 4 for 30 to 35 minutes. Do not over cook.

Once cool cut the sponge in half to give you two discs. Sandwich these back together with orange butter icing, not too much save the excesses for the top!

Decorate the top with 2 sorts of icing. chocolate butter cream and orange. again dollop on the icing one dollop chocolate then one orange and spread over cake in peaks not mixing them together too much. Sprinkle over some grated dark chocolate to finish.

Ice the cake, using swirly peaks of chocolate and orange icing.

Trout outside

It’s not that often that you have the good fortune to be offered a lovely freshly caught trout and gutted to boot. Well that’s just the position I was in the other night. A smashing 4lb beauty.

But what to do with it. There are lots of options and the simple ones are generally the best.

It is still April and the evenings are beginning to stretch out, and lately it has been just warm enough to eat outside on the odd occasion. So I am opting for the spiced up version and a little table just outside the door. Lots of candle add a lovely atmosphere.

Simply fillet the trout with a very sharp knife – this gives you two large meaty portions. A fish this size could feed 4 to 6 for dinner.

With the back of a knife rub off the scales on the skin side of the fish and discard. Turn the fish over and rub the flesh with a good pinch of sea salt, a teaspoon of chopped fresh chillies, a pinch of ground ginger, and a pinch of ground garam masala.

Heat a dash of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and fry the fish skin side down for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn it over and cook the flesh side for 2 to 3 minutes. Don’t overcook.

We enjoyed ours with a huge pile of steamed white sprouting broccoli and a large dollop of mayonnaise (there are some great organic ones available if you don’t have time to make your own, you can customise them with mustard, chillies or fresh garlic).