Thursday, 28 April 2011

Happy long weekend!

Well that's as up to date as I've managed to get I'm afraid.  You'll have to wait for next week for news of our seaside forage (mussels and seaweed - and it hasn't killed us yet either!), cookie making, countryside wanders and most excitingly - this weekend's South West Food Festival here in sunny Exeter.  Pop in - it's great.  Even better I got reduced price tickets through work!  Ma and big sis are visiting for it and Chap and I shall stock up on cheeses and goodies - there's often some festival-deal bargains to be had.  We shall have to remember the size of the fridge though!!  Enjoy the 4 days if you have them.  :-D

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Slow Cooker Carrot and Coriander Soup

Short on time and heavy on carrots?  [They were on the Aldi super 6!]  Knock up this slow cooker soup with a bit of chopping and finish it off when it's wanted.  Time frugal as well as cost frugal!  I'm good to you aren't I?  [Well - to myself!!] Although carrot and coriander is one of my favourite soups I realised I don't have a single recipe written down for it, the horror!!  I made this up with a bit of looking at a parsnip recipe from Sophie Grigson's veg book.  It can just as easily be made conventionally on a hob as well as in a SC [in fact I finished it off on the hob] - just simmer for long enough until the veg are soft enough to blend rather than leaving them in the slow cooker for several hours.
Carrot & Coriander Soup
2 red onions (or use one decent medium sized yellow one - I happened to have red ones in the cupboard)
2 lg / 4 sml cloves garlic
1 tbsp EVOO
'Thumb' of fresh root ginger*
1.5 lb / 700g-ish carrots
0.5 lb / 225g-ish spuds
1.5pt veg stock plus 0.25pt or
0.25 pt milk to slacken soup if liked
Living plant coriander (69p-ish Aldi!) / big bunch of it
Knob butter
S + P
0.5 tbsp lime juice
A little grated cheese - medium - mature cheddar or red leicester I'd suggest

Put the oil in the SC and turn it onto 'high'.
Roughly chop the onions and add them to the SC.  Add the finely chopped garlic and stir.
Grate / zest or finely chop the root ginger and stir into the SC pot.
Roughly chunk the carrots - being frugal aware make sure you get all the veg from round the tops - see pic.
Peel and chunk the spuds.  (Most of the time I don't bother peeling veg but for a smoothish soup you're blending you really need to.)
Add both to the SC and pour on enough stock to cover.  Mine needed 1.5 pints.
Trim the leaves from your coriander and put them in a glass of water in the fridge.  Chop the rest of the stalks (you've probably got about 2-3"), ensuring you get all you can from the pot and stir them into the SC.
Turn the SC down to medium or low, depending how long you've got / are out of the house for.  Mine was on low for 6.5 hours.
Blend.  Don't be disappointed by the taste at this point.  Once we add the seasonings it comes into it's own.
When ready to eat retrieve the coriander leaves from the fridge, reserve a few for garnishing if liked and chop the rest.  Stir into the soup and gently reheat on the hob. 
It'll be quite thick so slacken with a little more stock / milk at this point if liked, or leave thick if that's your preference.  I added 0.25 pint milk.
Stir a knob of butter in and add salt and pepper to taste.  It did need salt to bring the flavours out.
Remove from the heat and stir the lime juice through. 
Serve scattered with a little grated cheese and the reserved coriander leaves.
This was really good - the zing added by the lime worked so well but next time I'd up the amount of ginger used.  Guess it depends how big your thumbs are!!* Adaptable too - just leave out the cheese, butter and milk for a vegan dish.  I can also see it working with a little coconut milk in place of the extra 0.25 pint liquid at the end.  As ever with any 'recipes' I make up it's adaptable as you wish / are dictated to by the fridge & cupboard contents.  More of a guideline than a strict recipe.  Just so long as it's enjoyed.  :-)
[I've noticed this post gets a fair few hits, if you try it out - and I hope you do, please leave a comment and let me know how you got on.  It'd be nice to find others enjoyed it too!]
* What in the world is a 'thumb' of ginger?  It really is one of the most useless measurements in the world.  What if you're a big burly bloke or a dwarf - the size of your piece of ginger will bear no relation at all to each others.  I can cope with a 'knob' of butter and a 'glug' of olive oil - in fact I now believe them to be measurements which mean 'enough to add the desired flavour to the dish and that you're comfortable with in relation to your waistline' but a 'thumb' of ginger?  I ask you!  (Although I suppose that it could be argued there's a potential for difference in 'knob' size as well...)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Allotment update

Well, where to start?  It seems rather a long time since I got a proper regular 'this is me wittering on about what I've been up to' post up on here.  Perhaps a little allotment update as it seems to change daily at this time of year.  Every time I look around the seeds in the front window have grown another inch I'm sure!  Triffids on a bid for world domination!  (Yes, yes - I know that was an excess of exclamation marks then.)
My allotment is long and thin and one short edge abuts the track round the site.  Theres a small slope here from the track to the plot which was just dead space with grass on it which I wanted to utilise better with some 'raised' (built into the bank) 3 sided beds.  These could then be planted up with bee friendly plants - good for the bees and hopefully good for my plot by attracting more pollinators to it.  Well - mention it and it shall be done.  Chap was there with wood assorted and power tools and in a couple of hours I was the proud owner of 2 smart, free, upcycled beds.  All the wood came from other jobs - old fences, roofs etc.  The preservative I've used on the insides was a branded end of line one in £land that I've had sitting around at home for a good 8 years!  From this:

 Grassy bank and scraggy old bits of wood. 

To this:

Pretty smart eh?  (Ignore the rasps there - they need tidying up I know!)   Both are now nearly full of earth - as I've been prepping, raking over & planting each bed I've been shoveling the rock hard lumps that refuse to break up [see pic above left to see what I mean] into these.  I'll cover with some compost and plant up very soon.  I have various wild flower bee happy seedlings at home to go in and more seeds to sprinkle over.
Speaking of seeds here's some random exciting heirloom bean varieties a friend sent me.  I have planted a few of all of them and passed some on where there were spares.  I also got the Pea Bean recently after reading about it on littleblackfox's blog.  It's also a heirloom variety - I found them at Nicky's Nursery - incidentally very reasonable on price and very helpful on the phone when you realise you forgot something on your order the day before so call up to see if you can add it in!  Lovely people. 

I hope they all do ok - the Pea Bean is the only one not to have sprouted yet!  They're in loo roll inners at home along with 3 different runner beans, celeriac, 2 types of beetroot, the bee plants, asparagus peas, soya beans [they haven't come up yet either thinking about it], herbs, the Chap's chillis, pumpkin, 3 different squashes, courgettes, chard &c, &c, &c... 
Since these photos of the plot, where you can see my [somewhat straggly] broad beans; we've also planted the spuds, onion and garlic sets, peas x 2 varieties, parsnip x 2 varieties, salsify - not expecting much there as the seeds were somewhat out of date - I've put the lot in to see if anything happens, Hamburg Parsley and 3 different types of salad leaves as catch crops between these.  Also 2 different radish types in the centre of the runner poles which are in but so far only colonised by a few sweet peas - worth having a few in amongst the runners to attract the pollinating insects to the area.  More pollinators = more food for you.  Companion planting a go-go!  Plus I like sweet peas.  Anyway, this is the product of a couple of weekends.  Now the rest to do - toms, carrots, kale, perpetual spinach beet, the oriental radish the Chap bought, swede, land cress, saltwort, cabbage, cauli, sprouts, er - I'm sure there's lots more but I'll have to check the seed box[es.]  I defy anyone to have as many packs of seeds as me and remember them all!!  :-D  What have you planted?

Occular Errors Part Deux

The next 'thrilling' installment in an increasingly longwinded and irritating post attempt.  :-/

2 days later I was back at the hospital; after being shunted around for 4 hours they decide to do corneal scrapes - anaesthetic drops in your eyes followed by scraping with a mini scalpel blade (or what looked like one) from the surface of your eye - fun.  They also upped the drops to every 2 hours and gave me an additional stronger one to tke every 2 hours as well.  Needless to say I was quite concerned by all this but toddled off and managed to get the right bus back into town.  At which point the amaesthetic drops wore off and I was in muchos pain for the rest of the night where they'd scraped my eyes.  :-(
The following Monday I returned once more for another check and the results of the scrapings.  Nada - they had grown nothing.  As I understand it keratitis is normally caused by an infection of some kind but they thought that perhaps as I was already on the antibiotic drops possibly this had succeeded in stopping it.  Either way they were very pleased with my progress and the ulcers had lessened in size.  Phew!  I'm now back to the ranks of the bespectacled; for 6 weeks at least, and finished the course of antibiotics.  I am very very relieved that they're getting better.  I was painfully aware that you only get one set of the ol' baby blues [ok - bluey-greyish-greens] so should anything hideous happen to them that's your lot.  They must be looked after, a lesson I'll be well aware of in future.
Well - what with one thing and another I'm now mightily behind on the posts.  I will endeavour to catch up to the present day but bear in mind it's another 3 day week...  :-)
Hope you all had a nice easter break.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Unexpected break in transmission

I'm still having trouble posting this so will do it in parts. Here then is the first 'thrilling installment'. lol

Well - I certainly didn't mean to suddenly abandon posting like that. Unfortunately my eye was decidedly dodgy so I ended up in the Walk-in centre on the Monday. "No lenses[contact] for 48 hours" I was told sternly - making me effectively useless as I can focus less than a foot from my face before it all goes blurry. If it didn't clear up by the end of that time I was to go to the hospital eye centre.
Wednesday at the hospital - Keratitis - ulcers/abcesses on your cornea. Not clever and they made it very clear they were glad I was there. This is something which if untreated can have serious ramifications for your sight so I was very glad I was there as well. There is an infection you can easily get in conjunction with Keratitis that is particularly nasty and can destroy your cornea in 2 days flat. Scary stuff. I was told I can't even think about wearing contacts for 6 weeks. They gave me antibiotic eye drops and told me to use them 4 times a day and and return in 2 days to check on my progress. Meanwhile to go to the opticians and get glasses - something I didn't have an up to date pair of. [My last pair is 18 years old!]

Return for your next exciting update - well, when I get the effing thing to work. Had quite enough tussling with it now! I'm off to enjoy the easter-time sunshine. Enjoy!

test test test

Harumph - I'm off unexpectedly and Blogger decides it's no longer my friend. I'm trying desperately hard to get a thrilling account of why I suddenly vanished posted on here and it isn't playing at all. Just going to see if this posts...

Friday, 8 April 2011

Wild food weekend #4 - the Wrap up

Having spent the latter part of Saturday and almost all of last Sunday feeling decidedly under the weather [no - not the foraging but a bug going round at work I picked up for the weekend] once I felt slightly better and the sun came out on Sunday early evening I fancied a meander along the river. We discovered a great swathe of the broad leaved wild garlic Ramsons about 5 mins from home. Certainly closer than the previous stash I knew about of the narrower leaved type. [I just can't ascertain whether that is Field garlic - wrong leaves, Garlic chives - wrong flowers, or what. Plants for a future has a list of 19 types of 'garlic' and I'm still not sure.]We gathered some leaves and a few of the unopened flower heads having read somewhere on-line that these are good fried in a little butter. [Sorry - I just can't find it or remember where I saw this.] Always ensure you have the right plant - Ramsons can resemble the leaves of Lords and Ladies / Cukoo Pint which is very bad for you indeed. This is one below.

You will help yourself by foraging by hand too - don't cut big swathes with scissors or a similar instrument as you could easily get unwanted leaves in there along with the garlic. Lily of the valley is another plant with similar looking leaves that won't do us any good either.
As well as the Ramsons we found great swathes of nettles - far from the road so ideal for harvest, wild chives which I didn't even know about, mustard garlic and a plethora of other edible greens. We also mentally marked the position of some cherry trees so will return in season to see if they produce anything nice for us.

This was foraging at it's best - a gentle walk in the sun surrounded by the fresh smell of just-rained-on spring greenery drying out, in earshot of the river and it's wildlife with the bonus of some freebie tasty food. What more does one need? :-D [Other than a practical foraging bag of some kind but bear with me - it's in the mulling around stage in my head at present.]

Oh - nearly forgot to tell you - Chap said the squirrel tasted like a gamey pork, with an undertone of nuts / acorns. So not chicken then. :-D

Wild food weekend post #3

Some more of the edible plants we saw on our foraging walk, or 'bimble' last weekend at Otterton Mill. Bear in mind that all these were in the village; it's certainly not necessary to go trekking off for miles in the wilds to get some fresh free greens. Give it a go!

Bittercress - make a pesto using the raw leaves together with nettles and wild garlic, hazlenuts or walnuts and oil, lemon juice and parmesan. Grows in a rosette as seen here. Nipplewort - used to be used as a soothing poultice by nursing mothers, hence the name. Leaf and stem both edible. Use leaves raw in salad or wilt gently to cook. Yellow Flowers.
Cow Parsely - another of the umbellifers therefore easily mistaken for the poisonous Hemlock plant so I'm not posting a pic. It has a hairy stem though with an angle or ridge to it. I think most of us know what cow parsely looks like in the hedgerows but if you're even thinking of eating it get a good field guide! Use the stem - has an aniseed flavour. Can eat raw or cooked and can pickle it. Peel before using.
Cleavers / Goose Grass - yep - that blimmin sticky stuff that hooks it's little burrs onto your clothes and your cat in the spring and summer months. Best early in the year - around February but fine now. Just pick the very tops and cook - it's too scratchy to eat raw. Don't overcook. The seeds can be eaten when young - like peas. Can also use the scrunched up plant as a natural scourer and at one time people in the Outer Hebrides would weave a quick temporary basket from them for gathering foraged goodies. Red Valerian - Has red / pink flower spike heads. Cook leaves as greens and can eat raw in salad.
Navel / Penny Wort - Use the succulent leaves in salad. Taste better when growing in shade where you will find bigger leaves too.

So a lot of easy to find plants out there can be eaten and there's many more than this. Nettles and Wild Garlic to name 2 favourites.
After our walk we returned to the mill where later in the day we watched the cookery part of the wild food foraging. Here we had Alexanders as well - these grow either by or very near the sea and pretty much can be treated like celery - they sauteed it in butter which seemed to work. I must admit that in the cookery theatre everything seemed a little overwhelmed with butter but as least it gave us an idea of what all this stuff tastes like - and whether you think it's worth going out and getting again. As well as the Alexanders and various of the plants we'd seen on the forage we had Sea Beet; which the Chap and I have had before, and Ground Elder - something I was eager to try as it's so easy to come by. We also had Wild Sorrel and Garlic Mustard (Jack by the Hedge) stems.
I was a definite fan of the Alexanders but found myself a little disappointed by the Ground Elder. It had been done with the stems on and I found I was chewing and chewing and chewing then picking them out of my teeth after. I'd try them again but just the leaves if I cooked it.

All in all and good experience though, which inspired us to go foraging for some Alexanders on the way home down by the coast at Budleigh Salterton. There was masses here - I don't seem to have taken a pic of the whole plant but they have glossy leaves [yep - it's another umbellifer so be careful] and should have this pinkness to the stem sheaf where the leaves are growing out from.
I thouroughly recommend giving foraging a go - you get out in the fresh air, learn stuff and filled with pleasure when dinner time comes round that you got that bit of it for free. You find yourself looking at the hedgerows and pavement edges with a different eye I can tell you!

Ow ow owww...

This is what my eye looks like today. Good eh? I've no idea why other than to assume it's massively irritated, I just know I'm wishing a) I wasn't at work staring into a computer screen and b) I had my sunnies with me today. Ouchy ouch ouch!

A somewhat prettier globe type object. This is a loan item called 'Flayed Stone' by Peter Randell-Page which is currently residing on campus, under the blossom of one of many beautiful trees here. A much nicer image

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Wild food weekend post #2

As promised, some more info on the wild food weekend we had. On the foraging walk we learnt many different plants as well as some interesting and useful facts on each one, and prep guidance. I'll post some pics here but bear in mind this is a reference for me as much as anything else. In the words of Robin from Eat Weeds - 'never ever put anything in your mouth unless you're at least 110% sure it's edible. For some plants that have a poisonous lookalike this should be more like 500%.' Therefore I take no responsibility etc...

Ivy Leaf Toadflax - The daylight will make the underside of the leaves go red which in turn makes for a more bitter taste. Better if growing in shade and in the Autumn.

Smooth Sour Thistle - Can eat the leaves raw or cooked.

Violet Leaf - Bland. What was used as a 'pottage' plant in the past when the women would start the stew on the fire in the morning, go out in the fields for the day and gather these edible greens on the way home and add them to the pot. Can make a pleasantly flavoured sugar with the flowers.
Daisy - some people can react badly to this. Use just the leaves and cook them - saute. Don't eat raw! I figured I / you don't need telling what a daisy looks like so no pic.

Primrose - similarly no pic though I was later horrified to discover the Chap had no idea what a primrose was. I know he's Londoner originally but that really is ridiculous!! Can use the flowers in a salad or can try drying the leaves and flowers.

Lesser Celendine - As mentioned leaves only. Must be cooked - saute or use in risotto. Pic in last post.

Hogweed - Regular not Giant one. Member of the umbellifer family (like carrots) which means there's a lot of options out there that look the same but which won't do us any good at all. One of the 'you must be 500% sure what it is' brigade. [The edible members of the family tend to be hairy - but that doesn't mean they all definitely are or that all the hairy ones are edible. Carrots aren't for a start. You have been warned!]

The sap can give some people a skin reaction; especially in conjunction with the sun, so gather with gloves. Eat the young shoots and leaves in March - April. Can be made into soup, fermented (think Kimchee style) or sauteed with butter until caramelised. The root can also be eaten but must be cooked. Apparently the seeds taste of Cardamon.

That will have to be it for this post - wow - I haven't even finished all the plants we saw let alone the eating of them, the coastal forage after or the river bank one on the sunday and it's nearly another weekend already! I'd better get my typing fingers out eh? I'm afraid it's far too sunny though to even vaguely think of being late at work and I have what are rapidly turning into mutant broad bean plants desperate to get into the allotment. Thus I am forced [you can tell it's taking a lot of forcing eh?] to bid you adieu. :-)

I have thoroughly given up on this stupid spacing Blogger seems to favour whenever I try and post multiple pics. My apologies for it - know I have tried my best m'dears.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Wild food weekend post #1

At the weekend we visited Otterton Mill for their annual wild food day. They've been running this for the last 3 years. Chap tried Squirrel (!) and we went on a wild food foraging walk with the incredibly well informed Robin Harford of Eat Weeds. It was a lovely day in a very pretty setting. I have to admit to not having come across Otterton or it's Mill before but they're both lovely. We learnt a lot on the foraging walk; I scribbled notes and took pics all the way round and will do a proper post on these shortly. We discovered some surprising things you can eat - I never knew the leaves of Lesser Celendine were edible - you must cook them though!

Adventures in food - Dried Squid

Bet you're going 'ick' right now eh? Here in Exeter we've got a fair few Chinese, Oriental, Indian and general World Food shops. Having booked off a half day last Wednesday for the abortive IT system switch over (now delayed for a week) and the Chap having been rained off we spent a greater part of the afternoon poking around several of these shops. It's fascinating and often much better value than buying these ingredients in English stupormarkets. Even if you don't fancy some of the more exotic offerings they're especially good for big packs of noodles or rice - works out a much more frugal way of buying these basics as well as things like soy sauce. We ended up with potato based noodles, dried shrimp, shrimp paste, dried squid, water chestnuts and some 'pickled' veg. [I think the 'pickled' bit here is something of a misnomer, at least sometimes. These packets come in a wide range of veg combos with chilli etc added.] Then we looked up what to actually do with the squid! :-D We decided to make a general stir fry with veg, noodles and the squid. This is how it went:

Dried Squid Noodle Stir Fry

Straight potato noodles - approx 1/3 - 1/2 pack

1 dried squid - soaked in water overnight, water changed then soaked for the day*

1 onion

2 carrots

Pack babycorn

6 Mushrooms

Half pack green beans

Half tin (small one) water chestnuts - sliced

0.25 pint veg stock

Pack pickled veg - ours was a kelp and bamboo shoots mix

Splash (big) fish sauce

Splash soy sauce

2 big tea spoons Tom Yum sauce in 0.25 pint hot water

Generic veg oil for stir frying

Sesame oil (if you have it)

These noodles take 8-10 mins boiling according to the packet so we boiled them for a little under that, taking into account that they will be added to the wok again later; drained them and put them on one side. Note here - they stuck together evilly after draining - apparently I should have added a little sesame oil during cooking to prevent this much like you would oil to pasta. [I don't know the proper name for these but check the picture if you want to find them - they end up looking a bit like glass noodles once cooked but don't in the pack.]

Drain your soaked squid and rinse well under running water to ensure no dirt could be left on. It was still fairly tough feeling so we decided to chop it into smallish strips - about 0.5 - 1cm wide. I just used the kitchen scissors, think this was far easier than using a knife would have been.

Heat the veg oil with a little sesame oil for flavouring.

Chop onion and add. Chop rest of the veg and add, stir frying.

Add packet of pickled veg (if using), veg stock and squid.

Add approx 2 tbsp fish sauce [sorry for the approximate measures here but chap did this bit and didn't measure like I would!] and less of soy - maybe 1tbsp-ish.

Mix Tom Yum paste into a little hot water (if you have sauce instead of paste you may not need to do this) and add to the wok. Continue cooking for a short time until veg are nearly cooked to your liking [bear in mind they really should crunch in a stir fry - at least a little bit] then add the noodles and stir to ensure they are evenly coated in sauce and bits.

Serve. [We're 'not very good at quantities' type of people so this made enough to easily feed 4, or 2 and 2 lunches for the next day!]

Hmm - well I'm glad we tried this but simple answer - we're not going to bother with dried squid again. [Any takers for the second one in the pack?] Small pieces were ok but the texture was rubbery, reminiscent of the limpets we had before I blitzed them, only not as nice! Any pieces that were a little larger took a lot of chewing - they did not have a nice mouth feel to me and made me feel slightly icky. Not recommended! that said the general flavours in the sauce we came up with here were nice - just leave out the dried squid!!

*Dried squid smells, no 2 ways about it. Expect your kitten friend to be climbing the cupboard next to you as you prep the squid for this dish. Frankly he may well end up getting the second one, suitably soaked and chopped into treat size portions. Bleargh.

:-( I just can't seem to get the stupid spacing and formatting of this post corrected - down to having manually retyped the whole post. Pah - enough!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Weekend round up

We finished our weekend away with a trip to Windsor; briefly stepping across the river to Eton [We stepped in Eton – not in Eton Mess. Badum Tish! Yep – that’s the level of my jokes. Chap’s brother didn’t look impressed either but then he didn’t actually know what Eton Mess is. Tsk.] There’s a whacking big castle – although it’s difficult to get a proper sense of the size of it as it sprawls out so much. I liked the little Homer Simpson I saw peering from one of the lower windows – presumably one of the staff’s quarters rather than her Maj’s. Windsor’s a pretty place, though somewhat overrun with tourist tat shops vying for space with the hideously overpriced lifestyle things stores that will make your life complete for a meagre outlay of say- half your annual income for this litre of aged raspberry balsamic vinegar or some other such nonsense. [Yes – as a foody person that sentence does seem a little hypocritical but I tend to patronise ALDI or LIDL for my balsamic!] There’s a fantastically crooked building – now a tea shop. I didn’t go in to check but I’m prepared to bet it was also hideously overpriced. A clock incongruously set into the floor – no explanation offered I’m afraid. I liked this somewhat tortuously written plaque on the bridge over into Eton, and the masons mark in the stonework underneath. Also on the bridge were these fab bollards – seemed a little like chess pieces to me. Final proof (were it needed) that Windsor’s too posh for itself – even the scaffolding has it’s own hanging basket. Nice. We had lunch with Chap's peres, bro and son then wended our way home going via The Mayfly in Hampshire. A lovely pub on the bank of the river test it's a beautiful spot for a quiet pint before the long drive back West.