Monday, August 30

Roasted Carrots with Fennel and Lemon

While we were in Devon earlier this month we went to Riverford Field Kitchen to celebrate P's 40th. The menu is entirely seasonal and although meat is served, the vegetables definitely star. Amongst the many delicious dishes two really stood out. The first was roasted carrots with fennel seeds and lemon*. This elevated the humble carrot which my Mum always cooked 'for the colour' and which P remembers from school with great distaste to something actually delicious. I came home and hunted through my Riverford cookbook, but no joy. A little experimentation later I've come up with the following. You may notice that fennel seed features: it's my new favourite spice (herb?). This year I'm going to harvest the seed from my plant instead of having to pull up 60 million seedlings which look terribly pretty but actually have roots that reach to Australia. Let me know if you want some, my plant is huge.


Some Carrots ( The above pic was for two. They were quite small). Fresh ones are best but sad bendy ones from the depths of the fridge work OK too.
A glug of oil.
Lemon juice.
Fennel seeds.

Peel the carrots if they've gone a bit funny in the bottom of the fridge. Otherwise just scrub them. If they are small then leave them whole. If they are thicker than an inch then chop off the thin end and split the thick end into two, chopping them into roughly two inch lengths. You could probably cut fat coins, if you felt like it. (Go crazy: carve a goldfish, I dare you.)

After you have finished artistically chopping, chuck them into a roasting tin, and glug some oil in. One glug, I reckon. A big knob of butter instead of oil would probably be delicious if you aren't watching the saturated fat. Then squeeze some lemon over. I found that a whole lemon was too sharp for two people, so let's say half a lemon. More carrots, more lemon. Then sprinkle on about half a teaspoonful of fennel seeds, unless you are feeding six in which case try a whole teaspoonful. Stir the lot around to coat the carrots then season with salt and pepper and bung the lot in the oven at gas 7 for 45-60 minutes. In our case this time is determined by how long the roast takes. The carrots are ready when they are tender. If they happen to be ready before the rest of the food then shove them at the bottom of the oven to keep warm.

If you feel fancy you can chop some parsley over them to serve, but I'm usually too busy making gravy.

Here are some exciting carrot facts:

1) carrots contain more beta carotene cooked than raw.
2) Carrot vitamins are just below the surface of the skin, which is why it's better not to peel them.
3) Pre-scrubbed plastic packed carrots are evil.
4) The variety of carrots most commonly found in supermarkets is grown not for its taste, but for its resistance to breakage.

One of the above facts is the opinion of the author.

*The second was a beetroot salad, of which more later.

Tuesday, August 24

Runner beans with tomato sauce.

I wouldn't normally reproduce a recipe that I haven't at least fiddled with, but this one from the Able and Cole cookbook is so simple and so delicious that I shall make an exception. The brilliant thing is that just about everything in it is in season right now, so you can either use up your tomato and bean glut on it, or it'll be super cheap to buy the veg.

Serves two, mixed in with pasta. Good as a side too, apparently.

A handful of runner beans, cut into inch long strips
4 largeish tomatoes
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
a large clove garlic
a small chilli (optional)
slosh of wine (I used vermouth, I drink the wine)
1 tsp sugar
1tsp cider or wine vinegar
small handful of basil
salt and pepper

Deseed the tomatoes by making a small slit in the skin and squishing them over the compost caddy or bin or whatever. Chop them roughly. Steam the beans for 3 mins then run them under cold water to stop them cooking further. Next time I'll probably bung them in with the past for the last 3 mins and skip that step. Glug the oil into a pan and heat, then fry the garlic and fennel seeds. Do not allow the garlic to go brown, it tastes nasty. Add the tomatoes and chilli if using, along with a slug of wine/vermouth. Simmer for 20 minutes. The Able and Cole recipe says covered but my tomatoes were very wet and my wine slosh very generous, so I took the lid off so it'd reduce a bit. Once it's nice and saucey-looking add a tsp of vinegar and a tsp of sugar (these are magic ingredients which make tomato sauce taste fabulous), stir in the beans and cook until they are warmed through. Stir in some chopped basil and add another glug of olive oil if you are not dieting. Season to taste.

I stirred ours through pasta twirls and we had a bit of parmesan on top. It was bloody lovely.

Friday, August 20

A significant cake.

I asked P what cake he would like for his significant birthday and then proceeded to ignore his request for my Grandma's frankly delicious fruit cake. Fruit cake for a birthday? No, no, no. You can't put candles in a fruit cake. Well, maybe you can, but I don't hold with it. I know that the best birthday cakes are chocolate cakes. (You may wonder why I bothered to ask him. I do, too.)

The recipe is my mum's and was written on a scrap of paper by me in 1980-something when I first left home. A few years ago I scaled the recipe up as my cake tins are wider than my mum's (mine are about 8 inches) and the cakes were consequently coming out too flat. The recipe is for a straight sponge but includes instructions for making it chocolate. It is so easy-peasy to make that I honestly wonder why anyone ever buys a shop bought sponge.

8oz sugar (should be caster really but granulated does OK)
8oz marg/butter (my mum always used half and half. Proper birthdays get all butter around here. If you use all margarine and then you don't have to wait for the butter to soften.)
8oz flour (6.5 if making chocolate) My recipe at this point says 'sieved' but frankly I don't always bother.
4 eggs
a little milk or water

If you want a smaller cake then do 6,6,6, 3. A tiny one 4,4,4,2. A huge one? 10,10,10,5

If making chocolate cake
1.5oz cocoa (Green and Black's is my preference)
1tsp baking powder

1. Cream the fat and sugar. According to the Blessed Delia this is the most important part of cake making and you should cream until the fat/sugar mixture changes colour. I can't actually remember why.

2. Beat the eggs and add them slowly to the mixture. If you add them in a hurry then whole thing will go all curdled-looking which is not actually a problem, but you will feel much less of a domestic goddess.

3. Fold in the dry ingredients. If you are adding cocoa it's probably worth sieving it all in as cocoa can be a bit lumpy.

4. Add liquid if needed, says my recipe. Perhaps that's if you are using small eggs. I usually use medium eggs and can't say I have ever add extra liquid.

5. Divide the mixture between lined greased sponge tins. For goodness sake sake do line and grease the tins boring though it is. It is soul destroying when your cake sticks as I have learnt to my cost.

6. Cook in the middle of your oven at 350 degrees/Gas Mark 4 for 20-30 minutes. Try not to bang the oven door when you put the mixture in, and resist the temptation to check the cake for at least 20 minutes as a sudden change in temperature can cause the cake to sink. The cake is done when you can touch the centre and it springs right back. I also usually stick a skewer into the middle: When it comes out with nothing stuck to it then the cake is done.

7. Turn out and cool on a cake rack (aka the grill rack in our house).

For the buttercream filling soften 2oz butter (you can use margarine but it won't taste as good) and mix it with 4oz icing sugar. In my family we always flavour the filling in a chocolate cake with coffee. Mix a couple of teaspoons of instant coffee (I have tried making espresso and using that but it isn't really strong enough) with a little hot water, and mix slowly into the buttercream. Spread on the bottom sponge layer and slap the other one on top.

Normally I'd just dust icing onto the top, but a special birthday calls for a chocolate covering. I usually use supermarket cooking chocolate but I do make sure it's got a nice high cocoa content. Melt it in a bowl over a saucepan of gently boiling water. Try and avoid getting water in the chocolate as it goes all funny and grainy (still tastes fine though, so not a complete disaster). When it's good and runny pour it over the top of the cake. A whole bar is very generous so it will probably run down the outside a bit (yum!).

I had a brainwave and decided to add silver balls to P's cake. I like silver balls.

Wednesday, August 18

Don't mention the lettuce.

I planted lettuces in the ground for the first time this year and was astonished by how much better they grew than in pots or grow bags. Flushed with my success and thinking of salads to come I re-sowed under the bean tripod when it went in, thinking to transplant the seedlings into a new home when they came up. Except they didn't come up.

Undaunted, I assumed that my slapdash sowing style (chuck 'em at the ground and sprinkle some seed compost over the top) was the cause of my woes. I drilled a dutiful little line next to my radishes and carefully sprinkled seed down it, taking care to cover the seed and to dampen the soil afterwards. I waited a week or so, watched the radishes come up, but no lettuce emerged. Tant pis, I decided, guessing that the seed I had been using (different from my original sowing) was out of date and past it in the germination department.

A week or so on, I decided to make my third attempt. This time I used the newer seed, and I decided to sow into seed trays. I even labelled them. Imagine my delight when I returned after a damp week away to find that the little gems were coming up and that the dazzle (it's a red little gem) was on it's way too. It was a little late for a continuous crop (the original lettuce is mostly gone or bolted), but I was going to have lettuces eventually.

This morning I checked my trays. There is no lettuce. My normal snail-foiling method is to keep vulnerable plants on the garden table (it's a bit hard to eat in the garden as a consequence) but some evil mollusc has obviously made it to my high rise nursery and has hoovered up my beautiful lines of seedlings like snail cocaine.

How the hell did the first lot survive? It's a mystery. They were sown direct into the ground, right on snail level. To say that I am sulking would be an understatement. I'm so pissed off I'm not even putting a picture.

Wednesday, August 4

bread of heaven

I really really like making bread. I should do it all the time. I should give up my day job and become a baker. Or possibly I should just make bread more. I had a shitty day today but at the end of it there is crunchy chewy home made bread, so life ain't all bad. Even if the above picture *is* mainly out of focus and I deleted all the others.

This is rye bread which is denser than straightforward bread due to its lower gluten content. The up side of this is that it needs less kneading and only one rise, so it's a bit quicker. Plus it tastes of rye which I happen to think is delicious. If you don't like the taste of Ryvita then you should probably give it a miss.

10 oz rye flour
10 oz white bread flour
1 tsp salt
20g fresh yeast
1 tbsp sugar
14fl oz warm water
caraway seeds (optional)

  • measure out the flour, pour it onto a clean worktop and make a hole in the middle.
  • add the yeast to the warm water, then stir in the sugar until it dissolves (or alternatively forget to stir it like me and resort to scraping it soggily from the bottom of the jug and mixing it into the dough later)
  • pour a little of the yeasty water into the hole in the flour and combine with the flour.
  • continue like this until all the water is mixed with the flour. The dough will be sticky and wet.
  • knead for about 5 minutes .The dough will get more manageable and less sticky but it won't really go all stretchy like normal bread dough does.
  • shape the dough, cover and leave until the dough has roughly doubled in size. Mine took about an hour and a half.
  • sprinkle caraway seeds on the top in the certain knowledge that they will fall off and go all over the kitchen floor (a bit of milk would stick 'em on).
  • Cook at gas mark as hot as possible for 10 mins, then reduce the heat to about 7 and cook for a further 30-40 minutes, until you can knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow. My oven always takes at least 40 mins, which may be due to the gaffer tape holding it together.
  • Resist the temptation to eat the entire lot in one day.