The Romance of the Garden Bounty

It seemed like such a good idea at the time…

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I’m always super enthusiastic about growing our own fruit and vegetables and when the first crops start coming through it’s very satisfying to be eating them hours or even minutes after they’ve been picked.  But as summer progresses and crops start to come in thick and fast, we suddenly have more courgettes/peaches/apples/rhubarb than we know what to do with; even after giving some away it can become a bit of a burden. This year was no exception and it became time to find some new ways of using the excess.

I found a couple of new courgette recipes this year; one savory and one sweet.  The savory recipe is based on a very simplified version of the Breakfast Fritter recipe in Donna Hay’s book “Life in Balance”.  I wanted a light batter for the fritter and this recipe achieves that by using egg whites and a small amount of rice flour.  It’s actually a great base for adding whatever vegetables that you want to.  On this occasion I added grated courgette and served them with lemon juice, plenty of salt and some Chevre cheese that I had in the fridge.  They’re great eaten fresh from the frying pan while the next one is cooking!

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The sweet courgette recipe is a stand out cake from Julie Le Clerc’s book “Made by Hand”.  It’s a chocolate courgette cake with walnuts, raisins and buckwheat flour.  It bakes to a gorgeously dark colour, uses up HEAPS of courgette and when it’s fresh, it’s crispy on the outside and moist in the middle…the way a good cake should be.  I’ve made this more than once and it’s definitely become a favourite.  I’m a bit lazy when it comes to icing and the great thing is that this cake doesn’t need it.  It’s got a gorgeous, deep, satisfying flavour.  I would like to say that because of this, one slice is enough *cough*; but really…is one slice of cake ever enough?!

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Blackboy peaches were the next big glut that needed dealing to.  Usually I just stew them or put them in crumbles (so good!) but they’re such nice peaches that I felt like I should try and do something more interesting with them for a change.  The first thing I did was make them into a Blackboy Peach and Raspberry Tart using the Peach Tart recipe from “Jane Grigson’s Fruit” book.  This is a great recipe that gives plenty of tips and techniques for preventing soggy pastry (which I’m happy to report that I achieved). The way the fruit is laid out looks absolutely stunning and the flavour is intense and beautifully offset by the cream.  As the icing on the cake, I glazed it with a homemade rhubarb and rose jam – to die for.

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The next peach recipe is by Emma Galloway – Peach, Rosemary and Yoghurt Cake from her book “My Darling Lemon Thyme: Recipes from my Real Food Kitchen”.  I don’t often use the harder herbs like rosemary in sweets so I’m always excited when the opportunity arises.  The batter is a mix of ground almonds and rice flour which gives it a lovely texture and the yoghurt and peaches help retain moisture in the cake.  Really really delicious and the rosemary adds a subtle piney flavour.  I’ve made this cake twice; on the second time around I didn’t put it in the fridge for a day or two – this was a big mistake because it went mouldy.  I was traumatised when I had to put it in the compost! *sob

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I know that looks like ash but it’s actually a mixture of rosemary and icing sugar 🙂

The last thing that I did with the blackboy peaches was to make a dessert from “Martin Bosley Cooks”.  This was also divine and a really straight-forward recipe.  Just crumble up amaretti biscuits and mix the crumbs with egg and brown sugar; spoon over the top of halved peaches and bake in the oven until tender and caramelised…drool.

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They’re topped with creme fraiche and mint

We tend to get a lot of rhubarb and raspberries in the garden as well (hence including the raspberries in my peach tart earlier).  We collect these with the intention of doing something delicious with them and then promptly forget about them/can’t be bothered…lucky compost (but poor us)!  I often put them into a clafoutis or a crumble (when I remember to) and this year I used them to make a Ricotta, Rhubarb and Raspberry Loaf using Annabel Langbein’s Miracle Cake recipe; this is from her book “Endless Summer”.  It’s so rustic looking and gets a gorgeous crispy top.  When my daughter bit into it it made her gasp which I think is a pretty good sign!  This one probably won’t get made as often as the others though because I don’t often have ricotta in the house and I don’t like to make special purchases for baking (is that weird?!).

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I haven’t mentioned the apples yet even though they’re actually our biggest crop. Luckily they’re great eating apples but we do get a lot of wind-fall ones that aren’t so good to eat.  You’d think this would call for copious amounts of apple crumbles but despite the number of desserts I’ve just mentioned, we don’t actually eat them often. We generally find that by the time we finish dinner we don’t have any room left for a heavy pudding. This year I used some to make Earl Grey Tea Jelly from Diana Henry’s book “Salt, Sugar, Smoke”.  I love Earl Grey tea (and I’m a bit of a tea addict in general) so I couldn’t resist this recipe.  It’s quite easy to make and also gave me the opportunity to use my jelly bag and boiling-water canner (small pleasures!).  I haven’t actually used this jelly since I made it but it tasted pretty damn good when I was licking the spoon!  The recipe suggests using it with ice cream or pannacotta (yum!) or with duck or game.  I imagine it would be pretty good on toast as well to be honest!

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And the final recipe from my garden glut is a bit of a cheat because it isn’t actually things from my own garden but just a build up of stuff in the fridge. Somehow we ended up with a huge number of carrots and a cauliflower from the market that had been sadly neglected.  Luckily I had just bought Nicola Galloway’s book “Homegrown Kitchen” which has a recipe for Crunchy Winter Vegetable Pickle using lacto-fermentation as the preserving method.  I love a bit of fermentation so couldn’t resist using said vegetables to make up a batch.  These I have tried since I made them and they’re delicious.  So far all I’ve done is eat them straight out of the jar…I need to up my game; the recipe suggests eating them with eggs or stirring them through rice with some herbs; sounds like excellent advice to me!

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So finally the garden has calmed down for the winter – I just picked our last courgettes yesterday – and the need to frantically use produce has passed.  Of course, next year I will have completely forgotten about the amount of work it takes and will once again romanticise the idea of bottling, preserving, baking and puddings and it’ll start all over again!  But to be honest…I love it really 🙂

(See, I’ve forgotten about the hard work already!).

Getting a bit fancy…

Last weekend I said “no” to muesli and made a lovely Shakshuka instead…this weekend I said “yes” to muesli but in a slightly different format.  I made Jamie Oliver’s “Pukkolla” from “The Return of the Naked Chef” which he uses to make bircher muesli.  It was easy to put together because I had all the ingredients to hand…to be proper bircher muesli it should have been made the night before to soak overnight but I didn’t have time for that so I put my pukkolla in a bowl with the milk and grated apple and left it to brew while I had my shower.  I’m not sure if it’s because it hadn’t had its proper soaking time but I didn’t really enjoy my pukkolla (which is awkward given that I now have a huge jar of it!), it was a bit watery and lacking flavour but this could also be caused from too much apple (the apples off our tree are huge!).  So I will try making up a batch tonight with less apple and see how it tastes in the morning…

Pukkolla
It looks like it could use some more dried fruit as well…

After breakfast I made Rachel Khoo’s “Spiced Apple Tray Cake”…in theory to use up some of our apples…but in reality because it looked delicious!  It makes a huge quantity…the photo below is only one of the two cakes that this recipe made.  It was fun piping the last of the mixture onto the top to make a lattice, it made me feel very fancy because they always do that sort of thing on The Great British Bake-off!  It tastes really good but it definitely needed more apples…as mentioned above, our apples are huge so I thought I should do less than the recipe said.  After cutting up 4 apples it looked like I had masses so I decided to stop there…that was a mistake.  Luckily it can also be eaten as a dessert with cream so I will stew up some more apples to serve with it…I have a sneaking suspicion that that will make it scrumptious!

Spiced Apple Tray Cake
Looking fancy!

When I was rummaging around in the back of the pantry this morning looking for my pukkolla ingredients I discovered that we have a container full of rice bubbles that no one ever eats…I decided that they should be transformed into a delectable, chewy treat otherwise known as Rice Bubble Slice.  This recipe came out of the “Prebbleton Plunket Cookbook” which is a book I was given years ago by my Aunt and Uncle as a fundraiser…it is my go-to book for fudge cake, chocolate self-saucing pudding, orange cake and rice bubble slice!  It is so quick and easy to make and when I was stirring the caramel ingredients in the pot the smell instantly took me back to my Grans kitchen…I love the way the smell of food can do that!  The awe on the face of each family member who opens the tin and sees what’s inside just proves that it’s often the simple things that bring the most pleasure (the apple cake took me about 2 hours…the rice bubble slice…10 minutes)!

Rice Bubble Cake
I cut good decent sized pieces that we can really sink our teeth in to!

After all this sweetness I decided I needed something a bit healthier for my lunch.  Last night my husband Andrew made some delicious pizzas for dinner and we had a ball of buffalo mozzarella left in the fridge and piles of tomatoes starting to come out of our garden…this seemed like a sign!  I always want to make tomato and mozzarella salads but we don’t tend to buy mozzarella much because of the cost so this seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. When looking through my “Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers” book this week I noticed a recipe for one of these salads so I found it and whipped it up in a matter of minutes…yum…yum…yum…so good.  The tomatoes are so lovely and sweet with the occasional burst of fresh basil and the beautiful subtle flavour and texture of the mozzarella…what’s not to like?!

Mozzarella & Fresh Tomato Salad
Plus it looks so beautiful!

The final bit of cooking for the day was at the request of my daughter Steph.  When I mentioned that I wanted to make some fresh pasta but also needed to use up some courgettes she said “ooh, make your pasta recipe with prawns and courgettes!”  I was only too keen to comply because it has been a bit of a favourite over the last few summers when courgettes are plentiful.  The courgettes are browned and then cooked with a bit of salt and water until softened and mashed to make it more saucy…it really does make a delicious sauce when combined with the rest of the ingredients.  I tried using a different vegetable once when courgettes were out of season (broccolli I think) but it really didn’t work…it needs to be courgettes.  The official name of the recipe is Prawn and Courgette Linguine, I got this from the BBCgoodfood website but it doesn’t seem to be on there anymore so I’m glad I saved it!

Prawn & Courgette Linguine
Look at the beauty of that home made linguine!

I had an interesting time making my pasta tonight.  The usual recipe for 2 people is 50g of flour, 50g of semolina and 1 egg…however I was cooking for 3 people and didn’t really want to have lots of extra pasta and didn’t want to halve an egg.  What I decided to do was use 150g of dry ingredients with one large egg (because I usually have to add quite a bit more flour due to the size of our eggs anyway) and to add some olive oil and a touch of water to make up the missing liquid.  Now, I knew from watching Masterchef that you shouldn’t add too much oil so I was careful not to do that and then I added a tiny bit of water by wetting my hands a couple of times when bringing the dough together.  It was still pretty dry but I decided to put it aside to rest for 30-60 minutes which usually softens it up a bit.  It did soften but it was still pretty dry to the point that I had quite a bit of trouble rolling it and cutting it!  However I persevered because that was all I had to work with and actually it turned out really well.  The strands didn’t stick together in the pot and retained a nice bite to them.  I have often read that pasta dough should be fairly dry but I prefer it wetter because it’s easier to work with…after tonight’s experience I think I will have to make it a bit dryer in the future (although not quite so dry as todays attempt!).

Half baked!

At 9.30pm on Monday night I decided to make some muffins.  There’s always something exciting about baking late at night…

We have a whole lot of apples ripening on our apple tree and as I was looking through my recipe books I found a recipe for apple muffins in “The Best of Annabel Langbein Great Food for Busy Lives” cookbook.  They have bran flakes, cinnamon and ginger in them and I added some chunky walnuts and raisins to the mix because I thought they would be yummier with those in them…and they were 🙂

They were meant to cook for 15-20 minutes.  After 17 minutes I decided to take them out and put them on the rack to cool.  About 10 minutes later my husband ate one and discovered that they were still doughy in the middle…oh no!  I immediately put the oven back on, put the muffins on a baking tray and put them back in the oven…it wasn’t so exciting now that it was 10.40pm and I wanted to go to bed! I wasn’t entirely hopeful of the outcome…I suspected they would now be dried out on the outside but still undercooked in the middle…I was happily surprised the next morning when I discovered that actually they were deliciously caramelized on the outside and perfectly cooked in the middle – yay!!

It was touch and go for a while but it all worked out in the end...
It was touch and go for a while but they worked out beautifully

This Tuesday we went to our first South East Asian cooking class at a local high school.  The recipe for the first night was Vietnamese Stir-fried Chicken with Lemongrass, Ginger and Chilies.  We haven’t been to a cooking class before and it was great fun!  The teacher is lovely and enthusiastic and we picked up a few tips (for example, did you know that if you bruise garlic it releases more flavour?) as well as cooking a beautiful meal.  There is a photo below of some of the left-overs…really looking forward to next week when we’ll be cooking 2 dishes from Burma – fun!

It's much yummier than it looks...
It’s much yummier than it looks…

Last night I was keen to cook something out of my “Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook” and reading through it I found a recipe for Mushroom Stroganoff with Spinach and Wild Rice…this sounded great because we brought some lovely wild rice back from Malaysia last year but we never use it and we have New Zealand spinach in the garden.

The sauce for this dish is delicious, really tasty.  It has stock, mustard, lemon juice and mushroomy yumminess in it…the thing that didn’t work out so well is the NZ spinach that is supposed to be wilted through the cooked wild rice.  The problem with the NZ spinach is that it’s quite robust so it didn’t wilt down all that well and it was a bit thick and strongly flavoured…next time I will use “normal” spinach which will work much better.  The other thing I would change is to do an extra mushroom per person because it wasn’t quite enough.

Mushroom Stroganoff with spinach & wild rice
Still very yummy especially after I picked out the spinach and left it on the side of my plate!

I’ve just been watching a Rachel Khoo cooking show tonight where she cooks recipes out of this cookbook…it’s great, it makes me want to cook lots of her recipes 🙂

Pasta…more pasta…mmmmwwwahahahaha….!!!

Needless to say, I have been continuing to enjoy my new pasta maker…on Sunday I harvested a large crop of New Zealand spinach, picked the leaves, blanched them, squeezed the liquid out and put them in the freezer.  I then put one of these portions to immediate use!  I made a spinach sauce for some freshly made pasta by combining spinach, parsley, parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and blended them to a paste.  I stirred this through the hot pasta and topped it with more parmesan.

This was delicious to start with but when the parmesan cheese on the top was gone the rest of the dish seemed to lack flavour…I think it needed more parmesan cheese in the sauce and perhaps some garlic and/or chilli would have been good.  I gave myself top marks for trying though because I’m not usually one for making up recipes!

Spinach Pasta
It looks delicious…

I had a bit of a harvesting day in the garden on Sunday…not only did I pick lots of spinach, I also picked some apples, raspberries, and blueberries so I decided to make an apple and berry pie…(so satisfying using things from the garden, it feels so River Cottage!).  I used a recipe from my new (yes new!) “Jamie at Home” cookbook…(I accidentally bought this book when I was out buying my new pasta maker…this brings the number of Jamie Oliver cookbooks up to 6!)

The pie recipe was delicious!  The filling contains stem ginger and I was very happy to use this ingredient for the first time (I bought some a few weeks ago) and the top of the pie gets sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon which gives it a gorgeous crispy top and just a subtle hint of cinnamony flavour.  The amount of pastry seemed excessive (and it was)…I probably would have been fine with half the quantity…even with slightly thicker pastry than I would have preferred I ended up with a huge hunk of pastry left over in my fridge (oh well…that must mean more pie for us!).  There also wasn’t enough filling so I had to add a tin of pears at the last minute to bump up the volume…super scrumptious though despite these couple of issues.  We served it with slightly smoked custard…unfortunately this wasn’t some sort of fancy technique…I just forgot to turn the gas off on the stove!

Apple & Blackberry Pie
Hot damn that looks good (and it was)!!

But back to cooking pasta…on Monday night I made fresh pappardelle pasta with a beautiful sauce made with lots of fresh green vegetables.  This recipe is called Tortelloni Minestrone (not a typo by the way) from “Nigellisima”.  I made a couple of adjustments by using pappardelle instead of tortellini and I didn’t want the meal quite as liquidy so I reduced the water by half. This was a nice recipe but I made a couple of errors which meant it wasn’t at its best – I should have put in slightly more liquid because it ended up too dry and I accidentally overcooked my pasta because I didn’t hear my timer go off (very easy to overcook it when it only takes 60-90 seconds max!).  However I got the opportunity to correct these errors when my daughter Steph got home from her part-time job.  I added some vegetable bouillon to loosen up the sauce and I only cooked the pasta for 60 seconds…Steph said that it was really nice so I’m glad that at least one of us got to enjoy it properly.  Nice one Steph!

Tortelloni minestrone
It’s so green it’s gotta be good for ya!

Tomorrow night I think I will make…hmmm…I don’t know…maybe some home made pasta might be on the cards!  Happy days 🙂