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!).

Flaming Good!

Still on my Mediterranean theme…on Sunday night I made another dish out of my “Food of Spain” cookbook called Chicken and Prawn Stew with Almond and Chocolate Sauce (pollo con langostinos)…yes you read it correctly…it has chocolate in it!!  I couldn’t resist giving this one a go!

It was quite an exciting recipe to cook…it has 125mls of brandy in it which you heat in a saucepan, light the vapours, then pour into the sauce while it’s still flaming…I did all that and when I poured it into the sauce the flames WOOSHED up as high as the extractor fan!  I must have let out a few screams because I was soon surrounded by spectators saying “COOL!”.  Luckily they calmed down again quite quickly (the flames that is…not the spectators!) so the fire brigade wasn’t required 🙂

I was feeling very happy with the way the meal was progressing until I added the picada of almonds and chocolate near the end…the quantity was rather large and my gut feeling was not to put it all in…unfortunately I ignored that gut feeling and as a result I feel that the sauce became overwhelmed by the picada and was much too rich for my taste.  In saying that, when it was eaten with the chicken and potatoes it went together quite nicely but we ended up throwing away a LOT of sauce because we didn’t need much of it…such a shame given the amount of brandy and other goodies that went into it.  I’m keen to give it another go (maybe it’s the pyromaniac in me!) but I’ll tone down the richness next time…

I admit that I could have done a better job with the presentation...!
I admit that I could have done a better job with the presentation…!

This week my husband and I were lucky enough to have the Monday and Tuesday off work so on Monday we spent the afternoon having a lovely lunch at the Mediterranean Food Cafe (can’t get away from that theme!) and browsing through lovely specialty food shops and kitchen utensils…

That evening I broke away from the Mediterranean theme to cook a Russian classic with our excess of beetroot from the garden…as a result I cooked Booby’s Hot Borsht from a recent purchase called “Monday Morning Cooking Club”.  The recipe uses beef spare ribs but we couldn’t find any so I used beef soup bones instead.  It was a reasonably easy recipe and very enjoyable to cook.  At the end the meat gets stripped off the bone and added back to the soup but I don’t think I will bother doing that next time because the meat didn’t actually taste of anything…the flavour had already been absorbed into the soup itself.  I served this with sour cream and some ciabatta rolls and it was devine!  We had quite a lot of leftovers and each day we’ve eaten it it’s tasted better and better…highly recommended!

The colour of this is amazing...even better than it looks in this photo!
The colour of this is amazing…even better than it looks in this photo!

Moving on to a beetroot theme now…on Tuesday we spent the day at home pottering in the garden and trying to make use of various produce that needed using.  To use up some more of the beetroot I made a batch of Chocolate and Beetroot Brownies out of my “River Cottage Everyday” cookbook.  These were very time-consuming to make (luckily I was on holiday!) because the beetroot needed to be boiled, then cooled, then peeled, then grated…they were also only meant to take 20-25 minutes to bake…try 45-50 minutes!  In saying that, I always find that brownies take longer to cook than the recipe says no matter what recipe I use…does anyone else find that?  However, the time involved in making them was all part of the fun and they were well worth the effort…they are lovely and moist with a nice thick chewy top.  I noticed that yesterday when I made them they had a distinct beetroot flavour but by today the beetroot had mellowed a bit and settled in with the chocolate to create a beautifully rich brownie which could also provide one of your 5+ a day!!

Beetroot brownies...gotta be good for ya!!
Beetroot brownies…gotta be good for ya!!

And finally…I had some fruit that needed using…more peaches foraged from the local tree (as well as a few from our own tree!), a pile of rhubarb and a bag of quince that I bought recently from a market.  For the peaches and rhubarb I cooked them in a way that is becoming a firm favourite…baking them in the oven with various flavoursome toppings…this time I sprinkled them with vanilla sugar (just a jar of sugar with a couple of vanilla pods sitting in it), a bit of brandy and some lychee juice left over from the last time I baked some fruit.  Once again these were really nice – now that I’ve tried a few flavour combos it’s fun to start thinking of other juices or liqueurs that the fruit could be cooked in.  This could be just the beginning of my baked fruit journey!

Love the baked fruit...
Loving the baked fruit…

And with the quince…I don’t have a photo yet but I cooked up a batch of quince paste from “The Food of Spain” which will be lovely served with some nice cheese and crackers (I have to admit that we have already sampled it in this manner!).  I am also looking forward to replicating the salad I had for lunch at the Mediterranean Food Cafe on Monday which was a Sweet Potato and Chorizo salad with pecorino cheese and quince paste…this was very nice and I just so happen to have a nice chorizo and block of pecorino in the fridge as we speak…all I need now is the kumara and I’m away laughing!  But who wouldn’t be cheerful with all this talk of food? 🙂