Pesto Power – Green Goodness from the Garden

Doesn't it look appetising?

Doesn’t it look appetising?

We invested in a greenhouse this year and, at this moment in time, it’s overflowing with green garden goodies.

I’ve been more of an observer than a player in the greenhouse business – I have sat back and let someone else do the hard work while enjoying the fruits (veg, mainly) of their labours. Ah well, we play to the strengths in our relationship. He grows, I invent recipes and cook.

Because we had so much sunshine last month, the basil and tomatoes came on in leaps and bounds. Fitting, seeing as the two go so well together, but I’ve now got far too much basil for us to eat so I decided to turn it into home-made pesto.

My version doesn’t really bother with amounts – hey, that way you get a slightly different sauce every time! – but I’ve suggested guidelines here. I use Borderfields cold-press rapeseed oil for a more home-grown feel, as well as sunflower seeds as they are TONNES cheaper than pine nuts. I also add parsley, seeing as we’ve got lots of that growing in the garden too.

You can go down the traditional route and toss it with pasta, but my preferred use for pesto is on griddled vegetables as an accompaniment to roast chicken*.

Home-made pesto:

  • 3 large handfuls basil
  • 1 handful curly parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 25g freshly-grated Parmesan
  • 25g sunflower seeds, toasted**
  • 150ml rapeseed or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put all of the ingredients (except the salt and pepper) into a blender and blend until you have a smooth-ish sauce (it’s better with a slightly granular texture). Taste, and add salt and pepper according to personal preference.

*Actually, in an ideal world, I’d greedily stuff hunks of the finest freshly-made artisan bread into pesto sauce and then my gob.

**To toast sunflower seeds, heat up a small frying pan and then add the seeds and turn the heat down. Shake the pan gently and toast for a minute or so. Don’t take your eye off them once OR THEY WILL BURN.

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Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones

Don't throw away your chicken bones folks...

Don’t throw away your chicken bones folks…

I am taking my new-found conversion to carnivore very seriously indeed: today found me creating bone broth having read so many people enthusing about it online.

Basically, it’s stock – the long, slow cooking of bones and vegetables until you have a densely flavoured liquid you can use either as a flavouring for gravies, risottos, soups or drink it as it is. Enthusiasts claim all kinds of marvellous qualities for broth – immune system bolstering, hair, skin and nail improving, cellulite curing and gut healing.

Sadly, no-one said: “Actually, this truly amazing broth also turns you into THE most skilled writer, capable of rattling off 20,000 witty words a week that everyone wants to read. AND it kills off any desire to drink red wine.”

Still, worth a try for the qualities quoted in the second para if not the third hmm? As is my wont, I researched recipes online and then cobbled something together of my very own, using the world’s most marvellous culinary creation – the slow cooker.

Bone Broth AKA Chicken Stock:

  • 500g (roughly) chicken bones*
  • 2tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots,, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 8-10 black peppercorns, ground in a pestle and mortar (optional, I put these in because I like heat)
  • Handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Handful fresh sage leaves

Put all of the ingredients into your slow cooker and cover with cold water. Place on a low setting and cook for roughly 4-18 hours (the longer you leave it, the more mineral content you get out of the bones). You may need to top the water levels up from time to time. Strain once finished and use the liquid for stock or add a little sea salt to taste and drink as a broth.

 

 

*You can store chicken bones in the freezer until you’ve built up enough of a quantity.

 

 

Sunshine and Wild Garlic Anyone?

Even the cat takes advantage of sunny days...

Even the cat takes advantage of sunny days…

Here’s one of the nice things about being a freelancer. A lot of the time you can work round the weather.

I live in a part of the world that isn’t blessed with a great deal of sunshine (and that’s putting it mildly). In common with many of my countrymen and women I have an absolute obsession with the weather forecast and checking it frequently. I look up the five-day forecast on Monday and spot that Thursday has a big yellow sun on display. Hooray! By Tuesday, that sun has been replaced by the cloud and by Wednesday the forecast is cloud and showers. Boo!

So when the sun shines here, it’s almost obligatory to take advantage and roll out the garden furniture, strip off a layer or two or go out for a walk/cycle run. We did that a couple of days ago and, in proper foraging style, came back with a haul of wild garlic and watercress. Wild garlic is pretty easy to spot – your nose will take you there – but general advice around picking is available here.

Post-wedding, the diet is a little less urgent but I used the wild garlic to create a healthy, easy cook dish that I’m sharing here:

Tofu and Wild Garlic stir-fry – serves 2

Chillies, garlic and ginger - yum!

Chillies, garlic and ginger – yum!

160g pkt Cauldron Foods marinated tofu pieces
100g mushrooms, sliced
Half a red pepper, sliced
Half a courgette, sliced
8 spring onion, sliced into 4cm lengths
50g asparagus tips, sliced in half
Large handful wild garlic, rinsed
1 chilli, sliced (keep the seeds in if you like hot food)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1tbsp rapeseed oil

Heat the oil in a wok and add the mushrooms, pepper, courgette, spring onions and asparagus tips and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add in the ginger, garlic and chilli and cook for another minute. Stir in the wild garlic and cook until wilted. Add in the marinated tofu and stir-fry another minute or so. Season to taste with a little soy sauce (you won’t need much as the tofu pieces are already seasoned) and serve with cooked noodles tossed in a little bit of sesame oil.

The Joy of the New

Aha! So that's where they have hidden the food...

Aha! So that’s where they have hidden the cat food…

So long January (almost) – glad to see the back of you.

Actually, scratch that. I’ve rather been enjoying 2013 so far (not least because I have my May wedding to look forward to) and there have been plenty of new and interesting experiences…

Many a Friday night has been spent sans wine, as have many other evenings. And you know what? Sobriety is OK. I won’t, however, be turning into an evangelical teetotaller as I’ve yet to find a soft drink that goes as well with cheese.

I wrote a piece of flash fiction. It is as it sounds, a very, very short story. The definition of short varies, but my story was 100 words and I wrote it for a competition to win a residential writing course. If anyone else is interested, I’m not afraid of competition (!) so here’s the link.

I had a Brazilian blow-dry. I now possess wavy, rather than curly hair. I’m pleased with the results but would caution any prospective customers to try the treatment out via a deals website. I don’t think the treatment is worth full price at all.

I took to using electrical appliance on my face to tighten it up. Ooh it hurts so is therefore good for me? One week in and I think I see a difference on the nose to mouth lines and my complexion looks brighter. However, it’s not particularly a scientific, controlled experiment. Maybe the better skin is down to all the fruit and veg I’ve been eating?

The cat was forced onto a diet. Unlike we humans, it’s much easier for a cat to diet, seeing as he gets no say in the matter. We weighed him and its turns out he has two pounds too heavy – pretty significant when you’re a wee beastie.*

As cakes have been absent of late, I made soda bread. Healthy baking hmm?
250g plain flour
250g wholemeal flour
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp salt
400ml buttermilk, or use 200g plain live yoghurt made up to 400ml with water

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.

Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. Add in the salt and make a well in the centre. Add in the buttermilk or yoghurt and bring together quickly. It will be pretty sticky. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute.

Place in a 20cm round non-stick, loose-bottomed cake tin and mark the top with a cross. Cook for 40-45 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. (You’ll know it’s cooked as it will sound hollow when you tap the bottom. Serve warm with butter and raspberry jam.

My final new experience of January takes place on Monday. I’m going to an NLP session to cure (hopefully) my addiction to blasted diet coke (ahem – two litres a day…)

 

*We’re a day past Burns Night; I had to throw in a Rabbie reference somewhere.

Avoiding the ‘C’ Words

Ah, the start of a new month, reinvention (as my new found friend the Reinvention Tour will agree) is always so tempting at the start of a new month…

As a bride to be, the usual concerns of being able to squeeze into a size smaller than usual wedding dress – so reinvent self as non-drinker of tummy-bloating wine, non-eater of too many ‘c’ words (crisps, chocolate, cheese and blasted diet coke – ssh! Stop talking about them, the temptation). Is resistance easier when the month date is in single figures? Discuss…

So, I’ve created the perfect recipe for a virtuous start to the month. Packed full of superfoods, healthy oils, vitamins, minerals and so many other good things it should probably be knighted, this dish promises… Och, it promises nothing. I just fancied sharing it.

 

It’s the Mother Theresa of food goodness…

Salmon and broccoli super skin dinner (serves 2)

2 salmon fillets

1 lemon

One and a half heads of broccoli

1 avocado

2 cloves garlic

2tbsp chopped parsley

Salt and pepper, butter

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Lightly oil sheets of foil, season the salmon with salt and pepper, dot lightly with butter and wrap in the foil to make parcels. Place in the oven for around 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the broccoli into even-sized floets and steam for four to five minutes. Puree the avocado with the juice of the lemon, the garlic cloves, parsley and a little salt and pepper. Mix with the steamed broccoli.

Serve the broccoli with the salmon and some salad leaves on the side.