Sunday, 30 October 2011

an autumnal bonfire banquet

hello everyone! i hope you had a brilliant weekend, full of delicious food and wonderful company. i spent mine with my awesome mum, grandparents and my brother's family, enjoying an end of season bonfire at the allotment.

i've dreamt about having an allotment picnic ever since having started the project a year and a half ago. and although eating cherry tomatoes straight from the vine or fresh sugar snap peas from the plant is fantastic, it's not quite the feast i had always romantically pictured in my head.

some of you might question why it's taken me until the cold month's to get round to having a picnic among the veggie patch, especially given England's propensity to be overcast, grey and wet in the autumn? well, it's quite logical really. we needed to burn the weeds.

there's been a massive pile stacking up, ever since my return from australia. and the best way to celebrate the end of a productive season, was to burn the lot. and because you need to stand around for while to make sure it all burns properly, you might as well eat good food in the company of lovely family...

my brother had great fun starting the beast a-roaring!

and the first course was enjoyed by all...

it also happens to be coming up for my favorite night of the whole year - bonfire night! a peculiar english tradition that started with a dude named guy fawkes who plotted to blow up the houses of parliament in london... anyway, it was an epic fail, and the government enforced a national public day to remind us all not to try the same thing.

it's a weird "holiday", but i love the way it brings the local community together, and we all actually enjoy being cold. wrapping our hands around a steaming cup of soup or mug of hot chocolate, and piling on warm hats, gloves and scarves. you get hypnotising bonfires, pretty sparklers and magnificent fireworks all in one place, and every person is smiling.

so, when foodbuzz offered me the chance to create my ultimate autumn bonfire feast for this month's 24x24, i was super excited, and started planning out the menu straight away...

for first course we indulged in local wild mushrooms...

i made a mushroom and leek soup, thickened with wholegrain rice and flavoured with thyme. it may not be the most photogenic food, but it was super tasty, easy to make and everyone enjoyed it!

for seconds we ate sausage (because a bonfire night celebration isn't right without), homegrown carrots as fries, and roasted locally grown brussel sprouts. yummy.

they were served with a homemade chili  & pepper chutney. a recipe from the 'jamie at home' cookbook, which packs such a spicy punch it had me in tears on friday from the heat. i also made my famous dill dressing with yogurt and mayonnaise - goes down a total treat!

♥ for the third savoury course, we ate butternut squash and spinach pasties with cornish quartz cheddar and homegrown red onion in a buckwheat shortcrust pastry - these were as phenomenal as they sound!

for dessert, we had a scrumped apple and wild blackberry compote with homemade ginger parkin (see recipe and video below) and a dollop of creme fraiche.

my brother also bought some interesting drinks for us to have with the meal... i adore the orchard pig juice! :)

and to truly celebrate the bonfire banquet properly, we played with sparklers! (and there's still another 20 ready to go for the 5th too...)

the logistics of carrying all the yummy food up there was actually pretty easy. big thermos for soup, pyrex for vegetables and sausage, tin foil wrapped pasties in a tin, a le creuset for the apple blackberry smoosh. if you've never had a hot winter picnic, you really should!

and finally, i want to offer up a recipe for you all to try out for november 5th, even if you aren't remotely english, because it's so yummy: ginger parkin.

ginger parkin recipe
225g (1 1/4 cups) medium oatmeal
110g (1 cup) buckwheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp agave nectar
2 Tbsp honey
110g (1/2 cup) butter
1 egg
1 Tbsp milk

1. mix together the oatmeal, buckwheat flour, baking powder, salt and ginger.
2. place the molasses, agave nectar, honey and butter in a saucepan, and place over a low heat.
3. melt until it forms a runny caramel, then stir into the dry ingredients.
4. mix in the egg and the milk, one at a time, until well combined.
5. place in a lined baking try, and bake for about 1 1/2 hours at 150c.

cook's notes: this should bake until very firm, then ought to be left in a tin for a week to soften and get rather unctuous and tasty. otherwise, slice up and enjoy after 24 hours of rest - though this is pretty tough, it still tastes wonderful!

thanks to all my family for celebrating with me, and making it so much fun! i hope we get to have a hot autumn picnic at the allotment every year, and start a new tradition....

have you ever made ginger parkin? how do you celebrate bonfire night? what's your favourite hot picnic food?

ps. to learn a little more about bonfire night, check out this video i made last year with my brother - i hope it explains a little more about it, and gives a sense of the atmosphere of the occasion!

pps. thanks to foodbuzz for hosting this month's 24x24 event!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

apple and cucumber brown rice salad (and a budget update)

yesterday i went to visit my lovely family up near Bath, and i got to see my dad for the first time in ages! i also got lots of cute hugs with my gorgeous niece, and enjoyed a huge roast and trifle for lunch. juliet spent lots of time grabbing hair and touching faces... it's such a wonderful age to be!

before delving into the world of how much money i have saved/spent this last week, i wanted to share a simple recipe with you all - apple and cucumber rice salad.

lunchtimes are becoming more of a takeaway affair, and i love being able to prepare a big batch of something for us all to take to work. it's a pleasure to be able to know your loved ones are eating good and wholesome food throughout the day :)

rice salad is something my swedish grandmother always makes for lunches and special occasions - it's always on the christmas eve table in both sweet and savoury variations. and i've never really made it myself, but now i'm eating more of a vegan, wholegrain diet and trying to save money, it seemed like a great opportunity to experiment with different recipes. plus, i absolutely adore brown rice.

eaten cold with hot baked beans (in the style of it will stop raining!) it is wonderfully crunchy and fresh. i really adore eating with chopsticks too, it makes you eat slower and more graciously, even with all the little grains of rice.

for lunchtime shared with my mum in the grounds of our local cathedral - it was a compliment to the beautiful surroundings and weather we had that day.

apple and cucumber brown rice salad recipe
1 cup brown rice
1/2 a large cucumber
1 apple
1 celery stick
1/4 yellow bell pepper
a handful of raisins
a splash of apple cider vinegar
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 Tbsp olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
1/2 onion + 1 tsp turmeric (optional)

1. cook the brown rice in salted water until al dente. drain and run under cold water (this is very important to stop bacteria growing on the rice)
2. dice up the vegetables into cm cubes, and place in a large bowl with the raisins, vinegar, lemon and olive oil.
3. mix the brown rice into the bowl and toss well. season with salt and pepper.
4. for additional flavour and colour, soften the onion in a hot pan with a little butter and the turmeric. mix in thoroughly, and this will produce a beautiful golden colour. don't be tempted to add them in raw, as this will make an unpleasant grainy texture (trust me).
5. it tastes best if left to marinate for an hour or two in the fridge, and this will allow the raisins or other dried fruit to plump up and add to the textures of the dish. make sure to eat within 48 hours.

cook's notes: this recipe has endless variations, depending on what's in your fridge, freezer or storecupboard. the quantities and proportions of ingredients really all come down to taste - so throw in whatever you like!

i also love to add in: boiled eggs, spring onion, olives, chopped fresh herbs, peas, sweetcorn, pomegranate, tomato, sundried tomato, grilled peppers, chilli, red onion, dates, apricots, green beans, roasted pumpkin, avocado, a tin of mixed beans.

and now, drumroll please..., it's time for the big budget challenge update, thanks once again to laura!

the journey is so interesting when you are trying to save money in a big way, but by using lots of different methods - some work, some don't. and you learn so much about yourself in the process...

firstly, "need" and "want" have become 2 very different words. when i go out shopping, i focus on what's actually required, rather than what i fancy or what's on special offer. when writing the list of what we need for that week, i make sure to discern what's appropriate, do we really need it? sometimes it's just a habit that you've fallen into - like needing rooibos tea, even though there's other flavours in the cupboard. or wanting barley flour, when there's spelt available.

another thing that's come from saving up money on this challenge, is perspective. we are so wonderfully fortunate in this country to have pretty much all that we desire, even when we think we're doing badly, it's nothing in comparison with most of the world, particularly the current East African food crisis.

so, last week, when we realised how much we've been able to save, we all discussed giving away half of it to those with real needs. we settled on sending a portion to Tear Fund, who we know will use it wisely to bring food and aid to those in East Africa. it's incredible how we've unknowingly spent so easily before, thinking that the money was 'our well-earnt' cash to spend on food to make us happier and healthier. but actually reducing our spending has made us eat healthier, more locally and seasonally, and eat less too.

so, other updates:
  • we've now got £47.04 in the account, after having given half to Tear Fund, we also spent £20 on supplies for the allotment. we bought weed protection cover, bark chip and secateurs, so we can prevent the weeds becoming unmanageable next year - an investment, that will reap serious reward, we hope!
  • we've also spent time this week writing out the planting plan for the allotment next year, so we can work out what seeds to purchase, and what areas to manure or dig over.
  • the market this week was excellent. i wizzed round in record time, and picked up some interesting produce for the Foodbuzz challenge this coming weekend! see if you can figure out what i'll be making from this list...

  • i also went to purchase staple ingredients at Tesco, Lidl and Waitrose - coming out with about 5 things from each place, because i've now identified the best places for certain items in terms of value for money (cost, quantity & quality)
  • i've been cooking a lot with pulses & wholegrains, and loving it! and researching more into street food, to see what flavour combos i can use to make things even more exciting - i loved the chili marrow chilaquiles that i had this week, and the buckwheat spaetzle was another yummy highlight.
  • i still haven't spent more than £1 on clothing, and continued to avoid the hairdresser's in order to keep growing my hair out.
  • i have spent a little more on petrol this month, but i've done a personal budget update so i can allow for more visits to family! and i took £5 out of our joint account to cover trips to the allotment - a nice gift from mum and bro.
  • and most importantly... we've each cut out weekly food spent from £20 to £15, starting next week. so we shall see how it goes with a reduced food allowance. though i think that given the current rate of spending, we should be just fine.
it's so interesting to see how everyone else taking part in the challenge is finding things! i can't wait to continue saving money!

how near is your local market? how often do you visit it? what are your favorite rice salad ingredients?

currently listening to: the healing cancer world summit, hosted by the amazing kevin gianni, and with the MOST fascinating talks by leading cancer researchers in alternative care. over 50,000 have already tuned in, and i can totally say that if you are interested in the way nutrition can impact your health in a big way, then you really ought to listen...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

buckwheat spaetzle and lentil tomato hash

this evening i went to the annual allotment holder's meeting in our local village hall - a very interesting occasion. typically english, and full of characters arguing over water usage and underused plots. i love the allotment and growing our own fruit and veggies, and the social aspect of it is also really fun! sure, there's a bit of gossip, but i prefer the funny vegetable stories and growing tips you get to share with other growers.

we've been eating potatoes, carrots, swedes, tomatoes, beans, courgettes, marrow, fresh mint and spaghetti squash from there. in fact, if we'd grown a bit more up there, at this time of year, we could easily eat only from the allotment (and the wild of course).

but, as well as fresh veg, i've been trying out new pantry staples recipes - using beans, lentils and grains. i figured it was important to change it up a little now i'm incorporating more wholegrains into my diet...

hot spicy lentils with fresh tomatoes and mint, and a multiseed wholegrain muffin. simply fry up an onion, garlic clove and curry paste, then add lentils and stock and simmer until cooked (it depends on the variety of lentil you use for how long this will take).

homemade buckwheat spaetzle with fresh beetroot and diced vegetable bacon salad. spaetzle is actually pretty easy - you make a simple dough mix and then press it through a colander into boiling water. i followed this recipe, but substituted buckwheat flour for the regular, and it worked beautifully!

we grew a few of our own runner beans this year, but they got left on the vine until they were too stringy to eat like normal. so, i podded them, and have been using them in stews. they have such a beautiful colour and flavour.

more of Maria's lovely baked pearl barley - such a perfect breakfast for cold weather :)

such a random post for today - but my latest eats are always a fairly odd combination!

currently watching: Jamie's Great Britain - i do think Mr Oliver is the best! can't wait to see the rest of the series...

Friday, 21 October 2011

chilaquiles with red onion and marrow

today i want to share with you a new favorite recipe of mine... chilaquiles! i've been going through loads of international street food blogs and recipes, and when i realised i had all the ingredients for this particular dish, i was determined to make it for breakfast. with a twist.

chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish, where old tortillas are sliced up and fried, then mixed with salsa, onion, chilli and eggs, then topped with cheese. sounds quite simple and beautiful doesn't it?

so, i "englishified" it. because, i had some leftover grated marrow from making another spicy marrow torte and because we had a bunch of fresh homegrown tomatoes to use up. and after all it is an old-fashioned leftovers recipe, so it seemed only fitting.

it does look pretty appetising don't you think?

chilaquiles is kinda like migas - there's a little confusion over the difference between the two really. anyway, i try not to get hung up on the fine details, and instead i just super highly recommend you try this at home! you could even use some barley chapattis if you have some left - which i must say is pretty tasty :)

you could even make this gluten free or vegan if you wanted...

and it's the quickest recipe too :) i topped mine with ketchup and local cream cheese from the farmer's market (as well as dill - i am totally addicted to the stuff!)

breakfast chilaquiles with red onion and marrow

1 wholewheat tortilla or chapatti
1T butter or coconut oil
1/2 small red onion, sliced
1 tomato, diced
1 handful of grated marrow (or zucchini/courgette, or squash/pumpkin)
a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes
a little sea salt
1 egg

optional: cheese or nutritional yeast, tomato sauce/ketchup, dill + black pepper

1. cut the tortilla into small triangles
2. melt the butter or coconut oil in a frying pan, turning up to a high heat
3. fry the tortilla on both sides until crispy, then place on kitchen paper to cool
4. turn the temperature of the pan down, and then add the red onion, tomato, marrow/courgette, chillies and salt
5. fry until the onion is soft.
6. add in the crispy tortillas and the egg. and cook for 2 minutes.
7. serve topped with salsa and cheese, or more chilli flakes.

cook's notes: to veganise this recipe, replace the egg with a little crumbled tofu. to gluten free-ify this recipe, substitute the tortilla for a gluten free flatbread of your choice.

i adore this recipe! it's so easy and so yummy, and a great way to use up seasonal produce, and get a good balance of protein, carbs and veg in the morning. it's also pretty thrifty too, because it's bulky and interesting without costing much (especially if you make the flatbread yourself)

i hope you are all looking forward to the weekend! i've got some very serious weeding to do tomorrow, as well as finishing the russian cookbook i've been notetaking, and maybe trying out a recipe for carrot fudge that looks unusual and interesting.

have you made chilaquiles or migas before? what is your favorite mexican recipe?

currently reading: the power of a whisper by bill hybels - and i'm also trying to catch-up with the latest downton abbey, because it's so brilliant!


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

hot wild blackberries and barley chapattis

hello wonderful readers! how do you like the new header and background? i was having a little play around with it yesterday, and this was my favorite combo...

anyway, enough of the graphic design, lets get down to the most important thing - food! and budget food in particular. i've been loving cooking with wholegrains this week, and trying out new recipes with pulses.

i've even realised that we've got some accidental dried beans up at the allotment - the ones that got left on the plant and forgotten about... the handful i got after keeping the others for next year's planting went into a big hearty stew this week, and were the best beans i've ever had!

in other news, we are starting to go through the masses of blackberries i picked these last few weeks:

warmed in the oven on top of homemade apple sauce, it's like a crumble without the hassle of making the topping. i served it with the tiniest dollop of local cream cheese from the farmer's market, and it was wonderful straight from the hot oven.

there's nothing quite like knowing there's 6 massive bags of frozen blackberries in the freezer! it was worth the hours of solitary picking to know that we've got the most local, organic, free, anti-oxidant rich berries available :)

as well as berries, i've discovered a passion for flatbread, that i knew i had, but never truly indulged. there's nothing as quick and easy as flatbread, and it's the perfect accompaniment to stews, soups and dals.

barley chapattis with honey & thyme (recipe below) with red lentil dal and fresh tomatoes from our garden.

barley chapattis with honey & thyme recipe (makes 4)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup barley flour
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried thyme
cracked black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp honey
1/4 cup warm water

1. mix together the dry ingredients, then mix in the wet with your fingers, to form a soft, pliable dough (add more water if necessary).
2. knead together on a floured surface for 10 minutes.
3. divide the dough into 4, and shape into balls.
4. roll each ball out into a flatbread shape.
5. get a flat frying pan or skillet to a medium high temperature, and keep it dry.
6. place each chapatti one at a time into the pan, and cook until it blisters. you could also grill them.

cook's notes: there are endless variations of these flatbreads, and so many flavours you can add to mix it up a little bit. you can also add a little oil or butter to make it more moist, but the honey keeps it flexible and chewy enough. these freeze quite well, but be sure to reheat in a foil packet in the oven to stop them from becoming rockhard.

now, onto the big budget update for this week, courtesy of the lovely Laura:

last week i told you all that we've managed to save over £50 already in the joint account...and this week i'm happy to report:
  • we've got £76.50 in the account, and i've already got £20 in my purse for the next lot of food shopping! remember how i commented that there was probably far too much food for a week - well i was right, and it's going to last 2 weeks, especially with all the courgettes, tomatoes and squash from the allotment. there's a few spices i'll pick up tomorrow and other necessities like chocolate and tinned chickpeas, but that shouldn't amount to more than £10.
  • the only expense of the week was mum going to purchase cake-making ingredients for a big traybake for church on sunday - it was not wasted money, because she made an epic carrot cake that everyone adored!
  • i did my first EVER lot of carboot sale shopping at the weekend. i broke my not-spending any money on clothes rule, by purchasing a jumper for £1! not too bad, given how warm it'll keep me on snowy winter days. i also picked up a couple of plates to photograph on, and a nut cracker to get through the vast quantity of hazelnuts we've had from the local countryside.
  • i enjoyed wrapping apples for winter storage, and baking a yummy molasses apple tart! wild apples are one of the joys of living in england :) it makes me wonder how i feel compelled to actually pay for them at all!
  • i've spent a few hours weeding up at the allotment, and planning out next years plot and sowing schedule. we'll be having a big bonfire there the weekend after next, and we'll be taking a hot picnic with us to celebrate the awesome free homegrown produce we've had this year!
  • on a totally separate note, i finished listing a lot of university books on amazon (a little extra cash to pay for next year's holiday) and completed a handmade quilt i've been working on for over a year...
it's been a loving work in progress for a long while. but i finally finished it!!

what do you think?

and last but not least, i might just be part of this month's foodbuzz 24x24 again. i was so excited to get an acceptance email in my mailbox yesterday! i so loved making a big swedish feast last time, and this time is set to be similarly epic... i can't wait :)

currently reading: sophie dahl's from season to season - i actually unfortunately don't really love this one as much as her first. i got it from the library, but have been disappointed to only find a couple of recipes i actually want to make. such a shame as i use voluptuous delights loads!