Monthly Archives: November 2009

How to Find Variety in Monotony

Smoked Tofu and Cabbage SandwichBlack Bean and Sweet Potato TostadaSmoked Tofu and Cabbage SandwichPumpkin and black bean tostadasAmazing Taco

Do you tend to eat the same foods over and over again? I’m usually a glutton for variety but since Tim’s been in New Zealand, I’m less inclined to spend hours in the kitchen trying new recipes. Let’s face it – cooking is not as fun if there’s no one to share it with. Ok, it’s still fun, but perhaps in smaller doses.

To save time on cooking, I’ve been tapping the freezer and revisiting a a variety of the same foods: black beans, veggie chile, shephard’s pie, cornbread and quick sandwiches.

For example, this weekend’s menu looks a bit monotonous. On both Saturday and Sunday I had the same lunch and dinner: black bean and sweet potato tostadas for lunch and a smoked tofu sandwich for dinner. But I’ve discovered that it’s very possible to eat the same foods regularly without getting bored. In fact, repeating the same foods has some great benefits. You get really good at working with staple cupboard ingredients, and for people trying to lose weight or gain muscle, eating the same foods makes it easier to track your diet.

Of course, the point isn’t to eat the same foods over and over again – variety is the spice of life and the key to optimum nutrition. The point is to use regular ingredients as the basis for a healthy diet, and then round those ingredients out with a variety of other delicious foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains.

Here’s how I’ve been mixing things up lately:

  • Use stores of basic foods as the basis for a variety of meals. For example, I make a big batch of yummy simmered black beans, freeze them in individual portions, then use them for black bean tacos, tostadas, or black beans and greens with cornbread.
  • Mix it up on the side. I’ve been using side dishes to add variation to my monotonous meals. For example, on Saturday I had cole slaw with my tofu sandwich. On Sunday I had a green salad. Exciting!
  • Keep a variety of monotonous foods on hand. it’s tempting to make a big batch of chile or lasagne and then live off of that for a week. Instead, I try to keep a few options around.
  • Embrace easy starches. Starches are easy, but to keep it interesting, I try to cycle a variety of easy-to-cook starchy foods: baked potatoes, rice, quinoa, polenta, baked pumpkin and fresh bread.

Food Diary | Saturday, November 28, 2009


Apples and oatmeal with banana and toasted nuts

Oatmeal with apples, bananas, raisins and toasted nuts

The oatmeal is cooked with cinnamon, grated apple and a pinch of salt. Then I topped with banana and toasted almonds and hazelnuts. Pretty nice with a drizzle of honey and a splash of soy milk.


Pumpkin pudding, or something like that…

Kind of like pumpkin pudding

A semi-successful experiment that will be worth tweaking: pumpkin mixed with soymilk, a little cornstarch, pumpkin pie spices, salt and pepper. It’s sort of like a savory pumpkin pie without the crust. There’s something good going on here…

…and a piece of toast

Toast with almond butter and jelly

I like that every part of this snack – the bread, the almond butter, and the sloe and apple jelly – were made from scratch.

Recipe: Sloe and crab apple hedgerow jelly


Pumpkin and black bean tostada

Pumpkin and black bean tostadas

This invention was rather successful! I had extra pumpkin leftover from the pumpkin pudding creation, so I mixed it up with some sauteed onion, cumin seed, mustard seed, ground cumin, fresh cilantro, and a little pickled jalapeno. Then smeared it on a corn tortilla, topped it with black beans, lettuce, avocado and a squeeze of lime juice. It was awesome! Served with some sauteed cauliflower.


Smoked tofu and cabbage sandwich

Smoked Tofu and Cabbage Sandwich

Sounds weird, but this is one of my favorite sandwich creations. Reuben-inspired. I saute the cabbage with onions and caraway seeds until its really soft and delicious, then add a splash of vinegar (balsamic is good here). Then I heat up the tofu and toast some rye sourdough bread. Sandwich consisits of
(in this order): bread, avocado, salt, pepper, tomato, smoked tofu, pickles, jalapeno, cabbage. Sounds weird. Tastes awesome.

Served with a really tasty coleslaw.

Recipe: Dazzling Winter Slaw with Red Cabbage, Apples and Pecans

Food Diary | Sunday, November 29, 2009


Toast with almond butter and fresh fruit

Breakfast of champions

Savory Snack

Onion soup, sourdough bread and balsamic vinegar

Soup Snack


More pumpkin and black bean tostadas

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tostada

This time served with sauteed kale and leeks, and extra beans and pumpkin on the side.


Another smoked tofu and cabbage sandwich

Smoked Tofu and Cabbage Sandwich

This time served with a green salad and some extra cabbage on the side.

Sloe and crab apple hedgerow jelly

Hedgerow Jelly on Toast

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, then you know I’ve been increasingly obsessed with the idea of “living off the land.” One of the best places I’ve found to forage for free food is in the hedgerows, particularly those lining the fields behind our cottage.

My American friends might be wondering – what the eff is a hedgerow? A hedge or hedgerow is a line of closely spaced shrubs and tree species, planted in such a way as to form a barrier or to mark the boundary of an area. According to Wikipedia, many English hedgerows are estimated to have been in existence for more than seven hundred years, originating in the medieval period.

As it turns out, many of the shrubs, trees and bushes used to create hedgerows bear edible fruit. For example, our nearby hedges have offered blackberries, nettles, rosehips, hawthorn berries, crab apples and sloes. And I’ve heard rumors of sweet chestnuts, hazelnuts, damson plums, gooseberries and wild garlic lurking in hedges I haven’t yet discovered.

Hedgerows are looking pretty bare...

Let’s be honest: I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to actually buy sloes and crab apples, but since they’re available, I feel compelled to use of them. Sloe berries are similar to small plums, but are a too tart and astringent for eating. Crab apples are also not exactly munching food. But boil the two together with a bunch of sugar and leave to mature for a couple weeks and something quite magical happens. The sloes’ astringency subsides and their plummy flavor really comes through. The seeds in the crab apple act as a natural pectin, which gels the mixture into a nice, deep purple jelly that goes particularly well with blue cheese, as well as almond butter and (I’m guessing) regular butter, too.

Sloe Harvest

I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s template for hedgerow jelly, which can also be made with rowan berries, rosehips, haws or a mixture. Making hedgerow jelly isn’t a quick process. It takes time to pick the sloes and the crab apples, and anyone who’s made jam or jelly knows that it’s a slightly delicate affair involving things like jelly bags and sterile jars. But it’s all time well spent, and rewarding too: collecting food from nature and turning it into something extremely delicious, experiencing the whole process of food creation from start to finish.

Sloe and Crab Apple Hedgerow Jelly

Hedgerow Jelly in ProgressAdapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s crab apple and rowan jelly.

Around 1kg sloes
Around 1kg crab apples
At least 1.5kg granulated sugar
Jelly bag (or a clean cotton cloth and a big sieve)

Wash the sloes and crab apples. Cut the crab apples in half, but leave in the cores – they contribute lots of pectin, which helps set the jelly.

Put all the fruit into a large, heavy pan, along with enough water (at least 500ml) to come about halfway up the fruit. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally and crushing the fruit against the side of the pan, until the whole mass is soft and pulpy. Tip the mixture into a jelly bag (or a large sieve lined with a cotton cloth) suspended over a bowl, and leave to drain. If you want a clear jelly, just let the liquid drip through, but if you want to get the maximum yield and don’t mind if your jelly is a little cloudy, squeeze the pulp to extract every last drop of juice.

DIY Jelly BagMeasure the juice, then transfer it to a clean pan and add 750g sugar for every litre of juice. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly, skimming off any scum that might rise to the surface, until you reach setting point – you can measure this with a sugar thermometer: it’s 106C. Alternatively, after about 10 minutes of hard boiling, take the pan off the heat and drop a teaspoon of the jelly on to a cold saucer, put this in the fridge for a couple of minutes, then push your finger through the jelly. If the surface wrinkles, your jelly is ready. If not, boil for five minutes longer, then repeat the test.

As soon as setting point is reached, remove the pan from the heat and pour the jelly into warm, sterilised jars. Cover with a disc of waxed paper, then a lid. Leave for a few weeks to mature before eating. The jelly should keep for up to a year.

Hedgerow Jelly on Toast

Craving a Feast: What happens when you miss Thanksgiving dinner

My body must sense that something is wrong. Ever since Thursday, I’ve been insatiably hungry. It’s like my body was expecting a Thanksgiving feast, and when it didn’t get it, my stomach rebelled, demanding mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Constantly!

Pizza and chocolate cake will have to do.

Food Diary | Friday, November 27, 2009


Oatmeal with Pears, Pecans and Banana

Oatmeal with Pears, Bananas and Toasted Pecans

The crappy white balance is indicative of my use of kitchen lighting. Yes, even though it was 7am, it was still dark outside, and not enough natural light to do my breakfast justice.


Orange marmalade vs. hedgerow jelly face-off (and half a banana)

Jelly Marmalade Face-Off

The thing is: I love orange marmalade. But the homemade hedgerow jelly wins! Savored on sourdough toast with almond butter (also homemade – I’m going crazing with this homemade shizzle).


Onion soup with sourdough bread and salad

Onion Soup

This lunch is probably the cause of my hunger. Let’s face it – onion soup just isn’t very filling. That’s a clove of garlic in there, by the way.

Not picture: dessert orange.


Pizza! And Cake!


I was ravenous by the time dinner came around, which was fairly easy to throw together as I have a bunch of wholemeal pizza dough stashed in the freezer (made using the pizza primer at the Fresh Loaf, which I highly recommend if you want to make bad-ass pizza at home; also, their recipe works pretty well with 1/2 white 1/2 whole wheat flour – fyi!).

This is one of my favorite pizza topping combos: green pepper, mushroom, onion, olive and pineapple. With a little bit of mozzarella, oregano and chili: bliss. I ate the whole thing, with a big salad and a bottle of Butts Barbus Barbus Ale. Brewed in West Berkshire and totally organic! Pretty good stuff.

Pizza!, Salad and Butts

Still hungry after all that food, I finished the evening with a piece of chocolate and zucchini cake and the last sliver of vanilla ice cream left in the freezer. We are now out of desserts. A blessing in disguise? Or a call to baking? I can’t decide.

(It’s a terrible photo – please forgive!)

Bad photo of chocolate cake

My Thanksgiving in Food

Don’t get too excited: I had a very quiet Thanksgiving here at Orchard Cottage. And by “quiet”, I do mean “peaceful” (not “lonely” – I swear). No pumpkin pie or cranberries, alas, but plenty of tasty home-cooked autumnal food all the same: hedgerow jelly, onion soup, sourdough bread, sweet potatoes and lots of fresh veg.

All that said, I hope everyone State-side had a lovely Thanksgiving and that you stuffed yourselves silly and had lots of laughs. I will be home for Christmas (yes, I actually do miss Chicago winters), so I’ll get my share of holiday feasting then (and hopefully a bit of holiday snow). Can’t wait….

Food Diary | Thursday, November 26, 2009


Oatmeal with pears and toasted pecans

Oatmeal with Pears and Walnuts

This is my favorite way to have oatmeal at the moment: oatmeal cooked with diced pears, cinnamon, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Then topped with toasted pecans (I toast them in a dry pan while the oatmeal is cooking), a light drizzle of honey and a dash of soymilk.


Sourdough toast with almond butter and hedgerow jelly

Better than PB&J

Our homemade sloe and crab apple jelly has really grown on me. I love living off the land!

Recipe: Crab Apple and Sloe Jelly


Black bean and sweet potato taco with goat’s cheese and carrot slaw

Amazing Taco

So this taco ruled. I sauteed the sweet potato with onion, mustard seed and cumin seed. The combo of sweet potato, black bean and goat’s cheese was amaaaazing. Want. More. Now.


Onion soup with sourdough bread and sauteed cauliflower

French Onion Soup with Sauteed Cauliflower

This onion soup was good, but was missing something (don’t say “beef broth”). I’d like to try it again with mushroom stock and a bit of soy sauce to make it a little, uh, er, meatier…

Not pictures: an extra half slice of toast and an orange for dessert.

Recipes: Breaded Sauteed Cauliflower with Onions and Olives

Today is Thanksgiving: Eat Pie

Mince Pie

One of the hardest things about living in England is missing out on Thanksgiving with my family in Chicago. I’ve always loved Thanksgiving – the pies, the parties, the people – all without the pressure of having to give presents. And even though I’m observing Thanksgiving from afar, I seem to be feeling the holiday fever more than ever. I think this has something to do with my latest read: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver.

Kingsolver gives a month-by-month account of her and her family’s attempt to grow their own and eat locally for a whole year. I’ve just finished the book, whose last few chapters focus on November through December and surviving the winter months. Kingsolver also loves Thanksgiving, and reading the perspective from someone “living off the land”, I feel a new appreciation for what Thanksgiving is all about:

Thanksgiving is all about what North America has to offer at the end of a good growing season. Thanksgiving is my favorite, and always has been, I suppose because as a child of the farmlands I appreciate how it honestly belongs to us. Turkey Day belongs to my people. Turkeys have walked wild on this continent since the last ice age whereas Old Europe was quite turkeyless. Corn pudding may be the oldest New World comfort food: pumpkins and cranberries, too, are exclusively ours. It’s all American, the right stuff at the right time.

To this tasty native assembly add a cohort of female relatives sharing work and gossip in the kitchen, kids flopped down on the living room floor watching behemoth cartoon characters float down a New York thoroughfare on television, and men out in the yard pretending they still have the upper arm strength for lateral passes, and that is a perfect American day. If we need a better excuse to focus a whole day on preparing one meal, eating it, then groaning about it with smiles on our faces, just add a dash of humility and hallelujah. Praise the harvest. We made it through one more turn of the seasons.

But Kingsolver doesn’t forget that we Americans have a bit of a love-hate relationship with food celebrations, and the holidays often carry with them a fair bit of baggage, both in pies and pounds. I really loved her response to this – celebration is “the opposite of self-indulgence”

For most people everywhere, surely, food anchors holiday traditions. I probably spent some years denying the good in that, mostly subconsciously–devoutly refusing the Thanksgiving pie, accepting the stigma my culture has attached to celebrating food, especially for women my age. Because of the inscriptions written on our bodies . . . we are supposed to pretend if we are strong-willed that food is not all that important. Eat now and pay later, we’re warned. Stand on the scale, roll your eyes, and on New Year’s Day resolve to become a moral person again.

But most of America’s excess pounds were not gained on national holidays. After a certain age, we can’t make a habit of pie, certainly, but it’s a soul-killing dogma that says we have to snub it even on Thanksgiving. Good people eat. So do bad people, skinny people, fat people, tall and short ones. Heaven help us, we will never master photosynthesis. Planning complex, beautiful meals and investing one’s heart and time in their preparation is the opposite of self-indulgence. Kitchen-based family gatherings are process-oriented, cooperative, and in the best of worlds, nourishing and soulful….

Needless to say, I loved this book and may get around to writing a proper review sometime soon. In the meantime, go celebrate. Eat pie. With whipped cream. Cuz after all, “good people eat.”

Here are a few autumnal recipes that have caught my eye recently. What’s on your Thanksgiving menu?

One last thing, I’m not sure if you’re affected by the canned pumpkin shortage, but if so, you could do a lot worse by using fresh pumpkin or butternut squash. I used the latter in my pumpkin oatmeal cookies and it worked a treat! Next, I think I might have a go using fresh pumpkin in my all time favorite recipe: pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Roasted Carrot and Fennel Soup

Roast Carrot and Fennel Soup

It’s been a while since I last posted. I’m not sure what’s been getting me down – maybe it’s the weather. We’re heading into a typically wet English winter. Wet. And dark. Sunset is at 16:06 today, which tends to eliminate all possibilities of pre- or post-dinner strolls. And the wind has been howling for days, bringing with it rain, farm smells and shifting food cravings.

Only a month ago I was a fiend for raw salads, but these days I seem to be looking for any excuse I can to turn on the oven. Roasted vegetables, hot stews and warming soups are the order of the day (and fresh baked bread to go with them). In fact, the cold season’s hearty vegetables almost make the English winter worth tolerating.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago at The Bridge in London, where a former workmate was having a lunchtime birthday party. Like most English pubs, The Bridge’s lunch menu was a bit sparse on the vegetarian options, so I went for the soup: carrot and coriander. I have to hand it to the Bridge – their soup surprised me. It was perfect, bursting with fresh carrot and a lemony (I think) broth. It was simultaneously light and fresh but very satisfying.

The next day, I set out to recreate their carrot and coriander soup with my oodle of carrots from the Riverford Organic Box. But while searching for recipes, I found this one for Carrot Fennel Soup, which seemed to be a calling for the fennel bulb in my fridge that desperately needed a home.

Frankly, I can’t think of a better use for a fennel bulb and a surplus of carrots: this soup is dynamite! Roasting caramelizes the carrots and fennel, making for a sweet, rich soup that’s perfect for a cold winter’s day. Other bonuses: it’s easy to make, super healthy and unquestionably vegan.

Roasted Carrot and Fennel Soup

The olive oil drizzle isn’t totally necessary, but it does kick things up a notch!

2 medium fennel bulbs with fronds
1 pound carrots, quartered lengthwise
1 medium onion, quartered
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 1/2 cups water

Olive oil drizzle:
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in lowest position.

Chop enough fennel fronds to measure 1 tablespoon and reserve. Discard stalks and remaining fronds. Slice bulbs 1/4 inch thick and toss with carrots, onion, garlic, olive oil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread in a 4-sided sheet pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Blend half of vegetables in a blender with broth until very smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan. Repeat with remaining vegetables and water. Thin to desired consistency with extra water and simmer 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, finely grind fennel seeds in grinder and stir into remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Serve soup drizzled with fennel oil and sprinkled with reserved fronds.

Serves 4. Per serving (without olive oil drizzle): 174 Calories, 11.3g Fat, 14.8 g Carbohydrates, 4.4g Protein, 3.7g Fiber

Beyond Brisket: My Interview with Austin BBQ Chef David “D.T.” Terrell


I consider the side dishes as important as the barbecue, and these sides should taste as good as the meat. I see it all as part of the same experience even though many people just grab some “Q” and start munching. Some people are not into meat and I try to be sensitive to those feelings; vegetarians are okay with me. – David “D.T.” Terrell, Austin Barbecue Company

“BBQ” is not a word you often see with phrases like “veggie friendly” and “health food.” But Austin BBQ chef David “D.T.” Terrell proves there’s more to BBQ than brisket and ribs.

David catered my friend’s wedding reception last summer in Austin, Texas. I met him at the buffet table, where he was serving up slabs of beef and pork from a giant smoker and dishing up an impressive array of side dishes to go with it – barbecue beans, potato salad, cole slaw, enchiladas, and plenty of tortillas and extra sauce.

Dinner: Veggie BBQ Courtesy of David "D.T." TerrellAs a vegetarian, the meat choices were off my radar (though I’ve been told I was missing out on something spectacular) so I naturally veered for the beans, salad and enchiladas. As I took my first bite – a tender, deeply flavored butter bean – I could tell that the food had been prepared by someone who cares about quality. And as I finished my plate, I was starting to see barbecue in a whole new light.

Barbecue is more than just meat. It’s also about delicious side dishes, whole foods like beans and corn, fresh vegetables and quality ingredients. This goes for the meat, too, where often times the entire animal is utilized for food. Even as a vegetarian, I can appreciate a chef who wastes nothing and respects the animal by cooking it with care and attention.

On my second trip up to the buffet table, I had to ask David about his marvelous beans. He not only shared a few secrets about his favorite “non meat”, but also agreed to an interview. Thanks to David for sharing his thoughts on beans, barbecue, cajun cuisine and even Indian dal and tofu.

What is barbecue all about? How would you explain it to someone who’s never had barbecue before?

Barbecue is just meat cooked by heated smoke. If one is cooking directly over the heat source, that is not barbecue; that is grilling. The smoke comes from various types of wood like oak, pecan, hickory, and other fruit tree woods. In Texas, the hot smoke is mainly from mesquite and oak; other locales have their own favorites.

What’s special about smoking? How is it different from other types of cooking like direct heat?

The smoking of meat adds special favor and can also be a way to preserve the meat by removing moisture; that is how jerky is made. Native Americans were able to preserve buffalo and eat that meat throughout the long winters in the American West. Meat smoked long enough will turn a pinkish red, and barbecue lovers examine their cuts to see the “smoke ring”, or ring of red coloring.

Direct heat generally cooks faster and leaves a much different flavor than meat cooked by indirect smoke.

What made you decide you wanted to be a barbecue chef?

I became a barbecue chef because my father, a military man, grilled and smoked meat frequently and was a native of Memphis, Tennessee, one of America’s barbecue centers.

Where did you learn how to barbecue?

My father taught me the basics of smoking and grilling, and I learned more over the years from observing others. As I say, “I only steal from the best.” The education continues today; as you know one can always learn something new if your mind is open.

You do a lot of cajun food. Tell me about your connection with New Orleans.

New Orleans is a city that I have visited many times and I appreciate its uniqueness in both culture and history. The food, of course, stands apart from what is considered typically American. I have learned how important sauces and spices are in combination with the main course. The food alone makes New Orleans worth visiting.

I was really impressed by the quality of your ingredients. Where do you get your food and how do you choose your suppliers?

I try to use the freshest ingredients, and I make what I can from “scratch”. Finding fresh meats and vegetables in the local markets here in Central Texas is not too hard; creating good-tasting meals for discriminating palates is the real challenge.

Now I know barbecue is all about the meat, but what about the sides? How much emphasis do you put on your side dishes?

I consider the side dishes as important as the barbecue, and these sides should taste as good as the meat. I see it all as part of the same experience even though many people just grab some “Q” and start munching. Some people are not into meat and I try to be sensitive to those feelings; vegetarians are okay with me.

I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t really do the smoked meat thing. Can other foods besides meat be smoked? Would it be sacrilege to smoke tofu??

Yes, other foods besides meat can be smoked and taste quite good, even tofu. I even have a separate, special grill just for non-meat items so I can show vegetarians no meat came in contact with their food.

Your beans rock my world – how do you cook them? Do you use dry beans? What do you season them with? Do you cook them with spices or add the spices afterwards?

Ah yes, the beans. I also love beans so I give them special attention. I use dry beans and soak them in water overnight, then add spices and vegetables. Depending on whom my guests are I add chilies, brown sugar, and even beer. Various peppers may find their way into the beans, and I sometimes use some meat to enhance flavor, and make the same version without meat for non-meat eaters.

By the way, I’ve traveled throughout India and have eaten lentils at roadside food stands, with dal on the side, so I learn from everyone.

I’m a cabbage lover and adored your slaw. Your website mentions “Texas cole slaw” and “jalapeno cole slaw” – what’s the difference? Any cole slaw secrets you wish to share?

OK-I’ll spill the beans. Jalapeno cole slaw is made with both red and green cabbages and a homemade dressing, with tiny bits of jalapeno peppers, of course. Once made, it should be put in a cold place, like a fridge, for at least twelve hours. Texas cole slaw is the above without the jalapenos, and maybe a different dressing. Cole slaw, as you know, can be made with a variety of salad dressings.

What is your favorite food to cook with?

My personal favorite food to cook is pork because of the variety of pork barbecue one can cook, like ribs, shoulder, butt, sausage, whole pig, loin, and parts I won’t mention.

Okay, now what is your favorite non-meat food to cook with?

Beans are my favorite non-meat meal, and there are so many different beans, each with their own flavor. Red, Lima, kidney, pinto, black, black-eyed, navy, and others.

What’s your favorite meal?

My favorite meal is smoked duck with cornbread dressing, with New Orleans-style bread pudding with whiskey sauce.

Where do you go when you want to eat at a restaurant?

I like to eat the creations of other chefs and unique foods. People will find me eating sushi, Chinese and Korean foods at local restaurants, though I also like to eat at Indian food buffets.

Best piece of advice you would give a home barbecue enthusiast?

The best advice I would give a home barbecue enthusiast is to keep improving your product, taste and share with others, and pass your knowledge along.

Any vegetarian recipes you could share?

Yes, soak two cups of dry beans of your choice overnight, then add your favorite seasoning and peppers and cook in a covered pot until the beans are tender. Enjoy.

Thanks again to David for the wonderful interview. David runs The Austin Barbecue Company, a gourmet catering service in central Texas. If you happen to live in Texas and are a bit stumped for a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, why not see if David can help?

Cabbage in Tow

Savoy Cabbage in Tow

I went for a bike ride this morning to the Duchy Home Farm Organic “Veg Shed” and couldn’t resist this mammoth savoy cabbage. Fairly surprised it survived the nine mile journey back home.

Next time: bring a bigger backpack.

Mushroom Hunting on Lower Moor Farm

Edible or Not?

Tim and I were out for a walk yesterday one Lower Moor Farm when we stumbled upon an enticing little cluster of big white mushrooms. I picked a few and, after a bit of internet research and some reassurance from my neighbor, I determined that they were field mushrooms and thus, quite edible. That evening, I turned my small harvest into a tasty mushroom pizza.

Good news – I’m still alive!

I’m not only alive, but I’m totally hooked on this mushroom gathering business.

I just filled in my membership form for the Cotswold Fungus Group and look forward to following in the footsteps of my new hero, John Wright, semi-resident forager of River Cottage.

Since moving to Orchard Cottage, I’ve been loving England more and more. This country seems to embrace outdoor adventure and wild food more so than America. Is that true? It could be that when I lived in America, I wasn’t at a point in my life where I could appreciate things like mushroom hunting and blackberry picking. Or it could be that now that I’m living in the country, I’m more constantly confronted by all that nature has to offer: blackberries in the hedgerows, sloe berries in the fields, and now mushrooms.

Consequentially, I just received a new book that should help me in my free food pursuits: Food for Free by Richard Maybe. Considered by many to be “the forager’s bible”, Food for Free is an illustrated guide to over 100 edible plants, fully described with pictures and recipes. Already I’ve enjoyed reading about the plants I’ve already identified. Now I’m looking forward to finding more as the seasons progress – bring on the elderflower champaign and gooseberry jam!

Malted Grain Loaf: Best Loaf Ever?

Malted Grain Loaf

I’ve recently become hooked on the Channel 4 series River Cottage, a program featuring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s adventures as a downshifted cottage smallholder. One of the show’s main aims is to inspire people to live a more sustainable lifestyle by making simple changes to their eating habits. A recent episode featured baker “Ted” who demonstrated to busy mom “Sarah” how easy it is to bake bread.

I’ve been baking my own bread for a while, but my technique primarily relies on the no knead method which, while delicious, doesn’t quite reach the crusty, artisanal heights that I want it too (it also doesn’t toast well for some reason). Ted’s malted grain loaf caught my attention – it looked crusty and delicious, with lovely slashes on top and a dark, but light and fluffy interior. Last Tuesday, I decided to attempt this recipe for myself, and already I’m on to loaf #2: this stuff is incredible.

I’m posting the recipe here, but I highly recommend watching the video to get an idea of how it should look at the various stages of the baking process. It’s really simple. And if you wonder if you have time to spend 10 minutes kneading dough – you do. It takes more time to go to the store and buy crappy bread. This stuff toasts like a dream. Is it the flour? Is it the balance of ingredients? Is it the oven temperature? I’m not sure, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with different flours to find out.

Malted Grain Loaf

From The River Cottage.

500g malted grain flour (I used Doves Farm Organic Malthouse Bread Flour)
5g dried yeast
10g fine sea salt
300ml warm water
About 1 tbsp melted butter, or rapeseed or olive oil
Rye flour, for coating (optional)
Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and mix to a rough dough (I recommend using your hands). Add the butter or oil and mix well. Adjust the consistency if you need to with a little more flour or water to make a soft, easily kneadable, sticky dough.

Turn the dough out on to a work surface and knead until smooth and satiny – roughly 10 minutes (or if you have a blender with a dough hook, use that). Cover the bowl with cling film and leave until doubled in size – anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, possibly even longer (here’s a picture of what it should look like when ready).

Deflate (‘knock back’) the dough by tipping it on to the work surface and pressing all over with your fingertips. Then shape the dough into a loaf, dusting it with a little rye flour if you have some (the video demonstrates this very well). Transfer to a well-floured board, linen cloth or proving basket, lay a plastic bag over it and leave to prove, until almost doubled in size again.

Preheat the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 9 (or at least 220°C/gas 7, if that’s your top limit), then put a pizza stone or baking tray in to heat up. Have ready, if possible, a clean gardener’s spray bottle full of water – you’ll be using this to create a steamy atmosphere in the oven, which helps the bread to rise and develop a good crust. (You can achieve the same effect with a roasting tin of boiling water placed on the bottom of the oven just before you put the loaf in – but the spray bottle is easier.)

Transfer the loaf to the hot tray, removed from the oven. Slash the top, if you wish, with a serrated knife. Put the loaf into the hot oven and give a few squirts from the spray bottle over and around it before closing the door as quickly as you can.

Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 200°C/gas 6 and continue baking until well browned and hollow-sounding when tapped – around 30 minutes.

Leave to cool completely on a rack before slicing.