I got a big bag of watercress in the organic box this week. I don’t like watercress at the best of times, but yesterday afternoon I found myself craving a cold beverage and eager to try another green smoothie, but watercress was the only greenery I had in the house. Fruit, too, was running low – except for apples (the benefits of “Orchard Cottage”). I didn’t have many options, and so became the smoothie of randoms:
A handful of watercress
1/2 frozen banana
a few ice cubes
enough water to blend it to a fine puree in the Vitamix
Shock of the day: it was actually really damn good. I thought the watercress would overpower the smoothie but it didn’t at all. It added a subtle flavour akin to a cross between mint and parsley which worked really well with the apple. It also made my “green smoothie” properly green.
I should also note that this is my first time using apple in a smoothie: revelation. My new plan is to chop up and freeze a massive quantity of orchard apples, enough to supply me with numerous smoothies for many months to come.
I’m doing a little life experiment – I’ve been drinking whey protein smoothies every day for the last while, but lately they’ve been making me feel kind of blah in my innards, characterised by weird digestive gurgles coupled by fatigue, and tripled by bloatiness. Gross, right?
Yes, I could just stop drinking them, but I’ve come to really enjoy my afternoon smoothie ritual – especially when they involve cocoa powder. So I’m going to use this as an excuse to find out what the fuss is about these “green smoothies” – smoothies that include something green like kale or spinach, plus fruit and other stuff to make it yummy. I’ve had my Vitamix for a couple years but have never tried one of these – until today!
My smoothie was: banana, beetroot, blackberries, a big handful of spinach, a few ice cubes, water and a heaping spoonful of cocoa powder (that’s right – cocoa powder!). I enjoyed this, though in the future I would skip the blackberries – the beetroot and cocoa are so good together, but the blackberries add a sour note that I’d rather pass on. The spinach? I couldn’t taste it very much. And it must be said: the Vitamix blended this to silky perfection.
While not as satisfying as my whey protein smoothies (I was hungry within 30 minutes of drinking this), it was also not as digestively challenging. And it was real food, which I can’t really say for “whey protein powder”. I could use this opportunity to externalise my internal debate about protein, fitness and a mostly vegetarian diet, but that would be boring. I’ll let the experiment speak for itself. Tomorrow: no blackberries, more cocoa.
I scored some really nice smoked Mackerel this week at Upton Smokery – a random stop on my way back home from Oxford. I decided to use some of it for a version of these smoked mackerel croquettes with chilli jam (as far as I can tell, croquette in this case is just a fancy word for “mini fishcake”).
According to the recipe, the fishcakes are made with mackerel, potato, chilli, curry powder and lime, which then get dredged in egg and breadcrumbs, then deep fried in hot oil. I adapted it slightly, using sweet potato instead of normal potato, which proved a good match for the smoky mackerel and fragrant spices (I’m working with Mark Bittman’s homemade fragrant curry powder). Instead of deep-frying, I pan-fried the fishcakes in a cast iron skillet (following the technique given in How to cook perfect fishcakes).
I didn’t make the chilli jam, but instead used some Tracklement’s Chilli Jam that my neighbours gifted me, along with some delicious coriander and coconut chutney made at yesterday’s Gujerati Thali (leftovers for the win). The two dips were great together.
This was my first foray into fishcakes. I think I’ve always avoided them because I thought they were total grease bombs, but this experiment proved otherwise. I’m also digging this use for sweet potato – will make again!
Orchard Cottage is living up to its name at the moment. When I look out the window, all I see are a bundle of trees, branches dripping with ripe and ready apples. The mind reels with how to use them all.
Well, here’s an invention I came up with last weekend: apple pie ice cream, though I should really call it “apple crumble ice cream” because crumble topping is what I ended up using for the “pastry effect”. And indeed, that pastry aspect is essential – after all, one of the best bits of apple pie is buttery pastry. I would have used pre-baked shortcrust pastry, but I happened to have crumble topping stashed in my freezer and was feeling lazy, so I toasted that the oven for 10 minutes and went to town.
The crumble topping worked amazingly well, retaining its crispy texture even after being swirled into the ice cream. That said, I do want to try this again with proper pastry, something a little softer with more chew. Crumbled up cookies or biscuits could also work in a pinch.
As for the apples, those get stewed up with some spices – I use cinnamon and nutmeg – plus the magic ingredient, stem ginger, which gives it a spice kick and adds a further bit of texture to the whole mixture, which gets cooked up in a pan until the apples just start to fall apart. Depending on the size of your apples, you might not need all of the apple mixture, which is ok because you can serve the leftovers with the ice cream itself.
The ice cream base is a basic vanilla custard adapted from David Lebovitz‘s The Perfect Scoop. I toyed with adding cinnamon to the custard, too, but in the end decided to keep it simple and allow more of a contrast between the ice cream and spiced apples. I’m glad I did this.
One point that requires some finesse is the swirl. I’d be tempted to let the ice cream custard freeze for 30 minutes or so before swirling the apple in. Fresh out of the churn, the ice cream is still a bit soft, which makes for less of a swirl and more of a mix-in. Still, it’s good all the same.
Feel free to bump up the spices or add any additional spices that sing of apple pie to you (a bit of all spice might not go amiss).
1 cup (250ml) whole milk
A pinch of salt
¾ cup (150g) sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp butter
3 cooking apples (e.g. Bramleys), peeled and cut into 1cm pieces
100g stem ginger, diced
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
a splash of rum
½ cup crumble topping, cooked and crumbled pie crust, or crushed biscuits/cookies of your choice
Heat the milk, 1 cup of the cream, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, then add the bean pod to the milk. Cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.
While that’s infusing, prepare the apples: melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat then add the apples, stem ginger, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook on medium heat until the apples start falling apart, but you still have some texture of the whole apple remaining. Taste it – you may need to add more sugar depending on the size of your apples. Add the rum if you like and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Move on to the ice cream: Set a strainer over a medium bowl and pour the remaining cream into the bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Gradually pour the infused milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape this back into the saucepan and return to a low heat.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.
Strain the custard into the heavy cream, add the vanilla extract and stir to combine. Leave to come to room temperature (you can speed this up by using an ice bath). Put this along with the cooked apple and crumble topping and leave to chill thoroughly.
Remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When done, swirl in the cooked apple and crumble topping (use your discretion here – you may not need all of the cooked apple – I added about a heaping ½ full to mine). Put everything into a freezer proof container and give it a couple hours to freeze thoroughly before digging in.
Yesterday’s lunch / dinner came courtesy of Urvashi Roe‘s Gujerati Thali class at The Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath. Me and fellow students spent the day learning to cook the Gujerati style of Indian food, and in groups of three created our own twists on dhal, potato shak (a dry type of curry) and coriander coconut chutney, all of which we enjoyed over a thali feast at the end of the class.
I loved it all, especially the new experience of trying Guvar and Tindoor, two indian vegetables featured in the shak. And it was great fun trying all the different dahls, some with coconut milk, some without. Ultimate highlight might be the coriander coconut chutney – cuz let’s face it, good chutney can bring any meal together.
I’ll be writing more on this class coming soon (including the recipe for that super coriander chutney). For now, check out Urvashi’s Gujerati Girl blog (or visit her in her other guise as The Botanical Baker).
My parents used to make a spaghetti dish when we were kids that involved the following ingredients: spaghetti, scrambled egg, crushed red chilli flakes, Lawry’s Garlic Salt, frozen french-cut green beans and parmesan.
I think of it as veggie carbonara, with green stuff in place of bacon, which some might say is an insult to carbonara, but I say what’s in a name? Regardless…
Whenever I’m feeling unwell, I always get a craving for this recipe. And so, dinner last night brought together: spaghetti, scrambled egg, crushed red chilli flakes, sauteed onion (everything’s better with onion), garlic and parsley (in place of the Lawry’s), fresh green beans (because that’s what came in the Riverford box this week), peas (cuz it didn’t feel right making this dish without tapping the freezer at least once) and, as ever, lots and lots of Parmesan.
Feeling much better now, especially after following my pasta bomb with this:
Few ingredients in this soup – it’s all about the fennel and carrot flavours. And its brothy goodness made it the perfect comfort food for this soldier who’s feeling a little run down by the battle of life. I make it sound so dramatic. Really just have a mild case of the stomach flu.
I made this with barley instead of the wild rice called for in the recipe. Worked a charm.
The chutney was an afterthought – the apricot was a bit tart and I felt like this needed some sweetness. Not sure if lime was the right citrus here. But all in all it was very satisfying. Fruit and avocado are really nice together, especially when paired with a little texture and crunch from toasted sunflower seeds.
I know the weather this year has been frustrating for anyone in the UK trying to grow stuff. My frustration has been further complicated by my tendency to bite of more than I can chew with projects like these. Add to that my summer travels, and this year’s garden was a bit of a disaster.
So I’ve decided to get a fresh start. Yesterday I cleared out the raised bed and prepared a few trays and pots. The new approach: rather than trying to grow every vegetable that I’ve ever loved, ever, I’m going to try to master one vegetable at a time, and once that happens I’ll move on to the next thing.
My first vegetable: leaves. If I can successfully grow salad leaves, it would save me soooo much money. But which leaves? Well, one could argue that I’ve bit off more than I can chew again, but my theory is that all leaves will have the same watering schedule and maintenance requirements, I might as well experiment with a few and see what works best.
Ok I know radishes aren’t a “leaf” but what the hell. I’ve put several varieties in the raised bed to see how they fare over winter: endives, perpetual spinach, rocket and some hearty “winter” leaves from Carla Tomasi. The rest are going in the pseudo-greenhouse: mizuna, parsley, Suttons “Leaf Salad” whatever that is, and more rocket (I’m curious to see how it fares under cover vs outside). There’s also an additional tray of the winter leaves that I started last week undercover – those have already sprouted, which gives me hope I can actually do this.
It hasn’t been an entire failure. I’ve had a few cucumbers, some chillis, and salad leaves earlier in the year. I also managed to salvage one pumpkin from the slugs, and there are a few ‘Brazillian Oval Orange’ aubergine coming in (a minor miracle in this climate).
Most of the leaves I’m trying to grow I’ve grown before, so I’m hoping this little experiment will give me a confidence boost, plus some motivation to really do this WELL so I can move on to other more exciting vegetables. Of course, I’m doing this as we get into autumn and winter so who knows. But the sprouts in my first tray of leaves make me hopeful.
Blackberries are back, baby. This time last year, when the blackberries were growing faster than I could eat them, I started thinking about vinaigrette – I used to really enjoy the Annie’s Naturals raspberry vinaigrette when I lived in the U.S., and wondered if I could make something similar with blackberries. Meanwhile, apple season was also in full swing, and I was having fun making my own cider vinegar following Carl Legge’s recipe. Could both of these forces somehow combine for the greater good?
Short answer: yes. Lynne Clark gave me this super recipe for blackberry vinegar that I’ve been using throughout the year. It’s a sweet and sour, thick-ish vinegar that works especially well with fruit, sweet root vegetables and goats cheese. I use it as I would balsamic – simply tossed into a salad with olive oil, salt and pepper, with perhaps a little extra blackberry vinegar drizzle at the end.
My favourite salad so far has been this beetroot and orzo salad with goats cheese and pine nuts consisting of: 1 beetroot, about 40g cooked orzo, 3g pine nuts, 20g goats cheese, a handful of spinach, 1 thinly sliced spring onion, salt, lots of pepper and a good drizzle of blackberry vinegar:
A similar approach works equally well with any combination of grain, fruit and nuts. I especially love strawberries, peaches and/or figs with toasted walnuts or cashews. Here’s one with strawberries, basmati rice and pistachios:
You could also make a vinaigrette with this – I’ve been meaning to adapt this raspberry vinaigrette recipe but so far havent been able to diverge from enjoying it in its pure form. Thanks to Lynne for sharing her vinegar mojo!