May 232015
 

Liquid wild food preservesI will talk about wild food and foraging at the Llŷn Land and Sea Food Festival this Saturday and Sunday.

I thought it would be helpful for anyone attending those talks to have a guide to the sort of books that may help them identify and eat the wild food they find.

This is very much a personal list of books that are on my shelf, there are others which I am sure are excellent. I’ve not included detailed mushroom guides. I learnt to identify mushrooms with the back up of experienced funghi hunters here in the village and think this is an ideal way of learning. Use the internet to find your local mycologist or funghi foray to get you started.

The links are all to the UK Amazon site. The books are available elsewhere. I don’t make any money from these links. If you are keen to support me 😉 then please buy my book by clicking on The Permaculture Kitchen and buy a copy of my book- thanks.

The Guardian beginner’s guides

For quick introductions to some easy to find wild food, I wrote three pieces for The Guardian website you may find useful.

Recommended Books

The River Cottage Handbooks are an excellent resource with identification tips and recipes: No 2 – Preserves by the friendly Pam Corbin; and, by the knowledgable John Wright, No 5 – Edible Seashore and No 7 – Hedgerow. They are small enough to pop in your bag or pocket to take with you on walks.

Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Forager is a modern guide with recipes which is delightfully unfussy. Her book Abundance is a great guide to preserving all manner of things. They are both books best used at home.

Roger Phillips’ Wild Food and  Richard Mabey’s Food for Free  are both classics. There is a mini Collins Gem version of Food for Free which is pocket-sized.

John Lewis-Stempel has written an excellent guide Foraging: The essential guide to free wild food. It’s not got pictures for identification, but the written information is excellent. John knows his stuff, he lived on only foraged food for a year and his book about that is fascinating.

There’s more from the Mabey family, this time David and Rose Mabey: Jams, Pickles and Chutneys. An old book that is a classic with lots of recipes, some of which I’ve not seen elsewhere.

Beryl Wood’s Let’s Preserve It is comprehensive and is ordered by ingredient.

And if you are into making booze with your finds, then Andy Hamilton’s Booze for Free is the place to go. For more detailed information, Buhner’s Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers is the book for you.

If you came to my talk, I hope you enjoyed it and you feel inspired to find out more.

 Posted by at 00:01
May 192015
 

Gorse flowersI recently led a workshop for local tourism businesses on how to use foraged foods in their offerings. The workshop was organised by Snowdonia Active a regional green business organisation. The aim of the workshop was to inspire the attendees to give visitors a ‘Taste of the Llyn Peninsula‘ by using locally provenanced wild food. The event was packed and we had a very stimulating 3 hours.

Foraging workshop

Pic courtesy of Dr Emma Edwards-Jones, Snowdonia Active

I made a selection of foods with foraged ingredients and brought along jars and bottles from my store cupboard.

Liquid wild food preservesThe final dish I presented was Gorse Ice Cream made from flowers picked from our fields. It went down extremely well indeed. The aroma of the flowers is of coconut or almonds but the finished dish has a unique and very hard to place taste. It’s well worth a go and it’s very easy to make, so I’ve put the recipe below.

This weekend I am at the Llyn Land and Sea Food Festival in Pwllheli talking about foraged food on the Saturday and Sunday. Details are  here – perhaps I might see you there :)

Gorse Ice Cream Recipe

This makes about 1 litre (1 1/2 pints) of ice cream. It’s best made the day before you serve to give it a chance to freeze.

Ideally, pick the fragrant open gorse flowers carefully on a dry day.​

Ingredients

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) gorse flowers
350ml (12 fl oz) full fat or semi-skimmed milk
4 egg yolks
200g (7 oz) caster sugar
425ml (15 fl oz) cold double cream

Method

Put the gorse flowers and milk in a saucepan, stir well. Heat to just below boiling, then turn off, cover and leave to cool for an hour or more so the flavour infuses into the milk.

Once the milk is cool, strain off the gorse flowers using a sieve and return the milk to the pan. Compost the flowers.

Whisk the egg yolks & caster sugar together in a bowl. Set aside.

Pour the cold double cream into a bowl bigger than 1 litre (1 1/2 pints) and put the sieve over the bowl.

Bring the milk to the boil and then whisk this into the egg yolk mixture and then tip all of this back into the saucepan. Heat gently up to a simmer so that the mix just coats the back of a wooden spoon. Don’t boil or cook until the custard is thick.

Tip the custard through the sieve into the cream and stir well. Pour into a container you can then pop in the freezer.

Freeze until set, overnight is best. You can stir the half frozen ice cream if you remember to get a smoother texture.

Pop the ice cream in the fridge for 30-40 minutes to soften before you serve.

 Posted by at 19:09
Mar 312015
 

Carrot top pestoOnce you know how to make carrot top pesto, you’ll never want to waste your carrot ‘greens’ ever again.

My recipe appeared online and then in my book The Permaculture Kitchen. Since then, I’ve seen carrot top pesto used by loads of people in all sorts of creative and scrumptious ways. I thought it’d be good to collect some of those ideas together as a source of inspiration. The recipe for the carrot top pesto aka ‘CTP’ is at the bottom of this post.

How to use carrot top pesto

Bread

Carla Tomasi made these delicious bread sticks with black pepper and CTP spread over the dough before she twisted and baked it. Ideal with drinks and antipasta.
Carla's bread sticksAlso good is the CTP spread on bruschetta or toast with one or more of cheese, olives, veg, anchovies or shellfish.

Pasta

Thane Prince used the CTP to dress penne in this scrummy pasta bake with cherry tomatoes.
Thane's pasta bakeYou can just as easily just mix it through cooked pasta: just leave some of the cooking water in the pasta to help make the ‘sauce’. Or use it with ricotta or mascarpone filled ravioli or other filled pasta. Peas go well in the stuffing.

Vegetable Tart

Francoise Murat spread the CTP over the base of a puff pastry case and filled with tomatoes and delicious vegetables. Just bake till tender.

Easy- spread on puff pastry, add roasted tomatoes (vinegar+sugar+oil), peas +vegies, mozzarella bake 20 mins  = trop trop bon!

Rice and grains

CTP is ideal mixed into risotto or with farro/bulgur and other grains.

Roasted and baked veg

I love CTP spread on all sorts of veg including potatoes, oca, mashua, aubergine, courgettes, carrots (!), parsnips, onions which are then roasted. Use as a filling for that warming baked potato.

Meat, chicken, fish & seafood

CTP is delightful spread on all these to roast, grill or pan fry. Stuff it under the breast skin of a chicken before roasting. Slather on salmon before you grill it. Pop a blob on a juicy steak as you serve it.

Carrots a large bunch

Carrot top pesto recipe

Ingredients

Feel free to scale the recipe to suit what you have available.

It’s important that you use the young, tender carrot tops. The leaves & stalks from larger ones tend to be a bit tough.

100g of young carrot tops (a large bunch)
1 clove of garlic, peeled (you can use more)
50g whole almonds (it doesn’t matter whether they are blanched or not) Hazelnuts would work well too.
50g parmesan, roughly diced
150ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

If you need to, wash the leaves to get rid of any mud and grit. Pop them in a big saucepan over a high heat and pour over a large splash of boiling water. Cover the saucepan and boil for 2-3 minutes until the leaves are just wilted. Strain in a colander and refresh with cold water to stop them cooking. Drain completely and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. If you don’t need to do this, then you’ll get a fresher result.

Dry roast the whole almonds in a heavy based pan or in the microwave until they are nicely browned.

Cut the garlic cloves into slightly smaller pieces which will help them blend evenly.

Put the almonds, garlic and a small amount of the carrot leaves into a food processor. The carrot leaves help the other ingredients process well. Process until the almonds and garlic are finely chopped.

Add the rest of the carrot leaves and process until they are puréed. You’ll probably need to scrape down the sides of the processor a few times to ensure even processing. Add the parmesan cheese and process until well mixed, scraping down if needed.

What you’re going to do next is to add the olive oil to make a fluid paste. Add it gradually, stopping to test consistency and scraping down the sides. The consistency I was after I call ‘falling over’ consistency so that the pesto just falls into the blades of the processor as it turns. So, with the food processor running, gradually add the olive oil until you get your desired consistency.

Then check for seasoning. I added a good grind of black pepper and a couple of pinches of sea salt and processed that in.

Keep in the fridge covered in oil.

 Posted by at 17:09
Mar 302015
 

Padana Agrodolce
We spent a very happy few days in Ostia Antica near Rome with Carla Tomasi earlier this month. We ate like royalty and had lots of fun cooking with, and learning from, Carla. I’ll share some of the recipes in the coming weeks as I recreate them from my notes.

The first recipe is for griddled, sweet and sour marinated pumpkins or squash – aka, in Italian, zucca in agrodolce. As it happens, Carla was reminded of this Sicilian recipe by Rachel Roddy whom we also met there for a grand day in Rome.

Rachel was very kind to give us a swift tour around Rome in torrential rain and a tour (and lunch) in Testaccio where she lives. As with everyone we met in Italy, she and her partner Vincenzo were incredibly generous. Look out for Rachel’s first book Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome which I’m very much looking forward to.

Here’s the recipe on Rachel’s blog, I’ll let her tell the story as she writes beautifully. Variations from Carla and from me are below…

I used a padana squash that we’d grown last year…
Padana pimkin Carla varied the recipe by including some mint, parsley and a little chilli when she put in the vinegar. I used a mixture of Emporer’s mint and oregano. Carla and I used apple cider vinegar.

Agrodolce cooking on Carla stove

Cooking on Carla’s stove

Chicken and lentilsAt Carla’s we had it first with a Roman pan roast lamb and then next day as part of a huge lunch when another Testaccio resident Sigurd came for lunch. It tastes even better after a good chance for all the flavours to blend.

I served it first with chicken and some dressed lentils.

The next day, I chopped up the pieces so they were smaller and used it to coat some penne – molto bene.

This is a crackingly simple and delicious dish, let me know how you like it :)

 Posted by at 14:15
Mar 232015
 

Stuffed sardines

Stuffed sardines recipe

These sardines just melt in the mouth with a burst of herby flavour. They are a doddle to prepare and only take 10 minutes to cook. They are ideal as antipasto, as part of a buffet or a main fish course.

I developed the stuffing from ingredients I had left over from the foraging workshop I did locally. So it was a real case of the available ingredients driving the recipe.

In Italian ‘beccafico’ means ‘fig pecker’ a name for small, sweet plump birds. The dish is meant to mimic the taste of these birds. The stuffing is traditionally made with pine nuts, currants, anchovies, parsley, bread crumbs and lemon/orange juice and garnished with bay leaves. The fish tails are left to poke up out of the dish to simulate the perky birds’ tail feathers.

This quantity would serve 4 as antipasto.

Ingredients

8 plump sardines
150ml fresh ricotta (see here how to make your own)
50g of dried breadcrumbs
handful of wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
large sprig of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 lemon zest finely grated
1 lemon, sliced
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Method

Pre-heat an oven to 180°C (350°F).

If it’s not already been done, cut off the head of the sardines and gut them. Wash & gently dry them.

Cut from the gut to the tail to make it easy to butterfly bone the fish. If you fancy, cut or snip out the dorsal fin and cut off the tail. Put the fish belly down on a board so that the back is uppermost. Press down firmly on the length of the backbone and feel it separate from the flesh. Turn the fish over and remove the backbone and rib bones, with luck they will come out as one. Use a small knife to help you if you need to.

Mix the remaining ingredients apart from the extra virgin olive oil together so it makes a thick paste.

Divide the paste evenly across each of the sardines. Roll up the sardines. If you want to mimic the birds’ tail feathers roll from the wide end first: otherwise it’s easier to roll from the tail end.

Put the fish tightly in a baking dish so they don’t unroll and put a slice of lemon between each. Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.
Baked stuffed sardinesThe fish can be eaten warm, I prefer them at room temperature.

Buon appetito!

 Posted by at 12:23
Mar 152015
 

WMF Perfect Pressure CookerA pressure cooker is an essential item for every kitchen. If I could only have one cooking vessel, it’d be a pressure cooker. They are versatile, easy to use, energy-efficient and help you cook delicious, healthy and quick meals.

I needed wanted a replacement for my old Prestige pressure cooker. And, thanks to a Twitter tip from Catherine Phipps (of whom more later), I saved more than £30 of the cost (£134, RRP £149) by buying from Amazon.de rather than the UK site.

I’ve had the cooker since November 2014 and I have used it more than once each week since then. I don’t like clutter in the kitchen, but this one never gets put away: I use it so often.

Size

I opted for a 6 litre cooker. One of the things to remember with pressure cookers is that you can’t fill them to the brim to pressure cook. Depending on what you’re cooking, you can only fill them 2/3 or 1/2 full. So my 6 litre cooker has a maximum ingredients volume of 4 litres. I find this is just right for the 2 or 3 of us. It’s ideal to cook a meal or dish that will last for multiple days.

One of the good things about this cooker is that you can buy different sized pans in this range to increase your options should you so wish. The lid and handle assembly are universal.

Why a new cooker?

I wanted to replace my old (20 years+) Prestige pressure cooker. Despite changing sealing rings and release valves it was difficult to get up to pressure, lost a lot of steam while cooking and was noisy. As a consequence of the sound and fury, it required more energy (higher gas) to keep at pressure and so had become relatively inefficient. To be honest, I’m not sure why it should have deteriorated. The physics and engineering of a cooker are very simple and there’s not much to go wrong. I can only assume that the quality of the spares were not as good as the originals. The pan is still good, so it’ll keep its place in my kitchen.

Why WMF?

Mainly on the advice of Catherine and other experienced users and a thorough research of online reviews. Partly because it fitted my budget: it’s not the cheapest on the market, but it is a relatively high quality for the price.

I was also impressed with the excellent design of the lid and pressure control handle. The handle clips on/off the lid easily to clean and reassemble.

WMF Perfect Pressure Cooker handle detail

Detail of handle top including locking mechanism

WMF Perfect Pressure Cooker lid and pressure releif valve detail

Sealing ring and pressure relief valve (top)

The pressure indication is graduated (low/high) and very easy to see. The locking mechanism is failsafe and has a neat fast pressure release that means the steam vents away from you. No more lifting hot weights with tongs or gloves. (You can also fast pressure release by dousing it with cold water as with other cookers.)

Spares

There are spare parts easily available for the cooker. They’re not cheap and I suspect all manufacturers make a healthy margin on spares. What will be interesting for me to see is how the sealing on the underside of the handle holds up over time.

WMF Perfect Pressure Cooker lid and pressure releif inner handle

Inside of handle

It looks like silicone to me, so will withstand the heat: I wonder how it will age. I’d welcome views from any longer term WMF user in the comments about this.

The cooker doesn’t come with trivet or other inserts as standard which wasn’t a draw back for me. They’re not essential and Catherine’s book (see below) has excellent tips how to improvise with standard kitchen kit.

Silent

I’m really impressed with the cooker in use. It comes to pressure without fuss and the indicator is very clear. Once at pressure, I can put it on my smallest gas ring at its lowest setting to keep up pressure. And – it’s almost silent! Which means less energy use, less steam in the kitchen and I can hold a conversation while it does its stuff.

Recipes

I use the pressure cooker for all sorts of things. Ragùs, stews, whole & jointed chicken and other poultry, risottos and pilafs, pasta, stocks, pulses (super quick cooking), grains, octopus…

The Pressure Cooker Cookbook page detail

Safety

You can’t bring the cooker to pressure without:

  • the sealing ring being properly located
  • the sliding indicator on the handle being in the locked position

And you can’t open the cooker until the sliding indicator is moved to the open position AND all the pressure is released.

If you do forget to turn down the temperature on the cooker once it’s up to pressure, it ‘honks’ at you to warn you. See and hear…

And if you left it still further, the pressure release valve would vent.

So no nasty surprises or explosions :)

Pressure Cooker Cookbook

I’ve been a pressure cooker fan for more than 25 years and have some lovely old pressure cooker books. I was delighted when Catherine Phipps published The Pressure Cooker Cookbook in 2012.

The Pressure Cooker Cookbook Cover It’s a fresh, modern and no-faff book. It’s well researched, covers the ‘how-tos’ of pressure cooking very well and has a wide repertoire of pressure cooker recipes. I strongly recommend it for pressure cooker novices and old hands alike.

 Posted by at 17:04
Jan 102015
 

Gastropod ScreenshotIt’s been a while since I’ve written here. The first half of 2014 was pretty full on finishing design & proofs for my book, then its launch and aftermath. Home and garden deserved and needed some proper attention. So writing took a back seat from the summer onwards. My return was a tad delayed when I discovered that the pictures from the old Blogspot predecessor to this blog had disappeared into internet hell. So I’ve spent the last 3 days resurrecting the pictures from various computer hidey holes.

Enough of this. On with the fun stuff…

Podcasts

Android device and earphonesIn a change from the ‘normal’ diet of food for your tastebuds, I have some recommendations for aural nutrition via earbuds.

I’ve been a podcast listener since the early noughties, starting with the brilliant Naked Scientists science podcast. Podcasts are syndicated audio programmes you can listen to online or download to your smartphone or tablet. They’ve had quite a bit of news coverage recently due to the success of the US podcast Serial which has gathered a cult following.

I like podcasts because I can listen to them when I want and when I have time. They’re ideal for work commutes, lie-ins and while I’m cooking.

I want to recommend two food related podcasts to you that I think are packed full of interesting and useful information and really well produced.

Gastropod

This is a relatively new podcast which launched in September last year. It’s co-hosted by professional writers and broadcasters Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley. They look at food through the lens of science and history. In their own words:

Each episode, we look at the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food and/or farming-related topic, from aquaculture to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to Malbec.

I was hooked from the first fascinating programme on the science & history of cutlery. Do you know how the material of a spoon affects how food tastes? When were forks first commonly used? How was the microplane grater discovered/invented?

Last month there was a great show about ‘The new Kale’: seaweed farming from the USA to Scotland and beyond.

Each programme has extensive show notes for you to delve into should you fancy to find out more about the subject and the people interviewed. The podcast comes out about every couple of weeks. The presenters’ style is very approachable with lightness and humour folded in with the analysis and facts. Cynthia and Nicola are just preparing material for their second series, so catch up with the delights of the first.

FermUp

This is a great podcast about all things fermented. Kefir, kombucha, cheese, krauts, yoghurt etc etc. It’s hosted by home DIYer Brandon Byers and food scientist Allison Wells. It’s roughly weekly with an interview with a special guest or guests. The guests include fermentation experts, scientists, fellow DIYers, authors and any other interesting fermenter.

If you’re into fermenting in any of its forms you’ll find this interesting.

FermUp ScreenshotOne that particularly caught my attention was an excellent interview with Kirsten and Chris Shockey, co-authors of Fermented Vegetables. It’s an excellent book (I’ll review it properly later). Kirsten and Chris give insights about writing the book, how they got into and out of business and how fermentation fits into their life. It’s an inspiring listen.

The podcast has delved into ancient dairy ferments with a textile historian (really), black garlic, kombucha kits, fermented weeds and much more.

As with Gastropod, there are extensive show notes to allow you to follow up on things you find especially interesting.

Have a listen to hear what’s bubbling up.

What food-related podcasts can you recommend to me?

 Posted by at 08:30
Jul 282014
 

Sunflowers (2 of 6)Sunflowers induce a smile on my face. Outwardly simple, they shout “Summer!” even if the rain is pouring. And this year, they’re having a ball in our gloriously hot summer.

Carla's sunflowersWe plant lots and save seed too. On the right is part of my friend Carla’s garden near Roma, Italy. The tall sunflowers are from seed I sent her. They love the heat of Italy and have grown enormous under Carla’s care.

We leave lots of the heads for the birds during winter. There are floods of finches and tits who perform acrobatics to get their fat and protein boost.

So I was very interested when my twitter friend Pete Taylor (aka 5olly) announced he was launching a Sunflower Trial for 2014. I even sent Pete some recipes for sunflower seed butter & cheese for his blog. It’s a sort of (non) competition and we received three packets of Thompson & Morgan sunflower seeds: Solar Flash, Magic Roundabout and Mongolian Giant.

Along we these we’ve sown and planted our own saved seeds (the variety’s name has been lost in the mists of time), Short Stuff, Hidatsa Sunflower (a staple crop of the Hidatsa people along the Missouri River) and Vanilla Ice from Ben at Higgledy Garden.

Here’s a visual update of progress to this weekend. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 18:16
Jun 272014
 

Garlic Scape Pickles

Here at Legge Towers the weather has been just gorgeous since May. Which has made up somewhat for the slow and cold start to the year. We had to resow courgettes when the first lot sown in early March on heat succumbed to the less than stunning early May temperatures. So we’ve worked really hard outside for the last few weeks.

Garlic harvest - Carcassonne Our garlic has done very well and we harvested the lot this weekend. The best performing variety was a hardneck type (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) called Carcassonne. They’re great sized bulbs with a very good taste and developed great scapes. The scapes have a mild garlic heat & taste and they’re one of our summer treats.

Use the scapes in the kitchen wherever you would use garlic. You use them in bean and vegetable dips, soups, stir fries, risottos, tarts and salads. They’re gorgeous moistened with some olive oil and barbecued, griddled or grilled for a minute or two. Just season to serve with a little sea salt and perhaps a splash of extra virgin olive oil.

Yesterday, I used them to make a modified Sicilian style fritedda. Fresh picked broad beans, peas and artichokes are sautéed and then mixed with herbs, extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.

I’ve vacuum packed and frozen some of the enormous scape harvest we had. You can also make oil & pesto with them. One of my favourite scape preserves though are quick & easy pickles. Great as antipasta or as a side with vegetables, seafood meat grills or in a salad. Read on to find out how to make them. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:50
Jun 032014
 

A Change of Appetite -cover A Change of Appetite: where healthy meets delicious by Diana Henry – Review

This was a book I needed. And I don’t mean ‘need’ in that “I’ve been a good boy and deserve a treat” sort of way.

However I didn’t know it met my need until I read it. I bought it because I had been good and did deserve a treat. And what a treat it is.

Why did I need it? I’ve been paying attention to the discussion about what constitutes ‘healthy eating’. It was hard for me to navigate my way through the facts and fashion to an evidence based conclusion about what would constitute healthy and desirable food to grow, cook and eat.

Fortunately Diana Henry has done the work for me in A Change of Appetite: where healthy meets delicious. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:35
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