On the Table and In the Garden in January

carrot-soupHow did it get to be February already? Every time I wander into the garden I see more signs of spring, the bulbs are peeking through and the early snowdrops are starting to flower. I know that we might still see snow, but just for today I’m thnking we might be at the tail end of winter.

January on the table was mostly about soups, hearty stews and substantial puddings. We needed “stodge” to see us through the cold, dark afternoons. I stuck pretty close to my January meal plan and it has definitely saved us money (a household bill of £193). Scroll down to the end of this post if you’re interested in what we spent and how we could save more. The highlight was Diana Henry’s book Simple, which has fed us well. Our favourite has to be the Red Lentil and Pumpkin Dal, which also wins the prize for “meal that most looked the picture in the book”. We also swapped out the pumpkin for sweet potato a couple of times, equally delicious.

diana-henry-dal

You can pop over here to Diana’s website for a list of her books and some great recipes. It’s hard to recommend just one of her books, I love them all. She “sits” on the shelf between Nigel Slater and Sophie Grigson. I like to think of it as the  “hope they are as nice in real life as they write and appear on tv” category! Talking of Nigel Slater, his easy  Hot Chocolate Pudding from Appetite has appeared on the table more than once. Served with a dollop of creme fraiche it doesn’t photograph well, but it’s so easy and delicious. The recipe is available online on the Telegraph website, so why not pop over and give it a try. It’s the perfect last minute bake and gluten free, which is a bonus.

hot-choc-pudding

As we move into February, I’m starting to think about plans for the veg plot. Last year we stuck to “old favourites” like peas, onions and potatoes. This year I’d like to be more adventurous again. Of course the fruit bushes and artichokes look after themselves, giving regular crops. This makes me a bit lazy and I must learn not to rely on the perennials. We still have a few leeks in the ground and onions in storage, and I’ve noticed the herb pots in the greenhouse are starting to look more “awake”. The parsley has seen us right through the winter and it looks like the chives and oregano I hid in a corner have fresh growth. I wish we had put more potatoes in pots, it was such a joy to have home grown “new” potatoes at Christmas, but they didn’t last long.  The daffodils and early bulbs are making strong growth, and the woodpecker is still visiting daily. The Goldfinches are still perching on the fennel heads, in the vain hope they might have missed a few seeds, and they sulk if the bird feeder gets too empty. The robins (we still have two regular visitors) are so bold now, they hop at our feet every time we venture out. Sometimes I oblige them by digging over a small patch of earth or pulling back a few dead leaves, which seems to make them very happy. I know it’s wrong to give them human characteristics, but they do seem to puff up and look so pleased with themselves when they root out a small grub from the freshly dug soil.

Indoors, I have been working hard on new designs. I still haven’t got much to share as contracts insist I keep things a secret, but work is steady and that’s a good thing. Don’t forget, if it’s mostly the knitting and crochet you’re looking for, head over here for updates on my latest pattern releases.

So, that was January. Dull, damp and gloomy it may have been. But our house was filled with laughter, good company and great food. That has to be a “win” surely?

Happy making x

 

What we ate and what we spent in January

Mostly, we stuck to the meal plan for January, and our household bills came to £193. I think that’s pretty good, especially as we both work from home, that works out at about £6 a day for all our food, cleaning products, toothpaste and toiletries. Of course we’re lucky that a well stocked freezer and larder mean we always have access to  herbs, spices and every day essentials. And, it certainly helps that we have garden produce. I did think about ways we could cut down this bill if we had to and came up with a few things I’m just not prepared to compromise on. When Mr T was made redundant many years ago, we mostly lived on value ranges –  bread (10p a loaf), beans (3p a tin) and tinned tomatoes (7p) – I feel so lucky that we came through that scary year unscathed and still able to live well. I also believe (perhaps wrongly) that supermarkets are still led by customer demand, so if I keep buying Fairtade or British products they’ll respond by offering more and better choices.

So here’s my “no compromise” list

Local meat, often from the farm gate or butchers I trust – supermarket own brand would be cheaper I know.

Decent coffee, usually Fairtrade – we only drink one cup a day and even buying top of the range is still cheaper than I’ve seen people pay in “Costabucks for a latte!

Organic, local, fresh in season veg – using what we have definitely saves us money – but I won’t give up my Fairtade bananas!

Tinned beans and pulses – yes, dried are cheaper.  After a busy day it’s so much easier to reach for a can of lentils or chick peas, these are my “ready meals”.

Indulgences we could do without

We’re still working our way through the dozen bottles of wine we bought at Christmas – dry January? Not in this house!

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe: Homage to Manchester Tart

jammy coconut thumbprintsAs a child I loved Manchester Tart, the combination of sticky sweet jam, pastry and the exotic coconut on top  was hard to resist and I always had second helpings.

These biscuits were developed to satisfy my craving for this school day favourite and Mr T has already requested a second batch be baked this weekend, so join me in the kitchen, set aside 20 minutes and pop a tray of these in the oven. Best of all, they’re gluten free and dairy free so I can indulge my sweet tooth and remember all those delicious, stodgy school dinners.

You’ll find the recipe here

If you’re looking for a modern take on the traditional Manchester Tart, there is agreat recipe on the Great British Chefs website.

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Friday Bake: Choc Chip Cookies

plate of cookiesThis simple recipe meets all my requirements in a cookie. They’re crunchy on the outside, but still slightly soft and chewy in the centre.

Using orange flavoured chocolate drops adds an element of surprise to the unwary; it’s never a bad thing to elicit an “ooh” over the tea pot!

Of course, they’re gluten and dairy free too – but that’s an aside – first and most importantly they taste great. If you need a quick recipe to make with your little ones, these are ideal. From start to finish, you can have a batch on the kitchen table within half an hour.

You’ll probably have most of the ingredients in your store cupboard. Do look out for the Beyond Dark chocolate drops, they are great quality. The taste is delicious and they hold their shape well for baking which is very important in a choc chip cookie.

This recipe makes 12, just enough to nibble a couple while still warm from the oven and then serve to friends with a pot of tea!

You can find the recipe here. Along with a few rather “under par” photos taken on my phone!! Believe me when I say my baking is far superior to my photgraphy skills!

Recipe: Salads with a Twist

I love beetroot, jewel colours, tiny globes of sweet flavour which brighten up winter mealtimes. Yet, for most people, mention beetroot and their first thought is the vinegar steeped slices bought from the supermarket. If you can get hold of fresh beetroot it’s truly delicious, easy to cook, versatile and very good for you. You can even eat the tiny young leaves in a salad.

LOWRESthenaturalvegmen_3143Earlier this week, I picked up a bunch of tiny, overwintered beetroot from the Veg Men (I wrote about them here). I decided to make a salad for lunch, using up a few left overs from the fridge, added some slivers of Gabriel Blue (a ewe’s milk cheese) bought from my favourite Cockermouth deli last weekend and a few slices of baked beetroot. Looking for a bit of added “crunch” I made some candied nuts as a gluten free alternative to croutons. Here’s how you can recreate your own version. Mix and match your flavours to suit what you have. Think of it as a twist on the classic goats cheese salad you find on so many restaurant menus and experiment.

sliced beetrootThe Basics

150g of mixed salad leaves (either home grown or find a local producer)

100g candied walnuts or pecans (see below for instructions)

75g goats cheese (I used a blue ewe’s milk because that’s what I had – and I didn’t weigh it – a small handful should suffice) chopped into small cubes.

3 or 4 small baked beetroot (see below for instructions)

A simple dressing made with 3 tablespoons  walnut oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

Method

Whisk together the oil and vinegar to make the dressing. Shred the salad leaves, slice the beetroot and combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Leave to stand for a few minutes for the flavours to develop beofre serving.cheese and walnut salad

Candied Nuts

The ideal nut for this salad would be walnuts –  the eagle eyed among you will spot I used pecans – that’s what I had in the cupboard! To be honest, that’s what I’d use again, the flavour of cooked pecans worked really well with the blue cheese.

1 tablespoon of dark muscovado sugar

3 tablespoons of water

100g nuts

Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved, add the nuts and stir until well covered in the syrup.

Pour onto a baking tray lined with silicone paper or baking parchment and cook at gas mark 6 for about 5-7 minutes. Start checking after five minutes, you want the nuts cooked, but not burnt. Leave to cool. The nuts can be stored in an airtight jar for about a week. They make a great snack too.

As a variation you could substitute maple syrup for the sugar, add a little ground ginger, plenty of sea salt and perhaps even a little paprika. Combine with a small bag of mixed nuts and make the perfect gluten free nibble to serve with drinks. These may take a little longer to cook, in my oven I give them 10 minues.

Baked Beetroot

Wash the beetroot, but don’t scrub. It’s important not to break the skin or the colour will “bleed”. Trim off the leaves, leaving about 1cm of stalk and  then trim the roots. Place in a shallow baking dish and add a little water (as a general rule I add a tablespoon for each beetroot). Cover with foil and bake at gas mark 2 for about an hour. The baking time depends on the size of your beetroots, “golf ball” size take about an hour, larger ones will take longer).

Once cooked, leave to cool before trimming the stalks and roots. You can then peel them if you wish and add them to salads, make a delicious dip or make a puree.

Veg Men salad

When I was a little girl, a “salad” meant a slice of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and if we were really pushing the boat out, slices of hard boiled egg. This would be smothered in Heinz salad dressing. Today, we eat some kind of salad almost every day. Even if you only have  a small plot or a window ledge, it’s easy enought o grow a few salad leaves. Even during the winter you’d be surprised what will grow.

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Recipe: Almond Biscuits

plate of amarettiFew of us can resist a biscuit, and after a morning hard at work in the garden (boy, it’s chilly out there) I came in to make a nice cuppa and indulge in a biscuit, but sadly the tin was empty. It seems I have been neglecting the baking this week!

If you need a quick biscuit fix, these definitely fit the bill and they fall into the category of “store cupboard standby” as I always have the ingredients to hand. You can have a batch ready to serve within half an hour of switching on the oven, which is just what I needed today.

I am reluctant to call them Amaretti, the ones I’ve eaten in Italy have a more bitter almond taste to them, At best, these are a soft, chewy version similar to the soft Amaretti Morbidi you sometimes find in Italian restaurants. Crisp and brown on the outside they hold up well to a quick dunk. They are also great to serve with ice cream or as the basis for a trifle.

You can find the recipe here. Best of all they’re naturally gluten and dairy free and low in fat so please most people.

Recipe: Parsnip and Coconut Soup

image

You might think this would be a strange combination, but it works. Using up the leftovers before we make our pre christmas visit to family, I found a bag of parsnips looking rather sorry for themselves. I fried 2 finely chopped onions, a clove of garlic and a small piece of fresh ginger until golden. Then I added chopped parsnips, a teaspoon of garam masala and poured on cold water to cover. The soup was left to simmer until the parsnips were soft. To finish, I added the remains of a pot of fresh coriander leaves and blended until smooth. Finally the soup was returned to the pan and I added half a can of coconut milk left over from last night’s thai chicken. Season to taste and serve warm with crusty bread. Now I need to find a use for some rather wrinkly carrots….

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Recipe: Lentil Soup

If you can stir a carton of soup you can make this. It started off as a way to use up some rather tired looking vegetables, but is now a firm favourite. Feel free to experiment with your favourite veg and flavourings. It also freezes very well.

Ingredients:

200g red lentils

1 litre of stock (or water if you don’t have decent stock)

2 carrots, 2 sweet potatoes and one onion

Oil or butter for frying

Salt and pepper

Method

Fry the onion in oil or butter until soft and transparent, add the water and the lentils, bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Add the rest of the veg (chopped into small pieces or chunky depending on your preference). Continue to simmer until the veg is soft. Season to taste and if you like a smoother soup, use a potato masher or hand blender to  mash the soup gently and stir to a smoother consistency.

Pour into bowls and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and some fresh chopped coriander. This is comfort food at its best and easiest.

Variations:

Try adding a teaspoon of ground cumin to the soup while cooking or a handful of fresh coriander. We’ve also tried adding the zest and juice of an orange. The beauty of  cooking your own is there are no rules!


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  • I’m Tracey Todhunter. I’m a freelance writer. specialising in green / ethical living – with a “sideline” in craft!

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  • Borage flowers. The leaves & stalks make a brilliant plant food, the flowers are edible - but I grow it because it's just so pretty - & the bees love it.
#girlgardener #mygardenrightnow #permaculture #herbs Away with the fairies! Lovely wander around Stonyford Cottage gardens today. Lots of inspiration. Finished a new shawl. Far too hot to wear it, but luckily my shed is a great backdrop! Yarn is King Cole Riot. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #neverenoughshawls #sheshed #madenotmanufactured #crochetlove Free food! Next best thing to growing your own food is eating other people's homegrown. I'm looking after my neighhour's garden & boy does he have a lot of radishes just now! I have written a blog post about more of my favourite (almost) free foods. Link in profile, now I'm off to pickle these radishes.
#frugalfood #foraging #ediblegarden #growyourownfood #girlgardener #allotmenteering #eattheseasons #permaculture  #zerowaste #slowliving #gardentotable #organicgardening #forktofork I'll admit it, I grow this mostly for it's amazing colour - but the stems are delicious sauted with chorizo or streaky bacon!
#mygardenrightnow #girlgardener #girlsthatgarden #permaculture #growyourown #ediblegarden #bakingandmaking #slowliving #organicgardening I do love a formal garden. I walk through this one every Friday on my way to knit group.  Castle Park is a hidden gem.
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