Monday, 31 August 2009

perserving and alcohol

I have made a second batch of the wonderful banana based chutney, though actually the jar in the picture is the first batch not the second, the only one left already so you can see why I made more.

I also picked some blackberries and collected some windfall damsons so have put the damsons in gin and the blackberries in vodka to make liqueurs, with sugar of course.. it will be a few months before i report back on those. I also have some sloes in the freezer which will go in gin. The sloes may have been picked a bit early but everything is very early this year and they seemed ripe.

I have also made blackberry and apple crumble and muffins so we have had plenty to eat too!

Before our allotment open day this weekend I investigated the interior of the abandoned allotments next to the current used ones for apples, if you look on one of the aerial maps such as this one you will see there are a lot of un-used plots and there used to be more, the tip (the buildings on the left) were once allotments too as was the industrial estate off to the right and there are more that were in operation till very recently going up to the north, you can see that start of them in the top middle of the picture.

We have been given permission to re-open the plots between the used ones and the railway as we now have a waiting list of people wanting plots, the triangle above the plots but they have been digging bore holes in the rest of it to see if they can build a new incenirator there. Needless to say we, and the local residences are not impressed. Even if you think an incinorator is a good idea, this one is to cover Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull, so why they can't find some land that isn't both in an urban lived in area AND green belt I don't know.. the one that is currently there is soon to be decommisoned and the access isn't as good as it would be if they resited to somewhere out of the city on a major trunk road but that would mean being in Warwickshire where the population get to veto such things.. Can you tell I'm not impressed with our councils railroading tactics and the fact two other areas are willing to dump their rubbish on us! I don't call Coventry the black-hole of the area for nothing we get all the bad stuff and none of the good that the surrounding areas get.

Anyway rant over, currently the bore hole making has left big tracks through the old allotments making fruit picking easier so I will be going back to get more apples and such.. and yes Mark if you are reading this I will take someone with me we can carry more that way :)

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Book Review - Gluten Free Every Day Cookbook

Gluten Free Every Day Cookbook by Robert M. Landolphi

I feel like I'm a proper blogger now as I was recently contacted by the publisher of this book to see if I wanted a review copy! I've never had one offered to me before and after confirming they realised I was in the UK I said yes please.

The book duly arrived and I settled down to look through it. I love cookery books, gluten free or otherwise and I actually prefer ones like this which are mostly writing rather than lots of glossy pictures it always feels you are getting more somehow. The style is nice and easy to read with the information about how and why it came about being a lovely bit of personal interaction with the author.

The basics chapter at the beginning is particularly useful and I'd suggest it to anyone as one of the best lists of flours etc and their uses I've seen in a book including standard nutritional data and the tips on how to use a recipe are really useful as well. The one downside for me as a Brit is that he does use a bunch of pre-prepared items which are not available here but that would be far less of a problem for Americans and I understand entirely why he has used them. I could probably find substitutions but it might be a little trial and error to get the right version as he has picked specific brands for the effect they give. Therefore for testing out the recipes I picked a couple that didn't used pre-prepared ingredients to give the book a fair try.

The recipes are well laid out and varied and there were quite a few I was tempted to try. In the end I decided to start with a pastry recipe as that is an area I always struggle with so I picked Flaky Single Piecrust on page 92 as we have lots of apples and I wanted to make an apple pie. The dough came together easily and I duely put it in the fridge as instructed. The next day I rolled it out between greaseproof paper again as instructed and lined a tin with it.. that was far easier than other methods I've tried and will certainly be used again.

Then I managed to over bake it a bit so please ignore the slightly burn edges in the photo. In future I will use a shallower pie dish as this one was far too high for the filling and the pastry that was sticking up burnt (again my fault) so was rather solid and unpleasant, the pasty lower down however worked extremely well, it stayed soft but not soggy and did what pastry should do which is hold the filling and give structure to the dish.. it tasted good to and my eldest has already asked for me to make it again. As long as you don't over cook it and have random pointless pastry sticking up I am sure it will be wonderful in other dishes !

The other recipe I tried was Luscious Lemony Chestnut bars, page 142. These have jumped straight into my regular make list. They are extremely flavoursome, easy to make, hold together well and use ingredients I am very fond of to good effect such as chestnut flour in the crest and a lemon filling. I really can't think of anything bad to say about them at all !

I have a request to try the maple-pecan bars next as that combination is a favourite of a certain family member and I am definitely going to try some of the more distinctly American savoury dishes such as corn bread, the parmesan popovers next to them sound good too. Tri-spiced onion rings with horseradish dipping sauce sound fabulous and will probably get tried as soon as I do a bit of a search on on of the seasonings so I can replace it with something available here and we definitely want to try the baked bean recipe.

So in summary a very interesting and useful book with some very useful information and great recipes. Distinctly American in feel but that isn't a bad thing as we love trying new dishes. I am sure this will be a stable book for us from now on.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Weekly Menu 17th to 21st August

Well last week went quite well really I tried a few new dishes like beetroot with cream and parsley, very easy, very yummy and very bright pink!! The photo above really isn't as bright as the real thing!

We also made a pickle based on over ripe bananas which i found in a magazine. I only did half a batch as that was how many bananas I had and it made two jars, we are already well into the second jar so that is certainly going in the recipe file for repeated use! The bottle in the picture is a lovely pink port we recently found, for roleplay events pink drinks are something we collect as Tom's character has a reputation for drinking them. The crackers are bought gluten free one.

The other thing i made new was this recipe for Kohl Rabi and Potato Gratin which was really nice, basically a whole bunch of veg in a white sauce with parsley baked in the oven. I used ready salted crisps and cheese for a topping rather than bread crumbs which worked very well. Plus it used red lentils so I managed to incorporate pulses last week as I said I wanted to. By the time it had cooked they had almost desolved into the dish and would be a very good way of adding them in for people who weren't keen on them.
I also did some baking including apple pie but that will come in another post.

So what about this week? Well the gluten free menu swap is being hosted by Gluten Free Goodness and she picked peaches as an ingredient. I don't currently have plans to use them but we do like them so if I see some good ones at the local shops I might give in. I noticed today another greengrocer had opened on the high street this morning and they look quite good, they also sell Halal meat but then one of the others is also an Indian shop where i get various flours and a third is also a flower shop the final one in walking distance is just a greengrocer! I think four in easy walking distance is pretty good really and there are probably a couple more if I wanted to walk a bit farther.. Plus I went into the market in the centre of town for the first time in a while and was pleasantly surprised at the variety in there too.

I've ended up trying nemaslug on the allotment to see if I can cut back the number of slugs are they are just doing to much damage after all the damp weather we have had. Though we are still getting lots of potatoes, corgettes, runner beans and cucumbers (had a white one last week though it's the only one from that type that have grown so far) plus the tomatoes are ripening and not all have been slug damaged. There are a couple of aubergeine, again keeping fingers crossed they survive the slugs as the first one didn't plus a pepper or two and there should be a few sweetcorn soon.

Monday - Spare ribs with Aubergine salad

Tuesday - stuffed courgettes from the allotment as I have several largish ones I plan to pick tomorrow.

Wednesday - Sausage, new potatoes and fried cucumber. (I have 10lb of lamb sausages to be picked up Friday to add to the 10lb of beef ones in the freezer as my butcher is getting them made up specially for me.)

Thursday - potato bake

Friday - home made Fish and chips.

Baking - more biscuits and cake bars as the boys are all at home plus I haven't as yet got round to this months Daring Bakers Challenge.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Daring cooks - A Spanish rice recipe

This month's Daring Cook challenge was hosted by Olga from Las Cosas de Olga and Olga’s Recipes this month and she picked a Spanish recipe, Rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes by José Andrés.

She says he is one of the most important Spanish Chefs at the moment. He trained under well-known Ferran Adria at his three Michelin star restaurant El Bulli. José Andrés lives now in Washington DC and he owns several restaurants in Washington DC area (El Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel…). The recipe is from his US TV show Made in Spain.

Now I didn't end up making it quite as suggested as i could not get the cuttlefish but I stayed as true to it as I could apart from that.

I had a go at the recipe quite early on after the challenge went up as I happen to have fresh artichokes that needed eating.. I NEVER have them, even though I love them. Literally this is the first time in years and I was given some by someone at the allotment. I have young plants on my plot and they seem to grow very well but I will not get any flowers this year. I don't think I've ever seen them in the shops. One problem I had was I've never cut one up before, I normally cook them whole then eat the flesh off the leaves with butter. I think I left too much leaf attached next time I'll probably just do the disk bit from the base and cut everything else off but the video supplied seemed to show a bit more left than that.

Anyway I couldn't get anything like cuttlefish or squid, in fact the person in front of me asked about squid and was told they are out of season here. Our fishmonger only sells fresh fish, no frozen and being in the middle of England we are a little limited. I ended up with prawns, a few lagustine, scallops and some other fish who's name I had totally forgotten by the time I got home!

To start the recipe you make a slowly cooked tomato and veg sauce called Sofregit which is then used to flavour the dish once the rice and fish is cooking. I liked the Sofregit quite a lot and it is a good base for other dishes I would guess. For rice I used risotto rice as that was the closest I had on hand.

As well as the main rice dish we made some Allioli on the side. Alloli is basically garlic combined with oil to make a very strongly flavoured paste.

The Allioli was very interesting to make, I'd have liked to know approximately how much oil to add as having never made it before I really didn't know when to stop. We love garlic and it was certainly strong! Mine came out a slightly grey white, other peoples came out some very different colours depending on the olive oil used and so forth. In fact Audax got a very dark green version see his blog for a chemistry lesson on why I found it fasinating.

The dish was quite nice though I think I may have been to light on the seasoning as it was blander than I expected, next time I will be heavier handed with thsoe things it says a touch of and also the packets of saffron we get here aree tiny and from the colour of other people's dishes I'm guessing they used more than I did. The allioli certainly added to it very well.


Rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes
Recipe with additions from Olga

Cooking time: 45 minutes

  • 1 Chopping Board
  • 1 knife
  • 1 medium saucepan
  • 1 Paella pan (30 cm/11” is enough for 4 people. If not available, you may use a simple pan that size)
  • 1 Saucepan

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 4 Artichokes (you can use jarred or freezed if fresh are not available)
  • 12 Mushrooms (button or Portobello)
  • 1 or 2 Bay leaves (optional but highly recommended)
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 2 Cuttlefish (you can use freezed cuttlefish or squid if you don’t find it fresh)
  • “Sofregit” (see recipe below)
  • 300 gr (2 cups) Short grain rice (Spanish types Calasparra or Montsant are preferred, but you can choose any other short grain. This kind of rice absorbs flavor very well) – about 75 gr per person ( ½ cup per person) Please read this for more info on suitable rices.
  • Water or Fish Stock (use 1 ½ cup of liquid per ½ cup of rice)
  • Saffron threads (if you can’t find it or afford to buy it, you can substitute it for turmeric or yellow coloring powder)
  • Allioli (olive oil and garlic sauce, similar to mayonnaise sauce) - optional


  1. Cut the cuttlefish in little strips.
  2. Add 1 or 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and put the cuttlefish in the pan.
  3. If you use fresh artichokes, clean them as shown in the video in tip #7. Cut artichokes in eights.
  4. Clean the mushrooms and cut them in fourths.
  5. Add a bay leaf to the cuttlefish and add also the artichokes and the mushrooms.
  6. Sauté until we get a golden color in the artichokes.
  7. Put a touch of white wine so all the solids in the bottom of the get mixed, getting a more flavorful dish.
  8. Add a couple or three tablespoons of sofregit and mix to make sure everything gets impregnated with the sofregit.
  9. Add all the liquid and bring it to boil.
  10. Add all the rice. Let boil for about 5 minutes in heavy heat.
  11. Add some saffron thread to enrich the dish with its flavor and color. Stir a little bit so the rice and the other ingredients get the entire flavor. If you’re using turmeric or yellow coloring, use only 1/4 teaspoon.
  12. Turn to low heat and boil for another 8 minutes (or until rice is a little softer than “al dente”)
  13. Put the pan away from heat and let the rice stand a couple of minutes.

Sofregit (a well cooked and fragrant sauce made of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and onions, and may at times
different vegetables such as peppers or mushrooms)-

Cooking time: aprox. 1 hour

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 5 big red ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup of button or Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional)
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • Salt
  • Touch of ground cumin
  • Touch of dried oregano


  1. Put all the ingredients together in a frying pan and sauté slowly until all vegetables are soft.
  2. Taste and salt if necessary (maybe it’s not!)

Allioli (Traditional recipe)
Cooking time: 20 min aprox.

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Pinch of salt
  • Fresh lemon juice (some drops)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (Spanish preferred but not essential)


  1. Place the garlic in a mortar along with the salt.
  2. Using a pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. (The salt stops the garlic from slipping at the bottom of the mortar as you pound it down.)
  3. Add the lemon juice to the garlic.
  4. Drop by drop; pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly as you continue to crush the paste with your pestle.
  5. Keep turning your pestle in a slow, continuous circular motion in the mortar. The drip needs to be slow and steady. Make sure the paste soaks up the olive oil as you go.
  6. Keep adding the oil, drop by drop, until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli gets too dense, add water to thin it out. This takes time—around 20 minutes of slow motion around the mortar—to create a dense, rich sauce.

José's tips for traditional recipe: It's hard to think that, when you start crushing the garlic, it will ever turn into something as dense and smooth as allioli. But don't give up. It's worth the extra time and effort to see the oil and garlic come together before your eyes. Just make sure you're adding the olive oil slowly, drop by drop. Keep moving the pestle around the mortar in a circular motion and keep dreaming of the thick, creamy sauce at the end of it all.

Olga’s Tips:
(1) In Spain, rice is not stired as often as it is when cooking Italian risotto. You must stir it once or twice maximum. This tip is valid for all Spanish rice dishes like paella, arròs negre, arròs a banda…
(2) When cooking the alternative style you can change the cuttlefish or squid for diced potato.
(3) If you can’t find cuttlefish or squid, or you’re not able to eat them because of allergies, you can try to substitute them for chicken or vegetables at your choice.
(4) Sofregit can be done in advance. You can keep it in the fridge or even freeze it.
(5) For more information on how to clean and remove the heart of artichokes, please watch this video
(6) To watch how Jose Andres cooks this dish click here.
(7) For more information on how to clean and remove the heart of artichokes, please watch this video
(8) To tone down the taste when you do it by hand in a mortar, then add an egg yolk. If you want to tone it down in the alternative way use milk or soy milk. Anyway, the best alternative way is the original oil and garlic alone.
(9) Allioli must be consumed during the preparation day and preserved in the fridge before using it.
(10) For help on conversion on metric to imperial, visit this page.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

This week

I haven't been about much recently as it is the summer holidays and other things at home are rather up in the air so we are very busy but this week is the Daring Cook reveal date so watch this space for that.

Also we were away last week on a canal boat owned by other family members, a lovely few days just our little family pottering down the canal, you can see some more photos on my craft blog but the shot above fairly well sums up the type of view we had most of the week. Very peaceful. We eat quite well to, all fairly quick meals as the kitchen is obviously small and I had to plan in advance so there was space but we had some lovely salad and sandwich lunches and quick and easy evening meals.

My rough menu this week is more a list of things I'm hoping to fit in.

Use up the apples I've been given in things like apple tart as they are starting to go rotten!

Make a meal or two with pulses. This weeks menu swap is hosted by In My Box who has chosen pulses because she struggles to use them something I have a similar issue with. She is running a blog event on that theme so I will try and use it to encourage me to use more too.

I did recently have a fantastic chickpea salad when eating out so i will be trying replicate that as well as doing some dishes with corgettes as they are one of the few things the slugs aren't eating faster than I can get too.. Our weather has been perfect for them these last few weeks and to say I am fed up with them is an understatement.

Try out a few dishes from a couple of new GF books I got recently and possibly a raw food book i got from the libary.

I think this week I will do a post toward the end of what we had rather than what I am planning.

Monday the boys had some normal gluten laden fresh pasta that was on offer which was enjoyed and I had a simple pasta and sauce later on.