food

Winter cooking

The rosemary in the back garden is doing well enough that even at this time of year, I could go out and hack four decent-size sticks off it with no concern:

Four rosemary sticks and a pile of rosemary leaves on a chopping board, knife next to them

When I took that, I’d already put half the leaves into the roast potatoes; I’m going to leave the rest to dry on the back of the worksurface.

They were for this somewhat unusual in-season recipe: Swede On A Stick. I promised to find something interesting to cook with a seasonal vegetable. I forgot to soak the skewers, but hey, it’s been raining off and on for weeks so they were pretty damp anyway. It was very tasty! Not entirely worth the hassle (assuming you like swede anyway, which I do, and would happily just eat it plain), but a nice change.

Swede chunks on rosemary skewers in a heavy orange griddle pan on the stove

Also used from the garden, thyme for this bean and leek recipe (kidney beans worked fine instead of white beans, for the record, and conveniently we had a half-empty bottle of white wine mouldering in the fridge), and a bit of parsley to sprinkle on top. We had roast potatoes with it (is it too soon after Christmas? I thought not.).

Excellent in-season eating all round. Then I left someone else to clear up and went to have a nice bath.

food

Vegan lentil loaf

I have been making this at Xmas for well over 10 years, and every so often someone asks me for the recipe and I spend ages digging through my email for it. So here it is, for future reference. It is based on a Rose Elliot recipe, but hers had egg and cheese in, and fewer tasty things like garlic and Marmite.

Lentil loaf: serves 4-6 as part of big roast dinner

Ingredients
6oz split red lentils
8 fl oz water (may need to add more)
1 bay leaf
1 medium-sized onion, peeled & finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
2oz mushrooms, washed & finely chopped
1.5 oz fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt & pepper
splash soy sauce (to taste)
herbs to taste – thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano are all nice, depends what you have on hand.
Marmite (to taste)
Nutritional yeast to taste (optional)
1 tbsp soy lecithin or egg replacer (optional)
Marg & dried crumbs (optional) for coating tin

Method
Put the lentils, water, & bay leaf in a saucepan & simmer gently until lentils tender & liquid absorbed. Add more water if necessary, but only a little & as needed or the loaf will be sloppy. Remove bay leaf.

Meanwhile, fry onions, mushrooms & garlic gently until onions are transparent.

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Prepare 1lb loaf tin by putting long narrow strip of greaseproof paper on base & up narrow sides. Grease tin with marg, & sprinkle generously with dried crumbs if using.

Mix lentils, onions, mushrooms, garlic, & rest of ingredients. Spoon into tin & level top. Bake uncovered for 45-60min, until firm & golden-brown on top.

Notes

  1. Nutritional yeast has a nice cheesy taste, but is non-essential. Soya lecithin/egg replacer helps the stuff to bind together, but we don’t use it for anything else so don’t have it in the house, & I don’t bother. It just means it comes out a bit less sliceable.
  2. It’s a very forgiving recipe, generally.
  3. It keeps well in the fridge. You can also make it a day in advance & heat it in the microwave, or make it as far as ready-to-bake, leave it in the fridge overnight, & put it in the oven the next day (which is what we do at Xmas).
food, growing things

Vegan chickweed pesto

There’s not that much growing at this time of year; but you will find fresh chickweed in UK gardens and allotments, even in the middle of the snow. It’s usually considered a weed, but in fact it’s edible, nutritious, and even quite tasty.

You can eat it raw, but I’m not very enthusiastic about it like that. Alternatively, you can treat it like spinach leaves and wilt it before eating. Or you can make chickweed pesto, which is what I did.

When harvesting chickweed, take only the tops of the plant. The lower leaves are tougher, and also by taking the top, you just encourage it to branch and produce more tops for future harvesting.

Chickweed pesto recipe

  • A few good handfuls of chickweed tops (I had maybe a couple of packed mugs’ worth).
  • Handful of pine nuts or sunflower seeds.
  • 1–2 cloves raw garlic (if you can leave the pesto overnight to mellow), or 2 tsp minced garlic / garlic paste (if you want to eat it immediately).
  • Tbsp nutritional yeast (use parmesan for a non-vegan pesto).
  • Generous pinch of salt.
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil (add as you need it while blending).

Throw all the ingredients into a blender and keep blending until it looks like pesto. Add the olive oil as needed to help the blender out (you can also add a very little water), and as needed for texture.

It worked well on pasta, but I also enjoyed it on crackers for the next few days as a mid-morning snack. And since chickweed will, apparently, grow on my allotment regardless of what I do, I might as well make the most of it, especially at this time of year.

food

Experiments in free(ish) jelly

It’s been a fantastic year for berries, so I decided the time had come to experiment with rosehip and hawthorn jellies.

Finding a sufficiency of rosehips and haws to cook up was straightforward; half an hour in the local park with a shopping-bag produced enough for a small jar’s worth each of rosehip and hawthorn jelly. I took maybe a third, and left the rest for the birds. There’s plenty I can’t reach, anyway.

My first attempt at rosehip jelly turned out more like a cross between jelly and syrup. Rosehips don’t have much pectin, but I didn’t have any to hand, so I threw some lemon juice in, and relied on boiling it down to get it to setting-point. This was probably the root of the problem. It was also a little too sweet (at 1 lb sugar to 1 pt juice).

My first attempt at hawthorn jelly turned into hawthorn toffee instead, and had to be boiled back out of the jar. Haws do have plenty of pectin, but more importantly, there was a small quantity to start with (so easier to make mistakes), and I got involved with something else and went slightly too long without checking on it. It was very tasty, though (at 0.75 lb sugar to 1 pt juice).

Last weekend, I had another go at rosehip jelly, but with a double-handful of haws in to provide the pectin. Initial tastings indicate that it’s done fairly well, although I thought I might have detected a slight underlying bitterness. I’ll see what happens when I finish the test-jellies and open one of the jars.

Basic recipe:
– Pick over the hips or haws. In theory you should pick off all the twig parts, but I only took out the worst of them, on the grounds that it gets sieved anyway.
– Put into a pan, and cover generously with water. Boil for a while, mashing with a potato masher after 10 min or so.
– Strain through a jelly bag (or a muslin cloth) after about 30 min. If you leave the bag to drip, the jelly will be clear, but you’ll have less of it. I always squeeze, myself. If you haven’t got time to finish the job today, you can put the juice in the fridge overnight at this point.
– Put the juice into a pan with 0.8 lb sugar to 1 pt juice (this is my current ratio; experiment according to the sweetness of your tooth). Rosehips need either added pectin, or pectin-containing sugar.
– Bring to a boil and simmer until it sets. Test for setting by spooning a dab onto a plate and leaving it for a minute. Pull your finger across the dab, and if it wrinkles, it’s good to go.
– Put into sterilised jars (sterilise by washing with hot water and putting in a 100deg oven until dry, after which you must REMEMBER THAT THEY ARE HOT), put a jam paper circle over the top, and screw on the lid.
– Label once cool.

(It’s only free-ish because the sugar costs money.)

food

Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

It is once again the time of year when the rhubarb crowns go from “tiny new spring-announcing shoots” to “enormous rhubarb-triffids” pretty much overnight. Rhubarb crumble is good, as is rhubarb jam, but I thought I’d try something different this spring, and make rhubarb juice.

I used this recipe (summary: chop stalks into inch-ish chunks, cover with water, add a teaspoon of honey, boil for half an hr, then pour off the juice), and got 700ml of juice from maybe 10 decent-sized stalks. A teaspoon of honey was plenty (I might not bother with any at all another time).

The juice is nice neat; but even better with a little vodka, a couple of icecubes, and a sprig of mint. Very refreshing.

I turned the leftover pulp into rhubarb bread, using this vegan banana bread recipe. I estimated the volume of rhubarb pulp at about 2 bananas’ worth or a little more, so halved all the other quantities, and cut out the water as the rhubarb was pretty damp. Cooked for an hour at 180oC, it came out wonderfully. A bit like rhubarb crumble in cake form.

Next time I might try rhubarb liqueur.