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Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Growing Turmeric

It was several years ago that Laurence, from Wharf Distillery, gave me some turmeric root. Before then I had only ever thought of turmeric as a dried, ground powder in a jar, although since then I have seen the root become more readily available in specialist food shops. It is a knobbly rhizome that very much resembles root ginger, which is hardly surprising as they are related. 

I didn't know what to do with the bit of turmeric root that Laurence gave me so I decided to plant it. I had previously planted root ginger and, after some delay when I figured it was dead, that had grown. Indeed, it had grown very large, very quickly and buckled the flower pot it was in as it formed new root. Then, all of a sudden, it died back. It turned out this was quite normal and meant that the root was ready to harvest, which I did. A proud moment - harvesting my own homegrown root ginger.

In contrast, the turmeric root started to grow much more quickly. It soon became an attractive, slightly jungle-like house plant. And over time, it grew quite well. It had a tendency for the ends of the leaves to brown so I realised I wasn't watering it enough. Soon I was watering it every few days and it become a lush looking house plant. And it has continued to grow on my window sill ever since.

Well, it had, until this winter when it started to die back. I thought I was neglecting it so I upped the watering but it continued to die so I figured maybe I had over-watered it so I cut back and it still continued to die.  So then I wondered if it was just too cold, although it had previously survived winters in the same place. Then I figured maybe the compost in the pot was just exhausted as I hadn't repotted it for years and I usually neglect to add fertiliser to my house plants. 

So last weekend I decided to tip it out and see what was going on and maybe repot it in fresh compost if there was anything there that looked viable. To my surprise, I found some very healthy looking rhizomes that smelt amazing so I decided to take a harvest and to put some of the roots in fresh compost to see if they would grow again.

Although several years have past since I was first given the root, I still have no idea how I would use fresh turmeric. I'm sure that if I was into curries or other spicy food, I could probably grate it into a dish and use it that way. But I'm not. Indeed, the only reason I have turmeric in my cupboard is because I use it fairly often in chutney recipes and occasionally as an amazing yellow natural dye. 


It was at this point that I decided to see if it was possible to make ground turmeric at home from fresh turmeric. A bit of Googling later and I had learnt a few things, including finding out that the die back is part of the natural process of the plant and it occurs when the rhizomes are reclaiming the nutrients from the plant. I guess in more tropical conditions this would happen as part of a short cycle over several months, in much the same way as the root ginger had, but on my cool window sill it had taken several years for the process to complete.

The next step was the wash and peel the turmeric and then I used a potato peeler to par the root into thin slices. These I laid out in my dehydrator and after just a few hours they had turned very dry and brittle. Next I put it into my handheld food processor and blitz away until it formed a powder. And there it was - 8g of homegrown turmeric powder. And it smells amazing too - so fresh and spicy.

I'm not sure how the economics of this stack up, given that I have created about 15p of turmeric powder over about 4 years but it is one of those things that amuses and interests me. First there was the "I wonder" moment when I stuck it in a pot of compost and then there was the joy of the plant growing and thriving, and finally another "I wonder" moment when I managed to create my own dried spice.

Never let economical good sense get in the way of the wonder of growing.

P.S. Should you ever try this - wear gloves!



Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Passionfruit Curd And Other Delights

My eldest loves passion fruit, although she complains about the flavours that it is often paired with. It is true that it is hard to find it unaccompanied by mango, and she strongly believes that dark chocolate is too strong a flavour to put with it, preferring white chocolate. And so, despite her love of passion fruit, it is hard to find things of that flavour that she actually wants.

A while back she asked me to make some passion fruit curd so I duly obligued but we all found it a little bland. Despite using six or seven fruit, the flavour really was quite subtle so I gave up on that as an idea. However, just before Christmas, I received five passion fruits in my Odd Box delivery. It being so close to Christmas, there were other festive bakes that needed to be made so I knew we wouldn't have the capacity to eat a passion fruit dessert as well. So instead I decided that preserving them was the best thing to do and curd was the most logical option.

This time, however, I took the delicate flavour of the passion fruit into account and decided to modify my lemon curd recipe to suit and, success! A beautiful light orange curd with a distinct passion fruit flavour, if maybe a little too sweet.

With the curd made and the fruit temporarily preserved, we got on with Christmas and all that that entails. Then, on New Year's Eve I made a passionfruit cheesecake, or rather a plain cheesecake that I topped with passion fruit curd. And this weekend, I stirred some passion fruit curd into my white chocolate mousse recipe to make a white chocolate and passion fruit mousse. Surprisingly, there is still some curd left so I think next week it might make the filling of a Victoria Sandwich Cake.

Passion Fruit Curd

35g butter, melted
200g granulated sugar
2 eggs
5 passion fruit, juice/pulp only

Put the melted butter in a dish suitable for going inside a pressure cooker, then use a whisk to stir in the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, ensuring that it is thoroughly mixed in. Sieve the passion fruits and add the juice/pulp to the mixture and stir well. Put two cups of water into the pressure cooker then place the container on a trivet inside the pressure cooker and seal. Cook on high pressure for 15 minutes then allow it to naturally release pressure. Remove, whisk well to recombine then ladle into warmed jars and seal.

Passion Fruit Cheesecake

For the base
150g digestive biscuits, crushed
75g butter, melted

For the topping
200g white chocolate
30g butter
1/4 vanilla pod
250g cream cheese
90ml whipping cream

Passion fruit curd

For the biscuit base combine the crushed biscuits and the melted butter in a bowl then press into the greased base of a 20cm circular tin or dish. Place in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to solidify. Next, melt the chocolate, butter and the seeds from the vanilla pod in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool. In another bowl, mix together the cream and cheese and beat until smooth. Once the chocolate mix is suitably cool add it to the cream mix and stir thoroughly. Spoon onto the biscuit base. Return to the refrigerator to chill for a few hours or over-night then spoon on passion fruit curd on top before serving.



White Chocolate and Passion Fruit Mousse

2 gelatine leaves
200g white chocolate
300ml double cream
2 tbsp yoghurt
2- 3 generous tbsp passion fruit curd

Put the gelatine in a small sauce pan with some water and leave to soak for a few minutes. In the meantime, break up the white chocolate and melt it over a pan of hot water. Remove from the heat and squeeze the water out of the gelatine then use the residual heat of the hob to melt the gelatine in the pan. Add a little double cream to the gelatine and leave on the hob a little longer as this will make it easier to pour out of the pan later. Whisk the remaining double cream in a large bowl then stir in the yoghurt. Pour in the gelatine and then the melted chocolate and fold in. Spoon in the curd and stir through then taste, adding more curd if necessary but being cautious about making it overly sweet. Spoon the mixture into glasses or other suitable containers then refrigerate for a few hours before serving. It should make 8 servings.


Monday, 17 January 2022

Cheese & Pumpkin Flapjacks

I cut into the biggest of our homegrown pumpkins yesterday. It did appear to be storing perfectly even though it was harvested three months ago but at some point it will start to rot and I wanted to use it whilst still in good condition. Of course, once you cut into a pumpkin you have to use it up quickly so I already had plans to make a couple of chutneys and some other delights.

Late on Sunday afternoon, as I washed up the chutney pan, I began to contemplate packed lunches for Monday. We have our shopping delivered on Tuesdays so the hideous Hovis white bread that my eldest chooses to eat is always a bit iffy for sandwiches by Monday so if possible Monday packed lunches don't feature sandwiches.

I was just contemplating whipping up a batch of couscous when I remembered the savoury flapjacks I had made last year. I couldn't remember the recipe so I had a quick Google. That failed to find the recipe I was thinking of but threw up a whole bunch of other savoury flapjack recipes and that led me to start conjuring up my own ideas.

Just in time for the Sunday roast to go in, the flapjacks came out of the oven. We each had a small taster piece on our plates at dinner time just to check that they would meet with approval and then this morning they were duly packed into lunchboxes.

Cheese & Pumpkin Flapjacks

100g butter
1 generous tbsp Bovril (or Marmite)
250g porridge oats
250g raw pumpkin, grated
2 tbsp milled flaxseed
100g mature Cheddar, grated
2 large eggs, beaten
Dried herbs
2 tbsp sunflower seeds

Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas 4 and grease and tin a 20 cm square baking tin.  Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds then add the Bovril and microwave for another 30 seconds. Add the oats, flaxseed, and grated pumpkin and stir to combine. Add the cheese, eggs, herbs and seeds and stir again until well mixed. Tip into the tin and press down with wetted fingers to level out. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin then cut into 12 pieces.


Monday, 27 September 2021

Sweet Potato & Courgette Bake

I got some sweet potatoes in my Oddbox order recently but I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with them. As it is also courgette season, I decided to do a search on the internet for sweet potato and courgette recipes and came across a sweet potato and courgette bake that sounded interesting. It didn't seem like something Steve would like to eat so I figured it might make a nice lunch or dinner for my daughter when we were eating something she didn't fancy. 

Well, she's not a huge fan of lamb so when Steve and I decided to have a rack of lamb for our Sunday dinner last night, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make the bake - just ram it in the oven with everything else that was cooking.

With the recipe to hand, I started by getting some sweet potato on to boil to make some mash. Then I finely sliced the remaining sweet potato and the courgette. It was now time to start assembling the bake but to be honest it all suddenly seemed a bit bland. As it happened, my daughter was in the kitchen, getting herself a glass of water and she asked what I was making. I explain, as I layered the courgette into the bottom of the dish, that I was making the sweet potato and courgette bake but I was thinking of adding a few more flavours. With that, I poured a little passata over the layer of courgette and sprinkled on some dried Italian herbs and dried onion flakes.

"It needs cheese sauce," she commented. 

My shoulders slumped. I had been gardening all afternoon, it was getting late, I had roast potatoes to prepare and get into the oven, a rack of lamb to cook and I wanted to fit in a bath before it was all cooked too. I did not have time nor energy for a cheese sauce.

"It's OK," she said, "I'll make it."

So as I prepared the roast potatoes, she put together the ingredients I would have used to make a cheese bechemel sauce but instead of making a roux, adding the milk and then the cheese, she just bunged it all into a sauce pan and stirred. 

"That's really not how to make a cheese sauce," I said, as she stirred the unconvincing lumpy ingredients together.

"Oh, isn't it?" she asked, frowning, "but it worked the last time I did it like this."

And to my surprise, a few minutes later she had a cheese sauce. She poured this over the layer of sweet potato and we continued to layer up the bake, finishing with the mashed sweet potato and cheese.

By this point the potatoes were in the oven so I went off for a quick bath whilst things cooked. And upon my return, she had a beautiful bubbly bake, ready to serve. Definitely a lot tastier than the original recipe and full of her favourite flavours.

Sweet Potato & Courgette Bake (serves 1)

1 sweet potato
1 small courgette
300 ml vegetable stock
100ml passata
Dried onion
1 tsp Italian seasoning
25g butter
25g flour
Dash of mustard
100ml milk
Cheddar
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease a small ovenproof dish. Peel the sweet potato then cut in half. Cut one half of the sweet potato into small chunks and boil in a pan with the vegetable stock until soft. Drain, but keep the vegetable stock. Season the potato lightly then mash. To make the cheese sauce, put the butter, flour, mustard and milk into a small pan and heat gently. Stir constantly until it forms a smooth sauce then grate in Cheddar to taste. Thinly slice the remaining half of the sweet potato and then do the same to the courgette. Starting with the courgette, layer up the bake ingredients. On top of the courgettes, add some passata, Italian seasoning and dried onion, then layer sweet potato on top and spread on a layer of cheese sauce. Repeat until you have used up all the sliced vegetables. Carefully pour vegetable stock down the edge of the dish until you can see it amongst the layers but without disturbing them. Put the mashed sweet potato on top and finish with a little grated Cheddar. Bake for 1 hour or until golden and bubbling.



Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Ramped Up Strawberries and Cream

We are reaping the rewards this year of the work we put into sorting out the strawberry patch last year and we are getting a pretty decent crop. Mind you, the recent weather hasn't been helping and the rain, drizzle and general dampness means that some of the fruit are going mouldy. Although some are beyond help, others have just a patch that could be cut out if tackled immediately.

With this is mind, back in the kitchen I set about processing the strawberries that I had picked that morning. First I sorted them into perfect and imperfect and then I cut up the imperfect ones, removing the areas of damage. I allocated 300g of the better ones for strawberry cheesecake, which I would make the next day. The cut strawberries needed to be eaten within hours to avoid further spoilage. So, I used 100g of them straight away to make strawberry and vanilla muffins. 

Strawberry and Vanilla Muffins (makes 8-9)

175g self-raising flour
85g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp sunflower oil
150ml natural yoghurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
100g strawberries, chopped

Preheat oven to 200°C and line a muffin tin with 9 cases. Place all the ingredients, except the strawberries, into a bowl and mix until just combined. Add the strawberry pieces and gently mix in. Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin tin then bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.


That left about another 100g. These I mixed with some strawberry jam. Then I whipped up some cream and layered them into tumblers. These went into the fridge and after dinner I served them up with a cherry on top and some chocolate sauce. Strawberries and cream - just ramped up! 

A quick and easy dessert and coincidently the colours of the England flag, just in time for match day, or failing that, the perfect accompaniment to Wimbledon!

Ramped Up Strawberries and Cream (makes 4)

100g strawberries, chopped
50g strawberry jam
200ml whipping cream
50g icing sugar
85g dark chocolate
50g water
4 glace cherries

Add the icing sugar to the cream and whisk until thick. Spoon a third of the mixture evenly between 4 glasses. Mix the jam and strawberries and spoon half of this on top of the cream. Add another third of the cream on top of the strawberries, then add the remaining strawberries and jam before topping with the rest of the cream. Chill until ready to serve. Over a pan of boiling water, melt together the chocolate and the water then pour into a small jug and leave to cool to room temperature. To serve, top with a cherry and pour over the chocolate sauce.



Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Variations on the Victoria Sandwich Cake

When I was a child, we would visit my grandparents about once a month for a weekend. On departure we would be loaded up with goodies. There would be pocket money and sweets pushed into the hands of my brother and me, and a box of food for my parents. My grandad was not only an extremely generous man who would give you the shirt off his back if he felt that you needed it, but he was also a pastry chef. When he had signed up during World War II, he had requested to be a mechanic... so they had assigned him to the catering corps. After the war, with this training behind him, he had been in continual employment as a baker and pastry chef. Therefore, staples in the food parcel would be his amazing steak pie and his strawberries and cream sandwich cake, made with a filling of fresh whipped cream and slices of strawberries. I don't know whether it came frozen or whether my mum dealt with the vast quantities of generosity by slicing it and freezing it, but I have memories of eating slices of the cake, not quite thawed out in the middle, the cold cream still slightly resisting my teeth. Happy memories.

I'm in no way a pastry chef but I have been making Victoria Sandwich cakes for years now. Like scones, people seem to have preferrence for either strawberry or raspberry jam in the middle of their cake, but, in the absence of my grandad's cake, I have always preferred raspberry jam, especially as my version is seedless. 

I make a cake once a week generally and we eat some every afternoon as a snack. It might be fairy cakes or muffins or fruit cake or layer cake but there is always something in the cake tin. In order to decide what to bake each week I have a scan around the kitchen, seeing what's in the fruit bowl in need of using up or what else we seem to have too much of. Currently, we have too much jam. 

Inevitably, when I make a batch of jam, there is always a bit at the end that doesn't make a whole jar full. This I decant into lidded plastic pots and, under normal circumstances, I use these as my taster samples at events. Or, when my daughter eats porridge at the weekend, I stir in some jam to flavour it. But, I'm not attending events currently and even if I were, tasters would not be allowed. And, my daughter has decided that porridge for breakfast is too filling.

So, in order to find ways of using up jam, I have been making various sandwich cakes, based around a basic Victoria sandwich cake recipe, and inspired by the flavour of the jam I have to hand and anything lurking in my fruit bowl. It has been a fun and tasty experiment and I share the recipes below. And now, come June, I finally have fresh strawberries to pick so a chance to relive my childhool memories.

Basic Victoria Sandwich Cake Recipe

225g butter or margarine
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
Raspberry jam
100g unsalted butter
225g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins. Cream together the butter (or margarine) and the sugar then stir in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and salt and stir until it forms a cake batter. Divide the batter between the two tins and level out then bake for 25 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Soften the butter then slowly mix in the icing sugar and vanilla to create butter icing. Spread one cake with jam and the other with butter icing then sandwich them together.


Plum & Orange Sandwich Cake Recipe

225g butter or margarine
110g caster sugar
110g plum jam
1 orange (zest and juice)
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
Plum jam
100g mascapone
2 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins. Cream together the butter (or margarine) and the sugar then stir in jam, followed by the zest and juice of half an orange. Next add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and salt and stir until it forms a cake batter. Divide the batter between the two tins and level out then bake for 25 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Stir the remaining orange juice and zest and the honey into the mascapone. Spread one cake with jam and the other with mascapone icing then sandwich them together.


Toffee Apple Sandwich Cake Recipe

225g butter or margarine
110g caster sugar
110g apple jam (preferrably Toffee Apple Jam)
1 apple
A little brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
Toffee Apple jam
100g mascapone
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins. Peel, core and slice the apple then toss in a little brown sugar and cinnamon. Scatter this into the base of one of the cake tins. Cream together the butter (or margarine) and the sugar then stir in jam. Next add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and salt and stir until it forms a cake batter. Divide the batter between the two tins and level out then bake for 25 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack, making sure that the apple layer is facing up. Stir the honey and cinnamon into the mascapone. Spread one cake with jam, then carefully spread the mascapone icing on top. Place the apple cake on top, with the apple layer forming the top of the cake.


Rhubarb & Ginger Sandwich Cake Recipe

225g butter or margarine
110g caster sugar
150g rhubarb
2 tbsp of giner syrup from a jar of stem ginger
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
Rhubarb & Ginger Jam
100g unsalted butter
225g icing sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger or two drops of ginger extract

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins. Chop the rhubarb and put in a small saucepan with the ginger syrup. Cook with the lid on for a few minutes until the rhubarb has broken down and gone mushy. Set aside to cool. Cream together the butter (or margarine) and the sugar then stir in the rhubarb.. Next add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour, mixed spice and salt and stir until it forms a cake batter. Divide the batter between the two tins and level out then bake for 25 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Soften the butter then slowly mix in the icing sugar and ginger to create butter icing. Spread one cake with jam and the other with butter icing then sandwich them together.


Chocolate Orange Sandwich Cake Recipe

225g butter or margarine
110g caster sugar
1 orange - juice and zest
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
25g cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
Orange curd

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins. Cream together the butter (or margarine) and the sugar then stir in the orange juice and zest. Next add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour, cocoa and salt and stir until it forms a cake batter. Divide the batter between the two tins and level out then bake for 25 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Spread one cake with orange curd then sandwich them together.


Strawberries & Cream Victoria Sandwich Cake Recipe

225g butter or margarine
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
Strawberry Jam
100g mascapone
50g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
A few fresh strawberries, sliced

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins. Cream together the butter (or margarine) and the sugar then stir in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and salt and stir until it forms a cake batter. Divide the batter between the two tins and level out then bake for 25 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Slowly mix the icing sugar and vanilla into the mascapone to create a creamy texture. Spread one cake with jam and the other with the mascapone. Layer the slices of strawberries on top of the mascapone then sandwich the two cakes together. Finish with a dusting of icing sugar if you like.






Friday, 28 May 2021

Rhubarb Mousse

Rhubarb is a peculiar thing - peculiarly English too. You just don't see it used much in other countries and I have struggled to explain what rhubarb jam is to non-native customers at my stalls over the years.

I have always regarded it as a cheap food too - something so easy to grow that you can plant it once and just let it get on with its own thing from then on. Certainly I imagine that everyone who was "Digging For Victory" back in the day must have had some on their plot. 

Having never felt the need to buy rhubarb before I really couldn't have told you how much it would cost but this week, out of curiousity, I looked it up on both the Tesco and Ocado supermarket sites and found that it was £6.88 per kilogram on that particular day. Having already harvested 3kg of rhubarb this year, I realised that would have set me back about £21! Astonishing, especially as there is still time to pick some more this season.


So, was I wrong all along to think of rhubarb as a cheap food? Well, with fresh raspberries coming in at roughly £12 per kilogram, it certainly doesn't compete with those price-wise. But then again, rhubarb isn't as squishy and hard to transport as raspberries so maybe that isn't a fair comparison. What about the other stems that we eat? 

Celery comes in at roughly £3 per kilogram so in comparison, rhubarb is something of a luxury food! And, remarkably, on the day I was checking prices, asparagus was being sold for £6.59 per kilogram. So, like for like, asparagus and rhubarb are the same price. And yet I would have considered asparagus to be... a bit posh!



Having discovered that I should be showing more respect to my rhubarb, I decided that I needed to elevate it further than the humble crumble. As such, I combined it with some double cream and some fancy ruby chocolate to create Rhubarb and Ruby Chocolate Mousse, and scattered some homemade granola on top as a nod to rhubarb crumble. There you go, rhubarb, the fancy dessert you deserve!

Rhubarb and Ruby Chocolate Mousse (makes 6)

150g rhubarb
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp water
2 gelatine leaves
150g natural yoghurt
200g ruby chocolate (use white chocolate if your prefer)
300ml double cream
Granola or similar to scatter

Cut the rhubarb into pieces and place in a small pan with the sugar and water. Cook gently with the lid on for several minutes until very soft. Leave to cool then use a stick blender to puree. Next, cover the gelatine with water for a few minutes to soften. Put the chocolate in a small bowl over a pan of hot water to melt. Next, squeeze the water out of the gelatine then put it in small pan over a low heat until melted. Add a little of the cream to the gelatine and heat gently to incorporate the two as this will make the gelatine easier to pour. Whisk the remaining double cream in a large bowl until thick. Add all the ingredients to the cream (apart from the granola) and gently fold together until mixed. Spoon into suitable containers/glasses and put in the fridge to set. When ready to serve, scatter the granola on top if using.