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Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Apple Strudel

I had a piece of pork to roast the other day and I knew it would create leftovers. Some leftover meat is easier to deal with than others and I often find myself a little lacking in inspiration when it comes to cooked pork. As such, I had a look at what Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recommended in his leftovers book. 

As a result, we had pork rissoles on Monday. Never made them before but I particularly liked them as they also used breadcrumbs - another leftover ingredient. 

On Friday it was Chinese New year so I saved a small piece of the pork to try Hugh's suggestion of pork wontons. He said that mixing pork with brown sauce worked surprisingly well as a wonton filling. So, I bought a pack of filo pastry, cut up a little bit of pork into small pieces, dolloped on some homemade brown sauce and created some wontons. And, you know what, he was right - I was surprised by how well it worked.

However, I had a pack of 10 sheets of filo pastry and I had only needed one sheet for my wontons.

Asking around the internet for filo pastry inspiration, I decided to give apple strudel a go. I'd never made it before but I don't really know why. The only thing was I didn't have any apples left in storage - just bags and bags of cooked apples in the freezer.

So on Sunday morning I took a bag of frozen apples out of the freezer and tips its contents into a sieve over a bowl. I figured I didn't want it particularly runny as a filling so I would drain out the excess moisture as it thawed. 

I was pleased to see a mention of breadcrumbs in this recipe too, both because I like using up stale bread in useful ways, and because I figured it would help stablise the potentially sloppy mixture.

It was simple enough to turn the cooked apples into strudel filling and it was easy to layer the filo pastry up, with generous brushings of melted butter in between. I was also pleasently surprised by how easily and neatly I managed to fold and roll the pastry into a self-contained bundle. 

I figured that the wet filling probably wouldn't do the pastry any good if I left it to sit so I got it into the oven straight away then put it back into the oven later to reheat in the residal heat after removing the roast. I served it with the last of the pumpkin ice-cream. An excellent use of ingredients for the perfect winter dessert.

Apple Strudel

1 pint cooked Bramley apples (weighing about 450g)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp lemon juice
80g caster sugar
60g sultanas
20g butter
40g white breadcrumbs

9 sheets filo pastry
50g butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 190C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Mix the apples with the cinnamon, lemon juice, sugar and sultana. In a small frying pan, melt 20g butter and fry the breadcrumbs until golden-brown, then add to the apple mixture. Melt the remaining butter in a pan. On a clean, dry tea-towel or silicone baking mat, lay a sheet of the filo and brush with some of the melted butter. Lay another sheet on top and repeat until all the filo pastry is used. Pile the filling along the length of the pastry along one side about 2 cm from the edge and carefully fold in the ends of the pastry then roll the pastry up to enclose the filling, finishing seam side down. Brush with the remaining melted butter. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden-brown. Leave to cool to room temperature and dust with icing sugar. Slice and serve with cream, ice cream or custard.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Cheese and Potato Pasties

I made steak pie last week and sausage rolls on Saturday morning and on both occasions I was left with some scrappy bits of puff pastry from the rolls of ready-made pastry. 

It's always a bit of a dilemma as to what to do with odds and ends like this as I don't want to put them in the bin. Sometimes I just make a few cheese straws and sometimes I make mini cheese and pickle pasties but folding some pastry over a cube of mature Cheddar and a dollop of onion chutney and crimping it shut at the edges.

This time I decided to make some cheese and potato pasties, suitable for making an interesting lunch the next day. Honestly, they couldn't be simpler (or cheaper) and particularly great if you are carb-loading!

Cheese & Potato Pasties (makes 2)

Two pieces of ready rolled puff pastry, measuring about 16 by 8cm each
1 potato, weighing around 150g
Cubes of Cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons of dried onion
Salt and pepper

Peel and dice the potato then boil for 10 minutes or so until soft enough to mash. Drain and mash with some butter and salt and pepper. Leave to cool. Once cool, add cubes of Cheddar cheese, the dried onion and a little more seasoning then mix it all together with your hands until it moulds. Divide the mixture into two and place them to one end of the pieces of pastry. Use a pastry brush to moisten the edges of the pastry with milk then fold the pastry over the filling and crimp down. Brush with more milk. Can be refrigerated or frozen at this point for future use. To cook, place in an oven at 200°C for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden.

Monday, 8 February 2021

Salted Caramel Bramley Apple Pudding

There is a notice on the allotment gates currently stressing, in no uncertain terms, the importance of maintaining social distance when on site. This is not particularly tricky to abide to, especially at this time of year when trips to the allotment tend to be fleeting and rarely coincide with anyone else. Even if there are other people on site, each allotment plot is 10 m by 10 m and I have never, in the 24 years of having a plot, felt the need to tend to the edge of my plot at the same time as my neighbour is tending to the equivalent edge on theirs. Even when we have stopped to have a conversation, it has always been within comfortable shouting distance rather than face to face.

So, on a recent trip to dig up potatoes, it was vaguely nice to see someone else on site rather in the least bit alarming. She was three plots away and tending to her apple tree. In fact, she was there with her husband, which in itself is rare as the plot is very much her hobby rather than his, but he had clearly been called in for some heavy duty work and she seemed to be pointing to various bits of the tree that needed pruning. They were fully engaged in their task and I wasn't even able to wave hello as I seemed to have snuck in unnoticed.

It was nice to see her caring for the tree as it had produced an absolute bumper crop in 2020. So much so that she had asked several of the plotholders, including myself, to help themselves to apples from it next time it was safe to do so. 

Now, I love a Bramley apple, especially the way they mush down when cooked, so I had taken her up on this, at first filling a bucket with windfalls each time I came to visit and eventually, on her insistance, helping to finish picking apples from the tree itself. These I packed carefully into open boxes in the garage whilst I worked my way through them, cooking them up and freezing them in 1 pint portions ready for use in jam, chutney or pie. 

With the general other abundances from the allotment during the autumn to attend to as well, I only made slow progress on the boxes of apples but in fact they stood very well as they were, only needing the occasional eviction of a mouldy one. Indeed, it was only last week that I took the last two apples out of the box to use in a recipe for salted caramel apple pudding. Here's hoping that with its winter care and attention, the tree will go on to crop as heavily again this year, and maybe by then I will have used up the apples in my freezer!

Salted Caramel Bramley Apple Pudding

2 Bramley apples
3 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
50g dark brown sugar
200ml whole milk
300ml double cream
375g tinned caramel
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
75g plain flour

Preheat oven to 180°C and butter a 30 by 20cm ovenproof dish. Peel, core and slice the apples then scatter over the base of the dish. Put the eggs, yolks, sugar, milk, cream, 200g of caramel, vanilla and salt in a large bowl and stir with a whisk until well combined. Gradually stir in the flour to form a smooth batter. Pour the batter over the apple pieces. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until set all the way to the centre. Heat up the remaining caramel and serve up portions of the pudding with a drizzle of caramel and scoops of ice-cream.

Friday, 5 February 2021

What to do with yellow beetroot

It was a funny coincidence that the day after I had grated part of an enormous yellow beetroot into beetroot and potato rostis, my mum mentioned that she had what she thought looked like yellow beetroot delivered in her veg box.

She had just signed up for OddBox deliveries and she was really chuffed with her first box, although she wasn't entirely sure what she was going to do with the sweet potatoes and she wasn't sure she had correctly identified the yellow beetroot. She took a photo and texted it over to me and from what I could see she definitely had two large yellow beetroots not much smaller than the two monsters I had just harvested.

Her next question was, what should she do with them and how could she cook them. I have a bit of an eye for cooking times with beetroot, having practised this mysterious craft for more than 20 years now and I told her that hers would take 40 minutes of boiling or 30 minutes in the pressure cooker.

It wasn't long after that that she sent me a photo of her freshly cooked cubes of yellow beetroot. I was shocked! There is an unwritten law in beetroot-craft that states that a beetroot must be cooked whole, unpeeled and not even so much as shown the blade of a knife. Everyone knows that you twist (no cut) the leaves from the top of a beetroot and you leave its root in tact and boil it whole, or so I thought. With this assumption I had neglected to include these details when explaining the cooking times to my mum so not only had she peeled it, she had cubed it and cooked it like that for 15 minutes.

"You shouldn't peel or cut beetroot before cooking," I texted curtly back (I was working at the time).

"Why's that?"

"They 'bleed' when cut."

"Well, being yellow, there was no blood! So I haven't made it toxic?? Is it OK to eat??"

This made me laugh and also to take stock for a moment. It is one of the issues with ancient practises such as kitchen gardening. "Wisdoms" get passed down from generation to generation without people necessarily questioning why they are done and if they are indeed useful or necessary. So did is actually matter if your beetroot bleeds, especially if it yellow? It definitely wouldn't make it inedible or toxic, maybe it would lose some nutrients, and, worse case scenario, it might stain your kitchen (if its purple).

I reassured her that she hadn't rendered the beetroot inedible and she went on to enjoy it in salad for the next couple of days.

In the meantime I had one enormous yellow beetroot left on my draining board (and several still in the ground), so what should I do with it?

The thing about yellow beetroot is that it is different from purple beetroot. I mean, it tastes the same and it could be used in exactly the same way as purple but the colour really makes a difference. Whereas I might turn large purple beetroot into chutney, no one wants a weirdly off-putting light brown beetroot chutney. On the other hand, a yellow beetroot can be used in a casserole without causing the whole thing to turn an alarming colour. So how best to enjoy this particular shade of beetroot.

Having made the beetroot and potato rostis and a medley of roasted vegetables with the other one, I was warming to the idea of using it in a way that wouldn't give a purple result.

So the following weekend I made a beetroot and orange cake. It is actually a recipe carrot cake I have been using for years but I figured that yellow beetroot and carrot are interchangeable and it proved to be the case.

Beetroot & Orange Cake

140 ml sunflower oil
130g dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Grate rind and juice from 2 oranges
225g grated raw beetroot
85g sultanas
285g plain flour
25g wheat germ or bran (optional)
1½ teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 160ÂșC (gas 2) and place the cake tin liner in a cake tin. In a large bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange rind and juice. Peel and grate the beetroot and stir it into the mix. Add the sultanas. Sift in the flour, spice, raising agents and add the wheat germ/bran. Stir well then spoon the mix into the cake tin. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, test with a skewer. Cool in the tin.

And later in the week I enjoyed inventing the pleasing sounding Bacon, Beetroot and Brie Muffins, which we had for lunch with salad and crisps. 

Bacon, Beetroot & Brie Muffins (makes 10)

4 rashers of streaky bacon
175g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
50 ml milk
1 egg
100ml vegetable oil
100g grated raw beetroot
75g brie, chopped

Chop up the bacon and fry quickly to brown then set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a muffin tin with paper cases. In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. In a jug, beat together the milk, egg and oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and add the beetroot, brie and bacon before quickly stirring together until just combined. Dollop the mixture into the muffin cases then bake for 25 minutes.

Although I am sure that little flecks of purple in either of these would have been fine or even amusing, it was nice to stealthly ninja beetroot into baked goods in such as way as to not draw it to anyone's attention. Maybe useful to know if you are trying to feed someone who would be put off by its presence if they knew it was there?

Thursday, 4 February 2021

A glut of potatoes

When I give my talk "Growing Food, Not Gluts", I talk about how it is easy to grow gluts of some things and hard or impossible to grow gluts of others. In the list of the impossible I include potatoes. They are so useful and versatile in the kitchen and they store so well that is seems impossible to grow too many or have to use them up quicker than the natural course of things.

Or so I thought. 2020, a year of the unusual, proved to be the year I grew a glut of potatoes. But, how? Well, firstly, we grew quite a lot of potatoes, but there isn't anything particularly unusual in that. Secondly, we didn't dig them up and use them as quickly as we might have done in previous years. I think this might be down to Steve's dodgy knee and his general lack of inclination to dig currently. And thirdly, and most importantly, there was a weird combination of cold and warm temperatures in the autumn that caused the potatoes to start to regrow whilst still in the ground.

We have never had this before, with potatoes generally being quite happy to sit in the ground until March before they start to regrow. As such, I wasn't sure whether a potato that had regrown would be inferior in quality to one that hasn't. It turns out that they are - with the area that has sprouted forming a very hard "eye" that has to be dug out of the potato before use, and the central area of the potato taking on a slightly different texture. They are still edible, especially if rendered down into mash, but it is harder work and for a less satisfactory result. As such, it seems only sensible to eat the potatoes quickly or process them in some way to make use of them before they deteriorate any more. Hence, I now have a glut of potatoes to deal with.

So, having identified the glut, it is now necessary to deal with it. Therefore, I have decided to dig up a whole bucket of potatoes (two rows) every time we need to restock our potato supplies. This is about double the amount I would normally have in the house at any one time. It means that I have an abundant supply of potatoes, which in turn means I am more likely to cook potatoes for dinner rather than rice or pasta or bread, and I can cook double portions and freeze some should I wish to.

I went out to dig up a double row of potatoes one sunny Friday afternoon, aware that the weather forecast for the weekend was grim. I'm so glad I did it as the allotment was covered in snow by Sunday! Whilst I was there I harvested a couple of leeks and some enormous yellow beetroot.

On Saturday morning I made a batch of leek and potato soup. This is Steve's favourite soup and it really feels as if it is made from nothing, being nothing more than homegrown potatoes, leeks, an onion and some stock. There was enough for lunch and some leftover to go into the freezer.

Saturday afternoon I made some beetroot and potato rostis, using the yellow beetroot, creating rostis that looked much more normal than the slightly unsettling purple beetroot ones. I made a big batch and we had a couple each with our hot dogs and I put the rest in the freezer.

On Sunday we had a roast dinner so I peeled and par boiled twice the usual amount of potatoes and made roast potatoes out of half of them and smothered the other half in goose fat (from Christmas) before putting them on a tray and freezing them.

Monday was sausages and mash and, yes, you guessed it, I made double the usual quantity of mash and put half of it in the freezer. It was an unusual evening in that my eldest was in the kitchen whilst I was cooking dinner. Normally she keeps herself tucked away in her bedroom, busily working on her creative A-levels. I say bedroom, there is a bed in there, but the rest of the space is dedicated to art so it feels like a choatic, creative workshop when I dare to venture in there. She had been working on a Klimt inspired oil painting solidly for several days and she had just finished it so had brought it down the kitchen to show it to me. 

With only a few minutes until dinner was due to be served, she had stayed. As she was on hand I asked her to run a fork over the top of the mash whilst I started to dish up. Needless to say it was the fanciest forking I have ever seen!

After that followed a rather fancy and very tasty potato and mushroom gratin, served up next to sirloin steak. And I also made a rather successful chicken and mushroom hotpot, where Steve particularly noted how tasty the potatoes were.

Anyway, it had been a productive few days in the potato glut battle, and I'm almost at the bottom of the bucket. Some inspired meals and some lovely gifts to my future self in the freezer.

Ironically, in the midst of all this, the postman knocked on the door with a parcel that proved to be our supply of seed potatoes for this year. 

"Careful, it's heavy," he warned as I bent to retrieve it from the doorstep.

"Oh, it's our seed potatoes," I said. Previous conversations with our postman had led us to discover that he too has an allotment. 

"Oh, yeah, right," he said, "yeah, probably should think about getting some myself."

"Well you'd better be quick because apparently the seed companies are inundated with orders this year," I told him.

"Oh well," he said, "doesn't matter as I haven't dug up the last lot yet. Might just let them regrow!"

Beetroot & Potato Rostis

4 medium to large potatoes
2 medium beetroot
Dried onion
Garlic salt or powder (optional)
Seasoning to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut into large roast potato sized pieces then par boil for about 10 minutes (depending on your potato variety). Once cooked, drain and run under a cold tap to cool the potatoes down enough to pick them up. Grate the potatoes into a large bowl, using long strokes on the grater. Wash and peel the raw beetroot then grate into the bowl with the potato. Add the seasoning. Combine well until it all sticks together. Use a circular pastry cutter to squash balls of mixture into the rosti shape. Place them on a floured plate, cover with Clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour or put in the freezer at this point.  To cook, heat some oil in a frying pan then fry for about 2 minutes on each side to brown then place in an oven for 20 minutes to cook through.

Potato & Mushroom Gratin (serves 4)

800g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion, finely shopped
200-300g mushrooms, thinly sliced
Vegetable oil
Salt & pepper
Garlic powder or crushed garlic (optional)
300ml double cream
Grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 180°C and have a square casserole dish ready. Once you have prepared the potatoes, put them into a large bowl with the oil, salt and pepper and garlic and swirl it all around until the potatoes are evenly coated. Put a single layer of potato into the dish then scatter over some onion and mushrooms then repeat, finishing with a layer of potato. Carefully pour over the double cream, moving the dish to make sure it flows around the potatoes. Scatter over some parmesan then bake for 1 hour to an 1 hour and a quarter.

Chicken & Mushroom Hot Pot (serves 4)

Handful of dried mushrooms
800g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 chicken breasts or 6 thighs
60g butter
1 onion, finely chopped.
100g closed cup mushrooms, sliced
40g plain flour
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 stock cube (chicken or vegetable)
Salt & pepper
Grated Parmesan

Put the dried mushrooms into about half a pint of boiling water and leave to soak for twenty minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Once your potatoes are prepared, put them into a saucepan of boiling water, bring back to the boil then turn off the heat and allow the potatoes to sit in the hot water. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and gently fry to brown. As they begin to colour, add the closed cup mushrooms and fry for a further two minutes then transfer the chicken and mushrooms into a large ovenproof dish. Melt half the butter in a sauce pan then fry the onions in it until just beginning to colour then transfer this into the ovenproof dish. Using the same saucepan, melt the rest of the butter then add the flour, mustard powder and crumbled stock cube to it. Cook for a minute to make a roux then gradually incorporate the water from the dried mushrooms into the roux to make a sauce. Use more hot water if necessary until the sauce is the consistency of a thick gravy. Chop up the soaked mushrooms and add those to the ovenproof dish too. Taste the sauce and add seasoning to taste. Pour the sauce into the dish. Drain the potatoes and arrange in a couple of layers over the chicken. Season the potatoes and sprinkle over the Parmesan then bake for an hour.