Saturday, July 31

Home-made pesto

When I bought my pestle and mortar I looked at the larger ones and thought 'who the heck would need a pestle and mortar that big?!

Last week Row brought me a whole load of basil and I decided to make pesto, I found out! I had to make it in two batches as I couldn't get it all in the bowl!

I discovered that pine nuts are extremely expensive - and harder to find than hens teeth in Deptford High Street. Sometimes you have to be a little bit gracious towards Tescos, and I was glad that they had some - albeit £3.60 for a tiny 100g bag! I just googled pine nuts and discovered that they are, actually, the nuts of pines - how strange that they don't taste anything like you would expect.

So I pounded the basil with a handful of pinenuts, some rock salt and some garlic until it was mush. I added grated parmesan and olive oil till it became the right consistency.

It was great stuffed in a chicken breast which was then wrapped in bacon and baked in the oven for about 40 mins. The Curse declared it 'the best meal I've had in bloody ages'.

Wednesday, July 28

Beetroot and orange chutney

For the beetroot I was torn between two recipes - one for beetroot & orange chutney that I found here, and Nigella's recipe for a straightforward beetroot chutney with heavy spice overtones. And you know how much I like spice!

But I had a couple of oranges handy and I figured that I can always try the other recipe with some of the other beetroot that are currently waiting to be harvested!

Beetroot & orange chutney

300ml vinegar (I used a mixture of white wine and malt vinegar)
200g granulated sugar
350g raw beetroot
350g cooking apples
half a dozen shallots
2 oranges
1 garlic clove
1tsp allspice
1tsp salt
1tsp mustard seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1tsp black peppercorns

Peel and chop the apples, beetroot and shallots/onions into smallish pieces and place in the pan with the vinegar and crushed garlic clove.

Grind together the allspice, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and peppercorns and add to the pan with the salt.

Add the zest and juice of both oranges.

Bring to the boil and cook for about 40 minutes until the apple has gone to mush and the beetroot is tender - if you have used quite large chunks you might want to mash it into smaller pieces.

Add the sugar and cook for another 20 minutes or so before decanting into sterilised jars. You can sterilise the jars by putting them in a low oven (no more than gas mark 2) for five minutes.

I have to say that this chutney was tasty even at the bottling stage - usually it's rather vinegary and the spices haven't had time to permeate, which is why you are recommended to leave it 4-6 weeks before eating. It does bode well for early September!

Sunday, July 25

Peckham back yard

Wow, look at those bean plants!

I spent a couple of hours yesterday weeding, fixing the beanpoles (some of which were offcuts from the old apple tree that we cut down a few months ago) planting more beetroot and marvelling over how well the compost is rotting down.

We have beetroot and potatoes ready to harvest.

We have pears.

And we have weeds! Many weeds! Despite my ongoing efforts.

Green Alkanet is my particular hate figure, the bane of my life. It looks quite nice when it flowers but is a pervasive weed and you have to wear gloves to pull it up as it has tiny prickly irritant hairs that get stuck in your skin like miniature acupuncture needles. On the plus side, it's supposed to be great in compost and the roots apparently can be used as a dye. I will report back when and if I managed to get any of the roots out!

We also have copious supplies of foxgloves, scarlet pimpernel, poppies, the odd dandelion and bay willowherb, and lots and lots of seedlings of a small green weed with green 'flowers' that seems to grow everywhere in London. I've got no idea what it is and my wildflower books are no help, which suggests it's not a native, perhaps some cultivated plant gone bad.

UPDATE: It's Annual Mercury it seems. Not the Mercury music prize that is presented annually, but Mercurialis annua.

Saturday, July 24

Beetroot leaf and feta omelette

If like me you find yourself very excited at having grown your first beetroot and keen to get the chutney/pickle/roast beetroot under way, don't be in so much of a haste that you overlook the delights of the beetroot leaves.

I cooked up the leaves from my beetroot for breakfast; being very like spinach they make an excellent base for an omelette.

Wash and chop the leaves, then saute gently in butter with a crushed garlic clove. Beat two eggs with a dash of milk, add salt and freshly-ground black pepper then pour into the pan; cook gently for about five minutes until almost set. Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and a few chopped basil leaves then put the pan under a hot grill for a couple of minutes till the egg is set to your particular taste.

Thursday, July 22

OMG look what I grew!

I haven't really written much about my battles with the mum-out-law's garden, mainly because they have been relatively fruitless and have involved lots of very dull weeding.

Until now, that is!

Elaine has a small back garden in Peckham which fell into disuse when she became bedridden. A lot of it is concrete, but it does have some flower beds, one of which she used to grow potatoes and spring onions in. I say 'grew' very loosely in that I think she used to throw out the leftovers from the kitchen and sometimes they would take root.

When she became confined to her bedroom, I took on the care of the garden mostly to keep the weeds down, but then I decided that if I was going to do some work, I should at least try to grow something useful. I got a free compost bin from the council, dug up as many weeds as I could manage, and planted a load of bulbs the first year. Not many came up the first year, but I kept up the weeding and the second year (this spring) was rewarded with a beautiful display of narcissi, tulips and so on. It gave me the impetus to keep going.

I planted a lavender bush, some sage and a rather stunted blackcurrant bush that was marked down at the garden centre. The honeysuckle and clematis that hated the hot conditions on my balcony were rehoused on the shady side of her fence.

We cut back the gnarled old apple tree and pruned the pear tree, which still fruits copiously each year - not the most tasty pears but great for chutney!

One side of the garden (the one that gets most of the sunshine) is earmarked for veg, but it mostly has to be low-maintenance veg since we are not there often enough to keep up the watering. This year I planted beetroot for the first time in my life, a couple of rows of potatoes and a couple of rows of beans.

We nursed the young beets through their first few weeks, and watered occasionally whenever we could, but it's been so hot the last few weeks I fully expected everything to be dead when we went round there this evening.

Not one bit of it - the beetroot had suddenly somehow grown to a respectable size and the beans, from what I could see in the dusk light, are desperately in need of sticks! I brought a few beets home and look forward to a few more in due course. This weekend I'm off to do some proper maintenance of the garden, and will try to get a few more photos. But I can honestly say that I am inordinately proud of my success so far, especially in view of the minimal effort!

Now, anyone got a great recipe for beetroot preserve?

Wednesday, July 14

Domestic update

As requested, an 'inspirational' photo showing the clean cupboard top with jars of freshly-made plum and chilli sauce in storage.

A couple of things to point out:

- it was supposed to be plum and chilli jam but I went way over the top with the vinegar :-( Not to worry, it will be great next time I make salt cod fishcakes.

- I'm only about halfway through the cupboard top cleaning, still plenty left for my next idle moment!

In the meantime, the balcony crops are starting to progress. I've already harvested a few blueberries and some salad leaf and basil. This year's attempts also include carrots (about 10 in total!), tomatoes (a bit of a piss poor fail in comparison to previous years), courgettes and pumpkins (so far doggedly only producing male flowers), chillis and padron peppers (growing well but only just starting to flower) and tomatillos!

What's that? I hear you cry!

A member of the physalis family, the fruit is reminiscent of the cape goosberry - the tomatillo grows inside a papery lantern. You need more than one plant for pollination, and as far as I can see, I only have fruit on one of the three plants so far. Apparently good for South American salsa.

Anyway I'll be offline for the next week or so. I'm off to the Larmer Tree Festival and my trusty Mac is off to the repair shop to hopefully eliminate all the nasty vertical lines that are gradually multiplying on the screen. It's a known fault so will be repaired for free despite being well out of warranty. I was rather surprised that I didn't even have to insist when I phoned the customer service line - makes a nice change to get proper service!

Sunday, July 4

Kitchen deep-clean

This revolting view is the top of my kitchen cupboards. Untouched since we moved in, the likelihood that the previous occupants of our flat ever cleaned them is very low indeed, considering the state they left the rest of the flat in!

But yesterday I decided that it was time to start the deep-clean of the kitchen. I've run out of storage space in my cupboards, especially for empty chutney jars, and the tops of the cupboards make the perfect spot for something that will only be needed on occasion.

You can see from the photo the before (on the right) and the after (on the left) - after the top layer of grease and dust has been scraped off using a DIY scraping tool, that is! Yeuch!

I then had to scrub the remaining debris using a pan scourer and some Bar Keeper's Friend (bloody marvellous cleaning powder that can do the job of any number of other squirty things), along with a bit of elbow grease.

It's going to be a long-term project - I only managed to get one unit top clean, and the cupboards also have to be cleared out, excess crockery disposed of and a bit of rationalisation of pots, pans and equipment carried out. However the jars are now stored tidily on top of the first cupboard, so the first stage is complete and I feel like I've actually achieved something.