Cooking with vegetables

Not sure where all my time goes at the moment.  Perhaps trying to juggle too many things as usual.  However today is a good veggie day as we are having Vegetable Biryani with all our veggies.   It always feels good to be able to use what I grow, knowing what has been sprayed on it (nothing), how it has been stored (various) and how good they taste (very).  So in case anyone wants to try it (would highly recommend it too):

Spiced Vegetable Biryani

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 small cauliflower (North Foreland at the moment) broken into small florets
  • 2 large sweet potatoes (I have substituted butternut squash instead)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1.2ltr hot vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons Balti curry paste
  • 1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped (I used my dried ones and 1 tablespoon boiling water)
  • Large pinch of saffron stems (must try growing some)
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds (black or white)
  • 500g basmati rice
  • 140g trimmed green beans halved (I have defrosted some peas and broad beans)
  • 2 lemons, juice only
  • a handful of fresh coriander leaves (just picked from the garden, amazed how hardy they are!
  • 50g packet salted roasted cashew nuts.

Preheat oven to fan 200, pour the oil into a large stock pot and put in the oven for a couple of mins to heat through.  Add all the vegetables except the beans to the tin and stir to coat in oil.  Return to the oven for 15 mins or until beginning to brown (really brings out the cauliflower).

While the vegetables are roasting, stir together to stock, curry paste, chill, saffron and mustard seeds.

Mix the rice and green beans (or peas/broad beans) with the vegetables in the stock pot then pour over the stock mixtrure. Lower the oven to fan 190, cover the dish and bake for 30 mins unilt the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.  Stir in the lemon juice and scatter over the coriander and cashew nuts.

I like to serve it with naan (which I usually make but not enough time today) and fresh raita made with cucumber, yoghurt, red onion, mint sauce and a squeeze of lemon.

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Once cooked it will look something like this:


Stir in the lemon juice (I like lots) and nuts and a sprinkle of lovely cut coriander (6 year old let loose with scissors and herbs, kept her amused for ages)

Serves about 6 and it does have some spice to it but you can lessen it if you want by adding less chilli peppers/balti sauce.  My 6 year old was shovelling it in like it was going out of style, 1 shovelful, one drink of water.  Mum my tongue is tingling, I love it!!




What a wonderful weekend, can’t hardly believe it was chucking it down with rain last week to the point the ground was so sodden I couldn’t imagine planting anything ever again.

I managed to get my parsnips in on Sunday, last year they were delayed because of the snow covering the allotment for weeks at a time, this year delayed by the rain.  We are doing a test to see which method gives us better germination and better parsnips.  First is using a metal pole make parsnip shaped holes about 8-10 inches deep and fill with sieved compost.  I sowed about 4 seeds in the middle of each one.  Second method was to draw out lines with a hoe and fill them with sieved compost and again put seeds at 6″ intervals approx piles of 3.  ImageI planted my early potatoes outside and some in the polytunnel (as well as some in pots in the greenhouse a while back)  and also managed to finish pruning the fruit cage  – yay!  Note to self:  don’t leave it so long next time.  So I am all prepped up at the allotment and just need to concentrate on getting the greenhouse propagation in full swing.

11 March 1411 March 14

Time for some pricking out. 🙂

To heat or not to heat

With the price of electricity so ridiculously high, I find it hard to justify heating my greenhouse.  Last year I was lucky enough to have this propagator made for me by a clever individual and it means I can get ahead in the growing stakes without making the electricity company millions!

It has just one heating cable covered in sand sitting on a piece of insulation to keep the heat in and I use my old propagator covers to keep the seeds nice and toasty.  My electric thermometer means that it only heats when it needs too and once the evening is cooling off I go and cover everything with some bubble wrap also to tuck them up for the night.  The greenhouse is going down to around 5 degrees overnight and I am hoping to be able to hold off heating the greenhouse for another few weeks or until everything has outgrown the propagator and needs additional heat.  Last year we bubble wrapped the greenhouse to keep it warmer but the light levels were really diminished so I am undecided what to do for this year.  I guess I will need to see how things go and if we have sunshine and warmer nights soon.


What does everyone else do at this time of year?

5 degrees, kids and a pile of poo


We have taken on a 3rd allotment plot, right next to the other two.  Before you jump up and down about having too many and what about the waiting lists etc, this plot has not been let for a year since the previous person was evicted.  It is not in an ideal position because of trees and because it needs work which so many people are put off of.  We said we would take it on only if no one wanted it.  One year later it is ours.  We are going to plant it as a fruit orchard and keep it to grass and fingers crossed it will work.  It does get some shade from the large trees that edge the allotment site and it is a frost pocket but I feel if we bear that in mind with what we plant we should be ok.

So 4 tonnes of sterilised manure were delivered and dumped in a large steaming pile which means, of course, one 6 year old girl is going to have fun.  For 6 hours today we have been spreading half the pile over the new plot and rotavating it in.  Half of the plot has been covered for 6 months or so but the other half is tough old grass and I am impressed the Rotavator manages pretty much all the plot before the belt melts and brings an end to the day.

I love the fact that Izzy will spend so long at the allotment amusing herself.  She has filled wheelbarrows from the steaming pile, run up and down said pile, dug in the mud for worms, created some floating boats out of margarine tubs and conducted experiments with various stones in the water trough (I think I have left them in there – ooops) and just before leaving she was picking the last of the sprouts.  It was a maximum of 5 degrees out there today and though her cheeks turned pink she was happy just to be outside, in fact I had to force her to leave and come home.  Healthy living with a healthy child.


Processing the produce

I have been lucky to be able to store so much of our produce that I haven’t had to buy things like tinned tomatoes and passata since last summer just before the plants exploded with more fruit that I have ever had.  Canning them means I can use them throughout the winter and  I also froze some passata and whole tomatoes too.  I experimented with making pasta sauces and will definitely do that again, same for the tomato ketchup which my little one calls ‘special sauce’.  I have an unopened shop bought ketchup sat in the cupboard which I cannot see being used unless we run out before the next season.

But somethings are not going to store much longer, apples are starting to go off so next week I shall be processing as many items as I can and freezing them.  I experimented making an apple pie and freezing it, leaving it a month and then defrosting it.  I could not determine any loss of taste or texture – result.   I also have more red and black currants than you can shake the proverbial stick at along with gooseberries and rhubarb (no raspberries as a pants season for them).  So next week my cooking list is:

  • Apple pies
  • Redcurrant and goosberry jam (my favourite)
  • Mixed fruit cordial – to be canned
  • Fruit compote for yoghurts
  • Roasted butternut squash for using in butternut squash risotto
  • Pumpkin bread
  • Carmalised onion quiche – way too good.

Having a plan means I can make sure I have everything I need  from sugar to foil, flour to freezer bags.  I shall attempt to put up a recipe for everything that I make and my canning process that I use and hasn’t failed me yet.

The Joy of Pressure Cooking

I discovered pressure cooking whilst the kitchen was being extended and I had no cooker.  On the little camping stove we usually use for brewing up at the allotment I managed to cook some warming stews and soups, with our produce of course.

I must admit to being terrified of using one to start with, I remember as a child this violent, bubbling, hissing pot, wide eyed waiting for it to explode at any moment.  Thankfully today’s versions are a lot nicer.  I found a few recipes to try out, some successes like dried beans which are so much easier than the soak overnight and boil for hours.  Some need more practise like rice puddings (fun scrapping the bottom of the pan after that one).  Pressure cooking really does take a fraction of the time and meat in particular is so much more tender.

Today we are having pork chops in cider which is a recipe that has come together and perfected for our tastes,  You could put it in a slow cooker, although since I do not cook with one I have no idea how it would come out, but I know lots of people who swear by them. I just didn’t get on with it, perhaps just not organised enough.

So if you want to try my Cider Pork Chops:

  • 3lb pork Chops (fat removed)
  • 3 allotment leeks (or 2 onions sliced or 10 shallots whole)
  • 2 apples or one large (can be dessert or cooking)
  • I can cider (I used Strongbow) 440ml
  • 2 chicken stock cubes in 200ml hot water
  • 2 tablespoons Honey
  • 1 large tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 3 springs fresh time.

I literally put it all in the pressure cooker, stir as it is heating up.  Put on the lid and bring to pressure (I use 15lbs) and cook for 30mins.  I find the pressure cooker keeps the food warm for quite a while so leave it to cool and unlock.  When we want to eat it I heat it to a boil and more than likely add some cornstarch to thicken it.  The apples turn to mush and just add a wonderful bulk to the sauce.

Serve with mashed potatoes and carrots.  The meat just falls apart, I cannot eat pork any other way now.

We managed to grow 3 large bags of potatoes to store this year.  Rooster have been eaten first as I find they do not store well.  We have worked our way through Cara which is just sprouting a little too much now and went to open the next page which is Sarpo Mira.  Have to say I am impressed with the lack of sprouting although not that impressed to see that something has clearly been having lunch in there.  Not keen to put my hand properly into the bag, job for MAN!


Using all our produce and feeling good

Todays menu is:

Meatballs made from our shallots (hanging on a rope), parsley (growing still outside) tomatoes, plum (canned and stored in the pantry) and basil (growing pathetically on the windowsill with sliced red onions in the sauce (on a rope in the pantry).  I am baking a spaghetti squash (stored in the pantry) for myself instead of noodles.  Accompanying this will be a courgette, tomato (Ferline) and pesto gratin, made during the summer glut and frozen along with a rosemary (still growing outside) and sun-dried tomato (well electrically dried to be precise) foccacia from the freezer (bulk made.  To finish a fruit crumble of rhubarb, gooseberry, blueberry, red and black currants (all frozen) and apple (stored in the pantry).

With a combination of freezing, drying, storing and canning you can have the taste of fresh grown pretty much all year round and know where your food comes from.  Today is a good food day! 🙂

Sewing, Needlebooks and Etsy

I started attending a Couture class last September (a little slice of sewing heaven) and just bunged a whole bunch of stuff in a bag and off I went.  However the ladies there, that had been attending for some time, all were lovely and organised with their boxes and bags.  For Christmas I was bought a lovely sewing box by my daughter which is beautiful to look at and feels wonderful to be organised, no more rummaging at the bottom of the bag pulling everything out to find it right in the corner attached to something else.

It got me thinking, in all my years of sewing I have never had a needlebook (or needleholder), just a drawer in my bits and pieces box or stuck in the top of my pin cushion.  I got out my Cath Kidson ‘Sew’ book which has some great ideas and made the needlebook in there.  It is ok but I was not really happy with it, I feel it will fall apart quite quickly and it was more gluing than sewing.


After some searching I found a design I liked better, more patchwork and sewing and had a go. I loved the result.  It feels so wonderful and soft, there is something very tactile about it and with a few adjustments started making them in different colours to sell. I really love sewing these, to see all the different fabrics coming together, blending into one, is very rewarding.


Now I just have the challenge of starting up an Etsy shop to start selling these as ideal Mothers Day gifts.  The start of a small business, onwards and upwards.

Storing and eating

We try to use as much of our produce as possible since you spend so much time nurturing the seed, willing the plant to survive, weeding, feeding and watering.  Seems pointless if you don’t eat it.  We eat it fresh, freeze it, dry it can and bottle it, process it into jams and chutneys and this year tomato ketchup by the gallon.  We also just plain store it.

One of my lovely stored vegetables are pumpkins and squashes.  Just washed and dried I keep them on a shelf in the pantry and they mostly store really well.  We still have lots of pumpkins and butternut squashes waiting patiently until required, showing no signs of giving up yet.  I find that Crown Prince, the beautiful blue pumpkin, to be the best storer yet.  With its wonderful orange flesh that is so firm and fresh tasting, I find it amazing it has been stored for 5 months already.  Jack O Lantern has not faired as well with 3 of them already giving up and I have to say the flesh is far more watery.  Great for pumpkin carving but inferior to Crown Prince for flavour and storage.

Jack O Lantern

Jack O Lantern before and after!


Not really showing perspective but that is quite a large container, possibly 2 litres from one average, allotment grown pumpkin. From this I made a pumpkin pie and some pumpkin bread and still had over half of it left.  Into the freezer it goes in 400g amounts, ready for the next item I want to bake.  If you are interested a simple recipe for pumpkin pie is:


200g plain flour

150g butter

15g icing sugar

Pie filling

2 eggs, slightly beaten

400g pumpkin puree

150g caster sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼teaspoon ground cloves

340ml evaporated milk



Rub the butter into the flour and icing sugar.  Add a little water to make a dough and knead to smooth but don’t over knead (maybe 15 kneads tops).  Roll out and put in butter flan dish and put in to the fridge until required.

Heat oven to 220 (or 200 fan).

Combine the ingredients in the order given.  I put the eggs in my mixer and beat quickly, add the pumpkin and mix, add the sugar and mix etc. Pour approximately half the mix into the flan case and put the other half in a jug.  Carefully put the flan dish into the oven and very gently pour the rest of the mix in.  This way you have not got all your custard mix over the edge of the pastry where it will burn or spill.

After 15 mins turn the oven down to 180 (or 160 fan) and bake for a further 45 mins or until a knife comes out clean.


Pumpkin Pie and Pumpkin Bread

And just like that your hard work growing the pumpkins becomes something delicious.