30 December 2013

Raymond Blanc's Baked Apples in a Semolina Soufflé

I was given Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets as a present. For months I admired the stunning food photos, read the recipes and made notes of the secrets he shares, but I never cooked anything; the recipes looked somewhat demanding bearing in mind his Michelin starred status. Until one day, when I thought a cook book is meant for cooking and not only for bed time reading (if you are little bit peculiar like me and you have a few cook books on the pile of more traditional bed time reading). Having been attracted to the use of semolina, I picked this recipe and it immediately became my special treat for those slow Sunday mornings. I suppose this is more of a pudding, but I think it's perfect for a brunch. So when it's wet and windy and you're not in a hurry to go anywhere, try this comforting dish of baked apples in a semolina soufflé. The recipe can be found here along Mr Blanc's notes and variations on this recipe. Mrs V x

4 December 2013

Beets and Goat Cheese

I found these mini beets at the allotment after having dropped a few seeds here and there
I gave them a good scrub, cut them in half, wrapped them into a double foil package and placed them onto a baking tray. A drizzle of balsamic glaze and a sprig of rosemary to accompany the beets and into the oven until they were cooked. Then it was time for the other star of the show: goat cheese. I placed slices of the goat cheese on top of the cooked beets, returned the package into the oven until the goat cheese had started to melt. Beets and goat cheese- a combination that never fails.  One way to brighten up a Wednesday. 

Mrs V x 

2 December 2013

Mulled Cider

It's December and certainly time for some mulled cider! I think it's a brilliant alternative for mulled wine as it really tastes like Christmas and is sure a winter warmer. I enjoyed some this weekend while starting to feel the seasonal vibe a bit. I'm sure everyone has their own version, but here's how I make mine: 
(influenced by Jamie. Naturally.)

1 litre of good old Scrumpy
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1 clementine
juice and seeds from 1 pomegranate
3 cloves
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
little sprinkle of grated nutmeg
sugar to taste

Pour the cider to a large pan and on a low heat warm it through. Add the spices and fruit juices. Bring to boil, turn down to simmer and leave for 5 minutes. Add sugar to your taste. I prefer my mulled cider with a hint of sweetness, just so that all the spices come together. It's ready to be poured into glasses through a sieve.

Enjoy with seasonal goodies, preferably in front of a fire with woolly socks on. Christmas jumper is optional.

Mrs V x

5 November 2013

Pumpkin Jam

Pumpkin.... Jam? I hear you say. That's exactly what I thought last year this time. After googling some recipes I found a promising looking one here and out of intrigue I got a saucepan out and boiled some jam from left over pumpkin flesh. From the first taste I knew this pumpkin jam would become an addition to my jam repertoire. Here we are, one year later and this season's first batch of pumpkin jam has been made and jarred again.

I have this jam with everything; on a piece of toast (my favourite combo is having the jam on a piece of toasted rye bread), with pancakes, on porridge or with cheeses; it goes with everything. Trust me, I've tried. For anyone who thinks pumpkin should not be turned into sweet treats I would say take a risk and try it. This jam is worth it.

Pumpkin Jam


1.5 kg of pumpkin flesh
400 ml of water
400 ml of ginger wine (e.g. Crabbie's Green Ginger Wine)
2 oranges
2 lemons
1 kg of jam sugar

Slice the oranges and lemons thinly and remove the pips. Grate or slice the pumpkin flesh into thin strands. Bring the ginger wine and water into boil and add the sliced oranges, lemons and pumpkin to the pan. Stir. Let the mixture simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring once in a while to ensure nothing catches the bottom of the pan. Add the sugar to the pan and stir to dissolve it. Bring the mixture to boil and keep on a rolling boil until the jam gains a thicker consistency, be patient as this may take another 30 minutes. Once ready, let the jam cool down for about 15 minutes before filling your sterilised jars.

Mrs V x

29 October 2013


Within the last month or so the harvested goodies have changed from summery beans and herbs to the more seasonal root vegetables, but the harvest is nevertheless just as bright in colour. The carrots have been very sweet and full of flavour, while the few parsnips we have tasted so far have been disappointing. You may also spot a few beets next to the colourful carrots. Originally the plan was to sow a long row of beets, but with concentration on other projects they were forgotten about. However, I must have dropped few seeds by accident as beets seem to have appeared here and there in random places.

The Desiree potatoes have been gorgeous. Having them reminds me of happy times some years ago when a great man was part of our lives. He was on his way to a catering gig for some very important people with Desiree potatoes as part of the menu. On those days, Desiree potatoes were not common where I come from and he let us taste 'the pink potatoes'- how exotic was that back in the day!

I have been reading on the blogosphere on some great apple crops other allotmenteers have had while the future of our apple tree remains undecided. The first year it produced couple of funny apples which looked like cooking apples but tasted like small little eating apples. Most of them had been eaten by bugs and the rest had rotten before hitting the ground. The tree followed the same pattern this year -with producing even less apples. Needless to say we have not been impressed. Should we give it the chop or maybe give it one more year?

Mrs V x

27 October 2013

Box full of beans

Green French Beans- Fasold, Purple French Beans- Blauhilde, Runner Beans- Enorma and oh yes, two courgettes.

We had a good harvest of beans this year and left the allotment pretty much every week with a box full of beans.

Borlotti Bean-Firetongue

This year's  borlotti beans are still waiting to be cooked. They have dried beautifully and their pods have gaining a gorgeous dark purple colour. Most of them dried up while still in the vine and the remainder did so indoors while ensuring they had enough air circulating around them. I have been recently browsing for recipes for these funky looking beans and could almost guarantee they will end up in a stew. After all, the weather is spot on for a hearty and comforting winter dish.

The dark purple French beans surprised us with being a very heavy cropper and we preferred their taste to the other beans we grew, not to mention how beautiful they made the allotment look while in flower. Next year we will be giving these gorgeous purple plants most of the bean poles that go up.

The runners and French beans we often had straight away after picking them, while also freezing some of the crop. French beans I adore, but I find the runners... well, a little uninspiring. Last year we found out they don't freeze very well so with a freezer full of these, I was wondering, if you my reader, have some mouth-watering runner bean recipes you swear by? If so, let me know in the comments below. Thanks.

Mrs V x

16 October 2013

Crown Princes

While I've been banging on about the gourds and Charmants, these pale beauties have been left without any attention. This year was our first time growing Crown Princes. They did not grow as big as I was expecting, but they must be dense and solid inside- the smallest one we harvested was just over 2 kilos in weight! We are yet to cook one, but this squash has a reputation of being one of the tastiest, so expectations are high.

I think Frederik and Haakon did well. 

Mrs V x

7 October 2013

Report on Brassicas

The humble sprout is given such hard time by so many, but I have a friend who is a devoted fan. Actually, I'm sure everyone must have a friend who loves sprouts. I wouldn't say I love them, but I do like them enough to think it's bonkers to only have them at Christmas Day. So far, it seems growing sprouts for the first time has been going well. We've tried to take care of the essentials; water, high nitrogen fertilizer, support and cover from cabbage white. The photo below was taken couple of weeks ago and the sprouts have pretty much doubled in size since then and are close to the size of a walnut. Soon it will be time to harvest and cook them- I'm thinking of rapid roast and quick stir fry to avoid green mush. 

Unfortunately we've not been so lucky with our romanesco cauliflower. It all started very well, until the first plant flowered. The other one was doing well under the cover of its leaves. However, last week we clearly missed our window to pick it and it followed its friend's example. 

Small flower head shielded by its leaves

To be honest, we've been winging it with the brassicas. Although I started very well with getting all scientific about the pH of the soil and covered the basics as mentioned above, I never really got down to the small print on how to grow them successfully. Maybe that could be my project for next year- learning more about the art of growing brassicas. 

Flowered head

I do find romanesco cauliflower interesting to look at. The spikes and colour of it makes me think it's the potentially poisonous naughty little brother of broccoli. However, I think my sprout loving friend captured the look of these gorgeous edible flower heads to a tee: a psychedelic broccoli which went to Woodstock and stayed on that road. Emilia, we salute you. 

 Mrs V x

30 September 2013

Gourds- one last time!

Are these photos of the gourds getting little bit boring yet? I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist. This is the last time, I promise. This year, at least. As you can see, we have tons of them. Well, a bucketful to be precise. Some of the other allotmenteers at our site don't really get growing gourds as they are only ornamental and not for consumption. Well, not everyone has to agree.

How about you my dear reader? Do these take your fancy as seasonal decorations or should they go straight to the compost?

Mrs V x 

23 September 2013

Butternut Squash

Look at those curves! It's been a good year for butternut squashes. These bad boys came home with us yesterday as their skin is hard and firm, the colour of them is about right, and they are pretty good in size. I shall let you know whether they were fully matured.

Mrs V x

16 September 2013

End of the summer

It certainly feels like it's the end of summer outside, the new seed catalogues make you start planning for the next season and the fork and wellies are ready in the corner of the shed for some proper action again. Someone told me the worst time for gardeners is now as there is loads of work to do but nothing really to harvest, pick or look forward to. Somehow this all seems little bit contradictory when I look around at the allotment and see what is growing. There are borlotti beans waiting for their red&green coats to turn to red&white ones, the carrots have only just reached a harvestable size, the skins of the butternut squashes are hardening up, the tiny Brussels sprouts have appeared, the romanesco cauliflower has revealed a beautiful head underneath the leaves, whether the parsnips will make up quantity with quality is yet to be discovered, and even the courgette plants are still producing. Sounds like it's rather eventful times, still.

Mrs V x

Ps. Sorry about the quality of the photos- I only had my phone handy at the time. Also the font seems to be strange- the joys of blogging on your phone. 

9 September 2013

Empire Roast Chicken

We had friends over on Saturday for some wining and dining and to watch Last Night of the Proms.

We started the evening with Kir Royals.

 The simple table setting was build around the gourds.

For dinner I made Empire Roast Chicken with Bombay- style potatoes. By Jamie. Of course. I did wonder whether roast chicken would be too ordinary for a special evening like this, but come to think of  it, the recipe is from Jamie's Great Britain cook book -very appropriate for the theme of the evening.  Also, this is, indeed, a real crowd pleaser, and enjoyed in good company with good drinks, this to me is food that celebrates life.

Serves 6


For the chicken and marinade

1.4 kg higher-welfare chicken
1 heaped tablespoon garlic, finely grated
1 heaped tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 heaped tablespoon fresh red chilli, finely grated
1 heaped tablespoon tomato puree
1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon garam masala
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
2 heaped teaspoons natural yoghurt
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 level teaspoons sea salt

For the gravy

3 small red onions, peeled
1 stick cinnamon
10 cloves
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 level tablespoons plain flour
500 ml organic chicken stock
fat-free natural yoghurt, to serve, optional

For the Bombay-style potatoes

800 g new potatoes
sea salt
ground pepper
1 lemon
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
1 heaped teaspoon garam masala
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
1 bulb garlic
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 small bunch fresh coriander

Slash the chicken's legs a few times right down to the bone. Get a roasting tray slightly bigger than the chicken, then add all of the marinade ingredients and mix together well. Put on a pair of clean rubber gloves, then really massage those flavours over and inside the chicken so it's smeared everywhere. Don't be shy! Ideally marinate overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6 and organize your shelves so the roasting tray can sit right at the bottom, the chicken can sit directly above it, right on the bars of the shelf, and the potatoes can go at the top. Halve any larger potatoes, then parboil them in a large pan of salted boiling water with a whole lemon for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Drain the potatoes then let them steam dry. Stab the lemon a few times with a sharp knife and put it right into the chicken's cavity. Move the chicken to a plate.

Roughly chop the onions and add to the roasting tray along with the cinnamon stick, cloves, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, then whisk in the flour. Pour in the stock or water, then place this right at the bottom of the oven. Place the chicken straight on to the bars of the middle shelf, above the roasting tray. Cook for 1 hour 20 minutes.

Put another sturdy roasting tray over a medium heat and add the olive oil, the mustard and cumin seeds, garam masala and turmeric – work quickly because if the fat gets too hot the mustard seeds will pop everywhere. Halve a bulb of garlic and add it straight to the pan, with the sliced chilli and chopped tomatoes. Add your drained potatoes to the tray, mix everything together, then season well. Finely slice and scatter in the coriander stalks, and keep the leaves in a bowl of water for later. After the chicken has been in for 40 minutes, put the potatoes in.

Once the chicken is cooked, move it to a board and carefully peel off the dark charred bits to reveal perfect chicken underneath. Pass the gravy through a coarse sieve into a pan, whisking any sticky goodness from the pan as you go. Bring to the boil and either cook and thicken or thin down with water to your preference. Put it into a serving bowl and drizzle over a little yoghurt. Get your potatoes out of the oven and put them into a serving bowl, then serve the chicken on a board next to the sizzling roasties and hot gravy. Sprinkle the reserved coriander leaves over everything and serve with any condiments you like. 

Mrs V x

8 September 2013

Fabulous figs

I got these beautiful figs from a friend. It always astonishes me when someone is able to successfully grow figs in their back garden in England, especially really plump, juicy and sweet ones like these.

I cut a deep cross in the top of the figs, dropped a small piece of butter into the centres of the figs, drizzled honey and sprinkled cinnamon and chopped almonds over them. I popped them under the grill for 5 minutes and served with Greek yoghurt.

Perfect treat for a Sunday!

Mrs V x

1 September 2013

Midweek Harvest

This weekend has been all about giving some much needed TLC to the poor allotment that had been neglected while we were on holiday. During a very busy week, we've not had time to go there, except to quickly harvest a few things. 

You may have already seen a picture of the huge courgettes waiting for us on the allotment on Facebook. Before harvesting I just stared at these monsters in disbelief for some time. 
Their average weight was 3.5 kg! 

The cutlery is there to show the size of this thing, in case you were wondering. 

Our corn did not do very well this year, and we only harvested 9 cobs in total from 16 plants. Luckily, there is always next year. Of course, as they lacked in quantity, they sure did make up in quality and were so sweet and tasty. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are ready for this. I give you our first harvested Hooligan:

Off to the allotment!

Mrs V x
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