Posts Tagged ‘vegetables’

What I did yesterday

Yesterday, at Ham House, all the cool kids gathered for fun and drink and food so that we could show off the garden produce. The chef for the evening, Susie, basically did everything but I’m going to ride on her coattails and claim some of the amazingness that comes from being associated with it.

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Unfortunately, I was busy faffing around with vegetables and presenting the dishes so I didn’t get photos of everything. I can talk you through it though.

It started with bubbly and the canapes – mini bruschetta topped with onion marmalade and goat’s cheese and also spinach blinis topped with beetroot chutney and sour cream.

Then the guests were taken on a garden tour in the beautiful fading light.

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When they came back and were seated, we started with the kale and spinach soup.

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The bits and peices on the top were fried onions, roast root veg and pitta bread croutons. It was accompanied by homemade rosemary foccaccia bread.

Next up was the gnocchi…

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(I don’t have a photo of it before it went to the table, sorry!)

…accompanied by pretty garden leaf salad.

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The gnocchi was a big hit with the guests.

Next up, the mains were a venison stew with redcurrants and red wine and some garden veg. I don’t have a photo but you must trust me that it was so so tasty! The gravy was amazing. I tried to stop dipping the foccaccia bread into it and eating it but I couldn’t!

Also up were green beans in tarragon butter, roasted root vegetables and apples, a pumpkin and marrow gratin, a beetroot, courgette and mozzarella salad and – the only one I photographed – a caramelized elephant garlic, pumpkin and goat’s cheese tart.

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Loads of people raved about this and wanted some to take home with them.

Next, we gave them a few minutes to rest their stomachs before starting on dessert which was apple dumplings (these took me hours and hours to make!) baked in a caramel sauce. We served it with a fig and cinnamon swirl semifreddo, which was very well received.

After the overwhelming food onslaught, we were all made to come out of the kitchen and be applauded (like on Masterchef), the cafe manager did a little thank you, then a guest also said thank you from the guests and I stood patiently, wondering which of them was going to make the announcement that I was finally going to get my Michelin star….

I can only conclude that they didn’t want to do it in front of everyone else. Maybe it’s a more private affair, getting given your Michelin star. I’m sure they’ll be in touch.

Anyway, we retired back into the kitchen and sent out the little after-dinner nibbles, fresh raspberries and quince jellies.

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Everything that was made yesterday (apart from the obvious stuff like the meat and cheese), came from the kitchen garden and had been picked that day. There really is nothing like working with garden fresh produce.

I think it’s safe to say that a good evening was had by all and it was a lovely thing to be part of. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Supper Club. And if you’re in/near London, totally come to the next one.

Things I have recently made at Ham House

The other day I was talking about the lovely fresh fruit and vegetables that the gardeners bring us at the Ham House cafe. Today, I’m going to show you that food in action. This is just a few of the things we have done with the garden produce.

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A fig and greengage tart

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An almond cake with blackcurrants and raspberries

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A gooseberry and apricot tart

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Mixture of dried herbs to flavour soups and risottos and stews

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Edible flowers decorating the cake section. The tart on the bottom left is with blackcurrants from the garden

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One of the table displays that a gardener made for the cafe

Doing the Big Shop (Ham House style)

Yesterday was harvest day at Ham House. The day before, the kitchen staff had given the gardeners the shopping list and yesterday, bright and early, the shopping started to be delivered…

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…fresh from the ground! Have I showed you all the Ham House kitchen garden? I can’t remember if I’ve talked about it much before. Anyway, here’s some photos of the ‘supermarket’ where we get our vegetables and herbs and fruit.

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One of the most noticeable differences of working in a kitchen where the produce is fresh and  organic and homegrown, is the time it takes to get the food kitchen-ready.

The raspberries still have teeny tiny bugs wiggling around trying to eat a bit before they get washed off.

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The sorrel takes f o r e v e r to get dry. Even after a pat-dry, a spin and an air dry, each leaf still needs dabbing with dry paper…

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The green and purple beans have a kind of sticky furry layer on the outside that dirt refuses to come out of…

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The red orache has a shiny veneer on the leaves that makes it hard to figure out whether it’s still wet or not and so requires a sort through and a feel of every single leaf…

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The nasturtiums, on the other hand, are easy as pie. They arrive pretty clean anyway. Give em a rinse, spin em, they’re good to go.

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It took a good few hours but eventually all the perishable green leafy salad stuff was in the kitchen fridge, all the big vegetables had been washed and the kitchen staff were steadily getting them sliced and chopped and ready for the weekend’s meals and all the more durable greens were in a box of water waiting for their chance to shine in a quiche.

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From left to right, we have a huge marrow, some lovely out-of-shape carrots, round yellow cucumbers, long green cucumbers and a cauliflower. In the box of greenery we have lovage, chard, cavolo nero, sage and kale.

And that is how we do the Big Shop at Ham House.

How fast do you chop vegetables?

This is a worry I’ve had for a while now. Are any of you out there the type of people who chop vegetables at five hundred miles an hour? And your hand is a blur. And all your vegetables are small and perfectly shaped? Anyone? Well, can you please show me how to do it please?

On Monday, I am taking a tentative step into the world of food and kitchens and chefs jackets and sharp knives. I am excited. Without a doubt. Because it’s a chance to see whether I really want to work with food properly or whether I just like cooking at home and should stay there.

It’s busy there. Very busy. It’s constant. There’s no standing about and looking around for things to do.

But do I chop vegetables fast enough?! I’m nervous that I don’t. When I pick up a vegetable, there’s no blurred hands or roses carved out of turnips. I just chop it with a knife at an average speed and hope the slices are even. You can definitely see the movement of my fingers. No blur.

I also don’t drink or smoke. At all. Which seems to be the biggest trait of most chefs. On my trial shift last week, the chef expressed surprise that I don’t smoke.

And wine. Wine is a thing I’d like to know about. It’s quite an impressive thing to know about wine. I’d love to be a sommelier. But I don’t want to drink it. I just want to know about it. I mean, what kind of chef doesn’t know about or drink wine?!

I also don’t do well with heat. I get sweaty and uncomfortable. And kitchens are sweaty places. Especially in the summer.

You see? You see how these things worry me?

Monday is the big day. Will I be able to chop a tomato fast enough? That is question on everyone’s (my) lips…

Madame Forager and friends survive the mushrooms!

Ok, guys. Let’s get to it. It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

The unveiling of the first harvest of my home grown mushrooms.

Let me remind you how they looked on Tuesday morning.

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And this is how they looked on Tuesday evening.

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I cut the biggest ones, split them in half and threw in a few shitake mushrooms I found in the fridge to bulk it up a little as there were five hungry mouths to feed. I fried them for about five minutes in a little bit of truffle butter and a splash of olive oil, until they had softened and started to sizzle. I fried for a few seconds longer then sprinkled a little truffle salt over to serve.

As there were only a few of the mushrooms, I didn’t want them to get lost in a bigger dish of vegetables so we had pea and mint soup to start, then the mushrooms were like a little post-soup novelty feature – just a small bite, given a space of it’s own in the evening’s dining. We all ummed and ahhed and made the appropriate noises to make sure all the weeks of growing had been worth it. And they were actually tasty (helped by the hints of truffly goodness). 

Then we had our main meal, a parmigiana with loads of greens on the side. More umming and ahhing and my self esteem shot through the roof. For, as I have previously mentioned (and anyone who loves cooking for and feeding others knows), it’s the praise for our food that makes us feel it is also praise for us. We feel loved when someone compliments our courgettes or enthuses about our endive.

All in all, it was a successful evening and a successful mushroom course, I’d say.

And no-one got mushroom poisoning (unlike the woman who picked some mushrooms from her garden to add to a can of mushroom soup and died).

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Well, that’s me for today. I’m off to Ham House in a mo to get my 17th century scullery maid groove on.

My worms and I

My worms and I have had a tumultuous relationship. When we first met (they were delivered to my door), I cut the bag open and peered inside and there they all were, just pink and wriggly and innocent-looking.

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O, how exciting, I thought to myself. Hundreds of teeny tiny worms, all my own.

I felt like a proud mother. “The worms arrived,” I would tell people. “They’re doing really well in school (the mud).”

Mistakenly, as described in K is for…., I thought I had ordered a home for the worms. I had not. So the worms were put in a big saucepan to live until I could work out what to do. “Worms,” I was told in my worm blurb, “do not like sunlight and will automatically burrow down into the mud.”

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Brilliant, I thought, I don’t need to worry about them. They will just burrow down.

Then the evening drew in and the natural light faded. And this is when the other part of the worm blurb, which I had not read, became relevant. “Worms,” this section read, “are naturally inquisitive and like to explore.”

Ah…

This is a problem….

After an evening out seeing friends, I got in quite late. It was probably after midnight.

Let me check my babies are ok, I thought to myself, smiling happily at my new status as full time mother. I opened the door to the little back porch type area where I had left them.

They.

Were.

EVERYWHERE.

And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. I switched on the main kitchen light and saw them crawling all over the kitchen floor! A good portion had made off in the opposite direction for the outside world but in their rush to get out had, stupidly, all mashed into a little hole at once and become stuck. I couldn’t get a hold on any of them and they couldn’t move (they are still there as it is impossible to get into).

Infuriated, I gave them a real telling off whilst gathering them up.

“You were supposed to burrow, you idiots, not climb out!” I raged, stomping around in the garden with a torch, picking them up off the path before they wriggled away into the cracks between the paving stones.

I think I lost quite a lot of my children that evening.

So I put all the ones back that I could find and put foil over the top of the saucepan to stop them escaping.

When I woke up in the morning to go to work, at about 6.20am, I went downstairs, rubbing my weary eyes and going to the kettle to make tea. And of course there were worms everywhere! Of course there were. I wouldn’t expect anything less. Impatient little things. I was ordering a home for them that day. But they just had to go running off, didn’t they?!

So there I was, at 6.20am, pre-morning tea, picking worms up from off my kitchen floor. I opened the little door and looked at what had happened. They had simply been too excited to stay still and had pushed little grooves in the foil to squirm out from underneath it.

“Right! That’s it! I’m getting the clingfilm out!” I told them sternly. And sure enough, over went the clingfilm. “You can’t escape this.”

In conversation with Danda later that day, he said, “You can’t put clingfilm over! They won’t be able to breathe.”

Ah. Right. Ok. Sure. I see.

Panic! The shift couldn’t end soon enough that day and I ran home, terrified there’d be a massacre and I’d be the one with blood on my hands. There was condensation on the clingfilm and the worms were barely moving! I tore it off and poked a few.

“Come on come on come on! Please be fine. Please be fine. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry. I forgot you needed to breathe, little worms! Come on, move!” After some poking and gently squeezing to resuscitate them, they started moving again, rather sluggishly. I brought them into the kitchen under the light and waited to see if they would burrow.

They did, thank god!

I then moved them into a massive bin and clingfilmed the top but poked loads of holes into it and left them in the kitchen overnight with the light on, as that was the only guaranteed way to keep them in the soil and not trying to make a run for it.

Their home arrived the next day so they were immediately transferred into it and have been there ever since. Apparently it takes a few months for my first lot of compost to be ready and mine’s not even been going a month so I’ve got a little wait before those naughty schoolchildren can prove to me that they’ve grown up to be contributing members of society.

They just chill down by the shed at the moment. I give them egg shells and vegetable peelings and they hide so I’ve not seen hardly any of them and am unsure if they’ve all died actually. But I faithfully put my vegetable peelings down there and hope for the best

🙂

P.S. I picked up the mop a few days ago to do the kitchen floor and three worms fell out!

Vegetable chat

Pretext to this conversation = I have been foraging once. Once.

This is a conversation I had with some of the other volunteers yesterday at Ham House.

Volunteer 1: “Oo, this asparagus is huge! Is it from the kitchen garden?”

Me: “Yeh. The gardeners just brought it over. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

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Volunteer 2: “I don’t know how they’ve got it so soon either. The warm weather hasn’t been here long.”

Volunteer 1: “The cabbage in my vegetable patch has only just put in an appearance and my cherry tomatoes are yet to arrive.”

Volunteer 2: “Mine have only just started to grow and are still really small.”

Me: “I know what you mean. The long cold winter has meant hardly anything has grown.”

Volunteer 2: “Yeh.”

Me: “I mean, the best thing I’ve found has been nettles, because the winter doesn’t affect them.”

Volunteer 1: “Nettles?”

Me: *all knowledgeable* “Yehhhhh. They’re great. I make nettle soup with them or steam them and have them as a vegetable with my dinner.”

Volunteer 2: “That sounds interesting.”

Me: *super casual* “O, I’m always doing it. It’s so easy. I just come to the river with a glove and a tupperware box. I love it. I forage loads of stuff. Some people call me Madame Forager, actually.”

Volunteer 1: “O, right. What other stuff do you get?”

Me: *panic* “O, there’s loads of things about. Loads. Edible flowers… Sorrel…. Nettles….”

Volunteer 2: “Wow, that’s brilliant.”

Me: “It is, yeh. I love it.”

Musings on a fabulous day

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of the challenges from my save-the-world-in-a-day type books. Don’t worry, it’s not because I don’t want to be a world-saver anymore. It’s simply because some of the things I’ve been asked to do have spun off in different directions and I’ve gone with the flow and followed that new path, rather than leave things after a day and start a new thing.

I’ve started volunteering at a stately home on the river, which has been the best thing to come from following the book so far.

As Going Green by Simon Gear encourages people to avoid the air miles involved with supermarket shopping and grow your own etc, I decided to give this a proper go. So I got some thyme and some chives and decided I would start small and try turning my back garden into a mini farm. The continued cold weather hasn’t been a huge help, neither has the difficulty with finding a space in the garden where I can make a proper vegetable patch that will actually get the light. The best place for the patch only has sunlight for a short time and the other side, which gets more sunlight has tons of lavender plants, which we grow specifically to help the bees, as their numbers are declining.

I gave it some thought and remembered that when I was last at the farm, while I made sorrel soup, someone else was making nettle soup and Adrian, the chef, was talking about picking them and using them instead of the spinach as the cold weather meant the spinach hadn’t grown yet.

And so, thought I, I shall go and find some nettles! That is what they would do on the farm so that is what I shall do here. I will become… Madame Forager!

Off I went, with a bag and good intentions, to the river to pick nettles. I wrapped a tissue over my fingers to prevent stings, I looked for plants about two hands height and picked just the very top leaves, the younger, greener looking ones. And I felt like a real explorer, surviving off the plants in the jungle until I managed to find other human beings (in actual fact, I was surrounded by them, they were passing every minute and looking at me strangely, as I foraged away).

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At some point, a man asked me what I was doing and we had a long chat about food and how to eat nettles like spinach. He was walking to Ham House so we walked and talked and I ended up going in and looking around the kitchen garden there and admiring their lovely huge asparagus.

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With my nettles in a bag and a large amount of garden envy, I then headed to Twickenham to meet a friend for early dinner/late lunch. We didn’t really ever work out which is was so we plunged straight into panini time at an Italian deli before walking into Richmond to go to a little tea room near Richmond Green for a spot of cake and tea.

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While walking to the bus stop afterwards, I saw a neighbour on her way home so went over for a cup of tea and some nettle-related chat. Equipped with her advice about whether to wash my nettles and whether to keep the stalks on, I ventured back home to my kitchen to cook my first ever meal with foraged ingredients!

I chopped a potato or two, a leek, an onion and a few leftover oyster mushrooms and fried them in a little bit of butter. Then I added stock and cooked til the potatoes were soft. Then I destalked my nettles and put them in, cooking for another three minutes until the nettles had wilted a little. Then I took my whizzer to it and whizzed like my life depended on it.

And it was lovely. It stayed a really vivid bottle green and had a light fresh taste that only needed a hint of seasoning to bring it alive.

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The light isn’t too good on this picture so you can tell about the colour.

And that, my friends, was my first foraging experience. All in all, a success, I’d say. Anyone got any foraging experience and can advise me what to pick next? At the moment, I’m sticking to nettles because I don’t know sorrel well enough to identify it and I’m scared of the whole deadly mushrooms scene.

So I guess now you can just call me MADAME FORAGER! … if you want.

A is for…

Ok, it’s April and, as far as I remember from last year, it’s AtoZ time! I haven’t seen anything about it this year but I reckon it’s still running and it was fun last year. So I’m going to go for it. You post one letter every day, missing out Sundays and finishing on the last day of the month. So here goes…

A is for….. Abel & Cole!

There has been a revolution in my world. Following my instructions few days ago, to try and reduce my air miles while shopping, I made sure that nothing I bought had been flown in from other countries. It was difficult because the cold weather prevents very much from being grown in England at the moment but I did it and it was fun because I had to be more imaginative with the ingredients I did find.

Then I spotted an Abel & Cole catalogue someone had given me because they order with them. Abel & Cole are a company who source local products and deliver to your door. They started in South London with fruit and vegetable deliveries and now do a whole load of stuff. You can get your meat, fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, food cupboard stuff, etc from them, plus things that aren’t food, like bathroom and kitchen products, toilet roll, cleaning products…. The list is endless. Most of the products are organic with but some of the meat, you have the choice of organic or non-organic. Another fabulous thing about them is that when you’re ordering online, you can check the product information to see what country it is from. And even the things which aren’t from the UK, aren’t flown in so you know you’re shopping has zero air miles. Phew!

So I took the plunge and ordered from them. When ordering meat, I included venison because I know there is a deer cull at the moment and I don’t like the idea that perfectly good food is being wasted.

My vegetables came covered in dirt which, sucker that I am for anything farmer-ish, pleased me immensely.
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All my things were delivered in cardboard boxes that I was told to fold down and leave out when my next delivery is due. All the packaging was labelled to be recycled or given back to Abel & Cole for reuse.

And suddenly, I found myself falling in love with Abel & Cole. I just love them. I can’t help myself. I tried not to fall for all the cutesy notes about recycling and the stories about where my food had come from or the note telling me that I could log on to my online account and find recipes for the things I had bought. But I fell. And I have fallen hard.

Then a whole new world opened up to me…. The world of NOT SUPERMARKET SHOPPING anymore! A thing I’d never considered. And I am very excited! Today, in fact, I am going to a farm about half an hour away to go to their farm shop to see me over until my next Abel & Cole delivery.

I love the idea of seeing where my food is coming from or having a more direct link to the people who produce it. I have logged onto the websites of the farms and fishermen who provide the things I am getting through Abel & Cole and it’s really refreshing, knowing about who is feeding me!

So far, I haven’t been to a big impersonal supermarket for five days. Let’s see how long I can go for.

Hobbies I will take up in my old age

Got a slight emergency this morning as Danda’s got a gammy elbow so we’re off to A&E to see what’s wrong with it. So I shall just give you a little post today about something I’ve been debating over the past few days – the hobbies I will take up in my old age.

Music
I’ve always played piano. It’s in the family. My mother and grandmother both played. I got lessons from my grandmother for a while. And then from the music teacher in school. I can still play everything I learned from memory. I don’t have a piano now and there’s no space even if I did want one. But when I am older and can give myself over to things of fun and jollity, I will forgo my dining table, my sofa and my television so that I can fit in a grand piano and I shall become the most talented 90 year old piano player the world has ever seen. Just you wait. Perhaps I’ll play piano at the assemblies in the local primary school and they’ll all call me Grandma Laura.

Gardening
Not really proper gardening actually, as that requires skill and dedication and I shall probably forget what to water and when. Something quite straight forward. Maybe a vegetable patch. Carrots and onions and broad beans and the like. I think tomatoes aren’t too hard but they take over a bit. Anyway, I mainly want things I can either eat, or sit and look at on long summer days.

A regular contributor to Chat magazine
This speaks for itself. I will dedicate myself wholeheartedly to falling in love with inanimate objects, contracting odd diseases and photographing myself doing nothing at all and sending it in.

Knitting
When I lived in Namibia, the sun would set at 5pm and we had no TV and we had read all the books in the apartment and had run out of evening activities. Lucy had learned to knit years ago so we got some wool and knitting needles and took up knitting. In quite a serious way. In fact, we had so many scarves by the time we left that we had to give them to people as presents because we couldn’t fit them in our bags to take home! I loved getting into The Zone and just knitting the hours away. When I am older and work less or not at all, I would like to take it up again as I will have more time to learn patterns as all I can make is a scarf. I might even make some fingerless gloves!

Wordsearching
I used to be a master wordsearcher when I was younger. I never went anywhere without a wordsearch book on me. I could take it up again in my old age and maybe attend the Wordsearching World Championships?! I’d definitely win if I did so maybe I shouldn’t go, you know, give the others a chance.

On the other hand, I might just jack it all in and run off to India, a la The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel….