A Well-seasoned Breakfast

Breakfast is a great opportunity to wake up your taste buds with a freshly cooked and naturally delicious meal. Vegetables, herbs and spices can all play a part in a good breakfast – yes, even on a Monday!

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Grilled tomatoes with herb sourdough croutons and Rhubarb Ketchup.

I’ve been making my own natural sauces that go with lots of great breakfast dishes, but there’s plenty of reasons to rustle up a home-made breakfast, with or without sauce!
Here’s my top three reasons for making a freshly-cooked breakfast:

  1. Taste and flavour

A homemade, freshly cooked breakfast allows you to enjoy your personal favourite flavours and ingredients. So why not start the day with a big flavour hit?

Amongst my favourites are tomatoes, fresh herbs, eggs, chili, beans, spinach, cheese, bacon, soudough bread, miso soup, homemade pastries, marmalade, kippers….. (maybe not all in one breakfast though…)

There’s no limit to a flavourful breakfast, yet for the past 40 or so years, a bowl of breakfast cereal has been the UK’s breakfast favourite. You only have to look at the size of the cereal aisle in the supermarket to be reminded how successful the breakfast food industry continues to be.

The reality of the taste and flavour profile of breakfast cereal though, is, of course, just sugar – it masks the bland, processed nature of ready-to-eat breakfast foods and does little else. And every bowl of cereal will taste exactly like the previous one, so you never get any taste and flavour variations like you do if you cook your own breakfast.

Texture is another element of taste that is often overlooked. Naturally cooked foods have wonderful variations in texture – for example, the crunch of toast, the smoothness of butter, the wobblyness of marmalade – all add to a really satisfying meal.

 

2. A creative start to the day

 

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Homemade baked beans with Umber sauce.

Rustling up a fresh breakfast from scratch is the chance for a bit of early-morning creativity .

A bleary-eyed  fridge rummage can lead to a lot of creative breakfast cooking – left-overs; cheese; homemade baked beans; eggs; potatoes…

Trying out other cultures’ breakfast is fun too – I’m liking homemade miso broth for breakfast at the moment amongst other things.

And using herbs and spices is a brilliant creative way to put a different ‘spin’ on scrambled egg or fresh hash browns for example.

3. An early morning nutritional hit.

A freshly cooked breakfast made of natural ingredients is going to be good for you – yes, including a fry up.

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Spicy hash browns with scrambled egg and Umber sauce.

Eggs are one of the most protein-rich foods you can eat, and incredibly versatile. Home-cooked baked beans are full of fibre.

Potatoes are rich in potassium and other minerals. Vegetables and fruits all contain natural vitamins and minerals. Cheese and butter contain vital fats, homemade bread gives you fibre and protein, herbs and spices contain essential minerals, spinach is full of iron, organic bacon is full of protein, good fats and minerals..

On the other hand, a bowl of crunchy nut-style cornflakes is one third sugar – yes really! –  and the product includes four types of sugar (sugar, barley malt, molasses and honey). One ‘breakfast bar’ I just checked out contains no less than 10 different sugars, and each bar is 50% sugar.

Yet the cereal food industry has somehow managed to make us feel bad if we choose a freshly cooked breakfast over a bowl of cereal or a cereal bar. We’ve been conditioned into believing that a naturally cooked fresh breakfast is indulgent, unhealthy, reckless, time-consuming and should only be an occasional treat. Of course the opposite is true.

So here’s to fresh, weird, wonderful and well-seasoned breakfast dishes every day!

 

An Edible Commute

It’s 7.45am. It’s the middle of August and a gorgeous sunny morning. I’m working from home today, and have decided to do a ‘commute’ to enjoy the early morning before settling at my desk.

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My commute takes in woods, water, fields and, most impressively, hedgerows. I’ve been walking this route every now and then for a few weeks, and gradually noticing all the edible plants growing, flowering and fruiting.

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Rowan trees line the narrow road, with their heavy clusters of berries and their handsome leaves and I get absorbed in the idea of a creative morning of making rowan jelly.

Lower down in between the rowans, plump rosehips shine in the early morning light. More ideas for jams!

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I pass by the old chapel. Feverfew flourishes from the cracks at the bottom of the stone wall. If I had a headache or a cold, perhaps a feverfew tea would be just what I needed.

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As I descend to the lower valley, the blackberry bushes have taken over where the nettles left off, and promise much in the weeks to come. Stained fingers and blackberry pie will be on the menu soon…

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Spice and Spring

I find early spring an exciting time of transition.

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crocus at the allotment

 

The clocks have gone forward so all of a sudden there’s daylight into the evening.

The muddy brown hedgerows and roadsides are transformed by daffodil or crocus yellow and snowdrop green and white.

 

 

 

The tantilising warmth of midday sun is punctuated by the final throws of late winter hail and highground snow.

peak district waterfall in March

Peak District waterfall in April

I realise my cooking starts to reflect this change. I’ve loved cooking chunky, umami winter stews and roasts that warm body and mind during the winter. Now I’m drawn to dishes that still give warmth but have a lighter feel.

leeks and parsnipsmadras blend

I bought some locally grown parsnips and dug up some small but very flavourful leeks from the allotment and made a spicy, aromatic soup flavoured with roasted madras spice mix. The flavours of roasted coriander, cumin and mustard add layers of earthy flavours and balance the heat of the chili, pepper and ginger.

chives

 

I blended the soup to give it a smooth, light texture and snipped some chives from the garden as a garnish and a reminder that everything’s beginning to grow.

Here’s the recipe..

 

 

Sarah’s Spicy Spring Parsnip Soup

For 2 servings you’ll need:

1 large or 2 small leeks, 1 big clove garlic, 2 large parsnips, 2 Tbsp oil, 2 tsp Dinebox Madras blend, 1/2 tsp DB Pepper blend, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 – 3/4 ltr stock.

spicy parsnip soup1.Wash the leeks and chop. (I try and use every bit of the leek and only discard the very tips or outer leaves if they’re too tough. There’s so much flavour in the green leaves as long as they are cooked till tender).

2.Peel the parsnips and chop.

3. Peel the garlic and crush.

4. Gently saute the leeks and parsnips in the oil for 10 mins.

5. Add the garlic and Madras blend and saute for a couple of mins.

6.Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil then simmer for about 20mins until the vegetables are soft. (How much stock you add depends on how thick you like your soup. It’s easier to make a thick soup and then add a little more stock, than make a thin soup that you have to overcook to reduce the liquid).

7.Blend then serve with a garnish of chopped chives. A swirl of cream would also add to the creaminess of the texture.

 

Into the Garlic Groove

Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” – Alice May Brock (Alice’s Restaurant).

 

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whole baked garlic, fresh from the oven 29th Jan 2016

It’s the end of January, and at our allotment, the promising, green shoots of garlic are about three inches above the ground.

For a plant that takes up little space, it rewards with an unbeatable mix of dense nutrition and pungent flavour.

Garlic occupies a very unique and wonderful place in the culinary world of taste and flavour.

Rightly regarded as one of the most important edible plants for providing not just its own flavour, but for enhancing the flavour of other ingredients.

It’s essential to a wide range of dishes, from complex Asian curries, to classic French moules marinière.

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my home-grown garlic harvest 2015

Garlic has the added bonus of being incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals. It’s a ‘first class prebiotic” according to Tim Spector, which means it’s very good at promoting healthy gut bacteria.

Garlic is also high in polyphenols – the multiple chemical compounds that have anti-oxident properties, so may be very helpful in combating disease.

I’ve found a couple of 16th Century English recipes, including the wonderful-sounding ‘Eel in Herb Sauce’, (from McEndry’s ‘Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking’), that prove garlic has been used in British cooking for a very long time. But when I was a child growing up in England, I don’t think I ever saw garlic in the shops, and we certainly never cooked with it. A serving of hot, buttery, garlic bread on a rare trip to a restaurant was an exotic treat.  The UK has come a long way from confining garlic to being spread over a loaf of french bread and warmed in the oven.

These are some of my favourite ways of using garlic:

  1. Baked, whole garlic.

When garlic is cooked slowly, its pungency is softened into a sweet, sticky and soft bulb of goodness. Herb and spice guru Ian Hemphill (The Spice and Herb Bible), recommends placing a whole bulb on a barbecue.  You don’t need to confine this delicious method to an outdoor summer party though. We cook whole garlic in the oven, especially easy when the oven’s on for a roast.

Here’s how to cook it:

Take a large bulb of preferably organic, garlic. Don’t peel it. Wrap it in foil and bake it at 190C for about 45 mins, or until soft when you squeeze it lightly.

Unwrap from the foil and slice in half horizontally. Eat with a teaspoon.

You can add variation to this basic baked whole garlic, by slicing the garlic bulb in half before cooking and sprinkling your favouite herb or spice seasoning on the cut slices, then putting back together and roasting as above. Ras el hanout is my favourite spice blend for this.

2. Roast lamb with garlic and rosemary.

These three ingredients combine brilliantly. There’s something abut the sweet, herby aroma of rosemary and the umami of the lamb which is lifted even further with the addition of garlic.

Make some deep slits in the skin of a shoulder or leg of lamb. Poke peeled garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary into the slits and roast as usual.

 

3. Wild garlic pesto

wild garlic carpet

Wild garlic in a Cheshire coppice 2015

In late spring, wild garlic graces Britain’s woodlands with a pungent, white and green carpet. It’s a beautiful sight and making something to eat from this free, prolific and delicious spring plant seems the obvious thing to do.

wild garlic stem

Pick a lwild garlic pestoarge bunch of the leaves and flowers (leaving the bulb in the ground to regrow). Wash and then blend with 50g pine nuts, 50g parmesan, a generous pinch of salt and pepper, a tsp lemon juice and 150ml of olive oil. Serve mixed into spaghetti or, if you’re in gourmet mood, make your own wild garlic pesto ravioli.

 

 

4. Dhal

My partner makes the most delicious split pea dhal. It’s hot and earthy with a real depth of flavour from the garlic, chilies and spices. I thoroughly recommend it!

Here’s the recipe, which makes enough for four:

½ cup split peas, rinsed

3 cups water

1 medium potato, washed and diced

1 tsp natural vegetable stock

¼ tsp turmeric

1 TBsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped finely

2 big cloves garlic

1 chili, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

½ tsp cumin

1. Place the split peas, water, potato, vegetable stock, turmeric and chili in a large pan, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 45 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the mixture is creamy.

2. Whilst the peas are cooking, place the olive oil, onion, garlic and chili in a small pan and cook gently for 5 minutes till the ingredients are soft.

3. Add the tomato and cumin. Cook for a further 5 minutes then add to the cooked split peas and stir well before serving.

 

If you have a favourite way of cooking with garlic, I’d love to hear from you.

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Chive Revelations

chives

Chives are at their best at this time of year – bursting into purple pom pom flowers and looking strong and fresh in the herb bed.

I’ve been broadening my culinary chive horizons, using the flowers as well as the  leaves to very tasty effect. As I’ve discovered, there’s more to chives that a potato salad garnish…

Scrambled Egg with Chive Flowers 

Chive flowers sprinkled scrambled egg with chive flowersover scrambled egg provide a fantastic sweet, oniony crunch that works perfectly with eggs, giving a bolder flavour than just the leaves. And they do look very pretty too….

Northumberland Cheese and Chive Scones

Chives achive & cheese sconelso pair up brilliantly with cheese, and make a delicious savoury scone, their mild flavour providing a subtle balance to a good mature cheddar.               I’ve used this traditional Northumberland recipe for mine, and served them warm with some fresh asparagus soup. A very English late spring lunch.

To make 6 – 8 scones, you’ll need:

225g self-raising flour, 5g baking powder, ½ tsp salt, 55g mature English cheese, grated, 1 TBsp chopped fresh chives , 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme, ½ tsp crushed black pepper, 25g butter, 115ml milk and water (half and half)

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and half the cheese.
  2. Add the butter in small pieces and rub into breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the chopped herbs and pepper and mix well.
  4. Carefully add the milk and water mixture, stirring gently until you have a soft dough.
  5. Roll out and cut into rounds.
  6. Place on a greased baking tray, brush with milk and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.
  7. Bake at 220C for about 15 – 18 mins until golden.

chive scones with asparagus soup

A couple more chive ideas

Chive butter – finely chop chive leaves and / or the flowers and mix thoroughly with a good, salty butter. Great on baked salmon or baked potatoes.

Chive flower vinegar – harvest a big bunch of chive flowers, place in a sterilised jar and cover with a good white wine vinegar. Seal and leave in a dark place for a couple of weeks, then strain into a sterilised bottle and use – great as a flavoured salad dressing vinegar.

And of course there’s always chopped chives (leaves and flowers),  mixed with a good mayonnaise, lots of black pepper and stirred through boiled & cooled new potatoes…

If you have any favourite chive recipes – I’d love to hear about them.

It’s About Thyme

fresh thymethymeEasy to grow, great for a small garden and wonderfully versatile for cooking, thyme is a fantastic herb to grow and eat. It’s a hardy plant, so another brilliant herb for perking up your winter cooking.

As well as an essential ingredient in a classic French bouquet garni, thyme is also one of the key ingredients in the delicious spice blend za’atar.

Like many herbs, it also has historical and renowned health properties, used to help alleviate colds and coughs, and as an antibacterial – so use it generously.

Here’s some of my favourite ways of using thyme.

Carrot, thyme and ginger soup

Thyme for freshness, ginger for zing and carrots for earthy sweetness – perfect soup combination!

carrot & thyme soup

Za’atar

Za’atar is a delicious, Middle Eastern spice blend – and one that’s very easy to make.

za'atar

Great to sprinkle on flatbreads, as a salad dressing seasoning and really good with chicken.

Just mix together:

1 TBsp crushed thyme (dried is usually used, but you could also use fresh)

1 tsp sumac (a fruity, citrussy berry)

1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

1/4 tsp sea salt

Thyme and lemon roast chicken.

Stuff a whole, free-range, medium-sized (1.5kg) chicken with a quartered lemon and half a dozen sprigs of fresh thyme.

Place in a roasting dish, sprinkle some crushed sea salt over the top and pour cold water around the chicken to a depth of an inch. ( I heartily recommend this method of roasting chicken that my partner introduced me to. It gives you a wonderfully, succulent, tender chicken, but with a great crispy skin. Much better than roasting in oil or fat).

Roast at 180C for about 1hour 40mins, or until the chicken is fully cooked.

The juices around the chicken make a great basis for a lemony gravy.

Bouquet Garni

A classic bouquet garni is very simple to make – a couple of sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf, a few chives and a stalk or two of parsley, tied together or placed in a muslin bag.

bouquet garni

Great for seasoning stews and soups, and you can experiment with lots of other ingredients too – try adding a stalk of lemongrass, or a sprig of rosemary for a bold flavour.

And finally, thinking ahead to summer, pick thyme whilst its flowering,  and use the (edible) flowers to flavour and decorate cakes and puddings – glamorous and flavourful.

Celebrate Winter with Rosemary

Today the temperature has been close to freezing. There are almost gale force winds and the sky is a determined dark grey, giving the impression of permanent dusk. Despite this meteorological challenge, the rosemary in our allotment is thriving.

rosemary allot

When most of the herb garden has succumbed to the winter temperatures, rosemary remains wonderfully unfazed by even the harshest weather.

Just brush off the snow, and snip off a few sprigs. Rosemary’s savoury flavour and piney aroma adds a welcome freshness to your winter cooking.

As well as providing the perfect seasoning for traditional, hearty dishes like roast lamb and herby dumplings, rosemary also works brilliantly with Mediterranean dishes like homemade pizza with olives, tomatoes and cheese. Rosemary originates from Southern Europe, so it has a natural affinity as well as a long history of being used in Mediterranean cooking.

But don’t limit rosemary to savoury dishes. Its aromatic mintiness adds depth and balance to sweet dishes too. A little chopped, fresh rosemary and a pinch of sea salt added to shortbread dough makes for a lovely marriage of sweet, salty and savoury.

And if you’re looking for a special dish to complete a dinner party – rosemary infused, dark chocolate truffles are simple to make – see my recipe below.

Alternatively, if you’re into your January detox, poach some fruit with a sprig of rosemary and a generous teaspoon of cinnamon – the flavour combination works really well – especially if you include a mix of sweet and sour fruits like apples, grapes and redcurrants.

rosemary fruit saladAnd for a general pick-me-up, make a simple, rosemary tea (recipe below) – its renowned health properties include being used as an antioxident, memory stimulant and antiseptic. rosemary tea  Dark chocolate Rosemary Truffles To make 20 truffles 160ml double cream 10 sprigs fresh rosemary 200g good quality, dark chocolate 20g butter 45ml icing sugar cocoa powder for coating.

  1. Place the rosemary in a pan with the cream, and heat until boiling. Turn off and leave to infuse for 45 mins. Boil the cream again then strain off the rosemary and leave the cream to cool a little.
  2. Gently melt the chocolate (in a bowl over hot water). Add the butter, then once it’s melted into the chocolate, stir in the sugar and the cream. Mix well then remove from the heat.
  3. Cool the mixture then place in the fridge until firm enough to handle.
  4. Form into small truffle shapes (it doesn’t matter how irregular!), and then roll in cocoa.
  5. Keep in the fridge until you’re ready to serve them and they’ll keep for about 48 hours.

 Rosemary Tea Add 1 sprig of rosemary per cup of boiling water. Leave to brew for 3 – 5 mins. Strain before drinking.