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!

 

Prawn Cocktail – Umber style

 

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It’s easy to understand why prawn cocktail has such enduring popularity – the combination of salty, umami prawns in a sweet mayonnaise with the crunch of a good English lettuce and the tang of lemon hits all our taste buttons.

I’ve brought the prawn cocktail bang up to date with a very simple and delicious Marie Rose sauce using Seasoning Works Umber Sauce, and adding a pop of peppery nasturtium seeds.

Here’s the recipe:

Umber Prawn Cocktail

Serves 2

150g cooked prawns (some with tails)

an inch of cucumber, deseeded and diced

a handful of nasturtium seeds, sliced.

1 red gem lettuce

twist of black pepper

2 teaspoons of lemon juice

For the sauce:

3 dessert spoons of mayonnaise

2 teaspoons of Umber sauce

To garnish:

some chopped chives

smoked paprika

whole prawns

To make:

1.Mix the mayonnaise and umber sauce together. Add the prawns, leaving a few for garnish.

Wash the lettuce and line your chosen serving dish or dishes with the prettiest leaves.

Chop a handful of of the crunchiest lettuce stems and mix with the cucumber, lemon juice, pepper and nasturtium seeds if you have them.

Spoon the crunchy salad over the lettuce leaves.

Spoon the prawns in the sauce over the salad.

Garnish with some chopped chives, smoked paprika, a couple of prawns, a couple of nasturtium flowers and a slice of lemon.

Ethically Sauced

Today I’m very excited to launch my hand made Seasoning Works sauces – Rhubarb Ketchup and Umber Sauce. It’s great to have a big batch of  bottles labelled up and ready for our first Seasoning Works event this Sunday at Stirley Community Farm near Huddersfield.

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I’ve been busy perfecting the recipes for the sauces over the last few months. We’ve sourced the ingredients from local suppliers and wholefood companies as I wanted to create sauces that can boast high principles as well as great taste! Yorkshire has some brilliant co-operatives like SUMA for ethical wholefood ingredients,  and of course its the home of rhubarb, so a rhubarb ketchup is a real Yorkshire sauce.

The Rhubarb Ketchup is a fruity mix of fresh rhubarb and red onion, with a careful blend of spices. It has a fruity tang and is a great, natural alternative to tomato ketchup, especially if you like something a little less sugary than a lot of the commercial ketchups.

The Umber Sauce is a real brown sauce – made with a lovely mix of ingredients including apples, dates, tamarind, tomato puree, fresh garlic, natural molasses and lots of spices. We’ve been enjoying it with a cooked breakfast and it tastes great with cheese on toast. Because it’s made with fresh and natural ingredients, it’s also a great cooking sauce – it makes delicious – and really easy – sticky pork ribs – I’ll post up the recipe soon.

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So you’ll find me at the brilliant Stirley Community Farm (a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust initiative) near Huddersfield  this Sunday (4th September) at their annual Food Festival see here for more details http://www.ywt.org.uk/events/2016/09/04/stirley-community-farms-food-festival-2016?instance=0

We’re in the process of adding the sauces to the Seasoning Works website so people can by online as well as locally. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more or order some sauce, please email me at sarah@seasoningworks.co.uk or go to the http://www.seasoningworks.co.uk website for more info.

 

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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Enjoy an Umami Winter

Today the sky never seemed to lighten up. It’s rained pretty much since I got up, and a short trip to the allotment to pick some greens confirmed a temperature drop, a hostile wind and a bit of proper winter weather.

Armed with some dark green kale, some muddy leeks, probably the last of the chard and a fresh chili from the last of our chili plants, I’ve got the making of a lovely savoury winter soup – umami flavours and winter are made for each other.

umami soup

The taste of umami (or savoury) was identified about 100 years ago, by a Japanese chemist Professor Kikunae Ikeda and now it’s generally accepted as one of our key tastes. Ikeda had added kombu (kelp seaweed) to his soup and achieved a wonderful deep, savoury flavour that he went on to analyse.

In Japan, as well as edible seaweed, the soy bean is a favourite umami ingredient – often in its fermented form of miso. (Miso works brilliantly as a natural stock seasoning for soups and stews and is a great alternative to a meat stock).

Meat – especially red meat –  is a classic umami ingredient, but you don’t need meat to enjoy umami….

We might not use a lot of soy or seaweed in European cooking, but we certainly do love tomatoes – another umami-rich ingredient. Tomatoes are used as either the main flavour in dishes like a good roasted tomato soup or sauce, or as a more subtle addition to dishes where a rich, depth of flavour is wanted without being too tomatoey – both are brilliant.

 

 

Spinach, chard and kale

As well as being up there at the top of the nutritional table, dark greens like spinach and kale are also high in umami flavour.

Mushrooms also feature in my list of favourite umami ingredients.

A few days ago I made the classic ‘vegetarian option’ – a spinach and mushroom lasagne. The bubbling, creamy, savoury pasta dish was hearty and absolutely delicious. I guess there was a reason for its popularity, even if it did end up suffering an image problem!

For cheese fans, ‘proper Parmesan’ Parmigiano-Reggiano and real Roquefort are the most umami-rich cheeses you can eat, given their particularly high glutamate content. Both are made from unpasteurised milk (Parmigiano – cows; Roquefort – sheeps). They may be expensive, but a little goes a long way. I’m not a big blue cheese fan but I’m working on it and it’s on my New Year’s list of ingredients to experiment with.

And for fish fans – anchovies, prawns, mackerel and tuna are all strong in umami.

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So if, like me, you woke up this morning a little underwhelmed by the grey skies and rain, and pulled up the duvet till you realised the sky wasn’t about to change – my recommendation is to get in the kitchen and create your favourite umami dish – a good soup keeps the heart warm.