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!

seasoning-works_grilled-tomatoes

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

 

seasoning-works_baked-beans

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.

seasoning-works_scrambled-eggs

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!

 

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.

DSCN2421 (1)

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.

DSCN2426

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.

 

Spice and Spring

I find early spring an exciting time of transition.

crocus

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.

 

Taste and Flavour tips for fabulous festive cooking.

Creating delicious Christmas dishes can be fun and exciting – the opportunity to be creative and extravagant perhaps, and to cook with some well-earned indulgence.

Dinebox_Gourmet_Xmas_Seasoning_mulled_wine3For some it can also be a little daunting and confusing when you have to bear the weight of tradition, advertising, family history, expectation and not least a never-ending, well marketed supply of cook books and magazines that promise the ‘best Christmas Dinner / cake / buffet… Ever’.

So here’s my tips to help you navigate your own path to a successful, creative and relaxed Christmas Culinary Experience making delicious dishes from scratch.

  1. Embrace traditional, festive flavours.

Spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, caraway and cloves are the essence of traditional Christmas seasoning.

These lovely, warm spices have been Christmas favourites for a long time, and for good reason. They add warmth, sweetness, aroma and ‘zing’ to winter fruit and vegetables. They complement sweet and sour dried fruits like raisins and currants, as well as fresh seasonal fruits like pears and apples.

Use nutmeg and cloves in small quantities – they’re very pungent so you only need a little. Cinnamon and ginger are milder so you can use more of these, and add ground coriander to your mixed spice mix – it’s a lovely, mild, warm and sweet spice that blends beautifully with the others.

2. Refresh your spice cupboard

If your spice cupboard is a little out of date, then this the perfect time to refresh it.

Christmas cooking is all about big flavour, and you won’t get that from a jar of old nutmeg that’s been in your cupboard since 1985…

Buy fresh supplies in small amounts from a good source and you’ll be delighted with the flavours and aromas from your festive cooking.

Good cooking starts with good ingredients – whether that means vegetables, meat, herbs or spices.

3. Balance sweet with salty.

Dinebox_Gourmet_Xmas_Seasoning_Cookies2

There is always an unlimited supply of cakes, mince pies, chocolate and biscuits at Christmas, but the very best baking considers our salty palate as well as our need for sweet.

Biscuits, pastry and cakes benefit from a salty note to provide a bit of depth and balance to the sweetness. So if you’re making mince pies, make sure you’ve added a pinch of salt to the pastry; if you’re making Christmas shortbread, add some rosemary and salt and pepper to the dough. The same applies for cookies, brownies and fruit pies.

Use a ‘finishing’ salt like Fleur de Sel or Maldon Sea Salt if you’re sprinkling salt on the top of dishes – its looks lovely and provides a wonderful salty crunch.

4. Add a sweet note to a savoury plate.

As the previous tip illustrates, providing great dishes is all about balancing tastes and flavours and accepting that your guests all have different palates.

This goes for a savoury course or meal too.

Here’s a couple of examples:

A cheese board is very salty, with some sour notes if blue cheese is included, and so it’s no wonder that a sweet chutney or fruit such as grapes goes so well as it complements the plate.

A traditional roast turkey dinner is dominated by very savoury / umami elements in the meat and the gravy, with salty potatoes, sweet vegetables like carrots and parsnips and bitter vegetables like brussels sprouts and cabbage. Add a cranberry jelly, and you have a meal that will satisfy the whole palate.

Whether it’s a chutney, plum sauce or cranberry jelly, including a sweet element to your savoury dishes means that your cooking will satisfy everyone’s tastes.

5. Build on your basic cooking knowledge and enhance it, don’t think you need to start from scratch.

Dinebox_Gourmet_Xmas_Seasoning_Roast

Not everyone has the confidence or experience to try out totally new dishes for a dinner party. So unless you like the adrenaline rush of preparing lobster for the first time for your discerning guests, or you’ve been practising a fiddly dish for the previous month, cook dishes that you know work well, and make them special with herb garnishes, sprinkling of spices, pretty presentation and well-balanced combinations of dishes.

And I’m speaking from experience of sobbing over a should-have-been salmon en croute – it looked so lovely in the cookbook…..

  1. Get the most out of fresh herbs.

hyssop

Have a good variety of fresh herbs (keep fresh in a plastic tub in the fridge if you’re not picking them from the garden).

If you’re using woody herbs like rosemary, sage, bay and thyme, you can add these at the beginning of cooking for maximum flavour. They’re robust and their flavour will develop during cooking.

With delicate herbs like parsley, coriander, basil and mint, add towards the end of cooking to ensure they pack a flavourful punch. If you add them at the beginning, their delicate flavour and textures will diminish into the background.

Fresh herbs are fabulous for adding extra flavour. If you’re using a ready – mixed packet of sage and onion stuffing, for example, add some chopped fresh sage too. Make sausage rolls extra special by adding sage / thyme/ oregano and pepper to the sausage mixture (and sprinkle caraway seeds on the pastry before you bake them).

sausage rolls

Herbs can also be used to create gourmet sweet dishes too. Add some chopped rosemary into shortbread mixture; a bay leaf into your mulled wine or some basil or lemon balm in a fruit salad.

  1. And finally…

If you find yourself with surplus bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon sticks and star anise – scatter them around the dining table and use them as very pretty, natural and aromatic decoration!

So how does seasoning work?

 “Wow that tastes amazing!”

It’s great when a dish really hits our individual palette.

We all have our favourite tastes – I particularly love really savoury, salty, herby flavours such as sage and rosemary and hot, peppery flavours of watercress, chili and crushed black peppercorns.

CHILLIES_EJ

Think about your ‘comfort dish’ and it may give you an inkling of your own palette.

For me, a really peppery cheese and potato pie always hits the spot!

What about you? Maybe you love the comfort of sweet chocolate or apple pie; the saltiness of fish and chips; the umami of a steak.

Seasoning, herbs and spices play a crucial role in creating lovely food that appeals to our tastes.

Everyone’s different – I’ve had people tell me how they really can’t stand the smell of cinnamon and others who add cinnamon to everything. I’m not too fond of really sweet spices like vanilla, and that probably sounds crazy to some.

Why we like some flavours and not others is a combination of our brain’s hard-wiring and our own experience.  Take coriander leaf for example. Some love its aroma and taste, whilst others think it tastes like soap. The reason for this is that some people don’t taste the pleasant aromatic elements but are super-sensitive to the unpleasant ones.

Other preferences develop through experience – positive and negative. We all have memories of foods we hated as children, and those memories can be incredibly strong so we immediately associate a particular flavour with an experience, before we allow ourselves to taste it afresh.

There are some flavour combinations that have a natural affinity, for example lemon and ginger or garlic and chili and others that may have just minority appeal – basil with cinnamon for example, would be fighting it out I think!

My Seasoning Works blog draws on all of these things and more. It’s great fun to try out new tastes, and learn what works well together. You can transform the blandest of ingredients with a sprinkling of herbs from your windowsill,  and enhance rather than overpower the most delicate of dishes with a bit of knowledge and experimentation.

So please join me on my journey to learn how Seasoning Works.

IMG_2366

10 common herbs and spices that are great for your health.

As well as providing wonderful flavours and tastes in cooking, herbs and spices have been used in medicine for a very long time. Indeed, medicine began with us realising the healing properties of plants after all!
ROSEMARY_EJJUNIPER_EJTURMERIC_EJ

So here’s my ‘Top 10’ commonly used herbs and spices that are renowned for their health benefits.

Some are easy to grow, others easy to buy and all are easy to throw in to your cooking.

Turmeric – aids digestion, relieves joint pain and skin conditions
Cinnamon – lowers blood sugar, antibacterial, antioxident
Ginger – helps indigestion, nausea, coughs and colds
Cayenne – for pain relief, joint pain, circulation problems
Rosemary – antiseptic, aids memory, antioxident
Sage – sore throat, mental function, indigestion
Thyme – antibacterial, relieves coughs, antiviral
Fennel – relaxes muscle cramps, anti-inflammatory, digestive aid
Juniper – antiseptic, diuretic, bronchitis
Parsley – reduces urinary inflammation, circulation problems, kidney problems

If you’re interested in finding out more about the health benefits of herbs and spices, I recommend the following book, although of course there’s lots of information out there:

Guide to Medicinal Herbs (National Geographic) Johnson et al.