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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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.

Celebrate the Taste for Sour.

What’s your favourite sour ingredient? a sharp cooking apple perhaps; or maybe some strong blue cheese or a big dollop of natural yoghurt; a hunk of homemade sourdough bread or some sauerkraut perhaps?

This post celebrates our passion for all things sour.

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As one of our five essential tastes, sour ingredients add real depth and brightness to your cooking and we eat and enjoy these sour notes all the time.  Where would we be without sweet and sour chicken; a Bramley apple pie or a good plate of strong, mature cheese and biscuits?

Essentially, there are two types of sour ingredients used in cooking:

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tomatillos ripening at my allotment

Firstly, fruits that are naturally sour,  such as cooking apples, lemon, tomatillos and tamarind. They provide essential sharpness to dishes around the world, balancing the sweetness or saltiness of a dish. For example, tamarind is a favourite ingredient in Asian cooking; tomatillos add depth to Mexican cuisine and lemon adds an essential tang to dishes everywhere.

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homemade sourdough bacon sandwiches

And secondly there’s cultured sourness such as blue cheese, sauerkraut and yoghurt. Some of the most revered foods are sour ones –
roquefort cheese;Korean Kimchi; mature cheddar, artisan sourdough bread…

These foods are created by careful fermentation, using natural, good bacteria to create delicious tastes, using salt, natural yeasts and patience.

Here’s a few of my sourdough favourites:

Sourdough Bread

Making bread with a natural, sourdough ‘leaven’ is great for three reasons in my view. Firstly, you get a really good depth of flavour to the loaf – more interesting than a traditional, yeasted loaf. Secondly, it’s a very healthy way to eat bread, because the longer process of creating the starter and leaving the dough to prove means the grain breaks down more so is more digestible, and thirdly, there’s just something amazing about creating a loaf from just flour and water.

There’s a whole bunch of cookbooks to get you into making sourdough – we use ones by Andrew Whitely and Chad Robertson.

Red cabbage sauerkraut

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homemade red cabbage sauerkraut

Having begun as a way of making the most of the harvest before the advent of technology and global food production, fermented foods are once again in vogue. There’s been a huge rise in the availability of sourdough bread, and dishes like kimchi (Korea’s national dish of fermented radish or other vegetables) have also seen a big increase in popularity.

I’m a big fan of the German favourite – sauerkraut, especially homemade sauerkraut made with just red cabbage and salt.

To make a jar of sauerkraut, finely slice and chop some red or white cabbage and add 2 teaspoons salt per 500g of cabbage. Squeeze and lightly pound the cabbage in a big bowl, until you can squeeze juice out of a handful of cabbage.

Pack into jars, press down and then weigh down to ensure the cabbage is covered in juice. Seal and leave for a couple of weeks to ferment.  Once you start using it, keep it in the fridge.  It’s great with eggs, cheese and bacon.

Fermented foods are great because they provide the kick of sour flavour, and the added benefit of high nutritional value (as long as you stick to home made or ‘real’ foods and not the ‘pretend’ foods you find in supermarkets – see my footnote).

Salsa Verde

I’ve started growing my own tomatillos as they’re not yet a common fruit to buy. They’re really easy to grow though and the plants are very prolific. Just a few tomatillo plants will give you at least a couple of kilos of fruit.

The fruits are a mix of sweet and sour. You can use them raw in a salad to add a bit of sour crunch, but usually they’re cooked (roasted or simmered), and made into the classic Salsa Verde. Here’s a recipe from one of my favourite cookery books “Mexican Cooking made easy” – a great book we bought on a trip to Arizona. All the recipes are written in both English and Spanish so it has a real authenticity to it!

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My favourite Mexican cook book

Salsa Verde:

450g fresh tomatillos, 2 green chilies, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 TBsp chopped coriander, 1 Tbsp oil, 1/4 tsp salt.

  1. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse.
  2. Place them in a pan with 1/2 cup of water. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes, (they’ll cook down very quickly). Remove the tomatillos, but retain the liquid.
  3. Remove the stems, then put all the ingredients, including the retained liquid, into a blender and blend until smooth.
  4. Use the sauce over chicken enchiladas, or as an alternative to a tomato salsa.

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So celebrate your taste for sour and let me know if you have favourite sour ingredients.

* Footnote: A supermarket sourdough nearly always contains added yeast (as well as other ingredients). The whole point about sourdough is that it’s made with just flour and water, using time for the flour and water to develop into a natural ‘leaven’. Adding a bit of dried sourdough powder to an ordinary loaf does not make it a sourdough loaf – see http://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/ for lots more information. And another one to watch is supermarket ‘mature’ cheddar. It’s often made with additives that give the flavour of a mature cheddar without the requirement for the cheese to actually mature at all, so choose carefully. A bit of research into genuine, high quality cheddar is all you need to do to avoid the processed and poor quality supermarket imposters.

A Little Bit Chili

This post is about preparing chipotle chilies – it gets to the point eventually

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My post today was intended to be about how to prepare dried Mexican chipotle chilies, but chilies are such a fascinating subject, the post has become a bit more than a set of instructions. So it’ll be just the first of a series of chili posts.

Chilies, of any kind, are definitely on my desert island seasoning list. DSCN1124_2DSCN1127_2

I love the way a carefully added bit of chili can lift and excite a dish, and I find the world of chili growing and cooking an endlessly fascinating one. There are so many varieties, heat levels and ways of preparing chili, it’s not surprising that the world of chili has become something of an art form.

If you want to learn about the art of cooking with chilies – Mexican cooking is the perfect place to begin.

Here’s just a few examples of the variety of Mexican dried chilies –  clockwise from top left – Mulato; chipotle (morito); chipotle (meco); de arbol

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Mexican is one of my all-time favourite styles of cooking. It’s earthy, flavourful and uses lots of my favourite ingredients – beans, peppers, tomatoes, cheese – and chilies of course.

And my passion for Mexican cooking has a long history. chili-0344-wr It began in the 1970s, with a visit to a little bistro in my home town in the south of England. The wooden tables were lit by tall red candles in raffia-decorated chianti bottles, layered with wax from previous evenings. From the menu I chose the very exotic sounding Chili-Con-Carne to go with our fresh bottle of Chianti.  A big bowl of spicy mince and dark red kidney beans was placed before me, accompanied by a crispy-skinned baked potato. At a time, and place, when seasoning meant gravy, and green peppers (let alone kidney beans) were unheard of, this was a culinary new experience.   The Chili-Con-Carne was truly delicious –  a wonderful mix of rich, savoury beef and earthy beans in a dark, spicy, chili sauce that had my nose running.

Fast forward a few (!) years and cooking with chilies has taken on a whole new life. You can now buy a huge variety of different types of chili in the UK,  and as well as chilies of different heat values, you can also enjoy chilies with great depth of flavour – cue the Mexican chilies.

And one of the most popular Mexican chilies is the chipotle.DSCN1144_2 The chipotle is a smoked -dried Jalapeno chili. It’s a medium-heat chili, with a unique smoked, tobacco flavour. Jalapenos are dried in a wood-smoke chamber over a few days to create the unique chipotle. These flavour-rich chilies are used in Mexican stews, sauces and salsas. If you’re looking for rich, smokey flavour to add to a bit of heat, then the chipotle is worth seeking out.

Which brings me back to the original idea for my post – how to prepare a dried chipotle chili:

A dried chipotle chili looks a bit – well – dry. It’s hard to imagine its flavour from its somewhat wrinkled, papery exterior. It looks and smells more like an expensive empty cigar.  But just soak the dried chipotle in hot (just boiled) water for 25 minutes and it rehydrates to enable you to chop it and add it to your dish.

Once it’s softened with the water, chop it finely, then add to your chosen dish – use in slow-cooked dishes like beef and pork chilies, which allow the smokey flavours to develop and the chipotle to soften.

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Chipotle chilies are a natural choice for bbq cooking too – add a little chopped chipotle to your marinating chicken for extra smokey flavour and heat.

I’ll be revisiting the world of chili over the next few months – we’ve got chili plants just beginning to grow on the windowsill, and lots of ideas for chili sauces and dishes to experiment with.

If you love chilies, whether it’s growing, cooking or eating them – please share your thoughts!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

Exploring salt making in the French Marais

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The salt pans near Bouin. 

Fleur de Sel is widely regarded as amongst the best salt in the world.

It’s a sea salt harvested in the ‘Marais’ – an area by the coast of the Vendee, in the Loire region of France.

I’ve just returned from a trip to the Marais, to discover more about this valuable ingredient, and what makes it so special.

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Some of the salt pans, like this one that I’m stood in front of, have intricate patterns that reflect the names of the salt producers.

 

As you first drive the long, straight roads through this flat landscape punctuated with the occasional house, tree, gate or wooden post sticking out from the ground, you can be forgiven for thinking that ‘there’s not much here’.

But if you drive slowly, or better still stop, and look out across the landscape, you start to see it is a friendly wilderness – teaming with birds and water-loving animals who have the perfect, undisturbed playground of marshland to enjoy and thrive.

With the privilege of a guided tour by friends living in this extraordinary place, I’ve begun to discover the richness and diversity of life going on here.

The area is home to a small number of oyster and mussel fishermen, who continue a long tradition of families farming this abundant coastline.

It also has a handful of salt producers (Palaudiers) who continue the tradition of harvesting sea salt by hand, with a little help from the wind, sun and sea.

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A large salt pan near Bouin

Natural sea salt harvesting takes effort, skill, knowledge and patience.

Precisely shaped pools are hand-cut from the flat marshland, creating a pattern of shallow ‘pans’ , separated by narrow earth walkways (vettes), that are then filled and drained in sequence, allowing the salt to collect above the water.

The salt is then raked by hand onto the vette, where wider circles known as ‘ladures’ have been made to allow the salt to dry out. The salt is then just bagged up.

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The ‘ladure’ circles where the salt is collected. All these pans are cut by hand. The incredible orange colour is caused by the build up of algae before the salinity of water becomes too great.

And that’s about it – no heavy machinery, no technology, no factory, no big business, no marketing strategy, no secrecy. Just a generation of specialist knowledge and a commitment to continuing a local industry that makes great use of its environment without harming it.

Using Fleur de Sel in cooking.

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fleur de sel

Because such minimal processing is involved in the harvesting of Fleur de Sel, the salt retains all the micro-nutrients from the sea and nothing is added to it, which is what makes it such a valuable seasoning ingredient.

The salt has a naturally coarse texture, so it works particularly well as a ‘finishing’ salt – sprinkled over home made breads or a roasting chicken for that lovely salty crunch.

But don’t limit your use to the occasional sprinkle. Salt is one of our fundamental seasoning ingredients, so if you use a wonderful, natural salt like Fleur de Sel, your cooking already has a nutritional and natural head start.

I’ll be posting up a future article with some different ideas for cooking with salt using Fleur de Sel.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your salty ideas..

Tamarind – the sour star

tamarind pods2Great seasoning is all about satisfying our taste senses.

One of our 5 main tastes is sour, and usually we offset this ‘pure’ taste with sweet to create great tasting dishes.

As well as classic British dishes like apple pie (made with tart Granny Smiths), Chinese sweet and sour sauce and Indian chutneys are famed for their sophisticated blend of sweet and sour.

Fruits like lemon and lime are classic examples of a pure sour flavour, but tamarind blends sour with a hint of sweet. It’s a brilliant natural seasoning ingredient.

The tamarind tree (native to Africa and India) produces dark bean-shaped pods that yield a sticky, sour/sweet fruit. It looks a little like a date but is much more sour.

You can buy tamarind in a few different forms – as a ready-made paste in a jar (sold in most supermarkets); as a compressed block (from good wholefood shops), or whole pods (from Asian supermarkets).

If you’re using a compressed block, tear off a segment, pour a little hot water over it and leave to soak for about 20 minutes, mixing the pulp to ensure that the water has absorbed the citrussy flavours.

tamarind pasteYou can then either just use the liquid, in the same way you would lemon juice, or use the pulp, removing any hard threads or seeds. A little goes a long way.

As well as curries, Tom Yum soup and chutney, tamarind works really well with ginger – try these flavourful biscuits that mix tamarind, ginger and garam masala!

Ginger and Tamarind biscuits

tamarind biscuites

 

125g butter

1 large egg

225g sugar

35g tamarind concentrate (or tamarind block soaked in a little water and mashed)

2 tsp garam masala

3 tsp ground ginger

200g chopped glace ginger

250g plain flour

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Mix together the butter, sugar, tamarind and egg till creamy.

Add all the rest of the ingredients.

Make into balls, place a few cm apart on a greased baking tray, then cook at 170oC for 15 mins.

 

And if you’ve any favourite tamarind recipes please let me know!