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!