Old Fashioned Soft Fruit

Berries are great! Full of goodness for a healthy life. In recent years we have seen the growth in popularity of berries grown on the slopes of the himalayas and other such exotic fare. Yes I’m talking about the Goji berry and of course they are wonderful but I urge you to think of more humble berries such as the blackberry and the gooseberry. They are packed with vitamins and goodness and thrive well in our changeable UK weather. I managed to forage these earlier in the year and as the winter starts to set in, why not think about planting some homegrown berries. Yes, raspberries etc are great and universally popular but why not think about some of the more old fashioned varieties. I remember as a child going out and blackberry picking with my nan which she would turn into the most wonderful pie. They are a great resource to have in the garden but if you don’t have space, then I urge you to go out and forage for them. It’s great fun for the whole family!

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Making the Best of Autumn Raspberries

As the days draw in and the weather is getting colder, there were some red jewels in the fruit cage to brighten proceedings. The very last of my autumn raspberries were a welcome harvest. Now, I’m not really too sentimental about the garden but there was something quite poignant about taking the last of the summer colour away. So to do these wonderful fruits justice, I decided to make a a baked cheese cake.

We had some strawberries left over from the weekend and combined with the raspberries, the result was magnificent! The whole family approved and yes we were able to enjoy one final taste of summer from the garden…happy days!

Brrrr…itish Summer!!

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The click of leather on willow, the gentle buzz of a bee and the lazy days of summer. Well, that’s how it should be! However, being at the behest of the gulf stream (apparently) Britain is bathed not in sunshine, but in rain! So as I look at what delights to try and prepare for today, I am not yearning for the cool delight of  a summer salad…today is soup weather.

A Smoked Tomato and Chili Soup. 

1 400g tin of plum tomatoes

200g lentils

600ml of chicken stock

1 small red onion

1 garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika

1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar

pinch of chili flakes

salt and pepper to taste

(Olive oil to dress – optional)

Simply add the ingredients to a saucepan and cook for 20 minutes until the lentils are tender. Blitz with a hand blender and serve.

To be honest, this is a very tasty and delicious soup made from chicken stock from the roast and so as much as I am missing the sun; this very healthy, cheap, delicious and quick soup has cheered my soul.

If you are reading this and bathed in sunshine then, do spare a thought for those in Britain who are eating soup!

Lettuce Celebrate!

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I must admit to being rather delighted with my crop of lettuce. To me, the mixture of colours is equally as beautiful any flower bed – with the added bonus that this is edible. It’s my first season growing and to be honest I’m definitely a novice gardener but there is something very rewarding in seeing seed develop to the point that the family can sit down and eat the results. Growing your own is also a fantastic way to cut down on waste. I simply go out and cut the leaves that we need to eat and there are zero air miles involved. To be honest I was fed up with wasting my money on buying lettuce from the supermarkets for it to go limp before I had the chance to eat it all. I’ve got a mixture of lollo rosso, little gem and red and green salad leaves. Sowing at different times of the summer and harvesting as you need will mean that there will always be a plentiful supply of lettuce throughout the summer.  Oh yes and the most important thing is that it’s not covered in chemicals and it tastes fantastic!

Take Stock & Make Stock… A tasty way to cut waste and save money!

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 Sauces, soups & risotto. Just 3 of the wonderful things that you can make from stock. After consuming our chicken yesterday I have decided to get yet more meals from our tasty bird!. Prices are going up and up and so it only seems right that I leverage every last bit of value from my purchases. As the photo above illustrates it cannot be any easier – chicken carcass, carrot, shallots and some thyme. Simply put in a large pan with water and simmer gently for a few hours. In fact the longer the better and for me that will be anything up to 8 hours. By that point the chicken carcass has come apart and that tells me it has had a thoroughly good cooking.

I’ve added 2 carcasses to this batch. One is from the freezer and is what I had left when I jointed a chicken. Double the chicken means a hefty increase in the punch of flavour. 

My plans for the stock are to make a haddock and pea risotto for dinner this evening and then I will use the remainder to make a tomato and chili soup.

I find that stock cubes are expensive and can be full of chemical rubbish with way too much salt; so I prefer to make my own. Honestly, if you’ve never had a go you will not believe how easy it is and how much wonderful natural, chemical free flavour you will get.

If you have any stock leftover or you want to make it last just pour it into ice cube trays. You can use the cubes straight from frozen and add as required.

So come on Take Stock and Make some stock.

Bee Good! Support our campaign for National Pollinator Week in the UK!

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Over in the U.S. at the moment it’s National Pollinator Week. It’s running from the 18th – 24th June and organised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They host a series of events across the country to engage the public and share with them the importance of pollinators like bats, birds, bees, butterflies, and other insects to wildlife, plants and people. Most importantly, it highlights the fact that pollinators are in trouble and need our help.

“Without pollinators, life on Earth would be scarcely recognisable. We depend on these amazing insects and animals for the clothes we wear, the houses we live in and the food we eat,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Every American should be concerned about alarming declines in our nation’s pollinators, but fortunately everyone can pitch in to help them.”

The celebration of National Pollinator Week began in 2007 with Senate Resolution 580 and a proclamation from the Secretary of Agriculture.

This is not just of importance in the U.S. but it is also important here in the UK. We should all try and do what we can to help. Planting flowers and fostering habitats that are good for pollinators is a start but surely it’s time that we we set our own week up here in the UK. To get us started we are going to be running a series of blogs about what we can all do to help our pollinators. Get in touch, share your idea and help us start our own National Pollinator Week here in the UK!!

Bee Keeping!

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I guess like a lot of people I have been aware of the national discussion about helping our pollinators. Have I got enough of the ‘right’ sort of flowers in the garden? Should I plant an area of wild flowers? The questions seemed to be endless and with each question came another. What sort of wild flowers will grow where I live?

I decided to try and make sense of it, keep it simple and do something. So, when  my overwintered purple broccoli went to flower, I decided that I would leave it. I was really amazed at the numbers and varieties of bees that started to visit. There were different varieties of bumble bees and honey bees.

What else could I do? Well, I decided to find out more about bees. Makes sense right? Help the bees by finding out what they like. Maybe even plant a bee restaurant.

Not sure exactly how it happened but after a couple of emails I ended up joining a bee keeping course. This weekend I was in Bradford on a beginners course and it was even more fascinating than I had previously thought.

Tens of thousands of bees living in a moderately sized box, pollinating our crops, increasing our yields of fruit and vegetables and at the end of the growing season a crop of honey. I was hooked! What really amazed me is that bee keeping does not have to be done on huge rolling estates by the landed gentry; it is something that can easily be done and is done in the back gardens of urban Britain. There are hives all over the place and even on top of a certain building society office in the centre of Leeds!

Bees really do take care of themselves with a bit of management and help from the beekeeper. They go out and get their own food, they clean up after themselves. The bee keeper needs to make sure they have enough room and are healthy.

So my advice to anyone thinking about bees is go an a course. At the very least you will have a great time and if they are anything like the people at Bradford Bee keepers Association, you will find a passionate and very helpful bunch!

Wish they’d kept their original name though – Love the fact they were all Idle Beekeepers!!

Calverley Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam – A great way to cut waste!

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Like many people up and down the country, I have a rhubarb patch. Rhubarb is a most Victorian and even old fashioned type of plant. It is humble and understated and I think that is why I love it. Crumbles are the staple for rhubarb but I shared some of my crop with Adam, a mate from work. He has created one of the most delicious jams I have ever tasted and certainly not one that I will ever find in a supermarket. Adam described it as like eating rhubarb and custard and he is absolutely right. There is a wonderful rhubarb taste which is accompanied beautifully by the vanilla. It’s great on toast, in porridge or in yoghurt. Simple to make –  50/50 quantities of rhubarb and sugar with vanilla paste. Absolutely delicious! It means that you can pot up that earthy rhubarb flavour and take it with you happily into the autumn and winter – provided you’re not tempted to eat it before then of course!

Make Summer last Longer!

Chef Mark Broadbent has shown his genius again with this wonderful summer fruit pudding. As well as being totally delicious, it helps cut down on waste by preserving cherries, blueberries, plums, blackberries and figs in a wonderfully unctuous pud. Fruit lovers beware – you are going to love this!

Wild Garlic and Purple Broccoli Salad

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Salads are the perfect summer food and this one is a fantastic sharing dish. What better occasion to make this simple salad with wild garlic in season. We have the red, white, and blue so patriotic too!  On this one, we have some young sprouting broccoli (blue), shredded wild garlic leaves, gem lettuce, tomato (red) and wild garlic flowers (White). The broccoli is raw and has a wonderful sweet and nutty flavour; in addition it is a super food. Purple sprouting broccoli contains the phytochemical sulphoraphane (thought to help prevent cancer) and may provide resistance against heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. It is packed with vitamin C and is a good source of caretenoids, iron, folic acid, calcium, fibre and vitamin A.

We made a balsamic vinaigrette to go with this using in our opinion, a quite simply awesome balsamic vinegar from Belazu. It’s under £10 at the minute at Sainsbury’s (25% off). If you haven’t tried it then please do. It is a universe and I do mean a universe apart from cheaper balsamic.  We served our salad with a quiche and crusty bread. Would also work well with grilled meats from the BBQ.

Less than 10 minutes to prepare,  the garlic is free with a bit of foraging effort, it’s tasty and very good for you.

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