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You’d think, wouldn’t you that, for people who’ve grown their own fruit and veg for over 15 years, the thrill of harvesting home grown produce would not quite as shiny as it once was?

But you’d be wrong.

I still get excited every time Pete brings in a bowl of fresh raspberries or tomatoes from the back garden, I make him pose for pictures with many of the fruits and vegetables and I practically skip with delight when I harvest our crop myself. Pulling back the enormous leaves of a courgette or the smaller ones of strawberry plants to reach hidden fruits, gently twisting plums and apples to see if they are ripe enough to come away easily, braving scratches galore to pick juicy blackberries and gooseberries… and then grinning in wonderment at a bounty that is, quite literally, the fruits of our own labour!

When it comes to harvesting the first fruit or vegetable of a variety we’ve not grown before, I have a tendency to sing or squeal (both of which can be mistaken for each other, truth be told).

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I mean, just look at this beautiful winter squash. Doesn’t it make you joyous? It has a classic pumpkin shape and colour, but I’m not sure which variety it is… You can see that it’s actually still a little under ripe in the centre – we weren’t sure how to tell when it was ready and it could clearly have done with a little longer on the plant. But there was plenty of ripe orange flesh to enjoy.

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With all orange-fleshed winter squashes, I really like the way that roasting concentrates their sweetness. If you can’t find a fat round pumpkin, use butternut squash for this recipe, as it’s very similar in flavour.

I’m also a fan of simple salads with just a handful of ingredients and a simple dressing. The cooler weather we had in early September lead me towards a warm salad featuring giant couscous as the base. Chorizo for it’s wonderful warmth and smokiness and I love wilted baby spinach leaves for colour, texture and taste. The dressing is made using oil flavoured when frying the chorizo.

Chorizo, Squash & Spinach Giant Couscous Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:
600 grams pumpkin aka winter squash (peeled weight) or butternut squash
2 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
150 grams giant couscous (dried weight; I used Sainsbury’s)
150 grams cooking chorizo, diced
2 tbs vegetable oil
600 grams winter squash (peeled weight)
2 tbs olive oil
100 grams baby spinach
For the dressing:
3 tbs chorizo oil (see Method)
3 tbs cider vinegar
1 tbs molasses (very dark) sugar
Optional: salt and pepper

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 180 °C (fan).
  • Peel and cube the pumpkin . Toss in the olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Roast for approximately half an hour, until soft all the way through. Exact time will depend on your pumpkin and how large you cut the pieces.
  • While the pumpkin is cooking, fry the chorizo in vegetable oil – chorizo doesn’t need oil to fry but we want to create excess chorizo-flavoured oil to use in the salad dressing. Once cooked, set the chorizo aside in a bowl and drain the oil into a separate bowl or jam jar.
  • While the pumpkin is cooking, cook the giant couscous according to the packet instructions. Once it’s ready, drain and set aside.
  • Make the salad dressing by combining 3 tablespoons of drained chorizo oil, the same of cider vinegar and a tablespoon of dark sugar. Shake or whisk to combine, taste and adjust balance as you prefer. Add salt and pepper if desired.
  • Once the squash is ready, remove from the oven and while still hot, stir the spinach leaves through, to wilt them.
  • Combine with the couscous, chorizo and dressing.
  • Serve warm.

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Kavey Eats received giant couscous product samples from Sainsbury’s.

 

We’ve been growing a variety of cucumbers called Lemon this year – so named not because of their flavour but their size, shape and colour.

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The skins on ours have been tougher than we expected, so we’ve peeled them before adding them to salads.

This one was combined with very thinly sliced red onion, chopped sugar snap peas, some home grown lettuce and a few cherry tomatoes and tossed in my default jam jar salad dressing.

Jam Jar Salad Dressing

Ingredients
1 teaspoon French mustard
2 teaspoons honey
3-4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3-4 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

This dressing can easily be varied to ring the changes. Substitute soy sauce for mustard. Switch cider vinegar for the balsamic. Use rapeseed oil instead of olive, or even sesame oil for an Asian flavour. Instead of honey try maple syrup or muscovado sugar.

Method

  • Measure ingredients to a small jam jar.
  • Seal and shake hard until well combined.
  • Taste, add more mustard, vinegar, honey or seasoning if required and shake again.
  • Pour dressing over salad, toss and serve immediately.
 

Traditionally, the key ingredients in the Japanese dish shira-ae are white – white tofu, white miso and white sesame seeds; shiro means white in Japanese and the ae suffix denotes a vegetable dish with dressing. What’s unusual from my European perspective is the low amount of liquid ingredients in the dressing; the silken tofu provides both additional moisture and the body of the sauce.

This can be also used with other greens such as spinach or seaweed, or your own selection of vegetables.

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Here’s the recipe. To learn more about the ingredients, keep reading.

Saya Ingen Shira-ae | Green Beans with a Tofu, Miso & Sesame Dressing

Serves 2-3 as a side dish

Ingredients
300 grams green beans (French beans)
100 grams silken tofu (pressed tofu is not suitable for this recipe)
50 grams lightly toasted white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons miso paste *
2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons mirin (rice wine)

* Shira-ae traditionally uses white miso paste, the mildest and sweetest miso. I prefer the saltier and more pungent flavour of red miso, so it’s the type I most commonly have in the fridge. Red miso gives my shira-ae dressing a darker colour than it would have if I used white miso.

Note: I have used Clearspring organic tofu, a long life firm silken tofu made with organic soy beans, spring water from Mount Fuji and nigari, a naturally occurring mineral rich coagulant derived from sea water. See below for my tofu lowdown.

Method

  • Prepare and cook the green beans as you like them. My preference is that they have a little crunch left in them.
  • Once cooked, drain and tip into a bowl of cold water to stop them cooking further.
  • In the meantime, grind the sesame seeds using a mortar and pestle, food processor or spice grinder.

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  • Mix the ground sesame seeds with the miso paste, sugar, mirin and tofu. Silken tofu is so soft and moist it will easily break up and combine with the other ingredients.

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  • Drain the beans well and mix with the dressing.

Tofu, Miso and Sesame Seeds

Tofu

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Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk (itself made by soaking, grinding and heating soy beans and water) and straining the resulting curd. Originating in China about 2000 years ago, the technique spread to Korea and then Japan in the 8th century, coinciding with the spread of Buddhism – tofu is an important source of protein in a Buddhist vegetarian diet.

Incidentally, if you ever wondered about the English-language name, it’s taken directly from the Japanese, which is itself taken from the Chinese dòufu. Dòufu translates as “bean” “curdled”, giving us the name that is more prevalent in the United States – bean curd.

The variety of tofu available in East Asia is amazing!

Broadly speaking, tofu products divide into fresh and processed.

Fresh tofu comes in many different textures, the result of a range of different coagulants used to make it as well as differing production techniques.

Silken tofu is the softest kind and, because it’s not curdled, strained or pressed after coagulation, it has a really high moisture content. You can find both soft and firm silken tofu, but both are far softer and wetter than pressed tofu.

Firm tofu does retain a fair amount of moisture, but not as much as silken tofu. Its surface often retains the pattern of the muslin or mould used to strain and press it. The firmest tofu is pressed rigorously and has an almost rubbery texture, a little like paneer or halloumi.

There are also a number of processed tofu products included fermented, pickled and dried tofu. These include stinky tofu, which smells much like a very ripe soft European cheese. Just like cheese, it tastes far better than it smells!

Dried tofu is very light, does not need to be refrigerated and is usually rehydrated before use. There are many shapes and textures available.

Another type is frozen tofu. Large ice crystals, which form on freezing, leave cavities when the tofu is defrosted, creating a spongy texture. This type of tofu is often sold cubed and freeze dried.

Tofu can also be deep fried, usually after being cut into cubes or triangles, or into thinner pieces to create pouches for inari-zushi. Obviously, the firmer and drier types of tofu are better for frying.

These days, tofu is readily available in the UK, though you won’t find the sheer variety available in Asia!

It is often associated in the West with a vegetarian or vegan diet, with detractors dismissing it as bland and unappetising. Personally, I love the stuff. Yes, the flavour is subtle but it’s a very versatile ingredient. It’s also very healthy as it’s high in protein but relatively low in calories and fat. Depending on the coagulating agent used, it can also be high in calcium and magnesium.

Miso

Miso is made by fermenting soybeans, and sometimes additional grains such as rice or barley, with a fungus known in Japanese as kōjikin. The resulting paste is used as a seasoning throughout Japanese cooking. There are many, many different varieties available in Japan, often broadly divided by their colour. White is the mildest and sweetest. Red, aged for longer, is stronger and saltier and darkens with age through red into brown.

Sesame seeds

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Sesame seed is oldest known oilseed crop, with archeological evidence suggesting it was already being cultivated 3500 years ago. Sesame seeds have a very high oil content and the oil itself is very stable with a long shelf life, making it easy to store in hot climates. Once the oil has been extracted from the seeds, the protein-rich remaining meal can be used as animal feed.

Most wild species are native to sub-Saharan Africa, where the genus originated, but the cultivated type, Sesame Indicum, originated in India. A hardy, drought-tolerant crop, sesame is now grown in tropical regions around the world with Burma, India and China the biggest producers (in 2010).

Of course, the seeds are popular in seed form too; they feature in many cuisines around the world, far too many dishes to list here.

Pale straw-coloured “white” seeds are the most common, but black varieties can be very striking, especially when combined with the white. I loved the jin doy spheres I enjoyed at A Wong a few months ago.

I love this tidbit from Wiki’s page on sesame seeds: “Upon ripening, sesame fruit capsules split, releasing the seeds with a pop. It has been suggested that this is root of the phrase “Open Sesame” in the historic fable of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in One Thousand and One Nights. The opening of the capsule releases the treasure of sesame seeds.”

Suribachi & Surikogi

One of my favourite purchases from our last visit to Japan was a beautiful suribachi (grinding bowl) and surikogi (wooden grinder). This very Japanese mortar and pestle is perfect for grinding sesame seeds, which are quickly pulverised against the ridged inner surface of the bowl.

Did you know that Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi was named for this humble kitchen tool?

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This dish is such a quick and easy one to make and is both healthy and utterly delicious. I hope you enjoy it and do please leave me a comment to let me know what you think!

Kavey Eats received product samples courtesy of Clearspring.

 

Given how much I enjoy coleslaw – it’s a must-have accompaniment to breaded chicken fillets, deep fried chicken and chicken burgers – it’s a little surprising to me that I’d never made my own; It’s not exactly complicated to shred some raw vegetables and toss in a home-made dressing, after all.

I was finally prompted to do so by my desire to road test two food slicer appliances I was sent for review.

But I couldn’t decide which recipe to use for the dressing. I found many recipes for mayonnaise sweetened with a little sugar or tarted up with horseradish or mustard. I found yoghurt-based recipes and recipes for buttermilk with maple syrup. I found recipes for dairy-free vinaigrette versions. I even found a recipe for a flour-based roux “mayonnaise” that looked like no mayonnaise I’ve ever heard of!

But when I asked friends for tried and tested suggestions, one recommendation immediately stood out:

My friend Jaxie told me about  her partner’s condensed milk and vinegar dressing, assuring me that although it “sounds insane”, actually, “it’s bloody delicious”. As I love condensed milk in coffee, there’s always some in our house, so I just had to give this unusual coleslaw dressing a try.

She advised that TS adds mustard powder for extra flavour, but I had a eureka moment and decided to use some wonderfully smoky sweet paprika I bought from a Spanish market in London last May. I chose cider vinegar to pair with the condensed milk as I love the gentle fruitiness it provides.

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All I can say is “Wow” – this was definitely a winner!

The tart vinegar balances out the intensely sweet condensed milk. The smoky paprika gives a fabulously earthy flavour that brings to mind the smoky aromas of a summer barbecue.

For me, an equal amount of cider vinegar and condensed milk created just the right balance, but you can adjust the ratio to create a sweeter or sharper dressing if you prefer.

Although I’ve provided approximate amounts for the salad vegetables, I suggest you grate as much or little coleslaw as you like, mix up a batch of dressing and mix it in a little at a time until you have a ratio of salad to dressing that works best for you.

You can always mix up another batch of dressing if you need more.

Smoky Paprika Coleslaw | An Unusual But Winning Recipe

Ingredients
For the salad

100-150 grams (about a quarter of a small) white cabbage
100-150 grams (about a quarter of a small) red cabbage
100-150 grams (about 1 medium) carrot
For the dressing
3 tablespoons condensed milk
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
Half teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste

Note: The salad ingredients are, to my mind, the three core choices for a traditional coleslaw. You might also like to add red or white onion or sliced spring onion greens.
Note: Make sure you use sweet smoked paprika rather than the hot kind. The smokiness is key to the flavour of this dressing and sweet paprika gives a pleasing but mild kick.

Method

  • Combine the dressing ingredients and mix well. Add a little more vinegar or condensed milk if you would like the dressing to be a touch tarter or sweeter. Taste, adjust seasoning and set aside.

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  • Remove any damaged or tough outer cabbage leaves. Wash your vegetables. Top, tail and peel the carrot.
  • Grate your vegetables using a food processor or finely shred by hand. Mix together in a large bowl.

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  • Add the dressing to the salad and combine thoroughly. If you prefer lightly dressed coleslaw, you can add the dressing in batches, mix well and add more as required.

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  • Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

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I absolutely love the simple combination of condensed milk and cider vinegar, and will definitely make this again, not just for coleslaw but as a general salad dressing.

The addition of a generous amount of smoky sweet paprika provided a very distinctive flavour for my coleslaw but you could stick to TS’s original suggestion of mustard powder or try other spices and herbs, to ring the changes.

 

I’m entering this recipe into Helen and Michelle’s Extra Veg Blog Challenge.

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Coming soon… a side-by-side review of the two food slicers pictured.

 

I’ve been aware of the Opies brand for several years, having bought and really enjoyed a number of their preserved fruit products during that period. What I didn’t know was that this family-run business has been going since 1880, making it one of the oldest private family-owned food companies in the UK.

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In 1880, young Cornishman Bennett Opie set off to make his fortune in London with just a few pounds in his pocket. He started out by selling eggs and bacon, and gradually expanded his business, with the help of his two brothers. In 1912 he was joined by his son William, at which time he founded Bennett Opie Limited. When supplies of fresh eggs were limited during the first world war, William recognised the opportunity to manufacture and supply liquid eggs to the bakery trade. Later, he decided to diversify into preserving cherries, keen to provide a less expensive alternative to popular but pricy French brands. At that point, in 1929, the company relocated to Sittingbourne, Kent – the heart of Kent’s cherry-growing region. The site is close to natural springs; the water from which is still used by Opies today. This move marked the start of Opie’s growing range in preserves and pickles. William’s sons Tony and Derek continued to build the business through the second world war and their efforts were rewarded with a Royal Warrant in 1962 (though Opies doesn’t hold one currently).

Today, Opies is run by Bennett’s great grandsons, Philip and William, who divide the company’s focus between their traditional products, such as pickled walnuts and cocktail cherries, and creating new products in line with modern trends. I’ve been assured that the next eager generation of Opies is waiting in the wings!

Learning more about Opies, I’m particularly happy to learn about their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. As well as recycling all water used in their production cooling processes, 90% of their packaging is recyclable and they recycle cardboard and other materials used in the manufacturing process. Their delivery vehicles are selected with a view to minimising emissions and they always maximise loads to reduce unnecessary journeys. They also focus strongly on sourcing ingredients locally.

Indeed, when I asked whether traditional recipes for their longer-standing products had changed over the years, they explained that they strive to keep flavours and textures traditional, but have tweaked recipes over the years as more natural (and local) alternatives to original ingredients become available. Of course, they run regular quality and tasting checks on all the lines they produce.

Inspiration for new product lines comes from global travel, food exhibitions and suggestions by their trusted suppliers. It can be a challenge launching new products – obtaining listings and shelf space is tough and it’s always hard to predict exactly what consumers will love; a new recipe for spiced pears in vinegar didn’t catch on and supermarkets just didn’t get the idea of a ginger spread with 60% ginger.

However, there’s plenty of love for both their traditional and new product ranges and I have been enjoying working my way through a selection of alcohol-preserved fruit, pickled quail eggs, fruit compotes, cocktail cherries and gherkins, a variety of pickled vegetables and relishes and their recently launched hickory barbeque sauce, which is naturally smoked in a traditional smokehouse. That gives a far lovelier flavour than the artificial smoke flavourings used by some brands.

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Loosely inspired by Ben Spalding’s 30 Ingredient Salad, I decided to create my own “cacophony of colours, textures and tastes” (as I described it) using some of my Opies samples and some additional salad ingredients from the supermarket.

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I used Opies Rhubarb & Redcurrant Compote, Opies Pickled Baby Beetroot, Comte cheese, Opies Pickled Quails Eggs, Salami, English Honey, Opies English Cucumber Relish, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, an Cox’ Orange Pippin apple and Greek basil leaves.

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The ingredients were the kind of selection we might enjoy for a cold lunch, the sort of buffet you might set up as a coffee table picnic on a sunny afternoon. The only difference here was in presenting all the elements together as a single pretty plate. I was delighted with the result, even though it wasn’t a patch on Spalding’s incredible feast for the senses!

 

COMPETITION

Opies is generously offering the same selection they sent me (above) to one Kavey Eats reader. The prize includes free delivery within the UK.

 

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your suggestions for an incredible salad featuring one or more Opies products.

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the Kavey Eats Facebook pagefollow and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow @Kaveyfollow on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win delicious @BennettOpie treats from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/ou85CQ #KaveyEatsOpies
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

 

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 15th November 2013.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a set of Opies products, as shown above, with free delivery within the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Bennett Opie Limited.
  • If one or more of the items is out of stock, Bennett Opie Limited reserve the right to substitute a similar item from their range, of same or higher value.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You do not have to enter all three ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

 

Kavey Eats received a sample set of products from Bennett Opie Limited.

 

Since I started blogging a few years ago, I’ve not purchased many cookery books, as I’m fortunate to be sent new titles to review by several publishers. But I had a big sort out over the summer and gave several boxes of books, cookery ones included, to various charitable organisations.

After which I treated myself to a copy of Jekka’s Herb Cookbook (as well as Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook: Nourishment for the Traditionally Built by Stuart Brown, still on the “To Read” pile).

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Jekka McVicar is the woman behind Jekka’s Herb Farm, a South Gloucestershire organic herbs nursery specialising in culinary, aromatic, decorative and medicinal herbs. The farm, which celebrated its silver jubilee this April, has over 650 varieties of rare, tropical and native species in its collection. Undoubtedly, Jekka McVicar is the queen of herbs and I’ve purchased some of her seeds for our garden over the years.

In this book she chooses fifty herbs that she loves to cook with and gives a description of each plant, advice for growing it, its history in cooking, any medicinal uses and of course, some recipes. The book doesn’t have any photographs; instead there are pretty illustrations are by her artistic daughter, Hannah McVicar.

Having flicked through when it arrived, it wasn’t until we visited my friend Monica for an August weekend of relaxing, cooking, eating and chatting that I had more time to devote to the book. I took a big bag of several books awaiting review, and popped this one in too as I was so keen to try some of the recipes.

In the end, we tried three recipes from the book over the weekend, and they were all fantastic.

I cooked Sea Bass with Chinese Garlic Chives. Except I couldn’t find any garlic chives so I bought regular chives, and not nearly the quantity specified in the recipe. Some of the pieces of fish broke up a little too much, with my clumsy pan skills, so it wasn’t a prettily presented dish. Nonetheless, the recipe was easy to make and we all really, really enjoyed it. The next time I see a large bunch of garlic chives on sale, I want to try this as Jekka envisaged it!

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Pete made Coriander, Mint and Pitta Salad, but instead of breaking our (freshly made) flatbreads up to add to the salad, he served then on the side. With soft tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, sweet sharp onion, the solidity of the chickpeas, my favourite green herb and a simple dressing, this was well balanced and tasty, and once again, very simple.

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And Monica made two loaves of Rosemary Bread. Fabulous, with a good crumb and lovely flavour from the rosemary, like the other two recipes, this is one that will be made again.

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Our experience with these three recipes gives me a strong faith in the rest of the book and there are many, many more dishes I want to try soon.

So much did we like these three recipes that we tweeted our delight (and photos of the dishes) to Jekka who responded with warm thanks for making her family recipes look so wonderful. (That was down to Monica’s camera skills, of course!)

And I was very happy to be able to give my thanks to Jekka in person when I visited her stall at the Abergavenny Food Festival.

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Photos by Kavey & Monica.

Jekka’s Herb Cookbook published by Ebury Press is currently available on Amazon UK for £17.50 (RRP £30).

Got A Beef?

28 Aug 2009  1 Response »
Aug 282009
 

Quite a while back, we expected a bone-in joint of beef but were accidentally sent a boned one instead. Abel & Cole’s customer service was on the ball and arranged to send us the correct joint at a later date.

In the meantime, we roasted the boned joint and I was blown away by just how flavoursome it was.

As I said at the time: As soon as it came out of the oven I (as the Mrs Spratt of the family) sliced off some of the crisped fat. The orgasmic sounds started there and then! And all the way through the meal I just couldn’t stop myself oohing and aahing and making delighted comments about how exceedingly good the meat was. I was so repetitive about it Pete near as damnit told me to shut the hell up! The texture was as good as it always is for this cut, and the moistness that results from the marbling of fat was evident too – so far so expected. But it was the flavour that was so unexpectedly fantastic. I cannot remember the last time I so enjoyed a piece of beef in any format or dish.”

So I had high expectations of the bone-in joint when it arrived in early August.


2 rib joint

The meat itself had a good rich red colour as expected. I was slightly surprised that a layer of fat had been tied on to the joint – all the boned rib joints I’ve bought have simply come with their own thick layer of fat in tact. And the dark grey area showing between the pieces of fat was a little off-putting too. But I’m a strong proponent of trusting one’s senses and as it smelled fine, I popped it into the oven to roast.

Out of the oven and rested

So, what did I think? Well, honestly, whilst this was a tasty piece of meat, it didn’t come close to matching the flavour of that accidentally received boned rib I raved about before. This was a perfectly decent, good quality piece of meat but not one that made me want to sing out loud. Not one that made me think about putting my Christmas order in here and now.

(I wondered if I’d misremembered how good that boned joint had been but, a couple of weeks later, we defrosted the other half of that boned joint – which had been too large for just the two of us to use in one piece – and my excitement was renewed all over again).

Leftover beef went into a tasty, crunchy salad the next day including home-grown carrots, supermarket red onion, spring onion, cucumber and sugarsnap tossed in a simple home-made salad dressing.

Crunchy leftover beef salad

The bones are in the freezer to be made into stock.

So, is there a case to be made for Abel & Cole including the suppliers’ names on each package of meat they send out? Certainly, if I felt there was a reliable way for me to order beef that would equal the first (boned) joint rather than this bone-in one, I’d place my order now. As it is, I can’t justify spending that kind of money on what could very well be no better than the considerably less expensive meat I can get in my local supermarket.

 

Should bloggers accept freebies in exchange for reviews?

This is question being discussed on many a UK food blog at the moment and it looks like most of us are in agreement – yes to freebies with a number of provisos:-

* Free products or services do not guarantee a positive review; this should be made clear to the person/ organisation providing the freebie.
* The blogger should disclose that they received the product or service for free in the resulting blog post.
* The blogger should do their best to assess and write about the product or service as objectively as possible.

To that, I add the following:-

* Rather than accepting freebies indiscriminately, it is best to stick to products and services that the blogger would genuinely consider purchasing and which fit well with the everyday content of their blog.

Abel & Cole
Abel & Cole‘s PR people have been busy bees indeed having recently approached a broad assortment of UK food bloggers asking whether we’d like to review Abel & Cole products. Many of you will no doubt have read several of the resulting blog posts already.

Certainly, Pete and I are the target audience for such a scheme to have organic food produce delivered directly to our door. Only recently we purchased a box of organic meats from The Well Hung Meat Company and are planning to trial other similar suppliers before deciding which one, if any, to place an ongoing order with. Infact, we’re so much the target audience that we were long term paying customers in the past. We stopped buying from Abel & Cole because of repeated quality issues with the produce we received.

I explained this to the PR and said that, provided A & C were ok with my having been a customer before, I’d be willing to receive fruit and veg, to assess whether the quality issues we experienced previously are a thing of the past. But that I’d be far more interested in trialling their free-range and organic meat products, given how this fits into what I’m exploring at the moment.

Back when we first ordered a veg box, several years ago, there weren’t that many companies delivering such produce to London addresses. For us, one of the things that drew us to A &C’s over their competitors, was the flexibility of their Dislikes list. Instead of being able to list only 2 or 3 things we didn’t want to receive, A & C allowed us to provide a list of up to 20 things not to send. On the surface this sounds like a lot but their full list numbers in the hundreds which puts a mere 20 blocks into perspective. So I logged in with the new ID and password provided. The interface has improved since I was a paying customer and it’s even easier to specify items you don’t want to receive (for the next order only or ever) and even what you particularly like and would be happy to receive often.

I also provided information on where the box could be left if we were not home, together with a comment that at least one of is working from home most days, so please ring the bell.

The first black mark came when we discovered the box had been delivered on Friday morning without ringing the bell and left in the specified place in our side alley. With four people in the house, two of whom were awake pretty early, not to mention one of the loudest bell ringers known to man, this was disappointing.

Still, I was excited to see what we’d been sent. Safe in the cool embrace of a polystyrene box and nestled within ice packs was my free-range chicken with giblets. Weighing in at 1.9 kilos, 300 grams over the specified weight, the meat appeared dense and nicely coloured and went straight into the fridge to be cooked over the weekend.

My chicken!

As it happened, the contents of the last week’s medium mixed organic fruit & veg box corresponded with a number of items on my dislike list so there were a few swap outs.

Altogether we have: apples, carrots, green cabbage, jersey royal potatoes, a punnet of nectarines, spring onions, a mango, mushrooms and two large bags of spinach.

The fruit seems to be in good condition, assuming the mango and the nectarines ripen properly. The apples feel a touch softer than I’d like, but at least they aren’t wrinkly, as occured in the past.

For some reason, I got two huge portions of spinach, which, given the aged yellowing appearance of a few of the leaves, is probably going to lead to wastage. The leaves are picked much larger than I prefer too – to the extent that I didn’t even recognise them as spinach until I checked the contents list on the side of the box!

The potatoes, mushrooms and spring onions looked fine.

The worst items in the box were the carrots. These were so old they were rubbery. One was already broken in half and the rest I could bend almost double without snapping! Comparing this with a carrot we pulled up from our garden the same day, these were clearly not remotely fresh, nor had they been well stored.

Slow Cooker Chicken
I posted about borrowing my mum’s slow cooker before deciding whether to buy our own. Our greatest success came with cooking a whole chicken over several hours. What I particularly liked, as well as the succulence of the meat, was the large quantity of excellent stock and leftover meat, which we used for a number of additional meals. As mum’s slow cooker has long since been returned, we finally bought our own on Saturday, ready to cook the chicken on Sunday.

As the carrots were so unappealing, I decided to relegate them to stock making duties – scrubbed and chopped, with manky bits discarded, they went into the bottom of the pot. With them I threw in a small onion, peeled and quartered, a few bay leaves and then the chicken itself. (Giblets put aside in the fridge). Over this I poured water and half a bottle of white wine. After an hour and a half on high, I turned the slow cooker down to low for the next 5 hours.

In the slow cooker

Cooked this way, the chicken becomes so incredibly soft and tender that, no matter how careful you are, it disintegrates as you lift it out of the pot. Pete plonked the resulting pieces into a large dish and I picked and pulled every last scrap of meat away from the carcass while he sieved the utterly delicious stock into a container for the freezer. The meat was enough for four portions (for the two of us) of which one was set aside for dinner that evening, another for the next evening and the rest into the freezer as well.

Given the heat of the day (not to mention a large lunch at our local Italian) we decided to keep it light. For dinner we made a simple salad, similar to one I posted about last week. Chopped raw sugarsnaps, thinly sliced red onion, halved cherry tomatoes and coriander leaves with the addition of the soft, shredded chicken meat. All mixed with a simple dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar and honey. Delicious!

The finished chicken salad

And for dessert, while Pete had some fresh fruit, I went for a savoury of fried chicken heart and chicken liver. Absolutely delicious!

Using the same carrots and onions, I threw in the chicken carcass and skin plus the bird’s neck and covered with more water and the rest of the bottle of white wine. Left to cook overnight, a second stock was produced. Before I tried this, I would have been convinced that the second stock would be weak and insipid but, having done this three times now, I can assure you that it’s still full of flavour.

We’ll be using this second stock, some of the chicken meat and the spring onions from the box to make a simple, delicious and filling risotto for our Monday night dinner.

Thoughts
So far, it’s top marks on the quality of their meat, but a detention for the quality of some of the fruit and veg. I’ll report on the risotto later in the week and let you know how the rest of the fruit and veg are soon.

 

 
Eating our first home-grown sugarsnap pea seconds after picking it was quite a thrill. That was two weeks ago and we harvested about 12 pods and munched our way through them as we picked. A week later, just before leaving for France, we picked another 15 or so. They never made it into the house either! Delicious, sweet, crunchy and full of flavour, peas eaten just after picking are a world away from those you buy in the shops. Even to those of us who’ve been growing our own vegetables for several years, they are a revelation!

So when we got back from France on Saturday night I rushed outside to see how our plot was doing. Thanks to our neighbours, who kindly performed watering duties, everything was looking vigorous and healthy and there were dozens of sugarsnaps hanging heavily from the plants.

On Sunday I went out and harvested them, noticing eagerly that the regular pea plants next to them are now covered in flowers and should be producing fruit soon. This bowl of sugarsnaps actually made it into the kitchen (and weighed in at a satisfying 290 grams).

I decided to make them into a simple salad for lunch and this is what I came up with:

Crunchy Sugarsnap Salad

Ingredients
Raw sugarsnap peas, chopped
Raw red onion, finely sliced and separated into strands
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Coriander leaves
Home-made dressing (extra virgin olive oil, cider vinegar and honey to taste)

Method

    • Prepare ingredients just before you want to serve the salad.

 

  • Mix well in large bowl to evenly coat all ingredients in dressing.

 

This made an absolutely delicious, filling and healthy lunch, all the more satisfying for being based on an ingredient we grew ourselves.

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