Saturday, June 16, 2012

Elderflower Cordial for our English Summer

At the back of our small London garden a huge elderflower shrub leans over. At this time of year a mist of white pollen drifts across, mixed with the constant drizzle of rain. Armed with a ladder, a rain coat, a pair of scissors and a large metal bowl, I climbed up onto the back wall and clipped off 20 elderflower blooms to make cordial. I blame the Diamond Jubilee. Encouraged by the union jack bunting livening up our neighbours' homes, people seemed chattier. The end of the road was cordoned off for a street party, with a regal dog show and best tiara competition. And I bottled my Diamond Jubilee Cordial and gave it to my neighbours.

Have any of you any favourite recipes that use elderflowers? We would love to know about them...

Elderflower Cordial

25 elderflower heads
2 pints of boiling water (1.2 litres)
2 kg or 4.5 1b of caster sugar
2 unwaxed lemons
2 unwaxed limes 
1 tsp citric acid 

1. Carefully wash the elderflower heads to get rid of any little insects
2. Boil the water and pour it over the caster sugar in a very big pan or mixing bowl. Stir and leave to cool
3. Add the teaspoon of citric acid, the limes and lemons finely sliced.
4. Add the flowers, stir gently and leave to cool covered.
5. Leave for at least a day. (We left it for three days and the scent and taste of the flowers is stronger)
6. Strain through a muslin cloth or a fine sterile tea towel and pour into sterilised bottles. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

'A Radish Feast'

              Throughout history, vegetables seem to have held a strange power over humans. They  inspire gatherings,  competitions, festivals and races; they have even been worshipped. In Victorian England the humble radish was given celebrity status by a community in Cumbria. Well at least for one day a year - May 12th, to be precise.  This was the day of the Radish Feast. 
              In 1879 in The Graphic Newspaper describes what it calls a 'curious tradition' from the village of Levens. 'It occurs on the 12th May, when the London season keeps society fixed within driving distance of Pall Mall and Charing Cross. (...) At the Hall, on the bowling-green a long table is spread, whereon are placed many piles of dark oat-bread, many pounds of bright new butter, and above all heaped-up dishes of radishes. This vegetarian fare is washed down with strong old ale of a special brew known as Morocco.' As you read on, it is clear that the potent Morocco Ale  works in tandem with the fiery radish to whip the good people of Cumbria into a state of excitement and eventually inebriation.  Each newcomer has to stand on one leg and down a glass of Morocco. Rather primly The Graphic reporter glosses over the final moments of the Levens Radish Feast. All he says is,' there is generally some fun before the "feast" gives place to wrestling and other athletic amusements of the North-county gatherings'. 
              The Radish Feast clearly needs to be revived. I am thinking of lobbying the Cumbria and Lake District tourist board. Meanwhile, can I ask you all to try out something that is simple and delicious. All you need are some radishes, some unsalted butter and some coarse cut country bread. Thinly slice the radishes and lay them on the buttered bread. I found some French Breakfast radishes for sale cheaply in Morrisons  Supermarket - mild and sweet. A perfect introduction to radishes for children and vegetable phobes of all ages. And for the adults only - accompanied by a glass of your best Moroccan. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Aubergine Burgers (and don't forget the Marmite)

If you don't like the colours red, white and blue, now is not the time to visit London. The city is in the throes of a virulent strain of Jubilitis. Wherever you look there are Union Jacks. In the supermarket it looks as if all the food manufacturers have been time travelling. Marmite has renamed itself Ma'amite. Kelloggs has reverted to their package designs from 60 years ago, a marketing move that triggered off nostalgic reverie from my husband over breakfast. That well known publication, Packaging News, (yes there's a magazine for everyone) has been waxing lyrical about what are apparently called Limited Edition Collector's Boxes. This is not good news for the country's hoarders. Yet another reason to keep an empty cereal packet...
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations are next weekend - the London Olympics are just a few months round the corner. It is finally sunny. So using my 'Thank you Ma'am, Ma'amite', I made aubergine burgers, seasoned with a Marmite marinade. 

Thank you Ma'am Aubergine Burgers 

1 large aubergines, sliced into 1 cm (half an inch) thick discs

1 tablespoons of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Half a teaspoon of Marmite

2 medium sized balls of mozzarella cheese

1. Cut the aubergine into 8 evenly sliced discs
2. In a small bowl mix together the oils and the marmite so it is a smooth paste
3. Brush all sides of the aubergine slices with the marinade, smoothing it into the flesh of the aubergine with a pastry brush so it is completely covered.
4. Heat up a griddle pan until it is nice and hot. Spray a little oil on the surface and place the aubergine discs on to the griddle.
5. It takes about 8 minutes to cook each side of the aubergine burger. Turn them over carefully so that they are evenly cooked. The sides should be nicely browned.They are ready when the flesh is nice and soft.
6. Turn the heat down to low. Take a slice of aubergine on the griddle and add a round slice of mozzarella, then another slice of aubergine and top it with another slice of mozzarella cheese.
7. You will have four towers of aubergine burgers. Place in a bun and serve.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sorry I've been away for so long....

How do you say sorry for disappearing from a blog without so much as an excuse?
It is simply that we needed a break after a wonderful adventure - a rest after writing the book. The former veggie-phobic boy Freddie, who was 7 when we first started the Great Big Veg Challenge, is now 13.  His sister Alexandra is 16.  And yes, he does now enjoy eating vegetables. Some things never change  - he still hates peas. But that doesn't matter because he loves everything from asparagus, sweetcorn, artichokes, sweet potato and eddoes, to cabbage, green beans and mushrooms. The GBVC seems like ancient history to him now. But the Great Big Veg Challenge is back because we are still exploring and learning new vegetable recipes. And I miss all of the blog friends that we made. So if you will forgive us for our absence...please join us again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A rallying call to all Brussels Sprouts lovers out there......

It's that time of year when the Brussels Sprout starts to take centre stage in the vegetable stalls of Britain. I feel a hint of guilt about the humble sprout. As a child, I hated them. I would go to extraordinary lengths to avoid eating them. I perfected the art of hiding the sprout in one cheek whilst consuming the rest of the meal. At the end, I would leave the table and run with one bulging cheek like a hamster up to the top of the house where I would retrieve the intact sprout and throw it out of the window. I can remember watching the sprout bounce down the slates of the roof before falling three stories down into the garden.

Having learned to love sprouts and even more surprisingly found that Freddie loves them too, it is time to pay them back. So when I read a news story earlier this year, I thought it was time the Great Big Veg Challenge started to campaign. But I really need all your help in this. Let me tell you first the story that grabbed our attention:
Royal Navy Commanding Officer Wayne Keble OBE is in charge of the illustrious HMS Bulwark. He was allegedly heard to say that sprouts were the 'devil's vegetable' and should be banned from the Captain's table. Read one version of the full story here. Looking at the picture of the Commanding Officer in that newspaper article, he seems a reasonable man, a friendly face - not one that you would associate with an irrational fear of sprouts.
I imagine it might be difficult for sprouts to sue for libel. And they are frequently the target of negative press. A few years back they were voted in a survey Britain's most hated vegetable. (Apparently they have regained some ground coming second to the aubergine this year).
So what can we all do? Well, we've thought of two things:
1.We have started a petition to encourage Commanding Officer Wayne Keble to learn to enjoy sprouts. We'd love you to sign this petition online. This is what you would commit to:
"We the undersigned, call on Commanding Officer Wayne Keble OBE, to put aside his hatred of Brussels Sprouts and to lead his men and women by example, sampling delicious recipes and dishes that demonstrate the delectable taste of sprouts.
We the undersigned will also commit to supply him and his Royal Navy catering team with irresistible sprout recipes to help him on this culinary voyage of discovery".

2. And the second thing I would like you to do is to join me in putting together the most imaginative and delicious selection of your Brussels Sprouts recipes. If you are a blogger, would you agree to one day where you celebrate the sprout and feature your favourite recipe dedicated to Commanding Offiver Wayne Keble? No negative postings here please - just an attempt to encourage all sproutophobes. If you are interested in this - please leave me a comment or email me.