Our homegrown veg are rubbish – but they’ve been an invaluable learning tool

We moved into a larger home earlier this year, one which has made it possible for us to finally have a go at producing our own veg.

I have tried to instil a sense of the natural world and how it relates to food in our older daughter in little ways here and there. She’s autistic and a very fussy eater, so I figure that we’ll try anything to get her to open up that reluctant mouth to give something new a chance.

As we’re clueless when it comes to gardening, we’ve made quite a number of mistakes this first year. We didn’t give our seedlings enough room, so none of them had a chance to grow properly. Our radishes were a total disaster, and we had to act to save the carrots, too. In addition, I don’t think our soil has been of the best quality, so we’ll know to feed our plants and nourish them a bit better in future.

Luckily my dad visited in time to save some of our lettuce seeds by repotting them, so we’ve had a nice mini crop growing at the back door.

However, as my main aim was not to feed the family but to educate our fussy miss, I think we can say it’s been a bit of a success. Earlier today, we collected some (tiny!) carrots and I set our daughter to task washing and prepping them for lunch.

She got stuck in – anything to occupy a wee person is invaluable in the school holidays – and we decided to prep a few of our salad leaves as well to make up a bowl to accompany her lunch of cheese sandwiches.

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I introduced her to salad cream (I am unapologetic about how much I love it) and tried to busy myself around the kitchen while she was eating so I could carry on pretending it was no big deal.

She ate the lot. Time will tell if it was a one-off novelty, but I am hoping not. On this evidence, the rubbish gardeners are going to carry on.

 

 

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Chicken Caesar Salad with ‘heel’ croutons

Being strapped for cash, I try whenever possible to cook with what’s in front of me in our fridge and cupboards. Even if what I’m cooking demands a certain something, I might try instead to think of a way to replace / omit it rather than have to dash to the shop or re-plan the whole meal completely.

Cooking like this is, I’m sure, pretty common, and it’s also a good way to come up with something a little bit different. And so it was last week, when I optimistically found myself with salad ingredients including romaine lettuce (the weather betrayed me, yet again) and some cooked chicken. I took a glance around, spotting parmesan, olive oil and white wine vinegar and thought, yup, a sorta chicken caesar it is.

Then I came upon my stash of loaf heels in the freezer, you know, the thick ends which no-one in our house will eat. I tend to keep them for making breadcrumbs and I end up with quite a few as we go through a lot of sliced bread. And I thought, croutons? Yup. Why on earth had I gone this long without making my own? Surely it couldn’t be hard.

It turned out to be brilliantly simple, and I will never buy croutons again. I simply preheated the oven to 180 degrees C and took out 3 frozen heels and left them for about 20 mins on the side to defrost. I removed their crusts with a v sharp knife, gave the birds the crust crumbs, and then cubed the bread – about 2/3 cm. I tossed the cubes (quickly, otherwise the bottom ones end up saturated) in approx one tbsp of olive oil per 50g. I’d added some crushed garlic and a little bit of dried thyme, too, and obv the possibilities are endless: you could add crushed chillies, dried herbs, whatever would croutonly complement your recipe.

After 10-15 mins, they were ready, so I left them on the side to cool while I assembled everything else.

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Next up, the romaine lettuce, which I cut into long thin-ish strips with a sharp knife…

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followed by lots of nice big chunks of cooked chicken (I’m a real fan of Asda’s £5 extra tasty bagged roasts) which I scattered liberally under and on top of the leaves.

Then it was time for something super-tasty, some smoked pancetta slices, which I had dry-fried and crisped up on the griddle.

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For the dressing, I got a suitable bottle and shook together olive oil, a clove or two of crushed garlic, two anchovies (I mash them in my pestle and mortar), 2 tbsps grated parmesan, black pepper and some white wine vinegar. A liberal casting of the croutons and a generous drizzling of the dressing later and it was all done. Very simple and very tasty.

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Now all I need is the sunshine so I can sit outside eating it, accompanied by a nice glass of vino…