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…

I almost meet my kitchen waterloo peeling quail eggs

I recently had the pleasure of hosting three good friends for lunch. It was the birthday of one of the guests, so I thought a three course spoiling of the person was in order.

I planned everything as usual, and on the day itself, thought that everything was running smoothly. Nigella’s ham in Coca Cola was all done and dusted, the veg were ready, the chocolate pear pud was just waiting for the oven and all that was left to be done was the starter.

My chosen starter, for ease of hosting and service on the day, was smoked salmon with wheaten bread, quail eggs and a rocket salad.

I started to assemble it on the plates, laying out the salad, portioning up the smoked salmon and cutting up a lemon wedge for each person, before finally turning my attention to the removing the shells from the eggs.

Having never previously attempted this task, I had no idea that it would turn out to be a complete nightmare. Despite removing them in a bowl of water, each egg’s shell fragmented into tiny bits and it was almost impossible to get hold of large sections in order to remove it.

Even worse, sections of egg remained firmly stuck to the shell and so I started to lose bottoms, tops and expose yolks all over the place – no good for presentational purposes.

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I ploughed on – there was no getting away from the necessity of the task – hoping that I’d end up with at least a few usable eggs.

FullSizeRender (1)As you can see from the above, I got away with it – just. I halved the best ones and placed them on the salads, and, of course, none of the guests were any the wiser. And in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t such a big deal – presentation mattered for only a few moments before everyone tucked in.

FullSizeRender I consider myself forewarned and forearmed for next time, should I ever use them in this way again!

My new Cathrineholm pot plus some speedy family dinner heroes

There’s nothing as exciting as post, especially a nice parcel containing a coveted Cathrineholm enamel pot that you’ve purchased from eBay.

I had my eye on one for a long time, but was always priced out of the market for the orange ones. And, now that it’s mine, I think I prefer the blue. I have positioned it on top of the piano so I can see it all the time. It was a small price to pay for such kitchenalia-related happiness!

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It has been a very busy week work wise, so I have had some very testing brief periods in which I’ve dashed home to get the evening meal ready, whilst also sorting out my daughter, before leaving for work again. It’s been really sunny, too, so we needed relatively light meals.

One fun thing to try was the new Veetee range of pasta and rice, a few samples of which were kindly sent to me to try. It comes in various flavours and all you need to do is pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes.

I ‘made’ the black pepper and garlic pasta one to accompany some pizza and was really pleasantly surprised. The pasta when cooked was just the right texture – not horribly rubbery or overcooked – and you could really taste both of its key seasonings. There was more than enough for the husband and me in just one pack, so it’s something I will definitely be turning to when I need a fast and tasty portion of rice or pasta. 

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The other family dinner hero is something that I regularly serve to guests and they always say that it’s delicious and ask where it came from. It’s a ranch salad pack from ASDA which costs £1 and regularly sells out, especially in hot weather because it’s the perfect accompaniment to summer eating.

The salad is composed of thin strips of carrot, red cabbage and other coleslaw type ingredients. All you do is tip its contents into a bowl, pour over the dressing, mix it well, then pour on the croutons and mix them in too. Honestly, it is moreish and tastes like it’s good for you, too. Plus, kids love it. 

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