How to make Allotment Focaccia

As many of you may have noticed, I’ve been a little less prevalent in posting recently. The allotment has had to take a back seat as plans for the community supported bakery, and baking itself, have had to take precedent. Fortunately, the weather and season has offered me the excuse to put the allotment into hibernation with only a little guilt that I should be tending, clearing or digging. Plot 4 has been a critical part of my ongoing recovery and a place of safety from the Black Dog of depression, but as I move on, baking has joined it in providing me with the chance to be mindful. This recipe is therfore an important one to me; combining, as it does, two therapeutic activities and experiences in one food.

The great thing about having an allotment is having a range of herbs and crops that cna be used in all your cooking. My little garden at home, with a small herb planter, can’t sustain the constant use of a family, but the plot’s herb garden can. So, the herbs for this bread come from the plot; picked on a beautiful spring morning, their fragrance is brought to life topping this traditional hearth bread.

You will need
500g strong white flour
7g salt (plus more flaked sea salt to sprinkle on top of the finished bread)
7g dried yeast
60ml olive oil (plus more to  work the dough and drizzle on top of the finished bread)
310ml warm water
Your choice of herbs to top the bread with (I used marjoram and some chopped rosemary)

Start by mixing all the ingredients (minus the herbs) together to form a rough dough. Continue to knead the dough until it becomes smooth; using a little olive oil on the worksurface can help to stop the dough sticking, and help you to achieve the silken finish you’re looking for. The kneading will take about 10 minutes, after which you should form the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to ferment for a couple of hours.

After 120 minutes, take the dough out of the bowl, lay it flat, and fold it over on itself. Place back in the bowl for a further half an hour. Meanwhile oil a tray a 40×30 tray, then take the doughwith oiled hands and stretch it to fill the tray. Scatter your chosen herbs over the top and massage into the dough, making dimples usiny your fingers. Pour a little more oil over the dough and leave to prove for an hour or so. Bake in a hot oven (230°C) for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool a bit before taking off the tray and cutting into portions.

 

I topped this focaccia with simple herbs; but the beauty of this bread is that onions, potatoes, courgettes, even peppers, would work equally well. It really is a bread for the allotment.

How to make Pizza Bianca Brassica

how to make pizza bianca brassicaPizza is undoubtedly one of my favourite foods and a sure fire winner with the kids too. There are so many possible things to top it with, but almost always they include the addition of a tomato sauce on the base. I do love this classic pizza, but I’ve recently discovered the pizza bianca; a pizza with no tomato. Somehow the lack of the tomato allows you to really appreciate the flavours of the pizza topping fully.

Brassicas are not the first port of call for the home pizza chef, but they offer a great alternative to the usual topping fayre. Cooked down with onions and garlic they create an unctiuous sweet and iron rich base on which to place your chosen cheese.

You will need (makes 6 small pizzas)

For the pizza base

3g dried yeast
150ml warm water
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping

A glug of olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
350g of spring greens, kale, cavolo nero or other brassica leaves (stalks removed)
75g mature cheddar, grated
75g mozarella
Salt and black pepper

Mix all the pizza ingredients together to form a dough. Continue to knead until the dough becomes more silken and springy. It’s impossble to say how long this could take, but after six or seven minutes you should be pretty much there. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm or a damp teatowel.  Leave to prove for an hour or so, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Whilst the dough proves, finely slice a couple of onions and a large clove of garlic, and slowly cook in a little oil until it is wonderfuly soft and transulcent. When the onions are done, add the finely shredded greens, allowing them to soften and combine with the sweet allium mix. Take the dough, divide it into 6, shape into balls, then roll out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a pound coin.

I find that pizzas in a home oven benefit from being placed onto a hot baking sheet. I use a piece of floured plywood to peel the pizza in to the oven and onto a preheated baking tray (set your oven to hot, as hot as it goes). The additional heat from below helps to ensure the crisp bottom required of a decent pizza, and aids the speedy baking of the dough. So, spread each pizza with the onion, garlic, brassica mix, then top with the two cheeses. Bake for 7-8 minutes until they are crisp and golden.

Time for Peas

I’ve been a little slack in getting the allotment back online after its winter break, so as the weather warms up and there are glimpses of spring-like weather its about time I got something in the ground. One of the pleasures of having an allotment is the fact that you can grow your own beans and peas. There is little in life better than shelling a basket of home grown peas (perhaps eating them pod as you pick them I suppose), and with this thought in mind I have set about preparing ground for this year’s peas, as well as sowing some in trays in the greenhouse.Pea Pods shelled of peasPeas sing of freshness and, as mentioned, there is nothing better than eating them super fresh from the pod on the allotment. However, this is not possible all year, and here we can rely on frozen peas. Frozen peas are frozen within a few hours of picking, so will almost always be sweeter than those bought in the grocers, as the sugars in the peas start to turn to starch as soon as they have been picked.

With a longing for the freshness of peas, and a reminder of why I was planting out the shrivelled peas on a cold day at the allotment, a pea soup was required. Pea soup on its own is a lovely thing, but for me pea and ham is a superior combination.

pea and ham soup title

You will need
knob of butter
2 spring onions, finely chopped
500g frozen peas
1 litre stock (I used vegetable, but for the best pea and ham soup, ham or pork stock is best)
Small handful of fresh mint
300g ham, sliced and diced

Melt the butter in a thick bottomed saucepan and as it starts to froth add the spring onions. Slowly cook the onions until they turn translucent and release their sweet allium flavour, before adding the frozen peas. Stir, and cook for a few minutes, before pouring in the stock and bringing to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, then add the mint and blitz until smooth. To achieve a truly silken soup, I like to sieve the pureed soup once it is a little cooler. Once you’ve achieved the texture you want, add the ham and season accordingly.

Mushrooms on Toast

I’m not entirely sure if mushrooms on toast counts as a recipe really, but I love it and want others to enjoy it too, so I decided to write a quick post about this quick lunch. Mushrooms on toast may be simple, but as with many simple dishes there are things you can do to ensure the very best. First of all good quality ingredients; the best, freshest mushrooms, will provide the best flavour. I recently used the mushrooms I cropped from an Espresso Mushroom Company kit I had, which meant I could cook them at there perfect cropping point. The bread, for me as an aspiring community baker, is also crucial. To me, the flavour and texture of a good sourdough loaf is necessary to really show off the flavour of the fungi. Sourdough bread also toasts really well, resulting in a consistently crisp base for the mushrooms. The sauteed mushrooms alone would be fine, but I like to add a little thyme and garlic when frying them, and a little parsley just before placing them on the toast.

mushrooms on toast

You will need
A large handful of chopped mushrooms
A knob of butter
1/4 garlic clove, crushed
1tsp. thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to season
A dash of cream and a small handful of chopped parsley (leave out either if you wish)
2 slices of sourdough bread

Put the bread in the toaster or under the grill (whichever is your chosen method of toasting) and lightly toast. Meanwhile, add the butter to a hot frying pan and saute the mushrooms until browned. Add the crushed garlic and thyme leaves and cook for a further minute or so. Stir in a small handful of chopped parsley and a dash of cream, before topping the sourdough toast with the mushroom mix.

Quick and Easy Christmas Pudding Ice-Cream with Poached Pears

After Christmas there is always food leftover. If I’m honest, I prefer the days after Christmas with the cold turkey and leftover bits of this and that, to the main event on Christmas Day. In our house there is organisation of meals before and during the 25th, but once we’ve had the turkey and trimmings hot all meal planning goes a bit by the way side. We eat leftovers for the next few days, with different accompaniments perhaps, but essentially the same for the next few meals. And, as I mentioned, I love it.

Christmas pudding is one of those things that is traditionally on the list of leftovers. It is after all a really heavy pudding, served after a massive roast dinner. Subsequently, only a small portion is consumed by everyone and there is a decent amount left over. It’s all right the next day reheated, and I know some people fry a slice in butter to give it a quick twist, but in ice-cream it’s a revelation. A cold pudding, on its own, or accompanying a poached pear like below, is what is needed sometimes.

There is little spare time at Christmas, so this is a super easy recipe. So easy in fact that it doesn’t warrant a recipe section on this post. Very basically its, get some vanilla ice cream, whizz it in the food processor to make it a little smoother, mix in some leftover Christmas pudding, and refreeze. Remember to get the ice cream out of the freezer with enough time for it to soften, and enjoy with anything or on its own. To make the poached pear below, see my previous pear inspired Favourite Five.

Roasted Carrot and Cumin Soup with Labneh

With weather a little colder in the last few days, and certainly as a way of warming up after yet another drenching, soup is firmly back on the menu. Our carrots at the allotment have been pretty good this year, but due to the clay soil I only every grow small varieties like Chantenay  and Paris Market. Although this means I have a good amount of carrots, their small size also results in their being eaten up speedily. All this means we don’t have any carrots in storage. However, the other day I was given a load of carrots by a friend, with the mission of turning them into something yummy. My go-to use for a carrot glut is carrot and coriander soup, but we’d had that last week, so an alternative was needed. Roasting the carrots was needed to get the best of their (slightly past their best) flavour, so I added some cumin, onions and garlic when they went in the oven. The resulting spiced carrots made the perfect base for a sweet, spiced warming soup. Topped with cool slightly sharp Labneh it was just what was needed.

You will need

700g carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (larger chunks take longer to roast, so vary times accordingly)
3 cloves of garlic
1 onion (chopped into eighths)
Salt & Pepper
2 tsp of cumin seeds (slightly crushed)
drizzle of olive oil
1l good chicken stock
Labneh, freshcoriander and zaatar to serve – I made my own labneh, by straining 450g of yoghurt with a pinch of salt overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Add the chopped carrots, garlic and onions to an oven tray, sprinkle with the cumin, salt and pepper and olive oil. Toss the vegetables to ensure they are all covered in the oil and seasoning. Roast for 30 mins or until partly browned. Once the carrots have started to caramelise, pour them into a saucepan and add 1l stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are soft and tender. Whizz in the food processor and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve the hot soup with a spoonful of the labneh (or Greek yoghurt if you want) and a sprinkling of zaatar and fresh chopped coriander.

Feed the Birds Tuppence a Bag

The last few days have seen a return of the wet weather, but before that the autumnal cold showed itself and reminded me that the birds at the allotment, and garden, needed a bit of extra help with food. Our allotment, squeezed in between houses, shops and schools like an urban oases, has a pretty varied bird life. In recent months I’ve seen everything from blue-tits and sparrows, to goldfinches and spotted woodpeckers. We usually put out some food at this point, to supplement the natural sources and the drying seedheads of the sunflowers and other flowers.

Last year I made seed cakes which, hung from the apple tree, were very popular with the feathered visitors to the plot. As was the peanut wreath which we hung on the shed door. Our own homemade food sources were always supplemented by bought bird feeders filled with seeds and nuts. However, the winds of early autumn have destroyed or completely removed these feeders, sending them across the allotment and into mangled heaps or oblivion. Despite the fact that I can buy a new one from a supermarket for a few quid I decided to make my own replacement. I may not be able to buy seed for tuppence a bag, but its pretty cheap from discount stores, so a homemade feeder cost me very little really.

You will need

A juice bottle or similar
Stick or twig of suitable size
Drill with drill bit matching diameter of stick
Needle
Seeds
String or thin wire
Craft knife

Wash and dry the bottle, as its important to ensure that its as free of moisture to start with (too much moisture will promote seed growth which birds aren’t keen). Use the needle to pierce a few holes in the base; this allows any water to drain out too. About 1/3 of the way up from the base, drill 2 holes the diameter of your chosen stick, and then thread the stick across so it forms a perch on both sides. On either side of the bottle, use a craft knife to cut out an opening just above the perch. Tie the wire or string around the neck of the bottle to form a hanger, before using the opening by the perch to fill the feeder with seeds. The seeds should reach the level of the perch, so that initially the birds don’t need to reach too far into the feeder. Hang on a branch with easy access for yourself (to refill) and the birds (easy to land etc.).

bird feeder

How to Make Recycled Metal Spoon Hooks

how to make recycled metal spoon hooksI like to not spend much money on the allotment. It’s not that I’m not committed to the plot; if we were ever to lose our little bit of land over the other side of the railway lines, I’d be devastated. I just feel that allotments are all about getting the best from very little. Allotmenteering should be about reusing, repurposing, recycling. So, when in need of hooks in the shed recently I was reluctant to nip down to Homebase and buy a hook or two. On a trip to the allotment I noticed some cutlery was being thrown out by a neighbour and procured a spoon or two, setting about making them into a couple of bespoke hooks. Indeed, on closer inspection (they were very dirty, so needed a clean) they revealed themselves as silver spoons!

The process of turning these unwanted spoons into hooks was very simple. After cleaning the cutlery, I drilled a couple of holes through the spoon part. They need two holes to ensure the spoon doesn’t spin round when heavy items are hooked on. Next step was to form the spoon into a hook shape. These spoons bent easily, so I just used my hands to form the correct shape; I suppose stronger metal might need the use of a vice or something similar. The final step was to screw the spoons into the shed wall and hang stuff up.

 

How to Make Fougasse

Originally cooked in the ashes of the hearth, and typical of Province, Fougasse is a marvellous bread to eat. It’s pretty simple to make too; combining olive oil with flour, yeast and salt. Traditionally the Fougasse was a flatbread made to check the temperature of the wood fired oven; the time taken for the bread to bake indicated how hot the oven was. That said, it doesn’t need to be cooked in a wood fired oven; a really hot traditional domestic oven is fine.

Fougasse

Fougasse is a great vehicle for flavours, and the allotment is good at providing them at the moment. The red onions, which have been busy swelling over the last few months, are dried and ready to be used; and the woody herbs at the plot are all looking lush and fragrant. So, to combine the flavours of rosemary and red onion, or marjoram and sea salt, makes sense to me. I always think if they grow together (the rosemary and onions look at each other over the allotment path), then they probably will work together in food.

You will need (makes 8)
1kg strong white flour
100g refreshed sourdough starter (this is optional, but adds a depth of flavour)
625ml warm water
100ml olive oil
10g dry yeast
15g salt

For the flavourings
1 red onion, finely sliced and fried until soft and succulent
1tsp. chopped rosemary
1tbsp. torn marjoram leaves
2tsp. sea salt

Mix all the ingredients into a loose dough, then leave to stand for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the water and for gluten strands to begin to develop. Tip the mix onto a work surface, before kneading the dough until the dough comes off the work surface and has lost some of its stickiness. The dough will be sticky, but try not to add any extra flour; your bread will benefit from it if you don’t. Form the dough into a ball, place an oiled plastic sheet over it and leave for 90 minutes to 2 hours to ferment. Tip onto an oiled surface and stretch and fold the dough. Let it rest, covered once more, for a further half hour, the portion into 200g pieces. If including flavourings in the dough, flatten each piece and place a small amount of flavouring (cooked onion and finely chopped rosemary in my case), fold the dough over the filling and ball them up to rest again for a further 10 minutes. Roll out the balls of dough into rough triangular shapes. At this point you can add any toppings you want, gently pushing them into the dough with your fingers. Dust each triangle with flour, then use a sharp knife to cut slashes through the dough. Start with a slash down the middle, followed by diagonal slashes on each side of the centre to form a leaf-like effect. Carefully open the holes a little, stretching the dough as you do, before sliding onto a lined baking tray and baking in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Recipe inspired by those of Community Chef and Emmanuel Hadjiandrou.

fougasse

 

 

How to Make Lavender Shortbreads

An English summer afternoon is not a proper summer afternoon without afternoon tea, and afternoon tea is not afternoon tea without shortbread. The sweet biscuit works really well with the addition of a few lavender flowers. The floral notes of the lavender give the classic shortbread a scented twist. Based on the wonderful Mary Berry’s recipe in her timeless Fast Cakes, this is a real teatime treat. lavender

You will need

200g gluten-free plain flour
100g cornflour
200g butter
100g caster sugar
2 tsp. lavender flowers

Heat the oven to 160°C and grease a 20cm round, loose bottom, tin. Cream the butter and sugar, until light and fluffy. Sift the flour and cornflour together and combine with the lavender and the butter and sugar mix.. Knead together and press into the tin, before chilling for half an hour. Place in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until a pale golden colour. The gluten-free flour results in a paler finish to normal shortbread, so don’t expect a well browned shortbread. Remove from the oven and cut into wedges, leaving the shortbread to cool in the tin. Lift out onto a cooling rack and sprinkle with a little sugar.