A Salad for the Allotment

Since the Bakehouse has taken more of my time, I’ve spent less time at the allotment than I had been (and probably less than I should). With sightly less baking and teaching to do, I’ve managed to grab some moments to hit the plot and enjoy an open air lunch. There’s nothing better than a picnic, and having you’re own bit of ‘countryside’ to sit in and relax with a meal is brilliant. Packed lunches; whether taken to the allotment, in a picnic basket, or eaten at work; needn’t be boring. They shouldn’t be an excuse for an unhealthy mishmash of packets either. It takes very little effort to produce something which is both healthy and delicious.

I recently got contacted by the team from Simply Health, who were looking for some healthy packed lunch ideas. I like to use allotment produce, so a salad using the newest of beetroot and fresh herbs seemed a good idea. I love the earthy sweetness of the anti-oxidant rich beets, and teamed with the saltiness of a cheese like feta, its perfect for a summer packed lunch. Lentils are brilliant for salads, adding bite and a good source of protein and carbohydrates.BEETROOT

Beetroot, Feta and Lentil Salad

You will need (serves 2)

A bunch of beetroot
200g green lentils (Puy lentils are the best as they retain their bite the best)
Bay leaf
200g feta or similar cheese
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper

 

Start by trimming the beetroot of  the leaves (which if young can make a great salad), then cut into bite size chunks. Toss in a little olive oil and roast in a hot oven for 3o-40mins, until the beets are soft and slightly charred. Remove from the roasting tray and retain the beetrooty oil to make the dressing. Whilst the beetroot roasts, place the lentils in cold water with a bay leaf and bring to the boil; you can now get pre cooked lentils in packs, which saves time on this, but I like to always have a supply of lentils cooked and in the fridge, so cooking from scratch allows me to make more than I need. Lentils need about 25mins to cook, but check after 20 as its important they retain a bit of bite. Once ready, drain, and make the dressing by combining the retained oil, mustard, vinegar, and seasoning. With the lentils still warm, pour the dressing into them and stir, allowing the lentils to absorb some of the dressing’s flavour.

To prepare the salad, combine the lentils and beetroot, along with the finely chopped mint. Crumble the feta into this mix, before gently stirring the ingredients to ensure that every mouthful includes all the flavours. If you wanted, you could add salad leaves at this point (something peppery like watercress would go well), but I like the earthy nature of this salad as it is. Pop the completed salad in a sealable container and take it on your travels, to work, or (like me) to the allotment. Just remember a spoon or fork to eat it with!

 

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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.

Favourite Five Egg Recipes

favorite five

It’s Easter in a few weeks and I couldn’t let it go past without a post about eggs. Not the chocolate variety which have been over-populating the shelves of supermarkets since January, but the real ones. If our allotments allowed chickens, then I’d have chickens because eggs are one of nature’s best products. They are so versatile; being useful as a raising agent in cakes, giving pastry a sheen, enriching dough and that’s before I mention egg as eggs. We eat a lot of eggs in this country; the largest egg retailer in the UK., Tesco, sell around 1.3 billion eggs every year. Apparently we are enjoying a period of relative low prices for eggs (although not as low as during the days of battery farming); in the 1950s a dozen eggs cost the equivalent of £7 today, whereas a dozen free-range in my local supermarket is £2.90. So, eggs offer a budget helping ingredient for us all. Here are my favourite five uses of the humble egg. Some use its pour to give rise in foods, and some just celebrate the egg.

Frittata  – This is one of my favourite simple summer lunches, and is delicious hot or cold. Take your eggs (allow 2 per person) and beat them, adding salt, pepper, grated parmesan and any other ingredients you want. I tend to use a mixture of chopped fresh herbs, perhaps some cold sliced potatoes, or some green beans (whatever the allotment has to offer). Beat once more. Gently heat a little oil in a frying pan and pour in the egg mixture. Use a spatula to move the mixture away from the sides of the pan, then allow to cook for (covered) for a few minutes until the egg is set, before turning the frittata and cooking the top side for a few minutes. Remove from the pan when slightly golden, slice and eat (or wait until cold and devour on a picnic).frittata and saladOmelette Arnold Bennett – A classic, and a good one. Start by poaching some smoked haddock in milk. Once just cooked, remove the fish and use the milk to make a white sauce. Fold the flaked haddock into the sauce with some chopped parsley. Make an omelette your usual way, then top with the fish and sauce. Sprinkle with some parmesan, then grill until golden brown. Makes a fantastic light lunch.

Pancakes – Adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe to fit into my son’s gluten-free diet, these are a frequent weekend breakfast. Separate 3 eggs, whisking the whites to stiff peaks. Add 115g gluten-free flour, 1tsp. gluten-free baking powder and 130ml milk to the yolks and mix to form thick batter. Fold the eggs into the batter. Heat non-stick pan. Ladle some batter into a pan and fry for a couple of minutes until it starts to look golden, flip the pancake over and continue frying until both sides are golden. We like to serve with sliced banana and maple syrup drizzled on top.

Scotch Egg – The scotch egg is the perfect picnic food. Claimed to be invented by Fortnum & Mason in 1738 to provide stagecoach passengers with a portable snack, they team sausage meat with a hardboiled egg and a crispy crust. Homemade scotch eggs are so much better than shop bought, and are pretty easy to make. Cook your eggs your usual method for a hard boiled egg (I like to slightly undercook them to get a slightly soft yolk inside), then cool and peel. For two scotch eggs you will need a three good sausages. Remove the meat from the skins and season a little more, adding some ground fennel seed is always a good idea. Using a wet hand divide the sausage meat and shape around the egg. If you have time, chill the wrapped eggs in the fridge for a few minutes. Dust the eggs in flour, then roll in egg and cover in breadcrumbs, before frying for 4-5 minutes until golden and crisp. Remove from oil with slotted spoon and place on kitchen towel to absorb excess oil. Eat; or pop in your picnic basket.scotch egg and salad

Goat’s Cheese & Chive Soufflé – Soufflé’s have a reputation as being tricky, but this recipe is easy and pretty reliable. Prepare ramekins by buttering them and placing a tube of greased parchment in each to act as a collar for the soufflé. Start by infusing 150ml of warm milk with a bay leaf, an onion and a few sprigs of thyme. Make a roux and add the strained infused milk slowly, stirring until it makes a smooth thick paste. Remove from the heat and add 50g diced goats cheese. Add two egg yolks to the mix, allow to cool a little, then mix a further 50g cheese and a few finely chopped chives into the sauce. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the cheese mix. Dust 2 greased ramekins with parmesan, then share out the mix between them. Bake on a preheated baking tray (220°C) in the oven for 23-25 minutes or until golden-brown and risen.

What ways do you use eggs in your cooking?