A little seedy…

When we moved into the castle we inherited a mostly neglected and weed-infested vegetable patch, which included a clump of thyme and a spindly coriander plant. The thyme is now the size of a small shrub and the coriander has gone to seed in spectacular fashion. I pulled it out yesterday and planted some spring onions in its place, but not before I cut off all the seed heads. Offering them to visitors is my new party trick – they are SO insanely coriander-y and fresh. Or, as Jeremy put it yesterday, “Bugger the leaves, let’s just eat the seeds!”

If you’ve never eaten a fresh coriander seed then you need to get out into your garden right now (or make a mental note to do so if your garden is currently covered in slush). They’re also good scattered in salads or over olives, but nothing beats eating them straight off the stalk.

Greens, Eggs and Ham

Apologies if you’re a bit over ham by now (or it offends your culinary or religious sensibilities). We didn’t have one this year, but the Boy Wonder’s mum cooked a fabulous one and I ate as much of it as I could. Now we’re home, there’s a ham-shaped hole in our fridge that no amount of chocolate or wine is able to fill. When the butcher reopens I’m going to go and buy some so we can have ham sandwiches (hamwiches?) and this fabulous warm salad.

Greens, Eggs and Ham

This is the BW’s invention – hence the amounts are somewhat vague- and we eat it a lot as a weekend lunch or light supper. It’s especially good at this time of year when there’s lots of ham lying around, but you can always substitute bacon if ham isn’t forthcoming.

Salad greens (crisp, crunchy Iceberg, Cos or Little Gem lettuce is best)
Vine tomatoes
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Wholegrain mustard

First boil your eggs. The BW recommends a method he reckons he got from watching Nigella on telly. Put as many eggs as you like in a small pot, add hand-hot water and put on medium heat. Cook for nine minutes, then drain, peel and cut in half.
Meanwhile, fry a couple of handfuls of ham (or bacon) until crispy at the edges.
Fill a bowl with crisp, crunchy salad greens and vine tomatoes. Scatter the ham and eggs on top.
Make a punchy dressing by mixing extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and wholegrain mustard (add a pinch of sugar if it’s too sharp). Drizzle over everything, toss and serve.

Gingerbread for the tree

You know how I said I was ok about not having a Martha Stewart Christmas? Well, I was, and then I pulled out the tattered and torn copy of Martha Stewart Kids magazine that a friend had given me as a joke (we agreed at the time that such mags were to make working mothers feel even more guilty and inadequate) – and it fell open at the gingerbread men page. I’ve always wanted to make edible Christmas tree decorations and with so many other projects now fallen by the wayside, this seemed the most achieveable.

You’ve got to hand it to Martha, this is a great recipe. Easy and quick to make in a freestanding mixer, a dream to roll out (especially if you roll the dough out between two sheets of cling film) and tasty to boot. The biscuits aren’t rock hard and get softer while they hang on the tree – but at this late stage I don’t think that’s a problem. Next year the Small Girl might be big enough to help, but this year her contribution has been limited to consuming them. “Mmmmm, cracker, nice,” she said, reaching a pyjama-clad arm up to grab a star off a branch. You can’t get much better endorsement than that.

225g soft butter
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 1/4tsp ground cinnamon
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground allspice
1tsp baking soda
1/4tsp salt
4 cups plain flour
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add egg; mix well. Beat in molasses, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add flour a cup at a time, mixing until incorporated.
Divide dough into quarters; shape into disks, and wrap into plastic. Refrigerate until firm, but not rock-hard.
Preheat oven to 180C. Roll the dough out between two sheets of clingfilm until about 3mm thick. Cut out cookies, rolling out any scraps as needed. Transfer to baking paper-lined trays, leaving a little space between them for spreading, then put them in the fridge for 20 minutes before baking.
Bake for about 10 minutes, until firm when touched. Let cool slightly, then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely. Decorate as desired (I recommend the ‘writing icing’ tubes you can buy at the supermarket – makes artistic flourishes really easy!).

Thinking pink: Roasted Beetroot Salad

I’ll never forget the day a box of organic fruit and veg turned up at my desk in London. My colleagues poked about in it, making hopeful enquiries about the possibility of there being some organic chocolate inside. Then one of them pulled out a bunch of gloriously crimson beetroot. “What’s this?” she asked, as if it might bite. It took about 10 minutes of convincing her, along with the help of some internet pictures, that it was really, truly beetroot. I’m not sure how she thought it grew. In the tin?

I love beetroot every which way – raw, roasted, boiled, out of the tin and inserted in a proper Kiwi burger. When I saw some baby beets with their greens still attached at the market in the weekend I couldn’t wait to get them home and make this seasonally appropriate salad. Beetroot is a natural partner for ham and this would be a good addition to a Christmas spread, not least because it’s also good for your liver and your sex drive (according to lovebeetroot.co.uk) at a time of year when both probably need all the help they can get…

Roasted Beetroot Salad
The tinfoil package technique has come from my beloved Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It keeps the beetroot and garlic soft and moist – and means there’s no oven tray to wash afterwards. This is just as well,  because unless you take a tip from Nigella and wear latex gloves while you’re handling the cooked beetroot, you’ll spend a lot of time feeling like Lady Macbeth and trying to get those crimson stains off your hands.
Note: If you can’t find beetroot with the greens attached, use another robust sort of green leaf, such as spinach or cos lettuce.

500g bunch of baby beetroot, preferably with greens attached but long rat-tail like roots chopped off
3 cloves garlic
a few sprigs of thyme (optional)
splash of olive oil
handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
edible flowers if you have them (nasturtiums, coriander flowers

1tsp honey
1/2 tsp mustard powder (or mustard)
pinch of sea salt and black pepper
3Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2Tbsp red wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200C. Wash the beetroot and cut off their greens. Pat the beetroot dry with some kitchen towel and set the leaves aside in a salad spinner or clean teatowel (in the fridge). Take a large piece of foil and put the beetroot, garlic and thyme on top. Drizzle over some olive oil, then fold the foil to fully enclose the contents like a parcel. Put on an oven tray and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beetroot can be pierced with a skewer. Set aside to cool completely.

When you’re ready to eat, squeeze the garlic cloves out into a small bowl and mash up with the honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Add the oil and garlic and stir well to form a thick dressing. Taste for seasoning.
Shred the beetroot greens and mint leaves into ribbons and pile into a bowl or platter. Peel the beetroot – the skins will slip off easily – and cut into wedges, then scatter on top of the greens. Drizzle with the dressing and you’re good to go.

The green green grass of home

I don’t know about you but at this time of year I seem to exist on a diet of sugar and toast. In times of old this was supplemented by canapes and champagne (sigh) but those days are long gone. There is plenty of early summer produce about and our miniscule garden is beginning to earn its keep, but there’s no escaping the, err, sweeter side of pre-Christmas.

Alfalfa, flax and fennel sprouts, looking like they’re about to do the dance of the seven veils

Luckily, I’ve rediscovered one of my favourite kitchen magic tricks, sprouting. It took me ages to hunt out some sprout-able beans and seeds (not because it was difficult but because it was way down on the list of Important Things To Do). Then I scoured our local charity shops for the right sort of jar, which took another few outings.

Sprouting the seeds themselves was too easy. It’s a brilliant way to get nutrient-rich greens in an instant – to scatter over a salad or tuck into a peanut butter sandwich – no matter what the weather’s doing.
Here’s how:

1.Put 2-3Tbsp of seeds of your choice in a large glass jar.
2. Half fill the jar with water and cover it with a piece of muslin (or tulle, or other thin fabric that water can drain through easily) and a rubber band.
3. Soak for 10 minutes (for small seeds like alfalfa or fennel). Medium-sized ones such as mung beans will need to soak for four hours and larger ones such as chickpeas should be soaked overnight.
4. Drain the water and leave in a cool, airy place out of direct sunlight. Rinse the seeds twice a day.
Your sprouts will be ready to eat within four to seven days. When they’ve grown enough for your tastes, store them in the fridge where they will keep for a week.