Friday, 29 August 2014

Kofte with bulgur

This is my interpretation of a classic Middle Eastern (Turkish?) dish. I don't claim that it is authentic, but it is certainly nice!

With our weather here having turned very cold (down to 3.7C one night!), our thoughts have turned to Winter-style food; stuff that will warm you up on a chilly evening. In the past we have had a couple of very pleasant holidays in Turkey, and enjoyed the food we had there, and I'm sure this was in the back of my mind when I was deciding what to cook.

My version of kofte (aka meatballs) involves minced Lamb, seasoned with ground cinnamon, allspice, coriander and cumin, along with some dried oregano, some cumin seeds and a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes. To give the meatballs a softer texture and to help them stay together when cooking I added two slices of white bread (crusts removed), softened in milk. Using my hands to ensure that everything was well mixed, I shaped the mixture into balls about the size of an rather flattened golf ball:

I covered them in clingfilm and then put them in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm-up.

Later on, about two hours before dinner-time, I started the rest of the dish. First stage was to soften a couple of sliced onions in some vegetable oil in a large casserole. Then I added about a litre of home-made chicken stock and a pile (about 300g) of home-grown baby carrots:

Adding a little salt and pepper, I covered the casserole and put it into a low oven (about 140C), while I browned the meatballs.

At this stage I wanted the kofte to be browned but not cooked all the way through, so I gave them a minute or so each in really hot oil in a deep pan (I used our ceramic wok).

Notice that I only did a few at a time, to avoid crowding the pan, which would reduce the temperature too much. As they were done, I lifted them out and set them aside on a plate.

When they were all ready, I arranged them in the casserole, on top of the carrots and onions, and returned the whole thing to the oven, where they simmered away for the next hour and a half.

With about half an hour to go I removed the casserole lid to allow the gravy to reduce a bit and thicken. This is a very forgiving dish, and a few minutes either way would not be critical!

Meanwhile I made up some bulgur (cracked wheat). This is incredibly simple to do! I softened another finely-chopped onion in a deep pan until translucent, then added a measured quantity of chicken stock, brought it to the boil and added the bulgur. You have to follow the manufacturer's instructions on quantities, because they are not always the same. Mine had one and three quarters cups of stock to one cup of bulgur (to feed two people). When the stock returns to the boil, cover the pan and let it simmer very gently until the bulgur soaks up the stock (approx. 20 mins).

Finally, fluff it up with a fork. You can add embellishments such as raisins, pistachios or chopped parsley if you like, but I left mine plain. The taste was predominantly of the home-made chicken stock, which was deeply rich and flavoursome.

The final flourish, just before serving, was to add to the kofte dish a generous sprinkling of snipped chives, to give it some colour. Normally I would most likely have added chopped parsley, but I didn't have any parsley, and anyway, as Jane pointed out, the chives nicely complemented the oniony flavour of the broth.

I was very pleased with the level of spicing in the meatballs. This is something you learn to judge for yourself, and I think I got it just right this time. People like different levels of spicing, and it is not really appropriate to dictate to other people how much of each spice (and indeed, which spice) they should add. And anyway, the level of flavour depends on things like the freshness of the spices themselves, so "half a teaspoon" can be a meaningless term.

I served the meal with some salad accompaniments - sliced red radishes, crunchy Cos / Romaine lettuce and home-grown tomatoes covered with torn fresh Mint and sliced Spring Onions:

I don't have a photo of the plated-up dish to offer you. You just have to imagine it: take a portion of bulgur into your bowl; add a few of the kofte; add a few of the carrots; pour over the whole lot a few spoonfuls of the savoury broth; dig in...  Heaven!

This is what we call Comfort Food - unsophisticated, but very warming and tasty!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Are these failures?

Regular readers will know that I have had a good year for potatoes. The quality has been the best ever, and the yield has been respectable too. I don't keep detailed records of such things, so I can't say exactly how the yield compares with previous years; I just know that I have been very satisfied with what I have got - up till now. In this context then, maybe the following batch of Pink Fir Apple must be seen as a failure...

Those six tubers (Yes, I know it looks like seven, but one of them has two bits, joined at a right-angle) are the total yield from one plant, grown in one of my big pots. I must confess that I am disappointed. I had hoped for more. It's not even as if I have been impatient and harvested too soon, because apart from those tubers in my photo there were only two other really minuscule ones, so I don't think that waiting another couple of weeks would have made any perceptible difference. Normally when I harvest potatoes I expect to see tubers of several different sizes, but this plant had only these few.

After washing the potatoes I weighed them. They came in at a meagre 281 grams:

Still, they are quite good-looking potatoes again. Not particularly pink, considering their name, and with one exception, not particularly knobbly by the standards of this variety, but nice nonetheless.

Now what about the Carrots? Whilst the ones grown in my big Woodblocx raised bed are good (by my standards), the "finger" carrots grown (as I have done several times before) in black plastic tubs in a raised wooden planter, have been pathetically bad this year:

These carrots are small and very "hirstute" this year - they are covered in a mass of hairy roots.

These carrots are useable, and I'm sure they will be tasty enough, but they will need a huge amount of effort to make them fit for consumption. I know from my experience with a previous batch that I will need to scrape them with a knife: scrubbing will not be enough. Scraping about 50 tiny carrots will take ages!

So is that a failure? I think the answer is probably "Yes". I spent money on the compost (which was almost certainly the reason why the carrots were poor); I spent time on sowing the seeds, protecting them from Carrot Root Fly, and watering them. I even spent about a quarter of an hour picking through the compost to find anything that might be worth saving. And what do I get? Enough carrots for a small helping for two people. They had better taste nice!!!

P.S. Since drafting this post, we have eaten both the carrots and the PFA potatoes - both very tasty! I have to say that PFA beats all the other spuds I have grown, Hands Down, when it comes to taste and texture. I have to work on maximising the yield now...

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


The other day when I was out foraging I found some patches of wild Horseradish. It's easy to spot because of its very distinctive leaves.

I suppose this Horseradish is feral rather than wild... Nevertheless, on a foraging trip something like this is fair game, so I did stop to dig some up, because I know Jane loves Horseradish sauce. I hate the stuff!

It looks most unprepossessing at this stage, but Jane assured me it would be great.

As you can probably guess, I planted one piece (the little bit on the left in the photo above) in my garden. I'll probably live to regret this, because Horseradish allegedly spreads rapidly.

On Saturday night Jane made a dinner with roast beef, which was an ideal opportunity for her to try making Horseradish cream. My role was to prepare the Horseradish, while she whipped some cream.

You treat it just like fresh Ginger - peel the rough skin off, and then grate the white inner part of the root:

Horseradish is pretty pungent, so you don't need much.

The grated root is then added to the whipped cream, and "Voila"... Horseradish Cream.

Good with roast beef. Allegedly....

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Hedgerow Jelly and Plum Jam

If you saw my post the other day about foraging, you will have gathered that over the weekend I was busy making jam. For me this is a new-found skill (I only started last Summer), but I have in Jane a skilled mentor who keeps me on the right track. It's just a pity that as a diabetic she can't eat the finished product, which is about 50% sugar!

I'm not going to describe the recipe for Hedgerow Jelly, because I wrote about it in detail this time last year, but if you want it you can find it HERE

Instead, I'll just show you some photos...

That huge pan of mixed fruit (Plums, Sloes, Blackberries, Elderberries, Apples) eventually made these three jars of Hedgerow Jelly:

Hedgerow Jelly
Having completed the Hedgerow Jelly I made the yellow plums seen below (about 1.8kgs) into a type of jam sometimes described as "Fruit Cheese" by boiling their sieved pulp with the pulp of a similar quantity of apples, and sugar. I used Preserving Sugar, which has some added pectin, to help the jam to set.

Wild yellow plums - very like Mirabelles

After finishing the Yellow Plum jam, I set about making some of the red plums into a chutney. This has a smaller proportion of sugar in it than jam, so I think Jane will be able to eat some of it.

Wild red plums. I treated then as if they were Damsons
 The plums were cooked with some raisins and ground Ginger, in a spiced vinegar, and then de-stoned (easier said than done, please note!), and boiled with sugar and more spiced vinegar.

Making Chutney

The mixture is boiled until it goes thick and sticky.

The Plum Chutney after reduction

I'll be interested to see what the chutney is like when it cools, because the recipe I used makes something that is much more akin to a jam than to the traditional "Branston Pickle" type of chutney. It seems a lot thinner. Perhaps when it cools it sets hard....

The day's work

So there we are: 2 jars of Plum and Raisin Chutney; 3 jars of Hedgerow Jelly; and 12 and a half jars of Plum and Apple Jam.

P.S. The following day I made some more jelly with the red plums!

These little plums are best made into jelly rather than jam, because it is very difficult to extract the stones. From these ones I made two and a half jars of lovely pink jelly:-

Here is one of each of the jellies I made:

Guess what I am going to be eating on my toast for the next few months?!

P.P.S. After making all that jam / jelly I still had about 3kgs of fruit left, so I just stewed it up for a few minutes to make a "Plum compote", which will be nice just on its own, but probably even better with some ice cream.

Obligingly, the skins of the plums came off during cooking, and I was able to skim off most of them, but the stones...well that's another matter. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief (repeated ad infinitum, I think!)

Monday, 25 August 2014

Harvest Monday - 25th August 2014

The harvest this week has been "bountiful" - lots of different good things have come into the kitchen...

In that basket there are a "Predzvest" cabbage, some Runner Beans, three "Boltardy" beetroot, some Scarlet Empire" Runner Beans, and small selection of various tomatoes.

And of course I got some more potatoes. These are "Nicola" again (800g from one pot).

Here they are after washing. They are just as smooth and unblemished as ever.

I'm very proud of these carrots too. No Carrot Fly damage at all. The solitary "Iznik" cucumber is less impressive though.

The tomatoes are "Ferline", and there are two types of chilli - mostly "Nosferatu", but the big one is "Ohnivec". Here is the same selection in scrubbed-up form:

I can't say which varieties the Carrots are, but there are evidently at least two different ones here:

later in the week I pulled another batch of "Boltardy" Beetroot. These were roasted along with some shallots and Thyme, as an accompaniment to roast beef.

These are the "Nosferatu" chillis. I am going to dry these ones and save the seeds for next year.

I managed to assemble about 180g of Raspberries too. Not as many as I would like, but when combined with some Blueberries from the batch I had picked the previous weekend, it was sufficient for a nice dessert for us both.

Looking back at all this, I feel very smug! It feels so satisfying to bring in such a varied harvest. It makes all the hard work at other times of the year seem so much more worthwhile.

Sunday, 24 August 2014


At this time of year the hedgerows are, as the saying goes, "groaning with free food". You just have to go out and help yourself to it! This is exactly what I did on Friday.

Last weekend we went out for lunch to a country pub, and on the way home through the lanes I noticed a plum tree laden with fruit. This Friday I went back to that place and picked some of the plums:

It turned out to be not just one plum tree, but a whole line of them, absolutely laden with ripe fruit, and easily accessible too. I could hardly believe my luck. In the space of half an hour I picked 12.5kgs!

The plums were mostly of two types - some red and some yellow.

If I had wanted to, I could easily have picked 50kgs. It was hard to know when to stop!

As I was loading the trug-tub full of plums into the car, I noticed these:

They are Sloes, a close relative of the plum. You wouldn't want to eat them raw because they are incredibly tart and astringent, but they are great in a Hedgerow Jelly, as well as being the vital ingredient of Sloe Gin. Fortunately I was well prepared, and had in the car a container in which to collect a few, along with a handful of Blackberries.

Most of the Blackberries were under-ripe, but there were enough to be worthwhile if you looked carefully.

While I was gathering the Sloes and Blackberries, my eye lit upon these:

They are Elderberries, of course. I just HAD to collect some!

If I had been into brewing I would probably have gathered a few of these too. They are Hops:

With plans for making jams, jellies and chutneys chasing each other round my brain, I drove home and more or less straight away phoned my friend Rosemary, who has a big Bramley apple tree in her garden. A short while later, a couple of kilos of Plums were traded for a couple of kilos of cooking-apples.

Apples are an important ingredient in many jams and jellies, because they contain high levels of pectin (which helps the jelly to set), and hedgerow fruit usually has only low levels of pectin.

I'll show you what I made with all this fruit in a post in a couple of days' time...