Cheery chives and coleslaw

This favourite is often only used as green garnish scattered over potato salad or egg mayonnaise and what a trick is being missed! One of my lockdown pastimes has been revisiting some of my old recipe books and then trying to be creative making meals of out of all the store cupboard oddments.  Some have been a great success –  others have not been quite so popular (beetroot and marigold pilau rice was a low point in some people’s view – I quite liked it).

Chive leaves are usually added at the end of cooking to give a mild onion flavour – over cook and their flavour will disappear.  In French cuisine chives are a consitutent part of fines herbes (finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil) which is used to add a delicate flavour to savory dishes at the end of cooking. Chives can be chopped into soft cheese or sour cream as a dressing.

But in my view one of the best uses of chives is the freshly opened flowers.  Picked before fully open they provide a peppery addition to salads as well as looking stunning against the green of lettuce. 

In my lockdown experimental mode I was making coleslaw and didn’t want to deplete the dwindling onion stocks so wondered how to add some life to a pretty bland cabbage concoction? My cheery chives came to mind –  I picked a barely open flower and removed all the petals from the head and scattered them into the coleslaw.  It gave a wonderful oniony, peppery flavour and I wonder why I never thought about it before and so much quicker than peeling and chopping an onion .

A few random chive facts…

Chives  allium schoenoprasum are unusual in that they grow wild in northern Europe and North America and Australia.  Found throughout Asia it is thought that Marco Polo was responsible for bringing them to Europe where they have been cultivated since the Sixteenth Century.

The clump forming plant will tolerate most conditions and looks attractive when used as an edging plant in the herb or vegetable garden.  Chives are said to repel insects and a wash made from their leaves and water is used to prevent mildew and apple scab. 

Keep removing the flower heads and stems as througout the summer to ensure a continuous supply. Do not eat the flowering stems or flowers that have been open for a day or two as they are tough and unpalatable.

Chive flowers with bees collecting nectar

Chives are often used in companion planting as most insects do not like its smell but its cheery purple flowers are beloved by bees. A recent survey of pollinating plants placed chives among the top 10 nectar producing plants in the UK. 
So even if you don’t care for this herb make sure to grow some in your garden for the bees.

More recipe ideas can be found herehave look and experiment!

The Horseradish says spring is on its way

It’s been a while since I’ve written I guess I can blame putting all my energies into More than Willow but that is another story and a happy one too.

We have been waiting for spring to appear and it seems to have been just around the corner for ages. All of a sudden the bees, the call of the chiffchaff and fresh green shoots are all evidence that winter is almost over.

But despite eagerly yearning for spring and watching for signs once again I have almost been caught sleeping.  The horseradish which should have been dug up and processed months ago was harvested just before the first leaves  appeared and the horseradish butter is safely in the freezer. The last of the parsnips have been harvested too so last night’s parsnip mash with horesradish butter was a winter treat – to celebrate spring?

The very last stands of willow were cut last week and though there was no sign of leaf on them stools that had been cut in January have teeny tiny shoots appearing – isn’t nature wonderful?

20170312_first leaves    20170312_buds

So skipping with spring in my step I am off outside to enjoy the sunshine and with stout gloves on  gather nettles to make nettle cordial – a first for me and one that I will report on when complete.

Lovely lemon verbena

I have growing lemon verbena for years, have read numerous recipes but never quite got round to using it until by chance I came across Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for Verbena Lemonade made with crushed leaves of lemon verbena infused in hot water with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I gave it a go and it has quickly become a favourite – really quick and easy to make and delicious to drink.  Once made it can be stored in the fridge for about a week or you could freeze it to bring a taste of summer to mid winter.

To drink squeeze lemon or lime juice and add to lemon verbena infusion – I find 2 lemons or limes add the right level of zing for a litre. Not being contented with drinking it  I have also used it to make lovely light summery jellies  served with a skim of pouring cream on the top, a few berries on the side and some shortbread. If you are feeling really organised adding  lemon or lime zest to the shortbread complements the jellies.

And the final use of this easy to make drink is to add a dash of gin for a summer evening tipple or for a sparkling version  pour a little lemon verbena infusion (without the lemon or lime juice) into a glass and top up with prosecco – enjoy!

 

 

The kick of horseradish

I caught a snippet of The One Show last night and was fascinated to find out about Mapson’s Farm who grow fields and fields of horseradish. I don’t grow fields and fields of horseradish but I do have quite a big patch and as the feature made me realise I haven’t harvested any yet this season. Like parsnip horseradish improves with the onset of winter and hard frost but the danger is that procrastination can end up with no horseradish – just when you decide to dig it up there peeping through the soil is the first sign of the new season’s growth.

I would love to think that the plant got its name from looking like a giant radish that has a pungent flavour that gives a ‘kick’ to food. However it is more likely that the name comes from the prefix horse meaning large and it is a large root. Horseradish (Cochlearia armoracia or Armoracia rusticana) has been cultivated since the earliest times and has many medicinal as well as culinary uses. The young leaves can be used in salads but it is the knobbly root that is most commonly used.

Horseradish is always grown from root cuttings and in fact when you dig up the root to harvest it is virtually impossible to dig it all up so be warned if you introduce horseradish to your garden plant it somewhere where you don’t mind it taking up a fairly permanent residence.

I think it is sad that most people’s encounter with horseradish is via a jar of commercially produced horseradish sauce as it is a wonderfully pungent and versatile herb. But it’s not for the faint hearted – peeling and grating the root can bring a tear to the eye of just about everyone and it’s pretty good at clearing the sinuses too! My solution is to dig up the roots once a year and prepare myself for a few tears.

One of the simplest things and most useful things to make is horseradish butter – simply peel the root and either grate it or using a food processor mix it into butter. Pat the butter into a narrow sausage shape and wrap it in foil (or the butter wrapper) and then pop it in a bag and freeze. The butter can be used straight from the frozen block whenever you want it – cutting a few slices and returning the rest to the freezer for use another day. Horseradish butter is a wonderful addition to mashed or boiled root vegetables especially carrots and parsnips, melted into mashed potatoes or even topping a succulent piece of beef, chicken or fish.

Horseradish loses its flavour if it dries out so if you don’t use all your harvest in one go either store the complete roots in damp sand in a cool place or peel and store the root immersed in white wine vinegar. Then grate a little whenever needed. I usually resort to the sand method and then I don’t use it all by late spring I can pop it a pot to grow and give to friend or even sell for charity.

Horseradish helps with the digestion of rich and oily food so that’s why horseradish sauce is the traditional accompaniment to roast beef. It’s quick and easy to make by adding the finely grated root to whipped cream and adding a dash of white vinegar and even a little dry mustard if you fancy it But one of my favourite uses is as the ‘secret’ ingredient in smoked mackerel pate to give it a bit of a kick.

So thanks to the timely reminder on The One Show the job of digging up and ‘processing’ the horseradish has moved up the ‘to do’ list and I look forward to horseradish butter and mackerel pate even if the tears will flow in the process. Maybe this year I will remember to try the leaves when they are young and tender too.

Mackerel pate recipe

Glorious greenhouse!

After years of yearning, thumbing through brochures, gazing at adverts in magazines and gazing with green eyes at other people’s and after spending several excruciating days trying to understand impossible instructions, experiencing fear of dropping large sheets of glass  and doing some amazing yoga type poses holding said sheets of glass in place as my wonderful helper attached the glazing bars I am delighted to say I am the proud owner of a greenhouse!!!

Filling the greenhouse

Filling the greenhouse

All the little trays of seeds that have been lurking on windows sills, in propagators and under bubble wrap in the polytunnel have been proudly carried into the new shiny space.

but even more importantly there is room for a few chairs so that when the cool winds blow you can sit with a coffee enjoying the spring sunshine and watching the plants grow inside and out!