You Say Tomato, I say Tomatillo

leadI love Mexican food. Tomasina Myer’s book was a must have Christmas present in 2010. 

I’d buy these husk covered green fruits at roadside stalls in SoCal along with crates of juicing oranges and globe artichokes. _BYS0176Despite being ubiquitous and relatively cheap to buy I never mastered the art of cooking whole chokes though.

As you can imagine tomatillos were not easily available in the UK and I missed their tart flavour in a Mexican salsa verde served with grilled pork or as a nacho dip.

I found a few online delis that sold tinned ones. I could have used them in salsa, which is usually made with either pureed raw or cooked tomatillos, however I thought the canning process made them a little too soft. But they were an ideal solution for my Chili Verde.

Visiting Borough Market once I stumbled upon one stall selling fresh ones. A rare treat!  I couldn’t resist buying a big bag full. But regular food shopping trips from Wales to London was not on the cards.

 

An Ideal Hydroponic Crop?

After all it’s just a green tomato right?

Tomatillos (Physalis philadephica), like their cousin, the tomato, are  part of the nightshade  (Solanceae) family. Tomatoes are easy to grow, so would they be too? One problem. The local garden centres didn’t sell tomatillo plants. I’d have to grow them from seed. But where to get the seed? Where else? Online!

Last year they grew in the greenhouse. They grew prolifically. They were tall and spindly and needed support to protect the ripening fruit. This year, with their red relatives, they grow hydroponically. _BYS0001They are prolific. They grow tall. Their stalks are thicker, stronger. Support is still needed as I wait for the fruit to ripen.

At least two plants are needed for the papery lanterns to set with fruit. I’m currently growing four. – two Tomatillo Dr Wyches Yellow and two Tomatillo Verde

The extra seedlings I planted are in the traditional tunnel and they’re growing just as they did in the greenhouse last year. 

As the madness of the growing garden subsides, I will have time to develop my recipes. For now here are the building blocks for Chile Verde. Feel free to play!

Pork Shoulder
Chicken Stock
Green & Red Chilis
White Onion
Tomatillos
Parsley (cilantro wasn’t ready yet)
Dried Cumin
Dried Oregano or Freshtomatillo 4

Caramel Carrots

headerIn an earlier post we talked about the resurgence of the pressure cooker. If like us you decided to invest in one of these kitchen bad boys, then you need to make the most of it. It’s not just about soups and stews.

I must be honest, I need inspiration when it comes to creating vegetable dishes. I grew up with either boiled, baked, steamed and mashed vegetables served as a side to the main event.  That’s not a problem if dinner is a good steak with chips and peas or even pizza and a crisp green salad!

However with a garden full of fresh vegetables I need to find ways of making vegetables more appealing and giving them the limelight.

Whilst researching the other article I came across this YouTube clip about caramelised carrot soup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT_EFG1oiL8

Carrots are in season in the garden so we tried this out – only as far as cooking the carrots, but didn’t see the recipe through to the soup stage.

Our Recipe In Short

500g Carrots Washed and Chopped in 5cm / 2” pieces
113g Unsalted Butter Cut up into chunks
2.5g Bicarbonate of Soda (aka Baking Soda)
30g Water

  1. Place butter into the pressure cooker and then add the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Seal and bring temperature to 1 bar (15psi) and cook for 20 minutes.
  3. Time the cooking from when the correct pressure is reached.
  4. We use a stove top pressure cooker with side grips so we shook the pan gently a few times to stop the carrots from sticking.
  5. Once cooked reduce the pressure by running the rim under tepid water. Please refer to the manufacturers’ Safety Guidelines for depressurising a pressure cooker

The Result

Soft (but not soggy) rich naturally sweet caramelised carrots

The Reason

Cooking in a pressure cooker produces a Maillard Reaction (commonly known as browning)

The Bicarbonate of Soda produces an alkaline environment which aids caramelisation at lower temperatures adding to the flavour and helps the carrots caramelise all the way through and not just on the surface.

Looks like we can use this for other root veg and hard crops such as squash. Can’t wait for the winter squash harvest!

Here’s a link to the full soup recipe.
http://modernistcuisine.com/recipes/at-home-caramelized-carrot-soup/

A handy and comprehensive review of pressure cookers on the market can be found here. http://wonderstreet.com/reviews/the-best-pressure-cookers
We use the Kuhn Rikon Duromatic with side grips (not listed), which we’ve had no problems with so far.

Please note we are not affiliated or endorsed by any of these companies or publications. All opinions and comments are our own._NJP0936

Store Cupboard Staples from Scratch

storecupboardThought we’d start putting some store cupboard recipes up – we’ll try to do this once a month. We got a Weck home canner a couple of months ago after agonising about the safe and scary ways to preserve things long term. The Weck system seemed the best to us from a food safety point of view and ended the inevitable cracked Kilner jars when boiling them on the stove top. Anyway it allowed us to start changing our store cupboard from shop bought condiments / sauces and other preserves to things we make ourselves. We’ll do Brown Sauce this month and coming up will be Tomato Ketchup, Mango Chutney, Burger Relish and Jam plus whatever else we can think of.

Some of the recipes we make are a way of using up the harvest from the garden, and a way of preserving food for later in the season. Others may be just nice stuff – treats, and creating our own version of condiments to try and limit our consumption of artificial preservatives, high levels of sugar and salt. We’ll try to use things from the garden seasonally though this can be difficult.

brown sauceflatr

So anyway this is Brown Sauce month! A spicy condiment almost always tomato based – famous brands such as  HP Sauce (UK / Ireland / Australia / New Zealand / Canada), A1 Steak Sauce (USA). In the UK there is also Tiptree Brown sauce but we prefer HP original’s spicier taste.

The British plum season starts late August to early October & we have 3 Brown Turkey Fig trees growing in pots bursting with fruit, so this is my take on a spicy, yet slightly fruity brown sauce.

NJP’s Brown Sauce Recipe_NJP1236

453g British Plums stones removed
283g Fresh Figs chopped roughly
185g Onion chopped roughly
65g Raisins
13g Fresh Garlic
13g Fresh Ginger
18g Fresh Red Chili Peppers deseeded

_NJP1265SPICES
1/4 tbsp Chili Powder
1/4 tbsp Turmeric
1/4 tsp Allspice Berries
A couple of Mace Blades
2 tsp Tamarind Paste

PRESERVING AGENTS
14g Salt *
187ml Cider Vinegar
70g Dark Brown Muscovado Sugar *
1 tsp Black Treacle *

  1. Place all the ingredients apart from the sugar into a nonreactive pan – don’t use copper!
  2. Bring to the boil and then place onto a low heat and simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy.
  3. Blitz the contents of the pan in a blender / food processor
  4. At this point either return the sauce to the pan or you can use the extra step of using a food mill to extract liquid from the pulp, depending on whether you want a clearer sauce without bits.
  5. Add the sugar to the blended sauce and simmer until the desired consistency is reached *
  6. Place into sterilised jars and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for your canning method.
  7. If not using a preserving bath, use the sauce within 2 weeks and  always keep refrigerated.

* If you want a long shelf life for your preserves you need to use preserving agents traditionally these are salt, sugar & vinegars.

  • So use unrefined cane sugar wherever possible.
  • Use black treacle where molasses is not available. I used this as a colouring for the sauce to give a rich brown colour instead of a food colouring. (I plan on looking at making natural food colourings soon, so hopefully I can drop this items from the next batch of brown sauce).
  • To check the consistency I put a sample of sauce on a cold saucer and placed it into the fridge to cool. When cool the sauce behaves differently. Desired thickness is a personal choice, but we like our brown sauce gloopy!

It’s All About Da Herbs!

leadareo_herbFresh herbs  – What’s not to like? Apart from the sticker shock when you pick up one of those miserly bags from the supermarket. But it doesn’t have to be that way as they are so easy to grow from seed, even in small spaces. I read somewhere that 90% of all the_TDF4594 nutrient goodness is lost within 10 minutes of picking. Whether that’s true or not it’s so nice to grab a handful of the stuff to add flavour to the meals we cook.

Some of our herbs we grow in raised beds – Chives, Sage, Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme & Chamomile. Mint grows in pots as you don’t want to let it loose in open ground!

We grow our herbs in an enclosed aero-hydroponic system. The plants sit in small net pots filled with clay pebbles with their roots growing in the air. A water pump then pumps nutrient rich water through a sprinkler system that sprays the roots. surplus water drains back into the tank and recirculated. Periodically the water and nutrients are topped up, to make sure the growing conditions are optimum. Having said that they seem to grow pretty strongly even if neglected a little once they are established.

At the end of a growing season we empty the nutrient rich water into either our raised beds, garden or use to feed the fruit trees. So nothing is wasted.

Our hydro-aerponic tanks hold 40 small pots, so it is quite large but with everything hydroponic is is very scaleable. There are plenty of DIY hacks on the internet and even small scale windowsill options available.

With a system like this most commercial growers heat the water and provide additional artificial lighting to increase production yields. We don’t do this in the polytunnel , but it doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment even with the off and on sunlight we’ve been having throughout July.

So what do we grow?

  • Basil Genovese
  • Cilantro (aka coriander)
  • Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Dill

We tried growing Russian Tarragon from seed, as French Tarragon is propagated only by cuttings, but frankly we found it had none of the aniseed tones of its European counterpart.

So What to do with loads of herbs?

Here are just a few suggestions…

Nando’s style Macho Peas – Whole peas covered with mashed peas, mint, flat leaf parsley and red chili. Try swapping out the herbs for dill or basil. glass_herbOur favourite was basil and chili combo._BYS0025

Always looking for ways to spice up my veggies, I found a recipe for Bakla (broad bean salad) in “Middle Eastern Cookery” by Arto Der Haroutunian. Usually made with the whole young pods and eaten whole, I adapted the recipe for a quick mid week meal as I didn’t have time to follow the recipe to the letter but made use of the main ingredients, broad beans, mint and the aeroponic herbs  Dill and Parsleybroadbean

Cook the beans in water with a little allspice
Once cooked, drain and sprinkle the fresh herbs over the beans and chopped scallions
Toss in lemon juice and olive oil and serve.

Salad Dressing to accompany seafood and shellfish
Flat leaf parsley
Squeeze of lemon
Hemp or Olive Oil
Spot of Balsamic Vinegar
Whizz that up in a blender or food processor to toss with crisp green lettuce and french bean salad.

Not Your Mother’s (Gran’s?) Pressure Cooker

leadimageLet’s get over this first: They’re safe to use.

The days of fear that gripped households as they cooked with these unexploded aluminium bombs in the 50’s, that if misused or badly built, would eject the contents of the pan skywards (at best) are gone! They went on the scrapheap for decades but they deserve a comeback because they really create an amazing cooking environment.

Many contemporary chefs are turning once again to the pressure cooker to create some awesome food. In this YouTube clip, several chefs expound the virtue of this way of cooking.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4nOIRoe6mU

And in Modernist Cuisine, The Art & Science of Cooking, an encyclopaedia to the science of modern cooking, (Sticker Shock Alert! OMG! Christmas list for a rich aunt?…) one of the authors, Nathan Myhrvold believes pressure cookers are the must have kitchen tool for making stocks.herbs

The reason?

Pressure cooking, is moist cooking.
The temperature at which water boils rises when pressure increases. When the pressure cooker gauge is showing 1 red ring, the boiling point of the water can be around 120 degrees centigrade. Water will not boil inside a pressure cooker because the pot is sealed. As water vapour vaporises inside, it raises the ambient pressure  which in turn increases the boiling point. As long as the pressure cooker is sealed and no water vapour is escaping, the pressure inside will stay high enough to stop the water from boiling.

The Result?

The flavours and aromas of the food are all sweated out of the ingredients and as the liquid vaporises on the lid the moisture and flavour is retained in the sealed pan. Also cooking food at high temperatures can produce a Maillard Reaction, this is what happens when food is browned and caramelised, infusing a greater depth of flavour in the food.

Pressure cooking is also fast, it cooks in less time than most conventional methods of cooking.

Enough of the science stuff here’s something fun to do with a pressure cooker.

Not got the time to cook a whole roast chicken? Bung it in a pressure cooker! IMG_4812Really? Yes Really!
It comes out so juicy and tender and falls off the bone.
All within 25 minutes.

I was using the chicken to make a chicken chili verde, so I used the following poaching ingredients:

  • Fresh Tarragon
  • Fresh Thyme
  • A couple of Bay Leaves
  • 10 Szechuan Peppercorns
  • Half a red onion
  • A Carrot roughly chopped

Put the cooking rack in the bottom of the pan and add 2 cups of water (or whatever the manufacturer recommends)
Put the chicken in the pot breast side upIMG_4748
Seal the pressure cooker and bring up to high pressure – for my cooker that means I see 2 red rings on the gauge.
Once it’s reached pressure cook for 25 minutes.
Don’t forget leave the lid on for the pressure to drop naturally and so all the vapours drop back into the pan and use the liquid at the bottom as stock.

I used mine in the chili verde that I served with red rice and broad bean guacamole.

There was even chicken left over for the next day. Enchiladas anyone?

herbs2

Any Night can be Pizza Night

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Homemade pizza is one of our favourite foods. So simple and so much fun!

There are two pizza books on my kitchen shelf, that I would not be without. The first is Pizza Pilgrims by James & Thom Elliot. A couple of guys who travelled through Italy in a 3-Wheeler Van learning to cook real Neapolitan pizzas, and then came back to make great simple authentic pizzas in London. The second is American Pie by Peter Reinhart also the author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

American Pie contains my favourite go to dough recipe, so the book is getting rather dog-eared now.IMG_6889 I usually make a big batch at a time as it freezes well. It’s also a very forgiving recipe, the dough doesn’t seem to mind being mixed by hand, planetary mixer or spiral mixer. It makes a really tasty thin, crisp base even if you cook your pizza in a normal oven.

I tend to omit or reduce the amount of salt and sugar used in recipes (just our preference), so for my pizza dough I changed the quantities used. I also adapted the recipe to work with dried active yeast (readily available in UK supermarkets), instead of instant yeast. If using instant yeast just add it to the dry ingredients and mix.

NEO – NEAPOLITAN PIZZA DOUGHIMG_6883

10 cups 00 flour
3 teaspoon salt
Yeast  *see below
4 tablespoons olive oil
500ml room temperature water

DRIED ACTIVE YEAST PREPARATION

2/3rd tsp sugar
100ml water (taken from the 500ml)
2 tsp yeast
Dissolve the sugar in the water.
Mix in the yeast and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes.
This is now ready to use with the other ingredients.

The Pizza Pilgrims insist the best pizza sauce is made from uncooked San Marzano tomatoes that have been squished to a light pulp and sprinkled with salt. Getting my hands on those in my little Welsh Valley is nigh on impossible – or is it?…IMG_8065

I managed to locate a pack of seeds and I’ve a handful of plants growing in the greenhouse and polytunnel! Can’t wait for them to ripen! If you can’t buy it – grow it!
At the moment I use Italian whole plum tomatoes and carefully remove them from the juice and mash the fruit.

Some of best garlic bread is the simplest to make when you’re using a wood fired oven.

Take a piece of pizza dough.
Roll it out.
Dot with garlic, butter (or olive oil) and maybe a sprinkling of parmesan and poppy seeds.

”Pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad it’s good”
Mel Brooks