Saturday, 27 March 2010

Life is like... an episode of Sesame Street

I sometimes think my life is like a series of Sesame Street. You know how at the end of each episode they say something like, "today's programme was brought to you by the letters A and P, the number 7 and the colour red". For me I find that each week is brought to me by a particular vegetable (or fruit in the summer and autumn). Last week was brought to me by the onion and this week it has been the parsnip.

With my onions gradually deteriorating with each week that they remain in storage I have been making a determined effort to use them up. It is easy to use onions up as they are so versatile. They are great fried with some mushrooms and plonked on top of a chop, or in a casserole or stir fry. My onion week culminated with a spectacular onion tart, followed by a couple of hours on the allotment planting the onion sets for this year's harvest. It is a good job I like onions because when I ordered my spring sets I had completely forgotten that I had already planted onions in the autumn. And just for once my autumn sets survived the winter well. What's more, I got a free bag of onion sets with something I ordered! As much as I love onions, I'm not sure I have the space for so many sets. I could find space now, of course, but then discover I don't have room for other crops later such as sweet corn and pumpkins.

Onion Tart

For the pastry
4 oz (110g) plain flour
4 oz (110g) wholemeal flour
4 oz (110g) margarine
½ teaspoon mustard powder
A little bit of grated cheese

For the filling
1lb (450g) onions (or shallots)
Oil/butter for frying
9 fl oz (250ml) single cream
2 eggs
Cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper

Sift the flours into a bowl and work into a breadcrumb consistency with the margarine using fingertips. Add the mustard powder and cheese then enough water to bind it into a soft dough. Wrap in Clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour. In the meantime, peel and finely chop the onions then fry with the oil/butter for 20 minutes until golden. Preheat the oven to 190°C and grease a suitable tin. Roll out the pastry and place in the tin then trim the edges. Place greaseproof paper over the pastry and weight it down with baking beans/dried rice etc. Blind bake the pastry for 15 minutes. Tip the cooked onions into the pastry case. Beat the eggs and stir into the cream then pour this mix over the onions. Season then grate cheese over the top to cover the tart. Bake the tart at 200°C for 30 minutes until golden.

I did a similar thing with rhubarb this year too. Having made rhubarb jam for the first time last year from a friend's plant I became a bit of a fan of rhubarb after years of misunderstanding the poor plant. So this year I thought it might be worth getting my own plant. I thought this again a couple of weeks ago whilst stood in Wilkinsons so I forked out a whopping £1.98 for a crown and the following weekend Steve found a spot for it under one of the apple trees. Then later this week to my surprise a packet arrived from Thompson & Morgan containing two rhubarb crowns! Hmm... I'd obviously had the same brilliant idea back in December when I placed my seed order and completely forgotten about it. This morning I dug two more holes on the allotment and got them planted. It is a good job that my rhubarb and ginger jam is popular as in a year's time I could well be making a lot of it!

Last week after planting the onion sets I dug up another row of parsnips. I don't know what is it about this plant. Read any textbook and you will learn that parsnips are difficult to grow - mainly because they are poor to germinate. Well, not on my allotment. Last year I had so many I had to thin them out. Now I have about 6 rows left of enormous roots. One row filled a whole carrier bag. I have it in my mind that if I dig up a row a week for the next 6 weeks I may just about be able to deal with them all before they become inedible as they regrow. However, that does mean that I have to do something with a carrier bag of parsnips every week for the next 6 weeks.

So on Sunday evening, after scrubbing the roots clean, I par boiled twice as many as I needed for the roast dinner. Half of them I put under the lamb to roast and the other half I sauted in goose fat for a few minutes until beginning to brown then placed on a tray. Once cooled I froze them to be cooked from frozen as roast parsnips later in the year. On Monday, I grated them with some potato and a bit of shallot to make rostis. On Tuesday, I added them to a casserole. On Wednesday I mashed them with a little butter. On Thursday I made parsnip cake... well, why not, after all carrot cake works well. On Friday I realised I was over doing it on the parsnip front when Steve came home from work and instead of asking what was for dinner he said, "How are we having the parsnips tonight, Dear?"

Deeply Spicy Parsnip Cake

2 oz grated parsnip

8 oz plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

4 oz margarine

4 oz dark muscovado sugar

2 oz raisins

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons mixed spice

230 ml water

2 eggs

Preheat an oven to 170°C, gas 3 and line a cake tin. Put the sugar, raisins, parsnip, margarine and water in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and heat gently until the margarine has melted. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. In a bowl, sift together the flour, spices, salt and the raising agents. Pour the wet mixture into the flour mixture, add the eggs and stir until combined; do not overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin. Bake for an hour until a skewer inserted comes away clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin.

I didn't quite get to the bottom of the carrier bag and this morning I stood on the allotment wondering whether I really should dig up another row.

Now I am wondering what theme next week will bring. I don't think I can stand another parsnip week. This afternoon I made Easter chocolate orange cakes with my girls then helped them stick bits and pieces all over some straw hats for an Easter bonnet parade later in the week. I'm hoping that next week will be brought to me by the theme of Easter... a lot more fun than parsnips!

Chocolate Orange Easter Cakes (makes 12)

4 oz butter
4 oz light brown sugar
2 eggs
Zest and juice of 1 orange
3 oz self-raising flour
1 oz cocoa powder

For the decoration
2 oz butter
2 oz icing sugar
2 oz orange flavoured dark chocolate, melted
A tube of Cadbury Mini Eggs

Preheat oven to 180°C, gas 4 and line a 12 hole cake tin with paper fairy cake cases. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream together. Add the eggs and the orange zest and juice. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. In the meantime, cream together the butter, icing sugar and melted chocolate to form icing. Spoon a little of the icing over each cooled cake then top with 2-3 Mini Eggs.

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