Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Broad Bean Harvest

We're having a lovely broad bean harvest this year and I plan to make the most of them. I sowed 5 different varieties in the spring and kept them under plastic cloche tunnels until the heatwave in April when the first flowers started to appear. Obviously, the pollinating insects wouldn't be able to do their jobs if the flowers were kept under plastic.

When there were just a few remaining flowers and most of the beans had formed I went round and nipped off the top bunch of leaves from every plant. I don't know how or why but doing this significantly reduces the blackfly infestation. If you leave it too late and blackfly have already arrived by the time you do it then it doesn't work and if you don't do it at all then you can expect blackflies to inundate your broad beans, starting at the top and eventually swamping the bean pods themselves. With the top nipping done at the correct point this year we have a lovely healthy looking crop.

When growing lots of plants, as were are, it is worth eating the beans from the earliest possible point when the beans inside are still tiny. Some people actually eat the bean pods before the beans have begun to form but I'm not a fan of furry food! It seems a bit wasteful at first to split open the large pods to extract tiny beans that in no way attempt to fill their cosy sleeping bag. But, with steady eating from this stage you will still end up having beans on the plants that become old and unpleasant to eat.

Broad beans are nicest to eat when they are young and become increasingly less pleasant the older they get. When young they should pop out of their pods with their little green hats still with them. As they get older the hat begins to turn yellow and eventually the beans come out without their hats, leaving a black scar on the bean. At this point it is best to cook the beans then squeeze the inner bean out of the now tough outer skin. This is another fiddly stage in the preparation so it is obviously easier to avoid this by eating them before they reach this stage. Personally, when they reach this point I usually cook them up and turn them into pate or houmous (see archives for the recipes).

By this weekend the beans had grown quite large but they still had their little green hats and were pleasant to eat. It struck me that now would be the perfect time to freeze some beans for the winter months - rather than leaving it until they go past their best. So I set about harvesting half of what was left on the plants and came home with a bulging carrier bag full. These I podded until I had a huge bowlful of the things. Then I got a big pan of boiling water going and blanched the lot. Then I plunged them into icy water to cool them quickly then dried them roughly and lay them out on trays to freeze. The next morning I rubbed them off the trays and dropped them into freezer bags as handy individually frozen beans. It was very satisfying to put 3 bags of broad beans into the freezer for the winter.

The remaining beans on the plants are continuing to feed us and of course are continuing to mature. We will eat them fresh until they become tough then I shall make & freeze my pate and houmous for Steve's sandwiches throughout the year. What a handy bean the broad bean is.

Friday, 17 June 2011

I feel a cheesecake coming on

Often when I'm baking it is one of my own recipe books that I refer to. I love creating and writing down new recipes. It is lovely to be able to share my kitchen creativity with others through my books but it is also really handy to have them to refer back to myself. Blogging is another useful way to make sure I don't forget my recipes.

Earlier this week I decided to turned the latest harvest of strawberries into a strawberry swirl cheesecake. Regular readers of my blog will know that I created this for the first time last year at the request of my eldest daughter. Having blogged about it back then I knew that now I need only delve into the archives of my blog to find the recipe again this year. This I did and printed it out for reference in the kitchen.

As usual, just as I got started my eldest daughter sprung into the kitchen to see if I required any help. I'm never one to turn down help so she found her apron and washed her hands. Then she spotted the recipe on a piece of paper and asked why it was only on paper and not in one of my recipe books. I pointed out that I'm always coming up with new recipes and the new ones aren't in recipe books yet. "Well," she said, "in that case, you need to write a cheesecake recipe book."

That night as I lay in bed, drifting off to sleep I started thinking about cheesecakes. Well, there are worse things to think about as you fall asleep. By the morning I had decided that a cheesecake mini recipe booklet would make a useful addition to my mini recipe book range but I am going to need more recipes. So what's seasonal, tasty and not something I have already done?

By the time I went to bed again the next night I had come to conclusion that an elderflower cheesecake was a strong possibility. And by the end of the next day I had elderflowers infusing in whipping cream in the fridge. Later, the idea of including gooseberries in the recipe too occurred to me so that night my daughter and I made gooseberry and elderflower cheesecake.

I couldn't wait to try it so had a sneaky slice after my lunch the next day. Straight after school my daughter asked to try it and she quickly gave it her seal of approval and informed me it was good enough to go into my cheesecake recipe book. That's a long term project but here's the gooseberry and elderflower cheesecake recipe in the meantime. By the way, if you have a cheesecake recipe that you think would make a good addition to my recipe book, please get in touch.

Gooseberry & Elderflower Cheesecake

6 oz crushed digestive biscuits
2 oz melted butter

5 fl oz whipping cream
5 elderflower heads
4 oz gooseberries
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 oz caster sugar
1 egg
7 oz soft cheese
Snip the flower heads off the stalks and place the flowers into a container with the whipping cream. Place a lid on it then place it in the fridge overnight to infuse.

To make the base: Put the biscuits in a bag and crush them with the end of a rolling pin until finely crushed. Melt the butter and mix it with the biscuit crumbs. Press the mix firmly into the bottom of a 20cm flan dish and chill for about 1 hour.

To make the filling: Preheat oven to 180 °C, gas mark 4. Place the gooseberries in a small saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water and the granulated sugar then cook for about 10 minutes until the fruit is soft. Set aside to cool. Cream together the cheese and the caster sugar until light and fluffy. Next, strain the cream through a sieve, squeezing the flowers to extract as much cream as possible - you should have approximately 4 fl oz of cream. Discard the elderflowers. Add the egg and cream to the cheese mix and whisk with an electric whisk until thick. Dollop the creamy filling onto the biscuit base and spread out evenly. Place a sieve over a bowl and pour the gooseberries through the sieve, crushing the fruit with a spoon to leave behind just the skin and seeds. Spoon a tablespoon of the gooseberry sauce onto the cream mixture then use a chopstick or skewer to carefully swirl the sauce through the cream mixture. Put the remaining gooseberry sauce into the refrigerator until serving. Place the cheesecake in the oven and bake for 20 minutes then turn out the oven and leave it in the oven for another 10 minutes. After that open the oven door and leave the cheesecake inside to continue its slow cooling so that it doesn't crack. Once cool, refrigerate the cheesecake to chill before serving. Serve each slice of cheesecake with a serving of gooseberry sauce.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Freshly cut herbs

Most of my front garden is dedicated to herbs, which is quite a contrast to my next door neighbour's garden which is mostly dedicated to gravel, dotted sporadically with dandelions and thistles. I like my herb garden so was somewhat surprised the other morning when my neighbour knocked on the door to ask me if I could cut back the herbs that were overhanging her garden. Of course I said I would and later went out to see what she was fussing about. Yes, the herbs were definitely overhanging but in what I would consider an attractive way. Nonetheless, I was obliged to meet her wishes and cut them back.

Funnily enough I had also noticed this week that the postman was now taking a slightly different route to my front door. The reason for this became clear when I stood on my doorstep this afternoon and looked up my normal pathway - now almost completely closed up by herbs on either side - quite pleasant to walk down on a warm day but less so in the wet. Clearly, the herbs were getting out of control. With this in mind, I bought pack of sausagement and a few more onions; if I had to cut them back then I wanted to make use of what I could.

After school I said to my girls that I was going to trim back the herbs in the front garden and I would really appreciate their help and if not help, then company. Then, armed with shears, I nipped around the my neighbour's garden a began snipping. I was soon joined by my girls and my eldest got stuck in to scooping up the cuttings and loading them into the wheelbarrow. My youngest plonked herself down on the gravel and began playing. After several minutes my eldest said to her sister, "Are you going to help?" to which she replied, "I'm company." That made me chuckle.

They continued to help and provide company for the next hour as we trimmed back both the overhang into the neighbour's garden and the footpath. It was quite a heap of herbs in the wheelbarrow by the time we had finished but I also had several bundles for the kitchen. We were just finishing the sweeping up when my husband arrived and as he wheeled the lot around to the compost bins, I took the saved herbs indoors to sort them out.

My first job was to put the lavender flowers into a pot as a lovely centrepiece of the table. It both looked and smelt gorgeous. I didn't add any water to the pot and so over the next few days the flowers will slowly dry out and become preserved dried flowers, retaining most of their lovely colour and fragrance.

Next, I chopped up the sage and mixed it with finely chopped onion, breadcrumbs, sausagement and a bit of salt and pepper to make stuffing. This I placed in the freezer in handy portions. Tomorrow I shall use some of the rosemary to make herb mustard - this is lovely smeared on lamb before grilling or roasting it. Later, a couple of sprigs of savory went into the pan with the freshly picked broad beans we had with dinner.

Herbs are growing rapidly at this time of year so should you find yourself in need of trimming some back, enjoy the cuttings in the kitchen.