Finally the long and cold winter seems to have passed and spring really seems to have arrived. Now the clocks have changed the evenings are also lighter which means a bit more time that can be spent in the garden.
I not only love cooking but also enjoy the creation of ingredients- and this time of year it is all about growing your own!
We don't have a massive garden and the waiting list for an allotment in this area is over 60 years apparently. But we do have an area on the patio that is very underused so for the last few years I've used this to grown fruit and vegetables in containers. Now we've got most of the pots that we need the main outlay is the seeds and compost.
I'm trying some of the same seeds again this year that I grew last year- tomatoes (though this time a container variety), cucumbers, courgettes (again the container variety), pumkins (hopefully a large one to carve at halloween and some of the container variety to cook with), lettuce and rocket, beans (again container ones) carrots, garlic and herbs. I am also trying sweet and hot peppers, peas, brocolli as well as spring onions this year. I've decided against potatoes this year. The amount of space and compost it takes up for the yield doesn't seem to be efficient. Similarly I've decided against growing sweetcorn since feel they need more space. Here are the first few pots- lettuce and rocket, garlic, peas and onions (and a few daffs!)
The fruit plants that we planted last year seem to be doing well so hoping we get our first round fruit. I've also got two propogators on the windowsills where I've got my first batch of seedlings growing:
And here the two of them are a week later with the seedlings starting to sprout
I would never call myself an expert gardener but over the last few years have started determining what does and doesn't work in our garden and what produces the best results. I love going into the garden after I've put the girls to bed and picking some fresh vegetables for our dinner- feels a bit like living the "good life"!
I also think that it is great for children to grow their own vegetables- even if you only have a windowsill to do some herbs on. A lot of children really do not know where their food comes from- if you ask them where eggs, milk, meat, fruit, vegetables etc come from most won't know how to answer (and if they do the answer will be the shops). There are lots of farms now that are catered for visits from children and where they will see cows being milked, eggs being collected, baby animals and chicks as well as being able to watch lambs being born. This really helps children (particularly those that live in the city) to learn more about where their food comes from. And growing your own fruit and vegetables also helps children to learn about where their food comes from as well as learning to look after things and keep them fed and watered (without the added anxieties that come with pets!)
It is also good for picky eaters. Most toddlers go through very picky phases but they LOVE to get involved in helping mummy and daddy (paricularly when they can get a bit messy when helping with the compost!) If they watch the vegetables grow and help pick them and choose what you are going to cook with them they will hopefully at least try the different things that you are growing and hopefully become more adventurous with their fruit and vegetable intake! And if they are anything like my three year old who is obsessed with Mr Bloom on Cbeebies this will also encourage them into a bit of vegetable growing!
For amateur gardeners I really like The Girl's Guide to Growing Your Own (and though it is presented in quite a girly manner the actual content is obviously not gender specific!)
She is a local author and I know several friends that have used this book and also rate it. Also it is often useful to go along to a good garden centre and have a look around and talk to the people there. I like Thompsons in Welling, South London but if this is not local to you have a look around since you are very likely to find one near you.
And now the weather is getting better it is definitely time to start doing more salads. People have odd ideas on salads- that they are boring and that they are only for women on diets (this is also wrong for those wanting to diet- salad can be as calorific as other main courses depending on what toppings and dressings you use!)
I really try and avoid iceburg lettuce in a salad. It is very wattery and doesn't really have a lot of taste. It is good in certain dishes but for having a salad as a meal I much prefer salad leaves with stronger flavours- rocket, spinach, lollo rosso, cos etc.. Other vegetables are often very nice grated raw into a salad- cabbage, carrots and thinly sliced courettes (use a potato peeler) tossed in lemon juice (this is lovely with freshly picked courgette straight from the garden!)
Other things to add to a salad include new potatoes cooked til just tender, olives, feta, crutons (either toast some bread and cut into squares or quick fry in some oil), sun dried tomatoes, shavings of parmesan, cucumber, tomatoes, cubed peppers, strips of parma ham, softly boiled eggs (cook at the slightest simmer for 8 minutes for a lovely just firm centre), tuna mayonaisse, sliced meats, fresh peas, chopped spring onions, fresh green beans, a sprinkle of seeds, some dough balls (see my earlier blog Our Daily Bread for how to make these)- the list is endless. A topping I like is chicken breast pieces lightly fried with some mustard and honey. When it is cooked through add about 100ml of wine to thin the sauce a little and pour over your salad using the sauce as a dressing.
For dressings again this depends on taste and how calorific you want the salad to be. In general you need fat and acidity in a dressing- usually some oil for the fat (extra virgin olive oil is always but again you can experiment- toasted sesame oil gives a lovely twist) and either lemon or vinegar (balsamic, white wine, red wine etc... are all vinegars that work well). Generally you use one part vinegar/lemon to two parts oil. Then to this you add your flavourings: honey, dash of tabasco, dash of worcestershire sauce, seasonings, crushed garlic, dijon mustard, wholegrain, fresh herbs finely chopped etc. I tend to put everything in a clean screw-top jar and shake before pouring over. Do this as you are serving. If you dress the salad too far in advance the vinegar will "cook" the leaves and tends to result in things wilting. To keep everything crisp do this at the table- you can have everything prepared and the dressing in the jar ready to pour at the last minute.
So here's hoping to a long and warm summer!
Finally I've had a few requests for specific things people would like me to write about- more than happy to do these- please send in any requests for recipes and cooking ideas you would like me to discuss.