Friday, 26 June 2009

British soft fruit

This is without a doubt one of the best times of the year for buying British produce in supermarkets! On a recent trip to my local supermarket, I found strawberries, blackberries and raspberries in the fruit section and aubergines and courgettes in the vegetable section, all grown in Britain.

I'll come to the vegetables in a later post, but for now I want to talk about the fruit. I always think that soft fruit grown n Britain tastes better, which I think is simply because it hasn't had to be shipped or flown a great distance to get here. Or, it could just be that we grow different varieties of fruit here, I don't know. But, I do know that it tastes great and that's the main thing!
I like to eat fruit with my breakfast and a great way to do that is to blend the fruit up with some natural yogurt and have it with some kind of cereal in place of milk. Here, I have rinsed the strawberries, blackberries and raspberries and then added them to around four or five large dessert spoons of natural yogurt. Blend this all together briefly – I don't like it to get too smooth, I think it should still have identifiable bits of fruit in it. Then, simply pour over a bowl of cereal, in this case I'm using an oat and honey cereal. You could add some sugar if you want, I didn't because of the honey already in the cereal I'm using.
That's it! Something very simple, but hopefully it'll inspire you to go out and buy British soft fruit while you can. Remember, it's a relatively short season...

Thursday, 25 June 2009


My attempt at seeing how much food I can grow myself at home, despite only having a small patio, continues to go well! The tomatoes are doing splendidly and are beginning to produce flowers, as you can see here:
I've had to do some minor structural engineering to support them though. I've grown tomatoes before and the plants do seem unusually bad at supporting themselves. Looking at the leaves and the stem closely reveals them to be covered in lots of tiny hairs, which makes me wonder if in the wild the tomato plant would sort of 'Velcro' itself to other plants growing around it. Otherwise, I really don't see how they would get on in the wild with no one to make some sort of supports for them. Of course, tomato plants such as these are the result of many, many years of careful selected breeding, so it's quite possible that the original tomato plants were more than capable of supporting themselves. Through selective breeding, plants will have been developed to produce the most fruit, which could well have lead to plants that seem intrinsically top heavy and unable to support themselves.

I have also been growing chillies, although I haven't blogged about these before. A friend has very kindly been looking after these for me whilst I was in the process of moving, which was much appreciated! However, I now have them in my flat and they are doing really well! They have produced fruit before and I did have an attempt at making curry from them, which worked well, but I am looking forward to perfecting it. I did try eating one of the fruits whole, straight from the plant, which was something of a mistake. They may be small, but they are very powerful! The plants themselves make quite nice house plants as well; they produce small, pale purple flowers which actually smell really nice. When the sun shines on them through my patio doors it makes the whole living room smell! Home grown chillies and free air freshener to boot, you don't get much better than that.
The sweet peppers I planted are also continuing to do really well:
I believe that these will get to be about one or two feet in height before producing fruit, so they have some way to go yet. It's interesting that one of them has got to be much bigger, by almost a factor of two in terms of height, then the others. I'm not sure what could have caused this, except perhaps it has had more sunlight, so I have rearranged them to see if I can't even things out a little bit.

I have also planted some butternut squash seeds, which have germinated and are growing very quickly:

This is quite impressive as I only planted these just over a week ago! These will be able to go outside once they are strong enough. Luckily, I have two spare spaces in the grow bags I'm using for the tomatoes, so I shall plant these there.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Wild Venison

You've got to admit, there's something inherently exciting about any food with 'wild' in the name. 'Wild boar' sounds so much better then 'pork', for example and I'm sure even 'wild carrots' would attract more attention than the common or garden variety. So, when visiting a relatively local farm shop recently I came across wild venison, well, I could hardly turn down the opportunity to try it out. They sold either fillet steak or rump steak, so I went for the rump steak as it was slightly cheaper. I incidentally also bought some carrots while I was there, although they were not described as being 'wild'.
Venison is quite an interesting meat – it's quite dark in colour and has a heavy, almost livery smell when raw. It's also naturally very lean, as the packaging in this case testifies. It can be cooked just like a fillet of beef or any other steak really – in a pan. Of course, there are many other ways of cooking venison, pot roast in particular springs to mind, but I quite like to have the steak almost just as it is. So, simply season lightly with salt and black pepper (freshly ground if possible!). Then simply place in a hot frying pan, or as I'm using here, a grill pan. The pan needs to be really hot before the meat goes in as we are aiming to seal in the juices and hence the flavour. If the pan was too cool and the meat heated up slowly, then it would lose a lot more juice.
Cook on one side for three to four minutes, before turning and repeating the same on the other side. I tend to turn the heat down a bit at this point, so that I don't fill the kitchen up with smoke, but it should still be kept fairly high. How long you cook it for depends on how you like your steak. Deciding when a steak is done the way you like it is something that takes a bit of practice (best to get this right before cooking for guests!). My method is to press my finger onto the top of the steak in the pan (you have to be fairly quick, to avoid getting burnt) to feel how firm it is. You can then compare this to either your top lip, the tip of your nose, or the centre of your forehead. This isn't as crazy as it may sound! If the meat is as soft as your top lip, for example, then it will be rare. Likewise, if it feels more like the tip of your nose, then it should be roughly medium. Obviously, if it is really firm, like your forehead, then it will be well done. Note that this is really only good as a rough guide line! You'll need to try it out once or twice to get the hang of it. If you're just cooking for yourself, then it doesn't matter if you cut the steak in half to see how it's doing in the centre and if it's not done well enough, then simply put it back in the pan for a few more minutes. If you are aiming for medium to well done, then it helps to turn the steak over occasionally since this makes sure it gets more evenly browned, which makes presentation easier and it will slightly speed up the cooking process.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Well, it's been a busy couple of weeks there, so sorry for not posting for a while! But, while I've been away the tomato and sweet pepper plants have been doing really well. I have now transferred the tomato plants to grow bags, which are outdoors. It will still be a while before they have any fruit, but hopefully they'll do well. The sweet peppers are also looking good and I have now separated the four strongest plants. It's always sad having to throw away all the others that have grown so well, but none of them would survive if left in the same pot and I simply don't have enough pots (or space) to keep them all...