Morrison’s Market Street

veg from morrisons

Patty pans, pepinos, gai lan, raf tomatoes, mild white onions and blue and shiro shimeji muhrooms. All available as part of the new Morrison's green grocery offer

Hmmm… interesting.  I’m not sure what to make of Morrison’s new market street concept.  Our local Morrison’s got the make over in the last few weeks and has now reopened complete with a hugely diversified range of vegetables kept on ice and regularly misted to keep them fresh, fresh herbs station (with the herbs kept like flowers in water), in-store made sausages and other goodies. 
First off, its as refreshing as a misting unit to find a supermarket that is prioritising fresh food in its offer.  OK so a small section of childrens’ clothes has appeared, but the most striking change is all in the fresh food range and display.  For this, Morrisons, we salute you.  What’s more the introduction of the misting unit should allow foods with a smaller turnover to be made available for a sufficiently long time without much packaging or direct refrigeration.

Beef pinwheels from the butchery

On the flip side, you can’t help but wonder about the air miles involved in producing and delivering some of the goods.  Pepinos, for example, I understand are seldom available at less than exorbitant prices because their difficult to transport from their native South America.  I didn’t check the origins though.  I did notice that even the most exotic of the mushrooms on display were UK grown.  So the jury’s out on that one so far.

I’m also wondering how the mister stacks up in terms of energy use.  Anyone know?    The other question I have is how sustainable (in the old school sense rather than the more specific ecological sense) the model is.  If anyone who was party to the early tests (e.g http://ukretailers.blogspot.co.uk/2011_01_01_archive.html) has been paying attention to how things have changed over time, I’d be super interested…

Otherwise, this is the first time for a long time that I’ve seen something imaginative done to excite supermarket customers about fresh vegetables.  We found a whole range of new goods we’d not seen before ( something that doesn’t happen every day!)  and left the place with the sort of enthusiasm normally reserved for a farmers market, but without any of the feel good awareness of the journey that the food made to our shopping basket.
We’ll see eh?

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Hope springs in spring time

okra seeds

okra seeds

Hoorah for the hope that is small hard round things going into peat free compost!

Hoorah for the optimism that is trying out something exotic that you’ve not seen growing before (until you find out why)!

Hoorah for the heated windowsill propogator!

Yup, its planting time!

tomatillo seed pack

Enjoy the pic of the tomatilloes. I'm not sure I'll have a photo of real ones later!

True, I could have started earlier. I didn’t.  So today I planted the seeds that are going into the heated propogator to start them off; tomatoes (beefmaster and tigerella), sunflowers, aubergines and new kids on the block this year – tomatilloes and okra.

The tomatillo seeds have been kicking around a wee while so I’m not sure what state they’re in.  They’re like small tomato seeds, hardly surprising as they’re part of the tomato dynasty.  Hopefully they’ll produce something like a cross between a blue tomatoe and a cape gooseberry.

The okra seeds were a bit of a surprise I’ve eaten okra and never seen anything vaguely like the seeds!  Largeish, dark and round.

This year I’m not trying peppers from scratch, I’ve had a few disasters there, and very few tasty fruits – I’ll also buy a cucumber plant later, as that’s another one I’ve not had so much success with (but small grown fruits are much tastier than the big watery supermarket ones).

All I have to do now is watch that space and not forget to water.  I hope!

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seasonal somewhere

veggies in cyprus

local veggies, cyprus supermarket

We were in Cyprus a few weeks back.  As usual I was interested in the local food economy – it being late winter the most visible signs were the omnipresent oranges which were in orchards, front gardens and ornamental park alike.  Also everywhere were the blue plastic bunch covers which protect bananas from the physical and animal environment.  We were pre-warned not to expect a lot of local fish.

orange trees in a park

orange trees in a park

There was a lot of local fruit and veg available in the (non-tourist) supermarket – I was initially jealous of the range of salad and mediterranean veg available; aubergines, scruffy but very tasty tomatoes, small sweet cucumbers, citrus, beans, aubergines, herbs…

weather beaten bananas

weather beaten bananas

But then, we can grow at least the vegetables here too, even up North, just not in the winter.  But at this time of year,  it’s not rataouillie or salad I crave (unless as a break from the routine) but hearty sweet and substantial vegetable – but is this peculiar?  There really is so little evidence of the seasons in my local supermarkets.  It would be interesting to know whether the permanent availability is actually hiding a major change in consumption across the seasons…  I don’t know (but it occurs to me there might be  a way to find out).

Anyway, I seem to be a bit unfocussed today.  But if I have a point it’s this; about half of the veg in Cyprus was local.  It’s nothing like that here.  The food there was appropriate there – seasonal food here is pretty appropriate and tasty too.

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First plot post 2012

plot mid feb 2012

Not terrible - but I should have tidied up a bit!

Yeah, yeah, don’t nag – there have been genuine reasons for the silence.  But we’ve emerged the other side to find that there are still tasty vegetables to be had down the allotment.

The much milder winter (so far at least, I’m sure I’m not the only gardener holding my breath) means that the cabbages made it through this year, so we’ve just finished our last savoy and still have a few white and red cabbages to keep us going (oh and sprouts the size of ping pong balls) – so we’re nowhere near desparate enough to hit the whitefly infested kale.  We also have a few root veggies too – beetroot and parsnips, although the swedes never really came to much.

brassicas

sprouts and cabbages going strong

The really good bit, isn’t that we’re still eating things we planted as long as 10 months ago, we’ve got the first signs of a more fruitful times starting to show.  The rhubarb is now there in miniature, buds are forming on the fruit trees, the daffodils are about to flower and we’ve planted the garlic.  I like this.  However, it also means that we’re about to start a really busy period down the allotment – there’s a whole heap of digging and planting ahead.

Oh by the way, notice the blue skies?  Its always like that in Greater Manchester – the rain is a myth to make Londoners feel better about house prices.

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Recipes for a lychee crisis

Today, I’m thinking about lychees.

I’m sorry I don’t have many pictures to accompany this post, we ate before I sorted out the camera (some sort of complication to do with camera / card compatibility) – so I’ve hit the Creative Commons search (thanks due for the lovely lychee creative commons attribution sharealike pic to sugree  which reminds me of hot climes http://www.flickr.com/photos/sugree/3748122647/)

His Nibs and I had our heads turned by a basket of lychees at the continental supermarket the other day.  Thankfully its only a couple of kilos (about a quarter of the size of the basket of longons that I once bought on a whim driven by a fond memory of Thai longon orchards).

So a couple of days in of happy munching we were disappointed to find that the lychee shells were starting to blue fuzz (forgive me the inept nounifying).   Now as lychee shells are almost like egg shells we decided that the fruit would be OK as long as we acted soon (did you notice the love food, hate waste logo on this site?).  But what to do with nearly 2 kilos of lychees at short notice?  Apart from fruit salad, lychees and icecream (I didn’t have either the inclination, time, freezer space or ingredients to make lychee icecream or sorbet) we were a bit stumped.

The first was a no-brainer; lychee, strawberry and banana smoothie.  And delicious smoothies at that.  Each contained about 10 lychees, about 4 strawberries and a half a banana.  You get a pleasingly pink drink to sink.

The second use was thanks to a recipe that took a while to find.  Lychee jam.  I drew on a recipe for lychee and rosewater jam by Kavey (on Kavey Eats) and tweaked it a little to fit the available ingredients.  My recipe for Lychee strawberry and elderflower jam was just enough for one jar. It consisted of 500g chopped fruit (mainly shelled lychees, but including about 10 strawberries) , a glug (I know, not very scientific, perhaps a couple of tbsp?) of real elderflower cordial, 300g preserving sugar and about a tbsp of lemon juice.

Cook up the ingredients until you have something with softish lychee lumps which looks like it will set (I don’t try the set test when I use preserving sugar by and large as the pectin is almost guarunteed to do the job).  Place into a sterilised jam jar and put on a lid. The combination of the lychee and elderflower is quite floral and reminiscent of turkish delight – its very sweet so its not one that you’d want a lot of – but its an interesting change, and a good emergency use of half a kilo of lychees, should you find yourself in that sort of dilemna.

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Marrow cream

About this time last year I posted about uses of marrows. This year I’m revisiting one of the less hopeful sounding ideas – Marrow cream. I just want to tell you how good marrow cream is and how undeserving of such an unappealing name. I mean, if someone were to say to you ‘would you like some of our home made marrow cream on your toast’ how would you respond?

Now if I were to say, ‘would you like some of our home made lemon curd’, wouldn’t that sound better? This stuff is as good as lemon curd (slight less rich than the home made stuff) but just as tasty. It lasts a long time in the dresser – as regular eagle eyed readers may have noticed. We’ve only just finished off the last of last year’s supply.

So I thought I’d share the process. It’s super simple but does need to be started one day and finished the next.
1. Take about 4lb of cubed, skinned de-seeded marrow (that’s one marrow, on the largish but not out of control side) and steam it until it is tender. Leave it to drain overnight.

On day 2 take the cubed marrow and put it into a preserving pan (we find an old heavy pressure cooker with the lid left off works fine)

marrow cream in the makingNow mash it up as well as you can.  This is going to form the bulk of your marrow cream so the fewer bumps the better.

Add to this the tasty bits – the zest and juice of 6 lemons (organic ones are less likely to be waxed, and who wants waxy marrow cream?), 3 1/2 pounds of granulated white sugar and 1/2 pound of butter.  Boil this for 20 minutes, stirring regularly.

marrow creamYou’re done!  Just spoon into sterilised jars and quickly cover with a wax disc and lid.

This stuff is good on toast and replaces lemon curd in pretty much any recipe but will keep for months longer.

It looks like it tastes, lemon curdylike but a bit fresher.

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Skinny french kitchen

I have had enquiries, so the news on the allotment at the mo is that the weeding is going well. We’ve slowed it down now that the back of it has been broken.  I’ll get some pics up in a post soon.  Right now I want to rave about a book.

My current favourite new cookery book is The Skinny French Kitchen.  We’re eating even better than ever!  Harry Eastwood (she of Cook Yourself Slim, which I watched despite not having a telly) has turned her attention to a cuisine which I love, but which I’ve always been a bit scared of: French Food.  The problem is that every recipe I’ve seen for French food has involved loads of butter and cream and those are things which I wind up having enough of without inviting trouble.

 

macarons

not necessarily representative - we ate the cracked ones too quick to photograph!

What I love about the book is that it has been written for people who are both busy and careful about fat and sugar.  I’m not sure that Le Cordon Bleu would entirely approve, but my we’ve had some tasty and not to hefty bits and bobs. If you’re a serious health freak you should probably be warned that Harry doesn’t give calories and the recipes are not designed ala Gillian McKeith – they’re lighter versions of classics.

wonky millefieulle

looks fiendish, but is really just a custard pastry sandwich

So far we’ve just tried a few recipes; apple tart (very very simple, very low in sugar), macarons (lemon-made with the last of the marrow cream and blackcurrant ones) and wonky looking but neverthelss delicious blackberry millefieulle (as we had no raspberries to hand).  We have been falling back on shop bought puff pastry- but if you can live with that, you can have some simple and delicious deserts.  I’ll let you know how the savoury dishes go (just as soon as I stop working through the sweets!)

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Giving peas a chance

box of peas

box of peas

One of the disappointments last year was that our peas were pathetic.  We carefully started out planting peas individually in tubes, we planted the peas out.  The plants were pretty much dessimated by pigeons, then when we opened the few pods that made it they were fully of nasty maggoty grubs.   This year we really went for it and created a pea palace.  We planted the peas pretty thickly directly outside and put the supports in place almost immediately.  The best innovation was a mesh cage that we built around it which kept out both pigeons and pea moths.  The happy outcome was that we picked kilos of maggot free peas – fantastic!  The mesh has to be fine (not netting).

maggot free peas

We ate a bunch fresh and then, then rather than freezing then with the rest we treated ourselves to some high speed pea soup.  Rather than go with any of the recipes we had to hand (which all seemed to take rather too long for a quick but tasty lunch) we came up with a fast tasty soup cooked in the pressure cooker.  We took a little oil, softened a couple of garlic cloves, a couple of slices of smoked bacon and an onion.  Added about a pound of shelled peas and about 3/4 pint of ham stock.  5 minutes of pressure cooking later we blended the pea mix and you’re done.

Tasty.

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Cool as…

OK, so the deweeding process is well underway.  We’ve done about 30 hours of weeding down there in a week and a half and shifted about 20 sacks! (yeah, guess there’s a problem if you can do that) – but the front is clear, one and half sides are clear, the beds are about one third clear and the back – I’m afraid to say – has been sprayed.  So progress of a non-organic type has been made.

Meanwhile we’re determined to celebrate the harvest as best we can.  This week we’ve had our first chard and peas of the year and our first ever cucumber!

cucumberCool!

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Complaints

Woe!

I’ve had some complaints about the lack of posts.

As before I’m afraid this is down to me having been ludicrously busy.  I mean really really busy.  Like stupidly busy.  Really.  At first I didn’t have time to blog and before I knew it I didn’t have time to cook so much or keep up with the gardening and here we are – standing in the allotment equivalent of the corner with a big dunces hat on my head – so its complaints all round.

We didn’t catch up and we have a weed problem.  So much so that we’re on parole – the committee will be looking for an improvement over the next month.  So its major weeding time.  We’ve had to consider whether to drop the allotment, and that’s still a possibility – but we’ll take that month and we’ll see what we can do with it.  I’d hate to be beaten on this because allotments are great really really great.

Its tough though – work’s pretty busy right now, so its meant getting out of the house early to do an hour and a half down there before the drive to work.  I was there at 6.30 this morning putting down weed retardent fabric to try and prevent our good work being undone as fast as we’re doing it.

The worst bit though is that weeds affect your neighbours.  So we’re feeling pretty sorry right now and trying to get seed heads away as quickly as possible.  The second worst bit is that if we want to get this done quickly and get rid of the infection it’ll mean chemicals as we simply don’t have the time to do it manually properly.  So we’ll have to bite the bullet and do something a bit nasty.  Walking away from the plot doesn’t mean that won’t happen it just means someone else will have to do it – so *sigh* the organic thing will have to be suspended for a bit, while we nuke the worst of it.

Plus side: at present we have a plot, its producing herbs, salad leaves, turnips and good king hal in abundance, we’ve got cucumbers starting, we’ve started eating onions and baby beetroot and with any luck the peas start at the weekend.  There are 4 apples on the apple tree, most of the potatoes are coming along nicely and we should have some good brassicas.

Fingers crossed and nose to the grindstone.  Awkward position – but it could be worse.  Wish us luck.

 

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