Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Heidi Roberts Kitchen Talk: From The Garden

Heidi Roberts Kitchen Talk: From The Garden: "I feel that my garden is almost as important as my kitchen. In the summer our garden is an extension of our house, we spend as much time a..."

From The Garden

I feel that my garden is almost as important as my kitchen.  In the summer our garden is an extension of our house, we spend as much time as the British weather will allow out there. If given the chance I would grow my own vegetables as I did in my previous house when the children were little and we all lived together.

I am very keen on gardening without chemicals and pesticides so a very important part of my garden is my compost heap.  ‘Yuck’ I hear you cry or ‘it smells of rotten veggies’ but let me assure you that is not the case.  Some years ago I took an organic gardening course at Capel Manor Horticultural College in North London which was close to where I lived at the time.  It was on that course that I  learned the basics of making good, healthy compost.

If a compost heap is managed correctly it will smell just like a summer meadow. There are a few simple rules such as no cooked food, no dog or cat waste but it is alright to put in any vegetable peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds, soft garden clippings (best to avoid hard clippings like hedges and rose stems etc).  The occasional bag of rotted horse manure or rabbit poo is also good for the end result.

The greater variety of matter you put into the heap the greater varieties of minerals and nutrients your final compost will have.  Nettles are good to add from time to time as they help accelerate the breaking down process.  The finer you cut the matter the quicker it will break down as well (those tiny microbes can’t take big bites!!)

At the end of the summer/beginning of autumn you ‘put the heap’ to bed for the winter.  Pop a piece of old carpet on top and then a bin bag tightly tucked in and this will help to keep the heap warm throughout the winter so the contents can continue their change into beautiful, rich compost.

I have three compost bins in my garden so as to have a continual supply.  Last weekend we emptied the contents from the middle and right hand bins into the left hand one and this is almost ready.  It is now full and will be left to finish the process without adding any more ‘raw’ materials.  In the spring this left hand bin will be the first one I will start using to pot up the new seedlings.

You can buy compost bins and they come in a couple of different sizes. Your local garden centre will be happy to advise you which one is most suitable for you. (our local garden centre is one of the chain of Notcutts (www.notcutts.co.uk )but there are garden centres all over the country).  It is also worth contacting your Local Authority as they often offer free compost bins or charge a nominal sum of £5-8 depending on the size.  Of course you can always make your own.  Those old pallets you see offered by the size of the road are good, or ask your local building supplier if they have spares and these will work very well.  You can just make a three sided structure to hold the heap in place.

I have my name down with the local council for an allotment site so that I can begin to grow my own vegetables and fruit in a much bigger and more organised way.  I have already waited a year and  it will probably take another year before my name comes up but it will be worth the wait.  Once I get my plot I will start a compost heap to ensure that the process is carried on. 

I am already dreaming about the bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables we will have.  I will keep you updated on the progress.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Market Day

We popped into St Albans on Saturday and had a look at the market.  It has been ages since I have been in town on market day and forgot how beautiful and fresh the produce was.

We were seduced by big round purple beetroot for £1.20 and long orange carrots with the tops still attached. Large red peppers were 4 for £1.00 instead of 80p each in the supermarkets and were a mixture of male and female peppers.  Do you know the difference? Well, I usually wait to tell people the difference until they attend a Pampered Chef cooking show but I will let you in on the secret here.  If you turn the peppers upside down the male ones will have three points on the bottom and the females will have four!  The female ones are sweeter (naturally).  I don’t usually bother with green peppers as they are generally indigestible.

I always think I will try something chefy with the beetroot but as I am buying it all that I can think of is how fantastic they taste just boiled, peeled and drizzled with either My Secret Kitchen (MSK) Oak Smoked Rapeseed oil or good quality extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with MSK Lemon Chipotle Sea Salt with a good glug of MSK Balsamic Reduction.  Sheer beetroot bliss!!! Next time I might do them differently!

We bought fresh peppers, beetroot, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes bananas and tomatoes and spent around £8.00 for the lot, all fresh and tantalisingly colourful. The bowl of purchases was as good looking as any work of art.

Three of the peppers ended up sliced in half, de-seeded and roasted with three peppers chopped up (I usually cut a small ‘v’ and take out the hard middle bit) a couple of garlic cloves pressed with my Pampered Chef garlic press which is really the best you can buy and then extra virgin olive oil from Italy poured over and sprinkled with fresh torn basil, freshly ground pepper and MSK Lemon Chipotle Sea Salt. I baked them in my stoneware rectangular baker for about an hour and served four of the halves as part of our vegetarian feast.  The other two halves and the oil that they were cooked in will form the basis of tonight’s mushroom and roast pepper pasta sauce.

The potatoes were Cyprus new potatoes and were peeled, washed and boiled.  I left them to go cold then began to make the potato salad for my grandson’s second birthday family BBQ. To the cold potatoes I added finely chopped bacon fried till it was crispy and cooled, chopped chives from my garden and finely chopped red onion (I usually use my Pampered Chef Deluxe Food Chopped for the onions – it’s quick, easy and avoids onion tears).  I don’t like my potato salad with too much dressing so I kept it clean and simple.

I mixed approx 2Tbsp mayonnaise with a little milk, freshly ground black pepper, MSK Lemon Chipotle Sea Salt, a pinch of wasabi and 2 tsp whole grain mustard.  It just didn’t have the right pizzazz so I added two good glugs of MSK Thai Dressing with Kaffir Lime and it transformed the dressing into something special. The limes in the dressing lifted the flavour up a dimension.  The dressing was poured over the cold potatoes and bacon & onions in the bowl and folded in carefully so as not to break the potatoes.  It must have been good, everyone at the BBQ commented on it and there wasn’t any left-overs!!

All in all the trip to the market was a huge success both in terms of variety and price and the enjoyment of cooking and eating the products we bought.  It’s already in the diary for next week.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Cooking with Nanny

One of the greatest gifts in life is a grandchild.  Get more and the gift just keeps on growing.  I am very fortunate to have Elizabeth (3 and a half years old) and Logan (2 years old).

Elizabeth is just getting to the stage when she wants to help Nanny in the kitchen so last visit we went and bought her an apron (predictably she chose pink) and got out her Pampered Chef ‘My Safe Cutter’ (see www.pamperedchef.biz/partieswithHeidi), the bathroom stool and we were ready to roll.

Together we made apricot flapjacks followed by rice krispie cakes.  Elizabeth (aka Lizzy) was keen to be shown how to use her knife in a proper sawing motion to cut her apricot into pieces.  I would like to say her pieces were somewhat bigger than mine!  I was impressed with the manual dexterity Lizzy showed when she filled up the cup cake cases with the krispie cakes.

In anticipation of future cooking sessions I recently bought the Usborne ‘Children’s Book of Baking Cakes by Abigail Wheatley.  The book is full of easy recipes for cup cakes, tray bakes, cakes and more with a helpful two page spread on Baking Basics. The recipes are clear and concise and easy to follow with photos of the finished products to compare your efforts against. I will be trying these recipes with Lizzy and will keep you informed.  For more books like this from Usborne contact Lisa Nichols (Twitter @TheBookMums)

Next time Lizzy is due to visit I will have a recipe ready and all the ingredients and we will do some more ‘Cooking with Nanny’.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Welcome to my Kitchen

Hello and welcome to my first blog post.  I love cooking and baking and look forward to sharing lots of my successes and maybe some of the failures from my kitchen with you.

I read cookbooks like other people read novels so I will be telling you about my favourites over the coming months.  I also want to look at cookbooks I might not otherwise buy and review them and will of course share my thoughts.

If there is a cooking term you don't understand let me know and I will do the research and explain the term in detail.

Later this year I will be starting cooking classes to learn simple suppers for friends and family which will give you an edge on weekend entertaining so keep watching this space for details.

This world of blogging is new for me so be patient and we can learn together.
Cheers. Heidi