Garden salad

I love living in England.  I love the way the weather changes with each season and I even love how the weather changes from day to day.  In June, for example, you should really be basking in some warm hazy days.  Of course, we aren’t.  It has rained and rained and been pretty dull for most of June.  April of course was a different matter with blazing sunshine for most of the month (and this from a month famous for its showers).

I love how in the winter in England you can forget that in the summer your house will be so warm that you will want every window open and then in the summer you forget how bloomin’ cold the kitchen was (even with the Aga!) in January.  You can also forget just what a pleasure it is when June comes around to be able to eat pretty much everything on your plate straight out of the garden.

I must add that everything in this picture is out of my parents’ garden ( they are so much more organised with their earlier planting than Mr OC and I).

I was having a dilemma about what to make for dinner.  Then I called at my parents and came away with this lovely bounty.  Some tiny beetroot with their delicious leaves, two types of lettuce leaf, a few baby carrots, a red onion  and the last of the new potatoes out of their greenhouse. What a lucky girl.

I defrosted some bacon, chopped a bit of last year’s garlic, got out the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and a pack of feta, added some mint, and ended up with this.

It was the perfect celebration of fresh garden produce.

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Aubergine and tomato salad

This post has been waiting for me to write it for a while.  I made this dish probably about ten days ago, but it’s been the end of the summer holidays and we have been making the most of our time with the girls.

This was the harvest from our polytunnel:

We were very excited as this is the first time we have had success with growing aubergines.  Mr OC planted a mixed seed collection and these beauties were the result. We kept them in the house on the windowsills until the fruit appeared and then transferred them into the polytunnel and this, I think, has been the secret of our success.  The ones planted directly into the polytunnel have produced flowers but no fruit, which was our experience last year.  Our tomatoes have been brilliant this year, supplying a constant stream of ripe fruit and our basil is beautifully scented.  I think this particular harvest is from a supermarket plant that I had pretty much used up in the house and so put it in the greenhouse and it has survived and gone from strength to strength.

I wanted to do something which made the most of both the aubergines and the tomatoes.  Sometimes, the aubergine gets a bit lost when baked with a tomato sauce when I do an aubergine lasagne thingy.  That is OK (and really quite delicious) when the aubergines are from the grocers, but when you have looked at them growing every day for a few months you really want them to be the centrepiece.  I do minted aubergines quite a lot, but the mint is over and cut back in the garden now.  Michele at Cooking at Home posted a wonderful and very inspiring pomodoro crudo the other week and so this seemed perfect to adapt a little for an aubergine and tomato salad.

So the tomatoes were diced and thrown into a bowl with some crumbled feta, salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil and the basil and left to marinate whilst I got on with roasting the aubergines.

This picture doesn’t compare with Michele’s, so pop over to her site for a more beautiful image, where she uses mozzarella with her tomatoes.

I sliced the aubergines, sprinkled them with olive oil and seasoned generously with salt and pepper.

I then roasted them in the baking oven of my Aga, which is the equivalent of 180°c (gas mark 4) for about 20 minutes until soft and golden.

I placed the aubergines on the serving platter and placed the tomatoes and the lovely juices all over.

It’s best to leave it to stand for five minutes or so for the juices to be absorbed into the aubergine and then serve with lots of bread to mop up the juices.

This was a dish which definitely made the best of our polytunnel harvest.

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Chorizo, chickpea and kale

chorizo chickpea and kale stew

I was inspired to make this because I was watching the Good Food channel (of which I watch far too much I admit!) and Rachel Allen made a version in her Favourite Foods programme which was followed shortly after by Market Kitchen and the chef in the market made a very similar version.  I took it as a sign!

I served it with a roast chicken last night and it was good, although it might have been better if I had reduced the tomato sauce a bit more so it was less of a soup and more of a sauce.  You can cook it to the consistency that you think you may prefer by just simmering it for longer if you want it more sauce-y than soupy.

You could substitute the chickpeas for butter beans and the kale for spinach or any other Brassica you have in the house.

1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
A good-sized chunk of chorizo, cubed (I used about 100g)
1 410g tin of chickpeas in water (no salt added) drained of most of the liquid
1 400g tin of tomatoes
kale ( I used about 100g), shredded
feta cheese to crumble over the top


Heat a little olive oil over a medium heat and fry the chorizo until it begins to leach its golden fat, add the chilli and garlic and fry for another couple of minutes.  Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon, add the chickpeas and a little bit of the water from the tin. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes or longer if you would prefer a thicker consistency.  Add the kale and  cook for another five minutes until the kale is tender. Scatter cubes of feta over the top and serve with lots of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

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Mackerel and feta stuffed baked potatoes

mackerel and feta stuffed potatoesWe are a meat-eating family and there’s no doubt about it.  If I, or my husband, had to choose whether to eat a fillet steak or a fillet of salmon, we would both choose steak pretty much nine times out of ten. So in an effort to get more oily fish into our diet I came up with this meal.  It’s very easy to do and it was lovely eaten with my pickled damsons.

4 baking potatoes
2 smoked mackerel fillets
200g feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 180°c (gas mark 4, 350°f) and bake the potatoes in their skins (pierce each potato with a knife a couple of times before putting in the oven to prevent potato explosions) for 1 to 1½ hours until crispy skinned and cooked all the way through (test by inserting a skewer into each potato).  In the meantime flake the mackerel  and slice the feta into cubes.

Allow the potatoes to cool until you can handle them easily without burning your hands. Split them in half and scoop out the flesh into a large bowl.  Put the empty shells into a baking dish ready to be refilled.  Add the feta and salt and pepper to taste to the potato flesh and combine well.  Add the flaked mackerel and stir gently to combine trying to keep the fish in flakes. Spoon this mixture back into the potato shells and put back in the oven for 20 minutes until golden brown on top.

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