Category Archives: organic

My grandmother’s beetroot soup

Cup of purple coloured soup pictured from above against big pink flowers

Image: Michael Caplan

I ring my mother. She is 92.

“Do you use beef stock to make beetroot soup?” I ask.

“No,” Fay says, “we never used beef stock. This is how we did it,” said my mother. “This is my mother’s recipe.”

Sarah’s beetroot soup

Slice the beetroots.

Cover with water. Simmer for about half an hour until tender. 

Drain the sliced beetroot and keep the beetroot stock. 

(You don’t use the sliced beetroot for the soup. My mum says: use them in a salad with sour cream with sliced onions). 

Beat 2 eggs with the juice of one lemon.

Add carefully- or eggs will curdle – to some of the warmed beetroot stock.  

Once the beaten eggs are incorporated into this small amount, tip it into the main soup.

Reheat carefully – very carefully – so the eggs don’t curdle. 

Add sour cream if desired.  

Thanks, mum.

This purple-looking healing soup, which I make with organic ingredients for extra quality, health and taste, enables nourishment to slip-in unsuspected via its beetroot-sweet, lemony lightness.

My grandmother Sarah died when I was 16. She was warm, earthy and wise, with fierce opinions I did not always agree with. Born in 1899 in London, her parents were migrants from anti-semitic Tsarist Belarus and Lithuania. I think of her so much in my heart.

My mother says the older she gets, the more she thinks of her grandmother, Jesse, (Sarah’s mother).  Jesse died when my mother was ten years old.  My mother says: “I talk to her every day. I call to her by her Yiddish name, Yeshki. She used to read the Yiddish translation of Shakespeare’s plays.” (I only learned that bit yesterday when reading out this blog to my mum).

My mother repeats stories endlessly so we remember them. My mother’s recollection of her grandmother are imprinted on my DNA since childhood so I have absorbed Jess’s “live each day as if it were your last” philosophy.

My mum again:  “Jesse used to say: I am not frightened of death,’ and pointing over to the window, she would say: ‘It’s as if I’m passing to the other side of that net curtain.'” 

So, eat beet soup, and enjoy this precious life!


Gut gastronomy beef broth

A bowl of beef broth

Beef broth soothes the digestion and produces easy-to-absorb minerals including calcium. Made with bones, it is a low-cost way of sustaining your health. 

“A good broth will resurrect the dead,” is an old South American proverb. I can believe it.

Read more about broth’s healing powers at the Weston Price Foundation and the way broth also delivers easy-to-absorb broken-down material from cartilage and tendons that might help arthritis and joint pain.

I bought the beef rib bones from Sheepdrove Organic Farm for £2.50 per kg. 

Why organic? Because I want to eat meat from an animal which has not been given routine antibiotics, which has chewed fresh grass in the fields as nature intended (not convenience-food grain that gives the beast a belly-ache), and can follow its natural animal behaviour. 

I used a recipe from Gut Gastronomy by nutritional therapist Vicky Edgson and Grayshott spa chef Adam Palmer based on the spa’s health regime. Published by Jacqui Small, this fine book with beautiful images by Lisa Linder is filled with highly nutritious recipes to help increase digestive health, and repair and nourish the body.  

The Gut Gastronomy recipe uses beef marrow bones. 

Here is the recipe slightly adapted. 

For four: 3 kg (6lb 10 oz) beef bones cut into 3 cm pieces 

Chop: 4 carrots, 3 large onions, 4 celery sticks (optional)

Add: 2 bay leaves, 10 whole peppercorns,

If you have some, half bunch of thyme. 

I also added dried chilli for extra hotness. 

roasted bones and pan with carrots and onions

Roast the cut bones in a large roasting dish for 30 – 40 minutes at Gas Mark 7. 

Drain 2 teaspoons of the fat from the bones into a large saucepan and sauté the veg.

(There was no fat from my rib bones so I omitted this stage and added the carrots and onions at the next stage.)

Add the bay leaves, peppercorns (and dried chilli), sprigs of thyme and roasted bones and cover with 5 litres (8 3/4 pints/ 20 cups) of cold water. Skim any fat as you bring it to a simmer. Gently cook for 5 – 6 hours. 

Broth is served clear, strained of meat and vegetables. Strain to make consommé, and cool before freezing. I shredded the plentiful meat from the bones and made several servings of delicious broth with meat (see top pic). 

I swear I cured my poor inflamed gums thanks to this healing soup.

Fellow blogger, Annie Levy at Kitchen Counter Culture, suggested I used some of the broth for borscht, which I did, using my grandmother’s recipe.

And that is for the next blog post. 

Coconut benefits banana bread

Banana bread

Funny to think that, as a child, I thought of coconuts as fairground shies, or Bounty chocolate bars. Yet coconuts are far more versatile than that. 

Coconuts produce coconut oil, coconut flesh, coconut milk, and coconut water, naturally and healthily.

Like hemp, coconut is nourishing, health-giving, and practical too. Think coir matting

Coconuts act as body moisturiser, teeth-cleaner, digestion-soother, rehydrater. And more. 

Coconut even sorts out head lice, according to Dr Mercola’s wondrous list of coconut’s varied uses.

If you love scientific facts and opinion with lots of swear words, check out Shannon’s Kitchen on coconut’s versatility and health reputation.

My coconut musing is prompted by a hamper full of coconut joy sent by Cocofina.

Cocofina coconut products

Cocofina have been cracking coconuts since 2005. The name says it all: Cocofina is made from fine young coconuts picked at their peak when its water is at its most plentiful.

To add to my joy, Cocofina is certified organic (by the Soil Association), which is shorthand for healthily-grown food, with no chemical fertilisers/pesticides to pollute soil, air, crops, wildlife and farm workers.

Cocofina’s big triumph is to produce delicious on-the-go nutrition energy bars. I sampled them with various energy-snack (and coconut) lovers, and their praise was unstinting.

And I love its coconut nectar – low-GI slow-release sweetness without that crazy thing that happens to my eyes (as if they are being squeezed) when I eat sugar.

(Pause to reflect on sugar – how it drove slavery, and now makes mental slaves of us all via obesity and the money markets).

To celebrate coconut happiness, I made banana cake, substituting sugar with coconut nectar, and coconut oil instead of butter.

Along with pre-soaked sultanas, this recipe produced a light, healthy cake, its bananariness lifted by nectar and complimented by coconut.

Banana bread

If you don’t have self-raising flour, add an extra egg. Keep the baking powder/bicarbonate of soda to a scant teaspoon – just enough to lighten the flour but not too much to impart its strange fizzy taste. Or even (boldly) omit and rely on beaten eggs instead.

2/3 large mashed ripe or over-ripe bananas (up to 500g/1lb)

125g (4oz) butter/coconut oil, softened

125g (4oz) caster sugar/4 Tablespoons coconut flower nectar or honey

2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork until frothy with air

250g (8oz) self-raising flour (or ordinary flour with extra egg) I used gram flour made from chickpeas because wheat (argumentative fellow) does not agree with me.

1 scant tsp baking powder/bicarbonate of soda

Optional extras: sultanas soaked in water and drained, walnut pieces, cocoa nibs/lemon rind.

Oil 2lb loaf tin and line its base and sides with baking parchment/greaseproof paper.

Rub in the oil/butter/fat into the flour (+ lightening agent if used) until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sweetener and mashed bananas and lightly beaten eggs beating it well.

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Turn into the tin and bake for about 1 hour until a skewer comes out clean, covering if necessary so the top does not burn. 

This recipe is a great way to use up over-ripe bananas. 

Happy eating! 

Diana Henry’s salt beef

Salt beef is a perfect meat for taking to a feast because it can be be prepared in advance and travels well.

It is ideal for a stress-free Christmas – no sweating over a hot stove all day.

Tender and aromatic, it can be served hot or cold with vegetables or salads. Or, traditionally, as a sandwich with mustard and pickles.

It is called salt beef because it is preserved (pickled) in salt a week before cooking. The brine is washed off so the meat is not salty. The joint is pressed, refrigerated, packs down neatly and should ideally travel in a cool box.

Carving the (pink-coloured) salt beef

Carving the salt beef

An animal lost its life to feed us so the least I can do is make sure it was well-looked after while it was alive – so the meat had to be organic.

I bought tied and rolled organic brisket from Sheepdrove Organic Farm where the animals graze on herb-rich pastures, live in family herds and express their natural behaviour.

 

I bought two briskets totalling 4 kilos (9lbs) in weight, and cut one in half so it would fit in my pans. This fed ten people for three meals.

I have never preserved meat before and, I won’t lie, it was nerve-wracking: would the meat go mouldy and thus ruin Christmas festivities? In the end I trusted my sense of smell to assure me nothing was amiss.

Reader, I nailed it. My 91-year-old mum said it reminded her of salt beef from her childhood, and my sister praised its subtle flavours.

Salt beef is not exclusively Jewish but “it is the Jewish community that has kept up the tradition,” says cookery writer, Xanthe Clay.

There are two main stages to salt beef: preserving in brine, then simmering in fresh water and vegetables.

The challenges to preserving:

  • Time: the raw meat is soaked for seven days in a salty solution
  • Maths: working out the right salt/sugar solution for the weight of the meat
  • Receptacles: they have to be non-metallic and deep enough to take the joint covered with water
  • Ingenuity: You have to keep the joint under water. I used bottles of oil etc (see pic below) to weigh down the meat.
Meat in brine weighed down by bottles lying sideways

Preserving the meat in brine

Salt is an ancient way of preserving food. (I have been using it to make gut-friendly sauerkraut and plum kimchi.)

The salty water (in which the food is soaked) is called brine. Salt beef traditionally uses saltpetre, too, to preserves the meat’s red/pinkness (otherwise it would be grey) and also to kill the bacteria that causes botulism.

Luckily, my sis’s boyfriend, Paul of 80s Rock Pics, had some saltpetre – nowadays hard to find – but available online.

There are health issues with nitrates but as I hardly eat bacon and other cured meat, I figure a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

Once the meat is preserved for seven days, the salty brine is washed off the meat.

The meat is then simmered in fresh water, carrots and onions for several hours. This produces a flavoursome broth. Keep the broth to heat-up the meat (if you want to serve it hot), use it as a stock or serve as a soup – it has the most amazing taste.

Meat in colanders under kitchen tap

Washing off the salt/sugar brine solution

Brisket in broth

Brisket simmering in fresh water and vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

 

After being drained, press the meat again (we used large plates with smaller bowls on top weighed down with heavy books to provide an air-tight press).

Wrap the meat well, and refrigerate. I used parchment lined-foil from Lakeland and secured it with gaffer tape.

My oracles were Evelyn Rose’s The Complete International Jewish Cookbook, that my mother gave me decades ago. Reliable and practical, it is much-used and loved.

My other main text was a recipe from Diana Henry, another favourite cookery writer.

I now hand you over to Diana Henry for her salt beef recipe.

Here is the ratio of salt/sugar to meat for the brine solution (in the preserving stage) to save you any brain-numbing calculations.

Ratios for brine

For each kilo/lb of beef

110g (1¾oz) of sugar

140g (2 1/4 oz) of salt

22g (1/3 oz) of saltpetre (optional).

Diana Henry’s salt beef

For the brine
275g (9¾oz) soft light-brown sugar
350g (12oz) coarse sea salt
2 tsp black peppercorns
½ tbsp juniper berries
4 cloves
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
55g (2oz) saltpetre (optional).

For the beef
2.5kg (5lb 8oz) piece of beef brisket
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
1 leek, cut into large chunks
1 bouquet garni
½ head of garlic

Put all the ingredients for the brine into a very large saucepan, pour in 2.5 litres (4½ pints) of water and gradually bring to the boil, stirring to help the sugar and salt dissolve. Once it comes to the boil, let it bubble away for two minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool completely.

Pierce the meat all over with a skewer. Put it in a large, sterilised plastic box or bucket (something non-reactive) and cover the meat with the brine; it must be totally immersed. The best thing I’ve found for weighing it down is two massive bottles of vodka. Put them in on top of the meat and it will stay below the level of the brine. Leave in a very cool place (a cellar or a room that is always freezing cold – most houses have one). Leave it for seven days.

Take the beef out of the brine and rinse it. Roll and tie the meat and put it in a pan with the vegetables, bouquet garni and garlic, adding enough cold water to cover. Bring the water to simmering point, then leave to poach gently – I mean gently – for two and a half to three hours. Cook until the meat is completely tender (check with a skewer).

Season’s greetings and a happy shiny new 2015!

Brisket being pressed

Cooked brisket being pressed by weighty tomes

Probiotic heaven

My delicate digestion is crazy for probiotics for their soothing and restorative effect. Probiotics? They are good bacteria which stop bad bacteria giving your gut a hard time (bloating etc).

Probiotics are not some new-fangled idea – every traditional society has its fermented ‘good bacteria’ food, such as sauerkraut.

Annie Levy (and the Guardian sustainable blog of the week) sent me a jar of her homemade (fermented) plum kimchi.

I have never tasted anything as wildly spicy and salty, gut-zingy and healing .

Plum kimchi with vegetarian lunch

I had it as an accompaniment to Co-exist Community Kitchen tenants’ (£2.50) vegetarian lunch (see pic).

Then I got home and ate the rest of the jar (it goes with everything savoury).

Please see Annie Levy’s recipe for Plum Kimchi at her blog, Kitchen Counter Culture (great name for a radical blog).

Here’s how I made the crazy condiment.

Assemble in a large bowl:

All the cloves in a head of garlic (grown by Nadia Hillman)
Grated raw ginger (large thumb – or more)
2 raw red onions sliced
1 lemon chopped
1 large orange chopped

half of 1/4 American cup hot pepper powder

1/4 American cup of (sea) salt 

Add to 1 pint of raw uncooked plums (slice with sharp knife to remove stones). Use organic wherever possible because organic is different – fewer chemicals and more goodness

Place a plate to press down the raw veg/fruit mix and leave it for two days at room temperature before spooning into jars. The salt draws out the water in the raw veg/fruit, thus pickled in its own salty water.

photo (4) Plum kimchi in the making

The first pic shows the cast assembled, the second is the cast cut-up  and mixed with spice and salt. Note: creative chaos. Why eat boring same-old packet food when you can go mad in the kitchen?!

Three announcements.

1. Check out Annie Levy’s food fermentation workshops. “A true kitchen witch, Annie’s food fermentation workshop is an informative & exciting, deliciously interactive learning experience and exploration of food alchemy.”

2. Bristol is hosting a probiotic event on Saturday 15 November 2014 at 3 – 6 pm.
The power of probiotics foods for digestive and immune healing – rebuild your gut heal your life. Fermentation Fetish with Holly Paige and Kenny Bountiful Sun Tickets (£15) – book here.

3. And finally for everyone who loves real food including fermentation – please check out and pledge for the publication of Living Food – A feast for soil and soul, from soil sister, Daphne Lambert.

22 May 2014: Why I am voting green

I believe in the European Union. No, it is not perfect.

Like most centres of power, the European Union works in the interests of huge corporations – not people.

However, when it comes to working rights and eco-legislation, Europe has been a friend to me.

When it comes to real food, two more examples:

  • EU regulations for organic food – if it says “organic” on the label, it is  thanks to European law
  • The EU has largely held firm against growing GM crops.

Now for Why I am Voting Green bit:

The Greens are very effective at European level. Take finance. They have curtailed bankers’ bonuses, forced banks to disclose tax haven-activities and support the Robin Hood Tax, a tiny tax on financial transactions (the billions raised would support society’s most vulnerable).

Ripped up UKIP leaflet with Freepost envelope ready to return.

By leaving Europe, we would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In addition, Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant worker position is abhorrent. Scapegoating stinks. (Pic: Return UKIP leaflets via its own Freepost address campaign).

Some decent folk are voting UKIP because they want to change the status quo. Do not be fooled, decent folk! UKIP is the status quo, seeking to distract attention from the banking crisis by blaming Europe.

The Green Party believes:

  • YES to a referendum
  • YES to Europe
  • YES to major European reform.

When it comes to real food, the Greens are working to cap the CAP. In other words, instead of huge subsidies going to large corporations, farming subsidies would be capped at €300,000 limit and distributed more equitably to small farms. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should be for the common good.

It also calls to end over-fishing and factory farming.

The Green Party’s European manifesto stands for the world I want to live in. It is, for example, the only UK political party pushing for a complete ban on fracking.

Interestingly, if we voted for policies (instead politicians’ personalities), most people in the south west of England would vote for the Green Party – more than any other party, according to Vote for Policies.

The Green Party can win at a European level.

Because of proportional representation, every vote counts.

Molly Scott Cato

Green economist, Molly Scott Cato, would need only 10% of the vote to be elected as the south west’s first Green Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

Hooray! Greens can win!

PS This blog is about European voting – I am also voting Green at a local level too..

PPS Original title of this blog was Vote Green! but changed it ’cause it sounded a bit peremptory?

Saturday 7 June 2014 update: O joy , o joy! The southwest elected its first Green MEP, the wonderful sane, intelligent and compassionate, Molly Cato Brown.

Green voters in the southwest kept out the third Ukip candidate.

Ukip made no electoral gains in the southwest (still got two MEPs); Conservatives lost one MEP so down from 3 to 2; LibDems went from 1 to zero. Labour = 1 MEP and, as I said, Greens = 1 MEP.

It really is worth voting.

#Nojunk bean chocolate cake

Happy grandchild with chocolate bean cake “I pledge to eat and feed my family only real ingredients I can recognise or spell.”

Last week, I signed the Organix #nojunk pledge because children need real food – not additives, fillers or artificial processes that produce profits for food manufacturers yet ill health for our children.

Is this right? NO!

Last week’s blog was about Organix, its pioneering ethos and why organic standards protect our children’s healthy by banning the nasties.

I promised a #nojunk cake and here it is.

Hand-written recipe for Bean Cake

The recipe is thanks to Olea’s mum. Olea and my granddaughter Tayda are schoolchums. After I had contributed a wheat-free raw date and lemon cake to my granddaughter’s 5th birthday party, Olea’s mum wrote out there-and-then a healthy wheat-free recipe (see pic) using…beans.

I am a big fan of beans thanks to The Bean Book by Rose Elliot, my cooking bible when my own children were little in the 1980s.

Healthy beans

Beans are seeds, a plant’s future offspring. They spill on the soil where they wait for the right conditions to germinate. Their food reserves support this process and is also good for us when we eat them. Packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, beans are nutritional powerhouses.

Big yet compact, their plentiful food stores are low-fat and high-energy. They quieten sugar-levels because of their high-fibre – the soluble sort that gently coats the gut and is slow-acting – and have high-levels of cancer-busting antioxidants. (Above from my intro on beans in Make More of Peas and Beans).

Olea’s mum’s #nojunk bean cake

Raw ingredients for bean cake, eggs, melted butter, beans and melted chocolate, ground almonds, pot of honey

The cast assembled (clockwise from top): eggs, pot of honey, melted chocolate over a drained tin of butter beans, ground almonds with baking powder and melted butter.

Blend up:

  • 1 tin of cooked beans (butter/kidney/black – unsalted, drained)
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 – 150g ground almonds
  • 6 tablespoons of coconut oil or (melted) butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda plus natural flavouring (spice, essence, ginger, vanilla etc)
  • 1/2 cup sweetener

Lightly grease baking tin. Bake 180° 30 – 40 mins-ish.  

I omitted the 1/2 tsp of baking powder, using instead an extra egg (5 eggs in total). I used organic eggs and butter for extra nutritional value (and guaranteed high animal welfare standards).  As sweetener, I used half a jar of honey for low-glycemic slow release sweetness (no one noticed honey taste at all).

For flavouring, I used a 150g bar of Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate, melted in a pan over another pan of boiling water, and blended into the cake mix. I also dribbled melted Green & Black’s chocolate on the cooled cake.

Cake mixture in fluted tin belonging to my grandma

I blended all the ingredients together with my trusty £20 hand-blender and poured the cake mixture into a fluted tin that once belonged to my grandmother. (When my mother gave me her cake tins recently, she said: “It feels like the royal abdication.”).

 

I served the cake with Biona organic sour cherries from a jar for the adults.
Slice of chocolate bean cake with unsweetcherries from a  jar
 

 

 

Everyone who tasted the cake pronounced it a success.

And no one guessed the mystery ingredient was healthy wholefood beans! Happy child sitting on low table eating healthy bean cakeTwo-year old enjoying my choco bean cake

 

 

 

 

 Organix #NoJunk Challenge badge

And….Join the #NoJunk Challenge!

Hey, I have just entered this blog post in the Organix #NoJunk Challenge Blog Hop…fingers crossed!