Tag Archives: organic

Homemade limoncelloi

Peeled organic lemons assemble in front of last batch of homemade Limoncello

Or, more accurately, vodka plus loads of lemons.

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur made by infusing a clear spirit (such as vodka) with lemon zest, then adding sugar.

I am partial to making DIY liqueurs.

So I was intrigued to read about home-made limoncello in Appetite Magazine, which I picked up in Newcastle (a fave city, not to mention home of middle daughter, Sarah – one of her projects is Girl Kind).

The recipe did not mention what to do with the lemons after removing their zest. I could not countenance wasting them! 

*So I blitzed the peeled lemons (pips and all, being more domestic slattern than goddess) with my trusty wand blender,  adding their strained lemony goodness to the concoction. The white fibrous pitch can be bitter so I removed as much as possible before whizzing (see pic above). 

Alternatively, squeeze the peeled lemons for lemon juice, adding to the potion at the point when you add the boiled sugar and water.

Use organic lemons if possible because organic lemons are juicier and, (the domestic slattern in me again), do not require washing/scrubbing before use in order to remove traces of chemicals. A recent report from Pesticide Action Network UK found 100% of soft citrus fruit had pesticide residues.

Ingredients1 litre of vodka

8 – 10 lemons

675g sugar

1 litre of water

Method
Peel lemons with a potato peeler, adding the zest (or thin peel) to a litre of vodka.

Leave for 10 days – 1 month in a dark place to infuse the vodka with a citrus flavour.

Strain and consider adding fresh new zest.

Add 675g of sugar to a litre of water in a pan and bring it to the boil, simmering for 15 minutes. Add the cooled sugary water to the infused vodka. 

For added lemony-ness, add the juice from the peeled lemons to the concoction.

*Or whizz the peeled lemons as I did for additional fresh tangy fruitiness.

Cool and bottle.

Here is a pic of my late mum, Fay, aged 93 at Carluccio’s. My mother died in January 2017 the same year as Carluccio’s founder, celebrity chef, Antonio Carluccio

Fay once told Antonio that his restaurants were not the same since he sold the brand. How did he respond, I asked? He shrugged, she said, non-commitally.

Fay would always finish a meal at an Italian restaurant with a limoncello (or two). The pic below was taken at Carluccio’s in 2016, livening up a hospital appointment at Chelsea & Westminster.

Fay Winkler at Carluccio’s 2016

Good food needs land

I love working with the Biodynamic Land Trust. Then the dream thing happened and I went to Brussels for a few days for work. I am grateful to the Access to Land EU conference organisers for supporting my travel.

[Brexit rant: It took two hours by train from Kings Cross, London to Brussels – of course, am in Europe. I apologise for Brexit. In a loo in Brussels, graffiti proclaimed “I voted Remain” to which several had added, “me too” including me (always have felt tip for such occasions).]

Back to the conference: it was held during June heatwave in the peaceful and collegiate setting of the Franciscan centre, Notre Dame Chant d’Oiseau.


We held some of the workshop sessions outside under the comforting shade of a beautiful tree.


If you care about real food, you have to care about the land. 

But land is not valued as a place to grow food. Land is seen as an investment – a place to lock in-money. The EU subsidy system distorts the market further, favouring rich landowners over small ecological farmers delivering healthy local food, and protection of soil and wildlife. (The EU is not perfect. Obvs. It needs reform.).

Brexit is a messy, expensive pain but it is also an opportunity to reshape UK farming, and many organisations are seizing the day.

26 June 2017: Brexit negotiations began, and 80 food and farming organisations released their food policy plan for agriculture, A People’s Food Policy.


The Biodynamic Land Trust was one of the 80 organisations supporting the People’s Food Policy.

The Biodynamic Land Trust’s current community share offer is for Huxhams Cross Farm in Dartington, south Devon (near Totnes). Below, is a picture of the farm’s magical wooded area where local children come to learn about land and farming, and be outdoors in nature. They love it.


I invite you to look at the Huxhams Cross Farm community share offer and hope you will be inspired to support this grassroots investment in community-owned farms for our sustainable future.

Growing farms in the UK

Wicker basket with freshly picked produce on the ground

The day after my mother’s funeral (glitter and gold in her honour), I got my dream job, as marketing and communications manager for the Biodynamic Land Trust, a charitable community benefit society.

The Biodynamic Land Trust grows farms. Founded in 2011, it secures biodynamic and organic farmland for community-ownership, 300 acres so far.

I am excited to be with an organisation working at the grassroots. The grassroots is where it’s at.

How does a community get to own a farm? Through buying community shares.

With interest at an all-time low, many investors are thinking ‘outside the bank’. By investing  in (withdrawable) community shares in an ethical enterprise, money can do good. 

Three freshly-laid eggs in a child's hand at Huxhams Cross Farm

Take Huxhams Cross Farm in Devon. Secured by the Biodynamic Land Trust in 2015, it is achieving great things thanks to community investment. The farm is in conversion to biodynamic agriculture. Its previously-bare fields are regaining fertility through green manures and soil-nurturing biodynamic preparations. 

The fledgling farm has planted 900 orchard trees, two acres of soft fruit, and 3,500 agro-forestry trees. It has a hundred chickens and two Shetland heifers.

Run by food-growing and wellbeing experts, the Apricot Centre, it has also raised a new barn, developed access to parking and organises a weekly box delivery with fellow local farmers, offering vegetables, fruit, eggs, and spring water from Dartmoor.

Signpost at Huxhams Cross Farm

The farm needs electricity and to harvest water, and to build a training and wellbeing centre. The centre will enable cooking, on-farm processing, and on-farm therapy for children (being on a farm is incredibly de-stressing for kids and increases the therapeutic offering). 

Are you inspired to help Huxhams Cross Farm? Invest now in Huxhams Cross Farm community share offer.

Children helping with harvest at Huxhams Cross Farm

POST SCRIPT

I made marmalade on Sunday.

Preserving pan with warm marmalade

I was about to compost the pith and pips when Michael said: whoa, and now its citrusy-ness fibre goes in every smoothie.  By the way, if you can get organic Seville oranges, do. More orangey.

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For several years I have kept my mother, Fay Winkler, in marmalade.

She was my marmalade’s biggest fan.

Her testimony is below.

 

#Soil 

img_1073-1This pic of healthy soil was taken on Holt Farm, Yeo Valley’s organic farm in Somerset.

Its 240-herd  of black and white British Friesian provides 1% of the organic milk used for Yeo Valley’s organic yoghurt. (The rest of the milk comes from organic milk cooperative, OMSCo which Yeo Valley farm owners, Mary Mead and her late husband Roger, helped form when they started making organic yogurt in the early 1990s).  

Holt farm – where Yeo’s Mary and Roger Mead first started farming in  1961 – was fully converted to organic by 2009. 

John Wilson has been managing the farm for 22 years. The soil had been damaged by the use of non-organic farming methods: it flooded in winter and cracked in the summer.

The soil had too much magnesium, and not enough calcium. By correcting it with gypsum, it led to more open and crumbly soil. The process took two to three years.
Soil! I am mad for it. Some think it is worthless because it is under our feet.  But without it, we cannot eat.

We grow most of our food on this thin strip of soil perched on earth’s crust.

And, one of the biggest differences between organic and non-organic farming is the way the soil is fed.

Non-organic farming uses chemical fertiliser. This is like feeding a child vitamins out of a bottle. It may give the nutrients needed but it does not nourish. 
In contrast, organic farming uses a variety of biological ways to replenish and nourish the soil including nitrogen-fixing plants such as clover, rotted-down animal manure, and/or green compost.

This is like real food to soil.

O foolish world! Why do we go to the expense of producing factory-made fertiliser (which is also resource-intensive and produces tonnes of greenhouse gas) when you can replenish the soil far more effectively with natural fertilisers?

Healthy soil has more life in a teaspoon than there are people on the planet.

As the nature poet Helen MacDonald says about our poor grasp of the interconnectedness of everything: “The things that live in soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine …”
Holt Farm now has more moles because there more earthworms in the thriving healthy soil for the moles to eat. You see…everything IS connected.

Happy Organic September!

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Raw green herby sauce and Organic September

bowl of cooked new potatoes with green vinaigrette dressing

This deliciously green sauce or vinaigrette is versatile in many ways. You can use a variety of fresh herbs or salad leaves such as baby spinach/rocket/chives/dill/ mint, and also combine them. Further versatility comes because the green sauce will zazz up many a dish.

Here it is (see pic) poured over new potatoes. Just cooked, the warm potatoes soak up the fresh, green zinginess.

My idea behind this sauce is to put the greens/herbs centre-stage. They do not merely flavour a vinaigrette but positively overwhelm it. By using the greens raw, you get freshness and taste, and as well as many nutrients as possible because they are not lost by cooking. The raw garlic cloves add further immunity-boosting power, and sparky taste.

I use my trusty blender wand to whizz it all up. About £20,  this is an excellent investment, takes up little room in the kitchen and is fab for smoothies. 

Raw green herby sauce or vinaigrette

Trusty hand blender in blender pot full of greens, with gartlic, lomon juice, balsamic and olive oil standing by

The amounts below are approximate. Natural yogurt is also superb whizzed into this dressing. Or add a spoonful or two of tahini. The greens will produce their own moisture as you whizz it all up, but if you want more liquid, add olive oil – not water , which will make it too watery. 

About 50g of fresh herbs/greens 

1/2 raw peeled cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (I use 3/4 cloves) 

Olive oil  3/4 tablespoons to start

Natural yogurt / 1-2 dessertspoons of tahini (optional) 

Balsamic/ lemon juice (half -1 lemon squeezed)

Add the leaves and roughly-chopped garlic to a measuring jug (something with tall sides that will contain the liquid while you whizz).  Add in a couple of glugs of olive oil, and start blending. Add natural yogurt or tahini if desired or more olive oil until sauce is creamy and pourable. Add vinegar or lemon juice, and salt to taste.

The sauce is a glorious green colour.

If possible, use organic, or unsprayed, ingredients.

Why organic?

Growing with nature increases a crop’s nutrient content, and thus its taste. Let your taste buds be the judge of this statement, but your brain may be interested to know that an international team led by Newcastle University found organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants (nutrients) than ones grown the chemical farming way.

There are two reasons for this. One is related to how the soil is fertilised, the second is how plant fights disease. 

1) Using factory-made chemical fertiliser draws more water into the plant. The crop may grow quickly but is also more sappy than crops grown with natural fertiliser. Food grown the natural way has more density. (Chemical fertiliser is banned in organic farming, which instead uses biological methods, such as composting and crop rotation, to create healthy soil).

2) Plants naturally produce valuable antioxidants to keep disease and pests at bay (which we in turn benefit from when we eat the plant). When plants are sprayed with pesticides, they produce fewer antioxidants because the chemical spray is doing the work for them. (Killing pests with pesticides is a crude way of protecting a plant because it involves lots of nasty chemicals and kills beneficial insects too, such as bees. The organic way is more creative, using a host of natural and biological methods to keep pests away.).

The way we farm affects the food we eat. You get more carrot for your carrot. In fact, the Newcastle team suggests that switching to organic fruit and vegetables may have the same benefits as adding one or two portions of the recommended “five a day”. Just switching a few of your fave items to organic will add nutritional joy to your life. 

So, why not organic your September?

 

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Hard boiled eggs in raw herby vinaigrette sauce

Thank you, my dear acting colleague, Nichola Taylor, from the Barded Ladies, for asking for the recipe.  

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