Tag Archives: organic

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

#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!

Reclaim real food with Organix #nojunk campaign

Happy grandchild with chocolate bean cake

I wish Organix had been around in the 1980s when my children were little. 

Organix produces healthy food for children so it is a godsend. Because it is certified organic, the junk is already excluded.

I love a good ban. Here is a small example of the junk which has always been banned from organic standards. 

  • Hydrogenated fats 
  • All colourings whether or not natural (except annatto)
  • All artificial flavourings.

You will never find the above in organic food because their standards are based on the Precautionary Principle: why take an unnecessary risk?

And what an unnecessary risk.

Hydrogenated fats or trans fats are industrially produced. A cheap filler, they prolong shelf life and make a fake cake look cake-like. They are linked to the UK’s obesity crisis. Child obesity is a huge health risk and is NOT FAIR to kids.

Artificial flavourings and colourings mask the yuk taste of the junk, and are linked to hyper-activity and allergies. Like trans fats, these additives are a cheap alternative to real ingredients, and a health risk. There is currently no requirement to reveal their exact quantity in food.

I love Organix’s latest campaign.

“I pledge to eat and feed my family only real ingredients I can recognise or spell.

I signed the pledge. I am sick of food ingredients that only a chemist can understand. I do not want food technology – I want REAL FOOD!

Organix was founded in 1992 by Lizzie Vann. After a childhood rife with asthma and eczema, she learned as an adult about the link between food and health (cut out those nasty additives for a start!).

As well as making tasty organic food for children, Organix also educates carers about how to make real food, and campaigns for nutritious food in hospitals, schools and nurseries. 

Awarded an MBE in 2000 for services to children’s food, Lizzie Vann was also a founding member of Food for Life, the multi-charity programme transforming school meals one meal at a time.

Food for Life’s manageable targets: 70% unprocessed, 50% local and 30% organic.

Lizzie Vann says: “A growing infant is not a miniature version of an adult. Their key body systems…are in a state of fast development for most of their early childhood. During this dynamic time, it is essential that the environment in which they grow is free of toxins, and the foods they are fed are pure and offer quality nutrition.”

If I were emperor for the day, I would command the food industry to stop being reckless with our children’s health.

I would ban the use of cheap, empty, risky, filler ingredients which make huge profits for manufacturers but are ruining our children’s health. 

I would decree food manufacturing magnates be force-fed the junk they peddle to children. From henceforth, the only food they would be allowed to sell would be stacked with nutritious goodness, with no toxic nasties. 

Please do sign the No Junk pledge.

PS The pic at the start of the blog is of my granddaughter and a healthy chocolate cake…recipe next week!

Christmas coleslaw

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After seasonal excess, I crave a dish to revitalise my innards and reboot my digestion.

“Oh, herbacious treat! ‘Twould tempt the dying anchorite to eat…”

I love new age raw, as in for instance Kate Magic.

And coleslaw is a classic.

Ah, the classics never let you down. Tried-and-tested, refined by human habit, a classic endures for good reason.

Coleslaw traditionally uses cabbage, a seasonal winter vegetable brimming with goodness.

I use organic ingredients to get maximum nutritional benefits. Plus its farming practices save the soil and the bees.

Coleslaw recipe

Basically grate, grate and shred, shred as finely as possible. (How I bless my power-tool, the food processor) then cover liberally with luscious dressing.

1lb 8 oz (680g) each of grated carrots and white cabbage

1 pint (0.6L) well-blended dressing made truly-tangy with lemon juice and crushed garlic
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– Juice of 1.5 lemons (organic lemons are more juicy because growth is steady not boosted by artificial fertiliser).
– 3-4 garlic cloves
– olive oil (organic ensures authenticity)
– balsamic vinegar
– natural yogurt (or replace with additional oil and vinegar)
– seasoning.

Thanks to nudge from John (below): I estimate for 500 ml dressing 300 ml yogurt + 250 ml olive oil with remaining ml: balsamic + lemon juice. I would squeeze the lemon juice and then add balsamic to taste (a good slosh).

Put the copious amounts of grated scrubbed/peeled raw carrots and finely shredded cabbage. Add the dressing, mixing well.

Versatile, serve it solo or with all manner of dishes including curries and hey – that left-over Christmas roast.

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Community buy-out to secure biodynamic farm

Bluebell WoodThere was a time when the earth was free and belonged to all. People grew food and grazed animals, to eat, to live. Then the land grabs started. With legal stealth and physical violence, “enclosures” were enforced over several centuries in Britain. The commons – the earth and soil and woodlands used by peasants for farming – became the property of warlords who exploited the need to grow food for survival.

It does not need to be this way! We do not need to run the world for the benefit of might-is-right profiteers!

Fast-forward to the 21st century. One of the problems of producing food in the UK is the lack of available land. Who will be lucky enough to inherit? Most of the land belongs to a small percentage of the aristocracy.

Farming land is rare. Land is seen as an “investment”. Investors buy land to lock up their money, using it like a savings account. This means land becomes prohibitively expensive and makes it difficult for would-be farmers to find a foothold.

But I bring encouraging news. Community farm ownership seeks to break the “land-as-investment” deadlock, and make land accessible for farming.

Let’s take a closer look at this model by visiting Rush Farm in Worcester – which I had the good fortune to do as part of my work with Greenhouse.

Lleyn sheep Rush Farm

Rush Farm is an 150-acre mixed traditional biodynamic and organic family farm in the heart of England. In 2012, its current owners joined with the Biodynamic Land Trust to form Stockwood Community Benefit Society Ltd. The aim is for the Benefit Society to buy Rush Farm and its ethically-run 27-unit eco-property, Stockwood Business Park, from its current owners.

Pic below of current owners, Sebastian, Tabitha and Sophie, three siblings of the Parsons family.

Sebastian, Sophie, Tabitha_6269

In this way, the land can neither be passed down to the next generation as an inheritance, nor can it be sold. Stockwood Community Benefit Society ensures the land remains as a community-owned biodynamic and organic farm – for ever.

Is land a community resource for the benefit of many, or a commodity to be bought and sold to profit but a few? In his article Transforming Capitalism, Martin Large of the Biodynamic Land Trust argues that managing land as a community resource can alleviate the current economic crisis.

This is the mechanism: Stockwood Community Benefit Society is selling shares, from a minimum of 100 £1 shares (£100) to a maximum of 20,000 £1 (£20,000) shares. Unlike commercial shares, community shares cannot be sold. Instead, shareholders are supporting a sustainable enterprise.

IMG_0400However, it’s not all one-way – Stockwood Community Benefit Society anticipates paying-out 5% interest a year to its community share holders. Here is a pic of its stall selling shares at Rush Farm fete on the 3 August. The £1 million share offer was launched in May and has already raised about half a million pounds. Offer ends 31 October 2013 so invest now!

A bit more background: Sebastian Parsons, and his two sisters, Tabitha and Sophie, bought Rush Farm in 2005. Their parents, Anne and Adrian Parsons, have managed it as a biodynamic and organic farm ever since.

WOW. Thanks to these enlightened farming methods, the soil is revitalised, carbon-rich, and brimming with fertility. Its native Lleyn sheep and Hereford cattle are beautifully cared-for. The farm’s mixed habitats –  ancient woodlands, wetlands, herb-rich meadows and grassland – are nurtured and wildlife has returned, including bees, butterflies, lapwings and curlews.

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Demeter biodynamic-certified and Soil Association organic-certified Rush Farm sells meat and fresh produce, and also earns an income from the rental from its on-farm Stockwood Business Park (see my pic of a light industrial units) – a vital rural hub employing over 100 local people, and making it viable for them to stay in the countryside. The business park is full of groovy businesses, too.

teiner/Waldorf kindergartenStockwood Business Park even has its own Steiner/Waldorf nursery kindergarten. (Please can I be three-years-old again, and attend?).

Wrapped around a working farm with lush nature, the business park has to be one of the most blissful places in he world to work.

Sebastian Parsons

Sebastian Parsons is also the CEO and co-founder of Elysia, which includes the UK distribution of Dr.Hauschka‘s organic skin care products, and is based at Stockwood Business Park. The voluntary chief executive of the Biodynamic Association, Sebastian also applies Rudolph Steiner’s far-out but incredibly practical philosophy on the interconnectedness of everything (anthroposophy) to to Rush Farm, Elysia, and Stockwood Community Benefit Society.

Makes sense doesn’t it? Because everything is connected!

Photo 03-12-2006 07 01 49 PMSebastian’s grandfather was David Clement, a pioneer of Britain’s biodynamic movement. In 1933, Clement bought Broome Farm (also in Worcester) which became an agricultural research centre, and for half a century, the Biodynamic Association’s headquarters. But, sadly, in the 1980s, Broome Farm was sold  and lost to biodynamic and organic management– to the Parsons’ chagrin.

“My sisters and I never spoke about it at the time,” says Sebastian. “But much later we found that each of us had resolved to one day buy Broome Farm back. We never did. However, when we bought Rush Farm, we felt we had achieved our aim, and fulfilled our commitment to the land.”

More social history, this time about Rush Farm. Under its previous owners in the 1950s, Rush Farm inspired the writing of The Archers, the world’s longest-running radio soap opera.

Radio Times Nov 1951

Radio Times Nov 1951

Early episodes were recorded at Rush Farm and its nearby pub, The Bull, at Inkberrow, while Rush Farm’s fireplace featured as the Archers’ fireplace on a Radio Times cover (viz pic). And if that is not enough farm gossip, Olympic showjumper, Pat Smythe, used to ride at Rush Farm, when it was a stud farm in the ’50s and ’60s.

Now Rush Farm is in the limelight again, thanks to its Stockwood Community Benefit Society share offer to secure the biodynamic and organic farm’s future – for ever.

Community investors – be part of the solution! Invest in this worthwhile sustainable enterprise (with 5% return). Deadline ends 31 October 2013.

Beetroot and Carrot Salad

Beetroot and carrot salad

I used to think beetroots had to be cooked. Now I am wiser, I know they can be  raw. And may be more nutritious as a result.

Grating beetroots makes crunching effortless while an oil and vinegar dressing adds luxury. Carrots, also grated, are a perfect companion.

You know what they say: eat for colour: orange, reds (and more), each colour containing different immune-boosting nutrients.

I first came across the beetroot/carrot combo at the Better Food Cafe about seven years ago, and copied the idea, working out a version at home. 

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Then turned it into a recipe for Grown in Britain CookbookI wish I had name-checked my inspiration so glad to be doing so now. My beetroots came from  the Better Food Company, too.

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I peeled the carrots and beetroots, above. Grown organically, slowly, biologically, they are chemical-free and needed only scrubbing, plus the skin has nutrients. (But I am not perfect and peeling is faster).

I was taken with the yellow, white and purple carrots, as they used to be before 17th century Dutch growers went monoculture orange to praise William of Orange. Poetically, these 21st century rainbow carrots were grown in Holland.

Bear Fruit Bear Pit
I had bought my Dutch rainbow organic carrots at the Bear Fruit stall (above) in the Bear Pit, Bristol.

The Bear Pit is, by the way, an example of urban regeneration from the grass-roots-up. A dingy subway on a busy city roundabout now transformed by locals into a lively market and meeting place.

Beetroot and Carrot Salad – ingredients for four

  • 600g raw beetroot
  • 600g raw carrots
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • Dressing: 4 tablespoon olive oil + 50ml balsamic vinegar
  • oil for frying/toasting + soy sauce for seeds
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, coriander) or snipped salad cress.
  • 1.1. Scrub/peel carrots and beetroot, and trim tops and tails. Keep carrots whole for grating. Peel the beetroot and cut in half. Grate the raw vegetables, using hand grater or food processor. Combine in large bowl and add olive oil and vinegar dressing.2. If not serving immediately, don’t add dressing yet. Instead, store covered in fridge. Remove 1 hour before serving to bring to room temperature. Then add dressing (below).

    3. For the vinaigrette, put the oil and vinegar in a screw-top jar, put the lid on tightly and shake vigorously.

    4. Gently heat olive oil in a small frying pan and toast the seeds for 3–4 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring to prevent sticking. Add the soy sauce at the end of the cooking, if using. Most of the sauce will evaporate, leaving a salty taste and extra browning for the seeds. Store the toasted seeds in a jar with a lid if preparing the day before.

    5. When ready to serve, add the chopped herbs to the grated beetroot and carrot. Shake the screw-top jar with vinaigrette, then pour over the vegetables, and season to taste. Toss the salad gently until everything glistens. Scatter the toasted seeds.