Tag Archives: organic

#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

#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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