Tag Archive | food

101 Things to do with Cucumbers…

…well, maybe not 101, but there’s certainly more to this fruit than sliced in a salad. And yes, cucumbers are fruits.

This year, we’ve grown a dwarf variety, two plants which are cropping ridiculously well. If we’d only grown one plant, it would surely have died, as in previous years, but this summer we are awash with them, cropping 5-6 a day. The Bee Gees may have had a Cucumber Castle (how many of you can recall that film, I wonder?) but we have a cucumber mountain!

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Today’s crop

I’m all for eating 5 a day, but I don’t think that it meant 5 cucumbers! Oh heck, what to do with them all? I’ve given plenty away, and eating the rest as best and as fast I can in the hope that like the cucumber, it will make me tall and thin, and most probably turning green as a result.

My dear English granny would always and only serve cucs thinly sliced and soaking in malt vinegar – not for me. It seems that was the only way the British ate them, apart from sliced into thin, brown bread sandwiches so beloved of the English garden party and tea at the Ritz!

These cucs, as fat as the normal ones but only much shorter, are too big to pickle and preserve like gherkins, so apart from making tons one of my favourite Greek dishes -tzatziki (yogurt, crushed garlic, and cucumber) and adding them to every sandwich and salad, I’m also been happy to use them as a side dish vegetable with a cooked meal. You may wonder if I’ve gone a little mad, but this dish is one eaten often in Germany, and one my mother showed me how to prepare. It’s simple and delicious and goes very well with hot food such as casseroles or steak or chicken (think KFC chicken with coleslaw). It’s especially good with fish dishes and one I always make when serving trout.

Cucumber Salad

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Cucumber Salad

Simply peel cuc and thinly slice, add a finely chopped onion, and toss in mayonnaise. Serve within half-an-hour or the water in the cuc will thin down the mayo too much. If you do want to make this more in advance, slice the cuc, put into a colander, sprinkle with salt, and press down with a heavy weight, ie a brick on a plate, to extract the juice. Then, before adding the other two ingredients, pat the cuc slices dry on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.

That still leaves me with a mountain to conquer, so yesterday I attempted making cucumber soup. If leek and potato soup can be eaten hot or cold (even if it is renamed vichyssoise), I thought why not give it a go. I love cold soups, gazpacho being a favourite frequently made in the summer. Cuc soup didn’t disappoint. Hot or cold, it was lovely and simple to make. I enjoy making soups as you can use anything and especially useful in using up those bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. As long as you have the basics: potato and onion, you don’t have to fuss with weighing and measuring everything either.

Cucumber Soup

100_6528Using approximately equal volumes of cucumber, potato and onions (spring onions, including the green parts, also work) simply the peel the two veg, chop into chunks then sweat these two in saucepan in a little butter or oil for a few minutes before adding cubed cuc – no need to peel.

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Add  enough water or vegetable stock to cover (I used the water my runner beans were cooked in the previous day – full of goodness and flavour), place lid on saucepan and bring to a gentle boil before turning down heat to a simmer for approx. 10­ to 15 mins or until veg and cuc tender. Then add in some chopped lettuce, such as cos or little gem, and cook for a further 5 mins.

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Add salt and pepper to taste and if you wish, a flurry of chopped fresh parsley. Allow to cool slightly before blitzing with blender until smooth. Serve hot or cold with a swirl of cream or yoghurt. If reheating, do not allow to boil.

This is one I will definitely be making again.

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Applecake for Breakfast?

Come to my house for Easter and you will most probably be served Applecake at breakfast, as German a tradition as sauerkraut and bratwurst, Christmas trees and Schnapps.

Brought up in England by my English father and German mother, I consider myself fortunate to have enjoyed the best of both cultures, both so similar and yet in many ways worlds apart. Easter (Ostern) was a particularly enjoyable festival, heralding the end of winter. The house would be full of vases of daffodils picked from the garden and nearby orchard where they grew in profusion.

The custom of boiling and painting eggs, the symbol of new life, began in Germany during the 16th Century, the bright colours representing sunlight and growth. When we were little, my mother would wait until we four children were tucked up in bed before boiling eggs then painting and decorating each one before hiding them in the garden, either amongst the flowerbeds or often as not hanging from the branches of trees and shrubs for us to find on Easter morning. These, she told us, had been put there by the Easter Hare (der Osterhase). An article this weekend in one of the newspapers decried the arrival of Easter trees in the shops as a commercial extension of the Christmas tree but Egg Trees have long been part of traditional Easter celebrations in Germany.

As we grew older, we would help decorate eggs to be served for breakfast along with cold meats, cheese and bread followed by applecake. My father would also give each of us a small chocolate egg into the package of which he would place money for us to buy as much chocolate as we wanted. The first edible Easter Bunnies were also made in Germany, in about 1800. These were frequently made of marzipan covered in chocolate.

On Good Friday, toasted Hot Cross Buns would be served for breakfast, the day spent in quiet contemplation although we were not a religious family. On the Saturday evening a bonfire would often be lit, as a way of driving out the Winter spirits and welcoming in the warmth of Spring, although this was a good way for my mother to get rid of the trimmings from the shrubs she had cut back in March.

My German grandfather (Opa) was the baker in the village where my mother grew up and his cakes and pastries were legendary.

He would also bake a special Easter cake in the shape of a lamb. Many of his recipes have been handed on but, sadly, many were not written down and the recipes consequently lost. Thankfully, my mother inherited his talent and baked delicious cakes and confection but as the years have taken their toll, she has forgotten many of the recipes, so it was with relief and pleasure we came across Coppenrath & Weise Apple Crumb Cake in shops such as Makro. This is the nearest to the real thing you can buy and you don’t have to wait until next Easter to enjoy it.

Traditional Lamb Cake (Delicious with fresh-brewed coffee)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions: With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar, then add in the water. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add into butter mixture and mix well. Add in the vanilla. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, then add into batter.Grease and flour one lamb cake mould, and pour in batter. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F (175 C) for about forty five minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. When cold, dust with icing sugar.

 Tip for the Day: Does your butter go rancid in the heat yet if you keep it in the fridge it is rock hard. Instead of putting a whole block of butter out, keep only small amounts in the butter dish, say a quarter or half block. That way, it gets used quickly and the butter is always fresh. Unless, that is, you honestly prefer the oil-based concocted whips that spread straight from the fridge or you like playing games with the microwave guessing how long the butter will take to soften before melting, and melt it usually does. 


TIPS OF THE DAY

Gardening:

Beware the dreaded lily beetle is already on the prowl in South West England.

These pesky things are an absolute menance and ruin not just lilies, they like any of the lilium family and frequently attack crocosmia, day lilies and hyacinths. The little blighters contrary to belief can fly. Their young look like black blobs of sticky excrement, which is exactly what it is. They cover themselves in their own poo to hide from predators. I don’t like using any chemicals or sprays in the garden, particularly as we have a large koi pond but I’m afraid I rage war on these creatures. I use a systemic insectide, one especially made for lily beetles. Their method of escape is to drop to the ground and burrow into the soil if they see so much as a hand spray near them. I’m just not quick enough to catch them any other way.

Kitchen:

Never run out of fresh milk again. Milk freezes very well so always keep several pint bottles of fresh milk of the sort that comes in plastic bottles. Milk freezes well. It does look yucky when frozen but returns to normal and thaws swiftly. Other than that, you may have to buy a cow.

Arty Things:

Do you ever find the plastic caps on your tubes of paint break, becoming useless long before the paint’s run out. If by strange chance an empty tube still has it’s cap in tact, thoroughly clean, scraping out any conglomeration of paint on the insides, and keep as spares.

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