• In season now: May

    New this month: Asparagus! The food of gods... and carrots are back.

    Still in season from last month: cauliflower, chard, green cabbage, salad leaves, main-crop potatoes (from store), salad leaves, sea kale, spring greens, rhubarb

    Goodbye till next year to: Purple sprouting broccoli (sniff, sniff), leeks, stored parsnips, forced rhubarb

  • What I’m doing here

    This all started when I picked the first strawberries from my new allotment.

    I'd never been so enraptured or so excited by food. It was a shock to find that anything could taste so good.

    So what - I'd never had strawberries before?

    No - all the strawberries I'd had were shop-bought, like as not flown in from intensive growers in Spain or Chile, and eaten in winter when strawberries should be a distant summer memory.

    It revolutionised my thinking about the fresh food we eat every day. I started to wonder if you got the same amazing taste from all types of food grown and eaten in season. And then I decided to do something about it.

    The Year of Eating Seasonally is my little experiment to find out what it's really like not to have it all. The only fruit and veg I and my family are going to eat in 2008 will be what's growing in the ground at the time (or, in winter, what I can get out of store).

    I want to find out if the hungry gap is really as hungry as everyone says it is: whether you're really eating nothing but cabbage all winter; and whether you miss strawberries in December.

    Along the way I hope I'll save a few tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere on my behalf, as I won't be requiring those French beans flown from Chile, thanks very much. And I hope I'll be rediscovering what food can really taste like.

    If you have any comments, please feel free to post them anywhere you like - or you can email me at sallywhite@hotmail.com.

The darling buds of May

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (it’s my birthday ūüėÄ so a day off goddess-dom today) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: bacon sandwich, greek yoghurt and honey (all-Sally’s-favourite-things breakfast); half a tuna sandwich (post-breakfast recovery lunch); fillet steak, asparagus and pommes nicoise (very posh birthday tea from hubby – who’s a lucky girl then)

What a great day – just kicked back and took it easy. And my first asparagus of the year, too. It doesn’t get much better than this!

So – here we are then. I feel like I’m emerging out of a long dark tunnel into the light – summer is just around the corner and there’s a hint – just a hint – that such undreamt of gorgeousness as fresh peas and beans might be on the way, too.

We’re still not quite clear of the hungry gap – but we’ve crossed the worst bit and are in reach of the other side. It hasn’t been quite as bad as I feared: I developed a bit of a thing about cabbage (am now a true connoisseur – can now tell a savoy from a cavolo nero at a hundred paces), and the advent of purple sprouting broccoli and chard really meant it wasn’t that long an endurance test after all.

As I’ve said before, apples are sorely missed – dried ones just aren’t the same – and I’ve also slipped a bit over the issue of cucumbers. Both are down to Princess the Younger’s very particular tastes: she does like a bit of cucumber in her sandwiches, and I can’t always fob her off with salad leaves. But since my salad patch is excelling itself at the moment (of which more later) I might have more luck this month. We’ll see!

I heart filo pastry

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (ah I am truly excelling myself this week) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, jam & juice (breakfast); cheese sandwich (lunch); chicken paper pie and roast veg (supper)

I love the school holidays. At last I have the time to cook, properly, and find lovely new recipes like the one I tried out this evening. This scrummy concoction of chicken and – yet again, but I can’t get enough of the stuff – purple sprouting broccoli was yet another use for filo pastry,¬†a recent discovery of mine (can’t think why I didn’t use it more before).

It’s so easy¬†– you just buy a packet from the shops and hey presto –¬†instant piecrust. It’s cheap and you get enough in one small packet to make about five big pies, and what’s more you can freeze it, defrost it and use a bit more, and then freeze it again. And it looks fab once it’s cooked, too, just like crumpled brown paper.¬†It’s even kid-friendly.¬†So paper pies have become part of¬†our staple diet just lately – and I for one am not complaining.¬†

Unhealthy (but tasty) eating

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (I stay off school – therefore I cook) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: about 10

On the menu: toast, jam & juice (breakfast); chicken soup (lunch); cheesy leek and PSB bake, spring greens and mash (supper)

This evening’s supper was a bit of a heart attack on a stick – cheese, milk, eggs, butter, all in abundance and its artery-furring qualities only slightly cancelled out by being full of lovely leafy green seasonal vegetables. As my husband pointed out, all the ingredients except the PSB and the leeks were on his red list (that’s the list the doctor gave him of foods he should avoid to save himself keeling over from excess of dairy products). So I’m kind of hoping he’s still alive to tell the tale in the morning.

It did taste quite spectacularly yummy, though, so if you’re not that bothered about your cholesterol levels, go for it. Nobody ever said seasonal eating had to be healthy…

Bludgeoning a perfectly good flavour to death

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (murdered some PSB this evening, am racked with guilt) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: about 40

On the menu: porridge and juice (breakfast); beef and vegetable soup (lunch); fillet steak, potatoes and PSB disaster (supper)

You know what? I should have known better.

I’ve always had a bit of a sniffy thing about serving side vegetables that have been¬†mucked about with. That is, with sauces, extra flavourings… whatever. I don’t mind baked leeks – they’re lovely, in fact. And cooking in butter I can just about cope with. But mostly I just like my veggies plain – steamed and undressed.

But – in the way that you do – I decided I was being prejudiced and unreasonable, so I thought I’d have a go at a recipe I’ve spotted¬†a few times now. It’s a rare recipe with purple sprouting broccoli as its main ingredient, and lots of people mention it, so I figured it was worth a try.

How wrong can you be. Cooking PSB with anchovies sounds kind of intriguing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, you don’t realise until it’s on your plate that the powerful, salty taste of the anchovies¬†batters every last vestige of flavour from the PSB and leaves no survivors. What’s more, that lovely crunchy texture well-cooked PSB has? Well with this recipe, it’s reduced to a shapeless sludge (and I followed it to the letter – honest). No texture, no flavour but salt, and a¬†post-industrial browny-purple colour to boot. Can you imagine anything more horrible? I do wonder if these so-called chefs actually taste the stuff they ask us to cook sometimes.

Please – if you ever see anything combining the lovely subtlety of PSB with anchovies, don’t touch that recipe. It really, really doesn’t work. I promise. I’ve tasted it, and only just lived to tell the tale.

Things I wouldn’t be without in the kitchen #3

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (turbo-charged super-goddess today Рnurse, high-octane working woman, supermum and chef in one) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: about 40

On the menu: toast, jam and juice (breakfast); cornish pasty (lunch Рat desk again); pork chops, potatoes and steamed PSB (supper)

My poor hubby is laid low with a horrible virus of some sort so I had three kids to look after today. I did feel sorry for him though – any man who turns down a sizzling pork chop in favour of a bowl of leek and potato soup must be sick.

As well as the oven timer and the freezer, another thing I pay homage to on an almost daily basis in my kitchen is my steamer. Actually I inherited it (OK, filched it) from hubby, who also uses it pretty regularly.

Steaming is so much easier than boiling some poor vegetable half to death, as well as being healthier. You can cook potatoes in the bottom half, and in the meantime prepare your veg into the top half ready to go. Then with about 5-10 minutes of cooking time left on the spuds, just slot the top half in, put the lid on, and hey presto Рready-drained veg cooked to perfection.

It’s really difficult to overcook vegetables like this – our PSB this evening was deliciously crunchy yet tender, just as it should be (even the princesses went into raptures over it). Steaming also means you don’t lose so many vitamins, and you don’t get that horrible thing where you put the veggies on the plate only to realise you haven’t drained them properly so they splurt water all over your food.¬†Steamed veg¬†don’t hold water… so they don’t need draining.

You can buy electric steamers, but ours is just a straightforward metal affair with a thick-bottomed saucepan on the bottom and a second layer with a perforated base which slots on top of the saucepan. You can get three-, four- and even five-layer steamers if you’re keen enough. They’re not that expensive, and I think they’re quite good-looking too.

Apparently you can¬†add herbs, flavourings and stock to the cooking water and it gently infuses the vegetables. Well – that all sounds a bit high-falutin to me. All I know is that I¬†steam practically every vegetable¬†we eat, with the exception of potatoes – I could steam those too but I just prefer the double-cooking method¬†above – and particularly at this time of year when seasonal vegetables are so foul if they’re soggy (cabbage boiled for 15 minutes was a recurring nightmare of my childhood) it’s a godsend. I wouldn’t be without it!¬†¬†

Stirring things up

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (gardening goddess too today) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: Cereal and juice (breakfast); pasta & pesto and an awful lot of chocolate biscuits (lunch); PSB and prawn stir-fry with noodles (supper)

Another triumph today – harvested the first-ever purple sprouting broccoli from the allotment! I’ve been anticipating this for weeks now as they’ve been teasing me by producing shoots but not actually growing purple tops to them, but I arrived there today to discover lots of luscious little¬†dark flower heads. Snipped them off and¬†they were in the pan within half an hour.¬†

This is the kind of freshness you can never, never get with¬†shop-bought veg, no matter how¬†good the shop. We’re talking firm, blemish-free stems; leaves and heads that are still full of sap and haven’t had time to dry out, so are juicy and crunchy; and flavour second to none, as it’s had no time to deteriorate. It’s why I grow my own as much as possible, and you have to experience it to realise what a quantum leap it is from what we eat most of the time.¬†

Pink food #2 (or should that be #3?)

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (back to proper cooking now things have calmed down again) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: about 40

On the menu:¬†Toast, jam ‚Äėn‚Äô¬†juice (breakfast); rather scrumptious beef and spring green stir fry my talented hubby just … well… made up (lunch);¬†PSB pasta¬†(supper)

Pink food again today! Entirely unintentionally, I have to say, as I didn’t realise that was going to happen. There I was cooking up a storm with the first PSB of the year and some white wine, when I noticed the wine had turned a distinctly rosy shade. The purple PSB had coloured it beautifully, and the resulting sauce, too.

I could make an entire pink meal here – braised cabbage, then the rather tasty PSB pasta I cooked this evening, and, let’s see, rhubarb fool for pudding? The princesses would be proud of me!