Courgette flowers were a key reason for my fierce desire to plant a kitchen garden. They were always so unavailable and expensive, when I found them they would never last very long. Many times I would trundle home from the farmers market with a tiny expensive clutch of them, only to discover them wilted and sad the next day when I went to cook with them. Continue reading
Galicia loves seafood. The scallop shell is an emblem of their pilgrim walk, the camino de Santiago. I saw a church covered entirely (and beautifully) in scallop shells and many pilgrims with a scallop shell painted with the camino emblem attached to their backpack or their wooden walking stick.
Razor clams are a favourite, as are clams, more pedestrian (but still fabulous) mussels and gnarly percebes, plucked from the cliffs before the waves crash in by expert brave fishermen. If you have been to Spain you will have noticed the percebes, it is hard to imagine that you can eat them that first time they take you by surprise. Black and pointed, looking like a velociraptor talon, not something tender, saline and delicious. Harvested in Galicia and popular in Spain, they are cooked by plunging them briefly in boiling salted water for just a couple of minutes. Pinching them to remove the outer leathery carcass reveals a delicate addictive interior, juicy and bright. Continue reading
There is a tired and jaded notion that cooking over fire is the preserve of the male, and that women are neither interested in or inclined to BBQ, preferring instead to be at the stove indoors. This is nonsense, of course. There are people who love to cook, indoors and out, and it is in no way gender specific. Why are people so obsessed with gender when it comes to cooking, anyway? We all eat, it is the one thing that unites us, and so many of us love to cook too. Why be divisive?* Continue reading
When I was in Dublin last week I cooked with Lily Ramirez-Foran. I have known Lily for years online and met her at Electric Picnic, an Irish music festival with a fun food stage, the Theatre of Food. Lily is Mexican, from Monterrey, but based in Ireland with her Irish husband whom she met in Japan. Ireland is very lucky to have her and her gorgeous Mexican shop and kitchen Picado, in Portabello in Dublin. It is a joyful place where Lily serves the best Mexican produce (food and other bits like handmade Mexican pinatas!). She also has supper clubs and cooking classes there on a weekly basis. Continue reading
My friend Luiz is a terrific cook. He is also a blogger and food writer, that is how we are friends. He runs a wonderful supper club in his house (one of the best in London and in the most beautiful space). Last year his first cookbook was published, on Nikkei cuisine called Nikkei, Japanese Food the South American Way. Continue reading
I remember when I first had prawn toast from a Chinese takeaway and I was mesmerised. Just how do they make this, and how do they get the prawns to stick to the toast? Very much a guilty pleasure, I can’t actually order it as the supermarket bread used turns my guts into knots (real bread is no problem, as for most!), so I turned to my stove as I always do, and figured it out. Continue reading
I try with bananas. I buy them and then I leave them there and next thing I know they are brown. Very brown. Almost oozing out of the skin. Collapsing with sweetness. Bananas in the supermarket are never ripe, so you have to wait and then, kabam, too late they are gone! No longer great for eating but nectar sweet and perfect for pancakes and baking. Continue reading
After my breakfast with Guy Savoy, I made my way to the 14th arrondissement to meet Didier Lavry at Le Petit Mitron, a baker who had just been awarded the second prize in le Meilleur Croissant au Beurre d’Isigny AOP. That would be the best croissant competition in France, Paris section, then. Don’t you just love France for that? Continue reading
As I walked up the stairs of the Monnaie de Paris on a quiet Friday morning, I wondered what awaited me at the top. I was in France’s oldest institution, the national mint in the centre of Paris overlooking the tree lined Seine. It was early, and the staff at the door were surprised to see me arrive as they don’t open until lunchtime. I am here to have breakfast with Guy Savoy, I announced gently in clumsy French, with some trepidation. Continue reading
This recipe is the fourth in a series of four that I developed in partnership with the Big Green Egg who sponsored this post. (Read more about sponsored content on Eat Like a Girl). Previously in this series: BBQ Teriyaki Pig Cheeks, Miso Pork Aubergine and BBQ Clams with Gojuchang and Sake.
One of my friends, a fellow food writer and blogger (Luiz of The London Foodie and author of the wonderful book Nikkei) presented me with a little cool bag for my birthday. I peeked in side and shrieked, thrilled to discover that he had gifted me Uruguyan picanha, a cut of beef which we would call rump cap, undervalued and misunderstood here but valued all over South America. With good cause. It is a perfect BBQ cut.
Chimmichurri is a perfect steak accompaniment. From Argentina, and fitting for this South American cut of beef, they usually serve it using dry herbs, I prefer the liveliness and texture of fresh. I also wanted this to be super summery, and looked at my new kitchen garden, particularly my gorgeous aromatic window sill, fragrant of bergamot, lemonbalm and lemon verbena. I chose lemon verbena and mint as the stars with some parsley to tone it down. I also add some Aleppo pepper, another gorgeous food gift from my friend Ailbhe. Adjust the quantities below to your taste, or if you prefer to go traditional, substitute oregano for the lemon verbena and mint. Really traditional means using dried herbs, but I much prefer the bright flavour and gentle texture of fresh.
Picanha is a great value cut and goes far. It is tender and flavourful, it is quite lean too with the fat coating on top. The fat protects it as it cooks and gives it terrific flavour. Fat is flavour, let’s stop demonising it.
If you are celebrating father’s day this weekend, this is perfect for your family lunch. Enjoy!
- 1 x picanha / rump cap (mine was about 2.5kg)
- sea salt
- a handful each of lemon verbena, mint and flat leaf parsley leaves
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 banana shallot, finely chopped
- 1 heaped tsp of Aleppo pepper / pul biber (or a mild chilli of your choice)
- 4 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
I grew up in the countryside with a wild garden front and back. Our house was a new build and so the garden was new too. My first foray into edible gardening was in this garden as a small child, when I transplanted my new broad bean plant from a yogurt carton where it had been planted in school, into the soil. I was mesmerised by how much it grew. Then I discovered that marrowfat peas could be germinated in water and planted to become whole bean plants. Beanstalks, maybe with giants at the top? At 7 this seemed possible.
I became reckless with my germination and one day filled a big plastic tub with marrowfat peas and boiling hot water before spilling it all over my feet. I couldn’t wear shoes for a week, my feet were covered with blisters and I could hardly walk. Instead I wore floral slippers with a big orange furry bit at the front. (Remember those? I loved them.) This didn’t halt my gardening ambitions. I planted my pea plants in a rockery out the back and watched my beanstalks grow. One day I bounced out only to discover an invasion of slugs, and that was it. I was DONE. Nobody had warned me about that.
I was surrounded by gardens though, and farms, and apple trees, even one orchard where we would play. My aunt had a half acre planted with glorious veg, a fruit patch and a greenhouse with vines clambering overhead. Nearby was an abandoned old house, still standing and interweaved with stories all from my head. To each side was a wood, and towards the back a walled garden, our very own secret garden, with apple trees, a cherry tree and lots of fruit bushes, including my favourite gooseberry. It was wild and unmaintained, thick briars climbed the walls but we hardly noticed them. I was a voracious reader and loved The Secret Garden. I fancied that this was one of my own.
Since then, a kitchen garden was always something that I wanted to have. But a garden in London is a luxurious thing. One flat I lived in had a sunny window and I had a tiny chilli farm growing in the heat of the sun. I finally moved to a flat with a garden a few years back, but I travel so much planting a garden was never something that I could do. Until this year, a year that I have slowed down to focus on some projects (that book) and just be, rather than be on the move all the time. (I still travel a lot I know, but smaller short haul projects, I am saving my long haul stuff for the second half of the year).
Sometimes things are in the ether. I had already bought lots of seeds for my edible garden, heritage Italian seeds and beans, when Wyevale Garden Centres got in touch to see if I wanted to work with them on a gardening project. They could help with what I needed to create my edible garden (I had told them that that was what I wanted to do). I started to research. I knew that I wanted courgettes, they were a key motivation, my desire for a courgette flower bounty was strong. I have long been obsessed with edible flowers too, since I was a child. My first cookbook contains many, from rose flower butter to pansy salad potato soup with chive flowers and chive oil. Wild garlic flowers, wild leek flowers and elderflower are regulars in my kitchen.
I am a month into my kitchen gardening and I am obsessed and mesmerised. The joy of planting a seed and nurturing it to a plant is a wonderful thing. It can be time consuming but I find it so positive, except when I have to deal with the slugs. More on that below.
How to start?
Starting Your Kitchen Garden
From Seed or from Plant?
This really depends on how much time you have, when you start and how much work you want to put in. Growing from seed is very satisfying but it is a longer process and it can be quite involved. Yes seeds do just grow themselves, and it is mesmerising, but starting from plants is quicker, and by the time you get them most of the hard work will be done. If you are starting now, I would start with a mix. If you want courgettes, move quickly, or start from a plant. I will be sharing lots about the possibilities about those over the coming months.
I started my garden with some plants provided by Wyevale Garden Centres (including two types of tomato, aubergine, chives, an elephant garlic plant and some flowers) and some seeds, compost, tomato feed and a propogator. A propagator is a useful tool if you are planting late as I did, it is basically a tiny greenhouse that gets your seedlings off to a speedier start. My courgette seedlings popped their head above the soil within 4 days, my purple carrots and nasturtiums took longer. In general you can expect seedlings in at least half the time. You can get simple ones that are just a box with a plastic lid that absorbs the light and sunshine, at this point of the year these will work very well inside or in a bright window. I used a plug in one which I liked so much I bought a second one. This allowed me to start lots of seedlings quickly which I could then plant outside. Take care not to over water them, you can get some mould growing too. Just make sure the soil is nice and damp.
You can of course choose not to plant from seeds and instead plant pots that you buy from your garden centre, where there are amazing selections. More mature plants stand a better chance against slugs and if you are starting late, it gives you a head start.
Where and How to Plant Your Seedlings?
You have your gorgeous seedlings, such a joy. Before planting them in a container or in the ground let them adjust to the new temperatures outside first and give them at least a few days, taking care to water them. I have an old table that I use as a nursery. If you have a small urban garden like me, or even just a patio, you might want to stick to containers for simplicity on your first time. My garden is wild and needs a lot of attention. The soil quality isn’t great. Using bags and containers I can control the soil quality and grow my edibles without sorting all of that out. I bought a couple of tomato planters (not grow bags) and some good organic peat free soil and planted my new seedlings in those. Disaster struck, that first night an avalanche of snails and slugs devoured the lot. So, I had to learn how to deal with that.
Strategies for Dealing with Snails and Slugs
Yeah I know. I am sorry about that, but this is your new reality. Slugs and snails are your new bête noire. You want a gorgeous bountiful kitchen garden? You need to deal with snails and slugs. This year there are more than ever as we have had a mild winter, they are calling them sleepless superslugs. Yeah, I know. Don’t worry you can still leave the house. I hate slugs and snails so much each encounter was punctuated by a squeal, a roar or an expletive. Often all three. But you can do it.
Slugs love courgettes and nasturtiums and similar juicy plants. There are many different types of slugs, some techniques work for some and not for others. I found copper tape ineffective for the tough troop in my garden. You also need to think about the rest of your garden, as fun as it would be to poison them (I know, but you know, different rules for slugs and rodents) or salt them (melt like the wicked witch of the west you vicious slug but it will ruin your soil). You need to think about pets and neighbourhood cats if you are putting down pellets.
Here are your sensible and ecologically friendly options:
Think barriers: these guys are slippery and gross and don’t like anything sharp. There are natural options: coffee grounds, egg shells, sharp gravel and sand (both of which you can get in garden centres for the purpose). Bake egg shells briefly first and rinse them of any remaining egg as eggs are tasty and you don’t want to be attracting any beasties that might like those.
Attract predators: birds and hedgehogs love slugs and if you can attract them to your garden they will love it. BUT please be careful with slug pellets as some can poison these animals and other pets. (See below for my recommendations!). Turn over your soil to expose the slugs and eggs and let the birds and hedgehogs feast on them. We love you birds and hedgehogs!
Drown them in beer: this wasn’t very successful for me but others swear by it. Put a saucer of beer by your plants and slugs will go in and drink it and drown in there. Others recommend beer traps, beer in empty yogurt pots put in the soil and buried near your vulnerable plants. Or a beer can with some beer in it, they apparently will wander in and then they are easily disposed of.
Commercial options: slug pellets are an option but be aware of the effects that they might have on pets, garden birds and hedgehogs etc. I bought Sluggo Slug and Snail Killer which is iron based and toxic to slugs but safe for everything else. The slugs go underground once they eat them leaving no trace. Follow instructions and don’t put out too many. I also tried Slug Gone wool pellets which are a completely natural product which irritate slugs feet (I know, who knew they had feet, and did you know they had 24,000 teeth EACH?). They are completely safe for children and animals, and also act as a natural mulch, discourage weeds and nourish your soil. They biodegrade naturally too. I have found slug wool to be a magical thing, and the only thing which protects my gorgeous seedling courgettes. Both of these products are available at Wyevale Garden Centres. Lots have recommended nematodes to me also but I haven’t tried these yet. These are small worms that exist naturally in soil and that kill slugs naturally. You can put these in before you plant too, clearing the way for your plants.
Which Edibles Should You Plant?
That all depends on what you want to eat of course and the time of year you want to plant. I want to plant everything but I have limited space and it is my first year so I am still learning. Starting at this time of year (June), I decided to focus on tree things:
I have planted several types, including ridged Roman ones and a courgette plant that only produces flowers. I am all about the flowers as much as I love the courgette. Expensive to buy and hard to find, they also have a very limited shelf life. None of these are problems when you grow your own! I want to make courgette flower pizzas, Roman style; courgette flower tacos, Mexican style; I want to stuff them, fry them, and eat them all summer long. Well, after they flower anyway. Slugs love courgettes so I have been at war, but I am winning. See above for my tips for your battle!
An Edible Flower Garden
I have long been obsessed with edible flowers. There is an overlap with the courgette patch above, the most regal of edible flowers, and also many herbs have gorgeous edible flowers too. I got a lovely selection from Wyevale Garden Centres to plant and also planted some of my own. From Wyevale Garden Centres: bright purple chicory flowers, chives (with their pom pom purple chive flowers), garlic chives (with their parasol of white flowers), borage flowers (perfect for salads and for summer drinks with their gorgeous cucumber flavour) and lots of nasturtiums both for their leaves and their flowers.
A Herb Garden
I have planted lots of herbs. I buy lots and then watch as they wilt and lose their vigour. I want to snip them from my window boxes and use them while fresh and full of life and flavour. I have had occasional pots of herbs around but nothing long term. I am excited. I planted: parsley, sage, rosemary, basil, oregano, lemonbalm, lemon verbena.
Also: Salad, Carrots, Pumpkins, Chillies, Tomatoes, Strawberries
And other bits and bobs! Let’s see how this goes. I am so excited. The idea of my pantry extending into the garden and using everything while fresh and full of flavour fills me with joy. I have gone a bit crazy and bought so many seeds and plants. But I love it, and hopefully I should reap some rewards too.
Over to YOU!
I want your tips and stories! Do you have a kitchen garden, or a bountiful window box? Are you excellent at managing slugs?! What should I plant that I haven’t planted yet.
Come follow on Snapchat where I share my daily journey and tips and tricks for gardening, as well as cooking tutorials, London stuff and my travels.
This recipe is the first in a series of four that was written in partnership with Wyevale Garden Centres who sponsored this post. Come back for more detail on planting courgettes, an edible flower garden and a herb garden, with lots of recipes too. I am posting daily updates on snapchat also, where you can also follow Game of Slugs (aka SLUG WARS). All editorial is mine, as always. (Read more about sponsored content on Eat Like a Girl).
Other posts in this series on edible gardening:
This recipe is the third in a series of four that I developed in partnership with the Big Green Egg who sponsored this post. (Read more about sponsored content on Eat Like a Girl). Previously in this series: BBQ Teriyaki Pig Cheeks and BBQ Clams with Gojuchang and Sake.
Well this is a cracker. Aubergine is a vegetable that loves smoke, and loves meat too. The deep sweet rumble of miso blends in seamlessly, and chilli gives everything a lift. Because everything does need a lift, every now and then.
This is deceptively simple. The deep flavours come from the fermented miso, the whole thing start to finish cooks in less than an hour. Miso is a great store cupboard ingredient, for quick miso soups and great marinades. Miso makes a great steak marinade with a little mirin, sake and rice vinegar to loosen it out ant balance it. Some chilli too for me, because I can’t resist it. Mix it with butter and a little citrus (yuzu if you can get it, if not some lemon or lime) and rub a chicken with it before sticking it on the grill.
I start this dish with an onion, as most good dishes start. It gives lovely sweetness and texture. Onions, like most simple everyday things, are deeply underrated.
- 2 aubergines, sliced in half vertically
- 300g minced pork (preferably minced pork belly or shoulder, supermarket minced meat does not have enough fat and can be dry)
- 2 tbsp white miso (or miso of your choice)
- 1 tbsp gojucharu (Korean red pepper flakes) or 1 tsp chilli flakes (less as they are hotter)
- 1 onion, peeled finely diced
- light oil for frying and for the aubergine, I used rapeseed
- sea salt
I can’t get enough pastry this week. I just can’t. Sweet tarts, savoury, small little leftover bits crisped with peanut butter and a drizzle of maple syrup, to have on top of sweet raspberries mixed with coconut cream. That was awesome. Today, I decided I wanted a tart for lunch, with a whole meal in it. Pastry as a plate, a crisp flaky gorgeous one.
I have made puff pastry before, but not today. And not often. It is a faff. (I respect, admire and worry about home cooks who frequently make it). I used shop bought which made this speedy and not very challenging at all. One of the first of the seasons bright tomatoes, a joyful yellow one bursting with sunshine. Some stout asparagus spears in pancetta straight jackets, crisped to submission, a pert egg and a light cover of cheese with the intention of gently covering the yolk so that it didn’t blister in the heat and giving it an extra layer of magic. A little chilli just to wake it all up. On top of that some crisped kale, because you have to.
Very simple and it looks impressive. Give it a blast!
The perfect summer tart!
- 1 x sheet shop bought puff pastry (all butter if you can get it)
- 1 large tomato (I used a gorgeous yellow one)
- 2 eggs
- 3 asparagus spears
- 3 x slices pancetta (or ham or bacon - sliced thin if you can)
- a little grated cheddar or parmesan
- a handful of kale, torn from the stem
- a little light oil like rapeseed or sunflower oil
- 1 egg for egg wash
- sea salt and a little mild chilli