Sunday, 24 April 2022

Cassoulet - ish

I enjoy cooking but have, I suppose like many people, a fairly limited selection of dishes that I can actually cook! I find recipes in books and online often way too complicated for me, not that I can't understand them given time but that I just want to get on with throwing things into a pan, wok or dish, frying or bubbling or oven-cooking it up. 

However, having gone round my usual list of Sunday dinner options, which doesn't just include the traditional English Sunday roast, I decided that I would actually try something new this week. 

My eldest mentioned recently that cassoulet, which is basically like a French bean casserole with meat, is something that she bought in tins when working in France but never really tried cooking it herself. Now, I am sure that my version of it would seriously annoy any respectable French cook but I decided to give it a go. 

Hence, "Cassoulet-ish" is the title for this blog!

So, one of the things that we grow a lot of in the allotment are borlotti beans for drying.

These are just some of them, it took a long time to pod all of them and when drying in the pods, they took up over four fruit boxes like you get at the greengrocers. 

We have also still been eating our carrots planted last year in tyre stacks, though they are getting down to the last few small ones now. 

But, even though we are at the very last of the crops planted the previous season, we do have asparagus!

These have popped up literally in the past couple of days and there's more just under the surface wich will do for tea this coming Tuesday evening. 

So, my version of cassoulet, which will serve 9 portions, involved the following:

Dried Borlotti beans - soaked overnight in cold water (really important), change of water, then boiled with some dried red kidney beans (again soaked overnight) for 45 mins or so. To be honest we just pour dried beans in the pan until it looks like we have enough but I would suggest that a medium mug full of dried beans per 3 or so people is about right.

Carrots - approximately 4 large ones, though half of the selection of carrots I put in were from the allotment and in various small sizes and strange shapes! Diced

Swede - two slices, diced

Beetroot - half of one, though one could use a whole one quite easily, diced. 

Mushrooms - about 500g (just over 1lb), chopped

1 red bell pepper, sliced and diced

6 lengths of asparagus from our allotment

Rosemary and other mixed dried, chopped herbs to taste. (the rosemary being a gift from another allotment holder!)

Olive or vegetable oil to brown the meat in

Half a lb (about 225g) of back bacon, trimmed of fat, diced. Bought from our local butchers, supplied by a farm 3 miles away

1 dozen medium sausages, sliced into half inch (1.25cm) slices, again from same butchers and farm. I chose some pork with sage flavouring but any decent butchers' sausage which isn't too plain or too spicy would be fine. 

Once the beans were done, I drained them and then popped them to one side on a plate while I browned the sausage and bacon in the same pan (to save washing up!) and added some stock (ideally one would use a pork or bacon stock cube but I had to substitute a beef one), enough to cover all the ingredients once the vegetables and beans are added in. I always find it worth giving any meat a good brown over before moving onto the next stage. 

I bubbled the meat and stock for a couple of minutes, giving it a good stir, then I added all the vegetables and beans, which luckily just fitted in the pan! And added the chopped up herbs. 

I then bubbled this for about 30 minutes with the occasional stir. I then added the asparagus and boiled for another 10-15 minutes. I did read somewhere that one should always cook asparagus vertically so that the tips are steamed, not boiled. Hence the mixture looks like some kind of weird bean birthday cake with candles!

Alongside this, I popped some part-baked baguettes into the oven on 200C (392F) for 10 minutes bought from the local supermarket (there isn't a bakery that is open on a Sunday where I live and to be honest I am not sure the one we do have during the week does baguettes to buy on their own anyway)

So, here we have the finished serving of something that may or may not be Cassoulet but certainly was very tasty!

Sunday, 13 February 2022

More local dinner!

It has been some time since I blogged although I have been active on Twitter on many topics (@cashandcarrots). One of these is local food. I live in an area with many local livestock farmers and the beef, pork and lamb in my local butchers is raised on a farm three miles away. The chicken is from a couple of farms, around thirty miles away in different directions, and more on one of these later. We cycle to one of three smallholdings in nearby villages for eggs, two of these have the chickens in a small field right next to the road so you can literally see where your food comes from! Our milk is delivered from TD Goodall's dairy about ten miles away as the crow flies, with the yoghurts and cottage cheese (and butter if we need it) that come in the same delivery originally from Longley Farm near Huddersfield, a company that I have supported for over thirty years now. 

Our local butchers shop is often trying out new products and this weekend I noticed that they had got in some free range chickens via a merchant called Soanes Poultry. These were, looking at the colour of the skin, obviously corn fed and the farmer is not far from Doncaster Airport. These were on a trial price so they will be a little bit more expensive in the future but it is worth paying a bit more for free range if they are available. 

I don't know whether they have bred for ease of carving (or dismantling as I think of it!) but when cooked it was just dropping off the bones and very straightforward to portion up!

It was very tasty, some say that one can detect a difference between corn fed and other types of feeding but maybe I cooked it too long! But a very nice roast all the same and doubly satisfying knowing that it had been outdoors and free range.

The last of the home grown potatoes from last season went into the dish for roast potatoes. Sacks of potatoes, grown up on the Yorkshire Wolds, are available from our local butchers too. If we had needed any at the time of a recent trip to Harrogate there are a couple of farms on the way there that also do them. 

The carrots came from the allotment, grown in our tyre stacks and with the mild winter we have had, these are still growing well. I always have a slice or two raw before they get cooked, they are very sweet and tasty. 

I am not sure how many parsnips are still left under the ground in that section of the allotment but the middles are starting to go slightly woody now. Still plenty of usable parsnip on one this size though!

I have saved a big one in the ground to go to seed for next year though, we nearly always save seed from them. 

The parsnip was sliced up and deep fried into chips, this only takes a few minutes in a pre-heated chip pan, though of course with such cooking it is imperative that care is taken and the fat does not get too hot before cooking and it is not left alone at all. 

The swede and the turnip were from Peckfield Farm Shop and The Greengrocer in Garforth respectively, although am not sure where in the UK they were grown. Though by using local shops one is putting money into the local community and indeed through the food chain direct to farmers without involving the big supermarkets. 

So, a thoroughly tasty Sunday lunch supporting local producers and retailers!

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Local dinner!

First of all, for all those reading in the North of England, no I haven't gone posh and decided to call my evening meal 'dinner'! But a headline of 'local tea' would be confusing in other ways, so 'dinner' it is, even though it wasn't at lunchtime!

When I got home from work, light was fading fast so it was a quick trip up to the allotment to pick some carrots and a turnip. 

As I have mentioned many times, the carrots are grown in tyre stacks which gets them above the level of any carrot flies that may be around and protects them when the weather gets colder too. 

In the background of this photo is a striped beetroot that I didn't realise was stripy until I got it home from a local greengrocers , the broccoli was also bought for tea today from there too as our home grown ones have long since finished for the year. 

The potatoes are home grown though, not sure which variety as they are getting a bit mixed up in the boxes now as we work through them. Tasty though and also make good chips. 

The steak slice is from a local butchers too, they cook a large tray of this several times a week, and sometimes a chicken or spicy Moroccan one, and one can have as much or as little as needed. It is full of delicious steak in a thick layer, from a herd on a farm three miles away.

So, with little effort, and only the gravy granules bought from a supermarket, one can have an evening meal that both is local, fresh, supports local business and is tasty too! 

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Wheldrake Ings

It is some time since I have visited Wheldrake but had a trip out with family earlier this week. 

For those who don't know, Wheldrake Ings is managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with other land managers and is part of the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve which extends all the way down the River Derwent to Bubwith. This area floods extensively in winter (and can at other times too) and is home to a huge variety of wildlife. Water levels on the site are managed for biodiversity. Thousands of overwintering ducks, geese and swans make their winter home there, warblers, cuckoos and hirundines breed there in summer and it is a stopover for many migrating species. The habitat supports a diverse range of other species too. 

Many farmers graze their animals on the meadows along the Lower Derwent (including Rosewood Farm), and there is currently a trial going on to look at where cattle are grazing and how this contributes to biodiversity. The cattle have been fitted with trackers for future analysis and to inform reserve management as well as being part of a "no fence" cattle management programme. 

We walked down through the reserve to the sight and sound of geese. The Pink-Footed Geese are back from the Arctic for the winter as well as the often more local Greylag and Canada Geese. The flight of a gaggle of Pink-Footed Geese is as if someone has told them that they should fly in v-shapes but no-one has told them how to do it! Greylags and Canada Geese have a much more defined v-shape to their flight pattern. 

On the right-hand side on the opposite bank of the river is Thicket Priory belonging to the Carmelite Order. This is a modern building with the original hall given to the Order now a wedding and event venue. In summer, walking down through the Ings in the evening is filled with the calls of warblers, and if you can hear them, Grasshopper Warblers, which emit a high pitched continuous reeling sound that I can only hear if the bird is facing away from me. I suspect the compression of sound waves if walking towards the bird when it is facing you pushes the call beyond the range of my hearing!

Turning a corner at the ancient creaky wind turbine brings you to the Pool Hide where we settled in for a while to identify the birds on the small lake there. In winter this is an extensive view over the wetlands and by mid-late November there will be thousands of Wigeon ducks whistling away. On our visit, a few Wigeon were present, some had small remnants of immature plumage. There were also Gadwall, Coot, Mallard and a family of Mute Swans with eight cygnets, the adults not taking kindly to visits by other adult swans. 

At the Pool Hide we were happy to see two (possibly three) Marsh Harriers swooping low over the field at the back of the lake. As large as Buzzards or Red Kites, these birds live and feed around reedbeds and inland lakes and also estuaries. 

These female birds have distinctive yellow crowns on their head which is one of the bird forms of identification at a distance, plus the low flying over the reedbed habitat. Several Marsh Harriers are known to live around Wheldrake Ings. 

The Ings have been managed traditionally for centuries, with livestock grazing and haymaking an integral part of that management. To remove these livestock to grow crops, which some seem intent on advocating as a general food production policy, would destroy this habitat as well as removing flood protection from communities further downstream. 

It is hard to believe that in a month or two, the field above will be underwater. From here going south and east, the landscape is largely flat, the skies big and the way is clear for the geese to find their wintering grounds all the way down the river as it merges with the Ouse, then the Aire, with the Trent forming the Humber and ultimately reaching the sea.

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Allotment Update - late August 2021


Guess what I have spent a fair bit of time doing in the allotment?! We've been eating home grown potatoes for the past month or so but a couple of weeks ago, the haulms of the many remaining potato plants got the first signs of blight, so I chopped off the leaves, with just stalks remaining above ground to mark where the plants were. I've given the skins of the potatoes a little time to harden off under the ground and then set about lifting them in earnest over the past few days. 

Luckily most of the tubers are in good condition for storing and any that aren't, either with one or two holes from slugs (or by my slicing through them!), get eaten up quickly. I use an old cloth to rub the soil off the tubers, ensure they are dry and then pack them into cardboard boxes with cardboard dividers between each tuber, that way if one does go off, it is not in contact with others in the same box. Looking at the haul so far, we will have our own potatoes until at least Christmas and maybe a little while into the New Year. They make great chips!

This is a snapshot of the harvest about a week ago. Courgettes, too many courgettes! However, the turnip was quite substantial and was used to accompany pies from our local butchers and in a curry. 

One of the perhaps fifty or so onions we have got hanging up in our store, though again we have been eating them since the start of July direct from the plot. Our porch (more a utility room to be honest) is the coldest place in the house and is good for storing potatoes, onions, garlic, apples and pears though the available space was reduced a few years ago when we have converted part of the room into a downstairs toilet (the benefits of this outweigh the reduction in storage in a family of five!)

Won't be long before we have home grown carrots. In between the stacks are some cosmos replacing the earlier wallflowers and behind the cosmos are minarette pear trees and the grapevine which has been productive this year.

The sunflowers are at least eight feet tall! Positioned in between two pyramids of borlotti beans for storing, they are competing with each other for light and so all are growing really tall. The allotment is east-west so they all get sunshine at various points during the day and it doesn't seem to be having any detrimental effect. 

At the top end of the allotment this year are mini sweetcorn and brassicas. The green net has been a very useful purchase over the years and seems to have kept the cabbage white butterflies out. The nasturtiums are useful for many reasons, not only for pollinators but as a distraction plant for blackfly and good ground cover into the winter until they die off with the first frost. 

This Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) was sunbathing midweek in the allotment on one of the carrot stacks and was unperturbed by my pointing a camera at it! We have one also coming to the buddleia bush in the garden along with numerous small tortoiseshell butterflies. 

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Gymnastics in the Wasp Olympics!

This wasp was busy performing gymnasics on a piece of fruit as it cleaned itself in the composting bag in the yard!


Sunday, 1 August 2021


Over the past few months, we've been spending a bit of time trying to identify wildflowers. In fact, this has opened our eyes to quite a number of plants that we probably overlooked before and indeed some that we don't recall seeing. 

There's a new cycle route opened recently along the long-retired railway line from Tadcaster to Wetherby. Some of the route, from the Thorp Arch Trading Estate to Wetherby, has been open for a while now (and recently resurfaced which is a much needed respite for my back, bones and bike!) but the link from the Tadcaster to Boston Spa road to Thorp Arch over the River Wharfe is a recent addition to the route. On my first (and previously only) cycle ride up this route, I saw a grey wagtail and there's plenty of other bird life as it is well wooded and plenty of scrub land which is ideal habitat for many species. 

Thorp Arch Trading Estate is on the site of a former wartime Army munitions factory and some of the retail outlets and other businesses are in converted bunkers and wartime buildings. When we first took on our allotment, about eighteen years ago, an old chap who had taken over his allotment from his father in 1946 was using parts of railway carriages from Thorp Arch, dismanted after the war, as sheds. Given that the carriages will have probably have been old, redundant ones used as storage or premises during the war I expect they were probably dating from Victorian times! 

Near the trading estate there's quite a large area of tall, yellow flowers, standing to above five feet (150cm). These we identified as Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and they were teeming with hoverflies, bees and other insects. However, the Mullein Moth is an early season flying moth and so it was unlikely there would have been caterpillars on these plants 

One of the plants was going to seed, so we have saved some and will try and grow it at home. It is a biennial, like foxgloves, so it will be in two years time that we can hopefully enjoy these lovely plants in our garden or allotment.