Thursday, 27 September 2012


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Related to the cardoon, globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) are native to the Medeterranian, and have been cultivated in Sicily since the time of the ancient Greeks. They derive their name from the Italian word ‘articiocco’, which comes from the Ligurian word ‘cocali’ meaning pine cone.

Artichokes are perennial thistles, developing in their first year and flowering in their subsequent years. The edible artichoke that we eat is the unopened flower of the plant. 

There are hundreds of varieties of artichoke to choose from. You can still buy a few of the old historic varieties such as 'Violetta di Chioggia', and 'Gros Vert de Laon'. The edible flower is produced from the second year onwards, although some varieties of artichoke can be grown from seed as annuals.

Artichokes can grow up to 2 metres high.  They have silver-green leaves and the purple florets develop in a large flower head. If left to flower the bud will be 20 cm in diameter and have purple petals.  They are very decorative and can be used successfully in potagers, vegetable gardens or in herbaceous borders.

The season for harvesting artichokes is the spring, but this can continue into the summer and mid-autumn. They have good keeping qualities, remaining fresh for several weeks.

You can grow artichokes from seed or propagate from rooted cuttings. Artichokes require space, a rich and well drained soil, as well as protection from frost. Ensure you water throughly too.

Artichokes are considered a culinary delicacy and have been highly prized in the past.  And no wonder, when they have so many health benefits.  Artichokes have more antioxidants in them than any other vegetable. They are rich in vitamin C, iron and potassium and  have been found to reduce cholesterol. They can improve digestion and a medium artichoke contains more fibre than a cup of prunes. In addition, they have cancer fighting properties. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


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We are all familiar with the bathroom loofah, but what exactly is it? 

The loofah (also luffa) is the fruit of a subtropical vine comprising of the genus Luffa, which is part of the cucurbitaceae family. There are six species in the Luffa genus.

The loofah looks like a cucumber.  It is traditionally harvested in China and India for food and use as a sponge.

The loofah we find in our Bathrooms which we use as a body scrub sponge is the ripened, dried fruit of the plant.  The mature fruit is allowed to dry and everything is removed except the network of xylem or fibres. The loofah is used to exfoliate the skin 

The fruit of two species, Luffa acutangula and Luffa aegyptiaca (Luffa cylindrica), are grown and harvested before maturity to be eaten as vegetable.  The luffa is eaten as a immature green vegetable (also known as patola) in China, India (called sebot) and the Philipinnes. The ridge luffa is used in a common vegetable dish called dodka and the smooth luffa in a dish called ghosavala. The fruit is also known as Chinese okra.

The juice is also a natural remedy for jaundice. The bitter luffa is pounded and squeezed through a cloth to collect the juice.  Its seeds and crust are also dried for the same use.

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Monday, 24 September 2012


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Sea cucumbers are named after the cucumber fruit whose shape they resemble.  However, they are not plants but marine animals.

Sea cucumbers belong to the phylum echinoderms, and the class Holothuroidea.  They have an elongated body covered in a leathery skin. An endoskeleton is present just below the skin, which consists of calcified structures joined to connective gelatinous tissue.  They have the ability to squeeze through very small gaps as their body wall contains collagen, which can be loosened and tighten at will.

Sea cucumbers have no brain, but have a ring of nervous tissue surrounding the mouth which sends nerves to the tentacles and pharynx. In addition there are five major nerves running down the body of the animal.

There are over 1250 species of sea cucumber, most of them in the Asia pacific region. Sea cucumbers can form dense populations, and make up 90% of animals living on the deep sea floor.  Sea cucumbers recycle nutrients in the water by breaking down detritus and organic matter such as plankton.

Whilst defending themselves, sea cucumbers can release some of their sticky cuvierian tubules to entangle potential predators.  In addition, the may also release a toxic chemical called holothurin, which is a soapy like substance that can kill any animal in the vicinity.

If water temperatures increase uncomfortably sea cucumbers go into a state dormancy called aestivation. They stop eating, slow their metabolism down and lose weight. Normal functions return when temperatures are favourable again.

Sea cucumbers are taken from their habitat for human consumption.  They have been harvested for their healing properties and extracts used oil, cream and cosmetics.  Some species are considered a gastronomic delicacy, especially in Asia. this is leading to a vast decline in sea cucumber population.

Friday, 21 September 2012


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The heart of the artichoke is the best part, and has a sweet, juicy and meaty flavour.  This recipe is simple and enhances the flavour of the artichoke.


8 artichokes
4 tablespoons parsley
1 tablespoon mint
2 cloves garlic
1 lemon
100 ml olive oil
Salt and pepper to season


Trim the artichoke stalks to 5 cm long and remove the tough outer leaves.  Boil until soft for approximately 30 minutes, until a skewer easily goes through them.  Immerse the artichokes in a bowl of cold water and lemon juice (to retain their colour).

Chop the herbs (parsley, mint and garlic) and add the oil and seasoning. Slice the artichokes in half to make a pocket and stuff with some of the mixture. 

Place in a saucepan with stalks pointing upwards.  Pour the rest of the mixture around the artichokes and add a little water and lemon juice so the stalks are just covered.

Heat the artichokes by simmering gently until the water has evaporated.

Sunday, 16 September 2012


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This recipe is best made using fresh raspberries that are in season from June onwards.


Pie filling 
1 lb fresh raspberries 
8 oz sugar
2 tablespoons tapioca
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons cornflower

Short crust pastry (either pre-rolled or made from 10 oz/250g  plain flour, 50 oz/140 g butter, 3 tablespoon water, 1 egg and a pinch salt).
1 egg, beaten 
2 tablespoons caster sugar


In a large bowl, combine the sugar, tapioca, cornflower and raspberries and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

Divide the pastry into two. Roll out the first piece of pastry and line a 10" pie dish.

Transfer the raspberry filling into the pie dish and dot with butter. Roll out the second piece of pastry and place over the top of the pie dish.  Press firmly around the edges to join the seam and trim, placing a hole in the centre of the pie to allow steam to escape.  

Glaze with the egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Cook in an oven set to 200C/400F for 40 minutes or until the pie is golden brown.

Serve with vanilla ice-cream.

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Friday, 14 September 2012


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This rich and creamy cheesecake is ideal for all your chocolate lovers out there. 

15 digestive biscuits 
50 g butter 
250 g mascarpone cheese 
200 g cream cheese 
300 g milk chocolate
100 g dark chocolate
3 oz caster sugar 

Crush the digestive biscuits to form fine crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs.  Place the mixture into a cake tin and push down firmly with the back of a spoon.  Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Place the mascarpone cheese, cream cheese and sugar into a bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Melt the milk chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of water then mix the chocolate into the cheesecake mix.
Melt the dark chocolate and swirl into the mix.

Pour the cheesecake mix onto the base and place in fridge for at least 4 hours to set, ideally leave overnight.

Monday, 10 September 2012


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There are two forms of Brassica oleracea that may be referred to as broccoflower, both of which are considered cultivars of cauliflower, Brassica oleracea var. botrytis. The edible portion is the immature flower head (inflorescence) of the plant.

Broccoflower refers to either of two edible plants of the species Brassica oleracea with light green heads. One is shaped like regular cauliflower, the other has a spiky appearance. They share a curd color that is a similar hue to that of broccoli.

The first form of broccoflower has the physical attributes of a white cauliflower, but the curd colour is lime-green. There are several cultivars of green cauliflower on the market, with the first release being 'Green Ball' with parentage of both broccoli and cauliflower. The California firm, Tanimura & Antle, trademarked the word "Broccoflower" for the green cauliflower they market.

The second form is Romanesco broccoli, which is characterised by the striking and unusual fractal patterns of its flower head. It has a yellow or vibrant green curd colour.

Broccoli and cauliflower are closely related and fully cross compatible. The cross is easily made by hand pollination or natural pollinators.  Some crosses within and between these types require embryo culture after the initial cross. A full range of intermediate types can be produced in later generations of such a cross, of which green-curded cauliflower is one.

Broccoflowers are generally considered to have a milder and slightly sweeter flavour than their close cabbage-family relatives. Like other members of Brassica oleracea, broccoflower is highly nutritious.

Friday, 7 September 2012


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Swedes are the perfect accompaniment to carrots, and provides a colourful dish.

Serves 8

12 oz / 350 g swede
12 oz / 350 g carrots
1 teaspoon butter
Salt and pepper to season

Peel and cut the carrots and swede into 4 cm chunks.  Place in a saucepan and just cover the vegetables with water and add a pinch of salt.   Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender, but not mushy.

Drain and mash the vegetables gently. Add the butter and season with salt and pepper.

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Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


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This recipe is the perfect accompaniment to your Christmas dinner, and can be prepared the day before and reheated at the last moment with no loss of flavour. It also works well with goose, pork or venison.

Serves 10


2 lb / 1 kg red cabbage
1 lb / 450 g onions
1 lb / 450 g cooking apples
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1/2 oz butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to season


Preheat the oven to 150 C / gas mark 2.

Peel and core the cooking apples, and cut into small pieces. Chop the onions and garlic. 
Shred the cabbage finely.

Place a layer of the cabbage in a casserole dish and season with salt and pepper. Add a layer of onions and apples, and sprinkle with garlic, spices and sugar.  Repeat the layers.
Pour in the wine vinegar and add knobs of butter on top. 

Place a lid on the pot and cook for 2- 2.5 hours, stirring halfway through.

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Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?