Operation ‘Brockley Market Garden’

The vision


Right, that time of year is upon us. Time to polish of the old trowel and get digging. Time to create life! When Laurel and I moved into our house the garden was a forest of weeds, rubble and general detritus. It took me ages to sort out. Every time I dug the garden over and removed the weeds they would grow back and I’d have to do it all over again. It was infuriating and endlessly boring but, finally, with the garden as ready as it would ever be, I bit the bullet and ordered turf, topsoil and fertilizer off the internet and waited for delivery.

Unfortunately I forgot which day it was all arriving and accidentally went out the night before on an epic, friend’s birthday mash-up.  My lawn arrived at 8am in a gigantic lorry and I was awakened by a gruff, rotund weeble violating my doorbell. He made a couple of indistinguishable noises and gestured to two huge pallets of turf and soil which he had parked in the middle of the road. My groggy mind was still trying to grasp what was happening when he thrust a sheet of paper into my hands, barked twice and drove off into the distance. I can’t remember exactly what happened next but I think I wept.


That was two years ago and now, after all that hardship, disaster has struck. I have managed to seriously damage my lawn. I let it grow so long that it started to die and then left it that way over winter. Needless to say it requires a good deal of care now if I’m to pull off a miraculous resurrection. I am not, though, the main protagonist in the calculated murder of my lawn – I am merely an accomplice. The guilty party, M’lud, is Mr Flymo Mow n Vac. 


The term ‘Lawnmower’ indicates that you have a tool with the ability to cut, scythe, shear or trim an area of grass. Not so with a Mow n Vac. It has the ability to do nothing. Does Mow n Vac mean it will be as easy as hoovering the lawn? Again, no. It neither rolls nor hovers so is impossible to push and if you leave it in one spot too long it bores a spiral into the ground. It would be more productive had I crawled around and nibbled at the grass with my teeth. It cost around £50. I would have been better off spending the money on roller blades or a vaulting pole or something else with which I lack the ability to use.

With all this in mind, I have launched ‘Operation Brockley Market Garden’, a nod to the keen and inspiring growers at my local food market and a cheap pun on a military mission in 1944. It focusses on bringing life to the garden in time for summer and supplying homegrown produce for my cooking. I have been treating my lawn and nurturing  it back to life. I’ve sowed (sown?) beetroot, peas, broad beans and onions. I have even planted 3 raspberry canes, a gooseberry bush and an apple tree! I’m feeling positive about the garden’s chances this year and, with a new mower, reckon I can have a lovely sunbathing spot which is perfect for barbecues and growing my own ingredients for future blog posts.

I’ll keep you posted.

(Good gardener? Any tips? Please tell me. Please.)

Chitting potatoes


Beetroot burgers with chive tzatziki

Saturday mornings are a glorious thing. I was due to be working but that got cancelled so I got to have a wonderfully lazy day. Up at 9, tea and toast and an hour of Battlefield 3 before a hung over Laurel surfaced. Off to the market we went.

Last year some lovely, crafty and foodie folk decided to start a food market in Brockley. It has proved to be a massive success, selling amazing coffee, fresh fruit and veg, breads – well, you get the idea. My plan was to take a load of pictures, buy some beautiful vegetables and write a post about it. However, I forgot my camera so I will do a post about it next week. In the meantime I did get a large bag of great looking beetroot and some fresh herbs. I had been wanting to make a veggie burger for a while, so that’s how I spent my afternoon.

I found some great looking recipes online for burgers, ranging from beanie burgers to roast vegetable patties. I especially liked the look of this walnut beanie burger, and considered making these but ultimately decided to try something new using my market purchases. I’d never used beetroot in a burger before and just decided to try to combine it with things I thought complemented it.

Beetroot burgers with chive tzatziki

300g beetroot, grated

100g breadcrumbs (I used old rye bread. Went with the beetroot well.)

1 410g tin red kidney beans, slightly mashed with a fork

1 apple, cored and grated

50g pearl barley

6 small spring onions, chopped

A good handful of dill, roughly chopped

A handful of parsley, roughly chopped

1 large egg, beaten

A pinch of chilli flakes

Salt and pepper

For the tzatziki;

1 cucumber, quartered and deseeded

Zest of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, mashed

A big handful of chives, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

2 or 3 tablespoons of natural yoghurt

Couldn’t be simpler this. Cook the pearl barley as per packet instructions and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the rest of the burger ingredients in a big bowl and mix well.

At this point I tried frying a small burger to see what it was like. It was good but was more like a little beetroot rosti than a burger, so I blended half of the mixture and mixed it back in. This improved the texture somewhat. Up to you though.

Mix in the pearl barley (just for texture) and put the burger mix in the fridge for half an hour or so. Grate the cucumber and wrap in a clean tea towel. Squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can and then put in a bowl. Add the chives and lemon zest and mix well. Add the yoghurt 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing all the while, until you have the consistency you desire. Taste and season – it can take salt well! Fry the burger in a little oil over a medium heat until nicely coloured on each side.

I served the burger in a fresh roll with a dollop of tzatziki, a couple of slices of feta and some watercress. I think a bit of fresh horseradish might have been good in it but I didn’t have any. Eat it in front of the telly with a pile of fries on the side.

Mulling it over in Devon.

On a cold winters evening you can’t beat warming yourself up with something ‘mulled’. Your favourite tipple warmed through and spiced, a punch made with Christmas spirit and the smells of bonfire night. We drank (very good) mulled wine while attempting to peruse the Totnes Christmas market the other day. This was, incidentally, a horrible waste of time. There were so many people I couldn’t physically move for dreadlocks, soap sellers or a man with an owl. Enjoying my drink was impossible.

We made our own mulled drink to enjoy on Christmas evening sitting in front of the fire and watching Michael McIntyre shamelessly name-drop his entire audience, providing more ‘mince’ than any pie I’ve ever seen. It was funny.

I used apple juice for this recipe as one of our group doesn’t drink alcohol (whaaa?). It would be perfect with good cider. Or you can do what I did and add 50ml of Jameson’s at the end. Or both.

Mulled apple

If you use cider DO NOT let it boil or you’ll get rid of your  alcohol. Heat it at a slow simmer.

Makes 6 normal sized mugs or 3 novelty Christmas ones.

1.5 litres apple juice or good cider

2 sticks of cinnamon

8 or 9 allspice berries

8 or 9 cloves

A pinch of nutmeg

2 star anise

Peel of 1 lemon

Peel and juice of 1 Clementine

A thumb sized knob of ginger

3 tbsp maple syrup or honey

Put the juice/cider in a pan and add the syrup/honey. Start heating gently. While this is heating up add the allspice, cloves, star anise and nutmeg. Snap the cinnamon sticks in half and lob them in. Chop the ginger into a few rough sized pieces and put it in as well. Peel the lemon and Clementine into strips using a potato peeler.

I find that you end up with quite large amounts of pith on the strips and this can add a bitter taste to the drink. To remove this lay the strips of peel down with the pith facing up. Secure one end with the tip of your finger and push a sharp knife down flat onto the peel, facing away from your finger.

Push away firmly and you should be able to cut the layer of pith away leaving just the peel. Put it all in the pan with the juice and simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the sweetness if you want. If you want it more gingery just squeeze the pieces like you were making tea. Sieve before serving.

Put it in a cup. Blow into the cup for a bit. Drink.

Waste not want not.

On Sunday my housemates and I gathered for a day of wining, dining and hangover refining. There’s something altogether fun and gratifying about making an effort as a group to create a meal that’s just a bit more special than usual. We polished our best crockery, laid the table and tucked into that invincible British staple, the Sunday roast. The usual suspects were in attendance – roast spuds, honeyed carrots, unrisen Yorkshire puddings – and my personal favourite; braised red cabbage. It’s sweet, it’s acidic, and it’s silky in the mouth. Pile a little bit into a Yorkshire pudding and fill with gravy. Awesome!

Anyhoo, after any roast dinner you invariably end up with pots full of leftover veg that normally goes to waste, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it up. I came up with red cabbage and feta fried pasties (snappy!). The sweetness of the cabbage goes well with the saltiness of the cheese and, served with a nice salad, is a lovely way to use up your leftovers in a light Monday meal. First up though, here’s how I make my slow braised red cabbage:

–       1 red cabbage, shredded

–       2 apples, cored and cubed

–       1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

–       2 tbsp white wine vinegar

–       1 cinnamon stick

–       a good grating of nutmeg

–       A sprinkle of sugar if you like it very sweet.

Shred the cabbage thinly, removing the hard white core. Heat a bit of groundnut oil (or other flavourless oil) in a heavy based pan and then add the cabbage. Keep stirring for 5 minutes or so until you start to see the vibrant purple seep into the oil. Mix the balsamic and wine vinegar together. Add the apple and 2/3 of the vinegar (and the sugar if you are using) to the pan and mix well. Put a lid on and place over a medium heat.  Keep checking on the consistency as it’s cooking and add a little bit more vinegar if it needs more liquid. Keep it cooking until it’s a texture that you like – I like to cook it a long time so that the apple breaks down and the texture is, for want of a better word, smushy. The great thing about red cabbage is, once cooked, it will be happy sitting and waiting for the rest of the meal. If anything it becomes tastier!

You will probably find that you have quite a bit of this left over the day after. Pop it in a parcel and fry the bugger.

You will need;

–       250g plain flour

–       100g butter, cut into cubes

–       1 egg beaten

–       Sunflower oil

–       Left over red cabbage

–       Feta, about 150g (or however much you want really!)

Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using your fingertips. Keep this up until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can also do this in a food processor but I don’t because I cant afford one! Or rather I keep spending all my money on other, less important and often stupid things. Mix in the beaten egg and bring together to form a ball of dough. At this point wrap in cling film and refrigerate for a half hour or so. I don’t know why you should do this; I just always thought you should! Crumble the feta cheese into the red cabbage and mix well. It’s good to leave some chunky bits of cheese in there, as they are a pleasure to bite through. Roll out the pastry so it is very thin; you want it to crisp up but without a stodgy layer below. Cut into circles, not too big, maybe the size of a small saucer. Heat about a half-inch layer of the oil in a pan until hot. Put a bit of the cabbage and feta filling in the centre of the pastry circles, wet the edges with a bit of water and fold over into a semi-circle. Seal the edges by either pinching with your fingers or, as I prefer, using a fork to stick it together. Put in the hot oil and fry until crisp and golden, about 4-5 mins on each side. Done! I purposely made too many because they are great either hot or cold. I ate them hot on the Monday with a nice bean and tomato salad and then packed a couple the next day for a snack while I was out, which ended up being eaten by other people anyway!