James Wong's - Homegrown Revolution

Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

MANUKA COVER

MAKING ‘MOCKNUKA’ HONEY

Posted on: July 16th, 2013 by James Wong No Comments

Don’t own acres of rolling New Zealand countryside or a trusty beekeeping outfit?

Here’s my cheat’s guide to making your very own ‘mocknuka’ honey from homegrown manuka flowers.

Manuka honey has shot to prominence in recent years for its powerful antimicrobial effects (and hefty price tag!). Yet any old shop bought honey can be given the unique scent of manuka and many of the same health benefits by simply being infused with the fresh leaves and twigs of this common garden plant. Inexpensive, super-easy and virtually food mile-free, this is one of my favourite sticky summer treats.

‘MOCKNUKA’ HONEY RECIPE

STEP 1: Making your own Mock-nuka honey couldn’t be easier. All you need is two ingredients, manuka twigs (actually a common UK garden plant!) & honey.

Just in case you weren’t sure what the plant looked like, here’s a quick snap of my manuka bush in full flower. Look out for them under the name ‘Leptospermum’ in most good garden centres.

STEP 2: Chop up a good handful or two of young manuka bush twigs with a strong secateurs.

STEP 3: Pour the clippings into a double boiler and tumble over just enough honey to cover them. It doesn’t have to be fancy stuff either, whatever you have to hand.

STEP 4: Stir through the mix, cover with a plate & pop it the whole thing on a low heat for 45 minutes. Don’t try doing this in a regular pan as without the low, sustained heat of a double boiler the honey will burn and the delicate aromatics of the manuka will be destroyed.

STEP 5: Ta- Dah! That’s it. All you need to do now is strain the warm honey through a sieve & bottle it up. Dunk a sprig in for decoration if you fancy.

Sorry I couldn’t resist: Here’s another final close-up. Mock-nuka honey tastes great, has loads of the same health benefits & comes at a fraction of the price. Makes a pretty nifty gift too!

MEADOWSWEET3

COOKING WITH MEADOWSWEET: ELDERFLOWER ONLY BETTER

Posted on: September 1st, 2012 by James Wong 3 Comments

Fragrant, sweet & with a delicate almondiness, meadowsweet is easily one of the most overlooked of all herbs. It even has the power to relieve pain! (Being the original source of aspirin.)

WHAT IS MEADOWSWEET?

MEADOWSWEET

Why meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) isn’ t a standard flavouring all over the world I will never know. With all the floral sweetness and lychee-like flavour of Elderflower ending in a rich marzipan finish, it can be used just like its for common coluinary cousin in all manner of cordials, jellies & even a mean homemade Turkish Delight. The frothy white blossoms pair fantastically with summer fruit like peaches, strawberries and gooseberries.

HOW TO GROW MEADOWSWEET

HOW TO GROW MEADOWSWEET

Being a native wildflower, Meadowsweet is perfectly adapted to our less than idyllic climate, thriving in rich, moist soil. The tall plumes make perfect horticultural bedfellows for the creeping matts of strawberries, with the two working just as well together in the kitchen as they do in the garden.

I have mine planted out with ever-breaing strawberries and the feathery leaves of sweet cicely (another native wildflower) in a chunky woven planter on my sunny patio, where they form a pretty, low maintenance garden feature that thrives on near total neglect under a young Asian pear tree. There are full details on exactly how to grow, cook and eat them in the homegrown revolution manual (i.e. my latest book)

FINDING MEADOWSWEET PLANTS

Loads of herb and wildflower nurseries all over the country stock both the seeds and plants of meadowsweet. You can even order them in a matter of minutes online. Here is a nifty list of suppliers to get you started.

HOW TO COOK & EAT MEADOWSWEET

MEADOWSWEET

Cooking with meadowsweet couldn’t be easier and can be used in all the same ways elderflower can.  My favourites meadowsweet recipes team the herb up with summer fruits like peaches or raspberries. It works incredibly well with the fresh strawberries and sweet cicely (pictured above) both in the garden and in the kitchen. Come early July I gather all three to whip up into simple summer sorbet or blitz into a fruity smoothie (often with a cheeky spoonful of clotted cream whizzed in.) With it’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving chemicals, which have a very similar effect to aspirin, I feel that this indulgence can be justified under a medicinal guise.

However this summer was so soggy and wet, I thought what was really needed was something altogether warmer and more comforting so here is my take on a summer rice pudding.

MEADOWSWEET & STRAWBERRY RICE PUDDING

1) STIR 4 sprigs of meadowdweet together in a bowl with 100g of strawberries (wild or cultivated) into quarters & 1 tbsp of sugar. Cover the mix and leave in the fridge to macerate (soak) while you get on with the rest.

2) STEEP Another 8 heads of meadowsweet and 4 large sweet cicely leaves (optional) in 2 pints of whole milk in a saucepan. Flick on the heat and bring to the boil. Just as it begins to simmer take the pan off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 mins.

The sweet cicely adds a very mild hint of aniseed, but more importantly it has the almost miraculous ability to significantly reduce the amount of sugar needed to sweeten the recipe – in fact by up to 50%!

COOKING WITH MEADOWSWEET

3) STRAIN the steeped milk through a sieve to remove the spent flowers and leaves & return this milk to the saucepan.This infused milk also makes a wonderful base of custards, ice creams, panna cottas, creme brûlées and cream caramels.

4) STIR in 100g of pudding rice into the infused milk (this will look way too little – but keep the faith!) & simmer gentley over a medium / low heat for 30 mins or so until cooked, stirring occasionally.

5) MELT in 2 tbsp of butter and 4tbsp of sugar into the cooked rice mixture &  serve with in small bowls with the macerated strawberries spooned over.
MEADOWSWEET DESERT

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Meadowsweet check out pg 190 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!

CHAMOMILE-SLIDER

SOWING CHAMOMILE FROM TEABAGS?

Posted on: August 18th, 2012 by James Wong 9 Comments

The vibrant pineapple-almond fragrance of fresh chamomile is simply unbeatable in scones, cakes & even roast chicken! Here’s my mini guide to sowing your own from the hundreds of seeds hidden in each tea bag.

HOW TO SOW CHAMOMILE FROM A TEA BAG

CHAMOMILE TEABAG

Unbelievabley all you need to get started is a fresh (i.e. unused) chamomile tea bag, which – if you are a fan of chamomile – may well already be sitting in your kitchen cupboard. You don’t need to use the fancy ones in the picture either, really any brand of chamomile tea still within its use-by date should still work.

Each bag is effectively a paper sachet stuffed with dried chamomile flowers, which coincidentally contain hundreds of viable seeds that will spring to life given the first opportunity. Chamomile is after all a common roadside weed!

Planting Chamomile

Simply split the packet open, tip the contents into your hand and rub them gently between you fingers to break up the flowers and release the seed. Actually with the vast majority of brands, the flowers will have already been torn up into a coarse mulch before being stuffed into the bags, so this step only applies is your bag contains whole flower heads.

Each of these little flecks of yellow here is one seed, with a single sachet often containing hundreds of potential new plants.

Sprinkle the resultant yellow dust over a bare patch or pot of soil in a sunny position, lightly cover these with a 1 cm deep scattering of compost and give the area a really good soak with a watering can. This can be done anytime between March and September – being a resilient, weedy species, chamomile isn’t too fussy about when and how it is sown.Keep the patch moist and within as little as a few weeks you will see the feathery green leaves of little seedings emerging from the soil.

Come May- August your little plants will be clothed in a froth of pretty daisy-like flowers and pineapple scented foliage – both of which can be harvested and used either fresh off the plant throughout the summer (ironically hacking back encourages fresh new growth and more flowers) or dried for winter use. To do this simply hang a bunch upside down in a cool, breezy place like a garage or shed in within a week or so it should be perfectly dry and ready to store in an airtight container.

 HOW TO COOK WITH CHAMOMILE

OK, so you’ve now got your plants but have no idea what to do with them? Never fear, there is an enormous range of options out there beyond plain old chamomile tea. From scones and sorbets, to cakes, cocktails and even grilled chicken, chamomile’s pineappley, honey-like warmth and  rich almondiness make it far more versatile and we often give it credit for. Don’t believe me? Check out these recipes from my favourite foodie blogs – including one of my own!

MINI CHAMOMILE CUPCAKES WITH HONEY FROSTING

MINI CHAMOMILE CUPCAKES WITH HONEY FROSTING

I have actually made this recipe (click pic for a link to it) and they are fantastic. Strangely the chamomile gives the cupcakes a rich nutty flavour that you would be hard pressed to identify unless you were told the secret ingredient.

CHAMOMILE GIN COCKTAIL

CHAMOMILE GIN COCKTAIL

A grown-up, boozy take on chamomile tea. Well how could I resist? Click on the pic for a link to the super-simple recipe.

CHAMOMILE, HONEY & MUSTARD GRILLED CHICKEN

CHAMOMILE, HONEY & MUSTARD GRILLED CHICKEN

A recipe of my own invention, which combines fresh chamomile flowers and leaves to add a tangy pineapple-like tang to conventional honey-mustard marinade for grilled or roast chicken.

This is how you do it:

1) MIX 1tbsp of chopped or torn fresh chamomile flowers and leaves with 1 tbsp of wholegrain mustard, 1 tbsp of honey, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tsp of soy sauce, 1tsp of olive oil, a spritz of lemon juice & season generously with salt and pepper.

2) POUR this mix over 4 chicken breasts in a bowl and toss them lightly to coat them. Cover with cling film and pop them in the fridge and leave them to marinate for a good 2-3 hours.

3) GRILL the chicken until well cooked & serve with a fresh side salad, garnished with a few fresh chamomile flowers.