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purple

PURPLE CARROT CHEESECAKE

Posted on: April 7th, 2013 by James Wong 8 Comments

I was so excited about growing these fluorescent ‘Deep Purple’ carrots, I thought they deserved a fate a bit more more special than being turned into soup. The answer? Why e-numberless purple carrot cheesecake of course!

WHAT ARE PURPLE CARROTS?

Before you ask, nope there has been no GM jiggery pockery here. Purple is in fact the original colour of carrots, with the plain orange form we know today actually only becoming popularised in the 17th Century.

This weird and wonderful colour comes from the same pigments that give fruit like blueberries and black grapes their characteristic hue and sky-high antioxidant levels, making them so much healthier than the boring supermarket form. Stunning colour, intense, sweet flavour and they just might help stave off impending wrinkliness: What’s not to like?

HOW TO GROW PURPLE CARROTS

Purple carrots are just as easy to grow as regular ones even in the tiniest plot. The is a fantastically detailed guide on exactly how to do this on the RHS Grow Your Own website.

There is only one catch however and that is tracking down the seed in the UK. Sadly although pretty much all of our major catalogs will claim to offer ‘purple’ carrot seed, the single variety they sell (‘Purple Haze’) actually only has a purple skin, remaining bog standard orange just beyond the surface. WTF!?

A quick few clicks online however will pull up a good range of international suppliers selling the illusive ‘Deep Purple’, which as you can see is pure burgundy to the core. Most of these seed suppliers (mainly US-based) will deliver pretty much anywhere in the world at very reasonable rates. The guys I get mine from are Tradewinds Fruit – who I am slightly addicted to buying quirky veg seed from.

PURPLE CARROT CHEESECAKE

When I first sliced into these beauties I noticed how incredibly intensely they stained the chopping board and wondered if you could use this dye as a natural food colouring in baking – say in carrot cake.

As my favourite bit about carrot cake has always been that sacrelicious combo of creamy cheese frosting and warm spices, I thought why not turn just ‘em into a cheesecake? And to my surprise it actually worked out pretty tasty. Don’t believe me? Here’s the recipe…..

STEP 1 GRATE: Start out by peeling & grating 2 large carrots really nice and fine. I used a microplane (superfine grater) to turn ‘em in to confetti-like fluff rather than big crunchy shards. While you’re at it, grate up a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger and the zest of an unwaxed lemon.

STEP 2 TOSS: Toss the various gratings into a large mixing bowl with 3 large eggs, 1 tsp of mixed spice, 1tsp of lemon juice, 1 tblsp of cornflour, 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract, 250g caster sugar & 800g of cream cheese (about 3 packets of Philly).

STEP 3 STIR: Stir the whole mixed together till the nearly black carrot grating dye the whole lot a fluorescent purple hue.

STEP 4 POUR: Pour the mix over a pre-prepared cheesecake crust in a WATER TIGHT pie dish (I will explain why in the next step). You can buy one ready made or make your own according to any standard Delia-type mix. She has a great recipe for one here: Delia’s cheesecake crust recipe.

 STEP 5 BAKE: Place the now ready-to-bake pie dish into a large roasting tin and fill the tin with boiling water to half way up the sides of the pie dish (hence why the dish needs to be watertight). This works to stabilise baking temperature and ensure the cheesecake cooks evenly.

Then carefully pick the whole contraption up with oven gloves and pop it in a medium oven set at 175C for 55-60 minutes until it is just set, with still a little bit of wobble in the centre.

STEP 6 COOL: Remove from the oven, and keeping the cake still in its mould, leave it to cool on a sideboard until completely cold. Then wrap it in cling film then let it chill overnight in the fridge. Once this is done remove carefully from the tin, slice and serve with an (optional) decoration of carrot slices & leaves. Yum!

 

Rumtopf

HOMEGROWN RUMTOPF RECIPE

Posted on: November 8th, 2012 by James Wong 1 Comment

Sweet, sugary & with a deadly kick, there is no more indulgent (or easy-to-make) homegrown Christmas present than a jar of rumtopf. And there’s just about enough time to knock one up right now with the last autumn fruit…

WHAT IS RUMTOPF?

A traditional German Christmas treat, Rumtopf (literally meaning ‘rum pot’) is made by simply layering a small handful of each of your fruit harvests throughout the year into a glass jar and topping it up with sweetened (and often spiced) rum. Come December a whole 365 days of harvests can be enjoyed – as if by magic – in just one deliciously sugary, boozy concoction. Somewhere in between a fruit compote and a fragrant liqueur, it’s a wonderful way to use up odds and ends of your harvests creating probably the most simple, yet dangerously indulgent treat known to man.

MY NOVEMBER RUMTOPF HARVEST

THIS MONTH’S HAUL INCLUDES (FROM TOP DOWN) BARBERRIES, INCA BERRIES, ARONIA BERRIES, GOLDEN HUCKLEBERRIES, CHILEAN GUAVAS, ASIAN PEARS, WINTERGREEN BERRIES & JAPANESE QUINCES.

As November marks the last few fruit harvests of the year I dashed out today to gather the last few layers for a few rumtopf jars that I’ve been working on through the summer. You don’t have to be a forward-planning geek like me either, if you have a glut of autumn fruit you still just about have time to start your own – as the mix needs at least 6 weeks for the fruity mix to surrender their flavours to the sugar rum bath.

MY HOMEGROWN RUMTOPF RECIPE

FROM TOP: ASIAN PEAR, JAPANESE QUINCES & CHILEAN GUAVAS

All you need to do is wash and slice up any of the larger fruit and you are good to go. This year I made two versions, one using a little bit of everything that took my fancy & another which combines the three fruit in the pic above (Asian pears, Japanese quinces and Chilean guavas) for my own oriental slant on ‘Murta con Membrillo’ – a traditional Chilean dessert using guavas and quinces steeped in booze.

THIS SEASON’S FRUIT (ON TABLE) ABOUT TO BE JOIN THE EARLIER HARVESTS IN THE SUGARY, SPICED RUM

I have been working on making a few jars of rumtopf since July, creating layers of everything fro homegrown strawberries, figs & cocktail kiwis as the seasons have progressed. As new fruit come into season, simply pop another scattering of each into a Kilner jar and top up with 1 part sugar dissolved into 3 parts white rum.

A FULL JAR ABOUT READY FOR TOPPING UP.

Pretty much any fruit is a perfect candidate for making rumtopf, but I would stay away from very watery stuff like melons (which can dilute the rum) or particularly dark coloured fruit like like blackberries, which can stain the liqueur so dark you can’t see the contents. You can even plonk in a vanilla bean, sliver or two of lemon zest or cinnamon stick if you fancy. However with the zesty, herb-like fragrances of the Chilean guavas and wintergreen berries I decided to skip the spices this year.

The only trick you need to bare in mind is to keep the fruit well immersed in the rum mixture. Lots of people recommend placing a clean saucer on top of the fruit to keep them submerged, although this hasn’t really been a problem for me. Now pop the lid on and keep it hidden away from prying eyes in a cool, dark place until Christmas.

ALL SET FOR CHRISTMAS!

After at least 6 weeks (but preferably up to 3 months of steeping) you are ready to get greedy! Rumtopf is delicious spooned over yoghurt, ice cream or even stirred into mincemeat for some blinding mince pies. So what the hell are you waiting for? Go on out and have a go!

radio4

BBC RADIO 4 COME A’VISITING

Posted on: October 1st, 2012 by James Wong 7 Comments

I nearly fell off my chair when Gardeners’ Question Time – the world’s longest running gardening broadcast – said they were coming to visit my plot. Here’s a brief photo collection of what they saw…

PART 1 - Sunday 14th Oct 2012  LISTEN AGAIN HERE

PINEAPPLE GUAVAS (AKA. FEIJOA) Acca sellowiana

The perfumed fruit of pineapple guavas have to win the prize as easily the most delicious of all hardy ‘exotic’ fruit, somehow fusing the flavours of pineapple, strawberry, guava and candy floss all into one silvery grey fruit. They don’t call this the ‘fruit salad tree’ for nothing!

Think those flowers look familiar? Well you would be right, the plants also live a double life as a common ornamental shrub that graces many a suburban back garden all over Britain.

PINEAPPLE GUAVAS ARE A COMMON SIGHT IN KIWI FARMERS’ MARKETS, WHERE THEY CALL ‘EM “FEIJOAS”

However despite only being valued in the UK for the ornamental appeal of their glaucous evergreen leaves and pretty flowers, their fruit are a major commercial crop from Colombia to New Zealand and Japan to Brazil. For some reason is is just taking us Brits a while to cotton on to their charms, with the fruit currently only to be found on the shelves of fancy London department store food halls, where they are flown in from the other side or the planet and sold for eye watering prices. Trust me, if you had to pick bets on the next ‘kiwi fruit’ (i.e. a previously obscure exotic fruit to make it BIG) then this would be it.

PINEAPPLE GUAVA LIQUEURS ARE HUGE IN JAPAN, WITH ENTERPRISING KIWI GROWERS EVEN TURNING THEM INTO SOME PRETTY SPECTACULAR DESSERT WINES.

Apart from good looks and fragrant fruit, this plant even offers up edible flowers (that have specifically evolved sweet, showy petals to encourage pollinating mammals to dust their fuzzy centres in return for a tasty treat). With a chewy marshmallow-like texture and a flavour like minty strawberries, they are one of the few edible flowers that are actually worth eating – and as you can pick the petals off without damaging the developing fruit you can indeed get two harvest from the same plant!

WASABI  Wasabia japonica

A close relative of the cabbage that thrives in damp shady corners where nothing else will grow & is completely resistant to cabbage white butterflies (the scourge of cabbage growers). The grated root is a seriously sought after Japanese delicacy used to create that wonderfully spicy green paste you get with sushi and on the ever-trendy wasabi peas.

MORE VERSATILE THAN YOU MIGHT THINK, WASABI CAN BE USED IN EVERYTHING FROM A BLOODY MARY ADDED TO A CURIOUS TWIST ON VANILLA ICE CREAM – WHICH’S BOTH HOT AND COLD AT THE SAME TIME.

Incredibly 95% of the ‘wasabi’ outside Japan actually contains no wasabi at all – it’s just a cheap counterfeit blend of horseradish and mustard dyed green (!) – meaning that until very recently the only way you used to be able to get hold of the real McCoy in the UK was to grow it yourself. With it’s altogether much rich and complex flavour, real wasabi is now being farmed by my mate James as a seriously premium condiment (a single stem is worth £30) down at The Wasabi Company in Hampshire. Look out for a full post on this story in the very near future!

LITCHI TOMATO Solanum sisimbrifolium

Now this is a great example of something that has failed my trials. I was excited to try it as a easy-to-grow tomato-like fruit, which is said to have a far superior perfumed flavour. Add that to the fact that as a common weed species in the Southern US it has an iron-clad blight resistance, thrives in drought & is super productive in the fruit stakes & I thought it would be a real winner. It even has showy, ornamental flowers. How could you go wrong?

Well after tasting one of its scarlet red fruit I very quickly realised (like many other edibles I’ve trialled) that there is a good reason why this isn’t a major crop. The fruit have a strange flavour, somewhere between a watery tomato and a insipid inca berry (aka. Physalis). Not only do they taste bland and boring, but the flavour that is there sits rather uncomfortably between sweet and savoury. Not sweet enough to make a good fruit salad ingredient and not quite savoury enough to simmer up into a pasta sauce. Then of course there are the vicious thorns that cover the whole plant including the casing of the fruit. That means you get a free acupuncture session with each fruit you pick. Sadly I think this guy is going to have to join the roughly 50% of trial species that fail my tests.Hey if you don’t give them a grow you’ll never know…

PART 2 - 21st Oct 2012  LISTEN AGAIN HERE

PERUVIAN EARTH APPLE (AKA. YACON) Smallanthus sonchifolius

Super easy-to-grow members of the sunflower family that thrive in our cool wet summers, Peruvian earth apples (aka. Yacón) have to be positively the most productive root crop that can be grown in the UK. A single plant can produce up to an astonishing 10kg of sweet, sugary roots in a single season. They even have pretty, albeit rather small, yellow daisy like flowers atop their tall stems of exotic foliage.

PERUVIAN EARTH APPLES ARE AN INCREASINGLY POPULAR ‘PREMIUM’ VEG IN STATE-SIDE FARMERS’ MARKETS.

Looking much like giant, dusty-skinned sweet potatoes, the flavour of the roots is altogether more crisp, refreshing and sugar cane-like – with a flavour somewhere between a water chestnut and an Asian pear. Their sweet flavour means they neatly straddle the culinary boundary between sweet and savoury – tasting as delicious in a oriental stir fry as they do in a tropical fruit salad.

WITH A SINGLE JAR COSTING UPWARDS OF £15 IN FANCY HEALTHFOOD STORES, EARTH APPLES ALSO HAPPEN TO BE ONE OF THE MOST PROFITABLE CROPS YOU CAN GROW!

Run ‘em through a juicer and simmer the resultant liquid down in a saucepan for about 20 mins or so and you will get a thick, caramel-coloured, maple-like syrup that is delicious on waffles and pancakes. The best thing? The sugars they contain are not absorbed by the human body – creating a super low-calorie sweet treat. It is even a good source of pro-biotics that can help boost the levels of friendly bacteria in your gut & may even help boost your immune system in turn. Why this isn’t a common UK crop I will never know!

EARTH APPLE SYRUP & CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Here’s a delicious sounding recipe from one of my favourite blogs, sweetened with super low-calorie earth apple syrup. Click the image to get the recipe.

QUINOA (Pronounced “KEEN-WAH”) Chenopodium quinoa

MY QUINOA BLOSSOMS CHEERING UP THE CROYDON ASPHALT.

Basically just a great big, disco-coloured version of fat hen – the common garden weed – this superfood grain of the Incas is nevertheless incredibly easy to grow in the UK. Simply scatter the grains over bare ground in April and May and within days you will have a lush green carpet of tiny seedlings.

QUINOA GROWING AT 3,800M IN PERU. PHOTO CREDIT: WIKI MEDIA COMMONS

Come July the plants will erupt into bloom in a range of sunset hues that will easily hold their own in any flower border. Even their leaves are edible & can be cooked and eaten just like spinach, only without spinach’s nasty habit of collapsing and going murky brown on cooking.

FAIRTRADE QUINOA GROWERS IN ECUADOR. PHOTO CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Incredibly just 6-8 plants will produce up to a pound of grain, making it one of only two grains (the other being maize) that it makes sense for UK home growers to have a go at.

QUINOA PAELLA

Once you harvest the dried seed heads, as whiz in a food processor will rip the grain from the stems and a good soaking and rinsing later you are ready to cook them just like rice or cous cous – such as in this fun Andean take on a paella.

Stunning, delicious and offering up two crops for the effort of one – make space for a few of these little babies and you will never look back!

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat  Wasabi, Pineapple Guavas or Quinoa check out my new book Homegrown Revolution!