Broccoli Quiche for Earth Day

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, a global campaign to raise awareness of environmental issues. Whilst not without its critics, Earth Day is an opportunity to reflect on our individual contributions to the core issues of environmental sustainability and to consider ways in which we could take action by changing aspects of our lifestyles.

Apparently, these changes don’t come naturally to us humans. According to an interesting article in the New York Times, our brains are not wired-up to be green:

You might ask the decision scientists, as I eventually did, if they aren’t overcomplicating matters. Doesn’t a low-carbon world really just mean phasing out coal and other fossil fuels in favor of clean-energy technologies, domestic regulations and international treaties? None of them disagreed. Some smiled patiently. But all of them wondered if I had underestimated the countless group and individual decisions that must precede any widespread support for such technologies or policies. “Let’s start with the fact that climate change is anthropogenic,” Weber told me one morning in her Columbia office. “More or less, people have agreed on that. That means it’s caused by human behavior. That’s not to say that engineering solutions aren’t important. But if it’s caused by human behavior, then the solution probably also lies in changing human behavior.” …

There are some unfortunate implications here. In analytical mode, we are not always adept at long-term thinking; experiments have shown a frequent dislike for delayed benefits, so we undervalue promised future outcomes. (Given a choice, we usually take $10 now as opposed to, say, $20 two years from now.) Environmentally speaking, this means we are far less likely to make lifestyle changes in order to ensure a safer future climate. Letting emotions determine how we assess risk presents its own problems. Almost certainly, we underestimate the danger of rising sea levels or epic droughts or other events that we’ve never experienced and seem far away in time and place …

A few years ago Weber wrote a paper for the journal Climatic Change that detailed the psychological reasons that global warming doesn’t yet scare us; in it, she concluded that the difficulties of getting humans to act are inherently self-correcting. “Increasing personal evidence of global warming and its potentially devastating consequences can be counted on to be an extremely effective teacher and motivator,” she wrote, pointing to how emotional and experiential feelings of risk are superb drivers of action. “Unfortunately, such lessons may arrive too late for corrective action.”

I don’t think however that Earth Day should be a time when we make ourselves feel as guilty as possible about the things we aren’t doing for the environment – that television we left on standby the other night, the apple core we didn’t compost and the egg carton we didn’t recycle. Instead, I believe it is far more useful if we let ourselves feel good about the things we are doing now, things that perhaps we didn’t do a few years ago or that would have been entirely alien to our way of life when we were children. Then perhaps it will be easier to think about one small extra way in which we could make a difference from today onwards.

I can remember a time when I put glass bottles, teabags and banana skins into the household rubbish bags without a second thought, when our cars were filled with leaded petrol and when our clothes weren’t washed in Ecover products. It wasn’t difficult to make those small changes – it just required a slight shift in thinking. And, far from being tedious, it was even exciting and rewarding to change to cooking on an induction cooktop!

Another small way of living in a more environmentally sustainable way is by growing some of your own food. You don’t need to have a large garden for this. As my children’s current favourite book shows, many edible plants can be grown in containers and window-boxes. We have successfully (and sometimes not quite so successfully!) grown peas, beans, garlic, spinach, potatoes, courgettes, sweetcorn, tomatoes, strawberries and pumpkins over the last three years in our small garden plot. Our huge success so far this year however is purple sprouting broccoli (do click on that link, BTW – it’s full of interesting information on how easy it really is to grow and how much tastier it is than anything you’ve ever found in the supermarket).

We didn’t really expect the plants to be much of a success at all. As they were first sprouting almost a year ago, the plants attracted a large number of beautiful, white butterflies.

“How pretty,” we thought, failing to make the connection between butterflies and caterpillars (despite having read the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to M on countless occasions over the course of the last four years). Needless to say, the butterflies departed and the large, juicy, green leaves of the plants were soon finding their way into the tummies of an interminable army of caterpillars.

January then arrived and covered whatever hadn’t become caterpillar nosh with a glistening frost and, just to be sure of finishing off the plants properly, a layer of icy snow.

Miraculously, the plants survived. And flourished … and continue to flourish.

I think M has more in common with a caterpillar than she’s letting on as she likes to sneak into the garden and nibble on a tender stem of the broccoli without even waiting for it to be cooked.

Yesterday evening, we delivered bunches of purple sprouting florets to friends in the village before returning home to a deliciously homegrown Purple Sprouting Broccoli Quiche for our own dinner.

Homegrown Purple Sprouting Broccoli Quiche

Pastry

4 oz plain flour
2 oz self-raising flour
1 tsp salt
3 oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2-3 tbsp cold milk

Filling

4 egg yolks + 2 eggs
milk (see recipe)
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
1 onion, chopped
6 slices streaky bacon (optional), chopped
1 tbsp green pesto
6-7 stems of purple sprouting broccoli
3 oz Blue Stilton cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper

Note: these quantities are for a 9 1/2″ tart tin and should be scaled up or down for other sizes.

Make the pastry by combining the flours and salt, rubbing in the butter and mixing with the cider vinegar and enough milk to form a soft dough. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry and use to line the base of your tart tin. Blind-bake if you wish (confession time – I don’t always do this; yesterday, I brushed the unbaked pastry base of the quiche with a little melted butter, then covered it with clingfilm and popped it back in the fridge. The butter hardens again in the fridge so that it forms a protective layer between the pastry and the sloppy filling in the oven, which allows the pastry just enough time to get a head start in the cooking process before the butter melts and the bottom comes into contact with the filling).

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Put the egg yolks and whole eggs into a measuring jug. Fill with milk up to the level of 1 1/4 pints for both the eggs and milk. Stir in the chopped sage.

Fry the onions (and bacon) in a little olive oil to soften. Stir in the pesto and leave to cool.

Spread the onion/pesto mixture over the base of the quiche. Arrange the purple sprouting broccoli over the top (I placed them loosely in a grid pattern), then sprinkle with the crumbled cheese. Season.

Pour the egg/milk mixture into the filled pastry case until just before it reaches the top (add a little extra milk if needed). Poke any sticky-uppy florets into the egg mixture to coat them.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 180 degrees and bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes until the quiche is puffed and golden.

Remove from the oven and leave for 10 minutes before serving.

The Night of the Lemon Tart

I nearly entitled this post, “Happy Birthday Dear Blog”, for that’s what it is today. Two years ago on August 9th 2007, I first put the virtual pen to the virtual paper and told the world about my obsessive quest to find the perfect chocolate brownie.

Far from counting down the days to this second blogoversary, I only realised it was nearly time to celebrate when I published my last post about our candyfloss activities and was diverted into looking in the archives. I actually got a bit confused and thought we were further into August than we were, so I nearly added a postscript saying something like, “Oops, I’ve missed my birthday!” It just goes to show the addling effect of summer holidays on my brain!

This is the part where I should wax lyrical about all the things that have happened here in this last year … the culinary triumphs (had to get that in for you, Dad 😉 ) and lessons learned. When I look back however, this year has been as much about people as it has been about recipes and food. It has been  a year filled with the excitement of meeting face to face with friends I’ve met through this blog … Rose Levy Beranbaum, Melinda and Jeannette. It has also been a year in which I’ve travelled the world virtually, from Canada to America, the Caribbean to Azerbaijan, getting to know the most wonderful fellow food bloggers on my journey.

This blog has become more than just an online record of recipes. It is a true sharing of experiences and point of connection with my family and friends.

In celebration of this second year of A Merrier World, I’d like to leave you with the most wonderfully sublime, dreamily ethereal lemon tart I’ve ever tasted. I’ve made it several times since I first found Ellie’s recipe on A Kitchen Wench. Yesterday, I made it again for friends who came to dinner.

It’s a tart to die for.

lemon tart

It’s a tart to sink your teeth into, to roll around your tongue and drift away on the smooth, lemon custard of its filling. I can feel my mouth watering as I write, so please excuse me while I go to drool over a slice of the real thing!

lemon custard

Cow Pat Crunch

My husband is almost entirely without a sweet tooth. He wishes I would devote my time to making cheese rather than cakes and cookies. Until my son came along, he was convinced that chocolate was a ‘girl thing’. However, he has recently been craving something he calls ‘Cow Pat Crunch’.

It turned out that ‘Cow Pat Crunch’ was a dessert from his childhood, boarding-school days. He described it to me as a chocolatey topping with dollops of cream on a crushed-biscuit base. Hmm.

Angel Delight?” I suspected.

“No, no, no,” he assured me.

“… a tasty and convenient powdered pudding that’s quick and easy to make – just add milk and whip!”

He would never have liked it if it had been Angel Delight … would he?

With friends coming for dinner yesterday evening, I decided to phone his former housemistress to discover this winning recipe. She was tickled pink to hear about my husband’s fond memories of her cooking. The ingredients … 6 to 8 oz of McVitie’s Digestive biscuits, 3 to 4 oz of butter … and a packet of Angel Delight, she confided!

Well, here we have a faithful reproduction of the original Cow Pat Crunch. Somewhat amusingly, it passed my husband’s (blind) taste test!

Cow Pat Crunch

Mince Pies and Candied Peel

As I walked home with my children this dark evening, it was not difficult to imagine the fears of people long ago as they watched the disappearing hours of sunlight. The coming winter solstice was truly a time of celebration for them, bringing the promise of light to save their life-sustaining crops from darkness.

Here in Devon, ancient solstice festivities remain in the form of wassailing, or toasting the health of the orchard trees. Apples have long been an important part of the local economy in the West Country, so this is a serious event (despite its drunken appearance!). Gifts of cakes and cider are placed in the boughs and poured over the roots of the apple trees with much dancing and singing to safeguard the new crop of fruit.

“Apple tree prosper, bud, bloom and bear,
That we may have plenty of cider next year.
And where there’s a barrel, we hope there are ten,
That we may have cider when we come again.

With our wassail, wassail, wassail!
And joy come to our jolly wassail!”

The symbolic origins of fruits, nuts, oats and straw at this time of year can also be traced to yuletide attempts to ensure the protection of crops, fodder and grain. Fruit cake, plum pudding and mincemeat are modern-day cousins of Keltebrot, a celebratory solstice cake made from nuts, raisins, figs and dried pears.

It was only last year that I made mincemeat for the first time. All through my childhood, I had avoided mince pies believing them to be ‘Yuk’ (as my daughters say). However, with two children and a third on the way, I felt some maternal urge last December to make something ‘Chrismassy’ for my family. Fruit cakes were out – my husband’s not too keen on them. Christmas pudding? There were no takers. Mincemeat was the only option that met with approval, despite my own aversion to mince pies.

As I read through different recipes, I slowly began to wonder exactly what it was I disliked so intensely about mincemeat. The ingredients themselves posed no problem – indeed, they sounded truly delicious. Apples, raisins, sultanas, currants, spices, brandy … and then I realized. Candied peel. Store-bought, dry, soapy, sickly-sweet candied peel.

Last year, I made my own candied peel for the first time too (see my photo tutorial). And I discovered that I love mince pies!

It is now a year later and my unborn son-on-the-way of last year has just yummed up his first ever mince pie … with no left-overs. I have four jars of mincemeat (recipe by Delia Smith) in my cupboard and more to give away as presents.

And so, I am sending all my online friends my warmest holiday wishes with a batch of homemade mince pies (complete with zingy, citrusy, homemade candied peel).

Mince Pies

Candied Peel

3 oranges
2 lemons
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

Separate the peel from the oranges and lemons, reserving the juice for use as needed in mincemeat recipe.

Use a teaspoon to scrape as much of the white pith as possible away from the peel.

Place the scraped peel in a saucepan and fill with enough water to float the peel. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Drain the peel, refill the saucepan with water, bring to the boil and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

Repeat this process a third time, then drain and leave the peel to cool.

Use scissors to cut the peel into thin strips.

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the strips of peel. Simmer on a low heat until there is no more than a couple of spoonfuls of syrup left in the saucepan. Watch carefully at this stage to ensure the peel does not burn.

Use a fork to spread the peel on wire racks to cool. These can be placed in an ever-so-slightly warmed oven to speed the drying.

The dried candied peel can be stored in airtight jars, dipped in chocolate or used in a multitude of different recipes, including those for mincemeat.