Warm green bean salad with summer savory dressing

I have just discovered a bundle of beans at the bottom of my canvas bag. I must have IMG_2265picked them at least four days ago, yet they are as perky as any I have stored in the fridge. I suspect I went out to pick the raspberries and, spotting the long slender pods dangling, I must have impulsively picked a crop and stuffed them in my bag. I have a medley of French beans, runner beans and the crisp pods of late sown mange-tout. Perfect for a seasonal mixed, green bean salad.

Most recipes call for green bean salads to be served cold, but I just can’t see the satisfaction in this. I like my green beans warm. Cold they go a bit, well, squeaky and unappetising. Running a cooked green bean under water ‘shocks’ it and who would want to eat a shocked bean? Not I, I want my beans warm, tender and relaxed.

This recipe is quick, easy, satisfying and you can mess around with the herbs to change the flavour. I use savory in my bean dishes as the effects of the herb is believed to alleviate the effects of the beans, if you get my drift.

Serves 5

300g freshly picked green beans                                                                                   3 shallots finely chopped                                                           

For the savory vinaigrette dressing                                                                                1 tsp Dijon mustard                                                                                                        1 tbsp white wine vinegar                                                                                              3 tbsp olive oil                                                                                                                 1 garlic clove crushed                                                                                                      1/2 tbsp finely chopped savory                                                                                       Salt & pepper                                                                 

  Boil the beans in lightly salted water for five minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the mustard, garlic, and a pinch of salt together. When the mustard and salt has dissolved gradually whisk in the olive oil. Finally, whisk in the garlic and herbs and season with ground black pepper.

Drain the beans and toss with the dressing. Delicious served with a poached egg or dippy egg.




Southport flower show and a sherry sabayon

Southport flower show has the great honour of being recognized as the largest independent flower show in the UK. Initially run by the local council this historical celebration of all things horticultural has been wowing visitors since 1924.

This year the show had a Brazilian theme. I know, I know, I giggled too but I will endeavour to keep this post clean and avoid all inappropriate innuendoes.

On arrival we, the Broccoli family, nipped into the floral marquees to visit the plant stalls which were varied and good. Then off to the prize vegetable tent where we marvelled at the enormous leeks and pert gooseberries before being confronted by this mighty erection. Honestly it’s enough to make anyone blush!


The show gardens were fantastic and hat’s off to the designers and landscapers who built them, just as hurricane Bertha decided to visit. The judges must have been impressed too as there was much silverware glinting in the afternoon sun.

But my reason for visiting was not just to wallow in this rich collection of horticultural delights, no, following on from last years shenanigans at the rhs flower show Tatton, I had been invited to give a cookery demonstration of a plot to plate nature.

So the night before the event I decided to browse a recipe book for a delicious dish that included seasonal berries. I like to cook whatever is available on my allotment and the fruit bushes were dripping with a colourful array of juicy berries. Blackcurrants, redcurrants and pink gooseberries all there ready for picking.


In a delightful French cook I discovered berry gratin. Perfect. Berry gratin with a sabayon sauce. Hmmm sabayon, never heard of it but it looked simple. Egg yolks, got, sugar, got, sherry, happy to buy. And that evening I set about practising.

Charged with sherry I waltzed through the recipe putting berries in the ramekins then setting to work on the sabayon. Readers if you ever attempt a recipe that you believe to be written by a French cook, just double check, I didn’t. I got as far as making a fluffy mixture that I spooned onto my delicious berries then hit a hurdle. I had to broil the pudding for two minutes. Broil? Never heard of this american term before. Broil? Sounds like boil so I put it in the steamer, nothing, so I put it in the microwave, nope, so I lowered the dish into a pan of hot water, not that either. Desperately, I googled it. Broil, it means grill, or go at it with a blow torch. Now that’s my kind of cooking!

So I arrived at the food tent at the flower show and unpacked my battered saucepan and blow torch and set to work. Intoto kitchens  had provided an excellent hob and ovens and Chef Brian Mellor of Harthill cookery school was there to keep us all informed and entertained.( Although I’m not sure tickling the gardener/cook is conducive to a well executed sabayon!)


www.brianmellor.co.uk    www.intotokitchens.co.uk

The seasonal berry gratin topped with sherry sabayon worked well and several visitors were keen to try it. For those wanting to have a go here’s how to make it.

You will need:

Freshly picked berries, 3 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, 2 tablespoons of sherry and a sprinkling of brown sugar.

First put a couple of inches of water in a saucepan and allow to simmer. Next place the egg yolks, caster sugar and sherry in a jug or bowl and mix together. Place this mixture, still in the jug or bowl, in the pan of hot water and continue to whisk for about five minutes with the heat turned down low. You are aiming for a light fluffy consistency full of air and flavour, what you don’t want is scrambled eggs. When the mixture leaves a trail or, as Brian explained, you can make drip a figure of eight on the surface and it stays, your sabayon is ready. Remove from the heat. Fill four ramekins half full of berries and spoon on the sauce. Sprinkle with brown sugar and brown the surface with a blow torch or pop under a grill for a minute or two. The result is a delicious pudding of warm berries and boozy sauce. Mmmmmmm






A blog from Belgium

Originally posted on My Blog:

IMG_20140808_171136That’s right, we, the Broccoli family, have high-tailed it from our usual, comfortable abode and taken up residence in a pine forest…in Belgium. We are living the dream, our own enchanted wood. Okay, okay so it’s not quite as magical as Enid Blyton would have us believe, after all she failed to mention the squirrel’s who dance a jig on the roof of the tent too early in the morning, or the not so cute bunnies who lurk outside ready to pounce on the fresh, crumbly pastries. However there is a slippery slip slide that descends into the nearby lake so we will continue to romanticise.

Over the last week we have scampered across northern Europe eating Belgium waffles in Belgium, buying tulip bulbs in Amsterdam and preparing our trip to Germany (more of that later).

I have spent the week pretending to be utterly incapable of driving on the…

View original 310 more words

Keep calm and drink Chamomile

I received an interesting text from a lovely friend of mine the other day. Acknowledging that I would probably be very busy doing what I do at the Tatton flower show, she wondered if I we could catch up. At the time of receiving said message I was up to my neck in thistles and cleavers in my clients rampant border and gleefully responded that alas, I was not ‘doing’ the show this year and would have to forego the opportunity of hobnobbing over a refreshing glass or two of Pimm’s. Then I wondered to myself…Has no-one noticed my calm and peaceful aura so different to the usual franticness that engulfs me at this time of year? Do they not sense the serenity that exudes from me as I waft contentedly through gardens and countryside, utterly at one with nature? T’would appear not.


So let me explain. I have taken a year of from exhibiting at the show as middle child is in the process of leaving junior school and I wouldn’t have missed the cacophony of tear jerking leaver’s concerts and jubilant parties in the park for anything. These fleeting years are too precious. And also, our beautiful home has been extended leaving me with a never ending list of ‘job’s to do in the house’. (As I write eldest child is still pestering me to re-build her bed now that the paint is dry and the carpet fitter has fled and youngest child is insisting on a game of chess. Pesky kids!) Oops sorry, precious years and all that.

So, how can I be so calm in the midst of such chaos I hear you ask? Well, apart from avoiding the hurly-burly of flower shows I have taken Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Feelin’ groovy’ as my daily mantra.

“The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.

Hello lamppost,
What cha knowing?
I’ve come to watch your flowers growing.
Ain’t cha got no rhymes for me?
Doot-in’ doo-doo,
Feelin’ groovy.

Got no deeds to do,
No promises to keep.
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me.
Life, I love you,
All is groovy.

And, as if that isn’t enough, I have been dabbling with natural herbs with strong relaxant properties. Yep, you guessed it, I have been imbibing the chamomile.


This gorgeous little cluster of flowers crept up in the middle of my overgrown lawn without me noticing. Then, one morning, there they were, wafting ever so daintily in the summer breeze. I hadn’t planted them there, not intentionally anyway. Is this what that the infamous folksters S&G were referring to when they wrote the immortal lines ‘Let the morning time drop all it’s petals on me’? Experiencing something so lovely and free and unexpected that your heart sings.

I had grown this annual herb last year to encourage my girls to venture out into the garden to pick their own chamomile tea ( I will go to great lengths to involve my children in gardening!) At the end of the season I emptied the pots onto the compost heap then, in early spring, used the soil to fill in a small hole in the centre of the lawn. And now, Hey Presto! my own little clump of chamomile.

IMG_0615My chamomile is the german strain Matricaria chamaemelum and is the best for making chamomile tea. It’s a hardy annual so sow the seed in situ in spring. Flowers are produced in summer and, to make the tea, simply pick 5-6 flowers on a sunny day, place in a cup and add hot water. Leave to brew for a few minutes before discarding the flowers, sit back and enjoy.

The medicinal properties of chamomile are very relaxing making this the perfect brew after a day spent tending the garden, writing blogs, entertaining children and building beds.

Although Pimm’s is also a very good choice…….but I will leave that for another day.

Obviously I couldn’t not visit the flower show at Tatton. I will be live on air with BBC Radio Manchester discussing all that the show has to offer and answering gardening questions between 11 am -12 noon 95.1 FM


Harry (left) Cathy(right) and me ( middle).

BBC Radio Manchester gardening experts look forward to courgette cake

As some of you may be aware, I have recently acquired the rather grand title of ‘BBC radio Manchester gardening expert’. It’s not just me, there are a few of us including landscape gardener Andy Hewitt and the utterly delightful Harry from Kersal allotments in Salford. There are, I suspect, a few others I have yet to meet.

Being a BBC radio Manchester gardening expert, oh how I wish there was an acronym for this, involves rocking up at a pre-arranged destination of a horticultural persuasion and chatting to like minded individuals. It’s chaotic; microphones, headphones and gardeners make for an unusual mix but none the less it’s lots of fun.

Tomorrow morning Harry and I will be broadcasting live from my allotment on Grosvenor Road in Ashton on Mersey. Laziness on my part I confess, I can just roll out of bed, potter down the road and I’m there. In light of this occasion I thought it best to go and tidy up my plot as it’s been a little neglected of late. Not for any lack of desire you understand I have just been swamped with other people’s gardens, that dirty little word called ‘work’. Although to be fair I have had a very enjoyable week out in the warm sunshine making gardens beautiful and clients happy and getting paid for it so I won’t moan.


Photo of clients garden

However when I looked at my plot I remembered that I am a deluded chronoptimist and didn’t have a cat’s chance of getting it into any sort of order. Also this is radio so no-one’s going to see it anyway!!!

My allotment is scruffy. Feathery tufts of mare’s tail waft gaily through the strawberry patch while bindweed twirls and dances up the raspberry canes. The grass at the back hasn’t been cut for ages and the shed still sports a broken window from last winter’s storms. But it’s still beautiful. Beautiful in its abundant wantonness, its desire to grow, wild and free.


Butterflies flit and dance across the lavender that fills the air with intoxicating perfume. Brightly coloured nasturtiums pop up unexpectedly, lost seeds from last years harvest. Umbelliferous fennel flowers in buttery yellow punctuate the butterfly border festooned with seeding grasses.

IMG_0531My crops are still there in rows, like regimented soldiers ready for battle, natures yin and IMG_0528yang. Giant, golden flowers that signal an endless supply of courgettes shine out against the shocking pink begonias I grow just for fun. Fluffy rows of marigolds mark the spot where carrots grow, a failed attempt to fool the carrot fly. And the dahlias, the gorgeous, austere dahlias, tall and regal amongst the runner beans, a new addition this year and definitely one to be repeated.

IMG_0526So you see this is a crazy plot where order and control has gone out of the window and loveliness has moved in. A colourful tangle of happiness that I wouldn’t change for all the time in the world.

Harry and I will be on BBC radio Manchester 95.1 FM between 11 am and 12 pm Saturday July 19th July. Amongst other gardening mayhem we will be discussing our favourite plot to plate recipes and eating delicious courgette cake. Mmmmmm

Spiced courgette cake recipe can be found in my recipes at the top of the page.


Wicked Welsh onions

For a blog to be successful there is a suggestion that, amongst other fine qualities, it must be updated regularly, and preferably, on the same day each week. I aim for a Sunday as this is a restful day when we chose to indulge in leisurely activities such as gardening and reading (and also because I know one particular reader enjoys this blog on a Sunday evening). However I am as erratic as the weather and rarely stick to the same day so today I will give myself a pat on the back because today is Sunday and here is my post.

For the last few months my house has been in chaos. Builders have knocked walls down, built rooms up, taken roof’s off put better ones on.  As a result my garden, allotment and my life has been a mess and not very much has been planted, tended or achieved. Without a kitchen cooking has been difficult, it’s a wonder the kid’s haven’t got scurvy with the diet they have endured! Sorry kids it will get better, I promise.

Living in these circumstances has made me appreciate the perennial edibles in my veggie patch that supply me with wholesome fodder without any involvement from me. There’s the rhubarb, which, as you know, I am trying hard to like, and there’s the fabulous Welsh onions that are positively thriving. Hurrah.

Welsh onions are a perennial onion, also referred to as Japanese bunching onions because they do just that, they bunch. Clusters of little bulblets produce hollow green stems that have a delicious onion flavour. The fleshy base of the plant can be eaten like a spring onion while the stems can be chopped and added to a variety of dishes (or just munched raw whilst gently hoeing). As the plant grows the flavour intensifies so be warned, even a little nibble may result in those uncontrollable onion tears.



In May the plant produces pretty creamy coloured flowers that the bees absolutely adore. I always know mine are in flower by the eerie drone that comes from my veggie patch as the bees feast. Removing the flowers diverts the plants energy back into making bulbs but I like the bees so the flowers stay. In autumn the flowers set seed and these can be gathered and stored for sowing in pots next spring.

One of the things I love about Welsh onions is the amount of plant you get in a small space. For those with just a yard or balcony this plant is perfect as it is as happy in a pot as it is in the ground. Grow the onions in rich, well drained soil in a sunny spot and you will be harvesting from early spring to late autumn.

There is one more thing you need to know about Welsh onions. They are imposters, pretenders, through no fault of their own, they have been labelled Welsh. It’s easy to see why and no, it’s not because they resemble a leek, or look like a daffodil, it’s all down to the name. Welsh is a corruption of the word German word ‘Walsh’ meaning foreign, because this onion comes from much further afield. It has its roots in Siberia and is very popular in Asia, particularly Japan where it is an ingredient in the popular Miso soup. So perhaps it is best to refer to this onion as the Japanese bunching onion, it seems better suited.

As you know I like to give you readers a recipe that involves my blogging subject. This time I chose Japanese miso soup which includes the Japanese onion. But there I was, standing in the World Food aisle of the local supermarket, browsing the oriental section looking for dashi, miso paste and silken tofu and I realised I didn’t have a clue what I was looking for. I gave up. I realised that while I do know my onions, I have absolutely no idea about Japanese cuisine!


Arley Hall garden festival and egg custards

There was something a little bit exciting about seeing the words ‘Jacqui Brocklehurst You mentioned you in a tweet! this morning when I opened my e mails. And there was more to come ‘A tweet you were mentioned in was re-tweeted!’ I think it is twitters clever use of exclamation marks that does it! It just adds that extra touch of glee!

me lord and lady a     Photo courtesy of Cheshire Life. Lord and Lady Ashbrrok and Jacqui Brocklehurst

The reason for such activity was an article I wrote for Cheshire Life, about Lord & Lady Ashbrook and their gardens at Arley Hall, has just been published and tweeted by the magazine. I have to say I am relieved that it has gone down well, I wanted to make the feature more human and less historical garden, but I don’t know what possessed me to confess to hedge hopping my way into these glorious gardens several years ago! I seem to have got away with it though I just received a call from Helen at Arley Hall to say Lord and Lady Ashbrook really enjoyed the piece. Phew. She was also phoning to ask if I needed anything for my herb display at the Arley garden festival in a couple of weeks. Aaaarghhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know if I need anything, I kind of, er, haven’t planned anything. I remember my friend Tim phoning and saying “You should do the Arley garden festival, in the floral marquee. We could be next to each other and ‘mind each others stalls’, like Little Mo in ‘stenders”. Brilliant idea thought I, I don’t even watch ‘stenders!!! But booked a pitch anyway. I confess I think my head was turned by the prospect of Chris Beardshaw being there too, I like Chris Beardshaw, whenever he comes on the tele Mr Broccoli always laughs and shouts” Speak up a bit, It’s whispering Chris!”

Anyway, I was left feeling a bit panicky and decided the best thing to do was, no not plan, BAKE! It’s a fabulous stress reliever and 11 am is too early for wine, even by my standards.

IMG_4863                                                   The perfect pastry mmm

I have had lots of eggs stacking up as the girls seem to have gone into an egg laying frenzy. The younger Broccoli’s and I dusted off the scales, cranked up the oven and set to work making egg custards. We chose Paul Hollywood’s recipe for individual tarts, it’s not very accurate but with a bit of adjustment we did it, we made 12 little tarts and 2 big ones. Very pleased with ourselves. The problem with Paul H’s recipe was the pastry was far too sticky so we added extra flour. The eggy mixture was spot on in taste but makes enough for 24 tartlets not the 12 stated. Still, amidst a cloud of sugar and flour, we whipped up some more sweet pastry and made two big pies for later. We have nibbled a couple warm and they are delicious, best put them to one side and try to concentrate on more pressing issues. Herb displays? I hear you ask. No, there’s something else bothering me. In the Great British Bake Off the contestants were given a technical challenge. They had to make Paul Hollywood’s egg custards with only half the recipe, it went horribly wrong for all of them, soggy bottoms here, burnt crusts there. I wonder if the recipe was to blame and not the brilliant bakers. Was it another of the BBC’S moments of jeopardy?

Make your own egg custards using the recipe in my recipe link at the top of the page.

The Arley garden festival is on 21st-22nd of June. Come and visit the floral marquee where I will be with a fantastic range of herbs and edible plants.