ArchiveApril 4, 2009

Vegetable Garden for the White House

I’ve just heard a most exciting piece of news which gives me hope for the world. Michelle Obama plans to cultivate an organic vegetable garden on the south lawn of the White House. Can you imagine what a strong message this will convey to the American people about the importance of the food they feed to their families to their health. The organic garden will provide food for the first family meals and formal dinners at the White House but according to Michelle Obama its most important role is “to educate children about healthful locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have a national concern”.

“My hope,” the first lady said in an interview in East Wing office, “is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”

Much of the food people have access to are empty calories, filling but not nourishing. so this initiative is all the more important, at a time when obesity and diabetes is at an all time high. Sixty five percent of the American population are over weight and thirty one percent are obese and at risk of chronic diseases.

I am so thrilled to discover that promoting truly healthy eating – not just the lite and low fat mantra – has become a part of the Obama agenda. As a busy working mum Michelle Obama remembers well the challenges of feeding a family and the temptation to just grab a burger or a pizza for supper.

The Obamas we’re told love Mexican food so there will be lots of coriander, tomatoes, chillies and peppers, a terrific selection of greens including my pin-up winter vegetable kale and fresh herbs. There will be fresh berries for summer puddings so the White House chefs will have fresh beautiful produce to cook with – 55 varieties in total.

There will also be a couple of bee-hives. Word reached the Obamas that White House carpenter Charlie Brandt was also a beekeeper so he will look after the two bee hives for the White House honey. Bee colonies are dying all over the world so hopefully this initiative will also encourage more people to keep bees, an activity which can be indulged in urban or rural areas.

There is a precedent, when Eleanor Roosevelt planted a vegetable garden during World War 11 she inspired Victory Gardens around the country, emblems of self sufficiency.

A vegetable garden on the lawn of the Whitehouse is the brainchild of my lovely friend Alice Waters owner of the iconic restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkley in California.

Since 1971 Alice has served the fresh seasonal produce of local farmers and food producers on her menu which changes daily. For over fifteen years she has dreamed of seeing an edible garden at the White House. When Al Gore lost the election her hopes were dashed for a further seven years but now they are becoming a reality. Her passionate hope is that this initiative will inspire Americans from coast to coast to rediscover the joy of growing their own. In these challenging economic times it is encouraging to see these initiatives springing up in many diverse locations.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Rosie Boycott chair of London Food launched ‘Capital Growth’ in November 2008 to encourage Londoners to use every scrap of land and space to grow something edible.

This initiative was inspired by the Cuban experiment during what they euphemistically called their special period when blockades and trade restrictions imposed by the US and Russia caused drastic food shortages. In these dire circumstances Cubans relearned how to cultivate and used every scrap of land in towns and cities to grow food and rear poultry and pigs. What was originally a desperate response to a crisis situation is now serving as inspiration to others.

Our own lovely president Mary McAleese is well ahead – a true inspiration. Her vegetable garden at Áras an Uachtaráin continues to flourish. They also have hens, so our first lady can go to work on a beautiful freshly laid egg whenever she fancies.

Now is the time of the year to sow and plant so take a look around your property. Is there space for a vegetable bed or even a couple, a few barrels or tubs, a window box? Even a hanging basket can produce some salad leaves or a few herbs for you to snip into your dishes. So off to the local garden centre, buy a few packets of seeds, even a few cabbage plants and get them into the ground and remember if there kids around involve them also.


We just harvested a crop of cauliflower that was planted last June. They all came together so I had what you might call a glut of cauliflower. We ate every scrap; I chopped the fresh green leaves and cooked those as well as the white curd. Here are a few recipes that we enjoyed.


Cauliflower Cheese


Serves 6-8

I had rather despaired of cauliflower until I grew them myself. However I have failed to find the name of the old variety which we ate as children. Cauliflower varieties seem to have suffered more from the point of view of flavour than most other vegetables. The leaves have more flavour than the curd so make sure not to discard them. Even a mediocre cauliflower can be made to taste delicious in a bubbling cheese sauce.

1 medium-sized cauliflower with green leaves


Mornay Sauce


1 pint (600ml) bechamel sauce

4 ozs (110g) grated cheese, eg. Cheddar or a mixture of Gruyere, Parmesan and Cheddar

1/2 teasp. Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 oz (30g) grated mature Cheddar cheese for top.

chopped parsley

Béchamel Sauce


½ pint (300ml) milk

a few slices of carrot

a few slices of onion

a small sprig of thyme

a small sprig of parsley

3 peppercorns

1½ ozs (45g) roux

salt and freshly ground pepper

This is a marvellous quick way of making Béchamel Sauce if you already have roux made. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion, peppercorns, thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, and remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.



4 ozs (110g) butter

4 ozs (110g) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Remove the outer leaves and wash both the cauliflower and the leaves well. Put not more than 1 inch (2.5cm) water in a saucepan just large enough to take the cauliflower; add a little salt. Chop the leaves into small pieces and either leave the cauliflower whole or cut in quarters; place the cauliflower on top of the green leaves in the saucepan, cover and simmer until cooked, 15 minutes approx. Test by piercing the stalk with a knife: there should be just a little resistance. Remove the cauliflower and leaves to an ovenproof serving dish.

Meanwhile make the mornay sauce. Make the béchamel sauce in the usual way and at the end add 4 ozs (110g/1 cup) grated cheese and a little mustard. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Spoon the sauce over the cauliflower and sprinkle with more grated cheese. The dish may be prepared ahead to this point.

Put into a hot oven, 230C/450F/regulo 8, or under the grill to brown. If the Cauliflower Cheese is allowed to get completely cold, it will take 20-25 minutes to reheat in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4.

Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Note: If the cauliflower is left whole, cut a deep cross in the stalk.


Aloo gobi – Cauliflower and Potatoes in spices

Serves 8


You’ll find this combination of cauliflower and potato all over India but it’s a particular speciality in Punjab.


3 tablesp sunflower oil

1 onion, sliced

1 teasp ginger-garlic paste

3 fresh green chillies, chopped

350g (12oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes

225g (8 oz) fresh tomatoes, chopped

350g (12oz) cauliflower, washed and cut into florettes

1 teasp turmeric powder

2 teasp garam masala powder


Heat the oil in a wok or sauté pan. Add the onion and fry until soft. Add the ginger-garlic paste stir and fry for a few seconds.

Add the chillies and the potatoes. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent the mixture from sticking. Add the tomatoes and allow them to soften. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a little sugar.

Then add the turmeric, garam masala, cauliflower and salt. Mix gently. Reduce the heat, adding a few spoonfuls of water if it begins to stick to the pan. Allow to simmer until the vegetables are just cooked about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Sprinkle with lots of fresh coriander and serve with roti or naan.


Roast Cauliflower

Serves 6-8


Seems rather peculiar at first but when cauliflower florets are blasted in a very hot oven it concentrates the natural sweetness and the flavour becomes addictive.

1 fresh cauliflower cut or divided into 4cm (1 ½ inch) florets

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8. Put the florets into a deep bowl, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet roast, tossing occasionally. Cook until golden and tender, 15-20 minutes.

Mary Jo’s Indian Style Cabbage and Cauliflower Cooked with Tomato

Serves 4 – 6


This basic stir-fry and steaming method for vegetables may also be

used with green beans, zucchini, Swiss chard…

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or 1 tablespoon ghee + l tablespoon oil

½ teaspoon each black mustard seed and cumin seed

1 small onion thinly sliced

½ red or green chilli thinly sliced

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 ripe tomatoes diced

l medium potato peeled and diced

½ small cabbage sliced

¼ to ½ cauliflower broken into florets

salt and lemon juice to taste

lots of coriander or mint leaves

In a large frying pan with a lid, heat the oil and ghee until it begins to shimmer. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, cover, allow to pop and reduce heat. Remove the lid, add the sliced onion and sauté until limp and golden. Add the sliced chilli, chopped ginger, turmeric and stir to cook briefly before adding the tomatoes. As soon as the tomatoes release liquid, add the diced potato, sliced cabbage. Season with salt, cover and half-cook. Mix in the cauliflower, adding a bit of water if necessary and continue to simmer until all the vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt, and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice. Garnish with coriander leaves.


Spicy Indian Cauliflower Fritters


Serves 8


For the batter:

300g (10oz) flour

1 teaspoon chilli powder

2 teaspoon turmeric powder

2 teaspoon cumin seeds dry roasted and ground

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sunflower oil for deep-frying

1 cauliflower, cut into medium-sized florets and steamed.

Put the flour chilli powder, turmeric and cumin into a bowl add water to mix to thickish coating consistency. Batter all off the batter ingredients and water as needed to achieve the consistency of thick custard.

Make a thick batter of all the batter ingredients and water as needed to achieve the consistency of thick custard.

Heat the oil in a deep fry until it is hot 200°C

Dip each cauliflower floret in the batter and gently shake off the excess and drop into hot oil. Allow the cauliflower to cook through. Cook a few at a time, frying until golden, and then drain on kitchen paper.

Serve hot with a spicy tomato sauce.


Fool Proof Food

Italian Cauliflower Fritters


A quick and easy way to perk up cauliflower, kids love it like this.

Serves 6-8


1 medium cauliflower (in florets, steamed)

well-seasoned flour

2 eggs, free-range and organic (beaten)

6-10 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, Parmigano Reggiano, freshly grated

olive oil for deep frying

Heat oil in a dry fry. Dip the steamed cauliflower florets into flour one by one. Next dip in beaten egg and then in Parmesan cheese. Fry the cauliflower florets immediately in the hot oil at 200C until golden and crisp. Serve immediately.

Hot Tips

Pocket Sized Meal Perker Uppers


Look out for Yasmin Hyde’s new brain-wave, tiny pots of Ballymaloe Country Relishes. Perfect size to carry in your handbag to perk up a less than exciting meal.

Tel. 021 438 4810

Gluten Free and Allergy Awareness Class


Con McGloughlin is teaching a Gluten Free and Allergy Awareness class at the Fionnuisce Centre in Bandon on Saturday 14th April, 10am to 3pm

Dishes will include gluten, wheat, dairy and egg free recipes. There will also be range of dishes, from baked goods and breakfasts. The cost is €95 and will include all recipes, tastings, and lunch. To book phone 023 46251

Caherbeg Wins Gold Medal for Black and White Puddings


Caherbeg Free Range Pork picked up two gold medals and one silver for their Black and White Puddings at ‘Les Compagnons de la Gastronomie Porcine’ in Belgium recently. They also received ‘champion d’Irlande en Pâté’ for their Pork Pâté. Tel. (023) 48474

Organic Herb and Vegetable Seeds


A selection of Alan Titchmarsh’s organic herb and vegetable seeds have just arrived in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop.

Thrifty Tip.


Save energy by not over filling your kettle. Put in just the amount of water you need to make tea or coffee.


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