July 31, 2008

Grow your own Tomatoes 2008

Week commencing 28 July 2008:
The Plum tomatoes are doing pretty well, still got a while to go before they're big and ripe enough to pick.

Spotted a bad one and looked up the problem in my book and it's called Blossom End Rot which is caused by the soil drying out, so have to make sure they get lots of water!

Week commencing 23 June 2008:
The plant seems to be doing really well and now has quite a few flowers. I've been feeding it with tomato food about once a week and keeping it watered with a water bottle spike. However it looks like it needs some attention, so being the inexperienced gardener I am (you could say I'm green!), I've read my Vegetable and Herb Expert book and searched online for advice on what I should do next.
Here's what I've learnt:
  • If growing a cordon type plant (grows upwards) pinch out (remove) the sideshoots regularly when they are about 2.5cm long. Those grown as bush or hanging basket types do not need to have sideshoots removed.
  • When the plant has 4 trusses (branches of flowers) pinch out the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss. By this stage you should have plenty of fruits forming that need to grow and ripen. Let the plant put all its energy into these potentially succulent fruits.
  • Remove yellowing leaves below developing fruit trusses.
I found this video which was really helpful in explaining what to do: http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-prune-tomatoes

Week commencing 28 April 2008:
Last year we grew cherry tomatoes which were a bit disappointing taste-wise so we only used them in cooking. This time we bought a Plum tomato plant so hopefully we can use them to make some nice tomato sauces.

Grow your own Chilies 2008

Week commencing 28 July 2008:
Good news and bad news.

The good news is the Cheyenne chillies are growing thick and fast and we'll be able to harvest the little beauties soon.
 The bad news is the Apache plant is pretty much dead, the most likely culprit being over-watering - Steve's mum waters the plants too and sometimes she does it when I've already done it! Nevermind, we're going to have more Cheyenne chillies than we can handle so I'll have to make some chilli flakes to store them.

Week commencing 23 June 2008:
There are loads of little fruits now and still some flowers. The fruits have started to transform into chillies so hopefully it won't be long until they're red and ripe.

I've read that I should mist the foliage regularly with tepid water to discourage red spider mite and to help flower set and subsequently cropping, so that's the next job to do!

Week commencing 26 May 2008:
The first fruit has grown! This is on the Cheyenne plant which is doing better than the Apache. We think I might have stunted the Apache's growth with my home-made plastic bottle cloche! I only used it for a few days but took it off as it didn't seem to be doing the plant any favours.

Week commencing 28 April 2008:
This week we bought some new chilli plants, an Apache and a Cheyenne. We grew a load of different chillies last year (Jalapenos, Hungarian Hot, Anaheim) but only the Apache's were successful and we got a bumper crop of small fiery red and green chillies. After picking them I left them to naturally dry out for a few days before properly drying them in the oven on the lowest temperature and whizzing up in a mini-chopper to make chilli flakes. I've kept them stored in an old jam jar since late last year and used them alot to spice up stir-fries and anything else that could use a kick!
The Cheyenne should yield medium-sized orange chillies and is apparently a good companion to the Apache (I'll admit I didn't know that when we bought them, it was just good luck!).

July 12, 2008

Butterscotch Brownies

When I first looked at this recipe I thought that the cocoa powder was missing as I'd always associated brownies with a chocolate flavour. However these brownies aren't supposed to have cocoa, as the main flavour is the butterscotch which comes from the brown sugar turning into a lovely caramel. This recipe is very easy to make and unlike a lot of brownie recipes I've tried, this one really works and results in moist and chewy brownies!

  • Makes: 16 squares
  • Oven shelf position: middle
  • Oven temperature: 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4
  • Baking time: 18-20 mins
  • You will need: 8x8 inch baking tin lined with baking paper & a medium saucepan
  • 1/3 cup (80g/3oz) butter
  • 1 cup (220g/7.5oz) brown sugar (I used Dark Muscovado for a really deep treacle flavour & darker colour)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt (omit if your butter is already salted)
  • 1 cup (125g/4oz) plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (75g/2.5oz) nuts or chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven.
  2. Melt the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan until it is a syrupy consistency but do not boil.
  3. Stir in (do not beat) the egg, vanilla and salt.
  4. Sift in the flour and baking powder.
  5. Add nuts or chocolate chips, if you’re using them, reserving some for the top.
  6. Spread the brownie mixture into your tin and sprinkle the reserved nuts or chocolate on top.
  7. Bake until lightly browned, approximately 18-20 minutes. Do not overcook, or the squares will not be moist and chewy.
  8. Cool before cutting into squares.

July 9, 2008

Sainsbury’s Christmas Press Show

Today Steve and I went to 3 Press Shows in London, but the only one that is worth writing about is the Sainsbury's one - mainly because of all the fantastic food we got to sample!

The organisers had made a big effort with an "Enchanted Forest" theme - lots of different trees arranged indoors with bark underfoot so you really felt far removed from an office block building in the middle of London. We were assured many times that the trees would be recycled and turned into mulch.



As we entered the forest and took the first corner we were greeted by 2 women who offered us an Ecclefechan Tart. We must have looked quite bemused as she assured us she wasn't swearing but offering us a traditional Scottish tart which is a combination of treacle tart and mince pie - absolutely delicious! We were told they were a traditional recipe from Ecclefechan in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland and are now available all year round in Sainsbury's stores.








Then we followed the forest path to a great display of trees adorned with Christmas decorations and little buckets of various chocolates and sweets. We were told to help ourselves so we sampled some lovely decadent chocolates with lovely creamy fillings and I grabbed a few other goodies to take home.


Next we came to a long table heaving with food. Sainsbury's was really pushing the Regional Food message, so almost everything we sampled came with a spiel about its source and the supplier. Thus I was encouraged to try some brie and a cheese made from sheep's milk which I was initially dubious about but pleasantly surprised by.


HamAfter leaving the "Enchanted Forest" we entered more tasting rooms and tried some delicious Slow Cooked Beef and Norfolk Ale crisps and some slow cooked Drury Lane ham,  inspired and named after the first Sainsbury's store.


It was lucky we hadn't eaten lunch before the Show as we were getting pretty full from all these culinary delights! The only section we were hesitant about was the Food and Wine matching, as we're not fans of champagne and wine. However, we soldiered on as the food they had on offer looked too enticing.





Pandoro There were four foods with matched drinks to try and it was set out like a "four-course" meal.


To start we had some lovely cake called Pandoro, a soft, rich Christmas bread from Turin, Italy. Thus it is very similar to Panettone, but a lot lighter and sweeter and without the fruit - in fact it reminds me a lot of brioche. This was matched with Champagne, which I'm not a lover of but I tried it anyway and it was OK.


Next was some goat's cheese which we skipped, but we did try the Parma ham which had been aged for 24 months which is double the usual length of time, thus it melted in the mouth and was full of flavour. The penultimate "course" was a very tasty Chestnut Stuffing Parcel, served with a red wine which wasn't as obnoxious to my taste buds as I usually find with red wine.


Sherry Finally to finish was excellent quality vanilla ice cream with 12-year-old dry Oloroso Sherry simply drizzled on top. It surprised us both how nice this combination was, as we expected the sherry to have a strong alcoholic taste, but instead it tasted like sticky-toffee pudding and all its sweet prune-like glory. This is a very easy way to impress dinner guests and the sherry was £6.99 a bottle which seemed very reasonable as a little goes a long way.


I have to say that with all these new ingredients and strange combinations my taste buds have never been so tantalised. I'm pleased that I did try things which I thought I wouldn't like, such as the Red cabbage with Port and Blueberries. It was like a chutney and would make a fantastic accompaniment to meats like Turkey or Ham. Another thing I didn't think I would like was the Beetroot Gratin and this was made before our very eyes in the Demo Kitchen. This was served with 21-day aged beef which was cooked to absolute perfection, slightly pink and oh-so-juicy - absolutely heavenly!


As Christmas is party time there was lots of ready-made finger food being showcased, such as Mini Burgers in a sesame seed bun, Mini Pollock Fish Fingers Sarnies and Mini Sicilian Lemon cheesecakes which were especially decadent.


We had an interesting chat with the Innovations Manager about food trends and changes due to the credit crunch and also due to society's changing attitudes. I was pleased to hear that they're going to be introducing Sumac to their stores as I had looked for it a few weeks ago to no avail. They had an interesting way of using it: sprinkled on top of apricots - I thought the aromatic spice complimented the sweetness of the apricot but Steve wasn't a fan. A quirky new product they're introducing is Cashew Nuts Marinated in Soy and Honey which you can squeeze lime juice over for a nice aperitif.


So we left the Show feeling very happy with our stomachs full and our minds buzzing with inspiration and new ideas - or maybe I was just a little tipsy from the few sips of wine I'd had!

July 2, 2008

Chicken and noodles with coconut satay sauce


MUNCH RATING OUT OF 5: pizzapizzapizzapizza

This is a really quick and easy recipe and is a nice twist on the Thai curry we usually make.

Serves 2 greedy people but the sauce could stretch to serve 4.


  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 3 small Chicken Thighs (or 2 large) de-boned and cut into small strips
  • 1 Tbsp Red Thai Curry Paste
  • Your choice of vegetables cut into bitesize pieces (I used half a leek cut into rounds, a few sliced mushrooms and couple of handfuls of spinach)
  • 400ml can Coconut Milk Light/Reduced Fat
  • 3 Tbsp Crunchy Peanut Butter
  • 2 nests of dried Medium egg noodles (1 nest per person)

  1. Cook the noodles as per the pack instructions. Drain and keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile bring the coconut milk to the boil in a small pan and simmer on a medium heat to reduce and thicken.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry the chicken for about 5 mins, until just coloured.
  4. Stir in the Thai paste, then add the leek and mushrooms and fry until vegetables are starting to soften.
  5. Stir in the peanut butter and then add the coconut milk and the spinach.
  6. Simmer for about 5 mins until the sauce is a nice consistency and the chicken is fully cooked.
  7. To serve: place the warm noodles between 2 serving bowls and ladle the chicken sauce on top.

If you like a thinner sauce you could skip Step 2, but we like ours thick and I find that reducing the coconut in a separate pan speeds up the process without overcooking the vegetables.
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