June 29, 2009

BBQ in the rain!

Steve BBQ

Here’s Steve doing a superb job of cooking us dinner on our portable BBQ, which we got from Firebox. It’s really cool because it folds really flat and comes in a carrying bag. They don’t sell this model anymore, but they have a new one which looks just as good: Portable BBQ Grill.

We put it on top of the big BBQ so that it was at a perfect height for cooking. There was only 4 of us, so it wasn’t worth cleaning up the big BBQ and the portable one was really good. This is only the second time we’ve used it, the last time was in West Wittering, when it also rained! Maybe it’s jinxed?

Unfortunately it did start to rain, but we persevered and just got the brolly out and then the rain stopped and we had a lovely meal outside in the Breeze House.

June 25, 2009

Grow your own Strawberries 2009

The photo below was taken 1 June:

Strawbs1June4

We bought the strawberry plants last year and the fruits weren’t very nice! But I read that you shouldn’t grow fruits in the first year, you should just concentrate growing the leaves.

 

We did peg down the runners from last year into the lower parts of this pot, so we’ve got quite a few strawberries growing this year. I should have fed them with tomato feed once it had started flowering, but I was a bit late and most of the fruits had already developed! But I’ve fed them once and I’ll need to do it every 10 days.

 

 

 

 

 

The photo below was taken 13 June:

Strawbs 13 June

We had 1 strawberry that was going red, so I put my little net over the pot to protect it from the birds. But as it was hanging down something took it off the plant (I suspect a pesky squirrel) and just left it on the ground half eaten! If they’re going to take my fruit they could at least it eat! But more are starting to turn red and fingers crossed they will be sweet this year!

 

The photo below was taken 25 June:

Strawbs 25 June on pot

Well we lost a few more strawberries to something having a nibble, so we put the strawberry planter on top of another pot turned upside down. It worked and I’ve been able to pick all the ripe strawberries without them being full of holes! Steve’s Mum did see a small black bird trying to eat them, but instead of sitting on the planter, he was on the floor and jumping up and down trying to peck the fruit! I think the word she used for the bird was ‘retarded’!

 

I have been picking them when they’re practically all red and then leaving them on a sunny windowsill to finish off ripening. To be honest they’re not very sweet, so I’ve been using them in smoothies!

June 20, 2009

Coffee, date and walnut cupcakes

Coffee date walnut cupcakes

MUNCH RATING: 3/5

Coffee and walnut is quite a classic cake combination, so I thought I’d add some dates too as I really like the sticky toffee taste they create.

  • Makes: 24 cupcakes (fairy size cases)
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • You will need: 2 cupcake tins lined with paper cases
  • Oven shelf: Upper middle
  • Cooking time: 15 minutes

Ingredients for the cakes:
  • 225g (8oz) dried dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 225ml hot water
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons instant coffee
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g (4½ oz) butter, softened (I used Stork)
  • 50g (2oz) dark muscovado sugar
  • 150g (5oz) light muscovado sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 225g (8oz) self raising flour
  • 100g (3½ oz) walnuts, chopped

Ingredients for the icing:
  • 100g (3½ oz) icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee, dissolved in 2 Tablespoons hot water
  • Walnut halves to decorate 

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C.
  2. Put the dates in a medium sized bowl and pour over the hot water.
  3. Stir in the vanilla extract, instant coffee and bicarbonate of soda and set aside.
  4. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy (easiest in a food processor or with an electric mixer).
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of flour with each egg, beating well between each addition.
  6. Add the remaining flour and mix in well.
  7. Add the wet date mixture and beat in well.
  8. Then stir in the nuts (if using a food processor, transfer the mixture to a large bowl before stirring in the nuts as you don’t want to chop them up anymore).
  9. Fill the 24 cake cases with the mixture – they will be quite full – and bake for 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  10. Leave in the tins to cool whilst you make the icing.
  11. Icing: mix the icing sugar with enough of the dissolved coffee to make a fairly runny icing – add the coffee gradually to get the right consistency. Drizzle or spread on top of the cakes and decorate with walnuts is desired.

June 19, 2009

Grow your own Lettuce 2009

  • PLANT: ‘Lollo Rossa’ Lettuce – ‘cut and come again’ type
  • PLANTED IN COMPOST: 29 April
  • PLANTED OUTSIDE: 22 May
  • LIKES: Being kept moist and not too hot
  • WATER: in the morning or midday to reduce risk of disease
  • THIN OUT: packet says to 23cm (9in) apart, but I disagree!
  • USEFUL VIDEO: http://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/projects/salad-leaves-seeds-grow/

 

I’ve gone from ‘not wanting to plant anything this year’ to ‘planting anything I can get my hands on!’ This might sound sad but I do get a bit of a buzz from actually making something grow from a little seed!

 

So I’ve been well and truly bitten by the gardening bug and I’ve ordered a raised bed kit from Harrod Horticultural. It’s made by Link-A-Bord and it basically just clicks together – more info once I actually get it and put it together!

 

I’ve got loads of seeds I need to germinate first though, which I got from the BBC website as they were giving away packs of free vegetable seeds. They’re meant to be for kids to encourage them to get into gardening as part of their Dig In campaign, but I couldn’t resist getting some for myself!

 

They’ve run out of packs now, so I was lucky to get the seeds and what’s even better is they’ve sent me everything I like to eat! I got seeds for butternut squash, carrots, beetroot, lettuce and tomatoes.

 

As I’m already growing tomatoes, I decided to try the Lollo Rossa lettuce first as I’ve heard it’s really easy to grow. I planted the seeds in an empty ice cream tub, which I first filled with some crocks and multi-purpose compost. Then I just sprinkled some seeds on top, lightly covered with compost and gave them some water. I covered them with cling film that had some holes punched in it to increase humidity and placed on a sunny windowsill.

I planted on 29 April and after only a few days the seeds sprouted!

The photo below was taken on 4 May:

Lettuce 4 May 09

The instructions said to thin the seedlings out, so I pulled out the weaker plants. The plants should be a spade-width apart, but I’ll have to wait until I’ve got my raised bed before I can do this. I couldn’t believe how much they grew in one day.

The photo below was taken on 5 May:

Lettuce 5 May 09

The photo below was taken on 8 May:

Lettuce thinned out 8 May

The lettuce is coming on a treat and as I still haven’t got my raised bed yet I decided to thin out the lettuce even more by putting some of the seedlings into peat pots. This should give the rest in the ice cream tub more room!

 

 

 

 

The photo below was taken on 10 May:

Lettuce 10 MayWell the lettuce didn’t seem to appreciate being move about and I think I’ve killed all the seedlings! I put all my plants outside to get some decent sunshine, hoping that they would perk up but they’re still in a very sad state! I’ve sown some more and if they sprout then I’ll definitely just leave them alone and not bother thinning them out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo below was taken on 18 May:

Lettuce 18 May

Lots of the new seeds I sowed have sprouted and I haven’t thinned them out but just left them alone to grow. Some of the older seedlings actually did perk up and are growing quite well now.

 

 

 

The photos below were taken on 22 May:

Lettuce in bed

Well the lettuce leaves are starting to change colour and are going from green to purply-red, which is a good sign. None of them want to stand up straight though! So I’m hoping the big move to the raised bed and a deeper pot will improve their posture!

 

 
 
 
 

 

Lettuce in a pot
 
 
 
 

 

The photo below was taken on 1 June:

Lettuce 1 June

The lettuce seedlings that I moved to the raised bed did grow bigger, but they were still very floppy. So I sowed lots more seeds directly into the bed to see if they would grow stronger. As you can see they have all sprouted! Then I read that I should thin them to 9 inches apart! That’s going to be a bit tricky since there are so many new seedlings and I don’t actually have that much space in the raised bed for them, so I’ll have to thin them as best I can!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photos below were taken on 13 June:

Lettuce 13 June

I did thin the lettuce out a little bit by pulling out the odd seedling, but really I’ve just left it to its own devices and it’s just grown and grown! I’ll start cutting it and eating it this week, hopefully it’ll taste good!

 

 

 

 

Lettuce pot 13 June

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo below was taken on 19 June:

Lettuce in a roll

Today I picked my first lot of lettuce and had it in a roll with some ham. Quite a momentous day for me as a kitchen gardener as it’s my first taste of what I’ve grown this year (the first few red strawberries don’t really count as the plant was from last year!).

I’d been worried using water from the water butt would somehow taint the flavour, but the lettuce tasted fine. Actually it didn’t really taste of much! But then I don’t recall Lollo Rossa from the supermarket having much flavour anyway. So this will probably be my last blog post on the lettuce!

 

I’ve concluded that the best way to grow lettuce is to sow it straight into the raised bed/pot as they really don’t like being transplanted/moved. They grow much stronger, rather than all spindly. Thinning out seems to be totally unnecessary as the leaves grow just fine being close together.

June 18, 2009

Meeting Ken Hom!

Ken Hom

Yesterday I went to a Press Event that Steve’s sister couldn’t attend as she’s on holiday. It was a really cool event as Ken Hom was there doing a cooking demonstration and we all got to taste the food he made, which was amazing! He made 2 dishes: Turkey & Red Pepper, and Prawns & Peas, and he prepared everything himself and even washed up the wok! He wanted to prove that you really can prepare and cook tasty, healthy meals very quickly – he did these 2 dishes in 20 minutes!

He was promoting his new Nutriwok Kit, which includes a non-stick wok, a healthy eating recipe book and DVD. The PR girls from Publicasity were absolutely lovely and really looked after me as they gave me the opportunity to meet Ken Hom and get my recipe book signed! The recipe book looks really good and easy to follow, so I shall be using it quite a lot I think!

I got to see lots of cool new kitchen products/gadgets made by Cole & Mason, Zyliss and Culinaire. I also got a goody bag with a Cole & Mason Salt & Pepper Set (they are definitely the best you can buy!), a Culinare One Touch Power Grater, and a set of Seafood Picks and a Pizza Cutter (very useful for my homemade pizza!) made by Zyliss.

So I’ve got a few things to test out and I’ll let you know if they’re any good or not!

June 16, 2009

Seeds of Change chocolate

I’ve signed up to something called BzzAgent, which is a website where they send me samples of things to try and when I talk about it then I am creating Bzz!

The latest product they sent me to try is chocolate by Seeds of Change. I was only mildly aware of the company from seeing their sponsorship adverts to Jamie at Home on TV.

They are an organic company and they donate 1% of sales to the research and promotion of biodiversity and sustainable organic practices. I think this is great as I do think it’s important to take care of our planet and also the people that work to produce the goods.

I was given 2 flavours to try:

  • Milk Chocolate Apricot & Cashew
  • Dark Chocolate Orange & Fig

Although I prefer dark chocolate, I tried the Apricot & Cashew milk chocolate one first. My initial thoughts were that it tastes just like Cadbury’s fruit and nut! I couldn’t really tell that it had apricots in it (and not raisins) or really differentiate that it contained cashew nuts rather than a bog standard peanut. However, it is a very nice chocolate and I would definitely buy this again. The minimum amount of cocoa solids in this bar is 35% which I think it good for milk chocolate, as I find Cadbury’s to be too sweet.

The Orange & Fig dark chocolate one was a bit disappointing to be honest. As I unwrapped the bar I did get the unmistakable aroma of delicious dark chocolate, as it contains 59% cocoa solids, which is a nice amount for dark chocolate as I find the 70% bars too bitter. However, I couldn’t really taste the orange and this isn’t that surprising considering the bar only contains 0.1% orange oil! Also, I’m not a fan of figs anyway, so I didn’t like all the fig pieces and the crunchy texture that you get from the seeds. All those bits got stuck in my teeth and they made what would have been a nice bar of dark chocolate a bit annoying to eat. I would definitely buy a plain bar of dark chocolate like this from Seeds of Change if they made it! But the other flavours on offer are:

  • Dark Chocolate Hazelnut & Walnut
  • Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa

Apparently larger branches of Waitrose and Sainsbury's will stock this chocolate, but I’m not sure when it will be on sale, as I went into Waitrose yesterday and they didn’t have any. Plus I’m not sure how much it costs, but I would be willing to pay more for this brand as they are working to help the environment.

What’s on TV?

Last night the new series of The Supersizers started on BBC 2 and it was a hilarious episode as they revisited the food of the eighties! I’ll admit I got overly excited when they mentioned Potato Waffles (well I never said I was a foodie snob!) and Steve and I both cringed when they ate Ice Magic!

I’ve always liked Sue Perkins from when she did Light Lunch with Mel Giedroyc (yes I did have to look up the spelling of her name!) and I think she’s brilliant in this programme with Giles Coren. They bounce off each other so well and their funny bickering is like brother and sister.

Another programme I enjoyed watching recently was the Blood, Sweat and Takeaways, which was a series of 4 episodes. It followed a group of young British people who went to work in the Far East in the food industry. They had to work in food factories processing tuna and chicken, and also out in the paddy fields to grow rice and build mud walls for a prawn farm.

Of course they bitched and moaned about having to do actual hard work, which was incredibly irritating, but it was interesting to watch them change their views on things. They realised how much they (and the rest of us) take for granted, whilst the people who have to work their fingers to the bone doing disgusting, backbreaking jobs because they don’t have any other choice.

It definitely raised my awareness about where our food comes from and I highly recommend watching it whilst it’s still available on BBCi Player.

June 13, 2009

Apricot & almond Upside-Down pudding

Apricot upside down cake

MUNCH RATING: 2/5

Steve’s Mum bought a load of apricots from the market in Dorking and I knew that they wouldn’t get eaten unless they were put into a cake! So I found this recipe to use up all of the apricots and even though we weren’t too keen on the fruit as they were a bit sour, we loved the cake part! So next time I’ll use a different fruit as the sponge was lovely and light and was lovely with custard!

  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • Oven shelf: upper-middle
  • You will need: 8 or 9 inch shallow loose bottomed tin, lightly greased

Ingredients:
  • 2 Tablespoon clear honey
  • 450g (1lb) apricots, peeled, halved and pitted*
  • 110g (4oz) butter, softened (I used Stork)
  • 125g (4½ oz) caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 110g (4oz) self raising flour
  • 100g (3½ oz) ground almonds

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C.
  2. Spread the honey over the base of the tin.
  3. Arrange the apricot halves over the base of the tin cut side down.
  4. Put the butter and sugar into a food processor and whizz together until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs with a tablespoon of flour and whizz to combine, then add the rest of the flour and the ground almonds.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and spread it out to cover the fruit.
  7. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen the edges. Place a large plate on top of the tin, invert quickly and lift the tin away.

* The recipe didn’t specify the apricots should be peeled, but I just thought it would be nicer without the skins! I just treated them like tomatoes, by cutting a cross on the bottom of the fruit and pouring boiling water over them, then plunging them into cold water. The skins came off really easily.

June 12, 2009

Silicone Baking Mat & Rolling Pin

Silicone mat and rolling pin

My Mum was kind enough to buy me this set from QVC and it’s brilliant! The mat is massive and has loads of useful information on it like measurements, weight and temperature conversions.

The best thing is it sticks to the table so that when I’m kneading or rolling dough it doesn’t move about, unlike the pastry board Steve’s Mum uses.

The circles in the middle are great as I can easily see how big to roll out my circle. Because the mat and the rolling pin are silicone I didn’t need to add extra flour to prevent sticking.

It was also a breeze to clean them in soapy water.

You can also put the mat in the oven but I didn’t try that as it’s a bit big!

All in all though, a fantastic addition to my cooking! Thanks Mum! x

Mandy’s ‘Healthy’ Cajun Calzone & Dough Balls

Calzone

MUNCH RATING: 4/5

I totally made up this recipe for the filling and I’m calling it ‘healthy’ because there’s no fattening cheese. I basically used tomatoes and ½ fat crème fraiche to make a creamy sauce so that the filling ingredients wouldn’t be dry. I have to say that for a total experiment it worked really well! I will definitely make this again as it’s a great way to use up leftovers and it was actually tastier than the pizza.

I made up the dough as per this pizza recipe and I used half the dough for the calzone and the other half I used to make dough balls (like the ones you get from Pizza Express).

  • Makes: 1 calzone to serve 2 people and 8 dough balls
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 8/450°F/230°C
  • You will need: at least 2 baking trays 

Calzone Filling Ingredients:
  • 1 small chorizo sausage, chopped into small pieces
  • 4 mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • handful leftover roasted butternut squash chunks*
  • leftover sliced and roasted red onion*
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  • 2 heaped teaspoons Cajun seasoning (I used Bart’s)
  • 2 heaped Tablespoons ½ fat crème fraiche 

Calzone Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 8/450°F/230°C and place a baking tray in the oven to get hot (or ideally use a pizza stone!)
  2. In a large non-stick pan fry the chorizo (no need to add oil) until crispy and the chorizo has released its oils.
  3. Add the mushrooms and fry until soft.
  4. Add the tomatoes with a splash of water, cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes until they have broken down.
  5. Add the butternut squash, onion and spinach (or any other vegetables you want), the Cajun seasoning and the crème fraiche and mix thoroughly. Set to one side to cool whilst you roll the dough.
  6. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a 10 inch/25cm circle and so that it is about 3mm thick.
  7. Spread the filling onto one half of the circle, brush the edge lightly with water, then fold over the dough and pinch to make a semi-circle pasty shape.
  8. Lift the calzone onto a baking tray and place this tray on top of the preheated one in the oven.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown (I spread some leftover garlic butter over the calzone 5 minutes before the end of cooking). 

DOUGH BALLS:
  1. Portion the other half of the dough into 8 even sized balls and roll so they have a smooth surface.
  2. Place on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes until golden brown and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Serve with garlic butter (1 clove of crushed garlic mixed with 1 Tablespoon softened butter). 

*To roast the butternut squash and onion I just cut the squash into chunks and the onion into 8 wedges, tossed in a little oil and dried rosemary, then roasted on Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C for 45 minutes, turning occasionally.

You might also be interested in: Homemade Pizza

Yorkshire Parkin

Parkin

MUNCH RATING: 1/5

I’ve never eaten this before, so I had no idea what it would be like. Parkin is essentially a northern version of gingerbread, but it tends to be more moist and it improves and gets stickier if left for 24 hours after baking. I don’t know how authentic this BBC Good Food recipe is, as it’s quite different to other Parkin recipes I’ve got (this one has oats in it, but no egg).

It is definitely a sticky cake and it was nicer served warm with hot custard! I’m not sure I’d make this again because it has a funny smell, which I can’t really describe! But I like my cakes to smell enticing so this isn’t one of my favourites by a long shot!

  • Makes: 16 squares
  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 2/300°F/150°C
  • You will need: 8 x 2½ inch square tin, greased and lined with baking paper 

Ingredients:
  • 175g (6oz) plain flour
  • 200g (7oz) caster sugar (I reduced to 150g and it was still sweet)
  • 125g (4½ oz) porridge oats (I used Quaker)
  • 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 200ml (7fl oz) semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 110g (4oz) butter
  • 2 Tablespoons preserved stem ginger, chopped (optional) 

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 2/300°F/150°C.
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl, then mix in the sugar, oats, ginger and bicarbonate of soda.
  3. In a small pan, gently bring the milk, butter and golden syrup to a boil until the butter has melted.
  4. Beat the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the stem ginger if using.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes.
  6. Leave to cool, then cut into 16 squares.

June 6, 2009

Don’t buy from de Cuisine!

I wanted an Adjust-A-Cup like Alton Brown uses, but not many places sell it in the UK. So when I found it on www.decuisine.co.uk I didn’t hesitate to order it as the website looked very professional and trustworthy. However, it turned out that it’s exactly the opposite!

They took the money from my credit card as soon as I’d placed the order, but I didn’t receive my goods. They didn’t respond to numerous emails or the complaints I wrote using their Customer Contact form on their website. I tried calling them but no one picked up the phone.

A quick search on Google and I found a website www.plebble.com which had loads of reviews from customers that had the same experience as me from shopping with de Cuisine!

I contacted my credit card company and luckily they managed to get my money back for me. It was only £11.74 that de Cuisine had taken from me, but the point is I will be more careful from now on and check websites like Plebble before making a purchase!

Marks & Spencers Cupcakes – worth all the fuss?

This week I’ve been helping Steve’s sister do 3 garden photoshoots and one of the styles was for kids. There was a lovely wire cake stand that we needed to fill with cupcakes, so we got the ones from M&S that they apparently can’t make fast enough due to the huge demand. We tried the Strawberry & Vanilla and the Raspberry & White Chocolate ones.

 

M&S cupcakeThey definitely look impressive with all the icing and the sparkly glitter, but do they taste any good? Well we all thought the sponge was nice, but I think Steve’s Mum makes a nicer sponge cake! The icing was far too thick, but that’s how they make them look so good. The jam in the middle of the cakes is a nice twist, but when eaten with all that icing it’s just too much and quite sickly. The photographer who tried a Raspberry & White Chocolate one also didn’t actually get any white chocolate in his one!

 

They’re £2.99 for a box of 4, which we think is far too expensive for what they are! I think I’m going to buy some edible glitter and have a go at making my own!

 

MUNCH RATING: 1/5

June 5, 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

Choc cupcakes iced_mini

MUNCH RATING: 4/5

I bought a couple of Non Stick 12 Cup Mini Muffin Pans from Amazon as they were only £4.89 each and I just couldn’t resist how cute the cupcakes would look!

The pans are really well made and although the non stick coating is good, I prefer to use paper cases rather than cooking directly in the tin. I bought 700 mini cases off Ebay for only £2.45 plus £1.99 postage, which is incredible value! The cases looked a little small when I put them in the tin, as the tin has a base diameter of 3.5cm and the cases have a base diameter of 2.5cm. But once I’d filled them with cake mixture they came out fine.

I made these for my brother’s birthday recently and he liked them! I love the mini cakes as you can just pop a whole one in your mouth! They took 10 minutes to cook at Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C.

The recipe for the cake is the Dark Chocolate Cupcakes one that uses sour cream. So I thought I’d try a different frosting that also uses sour cream, which makes a very smooth frosting with a slight tang to offset the sweetness of the cakes.

Frosting Ingredients:
  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 142ml (small pot) sour cream
  • 2-3 Tablespoons light muscovado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting Directions:
  1. Gently melt the chocolate, sour cream and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring until the chocolate has melted and you have a smooth icing.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
  3. Chill in the fridge until firm until to swirl or pipe onto your cakes.
As the weather was so hot, I kept the cakes in the fridge after I’d iced them, but the cakes do taste better at room temperature so I recommend taking them out of the fridge about an hour before devouring!
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