December 31, 2009

My Christmas

It’s taken me a while to get back into blogging after the Christmas and New Year festivities – I hope you all had a good time and ate and drank well!

 

Steve and I spent Christmas Day at my Dad’s house where my disjointed family gathers and we never have the traditional turkey as no one likes it. We opted for goose as my Mum cooked it a couple of years ago and it was delicious. We nearly didn’t have it though because they’re so expensive (the big supermarkets were charging about £40!) but my Mum found them in Aldi for about £15 – bargain! Unfortunately my Dad got rid of his oven because it was so old (it’s older than me and I’m nearly 29!) and although my Mum bought my Dad one of those halogen ovens, the whole goose wouldn’t fit inside it.

 

So onto Plan B.

 

Which was to cook the goose on the BBQ! I was a bit sceptical that my Dad could pull it off, but he said “Don’t worry, I’m an engineer” and he’d done some research on recipes for stuffing the bird so he sounded like he knew what he was doing. Steve and I arrived at my Dad’s house about 12pm on Christmas Day and we could smell the goose cooking as soon as we got out of the car. It smelled so good that a hungry fox couldn’t help but investigate where the delicious smell was coming from and my Dad had to chase it away.

 

My Dad said he lit the BBQ at 9.30am and starting cooking the goose at about 10am. It was ready roughly after 2pm and we were starving. Luckily my Mum had bought a roast duck from a Chinese supermarket and so we had duck in pancakes with cucumber, spring onion and hoi-sin sauce as a starter. Very non-traditional but we liked it! After this we were pretty full but we still managed to scoff down the goose, pork sausage meat stuffing, roast potatoes, parsnips and veggies. My brother did the potatoes and veggies and they were excellent. He also has a halogen oven as my Mum bought one for him too. She now owns 2 of them herself. I think she must have shares in the company!

The goose was nicely cooked, but it was a little too smoky for us which is a shame as my Dad put a lot of effort into it.

 

I did Crème Brulee for dessert. I’m still perfecting my recipe and technique, but everyone loved it and I had fun using my blowtorch.

 

I’d made a Banana Cake for my Mum as a gift. I used Andi Peter’s recipe and it worked out really well. I forgot to take a photo so will have to make it again and blog the recipe.

I’d also made some cakes using a new cake tin that Steve bought for me. It had 3 different shapes: Santa, a snowman and a Christmas tree. I was going to decorate the cakes but I ran out of time as I’d made loads of Ecclefechan Tarts as well. We still ate the cakes about a week after Christmas, but as a pudding. I poured golden syrup all over the cake, then covered it with custard and nuked it in the microwave for 1 minute. It tasted just like treacle sponge pudding! Steve had his with strawberry jam. I just used the cupcake recipe for the cakes, so I will definitely make this again for a quick and easy pudding!

Grow Your Own 2009

MAY 19TH:

Raisedbed19MayI’ve finally received my raised bed from Harrod Horticultural! There were 3 parts to the delivery and I received 2 parts on Friday 15th May, which were the boards and the corner links and one 1 metre dowel, but the other 2 metre dowel didn’t arrive until Monday 18th May. I went away for the weekend so I couldn’t have put it together anyway, but I would have preferred if the whole lot had been delivered altogether just for peace of mind!

 

The kit I ordered is called the Children’s Link-A-Bord kit and it costs £29.95 but I used a 10% discount code so I got it cheaper. I chose this kit because it measures 1 metre wide x 0.5 metre deep, so it fits really well in the space we have on the patio. Harrod Horticultural also sell a kit which is exactly the same size as the one I bought (product code GDN-749), but they are charging £30.40 for it, so I saved a few pennies getting the Children’s one!

I was going to buy my kit directly from www.linkabord.co.uk but they don’t have this sized kit, although you can order parts separately but that worked out more expensive.

 

Anyway, as you can see from the photo I’ve managed to put it together. The boards and the corner links fitted together quite easily, but I had a bit of trouble getting the dowels through the holes as this kit is 2 raised beds stacked on top of each other. I cut the dowels with a hacksaw which was easy and I left them longer than the depth of the bed as I thought I might need to tie things onto them, like a cover or net.

 

The seedlings need to acclimatise for a week before I plant them outside permanently, so I’ll leave them in the empty bed during the day and bring them in at night. The weather is really unsettled at the moment and it’s very windy, so the bed is offering some protection.

As the bed has no base, when I put the soil in I will be putting it directly onto the patio as it’s just concrete. I did check with the Link-a-Bord customer services and they said this was fine to do. Obviously I’ll put some broken crocks at the bottom for drainage and I’ve got 2 bags of multi-purpose compost at 40 litres each, so that should fill it up. I’m still debating about whether to buy some Miracle-Gro Fruit and Vegetable Feed to mix in with the compost before I put my plants in. There’s probably enough nutrients in the compost, so I’ll probably just put some feed on once the fruits appear on the plants.

 

MARCH 22ND:

 

Raisedbedsetup_thumbThe plants have been outside during the day and brought in at night all week, getting ready to be planted in the raised bed permanently.

 

  1. I bought some copper tape to deter the slugs from B&Q. It cost £4.98 for 4 metres so I had plenty to go all the way around. Apparently copper gives slugs and snails a little electric shock, so they steer clear of it. I wanted to use this instead of slug pellets as I’m growing veggies and want to keep it as free from chemicals as possible. It was really easy to use as you just peel off the backing paper and stick on the copper layer. It’s very thin and it’s a bit like that gold leaf that you put on poncey cakes/desserts!
  2. I chucked in some crocks for drainage, it was a total guess if this would be enough! I used a pot that had been smashed by the bloke who lives across the road, as he lost control of his car and drove straight into the pot which was on the front doorstep! Lucky he didn’t go through the front door! Idiot!
  3. I really thought 2 bags of 40 litre compost would be enough to fill the bed! Oh how wrong I was! Photo 3 shows the bed after I’d put only 1 bag of compost in – not even half full!
  4. So I did a quick search on Google and read that the bed should be filled a couple of inches from the top. I also read a mixture of compost and soil would be OK so I went around the garden and collected about 6-7 buckets of soil. It had loads of stones and other stuff like dead leaves, but I guessed this would be good for drainage and possibly nutrients (I’m such an amateur!). So I mixed the soil in with the other bag of compost and managed to fill the bed up just over half full.

If I’d used my brain I would have easily realised that 2 bags of compost wasn’t enough! If I’d stacked the bags on top of each other inside the empty bed then I would have seen how much of the bed they would have filled. So I think you need at least 5 bags of compost (40 litres) to fill the bed, which could work out quite expensive!

 

I bought a 1kg bag of Slow Release Plant Food from Wilkinsons, so I put in about a quarter of the bag and mixed it into the soil and compost.

 

So I’ll be planting my seedlings out over the weekend, which will hopefully make them happier as they’re looking a bit droopy right now!

JUNE 1ST:

Allplanted1labelled_thumb

Steve’s Mum kindly let me use a bag of compost she’d bought, so the raised bed is a bit fuller now. I’d watered the soil/compost the day before, so I thought it would be OK to plant everything today.

 

As you can see from the lovely photo I took (and decorated in Photoshop, isn’t it colourful!) I’ve tried to space things out so the plants have room to grow.

 

I grew almost everything from seed in peat pots, but I took almost all the seedlings out of the peat pots as I planted them in the bed to give the roots more freedom. The butternut squash were planted still in their peat pots as their roots had grown right through the peat pots.

 

  • TOMATOES: I read they needed to be 45cm apart, but I’ve also bought a grow bag and I just used the same spacing as marked out on the grow bag. So I’ve put 3 plants at the back of the bed and I’ll put 3 more in the grow bag.
  • BASIL: I read the tomatoes like to be grown near basil as it improves the flavour, so I’ve planted some in between each tomato plant.
  • BUTTERNUT SQUASH: These needed to be 100cm apart, but as my bed is only 100cm long I decided I’d try and put one plant at each end and hope for the best! They apparently grow quite big so I’ve left quite a bit of space around them, but I’m hoping they won’t take over the whole bed. I’ve also planted another plant in a big pot 11 inches in diameter.
  • BEETROOT: These needed to be about 2cm apart, so I planted the 6 seedlings in 2 short rows. I didn’t plant them very deep, only about 2.5cm.
  • CARROTS: I sprinkled the seeds straight into a 1cm deep trench and covered lightly with compost, then watered. Hopefully these will sprout!
  • ONIONS: Steve’s sister gave me some onion sets as she had loads leftover, so I’ve planted 3 in a row as they need to be about 10cm apart.
  • LETTUCE: The lettuce has been growing but it’s never looked healthy and I’m really hoping it will do better in the bed. I’ve also put some in a deeper pot as I think the ice cream tub I sowed the seeds in was too shallow.
  • PEPPER: When I went to Wilkinson’s I couldn’t resist buying a Pepper plant as it was reduced to 75p! It was already quite established so hopefully it will bear some lovely peppers.

Allplanted_thumb

As you can see from the above photo, I’ve put some green plastic things (they came with some plants Steve’s mum bought)over the plants to protect them from cats and squirrels. I’m also hoping I can train the butternut squash to grow around them in a circle. I’ve also used an empty plastic tray to cover some of the beetroots that weren’t growing too well.

 

 

 

Bedwire1June_thumb

Something dug a big hole where my carrots were! We suspect it was a squirrel as they’re always digging things up in the garden and I saw one nearby when I found the hole – pesky thing! So I’ve put chicken wire over the plants to protect them as that seems quite effective. You can buy something similar from Harrod Horticultural called Rabbit Wire.

 

Bedcover1June_thumb

This is the cover I made from a Medium Plant Fleece Jacket, which I’d bought from Harrod Horticultural last Winter. I just cut it so that it was one flat piece of fabric. As it was a drawstring bag I just put a cane through where the string had been on both ends and then staked each cane at opposite ends of the bed. I pull the cover down when it’s too hot and I don’t want the plants to get too much sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see the progress of all my plants on these pages:

December 20, 2009

Oven baked Rosti Potatoes

Rosti 1

 

MUNCH RATING: 5/5

 

I’ve never had much luck making rosti potatoes in a pan, as they never go as crispy as I’d like them to be, so they’re not overly satisfying. But these oven baked ones go really crispy on the outside whilst being soft and fluffy on the inside and they are just so good! This is how good they are: Steve doesn’t really like potatoes and he ate 6, which is the same amount as me and I LOVE potatoes!

 

They do require a fair bit of effort to prepare and 1 hour to cook in the oven, but they really are worth it.

Rosti 2

 

1 small onion might not seem like enough, but you don’t need too much as you don’t want the onion flavour to overpower the potatoes. I add garlic powder for a little extra flavour, but this is optional and you can obviously use fresh garlic too.

 

  • Makes: 12
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 5/375°F/190°C
  • You will need: a 12 hole bun tray, lightly oiled

 

Ingredients:

  • 675g (1½lb) potatoes, scrubbed clean (this is roughly 6 medium potatoes)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 50g (2oz) butter, melted
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for drizzling

 

Directions:

  1. Par boil the potatoes for 10 minutes, until they are half cooked. Drain and leave until cool enough to handle.
  2. Peel and grate the potatoes coarsely and place in a bowl with the onion, garlic powder and the melted butter. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
  3. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 5/375°F/190°C.
  4. Press the mixture into the prepared bun tray.
  5. Drizzle a little oil over each rosti and cook for 1 hour or until golden brown and crispy.
  6. Remove from the tin as soon as possible, otherwise they might stick as they cool down.

 

Rosti 3

ALTERNATIVE IDEAS:

  • Top with cheese and cooked chopped bacon 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
  • Add herbs, such as parsley, before pressing the mixture into the tray.

December 14, 2009

Christmas Cookies - Spicy Ginger Biscuits

Spicy Ginger Cookies

 

MUNCH RATING: 5/5

 

The recipe for these cookies is from BBC Good Food and it works well. The biscuits are nice and crunchy and there is just enough ginger to give your tongue a tingle.

They did spread more than I expected, so I would leave at least a 3cm gap between each biscuit.

 

CHANGES TO THE RECIPE:

I left my dough in the fridge overnight, so I did leave it out on the worktop for about an hour to warm up before rolling out.

 

I used my marzipan spacers to roll out the dough, so they were all an even 6mm thick. I baked mine for 15 minutes.

 

I didn’t use white chocolate to decorate as the recipe suggested, as I still had some royal icing leftover from my other Christmas Cookies.

 

I would make these again as they’re really easy to make and keep their crunch!

 

Ingredients:

  • 175g dark muscovado sugar
  • 85g golden syrup
  • 100g butter
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 350g plain flour , plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

 

Directions:

  1. Heat the sugar, golden syrup and butter until melted. Mix the spices and flour in a large bowl. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 1 tsp cold water. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the melted sugar mix, egg and bicarbonate of soda. Mix well. At this stage the mix will be soft but will firm up on cooling.
  2. Cover the surface of the biscuit mix with cling film and leave to cool, then put in the fridge for at least 1 hr to become firm enough to roll out.
  3. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. (At this stage the dough can be put into a food bag and kept in the fridge for up to a week.) Cut the dough in half. Thinly roll out one half on a lightly floured surface. Cut into shapes with cutters, such as gifts, trees and hearts, then transfer to baking sheets, leaving a little room for them to spread. If you plan to hang the biscuits up, make a small hole in the top of each one using a skewer. Repeat with remaining dough.
  4. Bake for 12-15 mins until they darken slightly. If the holes you have made have closed up, remake them while the biscuits are warm and soft using a skewer. Cool for a few mins on the baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool and harden up completely.
  5. Break up the chocolate and melt in the microwave on Medium for 1-2 mins, or in a small heatproof bowl over simmering water. Drizzle the chocolate over the biscuits, or pipe on shapes or names, then stick a few silver balls into the chocolate. If hung up on the tree, the biscuits will be edible for about a week, but will last a lot longer as decorations.

December 10, 2009

Christmas Cookies – trial run!

All

 

MUNCH RATING: 5/5

 

Everyone seems to be making cupcakes and I decided I wanted to do something a bit different. I really liked the idea of decorated cookies as there are so many different shapes you can make and I felt there was more freedom to be creative.

 

For my first attempt I’m really pleased at how they turned out. Admittedly I did choose very simple designs for the snowflakes and Christmas trees, but you have to learn to walk before you can run! My reindeer definitely needs some work, but that was just a bit of fun!

 

I absolutely loved decorating these cookies and can’t wait to try different designs and shapes. I found it very relaxing and therapeutic icing the cookies and I would LOVE to do this as a job, so I’m going to practice as much as possible and hopefully I can do something I enjoy for a living!

 

Blue Tree

 

I’ve never made/decorated cookies like this before, so I had to do quite a bit of research about how to do it and what equipment I needed before starting. I did borrow Peggy Porshen’s ‘Romantic Cakes’ book from the library which was quite inspiring and gave me an idea of what I could achieve after some practice! But as a complete beginner it didn’t really give me the information I needed. So I was really glad I found a fantastic website called Cake Journal where there was absolutely loads of information and tutorials.

 

Blue Tree Pink and White Snowflakes

THE COOKIE DOUGH:

I chose to use the Vanilla Sugar Cookie recipe from the Cake Journal website and it worked really well as they didn’t spread and they tasted good!

The recipe suggests using half confectioners (icing) sugar and half normal sugar. I actually used all normal granulated sugar, but I whizzed it up in the food processor on its own before making the cookie dough, to make it a finer texture.

 

I made the dough in a food processor rather than a mixer. The dough was very sticky and like wet sand, so I was a bit worried it would be too soft to work with. But after chilling in the fridge it was fine and very easy to work with (the recipe states to chill for 2 hours, but I actually had it in the fridge for 4 days as I was suffering from a cold and too ill to bake!). I did find some big lumps of butter in my dough when I came to roll it out, so I will probably use a mixer next time! I only used a small amount of the dough for my trial run of cookies and I’ve kept the rest in the freezer.

 

I used quite small cutters, so I only needed to bake the cookies for 15 minutes. I baked the first batch using my Magic Non-Stick Liner and they browned a lot more evenly on the bases than when I just used normal non-stick paper.

 

Pink Tree

THE ICING:

Cookie decorating seems to be very much an American thing, so all the books and websites I’ve read have a recipe for the royal icing that you need to use. Luckily in the UK we can buy all-in-one royal icing in a box made by Silverspoon, which is available in most supermarkets. I’ve never used this type of icing before, but it was easy as you just add water and then mix for about 5 minutes with electric beaters. Getting the consistency right for piping is something I need to practice, as I think I had it just a tad too thick. I did follow the advice on another great website I found called Sweetopia as there’s a great tutorial on cookie decorating, in particular the consistency of icing.

 

I had loads of icing leftover and I thought it would be OK to store in the squeezy bottles as they had screw-top lids. But the icing split and didn’t look very good after a few weeks, so I threw it away.

Snowflake white

THE EQUIPMENT:

The Cake Journal How To flood cookies with royal icing tutorial was really helpful in discovering what I would need to buy to decorate my cookies. So here’s what I’ve bought so far:

  • Squeezy nozzled bottles as they looked so much easier to use than piping bags and I loved that you can store any unused icing in the bottles. www.cakescookiesandcraftsshop.co.uk is the only website I could find that sold these bottles in the UK and luckily they were reasonably priced so I bought 6. I would say the nozzles on these bottles are a size No.3 and I found the holes a little big to draw neat lines, but they would be perfect for flooding, which is what Louise from the Cake Journal website suggests them to be used for. She says she prefers to use an icing bag to outline her cookies, but I found a squeezy bottle with a No.2 nozzle on it worked really well for me.
  • I also bought marzipan spacers from the same website as they were quite cheap and they really made rolling out the cookie dough to the right thickness so much easier and quicker.
  • To colour my icing I used Wilton Icing Colours which are concentrated pastes of colour so that it doesn’t water down your icing. They’re really good as you only need a tiny amount to colour your icing to a vibrant shade.

Snowflakes

Resources/inspiration:

www.cakejournal.com

www.sweetopia.net

www.cakescookiesandcraftsshop.co.uk

www.customcookieco.co.uk

www.peggyporschen.com

Here are some more I did recently:

Xmas cookies new

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