Friday, 30 May 2014

A Spring Time Sort Of Garden

About a month ago I bought a sad little pot of 'grown your own basil' from Wilkos for 25p. Despite all of my predictions and accidental attempts to kill it, it grew. As more and more little seedlings began sprouting up - not looking disimilar to a platoon of the space fighters Luke Skywalker used to destroy the death star - I was bitten by the gardening bug. I picked up seeds (50p from B&Q, or two for £1 from the JMart next door), some cheap compost and planted to my hearts content.

And before I knew it things were sprouting up all around me, my chillis grew despite my need to uncover them every 5minutes to see if they'd germinated; the sage sprouted forth like little Audrey IIs and the spring onions have just started to sprout despite being in an ice cream container.
It hasn't all been happiness and rainbows - my sage now only has one stork as the others mysteriously dropped off, I also planted my chillis like an idiot, so I'm going to have to try and separate them into different containers. But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives, and it shows what you can grow on half a kitchen windowsill.

My next dreams are a little more ambitious, carrots in old mouthwash bottles,  empty mince tub lettuce, and I'm sure there will be some catastrophic failings in there, but hey - I'm learning. If you don't have a garden through cautious wind to the seed packet instructions and shove some seeds in some compost and pop it on the windowsill.

I do actually have a garden, although only half of it is mine, and the half that is mine is used as a back passage for the late night drug dealers and assorted night goings on that I'd rather not know about. Only the other night a torch light shone on me as I was watching TV, and a potential burglar was left disappointed that I was in. What chance would a spring onion have?

My point though, is that when 6 spring onions can cost up to £1 and you can get over 50 seeds for 50p, why wouldn't you want to grow your own?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Soda Bread (21p)

Every so often I get asked if I'm Irish, then in my slightly posh-slightly West Country accent, I reply that I'm Scottish and it throws them slightly.
However, any Irish genes that stay from the time my ancestors crossed the sea to Scotland have left a slightly racist love of potatoes, soda bread and a good sing song.
It remains perculiarly hard to get good soda bread or soda farls in England. But its so quick and easy I never want to pay ludicrous prices for it again, It is quite possibly the easiest bread I've ever made, and for 21p a small loaf can be yours.
If you don't believe that butter milk is cheap you can get enough to make this recipe 3 times for 50p in Waitrose. That's right, Waitrose.

You will need:
250g self raising flour
100ml butter milk
Pinch of salt

1) Begin by sieving your flour and adding your salt into a mixing bowl.
2) Next create a small well in the middle of your flour and slowly pour in the butter milk stirring as you go.
3) when it's come together roughly, turn onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or so. It needs very little, and the trick is to work quickly so the buttermilk and raising agents in the flour can work in the oven.
4) Place on a baking tray and make a deep cross about 3/4 of the way down with a knife, brush with milk (I forgot the milk, yours will be more golden than that) and bake at gasmark 6 for about 30minutes until the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Goodbye, chocolate

This morning I had a terrible moment when I looked in the mirror and I couldn't see my chin. I could see something, but rather than being something defined it was... well it wasn't.
My weight has always fluctuated, but I've decided enough is enough. No more large portions, no more picking at leftovers, no more *gasp* chocolate.
Chocolate is my nemesis. I can demolish a large bar in minutes, chocolate mousses are inhaled and chocolate biscuits just disappear. It's all (mostly) chocolate's fault.
But a couple of other things made me realise that it isn't always chocolate's fault. I found out that cooking lessons aren't compulsory at my old school, for any age. This shocked me more than I thought it would. Sure, my dad taught me how to cook, but I learnt the technical processes at school explained in simple ways (gelatinisation in bechamel sauces are because flour molecules pop, in pastry the butter makes a rain coat for the flour). If you don't know how or why things work, will you be quite so experimental in the kitchen?
Today is Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day. A time to make us think what is in our food. When I cook food, I know what's in it. I think. But I don't, I couldn't tell you how many calories are in a piece of lamb, or homemade bread, or how much vitamin d is actually in kale. It comes down again to education, we need to learn about food at all ages. I will certainly be watching much more carefully what I put in my food. In the meantime, goodbye, chocolate, I'm going to miss you.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Giveaway - cake!

Just over a month ago, this blog was just a twinkle in my eye. Now there are quite a few of you and I'm incredibly grateful that you exist, sitting there reading this.
To show you how grateful I am, and to celebrate the launch of my mailing list (it's going to have how to tips and not on the blog exclusives) I'm giving away 50free homemade cakes.
That's right, I want to make you cake.

All you have to do is sign up to my mailing list before the 20th May and 50 people will be chosen at random to receive a free cake.

If you have dietry issues, don't be put off. If you win, I'll sort something out for you when the time comes.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Cooking with Kids: Terry and his Train (£1.73)

it has to be said, Terry is more baker than train driver.
Kids’ birthday cakes can be very expensive, this one however comes to about £2 excluding decoration, you don’t have to make the sponge and it’s great to make with other kids. You will need a swill roll that won’t break up when you cover it – you could also cover it in melted apricot jam before applying the ganache, but it’s not necessary*. You should bear in mind, however that this is a messy cake, so cover anything surfaces which are going to come into contact with chocolate**with cling film, otherwise you’ll find you’ll spend your life savings in washing up liquid.

You Will Need
2 bars of dark chocolate – about 200g worth
A chocolate Swiss roll
Double cream
Sweets for decorating
1 bar of white chocolate

1.      Start by making your basic train shape. Cut a third off your Swiss roll, this will be the front of your train. Then take a small slice or two to create wheels however you choose. You might have to cut a 45degree angle off your front part in order for it to fit properly. When your happy set it aside.

2.      To make chocolate ganache, place a bowl over a pan of hot water – add one and half bars of the chocolate and melt over a low heat. When the chocolate is melted, take the bowl off the heat (careful now, it’s hot) and add the cream slowly. Work quickly and gently and what looks like a mess will turn into a silky ganache that gently coats the finger. When it’s come together leave to chill on the side. Don’t place it in the fridge or it will become too hard to work with.

3.      While the ganache is thickening up you can cover your train in warmed apricot jam, or prepare your decorations. I used the time to put together a little fondant icing - white and pink for my train driver, or Terry as he was christened.

4.      When the ganache is slightly thicker, but still of spreading consistency use a small bit to secure your engine to your cabin. Then spread the rest on by spooning it over and evening it out with a knife. When it’s all covered set aside again to cool.

5.      Melt the rest of the dark chocolate and prepare the rest of your decorations. I like to dip my wheels in the remaining dark chocolate and use white chocolate for my wheel spokes, but I couldn’t find any white chocolate. So I covered the wheels in ganache and planned to use dark chocolate for the spokes, but it was stolen by the chocolate fairy.

When your wheels are dry attach them to the side, that way the chocolate won’t drip. To make Terry cut a small round fondant circle and give him a face, cut pink hands and a white jumper shape, then stick him to the ganache. With regard to decoration, your imagination is your oyster.

Who needs Colin the Caterpillar?

*But it is what Mary Berry does
**Not children

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Essence of Summer Cordial (24p)

Summer is on its way. As I write this the sun is shining, a gentle breeze dances through the air and the birds are singing. Ok, it may have been raining for the past hour, but summer is definitely coming. Even if it’s still snowing where you are, tasting this will make you believe summer is well on the way.

You Will Need (to make about 150ml):
200g summer fruits – I used strawberries
100g caster sugar (I’m sure you could use granulated)
200ml water
50ml lemon juice/a lemon
1)      Cover your sugar with your fruit and stir until your sugar turns pink. Then leave in the fridge for half an hour. When you retrieve it your strawberries should be covered in a thick pink syrup.

2)      Mush your strawberries, I used an end of a rolling pin. Leaving to marinate in the sugar will make it easier, but you won’t be able to pummel them to a pulp just yet. They should be slightly broken up but still obviously strawberries.
3)      In a large saucepan add your fruity-goop to the water and bring to the boil gently, then turn it down and simmer for 20minutes. After 10minutes, I gave it another gentle mush with the rolling pin. If you are going to do this please be very careful as it’s very hot.

4)      Your sugar should have dissolved and your cordial should reduce down to a syrupy consistency. Add your lemon juice bit by bit and stir it in, add more or less to taste.
5)      Pour your cordial into a jug – this will make your first sieve easier. Pour the cordial through a sieve, mushing the fruit with the back of the spoon. Empty the sieve and pouring the cordial back in the jug. You will be left with a fruity red syrup and a mushy pulp.

If you leave the cordial in the jug and cover in the fridge it will last a few days, but if you decant into sterilised bottles it will last for much longer. To serve, dilute with water, or lemonade, or gin… you could try all 3 as this recipe serves about 6.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Woodland Orzotto (25p)

Served in stuffed peppers 

Orzotto is essentially risotto but with pearl barley instead of rice. It’s filling; nutritious and contains a lot of fibre, so you don’t want to eat too much. I call this Woodland Orzotto because the mushrooms add to the natural nuttiness of the pearl barley – making everything taste oh-so-slightly earthy and smell like woodland in the spring.

You Will Need (to serve 5):
200g pearl barley
100g spinach
About 10 mushrooms (I used button because that’s what I had)
1 onion
1 green pepper
A tiny spot of mozzarella or feta (optional)
2 pints of stock (I used chicken)

Finely dice the onion and sweat down in a little oil over a low heat for a few minutes until translucent.

Meanwhile finely slice the mushrooms, discarding the storks. You don’t have to waste these, you could use them in stock, soup or just on toast, but they taste a bit too woody for me. Adding the mushrooms at this stage means that the stock is enhanced with a subtle mushroom flavour.

Once the mushrooms have softened, add the green pepper. I like to roughly dice it, but you can  chop it however you like. Cook this down for a minute or two then add your pearl barley. Add just enough stock to cover it, turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Don’t worry at this point if it looks a little sad – it’s meant to look a little rubbish at this point, because the pearl barley will puff up into little pearls of deliciousness.

Once boiling turn down to a simmer and stir occasionally to keep everything from sticking, but not too much as stirring incorporates air and lowers the temperature. Once the stock has nearly been absorbed add a little bit more, and repeat until all the stock has been absorbed. The pearl barley should be slightly chewy but not hard, and about 3 or 4 times its original size. If it needs a little more time, add hot water.

When the pearl barley is done, add your spinach and let it wilt in the heat. You can also add tiny chunks of mozzarella and stir in to make it creamier, or feta for a salty kick.