Sunday, 26 April 2009

My first harvest

We harvested the first salad leaves last night to make a fantastic dinner:

snipping the light fantastic

It's worrying cutting it all back - hopefully it will grow again!

Better than those 'washed and ready to eat' bags!

The finished product

We mixed our salad leaves with cannellini beans and added a dressing of 3 tbsp of the oil from the sundried tomato jar, 1 tbsp of sundried tomato paste and 1 tsp of white wine vinegar. This was divided between two bowls and topped with shredded mozzarella cheese and parma ham. The rest of the dressing was drizzled over the top and we ate it with some cheese and tomato bread fresh from the breadmaker and a lovely pinot grigio!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Home-baking fun

Although not strictly related to growing-your-own, baking and home crafts are still likely to be topics that crop up in this blog. Easter has been a time of fun in the kitchen, for both WH and myself. My first attempts at hot cross buns from scratch went down exceedingly well (we'll gloss over the second attempt to create apple and cinnamon versions, where the apple sunk, didn't taste of much and the glaze went wrong. We also enjoyed decorating some chocolate buns (some of us enjoyed this a little too much for a grown man ...)

Hot Cross Buns
Made with assistance from my Panasonic Automatic Breadmaker SD-255*.

To make the dough
1/2 tsp yeast
250g strong white bread flour
1 tsp sugar
25g unsalted butter
1 tbsp milk powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium egg
100 ml water
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
100g mixed dried fruit (added to raisin nut dispenser)

Put this on the basic dough raisin setting (2 hrs 20 mins).

To make the buns
Divide the mixture into balls and place on a baking tray. Prove - I do this by putting on my bottom oven to heat up to the temp I'm going to bake at and stick the dough in the top oven which gets nice and warm. Takes between 20 and 40 mins.
My favourite part - mix 2 tbsp flour with 2 tbsp water for piping on the crosses. I don't have a piping bag, so I put the paste into a sandwich bag and cut a tiny bit off the corner - voila! Home-made piping bag.
Place the crossed buns in the oven at 220C or Gas 7 for about 20 mins
Meanwhile make up a sugar glaze with 40g sugar in 4 tbsp water boiled in a pan. Brush this over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven. Totally yummy!

*This recipe was taken from the operating instructions and recipes leaflet provided with the Panasonic Breadmaker - for the record, I've followed quite a number of these and have never gone wrong apart from with the cakes....!

To make my apple and cinnamon buns I peeled and cored a medium cooking apple and chopped it into small chunks. I simmered this in some butter over a medium heat to cook the apple for about 1o mins, then added this to the dispenser drawer. I also added an extra tsp of cinnamon to the spices mix. These buns were ok, but nothing like the shop bought ones of the same variety (a particular let down after the success of the first batch). On reflection, I'd substitute the water in the dough mix for apple juice and put in more chopped apple too, straight into the bread pan, rather than in the dispenser.

Iced chocolate buns

To make the buns
150g unsalted butter
150g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
115g self raising flour
35g cocoa powder (Green and Blacks is excellent!)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3-4 tbsp milk
Pinch salt

Heat the oven to 190C/Gas 5. Put 12 paper cases in a tart tin (I used a muffin tin). Beat the butter and caster sugar until it is light and fluffy.Gradually add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Stir in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and add a pinch of salt. Add enough milk to make the mixture drop easily from a spoon. NB I had to use far more than 4 tbsp....
Divide the mix between the cases and bake for 20 mins.

An interesting little variation on this could be to add a square of chocolate, pushed into each case to give a 'melting middle'. Hmm - just thought that one up on the spot, so don't quote me!

To make the icing
Follow the instructions on the icing sugar box! Then you can add colourings as we did, making use of the sandwich-bag-come-piper trick again to create our lovely patterns.

My cakes

WH's cakes

arty cakes!

Growing pains

Well, its been some time since my last post and things in the veg patch are having their ups and downs. The original tomato seeds I planted back in March finally began to germinate, but I made the mistake of moving them into the cold back room for more light, when they obviously needed heat! They seem to be growing again now that its warmer, but I definitely lost some and the initial error of planting seeds into normal (rather than seed) compost doesn't seem to be giving them the best start in life when you compare them to the tomato Roma seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago (you can barely see the little seedlings from the initial sowing in the background behind the towering Roma seedlings...) :

Outside, things are looking a little rosier. I've been sowing additional salad seeds mixed in with some rocket into two wooden buckets, adding additional seeds every weekend for almost a month now. We had quite a bit of rain last week and they've simply sprung up - time to start harvesting soon.

The rest of the pots are sprouting, with the spinach and spring onion combo pot starting to look exciting as well. The herbs are having a mixed reaction to having been transplanted and left outside - poor old basil, which was doing very well on the windowsill inside, has not fared well in last weeks weather, but the marigolds are flourishing and really need potting on.

Altogether, the outside pots are looking quite good and I've only had to remove one snail so far! Later this month I'll sow the courgettes and asparagus peas inside, and next month the beans can go straight outside into their trough. I'm also leaning towards cheating with the toms - my fantastic local farmers market in Reading has a little man with an amazing range (at very reasonable prices) - actual, real, plants already, rather than puny seedlings (the benefits of a heated greenhouse? Or just greener fingers?!). Definitely worth investing in some varieties to ensure we get a crop as toms are one of our favourites and a staple in a range of dishes.

The discerning may also have noticed the irrigation system. Its a Hozelock Auto Aquapod 10 that we invested in before Easter when we realised we were going away for a week and hadn't thought about how to water the plants...... It seems to be doing quite well, although I may need to adjust the settings now that we're in a sunny spell again, as the plants don't seem to be getting quite enough water.