Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Kick up the Backside

I finally got a kick up the backside and some motivation to update my part in the blogging world. I was rather suprised to be honest. I knew i had a handful of followers but it seems the numbers are gathering! Juliet left a comment on my previous post asking me what she could do to get my motivation back so she could catch upon my news. Thank you Juliet, i am really touched. Things have picked up slightly but the depression cloud it still hanging around and swamping life. However, i'd kind of expect that during the festive season. It never seems to be a happy time these days, and we always debate what we're going to do.

There was the idea thrown around about going away somewhere to try and escape the festivities, but we came to the conclusion that you can't avoid it - afterall the shops start Christmas in October! Plus it was a case of we can hide at home and watch TV/play board games or pay to stay in a cottage somewhere and watch the TV/play board games. Needless to say we are staying put although you'd never know it was Christmas other than the cards which are stapled to ribbons hanging on one door of the lounge. I'm not sure how tomorrow will progress but we bought some new Trivial Pursuit cards to keep us entertained when the TV gets truely dreadful.

So what have i been up to since my last post, a shocking 20 days ago? Well from my photos it looks like baking bread and not much else! Time to add some photos and then write around them (reminds me what i want to say and formats easier that way too).

So starting with the bread. i've made about 6 loaves so far, today is the 7th and i think i've finally got the flour and water just about right so the bread turns out at a density we all like.
1st - Spelt. I love the flavour of spelt but using a recipe from the Doves flour website created a loaf that was very dense and a little difficult to digest.

2nd - 100% spelt again but this time i used more water. Again lovely flavour but the crumb was still far too dense for us.

3rd - 80:20 wholemeal:white. I think this was 300ml water. Nice loaf, ok crumb but i wasn't sure if it was light enough.

4th: same flour ratio but 400ml too water....hmmm a bit too holey!

This loaf had 350ml - Just right!

So there we are, i'm a baker too now. There's a book i want to get, it's not too expensive but i've seen it cheaper on ebay a couple of times. Only trouble is both times i've meant to log on at the ending time and i've been distracted and forgotten! However i got a book voucher through the post the other day, so i guess i have the funds now.

I was sitting on the sofa the other day when i heard the familiar thud of, as we call it, a bird splat. Fortunately Little Robin didn't fly at the patio doors as the female blackbird did a few weeks ago. It wasn't such a happy ending for her, although i don't think she would have known much about it.

He was a little stunned though and wasn't bothered by me just the other side of the glass. I started to think i might have to go and get him until he warmed up and came round but as i opened the back door he flew away.

As with the past couple of years, for the festive season once again, we have created a hamper for my grandparents with various homemade items included.
Mum had mentioned previously that she fancied some sloe gin, so once i'd finally found a decent crop of sloes, we got some gin and created magic! But we had a few to many sloes it turned out so we made some more. So thats 2 bottles for mum.

And a personalised one for the hamper.

D had a meeting/party to go to where normally everyone takes a little something for their buffet lunch. A great excuse for me to bake!! Especially with my new found interest in yeast
So i got creative with these flavoured rolls. The flavours were slightly adapted however due to what i had in stock.
Sundried Tomato
Green Olive (which were also stuffed with pimentos)
And onion (from the garden) and rehydrated porcini mushrooms.
Mum kept one for her lunch - and so i could get a shot of the inside of the roll, which turned out to be soft and light. As for the rest of them? who knows..... they went with D to his party and they didn't come back, although by the sounds of it they had so much food the host is probably still eating them!

I haven't really done anything in the garden. I'm not go with even remotely cold weather so the only times i've been out there is when i want to harvest something.
There's still parsnips, carrots, red cabbage, white cabbage, chard and a few tiny onions. Mum's requested a red cabbage for tomorrow, so i've left a larger one out there for her.

More items for the hamper now. I picked up this idea on Martin's Money Saving Forums (the link should be in the side menu). Something personal for Nan this time.

So easy (well almost) and yet impressive. I wanted little chocolate rounds so i decided to melt the chocolate in the silicone muffin moulds. Also by melting the squares in the microwave already in the moulds saved the agro of pouring melted chocolate - less waste too. whilst it was still molten i topped them with chopped crystalised ginger.
One thing to bare (is it bear or bare?) in mind though is that different chocolates have different melting points. For the mix i had to heat the white in one half for a little first then put the dark square in the other half and finish them together. You learn from your mistakes.

At the beginning of December mum and i went to Bremen on a day trip to experience a continental festive market. We left home at 6.15am, the flight was scheduled for 7.40am and we evenually arrived in Bremen at about 10.30am.
The journey from Bremen airport to the town centre was so straight forwards, a tram journey lasting 10 minutes. It was certainly chilly, i think the forecast was saying not about 3 degrees celcius...brrrrr!

Mum sampled the gluhwein in the morning and whilst we were having that drink mid morning she was watching what else was being served and decided that the afternoon's drink was going to be eggnog, although when it came to that her verdict was too sweet and perhaps a little too alcohfrolic!

Lunch was soup (cabbage, carrot and smoked sausage broth style for me and goulash for mum) to warm us up. We picked up a decoration, that is now sat on the kitchen window sill...... A hearted shaped "Frohe Weinachten" iced lebkuchen cookie as a novelty item for the hamper. Some speck and salami for grandpa for the hamper. And finally i too a step out of my comfort zone and got a small Bretzel (german pretzel/bread) to keep me going for the journey home. Which again was without any major hitches, so we were home by 9pm. It was nice to be back where is wasn't attempting to snow, that was a bit too cold for me as it was more like sleet than snow.

Now for the final part of the mini cakes for the hamper. Roughly based in this recipe.
Why is it cake mix tastes so yummy? The cakes themselves didn't bad either once cooked!

I had plenty spare so i took one into town with me, complete with a carefully positioned sticker with my contact details (hint hint!!) but i think he was in so much of a hurry to eat the cake, the sticker may have been missed sadly. Perhaps i have to be less subtle next time, if indeed i do try again....
Anyway i placed a round of marzipan and a round of icing on top secured with marmalade and topped with some clementine slices that i dried in the oven and some dried cranberries.

The board are coasters from sainsburys and with a little red ribbon round the middle i think they look quite cute.

So that's one each for the hamper and an extra one for one of their friends who will be having a stressful time alone attempting to cope with her husband and his dementia and alzeihmers over Christmas. One small problem right now is the icing - made the mistake of putting them in a tin overnight - having now learnt that this make them sweat and the moisture from the cake (of which there is a lot! they don't need feeding) is taken up by the icing. So i can't put the cellophane round them right now as it just sticks to the sides.

And finally something i've been wanting to try for a while - Carp. A traditional festive Czech meal, tescos (and waitrose i have since noticed) have been selling them in the run up to the 25th. Rather expensive at £10/kg, but half price off, so £5/kg at tescos (£8.99/kg waitrose) meant this monster cost almost £10, which i gutted then baked whole and we shared it between the 3 of us. Lovely unique flavour and i think the moisted fish i've ever tasted. Worth trying but i can see due the cost why it would be the special one off festive meal!

Seems as well as a baker, i'm a fishmonger too now! Especially with my efforts at Salmon filleting below.

Anyhow, i hope that will keep you going to a bit Juliet! Who knows what the next few weeks holds, i don't really have any plans, but i'm sure it will include more bread in these credit crunch times.
I'm off to meet mum from work now and hopefully find some lunch in a pub somewhere and later i've decided i want to do the crazy Tescos closing time bargin fight. nothing better than a supermarket scuffle!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

I haven't vanished - honestly. Things have been a little tough. Hopefully soon i'll find the motivation to do a catch up but in the mean time here's a photo of something i have started doing - baking my own bread!

Even better than that, i actually eat it myself too! Well - it's just too tasty to resist really!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Baked Bean Chrstmas Cakes??!!

Christmas will soon be upon us, with about 5 weeks to go. I think its 5 weeks, to be honest i'm trying not to think about it too hard. Like many people its not my most favourite time of year. But despite saying (like every year) that we aren't going to "do" Christmas, we still will give little presents etc. I guess we just don't do the big family gathering, huge meal and loads of decorations type Christmas. Of course we'll send cards and i've started making those up, i quite like this years designs. But for my grandparents (and i have no worries about posting this because i can guarentee 100% that they will not read my blog) we'll be doing the normal hamper thing for a gift.

Anyway onto the point of this post. No, its not cakes containing baked beans, although that would be an interesting concept......i might just do a google search to see if i can find such a recipe, after all there are recipes for cakes containing tomato soup! The reason i bookmarked this blog post about Frugal Christmas gifts was because i gave the idea and quantities for making 5 small individual cakes, reusing baked bean tins to cook them in. The idea works in theory but there are certainly a few adjustments i'd make.

I had only 3 baked bean tins - we really don't eat things from cans very often, which in my books is a positive thing because it means we don't eat that much processed food, certainly no more than once a week at most. Making the cake mix was no issue, neither was lining the tins, although it was a tad fiddley but thats one good thing about having small hands!

The first issue came when trying to turn the cakes out of the tins....... Our can opener is one that takes the top out of the tin rather than one that slices the whole of the top off so there was still a rim left on the tin which of course made removing the cake slightly difficult and i had to squash it a bit to get it out.

Once it was out and after a little reshaping it looked fine, well, shape wise at least. The colour of the cake was a bit light for a Christmas cake i thought but then the recipe only called for light muscavado sugar so thats not suprising really. I think if i were to use tin cans again i would use the ones you get pineapple or tuna in - slightly flatter and slightly larger diameter. I just felt for "individual cakes" they looked a bit tall but if they are going to be covered in marzipan and icing at least the squashed surface would be covered.
I used up the rest of the cake mix to make 3 other individual cakes but baked them in a silicone muffin tray that i bought in Lidls - they were in the newsletter priced at £1.99 per item, however when we got to Lidls the label said 29p!! Mum and i were unsure that i could be so cheap, even for Lidls, but when we reached the tills sure enough it was 29p per item. I wish i'd got more than 2 6 hole muffin trays and a loaf "tin" now - not that i really have need for any more than that!
Being so expensive (not!) i wasn't sure how these would work, although the recipe wanted a long slow (2 hour) bake on a very low heat (100 degrees C) and the packet for the bakeware said they can take up to a temperature of 260 degrees C, so i wasn't too concerned about the silicolne melting.
As they were cooking and rising though, I could almost see them popping out of the tray. It was clear just from looking at them that they certainly weren't sticking. In fact they came clean away and not a crumb was left behind.

The only down side to the silicone was that they were muffin shaped rather than having perfectly vertical sides, however again if they are being covered with marzipan and icing then if i trimmed the sides to make a perfectly round cylinder then my knife skills wouldn't show.
One thing is for certain - i shall be using that cake mix recipe! I think i'll use a more traditional fruit cake recipe. It was an interesting experiment though.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

It's been a while....

Almost a month since the last post. Kind of says it all really. It's been a tough past month and i don't think its over yet. But whilst there's break in the dark clouds hanging over me i thought i'd take the opportunity to post a few photos of things i have managed to do in the last month.

The sweetcorn has finally been cut now, at the farm, i noticed when i drove past last week. There's nothing really to do on the farm itself now, so there'll be a little office work up to Christmas and then work will begin again in February.

I really do love it up there when the weather is good. It can be so peaceful - depending on the wind direction and time of day, but even when you do hear the motorway it is just a background hum and although the planes are annoying they've flown off before you get a chance to get worked up about them destroying the peace. The sounds of the buzzards crying, the jays and woodpeckers calling and at the end of october there was the most magnificent sound of a rutting Stag chasing the does in the woods. They were so close you could hear the rustle of the leaves when they were moving about. It would have be even more magical if they'd appeared out of the wood, but sadly they stayed hidden.

One of ladies at the farm was telling me about her 4 year old grandson, who was critically ill in hospital. He was born with a heart condition, for which the surgery hadn't been totally successful and then on top of that he had contracted pneumonia. He's been in hospital for a long time and by the sounds of it was very fed up with being there and being ill, so i put together this little craft kit, something they could do together, a spoon friend for each of them to create. I haven't heard how he is recently, however i do know they were extremely concerned and sadly not too hopeful. I'll ask the others when i next go down to the farm, they hadn't heard anything last week.

Now something totally crazy! It November. A few weeks ago this area (although not precisely here) had snow. Yet despite the cold i have sugar snap peas growing and forming!! Admittedly very very slowly, but still it's just madeness!

The cold and frosts mind you are good for one thing at least. They really enhance the flavour and sweetness of the parnsips, which seem to have become giants this year! I pulled this monster which fed all 3 of us as part of our sunday roast a few weeks ago.

Then came Mum and D's wedding anniversary - How many years was it again D??!!

I saw this idea in a Christmas book i picked up at a charity shop. But having left things a bit late, and then fighting to get it done at all, it wasn't quite as i'd hoped, and infact i didn't manage to do dinner for them in the end, but i managed to get the present/pudding done, which in fact lasted for 3 days! I didn't manage to get a cone of Oasis foam, so ended up carving my own from a rectangle.
The traditional English theme for the 4th wedding annivesary is fruit and flowers (american is linen and modern is electrical appliances) so i decided on an edible themed present! With a rose for each year on the top.
Served with 3 dips - melted dark chocolate, melted milk chocolate and vanilla yoghurt. Some thing we (ok, so more me) could all share.
With the evenings dark now by dinner time we have to remember to get any veg in from the garden during the day while its still light! This carrot had my name on it, almost literally! And is now in fact a nice "J" avatar on one forum!

And so to halloween. Again because i left things a bit late, i only managed to get very small pumpkins, and the first supermarket i went to didn't have any left at all! Seems the shortage due to poor pollination from damp weather really did affect supply. It kept my amused nevertheless. The sunflower pattern was a design i found online, but because of the size of the pumpkin my other design i had chosen didn't fit so i made up my own shooting star design.

Lidls have had some great special offer on recently including some stunning 2 spike orchids for £6!! so i picked up one for mum's collection - and for me to photograph!
And finally another great deal - a whole salmon for just under £10, from which i got 14 (!!!) decent sized fillets for mum and D. Ok so after descaling, filleting and pin boning i can understand the justification of the price difference between what i bought and the prepacked fillets. But as i had an afternoon free to do it i thought i'd save some pennies and do it myself. It worked out to 70p a fillet in the end!
i don't know whats going on with photo sizes and who knows what will happen when i hit publish, but thats me for the last month. I think i might look into some blogging events, maybe that will encourage me to post a bit more often.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Baking, Harvesting and Clearing - Busy Times

It seems to have been very busy recently but then i think a lot of that has been my choice to make it so busy. It's no secret to Mum and D that i've been struggling a lot recently and as a result i've thrown myself into what ever i can head first, whilst still managing to avoid seeing a lot of people! A month ago i started working at a farm 6 hours a week, just 2 hours on 3 days, well that was the plan but i have to adapt due to the weather at times as its all outdoor work. And the i've been doing little things for D to help him out, mainly so i'm not in the house alone, as i seem to have developed this major fear that i'm going to lose control, go on a major binge and eat every single item of food in the house, so there for if i'm not in the house i can't do it!

Anyway, i made a couple of batches of muffins for D's work collegues to keep the going during the Flu jab clinic on saturday. Seeing and jabbing about 1000 people in 3 hours can be exhausting not just phycially but mentally too, having to concentrate hard for so long without a break. I'm not sure the muffins were a success to be honest despite using the freshest produce possible - fresh sweetcorn and fresh raspberries picked with my own fair hands. Not in the same muffin i hasten to add!!
The original recipe for this one was Rasperry and cinnamon, however i decided that cinnamon may not be to everyone's taste so changed to to Raspberry and white chocolate, which is a combination i have seen elsewhere previously. As an after thought though i wondered whether i should have reduced the amount of sugar due to the fact that i had added more sweetness in the form of the white chocolate chips.

Plus then i decided to use the rest of the raspberries to make a puree and then mixed with icing sugar to make a very sticky icing. I know i made more of these than the savoury batch but there were more of these left at the end of the morning. Maybe it was just too early on a saturday morning for something sweet?

The second recipe was Cheesy Corn Muffalettas from BBC Good Food but Mum's reaction to these said it all. She sat eating it in a fit of giggles. I must admit the texture was a little strange, as the sponge was kind of chewy and rubbery from the cheddar but then there were hard little lumps in the form of corn kernels. D said it was strange finding hard bits as normally muffins contain things like raisins which are plump and soft after baking. The taste of the cheese wasn't strong either although it clearly wasn't a sweet muffin as there is no sugar in the recipe and that was clear to taste.

Having said all that all of these went, with the last 2 being taken home by one of the receptionists for her and her husband!

And so onto garden news....

More proud harvests in the form of....
Red Cabbage!!! They've finally hearted up and i'm so chuffed.

And even more chuffed when i cut it in half to find the tightly packed leaves and stunning colour. A quarter of it was used for coleslaw and i'm sure more of it will be too but i think its time to cook the warming winter dish of red cabbage almost sweet and sour style i guess, cooked in balsamic vinegar with a touch of something sweet at the end. Might even get a baby beetroot in from the garden and add that in.
With the red cabbage coleslaw again to get the colours different i used white onion rather than red to go with the yellow carrot.

Autumn is also the time to start getting the Squash in. This was the smaller butternut which i cut in half and stuffed with smoked tomatoes, olives, red onion and goats cheese then roasted in the oven.The slightly larger butternut is now stored in the cool and the dark of the garage along with.....

This stunning little thing. Who knows what variety it is, but then so long as it tastes good, who cares!!

Runner beans, carrots, beetroot, kale, chard, cabbages, onions and parsnips continue to be harvest as and when we want them. Although all the tomatoes are now inside, with the green ones on trays in the spare room, which are then transfered down stairs when the start to turn red! Stock rotation i call it.

I got some onions from work as well to string and last us over winter. The large ones make superb onion soup!

I have also been increasing the number of fruit bushes too.
Lidls had various fruit bushes at £1.30 each so i picked up 3 gooseberry bushes, which of course will need somewhere to be planted permanantly (i know thats spelt wrong but i'm running short of time!) So this weekend Mum suggested clearing the front garden to make room and turn in into a fruit patch as the raspberries and blueberries are already there. Remember how it looked before??

I can't find an old shot of the front which shows the whole patch but the photos above and below should give some idea.

And this is how it looks now:

It won't be usable for a bit as the are bush/shrub routes which now have RootOut on them, plus we are hoping to move the rose bushes from the right hand end down to where the chard is. But that where the holly and ornamental quince routes are. I just hope the don't mind the move and survive!

Anyway off to the farm whilst the sun is shining!