Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Oh i've buggered this up!

appologies for the messy looking blog. i was trying to change the banner and screwed up......am now i'm so p'ed off it might just be best to leave alone, until i have D's HTML skills.

Edit: ok back to the way it was, the banner at least!

Edit2: well the new banner is there as best it will be for now, not sure how to change the width of the frame though!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

An (extremely) experimental cake recipe!

Sadly the blight has really got hold of my tomatoes in the back garden and this weekend (if not before) i will be taking down the second lots of plants, having got rid of the growbag by the back door a couple of weeks ago.

When i took the first set of plants down, there were still lots of green tomatoes on the plant that the blight hadn't reached yet. So i decided to look into a recipe to use them. It seem that over in the USA they eat green tomatoes alot, for example fried green tomatoes. but those recipes used large tomatoes and i didn't fancy trying to slice and breadcrumb lots of cherry tomatoes! In the UK the favourite recipes are chutneys and relishes, however having made stuff to jar like jams and chutneys in the past i know from previous experience that they just don't get used in our house. So i decided on another American recipe - Green Tomato Cake
Other recipes i'd seen didn't tell you to salt the tomatoes, and after reading one of the reviews below this recipe which said the salt just didn't rinse off, i chose not to salt them. this could have been a mistake.....
The batter was lovely. Beautifully spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon but the tomatoes......
very very bitter and sadly even combined with the sweet spiced sponge they weren't redeemed. one mouthful could be lovely with the sponge but as soon as you took a bite with a bit of green tomato you were left with a bitter aftertaste. Not a success and it didn't make it to D's work as i had planned. I'll leave you with a picture of where it did end up.......

and 2 weeks on even the birds don't seem to want it!!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A quick bit of baking - Apple and Apricot Muffins

Just a quick piccie of some muffins i made quickly one morning before going to D's work. I've been helping out but was told i could only go in if i brought something baked, as they all really enjoyed the cakes i did for D's birthday (the practise runs for the country show). However i was then also told that most of the office were on a fat-free, carb-free, atkins diet of one kind or another! So i hunted down a calorie counted cookbook and found a healthy wholewheat muffin.

I substituted some of the sugar for sweetner, used marg instead of butter to help the healthy theme even more and they worked out at about 140 calories per cake (small muffin/large cupcake). I doubt his office normally eats cakes that healthy!! Given that they are normally shop bought cakes.

Aswell as the wholewheat flour, marg and sweetner/sugar, the recipe included plain flour, bicarb, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg, dried apricots and dessert apple and egg. I literally finished baking the second batch left them so they were cool enough to pick up, tried one to make sure they were cooked properly (they were lovely and moist!) and then left the house, so as i was driving the car filled with the scent of spiced muffins.

They were very well recieved and i think even more so because they were still warm

I think the recipe was from the book Hamlyn All Colour: Healthy. i know it was Hamlyn and as it was a healthy recipe i think it was that one, the cover looks the same! but i've taken it back to the library. There's a beetroot cake recipe i jotted down from it too that i hope to try soon.

Mission Accomplished! Homemade Coleslaw from the garden (except the mayo)

One of the things i wanted to be able to do this year was to say that i have made my own coleslaw using all 3 ingredients from the garden.
By mid july i could say i had 1 out of 3.
A month later i could say i had 2 out of 3......

And now i can proudly say i have made my coleslaw with the carrot, onion AND cabbage from the garden!

Of course me being me, my colours aren't quite your normal coleslaw colours. I decided to use a red onion to give it a bit of extra colour as my yellow carrot blend in with the white cabbage a bit too much. But the shredded and grated veg, some salt and pepper and a bit of low fat mayo makes one of my favourite cold foods!

I am hoping that i might be able to try it with red cabbage and white onion with the yellow carrots, but i'm not sure if the red cabbages are going to heart up enough before the onions run out!! Only time will tell.

September Garden Update

I know it's almost the end of september now but these were taking earlier on in the month so since these were taken things have changed again. For instance one of the grow bags with cherry tomatoes - the one by the back door has gone, the blight finally got too bad, and i think this weekend the other one in the back garden might be heading the same way sadly. However when we emptied the growbag we found, like last year, it had a lodger, but this year our lodger had some eggs too!
So we put one of the spare wormery trays over her/him and by the end of the day but had vanished, so i hope they are ok.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Saturday 20th September - Mid Essex Model Railway Exhibition

I should have posted this earlier - but better late than never as they say. This weekend i known as exhibition weekend in our hourse, but of course like all major events its never just the day itself where the hard work gets put in. For D in fact the hard work is the rest of the year during the run up to it, it's usually mum and i that get roped in for the hard graft on the day.

Open 10am to 6pm, free car park on site, free bus service from Shenfield railway station. Admission prices: adult £4.50, seniors £3.50, children £2.50.

It's a great day if you have an interest in modelling, not just trains but also things like the scenery and trees etc. Lots of layouts, an outdoor ride that the kids will love, trade stands for things like modeling paints and books etc, not forgetting the tombola and ofcourse refreshments.
I've lost track of how many years i've been going now, but its always well attended and thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Tomato Tales, Trials and Troubles

The tomatoes have had a mixed year this year. They got off to a good start with all of the seeds i sowed germinating in April, not going too leggy and lanky. For 2008 i planted the few remaining beefsteak seeds i had, some tumbling toms for the hanging baskets and also opened a packet of seeds that simply said "tomato" so i had no clue what variety of tomato i was going to get. They were from a bargin multi packet of seed that Nan had picked up in a £ shop. But they all germinated nevertheless.
So by May i had a lot of healthy looking plants, of course having sown more than i would need just in case i lost a few. That certainly happened with the squash plants but the tomatoes continued to grow....
They survived varying temperatures and weathers......
and the hanging baskets even survived attempts on their by squirrels, who decided they would be a wonderful place to bury some peanuts! You can just see some peanut skins left in the one above.
By August i had 5 growbags, 3 hanging basket and 1 spare one who ended up in the ground. so that was a total of 5 beefsteaks, 11 mystery tomato plants, which as you can see from above turned out to be cherry tomatoes with a very high yield, and 11/12 tumbling toms divided between the 3 baskets.
Sadly due to a little lapse in concentration from me, quite a few of the beefsteaks got blossom end rot (the one at the top of the photo), and after chucking the first one as i thought something had burrowed into it, mum alerted me to the issue of blossom end rot, so from then i simply brought them in for the fruit bowl to ripen. The other 3 beefsteaks in this photo were subject to another preditor - the caterpillar. These were in my mini greenhouse, so i presume a butterfly or moth had got stuck inside and whilst stuck in there had layed its eggs. I originally thought they were just munching the leaves and despite my efforts to pick them all off (both little green ones and larger brown ones) it seems i didn't get the all, as i started to find tomatoes with chunk out of them too! So they came in and joined my others in the fruit bowl.
Before long i had almost 1/2 dozen green beefsteaks ripening and then the cherry tomato enslaught began. My 11 plants started ripening left right and center.
So i thought i'd transfer them into one big bowl rather than having lots of smaller bowls all over the place.
Even the beefsteaks with blossom end rot ripened perfectly and all that i lost when i trimmed the was a slither off the side, the mark didn't go very deep at all.
Then within the last 2 weeks the real trouble started. Blight! Ah, every tomato (and potato) growers worst nightmare. Initially i thought i'd escaped it this year, but then i spotted in on my 3 cherry's by the back door. I bought some Dithane spray (anti fungicidal), took off the leaves, sprayed the stems and took off any dodgy looking fruit. I then started bringing in all fruit that had started to ripen. I'd rather have them ripen indoors than loose them completely.
With so many ripe cherry toms i thought i'd try preserving a few by oven drying them. But 4 hours in an oven isn't very eco friendly really....
I also picked up some smoked tomatoes when i was in London at Marylebone farmers market a couple of weeks ago, and also got to sample them at borough. So i thought i'd give that a go myself. I spotted an inexpensive smoker bag on ebay and bought that. I had plenty of tomatoes to use so if it didn't work it wasn't the end of the world. Putting them in the bag didn't work, it simply seemed to steam them and they weren't drying out, so i cut the lid off the bag. But even tho the smoke wasn't contained in the bag, it was still contained in the oven. They did end up with a light smokey flavour, but whether they will still be that way after being in the jar of oil who knows.
Mum and D were playing around with a more eco friendly smoker last night - not using electricity for 4 hours!! It didn't really work on such a small scale though and we just couldn't keep the fire burning on a low heat. I haven't looked this morning to see if anything happened to the tomatoes at all.
Like i said, there are plenty to play around with!! In fact this was a couple of days ago and since then i took down the ones by the back door as the blight had got out of control. So there are now hundreds of green tomatoes too! But i'm planning to try this green tomato cake probably without the nuts tho, and maybe a few more healthier alterations. should probably try and scale it down a bit too as i just don't have 12 people to serve!!

Saturday, 6 September 2008

200th Post!! - A Special Day Out

I wanted my 200th post to be about something cheerful, meaningful and special (so I'll catch up with the stories of my tomato troubles later!) and what could be more fitting than a little report on my day out in London with my Nan.
There must be something about when i meet Nan in London that causes bad weather. When i took her to a recording of Ready Steady Cook in January 2007 there were severe gales, so severe that roofs were lifted off and trees blown down in London which of course meant trains very badly delayed back to the south coast. But that wasn't all bad i guess as it meant we had dinner together at Yo Sushi too at Victoria Station while we were waiting for them to start running the trains again. Then when Mum and I met with her and we went to see a musical, i think it was The Sound of Music, earlier this year, it snowed, hailed etc etc and when Nan got back down south she didn't recognise Grandpa's car due the snow that was covering it!!
So of course we almost weren't surprised by the forecast that started appearing at the beginning of the week. By the time i got on at the end of the Central Line the rain had started.
However one on the tube i knew that i wouldn't be seeing daylight for a while, as when i got to Victoria it was straight into the National Rail area and from there we went back down onto the tube and didn't resurface until we reached London Bridge. First stop? Borough Market!!

(I had a little play in photo shop!)

I spotted some yellow and purple carrots, which were £3.20 per kilo. I'd actually brought some of mine for Nan to take home with her - but seeing that price made me wonder how much I've saved by growing my own, perhaps i should do what grandpa used to do and weight every single carrot i get out of the garden to get a total weight (he used to do it with tomatoes and count his cucumbers apparently!).
A few other wonderful sights included some Indian Fresh Water Prawns, although no doubt it's a bit like crayfish - all you get is a little meat out then tail!

And a huge Puffball which had been cut in half and into more chunks.

We reached the market just after 12 so although it had just opened it was quite busy as the first wave of office workers on lunch breaks had descended to get their lunch. But we wondered around for about 45 minutes before heading out in the rain and across the road to Slug and Lettuce for lunch. After a noisy (again due to lunch break office workers i think) lunch of a tomato and mozzarella salad each we headed back to finish looking around the market. I also too Nan into Neal's Yard Dairy. She loved seeing all the cheeses and found some Strathdon Blue that she thought Grandpa would like (wow, it was strong!) and half a small round of Childwickbury which i took home half of and she took the other half (a quarter of a round each basically).

From there we headed to Covent Garden, as that's also the nearest tube to where the restaurant is. I was also hoping that the string quartet that often busk down in the lower section outside The Crusting Pipe. We had a wander around the market then headed downstairs for a drink. when we got there i passed a girl going in the opposite direction with a cello case on her back - bad sign! We got a table outside anyway and it gave us a chance to chat and for me to show her some photos and tell her about the Countess of Warwick show etc.

By the time we'd finished our drinks there was still an hour to go before the table was booked for at Belgo and i knew it would only take us 10 minutes max to get there. So as it wasn't raining i suggested just taking a wander up round Covent Garden, showing her the other branch or Neal's Yard Dairy and the colourful Neal's Yard itself. Before i realised it we were at Shaftsbury Avenue and when i looked down the road i could see the lanterns of the entrance to China Town. So we walked on down and took a stroll through there, stopping at Loon Fung, one of the biggest shops there where i spotted a Thai Mango, something i hadn't tried (which tasted completely different to a normal, more common Mango and wasn't to my taste!) and as we were walking through to pay, Nan spotted some pig's hearts. I think that's kind of a generational thing and meal but she said she'd stuff them with a sage stuffing for dinner on the next night. Each to their own - offal is certainly not my thing!

By this time it was about time to start heading to the restaurant and we were only about 10 minutes early in the end. To my amusement and Nan's too i think, we were taken downstairs in the lift! I didn't even know they had a lift!! I told Nan what i was planning to orderand she said that sounded nice so we ordered to portions of Mussels Provencale, requesting bread instead of chips.

I think alot of the way a meal taste has to do with the atmosphere, the company you're in as well as the cooking of the food and the produce used. The mussels tasted even better than they norally do there, they were large, plump and cooked to perfection, in a lovely tomato, onion and garlic sauce, with a touch of paprika or something slightly spicy, which although was stronger than normal did not detract from the dish at all.

After a bit (ok, a lot) more talking it was time to head back to Victoria to put Nan on a train home. We were going to be pushed to get the 8.06pm but thought we'd try (her train goes every half hour) anyway - she was the last person on and the doors literally closed behind her! But she made it and i felt happy knowing she wouldn't be home too late, and grandpa wouldn't be too late in collecting her from the station. From the message she left on the home phone, she got back at about 9.30pm, by which time i had reached Epping and was walking the 10 minute walk up the hill, back to the car in the steady rain. But driving home the rain was torrential! I was comtemplating just pulling over until it eased off, however its a good job i didn't otherwise i could have been stopped there for a long time! After a long day i made it home at 10pm and despite the weather i wouldn't have changed anything about it at all, and it made me realise i've go to get over my intimidation of my grandfather and see them more often.