Showing posts with label Down Tools. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Down Tools. Show all posts

20 Jun 2010


Having had a day or two of proper sunshine this past week, a few of us Veg Patchers did a very English thing and had tea and scones in the garden which was utterly blissful.  A little table and some chairs were brought out from the greenhouse and we sat next to the herb patch where many bees were happily collecting nectar or pollen from the flowers. 

For future moments like this, I'd love to win this Sophie Allport bumblebee teapot and jug, with the tea towel and apron for the washing up afterwards.  This is the prize currently being offered in one of the BBC Gardener's World competitions - go here if the thought of owning this kitchenware appeals to you as well.  There's also a 15% discount for users buying online.

If you're more interested in real bees than ceramic ones, Gardener's World has a useful page highlighting the best plants for attracting bees to your garden.  It can be found: here.

26 Oct 2009

A nice cup of Tea with Cake …

Sundays, weather permitting, seems to be the day when we go out to the Veg Patch and dig, sow, harvest, chat or loaf around discussing next year's planting plan whilst (if you're me) gazing encouragingly at this year's plants.  And at the end of all this hard work, in the time honoured tradition, a nice mug of tea and a slice of cake has been earned. 

I like a bit of cake at teatime, it's the way I was brought  up.  My mother ran a tight ship where meals were concerned and you could set your watch by her schedule for afternoon tea.  When my siblings and I were very young, we had proper tea: sandwiches first - or perhaps boiled egg and soldiers (fingers of bread and butter) - then fruit or jelly (if we were lucky) and, finally, cake. Always, always, homemade.  My maternal grandfather was a baker by trade and, when we went to visit, he would make the most beautiful fairy cakes for us; I particularly remember a plate of cupcakes iced with tiny swans - and I don't mean drawn on; they swam in 3D formation across the tops of the little cakes. How totally cool is that?   

My cupcakes are nowhere near so spectacular but I still believe they should look tempting.  With lingering thoughts of the cupcake mountain from the Regent Street Festival, I decided to make cupcakes rather than a whole cake.  Half these cupcakes were swirled with coffee buttercream and sprinkled with chocolate strands (above) and the other half were reserved for my Secret Surprise.

The recipe is what is known as a basic 4, 4, 4 and 2.  (Experienced bakers will immediately recognise this as a classic Victoria sponge cake mixture).

Secret Surprise Cupcakes
(makes 12 in a Muffin tin.  Use Muffin sized cases.)

4 ounces butter; 4 ounces caster (fine) sugar; 2 eggs at room temperature (UK medium size); 4 ounces flour (Self Raising, sieved).
Also 1 teaspoon Baking Powder and 1 teaspoon good quality Vanilla Extract.
Milk to loosen if mixture is not 'dropping' consistency at the end - add as needed but go easy and start with 1 Tablespoon.

Preheat oven to 180C.  Mix softened butter and sugar together until very pale and creamy.  Add eggs plus a couple of tablespoons of flour to stop any tendency for the eggs to curdle.  Mix.  Use a metal spoon to fold in the rest of the flour (with baking powder added). This keeps the air in the mixture.  Add the vanilla extract.  Test consistency of mixture.  If it feels thick, add a little milk.

Two-thirds fill each muffin case.  (Any leftover can be shared between the cases.)  Bake for 15 minutes.  Then test by patting the top with your finger.  If the cake resists, they're done.  If not, give them another 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove to a cooling rack.

Here's the surprise:

When cool, slice out a cone shape from the top.   Add a dollop of strawberry jam in the hole (preferably homemade) and a spoon of whipped or thickened cream.  Replace the cone of cake, push down slightly and dust with icing sugar.  Secret Victoria Sponge (cup)Cake!  And, to my  mind, utterly delish - and a fair reward after a day's gardening.

Cupcake revealed …

4 Oct 2009

Tasty Tomatoes recipe …

Well, I promised … and I like to think I'm a woman of my word.  So for those of you that fancy packing your lunchbox this week with a few tomatoes on Ciabatta (or an oven-dried tomato salad) and want the recipe(s), go here. (This will open up in Google Docs and allow you to view and print.)

And from the reader's forum of Grow Your Own magazine, I've found Green Tomato Soup - which sounds, er, fascinating… I'll let you know.  More Green Tomato recipes on that website here.

Green Tomato Soup (courtesy of ) serves 6

1 oz butter
1 lb green tomatoes, sliced
8oz potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 pints stock
1 tin beans like barlotti/pinto/cannellini
1/4 tsp dried sage/thyme/mixed herbs/whatever
salt and pepper
a handful of rice
125ml single cream or a splash of chilli sauce (optional)

1. Fry the tomatoes, potatoes and onion in butter until softened.
2. Add the beans, stock, herbs, rice, salt and pepper and bring to the boil.
3. Simmer for 30 mins or until the veg is tender.
4. Blend 2/3 of the soup and return to the pan (If you like it a bit lumpy)
5. Stir in the cream/chilli sauce and reheat.

Bon appetit, lovely readers!  Let me know how you get on if you decide to give these a go …

2 Oct 2009

An Excess of Delight… (Gardener's variety)

From this …
… to this

Those two days of heavy rain earlier on seem to have worked wonders on Miss P's outdoor reared tomato vines. (Or could it be that she's been talking to her plants again … Hmmm.) I found her in her growing space carrying off a huge bag of toms - with plenty more ripening on the vine and masses of green tomatoes still waiting.   One option is to freeze the ripe tomatoes (I'm told it works well and the skins slip off easily when defrosted) but also worth mentioning is a version of Nigella's moon-blushed tomatoes - one of my favourite kitchen makes (after cake, of course! - priorities, people).  

It's incredibly basic but very yummy (if you like tomatoes … um - duh).  Preheat oven, chop tomatoes in half, lay out on a tray, sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of fine sugar, dried herbs, salt and a glug of olive oil.  Bung in oven.  At this point Nigella would have us turn the oven off and leave overnight (hence 'moonblushed' - how sweet).  What suits my tastes (and greediness) better is to leave in the oven for 10 minutes with it still on, then turn off and leave tomatoes in oven until it's cold (about an hour). They're still juicy but the flavour is probably less concentrated than it should be. (I tried the original way once and found the tomatoes too dry.) 

What I did this time, though, was to remove the tray of tomatoes after 15 minutes to the smaller oven above my main oven (which had heated up nicely from the cooking going on below), and then I quickly knocked some bread together. (That'll be my inner domestic goddess showing off…)  When the bread was ready, the tomatoes were taken out of the oven and spread over slices of warm bread (are you feeling hungry yet?); and the remainder spooned into storage pots.  (I always save those small lidded pots as they have many, many uses. Take note.)  I also tried using fresh chopped herbs from our various gardens, which I feel worked well (and with the added bonus that I'm not dead yet).

If you want the full recipe (my version), I will shortly add a pdf link to a downloadable page.

Foodie Facts:  This recipe is good for you! Tomatoes contain lycopene which is concentrated by cooking and which may help to prevent some forms of cancer.  Tomatoes are a good source of vitamins C and E so very good for fighting off those Free Radicals.  Fresh herbs (Sage, Thyme, Oregano) are also beneficial.  Sage is antiseptic and antibiotic; Thyme aids digestion, helps break down fatty foods and is also antiseptic; Oregano (sweet marjoram) eases bad colds and has a calming effect on nerves.   Olive Oil helps in the absorption of Vitamin E and is high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids which lower blood cholesterol.

24 Sept 2009

Bring on the tarts!

Best enjoyed warm and crisp from the oven …served with a jug of maple syrup and cream

Time to down tools!  Well it can't be all dig, dig, weed, water, prune, now can it?  If there's one thing I find as satisfying as watching seeds grow into food, it's cooking.  Usually that's of the necessary feed-the-family kind (soups, roasts, stews, stir-frys, the occasional pudding - salad doesn't count) which I'm not knocking - hey, if something has to be done, you may as well enjoy it.  But, every so often, I get a real urge to do some slow-down-cooking, the kind that you have to not rush, the cake-y non-essential, put some feelgood music on kind (current fave is Norah Jones), and pour the love into what you're creating. These custard tarts definitely tick that box – and luckily I don't have to eat them all by myself otherwise I might have a teensy problem squeezing back into the greenhouse.

I know you'll be tempted so I've added a printable recipe here  – assuming you won't want your laptop covered in flour.  

Here comes the confession:  This is not my original recipe! - can anyone lay claim to that? However, over time I have fine tuned it from a number of sources to finish up the way I like 'em.  Really good ingredients will add to the whole happiness factor:  organic flour and milk, fresh laid eggs, cream, natural unbleached sugar, high quality vanilla extract – but I'm guessing you've all got these already, huh?  Occasionally I cheat with this recipe and use Bird's Custard Powder instead of cornflour, but that's okay in my book because Mr Bird created his custard powder out of love for his wife who longed to eat custard but was allergic to eggs.  (Sigh! What a lovely man.  I guess making millions had nothing to do with it… )

Don't be put off by the length of the recipe - it's just making the custard and rolling out the pastry.  It takes a little over an hour, leaving plenty of time for a sit down with a good book or magazine and a cup of tea.  And the finished result looks (and tastes) just beautiful - even if it has nothing to do with gardening.

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