14 April 2014

Tussocks!!

Following on from my recent patio post, I have a bit of an update on my tussocks! These are the stubborn clumps of ridiculously strong-rooted grasses that have taken up residence on my patio and are wreaking havoc on my joints as I attempt to yank them out of the ground ..... so far to no avail.


Because I don't want to use pesticides or weed killers, and using the patio knife to hack them into oblivion wasn't proving very successful, I had a look online to see if I could find alternative ways of killing the little buggers. There are loads of sites, with various methods, but, short of using a flame thrower, the general consensus seems to be either vinegar or salt or a combination of the two. So, this evening, armed with a bottle of apple cider vinegar, which was all I had in the cupboard, I marched out to the garden in my pyjamas and I sloshed it liberally over one of the tussocks. My patio now smells like the local chippy! It made the dog sneeze when he sprinted over to have a whiff of the new and very pungent odour in the garden and my extremely nice, very normal and relatively new neighbours came home just at the wrong time and caught me mid-slosh. They are obviously very well mannered people because they just smiled politely and scuttled off indoors. I fear I might be getting a reputation for being slightly eccentric but, if it works, it will be well worth the pong and will hopefully save me an awful lot of hard work :-)

13 April 2014

Hard Graft in the Garden

Yesterday and today have been all about the garden. The weather is lovely, the sky is blue and the state of the patio could just not be ignored any longer. It's not just overgrown, it's actually reverted back to the wild. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if there were some previously undiscovered species roaming around in there. I kid you not .....  it's an absolute state. This mainly came about because of my horrible neighbours. When they lived next door, every time I ventured outside, they would come outside and say really nasty things in a voice loud enough for me to hear and while I tried to ignore it, eventually it got to the stage where it was just easier to stay indoors. Then, last year, around October-time, they moved out. I was thrilled. We all cheered, we were able to go outside and stand around chatting without being told to get lost in language not quite as genteel as that. We were all absolutely over the moon and I was looking forward to being able to spend some time in the garden, finally taming the jungle back into something that actually looked like a garden. Then the weather turned nasty and it rained. It rained and rained and blew a gale and then it rained some more. My garden flooded as did my field and everything was just wet and miserable and it didn't stop for weeks and weeks. All I could do was pray that the roof didn't get blown off, make sure that all the animals were safe and wait for the weather to get better. 

Anyway. In case you think I am exaggerating about the state of the patio, here is a picture I took before I started the mass deforestation. 


I know, I know, it's an absolute disgrace but it's only in the last couple of weeks that the ground has dried out enough to be able to get outside because I am, as I have confessed, in the past, a fair weather gardener. I don't mind gardening when it's not sunny but I refuse point blank to do gardening of any kind in the rain which pretty much ruled out most of the last 6 months. Anyway, yesterday the weather finally started to perk up and I was able to start pulling up the grass in between the paving slabs on the patio. It's really, really back breaking hard work. Some of it came up really easily, in a kind of big mat of roots and grass but some of it is extremely stubborn. It just won't budge no matter how hard I tug and pull and I have come to the conclusion that I need to get out what I can by just pulling and the rest I will have to strim with the petrol strimmer and then attack it with the patio knife. More back breaking work but, worth it in the end. For today, however, I have had to stop because ..... and don't laugh ...... my backside is killing me! All the bending of the knees and the bracing with the legs to yank out the grass has discovered muscles in my derriere that have not been used in a long time and they are protesting very, very loudly. My fingers hurt too!! Grabbing the grass clumps and tugging for dear life has made my fingers stiff and sore. I sound like an utter wimp but having seen the state of the patio is it really any wonder. 

Soooooo I have managed to strip about half of the patio and bearing in mind that my patio is about 35 feet wide by about 20 feet deep that is no mean feat, trust me and just to prove it, here is the after picture of the half of the patio that I have managed to do in the last couple of days. 


Note the large tussock of un-budgeable grass at the front of the picture. 

The weather forecast is for sunny weather for the next few days so I'm hoping to be able to get back out there tomorrow and carry on, assuming, that is, that my muscles have recovered enought to allow bending but for now, it's time to stop and give my gluteus maximus a rest and have some lunch. 

Yesterday I made a huge casserole using stewing beef, sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, beef stock and some dumplings added about 20 minutes from the end and fortunately, there was plenty left over after I had a big bowlful for my supper. 

I'm ravenous! 
All this hard work gives me a massive appetite!!


11 April 2014

Onion Bread and Mushroom Soup

First of all I would like to point out, this is NOT a sponsored post. The flour wasn't a product that I was sent or given to review, it was bought from my local village shop. I was there to post a parcel to my daughter and was having a quick look for some bread flour because I was feeling too lazy to drive to the supermarket when I came across a whole array of Wessex Mill Flour. There were lots of amazing varieties, including a delicious sounding apple and cinnamon one but, as I'm not really a sweet bread kind of person, I went with the onion bread flour. The flour cost about £2.70 for 1.5kg, I can't remember exactly how much it was because I couldn't find the receipt to check but it was a lot more than I usually spend on my bread flour. At the supermarket, the strong plain flour I usually buy is about 88p for 1.5kg. To me, this is much more like it because one of  the main reasons for making my own bread is that I can have lovely, fresh bread for a fraction of the cost of buying it at the supermarket and not only is it the best tasting, deliciously thrifty option but I can guarantee that there are no nasty additives or preservatives in it. 

Anyway, this morning, as I had run out of bread, I whipped up a batch of onion bread dough and left it to prove while I took the dogs out for a run in the field. There are quite a lot of onion bits in the flour, I guess that's a good thing although it does make it feel a bit weird when you're kneading it. It didn't rise as much as I thought it would either, particularly on the second proving but, regardless, I popped it in the oven and watched to see what would happen. 



The bread was ok but, there were a lot of very hard pieces of onion which hadn't softened during the baking process which were quite unpleasant to eat and for some reason the bread gave me heartburn, something I usually only get with shop bought bread. It did, however, have a lovely crust which was crunchy and crisp and it was great for dunking in my soup.


Despite the higher price, the heartburn and the chewy onion bits, I did like the traceability of the flour (although I didn't notice it until after I got the flour home). Although it's not ideal that the flour had so many food miles involved, at least I know where it came from and it's something I would like to see on all food. It makes it easier to support local producers in the absence of farmers markets or local producer markets. I probably won't be buying the flour again as it's a bit too expensive for me but it was really nice to try something different. Maybe I will just try adding some different ingredients to the basic bread mixture to see if I can get a similar effect.


To go with the onion bread I also whipped up a pan full of mushroom soup simply using mushrooms, cooked gently in some butter, some semi-skimmed milk and half a chicken stock cube and when the mushrooms were nicely softened, I whizzed it all up with my stick blender.

You can find the Wessex Mill flour varieties here if you want to check them out. 

Absolutely scrummy. 

8 April 2014

Blue Cheese and Onion Tarte Tatin.

With not much in the way of ingredients in my cupboards at the moment and being too lazy to go to the shops, I was looking around for something quick and easy to make. Now, yesterday, on a re-run of the Great British Bake-Off, they were making tarte tatin. Something I have never made and something I have always liked the look of so, as I had some puff pastry sitting in the fridge waiting to be turned into something delicious, I had a bit of a Eureka moment and thought I might give it a go. As usual, being a bit of a wing-and-a-prayer kinda gal, I didn't follow a recipe, I just kind of made it up as I went along.

I fried 4 chopped onions slowly in some butter with a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and a splash of Henderson's Relish. (For those who don't know what Henderson's is, it's a delicious sauce that is made in Sheffield and you can read about it in a post I wrote a while back, here). When the onions were soft and turning golden, I tipped them into a rectangular cake tin and I added some blobs of blue cheese in amongst the onions. I then rolled out the pastry and covered the onions and cheese, tucking it in around the edges and I popped it into the oven on about 200 degrees C. 

For those of you who prefer to follow a recipe, I found this delicious looking Delia Smith Tarte Tatin recipe online here, which is kind of similar to what I made. Actually, it's sort-of what I had pictured in my head when I decided to make the tarte and maybe I might try it again and follow the recipe next time.

This was my attempt and very delicious it was too, although next time I might try a cheese that is a little less strong. 


4 April 2014

It's That Time of Year Again.

Every year, around about this time, as the weather is warming up and the days are getting longer, I get the urge to move house. This is a throwback to the time when my family and I moved house every couple of years with my husband's job. We had decided that, until my eldest daughter was in secondary school and starting on her GCSE's, we would move around the country with him because we felt it was more important for them to have a relatively normal family life with both parents around than for me to stay in one place with them by myself. Thirteen years ago, the girls and I finally settled in Cornwall, at the start of my eldest daughter's GCSE's, and it was then that I discovered that I quite liked moving house! I didn't miss the packing or the unpacking of the endless boxes but I did miss the thrill of finding new things to see and places to visit and I also loved the possibilities a new house brings, the chance to put your own stamp on it, even if only in a small way. Staying in one place, however, was necessary for the girls and now, moving house is no longer an option so I find new ways to change my surroundings. Now I move the furniture and I paint things. In fact I move anything that isn't either nailed down or too big and heavy to move and I paint anything that stands still for more than 2 minutes!

Today, as I sat outside in the beautiful sunshine having a quick cup of tea, I knew that the time had come. I Knew it was time to get moving and painting. So, I grabbed a paintbrush, trundled off to my paint stash and grabbed a tin of paint. This year, I'm getting the urge to put more colour into my home. Everything is white or cream at the moment with just accent colours from cushions and throws but I'm thinking that now I want colour. Lots of colour. Think Cath Kidston. Think floral and think lots and lots of it. I started with two of my battered chairs that I use at my sewing table in the living room. 

They went from drab 



To fab

In about 30 minutes.

It will need another coat of paint and then I will wax it with my Annie Sloan clear wax to make it a bit more durable and then onto my next dilemma, what colour to paint the other chair, the table, the over-mantle mirror, the kitchen chairs, the kitchen table, the walls ....... well, you get the idea :-)


3 April 2014

My Guilty Secret!

What happened to Britain "basking in weather hotter than Spain" this week? As far as I can tell from looking at the Met Office website, no one, no way, no how is anyone in Britain doing any basking! I was looking forward to doing some gardening this week and getting to grips with the devastation that this wet and windy winter has reduced my garden to, not to mention getting some seeds planted but, desperate as I am to begin this task, I am unashamedly a fair weather gardener and I refuse point blank to weed the garden with water dripping off the end of my nose ....... not an attractive look! 


And it not going to get any better any time soon! Tomorrow and the day after look just as bad, if not worse so, for now, I am going to try and fill my days with indoor activities. 

So ........ now for my guilty secret!

I love watching American TV shows. In particular I love American cop shows. I could watch them all day. NCIS, CSI, Blue Bloods, Rizzoli and Isles, The Glades, Bones ........ I could go on and on. I can't help it. I just love the escapism, the palm trees and the eternally sunny skies when it's horrible and grey here, not to mention some good old fashioned good v's evil fisticuffs and for some bizarre reason, I just love some of the American words. Yesterday, while watching NCIS Los Angeles, someone was making Snickerdoodles. Now I'm sorry but I absolutely love the word Snickerdoodle! It's a fabulous word. It's fun and cheerful and whatever Snickerdoodles are you just know they are going to be delicious. Turns out, they are butter cookies rolled in cinnamon sugar ....... So, of course, I just had to make some! 

I found this lovely recipe online. 

Snickerdoodles Recipe

Makes 28 to 30 cookies

You Will Need

For the Cookies:
2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour (we use Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
16 tablespoons (226 grams or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the Coating:

1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Directions
Mix Dough: Sift or whisk flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and the salt together then set aside.

In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer on medium speed beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. (Or, use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment). Reduce speed to low. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl then add the flour mixture in three parts, just mixing until it disappears. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill dough at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Make Coating: In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

Bake Cookies: Preheat your oven to 400ยบ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or use silicon baking mats.

Shape heaping-tablespoon-sized mounds of cookie dough into balls. Roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and place 2 inches apart onto baking sheets.


Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies have puffed a little and the tops look set. The cookies should be light golden. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. (The cookies will fall a little as they cool).

Storing the Cookies: Baked and cooled cookies will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. Also, keep in mind that you can freeze this cookie dough. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, scoop and roll individual dough balls and place onto the baking sheet (they can be close together), and then place in the freezer until hard, about 30 minutes. Transfer frozen dough balls to an airtight container or plastic bag.

And ...... Ta da 


Trouble is, as my portion control is not brilliant I made 28 dinner-plate sized cookies and I now have no idea what I'm going to do with them. I might have to distribute them amongst the neighbours because I am going to end up the size of a barrage balloon if I keep eating all the things I make for my blog :-) 

2 April 2014

Magnificent Meringues

Today I'm at a bit of a loss. I've had to wait in for a parcel to be delivered and until it arrives, I can't go out and do anything so, in the meantime, I was wondering what I should do to pass the time. I decided that it should be a baking day and that I should try out the balloon whisk attachment on my new mixer to make meringues. I have actually never made meringues before so I was a bit dubious about how they would turn out, particularly as I have been having a bit of a baking meltdown lately and have finally given up the ghost on making the perfect Yorkshire puddings. After so many failures it's back to good old frozen ones .... it makes Sunday lunch so much less stressful and to be honest, that can't be a bad thing!







Anyway, here is the recipe I used, It's a Nigella recipe that I got from the internet. It was surprisingly simple to do, I don't know why but I had always thought that meringues were difficult to make.  

Meringues 

3 large egg whites
175 grams caster sugar
1 pinch of salt 

Method
Heat the oven to 140C (gas mark 1). Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Place the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk on a low speed for 1 minute, then increase the speed to medium and whisk for another 2-3 minutes, or until the egg whites form stiff peaks. If you lift the whisk attachment out of the bowl, the mixture should look fluffy and cling to them, while the peaks remain stiff and moist-looking. This will take longer if doing by hand or using a hand held mixer. Then, while continuing to whisk, gradually add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is stiff and glossy - this may take 5-10 minutes.
Using a large, metal spoon, place freeform shapes on to the prepared baking trays.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the meringues are pale and dry. Turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar.


Well, as you can see from the picture above, it looks great but, when I tried to lift it off the greaseproof paper, it stuck. It stuck really badly and it was clear that a beautiful, elegant Pavlova was never going to happen so I had to revert to plan B. Eton Mess. Yummmmm is all I can say. Broken up meringue, whipped cream and strawberries ....... what's not to love. 




Now all I have to do is figure out what to do with the egg yolks ..... maybe for some lemon curd.