What I’m going to grow in 2015

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I had a pretty successful growing year last year, but made a few mistakes with what I grew. My theme for 2014 was ‘grow stuff which is expensive in the shops’, which was a nice idea on paper.

For the sixth year running, I used an entire raised bed (50% of my growing space) to attempt pumpkins, which (for the sixth year running) grew to the size of an egg then withered away. I love pumpkins, but 2014 confirmed that we’ll never be mother and child. As a result of this, I lost an enormous amount of growing space, given that each pumpkin takes up a minimum of 1m squared.

I grew globe artichokes, which looked magnificent and tasted immense, but they look a tremendous amount of effort, for a very small return (I grew four).

Celeriac grew, and survived winter, but the resulting vegetables were tiny. This was a big shame. I did all I could for those boys, but they just didn’t deliver.

I am 99.9% sure that I am at fault for these failures, due to not watering enough/watering too much/not feeding enough/not feeding appropriately etc etc. Therefore, as the sort of gardener who stubbornly prefers to experiment, wing it and find my own way, I’ve absolutely no right to complain. I have to take what comes.

2015 has been officially named the year of frugality in our house. We’re having an extension built and are planning a trip to New York, so we’re squirrelling away, staying in and basically being incredibly boring for the next six months. With this in mind, I’ve decided that growing this year will be all about going back to basics. I’m going to grow the stuff we need and use on a daily basis. I’m going to sow monthly, to ensure an ongoing supplies of the staples. I’m going to grow in bulk, store things away in my shed and hope the mice don’t catch wind of my secret supplies.

One of the raised beds is going to be my salad bed – full of a readily replenished supply of radishes, lettuces, pakchoi and onions. In pots I’m going to have potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. In the other bed, I’m going to for hardy staples which can hack the colder months and keep us supplied through winter – kale, chard, leeks, broad beans and beets. This year I’m going to beat the squirrels to the hazelnuts on our hazel tree, freeze the surplus raspberries instead of leaving them to wither on the plant, and dry as many of the herbs as I can. All sounds very optimistic doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to blogging about how it all pans out.

Ready and waiting

Primed with compost and ready for good times ahead.

Easy Decadence: Gooey, spicy, orangey, chocolate shots

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These super naughty, super rich shots of chocolate are the sort of thing I’d quickly knock up on a Monday morning before work. In the deepest, darkest drudgery of the monthly budgets meeting, you can feel safe in the knowledge that these decadent little beasts are waiting for you in the fridge when you get home.

They’re also ideal whipped up for a dinner party as an intense dessert; perfect accompanied by steaming espressos.

They’re smokey, sweet, spicy and rich, all rolled into one. They have very few ingredients and take about 15 minutes to make.

If you’re not sold by now, I’m not sure what more I can do.

INGREDIENTS:

(makes 8 shots)

300ml pot of single cream
2 x 100g bars of Co-operative Truly Irresistible Ghanaian dark chocolate with spices and orange oil
2 egg yolks
Juice and zest of 1/2 an orange
1/3 a chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

METHOD:

– Pour the entire contents of the single cream into a pan, add the finely chopped chilli and 3/4 of the orange zest
– On a medium heat, bring the cream to a gentle boil
– While the cream is heating, bash up the bars of chocolate with a rolling pin
– As soon as the cream reached the boil, remove from the heat and add in the bashed up chocolate. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined
– When the mixture has turned rich and velvety, mix in the egg yolks
– Add the orange juice and stir until the slick of orange has mixed fully with the chocolate
– Pour into espresso cups or similar
– Refrigerate until set (usually around half an hour) and decorate with the remaining orange zest
– Eat slowly with a teaspoon.

 

Written for the Co-operative Central England’s Easy Eating Campaign: http://centralengland.coop

Grew it, ate too much of it, need to lose it. Part two.

So, it goes without saying that I like food. But what may not be apparent is that I have a humungous appetite – always have done, always will.

Because of this love of massive portions, I’ve always struggled with my weight, which yoyos with the seasons. I’ve never been a particularly unhealthy eater, I just love to eat it ALL. Twice. With thirds.

I’ve tried Weight Watchers (6 times) and have always been successful. But in the end, I would hijack the whole affair because of the small portions. Seeing the reality of 35g of muesli and realising that would be all I’d eat before lunch, would make my heart sob. I hated measuring and recording stuff. I hated counting a packet of Quavers as something substantial and real, instead of the crispy cheese-air which they really are. I hated seeing a jacket potato as a treat.

I found on Weight Watchers I would always end up eating convenience foods, as the points were already worked out for me. Cooking was an absolute pain: counting the oil, weighing the meat, weighing the pasta, measuring the sauce out, holding off the cheese because you’ve used your points on a banana…. too much. Not fun. Not me. So, 6 times, I stopped.

Then came the 5:2 – perfect! I found the fasting fine, but again, counting the calories was so much easier if Mr Sainsbury had already done it for me. And so I ended up on convenience food again: more expensive, no cooking fun, less nutrition.

And my 5 days, well, they were awesome! I could eat it all! Fridays were cheese and biscuits night, Saturdays were pizza and wine night, Sundays were cheese and biscuits night, Monday was cheese and biscuits night…

Miraculously I did lose weight on the 5:2, but my 5 days off bordered on the obscene. It wasn’t right and it had to stop.

About three weeks ago a friend of mine introduced me to Slimming World. All I knew about it was from my mother in law: it was a quid cheaper than Weight Watchers and you ate a lot of Muller Lights. I decided to go along and see what it was all about.

As a newbie, our leader had to explain how it worked. She’d started with Slimming World 14 years previously and you could tell she was still in awe of the whole process. After she’d explained it to me, I could see why. In a nutshell, you can eat the following:

  • unlimited veg (including peas and sweetcorn – if you’ve done Weight Watchers, you’ll know this is exciting)
  • unlimited fruit
  • unlimited lean meat (including bacon, so long as you trim off the fat)
  • unlimited 0% fat yoghurt
  • unlimited POTATOES
  • unlimited PASTA
  • unlimited grains and lentils
  • unlimited low fat dressings

and probably a few other things I have forgotten. But it’s all good, right?

And then, you get two healthy extras per day. You can choose from things like:

  • a couple of slices of wholemeal bread
  • 35g of oats
  • a hunk of cheese
  • 250ml of milk

Then you’re allowed up to 15 ‘syns’ a day which you can use on things like oil, butter, wine etc. These are the only things you have to count.

There’s loads more to it, but essentially, it’s good stuff.

I went into my first week not having a clue how it would go, but I found it incredibly easy. I was never hungry and I felt very liberated by the food I could make and enjoy. In the first week, for breakfast I had:

– yogurt, berries and oats

– eggs and soldiers

 

For dinner:

– spaghetti bolognese

– homemade burgers

– chargrilled chicken, aioli and wedges (below)

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And I could eat as much as I liked of all of them, as all the ingredients were free.

For lunch I had loads of filling salads covered in Waitrose low fat vinaigrette (again, all free). I’ve had:

– chicken, pea and chickpea

– feta, beetoot and lentil

– tuna and mixed bean (below)

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Snacks have been limited, as I honestly haven’t been that hungry between meals.

First week weigh in, I lost 6.5 pounds!

I haven’t had my second weigh-in yet, but I’m feeling OK about it. This is better than the feeling I used to have during other diets, which was a constantly rumbling stomach and a gnawing, unnecessary sense of guilt.

I’ve found Slimming World both liberating and exciting, mainly because I have a lot of freedom to play around with recipes. I can’t wait to share them and find out other people’s hints and tips.

 

 

 

IF YOU DO ANYTHING EVER YOU MUST MAKE THIS CHICKEN PIE IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

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it’s ok, you can die happy now.

Nigel Slater. Nigey, Nigey, Nige. Nige-burger. Nige to see you, to see you Nige. King of Nigels.

I’m a big fan of Nigel Slater, marmite of the celebrity chef world. In case you were wondering.

Watching him on TV and reading his books, I slip into some sort of horizontal trance, swept along on a fluffy cloud of soft, plump words and delicate, clean dishes.

Love him or loathe him, he’s not all single ingredient recipes and stingy portions. Oh no. I decided to make his infamous chicken pie the other day, as I realised I had all of the ingredients to hand and I was in need of some emergency stodge.

This pie is great for two reasons – firstly: shop bought pastry. Happy days. Never going to argue with that. Secondly, you poach the chicken before putting it in the pie, which believe me, is a wonderful thing. It melts under the slightest pressure in your mouth, which gives you an untold glow. If you’ve given in and committed to eating some pie, you may as well go the whole hog and make it eating it as slovenly as possible too.

Please, please make this pie. It’s super cheap, super easy and the ingredients are more than likely in your house. Just go and do it please.

Here’s the recipe:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/chicken_and_leek_pie_77394

Battening Down the Hatches

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It’s now dark before I leave work, which means it’s late in the year, which means it’s time to hibernate.

I’m pretty good at autumn and even better at winter. Thick jumpers, clompy boots, hiding behind scarves, pumpkins, cinnamon, cloves, everything in a pot, everything piping hot. GOOD GOD, I’m in heaven right now.

I started to embrace winter when I realised that dark evenings were making me gloomy. I knew I had to start making the evenings productive. I needed to see staying indoors as a good opportunity to get stuff in order and do something creative, as opposed to feeling constrained and claustrophobic (which I used to).

A few winters ago I used the time to bake. A lot. Every night I’d be whipping up puddings, breads and cakes, to the point where I ran out of people to feed. Last year I bought a slow cooker, so I spent every evening chopping things into tiny pieces to put in the cooker the next morning. This year, I’m learning how to make chutneys, jams and homemade booze. I have no experience at all in this department, but I’m not letting that put me off. I’ve asked for a jam pan for Christmas and I’ve bought some sterilising tablets for my jars and bottles, so it’s getting serious.

Sloe news day

I’ve recently liberated a cluttered cupboard, which I plan to fill with things I’ve made for the future. At the moment I have some sloe gin and rosehip vodka in there, which have been steeping for about 6 weeks following an awesome forage I went on in the North York Moors with my mum. We spent the morning poking about in prickly hedgerows, clambering up banks and meditatively plucking berries from their stems. We were lucky enough to come across the holy grail of foraging – a laden sloe bush. Bloody awesome.

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Fruits of our labour

I think the forage was the beginning of my seasonal fascination with squirrelling away food for the future. I love the idea of picking fresh things to preserve and store away for brighter times. I just hope I do them justice.

Next week I’m going to have a go at making elderberry wine. The berries are currently in my freezer, something which has already divided opinion. One person has told it was the worst thing I could have done, another person has said its the best. I’ve never been one to worry about strict rules and the way I see it, it may work, it may not. I’m just excited to try it.

Stodgefest 2013

Aside

So, admittedly, it has been a while. There have been a myriad of reasons for this, but hey, we’re not here to make excuses, we’re here to talk about food and growing stuff.

By way of reintroduction, I’m keeping today short and sweet. And so I thought it was time I talked a bit about my garden.

My garden is not perfect and I’m sure I do lots of stuff incorrectly, but it is my gym, my 24 hour therapist and my best creative outlet. It’s also my favourite room of the house. Since we moved here 18 months ago, I haven’t painted one wall or put up one curtain. Instead, all my energy has gone into creating and landscaping my very own little paradise. It has gone from a neglected. rubble filled wasteland to somewhere pleasant to sit, with some raised beds and some fairly even grass.

Thanks to a crap year last year and amazing weather this year, summer has been exceptional for growing things. And I am still reaping the benefits, even though winter is knocking. Here’s a quick snapshot of my autumn garden:

ImageIncredible borlotti beans. I’ve made some cracking, fresh, summery stews with these fellers (both in the pod and out of the pod), and still have loads to go.

ImageThanks to a whole winter of cutting back brambles last year I’ve been rewarded with a freezer drawer full of blackberries.

ImageSome rosy red, juicy apples are now in my fruit bowl and chopped up in bags in the freezer (with lemon to stop them browning).

In addition, I am also struggling to grow pumpkins, for the 5th year running. I’ve never got past the flower stage. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong (I’ve fed them regularly, they each have 1m square of soil) – any pointers would be very welcome.

So, with autumnal veg, come autumnal eats. As of this weekend, the slow cooker has been promoted from under the sink to the the counter top, I’ve stocked up on flour for cakes, crumbles and puddings, the freezer is crammed with stock, summer greens and berries. Stodgefest 2013: I’m ready for you, the garden’s ready for you. I can’t wait.

THE GRID

Some may call it blessing, others may call it a curse. But the truth is, my preferred way of living is a all-consuming balancing act between loving spontaneity and chaos, yet being an absolute stickler for the rules. I’m not sure where the lines are – and they constantly shift – but right now, I’m in a rules place. I’m enjoying stability, order, structure and routine. I’m loving the fact that I start work at 9am, have a tea break at 11, lunch at 12, and dead on 5, I leave. I am comforted by the knowledge that I have enough bread to last me until Thursday, when like clockwork, I will have some more delivered. The fact that my wardrobe is currently orderly is giving me inner peace.

In around a month’s time, there’s a chance that my life may be in utter chaos. I’ll be craving the life of a freelancer, out of bread and wading through a heavy sea of discarded garments in my bedroom. I don’t know when the tipping point will come (or indeed whether it will come) but when it does, I’ll be ready and waiting.

So, as I’m calm and collected and organised, this week I’ve decided to go with the grid.

I first saw the grid at my friend Hannah’s house (she must also take the credit for the name). You’ll have seen them too. The grid was pinned to a corkboard in her kitchen. An elegantly formatted word document, all clean lines and crisp edges. It was a table of stability and order; a table of comfort; a table which said ‘It’s cool. I’ve got this shit covered’. It was a table which stopped me in my tracks and made me think about the world in a different way. It made me reassess. It made me feel warm. It was the grid.

The grid is a weekly plan of one’s food, based on the contents of one’s fridge, freezer and cupboards. It is organisation and economy. It’s a challenge to one’s rebellious nature. It’s mother’s comforting hand on your arm. It knows what’s best for you. Gently, it whispers ‘it’s OK’.

The grid also has practical uses. By planning your food ahead you save time and money. It’s an undeniable fact. Secondly, you waste less. By taking stock on a Sunday of all of your chattels, you can make sure that the old stuff gets used first. You can check use by dates and sniff suspicious jars. If you need extra ingredients, the grid will ensure that you can make shopping lists which say things on them like ‘thyme’ or ‘carrots’, as opposed to ‘dinner for Thursday’ or ‘stuff to make cake’.

As I am currently all about order and organisation (and I have a really full fridge of veg which I need to use up. And I’m skint), I’m ready to take on the grid this week. It’s actually not the best week to be doing it, as we’re away from Thursday evening to Monday (this trip away is a blog post in itself – all will be revealed). However, I’m going to try very very hard to stick to this little feller. And if I do, I’ll be on top of the blimmin’ world.

THE GRID (of a fashion)

THE GRID (of a fashion)