Friday, 21 March 2014

First Day of Spring and Traditional Gingerbread

What a lovely first day of spring-at the moment! the wind is blowing those clouds across that lovely blue sky and I am sure when I come back from work tonight it will be totally different weather.
Just how many different daffodils can we have, I am not going to try and put them all in but here is a small collection


I do apologise that I don't know the names of them all I am pretty sure they are part of a Jonquilla mixed selection that I had, to be honest I don't mind what they are called as they just make me smile as I walk past them.
On the quest still for healthy cakes this week I have adapted a gingerbread recipe which is a big favourite with the males in the house, when ever I ask what cake they want this is the one that is requested.So I was treading on dangerous ground thinking of changing it
 175g(6oz) Plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1tsp cinnamon powder}
1tsp nutmeg}I usually used mixed spice but didn't have any so mixed these two
75 g( 3 oz)margarine
50g(2oz)light brown sugar
100g(4oz) black treacle
50g(2oz) syrup
100ml (4fluid oz) low fat natural yoghurt
2eggs beaten

Oven 160C 325F gas 3
Grease and line a 1kg( 2,2lb) loaf tin

Now this cake is done by the melting method and if you want to put all your dry ingredients together and the do it the right way you can but I tend to do it the quick way

Put margarine,sugar,syrup and treacle in a pan , heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.Cool slightly I then put the pan on the scales and sieve in the flour,spices and raising agent. 
Then add the yoghurt and eggs and gently combine everything with a metal spoon.Don't take too long as the bicarbonate soda will start to react
Pour into tin and cook in the oven for about 50 mins, again try to put another cake in at the same time, but you will need to prepare the other one first as you don't want this one reacting too long.
It is cooked when  a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Normally this cake is better a couple of days later when it has matured and softened, my eldest had some warm as it had come out of the oven and I had some girl friends over and they really liked it. So this is for you Tess x

Monday, 17 March 2014

Buds are Bursting and Banana Bread

The cucumber and tomato seedlings are the first to appear in the propagator and the sun has opened the Magnolia Stella buds.according to my 5 year diary they opened the same time in 2011 and 2012.

My Clematis Durandii  grows up through the pyracantha which is lovely when it is out,it isn't self supporting so I planted in the pyracantha s0 I wouldn't need to keep tying it in all of the time.

As for the Banana Bread, hubby is running the Paris marathon on 7th April to raise some funds for the greenhouse for the Hospice project. Now he will come back soon after running for over 3 hours totally shattered. Now it's a fine balance between replacing calories without replacing too much fat !! as I am sure even those of us not running a marathon can relate to. Now he doesn't eat bananas as a rule but will eat them when disguised in a bread/cake,Angela Nilsen has done some lovely recipes with less fat in so this is one of hers that I have tweaked a little.

2 very ripe bananas with very black skins
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
175g/6oz plain flour
50g/2oz wholemeal flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
25g/ 1oz ground almonds
25g/1oz butter cut into pieces
85g/3oz light muscovado sugar
25g/1oz chopped blanched hazelnuts
2 medium eggs
100g/4oz 0% fat natural yoghurt
3 tbsp Wharfe valley extra virgin  rapeseed olive oil with lemon

1 Heat oven to gas 4/180C/160 fan. Lightly grease a 1kg loaf tin with rapeseed oil and line with baking parchment. Peel the bananas, and mash with a fork in a bowl ( should have 200g/7oz). It doesn't matter if there are any lumps, stir in the vanilla.
2 Mix both the flours with baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and ground almonds. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until fine breadcrumbs. Pour in the sugar, breaking any lumps, stir in the nuts and make a well in the centre. Beat eggs in a bowl, then stir in the yoghurt and oil. Tip this with the mashed bananas into the well. Briefly and gently stir together with a large metal spoon without over mixing.
3 Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top. Bake for 45-50 mins or until a skewer comes clean out.Leave in the tin to cool for 5 mins and then lift out with baking parchment.Leave on wire rack to cool.
Now you can't have just that in the oven so I made a mix of granola bar up and popped that in for the last 25mis of cooking.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Butterflies, Bees and Bread

What a wonderful time it is when the bees and butterflies come out in abundance, for me it is a sign that Spring is finally here. I had seen the odd butterfly before this weekend but they just kept coming and coming, the first one for me was a great big Clouded yellow, it must have over wintered here as we don't normally see them until  May. Then it was the usual Peacock and lots of moths which I don't know the names of, I will wait now for my first blue which won't be long now.

As for the bees, I certainly don't know individual species but there was a lovely big queen bee looking for a home, she kept going in and out of our privvy, which is a lovely old  building which we use as a log and coal store.A friend of ours keeps bees and I was talking to him about all the activity, he was saying as it has been so mild there has been a lot of activity with his hives already.

As for the bread, I make all of our bread and like to try different ones, I have tried Paul Hollywoods and other sourdough recipes a couple of times, but have never been over impressed with the results. I even bought myself a proper basket to see if that made a difference.( I can no longer use the basket as when we were away last week my son decided to put the oven on with it in the oven, for those that don't know the basket is made of compressed paper- needless to say it burnt, he realised when the fire alarm went off!).
My mum gave me a lovely bread book last year written by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter it is simply called Bread. I have been working my way through trying different recipes so decided to try this Pain De Campagne Rustique which is totally different to any other sourdoughs I have tried.
As it is French they call the starter Chef and it has a really lovely rustic texture and flavour, I did it the once and it was lovely so decided to check it wasn't beginners luck and tried it again, we all decided it was still lovely so am pretty sure it is fail proof so will now share it.You will need to start making it about 4 days before you want to eat it, but it is really worth it.

                     Pain De Campagne Rustique

For the Chef                                For the 1st Refreshment            
50g wholemeal bread flour           60ml warm water                          
45ml warm water                         75g wholemeal bread flour            

For the 2nd Refreshment              For the Dough
120ml lukewarm water                 150ml-175ml lukewarm water
115g strong white bread flr           350g strong white bread flr
25g wholemeal bread flr               2tsp salt

1 To make the Chef, place the flour in a small bowl, add the water and knead for 3-4 minutes to form a dough, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 2 days.
2 Pull off the harden crust and discard, then remove 2tbsp of the moist centre ( mine didn't have a moist centre, it will depend on flour so I omitted this)Place in a large bowl and gradually mix in the water for the 1st refreshment
Gradually mix in the flour and knead for 3-4 minutes to form a dough or a levain, then cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for a day.
3 Discard the crust from the levain and gradually mix in the water for the 2nd refreshment. Mix in the flours a little at a time, mixing well after each addition to form a firm dough. Cover with lightly oiled clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for about 10 hrs or until double in bulk ( I left mine over night)

4 For the final stage in the preparation of the dough, gradually mix the water into the levain in the bowl( Only add 150ml and once the flour has been added you will know then if you need the extra water),then gradually mix in the flour and then the salt.Knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic.

5 Place the dough in a large lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place, for 1.5/ 2hrs, or until the dough has almost doubled in bulk.

6 Knock back and cut off 115g ( Set aside for making the next loaf, keep in the fridge for up to three days, used for the 2nd refreshment in place of the levain in step 3). Shape the remaining dough into a ball- you should have about 350g.

7 Line a 4in high round basket or bowl with a dishtowel and dust with flour( I use a muslin cloth),place the dough seam side up. Cover with lightly oiled clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for 2-3hrs or until doubled in bulk.

8 Preheat the oven to 230C,450F Gas 8,invert the dough onto a baking sheet( I use a stone), sprinkle with flour, slash the top with a sharp knife, 4 times at right angles to each other, to form a square pattern.
9 Sprinkle with a little more flour, then bake for 30-35 minutes or until the loaf has browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, transfer to a wire tray to cool

It has a really lovely tangy taste and is lovely toasted

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Edible Flower

It is amazing what is in the garden and veg plot this time of the year, some things because although we have had a lot of rain it has been so mild. So in my veg plot we have

                Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco for its correct name but also known as Edible Flower
A colleague at work saw this photo on my phone and said "O dear the slugs have been at that" It looks like a lettuce but when you look closer it has a serrated edge and deep wine stripes. Growing close by

Radicchio Rosso di Chioggia, a wonderful dark red and it has lovely white ribs, much more compact than its mate.So I decided to make tea with both of these, the challenge was I was on my good day so had to be low in calories. We had some chicken left over from Sunday dinner so with some of this I then cooked some noodles whilst I steamed the two Radicchio as I wanted them to retain some crispness.I then warmed the chicken up with some cherry tomatoes cut in half, tossed everything together and chopped some Italian parsley which is also still growing in the garden

Very tasty, the tomatoes took the bitterness away from the leaves, if I wasn't on a good day it would have been nice with some red wine vinegar and olive oil on.

Check out where she has a lovely post on unexpected edibles.

These are some of the pebbles I was telling you about in my last post.Some are still waiting to be finished but by the spring when we need them it looks as though we are going to have a lovely collection.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Back Again with a New Project on the Horizon

Yet again  didn't manage to fill a whole year blogging!!! my excuse is that in September I went back to University and went up to three days a week at work. The reason for this madness was that I started a diploma in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture, which I was told was one day a week , I wasn't the only one to get a shock. The study sessions have fallen every third week for four days, so I have been very busy travelling to Coventry and Pershore with plenty of assignments and presentations in between( Also using up  all of my annual leave) .Our next two sessions are in Reading at Thrive, so apart from still looking for somewhere to site the motor home I am really looking forward to that.
The group are amazing and diverse, we have learnt so much from each other , we have people from Denmark, Norway, Ireland and from the top of Scotland all the way down to Devon and from east and west of the British Isles.
 In amongst all of that I have been trying to start a gardening club at the Hospice and trying to get a Keder greenhouse purchased (not quite there yet) so after putting in proposals and letters which have to go through I don't know how many different groups, before they can go out, I am very slowly getting there.The idea is that it will be a space not just for the children but for siblings, grandparents,bereavement support groups and really everyone including staff, where they can relax and reflect.
So I am hoping that that is enough of an excuse and that bloggers out there will follow me again on what is going to be a very busy but rewarding journey.

This is our lovely wall art for bonfire night that we did using leaf bunting and sticks from out of the garden.

We are hoping that this fence will come down and the path extended to become the entrance to our new  greenhouse. It will make such a difference as we have a very limited space to where we can do gardening activities inside. The sides to the greenhouse come down to aid ventilation but it will also allow the people inside to see wildlife close up.

We are busy painting pebbles for planting labels so I will put some photos of them next post and let you know where we are up to.