Monday 21 December 2015

Harvest Monday - sloe vodka

This week I've again only been to the plot once, during my lunch break to quickly pick some corn salad (lucky for me I live and work near my allotment). I really need to spend a day down there soon, may be after Christmas.
Talking of Christmas (which seems quite soon but also ages away), I've actually taken two whole weeks off work, yippee! This is the first time in about 15 years I think, so it will be great to not feel pressured into packing everything Christmassy into a few days.
Saturday night, Liz (of 'liz's mum's apples and garden where I grew squash this summer') had a Christmas bash so it seemed rather fitting to make my fourth spiced apple cake of the season, using her mum's apples of course. This time I halved the recipe completely to make a smaller loaf, and also again used room temp butter instead of vegetable oil plus added some extra nutmeg. I also halved the amount of sugar again (so only used a quarter of the original )
It seems like a week of repeats as I used the corn salad in sandwiches again (and added a bit of paprika to the egg). Tasty though.
I made a stew again in the slow cooker too, I'm starting to get into the swing of this. I used my own onion, garlic and rocket pesto (pesto from the freezer) - the pesto goes in near the end, so by that time it had defrosted (otherwise it would've cooled the mixture too much)
Back to Christmas - last autumn I made sloe vodka (it's the same as sloe gin but with vodka instead, which I prefer). Then Jan got ill with her thyroid condition at the end of November / December and I never got round to bottling it up for presents. So it has sat on a shelf for a year developing lovely flavours, and a beautiful colour.
You can't really see the sloes here, they're in the dark bit at the bottom.
Making sloe vodka or gin is really easy :
Ingredients - sloes, vodka, sugar.
Equipment - large jar or bottles for holding the mixture, plus maybe a jug and funnel to help pour and something to strain the vodka mixture from the sloes, at the end
Pick your sloes (blackthorn berries) in late summer / autumn when the berries have ripened and turned blue. Traditionally you wait until after the first frost, to encourage the flavours and so the berries burst when used, releasing the flavours. But it's much easier to just pick them when you can and stick them in the freezer, which does the same job as a frost. I keep an eye out for them when ever I get the chance to go on a country walk. This is also much easier than pricking every sloe with a needle or knife which a friend told me they did once!
Although very quick to make, you have to leave the vodka for at least several weeks for the flavours to develop, so ensure you give yourself enough time if you want to give it out for Christmas.
Anyway, when you're ready, get yourself a bottle or two of vodka and decide what you're going to make the sloe vodka in. I keep a spare bottle, because as you're adding volume with the berries and sugar it won't all fit into bottle of vodka you've just bought.
So, I pour out the vodka into a large jug then fill the empty bottle /bottles with about 1/3 of berries and 1/3 sugar (I use organic Demerara), then fill it up with vodka. easy peasey!
Shake the bottle every day for two weeks (make sure the lid is on properly) to dissolve the sugar and for the sloes to release their flavours and beautiful colours. Then leave for as long as long you can resist before enjoying.
On Saturday I decided to bottle mine up. Luckily, when I made some for Xmas pressies a few years back, some of the recipients gave me back the pretty bottles, so I didn't need to buy more this time round, which saved a bit of money.
I hardly ever drink alcohol these days, but sloe vodka is a definite exception at this time of year - cheers!

I've kept the berries (putting them all back in one bottle for storage) as they have absorbed the vodka and sugar and can be used for various puddings etc (they're a bit strong on their own).


The sloe vodka makes a really nice present, here with elderberry and apple jelly I made earlier in the year (made with added cloves for a festive flavour twist)

That's it from me this week - hope you all have a lovely festive season :)

Linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres


Monday 14 December 2015

Harvest Monday - beet it

We're still getting battered by wind and rain most days so I've only made one short trip to the allotment this week, to pick a tiny harvest of chard plus some lambs lettuce.
Nice to have some greenery in egg sarnies (These were really huge sandwiches actually!)
I've made yet another spiced apple cake (well, it is yummy) using liz's mum's windfalls
The recipe I've been using is here But instead of oil I use room temperature butter, and only half the sugar and add a bit of nutmeg too. I was going to add chopped dates as an extra too but forgot. I actually did the whole recipe x1.5 this time so I had this big one plus a loaf tin-sized cake.
The Christmas activities are hotting up so I took one cake round a friend's yesterday and the other into work today for our 'Christmas food day', where everyone brings something in to share, which usually ends up lasting the whole week. As you can imagine, a lot of calories are consumed! I try to restrict myself to things that have been homemade and had a couple of nice carrot and caramelised red onion pastry whirls, mmm (plus some of my cake of course, It has apples in so im sure it must be healthy).
Tonight I felt the need for something that was actually healthy (rather than just pretending it is), so made a pan of butternut squash stew- thing with spices, tomatoes and chickpeas. I'm hoping it might help stave off the sore throat that's come on this afternoon too, booo. The squash, onion and garlic were all's nice to have stored goodies to dip into.
So, on to the beet. It must have been a few weeks ago that I lifted this beet but only got round to using it now (I've kept it in a plastic bag in the fridge). It's one of those chioggia varities so I was interested to see what it would be like inside....
Not quite the circles of colour expected but pretty nonetheless
We've had it thinly chopped and sliced raw, yum
Usually beets are quite juicy but this one wasn't - I don't know if that's just the variety? I was also worried it might be a bit woody as it had got quite large but although it has a bit of crunch it's still good.
I'd sown the beets in spring inbetween my autumn-sown broad beans - the beet plants were teeny for a long time after they germinated but then grew away nicely once the bean plants were cut down, so I might do that again this spring. It means I can sow the beets and forget about them for a while, and then have a follow-on crop already in place after the beans. I've still got a few more beets to harvest this winter but they're not as big as this one. I mustn't forget to harvest them!
(Umm, does anyone else have Beat It in their heads now? Good song though)
Thanks for reading this week. Linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres


Monday 7 December 2015

Harvest Monday - bit of a mix

It feels like I haven't had a majorly productive week, in allotmenty terms but there's been some bits and bobs. The weather's still surprising us with lots of rain and wind but we're lucky not to have had those terrible floods which northern England are suffering.
Okay, so I made another slow cooker squash stew, with chick peas and kidney beans. There was something not quite as nice as the last one - it might be because previously I used a butternut squash but this time round chose a muscade de Provence which seemed a bit watery.
I also made another spiced apple cake to take round to a friend's 50th and decided to use a lot less sugar (half the amount in the recipe). But I added a few chopped dates to increase the sweetness a bit.
I'm still sprouting seeds, which make a healthy crunchy addition to our lunches. They do seem to have slowed a bit now so I keep them on the kitchen window sill to maximise the light they get.

First soak your seeds in water overnight, then rinse them every day until they've sprouted enough. We're enjoying this particular mix, it has sunflower, Chickpeas, green, speckled green and brown lentils, mong and aduki beans

I've picked more lambs lettuce too, there's enough on the plot that's self-seeded to keep us going quite a while hopefully.

My friend Liz has very kindly given me some windfall apples from her mum's garden (where I grew some squashes this summer),so I'll have to process them all soon, they're a bit bashed and won't keep for long
She also gave me a jar of chutney made from her mum's apples too, bonus! (Her mum is Pat)
And finally, a work friend told me about some sweet chestnut trees on a bit of common land a few miles out of Norwich. I thought I might as well go and have a look and so yesterday headed out on my bike, cycling up and down hills against the wind. Rummaging around in the leaves under the trees I made a huge collection....
Tah Dah!
Yes, I was probably a bit late for these! The trees are quite prominent and it's a popular spot for walking so I expect the nuts were all harvested a long while back. Nevermind, I had a nice cycle ride and walk through the woods (and will try and remember to go there earlier next year)
That's me for now, linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres

Monday 30 November 2015

Harvest Monday - slow cooked butternut squash

This week I thought I'd dust off (literally) the slow cooker. We've had it for ages but never really got into the swing of using it, hence a thick layer of dust I had to clean off, yuk!
Anyway, I'd happened across a recipe on the the web that included squash (and looked easy - important!) which inspired me to give the cooker go again. I didn't have exactly all the ingredients so varied it a bit -
  • Roughly Chopped onion and garlic
  • 1 tsp each of ground cumin, paprika, ginger
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • Small cubed butternut squash
  • Handful of chopped dates (instead of apricots)
Fry the onion, garlic and spices for a bit then add the tomatoes, and heat until boiling
Meanwhile cube the butternut squash and add to the slow cooker pan with the drained chickpeas and chopped dates
Add the sauce to the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours.
That's it! Easy peasy.
I was originally going to use two small squashes but actually the butternut on its own produced enough flesh so I cubed the other one and froze it instead
Before - Squash, chickpeas, dates in the slow cooker
Cooked in 4 hours! I was quite surprised it only took that long.
Served with quinoa and toasted cashews, yummy
I'll definitely try and use the cooker more often now, this recipe seems like it could be used as a base and just varied a bit each time. I'm not sure about how the different temperatures (low, medium high) affect cooking times yet e.g this took 4 hours on high but how long would it take on medium or low? So will have to do some research.
Yesterday we had a similar meal but cooked in the oven - we didn't plan ahead enough and there wasn't time to use the slow cooker, doh. This time it was squash with kidney beans, plus cheesy wedges, mmm.
I've had a couple of small harvests this week - a bit of kale (these are quite small leaves though)
More corn salad
And today I brought some onions back from the allotment shed (there's probably about the same amount left)
I was after some more sweet chestnuts, so on Saturday we had a walk down to Whitlingham country park, which is just on the edge of Norwich. I couldn't remember if there were any chestnut trees....turns out there aren't many! The only ones we found didn't have anything worth harvesting. But we did get a few sloes.
And found a cute bear we hadn't seen before, aah

So, my search for more chestnuts will have to carry on elsewhere!

Thanks for reading this week. Linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres



Monday 23 November 2015

Harvest Monday - spiced apple cake and sweet chestnuts

Well, this week has certainly been diverse. Mild, then cold, windy (very), calm, sunny, heavy rain and Saturday night....snow! I didn't get any photos but we had about an inch or so - I looked out the window Saturday night and was so surprised to see it - the west of the county was due some but I really didn't think we'd get any in the city. I had mixed feelings about it though - we were planning on going chestnut foraging the next day and a covering of snow would scupper that!
Sunday morning there was still a thin layer of snow but some rain cleared it all away ( phew? Also not great to be foraging in the rain.)
Anyway, earlier in the week it was my birthday and in keeping with office tradition, I made a cake for everyone. I wanted to include an element of 'homegrown' so made one with apples that I still have left from Jan's mum's garden. I found an easy recipe on the web (with the measurements in cups, so I used an old bread machine cup for this). The recipe is here - but I swapped the vegetable oil for room temperature goats butter and used a bit less sugar - it was still very sweet (but very tasty) so I reckon you could use a lot less (and I've just spotted in the recipe comments that lots of people have reduced the sugar quantity too). A really easy recipe though. I ended up baking it a bit longer than the stated 55 mins as our oven always seems to take longer than recipe times.
Yum! I cut it into 20 squares. The cake has cinnamon in too so it has an amazing aroma
It took four apples so I thought I may as well use the peels and cores to make another batch of cider vinegar. The recipe I've used is here - the comments thread is very thorough and worth a read too.
I managed to nip to the allotment from work one dry lunchtime to get some goodies - there is absolutely loads of lambs lettuce to keep picking - I'm harvesting plants whole by snipping them off just above soil level (it keeps the plants cleaner than if you try to pull the whole thing out of the soil, when generally a clump of soil comes with it too ). There was also a bit of kale and some chard, though these are growing very slowly now so I might not get much more from them until spring.
I made a red lentil soup with the kale
And salads like this with the lambs lettuce - still using some of my fermented gherkins from last year too.
We did get out chestnut foraging on Sunday, hooray. It was raining whilst we waited for the bus and during the journey there (a 20 min bus ride from the city) but when we hopped off the bus the rain stopped, yay. The rain had melted any remaining snow, so that wasn't a problem either.
We were a lot later than last year and most of the leaves had fallen off all the trees, so it was harder to look for the chestnuts on the ground, hidden amongst all the leaves. Plus I reckon the squirrels had already helped themselves quite a bit too. But we got a reasonable harvest and had a nice day out.
Next to a quiet country lane near the wood we spotted some windfall apples on the grass verge, so picked up a few of the best ones of those too - an unexpected bonus! We could easily have taken more (it didn't seem that anyone else had been collecting them) but they would've been too heavy to carry back.
We walked back to Norwich on the Marriott's Way - a dis-used railway which is now a walking, cycling and bridle route and found a couple of geocaches on the way, including this cute little hedgehog, hidden in a rotten stump, cool.
And finally, one of my exciting birthday presents from Jan - a Ghillie kettle! I'd been hinting about this recently, hehe.
The water is held round the outside and you heat it up from below by making a small fire in the bottom compartment.
I'd used one before but not for a long time (when I'd volunteered for a practical conservation organisation for a couple of years after leaving university).
Looking down the middle (Before lighting it of course!)

To put it to a proper test, I filled it right up (about 4 litres apparently) which did take a long time and a lot of sticks to keep the fire going before it got really really hot. But luckily I keep lots of sticks in the back garden, and we found that dried sweet pea stems worked well too. If you're just heating up a bit of water to make a couple of cups of tea etc it would be pretty quick I reckon. Plus it was fun! (And good back-up for power cuts etc, and when we build our own off-grid house (in our dream future!)).


Thanks for reading this week. Linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave's Our Happy Acres