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


Monday 16 November 2015

Harvest Monday - squashes & cider vinegar update

I was lucky on my non-working day this week - the weather was pretty good and even sunny for a while, lovely. So I spent time on the allotment cutting some of the grass paths (which have got really long due to the mild autumn). It was quite satisfying as I'd wanted to start on them for a while but hadn't had chance, and it means I can move around the plot without getting soaked feet every time (Like if I pop to the plot during lunch from work and I'm not in allotmenty footwear).
There's still lots to be cut but I managed to get the main paths through the plot done (I use shears). I think we now get an allotment inspection in autumn as well, so hopefully it makes the plot look presentable enough to avoid a warning letter!
I also prepared a couple of small beds for broad beans, and got them all sown the following day (about 70 seeds) during a long lunch break (I work flexi-hours so sometimes can take a longer lunch but then work later - it's good at this time of year when after work it's too dark to do any allotmenting). After I've raked the bed level, I make holes for the seeds using a dibber, then go along popping the seeds in the holes. I was in a bit of a rush and the depth of the holes varied a bit! Then I loosely cover the holes with soil and cover the whole bed with sticks and branches to try and keep the local cats off them (it doesn't always work).
So I had quite a good harvest on weds, with a variety of greens from the allotment (Chard, corn salad, kale) and even found some more beans in the back garden whilst I was clearing away the plants. The runner beans were from the plants that grew from last year's root that I'd left in the ground and which re-grew this summer.
They made a nice stew-thing
I noticed that one of my stored medium sized butternuts had a bit of mould on it and on closer inspection it was pretty soft - when I cut it open it was completely rotten from the inside out which was weird and very yukky. So in a bit of panic I checked all the others over -this one had a small soft spot near the stalk but was ok inside, phew!
Inside, still ok. Make sure to check any stored harvests regularly to help avoid losing any to mould, or removing any you find to avoid it spreading to nearby fruit or veg.
I did a couple of batches of roasting, using up some of the small green-ish butternuts I'd most recently picked which wouldn't ripen, plus the one above
I couldn't resist making a soup with some of it - a simple made-up recipe of softened onion and garlic with ground ginger, cumin and paprika, plus chickpeas and some of my last toms, plus water.
And a bit of goats yogurt plus smoked paprika to finish, mmm.
I also made a salad for our lunch today which included my own corn salad (which has sown itself all over one of my allotment beds) plus some dry-fried pumpkin seeds, a bit of cheese and a drizzle of cider vinegar, yum.
I pulled up some of my (very few) carrots this week as well. They did have a bit of carrot fly damage despite being covered with an old net-curtain, darn. This method has worked ok in the past.
And talking of cider-vinegar, we strained off the liquid from our first attempt at homemade apple cider vinegar (first step is to use 8 or so apple cores and peels, cover with water and two table spoons of honey then leave for a couple of weeks). So yes, it does look somewhat like wee, but has a much nicer smell! Now we leave it for about 4 weeks, stirring everyday until it gets the flavour you like. It already tastes quite nice so am not sure how long to leave it.

This weekend I've also been out collecting bags of leaves to make leafmould (to improve soil structure). The allotment soil is very sandy and drains a bit too well, so any organic matter I can add is always welcome. As the weather was incredibly windy there weren't that many people around so I didn't get too many odd looks this time! I collect them up from areas nearby where the leaves all get blown into big piles, filling up old compost bags and transport them using my old shopping trolley frame - it must be a funny sight to see me pulling that along! But it means I can move quite heavy materials without the need for a car.


Anyhoo, thanks for reading and see you next time - I'm dashing out to hopefully see a talk by Tom Cox who writes the My Sad Cat stuff, it's a small venue and unticketed, so is first come first served, eep!

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


Monday 9 November 2015

Harvest Monday, a trip away and Lego!

Well this week has been quite a contrast to last.....rainy, rainy, rainy with a touch of sun. I love autumn but I definitely like it less when everything's all soggy.
I thought I was only going to have one token Harvest Monday piccie - a tasty noodle soup, using up last week's harvests of chard and courgettes plus some sprouted beans. (We also had a few meals from the butternut squash I roasted last Sunday.)
But today I picked a couple of red sweet peppers from the lean-to, which we added to a homemade and grown herby tom sauce from the freezer.
We've been away this weekend, visiting Jan's folks in South Yorkshire, back today. I always like to nose around what Jan's mum has been growing in her veggie plot and made the most of a bit of sun that broke through on Saturday sfternoon. She's got some nice looking leeks on the go, plus some chard and kale still growing. In the background is some purple sprouting broccoli, which looks like it'll be a spring cropper.
Here's the same part of the veggie plot from the opposite angle, looking good
She's got some lovely pumpkins too, variety Cinderella. I might give these a go next year, as they had a really good flavour (we had a nice soup one day and hotpot another, mmm). Quite often pumpkins are watery but these were good. They're a sort of wide and flat variety rather than a carving pumpkin.
In the garden they have some very nice apple trees, still with lots of fruit on them (apparently they're quite late this year). I'm never one to pass up on free apples, so we picked a carrier bag-ful to bring home to Norwich, despite travelling by train. Yes, my rucksack was a tad heavy! If only I'd known beforehand I could've taken a suitcase ;)
Saturday afternoon we headed out to Clumber Park, which is a National Trust property, just over the border in Notts. It's a go-to for nice walks at any time of the year, with a huge lake to walk round plus woods, marshes, heathy bits, a real mix. And a cafe of course. There's a walled kitchen garden I'd like to check out sometime but maybe a summer visit would be better.
Here's Jan checking out the birdies
The lake is formed by river water held back by a wier. The river was rushing through right under this point (so I gripped the iPad very firmly!). I have become one of those people who takes photos on an iPad, ( just so I can use them in the blog easily.) It's quite heavy to carry round so I won't be taking it on every walk!
Sunday was rainy again so we went to the Harley Gallery on the Welbeck Estate. This was a new place for me.....and the temporary exhibition was on Lego! The main theme was famous buildings made out of Lego - brilliant!
An amazing St Pancras Station
It was huge
Amazing detail
Even Spider-Man made a cameo. Can you spot him? I only did because a little kid noticed him. Children are at the right height to spot all the detail so useful to listen out for hehe.
There were loads more - here's just a few
Gaudi Cathedral in Barcelona - shows you don't need to build 'em big
But here was another big one - London Olympic Stadium
Battersea Power Station, London, and a tiny St Paul's Cathedral in front
After a nice lunch in the cafe (and a peruse around the farm shop - so many tasty treats, including produce from the estate), we drove a short way to Rufford Abbey Country Park for another walk before the rain set in again. This was another new place for me, I liked the woods and abbey ruins best (I didn't get many pics as the light was bad though). It was quite busy but a definite place to return to.
That's me for the week, linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres