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