Monday, 2 November 2009

Andrew’s Spicy Chicken Penne recipe

Now it’s sometimes said that I’m lazy, whereas I prefer to think of myself as ergonomic with exertion. I like fast recipes that require a minimum of preparation and take just a few minutes, but I also want these fast creations to be tongue tingly tasty. It’s a side affect of living with a wife who can cook the most marvellous gastronomic marvels with what appears to be just the shake of her wrist and a few wistful sighs as she sprinkles things into a pan. My standards have been raised more times than Tower Bridge.

Occasionally I manage to accidently create a dish that requires neither effort nor a great time investment. I say accidently because I often misread even the most basic of culinary instructions. In my defence it’s a well known fact that a chap can’t create, concentrate or pleasure cook on an empty stomach; and seeing as how eating a full meal just before creating another would be plain greedy then these hasty mistakes will always be a distinguishing feature of my time in the kitchen. And so here’s a little something I cobbled together last night in order to satisfy my lust for Italian cooking and my fascination with having a full belly.

This recipe should feed up to six people, or three fat knackers. When we cook in this house we always cook at least one or two portions for the freezer. So come a nuclear winter while the rest of the world is sitting down to a tin of corned beef and baked beans with a deep sadness in their heart, we’ll be eating gourmet food out of plastic tubs and trying to find the bright side of a world populated by nuclear mutants. It’s amazing how a gut full of greatness can improve one’s outlook on life. So without further ado, and before I somehow manage to bring dancing zombies into this confusing nuclear scenario here’s my recipe for Spicy Chicken Penne.

(You can probably buy cheaper versions of any of these ingredients, but I like indulging in the fine stuff, it’s a relatively cheap way of eating like a king, a king with his own Italian chef).
  • 2 x skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 x tins of Italian chopped tomatoes (400g tins we call them in the UK, gawd bless the metric system)
  • 2 medium red onions or one whopper behemoth of a red onion
  • 1 small fresh chilli or a sprinkling of chilli flakes or something, anything hot that isn’t chilli powder
  • 9 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • A handful of pitted black olives (at least 20, I have no idea how big your hands are, nor what ‘that means’ in relation to any other part of your body)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 or 2 pinches of sea salt
  • Penne pasta (it doesn't really matter what sort of pasta I guess, in fact that pasta that comes in the shape of farm animals might be fun, go nuts, live a little)

  1. Grill the chicken breasts and then tear them to shreds like a wild beast using a couple of forks. When they look like they’ve been involved in some sort of small explosion put them to one side, and try and resist the urge to nibble on them while carrying out the rest of these instructions.
  2. Sling all the oil into a massive saucepan – I don’t think there’s any scientific reason to use a massive saucepan it’s just more fun – and heat it very gently. While the oil is heating (gently, don’t be hasty little hobbit) finely chop the red onions, it’s okay to have a little cry at this point, just don’t rub your eyes with fingers rich in onion juice.
  3. Pop in a couple of pinches of sea salt, be sparing rather than generous.
  4. Sling the chopped onions into the oil and move them around a bit whilst whistling a merry tune until they soften, we don’t want to let them go brown. When I say ‘we’ I mean ‘you’, I won’t be there to help you cook this meal, although all invitations to eat it will be considered.
  5. Chop the chilli as small as you possibly can and mix it into the oil and onion slop; leave it on the heat for another few minutes then bung in your chopped red pepper.
  6. Stir in the two tins of chopped tomatoes, and (if you like) use then to make a trotting horsey sound effect while you do a few loops of your kitchen.
  7. Drop in the olives and shredded chicken and leave on a low heat for as long as you fancy.
  8. When your ravenous troops are assembled drop some cooked pasta into the pan and mix it thoroughly with the gorgeous sauce you have created.
  9. Serve with a gracious smile and enjoy the compliments of all present.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Tuna and Mozzarella stuffed over ripe tomatoes

We have a huge glut of tomatoes this year and while we’ve tried to use them all it was inevitable that some were going to get left to go just that little bit too soft. We hate to see waste so I knocked up a little recipe.

You’ll need;
  • 8 or 9 very ripe medium size tomatoes
  • 1 tin/ pack of tuna
  • 1 lump of mozzarella

It might be nice if you have;
  • Fresh black basil leaves
  • Some cous cous

Carefully cut the tops off the tomatoes and using a teaspoon scoop out the goo inside, you can chuck this away or do what I did and add it to the compost pot. Put about a teaspoon of tuna in each hollowed out tomato – our tuna was lightly flavoured with lime and pepper, but it’s not essential by any means. You don’t need to mix the tuna with mayonnaise or oil as there’s more than enough juice in this concoction already.

Carelessly rip apart the mozzarella ball and pop roughly hewn chunks in the top of each tomato. With the grill on full bung all your lovely creations on a baking tray and blast them until the mozzarella starts to brown.

Serve with a slight sprinkling of fresh pepper and eat while still warm. I had some left over cous cous so I added that to the plate. I also nicked some fresh black leaf basil from the greenhouse and stuffed a leaf inside each tomato.

Best eaten whole, nom!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Courgette Chutney - just one way to deal with the glut!

Hi all - by popular request here is a marvel of a recipe for dealing with the continuous spurt of zucchini.
You will need the following:

Pickling spices (coriander seeds, yellow mustard seeds, dried chillies, allspice, ginger, black peppercorns and a couple of bayleaves) * rather unhelpfully the recipe is unclear on the quantities of these - I'm guessing around a t-spoon of each unless you can buy little mixed sachets?? I have since discovered Sainsbugs do a jar of pickling spice, so maybe 2 tbsp??
700g courgettes
250g raisins
250g dried apricots
1 small green apple
250g sugar
3/4 tablespoon salt
500ml white wine vinegar (I used cider vinegar cos thats what I had in the cupboard!)

Tie spices in a muslin bag

Cut courgettes into cubes (small)

In a large preserving pan combine with all other ingredients - chuck in the spice bag (recipe states tie to the handle and dangle in ingredients, but sounds like unnecessary faff to me!) and leave for 24 hours

After said 24 hours - stir over a low heat to dissolve sugar

Cover and simmer gently for at least an hour, pressing the juices out of the spice bag from time to time until the pieces of courgette are translucent and the liquid golden and sryupy

Pour into warm sterilised jars and cover.

Credit must go to Sarah Raven for the recipe, though I did tamper with it a little!!!!!!!!!!!


Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The lilac bush

Rescued by my neighbour from her place of graft then kindly donated to the 'plot' effort.

Very handsome she be that 'Beauty of Moscow'
May she flourish and bloom
and attract all who see - the insects, the birds and even me!

Please don't comment on the sad attempt at poetry (or grammar) .......... I felt inspired by Mr Phil!

How doth the pumkins grow!!

From humble beginnings.......

.......the monster pumpkins swell!!

Jess and I are hoping to weigh in the heaviest pumpkins in all of Ipswich in aid of East Anglia's Children's Hospices (EACH). You can help us raise a bit of cash for the cause by sponsoring our efforts.

Please find the link for 'EACH' in our 'Great links' list for more information about the charity.

The life cycle of a ladybird

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of gardening is observing what is happening right under your very nose.
This photo shows a ladybird at the larvae stage - something I had the foresight to look up in a book rather than assume it was a pest to be squidged! They can move pretty quick and are fascinating to watch - gleefully munching their way through a colony of sap sucking aphids!

Later - after much munching and growing the larvae pupate and look like this before they emerge into the little red beetles we all recognise as ladybirds.

I'm glad to see natural balance at work on our humble allotment garden!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Onion harvest

The first onions - sown from sets autumn 2008

A successful garlic crop

Andrew's meadow - this will be developing over the next few years

Hyssop - the bee's love it!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The very first spuds!!

When I suddenly realised this week that our early potatoes may be ready to harvest after just 7 weeks, I could hardly wait to have a wee poke about in the soil to catch a glimpse of those golden orbs. I had been worrying about this variety called 'Swift' (described in the catalogues as the earliest potato yet) as I missed the flowers and recently the foliage has looked less than healthy. And what with the ants I disturbed when weeding I had pretty much resigned myself to a failure. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The first couple of tubers were like little and large - one the size of a grape, the other a large egg. Not put off I groped around in the soil a bit more and sure enough more tubers tumbled forth.
Now, the yield isn't great, most likely due to slack watering (poor things had to make do with mother natures will which - to be honest - has been less than giving since early April), but on returning home the first spuds weighed in at just under 1kg. Not bad for two haulms - I expected less. Other indications of thirsty spuds are split tubers (had a couple of those) and common scab - a bacterial disease common on light sandy soils and encouraged by hot dry weather ( had a lot of that!). There was also a bit of wire worm damage (those orangey yellow critters that hatch into click beetles) but really, none of these conditions will render them inedible. In fact, I scoffed some tonight, lightly dressed in a vinegarette made with a glug of oil, a splash of lemon juice and a dollop of whole grain mustard. Deliciously decadent - so tender and creamy! Highly recommended! Potatoes may be dull and back breaking to plant, but oh so rewarding to harvest and consume!

Other pics I took today include the pumpkins and nasturtiums Jess planted and I have to tell ya that mulching is the way to go people! So - there may be a problem with the perennial weeds continuing to poke their way through but I've not really had to water as the mulch has stored the moisture for me under it's dense blanket. Excellent news!

The early onions are almost ready to harvest - I think. Not huge but reasonably successful.

Beautiful borage - soon the plot will be full of the shameless self seeder!

And the geraniums. I recently added a few new ones to the collection - an indulgence of mine. A gorgeous magenta flowered psilostemen called 'Dragon heart' ; a maculatum called 'Expresso' and my personal favourite 'Else Lacy' a pretense type, first spotted in a fabby little nursery near Saffron Waldon maybe five years ago. At the time, their only stock plant would have set me back around £300!! I'm glad I waited.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Our first allotment tea party

The sun was out, we had a ton of camping gear with us just to make a single cup of tea, mum brought some lemon meringue pie and dad and I spent the afternoon watching the women work, all in all it was a very successful first allotment tea party!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The very first strawberry!!!

Ha ha yes indeed. On a brief mission to ensure the pesky wind we've experienced for the last few days had not undone the patchwork puzzle of landscape fabric that I laid at the weekend (for compost and mulch deliveries - perhaps I'll elaborate on this sometime), I almost passed this little beauty.

It was a proud and exciting moment. I picked it and took it home for the husband's tea.....(I think he was expecting something a little more substantial). He did, however accept this humble offering and chomped his way into the succulent flesh. Clearly he liked it as his eye went all squinty, and he smiled (grimaced?) and made nom noises (protests?)...........hmmmmm maybe it wasn't quite ripe yet - oooopsie!!

Experimental compost trench

After much potting on Sunday afternoon, I decided to take a quick trip down to the plot and empty our little brown bin. The council usually empties this for us every two weeks, processing it into lovely compost which is available to Ipswich residents..........however - you have to buy it back!! Well - nuts to that, I thought - after an inspiring conversation with another friend who is also an allotmenteer and regularly wheels his bin to his plot, I thought I too would by-pass the 'buy back' procedure of the municipal composting scheme and have the benefits for free. I am also reassured in the knowledge that I know exactly what waste has gone into my special brand of compost and am saved the suspicion of any nasty perennial weeds that may have survived the super heated treatment - forever the sceptic that I am.
Have I mentioned there has been no rain for some time??? Well surprisingly the trench was easier to dig than I expected - all that remained to do was tip the already decomposing matter into the trench, spread it about a bit and cover with soil.

I should point out a few flaws to my version of the plan - the bin was surprising heavy though it was only a third full, and some creative thinking had to be applied to get bin from van to ground - thus done with the use of a pallette. It was also kind of awkward to turn the bin upside down by oneself (the ol' back has been grumbling ever since), and dear God the smell!! I only hope the intended plants appreciate the foul rottenness that had me ever so slightly gagging whilst frantically throwing soil back over the putrid goop! All in all - it was a much shorter process than I figured and I look forward to planting some dwarf french beans (if they ever germinate - grrrr) along the trench - the theory being that - as the green waste decomposes it will feed the hungry plants and also help to conserve moisture.

My only thought is that the waste is fresh (was it ever!) so may be more harmful than useful, much like fresh manure can be, potentially burning the roots and robbing the soil of nitrogen as it breaks down and preventing the said beans from gettin' any, which they will not like and will probably show their displeasure by dying.

Ah well - there's always next year, when I will be the tiniest bit wiser.....perhaps.

Friday, 8 May 2009

A word of thanks...

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find time to regularly update the blog with whatever gentle progress we seem to be making - every week would be nice but - well - most time is spent outdoors whenever possible and for as long as possible to make the most of the longer days up to summer solstice (June 21st) - and then there's the other stuff you find yourself doing like eating and sleeping and that thing we call work! Most likely there will be far more time for telling our entertaining tales during the dark winter months when we tend to curl up in our snug (hopefully with a wood burner this year) and hibernate. But now it's late spring, so I need to be in this moment for now and not think about gloomy winter....though.......woodburner - very exciting!!

Despite months of absence we seem to be having some precipitation today - good news for the dried up ground - not so good news if you've decided to do all your laundry today. Sigh. But yay - time to update the blog!

Anyways - the blog is coming up for it's anniversary soon so I thought I would say thanks to all you people who follow our haphazard happenings. Many of you have said the most encouraging things which makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside and helps us carry on in our rambling sort of way. We've even received the odd bit of advice too, such as - 'avoid rhubarb wine it's blerk - make rhubarb crumble ice-cream instead' (sounds yummy). I would like to add that rhubarb fool is also excellent, and if I get my act together or rain stops play (yeah right - have you heard the estimated weather predictions for the summer months??- this is why mulching is good!) then I plan to make some rhubarb and almond muffins and rhubarb chutney. Perhaps some recipe suggestions may follow......if I give up eating or sleeping! (ha ha - if you know me, you'd realise how farcical that statement was!) A friend of ours in Kent who also has the 'growing bug' (see our blog links) has been very complimentary of my 'so far' crops (recently we all tried making nettle beer - see earlier post - yeah well - the verdicts not out on that yet) - so big thanks to him (such a sweetie) and yes it is a shame we don't live nearer to you to do swappsies - but if you find your way up here soon - let us know.
Another tip we received was about borage and how it can become as invasive as mint. I'm not sure I agree really. Borage is generally used as an annual (not frost hardy in the UK) but does self seed freely so new plants will pop up year after year - at least - that's been my experience. However, it seems unfair to liken borage to the veritable thug - mint, as it does not have spreading rhizomes so can easily be controlled by a quick hoe when you start to see the seedlings or transplanted to a more appropriate site or potted and given away. Mint, on the other hand is more time consuming to remove - if you don't use nasty chemicals the only option is to dig it out and burn it or again put it into pots and give it away to friends. Whatever you do - DON'T PUT IT ON THE COMPOST HEAP! That will lead to badness....but very happy mint I'm sure!
Any other thoughts from you followers on any subject would make interesting reading. After all - we all live with slightly different conditions so every experience is different too and for even more fun - it will vary from year to year. There's a world of community and generosity amongst green fingered types. I'm so glad to be a part of it.

Here's some current pics for your perusal. It's stopped raining now so I'm off to sow more seeds. Yipppeeee.

My birthday plants. They sure have come on since last August!

The woodland wall -
here is an example of nature doing it's thing. It stays reasonably damp being easterly facing so the fern and pretty little purple flower (not sure of the name) have found the perfect habitat. I planted a Clematis near the steps with the hope it will scale the wall (thanks to the wires a bearded friend helped me with) onto the trellis fence - and up and over Andrew's expertly constructed arch. If it flourishes, I'm sure it will make an appearence on the blog again.

Broad beans -
these were supposed to be planted on the plot but with nowhere to put them, I am trialling them here. The construction around them is not so much protection from the weather, but from the regular defecating of our furry beasts. Cat poo and vegetable growing should really not mix!

An explosion of green stuff!

Pak Choi bolting (going to seed).

A forest of tomato plants.

Behind the greenhouse......wherever I can, I will be cramming plants!

Rinny the guard cat. Protecting my precciousss plants....though not really. She merely seized a photo opportunity!

Oh - and the very first pic - the sweet peas of course. Another couple of weeks and they will be in flower!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

What's growing on the home patch?

As well as having the space at the allotment to probably feed a football team, we also have our own little back yard with it's view over the Orwell estuary.......and the plebs on Ashley Street! After many years of dithering over what to create in this terraced space, with many a false start and the removal of many a patio I finally decided it would be more useful as a production area - hence the greenhouse we built this year. That said it's easy to get carried away - there are currently seedlings crammed on every sunny windowsill in the house too.

I think I have about 60 tomato plants growing away quite happily - Gardener's delight (cherry type, good yield, very productive - eat them straight off the vine when warm in the sun and yum!), Tigerella (unusual stripy skin, seem to remember has a good flavour), Matina (performed well when I grew it last year at the place I worked, good skins not easily split) and Marmande (think this is a beefsteak type and again performed well for me last year - how it will perform in my garden remains to be seen).

I don't expect to harvest from 60 plants - that would be crazy - but I'll have lots to give away, which is another great pleasure of gardening and one that tends to be reciprocated! Gardener's are commonly, generous people - well the ones I've met are! Whenever I get chatting to a fellow plot holder ('the wall' seems to be a common talking point), invariably I get offered a little something - a few beetroot, some cabbage seedlings, the use of a hose, a few sticks of rhubarb.
It seems we all grow too much of one crop or another or experience gluts but would rather happily give it away than have stuff going to waste - though waste, in theory, does not exist on the allotment as it can all be composted and re-used.

Other seeds bursting into life include -

Borage and Ipomea or 'Morning Glory' -
both being grown to attract pollinators but the borage has additional benefits of being used for culinary and medicinal purposes - both of which I am yet to experiment with!

Pak Choi -
just planted some out in the greenhouse, and have some to give away. I've found them very useful in stir-fry's, and particularly tasty with fish. You never know - I might let you in on a few recipes!

Chives and tarragon (french type - said to have a better flavour, though not hardy. However - has survived several winters on our patio) -
I divided these up and re potted them, so now I have even more plants!

Parsley and coriander -
this is how they are grown for supermarkets. Lots of seedlings in one pot. Quite wasteful really when you consider that one seed will develop into a whole plant that can have leaves removed as and when you need them rather than the short life span of the pot on your windowsill. It may be possible, though I've not tried it myself, to take one of those supermarket pots and gently tease apart the roots to make lots of individual plants - you will get more for your money and are saved the agonising wait for them to germinate (parsley being particularly slow!). I may give that a go so watch this space......

Broad beans -
somewhat late but what the hell - let's see what happens. Just planted some in the back garden and I'll try the rest at the plot. Always sown them direct before and too thickly which encourages fungal disease and can make them difficult to harvest if there is a small forest of them. They are spaced roughly a foot apart in a double row - more pics to follow if they get going!

Remember these? The first salad leaf crops. Well - they are a bit bigger than this now and with more holes in the leaves (grrrr), but reasonably successful. Not as successful as they would be in a polytunnel, I think. The ambient temperature in a polytunnel seems to be a lot warmer and is also moist so salad leaves tend to grow really quickly - which is good for cutting. An indoor environment also tends to keep flea beetles at bay which can damage the leaves of brassicas - rocket, mizuna and chinese leaves being of this group - radish too! There was a row of salad onions but they seem to have failed - the seed may have been too old. Ah well - you can't win every time!

Yet to find a spot for them on the plot. Speaking of rhubarb though - we plan to have a go at rhubarb wine soon so watch out for the trial and tribulations of that!

My small potted herb garden -
the sage and rosemary are due to be planted at the plot, when there is a place for them but the mint is much better contained in a pot and divided up every now and again as it will take over in open ground!

Echinacea -
really excited about this. Never had any success germinating the seed before. I'll soon be dishing out cold remedies before you know it!!

There has been further activity since taking these photos - just not enough time to document it. I'll do my best to keep up between my hubby's entertaining video diaries.
So far he has managed to avoid getting his hands dirty!!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Pigeon theft!

Well not theft of a pigeon, but a pigeon stealing! For as long as I've had bird feeders outside my study window (here at home) there have been pigeons and doves sat above them trying to figure out how they might benefit from our generosity. After I built a flimsy arbour in the garden a few days ago one pigeon has been sitting on it for what seems like hours trying to figure out how to get the seed...

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

How to make nettle beer

Here's our first instructional video, how to make nettle beer! There's also some coverage of the bottling of our blackberry wine, enjoy!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Blackberry wine is ready, fancy a drop?

Started when we picked the blackberrys up at the allotment 6th September 2008, and finished when we bottled it 13th April 2009. Note we reuse screw top bottles now, cork might be fancy but it's a right pain in the bum!

Our first allotment video update

Actually it's not much of an update at all, just a bunch of random clips from today, but I figured most viewers of this blog haven't seen any moving images of our plot. So here's a brief look at our plot and wander around the other plots at Maidenhall Allotments in Ipswich;

Thursday, 9 April 2009

What's growing?

With the Spring sunshine rapidly encouraging growth, I thought I'd give a quick run down of all the happenings currently flourishing on the plot.

The daffodils we didn't know we had -
almost lost their lives to the lawnmower! When they have finished flowering I will dig them up and move them somewhere more suitable.

All four apple trees survived the winter and have lovely healthy new growth. I suspect the stable muck and top mulch may have helped them through the current dry spell we are experiencing.

Comfrey -
one day this will be a lush patch of leaves that can be cut and covered in water to make a liquid feed. So far they too have survived the winter and the heavy foot of Mr Laws! Bees love the flowers too!

The redcurrant -
a birthday present from Nick and David. It lives - which makes me happy. And look - the strawbs can be seen in the distance and are starting to look better from a weeding and a top mulch of spent mushroom compost.

Hyssop -
another great favourite of bees - and butterflies too! Medicinally can be used to soothe coughs and catarrh which is great news for me and even better news for Andrew! I've been watching 'Grow your own drugs' - I reckon I could turn my hand to to a bit of herbal alchemy!
These plants may will be moved somewhere else eventually and replaced with the taller Anise hyssop, which I have yet to raise and is on my mental list of plants to grow.

The geranium collection (relatives of the wild meadow crane's-bill) -
with all the change occurring on the home patch these have been re-homed here so I can still enjoy them as my most favourite garden plant. The space at home I can then use to grow the tender high maintenance or regular use stuff such as salad leaves, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines etc.

Garlic -
we use a lot of this so I'm pleased it's looking this good. There is some yellowing of the leaf tips which generally means the soil is lacking in nitrogen - (hardly surprising with a previous crop of grass) but over time, adding lots of soil improver's - compost, muck and mulch I'm sure it will get better. However, the onion family are not huge fans of a freshly fed patch. All the books tell you they prefer poorer soil but well drained - great on our sandy loam - not so great on clay.

Ah yes - and the wall. This is growing well too. Soon, I will have a fortRESS - but it will be pretty and green and not look like the trenches of the first world war .
More on the wall another time.......

Other stuff in the ground that should be growing are the spuds - except the Maris Piper's - (still frantically preparing a patch for them), onion sets - (there is some life here), shallots and the raspberries. I'm a little worried about those. I wonder if I buried them too deep or whether the mulch is too thick - I may have to prod around to see what I can find - sigh.

Mostly, it's all good though - I have many an idea spewing forth from my tiny noggin and splattering all over our little piece of land in a free styling, organic kind of way.

What is developing - is something quite unique.......