Monday, 28 September 2015

Garden produce and blackberry clafoutis

Actual blackberries, picked in our garden

When we moved to Suffolk, I had rose-tinted dreams about creating a vegetable garden, toiling over the soil and eating bushels of home grown produce.

Beyond digging out a bit of a bed, and planting a blackcurrant bush, I haven't got much further than dreaming.

However, I remain delighted with the few edible things that have persisted despite my neglect.

The little pear tree in the secret garden has manfully continued to produce some pears, even if they seem too heavy for its small trunk.

Actual pears!

Unfortunately we went on holiday just when the damsons ripened, so we were greeted by a bare tree and a lot of windfalls on our return.

Sad remains of the damsons

The big blowsy white rose has created enormous rose hips, and one weekend I hope to make jewel-like pink-hued rose hip jelly.

...to rose hips in September
From roses in June...





















But I have managed to havest some of the blackberries that scramble over the fence from next door, and even atempted cooking clafoutis, as well as enjoying them with natural yogurt.

Blackberries invading from next door

Blackberry Clafoutis

I used the quantities from Jack Monroe's recipe for Jewelled Clafoutis in A Year in 120 Recipes, but using blackberries and plums rather than mandarins and rhubarb.

It made a pudding that was just enough for a couple of adults and a couple of children, without loads left over for me to eat when I really shouldn't.

Ingredients
100g blackberries
Couple of plums
20g butter, plus a little more to grease the dish
50ml milk
75ml double cream
2 eggs
3 tablespoons of sugar
20g flour
Sprinkle of icing sugar for the top.

Blackberry and plum clafoutis ready to go in the oven
Method

Grease your baking dish with a bit of butter, and tip the blackberries and chopped plums into the bottom.
Heat the butter gently in a saucepan until it has melted, then remove it from the heat, pour in the milk and cream and stir to combine.
Break the eggs into a mixing bowl, add the sugar, and whisk until pale and creamy. Whisk again after adding the flour, and then again after adding the cream and milk mixture from the saucepan.
Pour the batter over the fruit in the dish, and bake for roughly half an hour in an oven at 180 degrees C / gas mark 4.
Check it's cooked by sticking a knife in the middle. Just like a cake, if it comes out clean, the clafoutis is done.
Sieve a little icing sugar over the top, and stand back to admire your creation, before your family scoffs the lot. Great served with extra cream.

Finished calfoutis, in the brief interval between oven and consumption

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Store cupboard special - galettes with buckwheat flour


Galettes: success at last with buckwheat flour

Just when I was scratching my head about what on earth to do with some long-abandoned buckwheat flour, Ceri over at Natural Kitchen Adventures posted a recipe for Breton Buckwheat Galette Complète with Ham, Comté Cheese and Egg.

Perfect.

I have no idea why I originally bought buckwheat flour. Maybe I had grand plans about making glamorous smoked salmon blinis for a party? I do remember attempting blueberry pancakes with buckwheat flour one weekend when I was out of ordinary flour. They were not well received.

This flour has been such a long-term resident in my storecupboard that it probably has squatters' rights. Embarrassingly the best-before date is October 2011. Oops. However, applying the common sense tests that it looks fine, smells fine, and I hate food waste, I was keen to use it rather than just bin it.

So last week, when I wanted something quick, warm and comforting to cook, I had a go at galettes.

Ceri's batter recipe uses 100g buckwheat flour, 180 ml water and an egg. Mixed to the consistency of pouring cream, these quantities made three galettes, so I could have one, and my husband enthusiastically devoured two.

Ceri mentioned not having a crepe hot plate, and using a large frying pan instead. I gave it a whirl using a circle of Bake-O-Glide on top of the Aga, which actually worked really well. Maybe I should try it with our normal small fat pancakes too?

Cooking galettes on top of the Aga.
The edges got a bit neater as I went along...

As a filling, Ceri suggested using a very authentic combination of Comtécheese, ham, egg and a few spinach leaves. I didn't have any Comté, but I did have some Gruyere, and I'd quite happily make them with cheddar too. The only spinach in the house was some hefty lumps in the freezer, earmarked for curry, so I left that out.

Using a slice of ham, an egg and 20g grated cheese for each galette was really easy, although I needed to add the toppings quickly, so I could still fold the edges of the galettes onto the top before the batter set too much.

I think they made a great alternative to using ham and cheese to make toasted sandwiches or omelettes, and using a strongly-flavoured cheese meant a little cheese went a long way.

I reckon the ingredients I used cost 80p per galette (Dove's Farm Buckwheat Flour 1kg for £1.69, 15 x free range mixed weight eggs from Morrisons for £2, 4 slices Morrisons Deli breaded ham for £1, 200g Gruyere cheese from Morrisons for £2.69), but there are cheaper options for all of these.

We ate the galettes with salad and appreciative noises from my husband. Which is good, as I still have another 500g of buckwheat flour to get through...

Friday, 25 September 2015

Home-made pizza for movie night

Pizza ready to go in the oven

In our house, Fridays are movie night, when the children choose a DVD from the library and we all sit round eating pizza and watching a film.

The quality of films from Hadleigh library varies a lot - Lemonade Mouth was a surprising hit, who knew that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is quite so enormously long, and I could do without watching Kronk's New Groove ever again.

Similarly, I've tried different options for pizza with varying success.

The nicest ready-made pizzas do seem expensive, so I experimented with adding our own toppings to different bases.
The ready-made bases I tried ages ago were a bit tough and disappointing.
Packets of pizza base mix were more successful, but also quite a lot of effort without saving much money (45p for a packet that makes a single 20cm base at Sainsburys).
Most recently, we settled on using a couple of value part-bake baguettes (50p from Sainsbury's Basics or 45p from Morrisons Savers).

Last week, fired up with resolutions to use some of the bread flour shoved to the back of my storecupboard (post here), I finally had a go at making home-made pizza dough.

The real bonus was that I had all the ingredients handy - strong bread flour, sachets of dried yeast, warm water, oil, sugar and salt.

I had a look at the recipes for pizza dough in Jamie Oliver's "Save with Jamie" and Jack Monroe's "A Year in 120 Recipes", also borrowed from the library.

Jamie's "American Hot Pizza Pie" recipe recommended industrial quantities, using 1kg flour to make four 30cm pizzas, whereas Jack's "Birthday Pizza Dough" recipe, with 210g flour for a single 30cm square pizza, seemed more manageable on a first attempt.

Both used surprisingly similar quantities of yeast (7g for Jamie, 6g for Jack) so it would be easy to scale up the quantities just by adding more flour, oil and water.

This my version, a mix and match from both books:


Pizza dough

Finished pizza!
Complete with different toppings in different places
Ingredients

210g strong white bread flour
1 teaspoon sugar
Tiny bit of salt
7g sachet dried yeast
125ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Plain flour for dusting the work surface and baking tray.

Method

Weigh the flour out into a mixing bowl, and add the sugar and a tiny bit of salt.
Make a dip in the middle, add the yeast, then pour in some of the water and the tablespoon of olive oil.

Mix the water with a fork, gradually bringing in more of the flour, then adding more water and stiring again, until all the flour and water is mixed together into a lump of dough. I used my hands to bring together the last of the flour into the dough.

Both recipes told me to tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead until it is springy to touch.
I reckon this takes much longer than you might think, if you're not used to baking bread. Maybe a good five minutes of pushing and stretching and folding, until your arms are expressing strong opinions about their preference for ready-made pizzas? But perhaps more-experienced dough-makers can add their advice in the comments.

Dust the inside of a mixing bowl with flour, put the dough inside, cover with the bowl with cling film and leave it somewhere warm for about an hour. Apparently it's meant to double in size, although I don't think mine did.
Use the time to make any tomato sauce for the base and chop up any fillings. I use a 50/50 mix of tomato puree and red pesto as it's quick, easy and edible, and add grated cheddar, chopped ham, value mozzarella and sliced olives for the children. As I was feeling virtuous, I stuck to value feta, sliced mushrooms and olives on my own part of the pizza. If you need to pre-heat your oven, turn it on now.

Once the dough has risen about as much as you think is likely, turn it out on a floured surface and give it a quick knead. Then roll it out and stretch it a bit into whatever shape you like, aiming to make it 2 to 3 mm thick.

Pop the base on a floured baking tray, spread on the tomato sauce, fling on some toppings, and bung it in a hot oven.

I followed Jack Monroe's example of superhot for less time - about 220 degrees C/gas mark 7 for 10 minutes. Jamie recommends a lower temperature for longer - 190 degrees C / gas mark 5 for 15 to 20 minutes.

My daughter is very picky about her pizza, but loved this one even when I said it was home-made. Success!

The only issue is making sure I get started early enough so the dough can sit around for an hour, otherwise my son is likely to fall asleep half way through the film.


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

My Sunday Times article: My children's accounts are now of little interest

My daughter, with her Stanley the dog moneybox. 

Believe it or not, the nearest I get to a proper job is writing about money. A whole rollercoaster ride of mortgages, savings, investments, insurance, pensions and tax, I'm telling you.

This weekend, one of my articles ran in the Sunday Times, born out of my fury that TSB were slashing the interest paid on my children's Young Saver savings accounts from nearly 3% a year down to below 1% a year. 

Here's the link, although I'm afraid it's behind the Times/Sunday Times paywall:
http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/business/money/savings/article1608644.ece

I hesitated before posting about the article, thinking it was more related to my day job, and less about my normal blog topics like frugal food and gardening.

However, Much More With Less is supposed to be about moving to the country, living on less and making the most of it. So perhaps making sure you get the most possible interest on limited savings is actually bang on topic. 

I would certainly love to teach my children to save. 

As I said in the article, I would like them to learn that if you salt away savings, rather than squandering the cash on Haribo, the bank will pay you for the privilege by adding interest. 

Now they are older and receive the princely sum of £1 a week pocket money, I would also like them to realise that they can save up for things rather than borrowing the money. By forgoing a Kinder egg today, they can save towards a longed-for Lego set later.

Back in the real world, they are much keener on scooting straight down to the sweet shop. 

At least I've managed to convey the concept of price per kilo to my daughter. Nowadays she'd rather opt for a Co-op offer with 3 bags of 45p sweets for her £1, rather than the smaller amount in a bag of branded sweets. Thumbs up for sensible shopping, even if the dentist/dietician/doctor would disapprove.

I live in hope though, and reckon that accounts that accept amounts small enough for children to save for themselves are a good place to start. If you choose an easy access account, the savings can still be withdrawn if needed. Unlike money boxes, bank accounts are more difficult to raid, whether to satisfy sudden sweet cravings or by siblings with evil intent.

Currently, several high street banks and building societies still offer around 3% on children's savings accounts, which is not bad when adult accounts often pay much less.

You can find the best paying accounts in this table on the Moneyfacts website:
http://moneyfacts.co.uk/savings/childrens-savings-accounts/

Any top tips on introducing the younger generation to the radical concept of saving rather than spending?  Because I'm not sure that TSB's approach, by slashing the interest rate on my children's Christmas money by two thirds, is the right place to start.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Cottage pie: stretching mince with smuggled veg

When cooking family meals, I am always searching for recipes that are not just healthy and low budget, but - crucially - my children will actually eat.

This recipe for cottage pie (usually) covers all the bases.
I can feel virtuous at persuading them to eat some red meat and extra vegetables.
The costs are kept low by stretching the mince with added ingredients.
Plus the slightly sweeter taste in comparison to traditional cottage pie, from adding baked beans, carrot and tomato ketchup,  is normally judged acceptable by the younger generation.
Anyway, I recommend giving it a whirl.

Cottage pie with smuggled vegetables

Ingredients
In our house, these quantities served three small children, two adults and a packed lunch. 

Ingredients for cottage pie,
plus little bits of oil, milk and butter. 

1 tablespoon of oil, whichever you happen to have
1 onion
2 carrots
2 sticks of celery
200g lean mince (I used part of the pack of 5% fat mince bought here)
410g can baked beans
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 beef stock cube
1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon of milk

For the mash
900g potatoes
Lump of butter
Another tablespoon of milk




Looking back at my receipts, the ingredients I used cost £3.50. Almost everything came from Morrisons, as my nearest big supermarket.
If I'd put in the whole 445g pack of lean mince, instead of carrots, celery and baked beans, the cottage pie would have cost £5.10 instead.

Method


1. Peel the carrots, onion and potatoes.
Cut the potatoes in similar sized chunks, chop up the celery and onion and grate the carrots


.









2. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, add the celery, carrot and onion, and cook gently until they soften.



3. Meanwhile put the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water. 
Put on the hob, bring up to the boil, then turn down the heat a bit and let them boil for about 16 minutes. 
Check if the potatoes are cooked by poking them with a knife - if they slip off easily, they're done. 
If not, try again in a few more minutes



4. When the veg have softened, push them to one side of the frying pan and add the mince. 
Poke it and stir it round with a fish slice so the mince breaks up in the pan while cooking.

5. As the mince turns from red to brown, stir it in with the veg.


6.Tip in the tin of chopped tomatoes and the tin of baked beans. I usually put a little bit of water in one tin, swill it around, tip it into the other can and swill it around, then tip into the pan. This gets the last of any beans and tomatoes into the mix. Then add a dollop of tomato ketchup, a slug of worcestershire sauce, and a crumbled stock cube, and let it bubble away until the mix is thicker and not watery. This could well take 10 or 15 minutes.


7. While the mince mixture is cooking, continue with the potatoes. 
Once they are sufficiently soft, drain the potatoes through a colander, pop them back in the saucepan and start mashing. 
Nowadays I use a potato masher, but I always used to use a fork and it was fine. 
I add a bit of milk and a knob of butter to the potatoes to make the mash smoother and taste nicer.

8. Once the mince mixture has thickened, tip it into a big dish. To give you an idea, mine is a pottery dish about 25cm by 32cm. Splodge spoonfuls of mashed potato on the top, to cover the mince. 
9. Use a knife to smooth out the top of the mashed potato. I also used a fork to draw lines on the top, to make it less obvious where the mash is different levels. Brush a bit of milk (only a tablespoon or so) over the top, to help the pie go brown in the oven.


10. Put the cottage pie in a hot oven (about 200 degrees or Gas Mark 5) for 40 to 60 minutes, until the potato is browned and the mince mixture is bubbling hot. Let it cool down a bit before eating - I put portions for the children onto their plates, so they cool down quicker, before telling everyone to come and eat.

11. Ta dah cottage pie with smuggled veg, served on this occasion with peas and plentiful tomato ketchup. One child ate it with every appearance of enjoyment, and the other two needed a bit of encouragement, but we ended up with three clean plates*. In my house, that counts as a success.
*For the record, one child was a visitor. I haven't suddenly added another child to our family along with the move to Suffolk. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Stretching roast pork across multiple meals

With pork joints hitting the headlines today, I thought I'd finally get round to posting about how to stretch a large piece of pig across multiple meals, rather than wasting it on a single bizarre initiation ceremony (allegedly).

Back in June, I spotted a leg of pork in the reduced section of our local Co-op which was such a bargain that it broke my resolve to stop food shopping during the storecupboard challenge (post here).

At £6.38 for 2.5kg, it was huge enough to feed lots of people, so I hoarded it in our freezer until a couple of families came round for lunch.

Lots of pork! With crackling too! And it should have been nearly £20!
 (You can tell I don't get out much)

Meal 1: Roast pork

With six adults and four children to feed, I'd originally planned a barbecue, until a hideous weather forecast scrapped that plan. The enormous leg of pork became a handy Plan B.

After defrosting the joint over night, I took it out of the fridge and removed all the plastic packaging.
The recipes I read gave mixed messages about whether or not to remove the string before cooking. I left it on, but reckon that was the wrong choice. Turns out attempting to remove cooked in string from crunchy crackling, while still maintaining polite conversation, is not easy.

Anyway, I had a go at the following advice on how to make decent crackling.
This involved bunging the joint on a plate in the sink, pouring over some boiling water, draining away the water, and then repeating with more boiling water three minutes later.

The skin was already scored ready for crackling, but I made a few extra cuts for luck (NB: you need a hideously sharp knife or it'll just bounce off).

Apparently the pork should be really dry before cooking, so I wiped the joint with some kitchen towel and left it for an hour. Overnight would apparently be better, but I didn't have any nights left.

Just before cooking, I massaged some salt into the skin. Then I sliced up some onions, put them in the bottom of a roasting tin, added the pork joint on top, and bunged the whole lot in a really hot oven for half an hour.

Roasting time depends on the weight of the meat. Pork seems to take 35 minutes per pound. My 2.5kg joint equates to just over 5 and a half pounds, so the cooking time was roughly 3 and a quarter hours.

After the first half hour at a really hot temperature, I cooked it for the remaining 2 and three quarter hours at a lower temperature (AGA translation: moved it down from the top to the bottom of the roasting oven, still on a shelf though).

And ta dah, here's the joint after all the roasting (although still with the string pah):


Pork joint ready to rock and roll...right after it has rested for half an hour

After putting the pork to one side, wrapped in foil and then tea towels to keep it warm while resting, I attempted some gravy.

I put the roasting pan on the hob, added enormous quantities of wine and a tablespoon of flour, boiled away madly and then sieved it into a jug. It was not a success. I fell back on Knorr chicken gravy pots and frantic whisking with boiling water.

Apple sauce, made by peeling, coring and chopping three apples, then heating them in a saucepan with a couple of teaspoons of sugar and 50ml of water, was much more successful. Just keep an eye on the apples, stir every so often, and add extra water if they look like sticking to the bottom of the pan.

I served the roast pork, apple sauce and gravy with broccoli and cauliflower cheese, boiled carrots, chippolata sausages for any roast refusers, and mashed potato.
I would have liked to do roast potatoes, but figured the Aga would keel over and die if asked to remain hot enough to roast potatoes on top of roast pork, broccoli & cauliflower cheese and roasted plums for pudding.
Never mind the Aga, I needed a little lie down after cooking all that lot.

Loads of leftovers, but all the crackling got swiped.

Meal 2: Pork and mango chutney sandwiches

Cold roast pork, seved in brown rolls with mango chutney, plus a bit of cucumber and tomato if you have it handy, are FABULOUS. We ate these rolls that evening, to avoid further cooking, and for a couple of packed lunches too.

So good I started eating before remembering to take a photo.

Meal 3: Pie with Pork, Gravy and Apple Sauce

Lots of leftovers = one great pie

Inspired by this recipe over at the English Kitchen, pie seemed the only possible option faced with leftover pork, gravy, apple sauce, puff pastry and a handy onion. We even had leftover mashed potato to serve with it.

To give the remains of our roast pork a fitting send off, I even went out and bought a Pyrex pie dish and pie funnel from one of our local charity shops (post here).

Hadleigh Thrift Shop turned up trumps with a pie dish and pie funnel for £1

I started by chopping up an onion, heating it with a bit of oil in a frying pan until soft, and then bunging in the chopped up remnants of the pork.

Chopped onion and roast pork. Oooh the excitement.

While the onion was softening, I rolled out my 180g leftover puff pastry on a floured surface until it was roughly the same size as the top of the pie dish.


Puff pastry. Rolled. 

I put the pork and onion mix in the pie dish around the pie funnel and added the leftover successful gravy, leftover apple sauce and 75ml of water. I rubbed a bit of butter round the rim of the pie dish, in an attempt to make the pastry stick over the top.


Pie filling.

I put the rolled up pastry over the top, trimmed off any pastry hanging over the edge of the dish, used a fork to press the pastry down onto the butter and made a couple of cuts to let the top of the pie funnel poke through. I also brushed the top of the pastry with a bit of milk, in the hope it would go brown.

Pie ready for the oven

Think I left the pie in a hot oven for about half an hour, while heating up the left over mash and cooking some broccoli and cabbage.


Beautifully brown pie, even if the pastry did shrink

My husband and I ate the pie with mashed potato and steamed broccoli and cabbage. It was even more fabulous than the roast pork rolls.

A good pie is a thing of beauty, even if it doesn't photograph well.


Now I still scope out the reduced section in the Co-op, hoping for another pork joint, haunted by memories of roasts, rolls and pies past. In the meantime, I still need to find a decent recipe for gravy.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Slimming on a budget - shopping

One anniversary meal later, and I could still do with rediscovering my waist.

In the hope of losing pounds with spending them, I made a pilgrimage to Morrisons to stock up on suitable food. Morrisons is just my nearest big supermarket - if we had an Aldi within walking distance, I'd use it.

I'm intending to give weight loss a whirl fuelled by less expensive options and value ranges, in the belief that healthy eating really shouldn't have to involve expensive low fat this and diet branded that.

Key items in my attempt to lose lbs without spending £s

As the main protein items to get me started, I bought a combination of meat, fish, cheese, eggs, beans and yogurt. And yes, I appreciate that tinned tomatoes aren't protein, but they sneaked into the photo anyway.

Starting from the top left, I bought:

2 x salmon fillets, reduced, 240g                                               £1.99 
2 x kippers, reduced, 195g                                                         £0.69
Morrisons Savers cottage cheese, 300g                                     £0.64
Morrisons Savers red kidney beans, 240g drained                      £0.30
2 x Morrisons Savers chopped tomatoes, 400g                           £0.62
Morrisons Savers mature white cheddar, 826g                            £3.75
Morrisons Savers soft cheese, 200g                                           £0.52
Morrisons sardines in tomato sauce, 124g                                   £0.40
Morrisons Savers tuna chunks in brine, 120g drained                   £0.57
Morrisons 5% fat extra lean minced beef, 445g                           £4.00
Morrisons Savers smoked rindless back bacon, 300g                  £1.50
2 x Morrisons Savers mozzarella, 125g                                     £0.86
2 x Morrisons Savers low fat natural yogurt, 500g                      £0.90
2 x Morrisons free range mixed weight eggs x 6                         £1.58

Total: £18.32

As you'll see, it's a mix of Savers (the Morrisons value range) and supermarket own brand.

There are also Savers versions of sardines, minced beef and eggs, but on this occasion I opted to spend a bit more to get a higher proportion of sardines in the can, a lower proportion of fat in the mince (5% as opposed to a whopping 24% in Savers beef and pork mince) and higher welfare eggs.

One of the benefits of showing up at the supermarket rather than shopping online is that you can check the reduced sections. In this case, I picked up reduced salmon fillets and a bargain pack of kippers, which I have yet to work out how to cook.

These should form the basis of the meals, supplemented with fruit, veg, carbs like rice, pasta and bread, and other storecupboard staples.

Like all good intentions, we'll have to see whether I can actually put any of it into practice.




Friday, 18 September 2015

Ten years ago yesterday...



Ten years ago yesterday, I was a bit busy getting married.

So last night my husband and I were keen to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

However, since moving to Suffolk we've shelled out for repairing rotten door and window frames, repainting the outside of the house, the odd bit of re-roofing, a woodburner, a couple of new radiators and pruning back assorted trees and climbers threatening to take over the world.

It means we should be warmer and drier, and the house should be less likely to fall down, but doesn't leave much for swanky meals out let alone weekends away.

Instead, I had a go at cooking a meal based on the food at our wedding, which was all food we liked, and had good associations for us. Admittedly, the combination of gravadlax, venison served pink and apple tart with home-made (aka unpasteurised) caramel ice cream could have been purpose built to be unsuitable for pregnant women, so apologies to at least three of our guests at the time.

As we weren't eating out, I reckoned I could blow the shopping bill safe in the knowledge it still wouldn't cost as much as a restaurant (unless of course we were opting for a Happy Meal). "Tonight, for one night only, we won't be eating value range anything!" I vowed to myself as I set out for Hadleigh High Street.

However, despite my best extravagant intentions, I found that some of my "much more with less" tendencies were too deeply ingrained.

I still stalked the reduced section in the Co-op to pick up cut-price yellow-stickered apples and avocados, and chose the smaller rather than larger packet of smoked salmon, even if it was from Pinney's nearby in Orford.

I waited until I got to Morrisons to buy cucumbers, where they're larger and slightly cheaper, opted for own-brand rather than Jus Rol puff pastry, a bargain pack of Maris Piper potatoes, half price fancy ice cream and fancy crisps on offer. I did treat us to fancy olives and vine tomatoes for once.

I also made my first purchase at one of the proper butchers, but got the smallest venison joint they sold, plus advice on how to cook it (thank you, Jolly Meat Co).

The cooking itself was extremely cheerful, helped along by large quantities of prosecco, olives and crisps.

In the end we ate smoked salmon with a salad of cucumber, avocado and tomato:

Note cucumber ribbons cut with a
potato peeler - that's how fancy it was.

Followed by roast venison with mashed potato and honey and mustard roasted parsnips and carrots (recipe here although I halved the quantities of the oil, mustard and honey):

Note to self: next time, smaller portions

For pudding, I did an apple tart by putting thin slices of a couple of apples on a puff pastry base, dotted with butter and a couple of teaspoons of sugar. I used 200g of the packet of pastry, and froze the other 300g split into a couple of bags to use another time.
After the tart is cooked (about 15 mins in a hot oven), you melt 3 tablespoons of apricot jam with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, brush the mixture over the top of the tart and leave it to cool. That's it. Really easy, looks nice, tastes great. We ate it with vanilla ice cream and chocolate salted caramel ice cream through sheer greed, but it's great with normal cream or creme fraiche or toffee sauce too.

Apple tart looking pretty
Even prettier with plentiful ice cream





















So it was a very celebratory meal, helped along by some particularly nice wine we were given when friends came to stay this summer (thank you all Espleys).

And then this morning, my husband got to take in a packed lunch containing venison sandwiches for the first time ever, with a hefty slice of apple tart.

It was not a frugal meal. Looking at the receipts, I reckon the food I used came to almost £24.
But we thoroughly enjoyed pushing the boat out at £12 a head, and it was fun to mark our tenth wedding anniversary. Here's to many more years ahead.

Friday, 11 September 2015

What to do when your hedge resembles an evil minion...

One evil minion
One hedge sadly in need of a trim





















When the your hedge gets so overgrown it resembles an evil purple minion, even a novice gardener like me can tell that it might be time for a trim.

Our hedges needed cutting before we went away, and surprise, surprise, they hadn't magically cut themselves before our return.

Top of the hedge makes a break for freedom

Last Sunday, with the sun shining and the prospect of imminent visitors, I finally unearthed our shears and laid waste.

While we were on holiday, we visited Montacute, which has particularly amazing yew hedges. Apparently they got a starring role in Wolf Hall, but perhaps I was too busy watching Damian Lewis ponce about in big boots to take them in.
While we were at Montacute, I watched one of the gardeners wielding a petrol-powered hedge trimmer and saw the top tip of putting a picnic blanket under the hedge before you start, to catch all the clippings.


There is a picnic blanket under there somewhere, honest

We do actually have an electric hedge trimmer, from when we attempted to keep the privet hedge in our old house under control. I thought it would make crisp hedge cutting a breeze. In practice I find it absolutely terrifying, convinced that either I'm going to cut straight through the power line, or lop off a few of my limbs. So I retreat to the low tech alternative, get snapping with the shears and pretend it's exercise for my arms.

Ta dah, final result.

One shorn hedge
Rediscovering the picnic blanket





















As an added bonus, we didn't even have to trek to the tip. I managed to cram the hedge clippings into the garden waste bin, on top of all the cut grass, and they've been whisked away in the fornightly collection. It's all rock and roll excitement round here, I'm telling you.

Now there's just the small matter of the other hedges...

Better get the shears out again. I'll just ignore the weeds.