Rooting stems

You probably know that I love propagating plants by cutting stems, leaving them in water and waiting until they sprout roots. I’ve done this for basil and rosemary fairly successfully in the past.

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I tried it with mint over the winter; I bought a mint plant from one of the less upmarket supermarkets a few months ago and couldn’t bear to throw what I hadn’t used away. I cut some stems, put the ends into water and replanted them back in the same pot once they had sprouted roots. Now look at it!

(many of you may say that mint will grow anywhere but I have achieved the dubious accolade of having properly killed off my last mint plant).

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I’m not denying its a bit straggly but I’ll put it into a bigger pot when we get to the (ahem) new place. I’ve not decided yet whether to put it outside or leave it indoors; I’ve discovered strawberries, plain yoghurt and some finely chopped mint make the most delicious late evening snack and am worried about the inevitable effect on such late evening snacking should the  aforementioned mint be outdoors…

The other surprise for rooting stems was watercress. I’m not sure why I decided to do this because I don’t really like watercress, but after reading you can propagate watercress this way too there was no stopping me! I was not optimistic about the plastic packet of watercress from the less-than upmarket supermarket but put a couple of stems in water anyway. I think you’ll agree after a couple of days they do not look the healthiest of specimens!

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However on further inspection you can see these….img_5140

Amazing, no?!

I’ll give them another week and then pot them out. The removal men are not going to be amused….

Small projects

Pending the impending house move (did I mention that yet?) I’ve been reluctant to go too mad planting things this year. However after my foray into the garden a couple of weeks ago I’ve got the bug again and can’t help but dream up new projects.

I had some watermelon gifted to me before mum and dad departed for France last week and it seemed such a shame to throw away all those seeds… so those have gone into some soil today. I’ve never grown melons but a quick Google search suggests they can grow in the UK, if they don’t get too cold. Its all about the greenhouse! I hope all these seedlings make it to the new house – it might be a case of Survival of the Fittest… (or the Promised Land?).

I’ve planted some basil seeds indoors and they’ve started to germinate (watch this space). A single tomato has germinated but I’m still waiting on the left over seeds of peppers, chillies, courgette and aubergine from last year which I’ve also sowed. Keeping my fingers crossed some of them materialise as seedlings (see I didn’t plant much… much!).

Another cast off from the departing parentals was a solitary stick of lemongrass so that has gone into water and is already sprouting roots. I promise to keep it indoors this time as the British weather finished my last rooted lemongrass off.

More updates to follow…

PS the lime is still hanging on in there (literally)!

Chicken and parsnip dinner

I’ve become a bit lazy over the 12 or 18 months and we’ve tended to revisit the same winning dishes. My husband’s not complaining though, especially when I whip out this one which is among his favourites. Its adapted from BBC Good Food (old habits die hard) and you can find the original recipe here.

To make enough for 2 of us with enough left over for 1 or two further servings (depending on whose eating them and how hungry they are…) I start with 5 filleted chicken thighs. I remove the bulk of the remaining fat and any bits of bone and cartilage that remain (I hate gristle, or grizzle at its known in our house) and put in my favourite hand-me-down blue Le Creuset casserole dish (I don’t know why it matters that its blue but it does!) along with 2-3 sliced onions. I don’t use oil firstly because there’s still enough fat in the chicken, and secondly because the little bit of chicken that gets stuck on the bottom of the pan caramelises and loosens during the subsequent cooking. This gives the whole dish a beautiful sweet flavour (as long as its not too burnt!).

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Once the chicken is browning on one side I turn them over and then add 4-6 roughly chopped carrots and 4-6 peeled and roughly chopped parsnips. I used to chop the parsnips quite small (as if I were steaming them) but they tend to break down quite quickly so I’ve found bigger chunks survive better if you actually want identifiable parsnip left over at the end. Today I also threw in a chopped leek for good luck.

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Chicken and onions cooking away, complete with ‘flame retardant’ oven glove – still almost alight. I have become quite the expert fire fighter over the years.

Then goes in a chicken stock cube, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, herbs of your choice (thyme or tarragon work best. Today we used chives since mum and dad gifted us an enormous bunch last week and they’re having to go into everything!), a splash of water (maybe 200ml depending on how wet it looks) and as always, a good turn or 6 of freshly ground black pepper.

On goes the lid and it can simmer anywhere between 30 and 90 mins. The longer it cooks the creamer it becomes. Today however, we were hungry and so after 30 mins, I pulled the thighs apart with 2 forks, gave it a good stir, added some freshly chopped chives and we were good to go. I served it with basmati rice which had some peas and sweetcorn thrown in at the last minute.

img_5148The original recipe calls for some honey but I find there’s enough sugar in the root veg to carry this through. A quick splodge of creme fraiche on the top goes a long way though!

Finding friends

One of the things I love about blogging is reading other people’s blogs. I’m not an overtly social person IRL but I do enjoy reading about other people’s endeavours especially when they’re into similar things I am. I recently discovered The One Handed Cook and am loving reading through her posts. Running [tick], baking [tick], love of kitchen gadgetry [tick]… what’s not to like?

The One-Handed Cook

I hope she doesn’t mind my leaving this here for your enjoyment…

… and birthday baking! (all in reverse chronological order)

The best thing about having nephews is making cool cakes. I keep trying to persuade my now-husband that having an excuse to make cool cakes is a good reason to have children. He’s not convinced.

Anyway, the newest nephew (brand new since my most recent spate of posting 18 months ago in fact) had his first birthday in October.

His Mum and Dad are both in the Royal Navy, and he supports (read “his Dad supports”) Sunderland. So what else but a pirate ship with red and white stripey sails? (despite having lucked out with a husband that neither plays nor watches football I have acquired 2 brother in laws and 3 nephews who do. But at least it makes for easy decoration of such things like pirate ship sails).

Has anyone else noticed that CurlyWurlys are surprisingly versatile for cake decorating?!

…Christmas baking…

Well its only Easter. Surely that’s the best time for writing about Christmas? No?

To be fair all I want to do is post a picture of last year’s Christmas cake. It was a DIY attempt at something you can buy to create the same effect. I used a bread stick and lots and lots of marshmallow fluff which seemed to do the trick (I don’t like using non-edible fixtures if avoidable). It was somewhat of a rushed effort but in future I’d probably try to make a gingerbread box to replace the penguins (although penguins are my big sister’s favourite!) and remove the dodgy green/blue piping which was a shortcut that didn’t pay off.

img_4903-1A gingerbread house is my ambition for next Christmas (if I’m not too busy in the new house. Did I mention we’re (hopefully) moving house soon?!).

Oh, and, I nearly forgot to show you these bad boys

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img_4867Fairly self explanatory I think but easy and good fun! The cupcakes were chocolate for the reindeers and a cinnamon/toffee mix for the snowmen but really you could use any cupcake recipe you wish. The icing is a chocolate fudge icing and marshmallow fluff let down with butter respectively. And below is my bread bin filled with all the goodies I used to decorate… I’ll let you work out what goes where!Those are milk chocolate giant buttons, chocolate covered pretzels (had never experienced the incredible mix of salted chocolate before but I can tell you its a winner), mint matchsticks, and various sizes of marshmallows in case you can’t quite work it out! Oh and there are smarties and white chocolate giant buttons in there too.

(Don’t worry I didn’t put the iron tablets in the cupcakes)

Untrusty gadgets

Do you remember my favourite kitchen gadgets? Well, I want my trusty beige 1970s in-danger-of-electrocuting-me blender back. The beast below has turned out to be next to useless. It doesn’t mix properly, and anything other than a basically dry mixture works its way up the inside of the blade, cementing the whole mechanism together. The net result is you lose half of what you’re making, and there is the additional irritation hours of cleaning to follow. Not happy!
If this is happening because I’m doing something wrong, please do let me know.

See? Not at all mixed properly. Hopeless.

Alas, my trusty old blender has already gone to the charity shop.

The only good thing about this situation is that we got a KitchenAid mixer as a wedding present, which has been left intact and boxed up pending the (hopefully) impending move – something else that’s filling me with excitement about getting to the new place!!

You can expect lots of photos and (?too much) excitement to follow… one day… soon… I hope!

Catching up

Flicking back through the pictures on my phone I realise that despite having not been up to much, there are still a few things I can share, if you’ll indulge me.

My indoor plants have been flourishing and the lime tree has sprouted a load of flowers and baby limes. This usually fills me with fear as it tends to result in all the limes dropping off and a whole load of disappointment. However, I shall just leave these pictures here and see what you think… (lime still growing at time of posting…)


Easter baking…

I have failed miserably at posting anything further since December but I have slowly been getting myself underway. We’re hoping to move house in the next few months and that’s been taking up some of my time – and I’ve not been investing too much time in the garden that we’ll leave behind.

I have however finally cleared up the smattering of left overs from last year’s minimal attempts and the garden at least looks vaguely presentable now. I’ve planted a couple of peppers, chilli and courgette seeds in the hope I can take them with me to the new house where they will probably reside in the greenhouse… yes, there is a greenhouse! There is also a large kitchen garden, and a beautiful country kitchen complete with Rayburn. I am beyond excited.

Despite having watched The Bake Off for many years and my love of baking, I have never made bread but something inspired me to try my hand at hot cross buns today. I was a little apprehensive, especially as the yeast I have is a year out of date and all my reading implied it would likely be dead.

However, true to form, I didn’t let that stop me!

I used Paul Hollywood’s basic hot cross bun recipe from (you guessed it) GoodFood but as i didn’t have all the bits and pieces I used 100g sultanas, a couple of tbsp of blitzed orange and lemon peel I had in the freezer, and semi-skimmed milk (no apple). I also added a bit of ginger and allspice along with the cinnamon.

Working the dough was surprisingly fun… I did 6-7 mins (recipe says 5) based on my novice technique and sure enough it went from being a lumpy sticky mess into a uniform, workable dough after a few minutes. I used a small amount of olive oil on my hands and barely any flour for the work surface.

The house was quite cold so I was nervous about the proving. I’m not sure if I cheated but I turned the oven on low for 10 mins, then turned it off and then just left the dough in there. It barely touched 50 degrees even before I opened the door (apparently above about 35 degrees the yeast is inactivated).

Watching it rise was incredible satisfying and actually rather exciting for the uninitiated!

  Look at that prove!!  Or is it overproved?Sadly the 20 mins was an overestimate (these did 15) but the bake inside was not as bad as I’d feared…

Rather proud of that I have to say!

Enjoying the fruits of my labour with a cup of tea…(and shopping online for furniture for the new house). Perfect.

A lot has happened…

… since I last posted.

Well actually a few things have happened and other things haven’t happened, with the result that hubby-to-be is now my husband (yey!) and that all the job-related working has resulted in my getting a proper permanent grown-up job (hurrah!) (which inevitably means more job-related working… but to my mind this is all the more reason to keep focussing on gardening, cooking, running and all things fun). We don’t (yet) have a house to call our own (despite our best efforts and 3 unsuccessful offers) which is all a bit frustrating.

This combination of events meant that last summer was a write-off in the garden, with only a couple of courgette and a few dead plants to show for my minimal efforts (clearly there is no photographic evidence of this!).

So  I will leave you with a couple of feel-good photos from the year, with a promise of more blog-related stuff to appear soon?

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What else as gifts for the bridesmaids? Upside down pots for orchids = genius! Did you know this is how they grow naturally in the wild?
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Homemade wedding cake. I have to confess I was a little disppointed. I was trying to avoid too much messiness but it ended up being a little underwhelming… tasted good though!

0433-SuzyHughWedding0509-SuzyHughWeddingAll credits to our wonderful photographer Adam of ARJ photography