Monday, 18 August 2014

Honey and Spice Cake by Dan Lepard & Richard Whittington

This recipe came straight out from 'Exceptional Cakes'.  There was some rye flour, as well as wheat flour, three spices and honey, so much to like.  This is the first time I have grated fresh ginger and just added the juice...

The recipe says use a heavy duty electric mixer, so I used the Kitchen Aid a gift from Vickie, but could not see why, except that you have to keep it running for 2.5 minutes twice.  The amount of mixture was so small that I turned it all into another bowl and used my hand held Kenwood mixer which I have had for over twenty years!  This worked much better.

The cake is very light, delicate in texture, and packs a lot of flavours...I think I slightly overcooked it.  It continues to cook as you leave it to cool completely in the tin before unmoulding, and it shrinks away from the sides of the tin further on cooling...but then it is a very delicate balance and I do not like any hint at raw bits in the middle.  On balance it was probably almost perfect.  Although the texture looks more airy toward the tops this was just against the tin, and the cut slice showed no variations.  Mr S was perfectly happy to have a slice instead of pudding over the weekend!

Pecan Butter Biscuits

On Friday I made biscuits.  I had just gone through my stash of nuts, and realised I had a large packet of one of my favourites: Pecan Nuts, which I wanted to use. From one of my books which I have not really used at all;  Exceptional Cakes by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington, I found Pecan Butter Cookies.  Reading through the recipe, I thought it was fairly low on sugar:  350g plain flour, 300g butter, and only 60g sugar.  I scanned the internet for errata, or for anyone else who had made these but nothing came up.

I then turned to Short and Sweet, and again using the useful index from Pecan Nuts arrived at the Orange almond butter biscuits.  I made half the quantity with his suggestion of substituting pecans for the almonds.  I made then 20g each, but as they are fairly rich, well very rich and tasty and more the petitfour type of nibble to go with after dinner coffee, two needed...I would make then 15g each next time.

I love these and the orange zest works well too.  I think this would be a great treat to take to dinner at friends, or for Christmas.  I love the tossing in icing sugar as they cooled..a bit messy, but hey no one was looking!  And it was a reason to wash down everything on the counter afterwards.

New Succulents from the Shrewsbury Show

The Kenilworth Horticultural Society had organised a trip to the Shrewsbury Show, and this time Hubby came with me.  I don't often go on outings but this time members of the Committee had turned out to support our outings secretary who goes to great efforts to organise trips which the members would enjoy.

I didn't know quite what to expect.  The large tent with growers was spectacular, with exhibits of herbaceaous plants, gladioli, fuchias etc.  My eye was drawn to the succulent growers.  At first I thought there was just the one, but I think there were three.  The first one I came to had a magnificent bowl of Faucaria Tigrina,

but non for sale, so I bought the very similar Faucaria Bosscheana, which I noticed this morning has just come into flower.  Here I have re potted it.  It is actually in a smaller spot, burried in the stones to give it space to show itself off.

Later I found at another stall the Faucaria Tigrina, so got that too.  I call it Tiger Jaws.  The spikes are soft not prickly, so fine for me.  I just can't get on with cacti with thorns etc!  Reminds me of when I fell in a large thorny cactus in Mauritius when I was little!

Another few to add to my collection was Scilla Nervosa, well that is what it said on the label, but I am not sure of the name.  It is very small, succulent like, with purple skin on its bulbs. It does not look like the other pictures I have found on the internet.  I have since found the name:  Ledebouria socialis ' Silver Squill'

Pachphytum Oviferum, a bit bruised after its journey!

Haworthia Tessellata,  which I loved on account of the patterning on the leaves.

Crassula Plegmatoides v Arta,  with oscularia deltoides in the background.  This will have pink flowers in good time.

I find these succulents so interesting, and with south facing windows and a conservatory this carries through my gardening through the winter months.

Another little purchase was the grass Halonecholoa Macra Albo Striata.  Again I was looking for a slightly different plant the golden grass.  I shall keep it growing in a pot, down in the shady part of the garden along with my ferns and bamboo.

The flower displays were beautiful and there were some interesting little modern touches...

This one has wool wound round canes, so of course I was interested in this!

I seem to going through my grumpy old woman phase again...I feel that these shows are getting a little too big for their boots, or else I get as much from more local, smaller shows.  It was fairly expensive to get it, and especially when I think there was one of us who went just for the ride.  Yes they were lots of other things to do, with bands playing, dog displays etc.  I thought there would have been many more gardening type stalls outside, rather than being just  'general' merchants of this and that.  If I pay good money to go to a Show  I expect more than that.  Also I feel that the food stalls were on the poor side, so it will be packed lunches next time we go!

What I did like was being able to speak to a few plant specialists.....and finding out the correct name for one of the succulents I have had for many years now:  Cotyledon Orbiculata

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Cherry and Polenta Pudding

When Vicki called this morning I mentioned the dessert I made yesterday.  We have been without dessert for some time now..a real desert that is, not just fruit or yogurt!

I've been reading through the recipes in Short & Sweet, so had a few ideas in my head, so when I wondered what to do with a very large bag of cherries I quickly made up my mind.  I had bought the cherries last week to send back for Matthew on Friday but I had missed putting them by the front door, so they got forgotten in the kitchen until too late!

I would really recommend this as a great summer treat.  The recipe is available on line too from the Guardian.  What I like about this book is the way that ingredients are listed in the Index.  Even if you don't know what you want to make, and have some ingredients you want to use, its easy to find the recipes which include it.

This is the mixture before the surface almonds were added.  Next time I would reduce the sugar to 150g in the mixture, and add 50g demerara sugar after the almonds.

 Dan just says butter and flour the inside of the cake tin. I lined the bottom on my springform tin with baking parchment, which I think is an absolute must, if you don't wish to scratch the bottom on the tin with your serving knife, and it also makes it easy to move the 'tart' to a serving dish.

As there were about twice the amount of cherries, I cooked the whole lot, pitted first, and used some of my garden plum cheese, as I had no cherry jam, and then some alcohol other than grappa.  Half the cherries went into the cake, the other half to serve alongside.

Brioche bread and stitches

These little 'brioches' I made a couple of weeks ago, made mainly with pumpkin puree and just one egg and 50g of butter.  I made these in readiness for Veronica and Izzi coming to stay.  So these are breakfast buns with dried red fruits, baked in some lovely sturdy brioche tins which my sister Lizzie bought for me a few years ago.  The buns were a little on the large size, so will make 12 rather than 11 next time.  They freeze really well, so I keep them as a treat for Sunday breakfasts.  I added some Mace Spice and some of the Arome de Panettone from Bakery Bits.  I only call these brioches because they are in the brioche tins!  They are as light as brioches, and a healthier alternative perhaps.

 I like 'Associations', so when I had the opportunity to learn how to do 'brioche' stitch, you can guess, I just had to try.  It is such a complete departure from my usual very light and lacy scarves.  The fabric looks remarkably 'simple', but like a brioche bun with its fat and sugar and eggs, this stitch is complex and has far more behind it than what a first glance affords.  Also the colour of yarn I chose was almost 'pumpkin' which is why I posted this together with my pumkin brioches.  The weight is Aran, which is quite thick, and this one is Wool and Alpaca, so guaranteed to be really soft, cosy and warm.  I think it would suit either a woman or a man.  Maybe a scarf to share?

Here is my dilemma...I have too many scarves already, and I would like it to go to a good home.  I tentatively asked my daughter in law if she or my son may like it, but no.  I feel that if I ask any friends face to face, they may say yes so as not to hurt my feelings, but not really want it.  So I am offering this to a person, any person who would really like this, wear it, and enjoy it.  So if you would like it or know anyone who would like it, ask them to look at this, and decide.  I'd like to know why you want it.

Whilst I was knitting it, I thought of the patterns in fields of wheat, so maybe a farmer would like this, or even a miller.  I thought of the patterns in Japanese gardens, so maybe there is a gardener out there who needs keeping warm when doing their gardening in the depth of winter.  I thought of the patterns of mazes, I thought of the pattern left in the sand by receding waves, and thought of DaisyDebs whose blog I have enjoyed reading.

Don't be shy in 'claiming' the scarf.  It will be posted out when I have found the right recipient.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Rye and Raisin Cookies

Except for bread making, I don't use rye flour that much...but from now on this biscuit will be high on my list.  I used the light rye from Shipton Mill, but next time I shall use a wholegrain one for a change.  I made these a week ago, on the day our fence was being replaced,  in readiness for visitors that day, and family coming the next day.  There were also sufficient to be able to take a goodie bag next door to say thank you for having access to their garden for the work.

Another yes recipe from Dan Lepard Book Short and Sweet, and also available online from the Guardian.  Strangely each tray's biscuits looked a little different.  I made the biscuits smaller: 20g each as I would rather have two smaller biscuits than one large one.  I watched them carefully towards the end of the cooking time, and watched for the swelling of the raisins, and caught all of them scorching.

With the cocoa, they biscuits give the chocolate lovers their fix, and the raisins of course good quality ones to start off with, give a chewy rich note.  They kept well, I had thought they may have gone softer with the raisins but they were perfect and we even had a couple left each for Friday, with a drink after dinner.  As I had baked bread and also sugar buns, only four of those, I had not made pudding.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Rose Saw Fly

Large Rose Sawfly - Arge pagana

For a year or so I have found some scaring on the stems of some of my roses, particularly on Grace which has soft pale green growth.  I had suspected that it was the twine which I use to stake the stems as they grow floppy when there is poor light.

My five minutes walk round the garden this evening revealed the culprit:  Rose Saw Fly, caught in the act.  I tried to remove them from the stem, but they had their egg laying organ still in the stem.  You can see the scar along which they had already laid their eggs.

I did not know its name but I looked up fly with orange body on roses and was able to identify it straight away.  What is also remarkable is its life cycle.  I now also know what the little 'caterpillars' I found feasting on the leaves which I squidged between my fingers too today.  They are the young of the Rose Saw Fly.  Since this morning several of my new young rose bushes have been attacked.

When the larvae which look like caterpillars have had their fill, the fall to the ground and pupate, so after the rain and the sun they must be re emerging.

I shall be back out straight away on the hunt, and will be trying to keep my eye out for them as I read that there can be up to six generations in a year!  Together with the leaf cutting bee, my roses are under attack and it is up to me to out to defend them.  I can tolerate the bee but the sawfly no!

Updated a week later, as I have found the eggs of the sawfly push open and lie in the deep scar, just on the point of hatching.  No wonder those little flower stems and rose buds are weakened.  I checked the stems, some of the eggs had hatched the smallest of caterpillars, which have since been squashed.

July Month End View of my Garden

I love gardens, gardening, and plants.  I love visiting other gardens, and recently the standard of National Trust Gardens has been increasing, whether it is because they have many more volunteers, or whether there has been a concerted effort to make more of them I'm unsure.

Another delight recently has been looking at gardens on the internet.  For a few months I have been delving into Helen's Blog called The Patient Gardener's Weblog.  So in keeping with this, I shall upload a monthly view of my garden.  That's not a promise that I shan't write about individual plants or items in the garden in between!

This month saw the garden under strain from strong sunshine, hot days, and lack of rain, until that is the very last day of the month.  I've now got a watering system for most of my pots, but I do still prefer to water with a can from the waterbutt.  I very seldom water plants in the soil except when they are brand new..but I really thought I would have had to get the hose out, and spend an hour or so coming the rescue of individual plants and shrubs.

 This is the little shaded area behind the gazebo, which I am gradually filling up with fern.

Two courgette plants in tubs, is keeping us supplied with a couple of meals a week, but next year, I hope to find a spot to grow them in the ground.  We have been plagued by squirrels this year, and almost all the apples, pear and plums are now gone, and I am seriously thinking of getting rid of the fruit trees.  The pear tree leaves have a disease, and the comment back from the RHS is that this is currently no prevention or cure for the home gardener.  The plum tree was overrun with green fly and blackfly etc...

The heavy rain pushed the large blooms over, and I have not trussed them up with canes and garden twine.

The clematis by the patio is now pushing right up to the glass, but its worth it..

 With no grass to mow, and stepping stones and gravel the garden is gradually getting filled up with little bits of herbs and shrubs and grasses.

My very large aeoniums have been chopped back, and I have set up my nursery of cuttings in the gazebo, so when we go down for tea, or lunch, I have to shuffle things down to the floor to make room for us.  Mr S laughed at all the pots, he said I thought I was going to rashionalised, I said yes, but I need to take several cuttings just so that I am assured of one, then the rest will be shared out, promise!  Mr S is not convinced!

The auriculas are repotted, side shoots taken off, and in fresh growing medium with slow release fertilizer.

The squirrel has spared the chillies.  I've planted up several trays of sempervivums getting rid of those that have flowered and died back, and set up a second large tray of small ones ready for when Katherine is ready to come and pick them up.

And the potting area is now much tidier!  Slugs have been on the rampage, and I go out hunting by torchlight but have now had to put out some pellets.

I've moved the agapanthus both white and blue ones to stand on the corner of the patio.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Passion Fruit Melting Moments by Dan Lepard

Another recipe from Dan Lepard's Book Short and Sweet.  I bought this book when I was caught up in the Great British Bake Off frenzy towards the end of 2012.  I had got through the first 'sieve'..Hah, hah, and was baking my way to putting on the extra stone in weight, which I have worked on to loose, and am nearly done!  Anyway, I was eliminated after the first screen test, and have not looked back since.  I still enjoy the series, looking forward to the new one, but am mightily relieved that I was not sucked in any further!

The recipe is available on line at the Guardian, so do go here if you would like to try it.  On this occasion I made up half of the recipe giving 12 paired biscuits, but decided not to sandwich them up in advance, but just as the biscuits are going to be served.   I'm not able to judge if they will go soggy.
This time I sieved out the seeds, next time I shall try some of the icing with the seeds in.  I also used my mildly salted Delamere Goat's Butter, rather than the unsalted butter given in the recipe and was perfectly happy with the substitution.

I have only just recently taken this book down off the bookshelf, and had been reading small sections and enjoying Dan's writing.  I feel he is writing to inspire you and to get you to use your own judgement.  I certainly had to do this when I made up the icing.  Another point is that he writes: 'bake until crisp and lightly coloured'.  I would say be guided by the time and colour, as they crisp up as the cool.  When they come out of the oven, leave them to cool on the tray for a little while, say 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully transfer to a cooling rack.  If they need a little longer, they can go back in the oven.

Last Saturday we went down to Warwick for a saunter around, and as usual a nose through the market, where there are some good weekly produce stalls.  I do use the Kenilworth Market, but as I tell them, I wish they came at least twice a week, if not three times!  I often pick up some items from the Jans' Fruit & Vegetable stall, and for some reason or other was given two freebies: a nice stout cotton bag and a couple of passion fruit.  These were the big yellow ones, just like the ones Mum used to grow in Mauritius.  Usually in England we get smaller purple fruit,.  Mr S reminded me of the daily task Mum used to get us to do, which was to hand pollinate all the flowers of her passion fruit plants.  The fence was also interwoven with stephanotis, which ended up in many bride's wedding bouquets.       One evening as we pollinated the flowers, one each side of the thirty metre section of chain link fence, we counted over 350 blooms...all the fruit which must have numbered more than a thousand  was gathered and distributed, but we were gone by that time.  The 'Mauritian' Bees are not able to pollinate the passsion fruit.

Luckily for the icing, I started with the icing sugar and then added the juice and cream teaspoon by teaspoon, or I would have ended up with a bowl of very liquid icing, then I would have had to add more icing sugar, resulting in a bit pot of delicious icing, and would have had to bake something else to use it all up!

I sandwiched up five pairs for our Friday tea time treat.

With a large pot of Earl Grey tea, these biscuits are really elegant and delicious morsels, well worth curling the little pingy for!  For a mixed tea I think I would make the biscuits even smaller, and leave a few of the seeds in the icing.

Mulberry and White Currant Jelly

I usually write about all my preserving on my other blog: Mrs Mace Preserves, but I thought I would sneak this one in here.  Why so?  The reason is that this one has a much more personal angle to it.

One evening last week, just as I was preparing supper, I had a call from a friend in Warwick.  A few minutes later, Janice arrived with a tub of mulberries.  The picture Janice painted of her husband picking these mulberries, with juice running down his arms etc was as bright as the stains one gets on clothes when picking fruit...

As I was a bit tired after dinner, I was about to pop the fruit in the freezer, when I saw the small sample of white currants brought by another friend from Warwick the previous week, when Penny and little Grandson Daniel had come to visit.  I had had a taste, but I felt that there wasn't much flavour.  Yes they were very pretty and I know they are high in pectin, but that is all.  So the white currants came out, got combined with the mulberries and the following morning I made up three very small pots of jelly.  Three very small pots of Jelly, one for each of us.

I know the flavour is delicious, as I had the teaspoon or so left over in some yogurt.  Whilst I made up the jelly, I thought about my two friends and how they had thought of me and brought me some of their produce.  And when I was washing up...yes all those pots, sieves etc, I also thought of the red staining that Janice needs to contend with each year.  At least picking the fruit gives some lovely morsels to eat, and less fruit on the ground to get trodden into shoes etc...