Making a Meal of it – Orange Cake

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Baking has become an even bigger part of our lives since lockdown. And I know we’re not alone – the lack of flour in supermarkets has created a real sense of frustration in shoppers and our local store has even bagged up their own flour from the bakery to help ease the supply.

The good weather that we’ve experienced usually sees me adding far more fruit to my online basket than normal and even with hungry mouths to feed, there is usually one or two items left in the fruit bowl at the end of the week; berries are thrown into overnight oats or into some pie to have after Sunday dinner, but having some enormous, juicy oranges from Iceland, I decided to try something different; a whole orange cake.

Yes, you read that correctly, a cake using all of an orange. Peel and all.

You will need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 275g  plain flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 110g plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 large orange, cut into chunks and pips removed

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Grease a spring-form cake tin. Place the sugar and eggs in a bowl and beat until fluffy. Slowly add the flour and the baking powder to the bowl along with the butter. Then stir in the yogurt. Put the orange chunks in a blender and blitz until it becomes puree, add the puree to the cake mixture and stir until evenly combined, then put the mixture into the greased cake tin. Bake for 50-60 minutes, using a skewer to make sure the cake is cooked all the way through. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before removing from the tin.

This is amazing and really moist – but if you wanted to really add some zing, you could make a syrup glaze using the warmed juice of another orange and some icing sugar and drizzle over the top.

We first greedily sampled ours whilst it was still warm – but it was also equally delicious cool, with a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

Making A Meal Of It – Twist and Shout

My pizza dough was a success. And Mr Six liked the bread rolls so much that he asked for a second batch the following day so that he could make  lunches for work. As I had enjoyed the whole process so much I decided to experiment a little. I knew that we had half a jar of pesto in the fridge so I had a quick root around and discovered a block of feta that could do with using and a few olives left over from the pizzas on Friday.

Using the same recipe as the bread rolls, I set about mixing, kneading and leaving to prove in an oiled bowl. But after the hour was up, I split my dough into two and rolled each into a rectangle, the same sort of size as a tea towel. I spooned some pesto onto each of them, spread it out, scattered little cubes of feta and then on to one I scattered some chopped olives (Mr Six doesn’t much care for olives. But he’s wrong!)

Then I rolled the short side toward the other short side, like a Swiss roll, and cut each into 8. I found this easier when I cut it into half, then each one into half, and into half again. I sprayed a little Frylight into a couple of cake tine and arranged the swirls in. Don’t worry about any excess space in the tin – the twists of deliciousness need another 20-30 minutes to prove and they will increase in size.

I baked for  20 minutes or so in the oven (190 degrees) and when they emerged, all hot and steamy, I brushed a little butter over the top to make them glossy.

I should probably alert you to the fact that as there are no additives in these, they are better eaten on the day – however, you will probably discover that they taste so good, that won’t even be a problem!

We loved these so much that we have come up with all sorts of ideas for variations, including a sweet one. Watch this space…

Making A Meal Of It – Butternut squash pasta

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On a recent trip to Lidl, armed with the shopping list to complete my menu plan, I added a butternut squash that wasn’t actually required. But I do love them.

Once home, I put a shout out on Facebook to see if my friends had any unusual recipes as I normally make a risotto or cut into wedges and roast. There were some really nice suggestions but my friend Claire from In The Frame Designs came up with something that sounded too good to not try. Her version has chorizo but after a bit of a think, we decided that a little extra oil and the addition of paprika and garlic with veggie sausages would kinda work. And it does. It really does!

  • A butternut squash
  • A punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Veggie sausages of choice (I am a big fan of Quorn), par-cooked and sliced
  • Garlic cloves, peeled
  • Paprika
  • Chilli flakes
  • Cumin seeds

Start by peeling and cutting the squash in to cubes, coat with oil, chilli flakes and cumin seeds. Roast at 180 for 30 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and put back into the oven for 25 minutes, Then add your sausages, garlic cloves and a paprika and continue roasting for another 10 minutes.

Remember, a little more oil than normal as you want to replicate the oil from the chorizo as it makes the ‘sauce’ and the quantities of the flavouringing are up to you. Munchkin isn’t a fan of really spicy so I don’t go heavy with the chilli flakes, however, we all love garlic, so I add plenty.

It is incredibly tasty – very moreish indeed – and we’ve had this a couple of times now.  Mr Six loves it so much that he wants to try the mixture as a pasty filling…

Making A Meal Of It – Bread Head

Lockdown has seen me – and probably you – spending more time in the kitchen (just a note to say, you are more than likely going to be bombarded with recipes over the next few weeks).

The children have been asking for ages for me to make pizzas again. It was something I did a lot when the three older boys were little, but with working full time and commuting, there isn’t enough time during the week. But I was determined to try them out again.

We FINALLY sourced yeast and bread flour – but then it transpired that Mr Six had thrown the bread maker away. I was fuming concerned that my fibro would prevent me from kneading the dough effectively, but as we had all the ingredients and nothing else to do, I decided to give it a whirl. Total success.

Buoyed by this, I decided to make bread buns to have with burgers for dinner the following evening.  Ambitious? Yes. Another success? Absolutely.  And it could not have been easier…

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 sachet (7g) of fast action yeast
  • 350ml of tepid water

Simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl until the dough starts to form, then turn out on to a clean and floured work surface. Knead for 5-10 minutes. I found the easiest way for me was to push the dough to my left with my right hand, pull it back then push the dough to my right with my left hand and pull it back. Whatever method you use, you’ll soon find a good rythm that suits you and away you go.

Once the dough is springy, put into an oiled bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm or foil and leave for and hour or so. Then turn out again on to a floured work surface, give a quick knead and cut into 8. Put on to an oiled tray – I use the grill tray and leave for 20 minutes to rise again. Then bake for around 20 minutes at 190 degrees. The buns should sound hollow when you tap the base.

Do not be put off by making your own bread. It really is that easy. GIve it a whirl and let me know..

 


 

A Changing World

On Friday 13 March, I headed to work, looking forward to 5pm as I had the following week booked off. Mr Six also had the same time off.

It was a very busy day because I wanted to tie up all loose ends so that I could switch off and relax. I tidied my desk, popped my laptop into my bag, as I did every night, wished my colleagues a good weekend and left.

My boss phoned me on the Monday to let me know that I didn’t need to return to the office as they had taken the decision for the majority of the office to work remotely.

The news on TV has been shocking; the severity of the virus and the implications are scary. The behaviour of some people has been even more so as social media is awash with scenes of empty supermarket shelves and tales of customers fighting over tins and toilet roll.

Tomorrow is my first day ‘back’ although that means sat at my home office desk and I’m feeling very apprehensive tonight. On paper, this working arrangement should be perfect – without the commute, I can work more hours and will be contactable 24/7, if needed. It also means that I won’t be setting the alarm for 5:30am or leaving our children at 7am. The weather won’t be an issue. I really will have the best of both worlds. A working mum whilst being at home. No more mum guilt.

But it isn’t as straightforward as that. My mum is at risk. She has severe asthma and has recently fought off a chest infection that has left her weak. She’s been self isolating for two weeks now and it looks like this will need to continue for another 12 weeks. Mr Six also has asthma. He works in retail and will be at risk every day. I have an autoimmune condition. Two of our boys are away at uni. Another of our boys was due to sit his A levels and is meant to be leaving for uni in October. Our youngest is potentially not returning to school until September…

Yesterday I woke with a real anxiety. I am so worried about what the future holds for us all. Mr Six made the decision to get us out to the place that always helps calm me, the beach. It was cold and windy but we were well wrapped up. There’s something about the tide coming in and going out that balances me.

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And I’ve decided that there are a few things that I need to do to remain balanced.

1. Eating well – the supermarkets may not have our usual foods in, but this is a great opportunity to try new things and trial new recipes.
2. Me time – long baths, deep conditioning my hair, painting my nails, exercising.
3. Vitamin D – it remain essential to get some sunlight each day, even if it’s just outside the door, enjoying a brew in the fresh air.
4. Gardening – it’s provided real head space over the last few years and planting vegetables mean that we’ll also have our own produce in the months to come plus it helps with point 3
5. Remaining in contact with friends and family, albeit remotely. Facetime is fantastic and provides a life line to family members who are isolated.

How are you coping? What are your plans for the next few months?

Stay safe!

New beginnings

It’s been a tough couple of years – so if you’re reading this, then thank you for sticking around.

I’ve found it hard to write. To be honest, I’ve spent a lot of time in my own head, thinking things over (or more accurately, overthinking things).

Losing my dad, my own health having a spotlight shone on it, redundancy (not mine), worries over the children… 2019 was a year that tested me to the limit. But here I am, still standing in 2020.

I’ve decided that 2020 is the time to make a few changes.

My bestie flew home for Christmas and we all got together for a wonderful night out. But before I knew it, she was heading home and I realised that I wasn’t giving my best to anyone, mainly because my head was so busy with thoughts and that dreaded internal monologue that I felt I had no free time, when in reality, I wasn’t doing too much. How many missed opportunities have passed me by? How many times have people thought I was rude when in reality I have been unaware of my surroundings?

My bestie had bought me a wonderful present; Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place box of goodies. It was a glorious gift full of toiletries in three ‘flavours’; to aid calmness, induce sleep and energise plus an eye mask, a headband, a pack of colouring pencils and some pencil drawings to colour in.

This got me thinking. Rather than resolutions which I won’t stick to (and then feel guilty about) how about trying something new each month? Trying something that I may or may not continue, but that’s ok because it will then be a new month and there will be a new experience on the horizon to look forward to.

So January is mindfulness.

I’m enjoying long baths in the evening with my Sleep bubble bath. I’m waking for showers with Energise shower gel. I’m being careful to remove my make up and slather on moisturiser. I’m applying face masks and hair masques.  I have books to read.

Munchkin and I have tried meditation. We’re going to try some yoga too. And I’ve finally booked reiki.

January. New starts. Positive steps.

From Pot to Plate – feathered junkies

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a ‘Pot to Plate’ post.

This is counselling.

Mr Six is a very caring man. He loves to help. He’s one of the good ones.

And to this end, he had been quite keen to have a bird table when the garden was finished.

When we were visiting my lovely sister-in-law a few months ago, she levelled a warning at my husband – do not start feeding the birds; they’ll eat you out of house and home.

And she was right!

Last year Mr Six started off with a cheap bird feeder, filled with seeds or something, hung from the tree. And then a second appeared. This might have been filled with something different.

Anyway, the birds came. And they did indeed eat a lot.

We also had squirrels. Which is sweet.

At first.

But they are clever little buggers and will destroy your feeders.

So Mr Six had to buy squirrel proof feeders. And things to put suet blocks in to. And tubes for fat balls. And things for nyger seeds. And sunflower hearts.

Then we had a brambling. Which, apparently is a bit of a thing

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The birds came in droves (is that a thing?) so Mr Six started to split out the food. The larger birds prefer the suet so Mr Six leaves this food in the feeders in the trees. Whilst the smaller birds will come down to the seed feeders in the garden.

They now all eat a lot.

Basically, he’s now the birds’ bitch.

We used to be cool.

Now he wears crocs.

And spends Saturday nights, up a ladder, in his pyjamas, Filling the bloody feeders…

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From Pot to Plate – X marks the excavation

So I had a bit of a plan.

Munchkin and I had drawn out the garden and had a bit of a think what we would like.

You can view our grand design.

The area between the old pond and ‘Grandma’s Garden’ was a little bit of a nothing space. We had an old, existing fuchsia and I had bought another small one and potted it on. And I had started to grow some claret sunflower seedlings  to pot on in troughs. The idea was to blend the reds around the pond with the pastels of ‘Grandma’s Garden’. (This will be explained  in a future post).

We’ve lived in this house for over 10 years now. I knew that there was a paving slab within the lawn space between the pond and Grandma’s Garden and I decided to grab the edging tool and liberate the slab along its front edge from its grassy gaol.

As I edged, I discovered that it wasn’t one, but two slabs. Then a third. Then a fourth! I was so pleased with myself. I was proper smug.

Then I set about clearing the grass from along the side. And again, there was another and another and another. Oh I was smuuuuuuuug. Like the smuggest of all smugness.

4 slabs across.

4 slabs deep.

I had discovered a little patio. Me! Without help! I had discovered – and excavated – a 16 slab patio.

It’s close to the bird feeders (have I mentioned the bird feeders?? Jeez, they need a post all of their own! Mr Six has created his own little feathered junkies), sheltered from the wind by the neighbour’s bloody big tree that litters the garden with its waste leaf detritus – and it catches the evening sunshine.

It’s like a little slice of heaven in our own little potted paradise.

And I found it!

Did I mention, I excavated that bloody patio. On my own!

From Pot to Plate – Grand Designs

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The polytunnel is ticking over nicely.

Mr Six still lives in hope of regaining the kitchen table, because as seedlings were moved out into bigger pots and into the polytunnel, I ended up planting more seeds. Because, well, I’m impatient.

Not all the seeds are for food. There are flowers too.

I’m no designer. I have no flair for art. I’m not great at interior design. I know what I like and I know what I want.

Munchkin and I drew out a little idea. Admittedly, it’s not much. But in my head, it looks lush. The colours. The fragrances. The different areas representing things that matter to us.

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Leaving our kitchen, leads you on to a patio and a stoned area by the shed. Last year, I painted the shed green to help blend it in a little and this year I want to plant anemones in tubs just in front for a burst of colour. The polytunnel sits behind the shed on a patch of ground that has been a real issue for the last few years as we didn’t know what to do with it.

Then there is the butterfly garden. This is what kicked off the entire project last year – Munchkin’s nasturtium seed from Bodnant Garden. I bought tropical buddleia last year and now I have lots of Lilliput Zinnia seedlings to put in here, along with lavender.

Across the back of the garden I want lots of different purple and white flowers, some tall climbers, some groundcover and everything in between.

Around the old pond I envisage lots of red plants; geum, ladybird poppies, geranium (my grandad loved geranium) and Maltese cross. My dad was a lifelong LFC supporter so a sea of  red flowers seemed entirely appropriate.

There is an existing fuchsia nearby and we have bought another to compliment it.

The plan is to pot on my claret sunflower seedlings in troughs along the hedge and to create a flower bed to house the pots and plants we brought from my mother-in-law’s house.

There is a lot of work to be done but I’m excited to see where it takes us.

From Pot to Plate – Moving Day

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I woke up and couldn’t wait to get started.

The ground had been weeded and levelled the previous day, the polytunnel was in position, the sun was shining and we had no plans.

I spread ground sheets out to prevent the weeds coming back too quickly and wondered if I’d made a mistake buying such a big polytunnel. When empty, 2m x 3m feels HUGE!

I erected my staging and started repotting my seedlings into larger pots before moving to their new home.

When they were in the propagators and tiny pots, there didn’t appear to be too many. However, once in the bigger pots, the 10 courgettes took up rather a lot of room. so did the fruit plants that I bought. Add in the pots for the tomatoes, peppers and squash and there was barely any room.

Barely any greenery as they were so small, but so many pots.

As I did last year, I’m enjoying the solitude and headspace that gardening gives me. Each evening I get in from work, greet our boys, get dinner started then head out in to the garden for a few minutes to check the progress. The warm weather and beautiful sunshine has had a profound effect on the rapid growth of my plants.

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And now I’m possibly looking for another polytunnel to site somewhere else in the garden. You know, just for lots more plants and stuff. But these rumours remain unsubstantiated (in case Mr Six happens to read this)