Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Grew a Jalapeño Pepper

It may be small and it may be wrinkly but its a ripe jalapeño pepper and it's spicy. No propagator needed, just grown outside in the elements for ages against a south facing wall and ripened in a brown bag on my kitchen window sill. I didn't even expect it to be red!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Planting Onion Sets in Autumn

Autumn is a great time for planting as the soil is warm and moist as opposed to cold and waterlogged as is typical of Spring. There are many many types of vegetables you can grow this time of year, particularly if you are lucky enough to have a polytunnel or greenhouse. For those of us stuck with the unsheltered outdoors, onion sets are a must. This year I am trying Senshyu onion sets. I had a beautiful, fresh blustery day for planting.

Some guidelines for planting onion sets:

1. Plant in well dug soil in an open site.

2. Do not plant in recently manured soil as overly fertile ground will result in lush green growth but poor root development, and it's the root we are interested in. Perhaps use a patch of ground that you formerly grew vegetables that had received plenty of compost/organic matter in the Spring.

3. Place your sets on your well dug soil so you can plan your spacing. Here is my plot; I have planted closer than often recommended after seeing how well onions can grow close together.

3. Once you have arranged your sets, loosen the soil around the bulb so you can push it gently just below ground level, not deep in the way you would plant garlic or flower bulbs. Some recommend leaving the tip of the onion exposed but you may have problems with birds uprooting them. Smooth over the soil surface.

4. Bulbs should only require watering in particularly dry weather.

5. A long growing season is necessary for the development of good sized bulbs.

6. To harvest onions for fresh use, you can lift them as you need them once they have reached a decent size. For storage, wait until the stalk has naturally began to fall over. Lift and lay in a warm dry place to dry until the outer skins are paper dry. Harvested onions can be stored for months hanging in nylon tights (knot each one individually to separate).

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Crusty Life: 11th October 2014

There certainly wasn't any post from me this day last year as I was in labour right now (think happy thoughts...think happy thoughts :)) so today I am doing a bit of prep for my son's first birthday party tomorrow. And the slow cooker has been the star of the day so far, along with the spatula for getting ALL the melted chocolate from the side of the mixing bowl in to my rice krispie buns!

I am serving cold salad plates as the main food tomorrow so I have been getting all jobs possible out of the way today. First endeavour was to cook an unsmoked ham for slicing and on the advice of internet people, I cooked it in the slow cooker. It was a 4lb ham. I sprinkled about quarter of a cup of brown sugar on the bottom of the pot, rolled the ham in it and sprinkled a tablespoon more on top, added a splash of water and set to low for 6 hours. I am not usually a ham fan, and my other half is a major ham fan but untrusting of the slow cooker (aren't you supposed to cover the ham with water???). The result was two savage humans eating far too much of the ham that is supposed to be for the party guests. Nom nom nom it is delicious. Moist with a touch of sweetness and sliced marvelously. Once the ham was done, in went the chicken dressed up with nothing but a rub of onion powder and garlic powder. I will shred all the meat of the bone once cooked.

I made pasta salad by combining it with boiled egg, tomato, spring onion, mayo and french dressing. I was supposed to make coleslaw using my own cabbage from the garden but that can wait until tomorrow. I also have those wonderful cucumbers I was gifted which will be nice and refreshing eaten straight from the fridge. I will make a simple tomato salad by putting halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion in a ziplock bag with torn basil leaves, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Shake up the bag and leave to marinade. Some people leave in the fridge but I think it will be sweeter kept at room temperature.

I made the aforementioned chocolate rice krispie buns, star of any birthday party. I entertained the idea of making the cake, for sentimental reasons more than anything, but I'm not the most talented baker so we decided on a nice fresh fruit pavlova instead. I'll make a batch of queen cakes in the morning, and I have the ingredients for green icing so we'll see how kind time is to us.

Non party related but I finally pulled my borlotti bean pods of my plants, opened the bright red pods to find lovely red and white speckled beans inside. I boiled them in water (they lose their colour unfortunately) and ate them plain. Delicious. Quite like butter beans. I almost burned them too. I think I would have cried.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spiced Apple Chutney

This is yet another seasonal preserves recipe to use up those cooking apples you might have gotten your hands on. I have made this chutney as part of Christmas hampers and out of all the goodies, it commanded the biggest applause with everyone loving it. Like all of the recipes I post, it is simple with chopping being the biggest effort required. See the original recipe here. I get no more excited by Christmas than the next person but if you are going to make homemade gifts, bear in mind that some benefit from a few months of maturing. The following recipe calls for two to three months of sitting around before it is at its best for eating.

Spiced Apple Chutney

Fills 4 standard jam jars


225g onions chopped
900g cooking apples chopped (no need to peel)
110g sultanas (the original recipe calls for a mix of sultanas, currants and chopped dates - I figure readers are more likely to have sultanas at home but the dates would be wonderful if you have some)
15g ground coriander
15g paprika
15g mixed spice
15g salt
340g granulated sugar
425ml malt vinegar


Put all the ingredients into a pot.

Slowly bring to the boil until all the sugar has dissolved.

Simmer for 2 hours, until the mixture is thick (keep an eye on it and stir regularly once thickening, to prevent sticking).

Fill your hot sterilised jars with the hot mixture and seal.

Leave in a dark cupboard for a few months before eating.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Crusty Life: 3rd October 2014

Today was a score! day. Everywhere I went, freebies seemed to throw themselves at me.

First I had a bag of large cucumbers bestowed upon me. Unlike the typical supermarket offering of smooth thin cucumbers, these are fat knobbly things as you can see below. I have included a shop bought specimen at the top of the photo for comparison. I will pickle most of them.

Later in the evening an unexpected knock at the front door turned out to be my next door neighbour with a large jar of honey from his father's hive. I pay a small fortune for local honey so this gift was a real victory. We have passed on fresh fish next door on a few occasions. It pays to be generous to people because you will always get something back in return. I recently got empty jars from some of my colleagues, including some lovely little kilners, and I will say thanks by giving back a jar to each of them filled with a preserve of some sort. I'm thinking maybe some Haw jelly.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Crusty Life: 2nd October 2014

I have a slow cooker, the original Crock Pot to be precise. I chose this, slightly more expensive, brand because unlike many others, it has a timer. When the timer is up, the setting changes to from cooking to "warm", keeping your food at a pleasant temperature for your arrival home. I don't think I'd feel confident using a slow cooker otherwise, knowing that the food is going to continually cook until you can switch it off. I don't use the slow cooker too often but when I do, it causes me to reflect on what a helpful appliance it is.

Today I cooked a whole 3lb chicken with very little effort. I rubbed the chicken skin with a mixture of onion powder, garlic powder and cayenne pepper. I placed the chicken in the slow cooker, on a bed of carrot, onion and garlic cloves. No liquid was added. I set the cooker to low for six hours.

I left the house at 9am and returned at 4pm to a beautifully moist chicken, sitting on a sweet brothy mix of vegetables. Instead of scrambling around trying to concoct something to eat, I simply ripped of a leg and ate it, car keys still in hand. The system works!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Crusty Life: 30th September 2014

I enjoy writing up my gardening diary but I didn't mean for this blog to be solely about gardening so I'm going to give a go making a record of the significant jobs I do in the day. Today was a particularly productive day, and I am not at work, so I am starting on a good foot. I am sure later posts will be much sparser.

1. I baked Queen Cakes

I use a very simple recipe that results in sweet, moist cakes.

Makes 12

150g softened butter
150g caster sugar
175g self raising white flour
3 eggs (preferably at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla flavouring (optional, for taste)


Preheat your oven to Gas 4/180C/350F

If you have a food processor/mixer, just tip all the ingredients into the bowl and wizz to combine for a minute or two. Otherwise, combine by hand until the mix is smooth.

Divide among twelve bun cases (I use silicon reusable cases)

Bake for 20 minutes - only brown very gently so the cakes stay moist.

They will keep very well in an airtight container for a few days.

2. I made Tomato and Chili Relish using the same recipe as always but with my own homegrown tomatoes for the first time. Oh my lord, what a difference. The relish reduced to a much darker, thicker sauce. The sweet was sweeter, the spice was spicier and the tomatoes were tomatoier! Next year I need a bigger and better tomato crop and resist the temptation to eat any of them fresh (would that be a shame though?)

3. I tidied a patch of the garden

I cleared a large patch of weedy ground (so many thistles) and moved the heaps of dead ivy that was torn from the house wall earlier this year. Spider city, glad I had wellies on. On this patch originally stood an overgrown, huge shrub that we cleared out (it has since regrown from a stump into a lovely little bush and I plan to keep it that way). I left the dead leaves for ground cover. Many thoughts passed through my head including planting green manure in the patch over winter, should I later plant flowers or vegetables or herbs or all three? Then I went inside and had a cup of tea.

4. I made our family favourite Pasta Salad

The name doesn't give too much away but it's a combination of pasta (normally fusilli), chopped boiled egg, sweetcorn, halved cherry tomatoes, diced spring onion, mayonnaise and a dash of french dressing. The baby eats his with natural yogurt instead of the salad dressings. It keeps for a few days in the fridge and is a life saver when time is short and hunger strikes. We all had a helping today with enough left over for all our lunches tomorrow.

5. Dinner was leftovers from yesterday

Yesterday I made a fish casserole (old photo but you get the gist):

It is very simple. 

Ingredients (serve 4)

4 large/6 small fillets of white fish (I used cod, haddock and whiting)
200g smoked fish (I used mackerel)
1 onion peeled and diced
2 carrots peeled and diced
Olive oil for frying
250ml cream (I have also used coconut milk in the past)
Handful grated cheese
Cup of frozen peas and sweetcorn
250g cherry tomatoes


Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180C/350F

Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the onion and carrots gently until softened.

Add the cream, and when hot, stir in the grated cheese until melted.

Lay your fillets in a casserole dish and shred in the smoked fish.

Sprinkle the peas, sweetcorn and cherry tomatoes over.

Pour over the cheesy cream and veg mix and gently mix to ensure everything is coated.

Bake for 50 minutes.

I served with boiled rice.

And that was my day. I also had time for a lovely walk along the Monkstown wall. I am reading Just Vegetating by Joy Larkcom. I daydreamed about one day being able to design and grow a garden that I could open to the public. Back to work tomorrow, different story.