Monday, 25 January 2016

The Impulse Peony Purchase

Supermarkets are so sneaky.  They have a secret weapon called 'product placement'.   This practise is part psychology, part marketing research, and completely unfair.  For example, they put those chocolate bars right at the checkout counter so even if you managed to steer the shopping cart past the confectionery isle they get you on the way out. 

Even more deviously, they have now put plants directly inside the front doors so you have to walk past the tempting collection of bulbs, pot plants, and tiny shrubs not once but twice!  

So... I managed to resist the check-out chocolate bars but they got me with the £2.50 Sarah Bernhardt peony.  Well, it's worth a punt at that price.  I don't expect to see a great flush of flowers for a year or two... if at all... but there are promising signs of life.  

Friday, 22 January 2016

Harvesting Miniature Pumpkin Seeds

Way back in September I bought three of these miniature pumpkins.  I think they are called Jack Be Little.  I have an unnatural affection for these tiny pumpkins - I put it down to my childhood in the States.  Halloween, hay rides, and pumpkins were a big deal in my youth.

Every autumn I promise myself that I will plant my own diminutive pumpkin patch but so far it hasn't happened.  I forget until it is too late in the season or I can't find the appropriate pumpkin seeds.  Believe me, I have tried.  Last spring Andy and I went to every garden centre within a 50 mile radius of our house. Not a Jack Be Little seed one did we find.

Then it suddenly struck me.... I've already got next year's seeds safely contained in these little pumpkins.   All I had to do was hack them in a half and scoop out the seeds.  This is harder than it sounds.  Even after all this time my little pumpkins are just about perfect.  It seems Jack Be Little is a good keeper.  

I didn't have the heart to hack all of the little pumpkins in half but I did manage to cut into one and found a generous collection of seeds.  I will wash them and leave them somewhere warm to dry out.  Stored in a paper envelop, there should be more than enough seeds to plant LOTS of tiny pumpkin patches. 

As for the rest of the pumpkin, I've nuked it in the microwave. The flesh will make a lovely batch of muffins.  Click HERE for a great muffin recipe.  Simply substitute the cooked pumpkin for the cooked sweet potato in the recipe. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

How To Love Leftovers - Mash Potato Bake

So there I stood, peering into the depths of the fridge trying to figure out what to cook for lunch.  Lurking in the frigid gloom was a bowl of leftover mashed potatoes, two rashers of fried bacon, and the end bit of a block of cheddar cheese.  Now, we rarely have left over food.  This is partially because we are greedy and partly because I am pretty good at exercising portion control, so dealing with leftovers is rarely an issue....until today. 

The thing about using leftovers is you have to use your imagination.  Think of flavor combinations and use your instincts.  For example, I know that bacon and cheese make great toppings for baked potatoes so why not combine them with the mash to make a casserole.  I cut the fried bacon into bits and stirred it into the mash potatoes.

An onion, diced and sweated in a little oil was added to the mix along with an egg, a liberal sprinkling of garlic powder, mixed dried herbs, and a dash of salt and pepper for seasoning.  I poured the mixture into a buttered baking dish and topped it with a bit more shredded cheddar.   After about 30 minutes in a hot oven it came out golden brown with lovely bits of toasted cheese on top.

And in just a few moments, all the leftovers were gone!  No recipe required.  

Do you have a favourite way to make the most of your leftovers?  I'd love it if you'd share your ideas in the comments section.  

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Automated Amish Bread

The holidays are well and truly over.  After weeks of richly spiced mince pies and plum puddings it is time to get back to baking and eating more simply. These days a slice of warm, home made Amish bread tastes like a real treat. 

The truth is, Amish bread isn't as spartan a loaf as you might think.  In true Amish fashion, this bread is a little bit richer than your regular white loaf.  It has a bit more sugar and a touch more oil to enrich the dough.  After all, it was the Amish who gave us Whoopee Pies so you know their bread is going to be tasty.

The Amish are famous for their traditional horse and buggies, large black hats, and lack of modern machinery so using a KitchenAid to make this bread may seem a little incongruous but it works a treat.  Of course, you can make this bread the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon and a bit of muscle but a mixer with a dough hook makes just as good a loaf.  Here's how to do it:

1 cup warm water
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups bread flour

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water.  

Attach the dough hook to your electric mixer.  Place the salt and two cups of the bread flour into the mixing bowl.  

Pour in the yeast mixture and turn the mixer to speed 1 to combine the ingredients. 

After a minute or two, scrape down the bowl and add the vegetable oil.  Mix for a minute to incorporate the oil.  

Now turn the mixer up to 2 and add the final cup of flour. Continue to mix at speed 2 until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl and climbs up the dough hook.  

When the dough is smooth and elastic, remove it from the mixing bowl and form it into a ball.  Coat the dough ball with a drop or two of vegetable oil and return it to the mixing bowl.  Cover the mixing bowl with cling film and place it in a warm place so the dough will rise.  This should take about an hour. 

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and form it into a loaf shape.  Place the dough into a greased 9x5 loaf tin and allow the dough to rise a second time.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 350F/170C.  When the dough has risen one inch above the tin it is ready to bake.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.  

Click HERE to learn more about the Amish way of life. Their history and culture are fascinating.  I am off for a slice of bread and butter.