Chocolate Chunk Cherry Cake

It is a little early to be talking about cherries in the UK… a few months early… but it is exciting to see cherries ready on the trees. We might even get some this year instead of the birds. They have already done an excellent job of eating the cherry and plum tree leaves – I had no idea they were that tasty… :/

We were given a bag of cherries from a friend who takes the left overs from a market for her chickens and gives us a huge portion of it to feed little piggy and chooks. Some were on the turn, queue cherry baking time.

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I’ve got a favourite cherry cake recipe (find it here Cherries) but I was lacking in some ingredients and, to be honest, I wanted chocolate cake ūüėõ

So I trawled the internet to find a chocolate one that had the ingredients we had in the house. I had just enough to make one from https://www.kitchensanctuary.com

It is most definitely not my own creation even though I would love to take credit for it, but it is so delicious that I think the word should be spread. It is a new favourite chocolate cake.

Flourless with ground almonds, fresh cherries, chocolate chunks in a chocolate cake, lovely gooey texture Рwhat is not to like?!

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Chocolate Chunk Cherry Cake

(Serves 10)

-225g butter, softened -200g granulated sugar -1tsp vanilla extract -4 eggs -200g ground almonds -50g cocoa powder -1tsp baking powder -100g dark chocolate -100g dark or milk chocolate cut into chunks -200g fresh cherries

  1. Preheat oven to 170C. Line a 20cm/9inch deep cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Mix in the vanilla extract and the eggs one at a time until well incorporated into the mixture.
  4. Stir in the ground almonds, cocoa powder and baking powder, mixing well to combine.
  5. Melt 100g of dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over the hob or in a microwave. Mix into the cake mixture followed by the chunks of unmelted chocolate.
  6. Scrape the contents of the bowl into the prepared baking tin.
  7. Remove the stems from the cherries and cut them open, removing the stones from the centre. Scatter the cherries over the top of the cake’s surface.
  8. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin before transferring to the wire rack to cool completely. It is also delicious served warm.
  9. When completely cold, store in an airtight container for up to three days.

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Recipe: Celeriac Mash

I’ll confess – I was originally making celeriac soup, but it ended up as a sort of mashed potato like variation.

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With just the addition of some fried onion, salt and pepper, this versatile dish makes an excellent addition to any dinner with lots of veg sides or as a different replacement for mashed potato.

To learn about Celeriac, click here.

Celeriac Mash

(Serves 6-8) 

-2 large celeriacs -one large onion -olive oil -200-400ml boiled water -dash of salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Peel the celeriacs and cut them into think pieces. Place them on a non-stick roasting tray, dribble olive oil over the top, and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until just starting to turn crisp. Leave to cool.
  2. Slice the onion and fry in olive oil until golden brown.
  3. In a food processor, add the celeriac and the fried onion. Blitz.
  4. Add a little of the boiling water and blitz again. Continue to add boiling water until you get a mashed potato looking consistency. Add the salt and pepper and blitz again.
  5. Tip the contents of the food processor into a non-stick deep based pan and bring to the boil.
  6. Serve hot or cold.

Tip: why not add some freshly picked herbs? Thyme, oregano, rosemary, coriander, parsley, sage, lemongrass…

Ps. roasted celeriac sliced thinly can make great chips. 

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Victoria Plum Crumble

We had a lot of plums this year, all from one Victoria tree (this is the tree I’ve nearly killed plenty of times).

We’ve made lots of plum jam but we quickly had to get a move on as they were rotting in the fridge so I made a plum crumble. It seems to have been a hit and here is the recipe if it tickles your tastebuds…

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Victoria Plum Crumble

(Serves 6)

For the fruit: -1kg Victoria plums, de-stoned -3tbsp granulated sugar

For the crumble: -110g plain flour -55g granulated sugar -170g salted butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Place the fruit at the base of an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the sugar generously over the top, and mix it in.
  3. In a bowl, using your fingers, rub the flour, sugar and butter together, so that the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs. Scatter the crumble over the top of the fruit.
  4. Place the dish in the oven and cook for about half an hour, until the fruit is hot and bubbling and the crumble is golden brown.
  5. Serve warm. Keep in the fridge for up to three days.

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Recipe: Microwaved Potato with Mushrooms and Tomatoes – instant dinner

Sometimes you just need a really quick, easy meal to make at the end of the day. Or the middle of the day.

But wouldn’t it be great if it was actually pretty nutritious too? Or even better, using things you could possibly grow yourself?

I love making meals where everything can be grown in my own garden. It is sad, but I get very over-excited about it.

Here is one, really quick and easy idea to try…

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Mushrooms and Tomatoes

Microwaved Potatoe with Mushrooms and Tomatoes 

(Serves 1)

-1 medium/large potato -Knob of salted butter -2 large tomatoes -4 button mushrooms -Salad or green veg, to serve

  1. Poke holes in the potato and put it in the microwave for about 10-20 minutes, depending on the heat of the microwave. Keep checking – when it feels squishy all over, it is done.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or frying pan. Chop the mushrooms into fine pieces and gently fry in the butter.
  3. Chop the tomatoes up into chunky pieces and add to the frying mushrooms. Stir and leave to fry on a low heat for a few minutes. Once the mushrooms are darkened and the tomatoes are cooked, remove from the heat and serve with the potato and some salad or green veg.

Onion

The¬†onion¬†(Allium cepa¬†L., from Latin¬†cepa¬†“onion”), the¬†most widely cultivated vegetable of the genus Allium.¬†Its close relatives include the garlic, shallot, leek, chive and Chinese onion.¬†The word onion comes from the Latin word ‚Äėunio‚Äô meaning unity, because it grows as a single bulb.

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The onion is most frequently a biennial or a perennial plant but is usually treated as an annual and harvested in its first growing season. Onions are cultivated and used around the world. As a food item, they are usually served cooked, as a vegetable or part of a prepared savoury dish, but can also be eaten raw or used to make pickles or chutneys.

The onion plant has a fan of hollow green leaves and its bulb at the base of the plant begins to swell when a certain day-length is reached. The bulbs are composed of shortened, compressed, underground stems surrounded by fleshy modified scale (leaves) that envelop a central bud at the tip of the stem. In the autumn (or in spring, in the case of overwintering onions), the foliage dies down and the outer layers of the bulb become dry and brittle. The crop is harvested and dried and the onions are ready for use or storage.

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The geographic origin of the onion is uncertain because the wild onion is extinct and ancient records of using onions span all over¬†Asia.¬†The first cultivated onions are the subject of much debate, but the two regions that many archaeologists, botanists, and food historians point to are central Asia or Persia. They were probably almost simultaneously domesticated by peoples all over the globe, as there are species of the onion found the world over.¬†Food uses of onions date back thousands of years in China, Egypt and Persia.¬†Traces of onions recovered from Bronze Age settlements in China suggest onions were used as far back as 5000 BC, not only for their flavour, but the bulb’s durability in storage and transport.¬†Ancient Egyptians¬†revered the onion bulb, viewing its spherical shape and concentric rings as symbols of eternal life.¬†Onions were used in Egyptian burials, as evidenced by onion traces found in the eye sockets of Ramessess IV. The¬†fourth book of the Hebrew Bible¬†composed around the 5th century BC mentions onions when recounting scarce foodstuffs available: 11:5 ‚ÄĒ We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt,¬†the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. In the 6th century BCE, the Charake Samhita, one of the primary works in the Ayurvedic¬†tradition, documents the onion’s use as a medicinal plant, a ‘diuretic, good for digestion, the heart, the eyes, and the joints’. Pliny the Elder¬†wrote about the use of onions and cabbage in Pompeii.¬†He documented Roman beliefs about the onion’s ability to improve ocular ailments, aid in sleep, and heal everything from oral sores and toothaches to dog bites, lumbago¬†and dysentery.¬†Archaeologists unearthing Pompeii long after its 79 CE volcanic burial have found gardens resembling those in Pliny’s detailed narratives where the onions would have been grown. Onions were taken to North America by the first European settlers¬†only to discover the plant readily available, and in wide use in Native American cooking.¬†According to diaries kept by certain of the first English colonists, the bulb onion was one of the first crops planted by the Pilgrims.

Shallots are a type of onion, but  was formerly classified as a separate species, A. ascalonicum. Like garlic, shallots are formed in clusters of offsets with a head composed of multiple cloves. The skin colour of shallots can vary from golden brown to gray to rose red, and their off-white flesh is usually tinged with green or magenta. You can use shallots in the place of onions when cooking, but they do make smaller harvests.

In the gardening world, we are used to three different colours of onions. We grow the brown/yellow/golden, the red/purple and then the white, which I must admit, I have never tried. Across the world the brown is often used in everyday cooking, the red is often served raw as it is sweeter, and the white are often used in Mexican styled cuisine as they are very sweet once sautéed.

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Here are some varieties to try:

Brown: Radar (one of my favourites), Alisa Craig, Stuttgarter, Centurion, Hercules, Sturon, Hytech

Red: Red Baron, Electric (another favourite)

White: Snowball

Shallot: Griselle (good), Jermor, Bistro, Golden Gourmet, Picasso, Mikor, Yellow Moon, Vigarmor

Onions are best cultivated in fertile soils that are well-drained. Sandy loams are good as they are low in sulphur, while clayey soils usually have a high sulphur content and produce pungent bulbs. Onions require a high level of nutrients¬†in the soil. Phosphorous¬†is often present in sufficient quantities, but may be applied before planting because of its low level of availability in cold soils. Nitrogen and potash¬†can be applied at regular intervals during the growing season, the last application of nitrogen being at least four weeks before harvesting. Or try planting them in your crop rotation after the runner beans.¬†Bulbing onions are day-length sensitive; their bulbs begin growing only after the number of daylight hours has surpassed some minimal quantity. Most traditional European onions produce bulbs only after 14 hours or more of daylight. Southern European and North African varieties are often known as “intermediate-day” types, requiring only 12‚Äď13 hours of daylight to stimulate bulb formation. “Short-day” onions, which have been developed in more recent times, are planted in mild-winter areas in the autumn and form bulbs in the early spring, and require only 11‚Äď12 hours of daylight to stimulate bulb formation.¬†Onions are a cool-weather crop.¬†Hot temperatures or other stressful conditions cause them to bolt, meaning that a flower stem begins to grow.

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Onions may be grown from seeds or from sets. We often use sets (I’ve tried shallot seeds and grown a total of two miniature shallots that were the size of my pinkie’s fingernail…) Onion seeds are short-lived and fresh seeds germinate better.¬†The seeds are sown thinly in shallow drills, thinning the plants in stages. In suitable climates, certain cultivars can be sown in late summer and autumn to overwinter in the ground and produce early crops the following year.¬†Onion sets are produced by sowing seed thickly in early summer in poor soil and the small bulbs produced are harvested in the autumn. These bulbs are planted the following spring and grow into mature bulbs later in the year.¬†Certain cultivars are used for this purpose and these may not have such good storage characteristics as those grown directly from seed.

If growing from seed, sow 1cm (¬Ĺin) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart from late February through to early April. Thin by removing weaker seedlings, first to 5cm (2in) apart and then later to 10cm (4in) apart. Plant spring sets March – April and harvest August – September. Plant winter sets in September and harvest May – June.¬†Plant onion sets 10cm (4in) apart in rows 30cm (12in) apart.¬†Gently push the sets into soft, well-worked soil so that the tip is just showing, and firm the soil around them.

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Routine care during the growing season involves keeping the rows free of competing weeds, especially when the plants are young. The plants are shallow-rooted and do not need a great deal of water when established. Bulbing usually takes place after 12 to 18 weeks. The bulbs can be gathered when needed to eat fresh, but if they will be kept in storage, they should be harvested after the leaves have died back naturally. In dry weather, they can be left on the surface of the soil for a few days to dry out properly, then they can be placed in nets, roped into strings, or laid in layers in shallow boxes. They should be stored in a well-ventilated, cool place such as a shed.

Freshly cut onions often cause a stinging sensation in the eyes of people nearby, and often uncontrollable tears. This is caused by the release of a volatile gas, syn-propanethial-S-oxide, which stimulates nerves in the eye creating a stinging sensation. This gas is produced by a chain of reactions which serve as a defence mechanism. Chopping an onion causes damage to cells which releases enzymes called alliinases, generating sulfenic acids. Lacrimal glands produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritant.

Onions are rich in carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium. They are a very good source of vitamin C and so good for building your immunity. They are also a good source of enzyme-activating manganese and molybdenum as well as heart-healthy vitamin B6, fiber, folate, and potassium. Onions are surprisingly high in flavenoids, one of the top ten vegetables with Quercetin content. If you want to retain the flavonoid, peel off only the outer dry skin as the outer layers are more concentrated with flavenoids. Onions have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and help in problems like rheumatoid arthritis or allergic airway inflammation. Studies show that onions help balance blood sugar levels. Onions also have anti bacterial properties. There are many stories and folklore. It is supposed to have saved families from plague and other infections. The anti bacterial effects of the onions act against the streptococcus mutants that cause various dental cavities and gum diseases. Studies suggest that the consumption of onions enhances the anti clotting capacity of blood. Onions have been known to increase bone density, reducing the risk of fractures. The sulphur content in onions is excellent for the connective tissues as well.

Natural treatments that use onion:

-Onions are also used in the treatment of piles or haemorrhoids. The juice of 30g of onion mixed with water and sugar is administered to the patient twice a day.

-In alopecia (hair loss), a topical application of onion juice has been said to initiate the re-growth of hair.

Cough, cold and asthma is often treated with a serving of onions, as it is known to decrease bronchial spasms. Onion juice mixed with honey helps cure bronchitis and influenza.

-Onions are also known to stimulate the growth of good bacteria while suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria in the colon, reducing the risk of colon cancer.

-The juice of Tulsi leaves (holy basil) with equal quantities of lemon juice and onion extract applied on the skin takes care of many skin diseases.

-A slice of cut onion rubbed over acne is supposed to clear up the skin quickly by taking off the bacterial infections.

-Naturopaths recommend eating onion and jaggery to increase body weight.

-Eating one raw onion a day reduces cholesterol in the blood.

-A remedy for warts is the application of the juice of one finely chopped onion sprinkled with salt and left for a few hours. This needs to be repeated 3 to 4 times a day until the wart dries up.

-The cure for cholera in Indian households is one onion pounded with 7 black peppers. It lessens vomiting and diarrhoea immediately. A little sugar could be added to the mixture to increase its effectiveness.

-A tea made of onions boiled in water, cooled, strained, and given to patients suffering from urinary infections gives immediate relief.

-Slice an onion and rub it over the sting of a bee, wasp or a mosquito to ease the discomfort.

-In the treatment for chicken pox, Indian women would serve the afflicted person a bowl of curd rice with chopped onions.

 

Onions can be added to anything. They are the base of all sauces, add flavour to a salad when served raw, and are just fundamental in the kitchen for pizza toppings, curries, stir fries, pies…

Here are some wonderful recipes using onions:

Pasta salad with fried onions and tomatoes : Autumn planting … and a recipe!

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Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

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Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

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And lots more Рjust type onion into the search bar on the home page. 

 

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine recipe

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We’ve had some sad looking butternut squashes staring at us in the kitchen for a while and I finally took pity and tried out making my own quick tagine-styled dish. It is really good and not at all hard so give it a go if you have a squash glowering at you from the fridge!

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Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine 

Serves 6

-1 small butternut squash/ 1/2 a large one -1 onion, finely sliced -Olive oil, for frying in -1 garlic clove, finely diced -16 cherry tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, sliced -450g cooked chickpeas -Rice, to serve -Greens, to serve

  1. Cut up the butternut squash and remove the peel. Cut into fine chunks and fry in the olive oil with the onion, continually stirring so that the squash cooks, but does not burn. Fry for about 5-10 minutes, or until the squash is browning slightly and is cooked through.
  2. Add the diced garlic followed by the tomatoes. On a high heat, stir the mixture like you did when frying the squash. You want the tomatoes to start to break down and release their juices, but not to burn. This could take between another 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add the chickpeas and mix in well.
  4. Serve with rice and greens. Also lovely with sweet potato.

 

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Carrots

Not to try and scare fellow gardeners but hey, its not far off till March – the biggest sowing month of the year!

This is when my sowing indoors becomes nuts, but because of the frosts there is little you can sow directly outdoors at this time of year still.

What you can sow are the hardy things like¬†Broad Beans, winter¬†Salad ‚Äď Lettuce, Meteor¬†Peas¬†… but they all need to be sown under horticultural fleece and, ideally, a cold frame.

But do you know what is a good idea to sow directly outdoors first thing in the season, that has to remain under the cover of fleece the whole year round thanks to pesky flies? Carrots.

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Carrots don’t like to be transplanted, they need a lot of time to develop, and need covering from carrot flies anyway so why not make a little bed and sow some seeds?

To make you want to grow your own carrots, here is a recipe to get you enthusiastic. Do you know what carrots go great in? Bolognese.

*To make it vegetarian, omit the meat. You can put pre-soaked or canned kidney beans in instead, but you don’t need to add more protein if you are serving it with grated cheese.*

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Veggie version – with kidney beans instead of mince

Spaghetti Bolognese 

Serves 4-6

-Olive oil, for frying -1 large onion, finely sliced -4-6 giant carrots, or the equivalent as small ones -2 garlic cloves, finely diced -x2 450g cans of tinned tomatoes -500g beef mince (optional) -Dash of soy sauce -Dash of Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce -Pinch of salt -Pinch of pepper -Spaghetti, to serve (about 500g) -Peas, runner beans or broccoli, to serve -400g grated cheddar cheese, to serve

  1. Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onion and the grated carrot together, stirring the contents. You want the carrot to lose some of its orange colour, to cook, but you don’t want it all to burn.
  2. Once the carrot is cooked, add the tinned tomatoes and the diced garlic. Mix in well.
  3. In a separate frying pan, fry the mince meat if using. Once cooked, add to the sauce, or if using kidney beans, drain if from a can and add to the sauce straight away instead. Mix well.
  4. Add the flavourings and stir. Leave it to come to the boil and then turn the flame down and allow it to simmer.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in boiling hot water until cooked through. Bring another pan to the boil and cook the greens.
  6. Serve with a helping of spaghetti and greens, the bolognese on top, and a good helping of grated cheddar.
  7. Left overs can be used for chilli con carne (just add diced chilli) or for lasagne.

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