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 😛

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 – what 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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Harvesting in January

So I have a confession…

I have not worked in the vegetable garden at all this Christmas break.

I know, very bad. But I was juggling work, university work and working in the pig run to prevent it from resembling the battle of the Somme over winter. Those are my only excuses.

Despite my lack of care, the garden has looked after itself pretty well (the grass is thriving in all of the beds it should not be in…)

It has been so long since I worked over there regularly that I had actually forgotten what I still had planted and left to harvest. I had forgotten the kale, the rest of the sprouts and carrots, the tree cabbage… all I thought we had left were potatoes. So I made a big effort and harvested and prepared lots of our produce during the week.

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Carrots: these are the last of the carrots sown this year. They were under horticultural fleece and managed to survive some of the freezing temperatures we had suddenly. Not one has rotted so thank goodness we are on sandy soil. They were delicious and not a lot of damage or forking going on. We even had one gorgeous proper sized carrot!

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Think they are ‘Flyaway’ carrots.

Celeriac: first homegrown celeriac harvested from this crop. I know, lazy. But it was in really good condition, a good size, and tasted really good. I like to boil mine but roasting them makes an excellent replacement/accompaniment to roasted parsnips as they apparently taste the same. I have also eaten it raw, grated with apple, in a salad and that is surprisingly good too.

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Brussel Sprouts – the left over small ones from Christmas finished up. They did really well and packed a punch to the taste-buds.

Kale – the kale is still alive and doing pretty well despite the various slug/pigeon/ cabbage white attacks it had this year. I do love kale boiled and it goes great in stews, on top of pizzas, in casseroles or stir fries. Kale is brilliant because it fills in the cold ‘hungry gap’ aka, winter, when most other things aren’t available.

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Garlic – I sneak up a bulb every time I need it. Garlic is still prolific in our garden from years of growing it.

Potatoes – Too. Many. Luckily, they taste really good and are in pretty good condition.

All of this dinner was homegrown, except the lentils. Self-sufficient and proud of my little garden for doing so well all on its own.

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Mum’s Baked Apples

Happy New year everyone!

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Here is a little winter/autumn warming treat to see you through January and February, and a great way of using apples left over in storage from the harvest of 2018.

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Mum’s Baked Apples

Serves 6

-6 large baking apples -3/4 cup dark brown sugar -1/2 cup raisins -1/2tsp ground cinnamon -1/4tsp grated nutmeg -1tbsp butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Wash and core apples, then remove a 1-inch strip of peel around the middle of each. Arrange the apples in a baking dish, 2-quart shallow.
  3. Combine the brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Carefully fill the center of each apple and dot with 1/2tsp of butter.
  4. Add just enough water to the baking dish to cover the bottom. Bake, uncovered, for 45-60 minutes, or until the apples are tender (larger ones will take longer). Baste the apples with the juices occasionally.
  5. Serve the apples warm. Left-overs can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

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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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The pumpkins are coming…

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The pumpkins are turning orange – it must be autumn.

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We had a pretty good growth of pumpkins this year – at least one per plant. We’ve got about six in total off the top of my head.

I planted ‘Racer’ seeds indoors in tall yoghurt pots in April, I think… could have been May…

Anyway, they were planted outdoors into a very sunny patch during the heatwave. With regular feeds of rotted manure and blood fish and bone, they have flourished.

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We were really lucky that the heatwave kept back the powdery mildew this year (look at Powdery Mildew for more information and preventative treatment tips). This disease flourishes in warm but moist climates – so thank  you drought. It meant that the mildew that could attack as early as May or June stayed off until the last few days of August. Powdery mildew looks like this:

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To begin with, little spots of white mould form on the leaves. These quickly spread, covering the whole leaf and spreading to the stalks. The plant starts to turn brown. It shrivels and dies, sometimes taking the fruit with it. Very quickly you can end up with this:

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A dead plant.

I cut off two pumpkins yesterday from their dead plants to prevent the disease from spreading to the fruits themselves. Thank goodness they had already turned orange…

Next step is curing them…

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Update: 1st September 2018 – Sweetcorn

Harvested our first sweetcorn of 2018 yesterday, and I think it is our best yet.

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Fully grown, yellow kernels, picked just at the right time. Not tough and old, but completely tender and sweet.

We grew our usual Swift F1 seeds this year. We started them off in tall yoghurt pots of compost indoors in May. Once they were big enough to handle and the frosts were over, we planted them outdoors into fertilised earth in direct sunlight. With the glorious sun in June and July along with a vigorous watering schedule, the actual sweetcorn plants grew huge, are tallest yet, going past my 5’3 at least.

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Sweetcorn are pollinated by wind rather than insects. You want to get the dust from the tops of the plant onto the tassels below that will become the sweetcorn if pollinated. I did a lot of hand pollinating this year, due to the lack of wind, and thank goodness it seemed to work!

To check if the sweetcorn is ready to harvest, you wait until the tassels have become dark brown instead of white, basically died back. You then gently peel apart the green skin of the corn and insert a finger nail into one of the kernels – if the liquid comes out milky white, it is ready. If not, leave it for a couple of days before checking again.

Now this is important: harvest your sweetcorn only the you are about to cook it. As soon as you take that cob off the plant, its sugar starch degenerates rapidly, straight away. This means the taste of the cob decreases in yumminess very, very quickly. You are advised to bring a large pan of water to the boil before you pick your cob!

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Perfect cob! Cooked and put in the bowl in readiness for kernel removal…

To cook the cob, remove the green outer leaves and tassels. Plop the whole cob into the boiling water and leave to boil for a couple of minutes. Remove and put to one side to cool. You can either serve sweetcorn whole as corn on the cob with some butter, or, standing the corn in a large bowl, using a knife, cut down the sides of the cob, scraping the kernels off. You can then serve the sweetcorn kernels without the cob or you can freeze them like this in plastic bags, as they will take up less space in your fridge. Cooking and freezing locks in the sugar starch and preserves the taste and goodness of the sweetcorn.

Voila!

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Sweetcorn kernels scraped off and served for lunch.

Does anyone else think of Pocahontas when they see sweetcorn with the green leaves still on?

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‘Just around the river bend…’ 

That film’s got sot some cracking good songs.

Other fun news: made tomato passata last week and last night I used it to make homemade pizza.

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That means that our dinner used homegrown onion, garlic, perpetual leaf spinach, oregano and tomatoes!

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Shame the mozzarella and cheddar, olive oil and bread flour or yeast weren’t home produced… but at least the pizza base was homemade!

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Recipe for pizza can be found here: Updated recipe: homemade pizza and information about growing sweetcorn can be found here: Sweetcorn

Update continued…

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In my last post I got very excited about making my first preserved chopped tomatoes from our homegrown crop. I will end that little story by saying I used them in a homemade paneer curry last night and it was great – along with homegrown onion, garlic, coriander seeds and mustard seeds in it, and homegrown runner beans on the side, of course. Here is a link to my paneer recipe if you need it, part of my old cucumber post —> Cucumbers

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Now that the rain has settled in … 😦 I’ve had lots of time to catch up on making preserves. Spent a busy Friday making two batches of strawberry jam and a chutney – recipe coming soon!

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But I took the chance yesterday to snap some quick pictures of the garden in the sun before the rain came back and would love to share some with you. Below is a picture of our William red rose. It is the most prolific yet at the moment. I counted 7 flowers and another 8 buds getting ready to open the other day. This after mostly just 3 at a time for the last couple of years. It shows how good feeding a rose is… It is a beautiful, delicious smelling rose I highly recommend.

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Next up we have the sweetcorn. It has grown so tall this year – taller than me, which isn’t saying much, but that makes it over 5’3… They have been loving the summer and he sprinkler and are looking really good. Next test will be to see if they have produced any kernels…

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I grew most of my tomatoes indoors this year, which I always do because the English weather is often rubbish, but we do always get a few rogue plants in the compost we spread outside. These often come to nothing but this year they are laden with fruit and look stunning!

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Below is a photo of the one chickpea plant that decided to germinate. The little brown pods are the beginning of what will hopefully turn into an actual chickpea being grown. Fingers crossed.

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Runner beans are doing very well, but I’m going to have to start using a ladder.

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Pumpkin!

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The other huge plant this year was the courgettes. The actual plants were whopping in size. I should have taken a photo earlier when they looked even more striking, but I got one now to remind myself in the future that courgettes need space!

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That’s all for now. Hope you all have a glorious twelfth – oh, fun fact, it is international elephant day on 12th August every year.