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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Cranberry lovers?

Any dried cranberry lovers out there?

Two treats here, one from Nigella’s Cookalong competition. Both chocolate cake…

Follow the links below!

https://bellasbakingsite.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/christmas-cupcakes-nigellas/

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Nigella’s Chocolate Christmas Cupcakes

https://bellasbakingsite.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/christmas-brownie-and-walnut-cake/

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Chocolate Brownie and Walnut Cake with Dried Cranberries

Orach

Atriplex¬†is a plant genus¬†of 250‚Äď300 species,¬†known by the common names of¬†saltbush, orach¬†or orache. It belongs to the subfamily Chenopodioideae of the family Amaranthaceae. The genus is quite variable and widely distributed. It includes many seashore and desert¬†plants,¬†as well as plants found in moist environments. The generic name originated in Latin¬†and was applied by Pliny the Elder¬†to the edible orachs.¬†The name orach is derived from the Latin ‚Äėaurago‚Äô meaning golden herb. The name saltbush derives from the fact that the plants retain salt in their leaves.

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A native of Europe and Siberia, orach is possibly one of the more ancient cultivated plants. It is grown in Europe and the northern plains of the United States. A cool season plant, orach is a warm season alternative to spinach that is less likely to bolt. It can be eaten fresh or cooked. The flavour is reminiscent of spinach and is often combined with sorrel leaves. The seeds are also edible and a source of vitamin A. They are ground into a meal and mixed with flour for making breads. Seeds are also used to make a blue dye.

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An annual herb, orach comes in four common varieties, with white orach being the most common. White orach has more pale green to yellow leaves rather than white. There is also red orach with dark red stems and leaves (the one we grow) Green orach, or Lee’s Giant orach, is a vigorous varietal with an angular branching habit and rounder leaves of dark green. Less commonly grown is a copper colored orach variety.

I purchased our red orach seeds from Real Seeds Company that sells lots of heritage and exotic seeds. I planted them out last year and they self-seeded and re-grew this year.

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Orach contains significant levels of vitamin C and K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, carotenes, protein, anthocyanins, zinc and selenium tryptophan, and dietary fibre. Orach improves the digestion with the dietary fibre, improves the function of kidneys with its diuretic and laxative effect. Orach contains antioxidant compounds that prevent cancer from developing, the proteins, minerals, and vitamins stored in orach can help everything from hormonal regulation to enzymatic reactions that are required to keep our body functioning and boosting our metabolism. The high levels of iron and calcium boost red blood cell creation, circulation, and oxygenation of the tissues and organ systems. Orach possesses almost twice the amount of vitamin C as lemons or kiwis which are often considered the top fruits for acquiring vitamin C quickly, making Orach a very attractive plant if you want to keep your immune system running.

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Similar to spinach, but less than spinach, orach does contains significant levels of oxalic acid. This means that if you suffer from kidney stones, gall stones or gout, it might be a good idea to avoid orach and find these nutritional elements elsewhere and for others to eat small amounts of it raw.

As the seeds contain some protein, it is a good plant for vegetarians to grow as it provides some homegrown protein to add to their daily meals.

You can eat the seeds and leaves raw, or you can cook them. Cook the leaves like you would do to spinach. For the seeds, they can be fried or boiled. Add them to a salad or any other dish that includes grains like rice or quinoa or bulgar wheat. My first taste of the seeds was when I added them to a tomato risotto and they were really nice.

Broad Beans РTomato Risotto. Add the orach seeds when the rice is starting to absorb the liquid. You can omit the broad beans if you like and just make a plain tomato risotto.

Here is another recipe I made including orach seeds…

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Garlic Mushrooms, Leaf Beet and toasted Orach Seeds

(Serves 2)

-200g brown rice -1 knob of butter -6 button mushrooms, finely sliced -1 large garlic clove, diced -6 leaves of leaf beet, perpetual leaf spinach, spinach or swiss chard, de-stalked -2 handfuls of orach seeds -Runner beans or another vegetable, to serve

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the rice and turn the heat down to a simmer for about half an hour or until the rice has absorbed the water and is cooked. Leave to one side.
  2. Bring another pan of water to the boil and add the runner beans or another green vegetable you would like to serve with it. Remove from the heat when cooked, drain and leave to one side.
  3. Put the butter in a frying pan. Turn on the flame and leave it to melt, greasing the pan with it. Add the finely sliced mushrooms and fry for a minute before reducing the flame to simmer. Add the leaf beet followed by the diced garlic. Stir. Add the orach seeds allow them to toast a little before stirring them into the mixture.
  4. Remove from the heat and serve over spoonfuls of rice and vegetables. Refrigerate left-overs.

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Recipe: Stewed Blackcurrants with Yoghurt

A little late in the season, but if anyone has some blackcurrants they need to finish…

We were picking bundles of fruit this summer. Most of the raspberries and strawberries were eaten fresh or stored in the freezer for jam. The blackcurrants every year are stored in the freezer too before being made into jam too. You can eat blackcurrants raw, you can turn them into Ribena, but I find that they are far too sharp. But last year I tried eating this amazing concoction my mum made: stewing the blackcurrants with sugar and eating them with Greek yoghurt. The plain, yet creamy, yoghurt is a wonderful companion to the sharp yet sweet taste of stewed blackcurrants. It is absolutely delicious – and the stewed berries look beautiful.

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Stewed Blackcurrants with Greek Yoghurt

 

(Serves 6)

 

-About 500g blackcurrants ‚Äď Granulated sugar, to taste, start with 100g and add a little at at time ‚Äď About 600g full-fat Greek yoghurt

 

  1. Stew the blackcurrants but putting all of the fruit into a pan over a high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  2. Once the fruit starts to ooze liquid, add a little sugar at a time, stirring it in, until you have enough to taste sweet, but not too sickly, still slightly sharp. Leave to simmer for a few minutes until the currants have released enough liquid and are soft and squidgy.
  3. Fill bowls with Greek yoghurt and spoon the stewed blackcurrants over the top. Serve.

Replace the blackcurrants with jostaberries or gooseberries. 

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Peas

The pea is most commonly the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the pod fruit Pisum sativum.  Pea pods are botanically fruit since they contain seeds and developed from the ovary of a (pea) flower. It is a cool-season crop grown in many parts of the world; planting can take place from winter to early summer depending on location.

In early times, peas were grown mostly for their dry seeds.¬†The wild pea is restricted to the Mediterranean basin and the Near East. The earliest archaeological finds of peas date from the late neolithic era of current Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. In Egypt, early finds date from¬†ca.¬†4800‚Äď4400¬†BC in the¬†Nile delta¬†area, and from¬†ca.¬†3800‚Äď3600¬†BC in Upper Egypt. The pea was also present in¬†Georgia¬†in the 5th millennium BC. Farther east, the finds are younger. Peas were present in¬†Afghanistan¬†ca.¬†2000¬†BC, in¬†Harappa,¬†Pakistan¬†and in northwest¬†India¬†in 2250‚Äď1750¬†BC. In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, this¬†crop¬†appears in the¬†Ganges Basin¬†and southern India.¬†From plants growing wild in the Mediterranean basin, constant selection since the¬†Neolithic Dawn of agriculture¬†improved their yield. In the early 3rd century BC¬†Theophrasturous¬†mentions peas among the¬†pulses¬†that are sown late in the winter because of their tenderness.¬†In the first century AD¬†Columella¬†mentions them in¬†De re rustica when Roman legionaries still gathered wild peas¬†to supplement their rations.

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In the Middle Ages, field peas are constantly mentioned, as they were the staple that kept famine¬†at bay.¬†Charles the Good, count of¬†Flanders, noted this in 1124.¬†Green “garden” peas, eaten immature and fresh, were an innovative luxury of¬†Early Modern Europe.¬†In England, the distinction between “field peas” and “garden peas” dates from the early 17th century.¬†Along with¬†broad beans¬†and¬†lentils,¬†peas formed an important part of the diet of most people in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe during the¬†Middle Ages.¬†By the 17th and 18th centuries, it had become popular to eat peas “green”, that is, while they are immature and right after they are picked.¬†New cultivars of peas were developed by the English during this time, which became known as “garden” or “English” peas. The popularity of green peas spread to¬†North America.¬†¬†Thomas Jefferson¬†grew more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate.¬†With the invention of canning and freezing of foods, green peas became available year-round, and not just in the spring as before.

Sugar peas which the French soon called¬†mange-tout, for they were consumed pods and all, were introduced to France from the market gardens of¬†Holland¬†in the time of¬†Henri IV, through the French ambassador. Green peas were introduced from¬†Genoa¬†to the court of¬†Louis XIV¬†in January 1660, with some staged fanfare: a¬†hamper¬†of them were presented before the King and were shelled by a comte.¬†Little dishes of peas were then presented to the King, the Queen, Cardinal Mazarin and Monsieur, the king’s brother.Immediately established and grown for earliness warmed with¬†manure¬†and protected¬†under-glass, they were still a luxurious delicacy in 1696.¬†Modern¬†split-peas¬†with their indigestible skins removed are a development of the later 19th century: pea-soup, pease pudding, Indian¬†matar ki daal or versions of chana masala, or Greek fava.

In 2005, a poll of 2,000 people revealed the pea to be Britain’s seventh favourite culinary vegetable.¬†The annual ‘Peasenhall Pea Festival’ in the English village of¬†Peasenhall, Suffolk attracts hundreds of visitors every year, with events such as Pea Shooting, the World Pea Podding Championships and National Pea Eating competition. In 2012, the Pea Festival had an OlymPEAn theme, celebrating the London 2012 Olympics.

Peas do take a little bit of time. They need support while growing and podding takes time – this is after managing to get them to germinate, survive slugs and snails and then to actually develop peas inside the pods. However, homegrown peas are incredible. They are so much sweeter and smaller than any you will ever buy in the shop. You want to eat them as soon as they are harvested (the speed of conversion of their sugars to starches means that every second ruins them, like sweetcorn or asparagus). When young and tender and fresh from the first harvest, eat them raw straight from the pods. Otherwise, heat them very briefly in a pan of boiling water for a minute or two, drain and serve. Or, pop them straight from their pods into the freezer asap. A dream of mine is to have a surplus of peas to freeze like our runner-beans – unfortunately, hasn’t happened… yet?

The side shoots and growth tips, pea tips, or ‘green gold’ in Japan, are also edible and make a good addition to any salad. However, you will end up with fewer pods if you pick them but if you have lots of plants then go ahead!

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‘Meteor’ – Sow February-June, October-November

Sow March -June :¬†‘Sugar-Ann’, ‘Deliket’, ‘Alderman’, ‘Kelvedon Wonder’,

‘Ambassador’- Sow¬†March-July

I learnt the hard way the first year I tried growing peas that they just don’t germinate in sandy soil, or if they do, they quickly become snail and slug fodder. One night, we went out with torches and saw basically a live trapeze act of slugs and snails crawling up peas. From then on it was military protection from creepy crawlies!

Last year we started them off indoors in toilet rolls in giant seed trays filled with compost, like sweet pea sowings. They did really well, all germinating just fine and producing a good crop – I just needed to make more successional sowings to get more, that would be my advice. However, the toiled rolls are rather exhausting and rot when the peas can’t be planted outdoors for a long time because of rubbish weather… So we started using normal plastic containers, old fruit cartons etc., filled with compost and they worked just fine (peas do have long, straggly roots so be cautious and delicate when planting out). So: sow indoors and when about 10-15cm tall plant them out under fleece until the frosts vanish, 10 cm apart, rows 75cm apart. Make sure they are in a trench with well-rotted matter. I have read before to avoid using manure but I really do think that it is the magic medicine for all plants, even the carrots (which are meant to fork) and alliums (which are meant to bolt). It really seems to help so I would try out working in some well-rotted manure with lots of compost and mulch into the earth where you are going to plant your peas. Use hazel prunings or other similar sticks to support the peas – thrust the fat end of the sticks into the soil to hold them upright so the tendrils have something to grab onto. Don’t let them dry out and the occasional comfrey feed can work wonders. For the permacultural lot, try growing radishes and salad leaves between the peas (chicory, spinach, wrinkle crinkle cress and poached egg plants did very well between ours last year). Many can be harvested May-October, depending when sown, averagely around 2 months after sowing. Check by the size of the bumps in the pods – pick them at their peaks.

Other than slugs and snails, mice and birds can be a problem. Put them under cover if this starts to become an issue. Caterpillars of pea moths could be a problem. Blight, powdery mildew, rust or other rotting diseases can also become an issue, weakening and ruining a crop.

Peas are starchy, but high in fibre, protein, vitamins A, B6, C, K, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and lutein. Dry weight is about one-quarter protein and one-quarter sugar. Peas are stuffed with all sorts of antioxidants that help improve overall health, as well as help prevent cancer. These actively seek out and neutralize free radicals that are roaming around the body, which, studies have shown, are partially responsible for causing cancer. Peas are thought to be a heart healthy food. Their high dietary fiber content helps reduce bad LDL cholesterol in the heart. It has natural anti-inflammatory properties that help regulate inflammation in the cardiovascular system. There is also a good amount of ALA fat found in peas (one of the Omega-3 fatty acids), which has been shown to promote heart health. The high protein and fiber levels also help keep blood sugar levels in check. Both of these work to regulate the rate at which food is digested. Dietary fibre has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

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Eat raw peas with any spring/summer salad – think boiled early new potatoes, butter and cut chives with a fresh bunch of salad leaves straight from the plot outside under the blue sky. Try them boiled alongside any cooked meal – sausages or chops and mash, weekend roasts etc. Peas go with nearly everything. Here are a few of my favourites: baked potato, butter, grated cheddar cheese and peas (perhaps with baked beans as well),Updated recipe: homemade pizza and peas (optionally with baked potato and butter as well), lasagne and peas, macaroni cheese and peas,¬†Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock, pasta, tinned tomatoes, rocket, cheese and pine nuts with peas (Salad ‚Äď Rocket), Matar Paneer is my all-time favourite curry, literally translates as peas and paneer cheese curry (Cucumbers),¬†just rice, tinned tomatoes and peas is yummy.

Another recipe? How about a risotto?

Pea Risotto

(Serves 4)

-25g butter ‚Äď 1 onion, sliced ‚Äď 325g rice ‚Äď Salt and pepper, for seasoning -750ml/1-pint vegetable stock or 2tsp Bouillon powder, dissolved in ¬ĹL of boiling water -300g peas ‚ÄďMore cooked vegetables, to serve (optional) ‚Äď Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

  1. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the onion and fry gently over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down a little.
  2. Add the rice and a grinding of salt and pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the butter.
  3. Add the stock after frying the rice like a pilau for a couple of minutes, bring to the boil, stirring frequently.
  4. Turn the heat down once the stock is bubbling and leave to simmer until almost all of the stock has been absorbed. Add the peas, cover, and leave to simmer for 6-10 minutes.
  5. Serve with cooked vegetables and parmesan cheese, if desired.

For a stock recipe, see: Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock, vegetarian. 

 

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March – sowing and growing

There are too many plants that can be started off indoors/outdoors in March to name! But here are a few to get you started…

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Carrots –¬†Carrots¬†– sown one trench outside under fleece

Spinach –¬†Salad ‚Äď Spinach¬†– planted out ‘Turaco’ spinach sown last autumn in a cold frame with fleece and started off indoors ‘Barbados’ and ‘Emelia’, onto ‘Samish’ soon…

Lettuce-¬†Salad ‚Äď Lettuce¬†– planted out lettuce sown last winter in the cold frame with the spinach and sown some seeds indoors

Radishes –¬†Salad ‚Äď Radish¬†– sown outdoors under fleece between other crops

Celery –¬†Celery¬†– batch sown indoors

Celeriac –¬†Celeriac¬†– ”

Courgettes –¬†Courgettes¬†– sown indoors

Squashes – have yet to plant ‘Honey Bear’ and ‘Sunburst’

Quinoa –¬†Quinoa¬†– batch sown indoors

Chickpeas – Sown indoors, first time trying them this year!

Broad beans –¬†Broad Beans¬†– ready to plant out under fleece

Peas – started off indoors but can be sown directly now – post hopefully coming soon…

Okra –¬†Okra¬†– couple damped off so planted some more indoors

Rocket –¬†Salad ‚Äď Rocket¬†– sown indoors, not doing so well…

Watercress – sown indoors

Herbs – sown the parsley and coriander so far

Fenugreek – damped off, need to sow some more indoors

Cucumbers –¬†Cucumbers¬†– sown indoors, doing best at moment, please stay that way!

Tomatoes – germinated very well indoors

Potatoes – time to think about planting them outdoors under a lot of earth and some cover

Turnips – just sown some

Purple Sprouting Broccoli – just sown some (as well as some more¬†Calabrese Broccoli) indoors AND just harvested first batch of last year’s crop the other night to have with some of the last dug up potatoes from last season with baked beans, cheese and frozen homegrown runner beans – yum!

Leeks –¬†Leeks¬†– indoors

Spring Onions – indoors

Beetroot – indoors, on my list

Cabbages –¬†Cabbages¬†– ‘Red Rodeo’, ‘Advantage’, ‘Caserta’ – sown indoors

Brussels Sprouts and Brukale –¬†Brussels Sprouts¬†– quickly sow before it gets too late

Kale –¬†The last of the Kale

Sweet Corn – on my list but I know from experience that I can still get away with sowing it in May, indoors

Rhubarb –¬†Rhubarb¬†– time to feed and start forcing

Fruit Trees/Bushes – time to feed!

There are bound to be plenty more veggies to sow/plant out as we plough on through the first month of spring. Temperatures are finally warming up but hang onto some fleece – the fruit trees might be lured into a false spring, deadly for blossom and fruit production… Make sure¬†anything you sow outside/ plant out is wrapped up under cover, nice and snuggly. It will be a shock to the system if they are exposed to Britain’s ‘spring time’ too early!

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FLOWERS TO SOW INDOORS:

French Marigolds

Cosmos

Viola

Lavender

Geraniums

Calendulas

Lupins

Sweet Peas – they are ready to plant out under cover

There are BILLIONS more…¬†

 

Seville Orange Marmalade

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I thought that it was important to post about the delights of the Seville Orange even though they will never appear in our kitchen garden – English weather will never be that kind, I am afraid, even if Global Warming went into full swing.

Imported from the warmer climates, Seville oranges have a VERY brief stint in the supermarkets in the UK. They appear in January but are often cleared from the shelves by February.

I’m not at all a marmalade fan myself but my parents are and it is very important to buy as many Sevilles possible and to make billions of jars of homemade marmalade to last them the year. So far I’ve managed to purchase 3kg… that will probably get them through to March, if I’m lucky!

Anyway, last year was my first attempt at making marmalade and I am pleased to say that it went pretty well and the homemade stuff lasted until around Christmas time.

Here is a recipe if anyone fancies making some. You can substitute the Seville oranges with normal oranges or lemons and grapefruits.

What is so special about Seville oranges? They are the most flavoursome and strong tasting and ultimately make marmalade taste better for those that like it. They have a overwhelming citrusy smell and are quite bitter tasting and ideal for cooking. They don’t keep long so if you are lucky to get some, don’t leave them hanging around too long (easier said than done, it does take effort, time and initial courage to start the process of jam-jelly-marmalade making).

Here is a good starting recipe. It is the ‘whole fruit’ method I tried and tested last year. Enjoy!

Seville Orange Marmalade 

(Makes 5 x 450g jars )

  • 1kg Seville oranges
  • 2.5 litres of water
  • 75ml lemon juice
  • 2kg granulated sugar
  1. Scrub the fruit, remove buttons at the top and put the fruits whole into a large pan filled with 2.5 litres of water. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer, covered, for 2-2 1/2 hours, or until the orange skins are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork. (I often do this in the evening, turn of the hob and leave the oranges overnight before continuing onto the next step the following evening).
  2. Once cool enough to handle, take the oranges out of the pan and measure the water left over – you should have about 1.7 litres. Make it up tot his amount with more water if you have less or bring it to the boil to reduce it if you have more.
  3. Cut the oranges in half or quarters and remove the pips with a fork, flicking them into a bowl. Drain the juice from the pip bowl and put in the pan with the other liquid.
  4. Put the orange segments into a food processor and blend. Scrape into the pan of liquid and stir in.
  5. Add the lemon juice and the sugar, turning on the heat to dissolve. Stir in. Bring to a rapid boil (takes a while) and boil for at least 10-15 minutes. Perform the pectin test (add a splurge of liquid onto a cold plate and put it in the freezer for a couple of minutes. When it wrinkles when a finger is pushed through the middle, it is done). Keep boiling until it is ready then turn off the heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, half an hour to 1 hour is even better.
  6. Ladle into sterilised jars and seal. Store in a cool, dry place.

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