Saturday, 26 February 2011

The first and the last

Spring arrived on Thursday - it was just for a day trip; a exploratory visit ahead of the scheduled main event next month. Still, it was nice to see it and it made me want to rush outside and get planting. I've heard it said that to test if the soil is warm enough to plant into it you need to pull down your pants and place your bottom on the soil. If you can stand it then the soil is the right temperature. I grant that it was a nice day on Thursday but I didn't feel the inclination to whip my bottom out. Instead, I limited myself to the two jobs I always plan to get done during February half-term - to sow leeks and peanuts in pots - the first sowing of the year.

Whilst the girls bounced up and down on the trampoline, I retrieved a bag of compost from the shed and filled some empty yoghurt pots. Then my youngest appeared at my elbow and asked if she could help plant the peanuts so we did this job together. It didn't take long and it was too nice a day to return indoors so soon. Instead we moved round to the front garden where the girls filled yoghurt pots with herbs and mashed them up to make potions & medicine. I trimmed the herbs that had been browned by the severe frosts this winter then chopped down some of the dead seed heads in the rockery that had stood like natural sculptures all winter.

By now my arms were beginning to tremble with the effort of welding shears and the light was beginning to fade so we went back inside. Later, when it was time for dinner I made a lamb casserole, using lots of season veg (carrots, parsnips, leeks, onion and swede). This I topped with the last of our homegrown potatoes. A moment to mourn... it will be 4 months until we have homegrown potatoes again. This was followed by an apple pastry made with another rather wrinkled apple from store. 6 months till the next fresh apple. Oh I'll be glad when I'm scratching my head, wondering what to do with the glut.

Apple pastry

1/4 block of puff pastry
1 small apple
1 date
15g caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 dessert spoon flour
A little milk or egg to glaze
1 teaspoon demerara sugar

Preheat an oven to 200°C, gas 6 and grease a baking tray. Roll the pastry out on a floured surface into a rectangular shape. Peel, core and finely chop the apple and chop up the date too. Mix the fruit with the sugar, cinnamon and flour then heap onto half the pastry. Brush the edge of the pastry with the milk or egg then fold over the other half and seal. Brush the top of the pastry with more milk or egg and slash diagonally with a knife several times then scatter the demerara on top before putting in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until risen & golden. Eat hot or cold, on its own or with custard and/or cream.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Waffle, waffle, waffle

I bought a waffle making machine from Lidl's a couple of weeks ago and then found myself feeling ridiculously excited at the prospect of making waffles. I even prised the box open when I got back to the car to see if it contained a recipe book. It did - so I skimmed it then went off to Asda to buy a few key ingredients. As it happened, the same day, I bought myself my very first Wii Fit. Two very exciting purchases in one day - I was almost giddy with it!

I was very good, though, and left both purchases in their boxes until after I had collected the girls from school. On the school run, I met up with one of my eldest's friends, his little sister and his dad and invited them round to try out our new toys. So whilst the big kids amused themselves with the wonder that is Wii Fit, I invited the two year old sister into the kitchen to see if she wanted to help me try out my new waffle machine. I have never met a small child who would pass up the opportunity to weadle a wooden spoon in the name of cake making so we washed her hands and adorned her with an appropriately small apron.

We measured and mixed our way through a simple waffle recipe then switched on the machine and got cooking. Soon all the children were sat around the kitchen table, tucking into waffles and cream, their Wii Fit efforts thwarted temporarily by the irresistible smell of freshly cooked waffles. I bagged up a few spare ones for the two year old to take home to show her mum what she'd been making and the others I stuck in toastie bags the next morning for the girls to have for breakfast.

The girls always like to have a bakery type product for breakfast rather than cereal. This may be brioche, fruit bread, pancakes, crumpets or toast. Having purchased the waffle maker I saw a huge range of breakfast products stretching before me so I quickly set about trying out the recipes that came with it and modifying to suit my own whims.

My first thought was that I would try the pumpkin waffle recipe from the leaflet as I had a bit of pumpkin left in the fridge in desperate need to using up but on getting part way through the recipe I discovered that the pumpkin had in fact gone past its best and was only fit for the compost bin. Instead, I decided that apple puree would do just as well so I retrieved a few wrinkly apples from storages and made the substitution. It worked beautifully.

Apple Waffles

3 apples (weighing about 250g)
2 eggs
80g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
100g flour

Peel, core & chop the apples then cook with a little water until soft & fluffy. Beat the eggs with the sugar, lemon juice, honey & cinnamon then add the apple puree and then then flour. Dollop the mixture into a hot, greased waffle machine in suitable amounts and cook for about 3 minutes until golden brown.

A few days later I remembered I had pumpkin puree in the freezer that I had earmarked for making pumpkin pancakes but instead I thawed out and made into pumpkin waffles. These aren't particularly sweet and need to be accompanied with something. My youngest likes her's spread with homemade raspberry jam.

Pumpkin Waffles

250g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
1 tsp mixed spice
55g light brown sugar
3 eggs
284 ml carton buttermilk
175 g pumpkin puree

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, bicarb and spice. In another bowl, mix together the sugar, egg, milk, pumpkin and oil. Make a well in the centre of the flour and gradually mix in the wet ingredients until a batter forms. Dollop the mixture into a hot, greased waffle machine in suitable amounts and cook for about 3 minutes until golden brown.

There was also a recipe in the booklet for potato waffles. Aha, I thought, that could be a great way to process & preserve our lovely potatoes in the summer to use from the freezer at this time of year when the potatoes are beginning to sprout again. So I gave the recipe a go, surprised that it used raw grated potato rather than cooked mashed potato. Now, I don't know whether it was because I started with a poor quality spud or whether it was the recipe but the result was disgusting and quite ruined our dinner. So the next time I had a bit of mashed potato left over I tried again with the potato waffle idea and this time I created something much more reminiscent of a shop bought waffle, which pleased the girls no end.

Potato Waffles

800g mashed potato
160g plain flour
1 egg

Mix together the ingredients until it forms a sticky dough. Dollop the mixture into a hot, greased waffle machine in suitable amounts and cook for about 3 minutes until golden brown.

And so the waffle maker's glory lives on. About once a week I cook up a batch of waffles, freezing the excess. Then in the mornings I pop them into the toaster (from frozen) via a toastie bag and the girls tuck into to their breakfast. And with a different recipe ever week they are not bored yet and nor am I... I still have looks of ideas to try.