Sunday, 30 September 2012

Banana loaf recipe

Hello all and welcome to my new followers recently.
I have had a request from Caroline for the banana loaf recipe I make sometime.

I have two recipes actually and have made both (mainly because I lost the first one and then found it again)

Both are good and very similar in taste, so its up to you which you try. The second makes a slightly bigger loaf but takes longer. Sorry about the poor formatting, it was a copy and paste job.

Easy banana loaf

Serves: 10
·         125g butter
·         150g caster sugar
·         1 tsp vanilla extract
·         1 egg, beaten
·         2 very ripe bananas, mashed
·         190g self raising flour
·         60ml milk

Preparation method
Prep: 10 mins | Cook: 35 mins
Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin. Melt butter, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over a medium heat.
Remove from heat and add the mashed bananas, mix well.
Add the egg, mix well.
Stir in the flour and the milk.
Pour into the prepared tin, sprinkle with a tablespoon of demerara sugar to give a crunch topping if liked.
Bake at 150 C fan oven (or 170 C regular, Gas mark 3) for 35 mins, until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool and enjoy!

 Banana Loaf 2

·         285g/10oz plain flour
·         1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
·         ½ tsp salt
·         110g/4oz butter, plus extra for greasing
·         225g/8oz caster sugar
·         2 free-range eggs
·         4 ripe bananas, mashed
·         85ml/3fl oz buttermilk (or normal milk mixed with 1½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar)
·         1 tsp vanilla extract
Preparation method
1.     Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2.     Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large mixing bowl.
3.     In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
4.     Add the eggs, mashed bananas, buttermilk and vanilla extract to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well. Fold in the flour mixture.
5.     Grease a 20cm x 12.5cm/8in x 5in loaf tin and pour the cake mixture into the tin.
6.     Transfer to the oven and bake for about an hour, or until well-risen and golden-brown.
7.     Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Just call me Nigella

I am Nigella, yes, honestly I am.

As you know I have taken a leaf out of Penny Wise's book and am making my own Christmas cake this year, as frugal as possible out of as many 'value' ingredients as is possible. Last week I soaked a kilo of mixed dried fruit in brandy and yesterday I went onto stage 2: the cooking.
I used a mixture of various different recipes and my own spin, but basically it is the recipe for Christmas cake from Nigella's Christmas. I mainly chose this one, because she has 3 different lots of ingredients quantities for you to choose from, depending on the size of cake (and cake tin) you want.

I had a 23cm cake tin, so chose the medium size.
Also I can, of course, drift around the kitchen looking fabulous, just like Nigella, never making any mess, not a splatter of cake mixture anywhere, whilst drinking a watermelon liquor and Cointreau martini  and smiling sexily into a mirror - obviously! Oops, there are mites in my plain flour. I bet Nigella never found mites in her plain flour. Don't worry, no one will notice.

I won't write the recipe down, unless anyone is interested in making the same one, because there are hundreds out there to choose from.

So finding out that the oven had to be on for nearly 3 hours, I decided to make use of all that time by filling it with as many different things as I could get in over that time period.

So first of all, a banana loaf, I lost my first recipe so had to find another one, not sure it was quite cooked enough, needing a slightly higher heat than the Christmas cake, but I still enjoyed it. I am sure Nigella never had that problem (she probably has 2 ovens - at least).

My presentation is not quite Nigella either.

The next thing I got started on was my stew, or to be more accurate 1st Man's Stew. I recommend this highly as it was SO delicious, I was in heaven, eating stew and home made bread, while watching Midsommer Murders (does Nigella have time to watch TV? All that drifting around looking sexy is very time-consuming).
I didn't quite stick to the original recipe, meat-wise, because I made use of what I had in the freezer so mine was made with nice, cheap pork belly and some chunks of chorizo. Also when I went to ASDA, they didn't sell dried cannellini beans (odd, I know) so I used tinned, which was maybe quite a good idea actually as I was doing mine in the oven in a couple of hours rather than in a slow cooker. Incidentally in ASDA, small cans of cannellini beans are 64p unless you go searching in the Indian food section, where the exact same thing, but in a large can are 37p. Get your head around that one?

 I got it started off in a cooking pot and then transferred it to the oven for a couple of hours. Just enough time for another 3 watermelon liquor and Cointreau martini's.
Wow, it really was delicious and there should easily have been enough for 4 portions. Sadly, I am very greedy and I ate two portions in one go. Ah well, it will make me more curvaceous and sexy, I am sure.

The final thing to go in the oven was a small gammon joint, I love these, you can have them cold for days and as they are only £4 they are much cheaper than buying sliced ham (I cut it in nice thick slices too).

So finally, the kitchen is full of the most wonderful aroma of spices as the time draws near for the cake to come out. At this point I should have been half drunk from all those martinis if I had really been drinking them and in an immaculate kitchen. Never mind, I had a delicious glass of water instead. The sweat is pouring off me and the kitchen is a horrendous pile of used bowls, utensils, tins and trays with globules of cake batter spattering everything. Don't worry, the TV crew can wash all of that up later.

The moment of truth:

Great success. You see, I told you I was Nigella!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


I was reading  Johns post about being lonely today and it gave me pause for thought: do I get lonely here?

It was one of those things I did worry about when I made the move from living in the city of London to living in a fairly isolated part of Lancashire. I only knew a very small handful of people here and left behind 19 years of people in the South, but is loneliness something I feel?

As some of you may have gleaned, I have fairly reclusive tendencies, not very healthy I know, but I am perfectly content in my own company for the most part and rarely find myself at a loose end, even though sometimes I don't speak to anyone for a day or more. Call me a hermit. But I don't feel lonely.

London is possibly the loneliest place on the planet, full of people so wrapped up in their own lives that the barely cast a glance in any direction besides forward. It is a city that always gives you the impression that everyone else is having a good time (even though this is not true) when you are not. I lived in my last flat there for 6 years and didn't know any of the neighbours at all. I once sent a card to one of the new inhabitants of the block (the neighbour who lived next to me) just to say hello and welcome (I was feeling particularly warm and fuzzy at the time) and it went completely ignored. A year later he asked me out of the blue, if he could 'steal' my wifi internet for a couple of weeks as his was being reconnected. It was the first time we had spoken. I wanted to say 'no' so badly, but goodness prevailed and I let him. It was a small satisfaction that it turned out the signal wasn't strong enough for him to get it. This was the sum total of our contact.

Cities can give you an intense feeling of isolation, simply because you are surrounded by so many people, none of whom are interested in you.

Within a few days of living where I do now, I knew the names of most of my neighbours, and heard many times from many different people 'well if you need anything, just knock on our door'. It is very different.
Now perhaps these people are not yet 'friends', because our conversations have revolved around gardens and weather so far, but I know that they are good people and I enjoy the short conversations we have. I know that there is someone there if I get into trouble or need help with something and I know they are interested in me (partly because I am somewhat of an anomaly around here) but also because they are neighbourly.

Now, that is not quite the same thing as being lonely, but I can safely say that it is not really something I have experienced since coming here. Any contact I have with people, be it in a shop, or out for a walk, I find them friendly and ready for a chat should you wish to. If anything, I have more time on my hands than I did before,  as my trips away are intense then over. Peace, quiet and silence has always worked for me.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Man's best friend.

This weekend I agreed to look after my friends 2 dogs. Remember the puppies I helped deliver (when I say helped, I mean I made cups of tea while other people did 'stuff') well they are all long gone to good new homes, except one. So I had mum and daughter to stay with me in 5 star chez Dan luxury.

How does anyone get anything done when they have a dog?

Now I accept that one of them is very young and curious and the other one is probably home sick, but the two of them follow me every single second of every single hour. I went to make a cup of tea and they stick to me like extra shadows; go to the loo with an audience. It is very endearing and they are both beautiful, but it did sort of hamper my progress. I gave up on taking advantage of the surprisingly good weather yesterday by doing some weeding. No way was that going to happen, first one of them took my trowel (thought it was some weird stick I think) while the other one did a poo and tried to eat it.

So we came inside and decided to watch a film. The dogs wanted to watch 'the incredible journey' but instead we watched the harrowing and tear jerking 1996 film version of The Crucible. We all enjoyed it and cried a bit.

This morning I awoke with a dogs bum in my face and another one scratching over my mouth. We had a lovely bracing walk (good weather gone) at 6.30 this morning and I washed my bedding, the washing machine being a source of endless interest for my two new furry canine friends. I shut them in while I put the washing on the line and they steamed up the glass with their nose pressed against the door, watching my every move. The only time they settle is when I sit down, although even that is a little hampered by the fact that they both want to sit on my knee at the same time. Finally, we are now settled on the sofa, we may watch another film....

I've loved every second of it :-)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Autumn leaves

I think that we can well and truly say that summer has come and gone (and was barely noticed). Soon the leaves will turn their beautiful shades of russet and gold and the days will become shorter and the morning colder. Soon we will see our breath steaming and want to come running in to the cosy house to drink hot chocolate.

I love Autumn. I love all the seasons, but Autumn is when the world is at it's most picturesque and I feel most close to nature. The countryside begins to slow down and move towards hibernation, some plants are disappearing underground and the fields are empty. It is a time we are supposed to give thanks for the abundant crops and find ways to preserve them - sadly this year, there were no abundant crops to give thanks for and very little to preserve.

Autumn and winter are my favourite times of the year for eating. Over summer I eat a lot of salads, tend to snack on lighter meals more and often eat things that didn't really need any cooking or at least very little.

But in Autumn I can blow the dust off my casserole dishes and slow cooker and eat hearty stews and steaming pumpkin soups, cottage pies and lancashire hotpot. Drink hot chocolate with a dash of brandy in after a day clearing all the dying leaves from the garden into bin bags for future mulch. It is a time of warming, traditional food, made on a shoestring, with cheap cuts of meat or lots of pulses and beans. It is a time to sit in front of a roaring wood burning stove (oh, if only I had one already) with a good book, whilst being aware of the elements outdoors and being thankful for the warmth. It is a time to light candles and wrap up in throws on the sofa.

Yes, Autumn is a wonderful time of year.

Christmas stuff

Hello everyone,

Today I am talking about Christmas (some of you may be appalled and would perhaps like to return to this post in about 3 months time, but you'll be sorry......) HEHE

I am notoriously a bit of a scrooge at Christmas time, let's call it too many years of miserable family members, put together in a room, screaming children who are so materialistic that they don't appreciate anything you give them, or understand the magic of the season, who only want the latest future landfill craze that lasts 2 minutes before it is broken or cast aside.

So it is with great happiness that this year will be different. I am not going to be there. My very very good friend (the American one who came to stay with me last March, (remember, when the weather was good, seems such a long time ago) is working in Germany this year and she has nothing to do between 18th December and 28th December and no one to do it with and so I have invited her to come and stay with me, for a traditional British Christmas, one that will not involve endless hours of shopping, screaming spoiled kids or any sort of misery, if I can help it.  The joy of this particular friend is that she is wonderful with food, both cooking it and eating it. She is non materiel and will enter into the true spirit of the season with me.

So with no time to spare when it comes to proper traditional food preparation, I got on with it today. I am going to be wholly traditional and cook everything from scratch and much of it in advance, trying to find the frugal way of doing things.

So with that in mind today I started preparing my Christmas cake and some cherry brandy.

Now I made cherry brandy a year or so ago and it was one of the best and most worthwhile things I have ever done. So delicious to drink, the cherry's themselves becoming a delicious desert ingredient.

I won't repeat the recipe, because here it is from a past post, only to say that it is well worth trying:
Cherry Brandy

So having bought a bottle of very cheap Aldi brandy, I decided to start on my Christmas cake. Now I have to admit that I was inspired to do this, it being years since I made a Christmas cake, by a new blog I have been reading called Being Penny Wise (and I recommend it). Mrs Penny Wise over there is making a Christmas cake using the cheapest value ingredients, to see how it comes out. Well, I am all for this so thought I would do the same.

This is her post on the subject.

Now, we all have our slightly different ways of making cakes, so I will be doing my own version, but basically the premise is the same, using value dried fruit, value brandy, value flour, etc I will make a lovely large cake for as little money as it is possible to do.

So today I put 2 packs of value dried fruit (1KG), asda in my case, into a bowl and added the remaining brandy (after making the cherry brandy) for it to steep in for the next week. After this I will make my cake and show you how it turns out.

So it is going to be a season of good food, prepared well in advanced (well come on, how many of us actually like supermarket shopping in December and horrendous last minute panicking?), home made well thought out presents (yeah, need to start thinking about that) and a celebration of the true joy of the season.

Will I finally get the Christmas I have always wanted? Let's find out.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

gardening help please

My lovely azalea has a very very nasty attack of mildew. All this damned wet weather! Now I have been to the garden centre and thanks to their non advice found myself trying to work out what was best to do for myself.

As you can see, it is a very nasty case.

So, all you much more experienced gardeners than me, it is time for you to come into your own with much needed advice. I have been spraying it with an anti-fugus plant spray that says good for mildew but it hasn't yet made any difference at all. How long should I keep this up for? All webites advised to remove any fallen leaves and destroy them as this will put the disease back into the soil and continue the cycle. One website said to remove all the infected leaves from the plant, which I am happy to do if someone can verify that this is indeed the best course of action! It will make the plant look pretty awful for a while, but I guess it is going to lose its leaves for winter soon anyhow.

Anyone had anything similar? and have you managed to sort it out/find a solution? Any help is very very much appreciated!

I'm away now until Sunday, so just keep those suggestions coming in. I will gratefully read all your comments on my return.

A cascade of violas.

I have mentioned this book before as my current favorite gardening book and I can't recommend it highly enough, if you are a very experienced gardener it is maybe not for you, although I think there are good ideas for everyone in there, especially the novice who wants to create lovely looking garden ideas.
It is called Sweet Peas for Summer

and she approaches gardening ideas a bit like a recipe book, a list of 'ingredients' and a method.

This week I did one of her ideas which is a cascade of violas.

You take three pots of different sizes and fill them with compost, fitting each pot inside the bigger one. Violas are dead cheap at the moment and a pack of 20 plugs cost me just £2.70. I then filled all 3 pots with them and can't wait for them to all grow and flower, creating their cascade.

These of course are done with the brilliant pots that I got free from a kind person on freecycle, so this little project really did cost me just £2.70. I filled the bottom of the pots with some of the stones from the ground for crocks and then put in some of the turf that I have saved from my many other gardening projects and just filled the top sections with good quality compost. I will show you an updated picture in a few weeks to see how it is looking.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Putting the veg to bed.

It has been a busy few days in the garden. I was away working over the weekend so missed all that golden opportunity to garden in the sunshine, instead, I have been in and out dodging rain.
I have been creating a raised bed vegetable garden area and it was hard work (usual stones in the ground problems.

I started by digging the area out and removing the turf and then digging deep to fit the raised bed posts into the ground.

I dug out a trench that I was to fill with gravel, both to make it prettier and also because I heard that slugs and snails don't like to go over gravel - anything to keep them off the veg after the year of it I have had with them!

I put in a liner so that the weeds would not come through the gravel.

Then I added some stepping stones around the back, made use of some of the massive stones that I have pulled from the ground, and began the process of filling in with the small stones.

I put cardboard in the bottom of the bed to help the grass down until it rots and then added a lot of compost. A few plants around the outside to soften the edges (more to come in time)

And finally I planted my cabbage and cauliflower, I have been growing most of these from seed for a very long time and some of them have succomed to being eated alive by caterpillars and slugs and snails. hopefully they will recover a bit. Cabbage is my favorite veg, so I hope that I will have some for Christmas.

A job well done.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Arrabiata Sauce for no cost and harvesting crops.

Today I made a large batch of arrabiata sauce and I had to share because with the exception of a a could of cloves of garlic it cost me absolutely nothing!

I used a couple of my home grown onions, small but perfectly formed!

A couple of cloves of this wonderful French garlic which I picked up for a song on a french market.

Fried it together with a couple of dried chillis, the last of my stock which I grew and dried last year.

I bottled these tomatoes last year, they were the left over from what I had grown and, following instructions very carefully (didn't want to die of botulism, as was suggested if you didn't do everything by the book) I got them perfectly preserved. I pulled off the seal and opened them up to be met with a lovely scent of tomatoes!

These are pink peppercorns, which I harvested from a tree in the South of France. I dried them for a couple of days in the sun and they are so delicious. Ground up a few and added them in.

Finally some of my thyme that is growing outside. I recently thought that it had died, but I think it was just unhappy and was contemplating suicide. I have brought it back from the brink and it is flowering happily now.

Left to to simmer for an hour or so. Delicious.

Other garden news:

It won't be a big tomato crop, and I would really like them to start ripening, but at least there are some good looking ones.

Chilli plants finally coming on, need them to as I used up my final dried chilli for the sauce above.

I had a lovely big crop of Nicola Potatoes, this is the ones from the ground and this:

is from the potato bags. Much better crop in the bags it seems. They are delicious and I have immediately planted some more potatoes for Christmas.

Finally I have a kitchen light! I was beginning to hate the bare flex I had dangling. I had planned on getting this ages ago, but it was £40 from Amazon and there was no way I was going to pay that. Couldn't find one cheaper so over the last few months I have been doing online surveys that pay you in amazon vouchers and finally had enough to get it for free. A few phone calls to me much more practical brother and I managed to successfully wire it in and get it working, first time! Finishes off the kitchen beautifully.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Digging for victory

Hello everyone, after my rather long absence I am back and raring to go. I have been feeling so tired and jaded the last week or so and it has taken me a while to get back into the swing of things but September is going to change all of that. I have been spending so much time in the garden, really trying to make an impact and I must say that it is looking lovely. 

My border is lovely, not that I can take much credit for that as all these plants, bar the rose at the end and the apple tree at the front, were there already and have come into bloom. I am going to replace the fences in the next few days/weeks not because I mind the nice old looking ones, but because every now and again when I am out there there is a crash as yet another rotten piece of wood falls off. One strong wind and the whole lot could go as it is completely and utterly rotten.

My apple tree has taken beautifully and goes from strength to strength, who knows, maybe I will even get an apple or two next year! I am not touching the rhubarb as I have been warned off doing this in its first year, but oh, it is so tempting to nick some for a nice crumble. the stepping stones are actually massive stones that I dug out of the ground (now you see why digging a new bed takes me so many hours!) I will do something with them.

I kicked off my wellies and took a well earned break.

I have dug out this bed and added 2 climbing plants that will reach up to that trellis given time. On the far left is a clematis montana Elizabeth and on the right is....... oh, dear, I can't remember and I lost the tag!

Another picture of the same border (how did that happen?)

On this trellis I have painstakingly dug out another bed and this is another clematis, this one called star of India.

This small corner bed took me about 7 hours in total over 2 days, yes it really did. The man who lived here before me had piled all the stones that he had ever dug out of the earth into a pile here that had then started to grow its own life forms. I filled over 17 bags with rocks! My poor car didn't know what had hit it when I transported those to the tip.

Today I finished digging this bed and it has finally reached the end and matched up with another bed. Now the fun bit will start, choosing plants.

This was when I had not quite got to the end. From left to right, a honeysuckle, mombretia (transplanted from elsewhere in the garden), jasmine and clematis star of India.

yet more bed digging.

The border from the other end.

Close up.

Still haven't got the arch (and not sure I can actually afford one right now, but one day it will be there for the lovely red climbing rose to climb over.

Digging, digging, digging........

I have put together a raised bed, which is not yet in the ground, I will put some winter veg in here, got some cabbages and cauliflowers that are almost ready for planting out.

And after all that work, i am so tired, it is an early night for me!

Thanks for being patient!

Oh and Blogger seems to be behaving itself, in fact, all these photos downloaded in record time, first time! Got to be good news!