Indian Food & Avocado Cake

A few weeks ago, I watched Indian Food Made Easy a BBC show which attempts to do what the title suggests.  One recipe in particular stood out – Goan spiced aubergines.  I love aubergines, but there’s only so many variations of aubergines with tomato or mozzarella one can stand, so I jumped at the chance to try something different.  Deciding that they wouldn’t be great on their own, I decided I’d get a small aubergine, do it as a side dish and make a small curry to go with it.  Then I decided I’d make my own chapati’s and, hey why not a flavoured rice dish, too.  Apparently I like trying to run before I can walk.

However, my foray into Indian cooking (something I do rarely, as I’m not a huge spicy food fan), did not go too badly! My chapatis actually turned out as they should (much better than the roti canai I tried last week) and are so simple and quick to make, I’d gladly make my own any time we have a curry.

Later in the week I also tried my hand at some unusual avocado chocolate cake again. I’d tried it before as cupcakes, because I have a bad track record with cakes falling flat on me.  The verdict, then, was that the avocado was not to everyone’s taste as a topping, but the cake was lovely – so this time I made ‘normal’ coffee buttercream.  Yum!  Not only did my cakes not fall flat, they tasted really nice with the coffee flavour.  They did crack a little on top, because I made the mistake of over-filling my cake tins, but not bad for a beginner, eh?  Especially one with such a bad baking track record ;)

Caught up in a frenzy of fun cookery projects, I decided to sign up for The Daring Kitchen – a group with a monthly recipe which members attempt to make and then post about.  Sounds like the very thing to introduce me to more stuff that I might not have thought of trying.  Hopefully, I’ll get my first one in the middle of this month.

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At Home in the Garden

On Wednesday I spent several hours in the shed.  I didn’t mean to, but one task led to another and I ended up in there for longer than expected.  Standing in the shed, with the spring rain pattering down outside, wrist-deep in compost and surrounded by many small pots I really felt at home in my garden.

Wonderful fuzzy feelings aside, I did manage to get a lot done!  After our holiday last weekend, I got a cheap mini greenhouse / coldframe.   It’s one of the plastic ones which can’t take too much of a beating, but it’s already made a huge difference as I’ve been able to take outside many small plants which weren’t getting enough light but still needed a little protection.  Strawberries (normal and alpine), some of the smaller comfrey plants, some mint and purple sprouting broccoli are all nestled cosily inside as well as leaving the windowsills free for more delicate plants (like my not-so-little-any-more pelargonium and some miniature chilli plants).

Talking of which, I’ve had a really terrible time with the purple sprouting broccoli – every time I re-pot them, they die :( None of my other seedlings have had the same problem and, before potting them on, they seem to have been healthy enough.  It’ll soon be too late to plant them, this year, so I’m hoping the ones I’ve sown now will make it all the way through to proper plant stage, this time.

Other things which I’ve re-potted and will also, hopefully, have better luck with are the aforementioned alpine strawberries (they seem to be pretty hard to kill off, thankfully), mint which I’d had sprouting from cuttings, and some baby cabbages which were at the two-leaf stage and getting too big for their seed tray.  I also started off some radishes, rocket and sprouts in the now emptied seed tray.

My cauliflower’s are at the two leaf stage now, too, and I was tempted to re-pot them but they seemed a little runty.  Out of 8 seeds, only 3 germinated and they are rather stumpy and short compared to the other brassica seedlings.  Hmm.

Lastly, I’ve added more herbs to my windowsills – all of the seedlings I’d grown in an egg carton were transplanted into yoghurt pots and the egg carton refreshed with new soil and planted up with more seeds.  I forgot to take labels down with me so, as you can see in the second picture below, I ended up marking which was which by shaping vermiculite into letters on the surface, hehe.  C for coriander, D for dill, B for basil and T for thyme – the unmarked ones are parsley.  I’ve now got a miniature herb jungle on the kitchen window, but I hope to have a decent enough pile of them to be able to use them without killing off one single plant.  I’d also like to make up a few herb boxes as gifts and I just really like sage as a decorative plant, too.

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Cameron House

Cameron House, Loch side Dressed for dinner

kelvingrove museum organ

(click to enlarge)

Our Christmas Present from Andy’s parents was a night’s stay at Cameron House – a beautiful hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond.   We stayed over from Sunday night to Monday, treating ourselves to a meal at Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond.  It was a beautiful quick getaway and something I could happily get used to ;)!

Whilst we were there, we nipped up to Arrochar, enjoying some beautiful loch-side scenery on the way.  It was a bit overcast and cool, but we took a walk around the ‘tip’ of Loch Long.  There was seaweed up on the trees,  two or three feet above the ‘current’ high tide level and mussel shells scattered on the pathway – scary to think how it would have been when flooded.

Dinner was wonderful.  Six courses of tasty little treats and many ideas garnered that I want to try at home – including the hazelnut and maple coated smoked salmon canapés and goat’s cheese gnocchi (which accompanied butter-poached langoustines).  I was also made aware of chlorophyll as a cooking (garnishing?) ingredient.  Very cool, though my parsley’s five leaves are not adequate to try making any yet ;) The service was great and the wait-staff really friendly, a lovely evening.

Given the horrible weather on Monday, we decided we’d head over to Kelvingrove Art Gallery / Museum.  Neither of us have been there for years and we were lucky enough to stop in just as the organ recital was beginning.  By the time our parking was running out we’d only managed to get through about 1/3 of it and were shattered – we’ll need to go back another day.

A really enjoyable weekend.

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Iris

They all waited until I wasn’t able to get out in the garden for a couple of days, same as with the crocuses – it’s a conspiracy! :(

Also spied in the garden last week:

Couldn’t believe it when we looked out of the window and there it was, sitting happily on the fence.

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‘Shrooms of Dhoom!

Whilst busy all weekend I forgot to harvest the mushrooms we’ve been growing from a kit that Andy’s mum gave us and when I checked on Monday morning I got a bit of a surprise – what had been a small closed-cup mushroom on Friday had become a portobello!

We quickly arrested its growth by throwing it in a frying pan with some butter ;)

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Weekend in Edinburgh

We spent both days this weekend in Edinburgh for part of the day – Andy had a samba school performance not far from Waverley Station and Sunday night we visited for an excellent performance by Sons of Fionn – the band his sister plays in.

On Saturday, we decided to head in a little early and have a wander before he started playing and, since I had my camera along to take video of their performance, I used it as an excuse to take some photos.

Andy Nate

pink flowers

purple and white crocus purple and white crocus

The crocuses were really gorgeous – a late display this year because of the cool weather – but they seem to be doing well, nonetheless.  Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the samba group as I videoed all of the performances :(  Maybe next time!

Sunday night, we were back in Edinburgh again – this time, at The Forest Cafe to see Sons of Fionn and some really tasty tea.  The gig was brilliant – but unfortunately, we forgot to charge the camera battery so didn’t get any photos! :(  We didn’t get back until around 12, but it was completely worth it.

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Signs

I didn’t go out in the garden yesterday; it was dull, miserable and nothing needed watered.  However, nature took it upon itself to start the opening ceremony for spring whilst I wasn’t looking.  From tiny green stubs, suddenly we have flowers!   Although they’re not ones I planted, I’m happy to see the little crocuses come up as my iris’ will surely be hot on their heels.

(click for larger images~)

The last plant there is the comfrey I planted outside – now cloche-less (the wind blew it off because I couldn’t dig it into the soil with all the slate).  One of the smaller shoots has died off, but the two main crowns seem to be doing fine.

I think I’ve finally figured out how to get the focus right on the camera, now I just need to work on composition, hehe.

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Finishing Touches

As spring draws nearer, and my double-dug ground finally defrosts after that second burst of cold weather and snow, I’ve  gotten around to doing some of the last ‘big’ things before planting begins.  Armed with some bamboo canes and a large roll of twine, I’ve created some trellis for my peas and support for the raspberry, blackcurrant, and gooseberry canes that Andy and I bought for Valentines.  I think the canes for the peas might be a bit short, but I only had shortish pieces of bamboo;  if need be I’ll find some way to add height later if the things actually manage to grow!  Information I’ve been able to find tells me I won’t need large poles for my french dwarf beans if any support at all, so I’ll need to ‘wait and see’ before creating any structures or stakes for them.

trellis for canes

At the base of each of the poles on my new pea-trellis I also added some cloches.  I’m hoping to stick one or two peas out earlier than the others and this was recommended to warm the soil beforehand and give them a fighting chance.   My cloches are leftover irn-bru bottles, stripped of their labels and bases, and pushed down into the soil.  So far they’ve made excellent lidded ‘pots’, so I’m hopeful that they’ll be a useful, recycled gardening tool.

trellis for peas

Another thing out in the garden under ‘bru bottle’ is one of the comfrey plants grown from the root I bought.  It managed to spawn about 5 large plants and I have another pot with two smaller ones just coming up, too – not a bad ebay purchase!  It’s residing up the back of the garden, near the fence which has pretty sad soil on top, but nicer stuff deep down and is a bit shaded for most plants.  Comfrey likes shade and sticks its roots deep – so I’m hoping it’ll like it there.

comfrey

I’ve been pondering building some sort of vertical unit to plant things in which need longer periods of sun, or will not fit well in the garden itself.  An idea based on this bottle herb garden has come to mind – I still have some huge slats of timber threaded with holes from a unit which has since been ‘recycled’ to make the plant table we have in the kitchen.  I just need to find some way to make it stable, and I’ll have a mobile, vertical growing wall.

I think I’m going to need to do a post with all of the recycled materials used in my little garden :)

Another cool thing I’ve gotten for the garden is coffee.  After hearing of the many wonders of coffee grounds and, serendipitously, having Andy mention his works new coffee machine and how much coffee they drink, things came together wonderfully and I now have my first bin-ful of used coffee grinds.  It’s a little 5-litre tub of garden-goodness and it smells lovely!  I’ve mixed it into the compost heap, and am looking forward to more – apparently you can use it as up to 25% of your heap so long as you make sure to add enough rough brown material alongside.  A big thanks to Andy’s work for letting me grab this cool stuff.

I really am loving how the small plot has gone from covered with stones, to flat soil, heavy dug-up soil and finally nicely raked, fertilised, fine soil. I finally feel like my garden might actually work.  It’s been a relatively long-term project for me, given we moved in right at the end of last years summer season and it’s since been too cold to do much until recently.  I’ve planned the garden layout, set things up, gotten seeds, made a calendar for planting and a garden layout plan to ensure I can fit what I want to grow.

Now I just need some sunlight…

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Unusual Chocolate Cake

I’m not entirely sure how I came across it, but at some point recently, I came across this recipe for avocado chocolate cake with avocado icing.  Yes, avocado.  It intruiged me and I decided I really had to try it.  I don’t even like avocados!  Because of my inability to bake cakes, I decided to try a cupcake version – and that had the added bonus that the extra would be easily freezable as I didn’t think there was much of a chance of getting many people to eat them… (I wouldn’t blame them, if they’d tried anything I’d baked before).

They turned out pretty nice!  Andy wasn’t a huge fan of the icing and, although I liked it, I probably wouldn’t make it often – oddly it tasted like kiwi!  The cakes tasted pretty like normal chocolate cake – maybe a little less stodgy and with, perhaps, some of the health benefits of avocados (though I’m not sure how much of that survives cooking).  Another cool side thing about using avocados is avocado seeds – one of which is now growing on the windowsill in a glass of water :)

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this ‘baking’ thing.

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