Banana Bread & Spicing Up Dinner

Another recipe from Joy the Baker, this vegan banana and coconut cake was my second attempt at banana bread.  The first one didn’t turn out so well – it ended up burning despite not being in even nearly as long as the recipe suggested and was a little mealy under the charred bits.  This time I watched it like a hawk and was rewarded with well cooked, but thankfully not over cooked, banana bread.  It was still a little mealy at first (probably because I had to use the  strong whole wheat flour I had rather than bleached, normal whole wheat) but the day after it tasted superb – it also tasted fine after being flung in the freezer for a couple of days.

Although I like doing the vegan versions of baking – reducing our egg and butter intake can only be good – sometimes you need to go out and make it the old-fashioned way for the full flavour.   Maybe next week – I still have more bananas to use up…

Last week, we decided we’d have one of our favourites – spanish potatoes and spanish baked prawns from the ever-reliable BBC GoodFood site.  However, there was some chorizo and physalis in the fridge which had to be used up.  I figured I’d try to make something to fit the other flavours and ended up making a spicy, sweet dish which actually tasted pretty good – one of my few ‘throw-together’ successes.  I fried the chorizo with half a green chilli pepper, added some honey, then threw in the physalis, halved.  Once the physalis was cooked, I added in some spinach, let it wilt and out of that odd match came a succulent little addition to the table.

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Planting Glut

Monday, despite starting out cloudy, matured into a warm if breezy day.  I was keen to get out in the garden, so long as it didn’t rain, to plant the pile of stuff Andy’s mum brought over to share last Friday and to set up the planter she also gave me (thanks again!).  When we went shopping on Sunday, I convinced Andy that I had to get some more plants to put in that planter because, hey, I have room for carrots now, right?

So, most of Monday was spent in the garden and it was glorious.

Lupins

My first task of the day was to turn a messy grassy edge into a future bright flower patch.  This little nook behind the washing-line pole is difficult, if not impossible, to get into with the mower – as you can see the grass there is really overgrown.  Some quick turf-lifting, the addition of a small pack of dwarf lupins and we’re set for a colourful summer.  I love lupins –  my grandparents used to have a large patch right up the back of their garden.  These are dwarf lupins, mixed colour, and can hopefully battle against the grass for dominance of the corner.

Borders

Second job of the day was to plant up the border plants given to me by Andy’s Mum.  I’m not sure exactly what two of them are (I think petunias and begonias?) but those were planted into the long, thin, sunny-side borders.  I planted one each of the geraniums and french marigolds into a hanging basket and the box planter respectively and the rest are in pots until I decide what to do with them.  I did take one of the geraniums inside to sit beside my other one.  It’s amazing to see the difference between the chunky, little, hardened off geranium and my big-leaved, indoor one.  Both aren’t far apart in height, but the indoor one has nearly double the spread.

Checkup

As for everything else:

From left to right: mixed salad leaves, curly pak choi, pea seedling, radishes, purple sprouting broccoli.

It finally feels like the garden is coming to life.  I was so happy to see that, finally, some of my peas had sprouted.  Out of around 8, two have come up – not a great rate, but I had thought they were all gone so I guess it’s a nice bonus.

I also managed to catch myself on a screw which sticks out of the shed door.  First real gardening injury – should I be proud? =P

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Carrot Cakes & Cupcakes

I used this recipe from Joy of Baking, and the cupcake idea and cooking times from Joy the Baker – so much joy going into these!

I always end up overfilling the pans and cases – hence I get these volcanic type cupcakes and cakes, I think.  The cake also took a lot longer to cook than it should have, hence the slightly burnt top – but that came off to ice it, so no harm done!

The icing… did not turn out so well.  I tried to make it with low-fat cream cheese and it came out (I suppose unsurprisingly) a lot more watery than it should have.  It didn’t curdle, though, which I was quite happy about, and it tasted just fine – so I just poured some on!

Blog

The other half helped me figure out what was breaking so badly on i.e. so the site should now be readable across the latest versions of internet explorer,  firefox, safari & chrome – I’ve not got Opera installed on this machine to check it .  It’s a ludicrously bright design, but I was tired of dull, ‘safe’ colours and wanted something that represented me a little better =)

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Pork Chops and Pancakes

Pork

Another recipe from BBC GoodFood – Sticky Calvados Pork Chops.  I swear that site, more than any other, has pushed me into cooking more adventurously.  This recipe, whilst taking a bit of overseeing, is relatively easy to prepare and tastes delicious!  I didn’t want to shell out for a bottle of Calvados (a french apple brandy), since we don’t drink it normally, so I just used dark rum, as I figured it was the closest thing we had to hand (martini wasn’t going to cut it, haha).

Putting all of the flavour into the onions and sauce was something I’ve not really done before, and I’ve also never cooked apples like this, either.  Both were things I’d definitely do again and the sauce gave me an appreciation of the wonder of onions when it comes to soaking up flavours.

Pancakes

As I’ve mentioned several times, my skill at making pancakes is abominable.  It’s always bugged me, as my mum could make awesome ones which required resting but I’ve never found a recipe like that!  Whilst I can just about manage a really flabby crêpe, I’ve never ever managed a nice, fluffy American style pancake – the type I love!

This week, I came a little bit closer.  I don’t know whether it was the recipe (I’ve certainly never used buttermilk in pancake batter before) or just the fact that I’m less ‘scared’ about bakery, but I actually managed something a lot closer to those dream pancakes…  Not 100% but certainly closer to it than any attempt before.  The melted white chocolate chips are something I could learn to love, too… ;)

Blog

I’m currently trying to re-do the blog – apologies to those viewing it in browers other than firefox (especially i.e.) at the moment as the site may be a little freaky.  Once I’ve got all of the things as I like them in firefox I’ll start to get it working in as many other browsers as I can!  I love firebug, btw – it makes figuring out someone else’s css so much easier!

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Sticky Sausages & Sweet Potato Salad

BBC GoodFood is always my go-to place when I’m looking for ideas for next week’s meals.  Sometimes they ‘work’ for us, sometimes not but eventually, many get added to the list of ‘make this again’.  The above pictures are of a recipe I’d definitely do again – sticky sausages and sweet potato salad.  It wasn’t only super-tasty, but really easy and simple to make – I’ve finally found another sweet potato recipe which Andy will eat, hoorah!   The meal was pretty sweet, so not for those who’re not keen on sweet-savoury, but after some discussion we decided we might try it in the future with venison sausages, butternut squash and replace the honey with blackcurrant or raspberry compote as a slightly ‘darker’ version which might not be quite so sugary.

I also baked a banana bread this week which I somehow managed to burn.  It tasted ok, with the outsides taken off, but was far to reminiscent of my usual baking failures :(  I’d really like to be able to make banana bread or yoghurt bread as it’s something Gran used to make all the time when I was younger  The recipe I had for this one tasted more like fruit loaf (dense and quite thick) rather than the soft, light loaves I knew and loved so I might need to do some searching for recipes and bone up on my sponge-bread making skills.

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Bakery Challenges – Muffins and Hot Cross Buns

Whilst I’ve happily signed up for daring cooks, I’m not confident enough to sign up for daring bakers quite yet.  Baking has never been my forte, but with recent small successes, I’m growing a little more confident with it!  I’m also having fun with learning how to use my camera, so please excuse the photosplurge.

Muffins


There was a deal on in Tesco this week which meant we ended up with some strawberries.  I’m usually not to fond of out-of-season import strawberries, but when you’re getting them really cheap by buying something you wanted anyway?  Sure.  I made a heeeuge fruit salad on Wednesday night, but I still had a pile of them left over.  Cue a search for strawberry recipes.  I didn’t have to go far, finding Joy of Baking’s strawberry recipes page.  Therin, I found a strawberry and banana muffin recipe – perfect, since I happened to have a very brown banana kicking around the fruitbowl.

First time cooking muffins… I nearly fainted at the amount of butter needed for them and felt so guilty that I halved the recipe just so that I didn’t have to take 1/3 of a pat of butter and put back a tiny bit into the fridge. It turned out well, since half the recipe made 6 fairly decent sized muffins – which is not to many to gobble for two big, growing guys (growing round the middle, that is, ahem).  They were nice, but not very muffiny.  I’m not sure where I went wrong but whilst the centres were soft, squidgy muffins, the tops were crispy.  The strawberries were also overly sour when hot – if I’d realised they were going to be so sour I’d have sugared or honey’d them beforehand but c’est la vie, eh?

Despite that, I’d try muffins again – for one, I want to try strawberry and banana muffins (or just plain banana) with wholemeal flour, as I I think the flavours would go better and, secondly, I really, really need to try blueberry muffins because I adore them.  I’m just a bit aghast, now, at how much butter I’ve eaten with all of those oh-so-tasty muffins.

…didn’t stop me eating any of the ones I made.

Hot Cross Buns

This time, it was trusty ol’ BBC GoodFood that I looked to for a recipe.  Feeling buoyed up by my successes, recently, I decided to make hot cross buns (and, well, for the obvious seasonal reason too, of course).  These are not just cakes, these are bread cakes. I will note here, again, that my biggest problem when baking has always been getting things to rise properly and so bread, the archetypal ‘risen’ product, is something I’ve shied away from trying.  Never again!  I had so much fun making the hot cross buns that I’m plotting on having a go at brioche.

They turned out really well.  I am happy to say when things don’t go so great, but this time, I actually felt quite proud of myself – they weren’t perfect as the sugar-glaze was still a bit granular when I put it on (first time trying it), but they taste like hot cross buns should.  As I often do (much of the reason for my downfall when it comes to baking things, I think), I did make a wee substitution and used mixed dried fruit instead of currants.  I don’t really like currants that much and, more importantly, that was all the dried fruit we had in the cupboard.  It worked well!

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