I’ve done all sorts of things over the last week and haven’t blogged about most of them, so here’s a list of various lessons I’ve learned and things I’ve found out.
It’s worth bothering to actually check the temperatures for stuff when you’re trying something vague in terms of recipe/method. I thought that if I roasted the veg for the soup in the top of the oven at gas 4 and dried the sweet millions cherry tomatoes in the bottom that’d all be fine. It wasn’t, because the dish was too deep, the oven was too hot and although I was checking stuff every 15 minutes or so, they suddenly disintegrated into a wet mess that would never dry in the way that I wanted. They still tasted lovely so I just chucked them into the mix for the soup. Also they cooked down so much that I should have used at least double the quantity to get a usable amount for preserving in oil. I’d have been lucky to fill a ramekin with what was left. Verdict: worth trying again to do it properly. Or borrowing a dehydrator, which would be much simpler.
Listen to your friend when she tells you things because she is wise and speaks the truth: unless she tells you that she won’t send her kids to lick your feet while you sleep; she’s always lying about that. At least, she is usually right about suspicious-looking veg. She said she used a whole bulb of fennel in the Roasted Tomato and Fennel soup but I was deterred by the overpowering smell of aniseed when I sliced the raw bulb and thought she might have used more tomatoes as I didn’t have quantities and she’s notorious for making double the amount of everything she needs except roast potatoes, which is just wrong. I read that fennel is milder when cooked but chickened out on the quantities because I didn’t want to mess it up. I should’ve used the whole lot – it’s actually really nice and none of the aniseed seems to remain. Verdict: Lovely soup, well worth making lots.
When trying to buy a Mora carbon steel knife for bushcraft on Amazon, it will bring this up as the top result, or did when I went to actually buy one. I’m forever telling small people to read what is actually on the page, rather than what they think is on the page and I should’ve followed my own advice. £13.50 wasted on a knife that, whilst excellent, doesn’t do the one thing I wanted, which was for it to work with my fire steel. Verdict: Must try harder. These are the correct Mora knives to get so I got one. They make epic sparks with the steel.
I adapted a recipe from my foodie friend to use in the slow cooker with a batch of pork loin steaks (British, ethically reared, lovely ones) because life happened and they were too close to their date to be frozen so I needed to cook all 5 at once in a way that wasn’t grilling, frying or roasting them as they’re rubbish to reheat. It’s been a huge success and I’ll write that one up as a separate post. Verdict: Win.
It’s worth freezing leftover stuff – even if it’s something as mundane as mashed potato. I’d been given a frozen casserole and was just too tired to contemplate doing anything other than pushing buttons on a microwave last night. Found a random box in the freezer, containing a single portion of home-made mash, defrosted it in the microwave, broke it up, added a bit more milk and some butter, nuked it and it tasted like something I’d spent much longer on and wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a gastro-pub. I wouldn’t normally freeze something like mash so must have been on some sort of eco-kick of trying to really clamp down on food waste. I should be doing that all the time, really. Verdict: Do more of this.
It appears that I have been doing wrong pretty much everything that I could, with my past failed attempts to grow herbs. I didn’t even bother this year but I know people do grow them very successfully and I really like the idea of being able to dry anything that was surplus to requirements. I thought they might make a nice gift for family members, once dried and chopped/ground: in a small kilner-type jar with a rubber seal. Anyway, if I follow this list and do the opposite of everything I’ve ever done herb-wise, I might be in with a chance of doing that in time for next year.
Hinty tip-type things I had not known
Roasted veg can be frozen in bags even though it’s going to have some oil on it, so if you don’t want gallons of soup taking up all your freezer space, you can roast a load of veg, just portion it into bags and then take out a bag at a time to defrost, add to stock and blend into soup or pasta sauce. This also works with oven-dried tomatoes, apparently. I don’t know how nice the defrosted veg would be if just reheated: could be very soggy. Will have to try that and find out. This is a good student/money-saving tip and the only equipment you’d need to make the soup would be a stick blender which you can buy for a few pounds.
Coriander could attract ladybirds and hoverflies to my garden so I’m going to make sure that’s one of the herbs I grow outdoors next year. I’ve seen one ladybird in the garden this year and only 3 overall. It seems to be a terrible year for them and I may order some larvae next year. I have loads of greenfly on the sweet peas – there’s no shortage of food for them. Also, I had thought to myself that the green fronds on the fennel looked rather dill-like and apparently they must be as that source says they will cross-pollinate if you grow them too close together. Worth knowing as I may try growing fennel.
I want to use my allotment as a place for the various children in my life to have fun and learn simultaneously. This has some really good ideas of things I can incorporate.
Campfire eclairs are an actual thing. It’s an American recipe that I think might be a bit sweet for the European palate because of the vanilla pudding and frosting, but I think a variation on this and possible alternative fillings could make something gorgeous. I was thinking you could use clotted cream for the middle and as that can be frozen, you just take it with you in a cool bag and it’ll help keep stuff cool as it thaws, meaning you could do this the first or second day. Failing that, omit the sweet stuff entirely and you end up what with is basically a croissant with a hole in it. You could add some grated cheese and let it melt for a Greggs-style pastry or stick a stick of dark chocolate into the middle while it’s still warm to make a pain au chocolat-type creation.
While it’s only a concept drawing, I love the idea of a connected tent, with wifi and solar panels. I imagine cost would be prohibitive but it’s still a cool idea. I’ve wanted to get a Solar Monkey charger for years, which is probably as close as I will get. Electric hook-up feels, to me, like cheating if you’re in a tent but I still want to be able to charge all my gadgets without having to use the car.
Chocolate spoons look rather good. I’m not sure that I could make them look that impressive but have a sister who’s very clever with stuff that needs to look pretty so I may enlist her help.
Remember the cake that was tasty but not as good as it could have been? Apparently ground allspice is a good substitute for ground cloves. I know the name but it’s been years since I used it, if ever, so had to look up what it was. It’s a type of berry and apparently it tastes like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves so I think it might add a good flavour. I’ll try that but will probably bake the cake in an oven next time.
Now, I’m going outside on the first proper sunny day we’ve had in a while, to see what’s going on in the garden and to work out the best place for the chimenea.