Saturday, 15 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Apologies that blogging continues to be light - it probably will be for the next month or so. I have a tight deadline to meet for my course at about the same time that we are planning to move house. Things are a bit hectic.

I did however, write this review of Mount Fuji recently for the Dine Birmingham website, so please check it out!

If I don't get a chance to post again before Christmas, I want to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! :)

Saturday, 10 November 2012

New Menu at Jamie's Italian, Birmingham

Firstly, it's been a long time since I did a proper blog post, for which I apologise. I have been studying a lot, and working, and doing a lot of cooking. Oh, and getting my flat up for sale and house-hunting.

I took some time out from this hectic schedule on Tuesday night, however, to check out the new menu at Jamie's Italian in Birmingham. I had never been to Jamie's Italian before so when I got an invite from Emma, the PR manager at the Bullring, to come along and try the new menu, I jumped at the chance. I also brought my husband along, because he is interested in food and wine as well as beer.

Jo of Jo's Kitchen, and Ahmed and Sanjeeta of Dine Birmingham also attended, and we all sat down to a lovely three-course meal.

I thought Jamie's Italian had quite a nice atmosphere and I liked the decor in the Birmingham restaurant, which has been designed to reflect Birmingham's industrial history. I enjoyed the product placement slightly less - I like to eat good, well-sourced food and am not really interested in 'brands' or labels.

The menu is very varied and there is certainly a lot to choose from. I was also surprised by how reasonable most of the prices are considering the celebrity name attached, although the main dishes do not really come with much in the way of sides, so these need to be ordered separately, which may up the cost a bit.

While choosing our starters we were treated to a glass of prosecco each, which was very welcome. I prefer prosecco to champagne, so I enjoyed it very much.

For starter, I had the Brixham Bay Sardine Bruschetta. This was very tasty, with lovely fresh tasting fish, but I found it really difficult to eat. It was hard to pick up and eat because everything just fell off the bruschetta as I bit into it, but being bruschetta it was a bit tough to try and cut with a knife and fork. It was also quite large for a starter, so I ended up leaving some in order to make sure I had room for the next course.


My husband, Ian, had the Posh Garlic Mushrooms on Toast, which he said was nice but he found the bread a bit tough.

 We were also brought some World's Best Olives on Ice for us all to share. The 'on ice' part confused me at first, but Ian suggested that perhaps it was to keep them fresh, as they hadn't been preserved in brine or olive oil. They were certainly good olives, but 'world's best' might be going a bit far!

Once we had chosen our main meals, the manager came and discussed with us which wines would go well with them. Sadly, I can't remember which wine I had, but it was very nice and complimented my main nicely!


For my main I had the Tagliatelle Bolognese. I wanted to see how well Jamie's Italian could do such a classic dish. It turns out, pretty well. This is definitely the best bolognese I have ever eaten in a restaurant. It was the right balance of salty and sweet and the sauce was not too runny. My one minor complaint is that it got cold quite quickly, but that was probably my fault for spending too long talking and not getting on with eating it! I also had a side of Rocket and Radicchio Salad - I liked the parmesan and balsamic vinegar with the green leaves.

Ian had Jamie's Italian Mixed Grill. He liked it, although it was very different from your usual mixed grill. This one contained guinea fowl, beef, lamb, rabbit, artisan sausage and devilled kidney! He had Funky Chips as his side - I tried one and they were seriously delicious.

My dessert was the Chocolate and Vin Santo Pot. This was by far my favourite course. Thick, indulgent chocolate, then deliciously light and fluffy cream, topped with ice-cream. I didn't quite manage to eat it all because I'd already eaten so much and it was very rich - but it was heaven in a cup.

Ian had ice-cream, which I failed to get a picture of, but, again, it was very nice. Most of us also had a shot of limoncello. And the limoncello was goooood.

Service did tend to be a little slow, but fortunately we were enjoying ourselves chatting and sipping drinks, so we didn't mind - and the staff were very polite and helpful. The manager also very kindly spent quite a long time talking to us about where he sources the food and the drinks, and cooking methods of the different dishes - he is clearly very passionate and it was nice to hear.

I would happily return to Jamie's Italian - the menu is so varied and vast that I am very keen to try different things from it. Although forgive me if I stick with the Chocolate Pot as a dessert.

It was lovely to meet up again with Jo, as ever, and to meet Emma from the Bullring PR, and Ahmed and Sanjeeta from Dine Birmingham. I looking forward to dining out with them all again in the future!

Disclaimer: This meal was complimentary for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Healthy Recipe Round-Up

I've recently started to make a concerted effort to eat more healthily, and cut down on the amount of fat and calories in both mine and my husband's diet. While a bit of weight loss would be a welcome side-effect, this is not necessarily my chief aim. I've been quite inspired by watching The Hairy Dieters, and realised that by making a few changes, I could make our diet a lot healthier.

I've been trying various recipes over the last few weeks, mostly from the BBC Good Food Website, and thought I'd share what has worked well so far.

***

This was delicious! Really good flavours. As you can see from the picture, I served mine with rice, and doing so meant there was enough left over for lunch the next day. I will definitely be making this again. One portion on its own is only 350 calories, and I wasn't hungry later (this is always a good test of whether a dish works for me - if I'm going to end up eating more later, I might as well have something less healthy for dinner!).


2. Chicken chilli bowl
A perfectly nice dish. I used chicken breast instead of thigh fillets and red kidney beans instead of pinto beans, and left out the green beans because I didn't have any. I served it with a pitta bread each, which went very nicely with it. Nice and filling and only 435 calories - not bad. I might make it again if I happen to have the ingredients in.




3. Lemon & rosemary pork with chickpea salad
I'm kicking myself for not remembering to take a picture of this because it looked fabulous! The flavours were wonderful too - it's a really lovely marinade. Marinading is not something I do often, so it was nice to do something a bit different. I halved the recipe, except the ingredients for the marinade and that worked out fine for two people. Actually, we still had chickpeas leftover at the end. I offered my husband more chickpeas once he'd finished, but he said he was all chickpea-ed out. This was really delicious and I would definitely cook again, but I did end up eating some toast later in the evening. 396 calories per serving, apparently.

4. Three bean tomato and spinach stew
This was ok. I used a tin of mixed beans and I used runner beans. I served it with some rice. One portion is supposedly 153 calories, but I suspect we had more as I only got 3 servings out of it, but even so it is still low in calories. Might make this again if the mood takes me and I have the right ingredients in.

5. Winter vegetable pie
Although this is called Winter Vegetable Pie, I think you could have it all year round. Plus I substituted the cauliflower with broccoli, which I think is less wintery. I have nothing against cauliflower - in fact, I like it quite a lot - but my husband doesn't, so I had to use broccoli. I think it would have been nice with cauliflower though. This was quite tasty, and quite filling (although, again, we probably had slightly more than one portion each - to be fair, I did not have enough potato, so only used about 500g potatoes, so I think we had less potato but more veg each). I used vegetable stock instead of water, which I think probably helped the flavour a lot. 388 calories per portion. I would like to make this again, perhaps using some different veg to see how it works.

***

One of the advantages to my new healthy eating regime is that I am trying lots of new recipes and it's giving me lots of new and creative ideas for cooking dishes. I actually feel a lot more enthusiastic about cooking than I have done for a while and have been cooking a lot more recently.






Friday, 17 August 2012

Recipe: Bragioli (Beef Olives)

This is a Maltese dish which my husband and I both very much enjoyed eating on our honeymoon, and I decided to try and recreate it at home.

The English name of 'Beef Olive' is perhaps a little misleading, in that olives are not involved, except that the finished product is almost a giant olive shape. The dish is essentially some beef wrapped around a central stuffing, the contents of which can vary, cooked in a red wine sauce.

The recipe I used was largely from The Food & Cookery of Malta by Anne and Helen Caruana Galizia, a fantastic little book I picked up from a bookshop in Victoria, Gozo. I did adapt the recipe to serve two, though, and made a few other changes, so have reproduced my version of the recipe below.

***

Serves 2

Ingredients
2 slices of beef, thinly sliced

Stuffing:
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper

Sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped/sliced
2 medium-sized carrots, sliced
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
150ml red wine
150ml water
A handful or two peas (fresh or frozen)

Method
1) I fried the bacon first before adding to the stuffing, but other recipes don't say to do this. I just thought it might be nice to get a bit of colour on the bacon. I also then used the fat from the bacon left in the pan to cook everything else in - economical.
2) Make the stuffing by mixing all the stuffing ingredients together.
3) Beat the meat with a meat hammer to make it nice and thin (I used some beef escalopes, which were far too thick, and no amount of beating was going to make them thin enough - I really recommend going to a butcher and getting them to slice you some nice, thin beef!)
4) Put some stuffing on each slice of beef, leaving some of it uncovered, and roll up from the covered end. You then need to secure your beef olives - I used toothpicks, but apparently you could also use string. You should have something which looks like this, but, you know, neater, and with the right kind of beef:


5) Fry the beef olives in the olive oil (or bacon fat if you use my method) until nicely browned. Then add the onions, garlic and carrots and fry gently until softened. Add the tomato puree and stir and cook for another minute or so.
6) Add the bay leaf, wine and water, and let it bubble for a few minutes.
7) Turn the heat down, cover the pan, and simmer gently for 1 hour.
8) Five minutes before the end of cooking time, add the peas.


It's probably a good idea to remove the toothpicks before serving, but I had trouble getting mine out!

***

As with all Maltese recipes, there are lots of different versions. The bragioli we had in Malta had minced beef inside; other recipes use minced veal or pork. Some have the addition of cheese. I liked this bacon and egg variety though, and will definitely make this again, as it was delicious!

Below are some links to some different bragioli recipes, should you wish to try any of these variations:

http://www.ilovefood.com.mt/recipes/bragioli-beef-olives/

http://www.cookuk.co.uk/ethnic/maltese/bragioli.htm

http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/515256


Sunday, 5 August 2012

Restaurant Review: DC-6 Diner, Coventry

Last night was my first ever visit to the DC-6 Diner at the Airbase in Coventry. This is a unique dining experience and our inner nerds enjoyed it very much.

In case it is not clear from its name and you haven't bother to click on the link above yet, the DC-6 Diner is a converted aeroplane. Here's the view from our window when we were seated:

This eatery pretty much does what it says on the tin: it is a diner and those expecting a gourmet restaurant will be disappointed. Service is polite and attentive; not the kind where you get your wine poured for you, etc., but I felt this is in keeping with the 'diner' label and atmosphere.

Nothing really grabbed me on the starter menu, so I went straight for a main, suspecting that it would be quite filling. I wasn't wrong. I ordered the 'Homemade' beef and ale pie (the word 'homemade' in restaurants always confuses me - surely it is resaurant-made?!), served with chips and vegetables.
The pie was perfectly nice and the chips were ok. I was a bit disappointed with the veg though, as it was rather tasteless. I thought £9.95 was reasonable for the size and quality of the meal, though.

My husband, as is his wont, had the mixed grill:
There is quite a substantial amount of meat hidden under all those chips, including a chicken fillet, a lamb chop, gammon steak, rump steak and a sausage. My husband said all the meat was really good quality and nicely cooked. I tried a bit of his lamb and it was lovely - really juicy and tender and flavourful. We thought this dish was definitely worth the £17.95 it cost.

We also had a lovely bottle of wine to accompany our meal - a Franschhoek Stonebridge Pinotage, at £16.95. We were impressed by the wine selection, particularly by the fact that there is a good and varied selection of mid-range priced wines.

We didn't opt for dessert in the end, as we were so full from our huge meals. I did hear a lady at another table say that her dessert wasn't very nice, but I'd like to try them for myself before I pass judgement.

Overall, then, the food is not gourmet restaurant food, which I didn't expect anyway, but it is nice enough - I was particularly impressed with my husband's mixed grill and the wine list, and I would like to visit again and try one of the steaks, given that they seem to do meat very well! I also felt the food wasn't the be-all and end-all of the experience, which may sound odd, but we had a really fun and interesting evening. As I said at the beginning, it is a unique experience to be able to dine on a DC-6. You could even peer into the cockpit and I liked the way they'd arranged the lighting.


Thursday, 26 July 2012

Risoni with baby peas and broad beans

Broad beans are possibly my favourite vegetable. My mum would often add them raw to a salad (and still does) and it was usually my job to pod them. I liked this job because it meant I got to eat some.

Upon googling things to do with broad beans, I came across this recipe for Risoni with baby peas (and broad beans) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.


Hugh would probably balk at the fact that I used broad beans from the supermarket and frozen peas, but, hey ho, sometimes you've got to work with what you've got. Sadly, I realised too late that I didn't have any garlic left, so had to leave that out. And for the bacon, I used smoked bacon lardons. I cooked them well until they were nicely caramelised and they gave the dish a great smoky flavour. I left out the oil, because the bacon had enough fat to fry themselves in. I used half broad beans and half peas, and I didn't have quite enough orzo pasta, so added some small shell pasta as well. Plenty of pepper definitely goes a long way to boosting the flavours in this dish.

Ridiculously simple and quick to make - the very definition of fast food! Even after a long and tiring day spent in a office that may as well have been situated in the centre of the sun, I was still up for cooking this.

Next time, some garlic would definitely add to the flavours, and I feel that some shaved parmesan wouldn't go amiss either.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The end of an adventure

I haven't written about this yet, even though the decision was made over a month ago now.

After we came back from Honeymoon, it became very evident that I was going to have to give up the allotment. Illness, being busy with the wedding, the wedding itself and then the honeymoon meant we had not been able to spend very much time at all tending to the allotment. Add to all of that the wettest late spring and early summer for a very long time, and you've got a recipe for, well, GROWTH, but not necessarily in the way you wanted.

It got so badly overgrown that it would have been like starting again. And realistically I did not have the time to get a plot that size going again. Not to mention that the knotweed situation was causing me considerable stress, when the whole idea of the allotment was that it was meant to be relaxing!

So, there you have it. I was very sad that I had to make that decision, but unfortunately it transpired that this was the wrong year for me to try and set out on an allotment adventure.

The plan for our next adventure is to buy a house (when we manage to get out flat into a sale-able state...), and I plan to get a house with a nice garden, which will be a more manageable size than the allotment plot, and literally on my doorstep. And (I very much hope!) knotweed free!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Left-overs: Italian-style Chicken Stew

Given that my goal this year was to try to waste less food and to do more creative things with left-overs, I thought it was high time I blogged about using left-overs again! My go-to left-over beef recipe is this recipe for Left-over Roast Beef Italian Stew.

This week I had some cooked chicken breasts in the fridge and some peppers and things that needed using up. It occurred to me that I could adapt the above recipe to be suitable for chicken. So, here's my adapted recipe for Italian Chicken Stew:


Serves 2

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pepper, chopped (I used a red pepper in my recipe as that's what I had...)
150g mushrooms, chopped
 2 cooked chicken breasts, or left-over roast chicken
800ml Chicken stock
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp chopped, fresh basil
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Cook the onion for 5 minutes or so, until softened. Add the garlic, pepper and mushroom, and cook until mushrooms are cooked and starting to brown.

2. Add chicken and oregano and stir in. Then add chicken stock and chopped tomatoes. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 45 minutes, half covered with a lid (or uncovered depending on how thick you want the sauce).

3. Stir in the fresh basil towards the end of cooking, and season with salt and pepper to taste.


***

I have to say, I think I prefer Kalyn's beef version, but it was pretty tasty with chicken too, and a good use of left-overs and veg which was soon to be past its best!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Naked Wines Wine Tasting, Birmingham

My husband is a member of online wine sellers Naked Wines (or an "angel" as they call their members), and noticed a couple of months ago that they were doing a series of wine tastings across the country, so we booked tickets for the Birmingham tasting - tickets were £10 each.

The tasting was held at Fazeley Studios, 191 Fazeley Street in Digbeth.


It's a very interesting building - the main reception area was once a Unitarian Chapel, built in 1876. There is a little more about the history of the place here: http://www.fazeleystudios.com/history.php

Anyway, when I'd finished getting my history nerd on, it was on to the wine tasting! We got given badges because we are "angels":

It was a fun wine-tasting. There was something like 150 different bottles of wine to try. I didn't try that many. To be honest, I was still feeling a little delicate from having gone out and had quite a lot of food and drink last night, so I wasn't really up to the task. I tasted a few different wines, though, and most of them were enjoyable.

This stall was very messy with their wine-pouring

My favourite wines I tasted by far were a couple of South African wines by Carmen Stevens, Head Winemaker at Amani winery: the Amani Merlot 2009 and the Amani Pedana Shiraz 2008. Very full-bodied, great flavours.

I'm sure we will be ordering more wine from Naked Wines in the near future... Just as soon as there's space in the kitchen...


Saturday, 30 June 2012

New Blog

Just a little advert for my new blog:


The Essay of Doom and other Tales of Academic Woe

It will not be replacing this blog in any way, shape or form; it is to record my adventures in academia, studying for my MA in History with the Open University.

If you're interested, please take a look!

Thank you. :)


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Restaurant Review: Malmaison, Birmingham

Last weekend I attended a Midlands Bloggers meet-up. The meet-up took place at the Malmaison Brasserie in Birmingham organised by Cat of Yellow Days. She managed to get us a deal where we paid £18.50 each for three courses and half a bottle of wine.

It was great to meet up with other bloggers, including meeting Jo of Jo's Kitchen and Jo's Nursery again, and meeting parent bloggers Cat, Rebecca of Here Come the Girls and Roz of Life, Love and Lollipops for the first time. I think we all had a great night with good food, lovely wine and great company!

The service at Malmaison was very good right from the start. They made no complaint about us having fewer persons than expected and swiftly rearranged our table for five people.

The menu was fairly small but had a good range of dishes. 

For starter, I opted for the spring roll.

Sorry for the blurry photo - my little camera couldn't cope with the low light conditions...
Anyway, this was delicious - possibly the best spring roll I had ever had. And just the right size for a starter.

For my main, I had Beef Bourginon. I love a good beef bourguinon. And if they could get that right, then that's the sign of a really good restaurant.

Just look at those delicious little mini shallots! This dish did not disappoint. The mash potato was creamy and perfectly smoothy and the beef bourguinon itself was deliciously meaty and salty.

My main wasn't huge, so I was feeling totally up for pudding at this point. I opted for the vanilla panna cotta.

It had an impressive wobble on it. The fruit went really well with the creamy vanilla panna cotta. And for such a small, innocent-looking dessert, it just about finished me off. I felt like I couldn't MOVE after I'd eaten it.

So, would I eat at Malmaison again? Yes. I couldn't fault any of it really. We had great, attentive service and great food, and I'd definitely like to try some more of the food on their menu. I also wouldn't mind giving the hotel a go (my husband thinks there'd be no point given we live so close to Birmingham, but I just like hotels, ok?). A return visit may be imminent!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Ta Mena Estate, Gozo, Malta

After the wedding, there was of course a honeymoon. We visited the island of Gozo in Malta for two weeks. I had been to Malta once before with my family, but we had only done a day trip to Gozo, so thought it would be interesting to experience the Gozitan way of life and explore the island more thoroughly.

One of the highlights of our holiday was taking part in a food and wine tour at Ta Mena Estate near Marsalforn. The tour was advertised through our hotel - the Kempinski San Lawrenz - and cost €13 each. It was advertised as including a tour of the estate and food and wine tastings. For €13 I wasn't necessarily expecting a huge amount of food nor whole glasses of wine (wine tastings I have been to before have included small amounts of various different wines), but let's just say for now that the Gozitan hospitality did not let me down on this score.

As advertised, there was first a tour of the estate. The owner of the estate, Joe, showed us the olive trees, the vineyards, some of the animals and explained his traditional methods of farming and the history of the estate - you can read more about these at their website linked to above.
Gozo has the perfect climate for growing just about everything - strawberries, melons, oranges, lemons, broad beans, to name but a few products produced on Gozo. Fennel and capers grow wild on the road side. They make particularly good wines, as the climate is perfect for growing grapes, but I don't think much, if any, of it is exported.

Once the tour had finished, the small group of us who were on the tour, returned to base camp at the bottom of the hill, where we sat al fresco as we were introduced to some Gozitan food and wine produced on the farm by Joe and his wife.

We had tomato paste on bread and Maltese crackers (galletti), olive paste, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and Gozitan cheese (gbejniet). And there was plenty to go round. The tomato paste in particular was amazing - I have never tasted tomato paste like it! We also got a lesson in olive oil tasting and wine tasting.

I couldn't believe how much wine they gave us. We had one glass of white, one of rosé, and two different reds. All the wines were delicious - I can't remember what kind of white it was now, but I do remember that it was the best white I had ever tasted - even my husband liked it and he doesn't normally drink white! We were particularly impressed by the final red we had which was Marsamena - we ended up buying two bottles of it (we would have bought more if we had more room in our suitcases). It was a bargain at €8 a bottle!

 This particular wine is made from five different grape varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Savignon, Serkuzan, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. It's a complex and full-bodied wine, perfect for sipping slowly and savouring after a scrumptious supper.

The best thing about the tour (apart from the delicious food and wine), was that it felt like we had been invited into Joe's home for the evening - he and his wife were so warm and friendly and welcoming. And they did ply us with plenty of food and wine.

We were also treated to some samples of their newly-developed chocolates and a shot of limoncello to round off the evening.

They have small shop on site and we bought some tomato paste, capers, olives and some Maltese biscuits to share with relatives back home. These are nice reminders of our holiday and I only wish I could import these products so I could keep a regular stock of them here at home!

All in all, a fantastic evening was had at Ta Mena and we hope to visit again in the future.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Wedding

I promised a more detailed post about the wedding, so here it is, with a slight emphasis on food. Credit to Fierce Photography for the beautiful photos.

Preparations began in my flat. The theme of my wedding was Spring, and my choice of dress reflected this with flower themed lace.

My dress was from The Bridal Gallery in Coventry.


My beautiful bouquet containing gerberers, roses and agapanthus was put together by my husband's cousin, Helen. She's an engineer who likes to engineer flowers into nice arrangements in her spare time.


My transport to the wedding venue was a 1953 Chevrolet BelAir Club Coupe, courtesy of Classic American Wedding Cars:


The harpist, Jemima Phillips, played us in:


And then there was ring-exchanging:



And kissing...


And then finally, on to the start of the food! There were canapes and bubbly (we opted for prosecco, as I prefer it to champagne), while speeches were done:


I can't even remember what kind of canapes we had. I didn't get a chance to eat very many of them. All our catering was done by the venue, Stoneleigh Park; although we provided the prosecco and wine for the tables in the evening, which we purchased from Naked Wines.

And then a short while later there was afternoon tea, complete with Pimm's:


While our guests enjoyed the beautiful decorations, which had been put together with such loving care by our friends Kerry and Febs:


And then it was time for some evening entertainment provided by duo Spring and Pemberton...

...before the cutting of the cake - cake made by Kathy of Kathy's Cupcakes and More - bottom layer chocolate, middle layer lemon sponge and top layer fruit cake.


Along with dairy-free and gluten-free cupcakes:


And then there was more food in the form of a three-meat carvery accompanied by a hearty buffet of spring rolls, sausage rolls, salads, etc. (Again, I didn't get the chance to eat much of it being the bride, but what I did have was delicious. And HUGE.)

The end...

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

I got married

Sorry about the silence, folks.

In short, I got married then went on honeymoon.

I will be posting about these things in greater detail in the near future, but for now, have a picture to tide you over.


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Allotment update - I've changed my mind, weeds aren't flowers too!

Well, Japanese Knotweed certainly isn't a welcome guest on the allotment. I suspected we had some bindweed due to the roots I'd dug up when I'd been digging over the allotment. But now we've had a sprouting of reddish coloured plants, some with fat stalks, it looks more like Japanese knotweed according to pictures I've seen on the internet. I can't even try and dig it up because most of it is running under the foundations of the paved area and, it seems, the foundations of the former brick shed. I might have to use weedkiller.

This was quite disheartening to find today, but at least it is mostly in non-planting areas (although is just beginning to encroach onto one of the beds).

I have got to the stage where I am starting to plant out now and my broad beans were definitely ready for some outside action.



I don't really feel like I know what on Earth I am doing. I generally find with gardening that you can read all the books in the world, but you don't really know what works and what doesn't until you try it out, so we'll see what happens!

We still need to completely dig over the middle plot as it is (still) full of weeds. We have covered over the bottom plot in attempt to let the weeds die and will make use of it next season. We now have a battery powered strimmer to try and keep the grass under control.

So, we are making progress! I just wish we didn't have knotweed to deal with!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Roast Broccoli

The thing about grocery shopping online is that sometimes you don't know how much you're going to get of something. For example, in my last shop I ordered 1 broccoli, and the broccoli that arrived was almost as big as my head.

Normally, I just boil broccoli, but I needed to use the whole thing in one evening (just using half the florets inevitably ends up in the rest of it going off before I get a chance to use it), and didn't fancy a whole tonne of boiled broccoli.

I decided to give roasting a go. Upon googling 'roast broccoli', this is the first recipe I came to.



It was very tasy. I left out the cheese at the end (and the pine nuts and basil), but it was still good. I don't agree it was as good as a steak, as the blog I got the recipe from suggests - the two things cannot be compared. But the lemon, garlic and olive oil really made this extra special.

I served it as a side dish with a couple of sausages and some potato wedges. It made a very filling meal. I am happy.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Allotment update - "Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

Not an awful lot to report on the allotment. We have mostly been weeding and adding compost to the soil. These are jobs that would normally be done over Winter, but as we only got our allotment at the end of January, we're just having to do what we can. I am hoping to have a couple of beds ready for planting by April time.

The third bed is absolutely chock full of weeds, which have sprung up even more thanks to the milder weather recently. My fiancé is all in favour of using a chemical weed killer on them; I am not. We dug a small patch of them up this weekend and it took FOREVER. We are planning to grow fruit trees in this bed at some point, possibly not until next year.

I kind of felt bad about pulling up the weeds, because they had started to flower and the bees are absolutely loving them. Which makes me wonder about leaving at least some of them in that bed for a while. We would need to manage it to make sure it doesn't get out of control, but it seems silly to me to get rid of something which attracts pollinating insects and didn't cost me anything. Some of them may also be beneficial to the soil, like clover, but I am rubbish at plant idenitification, so who knows. I don't want to incur the wrath of the allotment association, but as the quote from A. A. Milne says in the blog title, weeds are flowers too! Does anyone else have any thoughts on this? Also, what is your favourite method of getting rid of weeds?


While we steadily continue to battle getting the outside ready, I thought I may as well start off some of the inside plants in my propagators.

So far I have sown tomatoes, mint, red basil, marigolds and broad beans (about 2 months too late for the broad beans, but I'm hoping that by starting them off indoors, they will be ready to be planted out at about the right time!). Hmm, I think I'm going to need some more propagators...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

River Cottage Rocks #2: - Pork belly with coriander and fennel crackling

This month's theme for the River Cottage Rocks challenge is Sunday Lunch, hosted by Jo of Jo's Kitchen. Not sure I quite managed to enjoy a leisurely Sunday pottering about in the kitchen, as Jo suggests in the challenge; I've recently joined a gym and spent the afternoon there, but nevertheless I dragged my aching limbs into the kitchen and cooked this delicious pork belly this evening.


The recipe is from River Cottage Everyday (p. 244), but I also found a very similar recipe on the Waitrose website. I did not use thick end of pork belly, just a regular piece of pork belly, so reduced the cooking time accordingly. I served the pork with roasted carrots and fennel and some roast potatoes. I was hoping to make some apple sauce (recipe from the same book) to accompany it, but I didn't have the time or energy in the end. I wrote about the apple sauce recipe here.

Still, it was delicious, as ever. Pork belly is one of my favourite cuts of meat. And the fennel and coriander gives the crackling an interesting edge.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Biskuttini tal-Lewz (Almond Biscuits)

I recently discovered ilovefood.com.mt, which is a great resource for Maltese recipes and also sells Maltese foodstuffs in the online shop (very tempting, but the shipping costs to the UK are horrendous!).

I decided it was time to do a bit of baking and I fancied trying something Maltese, as I've never made any Maltese sweets before. I opted for Biskuttini tal-Lewz or Almond Biscuits. I have also heard these referred to as Almond Macaroons and they are quite Macaroon-like - being crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle.

I have never made anything like this before so wasn't sure if they were cooked properly inside, but I was assured by relatives with more baking experience than me that they were fine.

Reactions to these biscuits were mixed: basically people who love the flavour of almond loved them and people who were not so keen on almonds found them too almond-y. I read somewhere that they go nice with a coffee and if I were a coffee-drinker, I can totally see that. The aroma as they were cooking was amazing.

I made a couple of mistakes - I think they should be a fair bit smaller than the giant biscuits I made. And I would have loved to have made them with rice paper on the bottom, but after making a special trip out to Sainsbury's only to be told that, after a long time searching, "I thought we did it, but we don't do it anymore," I thought I would just bake them without. A shame, because I still have a childish love of rice paper (it's paper that you can eat!).

I did find an alternative recipe here, which I might try next time because unlike the recipe I made it includes vanilla essence and lemon juice, which may take the edge of the almondiness (I am just making up words now).