04 October, 2011


I can't believe it's already been a year since we got the chickens. I'm thanking my luck that it's been an uneventful year without any major disasters and my skittish little chooks have grown into cheeky and very greedy girls.

I've been keeping an egg tally to see how many eggs the hens have laid so far and the results are in... During their first year, the chickens have laid a total of 594 eggs: Bella the Bluebelle 308 pale cream ones and Cissy the Speckledy 286 slightly darker (and sometimes speckled) ones. Bella started laying November 11th last year and although Cissy didn't start until December 16th, she's slowly catching up. The smallest egg so far was Bella's very first attempt, weighing only 43g, and the largest a whopping 83g double-yolker laid by Cissy.

Our second chicken keeping year will start tomorrow with a worming party!

17 September, 2011

Easy cheesy horns

These are my version of croissants (although admittedly they have very little in common with the real thing), only healthier and very easy to make. I always make a huge batch for the freezer... And then another batch a couple of weeks later after the first one has magically disappeared.

Easy cheesy horns

3 1/2 dl plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
50g Flora Cuisine
2 dl Total 0% greek yoghurt (or similar)
mature cheddar cut into strips
(you could also add some ham)
1 egg
poppy or sesame seeds

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add the Flora and mix with your hand until crumbly. Add the greek yoghurt and mix into a dough. Divide the dough into two and put half aside. Roll the other half into a circle and cut it into eight sectors (like you would slice a pizza). Put some cheese (and ham if using)  into the widest end of the sector, roll towards the pointy end and lift onto a baking parchment. Repeat with the rest of the slices and the remaining dough. Once all of the horns have been rolled brush them with a beaten egg and decorate with seeds of your choice. Bake 225°C /10–15 mins. Serve warm.

16 September, 2011

What to do with crab apples?

As our apple harvest was somewhat small, I was hoping to find someone with a surplus and get some cooking apples for making preserves. I was in luck and found a lovely gentleman with a huge crab apple tree nearby. We were told to help ourselves to as many apples as we wanted and we were happy to oblige. We came back with a full bucket having barely made a dent in the tree!

I've never cooked with crab apples before, but I had a look in Pam the Jam's trusted preserve book the night before and decided that jelly would be the way to go. It turned out beautifully and made the whole house smell very Christmassy. Maybe I can convince myself to part with a jar or two for Christmas hampers. Or maybe it will get smeared on numerous pieces of toast well before it's time to start wrapping presents.

Spicy crab apple jelly

1 kg crab apples, washed and roughly chopped
600ml water
around 450g granulated sugar
a couple of cloves and cinnamon sticks

Place the apples and spices in a saucepan, pour over the water and bring to simmering point. Simmer until all the fruit is soft and remove from the heat. Pour the contents into a scalded jelly bag (I bought this one for the purpose) and leave to drip overnight at its own pace. If you squeeze it, the jelly will turn cloudy. The next day measure the juice and allow 450g sugar for every 600ml juice. Bring the juice slowly to the boil and add the sugar. Keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Then boil rapidly for 9-10 mins without stirring until setting point is reached. Skim, pour into sterilised jars and seal as quickly as possible. Use within 12 months.     

I had quite a lot of crab apples left after making the jelly, so I decided to use the rest for making fruit leathers. As the mush for the jelly was straining, I pushed a second batch of spiced mushy apples through a sieve and decided to add to the flavour by heating up a mixture of frozen berries. This too was pushed through a sieve (note to self: get a mouli for next year!) before mixing in with the pureed apple. For the leathers I followed this simple recipe.

Fruit leathers

spices such as cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, ginger
sugar or honey to taste

Wash your fruit and discard any damaged or bruised fruit. Chop roughly and add 1 cup of water for every 4 cups of fruit. Add your chosen spices and simmer until the fruit has softened. Rub the mushy fruit through a sieve or use a mouli and return the pulp to the pan. Taste and sweeten if necessary. Pour the mixture onto baking trays lined with baking paper and spread it out thinly. Leave them in the oven to dry for 4-8 hours/below 60°C at your lowest setting, preferably with the fan on and the door open. Alternatively you can leave them overnight in a dehydrator if you happen to own one. Keep the leathers in a tin at room temperature, rolled in baking paper (they will keep for a few weeks) or in the fridge in an airtight container (this way they will keep for months).

No need to buy any sweets for a while then, I'll quite happily munch these tangy strips until we run out!

Our first apple harvest

Our Discovery on the left, a shop bought Pink Lady on the right.

And the grand total of apples this year is... six! That's from all four potted trees; two per tree, not counting the naughty Cox's Orange Pippin which lived up to its reputation and refused to play. We had plenty of blossoms in the spring (and very pretty they were too), but as I was advised to limit the number of apples on the first year, I chopped all but two tiny apples off all the trees. Maybe it's for this reason (there was certainly enough room for growth) that all our apples have grown absolutely huge.

Our Fiesta on the left, a shop bought Discovery on the right.

We've left both of the James Grieves on the tree, so we've got one more tasting to come!

11 June, 2011

Rhubarb soup

When I was little, every now and again my mother would serve some sort of fruit soup for afters. The ingredients always depended on what berries we had frozen for the winter, what was in season in the summer was usually eaten fresh. Rhubarb was the only fruit that got made into a soup in the summer and it's probably my favourite of them all.

Rhubarb soup

500g rhubarb
5 dl water
1 dl sugar
2 tbsp potato flour

Wash the rhubarb and chop the stems roughly. Bring the water to the boil, and add the sugar and rhubarb. Cook the rhubarb chunks until soft. Mix the potato flour with a little bit of cold water, take the pan off the heat and pour the potato flour liquid slowly into the pan, stirring continuously. Pop the pan back on the heat and keep stirring until the soup starts to thicken, then take off heat again. Pour the soup into individual serving bowls and sprinkle some sugar over the top. Once it has cooled down, serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

If you wait until your strawberries are ripe, you can add some in the pan with the rhubarb chunks. Works just as well made from frozen rhubarb (and strawberries) in the depths of winter to bring back the memories of summer.

09 June, 2011

Fox alert!

As the weather warmed up in April, I decided that it was warm enough for the chicken coop door to be left open at night. The chickens were free to go to bed when they thought it was getting dark enough and get up as early as they pleased, giving me and Hubby a chance to have a lie-in. It worked marvelously and I loved waking up to the sound of the chickens having their breakfast and softly chatting away under the bedroom window.   

It all changed one day about a month ago when my neighbour knocked on our door and told me they had seen a fox in one of the other neighbour's gardens. I had a bit of a panic and decided there and then to start locking the coop door again at night. I'm quite happy knowing that the girls will be safe if the coop door is closed properly, but I wouldn't be able to sleep a wink if I knew there was only the mesh run (although advertised as 'fox-resistant', I'm not looking forward to putting it to the test) between the chickens and the fox. The garden is dog-proofed to make sure that Hound can be left out unsupervised, but as you can see from the clip, it doesn't take much for a fox to get in. Although I haven't heard of any more sightings of Mr. Fox, I'm still locking the coop at night, just to be on the safe side.

The weekend lie-ins are over. Now I wake up to loud complaints coming from the coop if I'm not up at seven.

08 June, 2011

The new herbs arrive

Image from: http://www.manorfarmherbs.co.uk/
Inspired by the Chelsea Flower Show (it does make me laugh, all those grand designs and all I can think about is this one diddy plant), I began the search for a beautiful herb called blackcurrant sage. I have to confess I'm not a great lover of sage and wasn't too upset when mine didn't spring back after the harsh winter we had. This sage, however, is something completely different. First of all, it looks very pretty with lovely pink flowers and secondly, the leaves can be sprinkled over fruit salads, used in baking biscuits and pies or made into a nice pot of tea. That sounds like my kind of sage.

I found a place selling them online, but before I could place my order I caught sight of two other herbs I've been interested in growing, perilla and mitsuba. A couple of clicks and days later... And the herbs have arrived.  

More to come, hopefully, after the leaves have had a chance to grow and I can start experimenting.