An overdue update…

Hi everyone –  I know I have been away from my blog for far too long – this Summer has been really action packed and after our main holiday in Scotland, my birthday (and a wedding anniversary), a few weekends away and all that unexpected hot weather life here is gradually getting back to normal and I feel I am now able to devote some time to blogging again and here is a quick update.
For most of the time our finances have been up to date and by that I mean bills paid, statements balanced and any outstanding matters attended to (well almost as I believe my to do list is increasing again) I will confess that I have overspent in the grocery shopping and have not been as rigorous as I started out at the beginning of the year, (one or two extra magazines have also found their way into my trolley); the garden has had a good going over in respect of weeding, feeding and watering and inside I continue to examine every drawer and cupboard and justify the contents to myself or else out it goes to spend a new life elsewhere.
During the hot weather I had a mad hand washing day of all my daughters clothes that she had not got around to doing.  These have now been pressed and taken back to her own house – so yet another free drawer and Laundry room – I am just loving the space I am creating all around me.
The house is in desperate need of decorating but it is much easier to look after at the moment as most things have been allocated a place and a quick whip round usually gets each room back into a reasonable state.  Asking friends around on the spur of the moment is not a daunting prospect now and this is exactly what I did to celebrate my birthday.
Over the Bank holiday weekend we went to stay with my mum who lives in Yarm near Middlesborough and we had a great day out on the Saturday at Eggleston Hall near Barnard Castle.  The house isn’t open to the public but there are some well kept gardens and a plant Nursery with good quality plants for sale.  The old church is now a ruin and forms part of the garden trail.

Churchyard Eggleston Hall

There are many graves dating back to the 1600’s with some very young occupants…

Gravestone Eggleston Hall

Some of the graves stones form a little path which winds through the ruined church.  It is a very tranquil place and slightly overgrown like a Secret Garden.
Continuing along winding paths in the gardens and through many archways we eventually came to the Kitchen Gardens and Nursery…

Rudbekia

where we spent a long time admiring the beautiful late summer colours.  I especially like the Rudbekias and the vibrant Montbretia.

Montbretia

This is a shot of the little stream flowing down through the Kitchen Gardens – the Candleabra Primulas that cover either side of the stream bank are now over but it must have looked quite spectacular when they were in bloom.

Eggleston Hall

This is very much a productive garden and it is no surprise to discover the white painted Beehives in one section of this Walled Garden…

Beehives Eggleston Hall

The vegetables are grown decoratively in boxes laid in gravel with espalier trained apple trees forming a low hedge around the edge.

Kitchen Garden Eggleston Hall

On the Sunday we had a drive over to Saltburn and had a stroll along the busy pier.

Saltburn Pier August Bank Holiday Weekend

Along the hand rail at one side there had been an explosion of Yarn Bombing…with delightful shrimps…

Yarn Bombing Saltburn Pier 3

…a keen sunbather…

Yarn Bombing Saltburn Peir

…and a very pink Octopus.

Yarn Bombing Saltburn Pier 2

We lunched at the wonderful Real Meals Deli where the food is freshly prepared and you can design your own lunch from almost anything they have on the menu.  I decided on a ploughmans with some local cheeses, homemade organic bread and pickle.  Afterwards we had a quick walk around the town discovering a few new shops tucked away that we hadn’t come across before.
Last weekend we were at home and I organised a ‘Detox’ weekend.  Only fruit, vegetables, brown rice, pulses and beans, nuts and eggs were consumed with a small amount of Goats and Sheep’s cheese.   This was not about fasting but rather cutting out any unhealthy foods; cakes, biscuits, crisps, fats and processed foods and increasing the healthy ones.   I also bought some digestive aids – supplements and herbs – as I really need to get my sluggish digestion working better and from past experience this is the best way as I find I am often eating too much wheat and cows milk products which I feel don’t really suit me.  I also need to get back to losing a little weight – it has crept up a few pounds over the summer and although I don’t feel I have been eating anymore than usual I have been doing less exercise.  Of course not having a Thyroid gland at all and being totally reliant on the medication Thyroxin doesn’t help as taking too much or too little disrupts the metabolic rate and weight gain and a sluggish digestive tract can be a side effect of this.
Before we began I searched through all my healthy eating books and photocopied any recipes that I liked the sound of.  I then made up a folder and tried out a number of the recipes.  My favourite new dish was some Watercress and Baby Leek Soup and the Quinoa and Bulgar Wheat stuffed Beef Tomatoes accompanied by a large green salad.    I will post the recipes later for anyone interested.
It is now midweek and I am easing back into more usual eating patterns but I am continuing with the large bowl of fruit for breakfast and no wheat bread in my diet.  I am also trying the lactose free milk to see if this has any effect on my digestion.  From my last focus on healthier eating I am still eating an apple a day at elevenses and drinking only water or herbal tea in the mornings at work.  Since the weekend began I have dropped a couple of pounds although the waistline refuses to shrink!!
Well I must go now and see what a delicious new meal I can create tonight.  We have baby aubergines, courgettes and peppers so my guess is something Mediterranean.

The Friday Feast…

A weekend at home at last – I felt so exhausted this morning that it took quite a while to get myself into gear – so my Friday Fling today was a sit down job and I went through a pile of magazine cuttings labelled ‘Home and Cottage decor’ and threw away any unwanted articles and outdated pictures.

Once I regained some energy to tackle my Friday Tidy I concentrated on getting my kitchen back to a presentable state and in the process I checked the fridges for leftover food.

I am always looking to be as Thrifty as possible and I hate waste so I make Friday my use it up day.  I was quite pleased with myself when I discovered there was nothing to throw away – in fact I was worried that I might not have enough food to make an evening meal but I always enjoy the challenge of making a meal from whatever I have leftover.  We have had some strange concoctions over the years!

In the Fridge

I found a few sticks of celery, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a bag and a half of carrots, some sweet potatoes and 1 egg.  I also needed to use up the end of the jar of tomato paste and the very end of some cheddar cheese.

In the Vegetable Rack

I had onions and a new bag of baking potatoes.

In the Store Cupboard

I had a bag of mixed nuts getting to the end of the best before date and a few slices of bread in the bread bin.

After looking through my recipe folder I decided on a Walnut and Tomato Slice – a recipe which surprisingly incorporated all the above items – I should also have put in a red pepper but I had to make do without.  I baked the potatoes and had peas from the freezer and made a little gravy.  I left the sweet potatoes for tomorrow to make soup with the full bag of carrots and more onions.

This was the result and below is the recipe.

Walnut and Tomato Slice

4oz Wholewheat breadcrumbs

4oz Walnuts ground (though mine was a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and almonds).

2 Stalks of Celery chopped (I actually used the left over 4 and it was still fine)

1 Onion finely chopped

4oz Carrot finely chopped and part boiled or steamed.

1/2 red pepper chopped

1/2 tsp Thyme

1/2 tsp Sage

1 free range egg, beaten

2 tbsp Tomato Puree

1 tbsp olive oil

Ground black pepper

a little salt to taste

2 Tomatoes thinly slice (I used Cherry tomatoes cut in half)

1 tbsp Sesame Seeds (I used a sprinkling of grated cheese as an alternative).

  • Cook the onion and celery together in the oil and add the red pepper until soft.
  • Mix the breadcrumbs, nuts, herbs, salt and pepper, tomato paste and egg in a large bowl.
  • Add the onion and celery mixture and bind all ingredients together. 
  • Turn mixture into a greased loaf tin and press down (Tip: place a greased strip of greaseproof paper running along the bottom and up the two ends of the dish for ease of turning out after cooking).
  • Arrange the tomatoes along the top, sprinkle with sesame seeds or cheese.  Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes at Gas mark 6 (200C or 180 Fan Assisted) remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes.
    Serve hot or cold

It was delicious and could be adapted depending on what you have available – next time I might throw in some mushrooms.

Have a good weekend – lets hope the weather is fine.

The end of the week budget meal…

Otherwise known as the ‘throw it all in and use it all up’ and see what you get!

By the end of the week I find that I have an assortment of bits of vegetables that are leftover and not wanting to waste anything I either adapt a recipe or just create something new (a bit like they do on the TV programme ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’ when presented with an assortment of items).

This is what I had left today to use up – I named it Hearty Chickpea Stew – it was quite delicious and very filling.  I will definitely make it again.

From the fridge or vegetable rack

  • 1 Leek
  • 2 small and almost sprouting onions
  • A few ends of celery
  • A handful of new potatoes
  • A medium sweet potato
  • 4 small carrots

From the store cupboard or pantry

  • I can of Chickpeas
  • a few slices of bread

Plus a few staple items

  • Add 1 tablespoon Olive Oil, 1 Kallo Tomato Stock cube, a scoop of Tomato paste, salt and pepper and a pinch of mixed herbs.

To make

  • Gently cook the onion , leek and celery together in the olive oil until soft.
  • Add chopped / diced vegetables
  • Add Tin Chickpeas (well rinsed)
  • Add stock to cover veg, tomato paste and seasonings
  • Bring to boil and simmer for about 30 minutes

Serve hot with crusty or speciality bread

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Bake me a cake as fast as you can…

Last Tuesday I baked cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday on Thursday.  The first batch of chocolate ones did not make the grade –  they were hard, dry and quite floury more like a craggy chocolate pudding so I tried a second time with a plain mixture to which I added stewed apple in the middle and sultanas.  On Thursday I added a vanilla frosting topping and an iced decoration courtesy of Sainsbury’s.   This time they were light and extremely delicious – I will definitely make this recipe again.

150g unsalted butter (I used Bertolli Olive Oil spread)

115g caster sugar

1tsp French Almond extract

2 medium free range eggs

140g self raising flour

50g sultanas

100g cooked Bramley Apple sauce

I mainly use Organic and natural products where possible.

To make

Preheat oven to 180C, fan 160C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, add Almond extract, eggs and 1tbsp flour and continue beating until combined.  Add remaining flour and sultanas and fold in.

Place 12 cupcake cases in a tin and fill each halfway with the mixture and a good teaspoon of apple sauce into each and top with remaining mixture.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden.  Leave to cool for a couple of minutes in tin then place on a cooling rack.

On Friday we had those Cheese and Leek Ramekins again.  This time I took a picture of them before they went in the oven and below is the recipe I never got around to posting last time.

Cheesey Leek Ramekins

My advice is to weigh and  prepare all the ingredients before starting to cook.

1tbsp olive oil

500g leeks, finely sliced

3 large eggs beaten

100g wholemeal breadcrumbs

125g mature farmhouse cheddar cheese, grated

1tsp dried tarragon or try it with a few stalks of freshly chopped chives

salt and ground black pepper

1-2 tomatoes sliced to place on top

To make

Heat the oil in a pan and gently cook the leeks for 10 mins.

Mix together the eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese and tarragon or chives.  Add cooked leeks and season mixture.

Spoon mixture into greased ramekin dishes. Place a slice of tomato on top of each. Bake at 200C or Gas 6 for about 15 mins until golden brown.  Leave to stand for a minute or two then run a knife around the edge and turn out.  Serve with a salad.  Can be eaten hot, warm or cold.

These are really good to take to work for lunchtime the next day with a salad.