Seabass and leek bake

There’s a chap in our town who’s a keen allotment keeper. He grows so much stuff that often he will put a basket outside his house where you can buy vegetables. Driving past last week, I noticed the piles of booty and pulled over for a good old rummage. I snaffled up a bag of purple sprouting broccoli, a bag of leeks and a bag of parsnips – for the grand old price of £1.50. Dutifully posting the money through his door, I whizzed off home with my haul.

Last night we decided to do something with the leeks. I also had a bag of spring greens that needed using up. The leeks and greens were chopped up and soaked in cold water – this both cleans them up and brings anything slightly on the wilty side back to life.

 

Leek and spring greens

Leek and spring greens

The leeks and greens were then sweated down with garlic and white wine, and a tub of creme fraiche was added at the end. This mixture was transferred into an oven-proof dish. We then added two seabass steaks to the pan and lightly cooked them with some lemon slices, for extra flavour. These were then laid on top of the leeks.

 

Seabass steaks

Seabass steaks

Last weekend I made a batch of cheese scones – so to use these up, they were sliced and laid on the top – a bit like dumplings. A generous scattering of cheese was added to the top, and the whole lot was popped in the oven at 180 for 30 minutes.

Seabass and leek bake

Seabass and leek bake

The result? Absolutely blooming delicious! And there is enough leftover for my lunch today!

The cost: Leeks 50p, Greens 65p, Seabass steaks reduced to £1.50, creme fraiche 60p… so well under £3 for three portions. And who said you couldn’t eat fab food on a budget!

Supermarket scavenging

We all love a good bargain, right? Well, currently I’m taking this to another level. I’ve set myself a challenge on how much we can reduce our grocery bill. But it’s not eating cheap food… it’s being creative with cut price food.

You know the stuff – the ones with yellow labels on at the end of the day in the supermarket. The stuff that attracts a milling crowd who have an overwhelming urge to touch everything before they snaffle it up and triumphantly add it to their trolley.I

I am now one of those supermarket scavengers… Oh yes! And I love it!

So as well as bringing you highlights from the garden, I’ll be sharing creative ways of transforming cut-price food into gourmet delights*

*Actually I’ll be having a bit of help with that… my chap trained as a chef so he’s pretty handy in the kitchen

Turf wars

My lawn has been the topic of much discussion over the past couple of years. When I first moved to Chook Cottage, the garden was nothing but a scrappy bit of grass with a horrible path through the middle.

how it looked then

I swiftly got rid of the path, but then I had chickens for a while. And they absolutely trashed the lawn… so much so that the only thing to do was to dig it all over and start again…

Right hand side - flattened

Right hand side – flattened

This even prompted one of my fans to comment “Is that it? How much can you write about a bit of bare earth and patchy grass???… well, read on, ‘dan@dansworld.com’… and stick this lot in your pipe and smoke it!

The area was reseeded, but it never quite looked like the lush area I had in mind. This was highlighted when lovely chap brought along his man beast of a mower, which promptly destroyed everything in its path that wasn’t completely level.

So we decided to start again.

First job took A LOT of sand to level it out

Next job was to re-surface the whole thing. After humping all the rolls of turf into the garden, we set to work. Well… I say ‘we’… my job was mainly watering the area to lay, making sure there was turf nearby and general fannying about. HIS job, on the other hand was laying it all down, whacking it and levelling it. He worked like a demon!

Here are some before and after pics… I think you’ll agree it looks tons better. Roll on the summer… I predict many garden parties out there now!

Turfing the lawn part 1

Turfing the lawn part 1

Turfing the lawn part 2

Turfing the lawn part 2

Turfing the lawn part 3

Turfing the lawn part 3

The cheat

Remember a week or so ago… I dusted off the heated propagator from the shed, excitedly whizzed it upstairs, and planted my first crops of the year: Kale and Tomatoes.

For it was February. Spring is on its way. And these crops can be started early.

Alas, I slightly cocked up on this one. Yes, it’s February, yes, Spring is on its way, and yes indeed, Kale and Tomatoes can be started early. Only not really… You see, there’s just not quite enough natural light yet. The seedlings all popped up, but as soon as they saw a sniff of the window, they scarpered off towards it.

Spindly seedlings

Spindly seedlings

So I’ve ended up with comically long and spindly seedlings that have little or no chance of forming a second set of leaves and growing into healthy, bushy plants.

An executive decision has therefore been made here at Chook Cottage.

I am going to CHEAT!

I know, I know… we all hate a cheater, but needs must. The vegetable plot here is more of a hobby – we’re not trying to live off the land – we just want a couple of fresh bits and bobs to harvest.

So this weekend will find me at the garden centre, snaffling up a couple of trays of veggie plants where someone else has already done the hard work. These will go in the beds, leaving me much more time to chillax in the garden and admire the fruits of my..’ahem’…labour 😉

Curried parsnip soup

Earlier this week, lovely man came striding home, clutching a rather large bag of parsnips. Waggling them under my nose, he announced, “20p… 20p!”. He continued “20 blinking p! For ALL THESE”. He then waggled them at me again, just in case I hadn’t seen them the first time.

“Brilliant!” I trilled… whilst thinking “What the actual chuff are we going to do with ALL THOSE? We’ll be living off parsnips FOREVER! We will smell of parsnips, FFS!”

I repeated… “Brilliant…. whatever shall we do with all those, darling?”

“No idea – but we’ll think of something,” he said confidently.

For a couple of days, the parsnips sat on the kitchen counter, looking at me. I glared back, trying to summon up some inspiration. Today I decided that they were going to have it… I was going to rustle them into something delicious. A quick Google later, and I had a recipe for curried parsnip soup. It went a bit like this…

  1. Peel and chop the parsnips into cubes
  2. Sautee two onions in some butter, and add ALL THE PARSNIPS
  3. Add about a litre of chicken stock, two teaspoons of medium curry powder and a teaspoon of crushed chillies
  4. Simmer until the parsnips are cooked
  5. Blend until smooth and stir in a big dollop of double cream
  6. If it’s too thick, add a bit of cream, milk or water

I now have four pots of the stuff ready to freeze. I’ve just had a taste, and, Oh My Goodness – it’s a taste sensation. Seriously one of the best soups I’ve ever made… and I’ve dabbled with a few.

My life is now complete

AMEN to curried parsnip soup!

 

Kale

Whoopee! Great news!

The kale seeds only went in the propagator on Sunday, and THEY ARE GERMINATING! We absolutely love kale, and get through bags of the stuff… to be able to pick straight from the plot will be an absolute treat.

I can’t express how excited I am to be growing stuff again.  Spring is most definitely just around the corner, as the mornings and evenings are growing gradually lighter – I love this time of year, as it seems to tingle with anticipation of the start of a new season.

We just need the pear tomatoes to pop up their little heads now… I will be watching them intently!

Kale seedlings

Kale seedlings

Level lawn

The work has officially begun in the garden. Our chap came and built us a decked area earlier in the year, and I dutifully rescued the plants that were in its path… all forty of them! Last weekend we set about replanting these (happy to report there were no casualties) and levelling the lawn.

Decking area

Decking area

The lawn has been a bit of a problem since I moved in. It started life as a scrappy bit of grass with a god-awful slab path chucked down the middle. I got rid of the path and created some borders – but the lawn has always been a bit uneven. This was highlighted when lovely chap brought his man-sized petrol mower over. The beast just tore up anything that was slightly on the lumpy side. He’s not happy about this and seems determined to have a bowling green.

So… off we went to buy sand… a lot of sand… to bring the lawn up to the same level ready to turf in a week or so. A better shape was cut into the lawn while we were at it, and I’m pleased with the result and can see that the garden will look amazing when everything starts shooting again.

Levelling the lawn

Levelling the lawn

Next job was to put some horse muck into the raised bed compartments. The veg in there was pretty much an afterthought last year, but we have big plans for this year. A trip to our local farm later, and a bit of shovelling and raking later, and the beds were ready for the first house guests. 50 onions and 25 garlic plants, which were popped in this weekend.

Last up, we fired up the heated propagator and we’ve planted cherry tomato seeds and kale.

Bring on the spring… we’re ready for you!

Pergola

A couple of weeks ago, I was gazing out of the back window, and uttered the fateful words, “A pergola would look nice out there”.

Without further ado, Lovely Chap was out there, measuring, sketching and rubbing his chin in a sage-like manner. The next day, a delivery of wood arrived, and we set to work.

Staining the pergola

Staining the pergola

 

The pergola was to be attached to the house wall, and provide a frame for plants to grow over on the decking. A frame was quickly assembled and he set to work staining it up. In his shorts. In the freezing cold.

Once that was done, all we needed were lights. I searched around online, and ordered 100m (yes… 100m) of fairy lights for outside use. I reasoned that if you were going to have lights, you may as well have lots of them.

Despite the initial setback of detangling the things – HOW can something brand new, never out of the box BE so tangled up?! – they were soon attached to the pergola and they look brilliant. We’ve got a heater that can be quickly attached to the frame, and the last job is to make some gold voile drapes to frame the sides. A perfect little place to sit and admire the garden from.

Pergola with lights

Pergola with lights

The stalker

Apparently, I have a stalker.

I know this, as they sent me an anonymous text telling me as much.

This charming individual called me a ‘dumb bitch’ and proceeded to inform me that they watched all my social media accounts and reported back to certain people. They added that I could never trace them as they used different sim cards.

At first I was slightly amused. Then I was slightly on edge. I even contemplated finishing this blog – but I love wittering away on here, and there are so many plans afoot for the garden this year, I have to have somewhere to log it all.

Whoever this person is, they must have a pretty sad life to find my ramblings so intriguing. So here’s a message for them:

Watch away… knock yourself out… I refuse to stop doing something I love because of a pathetic little bully.

Chooks is back… and she’s grown a pair 🙂

Deck the halls

In the week running up to Christmas, when most were decking the halls with boughs of holly… we were decking.

Seating area

Seating area

When I first moved to Chook cottage, my friend helped me build a seating area at the bottom of the garden, as this was a perfect place to soak up the very last rays of sun for the day. Last year, many an afternoon was spent out in the garden, lounging, listening to music, chilling out and enjoying the odd glass of something cold and crisp. It became apparent that although the seating area was lovely and quaint… it was just a tad too small – and they say that size doesn’t matter 😉

So we decided to replace it with a more robust chill out area, which would be great for hosting barbecues and having friends over. So, last weekend we set to work dismantling the old seating area, and I have to say, we worked like troopers. I was chief gravel shoveller, and lovely man was chief gravel redistributor. Not one piece of the old area went to waste… the slabs will be relaid into a small entrance path, and the gravel smartened up the side entrance a treat.

Garden cleared

Garden cleared.

I’ve been busily digging up plants to save and replant in the spring – current count I have about 45!

Base for decking laid

Base for decking laid

This then left the area nice and free for our chap to come and work his magic. Just two days later, and what a transformation. Yes, the garden looks grotty at this time of year, but that’s par for the course.

 

Hang on in, and you watch how lovely this will look later in the year when everything comes back to life!

The finished decking

The finished decking

Happy with that 🙂

So, another job out of the way, and it’s officially time to hang up my trusty trowel until the New Year. Have a fabulous Christmas, everyone 🙂