Last weekend, lovely chap got out of bed, wandered off downstairs, and I lay there looking forward to tea being delivered very shortly.
He was gone absolutely ages! Finally, he returned upstairs.
“Where have you been?” I asked
“I’ve been busy”, was the reply. “I’ve put all the washing out, tidied around, made tea, and I’ve made you these”.
He’d used up a bit of leftover puff pastry that had been lurking in the fridge and wrapped this around some cheese and parma ham.
Top start to the weekend!
Cheese and parma ham pastries
We had some leftover roast carrots and parsnips, a roll of cheap filo pastry we found in the reduced, and a slab of polenta… what can you do with that little lot?
First, we fried off some frozen beef mince (so much more value than fresh, but that’s just my opinion), added the leftover veggies, transferred to an ovenproof dish and scattered a light dusting of parmesan cheese over the top.
Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta
Then, we melted some butter and brushed this over one sheet of pastry. Another sheet was added and this too was brushed with butter. The two sheets were then cut into six equal (ish) parts. Each of these was pushed and twisted in the middle to make flower-like shapes, and laid on the top. The whole thing was baked at 180 degrees for about half an hour (or until the pastry is nice and brown and crunchy).
Last of all we sliced some polenta, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and griddled in a hot pan to get the lovely scorch marks. A sprinkling of fresh chives finished it off nicely.
Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta
Flavoured vodka isn’t all that common in the UK, so with the first crop of rhubarb ready in the plot, I decided to make my own. I made some last year, and it’s ridiculously simple for such a lovely end product.
1 litre of vodka – any cheap stuff will do – but this was on offer this week
5 sticks of washed rhubarb
1 cup of sugar
Large Kilner jar
Chop up the rhubarb and add to the jar. Add the sugar and vodka and seal. Give it a good old shake to agitate, then pop it in a cupboard out of the way. Every now and then, give the jar a gentle shake to keep mixing the flavours.
In about 2 to 3 months, it will be ready. At that stage, drain the liquid through a sieve and decant back into the empty bottle (which you saved). You will be rewarded with a beautifully smooth, slightly syrupy, pink liqueur.
We still had a handful of leftover chicken to use up… we throw NOTHING away food-wise!
Today I decided to send it out in style, by transforming it into a chicken and leek pie… so simple, but so delicious.
First up, I heated a little oil and butter in a pan and tossed in two cloves of finely chopped garlic. I added a couple of sliced leeks and a good glug of white wine. After the wine had cooked off, I added a good glug of cream and the leftover chicken. We also had a handful of leftover onions and roasted purple sprouting broccoli from the weekend, so that all went in too. Once warm, I spooned the mixture into a pyrex dish, rolled out some puff pastry and made a lid. This I brushed with beaten egg so it will go lovely and brown.
I then cooked for about 35 minutes at 180 – just until the lid had puffed up and was brown.
The weather was blooming gorgeous this weekend, so as the garden is looking so good at the moment, we had an impromptu barbeque. The tripod barbeque came out of hiding and we proudly set it up on the decking, along with chairs for our guests and outside table laden with condiments, cutlery and the family favourite: spinach and water chestnut dip.
The menu was simple: a couple of chickens started off in the oven and finished on the barbeque, sausages and onions cooked in a pan outside. In addition, we served roasted purple sprouting broccoli in garlic and a huge salad. The food went down a storm, our guests had a great time, and we congratulated ourselves on turning a party around with a moment’s notice.
After everyone had gone, we had leftovers. A large tub of salad and another of chicken. The chicken went into a couple of sandwiches for lunch, but last night we wanted to use it up… and this is where the good bit happened!
The majority of chicken was heated up in a pan with some garam masala and a good spoon of sesame seeds (there’s still a handful of chicken left, but we’ll come to that in a later post). The baby gem lettuce leaves were griddled in the griddle pan so they were slightly wilted but with scorch lines across them. Next, the leftover sliced radish, cucumber and cherry tomatoes were tossed around a pan with some chopped garlic so they were warm but still had a crunch. The whole lot was tossed into a bowl and we tucked in. A sprinkle of coriander leaves and the dish was complete. The verdict? Absolutely blinking delicious – warm salad is so tasty!
Sesame chicken and warm salad
This is a really easy dish that goes down a storm at gatherings. The dip is made and served in a hollowed out bloomer loaf. Guests then eat the dip with the bread, cutting or tearing the loaf until there is none left.
approx 300g frozen spinach
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup soured cream
1 small tin of water chestnuts (finely chopped)
3 spring onions (finely chopped)
1 vegetable stock cube (crumbling variety)
Small bloomer loaf
Defrost and drain the spinach – squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Chop up the spinach so that it comes apart easily in the dip.
Add the mayonnaise, soured cream, water chestnuts, spring onions to a bowl and stir together. Crumble in the stock cube and stir again. Add the spinach and mix well. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the flavours to blend together.
Cut the middle from the loaf, and take out the excess bread – you should be left with the shape of a bowl. Put the spinach into the bread, slice up the excess bread into chunks and arrange these around the side.
A guaranteed showstopper at parties 🙂
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
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.
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
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!
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
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
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, ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’… 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 2
Turfing the lawn part 3
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.
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 😉