Grow Your Own! Pulling Up Daisies

If you are one of those mere mortals trying to have a full time job and a life whilst also being the primary care giver to a garden space, chances are you’re either a wee bit stressed right now. That or you have given up all forms of social activity not involving deadheading or nematode waterings until November.
I am the first kind, my garden is giving me stress y’all.
What with the schizoid weather everything that was hardy enough to survive the odd near-zero evenings is going utterly mental in the interluding periods of mass sunshine. My good stuff is dead. All the evil is thriving like a weight watchers salesman in pre-bikini season. The beds are a mess and I really, really don’t know if I should swap my blue grass planting for the hebe or keep the hebe in a pot and try to tame the hibiscus down instead? And what are we going to save the last planting trough for? Radishes or lettuce? The radishes got eaten last year. The lettuces get eaten every year.

Fuck my life.

OK so it’s not that bad, but  it is a rude awakening from the ultra slow/cold start to the year where I had nothing to do but lament my lack of pot fleecing skills. It’s all kicking off, and having a couple of pleasing invites on the cards for next weekend means that I have up until the end of this happy Bank Holiday Monday to get everything out there ship shape and bug free for the next couple of weeks.

Yesterday was tieing up the spent tulips (of which I have way too many) and wrenching out a couple of miles of sticky weed, which left today aside for pretty things like my new Senetti and getting the butternut babies into their outdoor bed. And deciding about that bloody hebe, perhaps. It should have been fine, I should be out their with my feet up in all the well tended splendour with my first gin of the day by now.

I have pulled up roughly a million of these perennial dairy shoot offs today. They have a root structure of pure evil.

I am not out there in any kind of splendour. Because, daisies. For once, my sweary rant of garden issues is not about Oxalis babies or Moby Dick The Phantom Crapper. You see, I have a nice slightly shady patch at the back of the garden. Last year it gave us my sentient and malevolent pumpkins. 2018 has it down for a butternut squash nursery. I don’t weed this patch in the winter, there’s no point as crap grows on there faster than I can keep up with it and if there is crap growing in there the cats don’t tend to add their own actual crap on top of it. So I resign myself to a solid weeding session in the spring and leave it to help out the bugs and butterflies until then. Today was ‘Then’ when the mass weeding was due, which should have taken half an hour and been restricted mostly to dandelions and forget-me-nots and other easily tugged culprits.  Oh no, what is his new green invader? I know not, but fear not, I shall pull it all out with my trusty garden fork. My trusty garden fork which got stuck in the root mass of this be-leafed menace and failed to come out again even with my full weight on the bloody thing. If you don’t know me, I can assure you that my full weight is not an insignificant amount. An hour and a half and three litres of middle-aged-pain sweat later, I have more kilos of daisy roots than I can carry in one trip to my compost bin.
Bastards.
For clarity, I don’t mean teeny tiny pretty daisies like you get in the lawn. I mean Leucanthamum, a tall and sturdy perennial flowering aster which will die back over the winter in order to not draw attention to the fact that it is burrowing under your paving with a super strong root network that Groot’s evil twin would be proud of
It. Is. Everywhere.
Or more, it was everywhere. It is now in the compost bin whilst I am in the throws of a good anti-inflammatory hit and trying to remember the last time my legs hurt this much. It was either the walking marathon or my first weighted squats class. Urgh. On the plus side, I remembered at all times not to try and lift/heave with my back and I now have a legit reason to do nothing but drink, elevate and ice for the remains of the bank holiday. The lesson is to always have gin handy. The other lesson, is that what happened in your garden last year won’t necessarily repeat itself. The other other lesson is that plants are bastards, and you can never let your guard down around them, even the pretty ones. Especially the pretty ones.

And now for the early May round up:

Beans: All dead but one stalk, which is potted. Those in the ground never really recovered from the late frosts. RIP buddies.

My monster rhubarb, soon to be dismembered for pie and gin making.

Rhubarb: Going nuts. NUTS. Now big enough to harvest but not ripe enough. Likely to now take over as my weeding has removed the dominant force for evil that was those bloody daisies.

Tomatoes: These are a first for me, started off to zero fanfare in the conservatory last month. I managed four sensible seedlings from attempting about twenty, which is both disappointing and practical. I have three in the 80s old lady staple that is a grow bag and one in a pot to be transplanted to the patch when it’s a bit stronger. I have started some more seedlings to try some latecomers too and planted a bunch of marigolds nearby to test that natural pest-repellent theory.

Gooseberries: Doing well after a growth spurt, showing very small buds.

Raspberries: Received from Susie-Soo last year, growing very well in a pot by the house and showing signs of flowering.

Pear trees: All happy, blossoming and good.

Basil and Coriander: Going great guns having started out in the conservatory, now on the patio in a tub.

Rosemary: Currently in flower, doing well as always.

Rainbow Beets: A seedy gift from the Mothership, currently very small spouts that started in the conservatory and went out in a pot this weekend.

Garlic: Looks fine……..who can tell?

Lettuce: Showing no signs of anything.

Chard: Still going from last year, was very tasty fried up with some mushrooms this morning.

Carrots: Now I was going to give the carrots a miss this year, but I have space now from all those dead beans so I have sown some Nantes 5 and Heritage Purple variety straight into the ground today. A little bit late perhaps, but I usually harvest them too early so maybe this will stop me from premature pulling.

Finally, daisies out and butternut squash babies in. 

Butternuts: Planted today into the aforementioned weed patch of doom with a bit of fish, blood and bone and a very good watering. I have also sown fifteen nasturtium seeds to border them in the hope that they give the slugs a tastier option.

So that’s it for today, if my legs regain any flexibility before sundown I will be out to spritz all the green stuff with my bee friendly nibbler repellent of soapy water. Yes, really. I’m still on that whole enviro-gardener thing despite The Daisy Incident and discovering a four foot thistle trying to bodyslam my lavenders yesterday.

 

Like I said, plants are bastards.

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Sweet Roast Onion Soup

An easy, rich and comforting onion soup.

Living in the joys of a modern cohabitation relationship, it’s not that often I need to come up with a decent meal for one. By decent meal, I don’t mean a weekday breakfast or a cheeky sandwich, but an actual meal that I want to pay attention to without it ruining my day. But once in a while He isn’t here and I fancy a decent dinner to accompany my quality time with Detective Steve Holder my thoughts. When I’m not trying to destroy my weight loss goals, I like to run up this soup which is easy to make though not technically that quick due to the roasting time needed. I usually have all the required ingredients either in my cupboard or in my garden too so I don’t even have to interupt my Netflix time with a shops trip. It’s a rich, sweet and not even slightly naughty dinner that you could easily scale up for friends if you feel like sharing.

BoomBoom Sweet Roast Onion Soup

Roasted onions and garlic with rosemary for this recipe

Serves One
3 red onions
1 small head of garlic
1 courgette
5 button mushrooms
Sprig of fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
Fresh sage
Black pepper
1 heaped tablespoon of sour cream
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Peel the onions and cut the top off the garlic head, drizzle with rapeseed oil, and roast at 180 along with the rosemary for 40 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Roughly chop the courgette and fry in a little more rapeseed oil with lots of fresh black pepper. When softened, add the bay leaf, a few shredded sage leaves and the cooked onions (roughly chopped) and squeeze out the garlic from the head too. Give it a stir for a moment then add the nutmeg- literally just a pinch! Nowhere near even a 1/4 of a tablespoon, just a tiny amount.

Cover with boiled water and simmer with a lid on for ten minutes. As this is only a single serve recipe I get heavy with the herbs and pepper rather than use stock, but if you are scaling up then you can use vegetable stock. If you have a bottle open then by all means throw in a generous splash of red or white wine at this point.

While the soup is cooking finely slice the mushrooms and fry in a hot pan with some very finely chopped rosemary and sea salt until the edges start to crisp.

Allow the soup to cool slightly before blitzing with the sour cream then stir in the mushrooms. Season to taste and serve with a side of hot buttered toast to be enjoyed in your PJ’s with your phone on silent and your favourite TV boyfriend!

Variations- swap the sour cream for fat free Greek yoghurt if needs be or omit all together. If you don’t have the fresh herbs just add dried at the beginning of the soup with the courgette. 

The Breakfast Club- Cobbles Kitchen

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Where: Ogmore By The Sea, Bridgend
What: Traditional and trendy fare, heavy on local produce
How much? £10 a head for breakfast
Overall:  Top notch, top marks, top everything

Contact: 01656 646361 https://www.cobbleskitchen.co.uk/

Being regular budget travelers, The Mr and I are neither adverse nor strangers to a Cheap Hotel Chain Of Choice buffet of overdone sausages and suspicious egg like substances. It was something of a happy accident on our last mystery tour of darkest Wales to be directed to Cobbles in Bridgend to kick off a day of local sightseeing in a suitably fried and over fed fashion.

 

You will find Cobbles just off the B4524 in Ogmore By Sea (surely a runner for Best Place Name Ever???). It’s a cute and suitably rustic collection of stone buildings around a central courtyard with both dining rooms and a separate deli room. This place is basically a shabby chic upscaler’s dream- think slightly wonky floors and mis matched chairs, enameled tin tableware and ridiculously kitsch tables fashioned from old manual sewing machines. It is worth mentioning now that the wheels on these still work, which might irritate some but is a wonderful distraction and comfort if you have in your party a restless leg sufferer or man-sized child who is fascinated by any kind of mechanical object in creation. It kept him quiet while the girls caught up, anyway.

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The courtyard at Cobbles, available for private hire.

So it’s twee and warm and massively on trend if you like your modern comforts to look like they’re from the turn of the century, but what about the food? The published ethos from Cobbles is to showcase an area rich in gorgeous produce by offering a true taste of Wales, using as much local produce as possible. You can expect the standard menu offering of a full breakfast (with veggie and vegan options), oats or pancakes, plus daily specials and various decorated eggs benedict. If you make it for the hallowed brunch period after 11 you can add your hipster choices of avo toast and their take on shakshuka.  We were early birds catching our touristy worms, so it was the standard Brecwast menu for us, two Full Welsh and one vegetarian. I often vouch for a veggie breakfast these days, what with all the nitrates in the bacon I keep getting warned about and quite frankly, a higher chance of cheese inclusion. As one could expect in this location this involved a couple of glorious Glamorgan sausages, eggs, mushrooms and beans with a leek hash brown. They aren’t fibbing on their menu when they promise you ‘doorstep’ toast either, to quote our holiday host Angharad ‘I’d come here every day just for the toast’. Think proper, thick cut bread that you could bed down for the night in. Perfect. The carnivorous version was also well received with special mention again for the sausages. You can add Welsh foodie phenomenon laverbread to your plate too if you wish, but I chose not to, for reasons explained here.

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Full Breakfast at Cobbles, is there such a thing as toast porn?

 

Service is pleasantly relaxed, by which I actually mean relaxed and not slow or sloppy, and a visit to their Deli afterwards is a must- as well as standard tourist traps like welshcakes you can pick up some hearty bakery items and local beers here. The macarons are stunning.

This might feel like something of a flat review- Blogger Eats Good Breakfast Then Buys Cake. To be honest I don’t feel much of a need to find more ways to describe a basically perfect fry up in a really nice room. It is no surprise to me to see Cobbles receiving a Best Restaurant accolade in the Food Awards for Wales, and if you make it over there I don’t think it will surprise you either. What strikes me as worth shouting about Cobbles, like so many other smaller run eateries and businesses in general, is that this is not normal. All too often we accept mediocre and mass produced food on too big plates dished up by a knackered minimum wage slave who’s only purpose is to get you cashed out as quickly as possible with some extra loyalty card points. Eating out is becoming an increasingly bullshitty experience with the big boys. We go to the budget buffet bar and we accept the over done sausages and suspicious egg like substances because, well, they have a lot of customers don’t they so we can put up with it and it’s not really ok to complain when it’s so cheap…..
So don’t complain. Go somewhere else. Look for a smaller place with a logo you don’t recognise and start thinking about value rather than cost. A full buffet run comes in about the nine quid region on average, with bad coffee and the aforementioned egg suspicions. A full breakfast with a hot drink at Cobbles is just less than this. A gut busting plate of breakfast goods at my local indie Fork & Wine is about the same too. No, you don’t get endless pastries and week old cereal from a weird standing perspex pot thing or tiny single use tubs of marmite for your toast here. You don’t have to stand at that weird rotating fire risk toaster thing either. And no, you don’t get endless visits to top up on your hot plate but you know what, you don’t need that. You really don’t! Eight quid is a good price for a filling, fresh breakfast and a decent coffee. So is a tenner. Does a fiver really make up for the digestive results of an over cooked plate of dry meat and (horrors) breakfast gravy?
I’m not indiscriminately against big chains. Some of them are alright and I’ve said complimentary things about a few. All of them provide employment and choice and easy fix dinners when you don’t really want to splash out or think too much. But they should not be the norm. Places like Cobbles should be where we chose to spend our money- on quality food with a traceable supply chain and immediate benefit to our community and farmers.  And if those bigger chains start losing out on your disposable income, they might just examine the crap they are turning out and reconsider their ways. Of course this is easy to say when you live in a rural area where indie eateries abound and the closest all-you-can-stand buffet is a half hour drive away. But they exist in towns too, in your town and others so even if you can’t stand to seek out new a new and off the map avocado toast on an average Wednesday, then do a bit more research for your holiday.  You’re on holiday afterall, you can get away with all kinds of deviant behavior you wouldn’t dream of at home. Check out Tripadvisor or local foodie award listings. Find your own Angharad to take you for toast before just booking in for your Premierlodge 9am seating. And if you’re doing this in the Cardiff region, start off with Cobbles.

 

Grow Your Own! Caretaking and Damage Control

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Snowy gargoyle

I’ll bet that if you could get the statistics up, one of the least spoken phrases in my neck of the woods lately would be “Oooh, it’s nice outside.” Because it isn’t. It’s been a Game Of Thrones esque winter here, cruelly punctuated with tricksy odd days of sunshine to make the crippling cold and stealth frosts even harder to contend with*.
OK fine, so there are no White Walkers to contend with in sunny Brightlingsea but its been bloody cold for a bloody long time. When faced with a balmy nine degrees for Saturday daylight hours, I had to take the opportunity to get in my garden today and see exactly how bad it has been out there.
*I speak comparatively as one snow week in North Essex basically amounts to a continuous three month blizzard anywhere else. We don’t do snow in these parts very often. 

The snow might be a laugh if you have nowhere to go and a properly lagged plumbing system, but it can be a total bitch for both floral and vegetable gardeners alike. There’s more going on at this time of year than all the mud and bare branches might suggest, and late (or entirely timely, based on the last few years) snow and frosts can strike right when new plant life is at its most vulnerable.  For the last two years I’ve been lucky and managed to blag my green babies through the winter despite knowing/caring very little about tricks like fleecing pots and digging up corms for safe keeping in the shed where the subzero temperatures are less likely to kill them. I give an open apology to my dahlias, may they rest in loamy peace if they decide not to come back this summer. The violas and primroses all seem to have taken their three day snow blanketing as something of a spa treatment and are doing very nicely but we have a serious amount of blank looking daffodil and tulip leaves which makes me nervous not just for the pretty factor but also for the bees if they don’t flower.
I’m on a bee mission this year in our garden. We really need bees, people. Bees pollinate stuff and make that lovely summery buzzy garden music too. Bees get a rough time of it in a world thick with non discriminatory pesticides and they really need a bit of help. By ‘help’, I mean poison free nectar, by which I generally mean as many untreated flowering plants as is possible, for as much of the year as possible. With the recent cold and unpleasantness, I am at risk of a much lower flower count for the spring which has prompted me today to put in a 3 point care plan for my bees, and any of their mates who might visit.

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Lung wort, the first spring flowers in the garden this year

First off- flowers. Actually caring for everything in my garden that flowers and not taking for granted that there will be other petals and sepals around if some don’t miraculously thrive with little to no effort from this greedy person who is more concerned with a decent carrot crop. This year I will tend, I will deadhead and I will fertilize. I will read up on how to love and prolong the little patch of lung wort currently in flower in the mudbed. Sweetpeas and nasturtiums are started off in the conservatory as we speak to go out next month and boost the pollen count. I will do better for the flowers.
Secondly- pest control. I’m going to seriously reconsider the organic but still deadly bug spray I used last summer to control the flea beetles munching through my cabbages and chard. Leafy veg that doesn’t flower should not attract bees, but I’m being a bit of git by saying that this makes bug poison ok to use in some parts of the garden. This year I will try to keep on top of the munchers by natural means and the old wives cocktail of washing up liquid from a spray bottle. We will see how that goes. I am also going to restrain my dandelion removal compulsion and not yank out those pesky, mass rooted bastards until they have flowered. I hate dandelions. Bees love them. Maybe I can grow some big enough to harvest the roots for some tea. I will also restrict myself to only ripping the wild geraniums (which flower quite convincingly) from the veg patch and let them do as they will in the main beds. I am not even bothering to thin out the nettles that grow behind my pear tree, bugs and bees love them and they still manage to sting my through my ultra strong gardening gloves so to hell with it, let them stay. I’m mentally strong enough to let some unruly weeds grow in my specially arranged outdoor space. Good God, I need a gin just thinking about it.
And thirdly, finally, whatever, there is housing. We have a nice little bug hotel already in place for solitary bees and their crawly cohorts, and I’m off to fetch another one from the garden centre on Monday.  I’ve also started up a little woodpile right at the back of the garden which will stack up as housing for a multitude of woodlice and beetles and other little critters which may have a home in my garden. I may live to regret this.

So that’s the care angle from today. Damage control was a little less light handed and involved hacking back many of my outside plants to rid them of their snow-murdered extremities. My broadbean stalks are about 40% intact after snipping off all the black and dead bits and have been treated with some fresh ties and a compost boost. Hopefully they will make an April comeback. My rhubarbs are in sight again after their winter hackback, though one is looking much healthier than the other. I’m hoping for some rhubarb vodka action later in the year so these babies will get the star treatment but for now there’s not much to do for them other than to pile on some fresh compost. The garlic cloves I put out in January are breaking the soil now and looking strong. With any luck they will smell strong too and put off Moby Dick The Phantom Crapper from his visits to my veg patch. Shallots don’t appear to be doing so well but there’s not a whole lot to be done about that for now so they got a brief weeding and some new dirt on top too.
I now take a moment to sing my thanks to the Gods of Chard. Chard is amazing. My three little chard plants have not given a single shit about how cold it has been and are stoically carrying regardless of the fact that they should be long dead by now. They aren’t massive, but they are healthy and very green and if they go on at their current rate will be big enough to start snipping into my scrambled eggs again in the next few weeks.  Go chard!!!!

Tomatoes, courgettes and butternut squash seeds have all been planted today in the conservatory, when those are done in the propagator I’ll be getting the herbs going. Believe it or not all that took me four lovely outdoorsy hours, which is more than enough work for a Satruday, so I’m off now to inspect the local beer pumps before dinner.

How’s your garden looking?

Trial and Purition.

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purition trial size sachets

A couple of weeks ago a Facebook marketing pop up got the better of me and I clicked on a random ad for Purition- a wholefood based protein supplement that various sinister AI cookies decided I might like.
I was maybe hungry, I was maybe vulnerable to suggestion and I was definitely sick of the grim aftertang from my current vegan banana cinnamon protein drink of choice. See the thing is, I don’t get enough protein and I can’t afford and don’t want to eat masses of meat every day. Excessive dairy triggers my asthma (and makes me fat) and whey based skinny shakes tend to upset my stomach. Hence the vegan banana cinnamon powder things.
So twelve quid for a Purition trial, with it’s Wholefood Natural Ingredients and alleged stomach filling abilities seemed like an experimental price worth paying. I will never again take a risk on a 1kg parcel of anything, except maybe from Hotel Chocolat, so the  6x 40g tester sachets of their standard flavours seemed safe. Apart from the coconut one, which can obviously burn in hell.

Purition shakes are made mostly of severely ground nuts and seeds in different quantities depending on the variety but include chia, flax, almonds and coconut in most mixes as well as some whey. I will say now that I mildly object to them being marketed as ‘wholefood’ products because whey is a processed by product of milk but I’ll get over it. The rest of it seems to be legit.

Reccomended consumption is to whizz up 40g of purition with your nut milk of choice, or alternatively chuck it on your ceral or in your yoghurt. I took mine for breakfast with 300ml of almond milk and low to middling expectations. Here’s how I got on.

img_7173 Almond: It’s Monday morning, it’s 0620 and a wholefood seed shake is not high on my list of wants. The mix is pretty easy to prepare, a ten second blast the blender is all it needs and I’m pleasingly surprised with the resulting shake.
It’s really nice.
Creamy and blessedly savoury with none of the fake cherry bakewell type flavour I was expecting although there is a very faint bitter aftertaste (from the minimal stevia content I expect) which disappears with a coffee. I was peckish again at around nine which was conquered with a mug of green tea and didn’t feel a need to eat again until 11. Which is really good going for me. I felt good all day, didn’t get hangry after a low carb lunch and went for a short run after work. I also didn’t suffer any of the windy upset that whey usually causes to my innards, I assume because there isn’t that much of it in there.

img_7178 Strawberry: The bright colour made me expect some kind of awful sweet fruit tang on this one but it was again very mildly flavoured and inoffensive. Could have done with a few icecubes in the mix perhaps to make up for opening an almond milk carton that hadn’t been in the fridge! Mildy gritty from the seeds which wasn’t a killer but I’m not sure I would chose it again.
I didn’t feel like eating again until gone 10am, though did pig out the evening when I got home.

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Chocolate: ‘Cocoa’ really is the operative term here, as like the others this was a distinctly savoury option that put me in mind of unpleasant carob stuff that healthfood shops used to palm off as ‘just like’ chocolate. Meh. Didn’t hate it, bet it’s good in porridge though (with some sugar too) and reliable sources say that adding a frozen banana makes a brilliant smoothie.
Didn’t feel like eating until around 11.

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Pistachio: I was looking forwards to this one as I’m a big fan of pistachio nuts. It came to pass that there is a definite base flavour to all of these shakes which is both creamy and nutty and this one in particular was very savoury to the point that I wondered if there was a pinch of sea salt in there. Very enjoyable, if you don’t love a sugar hit first thing in the day.

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Macadamia & Vanilla: Much lighter than expected, somehow fluffy and put me in mind of a sorbet, much sweeter than the others. Filling too, and again I didn’t think about snacking until 11 when I succumbed to a tub of pomelo.

Coconut: hahaha, oh shut up as if I’m going to have the fully coconut flavoured one. bleurgh. The Mr had it in his porridge and said ‘it’s fine’.

In summary, I’m impressed, mainly that they don’t taste like crap with a worse after tang like so many flavoured protein supplements and also don’t make you guff like the east wind all day. They really do live up to the tummy filling promise too, which is impressive given that when mixed with almond milk they come in at around 250 calories. On the surface the macros don’t look great, with a very high fat content by percentage however these are all plant based and arguably ‘good’ fats. And, comparatively speaking, they aren’t cheap at £22 for a 500g pouch where your standard flavoured protein shakes tend to be less than that for a kilo. But those are grim, with the afore mentioned guffing, so I’m going to take the plunge and order myself a full sized almond bag and look forwards to a couple of weeks of low fuss breakfast and maybe some experimental pancakes and cereal mixes.

This post probably sounds sponsored, but it isn’t!

Ultimate Pasta Sauce

Fresh vine ripened tomatoes for the ultimate pasta sauce

I remember going to uni as a naive 18 year old and being utterly horrified by the general gravitation of my cohorts in academia towards jarred, mass produced and frankly horrible pasta sauce. I understood that they were cheap, and convenient, and easily stored at room temperature in the back of a cupboard where they were less likely to get pinched than they would from the communal fridge but still, come on guys, can’t we just make some pasta sauce?

They all thought I was mad. They probably still do. And maybe I am, but I was raised by a multitude of cooks who can all turn out a mega pasta dinner in their own way and they don’t do it with a tub of Dolmio. There are a lot of signature dishes out there. My Mothership does a veggie bolognese-ish spaghetti second to none. My Step Mum spent most of the 90s turning out the hands down best cannelloni that ever was (as a side note hey, Helen, what happened to this?!?!?!?!).  My Uncle taught me a fail safe arrabiata on a family holiday some years ago that I have never tinkered with and whilst I’m sure even my biggest kitchen heroes have sunk to the odd convenience packet in their darkest hours, they are also living proof that a scratch made sauce beats the doughballs out of any mass produced, additive riddled jar from Waitrose.

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Wilkin & Sons ketchup- the now-not-so-secret magic ingredient

At the risk of setting off the carbonara fans, I firmly believe that a solid tomato pasta sauce is something all cooks should have under their belt early on, like, certainly before they move out of their homestead to pick up bad habits in a shared halls kitchenette. So here’s mine- I’ll hold my hands up to say it isn’t quite as quick as unscrewing a lid and stirring but after much trial, error and penne based testing I can say this is easy and fail safe if you get half decent fresh tomatoes and the super special secret ingredient that is a bottle of Wilkin & Sons ketchup (you” thank me for this later if you’ve never tried it). This recipe makes enough for 4-6 healthy servings but it freezes really well so you can think of a huge batch as making the best of the long cooking time. I think it actually tastes better the day after you make it, but you can be the judge of that.

 

Boomboom Pasta Sauce

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1kg fresh plum or vine ripened tomatoes
1 white onion, very finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch chilli flakes
2 tbspns Wilkin & Sons tomato ketchup OR 1 tbspn tomato puree
1tbspn apple cider vinegar
2 tsp caster sugar
Sea salt
Black pepper
Rapeseed oil for frying
Fresh basil leaves
Parmesan to serve (optional)

Fry the onions and garlic with the chilli flakes and oil on a medium heat in a sturdy, lidded and preferably non stick pan. When the onions begin to soften add the roughly chopped tomatoes- don’t faff about skinning them or separating out the seeds but do try to get the best quality you can afford, they are the backbone of this sauce afterall. Turn the heat down to low (barely a simmer), cover and cook for 30 minutes, checking regularly that it isn’t sticking to the pan however there should be enough liquid from the tomatoes to prevent this.
After half an hour, add the sugar and vingear and cook for another 15 minutes on low with the lid on. Add the ketchup or tomato puree now- I have to reiterate that the Wilkin and Sons ketchup is the super special secret ingredient here, I don’t know what they do with it but using any other ketchup will not cut it so if you can’t use W&S, go for a good quality puree instead. Give it another 10 minutes to simmer uncovered then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ideally, in a wonderful world where you are super organised, leave the sauce to cool to room temperature then refrigerate overnight to really mingle all the flavours together. In the real world, when you want to eat now and have better things to do than plan a pasta dinner a day in advance, add 2 tablespoons of shredded basil leaves, stir, then serve with your pasta of choice and a good shaving of parmesan.

Variations- hot heads can up the chilli levels with either more flakes or a finely chopped red chilli pepper.  At home I often add meatballs (lean pork or beef mince) at the same time as the ketchup/puree until they are cooked through, then serve immediately. You can use white or red wine vinegar instead of the apple cider.

The Skinny Thing- Banana Pancakes

Banana protein pancakes

I’m out for a treat lunch with some ladies today so a light breakfast option was in order. I always feel like a bit of a effort on breakfast at the weekend, as quite simply I have time to do something more than throw some PB on a bit of toast whilst simultaneously drying my hair and looking for my car keys.

So I thought I’d try these much touted, diet friendly banana pancakes because A- I have some bananas in the house and I can only eat them cooked these days (don’t ask). B- they are pretty low calorie and very low points on your Slimming World or Weight Watchers plan of choice. C- I have a shit ton of protein powder that needs using and I can’t stand drinking it. D- I hate myself a moderate amount for over indulging this week and this seemed likely to be a suitable punishment and reminder that all those 3pm kitkats are not worth having to eat fried egg and fruit on a Saturday.

I did not expect to enjoy these even a little bit.

Well, they aren’t the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Infact they were infinitely tolerable when one considers the mere 300 calories per serving and they didn’t take that much faff. I have to say though without the touches of the flavoured protein powder and my modest fruit n nut toppings, I think they would have just tasted like hot eggy banana which I’m pretty sure no one needs in their life.

Let me know if you try them out, or if you know how to make them better (unless this involves ice cream, because I’m already considering that).

Boomboom Banana Pancakes

Per person:
1 medium ripe banana
1 large free range egg
1 tablespoon protein powder- I use My Protein Vegan Blend Banana Cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt
A few sultanas
6 Almonds
Dark agave nectar.

roughly 300 cals, 18g protein, 43g carbs (5g fibre, 20g sugar), 9g fat

Slice then mash your banana into a fine goo then beat in the egg and the salt. Add the protein powder by sieving it through a tea strainer if you can to avoid lumps. Beat it all together thoroughly- I promise you it is worth an extra minute to seek out and destroy the lumpy bits.

Heat a non-stick pan and add large tablespoons of the mix- this quantity should make 4 decent sized american-style pancakes. Cook for a minute until you can see the edges start to cook and they are solid enough to flip over.

Serve hot with the nuts, sultanas and a drizzle of dark agave nectar, and if you are on the skinny wagon REALLY watch how much of these you add as a casual over topping could put the calorie count up by half, or more.

Lastly, feel smug and saintly and less guilty later on when you demolish a baba ganoush flatbread plate

Have a great weekend.

Variations- a chocolate or peanut butter protein powder would probably work very well here or you could just use a tablespoon of flour for the same texture but a different taste finish. They really would make a good dessert with a decent vanilla icecream too!