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One is fun!

We are very excited to tell you that we are one today! And what better way to celebrate than a cake? A proper birthday cake in layers, filled with cream and fruit, but given the grown up twist you’d expect from such a stylish food blog! It just had to be a no-butter sponge with forced Yorkshire rhubarb and rose petals for us…

Despite my love of baking, I have never actually made a basic sponge layer cake before, so I immediately turned to a recipe for guidance and my eye was caught by Rachel Allen’s recipe for a butter-free sponge on page 42 of Bake. It looked like the perfect chance to test my skills and use the new fancy electric whisk I got for Christmas. Plus I’d forgotten to take the butter out the fridge to soften in advance…

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Gardeners’ Delight

After a freakishly chilly May, I have finally got everything planted in my little garden (despite the person who stole a bag of soil from me. What kind of person steals dirt?). I am now impatiently awaiting the appearance of tender green shoots like an eager child…

As I had previously mentioned this is my third year growing my own and with my confidence growing, I am hoping my crop will too! Things took on a life of their own slightly when I managed to get hold of some raised beds fairly cheaply online, expanding my growing space hugely and unexpectedly. Getting hold of soil online proved a bit tricky, but the beds were soon ready to go.

Raised beds

A trip to the amazing garden centre at RHS Wisley led to a rather large credit card bill and some new finds for the garden. I will be experimenting with Munchkin squash in the beds this year as well as hopefully bedding in some perennial Holsteiner Blut and Pink Champagne rhubarb beside the beds. As you may remember both Mister North and I are very fond of rhubarb so I have high hopes for this!

Wisley was also the source of several new herbs for the patio. I got my hands on a stunning tarragon plant, some beautiful marjoram and a fabulous oregano in a self composting pot. Along with the chervil, borage, lovage, sorrel, lemon basil, Thai basil and regular basil I have planted in pots, I think I might just have the best herb garden in Brixton! I’m really looking forward to cooking with some of these new herbs, plan to make litres of pesto and my Pimms will be enhanced beautifully by the borage!

herb-tastic

My little raised beds are home to beetroot, salad leaves, pak choi, gherkins, squash, curly kale, carrots and Swiss chard. I’m using a combination of seeds from Just Seed on Ebay, some swaps with friends and family and my freebies from the brilliant Dig in! at the BBC. I planted last week and seven days later, my pak choi and salad leaves are fantastic! My beetroot was a total washout last year, so I’m particularly excited for that…

I’ve gone for two types of potato this year; the sweet nutty Pink Fir Apple and the stunning looking Shetland Blue. Last year I had limited success with the Pink Fir Apples. I don’t think I planted them deep enough or banked them up well enough. So this year, I dug a trench for them both and buried them deep enough that neither squirrels or sun can damage them. I want to make chips with the whole Fir Apples for utter indulgence and the Blues will make the prettiest mash in all the land.

My tomatoes are less than two weeks in their pots and already showing fruit. I’m starting to think I may be some kind of tomato whisperer. Sadly I couldn’t get the amazing Cheriettes of Fire again this year, but I’ve got two Tumblers instead. These trailing plants are so easy to grow I’d recommend them to anyone with even the smallest amount of outside space, even a strong hanging basket. They just need regular watering and a bit of a feed and they crop like nobody’s business. I’ve also got a lovely Gardener’s Delight again and a heritage variety called Black Cherry because I’m a sucker for purple fruit and veg!

pots & planters

I’m also hoping to get some peas and beans going. I did buy runner bean plants at Homebase, but an unfortunate slug infestation means they have been eaten to shreds before even seeing a flowerbed. I hope to get some more this weekend, plus I plan to get my peas and mangetout underway. I’d like to fully grow the mangetout, but I think I’ll simply sprout the peas to feast on those sweet crunchy pea shoots that make a salad a sensation.

I also have several collapsible planters (supposedly for potatoes) on the patio for courgettes. I’ve planted two varieties this year, a striped Italian number and some yellow ones. I had fairly good success with my zucchini last year, but the globe type I planted seemed to run out of steam quite early and I only had about 8 in total. I’ve heard better things about the sort that resemble mini-marrows instead, so fingers crossed!

I’m hoping for a nice mixture of sun and rain this summer to get my money’s worth from the fruit and veg I’ve got going. Planting most stuff in beds or pots makes them quite easy to care for and hopefully I won’t spend all summer weeding! I’m secretly hoping for a glut of tomatoes again as I’ve really been enjoying sampling that fresh grown flavour throughout the winter months thanks to the home made sauce in the freezer. Home made pesto would be a lovely addition this year to perk up pasta!

I’m just keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have too much die on me this year, but if you’ve got any tips on getting any of the plants mentioned to thrive, please let me know! My nerves may not be able to take the stress otherwise!

Rhubarb and quince

Mister North hand delivered me some forced rhubarb straight from the Rhubarb Triangle a few weeks ago and this level of service made me think I should treat this precious cargo with the utmost respect.  It seemed like the appropriate moment to use the rather regal looking quince I had picked up a few weeks previously at my favourite Portuguese deli A&C Continental in Brixton.

A quick search on Google confirmed that I wasn’t making an egregious error in partnering these two, but didn’t give me a huge number of ideas on what to do with them and none of my cookbooks had any suggestions either. I decided to err on the side of caution and simply cook them both in the oven until tender.

I simply peeled and cut the quince as you would with an apple and placed it in a dish with the chopped rhubarb and some fructose to take the edge off. I then cooked them in a 180˚C oven, covered in foil for about 25 minutes, before removing the foil, turning the heat off and leaving the dish for about 30 minutes.

The rhubarb was beautifully cooked, holding both its shape and colour. The quince was slightly less successful, retaining rather more bite than al dente and a strange grainy texture. I have never eaten quince before, so this might just be how they are when cooked, but it felt oddly raw to me. In future I would cook it for longer and more liquid to soften it up more and hopefully realise more of the fabulous perfumed taste of this lovely fruit.

I served this fancy fruit compote with some vanilla ice cream as a dessert and it was heavenly. I haven’t cooked rhubarb in the oven before and I much preferred the taste and texture to that of stewed rhubarb. The quince was light and aromatic and both were complemented by the creamy vanilla of the ice cream, even if it wasn’t eaten with a runcible spoon. Expect to hear me mention both fruits* again very soon!

*I know rhubarb isn’t horticulturally speaking a fruit. But the EU allow it to be classed as one and that’s good enough for me…

Holy mackerel!

Mackerel fillets and rhubarb compote

Tonight I got the chance to pair up mackerel and rhubarb, as I’d planned last weekend when I bought the forced rhubarb. I persuaded a rather skeptical friend to come round to join me for this slightly disconcerting combo. What was the verdict? Read on to find out…

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Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb…

The pastel hues of Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb

Great news for those us with access to one of Yorkshire’s finest regional specialities… forced rhubarb has achieved Protected Designation of Origin status this week.

I just picked up my first bunch from the market today (just look at its pale, shy colouring!), and I intend to make the most of this delightfully delicate flavour. This particular bunch is going to get stewed simply and stirred into some creamy full-fat yoghurt for dessert, but next week I’m determined to serve up some more with mackerel, as it’s supposed to be a classic pairing. Roll on the rhubarb!