A glutton for punishment

While growing your own veg is a wonderful and rewarding thing you can find yourself becoming a glutton for punishment. If you get too good at it, there can be one big problem – a glut! After weeks and months of nurturing, everything seems to ripen at the same time, so you have tonnes of tomatoes, more lettuces than Sainsbury’s and, possibly the worst of all,­ a mountain of courgettes! I don’t know what it is about courgettes, but they creep up on you. One minute you have one, the next 10 and at least two of those will have turned into marrows overnight.

The only thing to do with any glut is to ensure you have freezer space and some great recipe ideas to ring the changes and stop you getting completely bored with whichever veg is in glut.

I am currently wrestling with the annual courgette glut. Not only is my neighbour kindly giving me their excess, but I have quite a few of my own to contend with too. It is clearly a very well catalogued problem – there is even a book called ‘What Will I Do With All Those Courgettes?’ obviously written by someone who has endured many a courgette excess.

If you haven’t got time to rustle up a delicious courgette soup or veggie bake, don’t despair – some genius has invented the spiralizer! If you haven’t tried courgetti yet, you’re in for a treat. Courgette spaghetti can be made and served in less time than it takes to make conventional pasta. All you need is a spiralizer or even just a vegetable peeler. You can turn the humble courgette into the perfect healthy meal in minutes with a couple of minutes (no more) in boiling water.

If you pick your courgettes before they get too big – about the length of your hand from palm base to finger tips – you don’t even need to cook them as they are delicious eaten raw if sliced, shaved or grated.

They are very versatile and can even put on a show on the BBQ – slice thickly and brush with oil and you can griddle them. Alternatively, braise slowly in butter with crushed garlic and thyme leaves and you get a delicious pasta sauce.

But if you really feel you are sinking beneath the weight of courgettes then why not knock up a batch of soup and freeze in portions, then you can remind yourself of summer when you tuck into a warming bowl in the depths of winter. Enjoy!

This Simple Courgette Soup really is very easy to make, it freezes well and is delicious with homemade bread. It is great eaten hot or cold!

Simple Courgette Soup:

Ingredients

  • 450g courgettes thickly sliced
  • 700ml chicken stock, or vegetable stock if you want to keep it completely vegetarian
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano (fresh is best!)
  • ¼ teaspoon rosemary (fresh is best!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Place all ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to boil
  2. Reduce heat and cover and simmer for 15-20 mins
  3. Blend in blender/processor till smooth, reheat when ready to serve, or chill and serve cold.
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Absolutely freezing fabulous!

Oh alright, I admit it, I am a bit of a freezing fan! It’s such a great way to preserve and store food, plus it’s easy to do. It cuts down on waste as you can freeze gluts and leftovers so it can be a real money-saver. I have a range of foods that I always freeze, but I’ve recently come across some other ideas that were new to me. See what you think of this selection:

1. Nuts
Freezing nuts makes them last longer as it keeps the oils in them from going rancid. Simply remove some when you need them and leave them to defrost on your kitchen worktop.

2. Ripe bananas
Freezing ripe bananas is brilliant for all your last minute banana baked goods needs. They’re also terrific for adding to smoothies since it makes them creamier and you can use less ice and mixing frozen bananas with fresh or frozen strawberries makes amazing ice cream – yum!

3. Cooked rice
Cooked too much rice? Store it in a freezer-proof container and store it in the freezer until you need it. When you’re ready to eat it, add the amount you want to a microwave-safe bowl or saucepan with a few tablespoons of water to warm it back up – just make sure it’s properly hot before serving.

4. Grated cheese
Grated cheese freezes really well and is a great time saver. If you’re cooking lasagna, enchiladas, or anything cheesy, just thaw and use. Great sprinkled over the potato topping of shepherd’s pie too! No more abandoned lumps of cheese wasted or going mouldy in the fridge!

5. Wine
Now I realise this is unlikely… but if you ever have some wine left in a bottle after dinner, pour it into an ice cube tray! Just add a cube into the casserole the next time your recipe calls for some wine.

6. Champagne

Like wine, you can freeze bubbly in an ice cube tray and put one (or two or three) cubes into a glass of orange juice for an instant Buck’s Fizz! I regret I can’t ever see that happening in this house… left over Champagne? I don’t think so!

7. Uncooked bacon
Wrap three to four slices of bacon side by side in parchment paper before putting in a freezer-proof bag. Bacon thaws really quickly at room temperature – and you can grill, fry or just place on kitchen paper in the microwave.

8. Butter
Frozen butter is a baker’s secret weapon. Grate frozen butter into dough for really light piecrusts and biscuits. Freeze the butter in its original wrapping inside an airtight bag or tightly wrapped in foil.

9. Egg yolks and whites
Like wine and herbs, egg yolks and whites work well in ice cube trays too. You will have to thaw the cubes completely if you are using them to bake, but the whites can be apparently be defrosted right in the pan for omelettes – I haven’t tried that yet!

10. Fresh herbs
And finally… this isn’t actually a new one for me (It’s something I do regularly) but in case you didn’t know this excellent tip – chop herbs finely and place them in an ice cube tray covered with water. Then you can add a herb cube directly into your pan to liven up sauces or stews.

If you’ve got any freezer tips you can recommend – please share!

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Paris by moonlight

I admit, I may be a little biased, but I think our Paris skyscape is just lovely. It’s effective when used as a black silhouette or you could use colour to get a totally different look – Paris in the Spring perhaps?

This is such an easy card to make and you could use any of our skyscapes with this design – so next time you are stuck for a quick card – have a go at this!

Just cut three white squares and then mat them onto whatever colour you fancy. The black used here in the centre is great for making the card look stronger and matches the black silhouette. Use the same colour card to mat the main rectangle of white card – in this case, blue – and hey presto the card is nicely coordinated colour-wise.

The only other point I would make is that the skyscape has been die cut twice, and then when they are placed onto the card, they are not carefully matched up (which is a useful technique to make die cuts thicker and stand out more) they are just slightly out of place to create a shadowy effect. If you have a pale die cut then adding a black ‘shadow’ behind it works well too.

Whether this is birthday, anniversary or everyday, there are loads of occasions that might fit this card – I reckon it should be an everyday card with a couple of plane tickets to Paris slipped inside it… Now, where can I leave this article so Richard can read it … hint hint!

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Think of summer… and think of sunflowers!

Think of summer… and think of sunflowers! Surely the sunniest flower there is, their huge golden faces cannot help but bring cheer.

I think most of us will have grown a sunflower at some time in our lives. Well, this year, we have had the pleasure of watching our granddaughter Grace plant and nurture her own sunflower. She planted the seed herself and waters it every time she comes to visit – and it has now grown to about 7 feet high! Pretty good for a first effort Grace!

The sunflower is actually an important plant in many areas. Grown as a crop for its edible oil and edible fruits – those delicious sunflower seeds – sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient.

The tallest sunflower on record achieved an extraordinary 30ft, or over 9 metres! Goodness knows how they kept the thing upright, perhaps it was draped over something?

Sunflower seeds are sold as a snack food, raw or after roasting in ovens, with or without salt and seasonings added. Sunflower seeds can also be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter, which sounds pretty yummy to me.

Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel, as it is cheaper than olive oil. Sunflowers also produce latex and are the subject of experiments to see if they can be used as an alternative crop for producing non-allergenic rubber.

A common misconception (and one that I thought was true) is that the glorious golden sunflower heads track the sun across the sky. Actually, it’s only the immature flower buds that do this, the mature flowering heads point in a fixed, usually easterly, direction. Ah well, that’s another lovely image shattered!

But these gorgeous plants are useful across so many areas of life – have a look at the list of facts below, I think you’ll be surprised…

Here are a few sunflower facts for you:

  • There are two basic types of sunflower seeds: black and stripe.
  • Young sunflower plants orient their heads toward the sun – a phenomenon known as heliotropism.
  • The sunflower is the national flower of Russia and the state flower of Kansas.
  • Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamins of the B group and vitamin E, and minerals such as copper, phosphorus, selenium and magnesium.
  • Black sunflower seeds are a rich source of oil that is used for cooking.
  • Striped seeds are popular as snacks.
  • Seeds of sunflower are an important food source for birds, squirrels and insects.
  • Sunflower seeds are used for the production of biodiesel, an eco-friendly type of diesel, designed to reduce pollution of the atmosphere.
  • The sunflower is able to absorb heavy metals and toxins from the ground and it is often planted in the heavily polluted areas. These plants were used to reduce nuclear pollution after Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. How amazing is that?
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Have a Birthday Margarita!

Have a birthday Margarita! But, come to think of it why limit it to just a birthday margarita, margaritas are for any day! The same applies to this card, if you have a friend that loves cocktails or specifically Margaritas (I am waving my hand here) then this is a perfect card for them.

You could extend the idea by using the card to accompany a present with all the ingredients to make a nice margarita – and then invite yourself over to try them? Just a thought, maybe it would be mean-spirited to give a gift and plan to consume half of it!

This image is by Lisa Audit and is in her cardmaking pad number 2 on the website. Have a look through the images on each of her pads, they are really interesting, a good mix and some outstanding ideas for cards – flowers, olive oil, coffees, wine, fruit and yes I’ll mention them again, beautiful flowers – have a flick through, they are all there to see.

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