Apple and Hazelnut Pastries

Thanks to everyone who voted over on Instagram! Here is the apple and hazelnut pastry as requested. I want to hear your thoughts – drop them in the comments below. Happy baking.

The best recipes are often accidents. In fact, over 50% of the food that I cook is improvised and, as such, doesn’t always turn out the way I wanted. Yet, in the case of these tarts, this was happy accident indeed.

Taking my spare puff pastry sheet I had in the fridge, I decided to slice up homegrown apples and arrange them on top. And what a result! These pastries are best enjoyed as a light snack, or why not eat them fresh and cover them in custard?

Apple and Hazelnut Tarts (Serves 12)

A sheet of ready-made puff pastry

Two tablespoons of caster sugar

Two apples, cored and peeled

A couple of handfuls of chopped hazelnuts

Cinnamon

An egg, beaten

Honey

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200C. Next, grease a muffin tray ready for your tarts.

You want to slice your apples thinly lengthways to begin with. Set these aside and grab your ready-made pastry sheet. Before you begin cutting, take your two tablespoons of caster sugar and sprinkle them over the top of the pastry. Lightly, taking both palms, press the sugar into the top of the pastry. Using the bottom of a glass, cut out several circles and placing these into your tray, gently press them into each case.

You’ll find that you’ll have a little bit of pastry left over. Use this to line the tops of each case. Finish the pastry by glazing it with a brush and the egg yolk. Make sure that the whole tart is covered as this is what will give it that golden look later on!

Next, arrange your apple slices over the top of each tart. Scatter cinnamon, the chopped hazelnuts and the honey over the tarts before placing them into the oven for around 20-30 minutes or until golden.

Once the pastry has puffed up and the tarts look golden on the top, remove them from the oven. You can either serve them up immediately as a delicious dessert with fresh icecream or custard, or place them into an airtight container and store for up to 3 days.

 

Stay tuned for more chances to vote on the next recipes by following me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I hope you enjoy these tarts as much as I do!

 

Healthy Breakfast Apple Muffins

 

How many of us, rushing to get to work, forget to eat our most important meal of the day? Porridge is a faff, cereal and milk isn’t portable enough to eat on the way to work and expensive smoothies are completely out of the question. Well, like all things in life, plan ahead and you can both perform at your best and not be eyeing up a horse by the time your lunch break arrives. Even better still, this recipe takes only an hour out of your week and you can enjoy the rewards throughout.

Healthy Apple Muffins

 

Ingredients

150g of whole-wheat flour

50g of oats

½ teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of vanilla

1 egg

75g of butter

75g of honey

2 apples grated

1 apple sliced with skins kept on

 

 

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The Cooking…

Turn the oven onto Gas Mark 5/ 180C.

Grab a cake tray and place your muffin cases into the slots.

Measure out your whole-wheat flour, baking powder, oats, cinnamon and salt and add these to a large mixing bowl. Next, cube your butter and drop this into the bowl. Using only your fingers, gently combine the butter into the flour. Once the mixture begins to resemble breadcrumbs, make a well in the centre of the mixture and add your egg. Taking your spoon, fold the dry mixture into the egg, following the figure of eight to ensure that air gets into the batter.

Next, add your grated apple, honey, vanilla essence as well as the chopped pieces of apple. Stir these into the batter carefully again, making sure that you don’t rush the mixing. When this is done, transfer your batter into the cases and slot the cakes into the oven for around 35-40 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the knife comes out clean. As the muffins cool, add a little drizzle of honey over the tops to give your cakes even more flair.

Pack into an air-tight container and the muffins should keep for a week. Enjoy as a healthy alternative ready to get you on your way in the morning.

 

Recipe: Pea and Stilton Stuffed Butternut Squash

If there’s one crop I look forward to the most it has to be squash. Pumpkins, courgettes and butternut squash are all fantastic vegetables and they can be used in a whole host of different ways. Although the initial preparation of slicing the squash into smaller chunks and removing the skin can be a little difficult, it’s worth it for the tasty orange flesh.

For vegetarians and vegans, pumpkins and squash have become suitable replacements for meat, and this recipe I’m bringing you today is no exception. If you are vegan, replace the milk cheese for a vegan equivalent, or leave it out and use houmous instead. The possibilities are endless. This is why, if you have a garden or allotment, it’s such a great idea to grow your own pumpkins and squashes. They don’t take a lot of caring for and you’ll get some fantastic results!

Pea and Stilton Stuffed Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  • One butternut squash, halved
  • A lug of olive oil
  • A teaspoon of paprika
  • A teaspoon of chilli powder
  • Seasoning
  • 100g of peas
  • One onion, chopped
  • A couple of handfuls of spinach
  • Block of Stilton
  • Fresh chives

To start off, turn your oven to Gas Mark 6/200C. Place your butternut squash halves, with the middles carved out, onto a baking tray and lightly cover them with a good lug of olive oil. Next, season with salt and pepper and top everything off with the paprika and chilli powder. Slide the tray into the oven and bake for around an hour or until the squash starts to char on the sides.

In the meantime, make your stuffing. Take 100g of fresh peas, or tinned equivalent, and pulse together with a handful of chopped fresh chives, the chopped onion and a little ground black pepper. Set aside until the butternut squash begin to soften.

Once the squash is soft, take a large spoon and press the stuffing into the middles. Place the squash halves back into the oven for around 10 minutes. Once again, remove the tray from the oven and this time place fresh chopped spinach leaves onto the stuffing, finishing with some generous pieces of Stilton, or a vegan topping of your choice (houmous, breadcrumbs and seasoning, couscous or vegan cheese). Cook the squash halves until the cheese has melted. When this is done, serve up and enjoy with a hearty summer salad.

If you’d like to know more about how to grow your own pumpkins and butternut squash, why not drop me a line on the contact page?

Building Your Small Space Garden and Other Things to Consider

Raised beds and pots are great for growing your own food without a lot of time. If you’ve only got a couple of hours spare a week, planting strawberries, kale and other plants into containers means no risk of unwanted weeds, slugs are easily kept at bay and pots can be moved into the shade or into warmer areas if the weather changes.

Renting? Just because you can’t dig up your garden or you can’t guarantee that you’ll be living somewhere for a long time doesn’t mean that you can’t have a go at growing your own food. By choosing smaller vegetables and planting them in pots, you’ve made your garden portable – meaning that it’s super easy to transfer from home to home.

When choosing pots and containers, a general rule of thumb is to establish your small space garden in pots between 30cm and 60cm deep. You also want to be careful of overcrowding, keeping only two medium-sized plants per pot at a maximum. It might seem like a lot of fuss, but you only really need a couple of kale or tomato plants to enjoy the benefits of homegrown food. Unless you want to build your own small-holding on a terrace (which you may be tempted to do once you get the bug) you shouldn’t have a problem.

Here’s the balcony garden I had last year. I enjoyed some tasty tomatoes and potatoes from this little space:

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Looking to go a bit bigger? The best way to approach growing food on an allotment or in a garden is to set up cheap and easy raised beds. I’ve done a little video to show you how you can achieve this in half an hour, which you can find here. Wooden pallets are readily available and make sturdy sides for a raised bed. However, corrugated metal, bricks, tiles or anything solid that you have to hand can also create a perfect raised growing space.

Soil-wise, getting your hands on manure and leaf mold is essential for strong, healthy soil. If your raised beds are on top of existing soil, layer manure, rotting leaves, food scraps and newspaper over the surface to encourage composting. If you’re building raised beds on a patio or concrete, ensure that the boxes are deep enough (between 60cm and a metre is perfect) and fill them with a mix of manure, top soil and easily degradable things such as coffee grounds and banana peel.

Once this is done, you’re ready to go.

Plants For Small Space Gardens?

Strawberries

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Care-free plants. They keep on giving too. Plant a handful of these into a raised bed and, so long as you feed and water deeply one day a week, they should produce a bounty of delicious fruits. The plants also produce runners (little clones of themselves) which you can peg down into the ground and develop into new plants in the next year. Strawberries are popping up online and in garden centres for fruiting next year right now, so get them quick.

Blueberries

Blueberries are expensive in the supermarket, so why not grow these delicious berries at home? The only thing the plants need is acidic soil – so use Ericaceous or rhododendron compost for these. The first year might not give you much, but the following years will bring you a bounty.

Dwarf Fruit Trees

Get a slightly larger pot and you can enjoy fruits straight from your terrace. When you’re looking for the fruit trees you want to include in your plan, make sure you’re selecting dwarf rootstocks. I’ll be covering this topic in the next few weeks so stay tuned for more information.

Kale

Kale is super. It’s also a pretty care-free vegetable. When you plant your kale, make sure the soil around the bases is pressed down firmly. Give them a good dose of chicken manure or coffee grounds to boost the nitrogen at the beginning. Net against birds and set up beer traps in the garden (pouring beer into containers) to stop the slugs from feasting on the leaves. Take a pair of scissors and give the newer leaves in the middle a snip to harvest. Make sure that you leave the larger, older leaves to keep the plant producing new foliage ready for your meals.

Salad Leaves

Create little dips in the soil with a fork or spade and scatter the seeds lightly over the top. Cover gently with a light sprinkling of soil. Remove every other plant (in the case of large-leafed spinach) when they’ve grown their second set of leaves. Leaves such as lettuce and rocket can continue to grow. Same as above for harvesting.

Beetroot

Sow the seeds thinly in drills and cover lightly. Prick out every other plant when they’ve developed their second set of leaves. Harvest once the bulbous roots have swelled to the size of a small fist. Grab the leaves and stalk and gently tug the beetroot up.

Tomatoes

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Plant two plants per pot for cherry tomatoes and one per pot for larger varieties. Remove the clusters of leaves which develop in the angles between the main stem and the leaves to stop the plant from vining. Tie to a stake to stop the plant from falling over. Feed once a week with tomato feed.

Peppers

Same as above for planting. Water regularly and feed once a week with tomato feed to encourage more fruits to ripen.

Potatoes

Plant two or three potatoes at the bottom of each potato bag. Cover them entirely with earth each step of the way as the plants begin to appear until you reach the top of the pot. Harvest the potatoes once the plants have flowered and have begun to die back.

Peas and Beans

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Plant a seed next to each stick or, in the case of peas, obelisk or frame. Tie the plants up as they grow. Nip out the growing tips for broad beans. Harvest peas when the pods begin to swell. Broad beans can be harvested once the pods have begun to droop and appear glossy.

How to Start Growing Your Own Food

Last week I talked about the ideas surrounding growing your own food and attempted to throw out some of stereotypes we often have with gardening. The image of a retired person tending to their flowers is hard to shake, but growing plants for food is a highly practical and sensible thing to do and it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, busy or not, there are so many ways that you can grow your own food.

So, you have your terrace or balcony ready or you’ve bought a spade ready for turning your garden into a productive space – what next?

Before you start carving up large areas of your garden, building beds or buying pots – grab a cup of something hot, settle down and spend a few minutes writing down what you want to grow/achieve with your new growing space. It’s so tempting to jump into the thick of it, but spending a little time drawing up these ideas will aid you a great deal later on and organisation, as we all know, is essential if you don’t have a lot of time spare.

Things to consider when you’re drawing up your plans:

What Do I Enjoy Eating?

Sounds obvious, but myself and my fellow garden bloggers have grown a variety of veg that we don’t like eating. Vegetables such as radish and Brussels Sprouts might fill traditional vegetable patches, but that doesn’t mean that they have to fill your space. If you want to turn your garden into a pumpkin farm, go for it. If you want to grow several types of tomatoes, you don’t have to diversify. By choosing a couple of vegetables that you enjoy for next year or by choosing some fast-growing salads that you really want in your meals to grow this year, you’ll find it easier to keep motivated.

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Do I Want To Be Self-Sufficient?

Traditional food growers can be split into two categories; there are those who grow a couple of squash plants for the fun of it and there are those who turn every inch of their garden into a foodie feast. One of the main reasons I got into growing my own food in the first place was because I couldn’t stand rising food prices and poorer quality any longer. This spurred me onto my journey, starting with tomatoes and taking me right up to pumpkins and other delicious crops.

Being self-sufficient – growing food for your table all year-round and not having to rely on supermarkets – is very hard. However, don’t let that put you off. Whilst I’m not self-sufficient yet, I have a couple of months where I can rely on my own fruit, a couple of months of pumpkins for soups and throughout the winter, I harvest tasty salads to cut out the regular food shops. I find it better to see the idea of “living off of the land” as a goal and not necessarily as an end destination. The point is that by adding more and more of your own harvests to your plate, you’ll be helping the planet and your wallet out too.

If you’re going to grow a variety of different vegetables, check out their planting and harvesting times. Organise it so that your pumpkin, with its longer season is allocated that space, but that it is intercropped with lettuce and radish which only take a couple of months to mature, if that. The other fantastic way that you can get the most out of your vegetable patch is by using the growing habits of plants to their advantage.

By taking a pumpkin, with its low-growing habit, and marrying it up with tall vine beans, you can get twice as much food out of one space. We’ll be looking at this in more detail later on. Yet, good pairings to consider are: pumpkins and beans, peas and lettuce, fruit trees and strawberries, leafy greens and tomatoes. The list goes on and you can find more information on intercropping here.

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Should I Add Fruit Into the Mix?

It might seem like a huge effort to grow your own food. Yet, the only thing that you need is patience. Fruit trees are brilliant when they really start to produce fruit. However, this can take them a couple of years or potentially more depending on the fruit. By planting your fruit trees in pots, though, you can create portable plants that can travel with you should you move home. Putting your trees and other vegetables into pots makes everything so much easier later.

I often leave my fruit trees alone now, and they thrive. Aside from the odd prune and feed, these plants are better built than shorter-rooted vegetables and there are a lot of advantages to this.

How Can I Make Things Simple and Easy?

Raised beds bring the height of your plants up, making it easy to de-weed. Potted plants are great for gardens where you need to move things around a lot. And, by sinking plastic bottles cut in half or old plant pots into the soil around your plants, you can save on watering. Slugs and snails find it harder to eat plants grown in raised beds, yet coffee grounds around the bases of your plants and beer traps (make by pouring beer into plastic containers and sinking them into the ground at the lip) will ward off most of these slimy fiends.

Now that you’ve made a note of the things that you want to achieve and how you’ll achieve them, you can start building your productive patch. Late summer is the perfect time to get things together for the next year, so knock together wooden pallets for raised beds, invest in some hangers to grow small veg and strawberries vertically or go for the old-fashioned route and begin breaking up the top layer of soil and mark out your new plots.

Next week, we’ll be looking at easy time-light ways to get rid of weedy ground, buying the right sized pots and talk about that all-important step of getting the soil right.

 

Dark Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

At some point in our lives it’s likely that we’ve tasted a carrot cake. When you first hear the words “carrot” and “cake”, something sounds off in the brain. Surely these two foods can’t mix? But, unless you’re eating a really badly done cake, the match is almost perfect. I say almost: I have to sell this cake to you so I’m obviously going to put it above the carrot cake. Besides, this chocolate and beetroot cake recipe really celebrates that current trend of combining sweet and savoury (what’s with putting garlic in smoothies? Garlic!?)

You’re going to have to source some raw beetroot – or, even better, you could grow some and keep this recipe handy. A bit of pre-prep: pop all of your beetroot into tin foil, wack the oven onto gas mark 4/ 180C and place the beets onto a baking tray. Cook them in the oven until a knife goes straight through them. Then, when you reach this point, take a knife to the beets and carefully take off the skin. Trust me, it’s worth it and you get some delicious fresh beetroot for pizzas, salads and more.

Onto the main event:

Dark Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

Ingredients

190g caster sugar

250g cooked Beetroot

135g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

200g butter

5 large eggs

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

200g dark chocolate

Step One –Making the Cake

Begin by preheating your oven to gas mark 4/180C. Take a cake tin, line with greaseproof paper and run a little butter around the sides of the paper. Next, take your beetroot and blend in a food processor.

Heat up a saucepan of water over a medium hob. Pop a glass bowl over the top and into this melt your dark chocolate. Remove your chocolate from the heat and stir in your butter until soft.

In a separate bowl, sift your plain flour, baking powder and cocoa powder together. Move to one side.

Follow this by separating the egg whites from their yolks. Combine the dark chocolate and egg yolks in with the beetroot.

Whisk the egg whites until you have solid peaks (it helps if you have an electric whisk handy, otherwise give it a good beating by hand). Carefully fold this into the beetroot mix, adding a quarter of the whites first and then following with the rest.

Finish by making a well in the centre of the beetroot and pouring your plain flour mix in. Steadily fold the flour in, taking your spoon out from the outsides of the bowl and into the centre. Whilst you do this, make sure you’re adding some air by doing a figure of eight.

Step Two – Baking the Cake

Pour your mixture into your prepared tin and place it into the oven for around 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake bounces back when pressed at the top.

Place onto a cooling rack, get your clotted cream or double cream at the ready with some fresh strawberries and devour the lot.

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Don’t Let the Weeds Bring You Down

Chances are that if you’re reading this you’re either a very neat and tidy grower or you’re a messy one like me. Yes, contrary to the professional (cough, cough) pictures, my allotment is more on the wild side than it is the Gardener’s World side. The site is big; I’ve inherited a whole batch of great plants – yet I’ve also inherited a very well-established hoard of bindweed, which is nigh-impossible to get rid of.

On a typical trip up to the allotment in mid-summer, I can often come away feeling disheartened. Even if I get on with a good bit of de-weeding, the grass stands wild and tall and the pesky weeds dominate the plots once more. In the end, I’ve come to the realisation that I should simply embrace it.

Young Growers – Don’t Give Up Over Weeds

I’m appealing particularly to my generation of young gardeners here, as it’s with first-time gardeners and growers that weeds win.

Across my youthful allotment site, I often compare younger gardener’s plots to older people’s. What I find is that, where there had been good intentions – growing a range of tasty, organic fruit and veg – what instead happens is the manured beds and cleared edges become perfect breeding sites for thick weedy growth.

Many of these people give up their plots after a short while and abandon the idea of growing their own food completely.

As a passionate advocate for growing your own food, and as someone who has his fair share of weedy worries, this makes me very sad. So, I want to tell you something:

Weeds Will Always Grow Because Nature Has More Time on Its Hands

You can’t stop weeds entirely, so move that thought aside. When you see pristine allotment plots, notice the little tuft of grass near the bed’s corner or the creeping vine – no one is perfect and no allotment is either. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to improve conditions, though.

By mulching your growing beds heavily in the late autumn with leaf mold, horse or cow manure and things like newspaper or cardboard, you can kill off a lot of weeds by starving them of light. Then, when the few sprouts begin to surface, book yourself in for a weekly de-weeding session that only needs to last 10 minutes. Do a quick scan of your beds and pull a handful out here and there. By keeping this consistent (use a phone calendar if you need to) you’ll have more time to focus on your veggies.

By raising the soil up, you can also stop the weeds from spreading. The trick is to smother and starve any unwanted plants underneath. Then, once your growing beds are ready you won’t have to worry about weeds. So long as the weeds aren’t growing or creeping over any growing vegetables, just keep them a little managed.

It’s also healthy to let the grass grow. Remember that lots of wildlife relies on tall grass for coverage, pollination and much more. So you only need to give that a cut once it reaches your anywhere before your knee. If the grass is going to seed, it’ll likely spread across your beds. Don’t worry though – as long as you keep up a little bit of weeding each week and learn to embrace the messiness of nature, you’ll do just fine.

Whatever you decide to do – remember this: if the weeds are too high, don’t give up. It’s nature’s job to grow – and you just have to work with that. What’s more important is that you get something out of your garden or allotment. You know, there are even professional gardeners and veg growers out there who use weeds and permaculture to make their crops better.

 

Small Space Garden Episode 3 | Peashoots and Peas

The Small Space Garden series continues.

June is the perfect month to roll up your sleeves, pick up a trowel and start growing some quick and easy crops.

Peas are great speedy vegetables. Home-grown, their flavour is phenominally better than those cheap ones in cans, and if you’re clever you could even save a bit of money too.

In just under a week and a half, with a bit of heat, you’ll have pea seedlings poking through the soil. Very soon after potting the peas up or planting them outside, you’ll be inundated with flowers and delicious pods, ripe for picking.

Trust me, they won’t make it back to the dinner plate.

Last year, I grew just one large container’s worth of peas. There were about ten plants in total. From those ten plants, I received a constant supply of pea pods that saw me through the best part of three weeks. This just goes to show how productive peas can be, even in the smallest of spaces.

No room for a big container? Grow your peas in a small pot and harvest the growing tips instead. Use these on your salads and you can gloat about how healthy you’ve become.

Check out my video below for more information on growing peas:

younggroundsound – #1: Paul Matson Interview

Are you interested in gardening but don’t have the first idea about how to get started?

In my first younggroundsound podcast I talk to Paul Matson, co-creator of Sow How, about his book and about just how important growing your own food is for your health. Check it out below:

Growing your own food couldn’t be easier with Sow How. You can find more information about the book here. You can also follow Sow How on Twitter, here.

 

Bloggers Event with The Chocolate Bear Kitchen and Strawberry Thief, Bristol

Bristol has so much to offer you, the adventurous eater. Yet, whilst many will offer exciting and interesting menus – nothing quite compares to the innovation, the passion and the flavour of the Chocolate Bear in his current residence at the Strawberry Thief in Bristol.

James’s menu is bursting with inspiration. All of the food featured is friendly for vegans, vegetarians, gluten free and dairy free diets. Each dish has been paired beautifully with the Strawnberry Thief’s range of carefully chosen Belgian beers. Whether you’re a regular adventurer or you want to try something different, together, the passionate food and the palette of smooth, fruity, hoppy and dark beers will leave your taste buds reinvigorated.

See my video below for a taster of what you can expect: