Friday, 29 April 2011

Making Canederli: Stale bread gnocchi

Stock
Given that the 1 kilo loaf of Matera bread we were kindly given is rapidly starting to harden up, I needed a recipe to use up a lot of crusty stale bread, and I needed it fast. I came across the Italian recipe of Canederli - a sort of stale bread based gnocchi. This was perfect as I knew I could make extra and freeze the remainder.

I started off by putting a broth on to the boil. I looked for a bag of bones at the butchers yesterday, but they had run out, unfortunately. Normally you can get a great bag of bones for stock for 25p. It made me laugh that one woman in a different butchers offered me a gammon hock for £1.50 - it was bargain sans meat that I was after! Anyway, since I didn't have the bones, I gave in and used a stock cube, adding some onion ends (with peel to give the stock a nice dark colour - leave them out if you want a lighter stock), carrots and chopped lovage stems. The ones you can see in the picture are ready chopped and frozen from the garden lovage plant.

Bread, milk and egg mixture
While this was boiling, I made a start on the canederli themselves. I roughly chopped about 500g of the crusty Matera bread and put it into a big bowl. I added the same amount in mls (e.g. 500mls) of milk, 2 eggs and salt and pepper. This needs to be left for almost an hour for the bread to soften up completely, especially if the bread is very crusty. I'd recommend using your hands once the soaking has commenced as it helps you to see how mushy the bread's getting and whether you need to add a little more milk or not.


Onion and bacon
So, stock on, bread soaking, there was plenty of time to prepare the other ingredients. Chop finely a small onion and a load of bacon. I used half the weight of bacon to the bread measurement, so about 250g in this instance. In the original recipe, you're looking at using Speck or some other delicious Italian meat here, but for economy's sake, I picked up a kilo of bacon misshapes from the butchers for £1.59 and used a quarter in the recipe.

Fry them. Nom.
You essentially want to cook these down as much as possible. I think the crispier you get the bacony bits, the nicer your canederli will be at the end. Once the onion and bacon is well fried, take it off the heat and leave it to cool.

You will probably have to wait a little bit now until you're ready for the next stage, so go and put your feet up for a minute......OK?... Relaxed? Let's carry on.

Given that your stock's been on for over an hour now, it'll probably be cool to turn that off and strain out the veg so it's ready for when you want to cook the canederli.

Next lot of ingredients
Make sure the bread mix is all nice and soft, then add a good grating of nutmeg, your chosen herbs (I went for chives out of the garden, again chopped up with scissors, however I would have thrown some parsley in to if I had any to hand). Finally you'll need about 80-100g flour. Mix it all up and see how the consistency is. It needs to hold together really quite well to withstand the cooking process.
Finished mixture

Get your stock back up to a rolling boil and shape your canederli into ball shapes. I made mine much smaller than other examples I have seen, so that they would cook in 5 minutes, rather than 15. However, given how filling a portion of 7 of these at my size was, I might consider trying even smaller next time.

Canederli on the boil in stock
When your stock is boiling, put a sacrificial canederli into it, to boil away gently. If it breaks into bits, your mixture is not firm enough and you need to add more flour. My personal recommendation is that if this first test one does not fall apart, leave it 5 minutes or so to cook through thoroughly and then sneakily eat it alone in the kitchen. That's what I did, after all you've worked hard on this meal already, you've deserved it.

Finito!
After 5 minutes or so, you're done! Use a slotted spoon to fish them out of the stock and put them on your serving dish. You can simply serve them with a bit of the broth they were cooked in, but to suit the taste of the people I was cooking for, I made a quick tomato sauce and added some cheese just straight over the top. 

They were really good, quite a firm gnocchi like texture, enjoyable bacon bits throughout and a really nice subtle flavouring from the lovage in the stock. The quantity I made more than comfortably fed three, with more than half left over, so I think this amount could easily make 8 portions. I've got the rest of mine in the freezer. You can either roll them ready to cook straight from the freezer, but give them a lot longer, or as I have done freeze all in a big lump, to defrost and shape when you need them.




Thursday, 28 April 2011

Budget travel guide to Matera

Admittedly, having had our expenses covered to travel to Matera, Italy, we didn't have to worry quite so much about the budget as usual. For example, when travelling from Bari Airport to Matera, the most convenient cost effective method of transfer is the Pugliairbus. This goes right from outside the airport and takes you directly to town for about 3 euros. You need to book online in advance, although if there are spare seats you can book online. However, we had a private car and our lovely driver, Gianmichele, had our name on an ipad upon arrival at the airport! And we were driven in a Mercedes!! If you want to splash the cash, you can find this top notch service here.

Moving on to food and drink,we found eating out in Matera to be a tad pricey, because it's hard to find a reasonable meal for a low price. There are innumerable Menu Tipico, or Menu Turistico, where you get a set number of courses and drinks usually with a good range of choices. Priced from about 13 euros upwards, these are not necessarily cost effective for more than the occasional treat, although they certainly do provide a good meal.

Spaccatelle at San Pietro Barisano
For one meal we ate at the San Pietro Barisano. We had the basic Menu Tipico, which was a first and second course with a side dish, a dessert, an alcoholic drink and a dessert for 15 Euros. We had the Spaccatelle and the Oriechette for Prima, then chicken and a mixed lamb and sausage platter for Seconda with insalata mixta and patate al forno for a side dish. There were two little chocolatey cakes for dessert. For the price, the food was excellent, but as I say, this was our little treat.

Outside of these menus, you're looking to pay between 5 and 8 euro for a pizza in most places. Remember, this will be a woodfired, thin crust 'proper' pizza! Pasta dishes are usually slightly more expensive. There are a couple of takeaway places where you can get snacks, slices of pizza, sandwiches etc. but they are relatively few and far between. Certainly along Via Lucana there are a few places like this.

The other thing to watch out for is the cover charge, usually marked (in small print) as the coperta or coperta/pane (cover/bread). This is usually 2 euros, but that's per person. This can take your shared 6 euro lunch pizza up to 10 euros in one fell swoop!

Serious beer sampling
In terms of drinks, again you need to watch where you go if you're watching the pennies. Anywhere along the piazzas or down Via Fiorentini drinks are more expensive. We found quite a standard beer price around these areas to be about 3.50 or 4 euros for a bottle of beer! Therefore, my top tip is the Grotta di Bacco. They have a restaurant there, but during our visit we only went to the bar. It is by far the cheapest place to drink we found in Matera. The crowd is quite young (they were playing some spiffing reggae when we were there) and the drinks flow freely - you're looking at 1.50 Euro for a bottle of Peroni and 2 euro for a glass of Prosecco. They also do an interesting range of wine cocktails including claiming to be the only place in Matera that does Sangria!!
Wholly recommended by us - 10 out of 10 Extreme points and indeed, 2 thumbs up!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Video: Laying the giant Mona Lisa mosaic in Matera

REVIEW: Spanx Super Power Panties Shapewear

The lovely ladies at Tights Please have asked me to review a pair of shaping tights for them. Right now, I couldn't be happier to do this. Having been in Italy for nearly a week and not been to the gym, the old tummy's taken a bit of a bloating on account of all the fine food and pizza, so this is just the sort of product I need in the interim until I get my energy back and my waistline down!

In case you haven't come across Tights Please, they are a full on awesome, drool inducing website who supply all the tights, hold ups, leggings, stockings etc. under the sun! Yes, they have sent me some free shapewearbut I was singing their praises way before that! I am slightly tights-obsessed though... I mean seriously, tell me these aren't cool! They also are very friendly on Twitter, which is how I got talking to them.

The shaping tights that they sent me are Spanx by Sara Blakely Super Power Panties. The packaging is as exciting as the name! I like the cute cartoons, especially the panel in the central packaging, which informs me I can do anything in my Spanx - even put out a fire. Which is cool, because I'm usually rubbish in a crisis.

I received the black version in a size A. They have a really useful sizing grid where you compare your height to your weight to find which size is appropriate, which I thought was much easier to use than normal 8, 10, 12 etc. sizing guides, which seem to vary from shop to shop. The tights themselves are very silky to the touch, quite luxurious and certainly feel of a very high quality.




Putting them on, I found them to be very comfortable. They were certainly noticeably pulling me in, but certainly not uncomfortably. The dress I was wearing did not cling over the top and the legband free design did exactly what it said on the tin and prevented naughty bulgy thighs! The only slight downside that I could see is that you still get a slight VPL around the waist, but not offensively so. I guess they have to end somewhere and if you're wearing a tight dress it's bound to happen!
Normal pants
Shapewear

So here are my before and after photos. Let's face it, that's the only way to really know if they work or not! We tried to take them the same, but I appear to have cropped them slightly differently. Please do not laugh at my antipasto/pasta/beer/wine belly, this will be dealt with soon. However, I think the results are clear. A much more svelte and generally clearer silhouette is totally present. I'm extremely happy with it. I think the only negative comment on the shape would be that they are verging on too long for this length of dress - but if I used the natural shade of shapewear it would be fine. I just wanted to pick this dress because it's been in my cupboard for ages as one of my clingiest numbers and I'm hoping to get ready to wear it by the summer!!

I give these tights an epic 9 out of 10 extreme points. They do everything they say on the tin and the only flaws I saw were probably only issues because I'm a picky perfectionist. Great stuff.


REVIEW: freephotoprinting.net

I've been asked to review the Photo Printing Offers at http://www.freephotoprinting.net/. I've not used this site before, but as we have so many lovely photos from the Mona Lisa toast mosaic in Matera, it really couldn't have come at a better time. It would be great to get some prints for free!!! So here goes...


The site has a clear, easy to follow layout. They are a sort of price comparison site, they trawl the web looking for the free offers on photo printing so you don't have to. There is a list of step by step instructions on using the site, next to a list of the companies that have current offers for free prints with no obligations to buy anything else. I think I'll have a go, see if I can get me some freebies!

Each of the companies listed on the site has two links - one giving information on the offer, and one link to click to claim the offer.  At the moment there are enough links for you to get 785 free prints! The first company on the list that I've got is Truprint. The info page is telling me that this offer is exclusive to www.freephotoprinting.net/ so that's quite cool. 


The link on the Truprint website has asked me to create an account. However, I already have a Truprint account, so I'm guessing I'm not eligible for the offer :(. That said, the site is offering me the opportunity to create another account with a different email address, so I'm sure you could do that instead. It feels a little bit cheeky to me though, so I'll leave that one for now!!


The next link is Snapfish.com - 40 free prints. Curses, I appear to have an account there already! (When did I sign up to all these photo websites...?!!) On to the next site - mypix.com, wow - this one is 80 free prints for new customers.


*some time later*


Well, I've uploaded 80 photos onto Snapfish.com. Waiting for them to finish uploading now. Phew, it took me a long time to choose which ones I wanted printing! I see a montage coming on. While that's doing, let's have a shufty round the rest of the site... They have a lot of other sections other than photo printing. There's photobooks, gifts, acrylic prints, photo canvases and caricatures. I can't believe you can get these for free! Let's see what they say.


Ah, no, this is more of a price comparison section. There are offers on photo books from £5.99 for mini books and £19.99 for big books, which seems a reasonable deal to me. The caricatures look quite fun. Not the sort of thing that I'd want, but simple to upload a photo, choose the style and then get the work done by a professional artist. The acrylic prints and canvas print sections look like reasonable prices too. I think I'd have to get better at taking photos before I invested in something like this.


As you can imagine, there's a tonne of stuff in the photo gifts sections. This would be really useful if you had a personalised gift to create - t-shirts, mugs, jigsaws, keyrings etc. My personal favourite is the Pop Art section, where you can get your photos made into bright Andy Warhol style prints. This would negate the need for me to get better at taking photos!


OK, still waiting for my photos to finish uploading, so I'll call it a day here so I can get on with other things. I think that www.freephotoprinting.net is a useful resource. It'll save you some time searching the web yourself and the price comparison results seem nicely comprehensive. There's also some exclusive deals on there that you won't find anywhere else. So thumbs up, for ease of use and convenience it gets a very respectable 8 out of 10 Extreme points!



The Morisanchu Mona Lisa Mosaic


We have just returned home from our latest mosaic making adventure. This time we had the pleasure of visiting Matera, Italy. We made a giant Mona Lisa, known as La Gioconda in Italy! She is a mosaic composed of 10080 pieces of bread. The colours are formed through a combination of plain bread, toast and bread with dark or milk chocolate on them. 

La Giconda con pane!

It wasn't an easy project by any means. The main issue that really increased the workload incredibly was that the bread was the wrong size! We had the backing printed up with 10x10cm squares, but it turned out that we could not get that sized bread in the end, so every single piece had to be cut to fit!

The 6 colours

It was insane, because of course, the more toasted the bread is, the more likely it is to shatter if you attempt to trim it! Also, the European sliced bread has a sugar content which made it slightly more difficult to work with.

Me and MoriSanchu at the hotel!


The mosaic was made for a programme for Nippon Television in Japan. The programme will feature the three actresses who form MoriSanchu - Kurosama Kazuko, Murakami Tomoko and Oshima Misuki, who have to 'challenge the world'! They were a really fun bunch of people to work with, just as animated in real life as they are for the camera. I have to admit though, working in a combination of Japanese, Italian and English made everyone very tired, so it's good to be back in dear old Blighty and just speaking English again! However, I can now count very convincingly to 5 in Japanese. You learn something new every day!

Pane di Matera

It has been a great experience. We made the mosaic pieces separately in the local media centre hall and basically took over the whole place! We were helped by MoriSanchu, the Japanese film crew, and representatives from the local consortium who represent the famous Pane di Matera. Matera has long been known as Italy's City of Bread, so you can see many factors came together to make this work!

Massive bread

The mosaic measured 9m by 11.2m and was composed entirely from edible materials, in deference to the hunger that has been caused by the terrible natural disasters in Japan recently. Even the glue we used to stick the tesserae down was glucose syrup. Once the mosaic was completed, it was left out for the day for the people of Matera to enjoy. We gave out all the remaining bread, and some lovely Matera bread for free for everyone to try. Once we finally got the work together, there was a real carnival atmosphere. Now we have a couple of weeks to wait until the programme is finished and aired in Japan!
Another incredible experience, definitely worthy of the Extreme Housewifery tag!


Whatever happened to white dog poo?

They're serving it up as bread in South Italian restaurants.



Sunday, 17 April 2011

The potatoes continue to take over the world...

So, if anyone's interested, I thought I'd post another photo of the world-domination-plotting potatoes. I haven't the energy to do another full on gardening post (although the french beans are looking good) so I'll save that for a week or so. But now... the potato bag is unrolled to its full extent!! So in three weeks, we've gone from...


Week 1

Week 2

Today!
 You can use the slats on the mini green house as a point of reference for just how incredibly tall these potatoes have grown in a very short space of time. 

Be afraid, be very afraid.


#SilentSunday

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 16 April 2011

REVIEW: Sugar Free Sweets Tasting Session

Sometimes I have a very hard life. I've been sent some sugar free sweets from the lovely @sweetjunkie to taste. *cue the world's tiniest violin* So I thought I'd do a 'live' tasting session with me and The Boy giving them a go.

Nom nom SWEETIES!
Sugar free sweets have a bit of a weird association in my mind. As my mum was a Weight Watchers leader, the only sugar free sweets I have come across before are the little hard chews that they used to sell at meetings. I never really liked them that much, but I remember that my mum and all her members said that if they ate too many they would get terrible wind!! Fingers crossed that sugar free sweet technology has come along since then!!

So, on to the tasting. First up, we have the Sugar Free Lun Jeelers. Apparently they were originally called 'Lung Healers' and were sold as cough sweets! They smell ever so slightly antisepticy, mixed with sweet shop. They're not hugely sweet and have an aromatic, almost herbal cough drop background note. The Boy says they taste like a cough sweet, but in a good way. As I continue to suck (The Boy is crunching his down happily) I am starting to realise I'm actually not that fussed on these. I think I'd only really want these if I actually had a tickily throat! Nope, that ones back in the wrapper, I'm not interested in finishing it.
Me: 3/10 Extreme Points
The Boy: 6/10 Hippy Points

Next on the agenda are the Sugar-Free-Little-Bears - I've been looking forward to these, a bit of a childhood favourite! They are the right shape and smell really fruity as I get them out of the packet. The flavour is more fruit like than overpoweringly sweet, which I really like. The texture is just right, just the right amount of chew! The Boy says he needs another couple to make sure he likes them because he can still taste the Sugar Free Lun Jeelers! After another couple (that's them gone then!) The Boy likes them because he thinks he can taste different flavours and they are just like the Haribo ones. I am liking that there are pinky-purple ones!
Me: 8/10 Extreme Points
The Boy: 8/10 Hippy Points

Onwards and upwards, to the Sugar-Free-Lime-Lemon-&-Acid-Drops-Sweets. We have a yellow, a green and a white one. I'm going for the yellow one, The Boy's having the Green one. These boiled sweets have a slight citrusy odour, and immediately give a pleasant lemony flavour in the mouth. They are quite tangy, particularly noticeable on the back of the tongue now I am crunching through them. The Boy says they are good, but they could do with being a bit 'fizzier'. I agree, I think they would be great if they had a bit of sherbert in the middle. Now I'm nearly done, I am finding the sour flavour quite overpowering. I like them, but I couldn't eat too many.
Me: 6/10 Extreme Points
The Boy: 7/10 Hippy Points

Next to the taste test are the Sugar-Free-Sweets/Sugar-Free-Aniseed-Twist-Sweets. I love aniseed sweets, but seeing the shape of them, I initially thought they were barley twists, so I was a bit disappointed, but I still have quite high expectations of these... Down the hatch... These have a nice, sweet, aniseedy flavour. They're a tad on the big side - for my tiny mouth. The Boy seems to be having no such trouble. This is a really good flavour, definitely my favourite of the boiled sweets so far. Crunching through gives a really strong burst of aniseed, all of these sweets seem to have a slightly stronger flavour. The Boy has just said there feels like there's some missing - err, sugar? I am finding it quite pleasant not to have any coating feel to the mouth. Once I've finished each sweet, my mouth is quite fresh.
Me: 7/10 Extreme Points
The Boys: 9/10 Hippy Points

And finally, on to the Sugar-Free-Mint-&-Aniseed-Sweets. Another decent sized boiled sweet, deliciously striped, I must admit to approaching this flavour combination with some trepidation... Again, like the Lun Jeelers, they smell a little clinical. Initially, there's a sweet flavour of mint (glad we left these til last!). The mint is definitely stronger than the aniseed, that is more of a hint in the background. However, it is not altogether unpleasant. The Boy says they are strange. He looks unconvinced. He says they need to be sweeter. I'm not sure about this, but we are both furrowing our brows and now he's not sure if they need to be sweeter. If you like sweets that puzzle you slightly, then these are for you.
Me: 6/10 Extreme Points
The Boy: 5/10 Hippy Points

So there you have it. The Sugar-Free-Little-Bears come out a clear winner. And overall, our opinion of sugar free sweets from the lovely @sweetjunkie is overwhelmingly positive. Now I have finished, both mouth and head feel clear and untainted by the evils of sugar. All of the sweets had an enjoyable sweetie flavour, so you don't feel like you're denying yourself anything. The Boy thinks they are 'OK' - an overwhelming compliment from Himself.

Sweet Junkie have an absolutely huge selection of sugar free sweets from the lovely @sweetjunkie - personally I was surprised just how many. I reckon next time I'll be looking to try the Sugar-Free-Cola-Bottles or perhaps old favourites like the SF Sherbert Lemons or SF Rhubarb and Custards. Nom.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Strawberries and Sunshine

Everybody seems to be enjoying my gardening posts so far, and as the weekend has been so beautiful, we've managed to do even more, so I thought I'd do another post!

Yesterday, we went to the local garden centre. It's only a short walk (about 2250 steps according to my pedometer!) but it takes us into the next village, which affords some lovely views of Bradgate Park and some other nice countryside views to take in on the way.

Strawberry 'Florence'

There wasn't a huge amount of new things that interested us at the garden centre. I think we have tried so many things already and I have such a stash of seeds now that there is no need for us to go into a buying frenzy any more.

That said, I always like looking round the plants and now am especially interested in the unusual varieties of veg seeds that are available. I think instead of courgette and melon, next year I'll do some more unusual squashes in the gro-bags.

Wild strawberry
We did come away with two purchases though. I've finally given in to the temptation to grow strawberries, so got myself a single 'Florence' plant, which is apparently good for container growing, which is what I am intending to do with it. On the walk home, we finally got around to treating ourselves to a small runner plant off the MASSIVE wild strawberry that we discovered just round the corner in some semi-derelict land near our house a couple of seasons ago. It's gone a bit curly, perhaps because my natural reaction to newly planted plants, which is to water them. I think the wild strawberries need a much drier environment, so I'll have to knock the splish splosh on the head for that one. We'll see how it goes.


After we'd been to the garden centre, it would have been rude of us not to visit the local pub for an English Rose cocktail, particularly as with our 'Locals' card (or Yokels card as The Boy referred to it) they were two for one. This was lovely in the sunshine.

Making our way back through the village, we spotted some crates by the road outside the greengrocers. Upon nipping in, we were informed they were being trashed so we were welcome to take them if we wanted. Woo hoo! Free crates! Eventually, I'd like to line them and use them as planters in their own right, but as I have nothing to line them with yet, they've just turned into a bit of a decorative plant pot holder. Love em.
Comping kitten enjoying the sun

We were trying to find more dodgy items to put plants in at the local car boot this morning, but the price just wasn't right - 2 chamber pots were £1 each, but they wouldn't take £1.50 for the two... And an empty wooden port bottle box, which the guy was asking a pound for! Honestly! 20p or so and I'd have had it, but it wasn't worth a pound! Ah well, the search continues. I quite want to get some cheapy wellies to fill with plants also...

 There have been many other jobs undertaken in the garden this weekend. As you can see from the picture, half of the sweetcorn has been planted out as planned, to see how it fares. Despite me not having intended to grow tomatoes this year, we have loads popping up with our other seedlings, from the seeds that haven't been properly broken down in the compost!! So some of those have been pinched out and given their own pots. I give up, obviously the universe wants me to grow tomatoes!

I also got some broad beans at the garden centre, for the princely sum of 12p. So they've been planted out, and I've also started the traditional 'cut and come again' tray of mixed baby lettuce leaves. There have been various other plantings, including perpetual spinach (in a container this year, not planting that stuff in the border again) and replanting the carrots from the main tray, which were looking a bit unhappy at the lack of depth they could get their roots to. Finally, we've made a start on the front garden - the neglected wilderness. I think because it's tiny and there's not really anything you can eat out there, we tend to forget about it. But I've taken all the weeds out of the lawn and The Boy has mowed, so it's ready for the leaves to be gathered, the little bushes to be trimmed and all the flower seedlings to be transplanted out there when they're a bit stronger!



#SilentSunday



Silent Sunday


Saturday, 9 April 2011

The potatoes are taking over the world!

Everyone seems to have enjoyed my gardening post last week, so I thought I'd update you. With the beautiful weather we've had, everything is going rather well. Even the sunflowers I put in last weekend have already started to sprout!
The potatoes last week

The potatoes this week. Note the bag is unrolled!














It turns out that our potatoes are taking over world. Herewith, pictures of the incredible growth spurt they have undertaken. We have been unrolling the bag and piling soil on them at a rate of knots. I would be a bit scared, but remember this is Extreme Gardening! Where would any self respecting Extreme Housewife be without unprecedentedly fast growing vegetables?

Is unprecedentedly even a word?


The brussel sprouts are coming on too...


So, we're off to the garden centre today. Now it is clear that I have planted far too many things, as expected, it's time to go and buy even more plants!

I bought a few more things last weekend, some sunflowers, onions and radishes - no sign of these yet, apart from the mini greenhouse based sunflowers, which are making a shock appearance a week early.

Look carefully at the back for parsnips, carrots and melons!
Progress on the items reported on last week is also good. The sweetcorn are turning into really bonny plants. I'm not sure how the root system is looking so I think I'll take a punt and plant half of them into the border this weekend, and save the other half for a couple more weeks in their baby pot in the greenhouse. That way I should be protected if there's another unexpected frost.

The swede's are coming along well, except for one pot which appears to have had their stems munched by something. In the heat of Wednesday, these got a bit frazzled, so we've brought them inside for some extra TLC.

I'm also happy that my melons (oo-er) and parsnips have decided to make an appearance. Parsnips are apparently slow germinators so I didn't expect to see them for a while, but happily there's evidence of at least 5 breaking through the surface today and I have two tiny melon seedlings thus far. The melons were old seeds we picked up from a bootsale, so bonus. No sign of the courgettes or beans I put in last week yet, but it is a bit early. Next phase will be getting a couple of growbags for the courgettes and melons. More on that as it happens. This is the Extreme Garden, signing off.






Saturday, 2 April 2011

Bargain Steak and Kiddiley Pie




The Lovely Boy went to Mr T's yesterday evening and rinsed the reduced shelf. He managed to get a £3.50 packet of steak and kidney, ready chopped, for 52p - bargain! However, this meant I was obliged to make a steak and kidney pie today. I knew that the dish I had available was a bit big, so added some veg in there to bulk it out also (some of my other pyrex bakeware is at a friend, having taken desserts over there the other week).

As ever, I have no idea of quantities, because I don't measure stuff, I just cook! But if you want to attempt to make a pie like mine - and it was really, really nice so I don't know why you wouldn't - then here's how to have a stab at it.

Filling Ingredients -

A packet of Tesco cubed beef steak and kidney (with the two meats in separate sections)
Plain flour for dusting the meat
Optional - couple of cubes of good quality chorizo
2 medium onions, sliced
3 cloves of garlic
1 carrot, finely cubed
1 small courgette, finely cubed
Squirt of tomato puree
Beef stock cube
Splash of boiling water
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

Pastry ingredients -

About 300g plain flour
Just over half the amount of butter
1 egg
Splash of cold water to bind

Dust the meat with flour and tap off the excess. Brown the steak off in a hot pan, then add the onions to soften. Move this to one side and brown the kidney off in the same pan. Add the carrots, courgettes, garlic, chorizo and lightly saute. Once it has all started to soften, add a good squiry of tomato puree and let this cook out. You could add a splash of red wine at this point also. Add the stock cube and rosemary and a good splash - 1/2 pint or so - of boiling water. Allow to simmer while you make the pastry.



Put pastry ingredients in the blender. Add the water A DROP AT A TIME as necessary to make the pastry come together into a ball, but not be too sticky. Chill briefly in fridge while your filling is simmering. If the sauce hasn't thickened up enough, add a bit of gravy browning. When the filling is ready, turn off the heat and roll out the pastry to fit your pastry dish and with a lid. Put the pastry in the dish, pour in the filling and slap the lid on top. Stick a hole in the middle to let the steam out and add an egg wash. Throw it in a 180-200'C ish oven for about 40 minutes. Just enough time to prepare some mash and veg to go with it. Nom.

Extreme Gardening

"Extreme gardening?" I hear you cry. "How can I garden in an extreme fashion in such a small space?" Well, as Ray Mears Extreme Housewife, my duty is to tell you that extreme gardening is simple, even with those who only have space for pots or window boxes.

Brussel Sprouts - for Xmas innit?
In order to extreme garden, the secret is a complete lack of planning. Grow more seedlings that you will possibly be able to accommodate in the space you have available. Plant lots of different types of food, just because you had a day where you set aside time to get your seeds going, and then when you had probably planted enough, you felt like planting a few more.

Po-taytoes
This is what I did 3 weeks ago and now most things are starting to come along nicely. The parsnips haven't germinated yet, but I'll give them at least another week or two as they're renowned slow starters. I see my first melon is just poking through, which gives me hope that I'm early enough to actually get fruit this year! The carrots in the greenhouse have started well, but the ones in the pots and main beds have been a bit chilly I think.

There is evidence of spring onions in deep pots, some healthy brussel sprout seedlings in the main bed and all of my random flower seedlings for the front garden are making a strong start. No sign of leeks and peas just yet, but they haven't been in the mini greenhouse. I'm getting quite excited about the potatoes in the potato bag that we got from the poundshop. They have really put out a whole bunch of very strong shoots, in fact they're nearly ready for the first bit of soil to be added to force them upwards and fruit more.

Sweetcorn and swedes (this is not all the swedes lol)
Then there are my sweetcorn and swede seedlings. These are coming on very strongly. I moved them out of my epically full tray of seeds last week and potted them up into medium pots. The sweetcorn look like they're pretty much ready to go out in the garden now, but I think I'll keep them to next weekend, harden them off at the end of the week and then get them planted in the border on the weekend, if the weather is fine enough.

Look! Blackcurrant buds!
And finally, my 99p blackcurrant bush from Wilkos is showing signs of action! We bought it two years ago. The first year it did next to nothing. Last year it shot up and really bushed out, but no fruit. And now - huzzah! - there are flower buds coming through. My evil plan to get free fruit looks like it might be about to pay off!




So, do I have enough space to plant all of these lovely plants out when they get big enough? No, I don't. But that's not the point. I shall continue to pot them on or plant them out as the fancy takes me. We'll see how it goes. We'll desperately sift compost to fill up any spare plantpot until greenhouse, patio and possibly drive is full. That's how it goes. Another week and I'll be planting beans and also courgettes - and they were monsters last year. But that is the joy of extreme gardening. Why plan it all and have less, when you can pack it to the rafters and spend summer surrounded by lovely plants and lovely food!
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