Saturday, 28 February 2015

The spring has sprung - starting my herb garden

Here in Denmark the spring is slowly beginning. Winters are never very hard here but they tend to be grey and dreary. If you add to this the long winter nights (up to 14 hours!) you can imagine how it sometimes feels that spring will never come.

But now, at the end of February, it has finally come. The sun rises about 6:15, the birds go crazy every morning and the early spring flowers snowdrops, crocus and the yellow aconites are budding in our garden.

And all of this means, that it is slowly time to start working on my big plans for herb garden this season. I spent a lot of dark winter evenings browsing for ideas, inspirations and tips. Today, I put some of them to work.

I begin today with two ideas for seed starting. Both are DIY, ecological and upcyling which I really like - gardening on the cheap for the win!

Instead of expensive planting systems, I used the cardboard insides of toilet paper rolls cut in three parts and empty egg containers. I love the simple idea because these are common household byproducts, that virtually anyone has in their trash bin. So why not using them for something fun.

I actually have a mini glasshouse tray, I used previous years. But a plastic salad or mushroom containers, like the ones you can get in any supermarkets, will do the job equally well.

I planted basil, oregano, rosemary, spearmint and cress. I can't wait to see what happens next!

 And as I was planting the herbs, I thought of something, I didn't think about in a while. My grandparents lived in a flat on the 10th floor of a typical soviet-era block of flats. They never had a house or a garden, but they always planted plenty of flowers on their balcony. This was especially the realm of my grandfather. He had green fingers, if I've ever seen ones. The plants I remember best were his geraniums of all colors, that smelled in a very intriguing way. They crowded every windowsill of the apartment.

I also remember that he collected little yogurt containers to use for his seed sprouting. So, the internet resources for gardeners are not inventing anything new. They are just discovering the old, tried ways. This thought makes me feel good, connected in some way.

Other useful resources about planting seeds can be found here:
- Frugal Gardening Tips
- Hazel and Company: Egg Carton Greenhouses
- Just Joanna: 10 Best DIY Seed Starting Pins
- Treehugger: 7 DIY Seed Pots from Common Household Items for Starting Seeds Indoors 
- Garden Betty: The No-Brainer Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Citrus chia jam

Disclaimer: this post is where my interests in DIY, nutrition and cooking meet, and in which I make my own recipe jam.'ve been warned.

A little while ago, I found this blog post from A Beautiful Mess and I immediately thought: "that, I have to try!" A vegan, simple to make, healthy option to compose exactly the jam to fit my particular tastes in the breakfast foods department - what's not to like? 

Chia seeds are the new (or maybe not sooooo new) black among nutrition nuts. According to countless online articles chia seeds have incredible health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to burning fat without your involvement. In fact, reading the articles, you could come to the conclusion that they are heaven-sent miracle-seeds. 

I am always a bit skeptical when a new super-food is discovered. And, as with many other nutritional miracles, chia seeds benefits have also been researched and found a little less overwhelming then many nutrition portals claim. Especially the weight loss theory seems to be a bit fishy. This website cites a medical study by Appalachian State University in North Carolina, that seems to disprove the miraculous theories. 

Regardless of whether you believe one side or another, everyone seems to agree that chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, fibers, Omega-3 fats, calcium, and magnesium, and have no cholesterol. They are especially recommended for vegans and vegetarians as a great source of proteins.

Even better, chia does not contain gluten but still becomes sticky when combined with water which makes it a great substitute for other grains in baking and cooking.   

It is exactly in this role that chia is used in the jam making. It helps to thicken the boiled fruits.

I am a sucker for strong, sour citrus jams but they are not very easy to get. Most stuff you buy in supermarkets is seriously candy-like and has way too many stabilizers, preservatives and color additives.

So you can understand why I was so excited, when I saw Elsie and Emma's idea for home-made jams. Inspiration came from them but I composed my own jam which I strongly encourage you to do as well. There are so many possibilities out there.

Here is my approximate recipe and the comments about the experiment:

  • 1 large orange  
  • 1 large lemon
  • Peel of the orange and lemon
  • 1,5 tablespoons of sugar (I only had white, but I think Muscovado or Demerera would have been even nicer)
  • seeds of half a vanilla been
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • Peel orange and lemon and finely chop about 1/3 of the peels
  • Before you chop the orange and lemon, make sure to remove all of the white remnants of the peel and all of the seeds
  • Lightly caramelize the peels in all of the sugar. Make sure to use low heat, not to burn the sugar
  • Boil the citrus on medium heat, until they release their juices. As they boil, they will become relatively fluid and uniform
  • Add peels and boil for another 5-10 minutes, while continuously stirring
  • Then add chia seeds and stir over low heat until the jam thickens
  • Take off the heat, and let it cool down
Voila! The jam is ready. The jam came out almost perfect but it has a little bitter aftertaste. So if you are not a fan of sour or bitter tastes, you might want less peel and/or more sugar. 

The peel also makes the jam rather chunky, which I like but you might prefer to blend the fruits after boiling so the mixture is more uniform. 

I can also imagine using this jam with some good roast...maybe duck...

There is a wealth of recipes out there for chia seeds containing dishes, especially puddings and breakfast-y stuff (just check Instagram). But I am also thinking of making savory chutneys using the seeds - that could work pretty well.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

New Craft: Sewing

This particular craft adventure started for me because I was looking for sofa pillows for our new house. The ones I picked turned out to be "designer pillows" (is there such a thing?) and they costed 500 DKK (76 USD/50 GBP) each! 

It just didn't feel like an acceptable price for a pillow...

So instead I did some research and invested into this little beauty.

I had absolutely no previous experience with sewing. I didn't even know how to thread the needle on a machine. But surprisingly enough, with a little help from books, internet and my lovely husband (Danes have housework classes in primary school!) I was able to make the first trial project.

I didn't think I could make pillows I would be happy to display in my living room right of the bat.

Instead, I bought some discounted rough cotton fabric and made an envelope for my laptop. It took several tries to get the seams semi-straight but the final result was usable.

Encouraged by the experience, I bought the fabric I wanted and two pillows at the local haberdashery store and set out to do the job.

I picked out a simple envelope pattern from Sewing Machine Basics by Jane Bolsover - a book I can wholeheartedly recommend for beginners. A similar patterns can be found all over the internet. For example here or here.

One cozy evening later, two pillow envelopes were ready. The effect is visible on the photo below. They are not perfect. One is a little too big for the pillow and the other's seam is not perfectly straight if you look closely enough.

But they are proudly displayed on the sofa and another, bigger one in yellow, is in the plans.

Once I am done with the pillows, I am planning on making stuffed toys from my friend's babies. There are so many lovely patterns out there. Just look at this toothy little monster or these bunnies.

I am ashamed to admit I was all squeamish where sewing was concerned. I thought the initial investment was too substantial to risk for a craft I have never tried.

Luckily, I am pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get started. I wish I had started earlier. Come to think of it, a sewing intro class might have taught me the basics and rid me of my "fears". It is a very practical skill, everyone should have.

Nonetheless, I am very happy I have EVENTUALLY started and I am looking forward to making many more projects.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The one in which I did too much

So the last post before this one is from February 21st, well over a month ago. Not so good. You remember how back then, I was still very excited about the goals. Well, I still am. But, as I often do, I got overexcited and overextended myself which led to a predictable crush and burn kind of situation.

In February I managed to cook 10 new recipes instead of 15 and failed on pretty much all of my stated goals. In March I haven't even gotten around to setting any goals. So what exactly happened? I overdid. Typical me. I set out to accomplish so many things in February that it simply became too much time- and energy-wise and the whole project imploded. My success spiral ruined and motivation rather low, I couldn't even bring myself to set a single goal for March.

This month I am slowly and carefully getting back to goals and challenges with the following lesson in my baggage: chill out, take it easy - not everything has to be accomplished at once. This lesson, which accidently was also described in a charming way by yesandyes's Sarah, was absolutely worth learning. Even if it costed me some of the hard-earned motivation.

So take it easy out there and, to quote Sarah, be gentle to yourself.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Testing New Recipes

The plan for trying 15 new recipes this month is moving ahead, although rather slowly. I am cooking in a frenzy during weekends. But during the week, it gets really hard to cook something new after I come home from work in the evening. 

Anyway, I have tried a couple of new things. First of all, I made this malt syrup. It was fun to make and it smells funky - kind of like sweet beer. I already used it for baking my sourdough bread. It tasted sweeter than usual and smelled nicely of dark beer - Irish breakfast style :D

If you're going to make it, remember that while you are boiling it, it will not get very thick. It's only once it cools down, that it sets and thickens. 

I also made cauliflower soup (good, quick winter food), coconut and ginger smoothy (eee...not exceptional), and also tried this quinoa stuffed portobello mushrooms. Quinoa is usually rather tasteless so I was very surprised at how yummy these actually were. The recipe is rather simple and is really a good idea for a quick, "fancy-ish" side dish when your friends are coming to dinner. 

The last experiment was with milk bread (or cha┼éka) which is one of the tastes of my childhood. Unfortunately, it was a bit led down. The recipe takes quite a bit of time (and some energy) which necessarily means that it is a special kind of dish. And the braiding is harder than it looks. But the problem for me was that my bread got pretty badly burned despite the fact that I looked into it 10min before the time mentioned in the cookbook (I used Scandalicious baking). My oven usually needs extra time to get things finished so I really can't say what went wrong. The bread still tasted pretty good on the inside, but the outside was burned. At some point of time, I will try the recipe again, but for now I am somewhat discouraged. 

For this weekend I bought some really good-class tenderloin (never in my life have I paid that much for 300g of meat). I am also planning vanilla extract and caramel muffins (see my pinterest board for details). The saddest thing is that I will probably not have time to make Korma this month. But hey, there is something to look forward to in March.

And what about you guys? Have you been cooking something yummy recently?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

For the Love of Smoothies

I have recently rekindled my love for smoothies. I used to drink them a lot when I lived in London but back then I would use sweeten them up a lot with sugar or honey and add chocolate powder or ice-creams. So they were more in the form of sweets, rather than actual healthy, fruit-full snack.

Nowadays, I often drink them in the evenings if I get home too late to eat a full dinner. My trick is to put every good thing I have at home into the blender and hope for the best. And you know what? It usually works!

Here is my very generic recipe:

  1. bananas - lend the smoothy a nice rich flavor and creamy texture
  2. all kinds of fruits - I try to go for seasonal but I also use frozen strawberries or raspberries when they are out of season
  3. low fat milk - occasionally, I use yoghurt, fresh squeezed juice or if I have the time I brew green tea (not too strong), cool it down and use it instead
  4. linseed (flaxseed) - they are super healthy. Sometimes I switch it for other nuts but I like flaxseed especially. You can't taste them in a smoothy and they have:
    1. Omega-3 essential fatty acids - "good" fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects.
    2.  Lignans, that have antioxidant qualities.
    3. Fiber.- both the soluble and insoluble types
Occasionally, I also add a spoon of peanut butter or honey. When I get more adventures, I also chuck in a handful of spinach (what?!). If you only add a handful, you won't be able to taste it and yet all the good ingredients of fresh spinach are there. I need to try one time to make an actual green smoothy :)

This month, I am also planning to try this coconut and ginger and green tea goodness. 

Are you a smoothy lover too? What are your favorite recipes? 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Nutty Sourdough

Yesterday, I baked this nutty sourdough bread as part of my 15 new recipes project. It's not 100% new recipe but rather a variation on this one.

Ever since I made my own sourdough starter, I bake bread pretty much every week. I bake it on Friday evenings so that we have fresh, yummy bread for Saturday breakfast. But, having baked it so many times, I am getting bored and so I need to start experimenting.

I've tried adding chilli (somewhat disappointing), olives (yum) and now the time came for nuts. Instead of the 2dl of flour that the recipe calls for in the morning, I add about 250dl finely ground hazelnuts. On top of that, I add hazelnuts cut in half and some hazelnut shaving on top of the bread.

The bread comes out lighter than when regular flour is used. On the other hand it is also less compact and falls a bit apart. The nutty taste is there but not as strong as one would expect. The sourness of the sourdough is less pronounced, which I like but it might be a minus for others. I would also advise using a bit extra salt than normally as the nuts seem to make the taste a bit too bland otherwise.

The one super fantastic thing about this recipe is the smell of the bread while it is baking. Truly fantastic.