Ok, I admit it, I’ve gone full on “The Good Life” recently. Following on from learning all about Beekeeping I volunteered to help clear ground for an apiary allotment site near my house and found out that there was a small starter plot up for grabs. Well, grab it I did!
This is what I started with. About 5m x 16m of weed suppressed ground. I have spent the last few weeks digging and fencing and working away.
There was an awful lot of digging. The ground didn’t have any weeds, which was a blessing, but it did have a load of crushed plastic pots, a shovel, a rake, a fork, a pickaxe and a hammer all rotting away, along with what might once have been a green house base? Anyway, it all needed clearing and levelling and the clay soil enriching.
I’ve also developed a naughty habit of buying the Amazon 1p plus postage books on gardening. In fact I’m awaiting delivery of a few more that caught my eye this week!
This is where I’m up to: fences built, beds marked out and paths laid. I’ve crops in the ground and I’m preparing to build a chicken run at the far end so I can have fresh eggs too! More on that and the epic shed move soon!
Back at the beginning of this year I took a beginners beekeeping class with York & District Beekeepers Association. My mother had taken this course a few years ago and now has several hives in her garden but given last year’s swarm adventure it was decided that I would take the course so that I could assist her. We are now in the thick of swarm season (I yet again spent a day chasing swarms around the village only for them to abscond a day later!) and I thought I’d post a little update on the calmer parts of the year so far.
I’ve really enjoyed going into the hives with mum and seeing all of the things we’ve learned about in class actually in person. You can see above a beautiful arc of capped brood (bee larvae) with stores of honey arranged around the outside in the corners.
Here you can see a close up of the larvae in their cells before being capped. You’re wanting to see nice C shaped larvae with defined segments and a nice pearly white colour (which these were in person!) There are lots of things you’re looking for to check that your colony is happy and healthy. When things go wrong (and they will) you’ll find out because you’re seeing something odd in the brood.
Can you spot the Queen Bee? I’ll give you a hint, she ends in the top left of the shot. She’s the one with the long, pointy bum. Alas, since taking this video (which was taken by accident, I was just filming bees, we didn’t realise the Queen was in frame until later that night when we were looking at the video!) Queen Beatrice has either passed away or swarmed unexpectedly. Upon a later hive inspection there were no eggs. If you can’t see any eggs, your Queen isn’t doing her job! We’ve taken emergency measures to hopefully get them to generate their own Queen and we’ve split off some Queen cells into a nucleus hive to rear a small colony as a back up if we need to re-Queen later in the year. In one of our other hives they decided to go from nothing to 20 Queen Cells and swarming in the blink of an eye! We just mistimed our hive check by 1 day due to bad weather but at this time of year that day can be crucial and they were off!
The beginning of the year was going so well, everything was looking like something out of a textbook but then it all went a bit wrong and we sometimes haven’t a clue why our bees are doing what they’re doing. Beekeeping is a brilliant hobby and it’s absolutely fascinating but for one month a year, I won’t lie, it’s hellish! I’m just hoping that our colonies will have got all of this silliness out of their system now and we can fix them up and build them towards the summer. It’s funny but even with the very little hands on experience I’ve got so far (I don’t actually start the practical part of my course until later this month!) you can get to know the temperament of the colonies, I swear Hive 1 and Hive 2 hum at different pitches and Hive 2’s bees are much smaller. I look forward to getting to know them as we go on, hopefully with 3 colonies this year!
I can’t remember where I first came across the recipe for French Yogurt Cake. It’s always just been there. But I never once felt the need to try it. There were always more exciting, more challenging cakes to try. Why go back to basics with a cake intended to be made with the help of toddlers?
This is why, my friends!
Beautiful, light, fluffy cakes that are the perfect teatime pick me up… or breakfast, coz it’s got fruit and yogurt in and that’s a breakfast food, right?
And, even though I possess no toddlers of my own (Darcy isn’t too good at baking, even though he loves the tasting part!) I can say with my limited knowledge of the species that this would be an absolutely brilliant recipe to bake with kids. No faffy weighing, just measure everything out using a yogurt tub and mix it up. Simple!
And so quick. The thing that takes the most time about this recipe is waiting for the oven to heat up! (Or sometimes it’s the pressing need to pop to the Co-op as you realise you’ve run out of eggs half way through!) We all know there are some days when you just want to get something in the oven without any hassle, these can be whipped together and out of the oven in less than half an hour (although I assume if you do choose to involve kids it will take longer…)
Don’t delay, give them a go today!
1 x 125g tub natural yogurt
2 tubs self raising flour
1 tub golden caster sugar
1/2 tub rapeseed oil
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon, grated*
~ 1 tub frozen raspberries
– Heat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180C.
– Prepare a tray with 6 mini loaf cases. Alternatively you can make this as a large loaf and just increase the cooking time.
– Put all of the ingredients except the raspberries in a mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Use the yogurt tub to measure out each of the ingredients.
– Divide equally between the mini loaf tins. (Space them well as this mixture rises!)
– Scatter the top of each cake with frozen raspberries.
– Bake for 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean. (If cooking as a large loaf 45 minutes to an hour)
– Allow to cool until just warm them devour! Also excellent when you allow them to fully cool before consuming!
Instead of Lemon and Raspberry these can be adapted to any flavour you like. I have also had great success with Chocolate Orange, just replace the lemon zest with orange zest and add 2 tbsp cocoa powder and a tub of chocolate chips instead of raspberries.
This Sausage and Red Lentil Stew started as a riff on Cassoulet… but it just isn’t Cassoulet. It’s lazy girl’s cassoulet! It’s still deliciously comforting and a filling but not too stodgy recipe to bring some tomatoey brightness to these dull February days!
It can work well with any sausages but I will say that my preferred ones are either Turkey (which are getting harder to find!) or sweet chilli sausages, which are just delicious in anything you put them in! I would steer clear of chicken sausages though, I just don’t think they have the depth of flavour you want here and they get lost with the vibrancy of the tomato.
8 sausages of your choice
2x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 clove chopped garlic
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tin butter beans, rinsed and drained
1 red pepper, chopped
5 tbsp red lentils
1/4 tsp salt
- Brown the sausages in a large, lidded pan first.
- Add the remaining ingredients, give it a stir, pop a lid on it and leave it to simmer for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the water level, make sure you keep stirring occasionally to stop the lentils sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you need to add a splash more water do so.
- Leave to sit for 10 minutes before serving as this will be HOT!
These Vegan Hot Chocolate Spoons are a lovely thing to make as a gift, or just to keep on hand for those chocolate cravings that spring up from time to time!
They’re quick and easy to whip up, you just need to allow time for them to set.
I’ve tried mine with Almond milk, which is my go to dairy alternative, and also with regular cow’s milk, which obviously negates their Vegan heritage! But they’re delicious either way! What you always need to make sure of when you’re working with chocolate is that you enjoy the chocolate you’re starting with! If you start with a delicious chocolate then you will end up with a delicious finished product.
Makes ~14 spoons
200g dark chocolate (make sure it’s vegan!)
50g coconut oil
2 tbsp cocoa powder
– Melt the chocolate either slowly in a microwave or over a pan of boiling water, whichever method you prefer. Heat it until 90% melted then take off the heat and allow the last lumps to melt with the residual heat.
– Stir in the coconut oil and the cocoa powder and mix until smooth.
– Pour carefully into an ice cube tray so that each hole is just filled, clean up any spillages so you have a clean edge.
– Place in the fridge for 10 minutes until starting to solidify then poke the spoons so that they stand upright. You can leave them to set at room temperature too but this will take a lot longer.
– Put them back in the fridge until fully set, an hour will do it, them unmould and place in plastic bags to keep them.
– To use, simply pop into a mug of hot milk (alternative) of your choice and stir!
This is one of the simplest things I’ve made in ages and yet it packs a big flavour punch! My recipe for Red Onion Refrigerator Pickles pack a heck of a punch visually too, who can resist bright pink food? They are perfect paired with pulled pork as here, or even just in sandwiches (put them in a cheese toastie and be amazed!)
Darcy was poised and ready for any spillages!
3 red onions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
~1 cup/250ml red wine vinegar
- Put your onions in a sealable tub, jar or bowl.
- Sprinkle with salt.
- Cover with the vinegar.
- Leave in the fridge for 2 hours – 2 weeks. Then enjoy!
One of my favourite Japanese meals is Chicken Katsu Kare. A breaded chicken (or sometimes eve pork) cutlet with a lovely thick, mild curry sauce and sticky rice, topped with lightly pickled red pepper.
Its absolute rainy day comfort food for me. I had a real craving for it the other week but didn’t have any of my usual short cuts in stock. (In Japan I’d always make the curry with shop bought roux cubes as would everyone else!) So I set to and made it all from scratch. I didn’t even have any curry powder!
Its actually not hard at all, it just takes a bit of organisation in a small kitchen like mine as there are a lot of little stages you need to pull together. I’m very happy I took the time and did a big batch though, this recipe will serve 4 so for singletons like myself I suggest you freeze ready prepped portions for the next rainy day craving!
For the curry roux:
4 tbsp flour
1 tbsp curry powder
1tbsp Garam masala
1/2 tsp five spice
1/4 tap cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chilli powder)
For the curry:
1 clove garlic
1 carrot, diced
1 medium floury potato,diced
500ml chicken stock
For the cutlets:
2 chicken breasts
2 tbsp flour + salt and pepper
1 beaten egg
4 tbsp bread crumbs
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
Sticky Japanese rice and chopped pickled pepper* to serve (*I love Lidl’s jars of roasted peppers!)
- First things first, make up your curry powder if you’re making that from scratch, just give it all a good mix. There will be some spare so pop it in a small jar for later use.
- Then prep your roux. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and once it is all bubbly add the flour and spices. Give it a good stir for 30 seconds or so and it will turn a golden brown. Set aside off the heat.
- In a larger saucepan heat a splash of oil and sautee the onion and garlic until soft.
- Add the carrot, potato and chicken stock and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add the curry roux to the saucepan gradually, stirring well to avoid lumps.
- Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally as it thickens to avoid sticking.
- Take your chicken breasts and lay them on a large chopping board, with plenty of room between them. Cover them with cling wrap.
- Take a rolling pin and whack the chicken breasts to flatten them. You will find you can slightly direct how the meat spreads, you want to get it all to a thickness of ~1cm.
- Remove the cling wrap. Cut each chicken breast in half to make approximately equal portions.
- Place the flour on one plate, the egg in a shallow dish and the breadcrumbs on a final plate.
- Coat the chicken in the flour, then dip it in the egg and finally cover with breadcrumbs. Then set aside and continue with the remaining pieces.
- Heat 3 tbsp rapeseed oil in a large frying pan (you may have to do this in 2 batches, or with 2 pans depending on size).
- Place the cutlets in the oil and cook for 3-5 minutes, until you can see them cooked halfway up, then flip and cook for another 3-5 minutes until cooked through.
- Serve the cutlet sliced into strips, with a heap of sticky rice, curry sauce and pickled red pepper on top.