Rockery building

This is the view of the corner of our front garden.

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That huge green mass in the corner is a dog rose or some such thing. It is huge, prickly, pink, and actually blocks the view of the road when you’re trying to pull out of the side drive. Our landlord talked about digging it out a few years ago, but I said I kinda liked it and that I’d just prune it. I pruned it right down to the ground, and it grew right back. The other problem is that there is a nettle patch underneath it that grows quite happily because the only time I can weed is in the middle of winter when the bush is dead, and I am very much a fair-weather gardener. So I decided to pull the entire thing out and build a rockery there.

I got a truck-load of stone from Freegle, which we collected on a day when it was pouring with rain. We had to drive home wet, muddy, and steaming in a truck which has to have the heat permanently on full blast to stop the radiator exploding.

With the stone now in a heap in the back garden, the next job was to remove the rose bush. I cut the whole thing right down to the ground, and then Hubby and I spent an hour in full sunshine digging, hacking, levering, pulling, sweating and ‘ouching’ before we got it out. It took the two of us to carry the root mass over to the bin, it was that huge.

The next day I went out and spent £10 on 2 alpines, 4 herbs and 2 heathers (I already had 1 heather and 4 lavenders), and £10 on a couple of sacks of topsoil. It took me a little over 1 hour and 2 squashed fingers to get it built, filled in and planted. This is the result.

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Hopefully it will look a little better by the end of summer when everything has settled in and is flowering, but it looks 100 times better than it did before, and I have a rockery and herb garden combined! Not at all bad for £20 🙂

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Home-made Mayonnaise

As a follow-up to Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake I’ll give you this quick and easy mayonnaise recipe. For cake, I just make a basic recipe, but if you want to use this as a dressing then you can add salt, pepper, mustard powder, garlic salt and anything else that takes your fancy.

All you need is love… and the following.

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1 egg

2 tbsp vinegar

oil (I used about half the bottle)

Put the egg and vinegar into the bowl and whisk until mixed. (You can do this in a liquidiser or food processor too) Then, with the whisk on high/top speed, SLOWLY start trickling oil in. You need to keep whisking and trickling until the mixture starts to go creamy white, and it reaches the desired consistency. As there are no thickening agents and other rubbish in it, it will be more of a pouring than dolloping consistency.

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*Sometimes it will curdle. This is usually down to putting too much oil in too quick, or not mixing well enough. If this happens, don’t panic. Start with a clean bowl, 1 egg and 2 tbsp vinegar, then use the curdled mixture in place of the oil. You may need to add extra oil in as well.

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

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First, let me say this. Please don’t be put off by the name of this cake. Yes, it contains mayonnaise, but it is in no way disgusting. The mayonnaise is basically a substitute for eggs and fat. This is great if you have run out of eggs but still happen to have mayonnaise on hand.

This cake has made my mum famous. Everyone who has ever tasted it never forgets it, it really is that good. I have tried making every ‘INCREDIBLE, AMAZING, NEVER HAVE YOU TASTED ANYTHING AS GOOD AS THIS’ chocolate cake recipe I have come across, and they have all left me feeling cheated. In my humble opinion, this is the best chocolate cake in the world. It really doesn’t get better than this. If you beg to differ, please let me know and I will willing try your recipe!

As children, it was a tradition in our house that the birthday child could choose the evening meal and the type of cake/dessert they wanted. From pre-teen until the time I left home (and at least one occasion since) this has been the only acceptable birthday cake for me. I think by my late teens Mum never even bothered asking, I just got this cake every birthday. I have to admit, despite having had a reasonable amount of practice making it, Mum’s still tastes better.

After all this bigging up, you’re probably getting impatient to try it, and thinking ‘Come on then, give me the recipe!’ Well wait no longer, here it is.

10 oz self raising flour

8 oz sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

7 oz mayonnaise

4 tbsp cocoa powder

8 fl oz boiling water

1 tsp vanilla essence

Mix the dry ingredients and the mayonnaise together well. It will be a bit lumpy, but persevere. Dissolve the cocoa powder in the boiling water and add the vanilla, then add to the rest of the mixture. I find it best to add this a little at a time, mixing really well between additions. Pour it into a lined 8-inch tin and bake at 180°C for 30 – 40 minutes, or until cooked in the middle.

Allow it to cool well before icing.

2 tsp instant coffee

2 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tbsp hot water

3 oz margarine

8 oz icing sugar

Dissolve the coffee and cocoa in the hot water. Cream together the margarine and icing sugar. Add the coffee/cocoa mixture and mix well. Spread over the top of the cake. Now tell me this is the best cake in the world!

*If you don’t like coffee, no problem, just leave it out of the icing.

*This works really well as individual cupcakes too!

Lasagne

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When the inevitable question comes, ‘What’s for tea tonight?’ the answer, ‘Lasagne’ always puts a smile on my hubby’s face. That and meatballs. And meatloaf. And quite a few other favourite meals, come to think of it! Lasagne can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. Basically, it is comprised of three parts. Tomato-based sauce with beef, pasta sheets and white sauce. The tomato sauce can be home-made from tinned tomatoes and herbs, or just use a jar of your favourite pasta sauce. The pasta sheets can be home-made (which my mum does on occasion, but I have never tried), fresh egg pasta or dried pasta. The white sauce can be bought in a jar, but it is pretty easy to make too. I will tell you how I usually make it, but there are options there for you, should you choose to use them.

1 lb minced beef

1 onion

1 jar tomato-based sauce

1 pack fresh pasta sheets

2 oz butter

2 oz flour

1/2 pt milk

4 oz grated cheese

Dice the onion and fry it gently in a saucepan until it softens. Add the beef and cook through. Pour in the pasta sauce and mix well. Set to one side. Melt the butter in a fresh saucepan, then use a whisk to mix in the flour. Keeping it over a medium heat, add the milk a little at a time, so you gradually go from a thick paste to a milky sauce. Stir constantly until it begins to thicken. Season if you wish.

Now to put it together. I have a shallow, square, 8×8 pyrex dish that I favour for this, but a baking tin will work too. The number of layers of pasta I can manage from one pack dictates how many layers I do, usually 3. Put 1/3 of the meat mixture in the bottom of the dish and spread it evenly. Next, a layer of pasta (some pasta needs to be boiled first, check the instructions on the packet). Then, spread 1/3 of the sauce over the pasta. Repeat, finishing with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake on 180°C for 30 – 40 minutes. Serve with garlic bread and salad.

 

*This is another meal that can be prepared earlier in the day or even the night before, and kept in the fridge until it’s ready to go in the oven.

Ready-to-go Chicken Stock

Good morning everyone, still enjoying this amazing weather, no rain for a week and temperatures in the low 20’s every day!! I may actually get a worthwhile tan this year 😀

Anyways, here’s a handy tip for you. Whenever I roast or slow-cook a whole chicken, I save the carcass to make stock. If you’re pushed for time this can be done in stages, and doesn’t all have to be done immediately. Put the carcass in a large pan (I like my pressure-cooker pan for this), cover with boiling water, bring to the boil and then turn down to low heat and simmer for about 2 hours. Allow to cool slightly, then sieve the stock into a large bowl. Throw away the bones and let the stock cool. I usually end up popping it in the fridge and leaving it overnight. Once it’s cold, skim off the majority of the fat and bag it up in freezer bags. I measure out 1/2 pint portions as I find it’s ideal for most recipes. Freeze, and you have ready-made chicken stock ice cubes! When I want to use one, I just cut the bag away and put it straight into the slow cooker or saucepan where it will melt as it cooks.

Sunny Days

Aaaah, summer at last. While I’m really pleased to have this amazing weather, I have never had hay fever so bad 😦 I’ve spent all week feeling like I’m coming down with a cold. Apart from the sneezing, this has been a pretty good week!

This morning at work was a bit crazy, to start with we had one of the neighbour’s horses in with our sheep. The grass is certainly greener on our side! Then I had a fair job getting the sheep in to the milking parlour, they wanted to stay outside sunbathing. Let’s just say that by the time I succeeded, about 10 minutes and several sprints later, I was certainly hot, bothered and fed up. Then to make matters worse, when I got to washing out the parlour, the nozzle dropped off the hose. At that point I decided to take a break for breakfast and finish up later. I did cheer up when I got home, got a bowl of cereal inside me, and looked out at the view. How can you not be happy when you get to look at this every day?

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And talking of being happy, I finally got my hair a decent shade of purple, instead of a strange blue-rinse effect.

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Not the best picture, but yup, it’s definitely purple!

Finally, I modeled the new apron my lovely parents brought back for me from a recent trip to visit family in Missouri. Yes, I baked a cake while I was wearing it, but you’ll have to wait until I’ve tasted it and photographed it before you get the recipe!

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So now I think it’s time to have a well-earned cup of tea while enjoying some more sunshine, and trying not to sneeze. Tea has a tendency to spill if you sneeze whilst holding a cup, such a waste!

Slow Cooker Beef & Guinness Stew

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This is the perfect dish for those long days when you come home late, and all you want to do is eat and fall into bed. This takes about half an hour to put together, but you can leave it to cook all day. This is about double what I usually do, it will serve 6 – 8.

2lb diced stewing steak

1/2 pt Guinness

2 onions

1 leek (optional)

1 swede

3 – 4 carrots

4 oz stew mix (pearl barley, split peas & lentils)

3/4 pt beef stock

1 tsp marmite/bovril

Pour the Guinness into the slow cooker and set it on high. Toss the meat in some flour and fry in batches. As each batch is done, add it to the Guinness in the slow cooker and let it marinade. Once all the meat is done, start on the veg. Lightly fry the onion and leek, dice the swede and slice/dice the carrots. Add prepared veg and stew mix to the meat, and give it a stir. Make up the beef stock and dissolve the marmite in it, before pouring over the prepared stew. Ideally the stock should be just below the level of the food, so just add accordingly. Cook on high for 4 – 6 hours, or 7 – 10 on low. In my opinion, slightly longer is better, as long as you don’t let it dry out. If you want to thicken up the gravy before serving, my favourite trick is to add gravy granules, but you could use cornflour instead. Give it another 10 minutes or so before serving if you do add any thickeners. This can just be served on it’s own, alternatively, dumplings, scones or potatoes would help it go a bit further.

*Tip: Experiment a bit with the veg, you can use pretty much any root vegetables, turnips, potatoes or parsnips would all work well. Just make sure the slow cooker isn’t over-full, and make sure it has enough stock and you’re good to go!