Autumn

Last time I posted, it was summer. Now it is most definitely Autumn. In our area, today is one of those beautiful autumnal days. It is sunny and warm but with a cool breeze disturbing the leaves and blowing them around a bit. It’s a great day for wandering in the park kicking the fallen leaves around and picking up fallen apples and things to examine. Munchkin and I have been doing that a lot recently on our way to/from Nursery. He has been at nursery school (pre-school) for… well this is his 4th week. He absolutely loves it. He’s always first through the doors when they open up at 9am and he doesn’t look back for me! He usually gets stopped on the way is as Pumpkin and I lag behind (Pumpkin is more interested in playing with whatever presents itself in front of him). It is lovely to see him enjoying it so much and he obviously gets a lot out of it.
Pumpkin is also growing up and moving on as he should be. At almost 18 months old he’s very confident climbing and running and is devising ways to defend himself against his older brother. Unfortunately one of these is holding on very tight to whatever it is he has that his brother wants (and is generally trying to take from him) and screeching at the top of his lungs. It is lovely that this isn’t necessary when Munchkin is at Nursery and I am able to dedicate some time to playing with Pumpkin and taking him to groups things on his own.
The allotment is doing very well although the summer produce is as good as over now. We’re a lot further ahead than this time last year – hubby has been really determined and went down most evenings after the boys were in bed to get on with picking and bits of digging ready for the autumn planting and ready for next year. Since then he has spent a lot of chunks of time away and now the darkness has already set in by 7pm so we are paying rather less attention to it. Fingers crossed for a few nice weekends so we can get it even better prepared for next year!!
I have been doing lots of baking in the last week or so and have also got a couple more courgette things to put up (got a bit distracted with going away towards the end of August and then school starting, etc.), but they should go in a seperate post.

No time to blog..

It’s a busy time – trying to deal with all the produce from the allotment as well as all the usual stuff!! The holidays and the fact that there aren’t very many groups for under 5’s for six weeks is challenging my ability to keep my 3 year old and 1 year old boys entertained.
This morning we visited the Birmingham Botanical Gardens which we do fairly often as we have an annual family pass. It was a lot of fun! They have a good playground as well as sizeable grounds, lots of interesting plants and an aviary. Pumpkin was particularly fascinated by the enormous carp in the pool in the hothouse. It’s lovely that he’s now able to toddle around and see things rather than having to be strapped in the pushchair the whole time. He’s so confident on his feet (although still has his wobbly moments) and just seems to be able to get to wherever he wants. It can be a challenge keeping on top of where they both are, though. Mostly Munchkin does come back when shouted, but Pumpkin doesn’t have quite the same sense of discipline yet so I have to have eyes in the back of my head.
We came home for lunch and Pumpkin is now having his nap while Munchkin watches ‘get squiggling’ on cbeebies. He loves to watch it and draw along with whatever they are showing!
In other news, apparently our tomatoes didn’t have blight. My parents came for lunch and dad just said ‘that’s not blight! you just need to snip off the dying shoots and keep watering/feeding them’. So we finally have some that are ripening!!
tomatoes

And you can (hopefully) see a reasonable sized cucumber at the bottom of the cucumber plant in this picture:
cucumber plant

What to do with courgettes (aka zucchini) (6)

Make courgette lasagne with them.

I have used the BBC Good Food recipe for creamy courgette lasagne a few times, with a couple of variations, and love it. I use at least twice as much garlic (we love garlic) and I made my own tomato sauce (I never buy jars of tomato sauce – it’s too easy to make yourself!).
I chop a couple of onions and softened them in olive oil in a pan over a medium heat – sometimes I also add a couple of cloves of crushed garlic but no need here because of the garlic in the courgette mixture. I add a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes and a teaspoon of mixed herbs as well as a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree dissolved in about 200ml hot water. I simmer gently until it’s boiled down a bit and starting to get thick. Then it can be used as needed in the recipe.

I have always used Sainsbury’s Free From Lasagne sheets but recently they seem to take an awful long time to cook soft (even though they say there’s no need to pre-cook). Not sure what’s going on with that but I am finding that I have to soften them first otherwise my lasagne ends up burnt on top before the pasta inside is soft. I’d be interested to know whether anyone else has been having this problem with it?

What to do with courgettes (aka zucchini) (5)

Make mint choc chip muffins.

These are absolutely gorgeous – and you’d never know there was any kind of vegetable in them (just like most of the recipes in Harry’s book). From the recipe in Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood. I am quite gutted that I never took a photo of the last batch I made so that I could post it here.

Note for gluten free folks – almost all the recipes in this book are made using rice flour and all the ones I have tried so far are just delicious.

What to do with courgettes (aka zucchini) (4)

Make soup with them.

Personally I almost always make soup up as I go along. Every soup I make is different (even the few that I actually follow a recipe for). I made one the other day that was mainly courgettes and a few leftovers from my fridge. I started by chopping a couple of small onions and a carrot and gently frying them in olive oil. Then I added about 2 1/2 pints of chicken stock (homemade but I often use stock powder to make up stock for soup – in which case I always use Marigold’s low salt vegetable bouillon powder), about 6 chopped small/medium courgettes and cooked them in the pressure cooker for about 7 minutes on full pressure. Then I added random leftovers from the fridge (cooked french beans and carrots, a bit of leftover gravy, some cooked new potatoes) brought it back to the boil and whizzed it with my hand blender. I added some Season-All to add a bit of spice to it.
Variations are to use more carrots and onions, add celery at the beginning, other vegetables such as leeks, sweet potato, whatever you want really! A tin of tomatoes instead of some of the stock makes it a bit different, if I want a thicker soup I add a handful or two of red lentils, etc. etc. So many possibilites!!

Runner Beans

Hooray! We finally have runner beans! I am certain that they are a few weeks later than usual (last year we had so many I was taking bags of them with me to Tumble Tots to give away – which means it was mid-July as it must have been before the summer break) but they’re lovely and there are lots more coming. We had our first ones for supper last night – yum!
My parents visited for lunch today and with my chicken and ham pie we had our own homegrown carrots, french beans and new potatoes. All very nice. I am very proud of hubby for all the work he’s put into the allotment this year (with not all that much help from me – apart from babysitting!), it’s really paying off! The cabbages are doing well this year too – the first time they’ve been successful. We have curly kale doing very well and about ready to pick – shame everything seems to come at once!! I have a feeling I will be freezing a lot of french beans and giving away the runners once they really get going. We also have more courgettes than we know what to do with (and I have quite a lot of ways of using up courgettes – watch this space!!).

What to do with courgettes (aka zucchini) (3)

Eat them plain or with herbs as a vegetable side dish with whatever your main course is.

1) Microwave method:
Thickly slice your courgettes (if very large cut them in half lengthways before slicing), chuck them into a microwavable dish, sprinkle with mixed herbs, cover and microwave for 4/5 minutes until tender (I usually check them after 3 minutes and give them a shake to move them around).

2) Stovetop method:
Slice courgettes as above. Heat up some olive oil in a frying pan and lay out the courgette slices flat in the frying pan. Sprinkle with mixed herbs. Fry for a few minutes until golden. Turn each slice over with tongs and fry that side until golden.

I prefer the stovetop method but it can be a little greasy and definitely makes more washing up so these days tend to go for the microwave method. 🙂

What to do with courgettes (aka zucchini) (2)

Make a pasta bake.

Obviously you can add anything you want, but here’s one I made up the other day:
2 tbsp basil flavoured olive oil
3 small red onions chopped
4 sticks of celery sliced
1 red pepper roughly chopped
1 yellow pepper roughly chopped
2 small tins tuna, drained
5/6 medium courgettes, sliced (I used 3 green and 3 yellow)
approx 1 pint white cheesy/mustardy gf sauce (made with 1 pint milk, 50g butter, 25g cornflour, 25g rice flour, salt & pepper, some grated cheese, a good dollop of dijon mustard)

250g Sainsbury’s gluten free penne pasta (part cooked – boiled for about 3-4 minutes and drained)

Using a cast iron casserole I fried the onions and celery in the oil until soft then added the peppers and courgettes for a couple of minutes. Then stirred in the tuna and white sauce. Then I added the pasta and mixed it up well. I grated some mature cheddar on top and baked it for about 45 minutes on Gas 4 – 35 with the casserole lid on then 10 without to brown the top (I’d usually do it for half an hour on Gas 5 but went to have a bath while it was cooking so wanted some extra time!). Hubby and I ate it with mange tout and peas from the allotment. Yum!