Author: ausma

September on the balcony

September on the balcony

After quite a silence, it is time to post a balcony status update:

This year has been a little challenging in the balcony garden. The heat early on got to the plants a bit and they didn’t grow as well. However, we still managed to grow rather a lot and are happy with the outcome:

Plenty of tomatoes, lots and lots of cucumbers, climbing spinach, green beans and different varieties of chillies. Not as many fruits on each plant as other years but still a decent crop! And the balcony is green and colourful – we are happy 🙂

All about brioches

All about brioches

This weekend I revisited an older recipe, adapted from a Tom Kitchin recipe (Michelin star chef in Edinburgh): brioche buns with olive and sun dried tomato filling. Tom Kitchin’s recipe uses mushrooms but we prefer the olive and sun dried tomato filling. The brioche dough is so buttery, the buns end up incredibly soft, fluffy and melt in the mouth….mmmmm 😉 See here the recipe I posted a few years ago already (5th recipe as you scroll down on the this page:

Today I made these buns once more and Alex suggested I could also try making them with a cinnamon filling.  I used approximately 1/4 of the brioche dough as described in the recipe above. I made up the filling myself so can not completely precisely specify the quantities but it was approximately as follows:

  • 7 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 4 large knobs of butter
  • 5 heaped teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons dark muscavado sugar

Place all the above ingredients into a small saucepan and heat until melted and well combined. If the mixture is too thick, add some more syrup and butter. The consistency should be quite runny and as it cools down it will become more sticky and thick. Follow the savoury brioche recipe above to assemble the brioche rolls, using around 2/3 of the cinnamon mixture as the filling. Be aware that you need to spread the cinnamon mixture on the brioche dough while the mixture is still warm as otherwise it is really thick and difficult to spread. After 15 minutes baking in a muffin tray, place them into a small oven proof dish, tightly next to eachother and spread the remainig cinnamon syrup mixture on top, baking again until hot and sticky. Perfect eaten with a cup of coffee for afternoon tea 🙂

Spring is in the air

Spring is in the air

Spring has definitely arrived – the sunshine, the crisp cool air, the sprouting plants….this tempted us out onto the balcony to tidy it up for the 2019 growing season. Pots needed to be filled, others topped up and some first plants planted….and of course the grilling season had to be initiated with the first BBQ in the 19 degree March sunshine 🙂

Apart from tidying the balcony, we also started sowing seeds. See below an overview of what we have decided to grow. Seeds already germinating are indicated by an asterisk:

After many years of trying out our luck with different varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers we are focusing this year on the ones which gave us the largest crops in the past:

  • Tomato Red Berry*
  • Cucumber F1 Louisa*

A few years ago we had a bumper year of growing a large variety of chillies. It was exciting, colourful and spicy 😉 Last year we had some troubles with young chilli plants being destroyed by green flies (aphids). This year we decided to try again and will take extra care of our chilli plants to try and obtain as large a crop as few years ago. We are trying out a variety of chillies with colourful flowers and fruits:

  • Serrano Purple*, a Mexican chilli variety with stunning purple flowers and chillies ripening from green to purpe to red…apparently good flavour and gentle heat
  • Royal Black* for its intriguing dark purple/black  foliage and hot chillies
  • Chinese Hangijao 5* and Hangijao 8, so called ‘space chillies’ as they apparently originate from seeds shot into space, which caused gene mutations leading to extra large chillies. I’m not sure at the moment how true this is – will need to try and find some scientific literature before I believe it 😉
  • Scotch Bonnet Tabago, flavoursome and can be spicy, depending on the environmental conditions during growth.
  • Mushroom Yellow* with bright yellow chillies
  • 7 Pot Brainstrain Red* with funky brain like appearance
  • Habanero Chocolate, which we grew a few years ago, producing very spicy chillies. Watch out! 😉
  • Numex Centennial with purple and red chillies
  • Bolivian Rainbow with multicoloured chillies leading to rainbow like plants

Then we are also sowing some aubergine seeds – these are new vareities we haven’t tried in the past:

  • Aubergine Farmers Long*
  • Aubergine Ping Tung

…and a plant hugely successful on our balcony last year will also have a space on our balcony this year:

  • Red Malabar Spinach, a stunning vine with succulent spinach like leaves. If grown in full sun, the leaves are small, tender and sweet. If grown in shade it produces bigger more succulent leaves. Excellent in salads and also wilted down.

New to our balcony this year will be a large variety of edible leaves. Salads can just be wonderful with a mixture of different leaves and herbs. People often dismiss salad. It is boring and tasteless they say…not true! Just putting in a little effort with a mix of leaves and a nice dressing and some cheese on top makes just the difference. Just be inspired:

  • Mizuna F1 Red Empire, an oriental green with dark red leaves
  • Celery Leaf Red Soup, a red celery variety
  • Herb Coriander Calypso, the first cut and come-again, slow bolting coriander originating bred in the UK
  • Herb Coriander Confetti, carrot-like foliage with a sweet coriander taste
  • Mustard Red Carpet, baby leaf mustard with striking red colour
  • Herb Ice Plant, for adding texture to salads
  • Sweetcorn Shoots F1 Royalty which, germinated and grown in the dark, are sweet and tender
  • Komatsuna F1 Comred, baby leaves with green stems and red leaves

 

 

Indian food adventure

Indian food adventure

It is high time for me to write a post. Not much is going on yet on the balcony this year, but we have been very busy in the kitchen over the last months. We have mostly been perfecting the Indian curry feast. Make all the below and you are bound to have the most amazing flavour experience:

We had made curries before, however, recently Alex has really perfected them… with one key trick: blending the curry sauce at the end makes the most beautiful silky curry sauce. Blending the sauce also produces a much more consistent flavour throughout the curry. Thanks go to the author (Nagi) of another website who led us to our curry making breakthrough. Thank you! We attempted Nagi’s Chicken Tikka Masala and it was just excellent. The only adaptation we made was to slow cook the chicken longer in the blended sauce – leading to very tender chicken. I have listed this recipe (with reference to Nagi as the author) on the mains page of my website for our own records. We usethis recipe now as basis for any curry we make, just changing the spices to make different curries also with different meats. We have now also made Lamb Rogan Josh and Chicken Korma. I will put the spice combinations for these curries on my website as well in due course. Just watch out on the mains page.

To go with the curry, we make home made naan breads – there are many different naan bread recipes on line but the best so far in our opinion is this one. We make the naans almost entirely according to this recipe, just increasing the dough rising time (around 3 h until the dough has trippled in size). This of course depends on the yeast type and also the room temperature. Also, instead of garlic, we usually spread plain butter on the naans and sprinkle them with course sea salt and dry coriander. Perfect accompaniment to the curry above. I have listed this recipe on the baking page of my website for our own records and to include the steps we have adapted.

We have also had fun making Paneer cheese recently. Can’t quite believe how easy it is and much much better tasting than shop bough paneer cheese. One example where the effort to make it yourself definitely pays off! I can’t really reference one single source for this recipe as there are many very similar ones online. Very simple with just milk, lemon juice and salt as ingredients! The difference between recipes online is just the exact amount of lemon juice and salt.  I have listed the quantities, steps and tricks we use on the mains page of my website. We usually use the paneer cheese to make our version of Saag Paneer: paneer cheese marinated in spices and cooked with spinach.

Balcony excitement in July

Balcony excitement in July

Our balcony is full of plants now, but some plants are doing particularly well. I already know what to recommend to other people to grow next season 😉 I will write more at the end of the growing season, in particular about the experimental plants we are growing this year. However, here is an overview with some photos too:

The best things so far have been:

Cucumber Louisa F1: Once again, these plants are producing many large, juicy cucumbers. They are so easy to get a good crop from because they are self pollinating!

Tomato Red Berry:  Also a repeat inhabitant of our balcony 🙂 never fails to produce hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes. I already counted 500 tomatoes between two plants….more to come!

Tomato Gigantomo: We were interested to grow some larger tomatoes this year….or rather ‘giant’ tomatoes 😉  we have a couple of plants and we are getting quite some large tomatoes…although I don’t think we will beat the current world record of 3.5kg for a single tomato! Maybe someone else with a proper garden would like to try their luck with this? We think they just need more space and more nutrients in the soil than we are able to provide on our balcony.

Giant Basil: Talking about giant plants, here is one which has been a true success on our balcony. Giant Basil is providing us with great big leaves the size of our hands! This also seems to be rather a hardy plant, surviving the heat of our summer. We have already harvested Basil several times for making pesto…it just keeps growing.

West Indian Gherkin (Cucumis Anguria): One of our experimental plants. The plant grows as a vine…it can either sprawl or climb. We have rigged up a climbing frame and string for it to grow up…by golly it is climbing fast and producing loads of fruits a little similar in appearance to the young Bitter Gourd fruits we grew last year… the key difference between the West Indian Gherkin and the Bitter Gourd is that the West Indian Gherkin is actually edible…and really really delicious (well, both are edible but the Bitter Gourd is just so so bitter!!!!). Unlike the Bitter gourd, the West Indian Gherkins are sweet tasting. More like the Cucamelons we grew last year, although a little bigger.  You can eat the West Indian Gherkin whole, despite its thorny appearance…don’t worry, it’s not going to damage your tongue with its spikes! They are actually rather soft. Anyway, judging from how the plant is doing right now, this is a great plant to grow.

Tomatillo (a variety of Physalis):  Also known as the Mexican Husk Tomato, this is a very pretty plant to grow. A little more tricky to get it to form fruits though…apparently it can self pollinate but is much more effectively cross pollinated between different plants. I think I need to read a little more into this to see whether we can optimize fruit formation. At the moment we do have some fruits on the plants. They are encased in a soft green shell and I am curious to taste them and use them in tomato salsa.

Okra: Another experimental plant on our balcony this year…It isn’t growing as well as I thought it would, but it is interesting anyway. We have four plants and all are producing some Okra. We will have enough Okra to make a curry from soon. Not the biggest harvest, but enough for us. Interesting for anyone who fancies growing something more exotic.

Leaves leaves and leaves: Rocket, beetroot leaves, chard, lettuce, herbs (parsley, chives). We haven’t had to buy a single lettuce head… nor salad leaves… nor herbs. All just ready to pick on our balcony. It is a delight to be able to just go out and harvest an entire mixed salad from the balcony or doorstep.

 

 

Jungle in June :)

Jungle in June :)

I’m not going to write much. Just pop some photos up so you can appreciate what spring can bring on a balcony! I go out in the morning and in the evening and it is just a beautiful place to sit and relax.

Apart from encouraging whoever has time and a little outside space to grow the standard things (tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines) this year I hope to be able to give you some insight into growing some new tropical plants:

Tomatillo

Cucumis Anguria Gherkin

Coccinia Grandis Ivy Gourd

Let’s see, but for now here are some photos:

The ‘Straussenwirtschaft’

The ‘Straussenwirtschaft’

It is about time to introduce something very popular for locals and tourists in our area of Germany.

The so called ‘Straussenwirtschaften’ (Strauße, Straußior you may also hear people calling them ‘Besenwirstchaften’ are pop up restaurants (often in a barn, a living room or any other make-shift restaurant area) in Spring as well as in Autumn, serving their own wine and local food. The word ‘Strauße’ comes from the fact that in old times people would tidy up their living room and then hang out a bouquet or a wreath to signal to people the opening of the pop up restaurant.

Straußen‘ do not count as a proper gastronomic businesses, meaning they do not need a licence nor pay extra tax. However, they are subject to some regulation. One has to say though that different regions in Germany have slightly different laws regarding the Straußen. The most common laws are:

  • They are only allowed to open 4 months per year
  • They are only allowed to have a maximum of 40 sitting places. This is somewhat interesting though because there is no law to say how many people are allowed to squeeze on one bench or stand around on the premises 😉 therefore feel free to loiter around on the premises of a Strauße, without sitting down ;).
  • The third main rule is that the Straußen have to sell mostly their own produce (wine and food). One owner of a Strauße told us 50% of what they sell has to be their own produce (this is mostly the wine and the also vegetables, cheese and sausage).

We really got into visiting a lot of these restaurants this Spring.  It is a way to enjoy local wine and food in a relaxed atmosphere.  The food served is simple (for example Flammkuchen, asparagus, cheese and meat platters, sausages) but most often very well prepared. Often there are sitting places outside, set amid vines. Could not be a better way to enjoy the warm Spring evenings!

We have found three Straußen in our area which we have been going to many times now and would recommend to people:

Berner’s Strausse, Mauchen

Weingut Wiesler, Staufen

Probst’s Strausse, Staufen (however, it must be said, this is the oldest Strausse in the Markgräflerland which has by now turned into an actual restaurant)

Therefore, if you ever come to the black forest area of Germany in Spring or Autumn, enjoy the countryside, wine and food by doing a tour of these pop up restaurants 🙂

 

New recipe!

New recipe!

Last week I was inspired by my mum’s baking and decided to make a cardamom and nutmeg 8-strand plaited bread. I am pretty pleased how it turned out and think anyone who reads this should attempt it too! 🙂

You can find the recipe here at the top of the baking page.

 

Enjoy!

The unpredictable nature of plants

The unpredictable nature of plants

It’s time for a balcony update:

Things are growing well, but we have also had some challenges so far: mostly due to aphids! We find that seedlings, particularly while they grow indoors, get affected by aphids a lot. Aphids have a very fast reproduction cycle and can therefore get out of control very rapidly. They particularly settle on new shoots and leaves, to feed on the plant sap, which causes new plant shoots to wither and die.

Many of our little seedlings were affected by them this year, particularly the Okra plants (first year trying to grow these!). Luckily we had sown many seeds and also had spare ones to sow as a second batch. I have had to check the underside of all plant leaves every single day for aphids.

Additionally, there is a very simple household trick for aphid control: add a few drops of dish washing liquid to about 250ml water and spray it daily on the leaves of the affected plants, particularly covering the underside of the leaves. Aphids really dislike alkaline conditions. If you spray the plants every day for a week, the aphids will most likely be gone. Thereafter you can keep an eye on the plants and re-apply the water/soap solution as and when needed.

Challenges aside, our balcony is now almost set for the growing season. We have planted seedling plants in their final spots and are not waiting patiently (or impatiently). Doing well on our balcony at the moment are:

Cucumber F1 Louisa – chosen for higher resistance to powdery mildew compared to other cucumber varieties.

Okra Pure Luck – from a little research, it sounds like it should be quite easy to get a large crop of Okra without too much effort.

Tomato Gigantomo – the largest Tomato Gigantomo grown was 3.5kg!!! People around the world are trying to beat this world record. This could be rather exciting on our balcony! 😉

Tomato Red Berry – this is the tomato variety we have grown every single year since starting our balcony garden. It produces wonderful, juicy, sweet tomatoes.

Tomatillo – this is also known as the Mexican Husk Tomato. We hope to get a large crop to make salsa from!

Chillies – various different varieties (we bought little plants from https://spicesontheweb.co.uk/)

 

We also have some experimental plants on our balcony. They are still rather small, but let’s see how they do when it gets warmer:

 

West Indian Gherkin (Cucumis anguria) – West Indian Gherkin with an interesting, thorny appearance.

 

Ivy Gourd (Coccinia grandis) – a tropical vine with edible young shoots and fruits.

 

Finally, Alex sowed a lot of different types of salad leaf seeds and planted rocket and lettuce plants. All of these are making our balcony lovely and green. Additionally, we also decided to put hanging geranium plants in our hanging baskets. These are already making the balcony colourful and will hopefully attract pollinators later on in the growing season.

For now that’s it. Enjoy the attached photos:

Spring

Spring

Here, a few photographic impressions of our balcony: