Homebrew… disaster?

Annie Gray suggested on the Kitchen Cabinet making basil wine and gave instructions here on her blog.

I had a go at it a few weeks ago and  have had a demi john sitting and bubbling in front of the telly right in front of me.  I carefully sterilised the demi john with brewing powder before adding the sugar syrup and basil leaves, but as I did so I wondered about whether the fresh basil leaves, harvested from a supermarket plant, would stay the course of the brewing process.

Homebrew

And of course they didn’t. They are now a festering morass of mould sitting on top of a pale green liquid with a yeasty mess underneath. This could have been avoided, I think, if I  had just boiled them with the sugar syrup, as that should have been enough to kill off anything nasty.  Similarly, it’s odd to have a recipe that only half fills the demi john. Why not simply double and fill up the space?

Is this normal? Should I throw it out? Siphon the liquid out carefully and strain?

(I don’t have a more recent photo because the camera on my phone has stopped working😦

Slightly more optimistically, the crab apple tree in the garden is looking highly healthy.

Homebrew

So I had a go at this recipe for crab apple liqueur – basically halve and steep in vodka and sugar.

Homebrew

Homebrew

Homebrew

Homebrew

This has very quickly turned a highly satisfying deep ruby colour and as the weeks pass, the apple halves are slowly sinking down the kilner jar.

What I read over the summer

Tsk, only a dozen or so posts from the last time I wrote about what I read over the summer. The skinny hasn’t changed much – it’s still almost all crime novels and thrillers, with the occasional pop science thrown in.

Before I tell you titles, I want to help promote a new blog from a friend, Britpulp. It’s a great collection of reviews of crime writing as well as some broader writing about the state of publishing within this genre.

This year in reading I have been continuing my trawl through all the works of P D James and Sara Paretsky, and recently have completed both Cordelia Gray novels. There’s a very graphic depiction of suicide by wrist slitting in one of them that has been preying very heavily on my mind ever since. In the Adam Dalgliesh world, I’m now more than half way through the series with Death of an Expert Witness read in a tent in North Wales over the May bank holiday and enjoyed; A Taste for Death which followed me around a couple of holidays and Devices and Desires in which unfortunate Dalgliesh ends up holidaying amidst a serial killer investigation with a nuclear power plant thrown in. (Again, fascinatingly, it’s the James’s depiction of bureaucracy in the 1970s and 80s that gets me. Nuclear power plants have committee meetings. Of course, when you think about it, they must have, but until reading this I never had thought about it.)

It’s been a while since I’ve dipped into V I Warshawski’s world, but most recently I have read Tunnel Vision with extended scenes set in abandoned storm tunnels under Chicago in a time of flooding. She gets thrown around, bruised and bloodied again and I often wonder if anyone has taken the trouble of writing a list of the injuries she has sustained across the series? It’s a wonder she can still walk after a career of being hit, shot, stabbed and beaten so often.

New this year has been the John Milton series by Mark Dawson. Not least for the opportunity to say, when quizzed on what you are reading, Oh yah, I’m reading John Milton? It’s not the highbrow fifteenth century poet, it’s a very readable thriller series set in the world of a British assassin, turned on by his own government and pursued across the globe. Whilst on the run, he also manages to atone for his past alcoholism with random acts of kindness supporting the oppressed, from council estate gang victims in London in the first book, to the women abused by drugs gangs in Mexico, to stumbling across a southern USA armed conspiracy. John Milton as a character is a mess of clichés – strong but vulnerable; unbeatable in a fight almost all of the time; super fit and talented with every sort of martial art and firearms skill. Mark Dawson deploys some reasonably obvious attempts to get us to like his characters and to build tension, but ends up with highly readable and enjoyable plots. And if you run out of Milton novels there’s a parallel series with an overlapping cast headed up by Beatrix Rose too.

I’ve been reading Mark Dawson on Kindle, and it seems well worth doing that. There are extra novellas not available in print which act as an introduction to his character, and an explanation of his new approach to writing – also here on his website. He’d been published in print before, only to see his novels sink without much critical or public appeal. He changed tacks to self publishing through the Kindle platform, which enabled him to engage more closely with his readers, and never looked back. Eventually, enough sales of his ebooks seemed to have pushed Amazon themselves to put his novels into paperback. Which seems a rum old way to get into print.

This afternoon I have finished reading For Reasons Unknown. Its author Michael Wood is a friend of friends on Facebook and promos for this keep popping up. It has a super female DCI as its lead character and unveils trauma in her life at the same time as working through a terribly twisty plot with a cold case and a recent death, all set in a snowy Sheffield. I had read somewhere that its author Michael Wood was a proof-reader and so a certain few horrors leaped out at me. Run-on sentences, and at least two occasions which looked like cursor slips where sentences had been jumbled into each other. Tsk, tsk.

This week in delicious

Some things I’ve made over the summer holidays that have been absolutely gorgeous…

This salted peanut and honeycomb rocky road. Melt 200 grams each of plain and milk chocolate with a tablespoon of golden syrup and 50gr of butter. Weigh 100 grams each of salted peanuts, mini marshmallows and three chopped Crunchie bars, stir into the chocolate mix and pack the mix into a lined, 25cm square traybake tin.

A bizarre sausage and cheese sauce combo from a how-to video in Portuguese which I cannot now find, originally on Facebook. Boil a pack of sausages in beer for 15 minutes and transfer to a grill / hot oven.  Take a cup of the boiling beer and stir in a cup of cream cheese and a cup of grated cheese. This was one of those recipes where you think, I like all of the ingredients, how can it go wrong?  And yet it was especially delicious. It might have helped that the cheese I had was a mix of strong cheddar and shaved parmesan, and the beer was German, but on the flipside the sausages were a fairly ordinary supermarket own brand.  The mix felt a little thin as it was cooking so I added more cheese and a teaspoon of cornflour dissolved in cold water, and the cheese sauce at the end was just amazing. Delicious hot, delicious cold as a sort of cheese spread, and in future I’m wondering about using it as a fondue recipe. I can’t tell whether it would work as well without the sausage boiling stage.

This was vaguely a possibility for barbecue or camping meals.

Sourdough blini for pudding club

For a pudding club, I made blini – well, basically sourdough pancakes. A cup of sourdough starter with an egg and a spoon of bicarb beaten in and fried in small batches. I then planned to top with cream cheese and sweet chilli sauce, cream cheese and smoked salmon trimmings, chutney and parmesan shavings and cherry tomatoes and pesto.  All quick and easy to buy and yet somehow I forgot to actually buy the salmon!

Blini

Last night I got carried away and made three courses, trying to see how much I could get through the nutribullet. This was shortly after having got carried away in Aldi, so most of the ingredients came from there.

Quick, nutribullet pate – blitz two smoked salmon fillets, a large spoon of creme fraiche, squeeze of lime juice, jar of black olives.  This was delicious but the final consistency was perhaps too smooth and sloppy and a little bit grey.  Easily enough for 6.

Quick, 4 ingredient nutribullet cheesecake – in retrospect, make this first because if the blender case is even slightly damp the biscuits stick.  Blitz six digestive biscuits and tip into a pan in which you have melted a large knob of butter. Mix well, press into two ramekins and chill. When you are feeling sufficiently relaxed and the biscuit base has hardened mix well two tablespoons of mascarpone cheese with an equal amount of lemon curd, home made if possible, shop bought if necessary, and spoon onto the base. Chill further.

My main course was as lacking in inspiration as always. Marinade chicken breast chunks in the rest of the lime juice and oil for as long as possible and fry until golden. Add an onion to the frying pan towards the end, if you have any left that aren’t rotten. Boil new potatoes in bite size chunks. Mix the two together with pesto.  Serve with a crunchy salad of carrot, radish and cherry tomatoes – I made a honey mustard salad dressing with some slightly suspicious elderly dijon from the fridge.

Nutribullet banana loaf

With a little help from Mary Berry I have been making a banana loaf most weeks for the last two months or so. Since my Nutribullet lives on the counter it’s quite tempting to use it for other things, and making cake is definitely something it can do.  Even with the blender available to me I have found myself overoptimistic about how many bananas I can eat in a week.

I prefer my banana loaf less plain than the Berry version, so here is what I have been making:

Wet/blitzable ingredients
100 gr melted butter (using melted not softened makes the nutri vessel easier to clean)
175 gr caster sugar
2 eggs
2 bananas
1 other fruit – pear or apple?
good splosh of milk
generous teaspoon of mixed spice

Dry ingredients
225 gr SR flour
2 big handfuls of sultanas
a good sprinkle of nuts, eg walnut pieces, whole shelled hazelnuts
glacé cherries if you have them

Preheat the oven to 180 deg / 160 fan.

Line a 2lb loaf tin – I use Loaf Tin Liners.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Blitz the wet ingredients in the nutribullet.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for an hour.

Check after 45 minutes. If the cake is browning on top but still moist inside, cover with tin foil to stop the crust burning.

If after an hour the skewer is still not coming out clean – this is a moist, heavy cake, after all – turn the oven off and allow it cool with the cake still in.

Variations
The same fundamental method works with other fruit, not just bananas. I’ve tried a pear and chocolate cake by substituting three pears for the bananas and adding two tablespoons of cocoa into the flour.

Since the nutribullet means you can blitz any fruit into a liquid, rather than mashing bananas with a fruit, you can turn pretty much anything into a cake.  On much the same basis that you can hide vegetables you don’t like in a nutribullet with fruit you do, you can also put vegetables into cake this way.

I don’t see the need to use baking powder as well as SR flour – too much and you end up with a cake that gives you heartburn.

Solar panel performance – 2014 and 2015

Forgive me reader, it’s been over two years since I last blogged the annual performance of my solar panel.

Solar panel performance 1/1/16

A photo this time rather than a screen shot as since I upgraded my computer I have been unable to re-download the software that would allow me to connect my new computer to the controller. This is rather annoying because I paid extra for the computer control facility.

Rather suspiciously, the controller reports almost identical kWh outputs for the last three years.

I will estimate it as 3,800 kWh per year. Nottingham Energy Partnership have an Energy Costs Comparison table. I neglected to look at it last year, so will have to use the data from last month now to estimate the financial value of the heat we got from the sun. I use the gas rate of 5.19p/kWh, since if the water were not heated by the solar panel, it would be heated by gas.

That means the solar panel gathered around £197 of energy in each of 2014 and 2015.

The running total to the end of 2014 is therefore £1,187 and at the end of 2015, £1,384.

September will see the ninth year of operation. When it was installed, we needed to put in a new hot water tank which was bigger than the old one, so the installers had to demolish my airing cupboard to fit it in. In the nine years since, I have yet to sort it out.

There are all sorts of flawed assumptions being made to come to that figure, so take it with a fairly large pinch of salt.

If you are considering a solar panel of your own, whether for hot water or to generate electricity, and you live vaguely near Nottingham, do please get in touch with Sungain at Nottingham Energy Partnership, who would be delighted to let you know what to do next. You can also follow them on Twitter, and they also have a very helpful service on their website that lets you compare your electricity and gas tariffs and see if you can save money.

Buckets more information about my own solar panel under this link.

And a declaration of interest: I’m on the board at Nottingham Energy Partnership, where they very kindly describe me as an “energy expert.”

French and German weather haiku

I wrote these last year in July as we were approaching a weather topic.

My aim was for Y7 students to make sure they understood them, then translate them into English, then fiddle with them until their English versions also met the syllable pattern to be a haiku.  This proved incredibly hard to explain!

Looking again at what I wrote after 9 months have elapsed, I still quite like them.

The ultimate aim is for students to write haiku of their own in the target language. This is a stretch for many.

Working with haiku in French and German is something I first did on teaching practice and is not really something I have managed to embed.

Please let me know what you think of these haiku – especially language errors, should you spot any.

En avril, il pleut
La pluie mouille la terre afin
que toutes les plantes poussent

 

Soudainement, la
pluie s’arrête. Puis le soleil.
Un bel  arc en ciel

 

Coup de foudre et
Le ciel de nuit s’éclaire
Des gouttes de pluie tombent

 

Quelques mois sans pluie
Des grandes fissures dans la terre
Temps de secheresse

 

L’hiver s’approche vite
L’automne est déjà parti.
Les arbres sont nus.

 

La planète congèle
Le lac et la rivière
Sont durs comme le plomb.

 

Die Klassenzimmer
ist so heiß wie ‘ne Wüste.
Ich brauche ein Eis!

 

Bald ist es Winter.
Die Bäume sind total nackt.
Herbst is schon vorbei.

 

Winter gibt es Schnee.
Frühling und Sommer, Regen.
Nur Herbst ist trocken.

 

Während des Tages
hat es heute geregnet.
Ich will draußen geh’n.

 

Heute morgen – Schnee.
Der Schneefall mag ich gucken.
Weihnachten kommt bald.

 

Schwitzen und streiten,
Beim sonnigen Wetter kann
Nichts gut herauskomm’n

 

Regelmäßig kalt.
Ohne Mantel nicht ausgeh‘n!
Handschuh‘ braucht man auch.

Diner à deux

Another opportunity to cook for a friend. As ever, starter and pudding ideas come easily to mind and coming up with a main is a little more challenging.

Tonight it’s potage parmentier – 3 leeks and one huge baking potato simmered in stock with a parmesan rind (thank you Julie/Julia) and some herbs, served with a swirl of cream and slices of the breadmaker bread mix loaf (“homemade” stretching it a bit) that’s on the go at the mo. Chicken breasts poached in stock (my friend is teetotal) then baked in homemade tomato sauce and strewn with cheese, with green beans, carrot batons and broccoli.

And the pudding is a chocolate chestnut ganache. In a French hypermarché years ago it seemed like a good idea to buy a multipack of little tins of Clément Faugier marrons glacés de l’Ardèche, in beautiful traditional blue and white designs, and I’ve been baffled about what to do with them ever since. I plumped on the idea of adding them to a ganache to make truffles as I was preparing something to take with me to Hogmanay in Scotland and it worked reasonably well. My first attempt with 150gr milk chocolate, 150ml of double cream and one little tin of chestnuts would have been fine as a chocolate pot to eat with a spoon but was too soft for truffling. Remelting with a further 50gr of bitter dark chocolate I had knocking around was enough to get the consistency right, but by then it was too late to form the truffles so I carted the lot off to Scotland in a recycled takeaway tub.

Since we are not eating chez moi ce soir, I’ve boxed the lot up for transportation, again in those hardworking recycled takeaway tubs. It was under an hour’s cooking at home and getting it on the table will be less than 30 minutes. There’s lots of spare soup and chocolate for later in the week.

Dinner for 2

This week an old friend posted on Facebook about chalet jobs in the Alps. I’ve had little fantasies about this kinda work ever since I heard about it. You spend a week in a chalet for 6 or 8 or 12 providing all the hot meals for the residents – a cooked breakfast, afternoon tea for when they come off the slopes, and then a full home cooked meal in the evening. I’d love to have a go at doing that for a season, even if I would almost certainly be terrible at winter sports, just for the cooking aspect. Of course it would be incompatible with paying a mortgage on the house in blighty and there are all the animals to look after so it’s not anything I’m going to move into any time soon, but… one day maybe?