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Growing your own 15 August 2009

Posted by cath in growing your own, Info and Cooks Notes.
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This year I’ve been growing more fruit and veg as well as the usual selection of herbs. Here’s a summary of what’s working, and what hasn’t!

Tomatoes have been a very exciting first for the bay window space. I got two small plants from a friends allotment greenhouse and I’ve seen them grow big and bushy, flower and set fruits. Finally, there is the exciting prospect of actually eating my own tomatoes as one is starting to ripen.

Ripening Plum Tomato

Ripening Plum Tomato

As well as two bushy tomato plants I also got a selection of tomatillos. They have very exciting little flowers, but alas so far no fruit have set. They have also grown a lot :) and I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that something will happen!

Tomatoes and Tomatillos

Tomatoes and Tomatillos

I’ve got a pepper plant. It’s small compared to the chillies I grew from seed, but I’ve been pollinating the first flower this week, and have high hopes for a large green pepper –  and if I get one, I’ll be sure to take a picture!

Bay tree, basil, greek basil and chives are all doing well, as are my various mints. This year I let my favourite mint die back in winter and I cut most of it away. It sprouted quite early in the year but is quite tough compared to my new mint plants. I also took a cutting of some very nice mint from my friends garden in Biggar and this has settled in nicely to indoor living.

Now the big failures! I finally took the plunge and went outside to grow! A friend gave me a courgette and 5 broccoli seedlings in June and after a while I hardened them off in the stairwell under the skylights and then outside – but I went for plant pots so as not to disturb the shared garden. Sadly, I’d never noticed what a snail and slug haven the garden was until now and my courgette was gone within about 48 hours! The broccoli was also ravaged, however, two of the plants were slightly stronger, and although not looking very pretty – they have survived the snail feast and seem to be growing slowly. We’ll see!

As for my courgette planter, well! I’ve ordered some rocket seeds and some copper strip and I’m going to try again with an August late summer salad crop with the slug barrier in place I hope this will be a return to success!

With a view to getting a lot of courgettes from my plant (too much forward planning perhaps?), I’ve been experimenting with courgette recipes to tempt my partner who was highly dubious about eating them. Good news is that he is now tucking in once or twice a week and I’ll post the recipe soon (once I’ve perfected it of course).

Hope some of this has inspired you to go out there, try growing your own…OK it doesn’t always go to plan, but its fun anyway. Not to mention very delicious and rewarding when it does work!

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Cookalicious Pickings – Growing Chillies 15 August 2009

Posted by cath in growing your own, Info and Cooks Notes.
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Cookalicious first got the chilli growing bug some years ago. We love chillies here and growing your own is great. I’ve been growing them again this year and have had a bumper crop already. I even grew some of last years’ fruit seeds with all 5 germinating and growing well in various homes including my own!

Here’s a look at the chillies I’ve been cropping and eating thus far…delicious.

The incredible 3 year old chilli plant

The incredibly hot chilli plant

This meandering chilli plant has been on the go for ages! It was actually bought 3 years ago from Phantassie at the Farmers Market (I think it was called ‘Ring of Fire’!). This year it’s growth has been remarkable as I was about to throw it away in early spring – then went away for 5 days and returned to leafy new growth. A quick prune and it has been happy as ever.

The produce really has been abundant despite the lower sunshine, here’s a nice crop for some laab:

Hot green chillies

Hot green chillies

My other plants are doing well and I’ve just started harvesting fatter, rounder chillies from them, you can see some fruit dangling temptingly from the branches. These chillies are from last year, and again the Farmers Market. Again barely seeming to survive the winter, they also sprouted again unexpectedly later in spring – worth hanging on to. I just give them a good prune of the dead and any weaker stems during early to late spring and see what happens.

Fat chillies

Fat green chilli plants

I was not very careful storing my dried red chillies and can’t remember which came from which plant, so the 5 seeds that I’ve grown could have come from any of these chilli plants – oops.

This year I’ll aim to keep a chilli from each plant in a separate envelope so that I can grow some of each as the older plants need replacing. Still, it was very exciting and remarkably easy to grow from seed (indoors this is), and I would really encourage all chilli eaters to give it a try. Fresh chillies – you just can’t beat them for heat and flavour. Growing the plant from home-grown seeds – well that just completed the cycle and has solidified my need for more growing space. More on that in the next post.

Cookalicious Musings 1 February 2009

Posted by cath in general info, Info and Cooks Notes, shopping notes.
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Was musing on excessive food packaging recently, see my other blog. It also reminded me of this comment from Tracy’s latest newsletter (Fitness with Tracy Griffen – February 2009) on the proliferation of pre-chopped vegetables and salads:

A chopping board and a knife is all you need to make carrot sticks, chopped oranges.

Yes! So get out your chopping boards people!

People can only continue to sell this stuff as long as we continue to buy it…

So the question is, are people prepared to change their habits? Can we be persuaded to use these simple skills again?

I hope so!

This year I also hope I can help some friends start their own veggie patch. I want to find out more about growing my own so that I’m prepared for when I get a garden one day! What I hope they get out of it is:

  • cost-effective, really tasty and fresh food
  • some good times outside with family and friends maybe?!
  • a sense of achievement :)
  • less trips to the supermarket
  • and a lot less packaging and waste
  • plus more material for the compost bin, yeah!

But as a gardening novice myself, we’ll have to see!

Fairtrade Fortnight 2008 25 February 2008

Posted by cath in general info, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, shopping notes.
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Go on! Try something fairtrade this fortnight…or any fortnight!

This is my review of fairtrade goodies. The list is evolving as I try and test fairtrade stuff available from local shops in my area.

1. Fairtrade Vanilla Ice Cream

Cream o Galloway – this one is locally produced using fairtrade sugar and vanilla, also uses organic egg yolks, so no concerns about the quality of life of those laying hens. I loved it, and can’t wait to try the chocolate flavour…

I’ve also tried Ben&Jerrys – this one also uses fairtrade sugar and vanilla, they also use free range eggs in their products which is reassuring. Again, a good quality ice-cream and a little easier to find in the shops from this popular brand name.

2. A bit early for Easter…but… Fairtrade Mini Eggs

Dubble Speckled Eggs – finally an ethical mini egg. The good news is that it tastes great, and with fairtrade vanilla, sugar and chocolate it is good too! I’ve seen them in the One World Shop, also in Oxfam shops around the country.

The fairtrade chocolate from Dubble and Divine tastes excellent, so make sure you go fairtrade for all your Easter eggs. There are also other varieties and brands to consider. See the fairtrade website for more details about fairtrade chocolate

3. Fairtrade Cola

Yes, there is an alternative to Pepsi and Coca Cola…and it is Ubuntu cola (not to be mistaken for the Linux distribution of the same name!*).

You can buy it in the One World Shop up here in Edinburgh, it is a very tasty cola made with fairtrade sugar (they state they are also going to try to source fairtrade caffeine from the fairtrade coffee industry which is interesting too). Check out the Ubuntu-Trading Website for more info and stockists in your area.

4. Fairtrade Vanilla

I’ve tried a couple of brands of fairtrade vanilla pods (Barts Spices and Ndali) and have recently tried the Ndali Vanilla Extract. This has been quite useful in brownie making – and is a lot less hassle than the pods. The extract is very different to the synthetic vanilla flavours I remember from years ago, and definitely worth a try if your a fan of vanilla.

5. Fairtrade Coffee – the old favourite

It has been a long time that Fairtrade coffee has been in the shops and in our coffee houses. Make sure you get a fairtrade cup – ask next time you order a coffee and make sure your cupboard at home/work is also stocked up with fairtrade:

Cafe-direct now does a massive range of coffee and more products besides.

Scotmid (or the Co-op) also has a full range of coffee and chocolate, also much much more, check out their website for more details.

Espresso Ground Coffee…

We’ve always found it hard to get good espresso coffee to make at home, but can recommend Clipper Espresso (with the picture of the Three Graces on the front). Great for use in your stove-top coffee pot.

6. Fairtrade Cooked & Canned Beans!

No, I’m not talking about baked beans! (but I can recommend Scotmid Organic Baked Beans, although presently they are not fairtrade).

These are Aduki Beans – a small, red bean – nutty and delicious. Particularly good as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes like cottage pie etc.

I’ve just made a vegetable and bean chilli con carne with Suma Organic, Fairtrade Aduki Beans, Black Eye & Kidney beans too, with lots of veg. The tinned beans are pre-cooked so they are very quick and easy to use. They don’t require lots of soaking/blanching etc. Best of all, they are now fairly traded.

Look out for them in your local shops. I’ll post my veggie chilli recipe soon…

7. Fairtrade Bananas – Let them loose!

I would love to eat more fairtrade bananas, but I have a problem buying the plastic packs of 7 or so bananas ubiquitously available in the supermarkets today. I don’t want 7 bananas, sometimes I just want one for lunch or as a healthy afternoon snack. Well, during fairtrade fortnight, I went in search of the humble loose fairtrade banana, with very little luck I’m afraid. I asked at several local shops who had the fairtrade poster up, but their bananas were not fairtrade! But I did find small packets of bananas in my local Scotmid – I got a pack of three for 54p – good value, but why the plastic packaging I wonder?

Quite unexpectedly I finally found the illusive loose fairtrade banana in my local Margiotta (a local chain of shops in Edinburgh) in Marchmont. The price was higher than Scotmid, but I was able to buy two individual (not plastic wrapped) fairtrade (with the mark on a sticker) bananas for 55p. Come on shops – lets see more of this please!

8. Other Fairtrade Fruits

Fairtrade oranges and citrus fruits have been in my local Scotmid, and some other supermarkets for a while now, but this fortnight I’ve been looking for more options. I’ve tried fairtrade grapes from Marks & Spencers this week, they were very nice, and good value due to being half-price (I expect that was just for fairtrade fortnight though!).

Other good ones to look out for are pineapple, mango and avocado – available from a lot of supermarkets, and some local organic stores.

8. Fairtrade Sugar

Nowadays you can buy a lot of different sugars, granulated, white, soft brown etc. Sadly I’ve not yet found any icing sugar for my brownie mix, so I’ll keep looking. Make sure your sugar bowl is full of fairtrade!

9. Fairtrade Cotton Anyone?

OK so it’s not food, but check out the increasing availability of fairtrade cotton for your clothes. I love People Tree and the One World Shop…but there is a lot more to choose from nowadays.

 

There is a lot more information on Fairtrade including product listings and brands. Check out the Fairtrade Website for more details.

 

 

 

 

*if you are actually interested in Ubuntu Linux (an open-source, free operating system), the website is: http://www.ubuntu.com/

Sprouting Goodness 26 January 2008

Posted by cath in easy, Info and Cooks Notes.
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(no not brussel sprouts!)

I got a great present this Christmas, a germinating jar from bioSnacky®. I’ve been trying out the various mixes of sprouts they sell in Real Foods, like Alfalfa, Mung Beans, Lentils, Radish. So far, it’s worked out well!

Alfalfa grows fast and fills the jar completely, the others are growing quite slowly by the relatively cold Kitchen windowsill, but are still tasty and very easy to look after.

Get yourself a jar, or similar, and give it a try (all the details are either on the seed packets, or come with the jar). The method goes something like this: Using a tablespoon or so of seeds, rinse them well, then leave to soak for the appropriate time. Rinse and drain, then do this 2 or 3 times daily during the 3-6 days germinating time. It depends on the sprout (or mix) that you choose.

Take a look at the jar of Alfalfa I harvested on Thursday:

Alfalfa Sprouts

My hope is to be able to grow my own beansprouts for stir frying etc. With a bit more experimenting, practice and hopefully as the weather warms up, I’ll get there…so watch this space!

Basic Recipes > Sourdough Bread 11 January 2007

Posted by cath in bread, freeze-friendly, Info and Cooks Notes, Recipes, specials, variations.
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Here’s a new bread recipe for the new year.

 Sourdough - Toasted

Sourdough Toast

 

Sourdough Experiment 1 – Prooving slowly in the fridge for 3 days.

This is something I’ve been meaning to try for a while – sourdough.

I’ve read that this is best made by using a small piece of dough kept wrapped in the fridge from the last batch of dough and kneading it into the next. Now, I haven’t got that far yet, although a small ball is currently fermenting in the fridge for the next sourdough experiment!

Meanwhile I tried a long, slow proove of half of my weekly dough batch to see if I could get a slightly sourdough effect. I was very pleased with the results.

Here’s what to do:

Day 1: Make a large batch of your favorite dough. I made two loaves with this amount of dough – 1 for immediate use, 1 for sourdough, so each loaf was 300g baked in a small bread tin (otherwise I would freeze the extra dough for use another time).

Try this mixture for 2 small loaves (cook one and keep one to try sourdough):

300g strong wholemeal and 300g strong white flour, 1.25 tsp dried yeast, 1.5 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp milk powder, 1.5 tsp salt, 420 ml water and 3 tbsp walnut/olive oil mix (instead of butter) with 4 tbsp pumpkin, 2 tbsp sunflower and 1 tbsp linseeds). See my bread recipe for other options and more details. For full instructions in making dough see this post.

Now for the new stuff… Prooving dough overnight in the fridge makes the loaf a slightly different texture, so I wanted to experiment with that effect.

Dough does rise in the fridge (albeit slowly), so put the dough in a medium bowl (at least twice the size of the dough ball), covered with oiled clingfilm (oil-side down) and leave it in the fridge overnight.

Day 2: In the morning, the dough should had risen, so push it back down into the bowl – effectively knocking it back and removing the air. Then place back into the fridge. Repeated that in the evening and again in the morning of Day 3.

Day 3: Turn out the dough onto a floured surface (use bread flour again) and knead it for a minute by hand to remove the air bubbles. Then push the dough ball into a flat, roughly rectangular shape the length of your bread tin. Roll it up like a Swiss roll and place in the oiled tin.  This should gives a perfect size and shape to fit the bread tin.

Replace the oiled clingfilm loosely and put it back in the fridge for 4 or 5 hours (minimum) where it will slowly take shape. Remove the bread from the fridge to warm up to room temperature and finish prooving before banking, this will take an hour or two –  don’t let it puff up too far. Once it has shaped, put it in a pre-heated oven (at least 210 deg C) for about 20 minutes (longer for larger loaves) until it is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

The bread should be dense and heavier than a typical loaf. It should also keep a little better.  It will also freeze well (try cutting slices to freeze so you can toast straight from the freezer). It makes lovely, crispy toast too. Hope you enjoy – and lookout for experiment 2 with my fermenting ball of dough…

Baking Tip:

For a crispier crust on the base and sides, try removing the bread from the tin for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time – excellent if you’re checking the bread for hollowness and it’s not quite done.

Prooving Help!

Accidentally left your dough to rise and puff up too much in the tin? Don’t panic! Just push it back in, removing all the pesky air bubbles and then wait for it to reshape again…just try to check on it more regularly to avoid it going too far. Your aim is always to double the size of the shaped dough that you put in the tin. The great thing about dough is that it doesn’t mind the odd hiccup, it will just need time to rise again.

Cooking Chinese 6 December 2006

Posted by cath in Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Recipes, shopping notes, stir-fry.
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A Note About Chinese Supermarket Goodies

If you enjoy stir-frying, then you’ll definitely want to pick up a few essentials from the Chinese Supermarket:

Shaoxing rice wine

Shaoxing Rice Wine

You can try using white wine, or if you happen to have some dry sherry, that would be better…but really there is nothing better than the real thing – it keeps well once opened.

Dried Shitake Mushrooms

Shitake Mushrooms - Dried

Really useful for more than just Chinese food…You only need to soak them for around 10 minutes in warm water, then chop and add to the dish. Some cooks suggest removing the more fibrous stalk – but it’s never done me any harm!

I also add chopped, soaked mushrooms them to risotto – and soaking a mixture of dried porcini, chanterelles and shitake for half an hour or so makes a fantastic mushroom stock for the risotto too.

I would also consider them as a substitute for fresh mushrooms in other recipes too.

Sesame oil

Sesame Oil

Also good for marinades and to add some nutty flavour to noodles.

Dried Noodles

Noodles

You can get a vast array of Chinese (and Japanese) style noodles, quick to cook so that always means fast food!

Oyster Sauce

Oyster Sauce

Excellent for a variety of marinades and sauces (including Sweet and Sour Sauce). Keeps (for ages, and I mean literally years) in a cold cupboard or in the fridge.

Vegetarians, look out for a mushroom version, which is very similar in style to this sauce and makes a good veggie substitute.

Soy Sauce – Light and Dark

Soy Sauces

A must have – and definitely worth buying these large bottles at the Chinese supermarket they are much cheaper than supermarket equivalents.

The Light version is usually added to cooking and to season the finished dishes.

The Dark version more often used in marinades.

New Thai Shop in Bruntsfield 20 August 2006

Posted by cath in Cooking Links, general info, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, shopping notes, Thai food.
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I spotted another shop offering fresh Thai produce, this time in Bruntsfield Place (near the fantastic Coco of Bruntsfield chocolate shop…but that’s another story…!)
Orient Thai Market (162-164 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh) has a small selection of fresh imported Thai goods (and can do special orders on request) and a wide range of canned and dried goods. There is a small Japanese section which could also be of interest.

It looks like another good place to go and pick up some fresh Thai basil leaves, galangal (ginza) and chillies. One more thing they have on offer is a recipe card and help finding the appropriate ingredients in store, and a Thai Tourism publication which has lots of information about Thai cuisine, ingredients and some recipes.

This means it’s time for me to get typing and give you all some new thai dishes to try too….

Following recipes and other controversial topics! 5 July 2006

Posted by cath in general info, help, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Recipes, thai curry, Thai food, thai salad, thai soups, variations.
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One thing you all should know about cooking is that it’s all about personal taste. As the cook, you get to decide what ingredients to use and what your meal should taste like. For me, recipes are just guides, offering ideas and techniques, which are then adapted to what I have, what I like, who is coming round for the meal etc.

Variety is important. Everyone can have their own special way of making things, and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re new to cooking, you may find it hard to deviate from recipes, so here are some tips on what to think about when reading a recipe.

There has been some controversy about my Laab recipe so lets start with some thoughts about Thai salads and other Thai food…

A recent post included another recipe for Laab. The two recipes are very similar – a couple of different ingredients, including sugar in the alternate recipe, and slightly different cooking techniques.

Cooking can be a controversial topic, and you’ll find many different ingredient lists and techniques for basically the same dish – Thai food is no different. Depending what ingredients you can find, you may have to adapt and look for substitutions. Also consider where you are, what your personal tastes are, and what about your guests? My Thai cookery teacher always asked what a dish needed when we tasted it…his response was always “more chilli!” so my recipes are pretty spicy reflecting this. Having tried both spicy and less spicy (when entertaining guests) I think it’s always worth adding a little more chilli than you think, the heat really works with Thai food.

Here are some other things to think about:

I don’t like adding extra sugar when it’s not required, so I would generally only add sugar to sweet and sour and possibly shop-bought panang paste. Its all about personal taste, but here in the UK we rarely need extra salt or sugar – this is not a tropical climate! So think about who’s going to be eating your meal, and where, before chucking in any sugar…

When you’re learning to cook it’s good if you taste your food before and after adding extra ingredients. Thai food has four main layers of flavour: salt, sugar, sour and spicy. If you taste before adding fish sauce or lime juice to a dish you can see what a difference these ingredients make. In my laab recipe, mint provides sweetness, with fish sauce, chillies and lime providing their usual salt, spice and sourness. If you like extra sour, add more lime juice at the end, as discussed elsewhere, cooking lime juice reduces it’s sourness. Taste and adjust until it’s what you like, or what you think your guests will enjoy.

Kaffir lime leaves are a common enough ingredient in salad, but I am not a big fan – I prefer fresh herbs such as mint and coriander as they are more widely available locally (in the UK). Lime leaves keep well in the freezer and are a good ingredient to have on hand frozen to add to soups and curries for an extra lemony flavour. But frozen leaves don’t work quite so well chopped up in salads. If you want to try lime leaves in salads look out for fresh lime leaves and use them promptly.

Now for the most controversial topic – do we marinate the meat (albeit for just a few minutes) before cooking, or after! My recipe recommends adding flavour including lime juice to the mince before cooking, then cooking it all up. This is the recipe I was taught, but more interestingly, it is a technique I watched many times on stalls and in restaurants. Some Thai (and other regional) dishes are actually not cooked: prawns and other meats are sometimes ‘cooked’ by just marinating in lime juice – the acid in the juice ‘cooks’ the meat or fish so it’s technically no longer raw. In the case of Laab, this was always the first step, you will see the meat take on a less raw appearance as its sits in the lime juice while you prepare the rest of the dish. Cooking in this case just heats up the salad, properly cooking it where appropriate, Thai meat salads are usually served warm. Adding the hot meat to the herbs in the serving dish really brings out their aroma. Remember if you cook the meat for long, the lime juice sourness will dissipate so add some more at the end.

So: cook, taste, add the next flavour, taste again…this is the best way to learn and adapt to your palette and to understand the effect of making substitutions.

Herbs: The Windowsill Garden 8 June 2006

Posted by cath in general info, herbs, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Recipes.
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I love cooking with herbs, fresh, fragrant, delicious. I used to be forever going to the grocers and other shops hunting for bunches of fresh mint, basil, oregano, bay leaves, chives, in fact most herbs…

Herbs

My Windowsill Herb Garden

Bay tree

The Kitchen Bay Tree

 

…Not any longer! Now I grow my own herbs on the windowsill. Well, to be more accurate it is a table by the window and I still don't have corriander or oregano, but it has revolutionised cooking and taking care of, snipping and using the homegrown herbs is a great feeling.

Now I was suspicious at first, after all, growing herbs indoors seemed a bit lame…but I live in a sunny flat and I've always wanted to give it a go. I've gradually built up the collection but now have several basil plants, some mint and chives grown from splitting and repotting "growing herbs" from the Coop, and some plants from Dobbies (Garden Centre): a largish pot of garden mint, a small black peppermint plant, thyme, lemon thyme, marjoram, rosemary and parsley. In the kitchen I've also got my Bay tree and some chives.

All the herbs are a couple of months old now, and they are all doing very well. For the small expense at the garden centre, I've got more herbs than I need and they are growing strongly. Even my attempts to repot individual basil and mint plants from the shops has been a massive success. We've had plenty of basil for tomato sauces, cheese sandwiches and other pasta and vegetable dishes…we've also been drinking up plenty of fresh mint tea in the evenings and have made mint sauce and Laab (thai salad) with the growing mint too. In fact, the more I use the herbs, the more they grow…it's been a real time and money saver all in all, and a very tasty one too!

Where to grow them 

I grow most of the herbs in a sunny (south facing) window of a small room – door closed most of the time, it's my personal greenhouse. The room is not draughty at all and gets quite hot in the summer sun.

The bay tree is happy in the kitchen, again by the window, although this is a North North West (ish!) facing window , it does get some evening sunshine, but only a touch – and it's loving it there where there is plenty of light. It has been growing like mad.

Growing Herbs anyone? 

If you tend to buy pots of growing herbs, I would recommend getting them out of those poky wee pots and splitting up the best seedlings into larger pots of compost, 3 or 4 basil plants to a pot, more for mint or chives. I usually stick all the weedier seedlings back in the original pot and use them first, giving the better plants a chance to develop. When you're cropping the plants, remove a whole stem, say above the first two leaves…the plant literally grows two stems where you cut one off, so you should have loads of herbs within weeks. Basil and mint have worked particularly well as I use them most often. Of course you have to feed the plants once in a while, I've been recomended Tomorite and will be watering them with a weak solution once a week.

Get growing your own herbs too! 

Even if you don't have green-fingers, this is definately something to try. Start off with some growing basil or nip down to the garden centre and try it yourself. Highly recommended by the cookalicious tasters!