Salted Butter Caramels

Salted Butter Caramels

If you can’t beat ’em join ’em? I don’t think I can write this post without at least a nod to the crazy-brilliant current trend for EVERYTHING salted cararmel. Except… salted caramel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a salted caramel being sold in a shop, nor a recipe on a blog. Salted caramel ice cream? Check. Coffee? Check. Pie? Check. Mousse, brownies, sauce? Check, check, check! So, let’s simplify. Let’s talk sugar, butter, and very high temperatures.

These will make perfect holiday gifts, fairly easy to make, delcious, easy to transport, and easy to wrap up in a pretty and festive way. But a word of warning- don’t share these morish sweets with anyone for whom you pay the dental bill. These are sweet, buttery and deliciously chewy. I made them as a gift for a dinner I’m going to tonight. They are rich, and sophisticated without being boring. Don’t forget your thermometer.

Salted Butter Caramels

Makes a 9 inch by 9 inch tin.

Ingredients

150g light brown sugar

25ml water

75g unsalted butter

150g muscavado sugar

75ml golden syrup

200ml creme fraiche

2 tsps fine salt

1 tsp maldon sea salt

Method

Measure out all your ingredients in advance. You’ll need them ready to go when the temperatures start to rise.

Line a 9″ by 9″ tin with baking parchment.

Mix the water and first 150 g sugar in a large saucepan and heat over a medium heat until the sugar has all dissolved. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the heat and add the butter. Stir in until it’s melted. Then stir in the remaining sugar, golden syrup, the creme fraiche and salt.

Return the pan to the heat and bring it to the boil, watching it all the time to make sure it doesn’t bubble over. Stir occassionally to stop the sugar from burning. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes. Then turn the heat up to the maximum possible. Put a sugar thermometer in the pan.

Heat the caramel to 125 degrees Centigrade. It will be bubbling like crazy. Whatever you do- don’t touch it! As soon as it hits 125, remove from the heat. Pour into your pre-prepared tin.

Sprinkle over the maldon seat salt. Leave the caramels at room temperature until cold.

When it’s cold, remove from the tin by picking up the parchment paper. Then with a very sharp knife cut into squares. Either wrap individually in parchment paper or wrap as a batch and store in an airtight tin.

December: 5 Things I’m Lovin’ this Month

Listening to an English radio station through my new Nude speakers whilst editing at home, I wanted to share my excitement over my new purchase. Being home alone, I didn’t have anyone to tell. And then I thought of you! So please, indulge me. I’ve had guests for 7 weeks and now they’ve all left.

So without further ado, five things I have wanted to shout out about this week!

1. NudeAudio Move M Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker – Grey/Mint

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So I think I might be a bit slow to the party, but these are awesome! They wirelessly hook up to my iPhone and the sound is bang-ing! I have an ‘Amelia-Proof’ case around my phone and so it won’t fit into a dock without  me going through the hassle of removing the cover. With these the phone can be up to 10 metres (in reality more like 5 around corners) away from the speaker. I’m so chuffed with these. I have music blaring from my phone at least 4 hours a day and now the sound is decent and LOUD (sorry lovely neighbours). Hooray!

2. Stratejoy’s Holiday Council

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For the next 21 days I’ll be reviewing and evaluating. Figuring out what rocked about this year and what sucked. Working out how I want next year to look. I’m SUPER excited about it. It’s not just about goal setting, but about figuring how you want to feel by the end of 2014 and how you can get there. Through a mixture of recorded interviews, phone calls, a  workbook and online questions, we’ll figure this stuff out as an online group. I’ve been feeling a little lacking in direction recently, and this is just what I need to get me on track. Registration has closed now but Molly has courses running through the year and is well worth a look.

3. Woodwick Candle Cinnamon Chai Medium Jar

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Our lovely aforementioned neighbours bought this for us when we dog-sat for them. There was really no need as we loved every minute of having Zura, a gorgeous, Bichon Frisé staying with us, but this candle is wonderful. It smells gorgeous and it CRACKLES like a wood fire! With the soothing sound of crackling, and the gorgeous cinnamon scent I feel like I’m back home in England with a pot of mulled wine on the stove…. which leads me nicely to….

4. Daughter of Fortune: A Novel

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This gorgeous novel is always my first recommendation when guests browse my bookshelf for books to read by their pool. It’s paints the most vivid picture of its characters, their homes and the colours that surround them. I was hooked from the first page. I always enjoy books where I feel that I’m learning whilst unable to put the book down. This taught me more about the San Franciscan gold rush than I thought I needed to know. A Dubai 7 stars to Allende!!

5. Jerusalem: A Cookbook

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I’ve already referred to this AMAZING cookbook by Ottolenghi a couple of times on the blog (here, here and here!) but it is THAT good that it’s worth mentioning again. This would be a super Christmas present for any budding chef (or to yourself?) with an interest in Middle Eastern food. It’s extended my sights beyond Lebanese takeaway and for that I will be forever grateful. Thanks to Ottolenghi tahini has become as much of a staple in my fridge as tomato ketchup. Amen.

Beetroot Gazpacho

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This weekend I headed down to Safa Park to check out the recently opened Ripe Market. Wow. Dubai’s artisans have really gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years. There was beautiful Christmas decorations, locally made pottery, imported rustic furniture, locally made bags, home-made cakes, delicious coffee stalls, juice bars, and gorgeous hand-made clothes. There must have been at least 100 stalls there of really great quality produce. Marbrook Dubai!

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I resisted temptation to buy anything other than picking up my veggie box as planned. I’ll be back next week with my shopping list. When I got home I saw I had 5 beets in my box… again. I’ll be honest, I’ve had beetroot in my box every time I’ve bought one and I NEVER know what to do with it. Beetroot reminds me of other root veggies, swede, and turnip, and thick, comforting English stews, crackling fireplaces and long hearty walks in the countryside. What could I possibly make that would work when it’s 28 degrees outside?

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Enter this divine, deep gazpacho soup. Goodness in a bowl, it is at once hearty, earthy and refreshing. It’s the perfect Dubai winter lunch. I used about a third of my veggie box- tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and onion and it served four people.  All organic, all locally grown. The beet leaves can go in too- no waste, extra depth, extra vitamins! This is definitely going to become a regular Saturday lunch for us.

Beetroot Gazpacho

Ingredients

750g tomatoes, chopped

350g raw beetroot including leaves, peeled and chopped finely

1 green pepper

300g local cucumbers (approx 6 small Dubai, or 1 English)

1 small red onion

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method

Prepare all the vegetables, and using a food processor, liquidizer or blender, puree together until completely liquid.

Season the soup, and stir through the vinegar and olive oil. If your veggies weren’t cold before you started, put in the fridge to chill.

Canadian Blueberry Muffins

It’s 8 o’clock on a hot, Canadian, Tuesday morning in August 1999 and I’m 17 years old. My host family are sat around the breakfast table eating blueberry topped cereal. Would I like some?  Blueberries? On my cereal? Absolutlely! I don’t think I’d ever seen a blueberry before, other than perhaps one or two tucked away under some banana in a fruit salad. We were on a school field hockey tour to British Columbia, and I was eating blueberries for breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea.

Following the expansion of global fruit distributors, and my move to the desert, blueberries are now a regular guest in our fridge, but what follows is the very first recipe that got me hooked. This recipe reminds me of hockey matches, incredible scenery, playing ‘mafia’, the beach, and some of the most welcoming and hospitable people I’ve ever met. It smells of Vancouver Island’s bear inhabited forests and West Vancouver’s beaches. Most of all though, it reminds me of a particularly generous host-mother turning up at our minibus as we were about to depart with a BUCKET of these muffins, stuffed full of more blueberries than I thought possible. 14 of us hungry hockey players demolished them in a matter of minutes.

Turn on your oven and dig out the blueberries (frozen works too). These uncomplicated, fresh blueberry muffins are perfect for entertaining a crowd.

I wish I could remember the hockey-mum that gave me this recipe but I can’t. Instead I’ll dedicate it to all the mums in BC that were so kind to us in the summer of ’99.

Canadian Blueberry Muffins

Makes 20 large muffins

Ingredients

110g butter

200g caster sugar

2 eggs

240g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla essence

1/2 cup of milk

2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen, if using canned rinse first)

2 tsp sugar for topping

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat well.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk and vanilla.

Gently stir in the blueberries.

Put in paper lined muffin cups (I often use cupcake cases which make smaller muffins).

Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Learn from my mistakes! This mixture can’t hold more than 2 cups of blueberries!

Za’atar Caramalised Onion and Sumac Chicken Tart

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This was a request from my current house guest. He’s an expat from Singapore, a city with an incredible food scene, but one which is so so different to ours. He’s excited by the new flavours and textures in Lebanese food and requested this for lunch today.

I am planning a series on local and Lebanese ingredients, but for now a short explanation about za’atar and sumac will have to suffice. Za’atar is a herb mix originating from Arabia, but no one is quite sure where specifically. It’s most commonly associated globally with Lebanon, but it’s used all over the region, in varying forms. The main ingredient is thyme, and this is mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac and salt. Sometimes cumin, coriander or fennel seeds are added. Za’tar is becoming really easy to buy in the West, most supermarkets stock it, but I would highly recommend buying variants from any Middle Eastern stores you see- you may find a new blend you prefer. Many of the mass-produced blends add roasted flour which makes it quite ‘dusty’ in texture and taste. Sumac is made from dried and ground sumac berries and has a really unusual flavour. Here I use it to flavour the chicken, but I often mix it into tomato soups, or add it to salads.

For a much healthier lunch, I suggest serving the chicken, onion, pomegranate seeds and pine nuts over a bed of rocket.

I made this with a whole wheat homemade pastry as I needed to test the recipe for work, but let’s be honest- I’m not sure it’s worth making pastry these days- the frozen ready-to-roll stuff in the supermarket is so easy to use. If you want to make it yourself, just use your preferred pastry recipe.

Za’atar Caramalised Onion and Sumac Chicken Tart

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 short crust sheet ready-to-roll pastry

1/4 cup olive oil + 2 Tbsp for chicken

2 large white onions, sliced thinly

3 garlic cloves

salt and pepper

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp za’atar

4 tbsp sumac

3 chicken breasts

3 tbsp pomegranate seeds

4 tbsp pine nuts

Method

Roll out the pastry to fit a 30cm x 15cm rectangular baking tin. Line the tin with baking parchment and put in the tin, ensuring a lip on all four sides to hold in the filling. Cook according to the instructions until the pastry is a golden brown. Take out and cool completely.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a heavy pan. On medium heat fry the onion and garlic, after 3 minutes add the salt, pepper, sugar and za’atar. Stir to coat everything and turn the heat down to low. Leave to caramalise stirring gently occasionally. Make sure the sugar doesn’t burn. After approx 40 minutes, when the onion is soft and dark brown remove from the heat and stir in 2 tbsp sumac. Pour into a colander to drain off the excess oil. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Centigrade. Cover the chicken with 2 tbsp and then coat with the remaining sumac. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes. When done cover with foil to stop the chicken drying out.

When you are ready to assemble the tart place the tart on a serving plate. Put the onion in the bottom, then slice the chicken very thinly. Layer this on top, followed by pomegranate, and pine nuts. Sprinkle with more sumac and garnish with fresh thyme if you have some.

Walnut Bread

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I made a big mistake the first summer I lived in Dubai. I booked our summer holiday for the end of June. Ramadan was at the end of August. For those of you who are not familiar with summers in the Middle East, the temperatures go off the scale. The hottest temperature our thermometer has recorded in five years is 53 degrees Centigrade, and it hangs in the shade. Ermm… that’s hot enough to fry an egg outside, cause me to faint (numerous times), and HEAT PLATES.  That meant I had 3 stinking hot months ahead of me, with little happening and most people fleeing the heat for cooler climes. The kitchen was my refuge.

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 One of the best things about the heat is that I can use the balcony like an English airing cupboard, for my bread to rise. (In England the warmest part of any house is the cupboard with the water boiler in it, and it’s where we leave our dough to prove). For some reason I find this entertaining even five years on. In the summer when the sun only serves to scorch, I’ve found a use for it. On my balcony pretzel dough doubles, sourdough forms bubbles and doughnut dough rises.

So, here’s a recipe I discovered this summer. This bread is absolutely stuffed full of walnuts, and is divine served with goats cheese and figs. It’s easy to make- I’ve made 4 loaves and they’ve all turned out great. It just requires a bit of time. I normally get started with it on a Saturday morning when I wake up and by the time I’ve finished getting ready for the day, doing a bit of tidying and cleaning, with some low-energy kneading in between the loaf is ready for the oven.

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Adapted from Short & Sweet by the fabulous Dan Lepard who has taught me nearly as much about baking as my Mum.

Ingredients

300g strong white flour, plus extra for shaping

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 teaspoons fast action yeast

125ml red wine

75ml water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

150g coarsely chopped walnuts

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Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Using a liquidizer, blend the wine, water, oil, honey and 50g of the walnuts until smooth. Pour this over the flour and add the remaining walnuts. Stir to make a sticky dough. Cover and leave for 10 minutes. Knead the dough on a lightly oiled word surface, 8 to 10 times only. Oil the bowl slightly and return the dough to the bowl. Leave for 10 minutes. Repeat the kneading process and place back in the bowl. Leave in a warm place for 30-45 minutes until increased in size by 50%.

Line a tray with baking paper, lightly flour the work surface and roll the dough to roughly 15cm x 20cm. Roll the shorter side up to form a tight sausage and place this seam side down on the tray. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave outside again for an hour. Heat the oven to 200 deg C/180 deg C fan/390 deg F/gas 6. Lightly dust flour over the dough with a small fine sieve or tea-strainer and make rapid criss-cross cuts with a sharp knife. Bake for 40 minutes and then leave to cool on a rack.

 

 

Chewy Chocolate and Raisin Rye Cookies

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These cookies were a fabulous surprise. Having bought a bag of rye flour to use 100g making a loaf of bread which didn’t turn out how I hoped, I had 1.4kg of rye flour sat in my cupboard. Every time I opened my baking cupboard it looked at me, asking to be used, and every time I reached over and picked out the self raising flour, or plain flour. What on earth was I going to do with all that rye flour? Dan Lepard had the answer. Chocolate and Raisin cookies. Well, they sounded a bit boring, but they ticked the boxes, I had all the ingredients and they use rye flour. I could also kid myself they were healthy with all the rye and raisin. (Ha- I ignored the 125g of butter!)

Well, as soon as my bag of rye flour is finished I’ll be straight out to buy another one. These are the best cookies I’ve had in years. A self confessed chocoholic, even with only 2 tablespoons of cocoa in them, these are rich and heavy and chewy and so very morish. I omitted the bicarbinate of soda from the original recipe, which means they don’t spread as much, and thus are chewy and dense rather than crispy and thin. If you want a crispier biscuit add half a teaspoon of bicarb to the flour. They are stuffed full of chewy raisins too.

These are particluarly scrumptious straight off the baking tray. But aren’t all cookies?

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Chewy Chocolate and Raisin Rye Cookies

Adapted From Short and Sweet, Dan Lepard, a book I can’t recommend highly enough

Makes approx 20 cookies

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, room temperature

100g soft brown sugar

100g caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa

1 egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

150g rye flour

250g raisins

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/160 degrees C fan/Gas mark 4 and line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper. Using a electric whisk combine the butter, sugars and cocoa, then beat in the egg white, followed by the vanilla.

Add the flour and with a wooden spoon beat everything together until smooth. Stir in the raisins and then roll the mixture into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball. Sit them on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, until the raisins puff and pop through the crust of the cookies.

Leave to cool on the tray for five minutes and then place on a cooling rack.

All-Things-Good-For-You Cinnamon Granola Crunch

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Sometimes you need to refuel the tank with the extra good stuff. And here it is. This granola really packs a punch. Good oils, vitamins, minerals, more vitamins, more minerals. Top it off with low-fat yoghurt, fresh fruit or milk and you’ve got a tasty breakfast or dessert. When I have friends coming for brunch I always make a big jar of this for the table.

My one disclaimer at this point is that it can be quite pricey to make- all those nuts and dried fruit. Remember you can adjust your fruit, nuts and seeds to the proportions that you want, as long as you keep the weight about the same, relative to the liquid you add. You can either buy mixed bags of nuts and fruit, or make your own combo. What do you add to your granola?

All-Things-Good-For-You Cinnamon Granola Crunch

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

125ml maple syrup

2 tablespoons honey

2 fresh vanilla pods (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)

300g rolled oats

75g mixed seeds

40g walnuts

40g chopped almonds

100g dried berries (raisins, cranberries, sultanas, apricots, dates)

50g desiccated coconut

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tsp salt

Method

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C. Mix together all the wet ingredients in a large bowl. Add the seeds from the center of the vanilla pod.

Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the coconut and dried fruit.

Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper. Spread the mixture evenly over the trays and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir through the coconut and dried fruit. Bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Leave to cool. Once cooled, put in an airtight container. Will keep very well- up to 3 months.

Four Minute Magic Pizza

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Four Minutes to make a decadent tasting but healthy, filling, nutritious meal? Can’t be done? Let me show you how.

Back when I was working in an office this meal became a regular answer to the question ‘What’s for dinner?’ It uses mostly store cupboard ingredients and less than 5 minutes prep. We coined the word magic pizza and it stuck. Seems magic to me- from fridge to plate in less than ten minutes.

The trick is to use Lebanese flatbread as the base of the pizza. This crisps up really nicely in the oven, and is very thin so you don’t feel stuffed full of carbs. Add some pizza sauce from a jar (the fewer ingredients on the jar the better), and then any ingredients you have in your fridge. A lot of the time we reduce the calories by leaving off the cheese, but of course a nice mozzarella, or goats cheese turns this into a treat.

Last night’s magic pizza was fig, mushroom and thyme. A fab combination. The sweetness of the fig was offset beautifully by the cheese and mushroom, and the hints of thyme made it taste really fresh. I suggest you add things like thyme after you’ve cooked the pizza, but it’s really up to you.

Stuck for topping ideas? Most veggies will work well on a pizza- some of them may need fry or bake before you add them, if cooking times necessitate. Anchovies, fresh pineapple, any herb, cold meats, chicken…. really anything you have in the fridge.

What’s your favourite pizza topping?

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Fig, Mushroom and Thyme Magic Pizza

Serves 1

Ingredients

1 medium Lebanese flatbread

2 tbsp pizza sauce (from a jar, I like American Garden’s)

1/2 fig, sliced

3 mushrooms, sliced

3 tbsp grated cheddar cheese

3 sprigs thyme

salt and pepper

Method

Pre-heat your oven to the highest temperature.

Assemble your pizza using the ingredients above.

Cook in your oven on a pizza tray or a thin baking tray until the edges of the flatbread are golden brown and your toppings are turning brown. This takes about 4 minutes, but will vary depending on your oven. Keep checking it.

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Get Planting! The Easiest Way to Grow Tomatoes

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We have some pretty good weather for growing tomatoes in the UAE, as evidenced by the plethora of local tomatoes in the supermarket. I know very little about growing vegetables on a large scale, but it seems to me that the UAE tomato industry is in the early stages of growth and is just figuring out how it can produce tastier tomatoes, on a larger scale, to a demanding audience. We certainly have the sunshine, maybe they’re just figuring out the technology. The little I do know tells me that you can’t test the value of a seed, or a growing method without allowing nature to take its sweet time growing the plant, the flower and then the fruit. I guess it’ll be a few years til we see really delicious locally produced tomatoes in the supermarket but in the meantime grow your own!

It’s really not too hard- you just need to get started at the right time of year (September to November, not March when the temperatures are searing, as my husband once did), buy some decent sizes pots and good soil, and then some tasty tomatoes from the market. It’s not too late to start right now though. Plant them this week and they’ll do great.

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Firstly, I could launch into a list of suitable items you could recycle and use as a pot, but let’s face it, we live in the Middle East and not many people have old wine barrels or beautiful vintage trunks lying around. I bought some plastic planters from Carrefour, and some pretty ceramic pots from Dubai Garden Centre. Both have lasted me 3 years and still look in very good condition. I scrubbed them out with some washing up liquid in September before adding new soil to get rid of any diseases that may have been festering. I doubt there were any though as they’d been outside in 50 degree heat all summer (yes, you can put your plates outside to warm or fry eggs on cars at this temperature).The general rule, for your pots- the bigger the better. I think my largest is 45cm across and I wish I had bought bigger. Cherry toms will need smaller containers than beefsteaks.

A watering can is useful, but at a stretch you could use a cup. I have a trowel but more often than not use an old spoon.

Ok, so here goes- my so-easy-kids-could-do-it, method for growing tomatoes.

Choose your favourite tasting tomato from the supermarket. What the heck- splash out, hedge your bets, and choose a couple. You can assume that a locally produced tomato will have more chance of success than another.

Fill your container with soil and soak through. It should be damp to touch. Put the container in partial shade. 4-6 hours a day should be plenty in this region. You can always move it if need be.

Take your first tomato and put a hole in it with your thumb. Then bury it in the soil about 3cm deep. You’re done!

Monitor the soil to ensure it’s always damp to touch. You don’t want to over water it as the roots may rot but tomatoes are thirsty. 1 really good watering every 2 days should suffice but it will depend on the position of your pots and how big they are. The bigger the pots, the less frequently they need to be watered.

You will need to thin your tomatoes out once they start coming through. Weed out the weaker, straggly looking plants and keep the healthiest. Don be tempted to keep more than will fit in the pot, this will just result in weaker plants which don’t produce much fruit. 1 plant per 45cm pot is about right.

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Steak your tomatoes using anything you can find once they start to look like they can’t hold themselves. I am still experimenting but Ace Hardware has some good options.

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You should expect to see fruit after about 60 days. It’ll take another whopping 60 days for that fruit to grow and turn red! You’ll need patience!

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Good luck!! Let me know if you have any questions!