Monday, 28 November 2011

Mmmmmm Mushrooms

The Husband has been doing the hunter gatherer thing, and the poor dog is going crazy for the brace of pheasants that is currently strung up in the log store. Being as how he only has 3 legs, he can’t do the back leg dog dance and actually get at them, but he spends a good amount of his time standing just underneath them, nose in the air and sniffing with longing. If ever a dog was going to make something happen just by looking at it hard enough, it would be Fred. To be fair, the Husband didn’t shoot the birds himself, but hunter gathered them from a work colleague. However, when he and Blue came back from a bike ride yesterday, the Husband was in a state of high excitement and disappeared back off to re-appear half an hour later with a load of wild mushrooms.

Now, this is not unusual behaviour for the Husband, and recently, he’s been getting quite good at choosing actual edible mushrooms. Earlier in his career as a forager, we would collect baskets of beautiful looking fungi only to get home, look at the book and decide that everything apart from the puffballs was at best inedible and at worst deadly poisonous. However, armed with the River Cottage mushroom book, and now a fair few years of disappointment, there have been more and more edible specimens coming home. These he has usually cooked up for himself with the rest of us tasting gingerly, but nearly a kilo is a whole lot of mushroom. They are, he has assured me, field mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, and they certainly look like them. There are a few puffballs too, but even I know what a puffball looks like.

I have been slightly concerned about this all day. If they are what he says they are, then they will be delicious. If not – what then? Certain death? There are too many of them to ignore at the bottom of the fridge for a few days till they go slimy – they fill up the whole of one of my veg compartments. By the time I got home from picking the kids up (and there were many this evening, but that’s another story, although I may touch briefly ...) I’d decided that I should go for it. I mean, live on the wild side – why not? I had a flick through the recipe books, and surprisingly fell on a Jamie recipe in Jamie’s Italy for risotto ai funghi e prezzemolo – roasted mushroom risotto with parsley. It looked scrummy – basically a plain risotto to which you add some roasted mushrooms and a load of parsley, and finish off with some more roasted mushrooms on top. I couldn’t resist. If anything was going to overcome my fear of an excruciating and painful death it’s the thought of a yummy plate of food.

The Husband returned home and helped me wrestle the children into bed, then I set to work – chopped an onion, made some stock and weighed out the mushrooms. Had a brief tussle with myself whether to make enough risotto for 6 – I mean, would we really keep 2/3 of it to re-heat for lunch tomorrow or just guzzle it all – started heating the oil and turned on the oven to roast the mushrooms at the appropriate juncture.

And then there was a knock at the door. A man I vaguely recognised was there holding a briefcase. I’m usually quite good with names and faces, but I drew a complete blank. “Hello” he said. I think he registered to totally blank look on my face. “Is he in?”. How to pretend that of course he was expected. The Scout trainer, come to complete the Husband’s scout leader training. “Of course, come in!” I breezed. “Can I get you a drink – I’ve just boiled the kettle”. In the background, I am aware of the Husband swearing quietly to himself.

So I decided to can the risotto. The Husband is now closeted away with  Bob and the cake tin, and is unlikely to resurface for some hours if the previous sessions have been anything to go by, and frankly I broke all the rules and finished off all the leftover chips from the kids tea. Talk about the shoemakers children never being shod – out of sheer insanity, I ended up with 4 extra children for tea. When the going gets tough, the tough cook hotdogs and oven chips, and one of the extras didn’t like chips.

But what to do with all those mushrooms? I had to say goodbye to Jamie, and now instead, I have a pan of mushroom soup in the making courtesy of Sarah “my-good-friend-Emma-Bridgewater-don’t-I-look –marvellous-doing-the-gardening-in-my-velvet-Boden-coat” Raven and her Garden cookbook. It all seems very straightforward. Onions and garlic cooked n butter and oil followed by the mushrooms, then add in some flour and grated nutmeg, whisk in some stock and simmer for 20 mins. There’s some complicated finishing off, involving cooking more mushrooms in some milk adding to the soup and them finishing with cream and lemon juice, but this is now unlikely to happen until tomorrow lunchtime.

 I’m still not convinced that we’re not going to die a horrible death, but the little taste I had just now at the liquidising stage were pretty fine. If I’m not there at pick up tomorrow, can someone rescue the children for me and call an ambulance – and if I am, then the risotto will be on the menu tomorrow.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Get a load of my buns!

 Before you read anything else, please take time to marvel at the beauty of the cinnamon buns. This batch has turned out the best I’ve ever made them, and I can barely wait till Christmas morning. 

The recipe is in Domestic Goddess – Norwegian Cinammon Buns. I always get irritated with it because the dough just seems so wet, and I always end up adding around about an extra 200g of flour during the course of kneading, but the end result is always so blimmin’ delicious that by the time the whiff of hot sweet cinnamon wafts out of the oven I’ve forgotten all about that. Rather like childbirth, I suppose, although on a slightly less drastic scale.
I’m planning to have them on Christmas morning, and wanted to bake in advance and freeze to avoid that element of irritation on Christmas morning. However, I’ve split it and frozen the buns in 2 pieces. As we’re having a pre-Christmas weekend with my parents and one of my brothers and his wife the weekend before Christmas, I expect that I might be tempted to get one of the pieces out for that.  And whether the second piece lasts till Christmas morning is debateable. I mean, I could always do another batch...
It’s been a slightly odd food week. Allotment Junkie and Grumpy (who was rechristened ‘Sit-a-lot’ by Blue while he was here – out of the mouth of babes and all that) were here having babysat for us last Saturday night while the Husband and I got a night out in London. For various reasons, Allotment Junkie did most of the cooking for the first few days of the week.  Monday was a re-run of the roast pork using the leftovers, and she made some truly delicious stuffed pancakes on Tuesday using the left over chicken from a roast she had done for the kids on Saturday night while we were out. She chopped up about ¾ tub of mushrooms really small then cooked them in the milk that she then used to make the sauce.  She also used some chard out of the garden – steamed and again chopped really really small, and then mixed in with the chopped leftover chicken. All mixed in with a ‘white’ sauce made with the mushroom infused milk and some vegetable stock powder, then rolled into the pancakes.

The highlight of the week, was Blue’s birthday fajita feast. Nothing unusual, although I used a spice mix that I’ve used for doing Golden Time cooking rather than a packet. Just ground coriander, cumin, crushed garlic and some lime juice. Marinated the chicken for a little while and cooked red peppers and onions with the chicken. We had sour cream, and avocado and cherry tomato salsa and cherry tomato and spring onion salsa (for those of us who don’t like Avocado, grrr). It was delicious. He wanted sticky ginger treacle cake out of the Camper Van Cookbook for his birthday cake and who am I to deny the boy. The only problem was that it is really very, very sticky. He did want me to make a ‘Harry Potter Wand’ cake out of it, but I made it clear that this was not going to happen. Fortunately he wasn’t too distressed about that. I feel I’m making a lot of progress as to birthday expectations. I kind of hit a peak when Blue was 4 and produced (if I say so myself) a truly amazing Thomas and the Troublesome trucks, and I’ve been desperately back pedalling since, trying to get back to something more manageable. Pink had a sandwich cake for her 5th birthday cake in May – albeit pink and sparkly, decorated using Tana Ramsay’s ideas of dried rose petals and icing hearts, so a ‘normal’ cake was a real breakthrough. I did cut it into piece, arranged artfully on a plate and stuck 8 candles into it, but that hardly counts.

Anyway, Blue was happy and that’s all that counts. Now I just have to sort out the Husband’s birthday in a couple of week’s time and then I can get on with Christmas.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sticky toffee pudding...

It’s been quite a long time since I cooked anything by Jamie Oliver apart from using his pizza dough recipe from Jamie’s Italy. Jamie was probably the first TV chef that really got me going – I didn’t care much for Gary Rhodes who I remember as being one of the first chefs that I watched on TV, and Rick Stein was a bit sophisticated for me. I’ve got the first few Jamie books – The Naked chef etc – and I so wanted to live in that cool apartment with the constant Britpop accompaniment to my life. Anyway, as I got older, I got a bit bored with the whole Jamie thing, and his perfect family, and although I was really in to his campaign to improve school dinners, I was a bit ambivalent about what he did to the old surf cafe at Watergate Bay. Nigella came along, and Hugh, and Jamie got relegated to the study shelf, rather than the kitchen.

However, I’ve been watching Jamie’s Great Britain and I’ve been really quite liking it, so perhaps I was feeling some kind of nostalgic pull to days before children when I reached for Jamie’s Dinners in search of a pudding for today. And I am sooo glad that I did. Page 305 – Sticky Toffee Pudding. Need I say more? Usually, if I make a pudding (and to be honest I usually do to go with Sunday roast) it’s a means of getting more fruit into the children, so we’re usually having crumble of some sort, but I was getting a bit sick of that and fancying something a bit more substantial. Allotment Junkie and (self-styled) Grumpy are here in advance of Blue’s birthday on Thursday and FiL was coming for the day to deliver presents so big Sunday dinner called for.

In fact, at one point while I was in the middle of doing many things at once, I did wish I hadn’t embarked on something that required quite a lot of steps – pureeing dates in the food processor, creaming butter and sugar etc. The husband and I were in London last night celebrating ‘the first of the 40ths’ – with my old school friends, and we’d had a lovely evening of delicious cocktails and food but got to bed far too late and then had to be off and heading back to darkest Hampshire fairly early. Fortunately I had remembered to get the pork out of the freezer – we got half a pig from a local smallholder a few weeks back and this was the first of the joints – a lovely bit of leg – before we left yesterday – and Allotment Junkie had sorted out most of the veg but somehow there still seemed to be too much to do in my sleep-deprived state. However, it all came good, and the fiddling around with the sticky toffee pud was well worth it – a lovely light but rich sponge with a dreamy toffee sauce to pour on top when serving. I could feel my hips expanding with every mouthful, but sometimes, you just have to go with the calories.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Blue has been poorly all week. He fainted at the Remembrance parade on Sunday> He rallied on Sunday afternoon, then felt poorly on Monday morning. I kept him off school initially, but by break time he was looking far too perky so I packed him back up to school. Mistake. When I picked him up at 4.30 after a particularly cold and damp football training, he was shivering and feverish. What a bad mother I am. He has been off ever since, and I think he’s genuinely had the flu – nothing really, really awful, but feverish and the occasional bout of midnight vomiting. He’s definitely better today but still not right. We ventured out at lunchtime to the Co-Op to acquire some salami for lunch and he is now back on the sofa, having declared that he thought he had done too much. (For a moment, when he said he really wanted to have salami for lunch, I was transported back to the days of steroid cravings – not necessarily a good place to be, but at least I felt a certain nostalgia rather than blind panic at the thought of him madly craving something).

It has been a bit of a strange week. Fortunately I have good friends who have helped out enormously with Pink – taking her to school and collecting her for me, and also with Fred, who has been the big loser out of all of this, and despite my best efforts, dragging myself out of bed to take him for a walk before the husband goes to work and, even using precious babysitting points so that I can walk him during the day, he is looking thoroughly depressed at his lack of outings. I have promised him a long, long walk tomorrow.

On the upside though, I have managed to do lots of cooking to get ahead for Christmas. In fact, on a couple of occasions, I have been so busy getting ahead for Christmas that i forgot that we would have to eat that day. In particular, as Pink has been out to tea a couple of times and Blue has (unusually) been off his food, I have been thrown off course, and the husband has been lucky to avoid beans on toast.

I have made a mushroom squash and shallot pie to feed the vegetarian Mother in Law on Boxing Day. The recipe came from a pull out section in an old Christmas Good Food mag (actually, 2010 November edition). I made this on Wednesday and luckily for me that I did as I genuinely completely forgot about food to eat that day. On a Wednesday it’s usually pretty hectic anyway because Blue has Beavers then the husband is off to Scouts, with a very quick turnaround, and this week it was complicated by Blue being poorly and parent’s evening. True, I had chosen the timeslots to see the teachers – carefully engineered to be while Blue was at Beavers, and had worked out a playdate for Pink, but of course Blue being poorly put a total spanner in the works. However after much rushing around, we both got to parent’s evening. But I digress. There I was happily making a pie to put in the freezer for Boxing Day when I realised that there would be nothing to eat that evening. But of course there was – PIE! The recipe was for 6, and as the kids are unlikely to eat a huge amount on Boxing Day (I’ll secretly be feeding them cold turkey in the kitchen anyway while MiL munches away on veggie pie), I made a small one for us that evening. Although the husband commented that something seemed to be missing (i.e. meat in any form) it was a pretty good pie. I think the secret is that it uses dried mushrooms as well as fresh and you use the liquid from soaking the dried mushrooms to make the sauce, so it’s really rich. I might even make it again when MiL is not on the agenda, although I think it would be nice with some leftover chicken added in, or if the mushrooms were cooked with some smoked bacon...

I’ve sung the praises of the braised mince recipe that I got out of another Good Food mag before (you make braised mince then use that braised mince when making chilli, spag bol etc). In a couple of weeks, it is the Husband’s birthday and I will be cooking up a Mexican-ish meal. I took the opportunity of some more time at home to cook up a kilo of braised mince which will be the basis of the chilli. I have also decided to make Nigella’s margarita ice cream, and also a Mexican ‘flan’, both in Express as desserts. I do like getting what I’m going to cook sorted in my head – it’s usually half the battle – although having cooked neither before, I’m holding Nigella to her word that they will be ‘Express’, and hoping that it won’t be another suicidal supper ...

mmmm smell that brandy...
Finally, I have made mincemeat. I managed to cook the Christmas cake a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve done that for a few years now, but somehow never made mincemeat. Anyway, in the same pull out that I got the veggie pie, there was a recipe for fruity mincemeat with almonds, so I thought it was worth a shot. It was sooo easy – don’t know why I thought it would be tricky. A simple matter of dissolving some sugar with lemon and orange zest and juice and grated apple, then stirring in brandy dried fruit and spices then finally suet (I have used vegetable) and almonds. It smells and tastes heavenly – can’t wait to make my mince pies.

And lastly, completely off the subject, because Blue is poorly and can’t face the walk up to school to get Pink this afternoon, I have managed to get Coldplay tickets at the Emirates Stadium next June. How excited am I?? I haven’t been to a proper gig for years and I think the last band I saw in a stadium type gig was U2 at Roundhay Park on the Zooropa tour. It’s been a long time...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


Having the fruit happily sloshing around in some rum on the worktop in the kitchen waiting for me to get some time to turn it into the Christmas cake has obviously triggered some kind of Christmas warning buzzer in my head, and I'm finding myself constantly thinking about it - and mainly the food.

This year we are going to be on our own for most of Christmas Day which means we can do as we wish and cater entirely to our own food fancies. As you'll see, these aren't particularly elaborate or quirky, but the opportunity to just have to cater for ourselves without taking into consideration the unknown foibles of others, is lovely. As I was walking the dog this morning, my head was full of this and that. I am also trying to make sure that I can get stuff done ahead so that on Christmas Day itself (and lets face it for the rest of the holiday), I can relax. Not that I don't find cooking relaxing - it's something that I enjoy doing, but at Christmas, and especially if it's just us at home, I feel like I want to make sure I don't have too much to do. That's also not to say that there won't be times when I just want to shut myself in the kitchen with Nigella and my Rangemaster and bang some pans around, but it would be nice to know that if necessary, it's mostly all already done and in the freezer.

So far, I have decided that I am going to bake a batch of Nigella's cinammon buns (Domestic Goddess) for us to eat on Christmas Day morning after the present frenzy, with some lovely coffee. These are totally fabulous and they freeze well so if I can make them ahead and get them in the freezer they will make a brilliant breakfast, warming in the oven whent he children open their stockings. We will have to walk the dog and I'm hoping for a lovely frosty morning (I'm such a romantic) in which we can stride over the fields, the kids laughing merrily, rosy cheeks aglow, before returning home to some smoked salmon and champagne (or schloer for the kids - their new favourite 'special drink') in front of a blazing fire... You just know it's not going to happen - I can but dream.

In fact, I have obviously been dreaming too much because that's where the planning has stopped, lost in a hazy glow of indulgent daydreams. The husband and I need to decide if we're going to return to Turkey (the last time we were at home for Christmas we had goose), and I am thinking of some kind of chocolate log for pudding - maybe a kind of chocolate swiss roll because I think they freeze quite well, and I'm on the case for something vegetarian to feed the mother in law who is coming to take us to the panto on Boxing Day. Other than that, beside from making sure there is some nice cheese and a decent tub of chocs in the house, that's as far as I've got. 

Monday, 7 November 2011

back in control...for a short time, anyway

So the last time I 'blogged' was 19th October. Hmm. For someone who really would like to get paid to do something like this, that's not very good really. Must try harder.

In my defence, half term intervened, and the husband was away for 10 days. Now, a week into the second half of term I'm just about feeling back on track. Kitchen activity during half term was very much reduced to what was in the freezer, and seeing as it was mostly stuff I've already wittered on about, there wasn't much of any interest to blog about. Besides, I was a bit of a wreck, getting up early to work before the kids got up, so I doubt I would have made much sense. I made a cherry and almond loaf cake (Domestic Goddess - made it before - it's yum) to take with me when I took the kids to stay with a friend in London for the second weekend in half term and managed to come home with half of it - because her hubbie doesn't eat cake. I won't pass comment, except to say that his loss was my (weight) gain. The holidays are always fatal, because I can only walk the dog at the pace of the children, so even if I'm really good about what I eat, I still end up feeling lardy by the end of the first week. This half term, with the husband away, I wasn't even being really good about what I ate. Still, a week back to good, brisk walking has improved the situation somewhat.

So, it's fair to assume that as I'm feeling up to writing something again, there must be interesting things going on. Well, there is lots of yeast in the kitchen at the moment. The sourdough bread is going from strength to strength, and I've had another batch of Herman cake on the go. I've just baked it and had to cut it up and freeze it for the kids' lunches so that I don't eat it all. I did suggest to the husband that as it had 2 apples in, I could eat half (of the cake) and get one of my 5 a day, but he was not supportive. Still on the yeast theme, the cider has moved out of the kitchen, and is looking less like it's about to explode, but the husband has added yet another source of yeast - in the form of a ginger beer plant. It's a project he is doing with the kids and it lurks in one of the cupboards, to be taken out each morning for lots of complicated negotiating about who is adding the ginger and who is adding the sugar, when the 'plant' gets fed. It's already erupted once, and I am definitely stepping back from this one, but I will be interested to see what the end result tastes like. I love ginger beer.

It's definitely autumnal now, and I've been feeling a bit bored with the day to day meals so I was online looking for some inspiration and some new things to cook. The inspiration for this evening came from Good Food website - oven baked leek and bacon risotto. I don't know if I'm allowed to repeat the recipe here, but as I've acknowledged my source, and have nothing but good things to say about it, here goes:

6 rashers of back bacon, roughly chopped; 2 leeks, halved lengthways and finely sliced; 250 g risotto rice, 700ml hot chicken or veg stock, 175g frozen peas; 3 tbsps soft cheese (philly was good but other people who left comments on the website had used sour cream, boursin etc) zest of a lemon.You need a big frying pan with an oven proof lid.

Heat the oven to 200/180 fan. Heat some oil in the pan and fry the bacon for 2 mins, then add the leeks and fry 4-5 mins till soft. Add the rice, cook for a minute, then pour in the stock. I brought it to the boil at this point although I don't think it said that in the recipe (I copied it shorthand on to a card ready to go in my index card box - call me a saddo - I don't care) then cover and bung in the oven for 20 mins. You're supposed to stir it halfway through but I forgot. When the rice is tender and the liquid absorbed, add peas, cover and put back in the oven for 2 mins, then stir throught he lemon zest and soft cheese and serve. How easy is that - and there was enough time to make up the cake and get it in the oven while the risotto was cooking (probably why I forgot to stir it...). It was delicious when the kids had it - and it was still pretty good a couple of hours later having been covered with foil, lid back on and in the turned off oven waiting for the husband. Blue didn't much like it but then he's funny with that sort of thing and he doesn't like rice that much anyway. He still ate most of it so it can't be that bad. Pink loved it. The card is going into the recipe box.

Finally, I have bitten the bullet and decided that I must have used Nigella's Christmas Cake recipe last year, and I really must get on with it for this year if we're going to have one. I managed to cobble together enough dried fruit although in slightly different proportions to those in the recipe. I guess there isn't much difference between currants, raisins and sultanas anyway, and you can never have too many glace cherries in my book, so I am sure it will all be delicious. I managed to ignore that fact that rum is not the same as either sherry or brandy, so I guess we'll be having a slightly more carribean flavoured cake, but hey - as long as there's marzipan, who cares? The fruit is now sitting in state for a few days and hopefully I'll get round to baking it sometime this week. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Energency baking

Yes, it's true, I was feeling twitchy because there was no cake in the house so I've been baking again and I have a number of important thoughts to share with you all.

Following up a couple of comments that came from the jammy dodger/custard cream epsiode, I have been wondering whether I could use the custard cream recipe as a basis to make bourbon biscuits. The short answer is no, for a number of reasons.

The custard cream recipe is in Feast by Nigella. I replaced 2 of the tablespoons of custard powder in the biscuit mix with cocoa, and used cocoa instead of custard powder in the filling. The biscuits baked fine and tasted good and the filling similarly, but the real problem is that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get over the fact that they were ROUND, not rectangular, and they don't have BOURBON CREAM stamped in the top. So I have some pretty decent chocolate sandwich biscuits, but bourbons they ain't. So now you know.

I'm a bit confused at the moment with my days - I keep thinking it's a day later than it actually is this week, so in my mind, I'm on Thursday. I don't know why I'm wishing the week away like this as the kids start half term a day early with an INSET day on Friday, so some how I have to fit in work and dog walking with entertaining them. In truth, Mr Disney will probably do most of the entertaining while I crack on, and we will do stuff in the afternoon.We are heading to the husband's brother & sister in laws on Friday and I am planning to make some sourdough bread and a cake to take with me, but I don't need to do that till tomorrow (because tomorrow is actually Thursday, although my head won't let me believe that). Still, the oven was on any way for supper (Nigella's African Chicken out of Kitchen which I thoroughly recommend. It's a good one to make up in bulk and then freeze uncooked in convenient portions), and I had a plan to bake those biscuits so I thought I would make another cake to use up some of the lemons that are lurking in the bottom of the fridge.

Nigella's got a lemon syrup loaf cake (a bit like lemon drizzle) which is really yummy and dead easy so I thought I'd do that. Unfortunately, after I'd decided to make up ground rice for the kids pudding and used up the last of the milk, I remembered that the cake needed 4 tablespoons of milk. By this time, I'd already got to the milk part of the recipe - which is the last bit, so it wasn't like I could just forget about the cake. I considered the fridge and decided that the natural yoghurt was probably my best bet so I used 3 tablespoons of that and do you know, the cake isn't bad for it. I think it's probably a bit wetter than if you use milk, but it's very edible.

The best thing about this is that my lovely cake tin that I got from my Granny after she died has something lovely inside it. If I had one thing to save if the house was burning down aside from the husband the kids and the dog, I think it might be this cake tin.

You can tell how old it is because the design on the outside, which is like a sampler alphabet, includes "G is for Golliwog who has a black face"... I just love this tin.

 I love the sampler alphabet, I love the pretty yellow flowers on the oil cloth that's been used to line it, and most of all, I love it when it's full of cake...

Friday, 14 October 2011

A good day

After the diabolical day I had last Friday, it's good to be able to say that today has been LOVELY.

The children seem to have picked up from the deathly tiredness that was afflicting them last week (perhaps they're getting into the rhythm of school now, just in time for half term at the end of next week) and Blue in particular seems less exhausted. But maybe that's just because we've enforced a no lights on before our alarm goes off rule for the morning. We had been allowing him to read from 6 as he seems incapable of sleeping beyond then, but he has been pushing this, and the camel's back broke on Wednesday morning at 5.30.

However, I digress. Spurred on by the sourdough success earlier in the week, I made a double batch of sponge last night and found the time to get the dough kneaded (in the Kenwood, it must be said) AND the breakfast things washed up before leaving for school. Truly a momentous occasion.

It's been a glorious autumnal day here, and I had a lovely walk with the dog after dropping the kids at school, during which he mostly stayed within my line of vision and didn't kill anything (he had a grouse on Monday), get himself stuck on the wrong side of a barbed wire topped fence (yesterday morning's little excitement) or launch himself into a 'pond' only to find himself up to his armpits in sticky, foul smelling mud (yesterday afternoon's pleasure). Got home by 9.30, and while the kettle was boiling for my coffee, I managed to get the potatoes peeled for this evening's fish pie. Work was good - all going smoothly, no grumpy/misogynistic/pedantic editor quirks to deal with today, and had enough time once I'd finished to make the fish pie. I used up the second pack of disappointing salmon that I was complaining about a few days ago. I really couldn't think of anything else to do with it, and, having poached it in milk with the haddock (undyed, smoked and unsmoked), I think it was probably the best thing I could have done with it. I did a quick trim of the spinach and chard in the garden, steamed and chopped up really, really small to mix in with the fish too. And the biggest bonus was that there's enough for 2 suppers. I do so love being able to put an added bonus supper in the freezer like that.

In truth, I was hoping secretly that there would be enough pasta left over from Golden Time cooking this afternoon to feed at least the kids tonight, but it was not to be. However, I am not upset about this. I'd chosen a vegetarian recipe for today as there are a couple of children in the class that are cooking at the moment who are veggie and have various allergies. The recipe is a variation of a sausage pasta recipe I got off the Good Food website, and just calls for frying chopped courgette and mushroom with some crushed garlic and chopped rosemary, then chucking in some cherry tomatoes. When the cherry tomatoes start to break down, stir in some creme fraiche and may be slop in some of the pasta water to thin it out, and stir into cooked pasta. When the session started, we were met with a few moans and groans, particularly about the mushrooms,  but to my surprise, they were very enthusiastic once they started chopping, and really got into it. We had kids eagerly volunteering to do the washing up, and apart from a couple of the boys who really didn't want to try it, they ate up ALL the pasta, and I only saw a few mushrooms getting sneaked into the bin. We were also finished and cleared up by 3.25.

The kids were in a good mood at the end of school - Pink had got 5/5 for her first spelling test  (allow me to be a proud mummy) and it looks like we've seen the back of Biff, Chip & Kipper. I'm not sorry to see them go. We negotiated Friday sweets without the usual standoffs, and back home, my loaves are now baking, while the kids are watching Charlie & Lola, and I have a fishpie all ready to put into the oven when the bread is finished, along with a couple of mini apple crumbles that I made a few weeks ago using some leftovers, and froze in ramekins.

The sun is still shining, the husband is on his way home, and THE DISHWASHER ARRIVES TOMORROW!! Oh happy, happy days.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

guilty to absolved in not many steps

So I felt really bad this morning - Blue was shaking the money out of his piggy bank when he was supposed to be getting dressed. "What are you doing?" I asked (probably in a rather stressed tone - Blue is easily distracted and we were already running late this morning). "I'm getting some lunch money" he said "Can you check what's for school dinner today?""No I can't and you can't have school dinnner - I've made your packed lunch and it will be a waste". "Ok can I have one tomorrow? I'll pay for it." Hence my feelings of guilt. The husband & I decided that we would not pay for day to day school meals any more - they are £2 each and while I don't doubt that they constitute a properly balanced meal, they just did not seem to be filling even Pink up (and she has a tiny appetite most of the time), let alone Blue. I can provide more for less in a packed lunch, and it just makes financial sense. Blue, however, feels a bit differently. Even though the dinners weren't filling him up, he really enjoyed them, and has clearly decided to take matters into his own hands, by funding school meals out of the little pocket money he gets. And I feel bad - even though I know he perfectly enjoys the packed lunches he gets, and I know it makes sense. "Well," I said "If that's really what you want to spend your money on, I can't stop you, but you will get the Christmas lunch and stuff". "It's too far away till Christmas" he said.

Secretly, though, I really want him to change his mind. So on that basis, I made a turkey & sausage meatloaf for supper, and am going to tempt him with cold meatloaf sandwiches and potato salad - a combination that in the past has been hard to beat as far as he is concerned. I used turkey mince that I got from the butcher. I had to order it in, but along with his sausages, the texture of the meatloaf was definitely superior to ones I've made before with supermarket mince and sausages. it may of course just be a coincidence, but I am going to keep on making an effort to get meat from the butcher. Anyway, I feel that meatloaf, plus potato salad (which he loves), with the promise of banana bread for pudding, may just win the day in the lunch wars.

The other reason why I feel he may just swing back to packed lunches is the sourdough success. Having made up the 'sponge' last night (the bit where you take some of the starter, mix it up with flour and water, leave overnight and use that as the basis for the loaf), I made up the loaf this morning and left it to rise all day. The dough was quite wet, but it rose nicely and by the time I'd got back from the school run it was ready to be knocked back for the final rise in the airing cupboard. 2 hours later, ready to bake, and the result is amazing - if I do say so myself.

I know it might all sound like a bit of a faff, but each little step is really quick and the bread is just 10 times better. Granted it's not the easiest thing for sandwiches, especially once it's a couple of days old. but it is delicious for toast, bruschetta and that sort of thing, and it just looks great too. I'm only writing this now to try and stop myself getting in there with the butter and the lemon curd, and making a real pig of myself.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

It's a sign of how things are that a 'good day' at the moment can be indicated by whether I can get the breakfast things washed up before the school run. The dishwasher has been broken for a couple of weeks now. It has been declared uneconomical to repair, and while we have now ordered a replacement, the best financial deal involves a wait while the machine we want comes into stock with our preferred supplier. So washing up it is. Every day. And sometimes 2 or 3 times. I know there are many, many worse things that could have happened, and I will probably sound quite princessy, but I'm going to say it anyway - I want my dishwasher. NOW.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I've had a couple of kitchen successes that are possibly worth sharing. In the theme of what to do with leftovers, last night it was roast dinner risotto. I realised as I was making the kids packed lunches yesterday morning that I had no means of providing them with any form of vegetables in their lunch, other than the left over cooked veg (cauliflower and roast squash) from the sunday dinner and a field mushroom the husband had foraged on his walk with the dog. This was the theme for the day (and indeed continues to be so - the garden is not providing much in the way of greens at the moment and sainsburys doesn't come till tomorrow), and so in an attempt to be creative with leftovers, what didn't go in the lunches was chopped up with the left over chicken and added to risotto. Pleased to report that it was very edible.

Along the same lines, I had 5 very squashy bananas leftover from a bulk buy a couple of weeks ago. Pink has been making pointed retching noises everytime she saw them (she's not big on fruit anyway) so I decided that something had do be done. Nigella's banana loaf - Domestic Goddess, where else - leaving out the walnuts so that the kids can take it to school (although I have to say I did leave in the rum soaked sultanas for extra fruit - so the 'healthy' element might have been cancelled out). I have started slicing up cakes like this and freezing lunchbox portions otherwise the danger is that I will end up eating most of the cake which is absolutely no good at all. I couldn't bring myself to freeze all the banana loaf though - it just smells too good. This is fatal, as I still also have some gingerbread left from the weekend. Still the kids like that as well so I will be able to keep the banana loaf all for me.

Finally, a sourdough update. I posted a few weeks ago about my sourdough starter and whether it would survive a long stretch in the depths of my freezer. Well it sort of did and sort of didn't, but the first loaf I made wasn't a huge success and I lost a bit of heart. However, Mrs W has kindly given me some of her starter, which I fed yesterday and now have a sponge on the go ready to bake with again tomorrow. It'll be interesting to see how it turns out. I'm wondering if the yeasts in the W household produce a different tasting loaf, and how it will rise. Someone told me about a friend of hers who made sourdough bread and then moved to a different area and the bread turned out tasting very different. During the cider making at the weekend, I had quite a long conversation with one of the other couples who bake almost exclusively using sourdough starter and they were positively evangelical about it so my enthusiasm has been rekindled.

The problem with all this baking though is that it at least doubles the amount of washing up. I am not a neat and tidy cook and my preferred method is to get everything out and use as much as possible. It drives the husband mad. However, it's also now driving me mad. Maybe some good will come out of this after all and I will learn to be more selective in my choice of baking and my use of equipment. But on the other hand would it be as much fun?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

feeding the hoardes

After the total wipeout that was yesterday, I had high hopes for today, and I was not disappointed.

True, I was up at 6, having been woken up by my son and father-in- law sneaking downstairs to watch the rugby, and, unable to get back to sleep was out walking the dog by 6.30. I was hoping for a beautiful sunrise - not quite on offer, but, daybreak, although reserved, was lovely and peaceful. I went a new route in a bid to avoid rabbits (admittedly an impossible task round here) and ducks and my effort was rewarded. Fred did however have a really good choffle, and was suitably exhausted by the time we got home. For anyone not familar, 'choffling' is the closest I can get to a word to describe the noise the dog makes when he is running flat out with his nose to the ground following a scent. It's a noise from his nose/mouth, and it sounds like 'choffle' - chofflechofflechofflechoffle....

But I digress. I was about to describe the catering arrangements for today, the cider day. After various cider making efforts last autumn, and given the bumper apple crop that we've had here, there appears to have been a collective decision amongst the local menfolk to pool apples and resources and spend a day making cider - or rather, pulping apples and bottling the juice. The father-in-law had brought down an enormous cider press and 'scratter' (think that's what it's called - the thing to chop up the apples, anyway), purchased by the husbband's older brother, and the scene was set.

Menu for the day - soup and hotdogs followed by gingerbread or bakewell slice. I made the fresh gingerbread with lemon icing last night (Nigella of course) and collected 50 sausages from our local butcher (25 Cumberland, 25 straight pork) on the way back from walking the dog. Had a quick turnaround to make the Bakewell slice before taking the kids swimming. The Bakewell slice is another Nigella recipe, this one in Feast. It's what she recommends as a pudding to follow roast beef, but frankly, I'd eat it anytime. It's a winner in my book because the pastry base is one that you press into the tin rather than rolling out, so no annoying broken pastry. Once it's baked, spread on a jar of raspberry jam and pour on a really easy frangipane mix (melted butter, eggs, ground almonds, caster sugar), top with some toasted almonds and bang in the oven for 35 mins.

The first of the cidermakers arrived in time for the England/France rugby match, and I was slightly concerned that this was merely a ruse to sit round eating bacon sandwiches for the rest of the day, and the pounds of apples secreted about the place would stay unpressed, but my fears were unfounded. By the time the kids and I got back from swimming, the press was up, and a system was developing - apple slicing on tables set up on the lawn, scratting, then pressing.

My what a big one...

We had 3 apple presses on the go at the height of production, and even the kids were proving useful - if not working their own production line ("This is to be apple juice, NOT for cider, Daddy") then acting as ballast to hold the various machines in place while they were being operated. I expect the H&S executive would have had a collective heart attack.

Given that everyone was working so hard, I thought I'd better get on with some soup and as planned made Hugh F-W's lentil and bacon soup for lots of people (that's what he calls it in the Family Cookbook).

The sausages from the local butcher were definitely the stars of the menu today - they took a bit longer than I was expecting to cook in the oven but they were really meaty and delicious. Feeding just over 20 adults and children, hot dogs were definitely a good way to go. There were several takers for the soup, although admittedly, it was probably a bit tricky to eat al fresco and standing up, but no matter - all the more for us to put in the freezer for another day. Both cakes disappeared with indecent haste - no suprise as far as the Bakewell was concerned but the gingerbread was a surprising hit with the kids too.
...more apples...

By 4 p.m. the house was restored to order, approximately 90 litres of apple juice ready to be fermented into varying ciders, in various households around the village - watch out for the tasting party - and many sore heads...

Friday, 7 October 2011

Mr H saves the day

I didn't think my day could get much worse. When I say day, the bad things started yesterday evening with a hectic turnaround from school to Rainbows, then up to school for the KS1 maths evening, with someone else's almost childcare disaster thrown into the mix, just for good measure. Blue was dispatched to a friend's so we could go to the evening with Pink on her own, but a combination of it being nearly the end of a busy week and straight after the excitement of Rainbows meant that she just wanted to play shops rather than tackle the carefully laid out maths challenges that we were supposed to enjoy with our children. I headed off to another meeting I had already planned just after 7 and got home at just before 10, completely done in.

Pink woke me at 1.30 a.m. worried about a plastic spider on the 'construction table' at school. By the time I'd actually got her to calm down and explain exactly what the problem was we were both wide awake, and it took a couple of goes to get her back to sleep. I think she was angling for an invitation into our bed, but having never slept with either of them in our bed as babies, I'm not keen to start the practise now, and I had a worrying night a few weeks ago when the husband was away when she spent most of the night with me.

So when the alarn went off this morning I was dragged horribly into the day, needing at least another couple of hours sleep. The children wanted to make their wraps for lunch, so I then had to de-marmite the table before we could have breakfast. By this point I am only just holding it together, and it's only 06.55.

Half way up to school we realised that Blue had forgotten his trumpet. I say Blue, because I have been trying a strategy to help him be more organised and remember things. So he wrote out a chart, which is on the fridge, of the things he needs each day. That way, all he really has to remember is to check the chart. This he had not remembered to do today, so I let him sweat for a bit (oh the tears, oh the misery) before I said that I would, ON THIS OCCASION, go back and get it for him. When I actually got to school, I remembered that we had also forgotten to bring tins for the harvest festival offering, As I was one of the parents who'd lobbied to donate tins for a local food bank rather than doing shoeboxes for Romania, I felt I really needed to support it, so back I headed.

By this stage, the dog was heartily hacked off as he thought he was off for his walk. To reward me for my selfishness and forgetfulness, he disappeared off down the river (I don't normally let him off the lead in this particular place any more but I simply forgot and let him run) and came back to present me with a duck. I though rabbits were bad. Ducks are worse. Let me gloss over the next few minutes...

Anyway, trumpet and tins retrieved, I walked the long way back to school to give Fred some more exercise then returned home to start the day's work. All went reasonably well until something that I could not have anticipated (indeed I thought I had anticipated - but it is far too complicated to explain) happened and I got to the point of logging off the laptop feeling thoroughly ground down.

Off up to school for Golden Time cooking - the first session of the year. This is a slot that I have run for the last 2 years (taking over from someone else) where children have the opportunity to cook & eat a healthy (ish) meal in 45 minutes (think sausage pasta, real fishfingers, lamb koftas). Today's gem was chicken fajitas. All going well when 2 minutes before the children are due to arrive for the session, I realise that I have left the tortilla wraps at home. Cue much swearing and cussing (under my breath - this is of course a primary school). Fortunately my co-cooker managed to remain calm, and even more fortunately, one of the school office ladies walked passed at the right moment. "Mr H is in the office" she said. "Can he help?". Mr H is our 'Facilities Manager' in name, but in reality, he is so much more. He runs the school, he knows all the kids and he is a top, top bloke, especially when stressed out mummies forget crucial elements of shopping for golden Time cooking sessions. Before I knew it, he was off down to the Co-Op in his looking for wraps. But just my luck, school office is back - "Wraps are on offer in the Co-Op - they've sold out".


But never fear - Mr H is still here. I started off down home to pick up the original wraps, and he met me - a knight in a dirty grey Volvo estate, picked me up drove me home, wraps collected (I did manage to take my keys with me) and back to school. When I got back, there were 3 girls assembled, and slicing. Apparently the teacher whose class were cooking today had forgotten. By that time, I frankly couldn't care less, but 3 more boys turned up and we cooked a very successful set of chicken fajitas. Used 300g of chicken breast, 2 red peppers and a red onion, and a spice mix of 2 tsp each of ground cumin and coriander and a pinch of cayenne (rather than using a sachet). Usually the session s run with 8 or even 10 kids, but 6 was a good number. The girls had done most of the prep before the boys pitched up, but once all 6 were in situ, there were enough jobs to rotate through actually cooking, coriander chopping and cheese grating and the all important washing up. They all loved the wraps and everything disappeared. Mr H got an especially big one as a thank you.

I’m now looking forward to a big gin and tonic and my lovely steak supper thanks to the local butcher who saved me some lush looking rib eye. We are hosting an unspecified number of people to make cider tomorrow (!!), so I have used the opportunity to bake another Domestic Goddess recipe, as yet untried – fresh gingerbread with lemon icing. The gingerbread is baked ready for the lemon icing (and smells heavenly), and I am just finishing off a batch of bread before starting on the chips. It’s definitely G&T time. Cheers

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Horsefly bites and mojitos - good job everything was already cooked!

So I have left you all in suspense about last night's dinner: my week's culinary satisfaction rolled into one night. This is because I have used up quite a lot of energy today pretending that I didn't drink too much mojito last night, and the rest of the energy has been dealing with the incredibly itchy horsefly bite (sustained while drinking said mojito) that has now made my right foot swell up to twice its usual size. I had some anti-histamine about 10 minutes ago and am sitting down with foot up and in ice, but if I fall asleep, you'll know why.

I had been going to start the menu last night with chard and coconut soup - already in the freezer, but the weather has been so glorious and hot that I changed tack and we had a kind of 'mezze' (I like to think) mixture, consumed al fresco - such a treat for it still to have been just about warm enough. The Husband made the garden look lovely with candles, and we had:

Hugh FW's beetroot & walnut hummus (River Cottage Everyday) (although I burnt the first lot of toasted walnuts, and didn't have enough to do a full lot second time round so it was beetroot, walnut and pecan hummus)

Yottam Ottolenghi's squash spread which was in the Saturday Guardian mag a few weeks ago ( We kept the recipe, because like courgette, I do end up getting a bit stuck for ideas with the squash from the garden because the kids aren't hugely keen (whatever Annabel Karmel might have said about weaning children, mine never liked the butternut squash mushes) and there's only so much soup you can eat.

Nigella's Moonblush tomatoes (from Express)

parma ham (from Sainsburys(!))

Pitta chips which I found online from Sainsburys too

Home made bread

The dip/hummuses (or is that hummi) were dead easy to make, although Hugh's has a bit of faffing with toasting nuts and cumin seeds. Because I used the rarified stripy pink beetroot from the Husband's veg patch, instead of the vivid purple ones, the colour was more like putty, but that's where the al fresco bit came into its own. The moonblush tomoatoes are just lush, and so dead easy - halve cherry tomatoes, sprinkle on some thyme and sugar and salt and whack them into a hot oven which you then immediately turn off and leave the to cool overnight.

I was pretty pleased with how it all turned out, and having cooked it all in advance it was just a bit of an assembly job to get it all on the table. In view of the enormous jugs of mojito, I was even more grateful that I could just bung some plates on the table and enjoy a bit of a chat before sorting out mains.

It was getting chilly so we moved inside for mains - Darina Allen's "Gutsy One Pot" from a Good Food magazine. Allotment Junkie gave me a copy, laminated, singing its praises, although she now denies all knowledge, but it's essentially a cassoulet style (i.e. it has beans in it!) pork casserole, using shoulder of pork, bacon, ham hock and chorizo. It has carrots, peppers and tomatoes in too, so no need to do extra veg. The serving suggestion is just crusty bread, but I thought it probably needed something else so did some rice too. I've cooked it before, and last time the meat did fall apart a bit, but this time, when I cooked it on Thursday evening, I didn't give it the full 2.5 hrs cooking time so it could finish off cooking when I heated it back up. It definitely worked better this time round.

I meant to take a photo of the pudding complete in all its glory, but unfortunately the mojitos had kicked in and I forgot. In fact, I guess I should have taken pics of everything, for your delight and delectation, but frankly, sometimes, life is too short - I just wanted to eat! But back to pudding. It was massive - almost obscenely so - hazelnut meringues filled with lemon curd folded into whipped double cream, topped with more cream and raspberries. It was so big that 10 of us couldn't finish it, although there was one taker for seconds. This means of course that there is a lovely big bit left for supper this evening:

The recipe is from Thomasina Miers' book 'Cook'. It's actually a variation suggested by her on a winter chestnut meringue cake, but given the weather, I'm glad I went with the summer version.

As it took 8 egg whites to make the meringue, I will confess to making the lemon curd, using a recipe in Hugh FW's Family Cook Book - which is a great book - it's about cooking things with kids, although slightly older kids - and 'proper' food rather than just bakling. Not that there's anything wrong with baking with kids - I do it all the time, but this book approaches it a little more like grown up projects, and he's got lots of good explaining in a non-patronising way. The whole egg thin gwas a bit of a disaster because our chickens are moulting and not laying so well. It took me all week to amass the 8 eggs for the meringue, then I needed to get some emergency eggs from my lovely neighbour to finish the lemon curd, because as well as the yolks, it needs whole eggs too. Anyway, the only thing I will say about the lemon curd is that I managed to avoid lemony scrambled eggs, but it always takes longer than I think it's going to. But the time it takes to make lemon curd is ALWAYS worth it.

I've used up for more of the egg yolks making ice cream today with Iona (another Hugh FW recipe from the Family Cookbook), 3 more to go. As I obviously had a headrush and ordered far more cream than I could ever possibly have needed, I guess it will be spaghetti carbonara for dinner tomorrow. Tonight though, it's nice easy sausage tray bake that I think I've seen in a magazine somewhere - using up some of the left over pumpkin that didn't go in the squash spread and some red onions. I can't remember where I saw the recipe, but I'm sure it will turn out just fine if I chuck it all in the oven. Frankly, that's all I can manage just now...

Friday, 30 September 2011

Foil is your friend

It's been a manic week in Recipe Junkie's household and frankly, the pasta on Monday has been the culinary highlight so far. With the husband away until Wednesday evening, and the usual mad dash between school run, dog walking, working, school pick up and after school activities, I could barely chuck a few potatoes in the oven on Tuesday and heat up some baked beans. In an attempt to add some interest, I mashed up a can of salmon with some philadelphia and mayo - Pink loves it - but that was as far as it went.

The kids had friends round after school on Wednesday. I had planned sausages but as I realised I didn't have any to hand and Sainsburys wasn't coming till today, I had to find alternative options. Fortunately, there was still a turkey meatloaf in the freezer - just the job. A good job too, because having intimated that he wouldn't be home till late, the husband turned up at 6.30 needing feeding - if it had been sausages I wouldn't have cooked enough, but as it was, there was just enough meatloaf to look like I'd planned it all along. I'd cooked extra potatoes too, to make potato salad for the packed lunches on Thursday, so he was extra lucky!

On Thursday, I was planning to cook salmon, and got the necessary out of the freezer in time, but the moral of this story is that bargains are not always what they appear. I'd bought a bag of frozen, skinned salmon fillets from the supermarket, and frankly, even when they were defrosting, I knew they weren't going to be good. Maybe it was the freezing, although I usually freeze salmon, but the pieces of fish were thin and unappetising even before they were cooked, promising nothing but dryness. Pink was at a friend's for tea, so I cooked Blue's under the grill. I rubbed it with sesame oil and some soy sauce, but, even watching it like a hawk, it came out dry and tough. I let him slather it with mayo and he ate it manfully - to be honest though, growing lad that he is, he's so hungry all the time, there's not much he won't eat. I then had a dilemma - try and do something better with it for me and the husband - after all this was supposed to be a special supper given that we hadn't seen each other for a few days - or sack it and think of something else at short notice. I rooted around in the fridge, found another courgette (they're everywhere, I tell you) and some root ginger, and had a brainwave - salmon parcels!. Cut up some ginger into matchsticks, ditto the courgette. Take a big piece of foil (enough to double wrap the fish and make a parcel) - ginger and courgette in the middle, fish on top, slosh on some sesame oil and soy sauce, wrap up loosely (but make sure all the edges of the parcel are sealed) and whack it in the oven. I cooked it for about 20 minutes at 180 (I cook everything at 180 unless there's a recipe specifically says otherwise). It wasn't divine, but it was OK, and probably slightly less dry than the piece Blue had to suffer.

So the week has hardly been a beacon of gastronomic success. However, we have people coming for supper tomorrow, so I have been saving my efforts. I don't want to say too much now, because about half my readership are coming (more a comment on the number of people who actually read this - lovely people though you are) than the size of the dinner party, but suffice to say, foil was again my friend this morning.

Last night, I made the 2 hazelnut meringue discs that are going to be the basis of a fabulous (she hopes) pudding. But guess what - having cooled them overnight in the oven, I realised that I had no tin big enough for them. But never fear - foil is here - I put one on top of the other on one of the baking sheets, and wrapped in foil. Marvellous. Instant meringue tin.

pudding in process
And here's a sneaky preview...

Monday, 26 September 2011

Hunt the vegetable pasta sauce

It's worth remembering that in times of need, when you have forgotten to get what you had planned for supper out of the freezer, that there is much that can be done with a can of chopped tomatoes and some pasta.

I was lucky today - not only did I have the can of chopped tomatoes, and pasta, available, I also had garlic, a courgette (they're still coming), celery, some tired carrots that didn't make it into yesterday's soup and - the big highlight - some left over creme fraiche. No onions, but we can live without them. Fried the courgette and garlic in some olive oil, grated in the carrot and finely chopped the celery and added that. After a few minutes to soften the veg (not that it needed much softening), chuck in the can of tomatoes, rinsed out with about 1/4 can of water added to the pan and simmer while the pasta is cooking. Once it was all cooked, I added some basil leaves (it's trying deparately to bolt, but I keep pulling it back from the brink), and a dollop of creme fraiche, and whizzed it all up with a handheld 'stick' blender.

Kids get a good portion of their 5 a day without realising it - or so I thought. "What's this?" Blue asked, holding up an un-whizzed chunk on his fork, alarmingly close to my face. "Um, courgette" I ventured "but you like courgette" - always go for affirmation where possible - I find I sometimes manage to convince them. Pink joined in - "You mean there is courgette in this and I didn't even notice?" She looked horrified. "And didn't you enjoy it?" I asked with a song in my voice and an undertone of menace. Obviously today was not a day that she was going to be combative. "It was yum-ee" she said.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Flirting with Hermann, and tired vegetable soup for a tired mummy

The husband returned home late on Friday for a flying visit back from Wales and before heading off for Italy this morning. The children had social engagements planned (a birthday party for Blue) and engineered (I asked a friend to have Pink) for the afternoon, so I just had to fill in a couple of hours after he'd gone before I could have a whole lovely afternoon to myself.

I always find it's better to have a focus in situations like this, otherwise the kids just start to crumble, so the goal for this morning was Hermann - otherwise known as the German friendship cake. Now, there was a batch of Hermann floating round the village earlier in the year, but this one came from the Husband's boss. Basically, it's a sourdough type cake starter - you are given a portion of starter - fairly sloppy, and a set of instructions about how to care for it and in 10 days time, how to make a scrummy cake with it. Essentially it's a stirring and feeding process. Put the starter into a big bowl and cover. Stir every day and on day 4 and 9 you add sugar flour and milk. Having done this on day 9, you divide your bowl of starter into 4, give 3 away along with the instructions, and then make your cake using the 4th bit of starter. The cake is a lovely appley cinammon cake, and you can add nuts and/or dried fruit as you wish. School has a no nuts rule, so I didn't put nuts in this time, and I baked it all in a big roasting tin do I could cut the finished cake into lunchbox- sized squares, half of which I have wrapped individually in clingfilm and bunged in the freezer as a timesaver for packed lunches.

I was interested to see if this one would be different from the one that I'd had previously - someone once told me about another friend who had made sourdough bread, and the bread she had made using a starter made in one house was totally different from the bread that came from a starter 'grown; in a new house that they had moved to - different wild yeasts etc. If I thought about it, I'd try and get some starter going myself. The starter for this Hermann smelt much more alcoholic than the one I'd had previously, and was more liquid when I got it, but the cake at the end of it was still pretty darn tasty. Pink picked out the raisins on the basis that they were 'suspicious' (??) but Blue in much less discriminatory.

I'm feeling quite tired after a foul cold that hit on Friday. It's clearing up now but I'm still feeling pretty wiped out. Fortunately, I had some tired veg in the fridge, so the easy lunch solution for today (and for the next few days!) was 'Tired Vegetable Soup'. Fried up an onion and some celery, chopped up a potato and the left over veg, which today was some brocoli and cauliflower, add a 1.5 litres of stock, bring to the boil. simmer till the veg is cooked, then liquidise. Just too easy for words. I remembered a tip from somewhere that if you keep your old parmesan cheese rinds and chuck them in to soup, it adds 'depth of flavour', and amazingly, I did have an old parmesan rind, which I had saved for just this purpose. The chances of the 2 events combining (that is, me remembering the tip, and actually having the wherewithal to act on the tip) are fairly unlikely but obviously, the kitchen gods were smiling today.  I forgot to take it out before I liquidised the soup, but I don't think it's any the worse for it, and to be honest, I think it might have nelted down anyway.

I hardly ever follow a recipe for soup, and it's just the easiest thing. I remember having the wierdest conversation with my former step-mother in law who asked in amazement "You can make soup?" Apparently it had never occurred to her to do anything other than buy it in a tin or a tetrapak. She was even more freaked out that I couldn't tell her what the recipe was - I can't remember what soup it was that I'd made but it was probably some form of squash, probably with ginger and chilli. To give her her due, she did then have a Damascene conversion to soup making - and we got soup everytime we went there, although she did never get beyond leek & potato.

Soup for me is just a brilliant thing to have around. Allotment Junkie (a.k.a. my mother) is the queen of soup making - she will start off with some type of soup, around October time, and it gradully morphs over the weeks into something completely different. Instead of starting fresh, she just chucks what's leftover back into the soup pan along with some more of whatever stock she's got, bubbles it all up, quick liquidise, and there you go - new soup. She'll vehemently deny it, but (and don't read this if you're of a nervous disposition - or if you're likely to eat at her house during the winter months) I'd hazard that she doesn't actually wash up the soup pan from October to March. Good job we've all got cast iron stomachs. I don't quite subscribe to her methods, but I do agree that you can't beat a good bowl of soup.

Did I mention that I had a whole afternoon to myself? Well I did. After I'd dispatched the kids and walked the dog I got home for a toasted bagel and a bowl of tired vegetable soup. I read a bit of  Gordon Ramsay dessert book, but somehow I just can't get excited about his stuff - he writes about food too clinically - even though I'm sure it tastes delicious. We have people coming over for dinner next Saturday and I was wondering about pudding, but, sorry Gordon, it's going to be Thomasina Miers' summer (just) lemon and raspberry meringue cake. I did some ironing, did some writing and all of a sudden it was time to pick them up again. Time flies...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Bagel, schmagel

I feel like I have done nothing this week but get stuff out of the freezer (admittedly stuff I have cooked on another occasion specifically so that on mad weeks like the one that's just been, I can do just that) and I've felt a bit kitchen deprived. The husband has been away all week, but before he went off to darkest Wales, he finished off turning a piece of fairly ordinary supermarket beef into a delicious piece of pastrami that has been sitting in the fridge waiting for his return. What better for Saturday lunch than bagels with cream cheese, pastrami & gherkins. I reached for Domestic Goddess, and the strong white flour...

Homemade bagels with home cured & smoked pastrami,
gherkins and cream cheese

The Dough!
We've had lots to do today, and the good thing about making any kind of bread really is that although it might seem complicated and longwinded, it's just a few stages where you might need to spend a few minutes and then get on with something else between times. So stage one - the dough. Fairly similar to normal bread dough although you use half the amount of yeast (so for a kilo of strong white flour, use 1 sachet of yeast), 500 ml of warm water with a tablespoon of oil and 2 of sugar dissolved into it. You mix this together then knead it - I have an ancient Kenwood with a dough hook, and I always use it for kneading. It was partiiculalrly helpful here because the dough is really dry and hard to work, so I just left the kenwood taking the strain and went to hang out the washing. By the time I'd done that the dough was looking great - really smooth and elastic - probably about as close to looking like the recipe says as I've ever been in a bread making scenario. Easy peasy and time to leave the washing to dry and walk the dog. The husband was spending time with the kids at swimming lessons, so I had the onerous job of striding out on a glorious and sunny September morning across the fields for an hour or so while the dog ran himself ragged. No rabbits fortunately which was a relief - after a break for a few days, I had been proudly presented with another bunny yesterday. One he was obviously keen to keep as I ended up having to prise it out of his jaws. Not nice.

But I digress. Back home and the dough was looking good, but I thought I'd leave it a little longer, so on to the next job - swabbing out the mud from Daisy (the van) and getting her ready to go into the barn for winter. I shall be sad to see her go, but it really is the best place for a lady of advancing years to spend the colder, wetter months of the year.

As lunch time approached, with Daisy repacked with all her clean crockery and ready for the barn, I turned back to the bagels. The dough was looking well risen (it probably had an hour longer than the recipe said, but didn't appear any the worse for it). The next bit takes a bit of time - forming the bagels. The dough is split into 3, each thiurd is then rolled into a 'rope' pof dough and divided into 5 pieces, which are in turn rolled into little ropes, then formed into loops. Quite fun in a 'playdough' type of way.
Waiting to puff
You get to leave the doughy loops under teatowels for another 20 mins to get all puffy, during which time you need to bring a large pan of water to boil and get the oven up nice and hot (240C or as hot as it will go). Once the water is boiling you add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the pan and when the bagels have puffed up you start the initial part of the cooking which is poaching them for a minute. You have to do it in twos (threes at most) otherwise they'd be in too long, but it doesn't take much time:

Boiling the bagels

Then onto oiled baking sheets and into the oven for 10-15 mins till they are golden brown - like so:

I was really pleased with how they turned out, and after a few minutes cooling, they were ready to eat. The husband had to slice the pastrami - I had meant to take it to the butcher and ask him if he would do it for us on his whizzy slicing machine, but I got too absorbed in cleaning Daisy, so we had to make do with a carving knife. Split bagels, slather on the cream cheese add pastrami and some sliced gherkins - delicious. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

In praise of hoarding, quick fixes - and chocolate brownies

I'm not going to grace you with a picture of this evening's supper. A gastronomic feast it was not. However, it was quick, easy and the children ate it which, today, was just what was required. As I may have mentioned, the weekend just gone was our last outing in the van for the year, and so in the interests of everyone, we cleared out the 'reserve food' and have decided to eat it now rather than putting it back in the van to sit in the bottom of the cupboard for another season.

I do like to hoard, and don't feel particularly comfortable at home without a couple of cans of beans, some tuna (not that I particularly like canned tuna, and neither do the kids, but, you know, it's there if we need it) and various other bits and pieces 'just in case'. In fact, the reality is that I actually enjoy planning what we're going to eat on our excursions, so we are usually massively overcatered, and have never needed the reserves. As a result, there is now, sitting on our sideboard (because there is no room in the cupboards at home, because they are themselves stacked out with the home emergency rations - I mean you never know when there'll be a nuclear winter): a tupperware of pasta (OK, so that has been used and replenished), some 'pickwicks' teabags purloined from the scout camp in Holland, 3 tins of liver paste (ditto Holland) a jar of Pataks korma sauce, 2 cans of baked beans, a can of ambrosia rice pudding (yum yum), a can of kidney beans, a can of sweetcorn, a tin of corned beef (!!!) some orange and lavendar marmalade, a can of black olives, half a pack of Dutch noodles (Mie Nestjes, no less) a bottle of tabasco and some Uncle Bens boil in the bag rice. I mean what exactly I was going to do with that in an emergency of the kind I was anticipating is anyone's guess but there we go.

So this evening, I made inroads into the supplies but using up the other half of Mie Nestjies, and cooked them with some brocoli and cauliflower that were lurking in the fridge. To make this more exciting, I used the remaining sachet of Satesaus - also originating from the Dutch scout camp and squirreled into the van - a powder which makes up into a viscous peanut satay sauce. I squeezed in the remains of a lime that had otherwise been used for G&T and was starting to look rather tired, and I thought it would make the sauce slightly less cloying. Drained the noodles and veg, pour on the sauce, job done. Pudding yesterday was the carton of custard with pear halves. Today was the other can of Ambrosia with peach slices. Lush.

Perhaps I was feeling a bit guilty about the level of processed food I'd shoved into the kids in the name of easy food and knackered mothers, but feeling slightly more recovered from the weekend today, I am currently baking a tray of Nigella's chocolate brownies (the Domestic Goddess ones). Half quantities, and using dried sour cherries instead of walnuts so that the kids can take them to school in their lunch boxes. I know that brownies don't fall into the 'healthy food' category, but I am a firm believer in treats and homebaked treats at that, and brownies definitely come in to the top 10. I haven't made them for ages either, as I've been big on cake during the camping season, so I'm hoping I will get huge mummy points tomorrow when they open their lunch boxes.. I didn't have enough chocolate in the conventional block (I though I'd had 2 blocks left but my attempts to boost my iron levels before the last blood donation had obviously overridden my memory of what I had in my cupboards, although I find this happens a lot with my chocolate supplies), but I had some chocolate chips, and judging by the smell from the kitchen now as it cools down, I don't think any harm has come.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

dumplings for tea

So we returned from Dorset damper and distinctly muddier than when we arrived. It was a great weekend, but the weather wasn't kind and our area of the campsite was definitely looking a bit like Glastonbury by the time we headed back for home.

As it was the last van trip of the year, and Daisy will be heading for the barn next weekend, there was more than the usual clearing up to do, but fuelled with gallons of tea, the husband and I have made a pretty good start. The second load of washing is on, and the kids are now clean and dry, and tucked up in bed ready for the week. Not sure that one 'early' night will make up for a weekend of late night racketing, stream jumping, swimming in the sea and general jolly japes on the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, but at least we tried!

I was so pleased that I'd been Mrs Organised at the end of the week and made that casserole. So much so that I had a brainwave and decided to do something that the husband has been asking for ages - make dumplings (no smutty comments). I had some suet knocking about from a suet pasty I made for a steak and kidney pie a few months ago, and following a quick consultation with Hugh F-W (this time in Meat), herb dumplings it was.

I know that dumplings probably aren't the most glamorous thing, but after a weekend of being slightly damp, a little hungover (or a little drunk), in the great outdoors, with the scent of Autumn definitely hanging in the air, they seemed an appropriate end to the weekend. I thought they might be heavy and dense, but strangely not. The HF-W recipe is self raising flour, breadcrumbs and suet, mixed together with some finely chopped herbs (I used parsely and rosemary which is what I had closest to hand in the garden and a couple of beaten eggs. The recipe made 12 which was probably slightly too many for the 4 of us - but they all went. With the casserole I'd made the other evening - bacon, braising steak, shallots and mushrooms, they were perfect: to cook them, you pop them in the top of the casserole, put on the lid and they steam on the top. I did some token carrots and a few potatoes, mainly because they needed cooking - instant hassle-free supper and just what was called for after the mud.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

getting ready for the last hurrah

This time last year, we spent a fabulous weekend down on the Devon coast with our good friends and our vans. We were van virgins last year, but a year on, van veterans, we're headed off for another weekend, this time to celebrate their eldest daughter's 8th birthday with, I think, 7 or 8 other families, down in Dorset, to the fabulous Burnbake campsite, as venerated by Cool Camping.

With a camping weekend pending, normally, there would be plenty of opportunity for advance cooking of lovely things, but this time round, we have our instructions - it is to be fish & chips from the chippie in Swanage on Friday night, and a BBQ on the beach on Saturday. Can't wait.
However, the instructions do not take account of cake. Cake is the second most desirable item to take camping (I'm assumng the accomodation, be it van, tent or other) after alcohol. It is a sad fact but a true one that I would find camping a much less rounded experience without my Friday night van G&T. Things have been a bit hectic this week, but I've got a tin of Hugh F-W's 10 minute chocolate chip cookies from River Cottage Everday ready to go (if we don't eat them all beforehand). I actually made the oat and raisin alternative that he gives, but Pink got a bit sad about the lack of chocolate (she is so her mother's daughter!), so I fiddled about with the quantites and instead of putting nuts in (which would have meant they couldn't have them in their lunches at school) I put 100g of chocolate chunks in. I would recommend this. They are extremely good (if I do say so myself).

I am hoping to have time tomorrow to bake a cherry & coconut loaf (Nigella's from Kitchen) or possibly a sticky ginger treacle cake out of the Camper Van Cook Book, but I will have to see how it goes.

The thing I am most pleased with however, is that I have managed to be organised for Sunday evening. I mean let's face it, the last thing you want to be doing after a full on weekend out in the open air doing fun camping things is to sort out a meal, but as the scent of Autumn fills the air, and with my mind turning to things warming, I managed to sort my life out, and tonight, have a delicious beef casserole gently cooking away in the slow cooker. I will freeze half of it and put the rest on the fridge ready for re-heating on Sunday night. Am looking forward to it almost as much as the camping itself...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken...

So the last time I managed a post I was roasting a chicken, and very delicious it was too, especially after the fish disaster on Saturday. GAA has now moved on to the next relative and we are feeling relaxed - and exhausted: especially the husband who has been subject to more art & culture in the last 3 days than he could ever have thought possible.

I was flicking through the Good Food mag that I purchased the other week and it has a whole section on how to use up a roast chicken. Not just how to use up the left overs: it specifically encourages you to roast a chicken then use it for other things rather than eating "as a roast". How odd.

I guess that it's a good way of encouraging people to buy a whole chicken and using it all up, rather than buying pieces (breast fillets etc). A whole bird is honestly is much better value, and while I don't think I would ever roast a chicken with the intention of using the roast meat primarily in other recipes, I thought I would witter on about my favourite ways of using up leftover roast chicken (after the first meal of chicken, roast potatoes etc).

If there's plenty of gravy left from the first meal, I find there are 2 easy options. The first is to re-heat the gravy and serve the cold chicken with boiled potatoes and veg with the hot gravy poured over (or 'on the side' if you are Pink). The kids are also pretty keen on a pasta with chicken and gravy sauce. To make the sauce, I re-heat the gravy and thin it out with some creme fraiche or cream if there's any such naughtiness left over from the pudding, or if not, then some stock, and depending on what it's tasting like, perhaps adding some dijon or wholegrain mustard (depending on what's not mouldy in the fridge). Once the pasta is cooked, just drain it, chuck it in with the sauce and add in the cold diced chicken.

Stuffed pancakes is another good way of making a little leftover chicken go along way. We're lucky that we have a constant (if variable) supply of eggs, so if I'm feeling like super lovely mummy, I will make the kids pancakes for a pudding and make sure there are enough pancakes leftover to do this for the following night - it also freezes well for another time. So, for the filling, I would finely chop some mushrooms (really fine, so the kids don't notice) and cook them down, and wilt some chard or spinach (again - we have tonnes in the garden, but it's easy to get hold of a bag of spinach), squeeze it out and chop it up. Add the leftover gravy and ingredients as mentioned for the pasta sauce as above, but remember that you don't want it too runny - just to keep the mushrooms, spinach and chicken moist - then get the pancakes, dollop some of the filling along one edge then roll up and put in an ovenproof dish. Do the rest with all the pancakes, and hopefully you will have a bit of sauce left over to pour over the top, although it's not strictly necessary - you can always apply Tommie K when you serve it if it's a bit dry, then sprinkle on some grated cheese and bake in the oven till hot. Yum.

If there isn't enough gravy left, then I do noodles and stirfry some veg with some chinese five spice and some soy sauce.

If you have a discerning GAA or similar staying, there are a couple of more sophisticated options that are useful to fall back on. The Good Food mag was advocating a chicken risotto as the 'primary' recipe to knock up with the roast chicken and I'd agree that risotto is always a good option, but the real beaut is Chicken and Chorizo couscous. This is another Good Food recipe, copied out on to an index card and is probably the most used in my box of recipes. To serve 6, the ingredients are as follows:

350g each of couscous & cooked chicken; 100g sliced chorizo
3 medium tomatoes, deseeded (that's what the recipe says - I never bother - and if I don't have big tomatoes, I have used a handful of cherry toms)  and chopped
100g frozen peas (again, the recipe says they should be thawed but I never bother)
900ml hot chicken or veg stock (if yp've been really organised you can use the stock you made from the chicken carcass - or alternatively dissolve a couple of stock cubes...)
1/2-1 tsp harissa paste or hot chilli sauce
pinch of saffron,
1 tsp each of ground ginger & ground coriander
3tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp chopped coriander (or parsley is fine too - or don't bother)

Pre-heat oven to 180C/Gas 4 (fan 160)

You put the couscous, chicken, chorizo, tomatoes and peas in a large shallow dish, and combine the stock. harissa, saffron, ground ginger and coriander with the oil, and seasoning. Pour the stock mixture over the couscous etc give a good stir with a fork and cover tightly with tin foil then bake for 30 mins. Remove foil, stir in the fresh coriander (or parsley) (if you can be bothered), breaking up any clumps of couscous and serve.

You can replace the peas with courgette, and you can add other veg. It's really delicious. The recipe above is for 6 but you can halve it etc or make a big load and the leftovers are delicious cold - especially with some tabasco...