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.