Monday, 28 May 2012

The Samantha Barnes Google recipe Challenge #2: Creamy lemon spaghetti with courgette and pancetta

It’s the end of the month and we’ll be on freezer forage tomorrow but frankly, after wasting an hour this morning after I locked myself out of the house and had to climb up over the roof and break in through Pink’s bedroom in time to get ready for my boss to pick me up at 10 for a meeting in Oxford, all thoughts of what we might eat this evening were banished from my head.

Just the right night for the second Samantha Barnes Google Recipe Challenge night, then.

So I’ve been through the fridge and this evening, we have: 1 lemon, already zested and looking a little tired, a courgette, some fairly old parmesan , the end of a pot of sour cream and – ta dah! a pack of pancetta (bonus!).

Not necessarily the right evening for hot food, but we won’t be eating till later anyway because the Husband is off cycling, and the most likely looking candidate on Google, using “pancetta courgette lemon juice recipe” as the search term is Lemon pasta with squash and pancetta . I can’t follow the recipe exactly, because I have no lemon zest, and will be using sour cream instead of mascarpone - so Sam will have to judge whether this is allowed - but this recipe fits most accurately what I asked for. It came up on page 2 of the results – a little irksome given that half the recipes on page 1 included chicken or tomatoes or something I definitely hadn’t suggested. Take heart, fellow recipe-Googlers with dodgy fridge contents – the recipes you need are there!

So here it is: The Samantha Barnes Google Recipe Challenge presents:

Creamy lemon spaghetti with courgette and pancetta
Ingredients: (to serve 2): 100ml sour cream, juice of half a lemon, salt & pepper, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 6 slices of pancetta, 1 courgette, thinly sliced, 200g spaghetti, linguine etc, parmesan to serve.

Method: mix together the sour cream, lemon juice and a grind of black pepper and a pinch of salt then set aside; chop up the pancetta quite small, heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the pancetta till crispy:

This is why I could never truly become a vegetarian...

Remove from the pancetta from the pan set aside (on kitchen roll to drain off some of the fat if you are that way inclined – I tried my shorts on recently – I am now that way inclined). Pour most of the residual fat out of the pan, leaving about a teaspoon left (taking care not to pour hot fat all over your hand or your bare feet and the floor...only joking – I didn’t – well, not this time...), and add the courgette slices to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes till just tender, then add the lemon/sour cream mixture and set aside.

Cook the pasta according to cooking instructions – you could do this at the same time as making the sauce, but I am waiting for the Husband to get back so I am taking the 2 stage approach in the original recipe – then drain, reserving a little of the pasta water. Toss the lemon/sour cream/courgette mixture through the pasta, top with the pancetta and serve with grated parmesan.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Do you S'more?

Well, with the weather as fantastic as it was, it was always going to be a good camping trip, but we really did have a fantastic time.

OK, so the 2 hrs stuck on the M25 on Friday evening, (“We averaged about 35 m.p.h.!” commented the Husband in disgust – even for the van, I’ll admit that is pretty slow), combined with Pink requiring 3 wee stops was fairly wearing. Just because I love camping doesn’t mean I’m full of the joys the whole time. However, for good value, and family posterity, the 3rd wee stop (10 minutes from the camp site, after she’d drunk a significant portion of the litre bottle the Husband had given the kids at the first stop) resulted in a ‘Tent, the Bucket and Me’ style episode whereby the Husband totally failed to appreciate how to position her while she did her road-side wee, and she pee’d, fountain like, over her pants and his ankles on the side of the A26. I did laugh. But only on the inside.

That, and some dodgy portaloos on site aside, it was great. We were camping with friends, so the kids quickly formed a pack and headed off into the woods, emerging occasionally for face painting and sustenance. On Saturday morning, some of the older kids did a bushcraft ‘knife skills’ course and made tea light holders out of wood and birch bark, we had camp fires on Friday and Saturday night. Apart from a few mozzie bites and a marshmallow burn sustained by Pink, no injuries to speak of.

There was lots of cake – gingerbread loaf (Louise’s granny’s recipe) chocolate zucchini cake (Catherine’s sister’s recipe) and almond cake (Nigella’s easy almond cake from domestic goddess), lots of meat, and there were S’mores.
Have you ‘S’mored’ before? You really should.

Apparently they are an American thing, requiring Graham crackers, marshmallows and milk chocolate. We didn’t have Graham crackers, but Louise’s Cooking at the Campsite book suggested using digestive biscuits. We thought that would be too sweet, but Catherine had Ritz crackers, and Louise had Rich tea, so we tested extensively. I think the Ritz crackers won out for me – the combination had the salty/sweet thing going on, although if I dared to reach for the ‘Umami’ label, I’m sure someone with higher-brow tastes than me would try and shoot me.

Intrigued? Go on, you know you can't resist. For each S’more you will need:

2 marshmallows + pointy stick or skewer for toasting
2 Ritz crackers, Rich Tea biscuits or the like

1 chunk of milk chocolate

Method: Toast the marshmallows on the camp fire/BBQ to your liking. Smear the marshmallow onto one of the crackers/biscuits, top with the chunk of chocolate and sandwich with the second cracker. Eat. Get marshmallow everywhere and go back for more.
The strawberries? well after a couple of glasses of vino, they seemed like a good idea

Friday, 25 May 2012

To camp or not to camp? Most definitely YES.

I’m feeling inordinately excited about this week’s camping trip to the wonderful Forgewood campsite. After 2 trips already this year, where the weather has been at best, questionable, the sun is shining and I am champing at the bit to get going.

I never camped as a child. The closest we got to ‘camping’ was a static caravan in North Wales that my parents bought on the spur of the moment. I have no ‘The Tent, The Bucket and Me’ style anecdotes to have you weeping with laughter regarding formative camping trips. We lived in a northern suburb of Liverpool and it seemed like every Friday night during the summer, we would pack ourselves into the car with ham sandwiches and packs of mini cheddars, and squabble our way through the Mersey tunnel, to spend the weekend on a fairly dreary site with 12 other statics. The main attractions seemed to be an abandoned tractor and “the effluent tank”. My father would mow the grass in our little ‘garden’, and if we were really lucky we might get a trip to the swimming pool at Ruthin school.

I don’t think I really experienced camping ‘under canvas’ till university, and then initially in the rather surreal environment of Glastonbury festival. Fortunately it was a hot year (no mud bath for me), but my drug of choice was alcohol while my companion’s was more of the magic mushroom variety, and my bottle of vodka got stolen early on in the proceedings. While he had more than enough vegetable matter of one form or another available to keep him going, I was pretty skint, and cider makes you wee more often, so I spent the weekend fairly sober and rapidly going off the said companion. Saw some amazing bands but in terms of my ‘camping’ experience, the tent was a fairly irrelevant part of the weekend, particularly given the weather.

Then I met the Husband.

It was the end of June. He was based in York, but about to start a degree course in Wiltshire that September. Most of the rest of his unit were, to his annoyance, heading off to Bosnia without him. In order to give him something to do before uni, he was sent off to the Lakes to be an instructor on some kind of CCF camp thing. Most of our early relationship was based around long separations and snatched phone calls. After a few days of silence, he called from a phone box somewhere – would I care to join him? Oh! The excitement! Of course I would LOVE to join him.

It turned out that he had rather more to do with the cadets than was ever going to be fun for me, and my presence it appeared was (a) unauthorised and (b) noticed. I was dispatched to a separate campsite in a one man tent with nothing for company but the midges.

Our next excursion again involved a tent. The same summer, we borrowed his family’s ancient and rotting frame tent and headed off for a mystery tour that took in the Tower of London, Alton Towers and Keswick in the Lakes. We camped in a beer garden in Bedfordshire and various campsites up in Staffordshire and the Lakes, nicking marmite ‘mini pots’ (you know what I mean –the individual servings) from Tesco cafes, and playing pass the pigs to work out who would cook the next morning’s fry up. The tent was a pig to put up but we had such a laugh.

Obviously once he realised he wasn’t going to get rid of me that easily, he progressed to taking me ‘wild’ camping. We set off up various mountains – Scotland and Wales, with rucksacks – and camped when we needed to, in the hills. No longer in a frame tent, but back in his one man tent that I became acquainted with in the Lakes that first summer. By then, the draw of camping was obvious. OK, so it might be raining, and you might spend nights clinging on to the hillside on Tryfan as the wind howls round, threatening to whip you over the ridge and if you don’t die that way, then surely the black dogs of hell that were slavering round the tent, eyes burning like coals, baying for blood will...(there goes my vivid imagination again, sorry)

Where was I? Oh yes, to wake up in the middle of nowhere to have that first cup of tea staring on the beauty of the country side – knowing that no one else is there - it is amazing. I remember one morning up in the mountains behind Ben Nevis waking up and find that we were above the clouds. I will never forget that sense of well being that I got from that morning.

We have cycled toured in Northern France, camping – having upgraded to a slightly bigger tent, and later as a family, we have progressed through an enormous tent to a camper van. We also have a compact family tent which had its first outing last weekend, and proved itself admirably up to the task. I blogged about the demise of big tent last week if you are interested.

So why do I love it? I think the bottom line is that it’s all about getting rid of the trappings of day to day life and having space to breathe. By getting out and away, you are freed from the responsibilities of anything other than making sure the basic needs are met – food, shelter – do the kids have enough sun cream on? Obviously, you have to go back to reality, but for a short time, it feels like freedom - freedom to roam for the children, freedom to experience freedom. There is something totally intoxicating for me to be sitting by a campfire after a day outdoors, or in that first cup of tea stood outside in the early morning.

And yes, sometimes, it rains, and sometimes things go wrong, and lie ins are hard to come by, but there’s not much that can’t be solved with some hot chocolate and a piece of cake. We fly kites, we run around on beaches, we play Uno and Dobble for hours on end. We have fires and toast marshmallows. We can read chapters and chapters of stories to the kids if that’s what they want – or if they are busy damming a stream, and don’t want help, we might get to read more than a page of a book without falling asleep or get the opportunity to talk about something other than whether it’s recycling bin week or what the next week’s social engagements involve.

Now that we have the van, admittedly, camping has taken on a whole new side to it. Some would say that it’s not real camping, but I don’t agree. Yes, everything is there in one convenient vehicle, ready to go at the drop of a hat - there’s no packing the car up, and more importantly, when we get to the other end, no putting the tent up, and there’s no forgetting tent poles.  It’s all there, ready for us. And it’s certainly not the wild camping we used to do, but we approach it, I think with the same attitude. And we will go back to wilder camping, undoubtedly. This summer, we have a ferry booked to France but nothing else. We will see where the road takes us and hopefully have some adventures on the way. Pink is still too small for walking long distances (or rather her ability to whinge while walking long distances outweighs the rest of us might gain from it), so for now that’s on hold, but the Husband and Blue are planning a night on the hills somewhere in a couple of weeks time and what a fantastic experience that will be.

Do you camp? Please say yes! and if you don't, make me laugh with your "Tent the Bucket and me Stories"!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

A colourful (and almost vegetarian) meal

Did you know that it’s National Vegetarian Week this week? There is lots going on promoting vegetarian food, and Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes is sharing some of her favourite veggie recipes, as are other bloggers, so if you are looking for some inspiration get over and have a look.

In honour of that, I will gloss over the leftover pork with fennel and new potatoes that I cooked up out of River Cottage Everyday, using up the pork from Sunday (it was lovely though), and major on a couple – actually 3 – side dishes that I culled out of Veg Everyday, all of which I am pleased to say, went down extremely well.

Granted it was rather a colourful meal, and perhaps I wouldn’t have put all the dishes together in the ordinary course of things, but a lot of the fresh ingredients needed eating up and I found it was a good way to get the kids to try lots of different things – I ‘bigged’ the meal up as a ‘buffet’, with lots for them to help themselves to, and it worked. Kids can be so gullible!

Stuffed peppers with new potatoes, feta and pesto
This recipe almost passed me by on my many flicks through this great book, but it’s there, and it only just caught my eye. Here’s my version. It would double up easily.

100g cooked small new potatoes, 2 red peppers, 100g feta cheese, 2 tablespoons of pesto (homemade would have been nice, but Sacla was easier this evening), olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 2000C/Gas 6. Halve the peppers lengthways and remove pith and seeds. Drizzle a little olive oil over the skin of the peppers and rub all over, then place skin side down in a baking dish. Halve or quarter the potatoes (depending on how big they are to start with – you’re going to stuff the pepper halves with a mixture that includes them so judge by eye how big they will need to be for your peppers!), cube the feta cheese and add to a bowl with the potatoes. Add the pesto, season, and mix everything together. Spoon the mixture into the pepper halves and then bake for 40-45 minutes until browned on top.

I wasn’t expecting the kids to like the peppers that much, particularly because they haven’t been huge fans of feta before, but they both enjoyed their helpings. However, in anticipation of a refusal, I also made:
Honey roasted cherry tomatoes
This is such a doddle, and the oven was on anyway. I had a load of cherry tomatoes looking at risk of going to the chickens unless I did something quickly, and this was perfect:

500g cherry tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, crushed with sea salt, 1 tablespoon of honey (Hugh specifies clear, but I didn’t have any and used ‘hard’ honey instead, as to which more later) 2 tablespoons olive oil, good grind of pepper

Halve the tomatoes and place them cut side up in a baking dish that will take them all but so that they fit tightly. Beat together the rest of the ingredients and smear over the tomatoes. I suspect that if I’d used runny honey, there would have been less smearing and more pouring, but there you go). Whack it in the oven for 30 minutes or so until everything is bubbling and the tomatoes are juicy and sweet.

Finally, to use up an orange that had already been zested, and some carrots which were also looking pretty sorry for themselves:

Carrot, Orange and Walnut salad
Ingredients: 4 large-ish carrot, 2 oranges, a handful of walnuts or whatever nuts  you have to hand (Hugh uses toasted cashews but we were all out), olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper

Method: Slice the carrots into fairly thick matchsticks and put into a large bowl. Grate the zest of one of the oranges into the bowl on top of the carrots, then peel the oranges and segment them over the bowl with the carrots. This is damn fiddly – but it’s worth it because it gets rid of the pithy bits. You need a sharp serrated knife, and you basically hold the whole orange in your hand and work around slicing the orange flesh out from between the membranes. Make sure any left over juice gets squeezed into the bowl too, then chuck in the nuts, and a sprinkle (a few drops) of oil and of cider vinegar and season.

Oaty, Gingery-ish Cookies

The other week, a colleague brought round some of the Co-Op’s stem ginger cookies for a meeting, and some Liebniz chocolate biscuits. We ate the Leibniz, and stem ginger cookies stayed in my kitchen. I gave them to the kids and while Blue loved them, Pink got so far and then said they were too gingery. She liked the gingery taste but couldn’t cope with the stem ginger.

I love ginger biscuits, and I was casting around for something to make the other day to put in lunchboxes and came up with these – not too gingery, but gingery-ish. Enough for Pink, and with all those oats, practically a health food...

Oaty, Gingery-ish Cookies


125g unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon of honey, 100g caster sugar, 75g soft light brown sugar, 1 medium egg, lightly beaten, 100g porridge oats, 150g plain flour, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ½ teaspoon baking powder, pinch of sea salt.

Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 1900C/gas 5.
Mix the sugars in a bowl. Melt the butter and honey together in a small pan, tip into the sugar and, using a wooden spoon, beat well. Beat in the egg, stir in the oats and then sift in the flour, ginger and baking powder. Stir everything together, then use a dessert spoon to dollop the mixture onto the lined baking trays. Leave a good 4 cms or so between each dollop because the mixture does spread.

Bake for 10-15 minutes till the biscuits are turning golden brown, then once out of the oven, leave on the tray for a few minutes to firm up. You can then lift the biscuits off the tray using the baking parchment lining to put them on cooling racks.
Great in lunchboxes, with a cuppa, for breakfast??

You shall have a fishy...and a little rant about Good Food mag

After all my efforts over the past few months to eat less meat, this week seems to be a carni-fest.  The gorgeous pork on Sunday, meatballs on Monday, there’s the left-over pork on the menu this evening.

On Tuesday night, we had fish. I don’t cook fish as much as I should, although I do love it. I’ve had a couple of disasters with it, but in the main it turns out OK, and I know we should eat more of it, but it usually feels like a big effort. Anyway, I’m glad I made the effort last night, because even with some frankly mediocre fish that I’d bought frozen from the supermarket, it was pretty good. The veg was especially delicious.  I got the recipe out of June 2012 Good Food – page 26 if you’ve got it. It doesn’t look as if the recipe is online yet, so I can’t put the link in. I’ve adapted the recipe to serve 4 of us, and left out the olives (if you care to find the original recipe).

I can be a bit ambivalent about Good Food. Some issues are brilliant and some issues there is just nothing I can see myself cooking. I also take issue with the fact that the June issue is out at the beginning of May. How does that work? Am I supposed to wait till June to cook the recipes in it? On the ‘In Season’ pages it just says “Now at their best” and then includes things like gooseberries and broad beans which are nowhere near ready in our garden. It’s not that I mind waiting till next month, but if I buy a magazine – which is rare these days, when faced with the competing needs of new school shoes and ballet lessons – I want it to be relevant now. So if anyone from GF ever reads this, please could the May issue be available IN MAY? And be about May food? Or else, could you make it clear that although the June issue is available in May we shouldn’t be cooking out of it until June.  Pathetic, but I just get irrationally annoyed by this every time I pick one up – even if the recipes are good.

Rant aside, as a result of flirting with subscriptions, and the odd one off purchase, I’ve got quite a stash of back copies. A couple of years ago, I went through all of them and weeded out the ‘bad’ issues, but I still have 40 or so, taking up room on a shelf, so I have 2 or 3 for each month. When I’m lacking inspiration, I’ll take down the relevant month (although which month is relevant is obviously debateable, as I think I have illustrated)’s worth and flick through. That didn’t help me for this recipe,  but my mum had this June issue when I visited (actually on the last weekend of APRIL – the JUNE issue. Do you see why I get annoyed?) and it’s full of things I want to cook. 

This was on the menu for last Friday (fish on a Friday and all that), but what with the camping trip and everything, I decided to give it a miss. However, Tuesday seemed like as good a night as any to put it on the menu and have a break from all the meat.

Pancetta Wrapped Fish with Lemony Beans and New Potatoes

500g new potatoes, 200 g green beans, topped and tailed if necessary and cut into half, zest and juice of a lemon, 3 tbsps olive oil, 4 fillets of sustainable white fish (about 150g each in weight), 8 slices of pancetta
Pre-heat the oven to 2000C/1800 fan/gas 6. Boil the potatoes in a pan of water large enough to take the beans. After about 10-12 minutes, when the potatoes feel almost done, add the beans for another 3 minutes, then drain well. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into halves or quarters depending on how big they are to start with, tip into a large baking dish and toss in the olive oil, lemon zest and juice and season with salt and pepper. Wrap the fish in the pancetta (2 slices per piece of fish), place on top of the potatoes, grind over a little pepper, and bake for 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the pancetta is looking crispy. If you have any more lemon lying around, squeeze a little juice over the top and serve.

Provide mayonnaise for small boys who make a fuss about lemony beans.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Meatballs - revisited

Meatballs and I have history. Meatballs even lead to me actually getting paid to write something – how exciting was that? £25 for a ‘We Like to Eat’ column in the Guardian’s Family section last year. The handy link there (on 'history', if you didn't spot it!) takes you to a post I wrote in August last year, which is a longer version of that article. There was a time in my life when I had to make a particular lamb meatball recipe every day. Funnily enough, they have appeared less frequently on my menu subsequently. They are still a failsafe crowd pleaser, but the last couple of times I have made them, they haven’t been quite as good as I remembered.  However, a couple of weekends ago we were up at my mum’s and she served up meatballs made by mixing lamb mince and sausage meat. I don’t think I have ever come across a lamb/pork combination before, but it was really good. I think I prefer the lamb taste, but the addition of the sausage meat made them less dense.

Thus inspired, and using a Delia recipe (out of the Complete Cookery Course - meatballs braised with peppers and tomatoes - page 203 in my version!) as a rough guide for ingredient quantities, I have made meatballs this evening to feed the ravenous hoards (my turn to host the post- football/choir- pre-cubs play date).  In the interests of my own sanity, I chopped up all the veg, skinned the sausages and put veg, sausage meat and lamb mince in the fridge first thing this morning. I mixed, browned and cooked at lunchtime, and so I just need to cook spaghetti or other pasta and heat up the meatballs when it comes to tea time and the pack are baying at my heels demanding to be fed.
Sorry. Did I just liken my kids and their friends to a pack of animals there? Whoops.

Mediterranean style meatballs with hidden veg

Meatballs: 400g lamb mince, 6 pork sausages, 1 red onion, 1 red pepper, Handful of coriander leaves and stalks, 1 clove of garlic, 2 slices of bread, Salt and pepper, grated zest of a lemon

Sauce:  1 red onion & 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped, 2 cans of chopped tomatoes, 2 tsps Marigold stock powder.

Method: For the meatballs, finely chop the onion, pepper, coriander and garlic – I used a food processor to be honest. In a bowl, using a fork, (or again, using a food processor) mash up the bread into crumbs, then squeeze the meat out of the sausage skins, add the lamb mince and the chopped veg, add the egg, salt and pepper and lemon zest and mix together thoroughly. Form the mixture into meatballs.

Basically you can make them whatever size you want – depending on the size of the mouths you are feeding. I made just over 30 out of this amount which i am hoping confidently predict will feed 2 adults and 4 children.

Once you have formed the meatballs, you need to brown them in batches - heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a pan and put the meatballs in so the pan isn't overcrowded. Cook for a good couple of minutes on one side before turning to brown the rest (if you try to turn them too early, they will stick. i do it all the time) and then remove from the pan once brown and set aside.

It would be a good idea to drain them on kitchen paper if you have it to hand (I didn’t today), while you make the sauce.

For the Sauce: heat a tablespoon of oil in a large casserole and add the onion and garlic. Fry for a few minutes, then add in the cans of tomatoes. Put the stock powder into one of the cans, and fill with boiling/hot water. Tip the water into the second can (to get all the leftover tomato stuff out) and then tip into the casserole. Add some salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Bubble for 10 mins or so, then add in the browned meatballs. Turn the heat down to a simmer, put the lid on and cook gently for 25-30 mins.

Serve with pasta - I usually cook about 50 g per child and 100g per adult - anything left over goes into Pink's lunch box the following day - and today we're having green beans.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Looking for comfort food? Roast pork belly with coriander and fennel crackling, and rhubarb and ginger crumble

There is no use me pretending that I and anything other than totally and utterly hungover. And a little cold and tired. So cold in fact that the Husband has lit a fire, and I’m cooking a dinner more appropriate for a cold November. Not that I’m complaining.

We’ve had a great weekend: the new tent was super quick to put up so by 9.30 on Friday night, the kids were tucked up in bed, and I had my first G&T of the weekend sitting by a roaring camp fire in the wilds of Hampshire (OK, so the Hampshire countryside’s not that wild, but we felt pretty remote).

 We were camping at a slightly odd and lovely place called The Sustainability Centre. The Husband is fairly sure it used to be a military establishment and that he had been there in his previous life. The assault- course- wall-turned- ‘Rural Skills area’-boundary, coupled with some typically military red brick buildings would tend to bear this out, but beyond that, there’s little evidence of its previous use. Now, it’s a haven of peace and tranquillity, there’s a ‘Natural Burial Site’ there (I ventured that way with the dog, and then got confused with Waking the Dead and started hallucinating about Tara Fitzgerald’s body farm place and went the other way), and a small camping ground, complete with yurts and a couple of tipis for those who don’t want to bring their own tents.  

We were there for my friend’s 40th. By yesterday evening there were about 60 adults and children and 2 dogs. We had great weather all day, and a fabulous evening: drinks and a curry (catered by the on site veggie cafe) in an amazing open sided wooden event structure in the woods. The children ran riot, got muddy, built dens, we had a camp fire for marshmallow toasting, and then later for general conviviality. However, the upshot was some fairly sore heads this morning, and although the veggie cafe opened early to do us all breakfast, bacon was definitely missed. Oh, and I can confirm that compost toilets and hangovers do not go well together.

We decided to forego hanging around today, in favour of getting home and cleaned up and just chilling out, but not before stopping in Tescos in Winchester to get MEAT for supper. Despite my recent forays into vegetarian food, I still haven’t found anything to beat either a bacon sandwich or a roast dinner when I’m feeling like this. In the absence of bacon for breakfast, it was going to have to be a roast for tea.
We had hoped that it might have been the Winchester Farmer’s Market today but sadly not, so Tescos it was, for a piece of belly of pork. I won’t bore you with the story of how we bumped into the most glamorous person I know while we were there, and how it would have to be on a day when we all smelt of wood smoke and looked like we’d been dragged through several bushes backwards but there we go.

Back home, and I’m sitting here, salivating at the smells that are now coming from the oven. For dinner we are having: Roast thick end of Pork belly with coriander and fennel crackling, thanks to Hugh’s River Cottage Everyday, and rhubarb and ginger crumble, from my head, because there is rhubarb in the garden, and it’s that kind of day.

Roast thick end of Pork belly with coriander and fennel crackling
I got nearly 2 kilos of meat (the lady in the meat counter sold me slightly more than I wanted on the basis that it would tip me over the £7 threshold thus qualifying me to use a £2 money off voucher.

Following St Hugh’s advice, I bashed up 3 teaspoons of coriander seeds and 2 of fennel seed, rubbed just over half into the crackling, which I had to score with a craft knife because I didn’t feel up to sharpening any of the kitchen knives, and put the rest of the seeds in the bottom of the roasting tray, laid the pork on top, and put it into a really hot oven for 30 mins to get the crackling going and the meat cooking. Once the ‘sizzle’ was over, I turned the oven temperature down to 180 for the rest of the cooking time. Hugh’s recipe says this will be 1.5 hrs, but I’m not so sure I can wait that long – it smells so good. We’re having mash and chard from the garden , along with 6 asparagus spears that have pushed up while we’ve been away. How exciting!

There isn't a picture of the asparagus yet because it's still in the ground waiting for literally the last moment when the Husband will leap out, cut the spears and race back to the kitchen for maximum freshness...

Rhubarb and Ginger crumble

For the pudding, I’ve used 800g of rhubarb, which I sliced up into chunks, and mixed in a baking dish with the juice of nearly a whole orange and a tablespoon or so of soft brown sugar.

I covered this with foil and bunged it in the oven with the pork for 20 mins, just to get the rhubarb going. I don’t always pre-cook the fruit when I make crumble, but I think you need to with rhubarb. Once I’d done that pre-cook, I added in a thinly sliced ball of stem ginger and stirred that in with the rhubarb. The ginger was a bit of an afterthought but we’re all a little cold, and ginger is very comforting. For the crumble topping, I used 110g oats, 110g plain flour, 100g soft brown sugar and 75g of unsalted butter rubbed in. It’s already cooked, because experience has taught me that if I serve crumble straight from the oven, at least one of us will be unable to wait till it’s cooled down enough, and give ourselves third degree burns in the process.

So there you have it – comfort food for a slightly dreary and hungover May Sunday. If anyone’s got any veggie hangover cures, I’d be pleased to try them out!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Pancetta wrapped fish? Too 'in tents'...

Frankly, today could still go either way.
It’s had a shaky start – Pink insisting on getting her new Barbie puppy parlour thing (please, please don’t ask – it’s far too distressing) filled with bubble mixture so that Barbie can wash her puppies (the canine kind, in the unlikely event that any male has been brave enough to set foot here) while I was trying to make packed lunches and distribute that last handful of evil Cheerios fairly between the kids, and Blue getting overwrought about making a mistake on a piece of homework.

why hasn't she taken me for a walk yet?
To make matters worse, I have been bullied by the school’s’ raised eyebrow policy’ into feeling insecure about my diagnosis of the rash that is currently present on Pink’s arms and legs. Blue took himself off to school, she watched Tangled, and I tried to get on with work before the appointment in the ‘rapid access emergency clinic’. Fred (the dog) spent 25 minutes trying to entice me into the garden to play with him, and then sulked on his bed next to my desk, huffing at regular intervals. Blue was wearing his contact lenses, and I had the uneasy feeling all morning that today would be the day that he gets dust in his eye, which will induce screaming agony, and that I would be in the queue for the rapid access appointment, just about to go in with Pink, when the call comes to race up to school and deal with the lens issue.

(A general note/rant about school and its attitude to illness and being patronised: The rash Pink is sporting  is identical to one Blue had last week. I have a filthy cold – I can talk again but I am so full of snot you would not believe it – and the kids are both a little snotty. I took Blue to the docs in the end last week, despite there being no other symptoms, just because I do get a little twitchy about his health given his history. The verdict was ‘viral rash’, as I suspected, and that in the absence of any other symptoms, he was OK to go to school. Anecdotal evidence from Blue suggests that there are other kids at school sporting the same rash, so I felt fine about this. Pink had a lesser version of the rash at the same time as Blue but then it flared up yesterday. I expect with the excitement of turning 6 she is actually quite tired and if this virus is the ‘lurking’ type, it took the opportunity to jump in again. She is fine in herself. But school called me yesterday, and her teacher ‘had a word’ when I went to pick her up. May be I’m reading too much into it, but whenever this sort of thing happens, I end up feeling (a) completely patronised, and (b) like a totally neglectful and bad mother who pays no heed to the welfare of her children. Does anyone else get this feeling from school?)

As I expected, Pink was fine to be at school, and despite my worries, no call so far to deal with Blue’s lenses, so Pink and I headed up the hill, dog in tow.
So far so good – both kids now at school, and Fred only got 2 ticks during his walk...

But there’s this evening still to get through. We are camping for a great friend’s 40th birthday this weekend. She is my oldest friend – our mothers went to school together, so we have history. When we were children, we used to share a boiled egg – I would eat the yolk then she would eat the white.

We aren’t going too far for this particular adventure, so the fact that we won’t be leaving till after 6.30 (Pink has a birthday party to go to) doesn’t trouble me too much. I haven’t packed yet, but I can do this while Pink is at the party. We don’t need much.

However, the following concerns me greatly: the campsite we are going to does not accommodate camper vans, so we can’t ‘glamp’ it in the van – we are going to have to slum it in a tent. Not only that, but we have a new tent, purchased for instances such as these (we can’t use the van on scout camp, either  – have to show solidarity with the scouts...), which we have never put up before. In fact we haven’t even taken it out of the bag to check everything’s there. “It’ll be fine” says the Husband.

 We have a chequered tent history – one that went from sharing the Husband’s 1 man tent in various walking expeditions up various mountains in mostly appalling weather conditions (that’s what happens if you hang out with the Army, girls), to a more sophisticated 2 person bike tent (i.e we could both sleep in it comfortably and there was enough room for our bikes in the awning bit, but rolled up it fitted neatly on the back of a bike). We spent many happy R&Rs in our “life-before-children” cycling round northern France.

 When the kids came along, and we decided to ‘do’ camping, we went a little crazy and purchased an end of line (read cheap) ENORMOUS thing that could have slept the whole scout troop in it.
OK, so maybe it wasn't quite THAT big...

It was too big. It was a pig to put up, and if it got wet when we needed to be packing it up, it was almost impossible to dry out because we don’t have anywhere big enough to hang it out. The big tent went on ebay after a particularly harrowing incident a couple of years ago. We arrived at about 8.30 p.m. at a campsite, strangely enough for another 40th. We were nearly the last to arrive, having towed the dinghy with us, we were both frazzled and in desperate need of alcohol.

I had been responsible for getting everything ready, so that when the Husband got home from work, we could just pack the car and go. The Husband set to, putting up the tent, and various friends chipped in to help. “Should there be 4 of these black poles?” enquired one friend. “I can only find 3.”

You know when you have those moments in a marriage. That was one of ours. And yes, I know, over a bloody tent pole. But hey, we held it together through Blue’s chemotherapy, so we’re entitled to fall out over a tent pole, right? It was all my fault. The pole had been sent away for repairs and when it came back, instead of putting it properly back in the tent bag with the other poles, I’d just chucked it in the cupboard. And then when I was assembling everything, ready to be packed in the car, I’d forgotten about the pole.  Fortunately, between the 30 or so other families, we scraped together a couple of small tents and the weekend was saved, but the tent went on ebay on the Sunday evening and we went looking for camper vans.

Since then, we have camped using a combination of the hike tent and the bike tent (we did that a few times during the rest of the van hunt summer), and last summer on scout camp in Holland we used the van awning as a stand-alone tent, but only for sleeping. And now, we have a new tent. Which we have never put up. Frankly, one of the reasons I love the van so much is that it has completely removed the ‘arrive at the campsite put up the tent’ stress. But not so this evening. We will be back there, with 2 over tired (and in Pink’s case, thoroughly over-sugared)  kiddlywinks, trying to fathom out how the tent goes up. Even if there are instructions, you can be sure they will be wrong...

The light at the end of the tunnel is that because we are not leaving till later, we can eat before we go, rather than having to factor a meal in to the tent-erection fun and games. I’d planned pancetta wrapped fish with lemony new potatoes and green beans, but do you know what? I think I’ll get a pack of sausages out of the freezer, crack open the oven chips, and make sure there’s plenty of gin in the ‘food’ bag.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Blueberry Crumble Cake

One of the lovely things I got for my 40th a few weeks ago was a set of stainless steel American cup measures. Totally unnecessary, you might think – after all, I have a perfectly serviceable set of scales – but cooking with cups appeals to me, and although I have been experimenting a little just using any old cup, I was keen to own a set of ‘proper’ cups and see what the measures should be. That was 3 weeks ago. My baking since then has been limited mostly to fairy cakes for Pink’s various birthday celebrations, and another bulk lemon drizzle tray bake.

However, when I went to the Co-Op for other sundries this morning, Blueberries were on offer.  It was meant to be.

Blueberry crumble cake

This cake has been on my mind since I read the Crumbs blog post in April - which is where you will find the recipe. It keeps popping into my head, unbidden.
 “Bake me! ...Eat me!” it has whispered through the ether of the internet for the last 3 weeks.

I’m not sure if using the cup measures made any difference, and I found ¼ cup of butter slightly challenging, so I dipped into Baked in America for a quick conversion (they do all their recipes in grams, oz and cups). Other than that, the only change I made was to use sour cream instead of yoghurt – because that’s what I had in the fridge.

The recipe on the Crumbs website offered lemon glaze or just serve dusted with icing sugar.

Really? Not drizzle with lemon glaze? I don't think so...

Spanish style Pork one-pot & a poncey ingredient alert

Last night was ‘meat night’. I was never intending to get to this point when I picked up Veg Everyday and the various other veggie tomes that I have been dipping into, but more often than not now, I am choosing not to cook with meat. It’s made a difference to our shopping bill, certainly, and I like to think we are healthier for it.

But we are not vegetarian – and I don’t think I could ever choose that label.  I’m not ready to give up a bacon sandwich with a cup of coffee while we’re camping, a delicious steak (and I like mine rare), roasts, BBQs. No, I couldn’t give up meat, but we’re certainly eating less of it.

On the whole, the Husband and the kids have adapted fairly well, but when it became apparent that there was meat on the menu last night, there was all round rejoicing. Even the fact that rice was involved didn’t deter Blue, who’s not fond of rice. The dish is based on a recipe of Paul Rankin’s that I found in an old Good Food mag (May 2006). I couldn’t find a link to the original recipe for you, so you’ll have to suffer my version. It was very quick and easy and got the thumbs up all round. It was billed in the magazine as a ‘speedy after work supper’. It was really quick to put together, and meant that I could do the chopping when I got in from picking the kids up from school – with assistance from Blue who chopped the olives for me, and then do the frying off and get the casserole in the oven before I went to pick Pink up from ballet. Then, in a jolly family scene, the Husband arrived home at the same time as we got back from ballet, the supper was ready, and we all sat down and ate tea together. Really. There was even pudding in the form of left over cake from Pink’s birthday party.

Family harmony and pudding to boot - I love it when a plan comes together.

Recipe Junkie’s Spanish Style Pork One-pot

Ingredients: 800g lean, boneless pork, diced or in strips, olive oil, 1 red onion chopped, 1 or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped, 1-2 tsp smoked paprika, 175 g long grain rice, 300ml veg stock or water, 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, pitted green olives*, halved   2 slices preserved lemon**, finely chopped for garnish (optional)
*I used the remains of a jar I had in the fridge. The original recipe said 280g jar of artichoke hearts in oil, drained and quartered, but mine aren’t keen on artichoke hearts (damn them!) and the olives needed using up
**poncy ingredient alert - my French friends bought me a selection of delicious goodies when they came to stay a few weeks ago, including a jar of ‘confit citroens’. The Husband and I once tried to make preserved lemons following a Jamie Oliver recipe. They were rubbish, but I knew that done properly they would taste lush – and they did...)

Method: Chop up all the ingredients that need chopping, then about 45 mins before you want to eat, turn on the oven (180c, 160c fan). Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large oven proof casserole (one which has a lid) and brown the pork pieces all over on a high heat. Add the onions, garlic, peppers and smoked paprika and cook for 5 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the rice, stir in and cook for another 2-3 minutes, then pour in the stock, the can of chopped tomatoes and the olives, bring it all up to the boil, then put the lid on pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

I served it with a bag of watercress spinach and rocket salad, and it went down very well. The kids and I both liked the addition of the lemon, the Husband less so. You could also have garnished with chopped parsley – I would have done except my trusty trough full outside the kitchen window all bolted and the Husband pulled it all up and planted radishes instead – so watch out for radish recipes coming soon...

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Inaugural post of the Sam Barnes Google Recipe Challenge - Purple Sprouting Broccoli

The Husband and I went out for a quiet drink and a curry on Friday night. It’s hopeless trying to go out for a quiet drink where we live because there’s always someone else in the pub trying to have a quiet (or not so quiet) drink. We bumped into some friends, including Sam, who, I’m sure she won’t mind me saying, is utterly fabulous. She’s a great artist, she did the drawings on my blog, and her stuff is really worth checking out.  Alcohol had been consumed, and amidst the general chatter she announced: “I think you should do a Google thing. You know, see what you’ve got left in the fridge, type it in to Google and see what it comes up with. It’d be great. The weirder the better!”

“Fantastic! Yes! Chilli pickled rhubarb with polenta!” The Husband and I nearly didn’t make it to the curry house...
Anyway, never let it be said that I shy away from a challenge and use the excuse that I was drunk. Let me present:

The Sam Barnes Google Recipe Challenge: Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Tonight was a good night to do this, as the kids were fed elsewhere and instead of planning a sumptuous grown up feast for 2, it was looking otherwise like beans on toast. On inspection, the fridge contained an over-optimistic amount of purple sprouting broccoli, starting to look more than a little sad. In the interests of using the challenge to use up more of the left over bits and pieces, further delving produced some new potatoes, half a red onion and half a jar of anchovies in olive oil. I googled ‘purple sprouting broccoli’ and came up with this recipe from the Daily Telegraph. Almost a perfect fit. The fridge did not magically produce quails eggs, but the chickens have been co-operating, despite me clipping their wings yesterday, so we had:

New potato, red onion and p.s.b. salad with anchovy cream and poached eggs – serves 2 as a main course
½ red onion, finely sliced, 300g new potatoes, 250g purple sprouting broccoli, any woody bits trimmed, Juice of ½ lemon
55g anchovies in olive oil, 1 clove of garlic, 55g pine nuts, olive oil, Juice of ½ lemon

Make the cream: put the anchovies and oil, the garlic and pine nuts into the small bowl of a food processor and whizz together. Add the lemon juice and pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil in a steady stream while whizzing, till you get a smooth-ish, thick-ish puree. Taste and add more lemon if necessary.
Make the salad: heat a glug of olive oil in a pan and gently cook the onions until they are soft. Boil the potatoes until cooked and steam the broccoli till tender. You should be able to steam the broccoli over the potatoes for the last 4-5 mins of the potato cooking time. Put the onions, potatoes and broccoli in a bowl, and toss with a tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt and pepper and set aside while you poach the eggs. Do you need me to tell you how to poach eggs? I’ll leave that to Delia .

Pile the salad onto 2 plates, drizzle with some of the anchovy cream (although don’t overdo it – serve the rest of the sauce on the side in a jug – anything left would taste gorgeous stirred into pasta – which is what I’m planning to do for lunch tomorrow!) and place a poached egg on top of each pile of salad.

It was delicious.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Bad colds and birthday parties

I have a hideous, stonking cold. I have lost my voice, and every time I cough, I feel like half my chest might appear. I don’t get much wrong with me very often, and like this cold, it usually sneaks up on me with no warning. This would not have been so bad, except it was Pink’s birthday party this morning. No retreating to bed for me early last night and taking it easy.

Usually, Pink’s birthday is on my radar by mid-April, but this year, because it was my 40th,and we had made a big fuss about my birthday, I woke up one morning a couple of weeks ago and realised that despite her regular updates about how long it would be till she was 6, I had done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about hers. Her actual birthday is 17th May. I checked the calendar. We were booked to go camping for my oldest friend’s 40th the weekend immediately after Pink’s birthday, and then one of her classmates, whose birthday is a day or so after hers, bagged the Friday evening tea time slot, which I could just about have managed, even with camping. We had a lunch date yesterday – so this morning it had to be.

I’d secretly like to be able to write a hilarious blog about what a complete and utter disaster the whole thing was, but in fact it was probably the best party I’ve ever done. I did feel like things were heading for trouble as I was icing her birthday cake last night – already full of cold and feeling lousy, I realised that  the heart-shaped Victoria sponge, filled with cream and raspberries (frozen and defrosted) and covered in pink buttercream didn’t look like a heart at all – more a bottom. It wasn’t just me. By 10 p.m last night, my fears had been confirmed as both the Husband and the Mother in law had also commented that it looked just like - a bottom. I managed to find an appropriately pink ribbon to tie round and get over that hurdle, but I felt increasingly hysterical as 11 o’clock approached and the balloons I’d purchased with the promise of being ‘rabbit-shaped’ looked more like breasts when inflated. Mind you, given that I’d just been outraged by reading about the latest Ann Summers advertising campaign, I should have been thankful they weren’t vibrator shaped... Anyway, it made no difference in the end.

just imagine how it might look, without ribbon and viewed from the other end...

I have had varying success with birthday parties. I have done them ‘joint’ with other children, in church halls with ‘trophy’ birthday cakes (fortunately for you all, I wasn’t blogging the time I spent 15 hours making a Thomas and the Troublesome Trucks for Blue’s 4th Birthday. It was magnificent – I do say so myself – but he was ill then, and I felt like he had to have the best cake ever. Unfortunately, nothing has ever quite matched up since, and I get out a bit more these days). Blue is now at the stage of ‘birthday treats’ rather than parties, which suits me fine, but Pink was definite. She wanted “A party at home”. With pass the parcel, musical bumps, musical statues, musical chairs and pin the crown on the princess. Well, at least she was organised.

She was totally excited about the new dress I had bought her yesterday (I should say that without exception, ALL her clothes are hand me down, so when she said that what she really wanted for her birthday was to go shopping for a new party dress for her party, I felt I could hardly refuse), but in a first, there were no sulks about not winning the games, and no “meltdown for no reason” during the party.

We did cake decorating – butter cream available in 3 horrible colours, plus sprinkles – assorted, some sugar butterflies and some wafer daisies. The games went well, and the weather was good so we could have regular running outside. We also had lunch picnicking in the garden. I had suggested to Pink that if the weather were good, we could have had the whole party at the park, but she wasn’t having that. How would we play pass the parcel? From my perspective, picnic in the garden was the next best thing.

I have done Annabel Karmel style party food in the past, and have learnt those bitter lessons, so to feed 12 children, we had: 5 rounds (i.e. 10 slices) of Hovis ‘best of both’ (no homemade bread – as I say, I have learnt - but I still can’t bring myself to buy pappy white, even for a birthday party. I am middle class, you know) of ham sandwiches and 5 rounds of grated cheese. Carrot sticks and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, 40 cocktail sausages, medium meat content, 6 packs of Sainsburys assorted potato crisps – 3 ready salted, 3 cheese and onion. The cakes that the guests had decorated earlier plus 24 mini fairy cakes that the mother in law and I iced, and the Husband decorated, last night for sweet stuff, and the cake...

1p.m. came round blissfully quickly and then everyone had gone home.  And now I am here drinking my honey lemon and whiskey, about to go to bed and wondering if that might actually be the last ‘birthday party’ I ever do.

“Thank you Mummy” said Pink “It was a perfect party”. Picked me up more than the paracetemol did. Can I go to bed now?