Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Tripe will out

So, why am I thinking about tripe?

On Sunday night, Pink and I collected ‘la baby-sitter francaise’ (‘la BF’) from the airport: a quiet and very sweet girl, the daughter of a friend of a friend, who is staying with us for 3 weeks in what is hopefully going to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. She will provide me with some child care and we will speak English with her.

The visit didn’t get off to a hugely successful start from my perspective as I arrived at Southampton airport to realise that there was no flight due in from Perpignan (the airport I had anticipated she would fly from) and that it was some weeks, nay months, since I had seen a photo of her... I managed to quash increasingly panicked visions of having to leg it back to Heathrow, or some other airport, while an angry French Madame hounded me on the phone (I have no idea if her mother is likely to be an angry French Madame, but I suppose I’d be pretty mad if someone left my teenage daughter stranded at a foreign airport), and my fears were unfounded as she eventually appeared on the flight from Beziers. Anyway, despite that, and her not surfacing till approximately 10.30 in the morning, the visit seems to be going well. Blue, who behaved beyond embarrassingly last summer when we had a different BF to stay with us, appears to have taken a shine to her (or, at least, decided not to take against her) and Pink is positively enthralled, especially as she produced presents of untold glory (vis wooden bead jewellery) on arrival.

I hope la BF will feel welcome and enjoy her time with us. Her English is just about OK, and she is keen (she has brought an English novel to read with her), but I remember what it was like. I spent several happy summers from the age of 18 with a lovely but chaotic family with 6 children, travelling between Paris, Carcassone and, latterly, Nantes. Thanks to those visits, I can fend off amorous French builders, translate most of Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, make steak & kidney pie in the searing heat of a midi summer, cope with 6 consecutive cases of chicken pox – 3 concurrent , and deal with trigger-happy gendarmes when a number plate falls off your car at a peage while travelling on the autoroute du soleil with too many kids in the car (2 hiding under blankets in the boot) and a cold box full of illegally harvested escargots de Bourgogne chomping on thyme and rosemary on their way to being roasted with garlic butter. In case you ever find yourselves in a similar situation, the answer is, sadly, cleavage...

and I can still speak pretty fluent French.

But until you find your feet (or your boobs) it can be totally bewildering. Being immersed in someone else’s family is tiring enough, let alone having to do it all in a different language.

And here is the point of my post (there was one). I have many wonderful food memories from those trips to France – the father in particular seemed to delight in seeing what he could entice ‘l’anglaise’ to eat. One night he came home with a side of salmon which he proceeded to nail to a board and cook against an open fire – Finnish style, he assured me. I have eaten snails 4 different ways, beautiful sardines – proper enormous ones, fresh from the sea and BBQ’d with their heads on so that you crunch through everything, and many other delicacies. And as much as he delighted in producing these delicacies, I prided myself on being able to rise to the challenge without flinching.

But one day, it all fell apart. Picture if you will, a blisteringly hot day: 8.30 a.m. and the cicadas were already rasping. We were camped out chez les grandparents in their beautiful country house outside Carcassone (shady terrace along the front of the house, pool in the garden). There was some excitement at the prospect of the lunch to be served up that day, and a huge earthenware casserole was produced from the freezer and ceremoniously carried into the kitchen. It was ‘des tripes’ (pronounced ‘treep’, with that roll of the ‘r’). Had I misunderstood? This was my 3rd or 4th visit to the family, and I was fairly confident with my French by then. At least twice during the morning, I was advised about the recipe and the fact that it was a regional delicacy. I had to deal with an ‘it’s so unfair’ conversation with various of the kids in my care about why the adults would get des tripes, but they would only have chicken. I was going to have to eat it.

By now, the casserole was defrosting and heating slowly on the stove (no respecters of English food safety rules, these), and as I walked passed the kitchen, I would get a waft...

it looked a little like this

Now I should probably explain that when I was a child, my mother used to feed me (and the dog) tripe and onions which she cooked in milk. My Dad was at sea. Apparently, I used to wolf it down. But then he stopped being at sea and started being at home, and things changed. I am advised by my mother (not that she’s bitter or anything) that he used to walk around making retching noises whenever she cooked it, and she soon stopped. According to her, however, I never showed any signs of not liking tripe.

And yet there I stood some 20 years later, literally frozen with panic. I was going to be presented with a plate of tripe casserole, and I just couldn’t face it. In the heat, I began to feel nauseous and sweaty at my hairline. I’d like to be able to tell you that I managed to overcome what must only have been a psychological reaction, learned from my Dad, but I couldn’t do it. And while I have a twinge of regret that I can’t regale you with some shocking but hilarious vomiting over grandmere incident, I must confess that I had to wimp out. Just before lunch was served, I had to try and explain that I simply couldn’t eat ‘des tripes’. I tried 2 or 3 times to express quite how deep this total inability to even try the dish was – I tried to communicate that I wasn’t just being a little fussy, but my language skills deserted me. All I could manage was a garbled “je ne peux pas manger des tripes” before running to the bathroom to splash cold water over my face.

All was fine. I got chicken and, to the delight of the 2 oldest children, my portion of tripes was shared between them, but I’m never quite sure that they really understood.

So if in the next 3 weeks, I start muttering about cooking something that you think will freak out la BF, stop me. I have already tried to explain to her that if there is anything she doesn’t like or doesn’t want to eat, she must tell me. But I’m not sure she has understood...

Is there anything that you really and honestly can’t eat? Any great stories? Did you actually vomit over grandmere? I’d love to hear them...

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Post Camp Pavlova

When I made the Swedish Summer Cake, I had 4 egg whites left over. The Goddess urged me to make coffee toffee meringues with them (check out the recipe in Kitchen). I thought about it, but at the time, regrettably, it would have been a step too far.  I put the egg whites in the freezer and vowed that I would remember that the old marge tub covered in cling film (because I’d lost the lid) contained 4 egg whites, and that I was going to use them for this purpose.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. We returned from scout camp yesterday, exhausted and totally minging, but having had a great time. It did of course help that the sun shone solidly, but it was a great week.

In a move to combat the post-camp exhaustion, the decision was taken that on return yesterday, all the kit would just be dumped in the scout hut and we would go back this afternoon for clean up, followed by a BBQ at ours to drink all the booze we wished we could have drunk while we were supervising our charges. That’s not to say we didn’t have the odd ‘lemonade’ but with 22 10-14 year olds in your care, restraint is most definitely required.

Bearing that in mind, you’ll understand when I say that I over-achieved on the wine front last night, 2 loads of washing down, and trying to stay awake long enough to see Team GB’s entry into the amazing Olympic Opening Ceremony last night. It was not to be – I gave up round about Ecuador – but still woke up with a reasonably thick head and a trip to the supermarket in mind.

I had remembered the coffee toffee meringue, but decided that individual puddings would not work today, partly because I had no idea quite how many people would be coming. So then I thought, Pavlova. During my reasonably stress-free trip round the supermarket (mainly because the kids stayed at home so I was free to amble round and get distracted by the cookery books section) I noticed that they actually had some nectarines which were genuinely ripe. And some apricots. “I expect those would taste good with toffee sauce” I thought. Clearly, a week of bashing out uncomplicated crowd pleasers on the food front, and lashings of tinned rice pudding and custard (which I LOVE, don’t get me wrong) have left me hankering for a good tinker in the kitchen. A plan formed.

Working on the coffee toffee idea, but consulting Forever Summer for all things pavlova (in particular the recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova – which I probably should make another time because it looks scrummy), I came up with a coffee meringue topped with cream, nectarines, apricots and toffee sauce. I decided to go for a couple of extra egg whites in the meringue (I’ll use the yolks in a quiche), and have fiddled around with the quantities accordingly, to make:

Post-camp Pavlova

Ingredients: 30g butter, 150g golden syrup, 100g light brown sugar, 720 ml double cream (yes, I know it’s a pain to get that amount), 250g caster sugar, 3 teaspoons instant coffee powder, pinch of cream of tartar, 6 egg whites, 50g toasted chopped hazelnuts, 4 ripe peaches/nectarines, 320g apricots

Method: First make the toffee sauce. In a small pan, and over a low heat, melt together the butter, syrup and 50g of the light brown sugar, occasionally swirling the pan around. When melted, bring to the boil and bubble the mixture for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 120 ml of the double cream then set aside to cool.

For the meringue, pre-heat the oven to 1800C, and line a baking tray with baking parchment on the underside of which you have drawn a circle approx 23 cm in diameter to act as a guide for forming the disc of meringue. Mix together the caster sugar, the rest of the light brown sugar (50g), the coffee powder and the cream of tartar in a bowl. The soft brown sugar may clump a bit so try and get all the lumps out first.

Whisk the egg whites till they start to go to the soft peak stage, then carry on whisking adding the sugar mixture a tablespoon at a time, till you have a glossy, thick meringue. Carefully mound the meringue into the middle of the circle (you should be able to see it on the baking paper) then spread to form a fat disc that will be approx 23 cm in diameter. Sprinkle 20g of the chopped hazelnuts on top of the meringue mixture, then put the baking tray in to the oven, immediately reducing the heat to 1500.

Cook for an hour or so (it may need a little longer) till the meringue is dry on the outside and perhaps a little cracked, but still feels like it might be squidgy on the inside. Leave to cool.

To assemble, place the meringue disc on whatever you are going to serve it on. Whip the remaining 600 ml of double cream so that it is firm enough to be spread and to hold the fruit, but still reasonably soft. Chop up the fruit into reasonably small chunks  - you could peel it first, but I wasn’t in the mood. Spread the cream over the meringue, top with the fruit and sprinkle over the remaining hazlenuts. Drizzle over about half (or whatever you think looks good) the now cooled toffee sauce. Serve with the remaining toffee sauce on the side.

I wanted to take a picture to show you what a slice lookes like, but it got eaten too quickly. This served a slice each for 14 adults with a small bit left over, and at least 3 people fought to lick the remains of the toffee sauce out of the jug. You know who you are...

Finally, just because I can't resist, I'm linking up with Forever Nigella again, for the July 'Sizzling Summer' event. It's hosted by Amy at Cooking, Cakes andChildren for Sarah from Maison Cupcake

I'm also adding this to the link on Scottish Mum blog for the Funky Foodies. for July.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Adieu Recipe Junkie, Hello Scout Wife

Did I mention that Recipe Junkie is a year old next week? On 24th July to be precise.

“What are you planning?” I hear you cry. Some great and glorious feast? Something to tantalise the tastebuds?

Unfortunately not. There may not even be cake. Think chilli (mild) and rice, think bangers, (gulp) Smash and (double gulp) gravy made from a PACKET, think tuna pasta.

For today, for one week only, Recipe Junkie becomes

Yes, that’s right. Later today, I am heading to darkest Gloucestershire with Pink, along with another Scoutwife and her daughter to join the Husband and Blue, 23 scouts and the other leaders and hangers on supporters (both in the physical and moral sense). My fellow SW and I get a few hours reprieve due to our daughters’ hectic social diary which includes a ‘must go to birthday party’ this morning. This means that I will be driving Daisy the camper van packed to the gunnels with various bits and pieces and towing a trailer full of wood out of convoy. I’d advise you stay well clear of the M4 this afternoon.

Being a Scoutwife kind of happened by stealth. I didn’t do much in the way of Brownies or anything when I was young, and Guides, well, no thank you. I hadn’t even done much camping till I met the Husband.

After I’d done my stint on the local Playgroup Committee, and hadn’t yet sold my soul to the PTA, the Husband indicated that his work commitments were such that he might be able to help out with the local scouts. He was a scout himself and wanted to get involved again. “I’m not going to be a leader or anything like that” he said. Famous last words.  

Before I knew it, I was acting as camp fire sausage checker (yes, Health & Safety is everywhere) and knew the words to more campfire songs than I’d ever wanted to (Anyone for a burst of “Oh you’ll never get to heaven...”?). It turned out that the Husband would get much more out of the whole thing if he did become a leader, so guess what...

And today we are heading off for our annual camp. Last year we joined 5,000 other scouts from across Europe in Haarlem, outside Amsterdam for a 10 day jamborette. This year, it’s South Gloucestershire, for 6 days of fun and frolics, and hopefully no rain.

So what is the role of Scoutwife?

Well, you can probably tell that the ‘wife’ part gives it away. We do the (mostly) fluffy bit. We are the keepers of the camp menu, the face paints, the friendship bracelet embroidery silks and the ‘missing home biscuits’. We are the surrogate mothers not only for the scouts, but for all the wannabe scouts who accompany us. For our troop is not a troop run by spinsters of a certain age with ample bosoms and whiskery chins, nor by more senior gentlemen in dodgy shorts whose wives are probably only too glad to see the back of them for a week. Put your prejudices behind you. Our troop is run by a group of 4 30-40 yr old guys, all with young families of their own. We have a choice – let them spend a week of their holiday without us, or go too. So by day, we herd kids, make tea, slice huge amounts of onions, make friendship bracelets, paint faces, read stories, keep an eye on stores, do any washing that might be required (you’d be surprised how many bedwetters there still are in the 10+ age range) or drying out of wet kit, dish out TLC and the odd plaster, and occasionally sneak out for a hot shower and a coffee, and by night we smoke fags, drink scotch and brawl... actually, I made that last bit up...

And it is MASSIVE fun

True, there have been times this week when I’d secretly wondered if I should suggest 2 weeks all inclusive in the Carribean for next year, particularly when I was cutting up 14 metres of cotton sheeting in preparation for tie dying neckers, and soaking the labels off 20 jam jars ready to make lanterns. Never more so than on Thursday after approximately 5 hours in the Cash & Carry and supermarket, to gather together the wherewithal to keep the Army marching on – think 700 Weetabix, 250 bags of crisps - we staggered out of Morrisons at 9.36 p.m. on Thursday night, buried in cornflakes and sachets of angel delight, gagging for a beer, only to realise that we had forgotten the Smash...

But on the whole, we have a great laugh. The Scouts can be a challenge, but it is truly a good thing to realise that not all 10-14yr olds are violent hoodies out to mug old ladies for their i-phones, and to be there in the background to help out as they get to test their boundaries is a real privilege. My own kids love it. They get to do things that plenty of 8 and 6 year olds don’t even know exist, meeting lots of different people and experiencing some amazing things.

So for now, it’s adieu Recipe Junkie, hello Scoutwife. But don’t fret. I’m already planning a Nigella inspired coffee toffee meringue pavlova for the post camp BBQ...

Friday, 20 July 2012

Warm-ish Summer Garden Salad for the end of term

So here we are, the end of term. Did you survive? Remember how I was saying recently that I sometimes feel like I need to arm myself for the battle of daily life? Well, I feel like I won out, triumphed over the vaguaries and whims of the school calendar, and actually remembered to pick the kids up at 1.30 today.

Much as I’d like to be slumping in a chair this evening with a huge G&T and a “Thank f**k for that”, we are going away tomorrow. I hope to get the opportunity to tell you a little more about this if I get time, but know for the purposes of this post that today has been a long round of lists, piles and clearing up, slotted around work and a particularly unpleasant visit to the doctors to have a coil changed. I won’t elaborate too much suffice to say that a quick out and in (as it were) ended up as 40 minutes of me lying there with a light shining up my ‘hinky’ (as Pink calls it) while my doctor first couldn’t get the old one out and then couldn’t get the new one in. Apparently I have a tricky cervix, brought on by having 2 emergency caesareans. It was not a pleasant experience. Mind you, neither were the ECSs...

My parents – my mum, the Allotment Junkie in particular – had an annual cry that they would go away for 2 weeks in the summer and all the veg would come at once. Well, on current performance, that’s unlikely to happen to us because (a) the weather has been so rubbish that there’s not a massive glut on the way any time soon, and (b) we’re only going for a week, but there was still produce to be eaten up before we left. I have been carefully working my way through my meal plan, using up bits and pieces in the fridge and from the garden, as I went, until this evening. I am pleased to announce that apart from half a pot of mascarpone cheese, there is pretty much just enough left to make into sandwiches for tomorrow’s picnic, and I can leave the fridge with a clear conscience.

I did have 2/3 of a pack of cooking chorizo left. The original reason why I bought it has been lost to me, but I used 1/3 of it to make soup last week after the swimming gala. I do like chorizo. I guess it’s become the ‘new bacon’ for the Hugh F-W-watching-middle-classes (well, me anyway) in some respects, although I’d never have chorizo in a sarnie with tomato ketchup and a cup of coffee to soothe me a hangover... However, combined with some of the last eggs still left from the chickens, new potatoes, broad beans, a handful of peas and some spring onions from the garden, it made a really lovely salad for us to have this evening.

I love this kind of salad. There are no real quantities, although I have put a rough guide in here for form’s sake – if you want to cook more potatoes, you can do, and you don’t need to put them all in the salad - save to have them as potato salad or something the next day. Pink is particularly partial to fried cold potatoes or you can put them in a frittata. Another thing about this is that as you are hard boiling the eggs, it’s better if they are not too fresh as they are difficult to peel. The eggs I used this evening were 3 & 4 days old and they were still a bugger to get the shell off. Finally I’ve called this a Warm-ish Garden salad because if you were organised and got it all assembled and too the table super quick, it would be quite warm, But it’s not a problem if things go a little off the rails and you don’t...

A Warm-ish Summer Garden Salad

To serve 4

Ingredients: 500g washed new potatoes, 4 eggs, 300g podded broad beans (will come from approx 600g broad bean pods) 150g podded peas, 6 spring onions, finely sliced, 150g cooking chorizo, sherry vinegar

Method: Place the potatoes in a large pan and place the eggs on top (the eggs will finish cooking before the potatoes and you don’t want to be fishing around for them). Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. When the pan comes to the boil set the timer for 6-7 minutes depending on how big your eggs are and how hard you like them cooked. I’d say no more than 8 minutes for large eggs to be properly hard boiled all the way through, although I prefer to go for the slightly softer egg. When the eggs have had their time, leave the potatoes on the boil and carefully remove the eggs to a bowl of cold water. Stick the broad beans and peas to steam over the potatoes for 3-4 minutes and remove. Keep warm if possible. Slice the chorizo and heat a small frying pan over a reasonably high heat. Chuck in the chorizo and fry so that the fat and juices run out and the chorizo cooks up and starts to get a little bit of a crust on it. Splash in approx a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and cook off. Be careful not to set fire to any nearby tea towels like I nearly did. Let the vinegar and chorizo bubble up a bit then tip into a large bowl with the broad beans and peas.

Hopefully by now (or at some stage earlier) the potatoes will have cooked, so drain them into a colander and if they are on the large side, cut into chunks and add to the chorizo and broad bean mixture. Chuck in the finely sliced spring onions and mix everything carefully together. Peel the eggs, halve or quarter them, which ever you prefer, and sit them artfully round the side of the salad bowl.

We ate it with green salad, also from the garden.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Reader Appreciation Award

On 24th July, my blog will be 1 year old. I love my blog. When I started, I had no idea how compulsive it would be or how much – and I mean really HOW MUCH – I would enjoy it. When I first started I wrote 4 posts and then a hacker got into my google account, locked me out and stamped all over my bonfire. I was gutted. We went off on our holidays, but I felt bereft.  On our return, I applied myself to regaining control over my virtual life. I managed to kick out the hacker, and with some far more secure passwords in hand, I triumphed.

My google stats tell me that this will be my 176th post. I can’t believe I’ve had that much to say (well, maybe I haven’t) but what started out as something to please myself actually appears to be enjoyed by a few other people. I’m not talking anything grand, but I can say that people who don’t know me in real life (and might therefore feel some kind of obligation to look in every now and again and give me a virtual pat on the head) are reading what I write, and enjoying it.

The purpose of telling you all this is that a few weeks ago, I was presented with a Reader Appreciation Award from Single Married Mum, who I am fairly sure I have never met in RL. More than receiving the award itself (proof that at least one other person has read my blog) is that I received it from someone whose blog I love. If you haven’t visited her, please do take the time to do so. You’ll find a warm account of her family life, her charity shop finds, her lovely photographs,  and above all, her amazing strength dealing with everything we all have to deal with, while her Husband is in Afghanistan.

The rules of the award are fairly straightforward:

1. Include the award logo on my blog:
2. Answer the 10 questions below, for fun
3. Nominate other blogs you enjoy – the recommended number is 10-12, but you can choose any number
4. Pay the love forward – provide your nominees with a link to your post, and comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been included and invite them to take part
5. Pay the love back with gratitude and link to the blogger(s) who nominated you

Favourite Colour – I had my colours ‘done’ after Blue was born. One of those days where you pay through the nose for someone to hold up lots of different coloured pieces of cloth and tell you whether you’ve got blue or yellow skin tones, and from there what your ‘season’ is. It turns out that i am ‘brown summer’ but for those of you with more important things to worry about, what it basically means is that I can’t wear yellow or black. Fortunately, it turned out that I was still allowed to wear the colours that I mostly like to wear, but I now have a handy little wallet which I can bustle off into a changing room and agonise over if I ever actually get to go shopping for clothes.  I like colour though, and my favourite colour is one that I am actually supposed to wear lots of, which is a kind of delphinium blue. I took some pictures of the delphiniums in the garden a couple            of weeks ago, but even then the rain had started to trash them. They are bent and broken now, but still a glorious blue.

Favourite Animal – I am unashamedly a dog person. I grew up with dogs, I have a dog now. A 3 legged springer spaniel called Fred. If I had a blog about something other than food it would be called something like “How to Train an Almost Untrainable Super Speedy Duck Killing But Very Loveable Idiot Dog Who Throws Himself Off Quarry Edges and Doesn’t Feel Pain”. But that would be quite a mouthful. I’m also quite fond of pigs. When we had our kitchen done a couple of years ago, I finally found a home for ‘the pig’ – a set of tiles my mum gave me for my 21st birthday and which I have been carrying round with me ever since. Guess the fact that I finally felt that I could get them grouted onto a wall means something quite profound about where I am in life.

Favourite non-alcoholic drink – This so depends on what time of day it is and what mood I’m in. I can’t function without a cup of tea in the morning, and after I’ve walked the dog and am settling down to work, only a cup of coffee will do. If the unfortunate situation arose where I was at a pub/party and was not partaking of alcoholic refreshment, it would probably be either a lime & soda water or a ginger beer. Or a tomato juice, fully pimped with Tabasco, lemon, ice etc.  

Facebook or Twitter – My short answer is that I use them for different things, and I don’t think I can choose, because they are different beasts as far as I’m concerned. Facebook is where I keep up with friends and family, although Recipe Junkie has her own facebook page now (https://www.facebook.com/RecipeJ?ref=hl#!/RecipeJ if you were interested...) which I am enjoying. I’ve only been on Twitter for 2 or 3 months. Initially, I feared that I was passed it – it was all too sharp, too edgy, too witty for me, and I would never be able to understand how to use it, and then all of a sudden it started to make sense. There’s still lots of Twitter that I haven’t explored properly, but I get it now. And maybe I’m not really sharp enough or witty enough to be there, but it works for what I thought it might do. I have ‘met’ some really excellent people in the Twittersphere and I love dipping in and out when I can. I also love that you can sometimes be lucky enough to catch the virtual eye of someone you would never otherwise come in to contact with. Once again, Nigel Slater – you don’t know how much I bask in the memory of you re-tweeting my Rhubarb and VanillaJam.

Favourite Pattern This is a William Morris pattern that has been with me all my life. We had curtains in this material when I was a child and it re-appears at odd times in my life bringing with it a huge rush of nostalgia.

Do you prefer giving or getting presents? Well, of course I should say giving presents, but giving presents means choosing what to give and I am singularly rubbish at it. On the rare occasions I get it right, I feel a huge sense of relief more than anything else. Some people seem to be natural present buyers, but not me. I feel like I hardly ever buy with the confidene of knowing that what I have bought will give the recipient the pleasure I want ot to give. may be this is because I never EVER know what to get my father. i feel like all his life he has been waiting for something amazing to come along, and it never arrives. So he gets socks and books - although I do try hard to find him new reads. Still it's always gratifying to see the kids faces when they get a top present, and sometimes, it;s the little things that are the real 'wow' for them, and i love that.

Favourite number - I could say 4, because my little family is 4 of us, but then the children would be outraged that I hadn't included the dog or the chickens, so that would make it 10. It could be 13 because we got married on the 13th and I like to be a little controversial occasionally (well, not that choosing 13 as a favourtie number is hugely controversial or anything but you know what I mean). Or it could be 3, because the dog only has 3 legs. Yes, you've guessed it. I just do not have a favourite number. Sorry.

Favourite Day of the Week - I'm quite fond of Thursday. The start of the week is always a mad rush, and while I love the weekends, there's something about Thursday, when you can have that sense of anticipation of something good to come. Work is a little more manageable than it has been earlier in the week, and I can have some space while the kids are at school to think ahead. Thursday is also the day the house usually gets cleaned, so I usually have 20 minutes or so before the kids are home from school and before the dog has had a chance to get covered in mud, when the house is quiet, clean and tidy. It doesn't bother me that much when it's not clean and tidy, but I do enjoy that brief moment of calm and quiet.

Favourite Flower  - my favourite flower depends on many things. A couple of weeks ago it was the delphiniums in the garden, but they’ve been ravaged by the rain now. Before that it was the poppies in the fields where I walk the dog – just beautiful. I love being out of doors, and wild flowers are definitely my favourite. My Granny always had what she called ‘a little tussy mussy’ on her kitchen table – basically a little bunch of flowers she’d picked out and about.

What is your passion well that’s easy, isn’t it. Food. And my family. Feeding my family is what my blog basically has at its heart and although I like to dally with the occasional show stopper, I definitely fall into the home cook league rather than the chef league. Frankly I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Now for nominations.

There are a couple of food blogs that I just love. The View from the Table and Crumbs - Feed Your Family. I have recently discovered, and very much enjoy reading Mamacook.

I enjoy reading Pint Sized Rants, because so often when I flail around the edges of an argument, she has got to the nub of it deftly and succinctly. I don't always agree with her, but I am in awe of her ability to make a strong and convincing argument in a few words. She has a dog too.

For something completely off the wall, I nominate Jacked in my Job .

Mouther Goutte tells amazing stories and you really should give her blog a visit. She hasn't been blogging for long, and I think she may already have been awarded this by someone else, but there - I'll heap on the accolades,

Yellowfields Camping also gets my Readers Appreciation Award because she has opened up a whole new world of campsites without me having to do the leg work. It helps that she obviously likes the same kind of camp sites that we do (campfires yes, rows, no), but I am very appreciative!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Swedish Summer Cake

She wiped the cream from the spatula, smearing it luxuriously on the sponge, and languorously placed the strawberries onto the vanilla-flavoured confection.Viewed from above, it would be all innocent, all strawberries and cream, but she knew that in truth, this only concealed something altogether more grown up, a custard that tasted like ambrosia but paved the way to darker, more dangerous places, oozing over the fruit, this time sprinkled in sugar so that juices had started to run. Would he be tempted? Could she take him to a place he had never been before. She knew he was watching her. She smoothed down her apron and ran her fingers through her hair. As if in anticipation of what was to come, she moved more slowly. She turned to reveal what she knew he was waiting for - had been waiting for - for so long...

"It's ready, darling" she murmured huskily....

To me, this is cake porn at its finest. The Goddess tries to dress it up as a wholesome and homely summer treat, but it's from Scandanavia, and it's nothing of the sort. True, we had it for pudding on Sunday lunchtime, but it could just as well grace the dessert table of some more decadent feast.

This cake has been whispering to me ever since I got my hands on Kitchen. Every time I looked at the book, I could hear it. Baaaaake me! Eeeeeeeat me! Every time I got the book down from the shelf, it somehow ended up open on that page. This happens to me alot.

I couldn't bear it any longer, and having won the delicious Forman and Field box of goodies last week, I knew that if we were having a celebration meal, this would have to be the pudding.

It’s called Swedish Summer Cake.

I can’t find the recipe on line, so I can’t put a link in. To be honest, even if you didn’t go a bundle on the family food sections (I do - you can't beat her recipes), it would be worth buying Kitchen just for this cake. (She’s not paying me, by the way).

It’s 3 layers of light sponge  sandwiched to gether with a custard cream and strawberries and topped with whipped cream and more fruit.

I think ‘whisked sponge’ might be the technical term for the cake – there is no fat (yes, girls, this could be a slimming aid...or maybe not) in the sponge mixture. You whisk the eggs and sugar together to be a light, moussey texture then add in some hot water as you carry on whisking - I did all this in my trusty Kenwood. Finally, you whisk in flour and baking powder and bake for half an hour or so.

a bit wonky, but hey - did it matter?

There’s proper custard involved:

I know I have eulogised about the properties of Birds Custard before, but I felt that there was no adulterating this recipe. I had to follow it down the line. It was fairly quick and easy to be honest. It did end up a little runny, and a quick consultation of Nigella.com after the event, suggests that I didn’t leave it to thicken up for quite long enough, but to be honest, I’m, not complaining.

You have to split the sponge into 3 discs. I love the way Nigella instructs you to “courageously, slice the cake horizontally into 3 layers...” I sliced courageously and made a bit of a pigs ear of it to be honest. However, I was heartened by her earlier words of encouragement “...any clumsiness is either easily concealed or adds to the homespun charm of it all...” There you see – it was fine that my top layer looked like this after cutting.

To sandwich together you whisk a huge amount of cream with some vanilla extract, and then fold a third of the cream into your custard. You macerate strawberries with some caster sugar, and layer sponge, the custard cream and fruit up, then top with the rest of the vanilla cream and strawbs.

Did you want a reminder of what it looked like?

It is divine.

I'm linking up with Forever Nigella again. The July event is hosted by Amy at Cooking, Cakes andChildren for Sarah from Maison Cupcake
The theme is 'sizzling summer' . If I had to justify the entry of this cake in that category, it is Swedish Summer Cake. Then I can attest to the fact that we ate it for lunch  al fresco on Sunday, hot on the heals of a lovely chicken chasseur.  With a lovely glass of chilled white wine. And if you were focussing on the 'sizzle' part of the category, well, returning to my earlier theme, despite it's innocent looks, I do believe that this is a 'hot' cake...

Monday, 16 July 2012

Not Quite Veg Every day - but Trying: Cheesy Bean Burgers

A very quick post, but I was very pleased with how supper turned out this evening and I thought I would share because it was mostly made out of stuff in the cupboards (or could very easily be), and it turned out to be tastier than I was anticipating. I forgot to take any pics either, because we were very hungry, but here's the picture from the Good Food website, which I hope they don't mind me using here:

I'd been flicking through back issues of Good Food when I was meal planning for July the other week, and came across this. Now I haven't been blogging much about my campaign from earlier in the year to get us as a family to eat less meat, but it's still there in the background, and overall, I'd say we are eating less meat. We have veg coming in the garden now too, and the chickens are laying well despite the distinct lack of sunshine, so there's lots of opportunity for good salads and stuff. There are the favourites taken from Veg Everyday, that I've morphed into our regular diet, I've also picked up a few good recipes from Good Food. Remind me to tell you about cheese and marmite pasties one day.

wet dog - off on his hols
Anyway, tonight's recipe appeared in July 2010 Good Food as cheesy bean burgers. I was going to have to double the original recipe anyway, and when I read it again today, I thought it needed a little pimping up. In fact, it was my mum who ended up making them. She's here to collect Fred the dog who is going to stay with her for most of the holidays. It's a long story which I won't go into here, but it will make my life, and our holiday arrangements much easier. I took the opportunity to run Blue into town after school to get his glasses tightened up, and left her with the recipe and some extra instructions that I gabbled at her as we went out of the door. It worked though, so here's my recipe, to make 10 good size burgers:

Cheesy Corny Bean Burgers

Ingredients: 2 x 400g tins of butter beans, 1 x 340g (285g drained weight) can of sweetcorn, 1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, handful of basil leaves (or rosemary would be nice too I think), 150 g cheese (the original specifies wensleydale, which I used, but a mature cheddar would be nice), olive oil, 2tbsp plain flour, 2 eggs, 100g fresh breadcrumbs

Method: Pre-heat the oven to 2000. Drain & rinse the butter beans, then mash in a bowl with a fork to make a rough puree. Finely chop the onion and garlic, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, add the onions & garlic and fry for 3-4 minutes.Grate/crumble the cheese, and finely shred the basil (or chop finely if using rosemary). Drain the sweetcorn and stir into the puree along with the onion mixture, the cheese, the basil and freshly ground salt and pepper. Shape the mixture into 10 patties, cover and chill for 10 mins in the fridge (or until ready to cook).

Get out 3 plates, put the flour on one, then the eggs, beaten in the next, and finally, the breadcrumbs on the third plate. Get the patties out of the fridge and roll first in the flour then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.

Lightly oil a baking tray, transfer the bread crumbed patties on to the tray and into the oven. They will need 25-30 mins in the oven, turning at least once to get them brown all over.

We ate them with potato wedges also cooked in the oven (the method I use is here, accompanying another (meaty) burger recipe) and green salad from the garden. Delicious.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Winning things

Did I mention that I have won a few things recently? Until the last couple of months, the only ‘competition’ type thing that I can remember ever winning was one that I entered from an ‘in train’ magazine, travelling back to London from an Employment Tribunal hearing in Newcastle. It was a long journey and I was completely fried from the Tribunal hearing. I idly flicked through the magazine, and came across a competition where the answers were blindingly obvious. I filled in the form and a few days later, when I was emptying out my briefcase, I found the form and posted it. Imagine my surprise to find that I had won. Not only that, but I think I must have been the only person who entered. In my memory, there were a number of different prizes, including tickets to see ‘Stomp’ (a kind of crazy human percussion show) and bottles of gin for the runners up. I gave my work address for the delivery of the prize, and having already been surprised to have won, imagine my even greater surprise to receive not only tickets to see Stomp, but also 12 bottles (yes, 12) of Gordons...

Anyway, that was back in the mists of time, and I haven’t won anything since, until recently.  My winning streak started a couple of months ago when I ‘won’ £25 worth of Amazon vouchers for simply leaving a comment about my favourite book on another blog. True, in order to actually get my mitts on the vouchers, I had to write a post about the books I would buy first, but it counted as winning to me. If you’re interested my idealo summer reads are here.

Then, I won a Patrick Gale book and 2 bars of Green & Blacks for leaving a comment on the lovely Crafts on Sea blog. Hardly a chore, given that I very much enjoy this blog anyway, but a very nice surprise.

And then, last week, well, what can I say. I won a fabulous box of goodies from Forman & Field, for leaving a chicken-related comment on Crumbs - Feed Your Family’s Facebook page.

It included everything I needed to make ‘Marco (as in Pierre-White)’s Chicken Chasseur’: a plumptious looking organic chicken, shallots, mushrooms, tomatoes, tomato juice, herbs – everything I could need. Including a bottle of delicious looking white wine, and a little tub which turned out to be the optional 50ml of brandy.

yes folks, even the brandy!

I'll leave you to speculate furiously as to which of
these fine gentlement is 'the Husband'. Answers on
 a postcard please...
It all arrived on Friday, but then I had a huge dilemma. Much as I wanted to get cooking and serve up the delicious feast that night, we had the wheelbarrow race – the start of the Sheep Fair which is a 2 day street festival that happens in our village every 4 years. If it had just been a question of spectating, I might have gone ahead, but the Husband was on manoeuvres that night with the Desert Rat Ar*ed tank regiment, so a leisurely evening’s cooking, eating and lingering over a bottle of wine wasn’t going to be on the cards. Actually, as it happens, the lads won 'best dressed' entry - all 18 of them...

Yesterday was the first full day of the fair, and despite a huge and torrential downpour at 10, the weather stayed just about OK and we spent most of the day out and about in the village enjoying the sights and street entertainers. The these was 1942-1952 An Era of Change, and there was much post war merriment to be had, including an appearance by Sir Winston Churchill himself to open proceedings.

A good time was pretty much had by all. I especially enjoyed the free shots of ‘Bombay Collins’ (Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon, elderflower cordial and a dash of soda) from the Bombay Sapphire PR peeps, obviously trying ingratiate themselves with us locals as they are moving their new corporate HQ into an old Victorian mill just down the road. We could definitely do with more convincing along the same lines....  My father in law was staying and he offered a night of babysitting for Saturday day evening, and on the basis that this was an offer too good to refuse, we took it. So once again, the chicken stayed in the fridge.

I have to say, though that by now, I was feeling fairly edgy. All these delicious ingredients begging to be turned into something delicious. When was it going to happen? Well, friends, it happened today. For lunch on an almost glorious Sunday, we had Marco’s Chicken Chasseur,eaten al fresco, and blimmin lovely it was too.

I followed the recipe exactly as it had been provided (the link to the Knorr web page is here) . A bit of a fiddle, as I must admit to being fairly slap dash with my prep normally.  I had to joint the chicken which is not something I think I’ve done before. If I get chicken these days, it tends to be a whole one which I roast and use up the leftovers, but with the help of St Hugh, and the instructions he gives in his Meat book, I managed to turn the bird into 8 pieces, with the rib cage for the stock pot.

I even peeled the tomatoes – and the mushrooms - as required. By the way, the trick to peeling tomatoes, if you were wondering, is to pour boiling water over them.

Once all the faffing was done, though, it was very easy to cook. We ate it with new potatoes and broad beans from the garden.

The wine, which was from Biddenden Vineyards – their Ortega 2011, I have learned from the website, has won some awards.
I know not much about wine apart from if I like it or not, and I liked this a LOT.

Because it was lunchtime, and the kids were taking part in the closing parade, we didn’t quite finish the wine. There’s a glass or 2 left waiting in the fridge, for us to drink with the remains of the pudding...

oh yeah baby. A glass of wine and a slice of this fine cake please.

And as a pleasing p.s., as I was typing this, we found at that the kids had won best dressed boy and girl at the sheep fair for their evacuee costumes. I have one thing to say about this: It's amazing what you can find on ebay.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Soup for a miserable summer day

Today, according to the meal plan, supper was to be pea and watercress pasta, a lovely summery type dish (I hoped) much in the vein of St Hugh's macaroni peas, but frankly, for reasons that will become apparent, I've now officially had enough of trying to pretend that the rain hasn't really been raining pretty much every day since - well - since I can remember. I mean I know I've been all happy happy about going away camping and making the most of it, snatching those sparkling moments on the beach to store up for less cheery days; and I know that I have had some sunshine (a teeny bit) this year, but frankly, now I. have. had. enough.

The children's school has an open air swimming pool attached to it, and today was the day for the gala. KS2 this morning, and the Husband attended to support Blue. The sun shone and the children were happy. My turn this afternoon, for KS1. As I left the house, the sky had already clouded over - not quite 'fine at 7, rain by 11', but it was definitely spitting. It didn't take long for the heavens to open and it basically rained for the hour of the gala. Pink was in the first 'race'. Afterwards, she got changed and then sat on the poolside, in the rain (with her dressing gown on) for the rest of the hour. By the end, the kids were cold and wet, but there was still half an hour of school to go.

Now, I am going to try really hard not to rant about my kids' school and their totally erratic behaviour in situations such as this. If it had suited the school, we would have been encouraged to take our children home early. But today, clearly, it did not suit, so we were not allowed to liberate our soggy children (I would have had to wait for Blue anyway, but that's not the point here). Not only that, but with 30 mins to go, there was really no sensible option but to wait around. In the rain. Offered refuge in a friend's car, I gratefully accepted, and also accepted the offer of a lift back down the hill - it's only a 15-20 minute walk home but really, I was wet, Pink was wet, and I knew that Blue would be knackered from his efforts this morning. And frankly, as the car was already at school and was going to be going back down the hill, it was going to make no difference to the environment.

Pink was due to be going to Rainbows later on but she was cold and tired so I put her straight in the bath and had a rethink about supper. What they needed was not pea and watercress pasta. Oh no. What they needed was soup. In July.

I cannot believe that I was cooking up the sort of chunky soup that I'd normally serve up on an autumn/winter weekend, but I did. And I commend it to you for all those wet and miserable days to come. Bah humbug.

Warming and chunky soup for a miserable summer day

Ingredients: 1 onion, 1 clove of garlic, 2 carrots, 1 red pepper, 1 can of chopped tomatoes, 2 tsp vegetable stock powder, 125g cooking chorizo,  ground coriander and smoked paprika, large handful of small pasta - I had some orzo (left over from St Hugh's mushroom risoniotto) and some conchiglietti in the cupboard.

Method: Put the kettle on. Finely chop the onion and garlic, heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan, and add the onion and garlic and fry gently for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Peel and dice the carrots, halve the pepper, remove the seeds and dice, then chuck the carrot and pepper in with the onion and stir for a couple of minutes. Chop the chorizo into similar size chunks as the carrots & peppers, add to the pan, stir in and cook for a couple more minutes. Sprinkle in a sprinkle (literally, just a sprinkle) of the paprika and coriander and tip in the tin of tomatoes. Add the stock powder to the empty tomato tin and fill with boiling water. Add the stock to the pan, then a scond tin's worth of hot water. Bring to the boil chuck in the pasta and leave to cook until the veg & pasta is cooked - it'll take about 15 minutes.

Serve with garlic bread

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Sort of summery meatballs - or how a slow cooker saved my life

Today, I have mostly won.

First thing, it had been lovely and sunny. I had a load of bedding that I had washed yesterday, sitting, damp, in the laundry basket. I went outside. I looked to all points of the compass. Not one single menacing dark cloud. Anywhere. I hung the washing out.

Later on, I had a hilarious conversation with a South African friend as we walked our dogs through the fields - hers taking every opportunity to sit in the muddiest of muddy puddles, mine buggering off into the wheat as soon as I stopped concentrating.

By the time we were half way across the fields, the clouds were gathering in again. I started my "Typical, just when I'd got the washing out" speech and she creased up. "You know, you are just so BRITISH" she roared with laughter. "I have sworn never to fall into this WAR with the weather that you have going on here. hang it up, take it in, always watching for the rain. Did you know my mother in law RINGS ME UP to tell me she got the washing dry outside?!?" I had to laugh, but there it is. That's me all over.

It's not just the washing - although that has been a particular issue recently. I mean, I don't want to go on about the weather, but it has been foul and we don't have a tumble dryer. So a day when it might not rain just galvanises me into action. "What can I wash?" I think. And on the touch and go days, I suffer angst about whether to put the washing out or not. Lucky that is all I have to suffer angst about these days, I know...

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about being at war - on the domestic front. May be 'war' is a strong word, but as the end of term approaches, I feel like every morning, I have to arm myself more carefully to face the day and the various challenges it is likely to offer.

I was feeling very pleased with myself last week having sorted out a mega-meal plan to get me through the rest of the month, part of my armour. It covers the end of term, and through to when we get back from Scout Camp. I finished it, posted it up on a linky, and felt organised. So short sighted.

check out the veg - all from the garden
 Last night, having served up a salad which, I am proud to say,  was almost exclusively from the garden (lettuce, spring onions, new potatoes, broad beans and eggs), I checked the menu plan for the meal for this evening. Meatballs. This would have been fine, but when I did the meal plan, it had been my intention to make them last night. However, at that point, when I consulted said plan, the meat was still in the freezer. I retrieved it anyway and started pondering how to make it work in the grand scheme of today which involved my usual working day, followed by picking the kids up at 4.30 and going straight to Pink's end of term 'ballet show' (something straight out of Joyce Grenfell, believe me!), not due to finish till 7, while the Husband would be back
and needing something to eat before heading off to Scouts
- at around 7. The timing was not looking good.

Salvation came in the form of the slow cooker - in fact, The Ultimate Slow Cooker which is a book I bought on the off chance through one of those Book People type things when Pink was at Playgroup. I'd been flicking through it the other day to work out how to do some gammon in the slow cooker, and I remembered that I'd seen a meatball recipe in there. Just the job. One of the things I love about slow cooking is that 'Everything is done" feeling, and today was a day where I needed that. That's not to say that you don't have to do all the prep etc, but it's done far enough away from the time you eat it that when you finally sit down to eat, you can forget that you were trying to make meatballs and packed lunches at the same time as listen to reading, take on board the Husband's schedule for the day and worry about whether anyone needed swimming kit....

Anyway, I made the meatballs up themselves this morning, and left them in the fridge while I took reckless pleasure in hanging out washing, putting a second load on (I know how to live dangerously), getting the kids to school, walking the dog and finally getting down to work. Then while I was grabbing a sandwich at lunchtime, I fried off the meatballs, made the sauce and put everything in the slow cooker to do their thang. Once we got in, it was a moment's work to cook some pasta, and bingo. Dinner.

I was particularly pleased with this meatball recipe that I made up (I used the book for sauce volume and cooking times). When I was chopping up the spring onions from the garden yesterday, I decided, on the back of the success of my garlic scape risotto, that I would use the spring onion tops instead of onion in the meatball recipe.

They took a bit of chopping up because they are kind of 'hollow', so when you slice you get a little green circle, and it needs to be quite small to go in the meatballs, but I treated them a little like herbs and used a mezza luna (one of those semi circular knives with a handles at each end that Nigella uses). 

Sort of Summery Meatballs


For the meatballs - 400g lamb mince, a handful of spring onion tops - or a red onion, finely chopped, 1 clove of garlic, crushed, a slice of bread - a day or 2 old is good, a medium egg, salt and pepper, finely grated zest of a lemon

For the sauce - olive oil, 1 onion, finely chopped, 2 cloves of garlic, crushed, 1 can of chopped tomatoes, 200ml veg stock, salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Method: to make the meatballs, put all the ingredients in a bowl, mash together with a fork until well combined and the bread is broken into crumbs throughout the mixture. You could make the bread into crumbs first in a food processor but I was short on time. Make into between 16 and 20 meatballs depending on the size you like them. I divided the mixture into 4 then into 4 again, then rolled each portion into a ball (with apologies for stating the obvious).

Set the slow cooker to heat up, splash some oil into a frying pan (I used a dessert spoon's worth), and brown the meatballs on quite a high heat. Set aside on kitchen paper, and then in the same pan, fry the onion & garlic till it is starting to soften, pour in the stock and tomatoes, scraping up all the good stuff from the bottom of the pan, add freshly ground salt and pepper and the sugar. Bring to the boil. While the sauce is coming to the boil, pop the meatballs in the slow cooker, then once the sauce is bubbling, pour it on top and replace the lid of the cooker. Cook on 'low' for 6-8 hours, and then serve with pasta - or rice or couscous...