Monday, 30 December 2013

Extreme dog walking - and doughnuts, Roald Dahl style

The recent weather hasn't been kind to anyone. We've got away relatively lightly, considering, with a couple of fence panels down, and I know that there are plenty of people who've suffered real hardship. I say this before I descend to the trivial, and suggest that it's really not been a great time to be a dog owner. 

Heading out to do battle with the elements day after day, well, it's not really what you sign up for. Yes, you know you'll be out every day - that's part of the joy of dog owning. But when the weather is relentlessly grim, driving rain, howling wind, there's a little voice inside saying "Why me? Why did I do this thing, and commit myself to this daily drudge?". And then you have to pull yourself together and work out where to go that means you will not get (a) crushed by a falling tree (b) blown away to Wiltshire (c) drowned in a mire and (d) whether to even try persuding the rest of the family to come with you. 

It hasn't been easy, I tell you.

Of course there's not much use bleating about it when your dog of choice doesn't give a stuff about the weather, and indeed, seems to find the wind and rain extra invigorating - for a start he can't hear you screaming at him to come back, as he joyfully follows whatever scent trail has tickled his nostrils through the fields. And when you're a springer spaniel, frankly, the muddier the better. 

I've become accustomed to it over the 3+ years that Fred's been in our lives, but when you get an extended period of miserable weather such as we've had recently, well, it gets you down. 

We had a glorious winter's day yesterday, frosty, sunny, but when I got up this morning to resumed gales, my heart sank. And reader, I quailed. I took the coward's way out and dashed up the nearest field to give Fred the briefest of opportunities to do what a dog needs to do, before returning home, promising that "when the weather clears later" I'd take him out properly. Later. 

How then to fill a morning? Pink received Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes for Christmas. It's a set of recipes compiled by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl, the great author's wife, based on dishes from his children's books: there's Wormy Spaghetti (from The Twits), Lickable Wallpaper for Nurseries (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Scrambled Dregs (James and the Giant Peach) and Bunce's Doughnuts (Fantastic Mr Fox). 

And so, seamlessly from dog walking to doughnuts.

Any resemblance to her mother is purely coincidental
I've made doughnuts once before in my life. It was a long time ago. We were friends with another family who lived a few streets away. They were eccentric and fabulous: the parents, both incredibly committed doctors, working in tropical diseases, and paediatrics, and 4 children, a girl a year or so older then me, and 3 boys. When we met them, they had returned from a long stint working in Malawi. They were absolutely their own people. Generous, kind and completely unreliable. I remember one Sunday they were due to come for lunch. Time passed and they didn't appear, so my father and I went round to see what was up (no anxious texting). We knocked, and the husband flung the door open with a wide smile. "Come in, come in! What can we do for you? Would you like some lunch" Completely oblivious to the fact that it was they who should have been at our house. 

One afternoon, my brothers and I found ourselves at their house with no parents in evidence. The circumstances have escaped me, as have the reasons for making doughnuts, or most of the specifics of the endeavour, but I recall that an instruction in the recipe that we were following required us, for some reason, to the "throw the dough".Where or why we were supposed to throw the dough, I have no idea, but in our infinite wisdom, we decided to take the instruction literally. 

I'll leave the scene that followed to your imagination, and I can't even remember what the resulting confections were like, but it's a memory that's stayed with me, and popped back into my head when Pink and I saw this recipe. Fortunately, no throwing is required for these babies, and apart from the deep frying at the end, it's a pretty child friendly recipe. Pink made the dough pretty much all herself with a bit of input from me. 

Even better, as the time came for the dough to go in the fridge, the rain miraculously cleared so the dog got his walk after all. 

As for the deep frying, well it's something that I've long had the fear about. I don't think I've ever really had a go, and I was a bit reluctant to attempt this recipe on that basis, but in the end, I took a deep breath and got on with it. Just like the dog walking, in fact. And it wasn't as scary as I thought it might have been. So this afternoon, dog walked, and while the Husband and Blue went off to the allotment to get some veg for dinner, Pink and I stayed home and fried us some doughnuts. 

There's no gender stereotyping in our house, no siree.

They weren't the greatest doughnuts I've ever eaten, but they were perfectly satisfactory as the fruits of a wet day's labours in the kitchen.

Cinammon Doughnuts

100g soft brown sugar
50g soft unsalted butter
1 large egg
450g plain flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinammon
pinch of salt
2 tbsp hot water
1/4 tsp vanilla essence (or equivalent)
75ml milk

oil for deep frying
caster sugar for rolling the doughnuts in after frying

(Oh & do check out my lovely new scales...)

Make the dough by creaming together the sugar and butter. Whisk up the egg a little then add gradually to the creamed butter & sugar.

In a bowl combine the flour, cinammon, salt and baking powder then stir into the mixture, along with the hot water, milk and vanilla. I was all out of extract, so used vanilla bean paste instead..

This combined easily in the Kenwood to a stiff smooth dough. Wrap this in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Lick the bowl/walk the dog*.

When your dough has refrigerated, divide it in half and leave half in the fridge while you roll out the other half and using 2 cutters, one smaller than the other, cut out your doughnuts. The book suggests using a 6 cm and a 3 cm cutter. Mine were 8 cm and 5 cm. Roll the dough to about 0.5 cm thickness and cut out to your heart's content. Re-roll the scraps and keep cutting.

When we got fed up of re-rolling, we just left the smaller circles as they were, ready to fry as hole-less doughnuts.

Fill your pan to about 5 cm with vegetable oil and bring to temperature - you need it to be 190C (375F) and this is NOT something the kids can be involved with. 

Fry your doughnuts in batches, turning once, till golden brown. I found that mine sank to the bottom when I dropped them in, then rose to the top and needed a little longer before being flipped over. 

Once cooked, drain on kitchen paper and toss in caster sugar.

Eat while warm. And try not to lick your lips. Mmmmm.

* delete as applicable

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Turkey melts

Yes, another post about what to do with the leftover turkey. Not from me - this is the first time I've posted since Christmas, but just generally, there are tonnes of ideas about what to do with the leftovers. And rightly so. Even having reduced my Christmas food shopping list to a minimum, bearing in mind that we weren't entertaining anyone on Christmas Day itself, my fridge is groaning with food.

I weighed up the pros and cons of buying a truly local bird, or getting a free range Copas turkey from the local butcher. In the end, the butcher won. I like buying meat from him. It's always great, he gets great fish for me too, and what's even more valuable, he tolerates my indecision when I have failed to meal plan, sympathises with me generally about life, and occasionally allows me to owe him if I've forgotten my purse. For all these reasons, he wins out when such choices have to be made.

I ordered the smallest turkey I could - which still ended up being 4.8 kilos. Very tasty it was, if I do say so myself. There seems to have been a mind shift about cooking turkey - gone is the requirement to be up at 5 a.m. to 'put the bird in', leaving it to cook for hours on end. I stuffed mine with a made up mix of sausage meat, grated onion, finely chopped parsley and the zest of 2 lemons, covered the breast with streaky bacon, and sat it all on some roughly chopped onion, bay leaves and rosemary which all helped to add flavour to the gravy. It took less than 3 hours, and sat comfortably under some foil while I sorted the rest of the meal out. Marvellous.

The Husband and I agreed that we would take a practical approach to the leftovers this year. As the big move draws ever nearer, there's no room to be stashing things away in the freezer - I'm meant to be emptying it - so we decided that we would keep the leftover meat in the fridge, and if it didn't get eaten in a few day, well, we'd just (gulp) throw it away.

But strangely, I've been even more zealous in my attempts to use it up than I would normally have been.

We had the traditional cold version of the turkey dinner on Boxing Day with my father in law and his partner: cold turkey, cold sausages, cold cranberry sauce, cold gravy - but hot bubble & squeak (yum).

Yesterday, turkey sandwiches for lunch.

Today, turkey melts. This idea came to me while I was writing an online article about using up turkey, and I thought I'd give it  go. Turns out, it was definitely a good idea.Not only was it a slightly different way to eat up a bit more of the turkey, it also used up some of the cheese. Now, as an aside, while the concept of 'too much cheese' is not one I am necessarily familiar with, it would be fair to say that there is currently rather a lot in the fridge.

8 soft tortillas
250g chopped turkey meat
4 spring onions, finely chopped
grated chedder, crumbled blue cheese, whatever you have

Heat a non stick frying pan, and lay a tortilla into it. Sprinkle some chopped turkey, spring onion and cheese over half the tortilla

 and fold the other half over the top of it. You should then be able to get another on in alongside depending on the size of your pan and the wraps you are using.

Warm till the underside is toasted brown, then flip over and toast the other side till the cheese is melted. Leave to cool a little, then serve.

I can also recommend making this omitting the spring onions (and, if you've run out the turkey)  including any cranberry saauce you happen to have lying around. Spread your half tortilla with the cranberry, and sprinkle over some turkey and crumbled/slice cheese. Camembert is good for this, as is Cambozola.

Toast on both sides as before, then devour. Mmmmm.

As a result, we're now down to one dish of leftover meat. And tonight - it's turkey pie. At this rate, we may avoid curry altogether.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Pork & lemon meatballs - because we don't need to think about the turkey till next week...

You'll have noticed that there hasn't been much about Christmas here. 

It's not that I'm not bothered, not excited, but I'm not planning to do anything different or fancy, and as it's just us here for Christmas Day, and I don't want to have the place groaning with leftovers, I have tried not to over-cater or over-engineer anything.

I'm also quite fancying the approach Alexander Armstrong and Giles Coren took in their '12 Drinks of Christmas' programme that I happened to watch last night - line up 12 festive drinks, and let everything else take care of itself. I won't of course, but it did cross my mind...

I never really read the Dr Seuss books when I was growing up, but the Husband did, and his mum introduced them to our kids - Blue in particular - and there's a bit in How the Grinch Stole Christmas that I really love. It's this bit ('it' being Christmas):

"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. 
It came without packages, boxes or bags. 
And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. 
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. 
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. 
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” 

I've been concentrating on getting the exhausted children through the last few weeks of school - there have been projects to finish, carol concerts, school discos, the usual end of Autumn term madness - and what with everything else that's been going on, I haven't really had time to think about anything other than the basics, even less blog about it.
So on the catering front, at least, I'm taking the 'Grinch' approach. Or perhaps not the Grinch's approach, but that of the Whos - whose Christmas the Grinch was trying to spoil. 

It will be Christmas whether I manage to make cranberry sauce or not. 

Whether the mince pies have homemade mincemeat in them - or the mincemeat from the jar I found at the back of the cupboard which looks perfectly edible but has a use by date of 2009 on it (may be I'll pep it up with some brandy...). Indeed whether the mince pies are homemade in the first place ("Recipe Junkie in bought mince pie shock..." I can see it now).

Whether the Christmas Cake looks like something Mary Berry would be proud of - or not - thanks to Pink's enthusiastic marzipan modelling last night.

Particularly loving Pink's attempt to turn a polar bear into a reindeer...

We will be together, at home, and we will have a lovely time, whether we eat like kings, or not.
And anyway, all of that stuff isn't till next week. 

For now, we need to eat normal food; food to keep us going as we wade through the end of term. It would help if I'd been meal planning, but that's gone by the wayside too, so yesterday I was scrabbling around in the freezer and found some pork mince. It's ages since we had meatballs, and the kids love them, so with a little help from Nigel Slater, meatballs it was.

Pork meatballs with mushroom sauce

4 anchovy fillets
450g pork mince
65g breadcrumbs
zest of a lemon; juice of up to 1 lemon (see Method)
handful of flat leaf parsely (leaves only especially if stalks are a bit woody), finely chopped

2 tablespoons (about 15g) grated parmesan
plain flour for dusting/rolling in (the meatballs, not you)
40g butter
olive oil
4 largeish chestnut mushrooms, peeled if necessary and finely chopped
200ml chicken stock
50ml (approx) cream

Mash up the anchovy fillets in the bottom of a large bowl, then mix in the pork mince, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, parsley and grated parmesan and mix together, adding the lemon juice as necessary to bind it all together.

Cover a plate with plain flour.

Using a tablespoon as a rough measure, make your meatballs - I got 14 out of this mixture - flatten slightly, then put in the flour, rolling around to coat lightly.

Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan, then brown the meatballs on both sides for about 4 minutes - I did this in batches. Once browned, set the meatballs aside, then chuck the mushroom into the pan and cook for a few minutes, then return the meatballs to the pan and cook for another 5-6 minutes, turning occasionally.

Tip in the chicken stock and bring the pan up to bubbling, scraping any bits off the bottom of the pan, then drizzle in a bit of cream. I just had some in the fridge, and I didn't measure it out, but it wasn't much - just enough to turn the sauce from 'stock' to 'sauce' if you see what I mean.

When everything's hot, serve. We had it with a mixture of wild and red rice (cupboard clearing) and some steamed kale.

 And in case I don't get the chance again, 


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Create your own cookery book with Blurb

This is a Guest Post. I haven't been paid to feature this on my blog - but I think it's a pretty cool idea - after all, who wouldn't love to have their own cookbook. Move over Nigella...

Gift Idea: Create Your Own Cookbook, and Fill It With Recipes You Love!

If you love to cook, or know someone who does (lucky you – yum!) creating your own personalised cookbook is a great idea!

From homemade hearty meals to keep you warm and rosy cheeked in the winter months, to gooey chocolate desserts accompanied by sweet cocktails and quick fix meals – whatever tickles your taste buds can be compiled into one bookshop-quality cookbook for you to keep pride of place in your kitchen, or give to that certain person as a lovely, thoughtful gift. And it couldn’t be any easier! 

Blurb has created their free BookSmartsoftware, where you can craft your own gorgeous and tailor-made cookbook in minutes, and they do everything for you! All you have to do is choose which culinary delights you want to feature – and away you go. 

We love them because they are:

v  So easy to put together– Just create your free login, then download BookSmart - the free book making software, and start making your book.

v  All your own design – Simply just drag and drop your recipes into one of the cookbook layouts or even get creative and make your own layout – play around with different colours and backgrounds

v  High quality books – The books are comprised of professional bindings and your choice of paper and cover options – or you could even  create a beautiful eBook and place it on your blog

v  Quick, efficient and inexpensive – when you have placed your order you’ll have your cookbook in about a week and even receive a discount on volume orders

v  Easily sharable  – Showcase your own book on Twitter and Facebook with a link to a digital preview of the cookbook you’ve designed

v  Easy to sell too – Finally you can even earn a profit with your cookbook! You can set your own price in the online bookstore, sell your book, and keep 100% of the money you make.

Ready to give it a go?

This guide will show you exactly how easy it is to put your own stunning cookbook together.


Getting started

After you have created your free login, you are ready to start making your book! They have a guide to show you how to do everything in the most simplistic way, so firstly all you have to do is click ‘Start a new book’.

Choosing what kind of book you want

You decide what your book will look like from all aspects, so the next step is to choose the size and shape of the book you want. Choose whichever you feel will suit your preferences the best, and you can always change your mind later on! You can also add your name into the Author section, to make it that extra bit professional.

Choosing your layout

You don’t just have to make a cookbook! There are so many other books you can create, such as wedding photo books, portfolios, and simple photo books - so choose the layout that suits your needs the best. In this case, we’re choosing the cookbook layout! This gives you space to add pictures and text, and you can move it around as you like.

Choose the pictures of your recipes you want to add

It is so simple to add the pictures to accompany your recipes, simply choose which ones you want from a file on your computer, and they will be added into the side bar for you to drag and drop at your leisure!

Choose what you do

Adding your photos in can be so easy, they do it for you! You can decide whether you drag and drop your pictures to the place of your choosing, or Blurb can even organise your photos into the book depending on date etc. How easy is that?

Choose your theme

Now you can decide what theme you want your book to have, again once you have decided you can swap it around and see what styles you like the best!

Start adding in your recipes and pictures into your book

Now you have decided on the look and the layout, you can start adding in all your lovely recipes! You can choose how you view your book so you can start to imagine what it will look like when it is finished, and you can easily flip between the pages to add in all the content you want to include.

You can also choose what you want your layout to look like, from the menu on the side bar.

Drag and drop your pictures

To add in the pictures for your book, simply choose which one you want to add from the side menu and drag it to an available box. Image boxes are marked with ‘drag image here’ so you’ll always have a rough guide to make the process extra quick and easy.

 Preview your book

Once you have set everything out as you want and you are happy with how your book looks, you can then proceed by clicking the ‘Preview book’ button so see how it will look when it is published. 

The final checklist

Just to make sure you haven’t missed anything out, they show you a final checklist making sure you’ve spelled everything correctly, kept all your content within the margin, and made sure your beautiful book is perfect!

Sign in and finalise your book

Then all you have to do is sign in and upload your book!

Final steps – Customise your book

Finally, you can choose the materials for your book! Decide on the cover, the type of paper, the end sheets and even the cover linen to make it unique to you.


You can also get an instant PDF version of your book!

There you go! So get choosing your favourite recipes, and start making your very own professional, published cookbook - or the perfect gift for a foodie you love! You can also make unconventional food books, so get your thinking cap on and be creative! Also, why not share your book with the world and sell it via the Blurb sell your book page.

Disclosure: This is a guest post written by Lauren Tate Content & Online PR Executive on behalf of Blurb.