Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Forever Nigella #23 Nostalgia & Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Forever Nigella... my favourite blogging event, not that I need an excuse to don my silky dressing gown, open one of the Goddess's tomes, and whip up something delicious (well, maybe I lied about the silky dressing gown...)

The theme this month is 'Nostalgia' and although I entered a rather cobbled together cheesecake that was loosely based on one of La Lawson's earlier in the month, I have been hankering for making the Pineapple Upside Down cake from Express for some time now, and it seemed to fit with the theme for this month.

I don't have any nostalgic memories of Pineapple Upside Down cake myself - my pudding memories (for this, surely, is a 'pudding' type of cake) centre around milk puddings, both warm (in the form of rice pudding, sago, semolina), and cold (mainly blancmange). But the fact that I don't have any memories of it doesn't mean that it doesn't conjure up retro thoughts in my mind - perhaps I'm wishing that my childhood had featured such a delight. Also, a lot of the nostalgia I have connected to Nigella's recipes relate to the time when I was cooking my way out of the funk I got myself in when Blue was so ill. This month saw the anniversary of his diagnosis, and I've already dwelled on it (not on here - I wouldn't put you through any more of that than I do already!) enough, so this is about creating nostalgic memories for my children, rather than looking back myself.

I decided to make it for pudding last night as it was my turn to host the Monday night hordes for tea. A particularly scrummy Good Food ham and pea pesto pasta from March 2013's issue (which I wholeheartedly commend) followed by this beauty of a cake.

I have a quick turnaround on a Monday evening if I'm hosting - we don't get home till just before 5 and have to be out again at 6.15 for Cubs. And yesterday, due to a work meeting and a surprise after school 'open day' (well, everyone else knew about it - it was just a a surprise to me!) I had no chance to get any prep done beforehand. I thought wicked (and possibly more sensible) thoughts about the emergency fishfingers in the freezer, but no. The meal plan said pasta and cake, pasta and cake it was going to be.

Fortunately, the cake lived up to the 'Express' moniker (the pasta did too, but more about that another time). I only had a springform cake tin, but I disregarded the stern instruction NOT to use spring form, and simply lined my tin with greasproof. Job done.

Apart from faffing around with greaseproof paper to make up for my inadequately stocked cake tin cupboard (I feel a virtual trip to Lakeland coming on), it was dead, dead easy - you line the tin first with a sprinkling of sugar, than with your pineapple and cherries. The batter is a quick whizz in a food processor, smooth it over the fruit, whack it in the oven and bingo:

It was a big hit too - so maybe, just as Nigella fondly recalls the pineapple upside down cake she ate at the home of a friend of her grandmother's, may be my children, and their friends who were with us for tea, will recall this in years to come...

This month's Forever Nigella event is hosted by The Botanical Baker on behalf of Sarah from Maison Cupcake

Poached heads and toasted dustbins

The end of another half term drew to a close on Sunday as we belted back down the M1 to Hampshire.

I know the M1 fairly intimately, and from, the days when the children were smaller, the service stations. While I'd like to say that I would take breaks from the drudgery of driving with small children in the back of the car in more interesting places off the beaten track, the fact is that when you've got a screaming baby in the back seat, you need to stop. NOW. Blue was the dream baby to travel with. Within 30 seconds of being in the car, he would be asleep, only to wake when the car stopped. We could get all the way from Hampshire to Leeds without incident (I never felt the need to wake a sleeping baby). Pink on the other hand... I remember the alarm I felt as she squawked all the way home from the hospital. A baby that didn't sleep in the car (or as it turned out, the buggy)?

Many journies north in the company of Blue & Pink led me to conclude that the ideal place to stop as a woman travelling in the company of small children was Donnington Park East. For some reason the least stressful of all the service stations that I would pass. Just over half way on our journey, very open with plenty of room for a toddler to run about before reaching the exit. Rather a smart 'family' room. I could run through the detractors for all the other ones, but I will only mention that (1) the muffins at Woolley Edge were a disgrace 6 years ago, and (2)  don't get me started on how hideous it is to breastfeed at Leicester Forest East.

Anyway, we ended up stopping at Donnington Park East on our return journey from a week at my parents, and it seemed no less relaxed than I remembered. Over a hideously overpriced coffee and a packet of biscuits provided by my mum, we had one of those conversations that I think I will remember for the rest of my life. "What's for tea?" asked Blue (he is constantly pre-occupied with what his next meal will be, and when). I told him. "Poached heads and toasted dustbins?" squawked Pink, outraged - obviously her mind had been elsewhere at the time.

We got home. Unpacked the car. Sorted things out. Time for poached heads & toasted dustbins...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

& some mushy peas with that please

The mushy pea. Or, realistically, mushy peas. Once the mush has happened, it would be hard to find them in the singular.

Like marmite, they divide people.

I will never forget the day my mum took my French exchange and I for a day trip into the Dales. We stopped at a pub for lunch, and my adventurous Gallic chum insisted on having whatever was traditional. We deliberated and explained as best we could. In the end she selected the 'pork pie and peas'. Mum and I exchanged glances. In truth, whatever we might have been expecting, a cold, whole pork pie floating in a sea of mushy peas was not it. Nor was it anything that Sonia could have envisaged - marrowfat peas - green mature peas that have been allowed to dry out naturally in the field - soaked overnight then simmered with salt and pepper to make a thick green 'soup'. After 2 weeks in the south of France a year previously, introduced to the delights of steak fondue, merguez flavours, wonderful cheese, and this is how repay her in terms of English gastronomy? I cringed.

For the record, though, she ate it with gusto (for all its strangeness, it tasted pretty amazing) - it's no wonder the exchange was such a success and we are still in touch.

A few years later, I worked in a tiny rural pub in my own corner of Yorkshire to pay a bit of my way through law school. Fran in the kitchen would eat mushy peas mixed with vinegar and black pepper. Bowlsful. Nothing else (apart from the squirty cream for the desserts which she squirted onto a plate and ate with a spoon. Classy, she was - I squirted it onto my finger).

They seem to be a peculiarly Northern taste.

Sure, they can be purchased at establishments across the country, but they aren't taken seriously.  Recently, with the gastro-pub revolution, mushy peas have become something of a retro curiosity, pimped up by our favourite celebrity chefs: Nigella likes hers made with petits pois and creme fraiche. Hugh's are tarted up with garlic and chives Jamie adds mint. That's all well and good, but I've never found them embraced in the the same way as in a decent Yorkshire chippy.

An almost smoky unctuousness; easy to eat; comforting. You can tell which camp I fall into.

On Thursday, Pink and I indulged ourselves. Haddock & chips. Bread & butter. A pot of tea (with cups & saucers and hot water to top up). And mushy peas. In a separate bowl. A portion each. Sigh.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Go Further for Fairtrade - 25th February - 10 March

Fairtrade Fortnight starts on Monday – 25th February.

Go Further for Fairtrade

Following on the from the ‘Take a Step’ campaign last year, this year, the Fairtrade Foundation is calling on us to Go Further for Fairtrade in 2013: to look after the food we love and the people who grow it. Without our support now, farmers in developing countries face a difficult and uncertain future. Crucially, the interactive petition that will call on the Government to take action before the 2013 G8 Summit will signal the start of a three-year long campaign by Fairtrade Foundation – ‘Make Food Fair’.

I can barely move in the morning until I’ve had a cup of tea, rendering it, in my privileged life, an essential – the Husband certainly thinks so. And yet while we in the First World sit in our comfortable homes in relative security, there are thousands, if not millions of farmers in the Third World working hard to produce many of what we might consider to be our daily essentials –– and yet they are still not getting paid fairly for their produce and still cannot make a living from their labour. Aid is all very well, but to quote Mike Gidney the Fairtrade Foundation CEO “Trade - if it’s done fairly - enables people to take control of their own lives and build a more secure future.  It’s a very clear proposition and the results can be transformational.

But what about ‘local’?

As you know if you read my blog regularly, I’m a lot about local – but the tea leaves that make my essential morning cuppa don’t grow in rural Hampshire at the moment, so I choose Fairtrade bags. The same goes for the chocolate and sugar I bake with:

and the coffee the Husband loves. Small holder tea growers, for example, often receive less than 3% of the value of the tea they grow – sometimes it’s as little as 1%. Maybe I’m naïve but I find this shocking.

I am aware that sharp practice is applied to farmers in this country too – big business often making them sell their meat, milk or veg for pitiful amounts of money. This should be addressed too – I’m not saying it shouldn’t – but I believe that we should also look beyond our national boundaries and think about where all our food is coming from and the conditions in which it has been produced. If you are going to buy a product from overseas, why not make sure that it has been ethically sourced?

‘Fairtrade’ requires companies to pay prices (which must never be lower than the market price) that cover the costs of production, when buying from Fairtrade certified farmers. This amount must never fall below the Fairtrade minimum price which is decided by Fairtrade producers and traders. This acts as a guarantee that producers receive a price which covers the cost of producing their goods in a sustainable way. And in addition, money paid on top of the Fairtrade minimum price is known as the Fairtrade premium. This is invested in social, environmental and economic development projects, decided upon democratically by a committee of producers or workers. Marvellous.

So what’s going on?

Well, as I mentioned, there’s an interactive petition you can join for starters – and let me tell you it’s really fun: you get to create your own little marcher online – do it with the kids, they’ll love it. Here’s my Recipe Junkie marcher – and no, I don’t look half as glamorous as that in real life but they didn’t have wonky specs, and bags to go under the eyes for the avatar… 

The petition will be presented to David Cameron in the advance of the G8 summit in May, when hopefully, he will champion the cause of small holder farmers who need the support of governments to enable them to create viable businesses and feed their families, becoming self supporting.

There are many other events organised across the country encouraging people to get involved and this year to get creative, building sculptures out of fairtrade packaging which will form part of the petition. Pink is already obsessively collecting the Fairtrade logos from the food packaging in our house to stick on her class ‘fairtrade banana’. There will also be visits from fairtrade farmers themselves talking about the difference fairtrade has made to their lives.

Of course, it's not just about a fortnight - it's about the choices we make every day when we shop for our food - whether we can take a step to think beyond the act of putting a packet into our trolley or clicking on a radio button to 'Add to trolley'. Taking time is hard for all of us in our busy lives, but it seems to me that times are a changing and, more of us are taking that step to think a little more about where our food has come from, and what has gone into it - not just in terms of the product itself (I'm hoping there won't be horsemeat in my fairtrade chocolate bar), but the toil that went into to making sure I get my morning cuppa.

You can find out more about the Fairtrade Foundation and the Fairtrade Fortnight actvities on their website.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Who are your food heroes? Meet Peter Lane - more than just pork pies

What is a ‘food hero’? There are of course the Hughs, the Jamies of this world, not only cooking great food but using their status to highlight issues such as school dinners, hospital food, the catastrophe that is the fishing industry. I think this is fantastic work, and these high profile individuals are worthy of the title ‘food hero’.  However, for me, there is another category of ‘food hero’ - those who get on with the business of producing and promoting great, honest food. 

I was introduced to Peter Lane through his pork pies:

 Pies to dream about: meaty, well-seasoned, amazing pastry:

They form part of the Hampshire Tapas that I wrote about a few months ago.


 Peter falls fairly and squarely into my ‘food hero’ box: he’s all about fantastic food, honestly made, whether he’s filling a freezer for a busy family or preparing curry for 80. His business is ‘I Cook - You Eat’ - I think the name sums up what he does impeccably. 

In cooking so his clients can indeed eat, he is fuelled by the desire to cook fantastic food using locally sourced ingredients. 

I believe in good hearty, wholesome food.  Food that is not simply there to feed you, but engages, nourishes and brings family and friends together around a table.  Food that encourages and then satisfies your hunger.

Chicken & Tarragon Pie - I can smell it from here...

He grew up eating his mother’s good but traditional food. What really sparked his interest was his father returning from travelling to places like Italy and China, bringing back new and interesting flavours and dishes. Despite “playing hard and eating hard” (his words!) while he was growing up, and cooking from an early age, Peter’s journey to making a living from food has been an interesting and unusual one via music college, the organ at St Giles Cripplegate in London, Oddbins and the Civil Service. Already running I Cook You Eat on a part time basis, he took voluntary redundancy from the Civil Service in 2011 to concentrate on food full time. The influences of the food his father introduced to the family is much evident in the food he offers. As comfortable with the exotic as he is with the traditional: from freezer filling for busy families, to preparing canapés or dinner parties, he draws on global food inspiration, revisiting dishes to recreate them with top quality ingredients sourced as locally as possible to his north west Hampshire home: veg from the garden, local meat. He’s planning chickens and pigs of his own, but until then, most of his meat comes from a local farm:

I get to drive a few miles to a beautiful farm in a stunning area where I can see the pigs, chickens and beef steers that will all go into my cooking. Everything is properly hung…I use very simple ingredients to make really fantastic food  

Not that it’s easy running a food business from home: “I have to be really organised, and sometimes I just have to get out of the kitchen. It can be madness preparing 5 dishes, or cooking dinner for the children at the same time as some baba ganoush”, but he clearly practises what he preaches at home as well as in his business.

At my son’s first birthday party, we had 24 people sat at a big long table in the garden. We ate broad beans and chorizo, home shot pigeon breast salad, courgette souffles and our own home made pizzas. All the ingredients came from the garden or nearby. … The children love hearty tasty food – Mediterranean based or traditional English food. Of course they have fish fingers, but often we’ll cook them something like smoked mackerel kedgeree, pasta they love, cottage pie, spag bol. Recently they surprised me by eating a sardine and leek gratin. We’ll have a fry up on a Sunday – but the children don’t consider it to be a proper fry up unless there’s black pudding involved.

Clients of ‘I Cook You Eat’ can expect fantastically tasty home cooked food which Peter can provide fresh or frozen. He marks his meals with a ‘made on’ date and takes a pragmatic approach, in conjunction with the environmental health officer, to food safety. Take his pies 

The whole point is to preserve the meat, and a properly made pie should last 10-14 days. There’s not much advice on the internet, but a big pie is simply too large to cool down in a fridge. I explained to the EHO that I left the big pies to cool out in the kitchen, and she agreed with the common sense approach I was taking.” 

It seems that his clients agree with this approach. “I often get very effusive feedback, but occasionally I won’t hear from a client, and I will worry if that happens, but then very often, a few weeks or months later, they will get back in touch to arrange a repeat order. There have been no complaints yet.” 

In these days of food confusion, where we are reeling from what feels like daily revelations about the gruesome nature of our food industry, it is reassuring to meet people like Peter who are prepared to quite literally put their money where their mouth is, using local, traceable produce from producers he trusts. In terms of a food manifesto (if it could be called that) Peter suggests that if we all took a little more time – may be half an hour a week to look for a local producer, to go to one place and buy one thing, we could all feel better about the food we eat. Personally, I know I don't always get the chance - or make the time - to do this, but I definitely agree with him, and it's my aim to be better at doing this. And who knows where that could lead to?

Peter’s website, I Cook You Eat has more details about the food he cooks and the service he can provide. He provides private catering, but can also be found at the food markets in the North West Hampshire area. You can find him in the twittersphere at @petesporkpies and on Facebook .

Important blog disclaimer thing: Just so we're clear, although Peter agreed to talk to me about his business, and let me use his photos, I wasn't paid to write this post; you'll understand that when a girl gets to eat a pork pie that good, she has to shout about it - that's all!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Overcoming US baking measures - White chocolate and sour cherry cookies

After reviewing a few American baking books recently, and moaning about American baking terms - cups, sticks, farenheit etc., I decided to get over it and have a go.

The other evening, I found myself with the kids both in bed at 7.15 (Blue reading, but essentially settled off as far as I was concerned), and the Husband away. I got a bit of an odd 'at a loose end' feeling which is ridiculous as I have (always) at least 101 things to do. Instead of doing any of the current 101 things, I sloped off into the kitchen to seize those American measurements by the horns, give them a good shake down and see if I couldn't just make them work for me.

I have a set of American 'cups', and I also have a set of proper spoon measures, thanks to a baking set Pink received once, so there's no excuse really why I shouldn't be able to bake US style to my heart's content. So what's the problem? I hear you ask. Why have I been so reluctant?

Well, my friends, it all comes down to the butter. I buy my butter in 250g blocks. And my kitchen is cold. I usually have to leave my butter over a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to soften it up enough for the general rigors required of it in baking because 'room temperature' in my kitchen is not the same as in other peoples'. Why then, would I go to the extra hassle of softening it down enough to get it to fit into a cup and allow for accurate measuring, to then put into another bowl for mixing? Why?

Hmm squares into rounds. Tricky.

Anyway, I did it. The butter was a faff, 

and I seemed to get quite a lot of collateral damage spill out using the cups - more so than if I'd been tipping my ingredients into a bowl straight from the packet:

but otherwise it all worked out just dandy.

and after all, chocolate tastes the same however you weigh it

Based on an oatmeal and raisin cookie recipe that I found in The Cookiepedia (that I recently reviewed), I made these beauties, and I commend them to you. And I remembered to weigh out the ingredients once I'd filled the cups so that you can enjoy them too, either US or UK stylie.

White Chocolate & Sour Cherry Oaty Cookies

Makes around 15
1/2 cup (110g) unsalted butter at room temperature (or warmer than room temp if your kitchen is as cold as ours is)
2/3 cup (100g) caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 (110g) cup plain flour
 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinammon
11/2 cups oats
1/3 cup (75g) white chocolate chunks
1/3 cup (75g) sour cherries

Pre-heat the oven to 350F (180C) and line 3-4 baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla.

Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and cinammon with the mixer (I'm assuming you're using a mixer, sorry) running slowly, till it's all mixed in, then stir in the oats, chocolate and cherries.

Scoop out tablespoon sized amounts of mixture onto the lined baking trays, leaving about 2 inches between each blob. You might want to flatten each blob a little with a fork I decided to do it half way through cooking, which is a little haphazard, I'll admit.

Bake for 12-14 minutes (they will need slightly longer if, at the half way stage, you decide to get them out and flatten the dough slightly with a fork - so do it before hand) and resist the temptation to leave them in for too long.

They were pretty darn good, I must say, but I have a plea to American readers - I know there are some of you out there - and it is this. Please enlighten me. Does your butter come extra soft? Do you really cut it from a 'stick' and wodge it into cups to then scrape it into the mixer? Or have I completely misunderstood?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Minimalist Parenting and thoughts on feeding children

There appears to be yet another new parenting book on the block - Minimalist Parenting.

How do I know this? Well, it's half term, and the Husband is working away, so of course I have decamped to my parents and handed over all responsibility for pretty much everything (i.e. the children, cooking etc) to my parents while I regress to behaving somewhere akin to how I did during my A levels - so I am working, slopping around reading books (I have discovered a new author - Sophie Hannah. The Room Swept White is very gripping) and raiding the biscuit tins. (I should clarfiy that I am not, you'll be relieved to know, smoking crafty fags out of the window or sneaking off to nightclubs to meet boys when I should have been revising).

As a result, I actually got to read a newspaper this morning. On a week day. The paper from today. And not snatched articles whilst scrumpling up the news print to lay the fire. Not my paper of choice, I have to say, but not the Daily Mail, so I have to be grateful for that. And when I say 'read the paper', what I actually mean is the frivolous bits. But enough of my inadequacies. There it is, "How to be a minimalist parent". We should all be scheduling time off between after school activities; editing our calendars and have to do lists and (wait for it) - NOT to do lists; spending 10-15 minutes a few days a week decluttering a small area of our homes (the purpose behind this is most definitely not explained in the article - I am as confused as the next person).

I should say here that I lurch through parenting from one disaster to the next. I really do feel like I am close to collapse most of the time in terms of the decisions that have to be made, how to handle different situations. It's fashionable, if not a little passive aggressive to say it, I know, but I genuinely, truly mean it. I didn't have the confidence to pick up a book that would tell me how to parent and follow it, but nor did I have the confidence to believe that what I was doing was the right thing. I did the stereotypical professional woman thing and went into freefall after Blue was born, ended up sobbing on the health visitor, diagnosed with mild PND, and came out of the other side to create motherhood - my way.

As most people do, I guess we tread the middle road. We do not run to a tiger mother-esque calendar of improving activities and play dates, but the kids do a couple of extra things each after school - Cubs, football for Blue, Ballet and Rainbows for Pink. I work. I shout (although I try not to). I worry about not spending enough time with the kids doing what they want to do and then take them along with me to do what I need to do anyway. Out of school, we do the gardening, we walk the dog, we throw stones in the sea. We might occasionally go to a museum. We do being bored and amusing ourselves. I am not for a moment saying that the way we do things is any better than how other people do things (unless they are abusing their children) but it's how we do it.
I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of all these different parenting theories and practices - obviously as I've hardly read any, and practised none, I have no grounds to do so. But what I did think was interesting was that this minimalist parenting theory stretches to the food you put in front of your children.  Apparently, the authors (a couple of American women, Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest) are "...not prepared to act as short-order chefs. Everyone eats the same thing or starves - well not quite...." One of the other 'tips for going minimalist' is to "come up with two or three quick, healthy dinners you can prepare using basic ingredients"

I am really pleased that someone has written this down. My own philosophy for feeding children is fairly similar, but it wasn't always so, and I still feel the irritation, nay the disappointment and upset if they reject one of my lovingly prepared dishes. If they are feeling sensitive, I'll get "Well, it's not my favourite thing, mummy", but more often than not, their displeasure is met with gagging and "Please do not EVER make that again". Take the broad bean and bacon risotto, for example. Arguably, by pretty much always cooking from scratch every day, I am never going to make a minimalist parent - but then I like eating well-cooked, good food, and I am not going to cut off my nose to spite my face. Part of what makes us what we are is the food we eat and the importance the Husband and I attach to eating honest food is part of our family make up and I - you've guessed it - I'm not going to give that up to become a minimalist parent. However, I would agree with the suggestion that, once your kids are out of the baby stages, you should have two or three quick healthy dinners you can bang out with little stress when time is tight (most of mine involve pasta), or you just can't be bothered. the idea is that food is sometimes just fuel - it may be good quality fuel, but children need to learn that they are not always going to be able to eat what they choose.

This got me thinking about my approach to feeding the children, and, fo what it's worth, I thought I would add to that a number of other principles that have stood me in good stead feeding children:

- if you are cooking something new and are unsure how it is going to be received, make sure that there is something as part of the meal that you know your children will eat e.g. a baked potato

- persist with the 'try one mouthful' rule

- fruit is a good pudding, and if there is a treat to be had too, insist on fruit first

- when your children are going through fussy phases (and they will be phases, I promise, although some take longer to get out of than others), try and put some distance between the food you have prepared and what they are eating - if necessary freeze what you have made for another day, and serve them something that you made and froze previously

- if they don't eat much at one meal, try really really hard not to allow them to snack before the next meal. You may have a tedious sugar low blighted morning or afternoon, but you are more likely to get them back on track at the next meal if you do.

- tell yourself that if all they want to eat is a handful of cheerios and a couple of slices of cucumber, then that probably really is all they want. You might have to give yourself a stern talking to about this, but persist with yourself. Eventually they will surprise you and eat a proper meal - my mum had a friend who had I think 6 children. The youngest would only eat bananas and peanut butter sandwiches so that was all she would give him. One day as the rest of the family tucked into something delicious, and he sat looking at his bananas and peanut butter sarnies, he said "Why can't I have that?". Problem solved.

- canned tomatoes are your friend. So is garlic. And pasta.

- try where possible to cook from scratch but remember that no one ever died from eating a fish finger or the odd oven chip.

- insisting that they clear their plates is probably not helpful - I can't help it, I am an inveterate plate clearer, but I am learning that it is probably not helpful. Sometimes
I even manage to let them not finish all their main course and have pudding. I doubt it's going to cause too many problems in the long run

- eating at the table is good - and if you can eat with the children - or sit down with them and have a cup of tea while they are eating - so much the better: it creates a natural environment for confidences to come spilling out.

- letting them help you - chopping, grating, mixing - does actually encourage them to eat it, especially if it's a new thing. I was sceptical, but I think it does work.

So make of those what you will. If you have any other tips, please do share - I am always open to suggestions!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Old-fashioned cookbooks, bags of nostalgia and Boeuf a la movie - a random recipe

I have recently inherited a collection of old recipe books from my mum. 

A couple are 'fundraising' efforts, with recipes provided by the good people from a variety of parishes. In the case of "My Favourite Recipe" (circa. 1984), in aid of the Merseyside Association for Kidney Research, it includes Ken Dodd's 'Steak Diane', John Inman's Beef Wellington, and my personal favourite, Willy Russell's 'Midnight Madness' - which is essentially how to cook 2 slices of toast when you come home rather worse the wear for drink... reminds me of a story of a friend from law school who was once roundly berated by his wife, the long suffering Barbara (I never knew any more about her, and never met her) for frying ice cream wagon wheels one night, which he mistook for burgers. The mess was apparently something truly terrible to behold.  Willy Russell's method for toast fills just over 2 pages of the book:

"Switch on the kitchen light; you may have just put the world to rights and drunk eight pints of bitter beer but, and I am quite confident of this, YOU CANNOT SEE IN THE DARK, the best chefs of the best kitchens of the world agree with me on this." etc

The Carrier book "Childrens Party Menus" is one I remember flicking through incessantly as childhood birthdays approached.

Mum, why did you NEVER make me the carousel cake? Or hard boiled eggs decorated like mice and rabbits?

Best of all, the pile of books included 2 notebooks from a Great Aunt. Handwritten recipes, cuttings, little comments - I love them.

I was blessed with some great ,Great Aunts, though none of them are still living. I've already mentioned the one who not only worked full time but went home to cook a 2 course lunch every day for her husband - another Random Recipe entry, in fact.

The Great Aunt to whom these notebooks belonged was a cabinet maker and worked with the renowned (and currently in vogue) Edward Barnsley. I am lucky enough to have a stool that she designed and had made in the later years of her life by one of her own apprentices. I believe all her great nieces and nephews have one, elegant and beautiful.

She herself was a fantastic character. All tweed skirts and sensible shoes. She smoked like a chimney (indeed it was the fags what done her in, in the end) and lived with her devoted 'companion' (no other attribution or recognition could be given in those days, even though their relationship was far more devoted than many marriages I have seen). As I recall, they shared their home with a grey African parrot. I always remember how interested she was in anything and everything I was doing; What was going on at school, what I was studying. I was off to France for a year - fantastic! what a great opportunity. She spent hours telling me about her own travels. In fact, she sadly died while I was in France and I missed her funeral, but somehow being in the Languedoc at the time, an area I know she loved, made it more bearable. My memories of her are fading but I have some clear images of her and her partner, their house and beautiful garden, which I know will stay with me.

Having her notebooks has brought many of those images and memories that I do retain back to the forefront of my mind. I can't date the notebooks accurately. One of them includes recipes attributed to "(Delia Smith TV)" in the exquisite handwriting you might expect. In fact all the recipes that have been written out by hand are attributed - names I recognise from my childhood - Jessie (my granny), Mrs Godfrey, Beth - and some I don't. There is an article about aubergine, cut out and kept from a newspaper from the day before my 6th birthday (I am sure the events were unrelated, but it puts things in context for me). I am particularly tickled by the comment accompanying a recipe for Roast Duck: "Very satisfactory." Those 2 words transport me right back in time - the sensibleness and practicality of them. No flowery nonsense. Just "Very satisfactory". I can hear her voice now.

But what of the random recipe? Well, this month the randomness is down to us: Dom's challenge at Belleau Kitchen is to choose a book our own way but to be sure to select a recipe randomly from it.

Alas, the roasted duck was not the random recipe. You'll understand why I had to choose one of these notebooks as my recipe book, tbough, so I very scientifically held them behind my back, swapped them over a couple of times and in my right hand the ringbound, falling apart Sherwood Notebook from Boots Stationery Department. 

And the recipe? Well, the page that I opened included 4 recipes cut from newspapers. 2 veal recipes ('Veal Cutlets - Victoria', and stewed breast of veal), another one  for a 'Standing Pie' (lots of lard) and this one. I couldn't resist. I love the idea that whenever this was written (imperial measurements, oven temp in Gas mark/farenheit only), people were thinking about how best to make sure they had a hot meal on the table - even if they wanted to go out and enjoy themselves in the meantime.

I copy it out directly because I am sure that any copyright has long since passed. If it hasn't and you recognise this as yours, please let me know, and I will offer full attribution.

Boeuf a la movie (for 2)

So called because you throw everything into a casserole, go to the cinema (and come back and eat it)

1lb stewing beef
small tin tomato soup
glass red wine
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
1 medium potato, sliced
bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon of salt, and some screws of pepper

Put everything in a casserole and cover it closely. Put it into the middle of the oven with the heat at mark 1, 275F and leave it for 4 1/2 hours. When you return, serve it with tinned Swedish red cabbage (heated).

And that's it.

I defy anyone to say "Wow, what a beautiful looking dinner" - because frankly it wasn't:

The soup in the sauce made it alarmingly orange, and the fact that you don't brown the meat first meant that there was really quite a lot of fat floating around, but it was all cooked and quite tasty actually. It was completely hassle free - as all slow cooking is - and for a day when I was out at a training course and backwards and forwards on the school run and then delivering children to Rainbows etc, it was super-convenient. The only changes I made were to slightly up the vegetable quantities and I used a large tin of soup to stretch it to 4 of us. I also couldn't bring myself to serve it with tinned red cabbage - indeed I couldn't find any (although I didn't look too hard), but in keeping with the recipe, I did liberate some red cabbage, left over from Christmas, from the freezer.

I'm not sure it's the kind of thing I'd want to come back to from watching a movie, but I can certainly imagine Vera & Freda (you knew they'd have names like that) coming home - more likely from a concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic than the movies (although you never know), kicking off their brogues and sitting down, with their napkins on knees, to a big plateful of this...