Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Parsonage Farm Spring Market - see what's out there!

One of the things I love about where we live is that there seems to be such a vibrant local food scene. Producers everywhere, support from a Community Interest Company, Hampshire Fare, which offers PR advice and networking opportunities for local food businesses (not to mention organising a huge food festival in July), famers markets, and, increasingly, smaller but no less important events bringing together food, drink and craft. It's a really great way of highlighting what's going on in the local area, and encourages people to think about whether they could get what they need from somewhere other than the supermarket or the internet. 

My friend, Peter Lane (he of the amazing pork pies) told me about the Parsonage Farm Spring Market when I met him a few months ago, and the date went straight into my diary. Parsonage Farm is, in their own words "a family-run business offering a warm and friendly service to all. We sell local, quality meat from animals raised on-site using natural, environmentally balanced and sensitive farming practices." Not only is the meat reared in a great environment, it is slaughtered at the Laverstoke Farm Abbatoir which is just down the road, and means that the animals hardly travel any distance when they finally get the chop. It's where Peter gets most of his meat from, and when you visit the farm and see the quality of the meat on offer, you can see why.

Not only do they sell their own meat, though, they have diversified in a number of ways, one of which are regular markets. Now, of course, it would have been rude not to check out their meat first (Peter having sold out of his pies by the time we actually managed to get to the market). We visited the butchers, where Mike the butcher was demonstrating his skills.

Mike demonstrating his butchery skills

Not only do they sell fresh meat, they have recently branched out in to charcuterie, and let me tell you, if you are into that sort of thing, it really is utterly delicious. We tried fennel & garlic, coriander, and red wine & garlic and couldn't decide between them so bought a bit of each one while we were there. Not that they will last long...

It wasn't just about the meat though. There were lots of fantastic foodie and crafty stalls and demonstrations going on. In particular, I was interested in The Hampshire Jam and Chutney Company . The stall was run by Sue Rockhill, and the jams and chutneys - well, sometimes I wonder why I bother sweating over my own jam pan...

I couldn't resist a pot of 'Dumpsie Dearie' jam made to an old Herefordshire recipe (with Hampshire ingredients), as it happens. Apparently if it had blackberries in it, it would be called High Dumpsie Deary jam. Fantastic name. Fantastic jam.

As you can imagine, I always have more than a passing interest in any cake stalls that are knocking around, and the Blackberry Cottage stall caught my eye. Not just cake, cake with hidden ingredients: beetroot, courgette, carrot, swede, spinach (yes, I am here to tell you that the spinach brownie I tasted was delicious). Alas, there was no swede cake left, but a beetroot chocolate loaf made a very excellent birthday cake for me to share with some friends

What's even more brilliant, there's a book coming out soon, so all those unloved veg box swede can be turned into more than mash or soup.

I will be looking out for that one.

While I was dribbling my way around the food stalls, the Husband and the kids were drawn magnetically to the woodturning skills of Chris Allen

While the children (and the Husband) were fascinated watching the man at work, I was talking traveller bouquets with his willing assistant. You can't really see them very well in the photo (on the shelving, in the pic above), but these are beautifully crafted wooden bouquets traditionally made by the traveller community from pieces of wood, peeling back thin strips in the same way as you might curl a ribbon when wrapping a present. There's a better pic on Oneday Woodcraft's facebook page. Simple and beautiful. I decided in the end to buy myself a spurtle, though. For porridge, and possibly rolling out pastry, although Pink thought it might have its place as a defensive weapon...

Finally, after all that nibbling and chatting, what better way to quench ones thirst than with a quirky cup of coffee. Actually the coffee wasn't at all quirky, but the cafe was. Allow me to present Colonel Grumpy's Coffee Bus:

Like everyone I spoke to at the fair, 'Colonel and Mrs Grumpy' have a story - and what a story! 

Colonel Grumpy (I forgot to ask his real name, so I shall assume the moniker he has assigned himself!) ended a distinguished career in the army spending 5 years as the Defence attache to Guatemala. Not wanting to return to a life of boredom, and wanting to do something to help the people of Central America, they bought an old bus from Indiana (yes, in the USA) on Ebay (yes really!), drove her to Guatemala, where she was renovated before they shipped her back to the UK where she now serves as a travelling coffee shop, selling Guatemalan coffee and crafts.

It was a fantastic afternoon - and so inspiring, talking to people so passionate about their products and what they do, be it a sports therapist now making and selling cakes after a chance conversation with a client whose daughter wouldn't eat veg, to a couple having a high old time selling coffee from a refurbished bus and raising awareness of Central American issues.

More importantly, though, coming to an event like this makes you appreciate what is on offer locally. As I get more and more insight into what's available around us, it has occurred to me that the supermarkets have achieved the greatest PR stunt ever - convincing us that we should buy from them rather than from our local suppliers. There is some fantastic produce out there (not just food, I hasten to add) and it is actually pretty easy to get your hands on it - local producers will deliver, or you can find their produce for sale in smaller retailers or from more regular markets. The vicious circle of the supermarket is that we never get the chance to see what is actually out there locally, so we carry on buying from them.  

I would be lying if I said that I have stopped buying from the supermarket. I don't always have access to a car, and a delivery of some products in some cases, where quality isn't necessarily an issue, does make economic and practical sense. However, with the help of organisations like Big Barn - with its handy postcode finder to show you where you can buy local produce, some investigations of my own and tip offs from friends, I am finding it much easier to buy my fresh food locally - and if the produce itself isn't local then using local shops to source it: fish for example, which I now buy through the butcher.

The thing is, that however much this Spring Market conjures up some kind of rural idyll, some kind of 'olde Englande', and however enjoyable it is to mooch around and taste a few things here and there, there's a serious point behind it. If there's something similar in your area, I'd really encourage you to make the effort to go - you might discover a whole world of amazing stuff being produced on your doorstep - be it meat, jam  - or spurtles

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Last Meal...

Today, my boy left home.

Not for long, you understand - just till Friday. His class are on the annual Yr 4 residential trip that the school run, spending time at a study centre on the south coast.

An amazing opportunity, he's been so excited about it - but nervous, too.

"I'm going to miss you, Mummy" is nothing to the number of times he has counted down the days, discussed the menu (a stroke of genius, that, sending the menu home a few weeks ago!), wondered about what he would be doing... To say that the moment of departure, of actual separation has been preying on his mind is an understatement - for this is what has been the problem for him. He has stayed away from us before - usually at his Granny & Grumpy's, usually with Pink, but not always. Apart from those times, I have been there when he has gone to sleep and when he has woken up almost every day. And now I won't be. He is going to have to go away. Once he is there, he will have a ball. But leaving is hard.

It's all part of growing up. I know that.

Last night, he sat at the table, and somewhat dramatically announced "This is the last meal I'm going to eat with my family".

I felt a little bit guilty - I had been preparing him for a welcome home dinner to end all welcome home dinners, then realised that our Bank Holiday camper van excursion would put paid to that - hard to prepare a roast on a 2 ring gas cooker... I quickly 'fessed up and offered him the choice of meals before he went.

So what did he choose? 

Roast lamb

Yorkshire pudding (I had to put aside my hang ups about only having Yorkshire pudding with beef)

Roast potatoes crisp with semolina, carrots and leeks.

And pineapple upside down cake.

This morning, there were no tears (from either of us), only far more hugs than I would ever normally get in the presence of his friends, and plenty of excitement. Already, this evening, there are photos on the class pages of his school website which suggest that he is having an 'epic' time - and this evening he is badger watching. In the words of every 9 year old, the country over - 'Awesome'. In the photos, he looks happy and relaxed.

I like to think that his 'last supper' contributed to that.

Friday, 26 April 2013

5:2 Friday #4

My last weekend was full of wine, cake and delicious things culminating in more cake and wine on Monday - my birthday. I nearly decided to just chuck in the diet towel - for the week at least, but fortunately, I got a grip of myself and resolved to make up for all the indulgence. It's one thing fasting on 2 days and eating 'sensibly' on 5, quite another to engage in the gratuitous scoffing that went on...

So yes, where was I? Skinny food. Definitely not cake.

Fast Day 1

Breakfast: 1 Sainsburys whole wheat biscuit (a Weetabix, if you prefer) with 100 ml milk and 50g grated apple (you don't really need to see a picture of that, do you?) 140 cals

Lunch: Roasted butternut squash and blue cheese salad - much more exciting:

Served with some green salad including the fruits of our watercress growing experiment.
Approx 160 calories

Home grown watercress!!

Dinner: A mushroom omelette made with a small finely chopped onion, 100g sliced mushrooms and 2 large eggs. I ate it with a pile of rocket - I love veg box delivery days - and soem more watercress. Approx 200 calories.

Total for the day - about 500 calories

Fast Day 2

For reasons that I may or may not get round to telling you about (it's nothing mysterious) my second fast day went from 2 p.m. Thursday to 2 p.m. Friday (basically so I could eat cake on a course on Thursday, and have wine on Friday night).

Dinner (on Thursday evening) Cod grilled with a tomato and olive sauce which is something I tweaked from a Good Food favourite, plus a big green salad. Approximately 200 calories

Breakfast: A weetabix and 100ml semi-skimmed milk 116 calories

Post dog walk: black coffee and a banana. 95 calories. 

Lunch: 2 slices of prosciutto and a bowl of rocket. 86 calories

Total for the Day: 497 calories

If you're interested in some of the other meals I've eaten on my fast days, you can see previous posts here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Chicken Under a Brick - a Random Recipe

Yes, you read it right.

Chicken Under a Brick. Not in it. Definitely under it. Actually, it was 2 poussin, if we're being strictly accurate.

Using Dom's random recipe number generator for this month's Random Recipe challenge, book 26 turned out to be Nigellisima, page 90 was Chicken Under a Brick.

I was really pleased that Nigellisima was the chosen book - despite receiving it at Christmas, I have done little more than salivate my way through it. I wasn't going to use the random number generator to choose the page too, but it fell open far too conveniently at the olive oil chocolate cake which I have been considering for some time now, so in order to enter into the true spirit of the challenge, I went the whole hog, put the number of pages in the generator, and ended up with poussin.

I've never cooked poussin before. Little birds remind me of a time in France when many pigeons were served up on a platter in front of me. All those little bodies. My 17 yr old self was unable to contemplate it.

My nearly 41 yr old self was far happier with the idea, and a quick conversation with my butcher secured me 2 little bodies. Just right for my almost 41st birthday dinner.

The brick bit is quite interesting - you have to spatchcock the birds (easily done with some heavy duty kitchen scissors) and marinade them in lemon zest and juice, thyme, chilli, garlic and oil, and the brick (covered in foil) then holds them flat in the pan when you cook them, first on the hob and then in the oven. It also, apparently, gets the skin crispy. The recipe isn't on line anywhere but if you google Nigella's chicken under a brick, you'll get a good idea of what's involved!

I also got to use my rather smart neon pink tongs for removing the birds from the marinade, turning them half way through cooking, and for general poking about in the pan. It's the little things, you know...

To go with, I decided to have a Nigella blow out. We had a butternut squash in the veg box, and Express has a rather tasty affair involving blue cheese and pecans with roasted squash.  

On the plate together, a tasty and colourful dinner:

The poussin were absolutely delicious. I followed the recipe to the letter, with no variations apart from not marinading it for as long as Nigella suggests (because I had overlooked that part of the recipe) but 2 hours was fine. The only thing I'd do differently next time is leave out the salt from the marinade, but otherwise, the meat was just beautifully tender, with loads of lovely juices. This would be perfect on a BBQ as well.

I have to say that had I not randomly chosen this recipe, I would have looked at it and mentally filed it as too involved - simply because of wrapping a brick in foil, it would seem. I did also have a residual concern about the strength of the shelves in my oven. Having now cooked it, I will definitely do it again - so what do I know? Matthew Fort reviewed Nigellissima for the Guardian's Word of Mouth blog last September commented that recipes in the book that 'tempt the most are the most straightforward' and he cites this one as an example of that. He's right. 

I don't often stack up my blog challenge entries but as well as Dom's challenge, I can't resist adding this to the current Forever Nigella challenge with the theme of 'colourful', hosted by Elizabeth at A Girl in her Kitchen for Sarah at Maison Cupcake

and also to Karen's Herbs on Saturday, hosted by Karen herself this month, because both the poussin and the butternut squash recipes (which are admittedly Nigella's and not my own) have thyme in them, adding to the flavours.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Raspberry Polenta Cake - Forever Nigella 25

The sun! What a glorious thing it is to cast off the tyranny of winter. This seems to have happened all of a sudden too - one minute damp, gloomy, miserableness and then all of a sudden SUNSHINE. The bats are back in the garden at dusk and I heard a cuckoo while I was out walking the dog in the early morning. I want to cast caution to the wind, shave my legs, paint my toenails and swish about in a dress and flipflops for the next 6 months. I might even add a sunhat, just for good measure.

Can you tell I'm in a good mood?

So anyway, one of the things that happens round here when the sun comes out is that everyone gets more sociable than usual, and our plans for a quiet Saturday evening were thrown out of the window with an invite for a general get together with some friends.

Beer, a fire pit, marshmallows. What could be better? 

My contribution was a hastily rustled up cake, loosely based on Nigella's rhubarb cornmeal cake from Domestic Goddess. Based on the fact that I had no rhubarb, but plenty of rasperries in the freezer, I adapted heavily: used the raspberries pretty well frozen, replaced cinammon with the zest of a lemon (I happen to know for a fact that the Goddess would approve of the rasp/lemon combo), used self raising flour rather than plain (none in the cupboard) 0% fat Greek yoghurt rather than bio yoghurt. I also used a rather unconventional cake making method, having mixed up all the dry ingredients including the sugar together in a bowl as a result of recipe-blindness, leaving me nothing to cream my butter with. Not that I'd necessarily recommend it as a method, but there doesn't appear to have been any harm done.

And the colours - well gorgeous - a rich yellow batter partly from the cornmeal, and partly from the eggs that the chickens obligingly produced, studded with the deep ruby raspberries, and that was just before it was cooked... 

Just right for this month's Forever Nigella, hosted by Elizabeth at A Girl in Her Kitchen for Sarah at Maison Cupcake, with the theme 'colourful'.

Raspberry Polenta Cake

500g frozen raspberries
300g caster sugar
150g self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
zest of a lemon, finely grated
155g fine polenta
2 large eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
75g soft unsalted butter and 50g Stork margarine 
250g 0% fat Greek yoghurt

23cm Springform cake tin, buttered and lined

Pre-heat the oven to 180C

Mix together the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, bicarb, salt, lemon zest and polenta). Whisk together the eggs and the vanilla. Beat together the butter and marg till soft and fluffy then add in the egg mixture a little at a time, After each addition, add a little of the dry ingredient mix to prevent the egg curdling. Once the eggs are added, alternate between yoghurt and the rest of the dry ingredients mix until everything is just mixed. Fold in the raspberries (still frozen) and bake. This is quite a long process - Nigella's original cake is supposed to take 1hr in total, but I remember it taking longer when I followed the recipe. My version, well, I checked after 40 minutes and covered the tin with foil to stop the cake catching, then checked again at an hour. I gave it another 20 minutes, then an additional 15 minutes. And then 10 minutes more...

The resulting cake had quite a crisp outside layer as a result of the lengthy cooking, but a lemony cake inside with a lovely raspberry layer at the bottom.

The general consensus was that the crispy outside was a pretty good contrast with the inside of the cake, and all in all pretty good.

And with a good dollop of cream it was really rather good.

And after chilli, and cake, we lit a bonfire, let the kids rampage around the fields next door to the garden and watched the moon. Perfect.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Ironing Queen

She can glide, she can cree-ease,
No more frustrated house wi-i-ife (oo ooo),
See her fold, watch that steam
She is the Ironing Queen...

I remember lovingly ironing the Husband's fatigues in those heady days of newly-wedded bliss (well, the days after he'd got back from Bosnia, where he spent the first 6 months of our married life). Apparently his staff sergeant openly mocked his appearance, suggesting that his wife might have ironed his uniform (a great insult - I was duly wounded). Not only that, I had ironed the creases into the wrong places so he had to re-wash his uniform to put the creases back where they should have been. A lesson well learned.

I suppose I just feel that life is a little too short to worry about creases. Of course, I don't practise what I preach. Coward that I am, once a week or so (usually when there is more than one epsiode of NCIS running back to back on 5 USA - well, we all have a guilty secret or two, don't we) I will stand in front of the TV, shackled to the ironing board, a prisoner of convention, longingly secretly to break out. I mean, I'm sure no one would notice what I look like (I rarely do), but in a society where some people seem to consider sending your children to school with creased clothes as a form of abuse, I bow to the pressure and iron. The Husband irons too, being well trained, and far more enthusiastic about it than I, but due to differing work pressures and the fact that he is often not here, I do far more ironing than I would like. 

Perversely, I do enjoy ironing 2 items. Tea towels and pillow cases. Note that both are flat and rectangular, usually without complicated pleats or a likelihood of scorching (I am a sucker of 100% cotton). Ironing these items gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction - I love sleeping with my head on a pillow encased in a freshly ironed pillow case (note that I do not iron any other item of bed clothing) - and I have a tea towel fetish (did I really say that?). Nothing pleases me more than a drawer of freshly ironed tea towels. Er actually, plenty of things please me more than that, but you know, it does make me feel a little bit like I am in control of my life - that the tea towels are ironed. Sad but true.

"But what is this?" I hear you cry. "Why is she talking about the ironing? Where is the cake?"

Well, my friends, this is not some new dimension to my weight loss programme, oh no - this is far more exciting.

I am on a panel. An 'innovation panel' no less. She who can barely drive her new iPhone. Yes indeed.

So how did this come about? Well through Mumsnet, as it happens. And now I am a member of the Tefal Innovation Panel. I have a badge too :

Last week, I spent a hugely enjoyable and informative day at the home of Tefal and Groupe SEB, in Windsor, being introduced to some of their products and meeting the other lovely blogger members of the panel. 

The very next day, I received an iron and a whizzy kitchen gadget about which I shall be blogging separately (you'll have to wait).

So the iron. Rather ironic as a food blogger that it is the iron that has caught my imagination. Not just any old iron. Oh no. I am in possession of a Tefal Pro-Express Turbo no less.

The Husband is in his element. I swear I caught him rubbing his thighs when he saw it ready for action. This is kind of like the iron equivalent of the all terrain off road buggy - I mean, I know his miltary background makes him more likely than most men to appreciate a good iron, but in the same way that Phil & Teds made it cool for the Dad to push the buggy (and opened up a whole opportunity for conversations about handling and tyre depth with other Dads), this steam iron is more than just a device to get your clothes flat. There is pressure to discuss, there are hoses, there is patented anti-calc technology. Blinded by science yet?

Despite the fact that it has been glorious this weekend, I have had need to iron. Blue is off on a residential trip soon and I had to get some name tapes into some of his clothes (the ones I'd like him to bring home, at least). I used to sew name tapes in but now I get the iron in ones. And seeing as how the iron was all steamed up and ready for use, and I had some tea towels and pillow cases fresh from the line, I thought I'd give it a go. 

Not being a true connoisseur of irons, I don't have a huge amount to compare this to, apart from the previous iron:

Bearing that in mind, this is what I can report so far:

- the Tefal Pro-Express Iron is an iron (!!) and it works well (you'd hope so) 
- the unit as a whole is not as heavy as it looks and the iron itself is pretty light (but not lightweight if you know what I mean)
- it is easy to fill the water unit (no sloshing around trying to pour it into a hole that is clearly too small)
- it heats up very quickly
- there is a very groovy lock which secures the iron to the unit
- there is an automatic off function which means no more panics about whether I left the iron on after a last minute "we can't go out looking like we've been dragged through a hedge backwards" ironing frenzy followed by hasty exit
- the cord is stored inside the unit and there is a little button to press which retracts the cord once it's unplugged
- there are lots of functions and lights to keep the menfolk happy
- it steams very effectively and my teatowels and pillow cases are beautifully crisp having been line dried in the sunshine and steam ironed
- it doesn't spit bits of limescale randomly out all over your clothes - but may be this is because it is a new iron and the old one was knackered
- the steam is really good - there is a button for constant steam and a button just for the odd blast of it. It does make some rather disconcerting (and I think unintended) noises, especially for the blast function - we're not talking space invader type bleeps here, but this adds a certain thrill to the whole process
- The Husband thinks it is a marvel

So there you have it. I will no doubt at some point update you as to my ironing endeavours - I think I need the thrill of the new to wear off, but you know, for now, it's all good. 

May be, you never know, the Ironing Queen in me is about to break into song... 

I was provided with a Tefal Pro-Express Turbo as part of my particpation in the Tefal Innovation Panel for which I was selected after applying via a Mumsnet request. I was not required to provide a positive review and all the views expressed here are my own - apart from those of the Husband

Friday, 19 April 2013

5:2 Friday#3

So this is a STOP PRESS moment. After I wrote last week's post and claimed I was stuck at a weight loss hump, I got on the scales and realised that I had somehow managed to lose about 6 pounds somewhere - and had pretty much dropped a stone since I started trying to sort my weight out. So technically, I'm was where I wanted to get to, give or take.The scales confirmed this a couple of days later, but then bounced up (not massively so, but enough) again, which does leave me wondering just how sustainable this is - I mean it's getting weight off, short term, but I'm not sure I'm really tackling the day to day habits that lead to me putting it all on in the first place. I need to think this out a little more, so for now I'll keep on going.

Here's what I ate on my fast days this week.

Day 1 - Monday

Breakfast: A pink grapefruit and a kiwi.

Trying to make it look artful doesn't make it any more filling
This was a rash idea - by the time I'd dropped the kids at school and walked the dog, I was completely ravenous and had to have a coffee with milk, and a banana for fear of going into some kind of hunger melt down. I had work to do, after all. It could have been worse - there was chocolate cake knocking around - but this demonstrated that I really do need something more then just fruit inside me first thing. I'd kind of hoped to get away with a smaller breakfast and make up for it with some Ryvita at lunch time as well as some Greek yoghurt in my soup (living on the edge), but it was not to be. Ho hum. The grapefruit & kiwi was a mere 81 cals, but the coffee and banana bumped my morning intake up to 183 cals in total.

Lunch: my surprisingly delicious swede soup. 71 calories. I would have had some Greek yoghurt in it (0% fat of course) and possibly thrown on some toasted cumin seeds, but I'd over caloried topping up my breakfast. May be next time.

Tea: I'd intended to make a rather sophisticated shredded red cabbage and orange salad, but when I cut in to the cabbage it was clear that it had been in the veg basket too long... I was trying to work out what to have bearing in mind the contents of the cupboard and fridge, and was reaching for the noodles, when I realised that I could continue the 'vegetables as carbohydrate' theme and make leek and carrot 'noodles' by thinly slicing them lengthways and quickly cooking them in boiling water. I used 2 leeks and a carrot, and then dry fried about 8 mushrooms (sliced) with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and topped my 'noodles' with this and a drained 105g can of salmon. I LOVE tinned salmon. More salt, pepper and lemon juice (I'd have used some soy sauce if I'd had any) and it was a pretty tasty meal - and all for just over 200 calories. I had a passion fruit too, bringing the total to 218 calories.

Total: 472 calories

Day 2

Breakfast: Bearing in mind the disaster on Monday, I had a shredded wheat with 100ml milk - 121 calories.

I suppose I also need to count the fizzy Vitamin C tablet I had in the vain hope of stopping a cold in its tracks, and the milk I had in my post-dogwalk coffee - about 150 calories all in, then.

Lunch: Mmm this is starting to look a little uninspired, isn't it 

3 slices of Ryvita, 2 with salt beef, one with a scrape of marmite, and a sliced tomato, followed by a passion fruit - coming in at 154 calories. May be the novelty is starting to wear off...

Tea: Everyone else was having egg, chips and salad, because the chickens are now in overdrive, so it was easy to fit in when the other 3 wanted their eggs cooked differently. The Husband had poached, Blue wanted soft boiled and Pink an omelette. I am nothing if not accomodating. Having cooked to order, I made myself a spinach omelette and had a big plate of salad which included 40g of broad beans. The eggs and broad beans amounted to 178 calories. I had a handful of spinach and the salad won't have amounted to much calorie wise so I'm saying that it most likely came in at around about or less than what I had left for the day - no more than 196 calories

Other than the white coffee I had in the morning, I drank mainly hot water with slices of lemon and black lapsang souchong (I know, so refined) tea.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Pastry - and pasties

OK, so I don't want you to think I'm getting too big for my boots here, but allow me to whisper something

*I may have cracked pastry*

There. I won't say it too loudly, but 3 times in as many weeks, I have made pastry and it's worked out OK.

Admittedly not 'short as short' shortcrust pastry, but pastry nonetheless.

First, I made Hugh F-W's swede and potato pasties from Veg Everyday, which involves his rough puff pastry. A bit of rolling and turning is required, but really, this is very little effort pastry and tastes brilliant.

Then, a rather unusual rapeseed oil and spelt flour affair as part of a leek tart that appears in Rose Elliot's 30 Minute Vegetarian. My mother in law was down for the weekend a couple of weeks ago. She is a vegetarian and this book is a great resource - the meals are brilliantly easy, very tasty and dead quick. Not necessarily a good thing, I'll grant you, if you were hoping to escape to the kitchen for a while - although don't ask ME why you'd want to do that, oh no... But I digress. I'd planned this for Sunday lunch, but she had to leave early, so we spent the day in the garden and I made this for tea. And in case you were wondering, because she'd gone home, I added some ham. 

The pastry literally involved mixing the flour and oil together with a little water, then rolling it out between clingfilm 

before lining the tin and baking blind. 

OK, so may be a little patching was required

The Husband thought it was a bit odd - it does have quite a strong flavour - a combination of the rapeseed oil and the spelt flour - and the texture of the pastry, once baked was a little crumbly, but I liked it. Actually, the tart as a whole was pretty good. Pink didn't like it that much, but Blue who I was expecting to wail and moan about it, pronounced it delicious. The filling is what you'd expect from a quiche, but without the eggs. You thicken the filling (cream, leeks, say no more) with cornflour, pile it into the pastry case, and give it a final blast in the oven.

Thus inspired, and hot on the heels of my outing with the kids in Daisy to Bracknell forest last week, we loaded up the van last Sunday, and headed out to a relatively local beauty spot/place of interest called Combe Gibbet (or 'Combe Giblet' as Pink rather endearingly insisted on calling it). As you might have guessed, it's a hill where they used to hang people. Rather a grisly destination, but the kids were pretty delighted by the potential horror of it all, and all things considered, the view was pretty spectacular at the top.

It was quite windy, though!

"All this wind plays havoc with one's hairdo..."
Anyway, an outing requires a picnic, so I used my new found pastry confidence (and the fact that I had no plain flour left in the cupboard, only spelt flour) to adapt the swede and potato pasties from Veg Everyday to make some mini swede, leek and potato pasties.

We ate them with brown sauce, followed by left over chocolate cake. A feast indeed! 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A chocolate cake for people who don't like chocolate cake

I may have lamented here before that Pink doesn't like chocolate cake.

That doesn't stop me trying.

On Saturday, my father in law came for the day. He took us out for lunch (woo hoo!) so I thought I'd better have the wherewithal in to provide 'tea'.

Tea as it is in the Husband's family is something I never came across growing up. Sure, if we'd had a huge Sunday lunch, we would have a light meal - boiled eggs or something, but the Husband's family does this thing where you have a huge meal in the middle of the day and then, perhaps no more than 3 hours (if you are lucky) later, the table is once again filled to groaning point with ham, cheese, bread, butter, jam, sliced tomatoes, salad, pickles and the like, plus at least one kind of cake and may be some biscuits, and you are expected to eat. And eat. And drink tea. It can be quite hard going.

The worst time this happened was the day after the Princess of Wales died. I will never ever forget that day, not because I had any particular love of Diana, but that was the day the Husband and I were due to pay a visit to 'Nan' - his grandmother - a formidable lady probably in her late 80s (she is now 102 and still going, although not quite so strongly), and I woke up feeling not very well. Ordinarily, we would have cried off, but Nan was and is a huge Royalist and we knew she would have been upset by the news, so we carried on as intended. By the time I'd womanfully worked my way through an enormous roast lunch, I was feeling really poorly, and kept having to excuse myself to be sick, but we didn't want to worry her - or lead her to believe that I was pregnant (I wasn't telling her that I wasn't feeling well, and we weren't married at the time, so pregnancy would not have been good). Nan, you'll understand, is also not one to hold with diets or any of that sort of thing, so there was no option but to plough on through for tea. That I managed to keep a grip and put up a good enough show of eating that Nan didn't ask me if I was anorexic is a testament to my otherwise non-existent acting skills. It was not a good day. In fact, it turns out that I had viral meningitis, but that's a whole other story.

But back to the purpose of this post. Chocolate cake. I was determined not to produce some enormous feast for tea, but I did want to have a cake available. I was musing out loud about this to the Husband, when he interrupted. "Can it just be like a NORMAL cake. Nothing healthy. Just cake. Actually, can it be chocolate - but proper chocolate cake.". Poor man is obviously feeling the strain of living with woman on a diet, where cake made with pureed dates just isn't cutting it.

Well, Saturday wasn't one of my fast days, so I set to. Chocolate, he wanted, and chocolate he got. This started off as Nigella's old fashioned chocolate cake, with icing from the Chocolate Malteser cake, both of which are in Feast. However, once I got started, I did fiddle about a bit (with apologies to both Nigella and the Husband) based on what I had available and to try and accomodate Pink, and I did (ssh) put fat-free Greek yoghurt in it rather than sour cream. But otherwise, a perfectly acceptable, made with proper butter and chocolate cake. And the best thing about it was that Pink liked it. She liked it so much that she wants it for her birthday cake. Praise indeed.

 200g plain flour
100g caster sugar
50g drinking chocolate
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g soft unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
170ml 0% fat Greek yoghurt

20cm round springform cake tin, buttered and 'floured' with cocoa powder (Note: I started off thinking I'd make 2 sandwich tins, then decided I wanted one fat cake, topped with icing. Then once I'd baked it, I decided to split and fill it anyway. So may be it would be better to have done it in 2 tins to start with...)

Make sure everything is at room temperature, then pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz them up to a smooth thick batter. Scrape this in to the tin, then bake for around 35 - 45 minutes till a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and leave to cool on a rack.

For the icing, you will need:

250g icing sugar
2 dessert spoons of cocoa
125g very soft unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of boiling water

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a mixer, then add the butter in cubes and start to mix together, slowly at first then as it starts to get combined, turn the speed up. Add the boiling water and continue to beat till you get a smooth buttercream.

I split the cake and iced the middle and the top.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

'Souper' swede

Swede gets a bit of a bad deal really, I think.

Relegated to being confused with turnips, lumped into that class of 'root veg' that no none really knows what to do with, not the most attractive vegetable on the block.

I'm as guilty as anyone else of this, but this last winter, it's been apparent that the kids really like it - when they have turned their noses up at other 'sweet' veg like sweet potato and butternut squash, they somehow seem to really like the taste of swede, which I think is also quite sweet. They have enjoyed it mashed with haggis and in pasties.

I got a swede in my veg box last week, and was thinking of other possibilities to make a star of it. Nothing inspirational came to mind, but based on on a recipe I saw in Rose Elliot's rather fabulous 30 Minute Vegetarian book, I made this soup.

Yes, I know it doesn't look like much (why do you think I put it in a pretty mug for the photo?) but adding cinammon and cumin really makes this into quite delicious soup. Even I was surprised by how tasty it was - almost like chestnut in its velvetiness, and very comforting. The Husband was very rude on Twitter about how excited I got with the results, and had the temerity to talk about turnip soup as if I was recreating something from the gulag, but believe me, not him (and anyway, he's away for a week so I can eat it to my heart's content).

And yes, it's 5:2 friendly. 425ml of this rocks up at a mere 71 calories.

Cinammon Swede Soup

500g swede (peeled weight)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
5ml olive oil
2 kallo organic veg stock cubes made up with 1.5 litres boiling water
a sprinkling each of ground cinammon and cumin

Gently heat the oil in a large pan, then add the swede, onion and celery and sweat gently for 5-10 minutes, stirring every now and then. Sprinkle in the cinammon and cumin, stir and cook for a couple of minutes then add in the stock, some salt and pepper, bring tot he boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes till the swede is cooked.


You could serve with some Greek yoghurt in it, or some toasted cumin seeds - or even both. Rose Elliot fries onions and cumin seed to garnish hers with, and I bet that would be delicious too.