Friday, 31 May 2013

Arabian nights - cardamon coffee & dates, and a distinct lack of inspiration

May be it's the fact that for the last week, I haven't actually had to cook anything apart from some bacon sarnies, but I am completely and utterly all out of enthusiasm for my kitchen. A weekend at mum's (from which I have returned with yet another rhubarb cake recipe - possibly the best yet - watch this space) followed by camping with the kids, and I'm back in my house, in my own kitchen and can I think of anything at all that I want to cook? Nope.

So while I'm waiting for inspiration to strike (and it better strike soon or the troops will be mutiny-ing) I'll share a little delight that the Husband treated me to this evening (no not THAT kind of treat - this is a family friendly blog).

The Husband has been off in the desert doing things I do not particularly choose to understand, and which, even if I did, I couldn't tell you about. When not involved in those things, he has been meeting camels, taking photos of lizards, and enjoying the hospitality that is customary in that part of the world. While it appears that much of the food available to him and his colleagues was met at best with unease ('chicken enema' being the least popular dish on the 3 day rotating menu. I say no more), he did enjoy some Bedouin hospitality in the form of cardamon coffee and dates, while lounging about in a carpeted tent. You get the picture. The following day, one of his hosts appeared with bags of Arabic coffee, a bag of cardamon pods and packs of dates and some vague instructions for preparation.

This evening, the Husband cooked pasta carbonara with asparagus from the garden. It was delicious - I meant to take a photo to sing his praises further, but it was too tasty and it all disappeared far too quickly). He then offered to make me Arabic coffee, and Blue, who adores dates, persuaded him to let us crack open the dates.

Dates are a very prized commodity in the part of the world where the Husband was staying, and these are completely delicious. Honestly, you may scoff, but they are almost chocolatey in their texture and ability to satisfy. And this from a confirmed chocoholic. I have no idea, but I'd guess these were up at the top of the date charts.

The coffee - well, the instructions were to make up the coffee, and add 1 part ground cardamom pods to 2 parts coffee used after the water has been added to the coffee.

Apart from the fact that it gave us the chance to use my Granny's coffee jug and cups which I love with a passion, I was really intrigued as to what it would taste like.

Coffee-wise, it's not nearly as strong as you might imagine. I'm no coffee connoisseur, although I definitely prefer ground to instant, and I was expecting some kind of Turkish-so-strong-your-spoon-stands-up-in-it brew, but no, this was much more delicate. The cardamom was the dominant taste, but in a good way, although we erred on the side of overdoing it and added the shells as well as the seeds to the brew. Combined with the dates, it was a really delicious end to a meal - and much grander than the occasion itself.

I'd like to try it with a stronger coffee, and may be leave out the shells, and just go with the ground cardamom seeds. I can also feel the stirrings of a cardamom coffee date cake...

While we were enjoying these delicacies, the Husband shared with us the story that his host had passed on, that all boys in that part of the world are taught how to make this coffeee as one of the first things they do. Blue digested this fact, and then recounted how, in Ancient Egypt, baboons were trained to collect dates. he paused and then went on, with 9yr old glee "And did you know, it was supposed to be really good luck to have dates that the baboons had poo'd on.". 

Thanks darling. Back to chicken enema in one swift conversational move. I really need to get some inspiration quick.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Curry in a hurry? No, on the beach, actually - A review of the Barricane Beach Cafe

So the second May Bank Holiday is upon us. The Husband is still in the desert and I have escaped North for a couple of days, before returning South and taking the kids camping on my own. I won't speculate about my sanity - I lost most of that on the M1 on Friday afternoon/evening -  or the likely success or failure of the planned expedition at this stage. If I'm not totally traumatised by the whole thing, I may share the highlights at some point, but for now, I am reminiscing about the first May Bank Holiday.

It feels like an age away, and yet is was only a few weeks ago, that we went with some great friends, to North Devon, and had a totally brilliant weekend away.

Liz's photo of our camp by night...

If you're interested in the campsite we stayed at, you can read the guest review I wrote for the lovely Yellowfields Camping blog. If you're interested in campfire campsites, and more back to basics camping, you really should visit this blog, but here, as you know, it's mostly about the food.

One of the reasons why it was such a great weekend was that it allowed us the opportunity to eat curry on the beach as the sun went down. In England. In May. 

Allow me to present the Barricane Beach Cafe.

When the Husband and I 'discovered' this place, thanks to a throw away comment in the 'Wild Swimming - Coast' book by Daniel Start (which I would thoroughly recommend if you have even half an inclination to swim in the sea around the UK. What? You don't? Why ever not??) we couldn't believe it. Just round the corner from the surf paradise of Woolacombe, more a cove than a beach, is the lovely Barricane, or Shell Beach, and at the top of the beach, not much more than a shack, outdoor tables only, is this cafe. Al fresco dining at its best.  

On our first visit 3 or 4 years' ago, the kids were too young to appreciate the experience (if my memory serves me well, Pink was particularly objectionable), but we recognised it as 'a special place', and I've been itching to go back ever since.

I have never been able to find a dedicated website for the Barricane Beach Cafe - it crops up, though, on other blogs. Trip Advisor has a whole load of rave reviews on it, and these are ones you can actually believe. During the day, it serves sandwiches, cakes, cold cans of drink - the usual. From 6 p.m. though, curry is served.

Currently £8 for a generous plateful, we had the choice of 'devilled chicken' or 'devilled beef' curry. More Malaysian/ Thai style than Indian, but no less delicious for that. And that's it. 2 choices. With rice and salad. Perfect (although jacket potatoes are available making it an ideal place to go if you need to satisfy less sophisticated palates at the same time).

Thrown in with that is the opportunity to eat your plate whilst gazing out to sea as the sun goes down, and feel awash with goodwill. Which, as the advert goes, is priceless.

Your view - should you choose to accept it...

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Rhubarb Amaretti Crunch

I may have mentioned before that a glut of rhubarb is never something I consider to be a problem.

I love the stuff and the kids do too.

I was in 'empty the fridge' mode this evening, and trying to cook a reasonably special tea for Blue who for once got me all to himself after school.

Half empty pots of soured cream and 0% fat Greek yoghurt, some amaretti biscuits, and rhubarb in the garden. Pudding!

This is barely a recipe, and while I was conscious that I was going to blog it, I didn't pay a huge amount of attention to the quantities I was using. But it doesn't matter, because this is absolutely the type of thing that you can muck about with. No amaretti biscuits - use ginger biscuits. I expect Hobnobs would be OK too, although either almonds or ginger do go particularly well with rhubarb, so bear that in mind when choosing your crunch element. As for the dairy product - you could use whipped double cream, natural yoghurt... You could even change the rhubarb for something entirely different. Although, then, it wouldn't be Rhubarb Amaretti Crunch...

Rhubarb Amaretti Crunch

Serves 2

170g rhubarb
1tbsp soft brown sugar
juice of half an orange
2 generous tbsp sour cream
2 generous tbsp 0% fat Greek yoghurt
amaretti biscuits

First, trim the rhubarb and slice into small pieces. Add to a pan with the sugar and orange juice and gently cook till soft, then set aside. 

Mix together the sour cream and the yoghurt.

Divide the cooked rhubarb between 2 glasses, and carefully spoon some of the cream/yoghurt mix on top. Crumble some amarettis on top then repeat till all is used up, or the glasses are full.

Serve, with extra amaretti biscuits if you have some.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Lemon & Almond Buns - A Random Recipe

There always comes a time when there's a change of routine when you need to bring out the big guns. It's a watershed moment that can be easy to spot if you've experienced it a few times. 

Things are different, no-one's really settled into whatever the change is. Comfort and indulgence is the order of the day to get everyone over the hump and get on with the rest of whatever it is.

Comfort came bun shaped today
I've observed this on Scout Camp the last few years. usually around Day 3. That's when we pull out the biscuits and the hot chocolate at bed time, do some mass jollying along.

Here in the RJ household, we had our own jollying along moment on Sunday morning.

The Husband headed off last Monday for what is probably the longest time he's been away from us since he left the Army. While he's sitting in the desert, surrounded by 'MaMBA' (No, not snakes, Miles and Miles of Bugger All), posting the occasional photo of a lizard on Facebook, Blue, Pink, Fred the Dog, the chickens and I have been trying to sort out a new modus operandi, not required for the shorter trips he's often making. There has been a Daddy-less 7th birthday and a couple of late nights because somehow things have slipped. There has been fractious bickering, there have been tears. The kids are responsible for feeding the chickens and watering the greenhouse - I am responsible for making sure they remember they are responsible. There has been an angry moment (mine) with the lawn mower (don't go there), and more tears (the kids) when the internet occasionally fails to allow Skype to work for the brief period of time when a conversation with Daddy is appropriate.

When I selected my Random Recipe for Dom's challenge for this month -  'Bread' , I wasn't really sure when I'd get round to baking and entering the challenge. My selection of bread baking books and bread baking sections of books included the Sweet & Fruit breads chapter in 'Short & Sweet' by Dan Lepard, and this recipe was where my page flicking ended up. Lemon & Almond Buns - "... a lemon flavoured butter dough that bakes like brioche around a gooey core of marzipan..." Delicious, sure, but a month full of camping, working out my notice at work and preparing to go freelance, sailing the ship on my own, I wasn't sure that there would be time.

Well, may be there wasn't time, but what became apparent over Saturday was that time or not, the kids needed some indulgence. This would normally have been a cinammon bun moment, but instead, the moment for Lemon & Almond Buns arose.

Now, having already fallen foul of Mr Lepard's rather zealous business manager in the past check out the comments), I am not going to even begin to repeat the recipe here. However for those of you wishing to recreate these beautiful buns, you will be pleased to know that they were published in the Guardian Online in 2006 and you can find the recipe here.

Pretty straightforward, although you need to start the night before to get a rough dough into the fridge, and if you want them for breakfast before about 9, you need to be up just before 7, which is fine unless you've had more than a couple of glasses of morale boosting wine with your lovely and supportive neighbours after you've manhandled the kids into bed, tears wiped, stories read,  in which case you might end up having breakfast a little later on...

It's an enriched, lemon scented bread dough which needs little kneading.

From this...

You roll it out into a 70cm by 10cm rectangle, 

to this

then put a sausage of marzipan into the middle of the rectangle and seal the dough over it before slicing into pieces, proving and baking.

The only thing that I can tell you about the recipe is that I had no flaked almonds in, so instead of brushing the cooked buns with melted butter, sprinkling with toasted flaked almonds and dredging with icing sugar, I made up a runny lemon icing using the juice of a lemon (the zest had already gone into the dough), and then sprinkled with poppy seeds.

What can I say? The lemony brioche type bread was light, lemony (as promised) and delicious. The marzipan was oozy and heavenly. The kids LOVED it, and have requested a repeat performance next week, and the next. And strangely enough, everything calmed down today. 

10 days to go...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sage & Onion Stuffing - made fresh for Fresh Week

Stuffing is something that I'll readily admit to buying, dried, ready to reconstitute with water and roast. With the challenge of Fresh Week upon me, I decided to make my own to go with the roast pork we had on Sunday.

Adapting a recipe from Mrs Beeton that I found reproduced on line, it was very straightforward, and with a food processor, really not much more trouble than opening a packet and adding boiling water. Tasty too!

4 onions, peeled, but left whole
A handful of sage leaves
125g bread crumbs
40g butter cut into small pieces
1 small egg
salt & pepper

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the onions to cook for 5 minutes. Chuck in the sage leaves for the last minute of cooking. I did this in the pan that I was parboiling the spuds before roasting.

Chop the sage and onion finely in a food processor or with a knife, then mix together with the bread crumbs, butter and the egg, and season.

Put the stuffing into a tin (I adapted one of my tins using tin foil), even out and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or so with your meat.

Unfortunately, we ate it all before I got the chance to take a photograph, but I'd definitely make it again. If you're planning a roast for your Fresh Week Sunday dinner, I'd recommend it.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

An Ode to Rhubarb - and a cake, of course


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

In crumble, in jam, in cake.

With ginger. With orange, With redcurrants. With almonds. 

Roasted, stewed.

Unlike courgettes, a glut of rhubarb fills me with nothing but joy. 

It's been late this year, but it's here now, in all its glory.

And here's a cake worthy of this most glorious of ingredients, based on one I read on the wonderful Caked Crusader's blog, with a dash of Nigella's rhubarb cornmeal cake thrown in. 

Rhubarb, orange, almonds. Go on. You know you want to.

400g rhubarb
280g caster sugar
225g unsalted butter
zest and juice of an orange
125g self raising flour
100g fine polenta
1 tsp baking powder 
100g ground almonds
3 large eggs

Line a 23cm springform tin.

First slice up the rhubarb into 1 cm pieces and put in a bowl with 50g of the sugar.

Mix together the flour, polenta, baking powder and ground almonds in a separate bowl.

Beat together the butter and the rest of the sugar along with the orange zest and juice. It may take some time but eventually you get a thick lovely batter, into which add the eggs one at a time, followed each time with a spoonful of the dry ingredients. When the eggs are all combined, beat in whatever remains of the dry ingredients, then fold in the rhubarb and any juices that have seeped out as its been sitting in the sugar.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the oven at 180C for about an hour - until a skewer comes out clean.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Homemade Fishfingers for Fresh Week

Reader, I have a Fresh Week confession.

So far, Fresh Week has been pretty easy for me because the meals - our main meals, at least, have come from the freezer. My own 'ready meals' if you will. 'Fresh' because I made them from scratch, but not perhaps within the spirit of Fresh Week because the effort was all last week - or even last month. On the other hand, if you are a busy working parent, I firmly believe that the freezer is your friend if you want to cook more from scratch, so perhaps it is within the spirit of the challenge after all - I leave it to you to decide and leave you with the thought that this, if anything, would be my top tip of the week: cook in bulk and freeze.

Last week, I made a vat of aubergine & red pepper pasta sauce and froze it in portions. Easy then, yesterday, to cook up some pasta, stir the defrosted sauce through, grate some cheese on top and whack it under the grill. Home cooked food. No stress. 

This evening, then, more of a challenge. Fish fingers. made from scratch. And chips.  And a play date to cater for.

Now I appreciate that I work from home which makes it slightly easier for me to get ahead, but even so, this is so easy that provided you have all the ingredients in, you can get the meal on the table in an hour. I managed it this evening including skinning the fish.

Homemade Fishfingers & Chips

(served 1 adult and 3 kids)

3 large (baking sized) potatoes

2 large fillets of firm white fish, skinned
plain flour
1 large egg
oatmeal & polenta

First, put the oven on to heat as high as it will go. Put a pan of water on to boil.

Peel the potatoes and slice into chip sizes. When the water is boiling, tip in the chips and cook for 5 minutes, then drain and leave to steam for a few minutes. Put a baking sheet with a tablespoon or two of rapeseed or olive oil on it into the oven to heat up. After about 5 minutes, when the oven is at temperature, carefully remove the baking sheet and tip the chips on to it, shaking them round so they are covered in the hot oil. Put the chips in the oven.

Get your fish ready. You need 3 side plates set up, one with plain flour on it, the next with the egg beaten on it and finally the polenta & oatmeal mixed together. 

I apologise now for the measurement fail, but I just do this by eye. And it doesn't have to be polenta & oatmeal. it can be breadcrumbs, semolina works, or even crushed cornflakes (but not for Fresh Week).

Cut your fish into appropriate pieces, then dip in the flour first, then the egg and finally cover with the crumbs, and place on another greaseproof paper covered baking sheet. Repeat with all the fish.

Now, you need to judge this a bit carefully, but the fish takes about 15 minutes (turned half way through) and the chips take about 35-40 minutes, so check the chips every so often, give them a shake and a turn over with a spatula, and when they are starting to look reasonably cooked, as if they don't need a huge amount more time, drizzle a little oil over the fish and put the fingers in to cook, turning after 6-7 minutes.

When the fish is cooked and golden, the chips should also be cooked. 

Serve with whatever you like. We had carrot sticks, roasted beetroot and salad. You can also include ketchup. I leave it up to you whether you make your own or not...

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Homemade Ketchup - for people with too much time - or too many tomatoes - on their hands

OK. So I reckon we don't eat that much processed food, and I'm taking part in the Tefal Fresh Week challenge which is about cooking from scratch every day for a week. 

One of the processed foods that does feature on our table is ketchup. If you look at the ingredients label of a reputable brand, there's not too much that makes me cringe in there.Then there's all the lycopene you get from processed tomatoes, which (anecdotally, at least) is supposed to be an anti-cancer agent. That's good enough for me, so ketchup makes it on to my own personal 'approved' list.

Still, the thought occurred to me that I could try and make my own. And fortuitously enough, the Husband returned from a night of back woods cooking with the scouts last week with nearly a kilo of tomatoes - the scouts apparently preferring to adorn their wood fire cooked pizza calzone with meat and cheese  rather than anything as damningly healthy as a slice of tomato.

The oven was on for shepherd's pie last night anyway, so I halved the tomatoes, drizzled them with a tablespoon or so of rapeseed oil and some fresh thyme in a roasting tin and bunged them in to roast for an hour.

Once out of the oven, and cooled for half an hour, I pushed the roasted tomatoes through a seive and into a pan. Fortunately, tomato seeds rate highly on the chickens' list of favourite things to eat, so there won't be any waste there.

I had about 300ml of sauce after I'd mushed it through the sieve (pitiful really! The recipe I was loosely following in Veg Everyday called for 1 litre...), to which I added 4 tsp of red wine vinegar and 3 tsp of soft brown sugar along with a pinch of mace and a pinch of ground allspice and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. The ketchup results from then bubbling this down gently to reduce it by half, before adding salt and pepper. And really, this is where it all gets a bit silly. Generally, if something's going to be on the stove top for a long time, I like to be able to bob back and forwards to it, doing other things, rather than be continually stirring. This is pretty high maintenance in that you need to keep stirring to stop it catching. For about 30 minutes. An excessively long time to be tied to the cooker - unless it's for making lemon curd, for which I am always happy to make an exception.

Check out the splatter
In addition, the low water content of the sauce (or something) means that it spits quite viciously. All the way up the kitchen wall. Now I'm not the most houseproud of people, but it really was quite annoying - probably because I was in one of those 'let's be a domestic goddess' moods, and tomato splattering up the walls was not part of that plan. It would never happen to Nigella...

I persisted though, and was rewarded with a pot - a whole 159g of pretty tasty tomato ketchup. 

The proof of course is in the eating, so I served it up to my harshest critic, for breakfast this morning, with eggy bread.


The all important finger test

And the verdict?

"Mmmm, yummy Mummy"

But does it taste like ketchup?

"Well not exactly Mummy, but it's very good."

And she ate it all up.

So there you have it. Homemade ketchup, splatter and all. Tastes pretty good, and overall Pink ranked it her second favourite type of ketchup (she's a connoisseur, you know), which is praise indeed.

Would I make it again? Well, you need a lot of tomatoes to make a decent batch. You could store it, as jam, in sterilised jars/bottles too, so perhaps, if the greenhouse yields bounteously on the tomato front, I might be persuaded to. But the greenhouse has never yet yielded tomatoes in such quantities. And then there's the time. And the stirring and splattering. And you know, there's something very pleasing about squirting ketchup out of a plastic bottle...

Monday, 13 May 2013

Slightly Spicy Mushroom Chard & Chickpea soup

So today didn't get off to a hugely auspicious start, what with being woken at 4.30 to the dulcet tones of Blue throwing up. Never a good way to start the day, let alone the week. I was supposed to be having a 5:2 fasting day, but due to excessive amounts of partying at the weekend (well, excessive for us - 2 dinner parties - practically unheard of social activity for us these days) I was still feeling slightly jaded (shall we say) and not in the mood to face a pink grapefruit, or to forgo milk in my coffee.

Bearing that in mind, for our first 'Fresh Week' breakfast, Pink and I had porridge with stewed rhubarb from the garden.

Blue had some Diaorolyte and the Husband absolved himself from involvement in Fresh Week due to the impending trip, and finished the Weetabix. Not such a hot start, then.

I'd misunderstood when the Husband was leaving for his jaunt to the desert too (he leaves this evening, after tea time), and Pink then decided she didn't want to go on her usual post-school arrangement because Blue wasn't going and the Husband would still be home (understandable really). The usual sort of non-serious muddle that I often find myself in. More importantly, I ended up from planning to feed only myself this evening, to having to find food for all of us.

Cue extraction of a handy shepherds pie from the freezer I made a couple of weeks ago with the leftovers from Blue's 'last meal'. It isn't yet topped with mash, and I used the last of the potatoes up yesterday, so it will be swede and carrot mash. The freezer really is your friend if you want to cook more from scratch. Make things like shepherds pie in bulk and freeze in portion sizes. It might seem like a stress, but it's really not.

Given that everything seems to have spiralled from order to chaos in a matter of moments (does this happen to anyone else? It seems to happen to me frequently), I decided I needed a decent lunch and turned to the last of the veg box and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for inspiration.

I love chard, and I had a bag of ruby chard - dark green leaves, pinky red stems.

I don't know if you can buy it in supermarkets - we usually grow it so I never look for it, although there's none in the garden ready yet. Swiss chard with white stems, 'bright lights' with orange and yellow stems, ruby chard as from the box. I'd be lying, though, if I said my kids love it - or frankly, that they even tolerate it, with its earthy taste - so this was always (happily) destined for me.

This soup is inspired by one in Veg Everyday "Chickpea, Chard and Porcini soup", but as ever I adapted it to suit what I had - fresh mushrooms rather than dried porcini, and where Hugh uses rosemary, I wanted something a bit more robust so reached for the harissa paste for a chilli kick. You could add more as well - mine was quite subtle.

Slightly Spicy Mushroom Chard & Chickpea soup

rapeseed oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic. crushed
1-2 tsp harissa paste
400g chard or spinach, leaves and stalks separated, stalks finely chopped, leaves shredded
100g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
400g tin chopped tomatoes (Fresh Week or not, these will always be in my store cupboard!)
400g tin of chickpeas
500ml vegetable stock (yes, you could make your own from scratch but I used Marigold veg stock powder)
Salt & pepper

Heat a tablespoon or so of rapeseed oil in a large pan and sweat the onions for 10-15 minutes along with the garlic. Chuck in the chopped chard stalks

and the harissa paste for the last 5 minutes, then add in the mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, chick peas and stock, and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes or so before adding the chard leaves, and simmering for 5-7 minutes till the leaves have cooked down.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

I've taken the Tefal Fresh Week challenge to cook fresh food every day from 13th-19th May. You can still join me and make the pledge for a chance to win a Fresh Express Max and a Riverford Organic Veg box. You can read more about that here, where you can also find out how to sign up yourself.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Fresh Week: the Meal Plan (ish). And thoughts on processed food

So, yeah, you know, we've pledged to give up processed food for a week, but that's like, so easy, because we don't eat any processed food anyway.


I had an interesting conversation with the kids yesterday. Tefal Fresh Week runs from 13-19th May, and I have pledged my support. You can read more about that here, where you can also find out how to sign up yourself. 

This also coincides with the first week of a 3 week stint of single parenting as the Husband is conveniently buggering off to the Middle East on Monday. Not only that, it is Pink's much awaited 7th (yes, 7. How did that happen?) birthday on Friday, and the Husband will still be away for half term. Not that I'm making a note or anything.

There has been a reasonable amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth about this (not least from the Husband who isn't necessarily looking forward to the prospect of 3 weeks sitting in a desert) so I thought the challenge of Fresh Week would be a good distraction, for me and the kids at least.

"Next week, we're going to stop eating processed food. What do you reckon?"

"What does that mean? What's processed food?"

"Well, it's when food has been turned into something else." (hastily looking for an example) "Yes, like those" (points at sugared cereal purchased in moment of weakness, and the subject of much self-loathing & inner recrimination since). "And ketchup. Ketchup is processed."

"Is cheese processed?"

"Well, yes"

"And marmite?"

"Yes, marmite"

"What about chutney?" (Blue always has chutney in his sandwiches)

"Well, yes it is processed, but I made it from the fresh ingredients, so it's less processed than shop bought chutney. That would be OK."

"But will I be able to have cheese?"


You get the point, Even though I like to think that we don't eat processed food, the reality is that it's really hard to avoid all 'processed' food unless you only eat meat and vegetables. 

Looking around for some definitions, what it seems to come down to is that  food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it's available for us to eat. Frozen peas. Dried pulses. Boiled eggs. They have all been processed.

To exclude everything that has been processed seems to me to be taking things too far and not actually within the spirit of Fresh Week. We're not being asked to limit our diet simply to fresh vegetables, and meat, and to eat them raw (cooking, after all, is a 'process'.) It's about cooking from scratch, rather than opening a packet and shoving it in the microwave. It's about chopping your own carrots and grating your own cheese (did you know that those who package pre-grated cheese actually add potato starch in to it - I have no idea why. I mean, really - why would you do that?? And is it really quicker to buy it like that?). About starting with raw ingredients and getting your dinner on the table that way.

That said, having had the conversation with the kids, I realised that we do use more processed food than I would perhaps like to admit, albeit that I have mentally sanctioned them as 'OK'.

So here's where we're going with this in the RJ household. Cheese, milk and natural yoghurt are definitely in. So is dried pasta during the week (for my own sanity), although we are going to try making our own at the weekend (the hours are going to fly by...). Home made chutney and jam are in. Maltesers - selected by Pink as the desired decoration for her cake - will have to be in. But only for birthday cake. Within those parameters, as far as possible, I am not going to use anything with 'additives' (artificial or otherwise) - although I may well add seasonings and flavourings as necessary from my spice cupboard. 

Wine. Is. In.

In agreement with the children, breakfast will be porridge, toast made with homemade bread, or eggs. Eggs and bread can be combined into eggy bread (Pink's favourite) or as boiled eggs and toast soldiers. 

Eggy bread. And Ketchup.

Home made bread

There is also homemade jam (a freezer fail on Thursday meant I had to process a whole load of fruit that was in the freezer, so I made raspberry and blackberry 'fridge jam', courtesy of a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall idea in River Cottage Everyday). 

Jam, jam and more jam
We will be eating proper butter rather than the organic butter/sunflower oil spread we normally use. Fresh fruit will be available as usual. Also cooked rhubarb. The garden is full of it. 

On Friday, the 'big birthday' day, there will be breakfast pancakes (providing I can get myself organised - watch this space).

Lunches - well, packed lunches will be as they usually are. Sandwiches (homemade bread - allow me to polish my halo). Blue will be able to have his beloved cheese and chutney combo - after all, I made my own chutney. Tomatoes, cucumber chunks, carrot sticks (peeled and sliced by my own fair hand - no purchased pre-sliced sticks here, thank you very much). Cheese will be sliced from a block of organic cheddar. Hardboiled eggs & cold cooked pasta will feature.  

I have no idea why this photo is upside down either

There will be cake, although the cake for the week has yet to be determined. I'm thinking a lemon drizzle using swede puree which also features in the Harry Eastwood Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache book I got the orange & rosemary cake from. 

One day a week, they have a school dinner.

For me, well, it will be the usual - soup, salad, made fresh depending on what's in the veg box.

Dinner/ tea/evening meal - This will depend a little on the contents of the veg box that I get delivered on a Tuesday evening from a local small holding. That aside, I'm planning realistic meals that reflect what we usually eat, hoping to show that it is easy as a working parent (which I am, although I do have the advantage of working from home) to cook fresh every day. 

There will be a vegetable pasta bake. 

There will be real fish fingers and homemade chips. I may yet make my own ketchup, but don't hold your breath.There will most definitely be an egg based dinner (on that day, there will be no eggs for breakfast) given that with the improvement in the weather, the chickens are laying like mad, and there's only so much cake I can make. Pink has requested chicken fajitas at some point, and to make an occasion of it, we'll make this meal together at the weekend, using our own spice mix and including making the tortilla/flatbreads. And in an attempt to think of another cooking based activity for the weekend and avoid us sinking into the doldrums, the kids and I are going to make our own pasta. 

Puddings - well, I'm guessing rhubarb will feature. Natural yoghurt with jam or honey. That sort of thing.
Blackberry & apple with natural yoghurt, anyone?
  So what do you think? Is this unprocessed enough? Is this fresh enough? Are you taking the challenge? 

I'd love to hear how you get on - and if you take the pledge you will be in with a chance of winning your own Fresh Express Max and a Riverford Organic Box. We've just heard that there are 2 more packages available to win before 19th May. Can't be bad.

And if you want more inspiration, keep reading, and check out my fellow Tefal Innovation Panel Bloggers as they take the pledge: Madame Gourmand, Boo Roo and Tigger Too, Mother Geek, Jacintaz3, Emmy's Mummy, Red Rose Mummy, Romanian Mum, Seasider in the City, Crazy with Twins, Attachment Mummy and The Mad House .

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Get fresh for Fresh Week

So as I was saying a few days ago (I was - were you not listening?), I am one of 12 bloggers selected to form the Tefal Innovation Panel. 

The panel has been set up in conjunction with Mumsnet Bloggers and I attended a launch event in Windsor on 18th April where a number of Tefal products were demonstrated, we ate a jolly fine lunch and had some good chat.

During the course of the day, the idea of Fresh Week was introduced to us.

Fresh Week is a rather splendid idea from Tefal to encourage people to take a pledge (no, not THAT pledge - you can still drink gin) to cast aside processed food and cook fresh, unprocessed food for your family, for a week, from Monday 13th May until Sunday 19th May. And eat it.

If you read this regularly, you will know that I pretty much cook from scratch everyday (bar the odd fish finger, the puff pastry, the custard powder and - well, you know what I mean), and it's something that I feel pretty passionate about. Is making this pledge really such a challenge?

Well, perhaps not - but I am aware that there is a (mis)-conception that cooking from scratch takes too much time, so I am going to concentrate on what we as a family eat day to day for a week, rather than cake or the 'special' food. And I promise to include all the groans as well as any cheers that I get from my kids (and the Husband), and probably some of my own virtual swearing when things go wrong in the process. Time is tight for me at the moment - there's a lot going on in the RJ household - so I hope that I can convince you that fresh is just as easy - and defintiely tastier - than processed food, even when the (homemade) chips are down.

In order to help me on my way, I have been provided with a Fresh Express Max and a box of organic fruit and veg from Riverford Organics, which is all rather exciting. For those of you who haven't come across it before, the Fresh Express Max is a worktop electric chopper/grater.

You too can sign up to take this pledge and be in with a chance of winning your own Tefal Fresh Express and a Riverford Organic Farms basket.

So - I have taken the pledge - you can join me, for a chance to win your own Fresh Express (and Riverford box) by signing up here and let me know how you're getting on.

You can also see how my fellow panellists are doing with their own Fresh Week challenges: Madame Gourmand, Boo Roo and Tigger Too, Mother Geek, Jacintaz3, Emmy's Mummy, Red Rose Mummy, Romanian Mum, Seasider in the City, Crazy with Twins, Attachment Mummy and The Mad House .

Right. Where are those vegetables...

Friday, 3 May 2013

Caramel & sour cherry flapjack - or what M&S don't want you to know

It comes to something, doesn't it, when you're ripping your own recipes out of magazines. 

That makes me sound terribly grand but the truth is, I write a recipe column for our local parish mag (circulation, a whopping 734) and a couple of months ago, I treated them to this flapjack recipe that I made on a whim, having some left over tinned caramel and not wanting to eat it there and then with a teaspoon from the tin. I didn't blog it and then realised that I had thrown away my notes. The relevant issue of the parish mag was the only place it was recorded.

I had to rootle through the various piles around the house to dig the recipe out again (required eating for the weekend's camping trip) - no luck, and then - horrors - as I was emptying out the recycling I realised that my copy of the relevant issue was in there to be chucked out. I ripped out the relevant section, and decided that I'd better blog it and record it, otherwise what had been a happy accident would take me several failed attempts and many tins of caramel to recreate.

The thing that I love so much about these is the similarity to one of my guilty pleasures - those soft flapjacks sold in small bitesize squares in tubs by high end supermarkets. Bitesize, of course means that I always eat far more of them than necessary, and to be honest, I never buy them - but the Husband occasionally produces a half-finished barrel that's been at work. They never last long, and the tubs are great for freezing things in.

For me these are the best flapjacks I have ever made. After many attempts using different methods and ingredients, I may never try another recipe again....

Caramel & Sour Cherry Flapjacks

200g tinned caramel
220g unsalted butter
100g soft brown sugar
320g oats
75g dried sour cherries

Line a 20cm square tin & pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan.

Melt together the caramel, butter and sugar over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally. Add in the oats and dried fruit, stir together and press into the tin with a fork.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, till golden brown. Simples.

I have also made this and then melted 65g dark chocolate and drizzled it over the top. 

Just saying.

R&J or M&S?