Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why Katie Piper made me cry

Ever since Saturday morning, when I blubbed shamelessly as Katie Piper talked frankly to a packed, and silent, Britmums Live audience, and then even more so, talking to her mum and Katie Hill (teary, tissue-less and overwrought, never have I felt less glamorous, let me tell you), I have been pondering why exactly she made me cry.

It's not just her story - the beautiful good time girl, going places (possibly - she is refreshingly candid about the career opportunities available presenting casino programmes on channel 999 at 2 a.m.) raped and then burned horrifically with acid thrown over her at the behest of a man who couldn't have her.

It's not just the fact that she can - and clearly throughout her recovery, did, laugh at her situation. Not at all of it, but at the comical moments that can often - and almost totally inappropriately -  come in times of great trauma and distress, She tells a cracking story about squirting blackberry juice out of the feeding tube attached to her stomach while wearing a flesh coloured 'morph suit' (her 'earthworm Jim suit' - to stop the burns contracting) - but I guess you had to be there.

It's not just the fact that she has taken what has happened to her and survived in the most inspiring way, turning her experiences into a charity to support others who have been burned, filling gaps in the NHS provision, which, with the best will in the world, public money cannot currently cover.

It's not just that she is so disarmingly honest about the support she received from her family, about how dark the really dark times were, about how cruel people were to her, and about her agoraphobia.

All these things make her a truly remarkable survivor. It puts my life and the things that have happened to me sharply into perspective. But here's the thing. She gets annoyed when people start talking about something bad that happened to them and then they say "Oh but it's nothing like what you have been through". Why does she get annoyed? Well, you see as she puts it - it doesn't matter what 'it' is - if it's your worst thing, then yes it is bad, it is worth getting upset about.

What trauma have I suffered. Well let me tell you - if you didn't know already - my son had leukaemia. My lively 2 year old withered before my eyes, almost overnight. 9 months into treatment, he had no hair, was on the 2nd centile (from 98th when born) and the doctors were talking about feeding tubes. We spent endless hours in hospital. The drugs made him sick. He had blood and platelet transfusions. He had a terrifying allergic reaction to one of his drugs. I thought he might die. My son.

He had the disease. The Husband and I - we dealt with the fall out. And a new baby.

People say similar to me when talking about their children. People who have had what I consider to be equally traumatic experiences, or even people talking about a broken arm. They say "Oh but it's nothing like what you went through". Or they say "I don't think I could have got through what you did". To that I say, firstly, as Katie Piper says, it doesn't matter what it is - if it's the worst that you have had to deal with, then it's bad. It's not a question of degree. It is valid to feel distraught, lost, confused - even if you're dealing with chicken pox. 

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you do have a choice. You can drown in the injustice of it all, or you can try and work out how to cope and get through it. I know someone whose son was at a similar age, living in the same village who died of a brain tumour when Blue was being treated. She and I were pregnant at the same time and gave birth to our second children within days of each other. She told me once that she thought she was lucky because I still had the uncertainty of whether Blue would survive hanging over me. She knew, so sadly, how her son's story ended, and she thought she was in a better position than me. I have never spoken to her about it, but I suspect this was one of her ways of coping. 

I consider us to be lucky. Not that Blue became ill - I wouldn't wish that on anyone. But he's still here. We just passed the 4 years "off-treatment" point - one more to go before we'll get as much of an 'all clear' as they will give us. I haven't lost a child, been physically attacked or suffered any of the other terrible things that can happen, although if you want dark hours, I can give them to you in buckets. The important thing is that he has survived.

We are lucky too, to have survived as a family. Lots of people don't. Families break up under pressure, and it's hard, so hard to keep lines of communication open when you've been awake all night worried sick about your child, or had to go to work and leave your child as he goes into an operation because of a meeting you can't afford to miss. It's hard because day to day life becomes more difficult on every level physically and financially - do you know how expensive hospital parking is? You have to make decisions you never thought you would be faced with. It's hard but you choose to make those decisions in order to survive.

We had a choice, and what made me cry was hearing someone else who has survived - and is possibly still surviving - talking so eloquently about her choice. Katie Piper demonstrates so simply and so beautifully that you DO have a choice. Even in the darkest hours of your life, you can choose to be beaten by it all, or to fight. It takes a lot of energy and support, and it's not easy, but you can do it, be your injuries physically or emotional, whether you're the person who's been hurt or someone supporting and caring for that person. 

And the relief of hearing someone else say all that made me cry.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Healthy & Happy Banana Cinammon Loaf (with secret courgette) - a Random Recipe

The lovely Dom has been indisposed in rather an unpleasant way recently, so to make up for it, his Random Recipes challenge this month is to cook something 'Healthy & Happy'.

I must confess that my recipe is not quite so random as some of my previous entries, as I have very clear views as to what 'healthy & happy' means, basically that cake has to be involved. 

A salad may be healthy and tasty , and piece of grilled meat could be healthy and juicy, but 'healthy and happy'? Well, cake it has to be.

As a result, there was only one book on my shelf I could reach for, Harry Eastwood's "Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache" which I have delved into a couple of times recently. Basically a load of cake with veg - hidden or not.

For added randomness, I allowed Pink the privilege of choosing the recipe, and for her to have chosen this one is pretty random because it includes bananas which, in her own words "Well, I do like them Mummy, I just don't like the idea of them so I have to forget that it's a banana and then I like it." Nothing like a 7 year old's random views, is there? It also includes courgette which she avowedly detests. This is a big problem in our house, where courgette is on the menu pretty much from June (we've had courgette in the veg box for the last couple of weeks, and our own plants are growing nicely, thank you). May be she felt that if it was in a cake, it would be OK.

Well, she was right, if she did think that. You really can't tell there's any courgette in it. It's light and tasty and there's absolutely no hint of hidden veg. It's actually less banana-y than other banana loaves too, so perfect for those less enamoured with them. I made a Nigella based banana loaf at the same time which includes about 3 times the amount of banana, and consequently is much more so. 

There is no fat in the cake, in the form of butter or oil. Instead, you whisk up sugar and eggs, whisk in the banana then the courgette, then the dry ingredients (rice flour - gluten free) and finally some chopped nuts. 45 minutes in the oven and Bob, as they say, is your happy and healthy banana loaf.

2 delicious banana loaves - can you tell which is hiding courgette?

I made no changes to the recipe other than to use all brazil nuts instead of pecans and brazils, so I don't feel I can reproduce it here, but if you get a chance, do have a look at this book. This is the Banana Cinammon Loaf.

And now, I must fly - off for more 'healthy' at a pilates class. That's 'healthy and painful' by the way...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Delicious Marshmallows from Little Delicious - A Review

I'll cut straight to the chase. Marshmallows are not where I tend to go for my sugar fix. I'm more of a dedicated chocolate kind of gal. But all that might be about to change.

You see up to now, I have only know marshmallows of the pink and white kind. The kind you burn your mouth on after over-enthusiastic campfire toasting; the kind that don't really taste of that much other than sweet (or burnt if you eat them how I tend to - see above); the kind that are pretty good with chocolate in S'mores; the kind that you can play 'Chubby Bunnies' with (Google it. And buy in the wherewithal for mojitos. That's all I'll say on the matter).

But all that may be about to change. I have been enchanted some truly delicious marshmallows, made in Southampton, not that far away from me. 

They are heavenly. 

They are Little Delicious handmade gourmet marshmallows.

Lin at Little Delicious sent me  raspberry, passion fruit and caramel peanut heaven to try.

Everything about these is luscious. They taste of the flavours they are supposed to taste of - the raspberry ones in particular, but there was no fake flavour tang knocking around in any of them. And while my menfolk weren't so keen on the caramel peanut heaven variety, Pink and I were more than happy to finish off their share. 

They didn't last long, I have to tell you.

Divine light mouthfuls of loveliness. These are not marshmallows to be toasted, combined with chocolate and crackers or ... (no I told you - Google 'chubby bunnies'. I'm NOT going to repeat it here). These are marshmallows to be savoured. After dinner marshmallows. Real treats.

And the good news is that while they are stocked in a few Hampshire outlets, you can buy them on line. Oh yes. And in more flavours, too - lemon meringue, coconut, minto choc chip to name a few. But if you want a recommendation, well, I commend the 3 flavours I tried to you. 

Chocolate. my friend, your days are numbered...

Oh yes! Lucky me - I was sent the marshmallows by Little Delicious to review, but I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed here are my own. Try them, you'll understand.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Broadbean tips - huh? What are they good for?

Broad bean tips have featured in my life as long as I can remember.

There's a mystique around them that anyone who's grown up with a veg gardener will appreciate. 

At a certain stage in a broad bean plant's life, you must pinch out the tips and miraculously prevent the dreaded black fly (who find the broad bean tip a superior place to colonise and then destroy your beautiful plants).

There's a lot of teeth sucking that surrounds this event - and the jury is definitely out as to whether pinching out the tips does actually stop the black fly. However, the Husband had been muttering about it, so last week, I armed myself with a colander and set forth to pinch out the tips

The result? Some delicious greens. Just the sort of thing to go in a stir fry.

As for the black fly? Well watch this space

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Indian Coleslaw - inspired by Rowan Atkinson...

One of my favourite sketches of all time is Rowan Atkinson's monologue where he plays an impeccably polite Indian waiter faced with a crowd of drunken Englishmen. The "deceptively flat" floor. A "medium spiced" dish. "No no don't worry sir, better out than in". "Just some poppadums, and salad and yoghurt and sh*t"...

Anyway, we had curry for tea.New potato & pea curry, daal, rice, all knocked up in a very quick curry sauce that I have never got round to putting up here. I will, never fear.

Today, it's the turn of the "sh*t". Inspired mainly by the kohlrabi that appeared in the veg box, I doubt this is at all authentic, but when I think of curry, I always think of that sketch - and that "sh*t" - that is, the accompaniements. 

When we have curry, we are never without some chutney - no need to make, I have all I need thanks to Geeta.

On the salad front, well, I give you

Indian Coleslaw

Serves 4

3 carrots, grated
1 kohlrabi, grated
4 spring onions, finely shredded
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
juice of half a lemon 
handful finely chopped coriander

Mix together the carrots, kohlrabi & spring onion in a dish, and stir through most of the lemon juice.

Toast the cumin seeds in a frying pan til they release their aromas, then stir through the grated veg. Taste, add in the rest of the lemon juice if you like and stir through the coriander.

Serve with your curry.

Of course it's absolutely not "sh*t" and if you haven't seen the sketch, you really much because it's such a great portrayal of absolutely the worst type of English drunken behaviour. Grab a bottle of your favourite lager and enjoy.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Stripy Meringues - my BakingMad favourite summer dessert

What’s your favourite summer dessert?

That's the question BakingMad asked me recently, and invited me to write a post about it. have loads of ideas for summer recipes, from cupcakes to take on a picnic, to luxurious cheesecake. Check out the website for more inspiration.

I tend to ignore dessert in the summer – not that we don’t have 'pudding', but there’s so much fantastic fruit around that it’s easy to just bring out a plate of strawberries & raspberries without further embellishment.

If pushed, well, Summer Pudding has to rank as one of the best puddings ever, and is certainly the Husband's all out fave, but it's not quite the right time for that yet. The currants in the garden are still green.

On the other hand, there are Hampshire strawberries around. Strawberries apparently go with black pepper, with balsamic vinegar, with a whole host of things. Call me traditional, though, but I like them with cream. And meringues.

I know a lot of people get the fear from meringue. 

I don't want to sound smug, but making meringue doesn't phase me. My mum always had a tin of meringues in the cupboard, and it's never given me much of a problem. On the other hand, chewy and delicious as I like it, my meringue never looks particularly beautiful. If it's for a pavlova, well, cracks are part of the charm, and anyway it'll all be covered in cream and fruit anyway. Individual meringues, well, again, if they are a complete disaster, you can break them up for an Eton mess kind of thing. More cream and fruit. Believe me, no one's going to complain.

So to make this a little more of a challenge, I decided to embrace something that does give me the fear - piping. For too long, I have looked at photos of beautifully piped cupcakes, cakes, petit fours on OPB (Other People's Blogs), and known with certainty that in my hands, a piping bag could only lead to one thing:  complete and utter disaster. You only have to look at the mess I made of my hot cross buns, cutting the corner off a freezer bag...

BakingMad sent me a variety of cake decorating paraphenalia, including some Silver Spoon food colouring, and a booklet which included a picture of beautifully striped meringues, and something clicked in my head.  "I'm going to have a go at that" I thought. "I'm going to get me some striped meringue" (in my best Southern drawl).

Cue a trip to Hobbycraft and confusion in the cake icing aisle, while Pink roamed the store unchecked, looking for things to spend money on. We exited with some disposable piping bags, 2 nozzles and a 'coupler'. Plus some face paints and a bag of fizzy sweets.

Anyway, back to the meringues. This is my basic recipe, which you can increase or reduce as you like. As I use my trusty Kenwood to make the meringue mix, I'd never make less than 2 egg whites' worth.

4 egg whites
pinch of salt
225g caster sugar
1 tsp cornflower (to make chewy meringue)

Whisk the egg white with the salt till stiff but still wet.  Add a couple of tablespoons of the sugar, whisk in, then sprinkle on the cornflour and carry on whisking, slowly pouring in the rest of the sugar, till the meringue is looking shiny, and you get stiff peaks.

At this point, you can then make a large meringue for pavlova, or spoon dollops on to baking paper lined baking sheets, and bake the meringues for 1-2 hrs till dry and lift from the paper. Alternatively, just turn off the oven and leave while the oven cools down (just don't forget to take then out before you turn the oven on again).

So if you're not going to dollop with a spoon, you could use a piping bag and pipe out the meringue. And you could colour the mix, to make coloured meringue, or simply (Ha!) paint a line of food colour up your piping bag and Bob (or striped meringue) would be your Uncle. 

Well, call it a fluke, but it really worked. I made up my meringue, and took it slowly. I used gel colour for the stripey meringues, and used the Silver Spoon food colourings to make the pink and green meringues. For the stripes, you literally use a brush or a cocktail stick and paint a line of colour up the inside of the piping bag, then spoon in your mixture for piping, and pipe away.

The actual piping itself left something to be desired, certainly I didn't get it right every time, Pink had a go with a few of them, and there's no way I could offer you my 'top tips' for piping meringue, because there's a whole host of talented meringue-pipers out there in internet-land, and I am not about to try and compete - but I managed to get enough of them looking pretty good.

So there you have it. Our favourite summer dessert. Strawberries (& raspberries) with stripy meringue. And cream.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Green garlic in your veg box?

Spring is definitely here, no doubt about it. All of a sudden, the garden has spring into life, and the veg box is full of more interesting stuff, and I haven't had a swede for weeks...

Two weeks on the trot, we've had green garlic on the veg box. Looking like garlic, but not, with the 'scapes' - the long green leafy bits, still intact, smelling beautifully of garlic, yet not as strong. 

Imagine walking through a wood perfumed with wild garlic, and you get the idea. 

When you cut through the bulb, you can see where the garlic cloves are forming.

I'm not sure if you would eat green garlic raw, although I expect that sliced finely and mixed in with a salad, it would be pretty good. Gently cooked, though, it imparts a wonderful flavour to dishes.

On Saturday  evening, I sliced up the 2 bulbs, with their scapes, and cooked them gently in a good knob of butter till they were soft. 

I mashed them into potato with some milk, for a gorgeous garlicky mash to go with a roast chicken. Unfortunately, we were all so hungry that it all got eaten up with no time for photos.

Last week, the garlic starred in a quick and easy chicken dish that worked brilliantly. It also used up the rest of the courgettes which had served so admirably in the Blackcurrant Slice. Fortunately, unlike the mash, I had time to take a photo of the finished dish...

Chicken with bacon, courgettes & green garlic

6 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped into small pieces
10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 bulbs of green garlic, with scapes
200ml chicken stock
1-2 courgettes, cubed
1 lettuce, trimmed and sliced
2 tbsp sour cream

Gently dry fry the bacon in a large pan until the fat is released and the bacon starts to brown. Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and add the chicken to the pan, adding a little olive oil if the bacon didn't release much fat.

Brown the chicken pieces, then move to one side of the pan and add the sliced garlic to the pan, and cook for 30 seconds or so till the garlic scapes go bright green. Return the bacon to the pan and pour on the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then cover and  simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the courgette to the pan, return the lid and cook for another couple of minutes, before adding the lettuce, then cook for 4 minutes or so till the courgette is cooked and the lettuce has wilted.

Check the chicken is cooked through, stir through the sour cream, and season if necessary.

Serve with wild rice.

I'm linking this up to Simple and in Season, hosted by Ren Behan a great place to find more seasonal inspiration.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Butterflied Bangers with Beetroot - or bread & butter. But no Brownie(s)

Did you see what I did there? I love a bit of alliteration.

So, according to Nigel Slater, there's lots of beautiful beetroot around at the moment, and he's not wrong. 

Beetroot has grown on me over the last few years, and now I really love it. It's delicious in a salad, or roasted as a side vegetable, and I've got my eye on this Balti which includes beetroot and cheddar in a kind of Anglo-Indian fusion curry. I got a great big bunch of it in my veg box this week, and curry aside, up on my Twitter feed popped our Nige as featured on the Guardian's website - a recipe for a sausage and beetroot type of pan fry: chunks of beetroot and carrot slowly fried with garlic and chopped rosemary, then add in chunks of good herby sausages to cook, and finally some red wine vinegar to finish off. Oh so simple.

I'd got my meal plan, sorted out on the basis of the contents of the veg box, and I was really keen to give the beetroot a bit more than the usual  treatment, so this fitted in perfectly. I'd also neglected the previous week's carrots so they'd ended up in a last minute carrot cake (noting wrong with that, but, you know, not necessarily the most ideal), so I wanted to give this week's carrots some love too.

I loved the idea of the sweet veg with the sausages - our butcher does some fantastic Cumberland bangers which always go down a treat. You get the idea. I was REALLY looking forward to eating this. 

I just shouldn't have attempted it last night when I was feeling grotty as you like with that most of English of things - a summer cold; when I was on a schedule to get the kids home and fed and turned around in time for Pink to go to Brownies at 6.

I should have known not to attempt something with no guidance as to cooking time, only suggestions for 'speeding things up' (i.e. use pre-cooked beetroot). My beetroot were small, so plenty of opportunity to get covered in red as I peeled them (no CSI gloves for me, Ms Lawson). I didn't start cooking early enough, and as the time approached to leave for Brownies, with Pink still not fed, I ended up having to 'butterfly' the sausage chunks (slice them down one side to open them out and cook the middles) in order to get them cooked properly for her to eat. 

And the potato chips I was making in the oven (I was baking bread at the same time, so the oven was on) hadn't cooked, so she had to have bread and butter... The rest of it had to wait on the stove as I dashed down the road to get Pink to Brownies.

Except Brownies wasn't on. In my befuddled summer cold induced haze, I had forgotten that it was cancelled.

By the time I got back home, with Pink in tow, the chips were finished, but everything else - well, let's say it hadn't necessarily benefited from sitting around...

Still good, but I'm willing to bet not quite as good as Nigel's... Better luck next time, hey.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

No mobile phone? Don't worry, there's always Blackcurrant Slice

Do you carry your mobile phone around with you always?

I'm certainly guilty of treating mine like a 5th limb sometimes, carrying it with me everywhere, yet I can also get very irritated with other people doing the same. I remember one summer before the kids came along, when the Husband was due to go on operations, but we had been allowed to continue with a holiday to the north of Scotland provided he had his phone with him and remained in contact. It drove me mad - not least because the best mobile phone signal was out in the middle of the local loch (unsurprisingly given the prevalence of fishermen in the local community), so we had to make sure that we took the dinghy out onto the water everyday regardless of the weather while he stood there in the boat trying to get a signal and make sure he wasn't required back on darkest Salisbury Plain, while I tried to keep her steady. Not a situation guaranteed to enhance marital bliss, I can tell you.

But this isn't about him - it's about me. The problem is that sometimes, I don't have my phone with me and because I almost always DO have it with me, this can cause problems - or not, as it turns out.

The Husband is panicking a little because our currant bushes appear to be on course for a bumper harvest.

He'd found some blackcurrants in the freezer from last year, and texted me while I was walking Pink to Brownies the other night to ask me to get some preserving sugar so that he could make jam, but I didn't have my phone with me.

He was a little annoyed - not just because he'd been thwarted in his preserving ambitions, and because blackcurrant jam is a particular favourite. "You ALWAYS have your phone with you!" he said. "We need to make space in the freezer".

Well, it was a good job I didn't have the phone, because if I'd bought the sugar and he'd made the jam, I wouldn't have had any blackcurrants left to add to a cake.

This cake is a bit of an oddity, and you may look at the recipe, raise your eyebrows, and say  "Really?" but I'm here to tell you, it's a winner. We all loved it. The Husband thought it was quite tart, but then that's blackcurrants for you. And it didn't stop him having a second piece.

Using up some of the courgettes from the veg box also gives this cake more brownie points. I mean, it's too early in the summer to have too many courgettes, and I got 3 in last week's box. Getting some good recipes up my sleeve now thought will stand me in good stead for later on, no doubt. This cake started off as Harry Eastwood's Coconut Lime & Blueberry Slice from Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache, a book I'm turning to more and more at the moment for sweet treats, but as you'll see, I didn't have limes or blueberries, and not enough coconut...

Blackcurrant Slice

80g caster sugar
30g unsalted butter
 pinch of salt

100g dessicated coconut
50g oats

2 medium eggs
150g caster sugar
150g courgette, peeled & grated
zest & juice of half a lemon
120g rice flour
2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
200g blackcurrants (frozen is fine)

icing sugar

20cm square loose bottomed tin, lined with greaseproof, then lightly brush the greaseproof with sunflower oil. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan.

First, heat the sugar and butter together to make a paste then mix in the salt, coconut and oats and press into the bottom of the prepared tin. Bake for 10-15 minutes till golden, but keep an eye on it.

Make the sponge by beating together the eggs and sugar till light and pale, then add in the courgette & lemon zest, beat again, then finally add int he flour, baking powder, salt and lemon juice. Pour this quite liquid mixture onto the base, scatter the blackcurrants on top, then return to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.

Cool for a few minutes before seiving some icing sugar over the top, and serving up. We had it warm with some leftover sour cream and it was delicious.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Camping food - Cheese & Marmite Pasties

We had another camping trip this weekend. A quick one in that we didn't head off till Saturday morning, and didn't go far - just to where we keep a sailing dinghy on Southampton Water. The view is not beautiful (Fawley oil refinery, although it does have a certain industrial beauty) but it's situated in a lovely country park, and there is a camping field attached to the club. Nothing grand, but a flat sheltered field - and frankly that's all you need.

Anyway, now we have Daisy the campervan, which is fully stocked and ready to go at a moment's notice from a 'kit' point of view, my main concern (well, isn't it always) is food. Clothes too, but I've long since learned that for a weekend trip, there's no point packing much in the way of 'changes of clothes'. I just try to make sure there's a jumper and some waterproofs, for any inclement weather that might be rude enough to strike, and appropriate easy access footwear (crocs or wellies). If you were looking for it, I can't really offer much more advice than that on the packing front as far as clothes are concerned. I also don't have a 'master camping list' to share with you - of a type which I once saw passed from one friend to another, kept as a reference document for future trips. As long as I know there's gin on board, I can live with out a dustpan and brush...

Not just gin, but treats. Some form of cake (this weekend, there was brownie). Bacon, for sandwiches on Sunday morning. Proper coffee (Daisy has her own stovetop coffee maker - yes, I know, proper coffee probably smacks more of glamping than camping, but I don't care - you can't beat an alfresco bacon buttie with a mug of proper coffee of a morning). This weekend, we also had cheese & marmite pasties.

Pasties are a great thing. What's more, I don't know a man who doesn't find his food infinitely more attractive if it's wrapped in pastry. I might try wrapping myself in pastry one of these days and see what reaction that provokes - or may be not.

Despite dashing the collective male hopes in the RJ household when the response to the question "Have they got meat in them?" garnered the response "No.  Well, they do have Marmite", the verdict was that they were pretty good.

They started out as  Good Food recipe, but frankly, I am always suspicious of pasty filling quantity these days, having over produced on several occasions, despite having followed filling to pastry ratios in a number of recipes to the letter. So I reduced the filling ingredients to something I thought more likely, and added in a good handful of chopped parsley.

Cheese & Marmite Pasties

Made 7 decent sized pasties and a small one.

500g shortcrust pastry
350g peeled, grated potato
100g grated cheddar
60g fresh breadcrumbs
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 large handful of flat leaf pastry, finely chopped
1 large & 1 medium egg
salt & pepper
1 good tablepoon of Marmite Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Pre-heat the oven to 160C/140 fan, and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Mix together the grated potato, cheese, breadcrumbs, spring onions and chopped parsley with the large egg and a good grind of salt and pepper.

Roll out the pastry on a floury worktop and cut out 16-17cm circles of pastry (our cereal bowls are the right size) - as many as you can: hopefully you'll get about 7.

Melt the Marmite in a saucepan with a splash of water, and brush onto the pastry rounds, leaving a border all the way round of about 1-2 cm. Divide the filling between the pastry circles, placing in the middle of the rounds. Beat the remaining egg, brush lightly around the border of each circle, then draw up the sides and squeeze together to make your pasties. Brush with the remaining beaten egg*, then place on a lined baking sheet and bake for between 50-60 minutes (mine took 55) till golden brown.

In an effort to come over all vintage picnic chic, I packed my pasties in my favourite cake tin, lined with a tea towel. Wrapped in foil, or in a plastic bag would do just fine.

I'm linking up to a new blog challenge - Four Seasons Food, which looks like fun!

Four Seasons Food
Four Seasons Food hosted by Delicieux and Chezfoti

*The original recipe states that these can be frozen once the pasties are formed but before you brush them with the beaten egg, and then baked from frozen till the centres are piping hot. I didn't but it's a top tip, guaranteed to elevate you in the pasty queen stakes...

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pork Fillet & Coriander - and some Ginger Wine

So the veg box arrived on Tuesday and I checked out the contents and my list of likely meals culled from various sources in order to put together a meal plan and finalise the rest of the shopping requirements. I was still feeling uninspired and I won't lie that it was a chore, despite being faced with the kind of fresh and delicious vegetables that would normally make my heart sing.

Among other things, there was a small bunch of asparagus - such a treat, but not more than one serving's worth, so I supplemented with the final spears poking up from the garden and made a quiche on Wednesday.

A huge bag of spinach. Always tricky - I love it, kids don't.

A big bag of a herb that I knew I knew, but I couldn't identify.  How embarrassing.

Turned out it was coriander. Aromatic and fresh, but loads of it and I wasn't fancying carrot and coriander soup, despite the bunch of carrots. Curry? No. Pesto? No.

In the end I reached for Sarah Raven (she of the velvet gardening coat and close personal friendship with Emma Bridgewater - not that I'm jealous or anything). Her Garden Cookbook is a real winner if you have more than a passing relationship with vegetables. The book isn't a vegetarian cook book, but there are loads of good recipes, divided loosely into seasons and by different veggies, which is a Godsend when you have a glut - or a lack of inner inspiration.

One thing, they can often be quite fiddly, so that even 'simple' meals turn out to be quite task intensive. She also often uses some less common additional ingredients. Thanks to my foray into the pages earlier in the week, I am now the proud owner of a bottle of ginger wine. I suspect that sherry or marsala (for all Nigella fans) would work equally well here.

Pork Fillet with Coriander

Serves 4

450g piece of pork tenderloin, cut into 2-3 cm thick medallions
1 red onion, finely sliced
30g unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
3 large mushrooms, quite thickly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
70ml ginger wine
2 heaped teaspoon soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
200ml creme fraiche
large bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan, then add the sliced onion and crushed coriander seeds, and cook gently for a few minutes till the onion is soft. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the mushrooms & garlic to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes then add to the onions.

Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary and then turn the pork slices in the butter and oil in the pan for 3-4 minutes, before putting the onions and mushrooms back in the pan.

Add the ginger wine, sugar and lemon juice to the pan, turn up the heat a little and allow everything to cook and bubble to become syrupy.

Add the creme fraiche, salt and pepper and then stir in the chopped coriander and serve.

As Sarah suggested, it was delicious with her Spinach with Puy Lentils (my way), thus killing the spinach bird at the same time, but I have to confess that I also cooked some pasta for the kids. The creamy sauce went down very well whether it was lentils or pasta - and to give them their due, both kids ate the small amount of the lentils & spinach I gave them. 

I can feel my mojo very slowly returning...

Linking up to Herbs on Saturday hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage with the beautiful coriander that went into the dish.