Thursday, 30 January 2014

Beating the scales - or not. And a Lemon Tart that didn't work out quite how I planned

No I don't mean beating the scales in the weight loss sense, I mean that little game we all play trying to work out exactly where to cut the butter to give the weight that's specified in the recipe? You know what I mean, don't be coy. I bet you're really good at it.

Oh. You don't? So it's just me? It is? Oh dear.

 Well, it's out there now, so best get on with the confession.

It started with those butter packs that have 'approximate' 50g sections marked out on the edge of the butter paper. I'd cut as straight and as accurately as I could to see if I could indeed cut 50g. Then I started doing it by eye. And not just 50g, but 100g. Or 75g. How about 40g...

I realise that this says alot more about me than I'd like, but to be fair, this doesn't extend to weighing out anything else. I still wouldn't have a clue how much 50 or 100g of sugar or flour would look like. Well - I suppose I would a little bit, but not with the confidence that I like to think I have to cut butter up into appropriate portions. 

I would never try to beat the scales when it came to weighing out, say, blackcurrants, and, without scales, or the handy measuring mug I have from Love Food Hate Waste, I always cook too much rice. So it's not an all-pervading affliction.

I don't think I've ever been absolutely spot on with the butter, doing it by eye, but I'm getting better, and sometimes I can be just a gram or 2 out.

The days just fly by, I tell you.

So when I set to, the other afternoon, to make a lemon tart for some friends who were coming for dinner that evening, I needed to weigh out 140g of butter. The excitement! There's so much more skill required when you're not aiming for multiples of 50g.

From my 250g pack of butter, it didn't take a genius to work out (as I did) that I needed to cut a bit beyond half. I eyed up the block, made a mark, then cut. I was reasonably confident, but the scales - my new, stripy for Christmas, scales, said no. 97g.

97g??? Was the Co-Op cheating me? I'd definitely cut more than half a block of butter that professed to be 250g. I looked again. Then I weighed another block of butter I had in the fridge which was also supposed to be 250g, from the same store. 192g.

Before I stomped up the road, receipt in hand, outrage on my lips, to accuse the Co-Op of swindling its customers out of butter, I decided I'd better weigh something else. I got out a full pack of paella rice. Different product, different supermarket 'own brand'. 500g on the packet, 177g on the scales. Or 233g depending on which way up I put the box on the scales. Yeah. Not good.

I'd put a new battery in the scales already, so it appears that I had a calibration issue.

Not just a calibration issue, but a problem with my dessert.

I'd already had an issue with the pastry case - I bought the pastry, and committed the fundamental error of using the left over to make jam tarts BEFORE the 'baked blind' case had come out of the oven shrunken and wonky in parts, so I had nothing to patch it with. 

I was working on a recipe I haven't used before, which is never a good thing with a couple of hours before your guests are due. And as if that wasn't enough, I'd already weighed out the sugar, believing in my scales, before my trust was destroyed with the butter. Not only that, but I'd grated the lemon zest into the sugar as required, leaving me with the options of (1) picking out all the bits of lemon zest before working out how to re-weigh some more sugar, (2) going to the Co-Op (I still wasn't utterly convinced) to get more lemons, or (3) winging it.

Unlike the week before, I didn't have the necessary to knock up an alternative. Visions of lumpy, lemon-flavoured scrambled eggs leaking all over the oven from my patchy pastry case filled my head.  

But, you know, life is too short to pick the grated zest of 3 lemons out of a bowl of caster sugar that might or might not have weighed 225g, and it felt ridiculous to just start again, so I decided that the sugar would have to be the right weight, added butter that looked to me as if it was around 140g, did what I needed with the eggs (no weighing required, thankfully), and held my breath.

Well, you'll be relieved to know that all was pretty much well that ended well - or that ended in a few glasses of wine with some lovely friends who I am going to miss so much when we move. They were very kind about the tart, and, wonky pastry case and guesstimated ingredients aside, it tasted pretty good. Lemon tart is pretty much one of my most favourite things to eat, and for all that every stage was tinged with disaster (even the actual baking - which despite my vigilance ended up with it catching slightly on the top) this particular specimen was, in my humble opinion, definitely in the general lemon tart ball park, if not exactly right between the goal posts.

What? You want the recipe now? Well, I feel that I owe it to you all to make it again and check it works using the measurements I was supposed to be using. Because I know I'm a bit "some of this and some of that" but I really can't guarantee how much sugar and butter I actually used. And as there's always going to be room for another post about lemon tart on this blog, you'll just have to wait till I get this one right...

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Another Apple Cake

As 'The Hairy Dieters Eat for Life' won over Rick Stein's 'India' for my Random Recipe this month, I decided to investigate the book further.

I'm not a huge fan of the Hairy Bikers, I have to say. While I'm more interested in the food than the appearance of most of the chefs on TV, the 'hairy' element is something that has always put me off.  That said, I've always quite liked what I've seen of the food the Bikers produce.

There are quite a lot of recipes in the book that look worth having a go, whether you're on a diet or not, and given that saving a few calories is always a good thing, I was particularly drawn to the section on cakes and sweet things.

I made the apple cake that is allegedly 229 calories a slice if you divide the cake between 12 people. Dividing between 12 might sound quite mean, but it's quite a big cake and there's plenty of flavour to give you a tasy mouthful, even if it is on the small side...

Spiced Apple Cake

250g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinammon
1/2 tsp ground all spice
zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
100g plus 2 tbsp demerara sugar
200ml semi-skimmed milk
100ml olive oil (light - not extra virgin) or use sunflower
2 large cooking apples
Juice of 1 lemon

23cm springform cake tin, lined with greaseproof paper.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinammon and all spice, and lemon zest.

In another bowl or jug, whisk up the eggs, the 100g sugar, milk and oil.

Put the lemon juice into a bowl, then peel, core and thinly slice the apples into the bowl.

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir together, then fold in the apple slices.

Scrape into the prepared tin and sprinkle the remaining sugar evenly over the top, then bake for around an hour till it's golden and a skewer comes out clean.

If you're on a diet, eat as it is, but if you're not, add some cream...

Monday, 27 January 2014

Random Recipes #36 - a Hairy Dieters' delight

The Random Recipe challenge for January over on Belleau Kitchen is all about new recipe books. Excellent, thinks I - I have India by Rick Stein to drool over. It is a gorgeous book - page after page in homage to the food of India, with beautiful photography. You can almost smell the spices, the ovens, the finished food. It's mouthwatering. And then, a late gift - The Hairy Dieters Eat for Life. What to do? Hairy Dieters is much less of a visual, or actual feast (the clue is in the 'diet' part) but I don't want to cheat.

And what do you know? 'Dieters' wins in my random selection between the two, but it's not so bad after all because the winning recipe was a 'quick chicken cordon bleu' which looked quite tasty, even if it is 'diet'.

It's pretty straightforward - you split chicken breasts out and bash them thin in between a piece of clingfilm, fill each with a slice of ham and a slice of emmenthal cheese, and fold back over, then pan fry on both sides and finish in the oven.

It was OK. The recipe says to season the filled and refolded breasts well, but actually, with the ham and cheese, it probably doesn't need any more salt and as I'd followed the recipe faithfully, they turned out a bit salty. My version also suffered from having to sit around in the pan under some foil while the kids finished watching the film they had started. Normally, we wouldn't pander to that, but we'd taken them off for a very long and, as it turned out, wet walk, that afternoon, and they'd done very well, and the film was Back to the Future, so we indulged them...


Looking forward to the next challenge - which I may have to enter from my new Welsh kitchen...

Sunday, 26 January 2014


When I was an Army wife, those heady days of early marriage (after the 6 month operational tour, during which, I stayed put in London while the Husband hung out on the Croatian coast), we lived on the edge of Salisbury Plain, the very epicentre of Army land. It was another world, a world where it was normal to panic, having been woken in the middle of the night by attack helicopters flying overhead, only to realise that it was OK and you weren't living in Beirut after all, to be held up on the road by endless lines of tracked vehicles (you don't want to argue with a Warrior, believe me) or to stumble across an ambush party during a Sunday afternoon walk...

One of the valuable lessons I thought I learned during that period was how I would be once I had children and was around people who did not.

I did not initially make many friends in Army land because, in an almost comic role reversal, I was commuting up to London, leaving the house before 7 and back after 8, while the Husband had a leisurely bike ride, or a 10 minute walk to the office. Eventually, someone noticed I was there, and I was invited to join 'the bookclub'.

I had made it!!

"Have you just moved in?"

"No, actually we've been here 8 months"

"I haven't seen you at school"

"No, I work. In London."

"......." [silence]

"Oh you WORK?"

I had many conversations like this throughout our time on 'the patch'. I regaled them with stories of sitting in the same seat on the same train with the same people every morning, and the turmoil a new person sitting in the wrong seat would cause, sushi, bought from an upmarket purveyor of lunch (the glamour of it) , and earning the same (or - GASP- more) than your husband. They regaled me with tales of childbirth, the adhesive properties of weetabix, and the politics of the school gate.

I had no idea what they were talking about, and in that blissful childfree state, found myself thinking "I have no idea what you are talking about, It can't possibly look like that/smell like that/ be as bad as all that."

I would feel excluded from a club that at that time I had no particular wish to belong to - the parent club. It wasn't that I didn't want children, just not then. And after feeling excluded from the club, I would promptly forget it, what ever horror I'd been party to, only for it to reappear, distorted and anxiety-inducing - when my time for babies came.

Of course, we all do it, we who have children. I have 2 emergency caesarians and a child who had cancer at the time of the second one, under my belt, so I'm afraid I'm not going to give up the opportunity to take part in the occasional competitive birth story exchange with other parents. But after spending time on the patch with all these women, I did vow to try not to tell people who don't have children what it's like (mainly the giving birth bit, because frankly, while not the worst, my stories are quite bad), or offer 'advice'. It's basically the same as your parents telling you that you don't know how lucky you are when you're being an ungrateful teenager. You just cannot comprehend how much a child is going to change your life, so as someone who knows, you might just as well not bother..

I'd forgotten this in the early weeks of our first born. Friends who were expecting a baby a couple of months later visited us, and even then, with a few weeks to go, they were talking about their relaxed approach to doing up their house and how they would carry on once the baby was born. They were trying to source some very specific light fittings, as I recall. And I remember the Husband or I saying, heartfelt, "Get it finished before the baby arrives, you WON'T HAVE TIME" and they looked at us like we were deranged. How much time could a baby take? (Blue didn't help by sleeping through the whole encounter as if that was his natural state.)

Since then, I've tried to be more mindful when talking to people who don't have kids; tried not to give them advice, or do that whole knowing "You just wait" thing, but sometimes, it just comes out.

Like now. (I know you were waiting to see how tenuous this link could be). Dahl is one of my favourite things to eat, but I don't think I've ever properly blogged it, and the reason is that it's pretty hard to take a good photo of it. It just looks like baby poo. And before we go any further, any of my non-parent readers, baby poo really is that yellow. There's no getting away from it. Yellow and quite sticky.

The dahl is yellow, but also quite delicious. It's delicious hot and then cold, leftover. It tastes like it should be far more complicated than it is - it is very straightforward and has hardly any ingredients. It's nutritious and the kids, may be surprisingly? I don't know, love it too.

So here it is. Dahl. It's based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's version in Veg Everyday, but I nearly always cook enough for 6 so that there will be leftovers to eat for lunch for the next couple of days with a blob of mango chutney. Delicious, despite looking like baby poo.

375g red lentils
11/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fine salt
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, peeled & finely sliced
bunch of coriander, finely chopped

Put the red lentils in a large pan with 1.2 litres of cold water. Bring this to the boil and skim off any scum that forms. 

Add in the turmeric and salt, whisk the mixture, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes till the lentils are broken down and cooked. Whisk the  mixture up every now and again to help reak the lentils down. Do take care not to cook them over too high a heat because as the lentils break down, they become almost volcanic - almost like a baby's bottom, one might say...

You may need to add a little more water to keep the dahl from getting too thick, but you should end up with something of a porridgey kind of consistency.

I quite often make it to this stage earlier in the day, then heat up later for the final flourish (when you may need to add a little more water).

Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the cumin seeds and cook for 5 minutes, before adding in the finely sliced onion and frying over a relatively high heat for 10 minutes of so, then stir into the lentils.

Add in the chopped coriander, stir through and serve.

Great as part of a larger curry feast, or frankly, cold with a big blob of mango chutney

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Macadamia & Cointreau Brownies - or Tuesday night decadence

I know this all seems very decadent for a Tuesday night in January, when most of us are trying to either stay dry (you must be joking - I'm moving house in a few weeks), or shed the Christmas pounds (well, maybe), but I'd invited some friends round for dinner, and on reflection was not very pleased with the pudding I'd planned - stewed gooseberries (from the freezer) meringues and cream. The meringues had been a little overcooked - and I'd made them with vanilla sugar - so were on the 'caramelly' side, and I just wasn't sure about the gooseberries - despite plying them with elderflower cordial and sugar, they were still very tart. I like that, but others don't. So in true RJ style, I had a minor panic and decided to knock up an alternative using what I had.

Fortunately, what I had included chocolate and a pack of macadamia nuts, bought for another purpose which never materialised (as is often the way with me). I was rootling round for some rum, mindful of previous succesful brownie pairings, but I couldn't find any so Cointreau seemed like a good alternative. In truth, the capful I added didn't seem to make a huge amount of difference, but I might add a bit more next time, just to see. For what it's worth, I might also chop up the nuts a bit if I use them again in this way.

As usual with brownie, I had the agony of when to take it out of the oven. After 20 minutes the top was looking dry, there were a couple of cracks, and a gentle press revealed plenty of squodge underneath, but in the interests of them not being too squodgy, I gave them a couple more minutes, and they came out pretty perfect. Always a risk though.

Macadamia & Cointreau Brownie

180g unsalted butter
180g dark chocolate
1 capful of cointreau
3 large eggs
250g soft brown sugar
115g plain flour
small pack of macadamia nuts (around 150g)

Baking tin, lined with greaseproof paper. My tin is about 20 by 24 cm

Break up the chocolate and cube up the butter and put into a biggish pan over a gentle heat to melt.

Once melted, add in the cointreau, stir briefly and set aside for a few moments.

Beat together the eggs and sugar, then beat into the slightly cooled chocolate, then stir in the nuts and flour.

Scrape into the tin and bake for between 20-25 minutes - bearing in mind that over cooking leads to lack of squodge.

Allow to cool and cut into squares. 

In the end, we had both - the meringues, gooseberries and cream, AND the brownie. Like I said. Decadent.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Language matters (not cake - well, not today)

While I work my way through the freezer and the cupboards making variations on a theme - (anything goes as long as it includes a can of chopped tomatoes and one of either chick peas or cannelini beans) there doesn't seem to be much in the food department to blog about (although I will get round to the chickpea and ketchup curry, which roused a certain amount of interest).

In fact, as I haven't actually had to spend a huge amount of time working out what we're going to eat, my mind has been wandering to other matters. One in particular that I can't get out of my head so I'm going to dump it into cyberspace I think deserves a little more exploration is the question of language. The Welsh language specifically, but, language and culture and moving to a new place where there is a new language, a different culture, and all that is involved with that.

Last week, we got the letters confirming that Blue and Pink have places at the school we all wanted them to go to. It is a Welsh Medium school - which means that the business of the school, and the teaching are in Welsh. Everything. In Welsh. (Apart from the English lessons).

I won't lie. I am a little apprehensive. I look at Welsh written down, and I see - well what do I see? While my understanding of French allows me to look at several other languages - Spanish, Italian - and see patterns, may be hazard guesses, even in some cases work out, what's being said and respond - I see no pattern, no sense in Welsh at the moment. An excess of vowels and the likelihood that spitting will be involved, however involuntarily. I have picked up the odd word here and there (the word for 'microwave' is my favourite - 'popty ping' - the appropriateness just delights me - and if you don't believe me, plug it into google translate. The words - not the microwave...), a few pronounciation tips, but the overall rhythm of it, how it sits together, evade me completely.

There have been raised eyebrows amongst some of my friends & family about the Welshness of the kids schooling.

"What? ALL of it in Welsh?"

"Are there any English schools?"

We didn't have a huge amount of choice. Most of the schools in the area we are moving to are 'Welsh medium', and if not, they use significant amounts of Welsh in the teaching. It's not to say that English isn't spoken, and in my dealings with the schools and the Education Authority, English has been spoken, but in a few short weeks, the kids are going to be in an environment where, initially at least, they will not understand what is being spoken. 

I have been reassured that they will be supported as they learn Welsh. They will spend time at a language centre, and I am confident that they will start to pick it up pretty quickly. In the grand scheme of things, I am also really pleased that they will get this opportuntiy, while they are young, to be immersed in another language, and exercise parts of their brain that wouldn't otherwise get exercised.

I will also try and learn - I can hardly expect them to do something I'm not prepared to do myself. The school runs classes for parents - so it's there for the taking. And I'd like to be able to help the kids at home.

I know some people will think - why bother? What IS the point. Welsh isn't spoken anywhere else. 

I'm also sure I will make an idiot of myself asking for the wrong thing in shops, that sort of thing. Why bother when everyone speaks English?

Well, for me, it's about being part of the place I'm moving to. I can't stand the 'ex pat' attitude (anywhere - I'm not just talking Wales here) that there's no point learning the lingo cos the natives will speak English - it's just rude if you ask me. Although most people do speak English in the area we'll be living, Welsh is actually spoken a lot.  When we've been there visiting, I've heard it around me in the street, in the shops. When I'm in France, I speak French, when I'm in Italy or Spain, I've at least tried to speak a bit of Italian or Spanish. We're going to Wales, to live in a Welsh speaking area - surely learning to speak the langauge (or as much of it as I can) is a courtesy.

Go onto forums about this, especially the parent forums that I've been on, and there are some fairly strident opinions about how all this teaching of Welsh is a waste of tax payers' money and how it could all be spent better on other things. I can see there is a point. Some areas of Wales are terribly deprived economically. There isn't much work, industry is dying. Why spend money getting people to speak a language that isn't used anywhere else? May be I'm naive and romantic, but surely knowing your roots and cultural heritage, having a sense of who you are is important too? Otherwise we just drift rootless. I am sure some will say "Oh well that's all right then, there's no work, but they have a sense of who they are. Wonderful." but I think that's a very short sighted approach. No, I don't think it will magically solve all the problems that Wales has, but if it contributes to a national confidence, well, then I think it's probably a good thing. And I do wonder if part of the English problem is that we don't have a real sense of who we are any more as a nationality. We don't feel confident, so we get scared and reactionary, and frightening things like UKIP happen.

And there's another thing that appeals to me, and it goes wider than language, to the whole standardisation (and dumbing down) of life that seems to be galloping on apace. The standardisation of the high street, of our leisure time, condemning us to live the same lives as everyone else, frightened of being different, of getting out of the box. I see the determination of the Welsh to revive the language and champion it as a living language rather than letting it die away, confined to academic tomes that hardly anyone reads, as a clear 2 fingers to the attempts to standardise life across the UK. 

Just as the high streets in the towns I've visited in the area stay relatively full of independent retailers (hooray!), defying (although I fear for how long) the chains that clog up the English high streets with the same products in the same store layouts wherever you go (boo - no surprises), so it fills me with excitement that I will be hearing a different language on the streets (no doubt as I walk home with 2 kilos of tripe from my abortive trip to the butchers...).

I'd love to know what you think? What anyone thinks. And if you've been in this situation, how did your children cope with being immersed in another language? And whether you agree with me or not, wish us luck!

Diolch i chi am ddarllen...

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Corned Beef Hash - with added veg

"Doesn't it look like dog food, though?"

I'll accept those comments now, here, before I even start this post. Yes, come on, get them all out in the open. I know you're thinking them, and to be fair, I'd probably have to agree with you, although I don't feed my dog the kind of dog food that you're talking about - which is possibly why I am able to tolerate corned beef. In fact, I'd go so far to say I really rather like it. Which is pretty contradictory given my usual mantra of fresh, local, organic. So I'll accept that criticism too.

Finished? I'll get on with the main event.

While I've never been ashamed to eat a slice or two of corned beef, tinned potatoes was somewhere I had always drawn the line (well, I'd drawn the line before the tinned potatoes) until we went on Scout camp last summer. I was converted, and for the rest of the summer, corned beef hash became one of our regular camping meals, corned beef, tinned potatoes, tinned sweetcorn. Cheap, filling. Serve with tabasco for the adults, brown sauce or ketchup for the kids. Those with harsher tongues amongst you might whisper "Trailer trash", but I say don't knock it till you try it.

I had corned beef hash on the menu from last week but in the general disarray that my week became, it never happened. On the plus side, the tins of potatoes, sweetcorn and corned beef were sitting nicely in the cupboard ready to be used up, and I supplemented with some brussel sprouts that our allotment neighbour picked for us, and two rather sorry looking leeks. 

That's the great thing about this - you can use up anything in it. I've made variations of this with fresh potatoes too, and with bacon instead of corned beef.  Anything goes, really.

Corned Beef Hash

serves 4

1 tablespoon oil
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 leeks, sliced and washed
2 handfuls of small brussel sprouts, trimmed
340g tin new potatoes, drained and sliced up
1 tin corned beef, sliced up into chunks
1 small tin sweetcorn, drained

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then add in the onion and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes. Add in the leeks and then the brussels sprouts and cook for a few minutes till softened.

Tip the veg into a bowl, then put the pan back on the heat with a little more oil if necessary, and add the potatoes and cook over a reasonably high heat to get them a little browned and crunchy. Add the veg back into the pan, along with the corned beef and the sweetcorn and stir till all is hot.

Serve. With tabasco, ketchup or brown sauce to taste.


Friday, 10 January 2014

Mass catering - Chilli for 20 - and getting published

Another day, another ridiculous quantity of food to prepare: chilli for 20.

It's for the Scouts (of course) - the Husband is off later today on 'winter camp'. "Rather you than me", I say, (under my breath of course), and plan a distinctly more comfortable weekend. I did, however, agree to cook a chilli for the Scouts to take with them to have this evening once they have arrived and pitched camp (and, hopefully, lit an enormous camp fire. Fingers crossed they are actually prepared, and someone remembers to take some dry wood).

Before I share with you how easy it is to knock up chilli for 20, let's just ponder a moment the fact that the Husband and 2 (I think) of the other leaders are planning to give up a weekend taking 17 kids camping in the middle of January. My hat goes off to them.

 I think the Husband is wonderful anyway (I married him, of course I do) but it takes a special amount of commitment to do the extra for a voluntary organisation like Scouts. This is his last hoorah with the Scout troop he's been involved with for some years. It's a great group of leaders (we're going to miss you so much when we move) - all of them in their late 30s/early 40s with demanding jobs and young families, but they are prepared to give up extra time to run the scout troop here. There are adult helpers too - as I've said before, none of them with any appreciable 'time on their hands', but all busy with families, jobs, studying - who are prepared to give their time to run a thriving active Scout group. 

I think (like all volunteers, in whatever field) the fact that they do this deserves some recognition. So, apart from the fact that I think you are all at least a little but bonkers for even contemplating camping this weekend, here's to the Overton Scout Leaders. I'll be thinking of you this weekend as I sup a glass or 2 of wine at the annual non book club Book Club meeting.

And if they can give up their time doing this, the least I can do is cook them a chilli.

I'm also quite excited because I had a variation of this published in the UK Scouting magazine recently. Get me.

Chilli for 20
Put your enormous pan on the heat...

An enormous pan
1 good slug of sunflower oil
4 onions, peeled & finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled & finely chopped
1 tablespoon each mild chilli powder, ground cumin & ground coriander
2kg beef mince
4 red peppers, deseeded and chopped into chunks
1 kg mushrooms finely chopped (I pulsed them in a food processor - small is good when feeding mushrooms to children, I find)
5 beef stock cubes made up to 1.2 litres
1.6 kg tinned chopped tomatoes
salt & pepper
1.6 kg tinned red kidney beans

Put your enormous pan on the heat, add the sunflower oil and when it's hot, chuck in the chopped onion and garlic, and sweat for 10 minutes or so. 

Add the chilli powder, ground cumin and coriander into the onion, stir well and cook for another couple of minutes. 

Take the pan off the heat.

Heat a frying pan and brown the mince in batches over a relatively high heat. My pan is non-stick so I didn't need any extra oil, but you might want to use a tsp or so of oil for every chunk of mince you brown. AS you brown the mince, add it in to the onions in the enormous pan.

Once all the mince is browned and in with the onions, put the enormous pan back on the heat, add red peppers, mushrooms, the 1.2 litres of stock, the chopped tomatoes and a good grind of black pepper and a couple of good pinches of salt. Bring it all up to a simmer, and cook for 20-30 minutes, then add in the kidney beans and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, checking to see if you need any more liquid.

Tape on the lid and tuck into the back of a minibus ready for eating later on.

Good luck, guys! I'll pray you don't get too much weather.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Undermined by the veg box - PSB and chorizo pasta

So all those good intentions, about using up everything in my cupboards? Yeah, right.

Not looking much like chickpea curry, is it?
The week started off well enough, with the meals I'd intended over the weekend and on Monday, but Tuesday's chickpea ketchup curry and dahl went out of the window following a car fail (don't ask). The fact that we had leftovers in the fridge from both the lasagne and the sausage casserole, meant that when I finally got round to preparing tea for my 2 starving children (home eventually with the help of a bungee, 2 old bootlaces and a good friend), I couldn't be bothered to cook. Well - would you?

The other thing that happened was that I forgot to cancel the veg box. Usually, I wait and see what's in the veg box every Tuesday, and then go from there. However, as my plan for feeding us revolves around what I already have, it makes more economic sense to be able to choose my veggies for the next few weeks, rather than wait and see what turns up.

But, you know, I'm glad - GLAD, I tell you, because if I hadn't had the veg box this week, I probably wouldn't have got any PSB.

Purple Sprouting Brocoli.

My favourite.

So instead of writing Tuesday off as an exercise in fridge control and simply shifting that night's planned meal on to today, I am now down not one but 2 meals on my plan, because instead of either chickpea ketchup curry or chilli, tonight we are having PSB and chorizo pasta. With fried eggs for those that want.

You don't need a recipe (do you? There isn't one, I'm afraid). I haven't weighed out any amounts (my greed is driving this) although for 3 of us, I'm using 9 little chorizo sausages - about 180g, relatively thickly sliced, which I'm gently frying as I type this - mmm can't you smell the garlicky, smoky paprika? The pasta is on to boil and I'll steam the PSB florets over the pasta water for the shortest possible time so that they are just cooked but not at all soggy and limp. My veg box had about 4 big stalks of it - so I trimmed off the biggest leaves and split them up into the florets.

In a moment I'll be frying the eggs in the pan that the chorizo was cooked in. 


Just as good on a thick slice of bread as with pasta

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Meal planning with a purpose

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you had a great Christmas and all that.

So here it is - 2014. One of the really good things about the Christmas break was that I stopped thinking too hard about the move to Wales: not that thinking about it was bad, but in the run up to the holiday, we were mostly doing lots of practical stuff around sorting out our current house, and doing all the Christmas stuff, with a view to dealing with the "where will we move to" bit after Christmas, and I think it was stresssing me out a bit.

Anyway, we had a lovely Christmas, and we've just come back from a whistlestop tour of suitable houses to rent (all 3 of them) which shortlisted themselves to 2 on the basis that one of the landlords wouldn't countenance a dog. While nothing is agreed on paper, this makes me feel a lot happier (not, obviously, the bit about Fred). I also had the opportunity to dine in a number of cafes in the Cardigan area, and stick my nose into various foodie emporia, and my friends, I am officially excited by what I saw. Watch this space.

As a result of this, not only am I happier, I am filled with renewed energy to make it happen.

So filled with energy in fact, that I tackled one of the cupboards this afternoon. In many ways, I only have Dom at Belleau Kitchen, and his last Random Recipes linky, to thank for this, but I've made several references to my hoarding tendancies in the past, and the fact that we could probably survive a nuclear winter on the contents of my cupboards, and the time has come to put this to the test. I know I could pack up the cupboards and move the contents with me to groan and mutter in another cupboard far away (would they groan and mutter in Welsh, I wonder?), but I've set myself a bit of a challenge to see if I can get rid of it all (in a constructive way) - even the bottle of pomegranate molasses, Phil...

So, I have cleaned out my fancy pull out cupboard, thrown away the tin of blackcurrants that went out of date in June 2009 (oh the shame), and I have planned a week's meals based on the the tins and what I have in the freezer (in my aim to get first from 2 small freezers to one).

So here is what we will be eating:

This evening (Saturday) - casserole - using up a pound of stewing steak that was in the freezer. Also rhubarb from the freezer, which I am stewing. Some will go into a type of Eton Mess using up the end of a tin of meringues that's been knocking round on top of the cupboard, and the last of the Christmas cream...

Sunday - Lasagne - will use up some of a kilo of mince that I have in the freezer, that I need to braise first, but it will also do for Wednesday's chilli, and some meals over the next few weeks. Also will use up the remains of a box of dried lasagne pasta, and a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes

Monday - Sausage casserole - 4 sausages in the freezer and a can (one of many) of cannellini beans, and one of chopped tomatoes

Tuesday - chick pea ketchup curry and dahl - chickpeas, ketchup, red lentils

Wednesday - chilli - in addition to the mince, this will use up chopped tomatoes and kidney beans

Thursday - corned beef & sweetcorn hash - using up a tin each of potatoes, corned beef and sweetcorn (this is the last of my camper van meals)

Friday - fish fingers, oven chips and peas (frozen from the garden in the summer. The fish fingers and chips are using up ends of packets in the freezer - there are times when everyone needs a bag of frozen chips, OK)

And I'm sure we'll be able to get through these remnants of the summer of camping some how...

There does of course need to be some shopping, but having planned the meals and worked out a shopping list, it is significantly smaller than the usual 'first shop of the month' would be.

I've been so enthused, that I have even re-ordered the shelves so that all the necessary tins are now to hand and organised for each meal. ready for me to use as intended, on one separate shelf of the cupboard.

Sometimes I even surprise myself.