Thursday, 19 March 2015

Slow roast pork (possibly again)

Thank you all of you who read my last post. I know this is normally a place for me to share my fairly inane, and fairly unoriginal drivellings about food, but occasionally, you know, an issue arises which is more important than what we ate for dinner. Actually, most things are more important than what we ate for dinner, but I can't always articulate what I feel about those things. My friend's situation, the chronic category 5 endometriosis and the fact that she has borne it  without complaining for all these years, I feel deeply about that, and as we live so far apart, writing the post was the only thing I felt I could do. The good news is that it's had huge page viewings and even made it to the front page of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network yesterday which I was incredibly chuffed about.

But today, my friend is still in hospital, and nothing has stirred me to action, so it's back to the food. Although if you haven't read my last post, please do...

There's a bit in one of the Wind in the Willows stories which talks about it being a 'golden afternoon' - late summer is the season, and if memory serves me correctly, it's when Toad has encouraged Ratty and Mole to join him in a gypsy caravan, before the onset of the motor car. Well, it's only March, but the weather has been golden over the last few days here on the West Wales coast. The tide has been low in the mornings, so my day has started with a good dose of beach, and the kids even braved the sea after school a couple of days ago.

After my jaunt to Aberporth with Fred this morning, I stopped off at the farm shop which is just off the main A487 coast road at Tanygroes (if you were interested). Down a little lane is the Golwg y Mor Farm Fresh Meats shop, and if you are in the area for any reason, like a holiday, or because you live here, it's well worth a visit. The meat is fabulous, and the company friendly and chatty. It's one of the things I really love about living here. People have the time to chat, to pass the time of day. On the downside, it makes work avoidance far too easy - I was struggling to leave the beach in the first place, and I ended up delaying the inevitable enforced time in front of the lap top by at least another 20 minutes chatting about this and that...

The conversation this morning turned to the fact that people have been slow cooking pork for years - the Rayburn being a perfect medium to bung in the joint and forget about it all day - but that all of a sudden it's 'the new thing'. He was saying he gets people coming in asking for meat to make 'pulled pork' as if it's the latest thing. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall et al have a lot to answer for - but in a good way, because if they have opened up the eyes of the cooking public to the beauty that is slow roast meat, that can only be a good thing.

I was, myself, in there for something to slow roast. A piece of pork to whack in the oven when I got home, and leave all day, delicious smells permeating the house, and meaning that when dinner time came, I simply had to knock up some veggies and do some gravy. Veg box day yesterday produced lovely chard, carrots and celeriac, amongst other things. Simply steamed the first two, and made mash with the third - perfect accompaniments. 

Speaking of unoriginal drivel about food, I know there are a million recipes for slow roast pork on the internet, and there may even be a version of this somewhere on this blog, but it's so good, and so easy that I thought it was worth posting again.

Slow roast Pork Shoulder (or whatever, it doesn't have to be shoulder)

! piece of pork - about 2 kg
a little oil to grease your roasting tin, plus 1 tbsp
1 medium onion
some sprigs of thyme
2 tbsp fennel seed
zest of a lemon
2 cloves of garlic, peeled & roughly chopped
a good pinch of sea salt
A large wine glass of white wine & water (or all water if you don't have any white wine left over from the previous night)

Pre-heat the oven to 220C

Grease a smallish roasting tin - it needs to be big enough to take the pork, but not so big that the liquid evaporates during the long cooking . Peel the onion, slice it and lay slices over the base of the tin, and chuck on a couple of the thyme stalks.

Pick off the leaves of the rest of the thyme stalks and add to a pestle & mortar (or whatever you use) with the fennel seed, lemon zest and garlic. 

Bash all this together with some sea salt and mix in the tbsp of oil, then lay the pork on the onions and smear all over with this rub/paste.

Put the whole lot in the oven and cook at the high temperature for 20-30 minutes, then remove from the oven and turn the heat down to around 110C. Tip the wine/water into the tin and cover the roasting tin snugly with foil. Return the tin to the oven and cook for as long as you need - I left mine in for about 7 hours before doing anything to it.

About 1 hr before you want to eat, remove the pork from the oven and turn the heat back up. Remove the foil and retun the pork to the oven to crisp up the crackling. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn - and cook for about 45 minutes.

Once the crackling is done, leave the meat to rest for 15 minutes or so, then remove the crackling and divide it into equal sized pieces (once you've checked that it's properly crispy and delicious of course), and pull the meat apart to serve. 

Monday, 16 March 2015

The curse of Endometriosis

I have a friend. She is a fabulous woman, and I love her dearly. She makes great cakes.

Strong, vocal in her opinions, forthright and not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, she is a passionate teacher, a strong advocate for the rights of women and girls, a campaigner for the underdog. She is also a loving wife and mother, and devoted animal lover. I have only known her for a few years. We met in a playground, our daughters looked around the same age, and so, it turned out, they were destined to go to school together and become good friends. Our dogs are best friends too, and I have had the pleasure of getting to know her and discovering all these amazing things about her.

But, I'm sure, you have already realised, this isn't just me having a love-fest about my friend. Just as I didn't know her fascinating, family history, her travels from South Africa and back; her politically active, strongly anti-apartheid family background which has surely shaped her own strength of character, I didn't know that she suffered from endometriosis.

And it is a testament to her strength that I didn't really realise not only that she has this to deal with, but also quite how debilitating the disease is. 

And it's a shitty disease (perhaps if we're using bodily adjectives, I should call it a bloody disease, but shitty sums up how I feel about it, knowing what I now know about it). It comes about when endometrial cells from the womb lining, the bits that bleed when women have a period, move to other parts of the body, set up camp, and carry on bleeding. And unlike monthly bleeding from the womb as part of the menstrual cycle, there's no where for the blood to go. Is this starting to sound a little bit horrible? My friend, it is - but please do read on.

From talking to my friend, it seems that these little territories of cell, or endometrium, form their own little menstrual cycles, too. You might be bleeding from your womb one week, the next, the little encampment that's taken root on your bowel might decide to bleed, then the patch in your lung, your liver. It's an extensive, insidious disease that seems to burrow its way through the body, embedding itself where it feels like it, and causing merry hell. It also causes chronic pain, fatigue and problems with conception. The arrival of my friend's daughter was hailed as nothing short of a miracle - and in more ways than one, as the hormonal changes did, for a time, quell the angry march of the endometriosis through her body.

I saw my friend in half term, just a few weeks ago. She'd been in hospital to have some of the endometriosis removed from her lung because she was quite literally drowning in her own blood - the endometriosis on her lung was bleeding and as the blood had no where to go, it was just filling her lungs up. Being my friend, she was keen to get back to work, to carry on. Because being a woman, she was being stoical, brave and carrying on - like women are supposed to do in the face of these 'weakenesses'. 

As surely as I know my friend, I know that this is not a weakness. I remember the horror of my own monthly period - bleeding, cramps, the hormonal raging - and basically being told to get on with it, with a little help from paracetamol and the odd hot water bottle. Women's problems; the curse. Something not to be talked about, or made a fuss of. A dark secret.

I don't give a stuff if you suggest that periods are somehow dirty and shouldn't be talked about. For goodness sake, it's part of a natural process of having children - and I have been able to deal with the physical and emotional challenges of my own cycle through use of a little marvel called the marena coil, but then, I don't have endometriosis.

My friend does have endometrioses. It's in her lungs, her bowel, her liver and plenty of other places the doctors are not even sure about. She has 5 consultants involved in her care, but until now, despite the dogged efforts of her utterly fabulous GP, there doesn't seem to have been a clear strategy for going forward. But even on a simple presentation, it's a debilitating condition. Imagine have part of your body bleeding that you couldn't stop or get to and the blood couldn't escape. Imagine that every time you went to the loo, the action aggravated the colony of angry endometrium cells on your bowel or bladder causing cramping and bleeding. Imagine drowning on your own blood because you've got it on your lung. No really, imagine what it would be like.

And now, my friend is back in hospital. It seems that her liver, her diaphragm and her lung have fused. She is having scans and will probably need surgery to resection her lung before a whole series of further operations to deal with the endometriosis they know about and also the stuff they haven't yet found. Every time I've spoken to her after a spell in hospital, there always seems to have been the suggestion that as well as the places they know about, it could be in other places too. Hopefully, now they can deal with it - but really should it have taken it to get to this awful point before she stopped having to cope and real action is being taken? 

Endometriosis is somehow seen as a woman's problem, It is, of course, related to menstruation  but did you know what happens? What it is? I didn't really either, and you wouldn't be alone, because it seems very little is known about the disease even though a study published in 2009 showed that 10% of women suffer from it - that's 176 million of us worldwide. This 'women's issue' costs the UK economy over £8 billion in treatment, loss of work and healthcare costs, and yet so little is known about it, and no research is done. I am no stranger to the wonders of medical research - my son had leukaemia, and the progress made in research meant that he had a 75% rate of survival as compared with a 4% chance had he been diagnosed 25 years earlier. Endometriosis is not cancer - but perhaps that's part of the problem Perhaps it's only seen as 'a woman's issue; so there's no need to plough money and time into finding a cure. And yet it's the second most common gynaecological condition in women in the UK, affecting a similar number of women as diabetes.

The lack of understanding and research into the disease causes huge problems. On average it takes 7.5 years for a diagnosis - which in itself means some women waiting a whole lot longer than that. It can often be attributed to irritable bowel syndrome, and reading stories on the Endometriosis UK website, it's shocking how many women are simply told, from a horrifyingly early age, that they just have to get on with it, that the pain and everything that goes with it is just part of being a woman.

Endometriosis is not part of being a woman. It's a disease, and it needs to be recognised as such, researched and dealt with. As I've discovered more and more about it, I've come to see it as Horrible. Shitty. Debilitating. And more needs to be done about it.

If you've made it to the end of this post, thank you, and thank you from my friend, who is passionate about raising awareness of this disease. And you could make her even happier by signing this petition calling for more discussion of the disease in Parliament which will hopefully lead to more research funding ensuring faster diagnosis and better treatment.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Ginger & Coconut Surprise Cake

I'll cut to the chase here - the 'surprise' in this cake is that it tasted quite as good as it did, given my penchant for adapting with impunity.

I managed to sneak in a baking session on Saturday afternoon, chores done, children delivered and recovered from various activities, dog walked. As the rest of the household settled for rugby induced over-excitement, I sidled into my happy place, emptied the cupboards and got a bake on. A lasagne for Sunday (ragu already made and defrosted, so a mere assembly job) - something easy to pop in the oven after our planned Mothers Day activity of a walk and picnic on the beach; some experimental gluten free brownies, of which more another day when I've sorted out the slight oiliness from slightly too much coconut oil; pizza for post-rugby match appetites (shouting at the TV can make people awfully hungry...) and this cake.

Getting my bake on...
Again adapting from Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard, this is my version of the ginger root cake, the adaptations mostly based on using up what was in the cupboard. You'll be pleased to hear that I now have less than half a bottle of pomegranate molasses in my possession, and although I have found several very good uses for it, I'm not sure I'll be rushing to purchase another bottle.

Anyway, back to this cake. It's not a straightforward cake flavour-wise, but the molasses and ginger complement each other, with the addition of coconut rounding things off. It worked as cake on its own, and also as pudding, topped with some homegrown rhubarb, simply stewed.

And if you were interested, this cake also contains swede. Yes, the vegetable. Not Ulrika Johnsson. And unlike my last attempt to include swede in a cake, this appears to have gone undetected. That'll teach them for watching the rugby...

Ginger & Coconut Surprise Cake

2 large eggs
100g light soft brown sugar
100g pomegranate molasses
150 ml coconut oil
150g grated swede
2 nuggets of stem ginger, finely chopped
175g wholemeal flour
50g dessicated coconut
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
2 tsp ground ginger

for the icing
100g icing sugar
lemon juice (probably about 1/4 lemon)

Line a 20cm round springform cake tin and pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Separate one of the eggs and set the white aside for later. Beat together the while egg and second yolk with the sugar until it becomes thick and lightens in colour - at least 5 minutes.

Beat in the molasses and coconut oil, then stir in the swede and chopped ginger.

Mix together the flour, coconut, raising agents and ground ginger, then add this into the mixture.

Take the remaining egg white and whist to the soft peak stage, then fold this evenly through the batter.

Scrape this into the tin and bake for around 40 minutes - it's OK if a few crumbs come out on the cake tester.

Once the cake has cooled, remove it from the tin and make up the icing. Sieve the icing sugar and combine with the lemon juice to make a thick-ish icing. Ice your cake as artfully as you like, and enjoy.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Poached eggs, chard and pancetta on toast

Ask me about how I feel about the Husband travelling.

Go on. 

I'll shrug, perhaps give you a wry smile, say something like "Well, to be honest I get twitchy if he hasn't been away for a couple of weeks"

A hang over from the fact that we pretty much had a long distance relationship from the day we met, perhaps, that he was often away for weeks, or, even, months at a time, so I was just used to it. I'd miss him, but it was OK. 

The fact is that whatever I say, these days, when he goes away, it's not OK. I miss him, the kids miss him, even the dog misses him. Things always seem to happen the weeks he's away. Busier than normal after school schedules, a car needing to go to the garage, admin to deal with. And then on top of the general busy-ness, we're trying to fit phone calls or facetime in - usually before school & work at the same time as we're finding PE kits and assembling packed lunches - so that we can stay in touch.

Whereas before I could use the opportunity to watch trashy TV too late into the evening, these days, I'm competing with Blue, his new found assertiveness over bed time, and his desire to watch such gems as Top Gear (the irony of mentioning this yet keeping my counsel as to recent events when everyone else has an opinion is not lost on me) or - worse - Extreme Fishing with Robson Green. What is it with 11 year old boys??

He's been away this week, the Husband, and, as usual, it's been a busy one. I feel like I've barely caught breathe let alone eat properly: this week has mostly been a tale of toast for me (not the kids, of course). Sometimes I think that if you got me on the right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) day and asked me what I'd choose for my final meal, it would be toast. Sourdough for preference, spread generously with salted Welsh butter and marmalade. Or perhaps some marmite. Peanut butter and avocado (yes, really. Don't knock it till you've tried it). Mushrooms sauteed in butter. 

This evening, though, I managed something more approximating a proper meal, and truly, this is on the list of possible last suppers. And so what if I didn't get to sit down with it till 9, having chased the 11 year old up to bed. This week's veg box revealed a lush bag of 'bright lights' chard leaves, slices of pancetta - and a free range egg on top. Nothing more than a slice of buttered toast underneath and a grind of pepper on top and you have a meal fit for a king, queen, or knackered working mother. And no, the toast wasn't sourdough, but it was still mighty fine.

This isn't a real recipe, more an exercise in timing; an assembly job - steam the chard, fry the bacon, poach the egg, toast the bread and serve. The perfect meal for a multitasker juggling kids, dogs and day to day life... You can of course use spinach for this instead of chard, and bacon instead of pancetta. One egg or two, it makes no odds, but I insist on free range, soft and poached.

Poached Eggs, Chard & Pancetta on Toast

A couple of handfuls of chard (or spinach), any big stalks separated and roughly chopped
2-3 pieces of streaky bacon or pancetta
1 or 2 organic free range eggs
1 or 2 slices of bread of your choice and butter, ditto

Start off with the chopped stalks in a steamer. Steam for a couple of minutes before chucking in the leaves.

Heat a small non-stick frying pan and start frying the bacon.

Boil a kettle and fill a small saucepan or frying pan. Bring the water back up to the boil and pop the toast on.

Crack the egg (or eggs) into the boiling water and poach for 3-4 minutes till cooked but with the yolk still soft.

When the bacon is cooked to your liking, remove from the heat and drain on kitchen paper. Set aside.

Butter the toast, squeeze the chard to get rid of excess water and pile on to the toast. Top with the egg(s) and add the bacon to the plate. Finish with a grind of black pepper and some peace and quiet.

I'm submitting this to the lovely Dom's new linky, Simply Eggcellent - a great celebration of eggs on the Belleau Kitchen blog.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lemon caramel cake

I love food. That's why I have a food blog. There's not much that I won't try, not much I don't like. But there are a few flavours that I keep going back to. Smoked paprika. Almonds. Lemon.

I'd be hard pressed to choose between lemon and almond, particularly when talking about cake (I haven't yet added smoked paprika to a cake) and I'll often seek to combine the 2 rather than choose, but today, it's all about lemon cake. Yet another one, I know, to join Felicity Cloake's perfect lemon drizzle cake (which does include almonds), the lemon cake with feathered icing, a lemon and blackcurrant cake...

This is another bake based on a Dan Lepard classic from Short & Sweet where it appears as Lemon Butter Cake. There's a version of this loaf cake online on the Guardian Life & Style pages from 2006 - slightly different to that which appears in print, but the constant ingredient is condensed milk, one of my other culinary loves. You might think the combination of lemon and condensed milk would be one that I'd find hard to resist, but in fact I've pondered the possibility for some time and never been quite sure. One of the joys of lemon is its sharpness - would the addition of condensed milk take that away?

Well, the fact is that I've had some tinned caramel in the fridge for far too long, left over from making my favourite flapjacks, so in the end, I didn't use condensed milk at all, and here's the result. No cloying sweetness, just a deliciously sharp, moist loaf cake, with massive mouth-appeal.  .

Dan may bake with integrity - me, I just use up what I've got in the fridge. Either way, this is a mighty fine cake.

Lemon Caramel Cake

100g unsalted butter
2 large eggs
150g caster sugar
125g tinned caramel
grated zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1.5 large lemons (save the other half for the icing)
275g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder

100g icing sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Line a large loaf tin with baking paper and pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Melt the butter and set aside.

Separate the eggs and measure out 25g of the caster sugar. Whisk the whites till frothy then tip in the sugar with the whisk still running until the mix forms soft peaks. Set the bowl aside.

Beat together the melted butter, the egg yolks, the remaining 125g caster sugar, the caramel, lemon zest and lemon juice until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and caramel coloured.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the egg yolk mixture and beat together till smooth, then fold in the egg whites till combined and scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf tin.

Bang the tin a couple of times to evenly distribute the mixture, then bake for 40-50 minutes till a skewer comes out almost clean.

Leave the cake to cool, then make up the icing by combining the icing sugar with the juice of half a lemon to make quite a runny icing. Drizzle this over the loaf.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Savoury Scones for the Six Nations

One of the very different things about living in Wales as compared to England is the strength of feeling invested in rugby. In England, yeah, plenty of people like rugby, but it's not a patch on the all-consuming, national pride inducing, mass tear provoking, beer fest PASSION that it is here in Wales.

For a start, EVERYONE is involved. I mean everyone. When I went to London on the train last November, everyone between Carmarthen and Cardiff was either going to to the game or talking about the game and using it as an excuse to have a drink at 10.00 a.m. And I mean EVERYONE.

At the start of the Six Nations tournament a couple of weeks ago, the kids came from school engaged in a very serious conversation.

"Did you sing?"


"I opened my mouth but I didn't sing the words"


Apparently, the school had assembled to sing the Welsh national anthem in advance of the competition, and specifically the opening match against England. While I haven't asked about this year, I can attest that in their primary school in Hampshire, there was no singing of the English national anthem prior to the Six Nations in the years before we moved.

Despite the grumblings of the Husband, I haven't investigated this further to find out exactly what happened, and much as there's a worrying voice at the back of my mind questioning whether such displays of patriotism are strictly necessary, there's another part of me that admires this devotion to their national sport that the Welsh have. True, I haven't been on the receiving end of this passion in any negative sense (not that I'm aware of anyway - my welsh skills being nascent and distinctly wobbly), and I can see that taken to the extreme, it could lead to all sorts of unpleasantness, but on the whole, the passion seems to be a good natured and healthy love of Wales and the Welsh rugby team. The children do tell me that on the board in school featuring pictures of the different national rugby teams involved in the 6 Nations, the English players do seem particularly Neanderthal-like. Whether those responsible did that on purpose, or whether the English rugby team is simply looking a little Neanderthal these days, I couldn't possibly comment...

Anyway, given this background, you'll appreciate that it's not as surprising as it might otherwise have been to have a baking event themed to the Six Nations. Branching away from cakes (although there will still be clandestine cakes), the Cardigan Bay Bakers has formed to bake beyond the boundaries of a cake tin, and the inaugural meeting had 'Six Nations Savouries' as its theme.

Now, despite having an idea that I'd make 6 kinds of flavoured savoury scone each reflecting a different nation, the reality of doing so was slightly traumatic given that I'd been back in England, in Leeds to be precise, for my school reunion involving 12 hours driving and an extremely late, riotous and thoroughly enjoyable evening on Saturday. Visions of 6 differently and delicately flavoured scones went out of the window when I realised I had hardly any flour in the house, nor much to add to create the '6 nations-ness'. I did have a leek, some parmesan cheese and some cold mashed potato, but such was my panic that I didn't take many pics, preferring to concentrate on actually cooking something.

I made leek & parmesan scones using welsh butter & leeks (doubly appropriate given St David's Day) and also some pesto (Italy again as well as the parmesan) potato (Scotland & Ireland) scones, some to serve with goats cheese (France) and some with smoked salmon (Scotland) which I purchased on my way to the event. So I figure I got most nations covered given that the flour I did have was English, and there's some mustard powder in there. Nothing like being organised, is there?

Leek & Parmesan Scones

makes 10 medium sized scones

1 small leek, trimmed and finely chopped
50g butter
75g plain flour (I ended up using 00 which was all I had)
75g wholemeal self raising flour
1 tsp English mustard powder
a pinch of cayenne
1 tsp baking powder
good pinch of salt
about 80g parmesan finely grated
1 large egg
3-4 tbsp buttermilk

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (Fan) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Make sure you have your biscuit cutter (I used a 6cm one) to hand.

First, melt 12g of the butter in a small pan and sweat the leeks till softened. Don't let them catch. Set aside.

Combine the flours, mustard and cayenne, baking powder and salt in a bowl, then add in the cooked leeks and the grated cheese and stir together.

Combine the egg with 3 tbsps of buttermilk and stir into the dry mixture - add the extra tbsp of buttermilk if you need it to make a soft dough.

Pat out the dough on a floured surface and use a 6 cm cutter to cut out your scones, reshaping the dough if necessary to get more scones. 

Bake for 15-20 mins until browned and ready to eat. Serve with good, salted butter. Preferably Welsh...