Random Act of Cookery

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About a year ago I was minding my own business tapping away at the PC at work when someone dropped an amazon parcel on my desk… 2 colleagues had clubbed together and surprised me with a birthday present the Polpo recipe book…

Which aside from lots of lovely food, has a cute octopus on the front, what’s not to like… especially if cute octopus also means recipes for cooking cute octopus…(yes, in case you are wondering I have eaten both Bambi and Thumper… I am heartless)

I did my usual read through “ohhh that looks nice, must make that etc” and then, comprehensibly failed to make anything… lots of good intentions here, very little action

So… it is birthday time again and the Polpo cookbook has spent 12 months gathering dust… I made a promise to myself that I would make at least 1 recipe from it a week and I would choose the recipe randomly by asking people to suggest numbers for me up to 250 something…

And then depending on what it was I’d either make a scaled down version for my lunch or make it for the family… because as usual what has stopped me cooking has been the thought “oh, they probably won’t eat that”

So first up is a photo of the cute octopus on the cover of the book… and the first random act of cookery which is a less than taxing spinach with garlic and chilli with poached egg and some grilled tomatoes…

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It’s randomness was achieved by my favourite approach to cooking which is “open the fridge – now, what needs using”

I’m allowing myself a free pass for next week, on asking O mighty Tim to suggest a number he said 12… which turned out to be part of the introduction. On changing it to 112 it turned out to be a recipe involving cuttlefish

In view of the fact that my home is about as far from the sea as you can get I shall put that on hold until I find myself in the same place as 500g of cuttlefish

Next weeks recipe may be lacking in randomness except that it will probably be something involving Asparagus… watch this space.

The Spinach ? Oh that was ok, went well with the egg, but both were improved by splashing some balsamic over them… I was aiming for the tomatoes but missed and got the rest of the dish…serendipity

Well if it’s January then it must be …Dieting

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We don’t like the concept of dieting here at Currantbun Towers. We don’t like it. We don’t believe in it… and most importantly we don’t do it. Diets yes, dieting no…

I probably should explain here my use of language here.  A diet is what you eat. It can be general referring to everything you eat or it can refer to a particular regime you have chosen to follow for a reason that is not necessarily associated with weight loss. For example you might be training for a marathon, have a heart condition or suffer from migraines and you follow a specific regime or diet that is designed to help you with that.

“Dieting” though almost always seems to relate to following a particular regime in order to lose weight. You pretty much never hear someone say that they are dieting because they suffer from a migraine and are trying to avoid certain foods… then it’s described as “following a diet”

So, we don’t do dieting here… we believe in a healthy balanced appetite with everything we enjoy eating in moderation… until, we forget the moderation and the balanced bit… and the monitoring to ensure that it is moderate and balanced  😦

How did I get here ?

Possibly sitting on the sofa for 12-18 months feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing but drink red wine and eat comfort food. So nothing interesting or unusual there… The story is that in October 2013 my employers announced they were cutting the work force by 1700 and then what was supposed to be a quick exercise was dragged out for a Loooooooooooooong time… and we were pretty much in limbo for 12 months not knowing what was happening.

But now it is over.  I have a job. What’s more I have an extra 2 hours of freedom a day as part of the restructuring I got to move office and don’t have to commute quite so much. But…

Where does this leave me ?

I put on weight. I put on a lot of weight. I am now 1.5 stones over the weight I am comfortable living out…I am 2 stone over the weight I would like to be… and I am 3 stone over weight Nirvana (which, since it is the weight I was at age 18 I know is unachievable…)

Oddly though, the fact that I am overweight and need to do something about it has reignited my interest in food… but in a good way

January is a silly time to start a diet and exercise regime… the overcast skies, the gloom and the grey, the dark nights and the cold make it highly unlikely that you will want to go out and exercise after work and more likely that you will stay in. In January, and possibly more so in February, foodie thoughts turn to stews and casseroles full of potatoes, dumplings and fatty meat (yes please !)

but we all do it… because we overindulge at Christmas… but 18 months of overindulgence… well that means you can’t afford to procrastinate. Do it and do it now. But recognise that the first months will be tough and just because you fall off the wagon it doesn’t mean that you give up.

Nevertheless I have made inroads into my problem. Despite the fact that I tend to hibernate the whole of February with too much wine and chocolate, I have still managed to lose over half a stone.  This has mainly been through portion control, less red wine and cutting out the biscuits, chocolate and crisps. I have also made an effort to move more and have been aiming for 10,000 steps a day.  I also fell off the wagon a lot in February… it was really hard…

I am not aiming for perfection. I am not aiming for a fast loss of weight. I just want there to be less of me at Christmas than there is now.

So, I although I am dusting off the blog and planning on writing about Appetite again  I will try not to whine about being fat… but more about how wonderful food is, and how healthy eating does not mean living on undressed lettuce and detoxing…

Please bear with me, the other reason I haven’t been blogging so much (other than fear of redundancy) is that my boy managed to kill my lap top. The hard drive is toast. I swapped to an IPad mini but fear it has proved a bit more complicated for someone of my advanced years (that’s 43 in case you are wondering… but as far as Spider is concerned that is “old” and pretty much almost dead !!!)

And yes, I know its May… but it shows you how much I hate the concept of dieting in that its taken me until the end of May to bring myself to write about it…and to be honest it’s been going up and down like a yoyo due to grey miserable skies… April was much better.

In fact Easter is a much better time to start a diet…

If it’s September then it must be…Blackberries

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I know it is no longer September but I’ve been having technological issues – beside the blackberries round us were very late this year. In Reading where I work they were starting to appear in mid July but in Warwickshire they weren’t worth eating until mid September…

Which is when a neighbour (I guess I should call him Flapjack King since he is the Flapjack Queen’s other half) challenged myself and the rest of the road to a “Hedgerow Bake Off”…after that is he had picked all the blackberries within immediate reach. This gave him a significant time advantage…not that it helped as Fate took a hand and evened the playing field for the rest of us.. FJK misread his recipe, failed to add enough gelatine and ended up with a blackberry flavoured sauce instead of the Pana Cota he’d been hoping for !

The entrants to the Itchy Bishop Hedgerow Challenge included:

– Pumpkin Pie,

-Pecan Pie (yes I know they don’t grow in Warwickshire, but they were selling them in the local tesco so I guess it counts !)

-Blackberry and Raspberry Roulade

-Blackberry Syllabub,

-a liquid Pana Cota and his back up Bakewell Tart

– a moist chocolate cake with a blackberry compote filling (Chocolate Ganache icing)…

and my contribution which was a blackberry bread and butter pudding (Nigel Slater Tender II) as by the time I’d finished my gardening and gone out and found some blackberries I only had an hour left…and to be frank wasn’t in the mood to do the Madeleines I’d planned (Madeleines…far too much effort for such small cakes !)

Unfortunately we forgot to pace ourselves with the sampling, by the time they got to mine no one could manage more than a small spoonful…maybe we made a mistake in combining the bake off with the last barbecue of the summer…

I forgot to get pics but O Mighty Tim snapped the one above…which I’ve had to pinch from his facebook as he is  also having a week where technology is biting him on the bottom…

The winner was unanimously declared to be 9 year old Flapjack Princess’ chocolate cake

My Bread and Butter pudding unfortunately became my breakfast and lunch the next day as it turned out that neither Spider or OMT eat it…wish they’d mentioned that before I’d made it  😦

So there you go, a new memory to go along with the hundred I already have of fun in the sun and blackberries including

Memory  2006 – We are in the process of buying our current house and we take a sneaky peak of the road from the “country” bit of the lane…the hedges are full of sloes and blackberries and an 18 month old Spider keeps leaning from my arms, pointing stuttering out the words  “Black-Black, Black-Black”…

Memory  1993 – It is September, students are not yet back at university but postgraduate and masters students haven’t stopped. I go to visit a friend who is doing a masters in psychology of something or other…her household is the welcoming sort where a friend of one is a friend of all. We go for a walk in the countryside round Cardiff before heading back for a house family Sunday dinner of  roast chicken. The walk is one of glorious autumn sunshine, climbing trees and kicking through the first fallen leaves. As we reach the car we spot blackberries and after a quick search of pockets for a plastic bag forage enough to take back for crumble and custard.

Memory July-ish  1980 or 81 Malvern Railway station, we are waiting for someone after school, it may be Dad or Mum can’t remember who but there was only 1 of my parents there and my brother…bored we roam the car park until we fall on some amazingly early blackberries rambling over a wall…but then the summers of your childhood are always warm enough for early blackberries to appear…

This weekend we managed to rustle up enough blackberries to go in a crumble to follow our roast…which I am sorry to say is the usual fate for my foraging other than the occasional jam, compote or simply scoffing them straight off the bush…but then I love the wonderful jammy perfume of a crumble filling the kitchen

Maybe next year I might manage something more ambitions…but I doubt it…

If it’s September then it must be…Sweetcorn

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I’ve been sitting on this post for most of the last month meaning to sort some photos out…and now I’ve almost run out of the month so here it is anyway…

Memory 1  1994

It’s November and for once I have done my Christmas shopping early. There is a chill in the air and mist over the back garden and I am looking through Real Good Food by Nigel Slater which I have bought for my brother for Christmas.

My interest is caught by the chapter on barbeques and I am captivated and transported from this chilly midlands morning to a summer evening in a garden in London by Nigel’s description of how he uses a flowerpot filled with stones, charcoal and the rack from his grill to barbecue on… then follows a description of his way of soaking the sweetcorn and then placing the cob still covered by the husk on the rack and roasting it slowly over hot coals…eaten blistering hot with chilli flavoured butter…

Memory 2  1990 ?

I am watching a rerun of MASH and Colonel  Sherman Potter (photo from the monster mash wiki)

Sherman potter

is explaining how when he gets home he is going to go outside into one of the fields surrounding his house,  “Well, I like fresh corn. I mean real fresh corn. So I think maybe I’ll just take a hot plate out to the garden, make a pot of boiling water, then I won’t even pick that corn – I’ll bend that stalk till the ear dips into the water, and I’ll eat it right there standing up. Scrumptious! ”    

Doesn’t that just make you want to grow some so you can do it yourself ?

Memory 3 1976 or 1977

Hong Kong. Two travel weary parents take their children out into the streets of Wan Chai  (these days its quite a smart area full of hotels and conference centres, back then it was ah… interesting !) looking for somewhere to eat… although these children have been brought up to eat what is put in front of them, the parents are somewhat nervous, remember Chinese food was not as popular in the UK as it is today, and these 2 children, despite the culinary adventures of the parents still have very  british palettes.

As it turned out the place that the family eventually walked into started the set menu off with a bowl of soup, a bowl of chicken soup on top of which was a yellow sea of sweetcorn…and in this backstreet Hong Kong restaurant started a love affair which has lasted over 37 years.

For many years if asked what my favourite food was I would say without hesitation “chicken and sweetcorn soup”… and fortunately my Mum usually had a batch in  the freezer…and although it was not the soup of my memory it was usually pretty damn good…

Is it good for you ?

Well it’s a vegetable and like a lot of vegetables mainly water with just under 20% of it’s weight being carbohydrate (3% sugar), with about 3g out of 100g accounting for dietary fibre, 3g protein and a further 1g or so counting as fat. From a vitamin point of view it has some vitamin B, some vitamin c

A discussion about what technology has done to it and where it might appear as  a product in other food stuffs is probably one for another day but on balance I would say that on its own it can’t hurt you…and most areas of the world seem to have developed ways of eating it in combination with other things (beans) in order to get a balanced diet…

How you cook it and what you serve it up with is a different matter…I, like a lot of children no doubt,  grew up being served boiled sweetcorn slathered in butter…and given the choice that is usually how I do serve it up if there is no chicken in the house !

What goes with it ?

Most soup recipes (other than chicken) seem to involve sweet potatoes and chili…or they go down the chowder route…there are a large number of recipes involving mixing them with egg and either as a pancake, omlette or fritter or a corn custard. Salads tend to involve adding them to mayonnaise.

More interesting recipes I have seen of late involve adding them to Turkey Meatballs (Ottolenghi) and in Plenty More they get served up with miso, I quite like adding a squeeze of lime juice over my freshly boiled corn if I am trying to avoid the butter

So how did you serve it this time ?

Having fallen in love with Nigel’s prose almost 20 years ago I had planned to grill it over charcoal but because of a busy month my corn wasn’t looking too good as we approached the end of the month so soup it was…one of the many sweet potato/red pepper/chilli combos but Tesco’s failed to provide me with a sweet potato… I did have a fridge full of slightly less than impressive vegetables (carrots, peas, a leek)…and there was left over chicken in the freezer so… yep, chicken and sweetcorn soup it was…

No deconstruction

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I’ve had several posts in mind this week but a combination of work, work’s network collapsing (meaning I’ve been fighting the backlog all week) plus half term mean that I haven’t had a chance to sit down until now…and this morning I’ve been preparing food for a party later this afternoon to celebrate my Dad’s 75th Birthday (“Hi Dad, Happy Birthday”).

Normally on a sunday morning I sit down with the Observer and soak up Nigel Slater’s glorious food orientated prose but I’m too traumatised by the Coq au Vin I made at 8am this morning

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You probably can’t see from the photo but there is at least 100ml of fat in that jug, which came out of the chicken thighs when they were being browned… from the taste of the finished dish I probably could have done with draining off a bit more, however I’m hoping that I can skim some more off before I serve it, which won’t be until after 1pm.

In the meantime, Nigel has 2 mouth watering recipes involving game birds which since they fly around in thee wild (yay ! Exercise for poultry) are lean and tasty rather than fat and flabby as the chickens whose thighs have ended their days in my wine and onion stew obviously are. So I’m not going to deconstruct the recipes today as actually they look pretty good and healthy as they are…and playing around with them might lead to dry meat which would be a shame.

Also worth checking out in the Observer this sunday is Jay Rayner’s review of Zest I’m sure the food is nice but the review had me giggling into my cornflakes.

Baked Sardines and Pine Nuts…in moderation

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I deconstructed Nigel Slater’s Baked Sardine and Pine Nut recipe more as an exercise…unless O’Mighty Tim has a damascan style conversion to fish this won’t be appearing for dinner in this house anytime soon. It’s not suitable for taking for lunch as it’s served hot/warm and I don’t have anything capable of keeping it hot for longer than 3 hours at the moment.

Sardines are meant to be a  healthy option being 25% protein, oodles of vitamin B, 9% fat and most of it poly unsaturated plus being good sources of vitamin D, calcium and Omega 3 fatty acids. 10 small sardines, according to FitDay comes out at at approximately 104 calories of which 5.7g are fat.

The whole dish however (serving 3-4 people) comes out at 1611 calories of which 131g are fat, 12.3g protein and 0% fat. In other words 70% fat, but most of that being poly or monounsaturated…so falling more into the “good fats” category.  A 3 person portion is 537 calories, if it serves 4 person then that drops to 402 calories.

If you want to make this less calorific then you could play around with the olive oil (accounts for 477 of the total dishes calories, 54g fat) or reduce the pine nuts…but perhaps not by too much as the pine nuts are part of the point of the dish. The 100g pine nuts accounts for 673 calories and 68g fat.  Reducing the olive oil to 2 tablespoons and the pine nuts to 80g will reduce a 4 person serving down to 309 calories…don’t know what that will do to the flavour as I’m not going to get a chance to try it…

I think what I’d probably do for this is to call a portion equal to 2 fish and serve it with either steamed veg or a citrus dressed salad… a 2 fish serving brings it down to 322 calories (18g fat)

I didn’t bother working out the cake…same rules apply to cake as they do to G&T the occasional one is fine…however for the cake to be equivalent in calories as a G&T you would need to divide it into about 24 slices…and only eat it on a day where you’d had no other fat !

 

The Diet Doctors Inside and Out (a sort of review)

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I don’ believe in diets and I don’t as a rule EVER follow a particular diet supposedly guaranteed to drop inches off my measurements… not since 2001 as far as I can remember when I dutifully followed a 7 day juice detox (having worked out that if I froze the lunchtime juice and took it to work it was in perfect condition by lunchtime) and ended up feeling by day 4  completely shattered and with very spotty skin…no doubt it was because “all the toxins were forcing their way out of your body”…

Who knows, but I’ve not followed a known diet regime since then, even when I follow the Matt Roberts Fat loss programme I only do the exercise part and ignore the diet side.

It is surprising to discover that I do actually have several books about dieting lurking around the house including The Diet Doctors Inside and Out – The ultimate 12 week diet plan…I think my Mum found it in a charity shop and passed it on to try and distract me from what she describes as that “Boot Camp”…I haven’t managed to get past week 6 of Matt Roberts programme the last 2 times I’ve tried it as I end up injured !

The Diet Doctors Inside And Out: The 12-week plan to make you slim for l By Dr Samina Showghi

I had a flick through this when it entered the house and put it down quite quickly as it wanted you to do a quiz and then didn’t seem to do anything with the results… well the book resurfaced a couple of weeks ago in a house reorganisation and I discovered that the results are actually listed in the back…AND discovered that actually my diet was not as healthy as I thought…so I sat down and read the book.

It’s basic principles are in line with what I’ve been trying to do, namely  if you want to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you use.  They advocate achieving this in the following way

1. Move more

2. Eat more vegetables, less red meat and less carbohydrates, less fat

3. Portion Control…and don’t overeat

4. Cut out the junk and processed food – less sugary high fat food

5. But should not just be a one off 12 weeks “diet”. It is about adopting good food habits for life…you are slowly changing your habits over the 12 weeks so that they become part of your lifestyle.

Sounds sensible enough right ?

They divide what you eat into 5 groups. Most of your diet should be made up of fruit and vegetables and the group 2 foods of bread rice pasta and potatoes. What they don’t explain clearly is that both group 1 and group 2 foods are carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables are usually more carbohydrate than anything else, the Group 2 foods are carbohydrates with more starch in them than the group 1 and they advocate trying to eat less processed versions…in fact they say “we want you to drop white refined and processed versions of the group 2 foods”

…and it is here I have a bit of a problem because I have yet to meet a whole wheat pasta that I like and I find brown rice far too much like hard work. I’d rather just eat a small portion of the more processed types…wholegrain bread I don’t have too much of a problem with but good bread generally is hard to find when you don’t have lot of time to shop. It’s also not clear where pulses fall within their 5 food groups, I’m presuming it’s Group 1 or are classed as unrefined group 2 foods…

But anyway, I’m going to give it a go, 1 week at a time and see whether it helps the weight level to go down more than it is at the moment…at the moment my waist measurement is fairly static.

Waist measurement currently = 32 inches

The Perfect Gin and Tonic

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What’s this, alcohol ? I thought there was meant to be a change of direction here, I thought this was all about healthy eating…”

It is about healthy eating, but it is also about variety, moderation and balance and  it is about FUN.  A gin and tonic can be part of healthy eating…lots of G&T’s possibly not !

On friday’s husband and I gather at my parents for a chat and occasionally some food or a film (Spider had a thing about James Bond this year and we ended up working out way through most of the films on fridays). My Dad and I indulge in a G&T, well usually 2 G&T’s. Some time ago we decided to start trying and comparing Gin’s and over the next few weeks I will try and tell you about them…if I start writing down what we thought about each brand then I can at least pretend we are connoisseur and not alcoholics !

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There is however no such thing as a perfect G&T as it’s all a matter of personal taste, however what follows is how we make our G&T’s and it is how we have tested each of the various brands we have tried so far.

  1. Take a cut glass tumbler…you can use any old glass but I think the drinking experience is so much nicer when you drink out of good glass…besides we used to use the markings on ours to measure out the gin…these days we use a proper measure !
  2. Put four lumps of ice in the bottom of the glass  (if you add the ice first it starts cooling the glass down)
  3. Add a slice of lime… in most pubs in the UK you tend to get lemon…our family has just always preferred lime, so lime it is.  If it’s not a naturally juicy one then give it a quick squeeze to help it out…alternatively rub the lime round the top of the glass.
  4. Choose a decent brand of Gin – our standard for years was Gordon’s Export which wasn’t always easy to get and we were reliant on people going abroad to bring it back as duty free.  At some point after 1992 we switched to Tanqueray. Both of these are London Dry Gin’s and are actually owned by the same people (Diageo)
  5. Measure out 50ml of gin… as I mentioned we used to pour the gin to a particular point in the glass but about 3 years ago decided to act like responsible adults.  We use a measure that came as a lid to a bottle of tonic once, it was approximately the same amount of gin as the mark on the glass method…much much later one of us poured the measure into a measuring glass and worked out that our G&T’s were based on a double measure !
  6. Top up to taste with whatever brand of tonic water floats your boat.  For a long time for us it had to be Schweppes indian tonic water and it had to be the full fat version as the diet versions used artificial sweetners and just tasted plain nasty… however at some point Schweppes seems to have changed their reciepe  so we switched tonic. We now top up with Fevertree…and I don’t know how much tonic is involved but for us it tends to work out as 1.5 small bottles of tonic between the 2 glasses…again it’s all down to taste and how strong or weak you like your G&T
  7. Very important this last bit… give it a swizzle (stir) and…
  8. Enjoy

Calories: in ours  182 calories…  not all gins have the same calories, not all tonics have the same and presumably there are some nice low calorie versions out there, so if you want to reduce the calorie count then play around until you find something you like

September means Sweetcorn

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I have had a love affair with sweetcorn for a long long time. At the age of 7 if asked, I would answer that my favourite food was chicken and sweetcorn soup, but  I think it was probably the sweetcorn part that made the difference.

 One of my first cookbooks was Real Good Food:Nigel Slater and I remember reading again and again his description of how he barbecued sweetcorn on a BBQ made from an old flowerpot filled with pebbles and charcoal and then served with lashings of chilli butter…I longed to  have my own house and garden so that I could do this too…20 years on and I have had BBQ sweetcorn on many occasions but from much more unromantic “disposable grills”…but still as September comes round my stomach starts to rumble as I see the “Sweetcorn for sale” signs on the farm gates around Warwickshire…

 It is also one of the few vegetables that I can get Spider to eat without fuss which is why if a couple of cobs of sweetcorn appear in the weekly veg box, they usually end up heading his way instead of mine…but, because Husband, doesn’t eat it, it is not something that I generally end up buying…not even tinned.

 I have accidentally scored a tin of sweetcorn this week. Due to Spider absent mindedly leaving his bag in Husband’s car on Thursday night, the tin my Mum had put in his bag for the Harvest Festival on Friday (because  it’s a safe bet I would have forgotten) is now mine, Spider having taken a tin of mushroom soup  (schools prefer tinned food these days apparently – gone are the days of taking one of your Dad’s supersized marrows in)…

 Much as I adore the flavour of a freshly cooked sweetcorn…it is admittedly at it’s best just as you have picked it  (does anyone remember the bit in M*A*S*H where Sherman Potter is explaining how he will take a cooker and a pot of water out into the field and bend the stalk of corn over until the cob (still attached to the plant) meets the water)…and the chances of getting sweetcorn that fresh is slim… Almost as soon as it is picked the sugar starts turning to starch…

 Nutritionally Speaking

Sugar ? Starch ? Yes, that’s right Sweetcorn is a carbohydrate…as are most vegetables…however Sweetcorn does have quite a lot of good things going for it…for a start it is supposed to be high in anti oxidants and be good for eyesight… compared to an apple it has more vitamin C, more protein, slightly more carbohydrates (6% as compared to 4%) and slightly higher in dietary fibre. Also surprisingly, in that you can cook with corn oil, sweetcorn is relatively low in fat (1%, compared with an apple’s 0%) and those fats being mainly mono or poly unsaturated…

 The problem with sweetcorn tends to be what people do with it…slathering it with chilli butter is probably off the menu for me…but most of the other recipes I’ve looked at for inspiration are high in fats, oil or cream too…probably because the taste of sweetcorn is very delicate (most of its attraction being the crunch texture and the hit of sugar) so most people add flavours (and fat) to it…

So for the time being, as after all this is a tin of sweetcorn, I don’t HAVE to eat it now, I’ve parked it until I can think of something better to do with it than eating it raw in a salad…

photo to follow – still having camera issues

A new direction ?

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I have been meaning to give the blog a facelift for sometime…in fact I started to do so at the beginning of the year, but then caught the flu and for quite some time have had no real interest in food… But then it is difficult to sustain an interest in food when you are bombarded by media messages about how the developed world is heading for an obesity crisis and that we are all eating such bad bad things !

 It cannot be denied that we (me and Husband) are both overweight, we are both about a stone above where we are comfortable being and in truth really need to lose 2 stone each…and you are probably thinking “well what do you expect when you have a blog called “Appetite for Cake”. Surprisingly though it is not the cake that is to blame, I make a lot of cake but most of it I give away to cheer other people up. No, our downfall is cheese. Cheese, but also sausages, mash, gin and red wine…

And in this year of ups and downs and illness (never really recovered from the flu before being struck down by cold after cold) that there has been a lot of comfort eating…

 I don’t believe in diets though, or rather “dieting”. You follow a diet for a set time, loose weight and then go back to how you used to be, and the weight just all comes back…I also don’t believe in “good” and “bad” foods. Food is a source of energy, if you eat it you will live, however some foods you can eat more of without an adverse effect on your weight and some foods are probably best kept for treats ! (Supersize me demonstrates that quite well !).

 I also don’t believe in daily calorie limits…I don’t believe in beating yourself up on Monday because you pushed the boat out on Sunday…As long as what you eat is on average healthy and not heavily laden with fat and sugar then the occasional G&T is not a reason for abandoning any attempt at healthy living as doomed from the start!

 So the direction I’m going in is a slow and gentle tweaking of what the household eats.

Dieting with the fun left in means embracing healthy eating but still enjoying it…food and eating can be a pleasure, it should not be purely about refuelling.  Along the way there are a few other things I’d like to achieve like putting the fun back into packed lunches, finding food that I am happy cooking that my family will actually eat, cutting out waste, eating locally and seasonally (not because of my carbon footprint but because buying locally helps support my local community and strawberries do taste better in the sun in June than at Christmas)…

 And what about cookbooks ?  I have shelf after shelf of cook books…I read them…I dream of cooking from them, sometimes I actually do. But it cannot be denied that a lot of the recipes in these books are likely to assist with piling on the pounds…or at least the ones that leap off the page at you saying “cook me, cook me”…even the books where  you would assume the recipes will be good wholesome food, such as Nigel Slater’s Tender (it’s a book about vegetables, how can it not be good for you ?) turn out to be full of butter, cream, olive oil… Well, I’ll still be reading cookbooks, but mixing the high calorific food in with the less calorific…the key is moderation…and finding better ways of cooking the same thing

 Eating healthily will not be easy…I mean we know how to cook but…as a family we are time poor…also the majority of the family has an uneasy relationship with most vegetables apart from potatoes…

 And for those who are interested  this is a visual representation of how much weight we are aiming to shift… at least it will be when I can work out how to get the photo off the camera

Recipe: The “it’s 2am and I’ve hardly eaten for 11 days” smoothie

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A long time ago I used to date lawyers, I remember one in particular who used to do a lot of sport in his teenage and student years, who proudly showed me his only piece of cooking equipment, a liquidiser. The liquidiser’s role was to help him produce his favourite after exercise drink the recipe for which he shared with me as comprising 2 large tablespoons of Nutella, 2 scopes ice cream, topped up with full cream milk.

Technically I guess the ice cream made it a shake rather than a smoothie. But smoothie or shake the exercise drink when taken regularly without the addition of exercise (and this lawyer had no time for exercise in between working and commuting) lead to a severe piling on of the poundage !

Smoothies can play a part of a healthy diet. The fruit admittedly has a high sugar content but the smoothie can be kept low fat depending on what dairy products you choose to add. Skimmed milk and ice cubes would be a better low fat option than full cream milk and ice cream.

At 2am in the morning however, with a limited range of ingredients and, due to the flu, not having eaten much food at all over the past 11 days, I was just looking for something that filled the hole in my tummy although part of me was thinking vaguely of the need to keep my strength up.

PEANUT AND BANANA POWER DRINK

Place 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1-2 bananas in a liquidiser add a glass of milk. Blitz in liquidiser for 2 minutes or until smooth…add more milk if drink too thick.

Later in the day I made another one as an afternoon snack. This one was more weight conscious in that it consisted mainly of apples and bananas and no peanut butter…on reflection though I’d probably been better off replacing the milk with orange juice as the apples made the smoothie very fluffy !

No photos…it was 2am and I was very very hungry !

 

Pottering in the kitchen…Fabrice’s Ratatouille

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Today, the last day of the year, Husband at work and Spider and I planning on heading to the cinema…but opening the curtains, what a surprise, it’s raining, sheeting down in fact.

So Spider pottered around with christmas presents and I spent a happy hour or so sorting and tidying up the leftovers, throwing stuff out, the usual end of year clearing the decks.

On the stove, gently stewing in its own juices is a pan of Fabrice’s Ratatouille from the first Leon cookbook and let me tell you it’s made the kitchen smell fantastic ! This is not something I would normally make (fresh tomatoes, aubergine and courgettes are not popular with the other members of the household) but it has been something I’ve been dying to make since I bought the book (4 years ago ?) and it has been calling to me from the pages…and sometimes a girl just has to give in !

Most ratatouilles I’ve had in the past have been very heavy on the tomatoes and frankly cooked to a state of bitterness…this one, is perfect, mild, aromatic, a stew of vegetables and, if you go easy on the olive oil, the perfect start to a year of healthy eating…except that I ate rather a lot of bread with it to mop up the fabulous savory juices that oozed out of the vegetables.

5 out of 5…and it makes a change from end of life soup, as all these veg had seen better days.

A bad soup

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We have a dish in our house, which is made without a recipe, it’s known as “End of Life Soup” aka “What’s in the bottom of the Veg drawer Soup” and oddly enough it works…everytime.

But sometimes I do make a bad soup but it’s never this one.

Two of the most recent bad experiments have involved the same recipe as it’s base which makes me wonder if this is a soup that has to be made as written including using stock made as per the recipe or alternatively it may be better not to liquidise.

The soup in question is the Covent Garden Soup company’s Bacon and Lentil Soup (invented to raise money for Crisis at Christmas) and it just doesn’t work for me.

The stock is a ham stock and they recommend using the poaching liquid from cooking a ham (in water a small part of brown sugar and some malt vinegar) – the first time I made it I faked a stock with a stock cube and some bacon, the second was the liquid from a ham cooked in apple juice. I can’t remember why I didn’t like the first soup but this second one was just far too sweet.

Second issue with the soup is it is just too “cloying”, the lentils (and split peas) are liquidised and even with adding extra water it just comes out as a thick brown mush.

it tastes bad, it looks bad and it smelled bad…. however you looked at it, this was just not a good soup.

However I do have lots of veg that has seen better days so hopefully the Karma of the End of Life soup will cleanse my kitchen of this unpleasant experience…

A plan

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Husband doesn’t cook roast dinners. Correction he doesn’t cook all of a roast dinner but he insists on making the yorkshire pudding, he sees it as “his role” – the same as when the sun comes out a lot of men consider that it is their role to cook, but only if they get to play with matches and a load of charcoal.

Husband claims he has no talent for cooking roasts, he doesn’t know how to get it all on the table at the same time (yet he can do eggs and bacon which requires the same skill on a smaller scale)…and when you ask him to make the yorkshire pudding you realise why he can’t do a roast dinner…it’s because he doesn’t understand the importance of a plan to a roast…so when I say “Darling, dinner will be at x therefore you need to have the yorkie ready to go in the oven by y” he comes into the kitchen at y to make the pudding and sends my carefully constructed plan awry.

I’ve learned to make the timings flexible…

Christmas Dinner traditionally in the family is very very laid back, partly due to the family habit of Champagne at 11am…and the other family tradition known as “sabotage the cook” (this is related to the champagne..!)

However it still helps to have a plan and thanks to insomnia at 3am this morning and a last minute decision not to go to work (due to the insomnia meaning driving would not be a good call today) I now have a plan.  I probably shouldn’t have left it so late, I probably wouldn’t have had insomnia if I’d had a plan and knew just what on earth I was going to be doing tomorrow and when…I may well have been sticking my head in the sand here and pretending that I don’t have to cook sprouts but since I now have a clean oven I have run out of excuses, I am cooking Christmas dinner…

Anyway, I now have a plan. There is no Yorkshire Pud in this Christmas dinner…so all I need to worry about is the champagne…

This year…

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My husband did pretty much all the cooking…I am a very lucky woman… I think possibly I could be pushing my luck here, you see we ordered for christmas

1) A turkey

2) A joint of beef – for the boxing day Christmas dinner number 2

3) A Gammon for turning into a ham and serving up as suppers, sandwiches and quick meals over the next week…

Now here comes the bit where I may be pushing my luck, you see I’m cooking Christmas dinner (for which I am thankful for the fact I came home today to discover he’d cleaned the oven…yes you read that right, my husband cleaned the oven. You all wish you found him first don’t you ?) AND I am cooking the boxing day meal   BUT…

To be helpful we told the lovely people at Glebe Farm (and at some point I will come back and link to their web page) we would pick the meat up on the 24th (as their busy day is the 23rd)…

It was only afterwards that I realised that actually we need to cook the gammon before christmas day…

I’m working tomorrow. Husband is off, with Spider…doing last minute things…including, yes Husband is cooking the gammon

I’ve left him with the relevent page of Nigella Lawson’s Feast, the Fully festive ham…with some amendments for how I want my ham

I have been, for over 10 years now, a very lucky woman… I married a man who sees a task and does it…even when it’s out of his comfort zone… but then he has informed me that in order to finally finish our kitchen off, I have to learn how to tile !

Delia’s Fast Roast Chicken

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“If you sometimes feel depressed or let down, if you are suffering from the pressures of life, or simply having a plain old day, my advice is to roast a chicken”

This is the start to chapter 4 of Delia How to Cook, Book 2 which is where I decided to start,  because there was a chicken in the fridge and becasue it is February and I find February a hard month to get through and Delia is right, a chicken roasting in the oven (especially one with a lemon up its bum) just makes the day feel a little bit more golden.

So I started with Fast Roast Chicken with Lemon and Tarragon and I was worried, really worried about the timing of this because I have it ingrained within my internal cookery book that a chicken cooks at 20 minutes a lb plus 20 minutes so to be told that my 3lb chicken would cook in 45 minutes had me feeling very nervous…

But it works, it does, bang on 45 minutes the chicken came out and it was done perfectly…and the gravy was spot on and we were all happy and feeling that little bit more spring like…and there were leftovers (2 stir fries and a chicken sandwich).

This is probably the easiest recipe to do from the point of view that all the family will eat it…chapter 1 is patchy, chapter 2 (fish) is for me alone…

The Tyranny of the Lunchbox

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I loathe making packed lunches day in day out…there, I’ve admitted it.  Odd because I love picnics and what is a packed lunch but a picnic in miniature ? I haven’t always hated them, in fact when Spider first started having lunch twice a week as “lunch club” at preschool I spent most of the week planning them and trying to make them fun and enjoyable.

But now some 4 years on, 4 years during which the amount of things he will eat has been  rapidly decreasing (and inconsistent, one week he will eat something the next week it’s “But Mummy, you KNOW I don’t eat that !!!), I just find it dispiriting and a grind…and I’m not alone, I don’t think Flapjack Queen has made flapjacks in over 18 months

His Grandma has had some success with evening meals and has discovered he will eat a lot of things he says he doesn’t like if you cover them with breadcrumbs.

Anyway I have decided it is time to rejuvenate the lunchtime experience for both of us, to try and inject some fun and variation into what has become a sort of “if it’s monday it must be cheese” experience…although maybe drawing up a spreadsheet to record progress may have been taking things a bit too far !

So tonight I have tried to restart my Domestic Goddess qualifications – spurred on by the guilt of the knowledge that my Spider had a Cadbury’s mini roll in his packed lunch every day last week – I flicked through Cake Days:Hummingbird Bakery to see if there was anything I could make from the storecupboard… pity poor Spider as despite page after page of baked yumminess I appear to have picked the most healthy and boring recipe in the book.

Cooling in the kitchen are Apricot Crunches which are a sort of fruited flapjack. I had been worried by the amount of butter involved until I realised they use butter and sugar instead of golden syrup and not in addition. Result for me is that for once I can get my flapjack out of the tin…however the mixture didn’t set too well and is prone to crumbling…I think possibly a higher oven temp next time to make the sugar and butter become” sticky”.

It’s not much, but it is at least a start…and it’s only monday

Doing Delia – take 2

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About 18 months ago I decided to work my way through Delia Smiths’s How to Cook. To begin with I did quite well but I hit 3 problems and ground to a sudden definite stop…pretty much a stop to cooking not just a stop to the project.

Why ?

1.  The first 3 chapters are about eggs… I got bored

2. Fat…Delia uses oodles of cream and butter. The book is swimming in the stuff, I stuck it out for page after page but then after making the Banana and Butterscotch trifle I couldn’t take anymore and went on a diet (and lost interest in cooking anything).

3.  The Egg and Lentil Curry recipe – this is one of the first recipes in the book. I have bought green lentils on at least 3 occasions but never yet made the curry… I told myself it was because we had no lime pickle but this time for the “Doing Delia” project I finally bought a jar…but still didn’t make the curry. Why ?

Me: “Do you want Egg and green lentil curry for tea ?”

Husband: “Sounds piggin’ horrible”

and he’s right of course, the sound of it just doesn’t lend itself to thoughts of a tasty meal…(I won’t go into what your thoughts will turn to because I bet you are already thinking that aren’t you !). But Delia obviously thinks a lot of the recipe as it’s not the only book to include the recipe…and must think it so good that she doesn’t care that it might put people off from trying the rest of the book (guess that’s the power of TV for you).

And How to Cook Book 1 is not the only book, there are 3 books in the How to Cook series so the solution it would seem is to do the other 2 books first  because there seems to be slightly less cream (marginally), no repeating a key ingredient for 3 chapters and, more importantly, no lentil and egg curry !

As I don’t own Book 3 I shall start in the middle of the series with Book 2… I will be back…but for now there is Heston on Channel 4…

Bye Bye 2011

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New Years day in this house normally involves a walk and some soup…the soup is unscripted  (and possibly a bit hit and miss) and involves a veg drawer clear out plus whatever “meat” leftovers are in the fridge…

This year  we have a massive pot of carrot, pearl barley and ham soup bubbling away…ham because bad planning meant almost an entire christmas ham was about to go to waste and carrots because every single week for 5 weeks the veg box included carrots (or kale, but I’d rather NOT talk about that!).

Next year I shall overhaul these pages and start afresh but for now Happy New Year everyone, hope 2012 is so much better for everyone…oh and Happy Eatings.

5CB xxx

 

Cake

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I had a need to make cake today. It struck at lunch time and I’ve spent most of the day dreaming of a damp moist chocolate cake with flowers on it.

Oddly I have no desire to eat it, just to make it which is why it’s still sitting in the kitchen whole and intact…despite the rugby result.

RECIPE: It’s not my birthday but…

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It’s not my birthday, but it has been. Now I love my birthday, I really really love having a birthday and I use the fact that Husband’s birthday is about a week or so before mine as an excuse to celebrate for at least 2 weeks. But not this year.

This year my husband was away for his birthday and for some reason as a result of that I didn’t feel like celebrating mine…at all…at least not until my Mum (with assistance from a small helper) made me some biscuits…and then suddenly it was as if the sun had come out.

I have mentioned before that my Mum’s Anzac biscuits are the best biscuits in the world and I have shared the recipe only to then make the recipe and realise it wasn’t the right one. Anyway shortly after my birthday Mum shared the correct recipe with me by giving me the piece of paper that her Mum, my Nana had written the recipe down on.

So now, in honour of the fact that today would have been my Nana’s 102nd birthday and my Grandma’s 108th (both of them passed away 6-10 months before reaching 100) I give you  Ellen’s Ginger Biscuits, except my Mum always leaves the ginger out as she’s not fond of it.

Ginger Biscuits

1 Cup rolled oats

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp ginger

4oz Marge

1tblsp syrup (level)

Melt marge and syrup. Add to dry ingredients.

It may need a little cold water to mix. Roll into balls, place on a baking tray (greased) and bake for about 10 minutes.

Don’t overdo the syrup adds my Nana or it will turn out more like brandy snaps.

Happy Birthday Ellen and Theresa.

Mrs 54’s Autumn Chutney

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Last year I made chutney and gave several jars of it away as presents. A number of people have since asked me for the recipe but, because I am so useless when it comes to putting things in the post I thought it would be best to post it here.

 The recipe is based on one from a Sarsons preserving booklet but has been tweaked out of all recognition over the years. The most recent innovation is grating vegetables instead of chopping them (small children tend to object to lumps!) we’ve also increased the cooking time as grating it tends to make it runnier…

Ingredients

450ml malt vinegar

675g green or red tomatoes chopped small

450g cooking apples (peeled and grated)

225g onions (peeled and grated)

2 cloves crushed garlic

7.5ml  (1.5 tsp) salt

100g sultanas

2.5cm fresh root ginger (grated)

400g muscavado sugar

1tsp  Allspice

1tsp Turmeric

½ tsp mustard powder

5-6 cloves (crushed)

5-6 peppercorns

½ tsp Nutmeg

 

Method

Place all the ingredients except the sugar in a large saucepan or preserving pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the quantity is reduced by 1/3 and the vegetables are soft and pulpy. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then simmer, stirring occasionally for about 1 hour until the chutney is a thick pulpy consistency or with no watery liquid noticeable on the top of the chutney.

 Pour into warm sterilised jars, seal, label and store for 3 weeks (or 2 months if using green tomatoes) before use.

Fin de siecle

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I love my job. No I mean I really really LOVE my job…I love what I do, I love being a lawyer, I love the area of work I deal with and I really love the fact I never know what the day will hold.  It also helps that I have fabulous colleagues and my internal clients are wonderful too…it really makes a difference to know that most of us believe that what we do is making a difference – ok the outside world might not share our view, but mostly we do it because in one way or another we believe we can help.

I’m lucky. I know I am. I have had 10 years doing something that makes me happy…and I suspect I would fail to count more than 6 people that I know who are in this same position.

BUT…it’s unlikely that things will continue in this manner, because I’m a public servant and life as I know it will change and even if I still have a job this time next year it is unlikely to be the one I know and love as even if I stay with the same organisation it is likely that we will have been restructured…so tonight I am raising a glass of champagne to the life I’ve had and tomorrow I will face change with hope for what is to come, hope that I can make something positive out of it.

Tonight there is cake. Fin de Siecle cake – also known in this house as Leftover Chocolate Cake as the recipe changes depending on what chocolate and nuts there are left in the house  – this one is made with chili chocolate, coffee and walnuts…and it’s fabulous, and if they are lucky then my fabulous colleagues might get to share what is left tomorrow because I think we all need a bit of cheering up this week.

Asparagus

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One of the perks of being a spring baby, apart from the fact you get to pretend each year that the world has turned blue just for you (saw my first bluebells today), is all the fabulous foods you could eat for a birthday meal such as salmon, new potatoes, asparagus, peas – all which taste wonderful with a bit of butter.

But butter is off the menu for me at the moment, which makes me wonder what to do with asparagus.

Asparagus is one of the best things about May. Growing up in Worcestershire it was a common sight to see small stalls outside (mainly farm) gates with an honesty box and a price of 50p a bundle. I was very surprised later to discover it was considered a bit “posh”. I haven’t always loved “Sparrowgrass” though…it used to be on the (small) list of foods I didn’t eat having encounted it tinned at the age of 6. But now I am crazy about the stuff and am already on the hunt for the first local source.

Asparagus is the first chapter in Tender but I don’t think I will be growing it as I don’t have enough space in the garden and its a lot of hassle when its just me that eats the stuff. Also I doubt I will be doing many of the recipes from this section as they all involve “fat” in some form (soft cheese, bacon/pancetta, butter etc). There is quite a healthy looking pilaf though…and there is always soup, dipping it in a soft boiled egg, roasting.

I’m afraid my family will just have to put up with the fact that my pee smells a bit strange because, despite my self-imposed butter ban I am looking forward to eating fields of the stuff. Bring on the spring !

Birthdaysaurus

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Apologies for the lack of posts here of late. I lost interest in food, food in general including cake.  Cooking was happening here, mainly by Husband but I did my fair share (I don’t think its fair in a relationship for it to always be one partner who ends up having to do a particular thing – although we do both agree that it’s pointless asking me to map read !) but I just had no desire to write about it, because my heart wasn’t in it.

I did make an effort for special occasions such as Spider’s 5th birthday, but there were so many other things going on that I forgot to take a picture – fortunately my Mum turned up complete with camera and managed to capture the gigantic beast in the kitchen, shortly after having his neck stuck back on (with water !) and some time before it was consumed by a hoard of hungry party goers…

I still have no interest in food – but that may be about to change. We have spent most of today reclaiming our back garden and filling a skip with builders waste (old wood, broken doors and windows etc) – We kept some wood for making raised beds and I have a big box full of seeds, Nigel Slater’s “Tender v1” (which incidently is currently half  price at Amazon) and a sneaking feeling that if I want to shift his next stone of weight I probably should major on the vegetables this summer as well as the exercise (4 mile walk last night and 5 hours of shifting builders rubbish today).

Tonight though I’m feeling too tired to do anything but collapse…

There is a parachutist in my dishwasher

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One gets used to slightly surreal happenings when you live with a lively and imaginative almost 5 year old, usually they perk up the day such as discovering Eeyore, Pooh and Piglet models lined up on your computer or an Arabian warrior by the bedside light as a small persons attempt to look after Mummy when he’s not there. Sometimes they can be slightly worrying like finding a gun in your purse just before you donate to charity (Plastic and about 1cm long from playmobil) or the time I moved the duvet and found a horses head in the middle of my bed…

Most of the time Spider and I get on. This last month however we have perhaps spent slightly too much time with each other and we are both showing our irritation – I’m also suffering from major league grumpiness from too many early morning visits from Spider –  my attempt at an early night last night was shattered when he came down with the runs at about 11pm and needed to be stripped and showered…

Fortunately, although we do have some problems with playing together (he insists on telling me what I should do and how I should play) we are now getting the hang of cooking…and when it comes to dough he’s getting better than me…cooking with Spider however has a very Spider type angle to it…when I was small I made gingerbread men…Spider refuses to be quite so dull, and fortunately for him has relatives who will indulge him with more his sort of cookie cutter…

Appetite for Noise

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Kitchen still in a state of chaos. Cooking has been happening but we’ve mostly been using up leftovers and trying to use up things in the fridge before they go off. We have been eating well this week as a result and most meals have been planned (although not yet got around to writing a menu plan, just announce at the beginning of the week what we are happening…hi light of the week was Husband’s lasagna and an unseasonal cream tea on thursday… Anyway here’s something we did much much earlier (november 2008 I think)

Tender: Nigel Slater

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Tender came out in October 2009. I have, from time to time fondled it in various bookshops and admired the usual beautiful photographs, carefully chosen paper and print style and of course his wonderful wonderful words…I didn’t admire the price though (£25 full price – amazon currently have it half price). So thinking carefully about it I resolved, no more recipe books. I have enough. Maybe in the future if I see it secondhand…

Mum, thankfully, ignored my resolve and for that she had a special hug on Christmas day…which surprised her as she was in the middle of taking the turkey out the oven !

Thankfully since Christmas we have been living on leftovers which has given me plenty of time to hideaway with my beloved Nigel, pouring over his beautiful prose and planning the vegetable garden. Maybe this year I will get it off the ground – last year my seedlings withered in the kitchen when we were let down over the promised allotment.

It’s timely too as one of my plans this year is to get more vegetables into our diet…I have a sneaking suspicion that it may lead to less colds and a general feeling of well being.

Despite the fact that the kitchen is currently our of commission (see previous post) I do have a vegetable soup on the go (The usual end of life fridge soup, loosely based on a Covent Garden caramalised root vegetable recipe (because I have turnips in the fridge)…and a vague plan to stop at a Farm Shop on the way back from Banbury later today.

There is a problem with this however, as by and large I cook for a family and my family are not really into vegetables – although Spider is getting better – he ate the maple syrup parsnips (p383) I did with the roast beef.

My impressions on the book though are that it is beautifully written but not that it makes me want to get into the kitchen – this is not because Nigel hasn’t served up his usual selection of fabulous ideas but because everytime I read something part of me is thinking “oh so and so won’t eat that” – what is does make me want to do however is get out into the garden and plant things !

Current plans however involve the chapter on Sprouts (Husband oddly, does eat sprouts) and all the Soup recipes which are in season. The book is, unsurprisingly, rather short on cake recipes, and of the 3 there are I have already made 2 of them as they were previously published in the Observer – however in view of the drastic need to reduce calorie intake in this house, this lack is no bad thing…

But first I must finish off painting the kitchen, otherwise we will be living off pizza and cheese on toast for the next few days.

2am and more…

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I went to bed before Spider. It’s amazing how tiring putting 3 coats of paint on the kitchen ceiling is – guess I’m out of practice (spent a large part of my 30’s doing DIY) but was up again by 11pm…and then of course couldn’t sleep… and then slept fitfully waking at 2am…

Not sad enough to fire the laptop up at 2am tho’ so had a cup of tea and vaguely planned the garden. When Spider woke me at 7.45 I was unfortunately grumpy – I suspect if I could get this sleep thing under control I would be a much nicer Mummy to him.

Today not looking good though, ceiling still needs a final coat and I have to repaint the walls…after a dash to Wickes when it opens at 10am…the general opinion  of yesterdays efforts is that we bought the wrong blue…it’s the blue equivalent of Barbie Pink.

Chaos will rule for a bit longer in this house as it’s unlikley we will have finished before work starts again tomorrow – have to sand the worktops down and clean the floor before we can put things back where they will live – guess its pizza for tea then…

New years resolutions…can wait

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Happy New Year. Happy New Decade.Pinch punch first of the month and all that jazz.

I have spent today “away with the fairies”. We babysat last night for the neighbours who were doing event photography down in Cheltenham and didn’t get home until gone 2am. So despite having a lovely long lie in (thank you Mum for offering a sleepover to Spider  – that was a genius idea) I have spent the day not capable of sensible thought or the usual planning and organisation.

Well that’s not quite true I have vaguely cleaned the house (bought a new vacuum cleaner in the sales, so much more enjoyable (!) when you are not constantly stopping to rebuild your cleaning equipment) and Husband has been busy putting various bits of IKEA (swedish for “you will spend”) furniture together in our traditional yearly attempt to keep the clutter under control by finding different ways of storing it.

Tomorrow the kitchen is closed. Again part of trying to bring some order to the house. Husband and Spider are off to Homebase or some such place to buy paint and tiles to finish the kitchen off. We’ve spent 2 years trying to agree on tiles for the kitchen and finally decided the easiest way would be to paint over the red with something that gives us more options on tiles. My job is to go through the cupboards and decide what gets tipped or car booted, in between watching paint dry (because the plaster wasn’t quite dry when we moved back in, we never actually got around to painting the ceiling)…when the kitchen reopens it will mostly likely be making soup rather than cake as a) we have lots of leftovers to use up and b) we bought a new pair of bathroom scales when we went to IKEA. Cake is off the menu until February…if not longer !

Right I am off to bed. Hope the new year brings you all you all you dream it will….I love new starts…

watching

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Shakespere in love.  Will was a local lad, at some point I hope to enjoy the fact that William Shakespeare  came from about 20 miles away…life interferes with the things you think are important at 20…so different at 38.

A christmas cake they all will eat

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By 9.30am today I had had enough. Enough of the dodgy weather. Enough of the arrangements. Enough of the stress. Enough of the cooking. Enough of the making presents and enough of Spider. He is so wound up its untrue. Husband is taking this in his stride as he’s been dealing with over excited children for 20 years now, this is my first year as last year Spider didn’t really understand this christmas thing…now he does…and let me tell you, it’s hell!

I’ve also been feeling bad about letting luscious Lullabelle down. We had arranged for me to pick her Mum up and bring her to the midlands as my journey home from Reading takes me virtually past her door. But although the office was open today, they were advising staff not to drive…it was at 9.30am that I had the phone call with Lullabelle telling her that I was working from home and would her Mum mind getting a taxi to Reading station…I feel rotten, but I’m not a confident driver in bad weather in this new car, it’s so light and skittish, the old one was like a tank !

So at 9.31 I decided that was it. I was going to stop. If it hasn’t been done yet, it’s not happening. Except some mince pies and maybe some small apple ones and…no it stops here. Got some wrapping to do, but otherwise I’m not touching any of the not done presents until after the 25th – fortunately not seeing the majority of friends and relatives until after Christmas.

So as a result we have inherited the gingerbread I made for Lullabelle and I will make something fresh in the new year when I finally venture the 13 miles down to Banbury – so I’m a whimp in bad weather, but I’m an alive whimp…it is not my accident I’m afraid of it’s other people who think they can drive…

Anyway, enough winging, here is our sweet encrusted cottage – all it needs is a witch to lock over excited children up in cages, where they will be fattened up for christmas until their sister pushes the witch in the oven and they both run back through the forest to the safety of their father’s woodcutter’s cottage… hmmm, we never did get around to providing Spider with a little sister…and after today’s behaviour I don’t think we ever will !

Sweet Memories

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My boys are ill. Husband and Spider are curled up in the living room on separate sofas under duvets, coughing sniffing and generally feeling very sorry for themselves and watching a lot of Wallace and Gromit. Me ? Well I just left them to it. I’ve been sympathetic, of course I have, but only in between cooking…

I have left the “food as presents” side of things as long as I could, claiming it’s necessary so that it’s fresh for christmas. But the truth is I have been avoiding tackling my Mum’s present. I can talk about it here as she knows what she’s getting. She asked for sweets, homemade old fashioned style sweets.

Sweets ? Easy. We’ve all done sweets as kids right ? Yes, it’s just as a kid I didn’t actually have a good record of succesful sweet making. My brother and I had a free hand in the kitchen. Our parents encouraged us to cook and as long as we cleaned up afterwards and told them if we’d used anything up, we could cook anything.  One thing we made a lot of , although it is really just sugar, was cinder toffee ( take some sugar, heat it up in a pan and then at some point add bicarbonate of soda)… we made it because we liked watching the sugar bubble up like a volcano, the toffee didn’t taste very nice as we overdid the bicarb trying to get it to really fizz up.

Then there was the time I made fudge….but was too scared of burning it to let it boil enough so the resulting mixture didn’t set and had to be poured over ice cream as a sauce  instead of cutting with a knife…in contrast there was the bonfire toffee which was overcooked and shattered like glass…

or the time I assisted a class of 8 year olds to make peppermint creams and the hours spent afterwards cleaning the mixture off taps and surfaces, door handles, tables, toilets, the floor, the teacher…

No, me and sweets do not have a good track record…

Then after you have made them, all the books talk about packaging them in an attractive, imaginative way with ribbons, paper, pretty boxes and such…I stick my head in the sand and pretend that the Christmas fairies will wave a magic wand and transport my wonky efforts into pieces of art…

But now the days cooking is over, it doesn’t seem so bad, and I might even manage to crack the packaging dilemma if I throw myself on the mercies of Flapjack Queen and her bottomless store of make and do goodies

Bethlehem’s Buzzin’ : A tale of slipped halos (a review)

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“Bethlehem Buzzin’ is a heart warming story of a scabby-kneed male angel amongst a host of female angels  (a “wise”man at work advises me that angels are actually sexless) and his one boy attempt to make a difference to the lives of poor struggling wood working folk, Mary and Joseph at the birth of their child. It is a tale of his fight against failures of costume, how he carried on despite the collapse of 2 sets of wings and halos and how he triumphed in order to stand on stage and wave his halo at the audience, disco dance in quiet moments and above all give his Mummy the thumbs up whenever he though there was no one amongst the 100 strong audience watching. A “stunning performance” was the verdict from his number one fan.”

What do you mean there were other children involved ?  I didn’t see anyone else, there was only one boy on the stage…

Auto pilot

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I make sandwiches most days for Spider, usually in the morning having forgotten the night before. I don’t usually remember to make them for me. Today I remembered.

I have just reached in my bag and found a small clingfilmed wrapped plastic which I remember from the foggy haze that grips me during my early morning tea making trips to the kitchen. The sandwiches inside are peanut butter, delicately sliced into quarters with their crusts cut off…exactly the same as I make for Spider !

(note I tend to cut mine into halves – and I promise you i have not picked up the wrong lunch by mistake, he doesn’t eat crunchy peanut butter)

The Woodcutter’s Tale or a bad workman blames his tools…

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I have been delaying starting the christmas cooking as long as possible, because I’ve committed myself to a number of things that scare me, my Mum’s christmas present will have to wait for a later date as it’s not unknown for her to drop in on these pages from time to time (“Hello Mum” waves frantically in an interweb direction) the friend I have been cooking for this afternoon does not…so…

I have been making a lot of gingerbread lately, it’s easy to do and you can freeze the dough until you are ready to use it. When it’s cooked it will store until you are ready to decorate it and turn it into iced biscuits, christmas tree decorations or a gingerbread house.

I’d chosen to start with a very simple house. Since its made by rolling lots of “sausages of dough together which then spread on the tray and give you something resembling a log cabin I thought Spider would be interested – he also might enjoy the fact that chocolate gingerbread when uncooked looks a lot like “poo”, a substance that 4yo find hillarious…but no, ITV2 had decided to put “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” on and I couldn’t entice him into the kitchen.

So I set to alone….things I have learned

  • trees consisting of 5 parts each are fiddly and time consuming to cut out and to put together
  • sheets of gingerbread made up of rolls of dough joined together have a habit of coming to pieces in your hands
  • I was right to be scared of having to play with icing…

Confession time:  I do not like icing things. Mainly because my icing set has a habit of coming to bits when faced with anything harder than cream or butter icing…today was no exception, royal icing was a step too far, I squeezed too hard and ended up with icing everywhere except on the gingerbread.

I scraped out the icing into a bowl and then dumped the icing set in the bin…should have done it years ago…

Continuing with a palate knife and some hot water I just about managed to get the house to stick together and disguised a lot of the crumb that now littered the plate by sprinkling the lot with icing sugar snow – ahhh, finished, but wait, wasn’t the cottage meant to be surrounded by trees ? How on earth can I stick the trees together when i can’t pipe a thin line of icing ?

Fortunately there was a teenager around, a teenager who likes playing with food…Teenager introduced me to the joy of microwaved sweet sugar glue which we smeared over as many of the tree pieces we could and bunged them on the plate – covering our bodging with even more sugar snow…Teenager was pleased to accept the remains of the gingerbread and the flakes in payment for his inspiration and went away happy…I collapsed with a pint of tea !

It looks very much as if Spider made it with my help…if people assume that I won’t tell them otherwise…tomorrow I’m shopping for icing equipment I can rely on as the next 2 cakes involve much more icing.

Favourite Cake ?

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I started making a christmas cake at the start of the week. I wasn’t going to, as the “traditional” christmas cake doesn’t play very well in this house, or at my parents. However the sainsbury’s magazine had a yule log on the front and a “mulled wine fruit cake” which apparently freezes well, and I quite liked the idea of having a fruit cake in the freezer ready to go if needed….

It was too early in the month to do the yule log, that’s a “cooking with children” activity for when the school holidays start, but since we had a jar of mincemeat in the cupboard not used last year, and some wine left over from the night before (plus some port lurking in the kitchen somewhere) the mulled wine cake was calling out to be done. BUT, this week has been one of trips to London and illness and being just too damned tired…so after getting as far as melting the butter, adding sugar, warming the alcohol and adding sultanas, I stopped, and stayed stopped.

The cake in fact has been in the fridge for a week now waiting for me to finish it off, and although I will (because not too would be a waste) my heart really isn’t in it – if you are to make cake then I think it has to be something you want to make… and this isn’t.

So the yule log is yet to come. I’ve also promised French Frank I would do him a fruit cake (if he remembers to send me his current address) but I’m open to suggestions as to what cake to do for Christmas that doesn’t involve icing, marzipan and alcohol soaked fruits…preferably something that is not going to still be there in February waiting to be eaten.

Boiled Baby’s Head

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From time to time Husband will come back from the local Co op with a packet of short dated meat saying “I thought we might have such and such this week”. The packet will then sit there getting closer to the use by date until one of us finds the time, energy and enthusiasm to do something with it.

It is not, I must point out, always me. My Husband can cook,( in fact our relationship can be dated back to a lasagna in august 2002) but claims that he is limited in the kitchen. He says that his Mum made sure that both he and his brother had the very basics, the stuff that you need to survive on your own, because she knew she was not going to be around for long, but that she passed away before teaching him the other stuff, that its useful to know but you don’t really need, such as putting a sunday roast on the table.

I have complained here before about the unadventurous nature of my family’s palate, but here is the strange thing. Husband is not afraid to experiment in the kitchen… I have no way of telling whether he’s always been this way or whether 7 years of watching me being not afraid to mess things up in the kitchen, has led to him from time to time picking up one of my recipe books, but yes occasionally he will get an idea in his head and will follow it to see whether it works.

So then, at the end of last week Husband came home with a packet of meat and said “I thought we could have a snake and pygmy”. The meat sat there until monday when it fell to me to get a bit worried about the closeness of the use by date, so whilst making dinner I browned off the meat, fried some onions and bunged the mixture with the remains of an old bottle of port into the slow cooker. To tone down the sweetness of the port and because we had no Worcestershire sauce I bunged in some fish sauce and a load of soy sauce.

Next day I was in the process of heating it up and about to break it to Husband that today was the day he learned how to make short crust pastry when he turns round to me and says “no, I was thinking of doing it as a pudding not a pie. I want to do it like my Mum did, in a bain marie in the oven” At which point we decided to have something else for tea as I pointed out we wouldn’t be eating until long after 9pm as it would take so long to cook.

On Wednesday night however, having earlier put in a plea for iron rich food I find that Husband and Spider have together been making suet pastry and there was a Steak and Kidney pudding in the oven in a bain marie and a recipe book covered with floury handprints (after an hour we took it out and started steaming it on the stove as the oven method wasn’t working) – and you know what, it was stunning !

You should never be afraid of trying something new. You should never be afraid of failure. You are never too old to try…and if someone makes an effort for you because they want to make you smile, you should tell them how much you appreciate it.

Next week we celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary…it’s amazing where some pasta and a tomato based sauce can take you.n

Boiled Baby’s Head is a colloquial term, possibly from the west midlands for Steak and Kidney Pudding.

Do something good

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Things I have learned today:

  • I am not anemic
  • I have very thin/small veins
  • You can get blood out of a lawyer* it just may take longer than usual due to aforementioned veins

In case you haven’t already guessed, I gave blood today. And yes, I know it has nothing to do with cooking generally or cake specifically but I thought it was important enough to mention, especially if any of you reading this decides to do the same.

It was admittedly my first time and I promise you my decision to give blood had nothing to do with the fact it was held at Reading Fire Station !

I am however feeling a little wiped out and am lying on the sofa waiting for my husband to deliver an iron rich meal. My work colleague Portia has recommend for next time to eat iron rich food the night before and after the event to help counter any possible feelings of tiredness.

Details of donor sessions can be found at www.blood.co.uk

*that’s my joke of the day and I’ve been telling it to everyone – because if I don’t they’re bound to tell it to me anyway !

Gingerbread

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Yesterday was spent experimenting and recipe testing. At least that is what I was doing, Spider was enjoying making biscuits and playing with “dough”.

I have a copy of Gingerbread:Joanne Farrow from the library at the moment. It’s a book I’ve had before, by accident as when I’m choosing books Spider has a habit of grabbing things from the shelves and insisting that they are included in out borrowed items – Anyway I digress – I am still trying to plan christmas, food to buy and make, presents to make etc – I am not getting very far admittedly.

Anyway since this particular family is not very interested in the traditional christmas cake I thought I’d try out a few things before christmas and see what works…last weeks chocolate gingercake worked quite well, so that’s the route I’m thinking about at the moment…although since I want Spider to help with the cake I suspect we will be doing a christmas log.

We made part of the gingerbread street, because we wanted to play around with stained glass windows which are made by crushing up boiled sweets, placing in cut outs in the part cooked dough and then cooking for another 5 minutes. The recipe is meant to make 6-8 sets of houses but ours only made 3 as Spider wanted to make a gingerbread man and play with the cutters…

november 2009 012That was last night. It is currently 10am and there is none left, not even a crumb so I guess we can safely say that the basic golden gingerbread recipe from this book is a hit in this family (yes I know eating biscuits for breakfast shouldn’t be encouraged, but I don’t make a habit of it…) – as usually I played around with the recipe as I’m incapable of following something to the letter. This time though I simply replaced the caster sugar with brown sugar, as we have no caster sugar at the moment and lots and lots of different brown sugars – anyway, I think gingerbread tastes better with brown sugar, but that’s just a personal opinion.

Right off to the shops to buy ginger and golden syrup in bulk…I may be sometime

ps you are supposed to pipe chocolate around the doors and windows and add strips of chocolate but the temptation to consume was too strong and we didn’t get that far…

Necessity is…

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…the mother of invention – apparently.

There was no real necessity for me to use ginger ale in the stew – It’s just I hate to waste a thing if I can avoid it and I didn’t see any prospect of anyone else in the house drinking the ginger ale (left over from the birthday cake) in the next week or so (although at the time I had forgotten about the bottle of lime vodka in the freezer…).

But there I was with stewing steak desperately needing to be cooked before it went off. A bag of ready cut stewing veg bought cheap in Asda not used when originally planned and looking sorry for itself, plus the remains of the veg drawer… what I lacked though was leftover wine or beer or anything that might give me an interesting variation on a standard beef stew…so I poured the ginger ale into it and added a stock cube (some lemon, more ginger, garlic and a cinnamon stick), boiled it up and left it in the slow cooker overnight.

It was…interesting. OK it wasn’t bad, but there was a background sweetness which would have been unbearable after a few mouthfuls if it hadn’t been for Husband’s fabulous fluffy dumplings (recipe on back of Atora packet) and some last minute chunks of potato… Cheap and green – not as green as the meat and veg would have been if I’d left it any longer !

Yay !

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Yay ! I have contact lenses…I feel like me again…but more of that another time…

I love this time of the year. I think I mentioned last year that I like Halloween, but not for the trick and treat, for the food. And Bonfire night ! I love Bonfire night but not for the fireworks but for sausages and baked potatoes and toffee…planning on going to a party weekend of the 7th purely because they are offering a hog roast…but back to Halloween.

I did not this year make the Ghoul Graveyard cake as Halloween clashed with my Dad’s birthday party. So instead I borrowed an idea from Domesticali and made some ghostie lollipops for nearest and dearest and closest small people. We had a wonderful scary pumpkin carved by Husband and I have a fridge full of pumpkin carvings waiting to become soup…but they will have to wait as I also have a fridge full of leftovers due to overbuying for half term (Teenager came to stay for most of it).

My Dad is a very lucky boy as due to a diary clash he gets to celebrate both this weekend (31st) and again on the 7th. My brother couldn’t make the 31st as he had another party to go to, whereas we couldn’t make the 7th as we were hoping to go to a Mercedez day at Brooklands (shhshh, don’t tell Spider but Lewis Hamilton might be there).

Tried to make a cake that might keep the week and still be nice…and that always means gingerbread but as a concession to the fact most people eating it will be under 7 he has Nigella’s chocolate gingerbread, which is nice but not as nice as liberkuchen…but that is an obsession to talk about another day…as is my liking for gingerbread in general (the only Starbucks coffee I have been known to drink is their gingerbread latte…I love the autumn !).

So yes I can see and all is well in my little corner of the world… oh and a picture of a very very brown cake to follow when I can find the camera which has gone walk about again – SPIDER !!!

oops

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The plan today was to pick friends up from Heathrow and whisk them back up the motorway to our house and their car and then give them the option of staying overnight.  In case they did want to stay and needed feeding the plan was to make a stew and stick it in the slow cooker. Simple plan ? Yep, and although there are lots of things that can go wrong with a plan it’s always the thing that you don’t anticipate…

it’s not the fact that the braising steak I took out of the freezer turned out to be on the turn. No, that wasn’t a problem, it just gave me an excuse to head over to Lidl and check out the wool sale…and whilst there spotting the hobgoblin special ruby ale for Halloween. Bought a bottle for Husband and a second to pour over the beef and onions…

Nosing through Appetite:Nigel Slater I was inspired to chuck 2 tins of chopped tomatoes in with the beef and ale… I grabbed 2 green and white tins which are Asda’s budget line for tomatoes. It was not until I opened the second tin (and emptied it into the saucepan) that I realised that just like Tesco and Sainsbury’s, Asda use the same packaging for their baked beans as they do for their tomatoes…

I cooked it up anyway figuring that the sweet tomato sauce would just vanish into the sauce during cooking. It did and you wouldn’t notice that there were beans in it if someone hadn’t mentioned it (foolishly) in the hearing of Teenager who then said “urgh, beans” in the hearing of Spider, who then decided he didn’t like stew.

Shame really as they’ll just have to like it cos I’ve got a big batch made up and the friends we cooked for decided all they wanted was lots of coffee, a bacon butty and to hit the long road home to Cumbria as soon as possible…

The things I do for you

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I have been wanting to make the chocolate loaf from Apples for Jam:Tessa Kiros for some time now but had put bread making on the back burner for a while (Husband buys bread when it’s on sale and fills the freezer and I haven’t needed bread therapy for months).

But, as previously mentioned on these pages I am trying to improve the variety in Spider’s packed lunch so following a tip from The Book fo Sandwiches:Gwen Robyns I gave him a banana sandwiches on chocolate bread.  It was, an unqualified failure ! This despite me telling him what I was doing the night before (“sorry Mummy cannot come and play the Bee game with you now, she’s making chocolate bread for your sandwiches”)…he loved the idea.

The next day however, wouldn’t touch them.  Part of me wishes I had found this post before. The post not only gives the recipe but cautions the cook that it is not as sweet as you might hope, and if I’m being honest it does need to be  a bit sweeter.  However since I could tell from the sandwich remains that he hadn’t even touched them so I  suspect in Spider’s case he just decided he didn’t want a brown lunch.

I do thank the recipe though for making Husband do a double take “What on earth is that !!!!” he said pointing at the top of the cooker where the loaf was cooling, looking for all the world like one of our cats had serious bowel problems and had managed a record breaking poo on top of the hob…

Anyway, not being one to waste food I’m currently noshing a toasted version with damson jam which seems to work as the jam is very sweet and the loaf slightly bitter.

Bananas

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Bananas present an interesting problem to those in the UK who try to eat both seasonally and locally. Unless you have a super heated and large greenhouse it is highly improbable that you will be able to grow your own bananas, even if you do manage it they are unlikely to fruit. Furthermore, as far as I can establish there appears to be no one trying to do so in this country on a commercial basis.

As for seasonal, well once you’ve accepted the fact that bananas have to be imported then they are pretty much available all the year round… So what are you to do ? Well you either ban the carbon traitor from your diet or you accept that fact that you are unlikely ever to achieve carbon neutral nirvana and salve your conscience a bit by buying fair trade. The other thing you can do, having accepted that you’d rather not live without bananas in your life (which my friend Wingnut is more than happy to do, considering them as “the evil yellow devil herb”) is to make sure that you don’t compound the carbon sin by letting them go to waste.

If I haven’t got the time to incorporate banana into muffins, cake or breakfast pancakes prior to freezing then I have been happily skinning them, quartering them and sticking in a plastic bag for several years now. What I had not tried until recently was to follow the Economy Gastronomy trick of freezing them whole, skin and all. For those that try it please note, if you are in a hurry the skin is difficult to get off, and if you leave them to defrost you end up with a nasty black slime all over your work surface….they also take up more room then their quartered brothers.

We are ODing on bananas at the moment as in addition to buying a large bag of bananas at the weekend I decided to start clearing out the freezer prior to Christmas and the first thing I was confronted with was a number of EG style frozen bananas. So I have been working my way through recipe books. I didn’t try on this occasion, but I have in the past tried Nigella’s healthy banana muffins. (the original recipe doesn’t have the chocolate)  My recommendation is “don’t”; they sacrifice taste in the pursuit of healthiness, would rather eat less and enjoy some flavour (interestingly her Banana and Butterscotch muffins are nice).

Alternatively a healthy muffin that is surprisingly nice are the Banana Bran Muffins from “Economy Gastronomy” – yes there is a reasonable amount of sugar in them, but they do make over 24 reasonably sized muffins and the mixture keeps in the fridge so you can make them in advance and cook them when ready and freeze your leftovers. Disadvantages are they are more complicated than usual muffins and take longer to cook. Recommendation from Spider is that they are nicer warm.

Nigella’s Banana Bread is nice, thought Tessa Kiros’ banana bread from “Apples for Jam” would be nicer due to use of brown sugar but there was no marginal difference. Susan Austin’s Banana Pancakes are what breakfasts were invented for, and they freeze. I’ve also tried the Banana and Oats Smoothie from Leon:Allegra Mcevedy which…I am hoping to tempt Spider with at the weekend.

Finally this is more a serving suggestion than an actual recipe and has been known in my family for at least 35 years as “Banana’s Valentine”. Take a skinned banana. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar. Pour over a reasonable amount of evaporated milk, leave to stand for a few minutes. Eat with enthusiasm.

Rationalisation

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So how is the rationalisation going ?

What rationalisation ?

The rationalisation of your house and contents you were attempting

Ask me another

Not good then ?

You could say that…

Things were going well. We had Spider’s room pretty much nailed and we’d managed to tame the playmobil downstairs. I’d finished a skirt and put the sewing machine away in my corner of Teenager’s bedroom, the kitchen was clean and tidy – we even had a dining table we could use !  Then…

Then what ?

Husband decided to tackle the office. This is not a speedy job. It entailed taking everything out, vacuuming and then rearranging the furniture. Everything was taken out and put on the Teenager’s bed. Husband got half way through and then, not feeling too good decided to finish the task the following day. Unfortunately the next day he work up with a sore throat and a streaming nose and overwhelming tiredness. So he left it until he was feeling better. Which is fine as the Teenager wasn’t with us that weekend. Unfortunately the cold continued for over a week and the following weekend of course Teenager needed his bed, so the contents of the office then got moved off the bed and into the small corner of his bedroom where I had previously started the big clear up operation so that I had somewhere for my clothes, knitting and sewing machine…

Bit disheartening then ?

You can say that again. So instead I lured a friend round (Wingnut) with the promise of Sunday lunch and together we tackled the wood and soil in the back garden, because this is one place that if it gets organised will stay organised.

This is the before picture

december 2008 068

This is the after picture before we all ran out of energy.

september 2009 042

Husband did a fabulous job of cutting all the wood up for the stove – however I’m feeling very, very guilty as he was still short of energy due to this blasted cold…but Husband is a kind soul, a caring sharing sort of guy and he shared his germs with me…which has meant that the house is now in a worse state than it was when I started trying to organise it…

I think I need help. I need a strategy. A plan. Either that or I need someone to dob me in to Aggie and Kim and get them to come round and sort the house out…I am encouraging Spider to say “I believe in fairies” everynight, just in case there are such things as housework fairies…I am as you can tell an optimist.

USE USING USED BY

It’s been awhile. Partly it is due to technology issues such as me losing my phone, breaking my netbook, switching to a mini IPad then discovering that for some reason wordpress doesn’t like me accessing it through an IPad (constantly getting the message “there is a problem with this page so it was reloaded”). I’m also not very good at remembering to take photos and part of me believes I should try and include photos in a blog post if possible…

Mostly though I have lacked the enthusiasm to write about food.

When the economy crashed we went through a restructuring at work which led to  a feeling of insecurity. Then, just when we thought things would be alright, the government decided that the austerity measures were not having the desired effect and so about 3 years ago they announced another round of cuts. My employers promised that the second restructuring would be quick but then due to budgetary uncertainty (and a lot of rain leading to a rethink on flood defence issues) the restructuring took a whole year before it was complete.

For my part the year of “do I don’t I have a job” resulted in a lot of comfort food being consumed and probably too many nights on the sofa working my way through a bottle of red wine. Cue weight issues. From the 11st I had been happy with since Joe was born I went up to 12st 7lb (and more) and a band of middle age flab took up residence around my waist.

Eating happened. Cooking happened. Writing about it… not so much… and then once you stop writing it’s difficult to start again.

18 months ago I started to tackle the weight issue, mainly with exercise. This year I want to tackle the food side of things more diligently. As I’ve blogged before there will be no silly diets just healthy eating and portion control but more I want to enjoy eating because food should not just be about food.

The word of the year is frugal though. I want to keep trying to eat seasonally and locally if I can but mostly I want to use what is in the cupboard. I am sure I am not alone in buying the occasional special ingredient and then not using it until I find the right recipe or the right occasion but lets face it the Pope* is never going to come to dinner so I may as well use things before they go past their use by date

*not that I want the Pope to come to dinner but since as a republican (as opposed to a monarchist) its even less likely I’d invite the Queen  for a spot of Supper.

I also want to make my recipe books earn their place on the shelf as my collection is getting out of control. The same goes for all those kitchen gadgets that clutter up the cupboards and the kitchen surface… either they prove they have a purpose in life and are essential to my culinary life or out they go.

Mostly however I want to finally get the kitchen finished off. After all it will be 10 years in August since we knocked the house down and rebuilt it… it’s probably about time we finally tiled the kitchen.

I think I have my appetite back.

White Bean and Rosemary Soup with Nut Pesto

That thing where you think about doing something for so long and when you do it’s not that good. That.

I guess I should after such a long break write a post apologising for not posting and explaining where I have been. Well I will… At some point… but if we wait for me to do that then I’d never get back here

I am approaching my 45th birthday in a couple of weeks and the knowledge of this has lead me to be a bit reflective of late… 45 may not be a milestone for most but I think mentally, because of my family history I have been thinking of it as the half way mark of my life…also my life has divided up quite well into batches of 15…so it kind of feels appropriate to take some time to reflect on how things are going and what I want to improve.

On that theme… I am one of the world’s most expert procrastinators. I could win medals for my ability to put things off until a later date. My house is full of books which I will read “one day”, piles of paper and filing waiting for the day in which I sort it, newspaper cuttings of recipes that one day I will get around to making and of course countless bookmarks on my computer of interesting websites with recipes or knitting patterns or similar that one day I will get around to reading in full…

But no more; The next 12 months will see a serious effort to read books, cook recipes and clear the clutter from my life… starting with this soup…

Mind you working my way through all these bookmarked recipes is not really in line with my other aim for this year which is to “cook from the cupboards” aka use up what I have (I can’t claim originality on this and it is a post for another day… more procrastinating)… nor does it work with eating seasonally as you can see from this soup…

So, where do I start ? I can’t even remember why I bookmarked this recipe and then later printed it out… I think I was attracted by the idea of nut pesto which sound much more interesting and exotic than “white bean soup”. However I do love Allegra’srecipes but find they are a bit cheffy and not really conducive to my sort of cooking which is more “come home knackered, need to put something on the table in a hurry…

Soaking the beans not the issue it’s the 2 hours of cooking…which is probably why this recipe once printed out then sat in a pile of papers for about 2 years or more…then having decided to make it and putting the beans on to soak in the morning for 8 hours in the end the beans got 24 hours as I got back too late on Saturday to start cookin

So Sunday morning found me tantalising the neighbourhood with the gentle Smell of garlic and rosemary sweating slowly on the stovetop whilst I drank espresso on the patio in glorious sunshine.

I used lots of rosemary. I’m using it a lot in my cooking at the moment as it is going mad by the front door, obviously my garden is far better than wild Corsican hillsides…the soup was looking good but then things fell apart at the pesto stage.

The Pesto didn’t really work…it wouldn’t process properly possibly because I was making half the amount. 150g of hazelnuts would make far too much pesto and there is just me eating this. But I don’t think the unsuccessful pesto can be blamed for the fact the soup just tastes a bit meh, a bit bland… to be honest the pesto made me feel ill… this could be due to a hot day and generally not feeling like eating…

But then weather took a turn for the wintery and the soup seemed much more seasonally appropriate.

Day 2 I axed the pesto, splashed some more vinegar in the soup and a teaspoon of salt…I had erred on the side of caution with the chicken stock as soup made with Taste of Chicken tends to be overpowered by the stock. The salt may have done the trick as it certainly tasted better but that may have been to a day in the pot for the flavours to mend… the top of the soup where the salt was tasted better than the end

Lets see how Day 3 does…I have some leftover parmesan… maybe next time I should have bunged a parmesan crust into it…after all my deep freeze is where Parmesan crusts go to die…the top shelf is a graveyard of past cheese…

i’ll post the link to the recipe in a couple of days…am having computer problems at the mo

Kitchen Diaries III by Nigel Slater

So last night I took delivery of the latest version of the Kitchen Diaries which I have been lost in for a large part of the last 12 hours

It’s too early for a review. I can say that the prose does not disappoint but the recipes have left me wondering on several occasions “where the hell will I find that in rural Warwickshire !”

More later I have to work