B is for Beetroot…

I have come to the conclusion that I don’t do this Mummy thing very well. Flapjack Queen does, she hardly ever shouts at her children (and she has 3 of them) or gets cross with them, she talks quietly and gently and reasons with them… I even have another friend in the village who is in my phonebook as “Supermum”. Me, well I’d like to think that at least some of the time my snappy mood is down to the fact that Spider is a very determined little boy (his Grandad describing the same trait in his daughter calls it stubborn !), he knows his own mind and has very strong views on how things can be done, but honestly I know that its mainly me who is at fault. Example, I am not a talker. My life is full of long silences, long periods where I am on my own (134 mile round trip commute) so to spend a day with someone who never stops talking and provides his own running commentary is a little bit hard to say the least !

Anyway, Spider is having an extra movie night tonight as a treat (Valiant and now Cars) and I have been in the kitchen trying to bake away my snappishness and ill temper – Bake your way to a better mummy…

So beetroot then ? Well I have just realised why most of the beetroot in this country is eaten pickled as it takes so bloomin’ long to cook.

I am in the process of cooking Hugh Fearlessly Eats it All’s Beetroot Brownie’s and I have made the classic mistake of not reading the recipe properly as it says use 250g of cooked beetroot. No problem I thought I’ll just cook it, won’t take long. Wrong – beetroot can be roasted in a moderate temp oven (200 deg C) for 1-2 hours or boiled/simmered for 1.5 -2 hours…if you have a pressure cooker then it takes about 20 minutes…so a energy saving recipe this is not ! Although you can buy pre peeled and cooked beetroot in most supermarkets.

I haven’t had much experience with beetroot before – I avoid it due to horrid memories of salads in the late 70’s early 80’s where it caused the cheese to go pink…Husband on the other hand adores pickled beetroot (hates most other pickles) so I usually put a jar in his stocking each Christmas.

Of the 3 times before I have cooked it only 1 was it a pleasurable experience, so I have no idea how these Brownies are going to turn out, fortunately I have chosen the one night of the year where it won’t really matter if I have to wait 3 hours before I can start cooking as I wasn’t planning on going to bed until after Jools (he IS new year…!).

The last 3 occasions just for the record were a chemistry project at the age of 13, making natural dyes I think – all I can remember is the beaker getting to hot, cracking and the bench being covered with hot purple liquid. Second was a recipe for borscht from the Cranks Entertaining book – didn’t like it, but I put that down to the texture as we couldn’t get it to puree smoothly. Last year I made a Beetroot cake which was gorgeous (apart from the linseed’s, but apparently I should have soaked them first).

Two last points about beetroot, it smells horrid when its cooking and even raw it stains everything…my kitchen (white shiny units) looks like a scene from psycho as it somehow has managed to get everywhere.


Verdict: Turned out a little soggy which I put down to having boiled the beetroot instead of roasting it but were basically ok. Taste slightly less sweet than most of the others, occasionally there was the woody taste of beetroot but not often.

Cupboard clearing…

Haven’t been baking much the last 10 days as there is plenty to eat and I keep being given left overs from people I know.

Started sorting the cupboards out last night, doing a stock keep of what I have and what needs using up, other than the obvious stuff in the fridge…

Still feeling run down so trying out a “tonic” rather than copious cups of tea as I still have some ginger left from my cold cures and I discovered some forgotten lemon grass in the freezer, which if I was in the mood I could turn into a Thai curry (as there are 2 tins of coconut milk lurking with the rice pud) but I am not in the mood…although there are still loads of goose bits in the fridge…and I wonder if the co op sells corriander…

Anyway rather than the curry I haven’t made here is the tonic (makes 4 cups, I’ve only made 1 as I may use the rest of the lemon grass on something else)

Lemon grass and Ginger Tea (Cook at Home with: Peter Gordon)

2 stems lemon grass bashed flat with a hammer or rolling pin

100g ginger skin scrubbed and roughly chopped

1 litre cold water

sugar, elderflower cordial or honey to taste

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat, out the lid on and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain before drinking.

lemongrass tea - a break for the liver

lemongrass tea - a break for the liver

ps ooooh, whilst rooting around in the veg drawer for the ginger I found the beetroot I bought just before christmas to do Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s Beetroot Brownies, so I may do one last baking session before new year…

verdict on the tonic: Well I feel invigorated, the ginger was a bit strong for my taste, but perhaps its less intense if you drink it hotter, mine was a bit on the cool side as just as I made it, Spider dragged me off to show me a 3 he had just found – we’ve been playing a number recognition reward game, if he correctly names a number then he gets a small toy as a reward…it probably would be cheaper with sweets…!

What on earth possessed me ?

This title can refer to 3 things equally

  • cooking a goose
  • going for a run
  • making Christmas presents

I planned to cook a goose. I was full of enthusiasm right up to the moment when Husband and Spider drove off to spend the day with Teenager and Student. The arrangement was that I would have dinner on the table by 7pm…so they drove off and I sat there looking at this flat, floppy defrosted, large goose in the kitchen and a fridge full of vegetables…I sat and looked, I made a coffee, I ate a slice of Christmas cake, I sat and looked. This went on for about an hour when I suddenly remembered I had no potatoes and I’d left the “back up chicken” (in case no one liked it) at my Mum’s…so a trip there wasted another 30 minutes. Then at 11.30 I sat down and wrote a timetable working back by 3 hours.

Now, those who have read the blog before know that I had been inspired by an article in the Observer by Allegra McEvedy. I did however have doubts about her timetable as it was a bit vague on times and seemed to imply that a 4.5kg goose is going to take 1 hour 45 minutes. No, as a rule you are looking at for poultry, give or take, at least 20 minutes per pound – judging by the search terms showing up on my blog this evening (allegra goose complaints) other people have been having problems with this recipe – I took the opportunity whilst at Mum’s to check with Mum and her copy of Delia and we agreed on 3 hours total cooking time.

Anyway, once I had leavered my bottom off the sofa and had a plan to follow everything was fine. OK having to pour off the fat every 30 minutes was a pain and the last 30 minutes of a roast trying to get everything on the table at the same time is always a pain and involves a lot of shouting at everyone else… there was also the problem that the oven was taken up with 3 sorts of stuffing (Nigella’s chestnut from 2 years ago which I found in the freezer, Nigella’s gingerbread stuffing specially requested by husband and the fruit and nut stuffing recommended by Allegara)

verdict : goose doesn’t do it for me anymore than turkey does. You don’t get much meat from it and I’d rather cook 3 chickens instead. But it is almost all brown meat which I love, the leftovers make great sandwiches, there is a lot of free range bones for stock and lots of fat for later roast potatoes (have stoked the freezer with it). On the stuffing front the fruit and nut stuffing from Allegra is amazing, Nigella’s gingerbread didn’t hit the spot for anyone and I am left wondering what on earth you do with left over stuffing ! Also I ended up with 4 empty plates, Spider though didn’t touch any of it but then it had been a long day…

The run – my neighbour Flapjack Queen (FQ) has a dog. The last time I volunteered to walk the dog was at the end of August when FQ was overdue on giving birth. Smiler, the dog did a runner on me and after 40 minutes fruitless searching I went home to own up to being useless only to discover she had been back for ages ! Anyway, FQ was visiting relatives and asked if I would walk Smiler. “Yes no problem I said” thinking Teenager would be back by then and could be bribed with hard cash. Nope, come 4pm I was on my own and the goose had been in for 30 minutes. I poured off the latest collection of fat and went next door to get the dog…

Because of our “history” I decided to put the dog on her lead to walk her as I couldn’t risk her running off as I had the goose in the oven and needed to be back to pour off the fat and avoid the kitchen going up in flames… Smiler, unsurprisingly was not happy and set off at a trot which quickly became a run and then a gallop dragging me along behind her…note to self a goth skirt and chelsea boots are not suitable for running in…although they did have the wonderful effect of hiding the “thunder thighs” I was accused of having at 15 (which is why I stopped running in the first place)…side note here – looking back on pictures of me when I was 18, I had a good figure, I was slim…shame that in your teens you don’t have the confidence to realise it…now I admit, if I run at my age I should have a sports bra on my legs to stop them bouncing up and down…oh oh oh to be 17 again – right nostalgic moan over !

End result, I had my first run of 2009 some 7 days early…it wasn’t too bad in fact and I may well repeat the (with proper footwear) I won’t be repeating the goose unless we get another bargain buy !

And making Christmas presents ? Well when I was younger I used to knit – I wasn’t bad. I have lost count of the number of friends whose children have had hand knits inflicted on them. Anyway, I have under the bed a teddy bear that my Mum knitted which was awaiting clothes…and had been for 4 years. So at the beginning of November I started knitting clothes for this bear but kept running out of wool and then went ill and then ran out of money (again) – and I also had a tiger hat and two dinosaurs to knit and yes I ran out of time and have decided to put the lot on ice until the children’s respective birthdays (Spider, and FQ’s 3 children)…oh yes and having 2 cats haven’t helped as my whole knitting bag is like one great big spider’s web… january-2009-062

Its been a week…if not more…

My sister in law, Islay asked me about the goose and whether I was going to write anything about it.

Well I did cook it and I will write something about it but not yet as I am really not feeling up to writing at the moment, I do not have the same stamina as the lovely Mrs Lacer over on Lacer’s Life who, like a true writer can keep going even when her body is falling apart – me I’m a bit of wimp.

I haven’t done a lot of cooking over Christmas as I have been down with a very nasty lurgy that leaves me with no energy. I did cook the goose on boxing day but it was only for the immediate family who presumably already have what I have, and also the Teenager and the Student. But I figured that catching something from me that means they spend most of the day in bed sleeping reading and listening to music would be no change in the norm for them !

Today has been one monumental cock up in organisation and I fear I may have upset both my sister in laws by ending up seeing them both on the same day and not really spending much time with either…and then at 5pm it all became too much for me and I once again retired to bed. Its odd this bug, apart from the hacking cough its very reminiscent of glandular fever in the way it saps your energy.

I was going to leave you here with a natural cold cure remedy from Leon:Allegra Mcevedy which I have been reading avidly since the 25th…but I had no rosemary (slugs, drought and then flood in the summer killed it off) so I followed a Peter Gordon recipe which was remarkably similar.

Actually, I quite like mince pies…

A long evening cooking and I’ve run out of time again…more at a more normal hour!

The morning after

I don’t know where the time has gone. Thanks to the flu/virus I have ended up with a backlog of cooking, so last night I made:

· Nigella’s star top mince pies

· Nigella’s mini apple pies

· 2 batches of “24 carat brownies”

· finally cooked the Christmas cake and “iced it” with turkish delight

I’d made my Christmas cake on Monday night but ran out of time to cook it, so it had to stand over night until I got back from work. Whilst it was cooking I made my mince pies.

Turkish Delight topped Easy Christmas Cake
Turkish Delight topped Easy Christmas Cake

I have had a lot of hits on these pages for people looking for Nigella’s star topped mince pies so I thought I may as well do them and then post a link. Basically it’s a straight forward shortcrust pastry recipe using a mixture of fats and replacing the water with orange juice. The recipe can be found here. Mine are made with lard instead of vegetable shortening as that’s what I had in the cupboard (besides am a little concerned about transfats and vegetable shortening) and mine are heart topped as that’s the only cutter I have the right size.

heart topped mince pies
heart topped mince pies

Since the only reason I was making the pies was so that Spider had something to leave out for Father Christmas I only made 12. The rest I turned into apple pies using the apple filling recipe (which I will post up later).

Finally I made a double batch of my favourite Brownies. I had been planning to make some flourless brownie’s following my post yesterday on Allegra (as I was short of flour) but Husband put in a request for some nut free brownies to take to work.

nigel slater's fantastic brownies
nigel slater’s fantastic brownies

Anyway the worlds best Brownies can be found in Kitchen Diaries:Nigel Slater but it also appears in various places on the web and can be found here. My version missed out the cocoa powder as I’d run out (put in extra flour instead) and used a mixture of soft brown sugar and caster sugar…they seem to be hitting the spot at my work though – but then we are all in a Christmas mood anyway.

Food Hero: Oh Allegra, you temptress !


Allegra has only recently joined my list of food heroes. I have mentioned before how I discovered her by an internet trawl for something to use cashew nuts in. I then started to read her articles in the Guardian and found that she has a disturbing ability to make me want to go into the kitchen and cook – fortunately though there have been very few cakes/baked goods and a lot of things that the rest of the family won’t eat !


The downside of Allegra is long lists of ingredients some of which do tend to be rather more exotic than my family will eat. Fortunately this has tended to be the “earlier” Allegra  (see The Good Cook). The more recent Allegra has concentrated more on eating seasonally (see Allegra’s Colour Cookbook and Colouring the Seasons which I think may be the US version of the Colour Cookbook).


What I have cooked so far:

Cashew and Orange Blossom Cake

An Iranian chicken curry (using pomegranate molasses which I have already)

Sweet Potato Falafel

Lemon and Ginger Sussex Pudding


Her latest book Leon  from the restaurant of the same name (of which she is a co founder) again concentrates on good quality, organic ingredients to make good food for take away. I am getting this book for Christmas (only another 48 hours to wait)  and have had to pass it over to my Mum for safe keeping to stop me using it…not before I had copied out the ingredients for George’s Breast Milk Bread (not what you might think thank god !) which I have slowly (with the Flapjack Queen) been collecting together.


Anyway, she has done it to me again. In the other weeks Observer she was enthusing about how you can do Christmas dinner on the cheap (well £60)…and well you see, I have been muttering about how I want to try goose for several years now but have been unable to get one for less than £40 and well she mentioned that Lidl do one for £16, and then I was in Aldi on Saturday and discovered that they also do a frozen one for £15…so I now have a goose in my freezer and nothing else planned for boxing day.

Christmas Cake indecision

I was flicking through How to be a Domestic Goddess:Nigella Lawson trying to choose a Christmas Cake which wouldn’t end up sitting on the sideboard like last year and I came across her Certosino which is a “fabulous spicy fruit cake” which is decorated with dried fruit and nuts. It seemed to fit the requirements of our family namely fruit cake, nothing too heavy, perhaps slightly alcoholic, easy on the icing. Also I have most of the ingredients in, just need to buy a few things.

Anyway I was all set to make this when I got struck down with the lurgy meaning that I’ve since had a lot of time in bed and between sleeping have been reading cookbooks and have of course changed my mind. Same idea as the Certosino just the cake itself uses up more of what I have in the cupboard including a tin of chestnut puree which has been sitting neglected in the kitchen since last christmas.

The Easy Action Christmas Cake (from Feast) can be found here. Normally with recipes from Feast I automatically halve the quantites but this recipe actually suggests if you don’t want a large cake then you could make a small cake and 12 muffins – so that’s what I will be doing between now and Christmas as soon as I get the all clear and can cook again. I know I’m cutting it fine, but since there is no icing involved, just sticking fruit on the top and glazing with jam, I can if I need leave it until Wednesday night…not going to mention christmas cake again this year but will post a pic when I finally get myself off this sickbed and into the kitchen.

My new years resolution is less procrastination, more action… sitting here reading a time management book !

Nigel last year, Nigella this…

Last year I cooked a “traditional” Christmas dinner, turkey, gravy, small sausages, roast potatoes, hell I even did sprouts and chestnuts.  We had a home made christmas pudding (as did several of my friends as I made slightly too many) and a home made iced and marzipan’d Christmas cake (both from The Kitchen Diaries: Nigel Slater)

One of Mummy and Spider's joint ventures

One of Mummy and Spider's joint ventures

Now you might be wondering why is this even worth mentioning ? Well perhaps because this isn’t how my family normally has its christmas’. About the time I was 13 we had a family discussion and decided that Christmas would be about food that we wanted to eat because it was good and tasty not simply because it was traditional.

Anyway, last year we wanted to introduce Spider to tradition and besides both Husband and Dad like turkey (and sprouts) and I adore christmas pudding. I also splashed out on a gingerbread train kit from the American shop  in Milton Keynes… of the bakes stuff, the pudding was lovely but I wish I’d left the figs out as I don’t like little hard seeds, the cake was nice but as a family we are not keen on the icing and marzipan…the gingerbread kit was horrible and besides Spider lost interest half way through…and more icing went on Spider than on the cake when we tackled that.

So this year we will be doing one of Nigella’s many alternative Christmas cakes – although not until the weekend as I have yet another cold and I don’t cook for other people when I’m ill, it just doesn’t seem hygienic!

As for last year, well Nigel’s pudding recipe is here as is the cake recipe just slightly further down the page

Ride an emotional rollercoaster to Banbury Cross

This is rapidly becoming a blog about not baking cake…101 excuses for not cooking.

I was worried yesterday that I was in a bad luck cycle. Today had the potential to be good as I was due to be in Banbury for a planning inquiry which meant that my commute would only be 20 minutes rather than the usual 1hour 20 minutes. However whilst waiting at the station for my work colleagues our barrister phoned up to advise that she had a flat and needed to call the RAC. Then my colleagues turned up, 2 instead of 3, we were 1 short…

Fortunately we had time for things to improve as we’d turned up an hour early so that we could talk things over with our barrister beforehand. Whilst sitting in the Council’s cafe I put a call in to the barrister for an update and discovered that the RAC were on their way but that she was unlikely to be there on time which was a bit unfortunate as the our concerns were being discussed first, anyway this is how the next 90 minutes turned out (after establishing barrister is fully comp insurance):

9.26 Get into car to look for barrister

9.40 Find barrister, give her my car keys and directions to council building

9.42 RAC turn up and I get text from missing colleague saying she’d missed the train due to Oxford traffic and would be there as soon as she could

10.00 Tyre changed, paperwork completed, say goodbye to lovely man from RAC

10.01 First girlie moment. knock on RAC man’s window and ask him if he could show me how to adjust the seat in a jag

10.02 onwards Scary drive into Banbury in car that doesn’t belong to me, costs considerably more than a years salary !

10.15 Arrive at council offices, spend 5 minutes trying to find somewhere to park

10.20 Girlie moment 2: telephone Husband to ask how you put a Jag into reverse.

10.25 Arrive at inquiry

After that the day started to improve. Was back home by 2pm, discovered my Mum had collected my reserved library books and that they were all in, an email from Facebook saying that the husband of a friend I had accidentally lost touch with had found me on Facebook and then from the emails I had it looked as if things were going well on things I was involved with at work.

Anyway by 4pm I was drooping and fell asleep – I think its been all the low level stress of the last few days what with the traffic and worrying over the planning inquiry…have watched Nigella again tonight and am feeling inspired to cook, although not by anything she made oddly enough, apart from the coffee martini !

Oh, if anyone needs a planning barrister then I would recommend these guys – promise next thing I post WILL be about baking as I am giving food as presents to a number of people anyway…

M40: It happened again…the fates hate me !

Yesterday morning as I approached junction 10 traffic slowed to a crawl. “Oh no, not again” I felt as if I had my own personal carbon footprint genie directing me to start using the train again. But within 20 minutes it was back to its usual speed and my pangs of green guilt were sacrificed to pocket concerns once again.

Until, that is, 6.45pm, when I was again on the M40 but heading north this time. I approached junction 9…I continued to “approach” junction 9 for a further 2 hours 40 minutes meaning that I missed Nigella’s Christmas thing on BBC2, or so I thought, but fortunately Husband is a thinking kinda guy and not only had dinner ready for me but a dvd he’d prepared earlier…

Anyway, on the subject of Nigella, the lemon icing I mentioned previously in connection with the Gingercake is incredibley easy


175 icing sugar

1 tbs lemon juice

1 tbs warm water.

Sieve the icing sugar. Mix in the lemon juice. Then add the hot water a little at a time. Keep stirring until you have a thick paste. You may not need all the water, you may need a little bit more. Icing needs to be quite thick so that it gives a thick snow like covering to the cake.