About 5currantbuns

Cake Baker

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.

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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

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)

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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