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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 !

gin

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

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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…