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.

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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.

Waste of a waist

As I meandered into work yesterday my mind was toying around with converting 81cm into inches and was so shocked with the results that I had to double check with a calculator when I finally got to work.

Now it was always a consolation and of great comfort to me to know that despite for most of my life having a backside the size of East Anglia, I had a very small waist. When I was 21 I had a 24 inch waist.

Discovering therefore that I now have a 32 inch waist has been the kick up the backside that I have needed to look seriously at the amount of exercise I get and the quality of my diet.

So as of today I am cutting down on my alcohol intake and improving the quantity of vegetables in my cooking. On the veg side I made a start last night with a chow mein that was heavy on the frozen vegetables – which are apparently just as good for you as fresh ones – and since I like a well stocked freezer I have no excuse for not eating large quantities of vegetables…

I do not exercise. I don’t get any enjoyment from exercise for exercise sake and there is no way I’m wasting my time down a gym. However I have until recently always been reasonably fit because I have never minded walking and I don’t consider anything under 2 miles to be an unreasonable distance. Unfortunately since having Spider I have been a little more reliant on the car for logistical reasons and lack of time. I am therefore trying to work more exercise into daily life.

I know I am fooling myself to think that without a lot more effort on the exercise front I will ever get my 24 inch waist back and if I’m honest I think trying to get rid of 8 inches of blubber is probably not achievable. I am therefore aiming for 27inches and if the first 2 inches come off easily then I might increase the exercise regime to something more intensive.

Having scanned through my recipe books for inspiration I have come to the conclusion that Leon: Allegra McEvedy might be a good book to use for menu planning as it appears to have less reliance on butter and cream and does seem to have a high content of vegetables in the recipes.

I was interested to note that Allegra has a new recipe book coming out in August co written with Paul Merret (whose Losing the Plot: Tales of an Allotment Chef I received for my birthday last week) called Economy Gastronomy which is concentrating on eating well, eating healthily but eating cheaply…sounds very timely.

Spring cleaning the fridge

When I was younger spring for me started when the bluebells came out (it also meant it was almost my birthday). At university spring arrived on the 1st March with the daffodils and St David’s Day. Just before Spider was born  I discovered snowdrops and ever since then the appearance of snowdrops heralds a mad session of cleaning and organising for me (the nesting instinct !).

So here we are, almost february and I’m in organising, cleaning and filling the freezer mode. Last night I roasted some sweet potatoes  which were bought short dated at the co op 2 weeks ago (eek). On skinning them this morning I discovered that they were purple fleshed ones…suspect I’m going to be the only one eating the falafel if they are purple not orange. Recipe here.

Most of the veg has ended its life in a leek and potato soup – normally I serve this with soda bread (a great standby on days you have run out of bread, buttermilk can be substituted by milk and s teaspoon of white wine vinegar) – but today it will be the remains of the 2 loaves in the kitchen (1 white, 1 brown – don’t ask, I’ve been an indulgent Mummy). I don’t use a recipe for the soup, I simply slice an onion up and fry it in butter until its soft, add whatever leeks I have available (sliced), and a couple of finely diced potatoes. Put the lid on and sort of fry and steam it for about 5 minutes (keeping an eye on the pan to make sure it doesn’t stick). Then add a pint of stock (vegetable or chicken) and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Puree the vegetables and then add some milk.

Today’s version has the addition of a stick of celery and some spring onions added at the same time as the leeks.

If you want a proper recipe then try this one

Oh and if you serve it cold then it’s vichyssoise.

Ursula’s (wholemeal) Pizza

I challenged myself at the beginning of January to post in alphabetical order. There were some rules, I was allowed to bend the subject matter of the letter a little, I would not buy lots of ingredients in specially for the recipe and I would cook things that we would normally eat. On days where I didn’t have the time to cook or the inclination I could write about something related to food, like a chef.

So I was so pleased to discover this recipe under “U” in Leon:Allegra McEvedy and then to realised that the only strong flour left in cupboard was wholemeal, I have all the ingredients in the cupboard for the sauce and I can tailor the toppings to something the family will eat.

But wholemeal ? Do I eat wholemeal pizza ? Yes, in  fact a slice of wholemeal pizza, topped with pumpkin seeds from the health food shop in Llangfni (Anglesey) used to be my treat in the summer I left university…there weren’t a lot of jobs around that year and even less when you were living away from the main stream on a welsh island. Not a lot of jobs around now, and homemade pizza is cheap if you have the time.

And time is something I don’t have a lot of which is why its taken until saturday for me to make the dough. Its in the fridge now having a long long slow rise (a la Nigella Lawson) ready for movie night tonight – I’m off now to clear out the veg drawer in the fridge – fun (not!).

Oh almost forgot, can’t find recipe for this out on the web and I’m not posting it here as there is a mistake in the book (you add the yeast twice in 2 different ways, I did what I thought made sense but I won’t know until tonight whether it’s worked). Recipe for a  similar wholemeal pizza is here.

O is for onions and alliums in general

I had been planning on missing out “O” until I’d written the post for “P” as “O” was going to be all about Onigiri but since these would be for my lunch over the week it seemed pretty pointless making them and writing about them on a Friday…but then this weekend has been so busy that I haven’t had chance to cook (except for a long thin sponge) or write until now.

As it is the news about the allotment has perked me up enough to start thinking about what to grow and first on the list is onions/garlic/shallots/spring onions as most of my non baking cookery tends to start with “take 1 onion, chop” – certainly if I don’t know what to cook for dinner I’ll usually start chopping and onion and waiting for inspiration to strike.

The other thing onions have going for them is they are the only thing the slugs in my garden don’t seem to touch. Last year I lost the tops of the onions, garlic and shallots to the slugs but the bulbs themselves were ok – got a bumper crop of shallots but the onions I think may have been too closer together in their container…

I had vague plans to either make french onion soup (my mum’s recipe) or an upside down onion tart which I have vague memories of from a Nigella recipe.

As it was we spent Sunday morning pottering around the wet wasteland at the end of our houses trying to work out what size the allotment should be and where…and now here we are at sunday evening when I have to think about packed lunches for the week and and could both make and write about about rice balls, but I find myself with a fridge of leftovers and no need to make something specifically for lunches. My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this weekend…looks like we are in for another week of creative cooking.

I may make the Leon lentil soup in the next few days…it got a good write up on Lacer’s Life…and once again my stomach is in turmoil from anxiety and I need something gentle to calm it down…thank god its payday this week !

ps been a bit of a week for people passing away, John Mortimer on thursday and Tony Hart this morning…

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.

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.

Leon

I came home the other night to discover that the book fairies had been and left a parcel under the wheelbarrow. I had been muttering about buying the Toddler the collection of “Harry and his Bucket full of Dinosaurs” books from the Book People and had been persuaded by my Mum to order them direct as she wanted to get my nephew the same books and “oh, I saw a cookbook there I thought you might like, could you get that too”.

I had spotted that the Leon cookbook is being sold at a discount by the Book People and I had been planning on getting it and reading it on the quiet. You see I am not supposed to be buying anymore cook books until we are solvent again (which is why I keep having to renew the Ottolenghi book I have on loan from the library).

Anyway, it has arrived. I have handed it over to Mum and now have to wait until Christmas before I can peruse it. I did sneak a peak though and it looks fantastic. The book is divided up into 2 halves. The first half is a sort of introduction or guidance to ingredients, when they are in season, varieties, cuts of meat written in an informative but chatty style. The second half is recipes, primarily for food served in the restaurant but with additions from members of staff who were asked to contribute recipes which had meaning for them.

The book itself is beautifully designed and I’m not sure I would actually want to cook from it in the kitchen and risk it getting into the usual splattered state of all my other well used volumes. The only complaint I do have is just a general one about Allegra Mcevedy’s recipes which do tend to have a long list of ingredients

Anyway only another 57 days until Christmas. In the meantime if I need a dose of Allegra there is always the Guardian’s website once a week. The library unfortunately only has The Good Cook