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

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

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

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

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

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Gastronomy Economy

Cooking in this house has been a bit routine and dreary of late. I haven’t had any desire to write about anything for awhile hence the relative inactivity on this blog. I have been a bit depressed too due to “events” which admittedly did have the strange effect of making me feel that I needed to buy a cookbook (Falling Cloudberries:Tessa Kiros, in case you were wondering – I didn’t as I can’t justify even spending £1 at the moment let alone £10 (on offer)).

The slugs eating my basil followed by a solicitors letter killed my desire the other week to make cake. I have to make something this weekend as its Teenager’s birthday, and we have friends visiting in the evening and I have promised there will be leftover cake. My current plan is one culled from Caribbean Food:Levi Roots which from reading the recipe appears to a combination of Nigel’s double ginger cake combined with the icing from Nigella’s ginger cake but using lime instead of lemon – now this really did get my taste buds waking up.

The other thing that has pricked my culinary interest is that Allegra McEvedy (ex Leon) and Paul Merret (his book about his allotment and cooking from it is currently on my bedside table – I got it for my birthday, it is a slow read for me, his literary style is not doing it for me) have a series coming out next Wednesday called Gastronomy Economy, there is also, surprise surprise a cookbook... if it stops raining I may do a car boot sale and treat myself with the proceeds.

Spag Bol

I made Spaghetti Bolognaise on Friday night, it’s the same recipe I’ve used for years (but these days without the mushrooms) I learned it from my Mum, probably one of the first more complicated things I made – the best bolognaise I ever tasted is the one from Kitchen Diaries:Nigel Slater but I wasn’t in the mood for following a recipe, I just wanted something comforting and routine.

I made it partly to make amends and partly to calm me down and get my head straight as I’d just thrown my toys out the pram. I behaved appallingly but I am not apologetic for it, sometimes I think it needs to be done. I don’t make a fuss as a rule and sometimes when you don’t make a fuss you can get overlooked.

Things had kinda come to a head on Friday evening. I was finally getting fed up of the neighbours treating our garden as a thoroughfare because we had no fences up, I’d shouted at one of the neighbours visiting children the previous day because he’d ignored me when I’d told him not to go in our garden to get his ball, and that he should be asking me if I could get it for him – can’t remember what I said aside from emphasising that the garden was dangerous.

Anyway I insisted to the family that this weekend that we were sorting out the backgarden. Not sure how the Student got involved as we hadn’t actually asked him to help out but he started getting arsey about the fact I wanted to do it this weekend and how it was messing up his arrangements as he had to be in Rugby tomorrow to “see his boss about holiday work” and then he phoned someone and started slagging us off on the phone whilst we were in earshot about how the “people here keep changing their plans, and the plans are changing by the minute etc etc”. So I sort of told him that as far as I was concerned he could go home now, this minute, that I didn’t want him here and that his “attitude stank” and I’d rather a willing volunteer than someone who felt pressganged.

I suspect that Student thinks his Stepmother has an irrational hatred of him, no I have a very rational dislike, based on the fact that he is an arrogant knowitall who hasn’t the human social skills to realise that talking about someone in front of them, implying that they were too stupid to plan ahead might perhaps annoy them a little ! A dislike which is intensified by the fact that the very thing he is accusing us of is one of his biggest character flaws – he doesn’t think ahead and he expects us to change our plans to fit in with him – well sorry Student, but you are 20 now, you are an adult, start using your brain, start planning and start realising that other people (parents and such like) have lives too !

Poor Husband I think is feeling a bit bruised as he probably had to put up with Student sounding off in the car as he was taken back to Rugby…and was then probably worring that I’d give him an earbashing when he got home – nope, just Spag Bol !

The Spag Bol made an appearance the next day too, mixed with veg and hidden under mashed potato as a cottage pie.

I’ve also tried to make amends concerning the current state of the house – its tidier than it has been for weeks – well since I went on strike following the mess the house got in when Husband and Student came back from Le Mans – and ruined the hard work I’d put in to finding a place for everything in the 6 days they were both out of the house.

Tomorrow I may even clean the goldfish out…

Tomorrow, is the first day of the rest of your life…

Tomorrow is the first day of my campaign to get me eating healthily – I would like to get the rest of my family eating healthily but that might be slightly more than I can manage (Spider has potential he eats the more colourful members of the vegetable world).

Yesterday I tackled the building site of the back garden – its going to be a long job but at least I’ve strimmed the grass and made a start at stacking all the dead wood in one place

back garden pre tidy

back garden pre tidy

I have also organised the shed, camping and toys on one side and my gardening equipment on the other. Am contemplating drawing a chalk line down the centre…have threatened dire penalties towards anyone messing up my “sanctuary” if a dark dingy cobwebbed infested place can be called a sanctuary.

All my tools are finally in one place, soon to be joined by all the various seed packets that inhabit every spare drawer in the house.

Unfortunately all the plants I grew in February and March have died off as I had nowhere to put them after the allotment fell through so I am looking for free or cheap plants of whatever sort I can get my hands on.

Later today I shall make the last cake (other than my Mum’s birthday cake) that I intend to eat until I have got my waist measurement down to 28 inches – still cooking for other people though..

I am also part way through 2 soups. There was a report on the BBC website last week that scientists thought that soup might be the key to dieting as it makes your brain think you are not hungry for longer – sorry can’t find the link. I am part way through as one of the recipes involves soaking beans overnight and then cooking them. I don’t have a lot of luck with dried beans so I doubled both the soaking time and the cooking time and I think they are now “cooked, with a little bite left”.

The recipes in question are Nigel Slater’s “White Bean and Tarragon Soup” replacing the borlotti beans with haricot and the tarragon with possibly thyme (I actually grew some borlotti beans last year and they were very easy and so beautiful to look at). The second recipe is from a blog I read Glittyknittykitty (Potage Crecy with Peppers – January 16th) and is purely because I have been given a jaw of Peppardew peppers and have a large bag of carrots in for Spider.

Stealth Cooking…

Making  porridge for myself and Spider insists that he should share it so I search the fridge for something to stir into it to make it less hot and foolishly I say “I’m putting marmalade in it, is that ok” at which point he informs me that he doesn’t like marmalade.

Strange. He likes jam. He likes orange and orange juice. What is marmalade but orange jam ? Anyway I think nothing more about it and instead stir condensed milk into the porridge. Yes I know, bad mummy ! Think of the effect on his teeth, yed but think of the effect on his cholesterol levels all that lovely oatey goodness…am sure my addiction to porridge is why I don’t have to worry about my cholesterol level (apparently).

Anyway, later I get to thinking about Spider not liking marmalade, and well it seems like a challenge. Am  fed up of my family announcing arbitrarily that they don’t like this and they don’t like that and I’m sure that most of them are very specific for example my husband doesn’t like anchovies but does like worcester sauce which is made out of anchovies.

It seems a bit strange to be trying to sneak marmalade into someone’s diet, most parents are trying to sneak vegetables into their children’s food whereas my son has been none to shoplift carrots… it is however a perfect excuse to make Nigel Slater’s  Frosted Marmalade cake, but tonight not now, tonight when my little monster has gone to bed and he can’t spot the marmalade being added to the batter !

In season now: Pears, believe it or not but only just

I’ve mentioned before that I am am trying to firstly eat seasonally and if possibly eat locally. Eating locally currently is restricted to this country  rather than this county, partly because I’m not yet organised enough,but mainly ‘cos I’ve delegated the shopping to Husband for budgetary reasons (he’s better at getting bargains).

[When we had more money I did try an organic box via River Nene which was good from a seasonal and localish point, but  bad as you didn’t get much choice in the contents of the box (think they may have changed the system now) and since my guys are picky about their vegetables I ended up eating a lot of weird soups to use the veg up…there was also the period when I got Kale 3 boxes in a row – not good !]

Anyway I was floating around the net this morning and came across the Pink Fairy cake blog (their actual website is a good resource for cooking with children). I  discovered that Pears are in season now.  Having grown up in Worcestershire the home of apples and pears I was very surprised to learn this as I’d always assumed they were ready the same time as the Apples (Sept-Dec) but no, on checking the BBC website (you can tell I’m British, I always head for the BBC for the low down !) it would seem that they are in season January.

I love pears. They are not something, pre Spider I bought very often (except perhaps in tins) as usually when you buy them they are rock hard, take so long to get ripe and by the time they are ripe they go over and get mushy so quickly – and don’t ever ever consider putting a ripe pear in your lunchbox ! But when it came to weaning Spider they were one of the first things I gave him (apparently they are gentle on small people’s tummies) and it was then I discovered that cold pear puree is probably one of the closest things to “food from heaven” you can get !

I am also very fond of pear juice and have happy memories of hot days travelling round europe by train with lunches of bread and cheese and glass bottles of pear juice…don’t ever try putting a ripe pear through a juice extractor – as Nigel Slater points out in Thirst, all you get is a few pathetic dribbles of juice !

So I am on the look out for some pears to kick start my interest in cooking – I suffer quite badly from lack of motivation in the winter months and all I want to do is hide under the duvet, as you may have gathered from the lack of activity here recently (that’s also partly due to lack of cash)…if nothing else there is a tin of pears in the cupboard !

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.

Even a Tart has a lemon in her fridge…

as Nigel Slater memorably said in one of his books (think it was Real Food) and then went on to explain that amongst other things it was indispensable for G&T’s. For me admittedly the lemon in a G&T makes the drink simply “summer in a glass”, the very sight of it just cheers me up , although bizarrely our family always drinks its gin with limes…today I could do with one as I desperately need cheering up, but I have to wait until Saturday (I’m on a once a week alcohol regime)…

I knew the economy was going wrong when the price of lemons went up – for as long as I can remember they have been about 18-20p as have limes – when they went up to 30p it was obvious something was wrong – and I object even to  paying the lower price as Dad used to grow them…but that was a long time ago “and in another country…”

When we returned to the UK, lemons most usually appeared in our kitchen in the form of Jiffy lemon – confusingly the same name as the lemon scented  sink cleaner (now CIF)…but towards the end of the 80’s they became more common in shops and I think I would find it hard to cook without them. They are one of the ingredients that I let myself off the “buy local, buy seasonal” hook for.

Tonight I need cheering up, if the finances ever recover then I’m taking the family off to Italy, to Sorrento where the lemons grow (and near Versuvius as they all have volcano obsessions) but only if we have enough airmiles…I’m not holding my breath though as just when you think you are drawing ahead of the game someone knocks you back down again…

In the meantime I appear to have lemon grass, a lemon, lemon squash, lemon essence and lemon oil in the cupboard and a recipe for cake involving SR flour (as that is all I have left in the cupboard apart from wholewheat bread flour) in mind….

If you google “nigel slater” and lemon you get a wonderful recipe for lemon polenta cake. I recommend the article itself purely as a spirit cheering exercise, it really makes you smile and feel better – but I have no limoncello and no polenta so it’s lemon muffins for me (recipe to follow when I have time to type it in).

Request for cake…

Yay ! I just got my first email asking me to recommend a cake to go after a particular meal.

I would as a knee jerk reaction to any meal recommend Sticky Toffee Pudding (Gary Rhodes). Yes I know its now a restaurant cliche like the 70’s Black Forest Gateau but it is just heavenly if done well.

Anyway there were some restrictions to the cake. It needed to be made in advance, not require warming up and be suitable for handing round with a cup of tea just before guests leave. For which I recommend ginger cake. Either the Nigel Slater one I recommended earlier or the Nigella Lawson version of the same thing [here] (without the preserved ginger) either way I think the lemon icing is a must !

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.

january-2009-061

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.