Lovely lovely lovely friends in the north

Yesterday instead of the usual bills and junk mail dropping through the letter box I got  a parcel. An unexpected parcel from north of the border.

The lovely Padmae (aka Emma) from Aberdeen had sent me some tea cake – for the details check out her blog here. She says its Nigalla’s Fruit Tea Loaf – I don’t care whose it is – its lovely and so unexpected.

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I’ve never been to Durham

I have been pretty low recently, so low that a number of friends expressed stated that they had been worried about me. Things have been getting me down, but it is thanks to these friends (and family) that I am not sinking. I owe a lot to my friends and weirdly it’s been my “new” friends who have been there for me when I’ve needed them.

The weekend was full of lovely hi points. It was Teenager’s birthday and we had made a cake. I say “we” as Spider was helping with the icing, primarily by eating the cola bottles bought for decorationjuly 2009 002. The cake was Nigella’s Coca Cola Cake (How to be  Domestic Goddess) – which was very very nice and incredibly easy to make…it is however quite a flat low cake, and it stuck to the foil which lines the tin to stop the mixture seeping out and all over the oven…so I iced it on a plate and used the icing to hide the fact that the cake was in several pieces!

We were visited by the Fairy Gothmother, who is always happy to talk cake and has now a page on Facebook called “Cake District” she was bearing lovely gifts, late birthday presents for me and presents for her goth son…she also waved her fairy gothmother’s wand in the direction of Amazon, sprinkled fairy dust and lo and behold they delivered a copy of Economy Gastronomy to our address…or at least they will do as soon as it gets released!

On Sunday we invaded Flapjack Queen’s house to ask them to come for a walk and ended up spending most of the day there – when we did finally get out we discovered a hedge of “wild” plums in the allotments out back and introduced the children to the delights of pick your own fruit grinning conspiratorially at each other as the sticky juices ran down our chins and on our fingers.

Back at FQ’s palace we made plum crumble (plum and pecan (HtbaDG), a big one for the family and a small one for a lady up the road who no doubt picked the plums in the 1930’s when she was a teenager…I love the continuation of  history you get in a village. FQ made a banana and blueberry muffin cake and sent me away with half of it in return for my plum crumble.

So thank you friends, and in particular Fairy Gothmother, Flapjack Queen and Wingnut (who introduced me to geocaching which gets me out of the house) – all of whom it turns out are graduates of Durham university…

Hayley’s Gran

Hayley’s Gran was a glorious set of coincidences of going to university in a particular city, choosing a particular course, a particular set of Hall’s and then the randomness of university accommodation allocation. I was very lucky in my neighbours in the first year of university and ended up living with them for the following 2 years. We are all still in touch some 20 years later, but with children there’s not really the time to keep up.

Hayley was (and still is) a Valkyrie of a welsh girl, 5ft 11 with long auburn hair, amazing blue eyes and a stunning sense of style. She came from a small town about 30 miles away from Cardiff and as a result of such relative closeness she tended to see her parents about every 2 weeks. In the first year I too saw my parents quite often as they only lived a train journey away in Reading…unfortunately they moved to Anglesey half way through my second year !

I lived for sunday evenings, if Hayley had been with her parents as she always came back with food and often within the various bags and packages she came back with there was a batch of Hayley’s Gran’s Welsh cakes.

Despite many attempts over the years I have just never managed to match the splendor of these little sultana dotted cake biscuits and this evening has been no different…if only I’d asked for the recipe and the method when I was at university.

This evening’s attempt was using a recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess on the new griddle – they burnt…they were at least drier and less “fried” than usual, but it wasn’t Hayley’s Gran’s standard. Didn’t bother with a photo as they were disappointing – am still eating them though as I need some sort of consolation for the fact that Spider has refused everything I have made today, that really makes me feel worthless and no good at my “job”

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.

Quesadillas

I used to have, as part of my cooker a griddle plate – it was as Husband would describe it,  a “great bit of kit”. It was really useful when knocking up a cooked breakfast for “men” (I am outnumbered at the weekends) or, if you are in “yummy mummy” mode breakfast pancakes. It had 2 flaws however, the first was it was really difficult to clean if cooking something a bit fatty (bacon) and being electric it was very slow to heat up and very slow to cool down again…

When we moved we found we missed it, but not enough to buy the same cooker for yet a third time (we used to have separate houses before we married)…however for christmas this year treated ourselves to a double sided griddle “sheet” which you place over the burners of a gas hob  january-2009-086.

I’ve not had chance to play with it as yet as Husband has been doing almost all the cooking since christmas (lovely lovely sausage and mash this evening).

Anyway I was looking in the fridge last night, looking for inspiration for Spider’s Lunch Club when I discovered amongst the leftovers almost all the ingredients for Quesadillas as per Nigella Express – unfortunately however Husband had already earmarked the ham and bacony bits for a variation on carbonara…

Besides I try not to have the main bit of Spiders packed lunch something he hasn’t had before – and at the moment he eats wraps but insists on unrolling them and removing the filling.

So the next day I was nosing round the fridge again and these wraps were still looking back at me, as was quite a lot of blue cheese.

january-2009-085 So this is my version filled with hummus, grated blue cheese, left over roast chicken and sliced spring onion. Nigella’s version can be found here and this is what wikepedia has to say about them.

Quesadilla ? panini ? things have moved on so much since the 80’s when I used to envy the frequent appearance of a Breville toasted sarnie in my friend Wilf’s lunchbox… and the griddle is so much easier to clean.

If I had had a better day and not spent yet another 5 hours stranded on the M40 I might have been tempted to pass on the recipe for making  flatbread/wraps in case you felt desperate to make quesadillas and didn’t have spare ones floating around the fridge…which I guess is a very strange place to keep wraps and to tell you the truth I cannot remember putting them there in the first place…I guess it’s early senility setting in…

Are Muffins the ultimate budget cake ?

You may have spotted that my posts so far this year have been alphabetical. I needed to keep posting but I knew that it was unlikely that I would be cooking anything worth talking about for awhile due to lack of time and lack of money…so thought I’d challenge myself.

As it is the black dog has taken up residence in the house and I have run out of plain flour…hence 2 posts in a row about muffins. The great thing about muffins is you can use almost any flour, any type of fat (although you might not get quite so nice a flavour with lard), and put anything in it. You can also tart them up into something a bit special with icing.

They are the ultimate baked goody for the credit crunch, and you can freeze them ! I am surprised that I have managed to restrict myself to only 2 books dedicated to these lovely little morsels of heaven (mind you there are enough recipes elsewhere anyway) . These are Perfectly Simple Muffins: Steven Stellingwerf and Muffins Fast and Fantastic: Susan Reimer. Of the 2 I would say that Muffins Fast and Fantastic is the most useful as it has a great section at the beginning giving advice as to how to tweak the given recipes to work best for alternative types of flour or fat. Also there is a great section about freezing and the best methods for defrosting.

Savoury muffins are a revelation. I had never considered these until I came across the Welsh Rarebit Muffins in Nigella’s Nigella Bites but since then they have become a regular addition to my freezer stash for emergency packed lunches. I tend to make some standard size muffins and some fairy cake size especially for Spider as I’m not sure he could manage a full size one as yet

Unfortunately I am finding it hard at the moment to have sufficient PMA (what management books call “positive mental attitude”) to drag myself into the kitchen to try and bake myself happy…but when I do I shall be making some cheese and herb muffins for next weeks lunches.

Home Baked thought for the week. Management would get more out of their staff if they actually talked to them and then listened to what they said in return… unfortunately some seem to think that stressing you out is the best way to make you perform !

Roll on pay day, its always easier to feel positive when the bank account is not so empty…

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 !

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

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.

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 !