Friday, December 26, 2008
I thought I'd get right in there with a photo of the finished article, should my writing fail to grab your attention. Is it not divine and beautiful, a magnificent specimen of marvellous cakedom? I defy any reader to deny its inner goodness. And I should think so too - this thing probably cost darn near £30 to make up (yes, I really was geeky enough to tot up the bill) and I would wager that each slice contains every single one of your RDA of vitamins and minerals, not to mention well over twice your daily recommended calorie and alcohol intake. How can you resist?
From start to finish the whole adventure has lasted some two weeks, I'd say. Ten days before Christmas Ma Pea and I waltzed gaily around the aisles of Waitrose, piling the trolley high with all sorts of fruity goodies, as well as nuts, icing sugar, flour, eggs, butter, and all those other requisite ingredients which make up the traditional Christmas cake.
Turns out that making a Christmas cake is not an activity for the faint of heart or, for that matter, faint of muscle. Nor for those short on time. From start to finish the entire exercise took some 6-8 hours, and that's before the marzipan and icing are added on. One of the main reasons I'll warrant which forces most to head for the ready-bought cake.
As I'm writing this on the eve of a rather last minute flying trip to Italy, I'm forced to make the cake-making revelries and descriptions rather shorter than is my usual way. However, suffice to say that the cake wasn't made without a few mini dramas - I learnt that chopping over 1 kilo of various sticky gloopy dried fruits is no mean feat, and is rather like one of those tasks that you'd be given in hell, though eventually I overcame the mountain and reigned victorious. The next hysterical fiasco was my realisation when it came to adding the cake mixture to the tin, that the recipe had called for a 24 inch ROUND cake tin, when I had, in fact, bought a 23 inch SQUARE cake tin. Furiously putting my GCSE maths to test, I figured out (after phoning a friend) that I'd need to increase the mixuture by a third for the mass to be right. Sod that. I loaded the mixture in and prayed as it baked away in the oven for a not paltry three hours.
It emerged a vision of perfection, with wafts of delightful and promising alcoholic fruitness tantalising my nostrils. I breathed a sigh of relief and got drunk on the fumes. But it had by no means reached the pinnacle of its success yet, oh no. There remained another ten days of brandy basting to come as every day I hovered lovingly over my Christmas baby, bathing it in obscene quantities of alcohol, ensuring not a crumb was left unsoaked, not a nut left unturned. Finally, Christmas Eve arrived, and the cake emerged from its brandy bath, sopping wet and spluttering more boozy fumes than a city boy on a Friday night. By now it was completely sozzled, ready and willing to be rolled up and tucked into its marzipan wrapper bed. At this stage my cosseting and fuss-making could be likened to a doting mother tending to her first-born.
At this stage though, my baby was yet half-dressed, as there remained....a cloak of glossy white icing. 2 egg whites whisked, and vast quantities of sugar whipped in, and I'd concocted what seeemed like the perfect consistency icing. I was getting rather precious about CC by this point, and delicately poking at it with a palette knife as I spread the sugar coat thickly across its top and sides. The belle of the ball it would be, with real genuine frothy peaks studding its unblemished complexion.
Then, the vandals set in, as Ma Pea tried to add a naff ballerina decoration to the apple of my eye. Some people just can't stand others' works of art:
I could barely wait for the icing to dry before I wanted to cut the first slice and taste the fruit (cake) of my (culinary) loins.
Course, I wasn't 100% what this thing was going to taste like so, for safety, I tested it out on an unsuspecting guest/guinea pig.
The result: STUPENDOUS!!! Moist, packed with a plethora of tasty dried fruits and generous quantities of hazelnuts, and with tender marzipan and the crunch of icing, this is a Christmas cake to top all Christmas cakes. Though, with the amount I've consumed already, it might well be the Christmas cake that ends me...
...still, I can't think of a better way to go.
Monday, December 15, 2008
It's my own fault really, I tempted fate. I had the audacity (read: stupidity) to say, rather smugly, last Thursday, whilst standing in the presence of someone hacking and spluttering and fully lurgied up, that I'd 'not been ill this year'. I was commenting more out of surprise really as, when normally one is esconced deep within germ-ridden team in the corporate world, it's not a case of are you going to get ill but when you're going to get ill. And so I was rather revelling in the unexpected bonus that 'working from home' brings - Winter '08 is the winter of no bugs! But someone up above obviously saw my innocent conversation as tempting fate, and lo and behold, less than 24 hours later I started to feel...rather bleh.
I battled it for two solid days as I was deep in the West Sussex countryside studying cartoon and caricature for the weekend at West Dean College, an incredible mansion which belonged to a rich, old, eccentric called Edward James, who I'd ironically heard about first when on my travels in Mexico. His estate, however, is now dedicated to short and long courses teaching the arts. The weekend was astoundingly good, with rigorous hours of teaching and penflexing broken only by gorgeous, plentiful and timely meals. When I wasn't drawing, eating, or talking with the rest of my classmates, I was curled up by one of the many fires, catchingup on my reading. But the sniffles were a-lurkin'.
Finally, come end of course, I succumbed and have since gone completely under. Two days later, and on Christmas Eve no less, I'm bedbound and feeling very sorry for myself. Like, I suppose 75% of the rest of England. Cor blimey but we've got it good this year ent we?!!
So, I've been cheering myself up with thoughts of impending Christmas feast, but most importantly, and a now quite longstanding labour of love, the inaugural tasting of my homemade and obscenely alcoholic Christmas cake.
I thought I'd break from tradition, and instead make no apologies for the fact that it's been nigh on a month since I last wrote. After all, I can't afford to feel guilty, I need to save all the guilt for the monstruous amounts of Christmas calories we'll no doubt consume over the next few days...and then I'll start getting all dedicated and virtuous come 09. Honest.
These past few weeks I've been slowly but surely overcome with childlike Christmas glee: getting all excited about crackling log fires, steaming hot chocolate, decorating our hand-sawn Christmas tree with beautiful and sparkling decorations and putting my inner gift fairy to good use when advising friends on gift purchases for their adored ones...
Kitchen wise, I've recently been working my way through my adored and favouritest food writer ever (and many others' too no doubt) Nigel Slater's book on food and the love of everything about it, 'Appetite'. His very promising looking 'exceedingly boozy Christmas cake' recipe caught my eye, and the decision was made.
Thus I commence my cakey adventures. Oh come all ye faithful blog readers (minimal numbers at present due to very little action on my part to obtain an audience...), and join me over these next few entries in this shameless cakefest.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
The day dawned early and bright, December third,
this year's passed so quickly it seems quite absurd,
But beautiful winter sunshine through my window streamed bright,
so I threw open the curtains and saw with delight,
that the entire garden was completely embossed,
with a delicious icy coating of frost.
Bundling up, warm clothes v. biting cold,
I grabbed a camera in the hopes of photo gold.
I wanted to capture this magical, glittering morning.
but my photography should come with a small prewarning...
as, whilst my dear birthday friend has many a skill,
at capturing those photolicious moments that thrill,
my ability to close the shutter on the perfect shot,
is, I won't lie to you, not quite as hot.
Nevertheless, without further ado, and in my own little way,
I'll show you the magic moments of this beautiful day.
This picture, and this place, causes me to take a nosedive straight back to my childhood in the states, and reading the terribly sad story Bridge to Terabithia. I got slightly lost in my imagination and had to pinch myself to resurface.
Marvellous mossy mystery.
Wellie shot - just discovering my camera.
Pathway reminding me of Peter Rabbit - acrid smell of creosote from nearby garden allotments mixed with tinny waft of fir trees.
Happy Birthday! xxx
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Yesterday I went and did my weekly frugal shop. I pottered into the meat section and these little babies caught my eye:
Look at those eh?! An intriguing cross between pork belly and bacon rashers, with lovely fresh pink flesh glistening seductively in between temptingly tasty layers of fat. The challenge was too good to resist. Into my trolley they went.
But then I got them home and hit the post-shopping euphoric lapse as I realised I really am quite naive in the ways of pig. Pork is just something that I've always been a nervous about. I suspect it's one of those childhood things, as there are all too many 'thin, grey, tastless, chewy' memories floating round from my schooldays. This means that, bar my two faves - bacon and sausages - the rest of the pig rarely gets a look in. My new resolution therefore: all of this is going to change as of TODAY!
Inspired by a recipe I read on one of my favourite blogs, Eggs on Sunday, I thought it was time I whipped them out of their packet for a little dance in the frying pan, just in the nick of time for my lunch. I tried a variation on Amy's recipe .
Rubbing salt and pepper into the thick rashers, I then laid them in a frying pan where some hot oil sizzled. They cooked for some 3-4 minutes on both sides until golden and cooked through, when I laid them on a hot plate to one side as I made the sauce. To the oil I added some finely diced red onion and some chopped sage, allowed it to sizzle, scraped in the remnants of the pork from the pan, and deglazed with a couple of capfuls of cider vinegar. The mixture bubbled and wafted tantalising smells. I let cook and reduce for a few moments before spooning it over my belly/rasher hybrid, and enjoyed them with some buttered leeks and garlicky mushrooms.
So yesterday I was very excited when one of my bestest girlfriends came down to visit, the first time we've seen each other in the eight months or so since I went abroad. I had said we had so much to catch up on we should invest in one of those chess game timers - ok, 10 minutes to you, 10 minutes to me, 10 you, 10 me...thankfully we didn't have to resort to anything quite so regimented and I think we still pretty much covered all the bases, whilst at the same time cooking and eating a really very delicious, comforting winter supper to fill our tums as we talked.
Unsurprisingly, I'm the sort who finds it hard to concentrate on even two things at once - so listening, talking AND cooking meant that proceedings went veeeery leisurely, but that was fine, we had all the time in the world!
To curb our appetites, I quickly whipped us up some of the Carrot and Ginger soup, a rerun my last entry. It was just too good not to share!
A while later, we followed this up with Roast Butternut Squash and Bacon linguine with crumbled deep fried Sage, then a Blackberry tarlet for puds.
The Butternut Squash and Bacon linguine was really a bit of an experiment using some of my favourite ingredient combinations - I often use Butternut Squash in risotto, but I'd never actually cooked it with pasta. I figured really, what can go wrong with all of those goodies included?! My hunch was right and we both agreed it got top marks:
Butternut Squash & Bacon Linguine with crumbled deep fried Sage
a quarter of a butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced relatively small; 3-4 rashers bacon or pancetta, diced; 1 clove garlic, chopped; 8-9 sage leaves; 1/4 pint single cream; olive oil; linguine for 2
Lay foil over a roasting tray and spread the butternut squash over, drizzle with olive oil and season generously, then roast at 240C for 30 minutes until soft with a little bite.
Start cooking the Linguine.
Lay the bacon in a frying pan and fry fast until slightly crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and lay on kitchen paper to drain the fat, then quickly fry up the sage in the remaining bacon fat, removing to drain next to the bacon once done. My bacon produced enough fat for the whole dish but if yours doesn't, at this stage add a little olive oil and add the garlic until it sizzles and starts to go golden, then the bacon, and finally the butternut squash. Season, stir and cook through for a few minutes, and then add the cream, heat through for a minute or two.
Drain the linguine, retaining a tiny amount of water so the pasta doesn't dry, and toss together with the butternut squash mixture. Serve onto plates and crumble over the deep fried sage.
Thinking about it, by the time we served up, I was so eager to eat that I clean forgot parmesan, which of course would top off a truly delicious dish perfectly.
I cheated and used preprepared, ready-to-cook tartlet cases (sorry, was BUSY during the day, can't cook everything from scratch!), but they were spectacular, so I would highly recommend cheating any day!
For the custard, beat 1 egg and add in a quarter pint of single cream, then beat in caster sugar. I've not quite figured out the right amount of caster sugar to add...I guesstimate maybe 5-6 tablespoons? Arrange the tartlet cases on a baking tray, and pour the custard in. Arrange the blackberries in the cases, and cook on about 180C for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is cooked and the custard golden. Sift some icing sugar over the top if you want it really fancy. Me n mi amiga just gobbled ours down...hot! hot! hot!
Then the two greedy little piggies sat down with a cuppa chai and some of my special banana bread which I cooked that morning, the secret of which I will reveal when the time is right...
What else are best friends for than to help demolish the banana bread that you would otherwise be forced to eat entirely by yourself?!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
This soup is:
- stupidly, ridiculously, SCANDALOUSLY cheap - I totted it up and it will have cost me all of about 20p
- stupidly, ridiculously, SCANDALOUSLY tasty
- stupidly, ridiculously, SCANDALOUSLY easy peasy
- and pretty blimmin' quick too
Carrot & Ginger Soup
1 inch-long piece ginger, peeled and sliced thickly; 1 small onion, diced; 3-4 small-medium sized carrots, diced; glug olive oil; 3/4 litre of stock; salt/pepper
In a large, flat saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the ginger so it sizzles and wafts delicious sweet-spicy fumes your way. Add the onions and sweat gently for a couple of minutes before adding the carrots and stirring. Pour in the stock - it should amply cover the vegetables. Leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the carrots are tender, transfer the whole lot to a blender, blend vigorously until a smooth puree and return to the saucepan. Swill out the blender with about a cupful of water, and add to the puree to loosen it slightly. Heat through.
Spiffing eh? The perfect veggie soup to curb your appetite slightly if it is raging before a dinner, and also pretty darn good as a light evening supper to go to bed on a less-than-full tum. Nice.
I've proved that the old adage 'A cup of tea solves everything' really is true. I've walked to the post office and posted a card I've drawn for a friend, and I've come back on a post-walk mini-buzz to make myself a steaming cuppa. Just plain ol' PG Tips thank you very much, with enough milk to render it a dark tan colour. Served in a cup which is oh so ironic at the moment labelled 'Princess' with a little drawing on the front. Think I might have just struck on an idea for another mug design 'Pauper's Tea'. I'll get scribbling!
One of the many useless skills I've been taking on board is the one below:
One of the undoubtedly more useless skills I've learnt, but nonetheless probably the most amusing....! Timothy Ferriss, one of the most inspirational men I've read about, teaching me yet another skill that makes life that little bit more interesting!
Onwards and upwards.
The tea in front of me is PG tips ,weak and milky, pale khaki in colour. There is about half a pint in a white mug which has a thick blue line around the top and thin lines within the blue. It is of a perfect drinkable temperature.
Around me are several girls , my pumpkin team, some of them drinking tea of varied colours and in different mugs. There are five pumpkins all being lovingly sculptured into bonfire night horrors. It is November 8th , the nearest Saturday to November 5th. Outside another team is putting finishing touches to a HUGE bonfire. They are placing benches,tables chairs and stools at a "safe" distance from it and preparing the "boncaloo." A group of Her Majesty's Security Staff still check underneath the Houses of Parliament before the Queen opens a new session. Our guy this year is very tall, green and handsome.
Autumn is just finishing ; still a few apples on the trees and leaves of all colours from dark red through yellows to green. They are scattered everywhere and some are even sill on their branches - just. Clouds - grey. white ,puffy , solid - are allowing some blue sky to show through. Everyone prays for the rain to stay away.
Bruce (the Shetland pony - ed) is bewildered. He is having to share the field with people and their excitement is catching . Even the chickens have not been let out, Bruce ois VERY bewildered.
The pumpkin seeds are being washed ready for toasting. I have never done this before and am really excited about tasting them. Dusk draws on and another cup of tea is finished.
Blog Number: 3 No title this time
Hello, this is a rather impromptu blog, as I was intending on doing it tomorrow on my long train journey home, but I’ve just sat down in my flat with a fresh brew so I thought I’d tell you about it.
PG Tips with a dash of milk, nice & dark with a single sugar lump. (I like sugar lumps, (especially since Turkey since they’re everywhere), it means you don’t have to worry about the size of the tea sponn or how much sugar is on there.) Anyway, it’s maybe slightly darker than normal but still good. In a good mug (mugs are very important to some tea drinkers, we’ll probably discuss this in a later blog), which is round at the bottom, I’d guess about 30mm across (1 ¼” in old money), and almost square at the top, with nice thickened corners.
The tea is good, I need a bit of a boost after a long day, but refraining from a snack as it’d just spoil my appetite and tea/supper/dinner (depending on which part of the country you’re in) will be soon, well, when I get round to cooking it.
I’m fairly posiive & the tea is definitely helping. I’ve just been to an interesting lecture on Crossrail (the new Cross-London rail link for you non-Londoners) & now I’m about to make a pair of recycling bins for my flat. Partially because I watch “An Inconvenient Truth” (Al Gore’s film which is good) last night, but it was something that needed doing anyway as it’s a new flat (for me) and it’s not the best at the moment for recycling. I looked on the Interweb today & what I wanted was £50, which I thought was a little steep, so I’m going to make my own out of old boxes & plastic carriers. So not only am I not buying new stuff, I’m reuse old boxes before I recycle them, so REUSE & RECYCLE, all I need to do now is REDUCE, maybe I’ll just eat half as much, or drink less tea, or just use each tea-bag twice; then I’d be cooking on gas, or maybe Biofuel?
Blog Number: 2 The Cider House Brews
Tea Type: Miles Tea: The West Country Blend.
In a cup & saucer with two shortbread fingers.
Fantastic tea, good flavour, but most importantly it’s warm and wet, which when you’ve just walked about 12 miles in Somerset on a grey day on the 1st November any tea and biscuit would be welcome, but this tea is actually particularly good.
I think the setting of your tea is also particularly important, and I would say that sitting on a four poster bed in the main bedroom of a Doomsday Book Farmhouse is pretty much as good as it gets, especially when the company is particularity great………the farm cat called Tiger has just curled up at my feet.
We’re staying at Blackmore Farm which is an amazing B&B in Somerset, and has open fires, antlers on the wall and a four-poster bed, so pretty special. We drove down from Gatwick last night and it’s cool, & it has great tea bags.
So…location, great. Tea, great. How do I feel? Great. Is this down to the tea? Not entirely, but it definitely helps? My hands have thawed out now and the fire is blazing downstairs so I’m off to thaw my feet.
After the tea, this (blog writing) was the first thing I did, actually started thinking about it with a mile to go (which was pretty much straight after I started thinking about the tea funnily enough) so I think I’m getting into it (although this is still only the 2nd day.)
Off to the fire now, until next time…………Keep on Brewin’.
(261, nearly spot on this time)
Blog Number: 1a Extra Words Brainstorming Topics
Buoyed with the ease of which this rubbish is rolling off my tongue, I thought I’d go for another “one” & since I haven’t had/didn’t get another cup from BA, I can’t really call this Blog #2, so here’s #1a.
I’ve not really thought about how this would work, not just the number, the whole blog really.
I’m good at bullet points (one of my good Top Trump Suits along with Admin, Languages & Singing are my worst I would say, although the jury’s still out on Blog \Writing!).
Each Blog will:
Be based around a tea drinking experience, with a cup of tea conaumed whilst I’m at the seat.
The tea will be judged, both in terms of…..well whatever I see ft really.
Try to give the reader some idea of the venue, so they can decide if they want to do the same
Probably have some sort of ramblings about something, the topic of which will almost certainly depend on what mood I’m in etc etc.
To help myself out (and to use up the remaining words), I though I’d list the Tea Relatated Places/Topics that could form the basis of my additional ramblings if I’m struggling for inspiration. These were as follows in the order I thought of them.
Tea with Mum @ home/in the garden.
Tea with Lex’ Parents, or not quite (the first time I met them)
Turkey Tea – Cay
53 Carlyle Rd Tea
Desk at Work
Alone in my flat.
With friends in my flat
With my sister
Why am I doing this?
Does tea & Haribo work?
Does Lapsangsu-Shong actually taste of ash trays?
Phew, another 285 done, just as we land. Lets see how my enthusiasm & momentum go with regard to when I next have 250 words in mt, but until then………Brew Well My Friends.
(Do I need a cheesy line at the end of each thing, or is that a waste of words? Does anyone care? Does anyone read this except my Mum?)
Blog Number: 1 First Entry Here We Go
sat here with a blunt pencil and my ears start to pop as we descend into Gatwick, I’m longing for another cup of BA tea (although I think it’s too late, the seatbelt sign is on).
After 8 days of drinking Turkish Cay (pronounced Chai we very quickly learnt) I was longing for that first cup of English tea, as I’m longing for another now.
It was probably a sub-conscious thing. Right, holiday over, back to England, what do we do in England, play cricket, well yes, but not in November, but we always drink tea, even in the heart of summer. Peter Kaye’s mum was right, it does quench your thirst. It also apparently keeps you alive. Apparently, a wise man once told me once that during the Korean War, the US Army suffered a significantly higher number of casualties due to pneumonia and other cold weather conditions when compared to the British.. This was apparently due to the fact that when they stopped trekking thought the jungle for a rest, instead of lighting cigarettes they lit their stoves and boiled water for tea, so not only were they warm, they didn’t get cancer, and that can only be a good thing. N.b. for future reference, whenever I start, “A wise man once told me” or something similar, please take it with a pinch of salt; it’s either something I believe to be truthful (or something that is so obviously gibberish that I’m trying to be ironical.) Oh, no words left give or take, so:
Type: BA Tea.
Where: On my way home from Turkey.
Description: Paper cup, one sugar, beltin’.
Blog #1 done, woo hoo.
Blog Number: 0 Introduction Let’s Get Going
There are few things in life as glorious as a perfect cup of tea, except perhaps a perfect cup of tea together with a perfect biscuit ready to be either dunked in the tea or nibbled between mouthfuls.
I, along with many many other people love a good cup of tea, indeed “Lets put the kettle on” or “Get a brew on” are often the first thing I’ll say when entering a room, (depending on the company of course). So, in this series of completely irregular blogs, I’m going to be talking about my experiences of tea drinking.
So, where am I writing this first historic entry in the Great Food Lovers Annals? My mum’s kitchen table? A Tea Room in the Devonshire country side? My friends room at university? Nope…….32,000ft above Europe on my return from holiday, in seat 11B of a …………Boeing 737-436 according to the safety card.
I’m next to a man who is sleeping off the 3 bottles of wine, 2 shots of rum and can of Carlsberg he consumed after dinner and my girlfriend who has “borrowed” my book to read, so faced with a blamk sheet of paper I thought I’d rise to the challenge set by the site’s owner & write about something we both love, tea. I don’t think I’ve written this much since my GCSE English exam so apologies if it’s rubbish, but give me a few entries to get going, 250 words is the target each time (a good number according to a journalist friend, and as I’m about……38+60+52+109 I’d best curtail my introduction & start thinking about my first entry.
271, is that ok Miss Editor? As this is hand written, what counts as a word? i.e., does N.b. count, or indeed i.e.? Why doesn’t everyone who reads this count how many words they think there are and then compare with MS Word total and maybe we’ll learn about words as well as tea (eventually) and all be better people because of it. Now I’m at 342, is that too many?
Who am I to deny you the details?
I was quite interested myself, but I should add the caveat which is that, in the interest of really truly using up the fridge's fairly plentiful contents, I have had a helping hand in the old ingredients department. It does put a slight skew on the results.
But, in terms of actual, bought items from the shopping list:
Butternut Squash £1.67
Whole Chicken £2.46 (I apparently lied previously)
6 Sausages £2.59
Little Gem lettuce £0.88
6 eggs £1.52
1 kidney £0.45
Actually, even I'm surprised by how piddly that amount is, which is why it's necessary to state that I already had a lot of the basics: garlic, onions, rice, salt, pepper, potatoes, a lot of vegetables, any storecupboard items.
I'd be interested in carrying out the experiment from a real starting point which, hopefully, if I'm ever able to restart my existence away from the parental abode, I'll get a chance to explore. I will give some details of 'stocking up your storecupboard with staples' and where to find cheapy cheapies. There's no denying it, I've turned into a frugal food fiend!
Since my kidney fetish started, I've been flipping through Delia and several other cookbooks to see what other ways there are of cooking them, and I found one rather intriguing recipe that looked very cheap and easy, and oh-so-World War Two. It had to be done.
By now, my butcher guffaws slightly every time I open the door, and makes references to my offal obsession. What can I say, I have a reputation to upkeep! Although most girls I talk to are a little wimpy about the stuff, I've been getting into animated discussions with the builders who are in, who apparently 'love a bit of steak and kidney pie/liver cooked with onions'. Maybe I should worry about my manly taste in meat, but I personally think it connotes an open mind, and an economic one too!
And so, to cook...
Lunch: Kidneys baked in Potatoes
1 large potato, scrubbed; salt and pepper; knob of butter; 1 kidney; 1 tspn dijon mustard/mustard powder; 1 rasher bacon
Scrub and dry the potato, and rub salt into its skin. Bake in teh oven at 220C for about an hour or until it feels soft when pinched. Cut a cap off the potatoe and scoop out some of the inside. Skin the kidney and rub in salt, pepper and a little mustard. Roll it in a rasher of bacon and put in the potato case. Wrap the potato in foil with a scrap of butter and bake for an hour longer. The kidney gravy is soaked up by the potato - which, if you like kidneys, is scrumptious!
Serve with a lovely crisp salad and sharp dressing.
Dinner: Pasta Puttanesca
That was it, I was pretty much at the end of my weekly shopping supply and so the time had come for a truly store-cupboard only meal. I'm a bit obsessed with the 'store-cupboard' meal. I'm not sure why - I think it's something to do with the creativity and innovation behind it. Or maybe it's just the stingy so-n-so which hides deep within me. Whatever the reason, pasta puttanesca is without a shadow of a doubt a beautiful example of the ultimate SCM. Most seasoned chefs are well aware of the dish, but for those who aren't, a little history. Pasta puttanesca is a powerful, punchy pasta dish made with most ingredients which fussy eaters abhor - ie. all the seriously flavoured ones - capers, olives and anchovies. Yikes! As a result, this isn't a dish for the wimps. Its name literally translates as 'whore's spaghetti', a nod to the gutsy, raucous and unapologetic flavours frolicking around the dish. I blimmin' love it.
Storecupboard - a glug of olive oil; 1 clove garlic, chopped; 1 tin chopped tomatoes; 2 tablespoons capers; a handful of tinned black olives, roughly chopped; 3-4 anchovy fillets, drained of oil; salt/pepper; whatever pasta you fancy (I like linguine)
Start to cook the pasta as you cook the sauce, in a large saucepan of boiling water.
On a low heat, fry the garlic in the olive oil until golden, then add in the tin of tomatoes. Stir and cook for a few moments, and then add in the rest of your storecupboard ingredients. Simmer on a low heat for about 15 minutes, by which stage the anchovies will have melted into the sauce barely to be seen again, leaving only a salty, savoury hint of their existence.
Drain the pasta and pour over the sauce.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Lunch: Roasted Butternut Squash & Carrot Risotto
This is what I mean by 'creative' really...I think essentially there is something slightly wrong about carrots in risotto...I'm not even really sure why but it just doesn't sit well with me - probably the texture or the fact that I know that in Italy I've never ever seen carrots in risotto. Ne'ertheless, I had a bundle of these cute baby chantenay carrots who were just a-beggin' to be cooked up, and who was I to argue with the little tykes? After all, I was only serving myself...it was time to experiment. See how they panned out below.
Shopping cart: Half a butternut squash, chopped; 3-4 thin slices bacon
Store Cupboard: 1 cup Risotto rice; 1 litre stock; handful whole chantenay carrots, washed & top/tailed; 2 sticks celery, diced; 1 onion, diced; 1 garlic, chopped; 1 glass white wine
Spread the roughly diced butternut squash and the carrots over a baking tray covered in foil (option to lay some thin slices of bacon over the top of the veg, which will crisp up and give the veg a delicious salted flavour) drizzle some olive oil over the top and season with salt and pepper, then roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes until soft. Meanwhile, in a wide flat saucepan melt a small lump of butter over a gentle heat and add a glug of olive oil, allow to heat through and then add the garlic until it sizzles, then add the onion and celery, stir and allow to soften slightly. Add the cupful of risotto rice, stir to coat the rice with the oil, so the rice grains go translucent; pour in a cup of wine which will puff up in a glorious waft of alcohol, stir and add a pinch of salt and season with pepper, and then start to add the stock liquid one ladleful at a time, stirring each until absorbed fully into the rice. To use the entirety of the stock liquid should take about 20 minutes, all the while stirring the liquid in, until the rice becomes a creamy mass and can absorb no more stock. Take the pan off the heat.
By this time the squash and carrots should be roasted to a tender, slightly sticky stage. Remove the by now crisped bacon, and chop roughly. The veg can be further chopped or added into the risotto mixture as is. Gently stir the squash and carrots into the risotto, serve onto warmed plates, and sprinkle the chopped bacon over each separate serving.
This would be ideal with some deep fried, crumbly sage leaves - sadly my cupboard didn't stock them!
Dinner: Baked Eggs
By dinner time I seemed to be consumed with this retro 70s desire for Baked Eggs.
I know - who eats those now?! Well, apparently I do. In fact, I've been dying to make them ever since I returned home and saw a plethora of little ramekins sitting unloved in one of our kitchen cupboards. And, as we've already established (and you haven't even seen Wednesday's meals yet), I have no qualms in going a little 'old-fashioned' in my eating. I would even go as far as to say, in these purse-tightened times, we all have a lot to learn from old-time cooks. In these days of plastic-covered apples, and styrofoam boxes, and 'ah-just-throw-it-away-and-buy-a-new-one' attitudes, the word frugal hasn't really been touted around a lot lately. But hark back to the 70s (I finally received my copy of The Pauper's Cookbook by Jocasta Innes - see below) or even as far as the war, and there were women stretching every single ingredient they were lucky enough to get their hands on. I've always been a little old-fashioned, me. You're just lucky I'm not posting pictures of me in my oh-so-flattering 80s cashmere cardie that I've been passed on by my mum. Though I'll confess that this isn't really for the fashion statement so much as the fact that this house is blimmin' freezin', with great gales screeching around each corner and biting at my poor wee ankles. Fashion just ain't a great consideration in the country!
'The Pauper's Cookbook' by Jocasta Innes, revamp of 1970s classic. Likely to feature a great deal in posts henceforth.
Anyway, enough waffle and excuses about my Baked Eggs. Let me just tell you now that this is a beautiful, versatile, simple little dinner, which doesn't lay heavy on your tum, but delivers a solid whack of protein and nutrients. Try it and see!
2 Eggs; a few snippets of any of the following - bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, herbs, cheese, ham, in fact anything you'd add to an omelette; salt/pepper
Butter a small ramekin dish, and pop in your finely chopped ingredients (if using bacon you should fry it up first). This time round I was using mushrooms and tomatoes. Season well. Pop the ramekin in the middle of a high-edged baking tray, and then pour hot water in until it fills the tray/reaches about an inch up the side of the ramekin dish. Then pop all of this in the oven...I'm still figuring out temperatures as I'm using an Aga, so this would be about 220C. Allow to cook for 10 minutes or so - the mushrooms/tomatoes will steam slightly.
After the 10 minutes, bring the tray out - being very careful of the hot water - and crack the two eggs carefully into the ramekin. Season well again, put a piece of foil loosely over the top to protect from burning, and return to the oven to cook for a further 10 minutes or so, until the egg is set. I served mine with some buttered brown bread, just to be reeeally retro.
*Warning: as soon as you've finished, put the ramekin in to soak, otherwise you will be scraping egg bits off for days to come*
Monday, November 17, 2008
I've found out that one of the jobs which I was still holding out slight hope on had gone to another person as a result of a bit of a miscommunication between the HR lady, the Directors and the recruitment consultant. I made half a dozen furth
er new/continued feelers into the world of jobs and just received even more 'there's just not many roles at the moment'. I'm home alone, and for a whole hour I was in a bit of a slump.
So what's the best thing to do?! Cook some comfort food is what! I cheered myself up and took my mind off things by chopping leeks, sweating onions, and skimming chicken stock. It's an old friend coming to the rescue, the one dish which has supported me through thick and thin, and which never fails to comfort me with just one spoonful - I've ranted about it before, but the time has finally come for me to forsake it to cyberspace: Ma Pea's famous Chicken Soup.
Here is my hug in a bowl:
Leftovers: a couple of generous handfuls of cooked cold chicken, roughly chopped/pulled apart; 1.5litres of homemade chicken stock (see here for previous recipe)
From the fridge/veg bowl: 1 clove garlic, chopped; 1 onion, diced; 2 sticks celery, diced; 2 carrots, diced; half a leek, diced; salt, pepper; generous handful parsley, chopped coarsely
In a flat soup saucepan heat some olive oil and add the garlic. When garlic wafts are a-tantalising, add the onion and stir until coated in the oil and frying gently. Add the celery, carrot and leek and stir, covering the pan with a lid to allow to sweat for about five minutes until softened slightly. Ladle in the chicken stock, season and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Keep an eye on them so that they don't overcook and lose their vibrant colour. Taste - the soup should be sumptuous and packed full of flavour, but season if it needs a little more pizzazz. Stir in the chopped chicken and the parsley, and heat through for 3-5 minutes until the soup (and the chicken) are piping hot. Serve with more iron-packed parsley.
Dinner: Sausages with second Bubble & Squeak
I confess that I'm finding it slightly tricky to balance the 'variety' and keeping things interesting, with the frankly overwhelming need I feel to make the most of leftovers - waste not want not, as my granddad said to me when I was little. So rather than beat myself up about this, I really am focussing on the frugal/economic meals. Hence an almost exact repeat of yesterday's lunch. With peas instead of beetroot. Hey - it was the perfect comfort food.
Breakfast (storecupboard): a little muesli; scrambled eggs on toast with roast tomatoes.
Item from weekly shop: 2 eggs
Lunch: Sausages with Bubble & Squeak and Beetroot
I cooked up some sausages I'd bought - not too kooky - and then I remembered that I had some leftover mash potato in the fridge. Out it came, to be made into a curiously successful take on Bubble & Squeak, but rather than using cabbage I used...cauliflower. Today I may well have entered into the realms of using-up-food-and-creating-dishes-that-only-I-would-eat, but only others can judge that...! I served it with the last remaining beetroot to polish it off.
Item from weekly shop: sausages; Fridge/Storecupboard: all other
To make Bubble & Squeak - both my own rather eccentric version and the usual with cabbage:
A small bowlful of cold, leftover mashed potato
A dollop of butter
Salt & Pepper
a handful of either chopped, sliced cabbage or several florets of cauliflower
Oil to fry
Plunge the cabbage/cauliflower into boiling water and boil for 6-8 minutes until tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.
In a bowl, beat up the potato with the butter, and season generously. Tip the cab/caul into the potato mixture, and stir in. Take a generous handful of potato mixture out of the bowl and with your hands form it into a patty shape, dipping the patty into your seasoned flour mixture.
Heat some oil in a small frying pan and when hot drop your potato patty into the mixture. Cook on both sides (about 3-4 minutes) until golden. Very World War II.
I'd love to say I took a glorious photo of the above, but sadly twas not meant to be and my camera just wouldn't do it justice. I think it might take better photography skills than mine to render sausages appetising looking...so you'll just have to imagine a colourful, vibrant dish!
Dinner: A different version of yesterday's Chicken Pilaff
I softened half a leek gently for about ten minutes before adding in the remains of my pilaff from yesterday, and chopping another generous handful of parsley to pack it full of iron. Delicious, economic and lots of my daily dose of vegetables. A success in my book!
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Breakfast: storecupboard muesli and some blackberries from fridge leftovers.
Lunch: Roast Chicken with baby courgettes, baby carrots and beetroot.
I'm happy to say that the veg were all participants from the fridge, eager to get involved and, most importantly, to get used. The meal proved a very colourful plateful, alongside my highly useful, very simple Roast Chicken. I'm not what you'd call a fancy, schmancy cook - I'm still just learning. And a chicken is, to me, one of the ultimate fares which can stretch 62 different ways. Forget credit cards, chickens are my flexible friends!
1 chicken - mine wasn't fancy, and I'm ashamed to say it wasn't organic either, so £2.75 it was.
Glug of olive oil, 2 cloves garlic chopped, a dollop of butter, salt and pepper
Lay the chicken breast up in a high-sided roasting tray, cut away the excess skin at its neck and bottom, pop a lemon up its backsie, smear some butter all over its chest, and down into the joints of the legs/wings. Scatter the chopped garlic over, glug the olive oil across, and whack in the oven (I'm afraid to say I use an Aga, so this just means 'top oven') for 20 minutes at high heat, till the fat is bubbling and getting talkative, and the skin is lightly golden. Baste the breast and legs with the hot fat, so that the chicken glistens tastily.
Then pop some foil across the top for protection, and put back in the oven for an hour at a slightly lower heat. Baste from time to time to keep the lovely juices soaking into the chicken. The chicken is done when you pull the leg away from the body and it is no longer pink, or if you stick a knife into the leg joint and the juices run clear.
Mademoiselle la Poule, in all her glistening glory. She was a beaut. Shame about the photographer. Hopefully I will start to improve...
(My) Gravy: remove the chicken from the roasting pan and onto a carving tray, and pop the tray back onto a heat ring. Scrape all the bits into the tray, and start to heat the fat until it bubbles. Add a teaspoon of flour so that the gravy thickens, and stir vigorously to mix in. Add a teaspoon of gravy granules for colouring, and season with some salt and pepper. Then slowly add in some of the vegetable juices to bulk up the gravy. I never end up with smooth gravy, but I loathe it gloopy, so you will have to sieve out the bits, but will have a lovely juicy sauce to top your meat and veg with.
I then quickly got to work on pulling the meat off the chicken, and sending it off to the fridge packed up in foil, ready and waiting for me to conjure up some further delight with it. It would not have to wait long...
The bones were made into a lovely, scrumptious chicken stock - all the bones and the carcass went into a large saucepan, along with a whole carrot, a couple of celery sticks, the top half of a leek, a peeled, halved onion, a peeled garlic clove, 8 peppercorns, a bay leaf and some parsley stalks, with a couple of litres of water to fill and several generous pinches of salt. About an hour of bubbling later, and I had my stock! It was dutifully drained of its by now rather sorry looking occupants (oh such use and abuse!), resulting in a tasty, glisteningly perfect, and highly useful stock. The champion of frugality methinks.
Dinner: Chicken Pilaff
There is something rather retro and 70s sounding about a pilaff. Am I the only one who thinks this? But it is such a simple storecupboard dish, that can be rustled up with a variety of different ingredients, and is perfect for me to hit the 'waste not, want not' objective. So it seems a great shame for me (or anyone) to sneer, just because it sounds old fashioned.
Leftovers: a generous handful of cold chicken roughly chopped - several ladles of chicken stock
The Fruit&Veg bowl/The Fridge: a clove garlic (chopped), an onion (diced), 2 sticks celery (diced), 1 small green pepper (diced), a large handful of baby tomatoes (halved), generous handful of chopped parsley
The Storecupboard: some fastcook long grain rice of a brand I shan't mention
In a shallow saucepan, gently sweat the garlic, onion, celery and pepper in a small amount of butter and oil. Once golden, add the tomatoes (add them too early and they will just disappear and go terribly mushy), and then add a cupful of the rice. Stir to mix and to coat the rice grains in some of the fat, and then add a two or three ladlefuls of the boiling stock. Rather like a risotto, only the pilaff will not become a creamy mass, but will retain its ricey origins. Now leave to simmer for as long as your rice packet tells you (mine was 10 minutes). Do not stir and fuss around, as this breaks up the rice grains and results in a big old mess. Should you notice that the liquid is becoming rather sparse, simply add another ladleful. The rice should, after the recommended period of time, have absorbed up the liquid, and be cooked whilst still retaining bite. Stir in your chicken and your parsley and heat the chicken for a few minutes, until hot through. Scatter with parsley and serve as is.
My picture does not nearly do the tastiness justice, but you will fast become used to this. I repeat: I am not a photographer, I am not a photographer. Maybe I'd do better if I just drew the food!
Day 1 - £2.75 actually spent, plus a smidgen of 'cheat items'. At the end of the week I will tot up what I actually spent where, to give you an accurate idea.
So over the next couple of weeks, as I'm left home alone in a big house, with just a big kitchen and a computer to keep me company, I am starting an official experiment. I'm going to try to feed myself healthily, nutritiously, deliciously and colourfully for under £30.00 in a week. I should warn you right at the beginning, I am going to cheat a little, as I have to go up to London at the end of the week, to remind myself what a social life is like, and to see some real, live people. I've heard rumours they're still out there.
To be slightly more exact then, this week I will be detailing my food frolics between yesterday (Saturday) and Thursday. 6 days - well counted.
There are some more conditions, and you can decide for yourselves whether you think this is just stretching things:
- There is a storecupboard/pantry in the kitchen, which is full of lots of lovely basics - flour, tinned tomatoes, tinned - olives, capers, pulses, pasta, rice, etc. - I intend to exploit this for all it is worth. Expect details of some 'storecupboard meals'The Storecupboard: my first photo but I thought I would give it a shot. Not least because I am so proud at how tidy this is post a tidy-up session yesterday. Helping Ma Pea to generally get the house in order - this was a task I set my organisational skills to. I know, it's official. I AM A GEEK. (Lydia at The Perfect Pantry would be proud!)
- The fridge has a friendly smattering of bits and bobs - cheese, bacon, ham, some vegetables and some cheese - left over from when Ma Pea vacated premises for her fancy holiday, and I fully intend to use these up/come up with innovative ways of getting them involved in any way shape or form. Think of it as social food, and giving them an excuse to join in the fun.
- It is necessary to bear in mind that I am based from home, and not currently juggling a job at the same time (bar all my mini creative projects, which I may start to upload details of soon, if I can figure it out), therefore breakfast, lunch AND dinner can and will be cooked and eaten at home - something which would never, ever happen when I was back in the big smoke.
- We have apple trees, and intend to use 'em. I already have my eye on a recipe by Hopie, flagged and tagged by Psychgrad at Equal Opportunity Kitchen - keep your eyes/apples peeled ('scuse the pun) for that one.
I'm going to get geeky in this post by the way. In depth details, and some little theories that have struck me recently.
At the moment I'm testing out a new way of eating - NOT A DIET - and I have to say, it has turned my life around. I am starting to follow the time old 'Ma Pea nags' and, now that I have time to let them all slot into place, they are working, and the combination of all of them mean that I am bursting with energy, my skin is fantastic, I'm looking the healthiest I have ever looked, and feeling the best I've ever felt.
Want to know the old addage which is helping me out? You heard it here (again) first.
'Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince, dinner like a Pauper'.
To do away with your sardonically raised eyebrows immediately (sigh, not another one of her harebrained theories), this translates as eating a large(ish) nutritious breakfast, a slightly less generous lunch, and a light supper. This means that you start your day the Kingly way, roaring about on the amount of calories your generous brekkie imparts, broken by a refuel at lunch and then, when your day is tailing off and you're getting ready to go to bed, a light supper, so your tummy doesn't have to cope with too much to digest when it's trying valiantly to recharge your batteries as you sleep for your next, action-packed day.
An example of a day's meals might be:
Breakfast: a small bowl of muesli with fruit, and some scrambled eggs on toast with roast tomatoes. Carbs, protein, fruit, veg. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.
Lunch: a small amount of roast chicken, a big heap of veg (leeks, carrots, peas), a small portion of potatoes, a piece of fruit - again, protein, carbs, veg.
Dinner: a small bowl of soup (beef & veg, chicken & rice, carrot & celery - all soups which will be detailed in due course), with some oatcakes and pate. Yep, you guessed it - protein, carbs, veg.
All of this, combined with Ma Pea's second eternal yet, as I'm finding out, ultimately truthful nag: get outside, get some fresh air and do some exercise. So I've been cavorting about on a daily walk for about half an hour to an hour, breathing in the glorious country air, getting lost in my plots and plans/idle wonderings, and getting on better terms with nature. As a reformed cityaholic, I used to be one of those ones who couldn't bear to leave what was happening up in London. Who knows what excitement I might miss?! I was also one of those who wasn't keen on bad weather - a 'weather wimp' you might say. Now I'm a changed woman. I'm finding that I love all this big space, there aren't people jostling up against me, or tutting if you're slowing down to admire the view. There's nothing in window shops taunting you that you can't buy - but instead everything is there to admire for free - birds, leaves, trees. My illustrations have gone through the roof, I'm producing on a daily basis, and it is serving to continue to inspire me to cook healthy, nutritious but filling food. And, if the weather is bad, and it's wet and windy, I know it sounds crazy, but I put on a waterproof jacket and some extra layers! Who'd've thought it. I am getting seriously converted to the country life.
And The Unplanned Side Effects
The eating combined with the exercise means that - for once completely unintentionally - I am losing weight at a phenomenal rate. Who needs gyms when you have hills?! Who needs lycra when you have waterproofs?! It's proving much more fun this way. I'm not actually noticing that I've been working...
Looking at my life at the moment, I could easily say that, on the surface, I'm in the worst circumstances I've ever been in: I returned from my travels all excited and with a new direction, smack bang into the worst economic circumstances seen in many decades; directly as a result of this companies are firing rather than hiring and there are few (if any) jobs coming in for me to even look at; the few jobs that I have been gone for, been interviewed for, and got through to final rounds for have been frozen last minute as the companies realise they won't be hiring for a while; and, aged 26, after 13 years of living away, I have necessarily had to move back with my parents (before you flinch at the maths of this, I boarded from the age of 13); oh, and, of course post-travels (I know, I can almost hear your heart bleeding) and without any paid work for the time I was away, and then these two months since I've been back, all of my savings are kaput, and I have next to no money! Whoopee!
But wait! Halt right there! Before you start feeling desperately sorry for me (if the travels part didn't completely lose audience sympathy) my message was actually as follows: that, in spite of what appear to be dire circumstances, I am actually the happiest and the most positive I've been for a long time. Keeping healthy in body (see above) is undoubtedly helping the state of my mind, and concentrating on my many and varied creative projects is keeping me motivated and putting my energy into worthwhile causes (art, illustration, food, extra learning, setting up a small community project in West Sussex, doing some small marketing/PR projects for local food companies), spending valuable time with my family, and most of all realising that things are tough but a) it won't last forever and b) thank goodness for my family.
All of this combined makes me a very grateful, and as a result very positive and happy, girl at the moment.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
On the hunt for more ways to get bang from my (increasingly limited) buck, I experienced a bit of a time machine moment when, standing in front of the fishmonger's counter, my beady little eyes alighted upon: Cod's Roe. Why the flashback, I hear you cry? Well, when I was a wee youngster, Ma Pea used to rustle us up Cod's Roe on toast and, yep you guessed it, I would snaffle it up. Quick and easy supper - tick, barely a penny spent - tick, packed with brain-enhancing nutrients - TICK. A match made in heaven then!
Fried Cod's Roe on Toast
1. Ask the poissonier (or fishman) for a generous handful of the roe
2. Drop these roe into a seasoned flour mixture, as per my previous kidney and liver recipes, and roll around until covered
3. Pop a piece of bread in the toaster and drop the floured roe into about a tablespoon of hot groundnut oil.
4. Fry gently until light golden
5. Serve on toast
A smooth, silky texture, and strong fish-taste means that this dish ain't for the faint-hearted. But for that quick and easy supper, it is perfect!
Saturday, November 8, 2008
I reassessed: 'ok then, maybe not your liver, but what other liver do you have?'. Calves' and Lambs' is the usual choice, and if you're lucky, the butcher's. Lambs', however, comes in at a mere £3.99 a kilo, but also with the warning that it is 'a bit stronger tasting, more in your face'. Away with subtlety, give me economy good sir! So 150g of their finest Lambs' liver it was for me! 60p lunch.
I huddled over a bunch of recipe books for this one, and ended up coming up with a mixture of Nigel's and Nigella's.
Liver and onion ciabatta
150g Liver - bat your eyelashes at the butcher and ask him to slice it very thinly
2 tablespoons flour seasoned well with salt and pepper
Groundnut oil or butter to fry
1/2 an onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses stirred into a cup of water (or 1 pomegranate squeezed - distinctly more messy)
A ciabatta roll, sliced lengthways
Soften the onions slowly in a frying pan for about ten minutes. When nicely golden, add half of the pomegranate molasses water, and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, until the onions have fully absorbed the water and are a sumptuous, slithery mass. Remove from the frying pan onto a heated plate and cover to retain the heat. Start to toast the ciabatta.
Re-oil the pan and coat the liver with the seasoned flour, then fry briskly for about three minutes on both sides, before the liver cooks through so that it retains pinkness.
Load the toasted ciabatta up with the liver and the onions, and meanwhile deglaze the pan with the rest of the pomegranate sauce, and pour over to soak into the crusty ciabatta roll.
It was a real treat: the perfect, comforting, lunch for one on a cold and crispy late Autumn day. The soft sweetness of the liver is stopped from being overbearing by the mass of caramelised onions, and that particular tart sticky sweetness of the pomegranate sauce. I mopped up the sauce with the ciabatta and a crisp, simple chicory salad and had to rouse myself from a trance at the end of the meal.