Leap Day


Wednesday, 29 February 2012

You know you are getting old when your children's teachers are younger than you. To be honest I passed that particular milestone about ten years ago, but 8 does seem very young to be an RE teacher. And that's not all, one of Katie's fellow year 7 students is just 3 today. Katie missed being 3 today by 17 days.
 Oh, the weirdness of leap day.

I discovered two things about leap day today which I didn't know.
1) People born on 29th February are known as leaplings. How cool is that?
2) Leap years are not every four years. Years which are divisible by 100 are not leap years unless they are also divisible by 400. 2000 was the last such year. This is because the earth takes a little less than 365 days and 6 hours to revolve around the sun (365 days,5 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds if you really want to know).

 March tomorrow and spring on its way, boy am I ready for it.
I hope you enjoy February's sampler.

Such Fun


Sunday, 26 February 2012

This weekend I have been enjoying the sunshine. 
It has had a rather peculiar effect on me.

The urge to clean and wash things has overcome me.
The bathroom is shining and the cobwebs have gone.

I have been gardening too.
 If you can call filling a wheelie bin with dead vegetation gardening.

And, Katie and I have watched the entire first series of Miranda. Ok, not entirely suitable for an 11 year old but on the whole 'such fun'.
I haven't laughed so much for ages and can't think how I have let Miranda pass me by for so long.

Bounty Cake


Saturday, 25 February 2012

I used to love Bounty Bars* when I was a child and I've been thinking about making a Bounty cake for a while. I think I've cracked it with this recipe. I considered keeping the chocolate out of the cake and covering it with chocolate ganache so that it would resemble a Bounty Bar, but I decided to go for the easier, quicker, and less rich option of chopping it up and adding it to the cake. 
 It is just the sort of cake I like best. Moist, not too sweet, full of texture and interest. Easy to make too.

Bounty Cake

Cream together until light and fluffy
9 oz (250g) soft butter
9 oz (250g) caster sugar
Beat together in another bowl
4 eggs
Add the eggs a little at a time to the butter mixture beating well with each addition.
Fold in
4 oz (110g) desiccated coconut
4½ oz (125g) self-raising flour
Finally fold in 
4½ oz (125g) plain chocolate chopped into pea-sized chunks
1 tbsp of milk

Scrape the mixture into a greased and base-lined 8 inch (20 cm) loose-bottomed tin.
Bake at 185°c/165°c fan oven for 45-50 minutes. A skewer should emerge form the centre of the cake clean when it is done.

We were too greedy to wait for it to cool properly, the chocolate was still soft and luscious.
It's just as good when the chocolate has hardened.

* Bounty Bars are very similar to the American Mounds Bars I believe.

Reasons to be Cheerful


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

1) It's pancake day.
I forgot to photograph them. They were delicious.
The traditional cry of 'why don't we have them more often?' was raised.
We will.

2) I have a new cookbook. Not a new publication. Margaret Costa's delightful Four Seasons Cookery Book was published in 1970. It is will make wonderful bedtime reading.
The first chapter is on pancakes.

3) I have a new jigsaw. 
Try not to yawn please. I love a good jigsaw. One thousand pieces is my ideal size, the picture should have lots of detail, attractive subject matter and plenty of colour. Doing jigsaw puzzles is such a simple old-fashioned pastime, I recommend it.

4) Crocuses
Not many but very welcome signs of spring.

Credit Where Credit is Due


Friday, 17 February 2012

Alice has written a very thought-provoking post about Pinterest. If you are a Pinterest user then I urge you to read it and Sue's post and the links she includes in it.

I've spent a good deal of time this morning going through my pins and checking everything led back to its original source. While the majority do, a lot don't and those that don't were almost exclusively pinned from Tumblr blogs.

 Although I found a few exceptions it seems that most Tumblr bloggers post images without giving the original source or any credit to its photographer, or indeed any information at all. All you get is  'image via lovelyprettythingsIfoundontheinternet'* (or similar) which will just take you to another Tumblr blog called sparklygirlheartspolkadots** (or some such) and so on ad infinitum. Pretty soon any hope of finding the original image is lost and you sigh and pin it anyway. 

But, what if one of my images was lost in the depths of Tumblr being endlessly circulated but with no credit given to me? How would I feel? Pretty bloody pissed off to be frank.

There are a lot of my images on Pinterest which link directly back to their original post and that is great, absolutely marvellous, couldn't be more thrilled, please carry on pinning. 
I have, however, decided to stop pinning (again) . It will take me forever to go through all my pins checking they have been correctly credited , it seems easier to just close my account. I do enjoy Pinterest greatly but I have to admit there is something a bit empty about it, and  it's such a time-waster.

* Made up name -apologies if you really do have a Tumblr account of that name
**  See above

Real pins in my pin cushion

Made by my mum many years ago. Crewel work on canvas in wool.
Isn't she clever? You can pin it if you like but make sure you link it back to this post :o)

Faites Simple


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Escoffier's phrase faites simple translates as make it simple or keep it simple. Elizabeth David defined it as the avoidance of all unnecessary complication and elaboration.*
When I came across Italian cookery writer Marcella Hazan's recipe for tomato sauce with onion and butter I was reminded of Escoffier and David's words. Such a simple, elegant recipe. Take some fresh, ripe tomatoes, a lump of butter and a peeled onion, put them in a pot and simmer for 45 minutes. Discard the onion and eat the sauce. 

And yet, and yet...... I couldn't help complicating and elaborating just a little.
To begin with I used tinned tomatoes. That was allowed, I'd seen other versions of this recipe using tinned toms and nothing will induce me to buy imported tomatoes out of season, and actually tinned tomatoes are less fuss to prepare.
Secondly, I felt, as did others that discarding the onion was a crime. I decided I would blend it into the sauce at the end of the cooking time. To make this easier on my stick blender and to reduce spaltter I chopped it into chunks before adding it to the tomatoes.
Thirdly, I threw in a couple of peeled garlic cloves. 
A grinding of black pepper was my final complication.
Despite my tinkering I feel this is still a very simple recipe; easy to make, few ingredients and above all really delicious.

2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes - use good quality tomatoes. I used the Italian brand Cirio because they were half price but I have had excellent results with Waitrose own brand. 
1 onion cut into large chunks
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 oz (55g) butter - I used salted butter but did not add any salt to the sauce
Black pepper, from a peppermill
A blue pot - essential for the pleasure of seeing the complementary colours of blue and orange in your kitchen on a dull February day.**

Put all the ingredients except the pepper in the blue pot over a low heat.

Simmer for 45 - 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Let it cool a little before going in with a stick blender, or use a food processor. Blend the onion and garlic into the tomato until it is reaches a consistency you are happy with. Your sauce will now have tuned from red to a lovely glowing orange which will be enhanced by your blue pot.
Grind on some black pepper.

I used some of my sauce on these simple pitta pizzas which are a regular school holiday lunch in our house.

I will use the rest on proper pizzas this Friday.
I also intend to make an enormous batch of this sauce to stash in the freezer. 

Use this sauce in a baked pasta dish tossing it with cooked pasta and topping with cheese sauce before baking. 
You could add cooked ham, tuna, prawns, crisp bits of bacon or mushrooms to make a more substantial pasta sauce. 
Use it to cover chicken breasts for baking, perhaps with some mozzarella tucked inside each one. 
Bake white fish fillets in it with some black olives for a Provençal flavour.
Serve with breadcrumbed pork or turkey escalopes, or with sausages as a change from onion gravy. 
Pour it into a shallow baking dish and crumble feta cheese over it, put in the oven to melt the cheese. Scoop up with crusty bread .
Bake vegetables in it; big flat mushrooms, wedges of squash or pumpkin, sliced courgettes, aubergine slices or peppers. Add some chunks of goat's cheese. Eat with bread.
Make a meatless main course layering it with sliced aubergines, squash slices or courgettes and mozzarella. Top with a shower of grated parmesan.
Smear a bit on a pancake, top with grated cheese, roll up, pack into a baking dish, spoon over more tomato sauce, or use cheese sauce, and bake.
Pour it into a shallow dish and crack some eggs into it, bake.
Turn it into soup by thinning it with stock, milk or maybe some single cream.
Make a quick bolognese or lasagne sauce by adding browned minced beef to it.

* From French Provincial Cooking
** If you don't have a blue pot- my sympathies, your pot should, however, have a good thick base or the sauce will burn. I can see no reason why it could not be cooked in the oven.



Saturday, 11 February 2012

I've been meaning to write a post about how I use my freezer for ages. As it is freezing outside I thought to day would be a good time.

I love my freezer and would never want to be without it. I have a big freezer. I can't remember its capacity but suffice to say it is big enough to store a body. If I needed to.
Our house has an integral garage with a door to the kitchen. This is extremely convenient and means I can use the garage for extra food storage. I have my preserves shelf in there, a big sack of potatoes, a basket of onions and apples and my freezer.

There are several ways you can use your freezer.
1). You can fill it with ready-made frozen meals, desserts and cakes. This option has never held much appeal for me, but then I like to cook.

2). You can fill it with meals you have cooked. I don't do this but would if I had a full-time job. Some people practise 'once a month cooking' where they spend a couple of days doing nothing but cooking multiple meals for their freezers. There are plenty of sites on the internet showing you exactly how to do this, although they do all seem to be North American.
 An easier, less stressful way to fill a freezer with home made meals is to simply triple up a meal once a week, say on a Sunday when you have time to cook. It takes no more time to make chilli for 12 than it does to make it for 4. Portion up the extra two meals and freeze them. After a few weeks you will have a variety of home made ready meals in your freezer.

3). My preferred freezer-filling method is to fill it with ingredients and leftovers which I can use to build meals.
The following is a list of things I like to have in the freezer depending on budget and space.

peas and sweetcorn are always in my freezer.
berries -home grown in the summer
fruit purées- damson, apple and quince
black bananas - great for making banana cakes
chickpeas, kidney beans and other beans - I soak and cook a whole packet of dried beans at once and then freeze them on a baking sheet until hard enough to gather into a bag. I can then add them straight to stews and soups, no need to thaw. Cheaper than tins.
chicken -whole and breasts
chicken livers
salmon fillets
all-butter puff pastry
bread -home made loaves and bought pittas
breadcrumbs and bread cubes which I make with the crusts of my home made loaves. I use the cubes to make croutons for soup.
stock - I make stock with the bones of all chickens and other birds I cook whole. If I boil a gammon joint I add a carrot and an onion to the water and then save it after the meat is cooked for stock.
pastry - although I don't often make pastry for the freezer I do freeze leftover raw pastry. When there's  enough to make a pie or a tart I defrost it and bake.
crumble - I often make lots of crumble mix and freeze it in a bag for easy hot puds.
egg whites - I always seem to have a couple of egg whites in the freezer leftover from a recipe which required only yolks. Make sure you write the number of egg whites on the container then you can use them for meringues.
fresh herbs - If I have bought fresh herbs and not got round to using them I chop them up and freeze in an ice cube tray with water.
ginger - I keep peeled root ginger in a little bag in the freezer and grate it from frozen to use in a recipe.
lemon juice - spare lemon halves can be squeezed and the juice frozen in an ice cube tray. You can also freeze leftover wine but I never have leftover wine.
grated cheese - hard cheeses freeze well grated which is jolly useful if you want to keep cheese aside for cooking but find someone has eaten it all in their sandwiches.
vegetable hash - I find this extremely useful, details in this post
tomato sauce -I've just discovered a brilliant way of making this which I intend to write about sometime next week. Incredibly useful for all sorts of recipes.
single servings of leftover meals - good for my lunches or more often to feed constantly starving teenage boys.
cakes and muffins - most cakes and biscuits freeze really well. I like to bake in big batches and freeze the extras.
milk- for emergencies. It takes ages to defrost so I freeze the two pint size.
 yogurt in 2 tablespoon amounts for starting off home made yogurt.
ice lollies -home made and usually only in the summer but I have elderberry lollies in the freezer at the moment.
ice cubes - for gin and tonics

A word on freezing and  food safety.
I'm no expert but I do know this; food cannot go off in the freezer if your freezer is working correctly. Food can deteriorate in quality the longer it is left in the freezer but it will not become dangerous to eat.
You are not supposed to defrost food and then refreeze it without cooking it first. While I would never take a risk with meat or fish I do refreeze bread all the time.

In my freezer today.

2 pints of milk, 4 loaves of bread (in the blue bags), vegetable hash in the unlabelled tubs, leftover mashed potato, duck stock, bags of cooked beans (not visible), container of too-sweet leftover birthday cake, ice blocks, ice cream machine bowl (top right), little tubs of elderberry syrup and elderberry lollies

 3 egg whites, cubes of mint, soya beans, broad beans, petits pois, sweetcorn (need to buy more peas and sweetcorn), breadcrumbs, ginger, tubs of apple and quince purée, blueberries, cranberries, pitta bread, black bananas, ice cubes (alas no gin nor tonic in the house), and there are also tubs of ham stock in there out of sight.

This morning there were two small lumps of pastry and a bag of cooked gammon. These will be made into a tart for dinner tonight.

What do you freeze? Any good ideas I've overlooked?

The Truth


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

It may look absolutely delicious, but the truth is that after about four mouthfuls even a thin sliver of a cake like this will make you feel sick.

It's the icing. He wanted layers you see, and to be sure of having enough I used nearly a pound and a half of icing sugar and 12 oz of butter. The mints on the top don't help.
No one could eat very much of it.
In future I am going to resist demands for heavily iced cakes and stick to simple cakes like this one.



Tuesday, 7 February 2012

I forgot to buy cake candles. Rummaging in the depths of my baking cupboard I unearthed a motley collection of old candles. Crossing my fingers I counted them. Fifteen exactly. Lucky I had a boy with a fifteenth birthday to celebrate.

Tom requested a minty chocolate cake and Chinese food for his birthday dinner.
I bought a duck and flung it in the oven for five hours. Then I shredded it, heated some Chinese pancakes in the microwave, chopped a few spring onions and some cucumber and opened a jar of hoisin. Thank you Nigella (Nigella Express page 112).

I also made prawn toasts using this recipe. It was really easy but I skipped the deep frying and fried them in a frying pan in about half an inch of oil. They browned rather quickly but were incredibly good.

To complete the oriental theme Tom received a box of goodies from Japan Centre.
He now has an msg induced headache.

Big Golden Sunset


Friday, 3 February 2012

Too good to miss.

Big Golden Chips


Thursday, 2 February 2012

I dislike deep frying so when I make chips for the family I bake them. Usually I cut unpeeled potatoes into wedges, toss them into a bowl, dribble a little olive oil and mix with my hands. Then I tip them onto a baking sheet and bake in a hot oven for about half an hour. Sometimes I add garlic and rosemary or some spices. They are much healthier this way as you can get away with a just a splash of oil. Sometimes though, the urge for big golden crunchy chips comes over us. When this happens I make roast chips. I make them exactly as I make roast potatoes, the only difference is the way they are cut.

Main crop spuds are best. These are Marfona which I buy in 20 kilo sacks for £4 from a farm shop.
I peel them and cut them into wedges -6-8 per potato.

Next I parboil them. This softens and roughs up the edges of the potatoes which is the key to good crunch.
Bring them to the boil  and let them boil for about 3-5 minutes.

While the potatoes are boiling heat up the oil in a roasting tin or a sturdy baking tray with a deepish rim. You need to coat the tins with oil but it doesn't need to be any deeper than about 2 mm at the most. Put the tins in a very hot oven, I set my fan oven to 200°c which is 220°c in a conventional oven. I made a lot of chips so I used both my roasting tins and a baking tray.

After the potatoes have had their 3-5 mins boiling drain them and then tip them back into the pot to dry off. Put the lid on and put the pot back on the hob over a low heat. Holding the lid on with oven gloves shake the pot vigorously over the heat. This dries the potatoes and scuffs up their edges.

Now carefully take the roasting tins out of the oven. Place the chips carefully in the tins. I used long-handled tongs for this but still managed to splash oil all over my jumper. Make sure each chip has its own space on the tray so that it gets its share of the oil. Turn them gently to coat with oil.
Put them back in the oven (don't alter the temperature) and leave them to bake for about 30 mins.

Surely everyone loves a big golden chip?

Well maybe not everyone.

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