Friday, October 30, 2009

Emotions, weather and soup

Each Friday, the members of the Loose Blogger Consortium write on a new topic provided by a member of the group. This week's topic is Emotions and Weather. Check out the wonderful blogs of the other members:
Ah, the weather! This is a topic we Scots revel in; whole conferences have begun discussing the weather, intellectual debates spring up on whether the rain outside is a shower or a smirr, just grulie or a gandiegow.

My old professor, a wisened old Scot with the gift for the gab, never short of a pun or two, had a habit of throwing up controversial topics right out of the blue, many of which led to near death experiences for those involved...."Rangers are a bit rubbish, aren't they?", "It was all much better when Margaret Thatcher was around, don't you think?", "Marxism; never existed, did it?"to outcries, arguments and the occasional punch in the head. His favourite topic? The weather. One out of every three discussions involved the weather in some way and believe me, it could get dangerous.

I still bump into him from time to time and whether inside or out, he will look up at the non-existent stars, put his hand out, palm raised upwards as if feeling for rain and exclaim "not a bad day, Helen...what are the chances of rain?". Every. single. time. And then we discuss; "So, what are the chances of rain Helen?".

If you were to walk into a restaurant or a shop in Scotland, you'll be given one of many rhetorical questions regarding the weather:
"Bucketing down oot there, eh?"
"It's raining wee men in overcoats, isn't it?"
"Time tae build an ark, hen, don't you think?"

It's part of the interwoven fabric of our rain-fuelled, dreich filled society and it holds the entire country together in small talk and chat alongside it's pals "a wee cup of tea" and "a wee dram".

Emotions are easily ruled by the weather, particularly in this country; getting up on a grey, windy morning would sometimes fill my heart with sighs and I'd feel as if the weather was inside me. Given the choice, I'd choose to curl up in a foetus like position under the blankets and stay there til spring. This was the standard winter blues, felt by many, loathed by all.

For all my moments of affectation, I recovered quickly, unlike others; friends, colleagues and family would show such a disaffected malais during particular months that I worried for their mental health.
I instinctively knew it was weather related and we all sat with gritted teeth, waiting for that ray of sunshine, knowing the mood would instantly lift. It was during one of those grey spells that the world began to talk about Seasonally Affective Disorder or SAD and it all made so much sense. SAD was viewed as a severe form of the winter blues and was a depression that lasted through the winter although it normally lifted by the spring. I remember not being in the least surprised to learn that 1 in 8 people suffered from the winter blues with 1 in at least 50 in the UK suffering from the more severe SAD.

Around this time, I watched a programme called 'Northern Exposure' which was based in Alaska, a state with little sunshine and lots of darkness at particular times of the year. People were coming to the local clinic with symptoms of SAD and the doctor discovered 'light therapy' as a cure. This was the first time I'd seen a lightbox to counter the effects of this illness.

I called my friends who suffered the most and with a little hope and excitement, they sent off money to purchase this potentially magical cure. Much to my surprise and that of many, it worked. It didn't work for everyone and it took commitment as you had to use it regularly but positive results were shown. People began to smile again. It was a lovely sight to behold.

I no longer get the winter blues. I realised many years ago that if you live in a climate such as ours, you need to take advantage of the good days and work during the bad. We also seem to have many more cold, sunshine filled days than I remember, the kind of days that make you want to don a woolly bunnet and head for the hills; quite often, I do. Having children has helped; they have a positive impact on grey, winter days as you keep busy trying to make it cosy for them with cakes in the oven, warm lamplight everywhere and gentle music playing. Now, I take advantage of those days too.

smirr-light rain
grulie-unsettled weather
gandiegow-heavy shower
dreich-dismal and wet; the worst

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with melting cheese and croutons

We had our roasted pumpkin soup and used the cold, dead carcass to make a jack o lantern. The kids drew on a face and I assisted the cutting; it's a bit dodgy looking but it does the job. The soup was really tasty and there was enough for lunch today with half frozen for a future date.

This recipe is taken from Delia Smith's Winter collection; she sais: "The lovely thing about pumpkin is that it has a really velvety texture in soup, and if it's oven-roasted before you add it to the soup, it gives an unusual nuttiness to the flavour. Just before serving, add little cubes of quick melting cheese like Gruyere or, if you're lucky enough to get it, Fontina. Then finding little bits of half-melted cheese in the soup that stretch up on the spoon is an absolute delight."
Serves 6
For the soup:
1 pumpkin, weighing 3-31/2 lb (1.35-1.6 kg)
1 tablespoon groundnut oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
11/2 pints (850 ml) stock, vegetable or chicken
15 fl oz (425 ml) whole milk
1 oz (25 g) butter
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly milled black pepper
To serve:
4 oz (110 g) Gruyere or Fontina, cut into 1/4 inch (5 mm) diced
2 oz (50 g) Gruyere or Fontina, coarsely grated
6 teaspoons creme fraiche
4 oz (110 g) croutons
flat-leaf parsley
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 9, 475 F (240 C).

Begin by cutting the pumpkin in half through the stalk,then cut each half into 4 again and scoop out the seeds using a large spoon. Then brush the surface of each section with the oil and place them on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, then pop them on a high shelf of the oven to roast for 25-30 minutes or until tender when tested with a skewer. Since I was using the skin for a Halloween decoration, I scooped the flesh out in this instance and roasted it that way instead.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a high heat, add the onion, stir it round and when it begins to colour round the edges, after about 5 minutes, turn the heat down. Let it cook very gently without a lid, giving it a stir from time to time, for about 20 minutes. Then remove the pumpkin from the oven and leave it aside to cool. Now add the stock and the milk to the onions, and leave them with the heat turned low to slowly come up to simmering point. Next scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin with a sharp knife and add it to the stock together with a seasoning of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Then let it all simmer very gently for about 15-20 minutes.

Next the soup should be processed to a puree. Because there's a large volume of soup, it's best to do this in two halves. What you need to do is whiz it until it's smoothly blended, but as an extra precaution it's best to pass it through a sieve as well in case there are any unblended fibrous bits. Taste and season well, then when you're ready to serve the soup, re-heat it gently just up to simmering point, being careful not to let it boil.

Finally, stir in the diced cheese, then ladle the soup into warm soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with a teaspoonful of creme fraiche and scatter with the grated cheese, a few croutons as well, if you like them, and a sprinkling of parsley.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


"This week, I'll be cooking mainly soups." the blogger announced.
"Why soups, Helen?!" they cried, most interestedly.
"Well, I shall tell you!" said she.

Autumn has reached us good and proper; the leaves have turned golden and scatter the landscape. The clocks went back an hour, the trees sway in the strong wind and the rain lashes down, reflections seen in puddles lit up by the orange glow of a street light as we hurry by. This is all we need to prompt us Scots to use one of the hundreds of ways we have to describe the weather, in particular, the rain:
"It's awfy dreicht!" cry some.
"It's pishin' doon!" cry others.
"Awa' and bile yer heid; it's only a smirr".

It's rather wet and dismal, don't you think?
I rather think it's a bit more like a downpour myself.
Away and boil your heads, you pair, it's only a light rainfall.

The temperature has dropped, the woolies are oot, it's time for something warm and it's name is soup.! I love soup season; the parsnips get crisped and the pumpkins get roasted, haddock gets smoked and shallots get toasted. Gruyere is grated and bacon is fried and second helpings are never denied.

This weeks shopping came to just under £50. The menu this week is as follows:
Roasted Pumpkin Soup with melting cheese and croutons
Curried Parsnip & Apple soup with Parsnip Crisps
Indian Chicken Stew
French Onion Soup with gruyere croutons
Cullen Skink (fish soup)
Stovies (sausage and potato soup...!)
Omelettes (not a soup)
Chicken Bites & Baked Potatoes
Tuna Pasta
Bacon, eggs and beans

Brown Bread
Toasted Baguettes

Poor wee Kelly was sent home from school last week and had to stay off for yet another few days; illness is trying to consume us but we've been fighting it and it's nearly gone. To cheer the wee lass up, I made her...
Helen's Incredibly Delicious You May Just Die But It Will Be Worth It Hot Chocolate.

Do not underestimate the healing power of such things; tis magical!

How to make Helen's Hottie Hot Hottie (for short)
In the bottom of a cup, add two heaped teaspoons of grated chocolate/Green & Black's Organic Hot Chocolate/ Belgian Hot Chocolate flakes or a mixture of all of the above (or similar-as long as it's proper chocolate) and (this is very important; I'm revealing my secret ingredient so shhh, tell no-one) a heaped spoonful of Nutella! Yup. You heard me right.

Add a little cold milk, stir to make a paste and heat up in the microwave; feel free to do this in a pan of course. Once it heats up-check every 10 seconds in the microwave-and the chocolate is melted, stir vigorously adding more milk at the same time. Fill the cup 3/4 to the top and add a little sugar if the chocolate you use requires some. Re-heat. Stir well.

Plop a small handful of mini marshmallows into mug and top that with scootie cream, i.e. cream from a can! Dot the cream with marshmallows and grate/sprinkle over some of the chocolate. Serve with a long spoon and give to little child/adult/granny and watch that smile wash all over their face. It'll warm the cockles of any heart.

From Last Week....

Lemon roast chicken sprinkled with olive oil, thyme and salt. Half way through cooking, add potatoes and 15 minutes later, add an onion, quartered or chopped, carrots, peppers and any other root veg. Add stuffing balls near the end, depending on how much time they need to cook and crisp up and I sprinkled over some couscous to soak up the gravy. Lovely.

See that chicken? Yes, that one up there. It was picked clean and shoved into a bowl with the remaining stuffing, veg, gravy and couscous. Then tonight, I emptied it into an oven proof pie dish, added puff pastry and served it with broccoli and green beans. Doesn't exactly look pretty but tasted great.

Ugly cookies, eh? The kids loved them though. I used a basic cookie recipe and added 100g of breakfast cereal; any cereal to your taste would do. I added some Nutella and a white chocolate button. It's not all about appearances although I do agree it helps but the kids wolfed these down as an extra special breakfast treat at the weekend.

Onion Bhajis; very similar to the pakora recipe except without the spinach and with a mix of white onion and red onion plus a bunch of coriander. Served it with the pakora sauce and rice.

I went to Anne's for a wee soiree on Thursday night and a visit to another house for a little reunion party on Friday. To Anne's, I brought some of these basic little breads rolled small with goats cheese, herbs, tomatoes and Parmesan on top.

I also brought little quichelets; recipe to follow....

...and mini peanut butter bites. I made them with marg instead of butter though; nice but not quite the same. I also brought these to the reunion as well as some tikka bites which I didn't get a photo of.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sundays in my City-Stirling, Scotland

Sundays in My City, started by the wonderful Unknown Mami.

A trip through to Stirling for the last BBQ of the year...

The roundabout at Loch Lomond Shores

All roads lead to the castle (in the distance)

Farm and loch

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle from the other side

The drive home.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I had been invited to join the Loose Blogger Consortium no, not for those of loose morals, you guttersnipers...although I've not got to know them all yet... by Conrad of Each week, a new topic is posed in the form of one word and we all post our thoughts on it at the same time. I of course missed last week's due to technical difficulties net down/hangover/children; delete as appropriate and am pleased to post my first attempt. Check out the blogs of the other members:

Sing it with me..."I'm holding out for a hero til the morning light....". The second I hear the word hero, I think of that line from that song and immediately, I 'm transported back to 1984 with Bonnie Tyler and the entire cast of Footloose. Ah, those were the days...dancing in the streets, spiral perms, Ms. Selfridges, iced champink lipstick and lace gloves.

I had a fresh pack of Luckies and a mint called old man's Trojans and his Old Spice after was Billy Joel in 1983. I'm so confused.....

During different times in my life, when I've attended courses, work seminars and lectures, I've been asked, along with everyone else, to name my heroes. I always groaned at this question, thinking it pointless because I'd just be making up the answer. I didn't know any heroes, I couldn't even conjure up a pretend one from the recesses of my brain and to me, a hero would have to be someone you know. I would inwardly snort at the people who said "my mother/father is a hero to me", arrogant, snotty little witch that I was or roll my eyes at the people who said "Richard Branson". There were a lot of people who said Richard Branson.

It's not that I thought that mums and dads couldn't be heroic at times it was more to do with their lack of imagination or that Richard Branson didn't have merit; it just wasn't my definition of a hero. Good parents or successful entrepreneurs like Sir Richard could be inspirations, they could be mentors but they certainly were not cape wielding super people who could fly with the ability to right the wrongs in the world. Actually, come to think of it, Sir Richard most certainly can fly, has been known to don the cape and has helped out the world on occasion...but I digress.

The dictionary meaning of hero is 'a man wait, what? A man?? Who knew dictionaries were sexist... of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities or a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability'; you know, like Clint Eastwood can't help it, the man is a God. Or Superman. It is unlikely unless your name is Lois, that any of us have had the pleasure of Superman's company or even Clint for that matter so the question is less literal; who, in our opinion, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act. In that context, Richard has some merits and mentioning your parents isn't so far fetched for those that have led the hallowed life.

With that in mind, I realised that the hero is like Santa at the mall during tea break; he may look like Santa and sound like Santa and keep the kids happy but when that beard comes off and he is smoking his fag, swearing to the elves like a trooper, then he is less Santa and more a dyslexic anagram of himself that's Satan, for those of you not on the same weird wavelength. Does that make him any less a Santa to the happy kids, clutching their gifts? The man or woman who saves the child from the burning building is a hero; does that make him or her a good person? To the child and the child's mother, of course it does but if he goes home and kicks his cat, does that make him any less the saviour of the child?

In those younger years, I expected the hero to be heroic at all times; I didn't know anyone except Clint who was like that, personally or in the wider world. As I got older, I realised that even though the superhero didn't exist, it didn't mean the plain old hero wasn't around; the guy who steals paper supplies from his work yet gives away money to the poor, the lady who works every weekend for The Salvation Army but shouts at the kids in her street, the rude mum at the school gates who will look after anyone's children if they need her to...they commit heroic acts every day but remain human: no super powers here. Despite their human failings, I realised the small acts of heroism, kindness and love shown by them and many like them everyday makes them guilty of being heroes. To me anyway.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

From ski to knee in three easy steps

Feeling better, I went to the ski club on Monday for lessons; I forgot how much I loved it and felt fine afterwards. Come Tuesday, I couldn't walk, missed a step what with the jelly leg syndrome I appeared to be experiencing and hurt my bleedin' knee. I missed yoga and lunch with Ann but remained philosophical; I had lots of stuff to do within the house so I'd catch up with that instead.

The phone rang: could you come collect Kelly from school please as she is ill. Will this never end?

I gave up, lay on the couch with her and watched re-runs of Friends and the Gilmore Girls.

I did make bread and roasted peppers for tea...

...apart from that, no news, so some old photies for your perusal instead...

From this..... this!

That's Fraser, swinging his kilt!

From this... this!

Where does the time go?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ugly Food and Lovely Children

This is how I spent Saturday....

Yeah, unfortunately, they seem to have inherited my singing genes.

When enjoying a lovely meal, we are enticed first of all by the smell and the appearance and later on by the taste. So when does ugly food ever stand a chance? "MMmmm, Ahh", you sigh, when that delightful smell hits your nostrils and you close your eyes for a moment in anticipation, fork and knife grasped in your greedy wee fists; here it comes and it's placed in front of you but SCREEEECHHHH...the big pile of pulchritude you fancied finding on your plate ends up looking just like the messy mud pies you made as a kid down by the abandoned nuclear power station/fireworks factory/old mine shaft.

Do you eat it? Do you close your eyes and just dive on in? Does it change your potential enjoyment of the dish? It shouldn't really, should it? Food is our friend and we should respect it, regardless of how it looks.....

...and with that in mind, we come to Helen's Steak Pie with Homemade Puff Pastry with a vowel missing; it didn't so much puff as pff....

Without further ado, I'll share the image; best to get it over with I've made it really small so as not to offend thee too much....

Now, this steak pie with homemade puff pastry made my family wince a little. Having spent many hours lovingly preparing it for the little darlings wee jobbies, I failed to notice the appearance might be a little....unappetising. The pff pastry, albeit dodgy looking in the extreme, was absolutely delicious; the beef had been stewed for hours in homemade beef stock and a red wine reduction with a hint of herbs, baby carrots, onions, baby potatoes, sausages and a few bay leaves.

I could have ate it til it was coming out my ears it was that good. I do tend to like my own creations though, even when others are running for the hills. Once the family were persuaded to try it by that I mean I said bleedin' well eat it you ungrateful wretches or I'll be putting in a call to Maggie Murphy's Home for Wayward Weans then they enjoyed it although the pff pastry was given a body swerve by all bar my husband who knows a good thing when he gets told by me sees it. So don't always judge a dish by it's cover or a book/person/animal for that matter; beauty lies within...sometimes way, waaaay within, but nonetheless.

Homemade puff pastry, incidentally, is really not that hard however on occasion, I think I would say there are times to put away the pinny, hang up the rolling pin and buy from the professionals. This is most definitely one of those times.

The beef stew was simmered in hot stock for 2 hours. I then placed it in a pie dish and covered it with my special pff pastry and baked in the oven for 25 minutes. Since the pie had potatoes in it, I served the pie, the whole pie and nothing but the pie.

I should have gone with the Yorkshire puddings as planned..

Another not entirely pleasant looking dish....

...which tasted lovely.

Salmon patties on a bed of spinach, watercress and rocket, cucumber, tomatoes, a little olive oil dressing with balsamic vinegar and leftover goats cheese pasta. A strange combination, leftovers you see, but it went really well together!

The salmon patties are the same as the fishcakes without the flour dipping and roasted in the oven after a quick fry in a pan to seal the top.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Net Worth

The net was down all morning yesterday. That didn't bode well for my fidgety, cabin feverish brain. Having had flu no, really? You've had flu?? Why didn't you say something??, I've felt unable to concentrate on reading and I've not wanted to stray too far from the couch; my compulsion to give away the telly to the first passing stranger has become ever more pressing as watching the box this past week has been my ultimate source of non entertainment.

I have a love hate relationship with television, watching certain programmes and then switching off for days on end imposing a self-inflicted ban.

The computer by default, is my friend in my time of need. I get to read all my favourite blogs and watch endless stupid but highly amusing youtube clips as sent to me by various friends, cousins and strangers and write drivel in the hope that someone, somewhere, finds it vaguely interesting. So, with the net down, I was down. There are only so many paper hamsters one can cut out and colour with the kids... I paced the carpet, wondering what on earth I was going to do to amuse myself and then I realised: I must be better. Not fully, operationally working better but better nonetheless.

I applied a little mascara, a little rouge to hide the grey pallor and gingerly took my first steps outside for 10 days bar the docs which doesn't count. The kids came, picking up other children along the way I'm the pied piper of Glasgow and dropping them at the park while Brian and I slowly wandered round the loch. It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear, with a hint of autumn crispness in the air. The bright reflections from the water and the brilliant colours of the leaves all cheered me up no end as did the very small glass of wine Ann insisted I have when we dropped off the boys. Look, her husband's a doctor, he said it would make me feel better, who am I to argue.

Brian was given a shopping list for the week's menu and came home having gotten everything except grapes and with a cost of only £31.28. I made roast chicken for everyone and a superfood salad for myself. I am determined to be back to full working health in a few days and thought I'd kick start it with this:

Superfood Salad
Handful Spinach, Watercress and Rocket
1 orange, peeled and segmented
Teaspoon pine nuts, freshly toasted
Sprinkling golden linseeds
Cucumber slices
Baby tomatoes
1 small yellow pepper
Thin slices apple

Arrange lovingly on a plate, once salad leaves are dressed.

1 part olive oil, half part honey, drizzle balsamic, sprinkling herbs, squeeze of orange, pinch salt and pepper. Mix well and toss salad leaves in.
Delicious and very, very good for you me. Smoked chicken, spicy/crispy chicken or goats/feta cheese would be lovely with this if looking to add a bit of protein.

This weeks menu:
Roast Chicken
Beef Stew with Yorkshire Pudding
Salmon Patties
Sausage and Mash with onion gravy
Roasted Vegetables on Toasted Homemade Bread
Chicken & Rice Soup / Chicken Noodle Soup
Lentil and Vegetable Soup
Curried Stir Fry with Spiced Potatoes
Baked Potatoes with tuna and superfood salad
Leftover Pie!

Mini fruit loaves

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Helen's Chicken Stew with Dumplings

Today's lunch:

Lahmacun bread brushed with a mix of butter and olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and topped with ingredients of choice:
  • cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme, a sprinkling of Parmesan once out of oven
  • roasted garlic, thyme and Parmesan
  • goats cheese and thyme
  • goats cheese, rosemary, cherry tomatoes and chutney
  • salami and chorizo
  • grated cheese
  • roasted garlic and extra sea salt

Add any ingredients that take your fancy, making sure they can take 10 minutes in reasonably hot oven. These are also delicious for breakfast; you can add a tablespoon of sugar to the batter or not and/or topped with (after baking the buttered bread on it's own):
  • Nutella and banana
  • jam
  • fruit coulis
  • brown sugar mixed with cinnamon (bake this one in the oven)
  • cream cheese and smoked salmon

The goats cheese and chutney was amazing!

Last night, we had chicken stew with dumplings, the quickest, easiest dinner which looks like you've been slaving over a hot stove for hours. We were so happy at dinner last night, sat round the table chatting away, eating up every last bit, pressing the baby potatoes and dumplings into the last of the gravy, finished off with steaming mugs of tea. After the Scotch broth for lunch, the comfort food had certainly done it's job.

Helen's Quick and Easy Chicken Stew with Dumplings

Place into a pan the following:
A half bag of baby potatoes (around 3-5 per person)
One onion, chopped large
A few shallots, whole or halved
A carrot, chopped large
2 garlic cloves
Some sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary
Half a tin plum tomatoes or a few fresh tomatoes
Any other root veg you have in the house, chopped large

Add to this a pint or enough to cover of light chicken gravy, home made or granules mixed with chicken stock. If using fresh tomatoes, add a good squeeze of tomato puree to the gravy. Add a little dash of white wine if you happen to have some open. The teabag-looking item was a bouquet garni packet I had left so I popped it in for that little bit of extra aromatic flavouring.

Bring to the boil and drop in chunks of chicken breast or thigh meat; chicken breasts into four, thighs into two. Stir, put on the lid, boil once more and then simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Prepare dumplings by placing into a bowl the following:
100g/4oz self raising flour
2oz mature cheddar cheese
1oz Parmesan (if you don't want to use this, add another ounce of cheddar instead).
Quarter teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp mustard powder
Handful of either thyme or chopped parsley
Sprinkle salt and pepper

Mix and add a beaten egg and enough water to make a sticky dough. Don't mix too much, you want it lumpy. Form into little dumplings and pour over a little oil, rubbing gently to coat each ball. Place in fridge until five minutes before needed.

Put oven on to 200 degrees Celsius/gas mark 5.

Pour stew into an oven proof dish and top with dumplings. Bake in hot oven for around 15 minutes or until dumplings golden brown or a little darker on top, depending on taste.

The dumplings will expand and stick together which is just perfect; half are soaking up the gravy, the half sticking above the top are golden and crispy. Apply three greedy, hungry wee weans, one hungry big man and try to get to the table before they polish it off, leaving you a loan potato and a carrot.
I've had several phone calls, emails and texts asking me how I am; it's lovely that my friends take the time to do that but I find myself saying "I'm fine" even though I still feel poorly. Is it a mum thing, a Scottish thing or a woman thing that after 7 days of illness, I feel frustrated with my inability to get better quickly and I feel like such a fraud. Come on, flu, go already!

I want to walk up a hill, go shopping and take the kids swimming desperately. It's their holiday week; not that they've complained, I don't think they can quite believe their luck what with the jammies on for as long as they want, mum on tap, vid games, computer and dvds galore. It's been a nice week, considering.

Tomorrow, we plan to hit the cinema to see 'Up'; I'm hoping my coughing has subsided by then as I really want to see it and can't if all I'll end up doing is disturbing everyone around me. Tomorrow is another day, I could leap out of bed, restored and well! Karmic thoughts, people, karmic thoughts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Food for Sickies

Every nation will have certain foods that they give to the sick and hungover; within every nation, there will of course, be variations and from city to city, it changes once again. Within those cities and towns, each family will tweak and add to each recipe, adding a little nutmeg here, some spring onions there.

In the west, a version of chicken soup tends to be favoured or at least some kind of broth. It's tasty, full of nutrients and hydrates the body and soul. It's the first thing I crave when ill, knowing that a little will go a long way to making me feel better.

When the main cook is ill, though, does she get her soup? What does she or he get fed in her time of need? Over the years, I've only been floored with illness a few times and I tend to lose my appetite. After a few days however, I need to eat and have been content in the past with a chippy fish and chips or similar, Chinese food, curry or scrambled eggs. Since the kids came along, all that changed as they too need to eat proper food regardless so, thanks to a well stocked freezer, we usually manage fine.

This week, I croaked out instructions to Brian; he made some classic dishes for the weak and bed ridden including vegetable and lentil soup, homemade bread and scrambled eggs which he was rather proud off: it was very good. His face at first when I suggested he make some bread though..... It was a meal fit for a king, very simple yet wonderful and I felt instantly better.

Other traditional dishes for the Glaswegian sick include Scotch Broth, which I'm making today, chicken noodle soup for the kids, mince and tatties for those in recovery, steak pie for the first day well and curry, a new tradition and a great one because of the ginger, the garlic...both super foods for getting you better and the spices give you that buzz; taste buds aren't always great when you've had the flu or similar so this is one dish you can be sure of getting a kick from.

Do you remember that huge vegetable curry I made just as I fell ill no connection, I promise! Well, that was my first proper meal with a little rice and paratha which Brian made, checking in with me every now and then to make sure it was being done right. It was and it was great.

When I started to feel a little better, I helped Brian make the bread for the Lahmacun, having already had the lightly spiced lamb mince in the freezer from the last batch I'd made. I don't think the photograph does it too much justice, what with looking bits but believe me, it tasted wonderful; this is so easy, tasty and simple. Perfect in fact, for this week. See recipe below.

Yesterday, on feeling a little better, Brian took the kids to the park and I prepared a simple meal of what we call American Mac n' Cheese, because we add a mix of breadcrumbs and grated cheddar to the top of the homemade cheese sauce and bake it in the oven. I have no idea if this is accurate to how it is made in the US or not, I think we saw it in an American film once and the kids wanted to try it, hence the name.

Brian's bread, garlic'd

We'll be living off leftovers and making do for a few more days yet as the flu which has moved to my chest consumes me with coughing; I was so exhausted after making the mac and cheese last night that I had to lie down for an hour; how pathetic is that....but then I painted a wall afterwards and spent the rest of the night hyperventilating with no way to hide what I'd done when Brian came back from Aikido to find me comatose on the couch but it looks great today.

For the dough:
150g bread flour
100g plain flour
1 teaspoon easy blend yeast
Half teaspoon salt
125ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine the flour yeast and salt and add water and oil- mix and form a dough. Knead for 5-10 minutes and place in an oiled bowl, turn over once and cover with clingfilm. Leave it somewhere warm to rise, approx. 1 hour.

Once it has approx. doubled in size, punch the air out of it and divide into 8 pieces. Roll into circles of approx. 12 cm each and leave them on an oiled baking sheet (I put down parchment paper first) with tea towels over them to stop them drying out, for about 20 minutes.

Lamb Topping:
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
1 fat garlic clove, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
250g lamb or minced lamb, very finely chopped in food processor
pinch of cayenne pepper, ground allspice
Half teaspoon cumin
*optional-half chilli pepper, seeds removed
3 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped plus more for serving
lemon juice
Melted butter

Fry onion and garlic together in the oil until soft but not coloured; sprinkle in some salt to help keep it from browning. Add the minced lamb along with the spices and then stir in tomato puree. Stir well and cook for 10-15 minutes until the lamb is browned and cooked through. Add the lemon juice (about half to 1 whole lemon) and season with salt and pepper.

Use the melted butter to coat the bread rounds, making sure you completely get the edges (so they stay quite soft). Place a large tablespoon or so of mince onto the bread and spread out with the back of a spoon. When complete, place in oven at 220 degrees Celsius/gas mark 7 for approx. 10 minutes. Keep your eye on it so that the mince doesn't burn although the top will catch slightly. Turn the baking tray(s) if need be.

If it is going to be a few minutes before they are taken to the table, drape them with a tea towel to stop the crusts getting hard. These are delicious as is but I like to sprinkle with some extra parsley and another squeeze of lemon juice and either serve alongside a green salad with a good goats cheese or with goats cheese dotted on top of the lahmacun. You can add this a minute or so before taking out of oven so that the goats cheese melts if you like. Really, really delicious.

I have to say, I wouldn't waste my time making this paltry amount of lamb topping as it freezes beautifully; I'd usually make 4 times the amount and freeze it in 250g batches. You could do the same with the bread, freezing it at the point you'd place it in the oven or make the entire lahmacun as normal and freeze from cooked; I can vouch for them defrosting beautifully and warming up splendidly in a hot oven for 5 minutes. Apply to face.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mmm, cake...

Still ill but recovering. I thought I'd share some cakes with you....

Kids Tea Party

Chocolate Cake...that's Nutella Icing (I think)!

Guess who had that first slice...?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Swine Flu? Oink.

I know we're all in the same place with this;

But since I have flu...bad, bad flu with all the symptoms paracetamoled up to the eyeballs right now and I've been in contact with someone who has had said flu, it's a distinct possibility but, as I have found out, flu is flu, regardless of what you call it...a rose by any other name n'all that....

Since I may fall off this chair any moment, I'll finish by saying, thank goodness I cooked a large curry and my freezer is filled with little meals as there will be no cooking until I recover. Poor kids are on holiday from tomorrow too. Kelly curled up on the sofa with me; wish us good karma, my bloggy friends.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

United Breaks Guitars, Calories and other Other Life Factors

Mood: Content; yoga, coffee, lunch with Ann and Val; great start to the day.

Dave sais:
"In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 1 is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming. I promise".

Apparently United Airlines shares dropped for a while. This is a class response to extremely poor customer service; if only we could all sing, write songs and dance our complaints, the world would be a much happier, better place! I commend you, Sons of Maxwell!

I made a really quick, easy, vegetable curry tonight and by using couscous instead of rice, low fat margarine instead of butter, I managed to cut down the calories of this already low fat meal to 205 calories per good sized portion. Yup. 205 calories. That's the equivalent of two small cookies or a packet of potato crisps (chips). If the marg had affected the taste, I'd have been a little disappointed but it didn't, not one little bit. Obviously, you need to keep an eye on frying with margarine as it sticks easily. As with any dish of this sort, varying the vegetables won't make one iota of a difference or if you prefer less tomatoes or a bit more sugar, then go ahead.

Easy Vegetable Curry
1 red onion
Leftover ginger (5 inches)
2 cloves garlic
1 green chili
1 cinammon stick
2 cardamom pods
1 clove
Teaspoon each ground cumin, coriander, fenugreek
Sea Salt
Ground black pepper
1 teaspoon light margarine
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin cherry tomatoes
2 peppers
Leftover veg from last night's roasted vegetables
10g caster sugar

Total cost £2.40
Total calories 385
Total cooked weight 1360g Medium portion 240g 42 pence 100 calories approx.

10g margarine
200g Couscous
Chicken Stock Cube

Total cost 40p
Total calories 372
Total cooked weight 600g
Medium portion 150g 10 pence 93 calories

Tablespoon low fat yoghurt 12 calories

Squeeze lemon or lime juice, grinding black pepper

Total calories per dinner !205! Total cost per dinner !55 pence!

Blend together the red onion, ginger, garlic, chili, pinch sea salt, black pepper, ground cumin, coriander and fenugreek along with the cardamom, cinammon stick and clove, ground up with the pestle and mortar.

Fry gently with the margarine, stirring regularly to avoid sticking.

Add the turmeric and stir.

Then add the tinned tomatoes.

Bring to the boil...

...and add vegetables of choice; I added a green and yellow pepper and three mushrooms left in the fridge, halved.

I also added the leftover veg from the roasted dish the night before. I've added in the calories!

Bring to the boil and simmer. After around 10-20 minutes, depending on how much time you have, taste the dish and season; add the sugar at this point. Remember, if it tastes a bit bitter to you, add more salt, not sugar. Stir, put on lid and simmer once more.

To make couscous, heat margarine over a low heat and add couscous.

Stir for a minute and then add chicken or vegetable stock cube, dissolved in 300g of boiling water. The easy way to cook couscous is to place the same amount of weight to water ratio i.e. 4 ounces couscous, 4 fluid ounces water but I find I prefer it a bit more juice to my grain. You can always add more water later of course. Leave to soak up the water, around 3 minutes and then turn on the heat for a minute, stir it around and then remove. Stir with a fork, fluff up and taste. Add more water if you desire but if you do, leave it once more to soak up. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. For the kids, I also added chopped cucumber.

Place around a quarter of this on your plate and top with curry.

Add a tablespoon low fat yoghurt and a squeeze of citrus to taste.

Apply fork to face and stuff down yer gob. You'll be glad you did, especially when you realise you can have a big, fat treat for your supper. Or not, in my case, but that's only because my extra pounds want to leave home soon.