Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting......

We saw Karate Kid today, a pretty great remake in my opinion.   Jaden Smith, Will Smith's son rocked the part and Jackie Chan was just brilliant in the role of Mr Miyagi although the name changed to Mr Han.   There was no 'wax on, wax off' or 'paint a fence' but something similar was portrayed in true Karate Kid style.   The kids enjoyed it, we adults enjoyed it and I'd recommend a viewing during the long and for us wet summer holidays.

Last night I made an almond cake; I'd gotten all the ingredients out to find my scales were broken so I guessed them.   Now, guessing is ok for a stirfry or even a pie but not so much for baked goods.   I wanted some cake though; it seemed easier to just make it than put the ingredients away and really, that's as good as any a reason for pouring and dodding flour, butter and eggs into a bowl, willy-nilly.  

With fingers crossed, I baked the cake on a low heat for 1 hour; it looked good and smelled ok but the jury was still out.   By the time it had cooled, husband had arrived home and we had a slice with a mug of tea....pretty darn tasty, luckily, even if a little sweet.   I think I overdid the sugar somewhat but the ground almond and almond essence made it almost like a bakewell tart...something I'll be cooking soon...and has inspired me for a few more variations...with scales this time.

Almond Cake with Crunchy Topping!

Absolutely brilliant for breakfast

There is always curry in my freezer so when all else fails, leftover curry with freshly made flatbread is the order of any day:
 Leftover Curry for dinner yesterday.....

Cumin flatbread brushed with butter and salt

Thick, sweet, cumin flatbread with crushed almonds

Tomorrow is a new shopping week although we have friends coming over on Saturday so we'll split the shopping into two, that for the week ahead and a separate shop for entertaining.   The budget will remain £50 for 7 days worth of meals with an extra day added at the end for excluding Saturday.   Menu to follow.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

101 Ways to Cook Vegetables

I sit here typing, unable to move out of this space as a structure has been built up behind me, ceiling high, made up of cushions, tripods, brushes and blankets; it is precarious, to say the least.   To the left of me is four children, eagerly watching Corpse Bride, heads held in hands, stuck out of said structure.  To the right of me is my husband, drilling a hole in something and cutting wires for reasons unknown to me although I'm sure he explained it less than twenty minutes before.  I feel rather trapped.  

This makes me consider the need for emergency supplies; a secret squirrelling of sweet and salty snacks to keep me going for an undetermined level of time, hidden beneath my computer desk.   I'd start with a kettle that plugs into a hard drive surely such a thing has been invented? for that ever needed cup of tea or coffee.   A supply of Reese's Cups would be nice or my own version, tucked into an airtight container.   Some crunchy Kettle crisps would be a must and maybe a bottle of fizzy or two coke, Irn Bru, champagne...... A packet of midget gems or Sports gums could keep me alive here for years 20 minutes and some sweet tomatoes with a little packet of salt to dip them into.

Or I could just crawl over the couch.

Take a blagged bucket of veg, fresh from a farm and ponder their fate:

Way no. 13:
Vegetable Curry

Chop, peel and wash fresh veg and sliced garlic and fry in a little oil with cumin seeds, ground ginger, ground cumin, kalonji seeds, cinnamon stick and curry powder.   Add a little turmeric.   Add tomatoes.   Stir gently and add a little vegetable stock and cook until soft.  Add a little coconut paste and yoghurt and serve with homemade cumin bread......

Cumin Bread with Kalonji Seeds

Mix together equal quantities of wholemeal and white flour with a pinch of salt and a sprinkling of kalonji seeds and toasted cumin seeds.   Add a little oil and mix.   Add some cold water, enough to form a nice ball of dough and knead for five minutes.   Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.  

Remove from fridge and roll out on some sprinkled flour until roughly the size of the pan you are cooking it in.   Heat a little oil in said pan and when really hot, dump in the dough.   It will brown and start to rise immediately.   Press down all over and after a minute, turn over.   Press down once more.   Brush with a little melted butter and sprinkle with salt.   Eat with curry and a spoonful of yoghurt on the side.   Mmmm.

Way no. 42:
Spinach & Rocket Pesto Pasta with grilled and toasted vegetables

Place quartered onions and tomatoes in a hot oven, drizzled with olive oil, salt and a sprinkling of oregano.   Thinly slice the courgette and griddle or grill after brushing with yet more olive oil.   Sprinkle with salt and pepper when cooked.   Cook pasta and toss with a little pesto...basil pesto works just as well.   Top with veg and chopped, fresh basil and some more black pepper....enjoy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

St. Andrews

We're just back from a few days at the golfing town called St. Andrews.   We stayed in a lovely house called Morton of Pitmilly at Kingsbarn, a wee village next to St. Andrews which was set inside a working farm.   Of course, we managed to blag a bag full of fresh veg before we left; beetroot, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and cucumber, to name a few.   I'm looking forward to making a stew!

Whilst there, my friend Irene prepared a monkfish stew with the addition of wee dumplings from me using the fresh veg from the farm whilst I got on with making brushcetta alongside olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip, crusty bread, olives and sun-blushed tomatoes as a starter and salmon tempura for the kids with a salad of chopped cucumber and apple.

Did I take pictures to share with you?   No I did not, for various reasons, the main one being the food was inhaled before you could say "can you wait until I take a picture for my blog............." because the answer would have been a resounding "no" or even a "bog off".   But it was good and looked well tasty.  I know you'll hopefully take my word for it.

No food photies, only kids; normal service will be resumed shortly...............

Kids in St. Andrews High Street with Skye the dog

 Dear gawd....

Lucy on Beach

It was a gorgeous day

Happy and confused?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Oven Disaster and Complete Randomness

My oven hates me.   She expressed this opinion by blowing up but not until after the chocolate cake was ready so har har to you, oven lady, I get the last laugh! didn't actually blow up, it just kinda stopped working.   I think it needs a holiday from all the toiling and striving it's done over the years.   Just a pity I have lots of food and cakes to make for various events.   I think I'll be pushing my wee camping stove to it's limits.

So today I'm going to show you some complete randomness so here goes; a picture of a crazy cupcake I baked:

Psychedelic Cupcake!

A very tasty chicken khorma wot I made.....

Chicken Khorma....oh yeah!

A picture of Lucy reading Keats:

Lucy reading...well, Keats......

Poori Bread...mmmm!

Deep fried Indian Poori Bread.   Heaven...I'm in heaven....

Yet more cupcakes.....


Tartan creatures.....

Tartan Sheep

 Lambs, just getting their tartan in.....

Tartan Lambs

Kids outside the Tardis.....

Hello Doctor!

Don't want to really say too much about this one...........

Falling asleep with random hat

And finally........

Evening outside our window.

True randomness can only come from within.  

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cabin Fever

The month of June was wonderful, weather wise; the sun shone, we had BBQs, picnics in the park and the flipflops and sandals were dusted off for the duration.   School came out on the very last week and we holidayed in the UK, with the sun hitting off our backs.   Ah, it was glorious.............

Then July comes.   The rain with it and it Just Won't Stop.   We're used to rain of course but after a while spent in cagouls, braving the park in the downpour or getting soaked on a short trip to the shops, it all starts to get a bit....well, wet.   On top of it all, we are waiting to go camping...methinks the wait will linger a wee bit longer so I'm contemplating tossing us all on to a passing plane and heading for sunnier climes in Italy, France or Cornwall.   Any suggestions?

 Making Risotto

Making risotto is easy; it may not seem it but it really is, as long as you are happy standing at the cooker for 20 minutes because this is how long it takes to cook.   You make your stock and have it sitting next to you, still warm and ready to go alongside a glass of wine or champagne.   

To begin, gently fry onions and garlic (or whatever else you want to use...mushrooms, celery etc.) in some olive oil and butter until soft.   You add in the unwashed rice (I always add in a wee bit extra olive oil just before this) and 'gently fry' by stirring it around the oil for a good few minutes.   When it looks like no oil is left and the rice appears translucent, then pour in the wine. 

The amount depends on how much risotto you are cooking; approx. 400g/14 oz rice-2 pints of stock- 2 glasses of wine or alcohol like Noilly Pratt.

Stir until all all the wine has been soaked up and then add a ladle of stock and a pinch of salt to the risotto.   Stir until all the liquid is soaked up once again and repeat (without the salt!) until the stock has been used up.   Take your time, don't rush it; as long as you stir and add in the stock a little at a time, you can't go wrong.  It should take approx. 15 minutes.

You must taste it at this point; I prefer the rice to be soft although it is supposed to have a tiny little bite to it and I stop cooking at this stage as it is still to 'mature'; more on that in a moment.   If I don't feel the rice is ready by the time the stock runs out, I add in some water from the boiled kettle until it is.   Check seasoning.

Remove from the heat and add in a good handful of grated Parmesan alongside a great knob of butter (for the amount of cooked risotto above, approx. 4oz Parmesan and 2oz butter).  Stir well.

Now for the maturation!   You must put a lid on the pan and leave it to sit for approx. 2-3 minutes.   This is when the risotto changes into a wonderful, creamy dish as the butter and Parmesan works it's magic, the rice continues to soften a little and it all matures.

 A messy dod of risotto with peas but what a tasty dod it was!

I like to add cooked peas to my risotto alongside another grating of Parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper.   Utterly delicious!   I always have loads left over and, although purists would be banging their heads off the keyboard at this, I put the remainder in the fridge and use it throughout the week as an accompaniment to dinners; it goes particularly well with roast chicken.   Heat up in the microwave for 1 minute.   Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Such a Tart!

How to make a tart:

Make shortcrust pastry: I make mine via Gordon Ramsay's recipe but you can use whatever recipe you prefer or buy it from the chilled or frozen part of the supermarket-you can even buy it in sheets these days!

Once you've made your pastry and left it to rest (or opened up the packet...remember, if using frozen or chilled, let it come to room temperature first) then get ready to roll it out, using a rolling pin and a sprinkling of flour.   I like my tarts a bit rough and ready so I use my tart tin to cut out the size of pastry I need and then give it another wee roll out to make it fit but you can use a saucer, a plate or anything round!   I then butter my tart tins...any kind of tart, pie or cake tin will do...and lay the pastry onto it, pressing down and into the tin ensuring that there will be no air bubble underneath. 

You can par bake the pastry, I usually do but only for five minutes; either pour some baking beans (specific beans for baking from good cake supply shops), rice or the easy option, a wee bit of tin foil in the middle of the pastry, where the filling will go.   Bung it into a medium oven for five minutes and then bring out to cool slightly, removing the beans/foil/rice first.

Ingredients of choice: I always fill my tarts with the same mix; a beaten egg, approx. 5 tablespoons double cream, a good handful of Parmesan and plenty of seasoning-these are all mixed together to be poured on to whatever topping you prefer.

Red onions, chopped finely and sauted in a pan with some butter and olive oil.   After a few minutes, add some crushed and chopped garlic to taste.   Cook slowly until soft but not too browned.   Let it cool and add to pastry.

Add some chopped, sliced or crumbled goats cheese (or feta, or cheddar....) and place on top of onion mix.

Add dollops of pesto and either smooth out neatly or leave in lumps....whatever way you prefer.

 Pour in the creamy eggy batter til almost full but not too full because remember, it'll rise....and add some slices or halves of baby tomatoes, a basil leaf, a grating of Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.   I add a tiny squeeze of lemon juice too!

 Bake in oven until golden brown and puffy and remove to cool slightly.   Can be eaten hot or cold.

I like a shallow tart sometimes so that there is lots of crust; this one was made in a large pie tin with artichokes instead of pesto and some rocket and basil.   It was sliced into 8 and ate at random whenever anyone was hungry.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Yoga Bear


 I woke up this morning like a bear with a sore head; the reason for this, quite frankly, out of character behaviour guffaw, I hear you cry was sleeping in.   I slept in for the first time in a long while and it did me no good at all.   "Sleeping in is overrated!" I cried from the side of the bed, quickly followed by "It's someone else's fault!" and "Where is my TEA?!?".

I grumped down the stairs and was greeted with the essential cuppa and no breakfast to speak off.   "Sleeping in is definitely overrated" I grumbled from underneath my hot cup.   When coffee was offered, the family ever hopeful that the caffeine would enter my system quickly, a brownie was proffered as an apology to the mum god for the lack of sustenance earlier.   The brownie was accepted and, combined with the coffee, a new dawn broke and a wavering smile began at the corner of my mouth.   All was well with the world once again.

But still: brownie for breakfast? YUM!

No sleeping in for me this week, even if I wanted to; this morning, I head off to a yoga course which continues throughout the week.   I'm a wee bit nervous but really looking forward to it.   It has me focusing on what I eat yes, Helen, because you certainly don't focus enough on what you eat........ and portion sizes as my main goal is to have enough energy without being too full, to retain momentum throughout the day without being floored by early morning yoga i.e. having to retire to my bed mid-afternoon... I have been known or without the horrendous possibility of sleeping in...we know where that takes me see above.   My yoga week lunch although there may be a few eaten in Peckhams and dinner menu, using ingredients in the pantry and leftovers from the past week's shopping and cooking  is as follows:
Farfalle with Spinach & Watercress Pesto
Lentil Soup with Ham
Shredded Ham & Potato Cakes with Risotto
Pea & Ham Soup (from a chicken...?   Now that's clever!...aye, the old adverts were the best 'uns) 
Spinach & Watercress Pesto Muffins
Ham, Mustard & Homemade Chutney Sandwich with Potato & Leek Soup
Red Onion & Cheddar Omelette with Crispy Salad and Toasted Linseeds 
Pesto & Goat's Cheese Tart Slice with Roasted Tomatoes
 The kids and husband will have a few wee additions to this.  This week's shopping won't be until Friday which will mean last weeks shop has lasted at least 10 days.   Woohoo!

We had Ploughman's for dinner on Saturday which consisted of Ham cooked in Coke, Homemade Bread & Chutney made with ginger, apples and raisins, Cheddar Cheese, Pickled Onions and Cucumber Slices.   It was delicious!
 Coked you thought it was a spelling mistake!

Quick and Easy Homemade Spicy Chutney (recipe to follow)

The Fish Pie last week was a hit:
Fish Pie with Mashed Potato Topping

2 x lightly smoked salmon fillets (or non-smoked fillets)
1 x coley/cod or haddock fillet
Dash of olive oil or knob of butter
2 hard boiled eggs
Cooked petit pois or garden peas of choice
Half chopped onion
Half lemon
White sauce or light cheese sauce (follow the recipe but put in only a small handful of the cheese with some Parmesan or with no cheese at all)
Mashed potatoes

* Wrap fish in foil with a squeeze of lemon juice and the remains of the lemon and a sprinkling of pepper.   Bake in a medium heat for 8-10 minutes.   When cooked, leave to one side.
 * Boil eggs.
* Make white or cheese sauce
* Heat oil or butter and saute chopped onion for a few minutes until softened but not browned.
*Cook peas in salted boiling water until just tender
* Boil potatoes and mash with butter, cream or milk and mash again with fork

Flake fish, removing any skin or bones and add to sauce.   Add any liquid.   Stir and check for seasoning.  You may want to add some nutmeg.   Roughly chop up boiled eggs and add to pan with sauce and fish.   Stir in cooked, drained peas and sauted onions.   Pour into dish of choice, making sure the fish and sauce do not come up past half way; if it does,  the sauce will leak out when you place the potato on top.

Top with mashed potatoes; use a spoon and place the potato at the edge of the dish, working round until there is only a hole left in the middle.  Top this with more potatoes and smooth over with the back of the spoon.   Using a teaspoon, mark the potato topping to resemble fish scales.

Place in a medium oven for 20-30 minutes.

The cod was delicious:
Cod topped with spicy couscous served with rice and salad

Friday, July 9, 2010

Helen Ponders

 Why is my hand stuck to a radio and why is my watch so darn tight?   I'm going to pass out soon....gawd, I'm hungry.

 Laura from The Mordaunts asked me: "I was wondering if you could give some hints/tip on how you got started with the weekly budget. I really need/want to do something similar. I am sure that we bleed money into our food budget constantly with our disorganized shopping.   What are Auntie Helen's tricks for getting started on the road to food planning, food budgeting and food loving?"   Ask, dear Laura, and ye shall recieve!

I started with a well stocked pantry; my basic list would be as follows:
Broth mix
Chick peas
Stock cubes
Wide range of dried herbs and spices
Dried chillies
Maldon sea salt
Olive and extra virgin olive oil
Sesame oil
Groundnut and vegetable oil
Soy sauce
Seeds and nuts
Dried noodles (fine)
Dried pasta
Vinegar; balsamic, wine, etc.
Tomato puree
Chopped tomatoes
Jarred artichokes
Herb plants
Fresh chillies

 Fridge items:
Cheese: Parmesan, cheddar, goats, feta

Flour: plain, self-raising, wholemeal, bread
Sugar: caster, icing (fine, superfine), brown, demerera
Almond and vanilla extract
Dark and milk chocolate
Parchment paper

You can make a multitude of meals with the items above and almost all of these will last for some time.   To buy all these items at once would cost between £50-£75.   That would be your first shop with some meat thrown in there for the week!

Now that you have your basics, you want to write out your menu for the week with the following principles:
* What meals does everyone like and what meals would I cook just for adults and just for kids?   Minimise meals which need you to cook twice!
* As a general rule of thumb, have one chicken, one meat, one fish, one pasta, one rice, one vegetable and two leftovers a week.
* It's worth spending money on free range chicken; buy large and pick clean for another meal and for soup.
*When buying meat, look out for special offers and cook large batches and freeze.   Remember what you have in there so that you can add a frozen item onto your menu each week or so.
*Use leftover chicken or meat to serve with pasta or couscous.
*Even cooked veg can be kept to throw into soup or a pie.

Get the whole family involved; ask them what their favourites are and ask them what new foods they'd be willing to try.   Get the kids to eat favourites mixed with new flavours e.g. my kids like fish like salmon and coley and they like cheese sauce so I combined them with a smoked fish to make a fish pie and will add less cheese each time until I have a mainly white sauce.

Get them to have routines: someone kneads the dough for the bread every Saturday, another cuts up all the vegetables for Sunday's roast....get them to give you suggestions as to what to add for flavour and try it small batches!

Shop once a week for the week ahead...if it lasts longer,'ll find this will happen from time to time as the freezer gets stocked up.   Buy what you need as per your menu plan...write a shopping list....and also decide what you want for lunches and breakfast.   Don't overdo the fresh ingredients unless you are willing to cook some meals in advance i.e. if you need fresh coriander for Friday's curry and it is Monday, do your weekly shopping on the Friday or buy a plant instead of cut herbs.   Keep money aside for bread and milk from the local shop.

Change the above to suit your own family and your own needs; set a budget that suits you and try to stick to it.   Don't waste anything; if it needs used, cook it and freeze it, if it needs eaten, have it for dinner or freeze it...everything can be made into a pie, a stew or soup.....everything!

Good luck!

Messy but very tasty brownies!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Back to Basics

The shopping cost for the week came to under £40 (see receipt below); we have lots in the freezer and fridge and I think we should manage well for the next 10 days with £10 for sundries.

The menu this week:

Recipes to follow!

Lunches will be coked ham, cheese, homemade bread, soup, salads and egg and cress sandwiches.   Desserts will no doubt involve lemons, since I bought a huge bag of them...I'm thinking lemon meringue pie and lemon cake, brownies, cupcakes and pancakes.

Some dishes from the past month......

First attempt at Whoopees, so called because when the Amish men in America discovered them in their lunchboxes, they'd cry "whoopee!"; tasty but not quite the way they were meant to be.   They're supposed to be half cake, half biscuit but they resembled giant gypsy creams and were definitely more cookie than crumble.  Not that the kids complained!   I made the first batch for Val G and they went down rather well at her hoose.   They don't keep well though.   I'll make another batch with the added addition of baking powder and post the recipe if it works. 

Yet another tasty Salad

Chicken Pie

Mini Chicken Pies!

Helen is Happy With Her Chicken Pie.   Can you tell?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Making Whoopee!

It's been a month?   Wow.   June IS a busy time but still.

I have been cooking a lot.
Asparagus and Artichoke Salad with Poached Egg

This salad was just delightful; I roasted the asparagus in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper and sea salt for 6-8 minutes; it comes out perfectly cooked and so tasty.   I tossed the artichokes in there half way through with some dried mint and added both to the salad of olive oil, honey and balsamic dressed leaves, Iberico ham, goat's cheese and cucumber topped with a poached egg.   A salad fit for a queen.

 Cupcakes for Jo
 Pan-fried Salmon with sesame oil, linseeds and salad

Artichoke and Iberico Ham Salad with Parmesan

I have also been running around like the proverbial blue-bum fly trying to pack it all in in time for school finishing which was last week.   When the last day came, it was a blessed relief!   The kids played in the park with their friends; the park throbbed with mums, dads and kids having picnics, riding their bikes, playing on the swings.....the sun shone and we all exhaled, knowing we had 7 weeks of holiday time with the kids to look forward to.  I say we all exhaled; some will hold their breath for the entire 7 weeks, some will be ok for the first 4 until they find they want to run away screaming to the hills and some will just grin and bear it...e.ach to their own; right now I'm happy.........!

 I want my holiday to begin NOW!

We went on holiday to Crieff Hydro and then Alton Towers, the biggest theme park in the UK; again, the sun shone and the kids had a ball.  
Crieff Hydro with sis and niece

Beautiful view over Crieff 

Lunch shenanigans

Beautiful horses

Feeding them grass

Hydro Reception...happy to be there!

Entering Alton Towers
One of the tamer rides!

On holiday we had salads, haggis, fajitas, creme brulee, hotdogs, hotpots, steak sandwiches and lots of fruit and wine!   Pretty tasty fayre, all in all.   

On our return journey, we stopped off at Morecambe Beach;

Jumping for Joy!

It's always good to be home.

Roast chicken with lemon and thyme 

On coming home, we cooked up a roast chicken, stuffed with lemon and thyme, Jersey Royal potatoes drizzled with olive oil, butter and sea salt, roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli and baby sweetcorn, peas and green beans coated in pesto...a new discovery and really delicious.... rice, gremolata breadcrumbs (toasted breadcrumbs with parsely, lemon rind and garlic), gravy made with the juices from the pan with a glass of champagne added and reduced.   A lovely home cooked meal.

Crepes stuffed with Nutella and banana, topped with icing sugar and ice cream from the local Italian cafe.    Mmmmmmm.

And now I try and redeem myself for the rest of the week; roasted tomatoes drizzled with pesto on Ryvita.

 Today, I make Whoopees for the first time; they're just out of the oven, the first batch going to Val's house this space for results.   They have been cooked in the USA for some time now and have come to these shores, looking to dethrone the cupcakes crown.   A cross between a cake and a cookie, sandwiched between a layer of vanilla buttercream, they may just do that very thing.