Friday, 30 March 2007

Banana & Fishcakes (not together)

We've been out of the house for a good chunk of the day today. I took the boys to a friend's house this morning; Christopher played with her little boy, who is a little older and therefore an absolute hero to my son. We stayed for some lunch, too, which was lovely. I took a banana with me to mash for James' lunch. I don't know what I would do without bananas, I really don't - they're an ideal weaning food; They need no cooking, are nice and portable and can quickly be peeled and mashed when the baby is ready to eat.

When we got home, I had to deal with the children's evening meals. For James, I peeled and diced a large potato, then mashed it with a little breast milk. Most of it went in an ice tray to freeze for future meals, but he had a small serving for supper. I've cleared a drawer out in the freezer now, so I can get the baby's food organised and prepare a nice selection of meals for him.

Christopher was easier tonight; I had thought this morning and taken some fishcakes out of the freezer to defrost while we were out. I made these for dinner a couple of weeks ago, using some cooked potato, chopped spring onions and a can each of salmon and tuna in spring water. They were coated in egg and breadcrumbs, then baked in the oven. I fried tonight's defrosted ones in a little olive oil, then served them with some peas and a few baby corn cobs that were left in the fridge from the other day.

Hubby has just arrived home from work, so I'm now going to go and raid the kitchen for something I can cook for the two of us. Need to go shopping soon...

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Rushed off my feet

The last couple of days have been crazy! After a nightmare few nights of no sleep and constant feeding, I caved in and offered James some 'solids' (actually mush, I don't know who would actually call it solid).

I started him off with 2 tsp of organic baby rice mixed with just over 2 tbsp of breast milk, which he accepted with no fuss and very little mess. Since then he has had a meal of banana, mashed, again with a little breast milk to slacken the consistency, and some pureéd stewed apple . I now have three ice trays, full of ready-prepared parsnip, carrot and apple pureés, ready for the freezer. The number of pureés will increase as he tries new things. I loved weaning Christopher and introducing him to lots of new flavours; it will be interesting to see how James takes to some of Christopher's old favourites and whether he will reveal any interesting preferences of his own.

He seems very happy with the whole concept of 'food' and it has really improved his mood (and thus my mood), so I'd say it was definitely the right time for James. One of my friends from playgroup referred to it as "finding the Goldilocks moment", which I think is very apt.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

First picnic of the year (hooray!)

It has been a beautiful sunny day here today. Hubby suggested mid-morning, rather on the spur of the moment, that we might go for a picnic. I love picnics! So, I made some sandwiches, chopped up some salad veg and hard-boiled some eggs (essential). I also wrapped the remaining chunk of the Cherry and Almond cake from the other day, then stuck the whole lot in our (rather fabulous) picnic hamper, along with fruit and some drinks.

We drove over to Strata Florida Abbey, on the other side of Pontrhydfendigaid, then found a nice spot and sat down to eat. Christopher had a good run around and climbed on some big rocks (with just a little help from Daddy). James enjoyed the sun and attempted to steal a piece of cheese from his Dad's plate. He's showing a lot of interest in our food now, so it'll probably be time to start weaning fairly soon.

When we got home, the boys all went out to play in the garden and I went into a frenzy of soup-making. I cooked some Split Pea & Ham Soup, for our supper tonight, with a little left over for my lunch tomorrow, and a big batch of Leek & Potato Soup. I boxed that up and put it in the freezer. Homemade soup is one of my most favourite meals and our freezer is usually full of different types of soup. It makes an ideal lunch when we have visitors as it just needs to be reheated, with some bread and possibly a little cheese to accompany it. We have family visiting over the Easter weekend and I like to get as much cooking as possible done in advance when we have guests. I shall get some other bits done over the course of the next few days, I hope.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Where's Popeye when you need him?

Baby James is still really struggling with his teeth. The teething powders are still holding their own, but I did have to bring out the big guns today; good old Calpol. It's no surprise the little lad is so miserable - we can see quite a few hard little white patches just below the surface of his gums. I'm just glad they forget about it quickly...

We were labouring under something of a surfeit of roast chicken, having a lot of leftovers from yesterday's bird. I put roast chicken sandwiches in hubby's packed lunch today, plus I had some at midday, too. I made a Chicken & Spinach Pasta Bake for dinner, to use up the rest of the meat. I've put all the bones and bits in a freezer bag and shoved it in the fridge for now; I'll make some stock tomorrow morning.

Chicken & Spinach Pasta Bake

350g pasta
Cooked chicken (we had a breast, plus 'pickings' left), cut up
Spinach leaves (I love spinach so I used a whole bag)
850ml milk
50g plain flour
50g butter, diced
150g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Cook the pasta. Meanwhile, put the milk, flour and butter in a large saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking pretty much constantly. When it boils, turn the heat down and simmer for a minute, then remove from the heat. Stir in half the cheese and grate in some nutmeg.

When the pasta is al dente, drop the spinach into the boiling water, stir it in, then immediately drain the pan. Stir the chicken into pasta and spinach, then mix in the cheese sauce. Turn it all into a large ovenproof dish, scatter over the remaining cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes at 180°c.

With the amount of spinach I put in it, I didn't think it needed anything else, but a green salad would probably be nice if you feel less inclined to Popeye-ish quantities of spinach than I do.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Chicken & Cherry Cake

I love roast chicken, don't you? So our Sunday roast today was, as it often is, a roast chicken. No hubby to cook the roast potatoes, unfortunately, as his shift at work is too late and long to accomodate a family meal today. So I did baked potatoes, with some bread sauce to dollop on top of them, and some vegetables that Christopher chose when we went shopping the other day.

I roast my chicken at 200°c, with a peeled and quartered onion tucked inside. Drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil over the breast , grind black pepper over, then give it 20 minutes per 500g + 30 minutes. I usually round down the weight of the bird to the nearest 500g and tent it with foil for all but the last 30-40 minutes of cooking time.

We followed the meal with a slice of the Cherry & Almond loaf I baked this afternoon. I used a recipe from a delicious. magazine cutting from ages ago, but baked it in two 1lb loaf tins instead of a single 2lb tin. I prefer to do this with most cakes if possible, so that I can freeze one for another time. It's always useful to have a cake or two in the freezer 'just in case', plus it means less cake hanging about the place for me to eat. I also left the specified diced marzipan out of the recipe. Not because I don't like it, but rather because I really do; so much that I generally don't keep it in the house, lest I should eat that, too.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Family Favourites 2

We spent a good part of today out and about - I took the boys to see an 'Easter Trail' at St Mair's Church in Aberystwyth this morning. They told the Easter story through a series of scenes, acted out in different parts of the church, then gave all the children a little book; "The First Easter". It was very friendly and accessible, plus they managed to avoid dwelling on the rather horrific images that are central to the telling of the Passion. There were drinks and biscuits afterwards, then we went to have some lunch and do a little shopping.

On the way home this afternoon, we stopped at Aberystwyth Fire Station, where firefighters and volunteers were washing cars to raise money for charity. They made a brilliant job of my car which, if I'm honest, was in dire need of cleaning. I would never let the house get so dirty, but for some reason I don't think about cleaning the car in the same way.

Because of all the day's activity, I needed a 'no-brainer' to cook for supper, so Toad-in-the-Hole it was. We have this a lot; it's always a hit and doesn't really require any effort. I got the tip about adding the extra egg white to the batter from Gary Rhodes' tome New British Classics.

Toad in the Hole

1 egg
1 egg white
250ml skimmed milk
175g plain flour
large pinch of English mustard powder + good grinding of black pepper

Beat the egg, egg white and milk together. Sift the flour, mustard powder and pepper together, then whisk into the egg-and-milk mixture. Leave the batter to stand for half an hour if possible, then whisk in a splash of water just before using it.

40g beef dripping (or lard, if you prefer)
6-8 sausages (reckon on two per person)

Heat the oven to 220°c. Put the beef dripping in a roasting tin (I use my Silverwood™ 30x25cm roaster, to give you an idea of size) put the tin in the oven and get the fat really hot. Put the sausages in the tin (I never bother with browning them in a frying pan first; it just makes more pots to wash), then return the tin to the oven briefly before pouring in the batter. Cook for about 30 minutes.
I made a quick onion gravy using one onion, a bit of red wine left over from the other night and some beef stock, thickened with a little flour and butter. I shredded, then steamed half a Savoy cabbage and boiled some frozen sweetcorn. Dinner done and dusted, and very nice it was too.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Mothers' Meeting

I took the boys to playgroup this morning, as usual. We came home at midday for lunch and then the boys played with their Dad (who has the day off work today) while I got on with making some food to take with me to the "Bring & Share Supper" for Mums that I'm going to in Aberystwyth tonight. After some consideration I decided to make a batch of Brown Rice Salad, which is a great favourite here at home and which has always gone down well with everyone I've served it to.

This is something my Mum used to make when I was little and which I still make today. It is particularly good al fresco, for picnics or as a side dish at barbecues. I often prepare it as an accompaniment to a Roasted Vegetable Tart for a relaxed and summery meal.

Brown Rice Salad

For the Soy Sauce Dressing:

150ml olive oil
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch ground ginger
good grinding fresh black pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together in a jug and leave to stand while you assemble the salad.

250g (dry weight) brown rice, cooked
3 spring onions, chopped finely
1 large red pepper, diced
50g raisins or sultanas
50g cashew nuts, chopped
handful fresh parsley, finely chopped (curly parsley, for preference - this is a 1970s special, after all)

Stir all the ingredients thoroughly. Pour over the dressing and mix well. Leave to stand for a while before serving.

Obviously this is cooked rice which you are going to eat cold, so you must be careful to cool it quickly and keep it chilled until you serve it. Aside from that, though, it does keep well for a day or so. My hubby will actually eat any leftovers for breakfast the following day, given half the chance!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Garlic Bread?!! In My Mouth?!!

A really lovely day today. Hubby took the boys out for a bit this morning, and had lunch with them in Aberaeron. I thoroughly enjoyed a bit of 'me' time, even if most of it was spent tidying up and sorting out dirty laundry. Rock and Roll!

I'd planned to cook Lasagne al Forno today, so made the meat sauce yesterday to get ahead. I made the cheese sauce earlier today, along with some garlic butter (for garlic bread, de rigeur as far as we're concerned) so all I had to do was assemble the thing, stick it in the oven just after 5 and throw together a green salad while the garlic bread was cooking.

Lasagne al Forno

For the meat sauce:

1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
bay, thyme and rosemary, to taste, finely chopped
500g beef mince
1 tin chopped tomatoes + 1tbsp tomato puree
dash of milk

Cook the vegetables and herbs gently, in a little olive oil, until soft. Add the mince and brown it thoroughly. Tip in the tomatoes and tomato puree and add 1/2 a can of water (or red wine, if you've got a bottle open). Stir in the milk, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

For the cheese sauce:

3/4 pint milk
40g plain flour
25g butter, cubed
80g strong cheese, finely grated (usually mature cheddar)
200g crème fraîche (I like Rachel's Dairy organic crème fraîche)

Put the milk, flour and butter into a saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking all the time. When it boils, turn the heat down and simmer, still whisking, for a couple of minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. When the sauce has cooled a little, beat in the crème fraîche.

To assemble:

6-8 lasagne sheets (the 'no pre-cooking' sort. I use enjoy organic)
80g strong cheese, coarsely grated
*optional* 1 ball mozzarella cheese, torn into small bits, if you want to be fancy

Put a layer of meat sauce in the bottom of a large ovenproof dish. Top with lasagne sheets, then follow this with a layer of the cheese sauce. Scatter over the mozzarella, if you're using it (I don't always, but it is lovely if I do). Follow with the rest of the meat sauce, more lasagne sheets and the rest of the cheese sauce. Sprinkle over the grated cheese and add a good grinding of black pepper. Bake at 180°c for about 40 minutes (give it a bit longer if the sauces have been made ahead and are, therefore, cold). You can actually assemble the whole thing a day in advance if you like. I often do when the in-laws are coming to visit, as Hubby's mum loves Lasagne (and I'm a terrible old suck-up, I know).

It was an absolutely massive offering, but Hubby and Christopher will eat the leftovers for dinner tomorrow evening, as I am going out (hooray!) to a "Bring & Share Supper" for Mums, being held in Aberystwyth. The garlic bread was great, but 8 cloves of garlic and still not strong enough? I don't know whether we're seriously addicted, or if garlic is just not as strong as it used to be.

Garlic Bread

1 baguette loaf
150g unsalted butter, very soft
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
handful parsley, finely chopped
grinding of fresh black pepper

Beat the garlic, parsley and pepper to taste into the soft butter. Slice the baguette and spread each slice (on both sides) with the garlic butter. Put the slices back together to resemble the original loaf, wrap loosely in foil and cook for about 7 minutes at 180°c. Unwrap the foil parcel and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, until the crust feels crisp again. Serve immediately.

Leftovers will be fine the following day if you keep it wrapped in foil and halve the cooking times given above to reheat it. Don't, whatever you do, put it in the fridge. A cool place will be just dandy.

I don't think I need to eat again until tomorrow evening after that lot! Bet I will, though...

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Rabbiting On

Another busy day with the boys today. James' gums are still giving him grief, compounded by the fact that he has lost interest in lying down or sitting in any sort of chair. No, he prefers to be held in a standing position or carried around. At all times. Obviously this results in my getting diddly squat done while he's awake. Took them out shopping this afternoon, buying some bits for when we all go camping in the summer. Can hardly wait.

Chris and I had Welsh Rabbit for lunch today, while the baby was napping in his cot upstairs (and therefore, thankfully, not needing to 'stand'). I always feel that I should make more of an effort to connect with the land we've adopted as home and, me being me, that has so far meant cooking some Welsh food.

Welsh Rabbit

I find a good farmhouse Caerphilly (such as Gorwydd, from Tregaron) to be the best cheese for this, but the main thing is that it's strong-tasting and not too oily. Today I used Singleton's creamy Lancashire.

100g strong cheese, grated
20g soft butter
1 tsp mustard (I generally use Dijon, use less if you prefer English mustard)
2 tbsp plain flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp milk (or use beer if you're not making it for a child)
2-4 slices of bread, toasted on both sides

Beat everything (except the bread, natch) together. Spread on the slices of toast and grill until brown and bubbling. Eat immediately, with a green salad to accompany.

This made enough for me and Chris between us, but I'm sure it would stretch to 2 adults and 2 small children. For a two year old, Chris has an amazing appetite and breastfeeding makes me, already a glutton, even hungrier than usual. I'm sometimes horrified by the amount of food I can put away at the moment, but it's (nearly) all good stuff and at least I'm not putting on weight this time.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Pie again

It's soooo cold. Having been really very pleasant for the time of year, we are suddenly assailed by icy winds threatening to blow the bins down the hill and have had to start lighting the fire again. Mood not greatly improved by Hubby's constantly asking me "do you think it's going to snow?", in manner of excitable eight-year-old. Oh well.

Leftovers from last night's roast proved fruitful in the production of yet another pie this evening. I made two individual ones, in a couple of little oval tins; one for Chris (with which I 'helped' a little) and one for Hub, who is on a late shift again. I had the cauliflower left over in the fridge from last night, too. I wouldn't bother cooking it specially, but it is good if you have it.

Pork & Vegetable Pies

200g plain flour
pinch of salt
100g fat (50g butter & 50g lard, for preference)

Make pastry and line the bottom of two greased single-portion oval pie tins. Preheat the oven to 180°c.

150g leftover roast pork, diced
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
pinch dried mixed herbs
60ml (4 tbsp) double cream
4 cooked cauliflower florets, broken into little pieces
1 egg, beaten with a splash of water

Cook the onion, carrot, celery and dried herbs in a little olive oil until soft. Pour in the cream and bubble briefly, grinding in a little black pepper. Stir in the pork and the caluliflower pieces, then pile into the pie cases. Brush the pastry edges with egg wash and top the pies with the remaining pastry. Pierce the top of the lid to let the steam out, then brush all over the pie with more egg. Bake for 20 minutes.

As you can see, I rather go in for silliness on the crusts of small pies, but I appreciate that not everyone is as daft as me. I do feel it makes a fairly basic offering a little more special, somehow, though.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Lucky Mother

It's Mothering Sunday today. I've been spoiled rotten for most of the day - breakfast in bed, flowers and a homemade card first thing.

There were more flowers later, given out, by the children, to all the Mums at church .

All this was followed this evening by a lovely roast dinner cooked by Hubby. I made the sage-and-onion stuffing and the apple sauce, but he makes such good roast potatoes that nothing else matters! I never imagined that I would manage to marry a man whose roasties tasted as good as my Mum's, but I did. Just as well, really, as I've never mastered them myself. All other sorts of potatoes, no problem, but cooking the perfect roast potatoes still eludes me.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Going to work on an egg

Hubby had a late start at work today so we all ate breakfast together - boiled eggs & toast, as requested by Christopher. I love eggs; boiled, poached, scrambled - however they come, I'm happy. In fact I credit eggs for breakfast every day with a large part in my losing about 4 stone when Christopher was nearing his first birthday.

I initially found boiled eggs hard to get right on our hob - it's electric and therefore the heat can't be turned down quickly. So, if you don't cook on gas and your eggs always turn out hard, rather than 'dippable', try this.

Prick the eggshell with a pin at the round end of each egg (rather than the more pointed end). Place the eggs in a saucepan (not too large or the shells will get cracked as the eggs rattle around). Just cover with cold water and bring to the boil over a high heat. When the water boils, set a timer for 3 minutes. Fill a large measuring jug with cold water. When the timer beeps, scoop the eggs out of the pan and plunge briefly into the jug to stop them overcooking. Pop them into eggcups and lop off the tops. Serve straightaway, with toast.

I have to have Marmite™ on the last bit of toast whenever I eat eggs. It's a habit I picked up from my Dad, and one I seem to have passed on to Christopher. Give it a try. Incidentally, the new Guinness™ version of Marmite™ is quite good. Milder an rather less salty, but good nonetheless. I actually think it tastes pretty similar to the yeast extract you can get from LIDL.

We went out to Owain's Butchers in Aberaeron this afternoon. We chose a fine leg of pork joint for Sunday dinner tomorrow, and some minced beef for later in the week. Also popped a bag of their pork scratchings in for Hubby. God only knows how he stays so slim! As usual, a trip to the butchers' means a trip to feed the ducks with any scraps of stale granary bread we have kicking about. I'll only give granary to the birds as I don't think there's any nutritive value in plastic bread - and at least granary gives them the seeds. We nipped into the farm down the road on the way home for another dozen eggs. Christopher enjoyed chasing the hens around the yard behind the house. I'm not sure that they were having quite as much fun!

Friday, 16 March 2007

Coffee Morning

One of my friends brought her little boy round for lunch and to play with Christopher today. Mums means coffee, and coffee means CAKE. To that end, I made some brownies yesterday. I'm always tinkering with my recipe, and it's changed dozens of times over the years. I used to make them with walnuts in, then pecans or macadamia nuts, but have eschewed nuts recently, preferring the dense chocolatey slabs to be uninterrupted. I use a 9in 'Eyecatcher' brownie tin with a slide-out base, made by Silverwood™. In fact, nearly all my cake tins are Silverwood™ ones.

Fabulous Chocolate Brownies

350g dark chocolate (I use Cadburys' Bournville)
200g unsalted butter
125g dark muscovado sugar
125g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs
80g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave on Medium. Whisk eggs and sugar together until paler and thickened. Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, then gently stir to combine. Pour into a greased and floured 9in square tin and bake at 170°c for 25 minutes. Check that the top is firm - don't use a skewer to test it as the middle should still be sticky and squidgy. Cool in the tin, then cut into squares and serve, dusting with icing sugar if you like. I do.

We all had granary rolls with cheese for lunch then we played with the boys while trying to chat. I lent her "Toddler Taming: A Parent's Guide to the First Four Years" by Dr Christopher Green from my rather extensive home library. We'd chatted with our health visitor about the book when she came to give a talk at our playgroup yesterday. It's a great book; Karl and I have used it a lot to help us deal with Christopher. Dr Green has a refreshingly direct attitude and writes honestly without patronising the reader. We have found the sections on sleep and on sibling rivalry particularly useful, but it's a great all-round resource.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Family Favourites 1

CRAFT came to pick up the old sofa-bed that was taking up most of the space in the boys' bedroom this morning. We recently bought a more aesthetically pleasing (and comfortable)sofa-bed for the sitting room so that we didn't have to eject Christopher from his bedroom every time people came to stay (which was quite often). Besides which, I'd had the old one since I was 17 and still lived at my Mum and Dad's so it was time for it to go. Donating it to CRAFT eliminated the potential 'landfill guilt' we'd otherwise have felt; disposing of a perfectly serviceable piece of furniture just because it's no longer useful to us. Sometimes can't believe how lucky we are to have an organisation like CRAFT nearby. They make it very easy to be a little bit more responsible.
We had one of our great favourites for supper tonight - Savoury Mince Crumble. It's based on a recipe from a cookbook I was given as a child; My Own Cookbook by Carol Bowen, published for British Home Stores in 1985. The original recipe was actually the first 'proper' meal that I ever cooked - for my parents and brother when I was about 8.

Savoury Mince Crumble

1 medium onion, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
150g smoked bacon, chopped
400g minced beef
pinch mixed dried herbs

200g plain flour
50g butter. cubed
50g lard, cubed
30g strong cheddar cheese, finely grated
Preheat the oven to 180°c. Heat a little oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion, celery, carrot and herbs until the vegetables have softened. Add the bacon and fry until cooked but not browned. Turn the heat up a little, add the mince and cook until browned, stirring to break it up. Tip the meat sauce into a deep ovenproof dish. I use a standard white soufflé dish (see pic). Rub the fat into the flour, then stir in the grated cheese. Season with black pepper and tip into the dish, spreading the crumble mixture evenly over the meat sauce. Bake for 30 minutes, until the crumble topping is cooked through and deliciously golden.

Yummy! We had a selection of vegetables to go with. I always feel that potatoes are de trop with dishes containing pastry and the like, but I suspect that as my boys grow up I shall have to give in; otherwise I'll have a mutiny on my hands!

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

On a Roll

A slow start today - Hubby didn't start work 'til mid-morning so after I'd fed and dressed the baby and got Chris out of bed, he took the boys downstairs for breakfast while I luxuriated in an actual shower. Not much of a lie-in, I know, but it's a darn sight more than a lot of women get in my position. Grateful for small mercies (and a pretty great husband), that's me...

Confounded by the complete lack of decent bread in the house, I had muesli for breakfast and then, too lazy to go out, set about making some granary rolls. My much-loved bread machine (a Panasonic Bread Bakery) took care of the dough, although, as usual, I tinkered with the 'manufacturer's recommended recipe'. Specifically, I prefer to substitute actual milk for a bit of the water and the weird milk powder (which funnily enough I don't generally have in the house). Chris and I played with the brilliant 1970s-style 'Fabuland' Lego which I salvaged from my parents' attic while James napped this afternoon. I think I had more fun than he did, really.

I shaped, proved and baked the rolls in the oven later in the day. Chris had one with some defrosted, homemade tomato soup for his dinner tonight and told me it was 'not yucky'. Praise indeed!

Monday, 12 March 2007

Grappling with Breasts

Of lamb, that is. Hubby's day off, and a fairly relaxed one for all of us. We got up and had porridge for breakfast - Christopher's current favourite. It's a real treat to all sit down to breakfast together and we try to do it as often as possible.

We mooched around the house for most of the day - we had a load of the boys' outgrown clothes to pack away, so we had a go at that. Christopher and I also played with his Early Learning Centre 'Three Little Pigs' set, a Christmas present from his godfather. He got a bit scared after listening to the story at bedtime last night and I thought it would probably set his mind at rest. Dinnerwise, I went for a slow-cooked stew option today; a breast of lamb (which I bought last week and froze), cooked with the remaining half of a bottle of wine that Karl opened last night to go with the pizza I'd left him for when he got home from work.

Breast of Lamb with Tomatoes and Red Wine

150g smoked streaky bacon, chopped
1 stick celery. diced
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, sliced
few cloves of garlic
1 bouquet garni (I used bay, rosemary, thyme and parsley stalks, tied with string)
1 breast of lamb
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1/2 bottle of red wine
chopped fresh parsley, to finish

Preheat the oven to 150°c. Heat a large casserole on the hob, then add the bacon and fry a little before adding the vegetables. Cook until soft, but not browned, then add the bouquet garni. Put the breast of lamb into the pan, which will probably be a pretty tight fit. Pour over the wine, then tip in the tomatoes, smearing them over the surface of the lamb and pushing them down into the pan. Cover and cook for 3 hours. Skim off as much of the surface oil as you can - breast of lamb is very fatty. Scatter with a handful of chopped fresh parsley and serve, from the pan, at the table.

I cooked a dish of cauliflower cheese and some honey-roasted parsnips to go with it. Chris was initially a little reluctant about the lamb, but after trying it was rather more keen. The vegetables went down a storm, as always.

We popped out for a quick walk in the dusk after dinner. Living where we do (immediately on a very busy main road with no pavement) does, unfortunately, mean getting in the car first if we want a walk, but it's a very minor bother really. We went down to a little lane we've walked down and liked before. Christopher took great delight in using a torch, James was fascinated by the twilight sky and the trees, in silhouette against it. The sheep in the adjoining field followed us along by the wall, hoping for a meal. They obviously didn't know what we'd just had for supper!

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Little Pizza Dude

We spent most of today at home – had to pop out to buy milk and a few other bits, but a fairly quiet day for us, at least as quiet as it ever gets around here! Hubby is working a seriously long shift today; fifteen hours, bless him.

Decided to make pizzas for dinner; Chris could make his own, with a little help, and eat at the usual time. I could make mine when I had got the baby settled and was ready to eat, and I could also make one up for Hub and leave it in the fridge for him to pop in the oven when he got home. I made the dough for the base in the bread machine, then broke a piece off and helped Chris to roll it out. We spread it with tomato sauce, and then he got busy with the toppings.

He decided on chopped salami and sliced mixed peppers. I’ve got to be honest, it looked gorgeous and was such a sensible choice for a two year old to have made for himself. I just got stuff out of the fridge and let him get on with it.

He is currently glowing with pride (or is that the pizza all round his mouth?).

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Tarting Around

Started trying in earnest to get the baby into some semblance of a routine today - a good time to try as hubby's shifts fit in well, and the teething powders - 'Ashton & Parsons Infant Powders', actually - do seem to be making a dent in the pain, even if it is nigh-on impossible to adminster 'half a powder' as specified by the directions - he gets whatever goes in his mouth instead of on his chin!

I spent the morning keeping him awake, bar a 45 minute nap, so that I could put him down in his cot properly after a late morning feed. He yelled for a while, but I kept popping up to reassure him and he went off to sleep by himself (sans dummy!) in time for his big brother and me to have lunch. I used the extra time to sort some toys out with Christopher, as he's had the same toys in his sitting room toybox for far too long and was getting bored with them. I also made the pastry and lined the tart tin in preparation for our evening meal.

James woke up just before one. A little sooner than I would have liked, but it's early days. I changed and fed him, then played with the boys for a while. I got some housework done, too, thanks to Christopher's new-found skill on his Kazoo, which entertained the baby no end.

Chris did some drawing for a while this afternoon, but when he needed to use his potty, he decided it would be much more helpful to run into the kitchen, slam the door and deliberately wee on the cat. Things fell apart a little after that. Oh well...nearly time for dinner

Leek, Bacon & Caerphilly Tart

200g plain flour
pinch of salt
100g fat (half and half butter and lard, for preference)

Make pastry and use it to line a 20cm deep tart tin. You can do this up to a day in advance and keep it, sealed in a large freezer bag, in the fridge.

2-3 leeks, shredded
150g smoked bacon, diced
100g Caerphilly cheese
2 eggs, beaten
150ml crème fraîche

Put a large baking tray in the oven and preheat to 200°c/fan oven 180°c. Soften the leeks in a little butter or oil. Fry the bacon until cooked, but not crisp. Allow these to cool a little.
Spread the leeks and bacon out in the base of the pastry case. Crumble the cheese over the leeks and bacon, then season with black pepper. Beat the eggs and crème fraîche together, then pour into the tart. Place the tin on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 30 - 40 minutes until cooked though. The tart should be browned on top, with the filling still a little wobbly in the centre.

Very good. We ate it with a bit of salad, which was nice and easy (open bag, wash, tip into bowl, etc). Hubby bathed the boys, read their story and then put Christopher to bed while I fed and settled the baby. Time for a drink, methinks?

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Feeling a little 'Peculier'

It was a lovely clear (if cold) March day in this part of the world. Thursday is playgroup day for us, so I took the boys into Aberystwyth this morning. It's always nice to see other people when you spend most of your time with pre-schoolers for company, not least because the conversation can centre around something other than the latest exploits of Peppa bloomin' Pig. I was pretty uncertain about the whole 'mother and toddler group' scenario, but I'm a total convert. The group we go to was recommended by a friend and it's great; not cliquey and not full of scary 'alpha mums' like some of these things can be.

We got home at lunchtime. After we'd eaten, I fed the baby and put him down to sleep. I faffed about in the garden and kitchen for a bit, then put the dinner in the oven. Christopher and I did a bit of baking this afternoon. More flour on the kitchen worktop and floor than actually in the bowl, but he's only two, bless him, and he loves to help!

Because we'd planned to bake this afternoon, I wanted a dinner that would look after itself. I bought a fab 1kg piece of beef shin from the butcher the other day, just perfect. I sliced it up, browned it with some onions and garlic and cooked it, with a bouquet garni, in (most of) a bottle of Theakston's 'Old Peculier' and a bit of water for 3 hours at 150°c. To make it a bit more like a French Carbonnades à la Flamande, I sliced a baguette roll and spread the pieces with a mixture of butter and Dijon mustard and popped them on top of the uncovered stew for the last half hour of cooking.

We ate it with some simple steamed broccoli. Hubby and I drank some lovely Chilean Casillero del Diablo Shiraz. To follow, I made a rhubarb crumble (knocked up from some rhubarb pulp left over from making a jelly), naturally accompanied by custard. Children sorted, I shall now sit by the fire and enjoy another glass of wine while hubby watches Lost, which we recorded last night.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Teeth and Tears

I had to take the boys to the health centre this morning - James was due his 4-months-old round of jabs. Naturally, the place was absolute bedlam and we were there for ages. He's teething as well, so his mood was not all it could have been. I struggle to give him Calpol as he spits it all back out, not good. I've now got some teething powders, as recommended by the health visitor, to try. Here's hoping...

By the time we finished with all that, it was well after one, so I took the boys to a café for lunch before coming home and attempting to get on with all the things I should have been doing this morning.

No great inspiration for dinner this evening, so we had Chicken & Bacon Melts based on something that used to be served in a local pub, many moons ago.

It's a simple enough idea. Cubed, cooked chicken and pieces of bacon stuffed into a short baguette roll, drizzled with BBQ sauce and smothered with grated cheese. Put in a 200°c oven for 10 minutes until the cheese melts and bubbles. The pub used to serve it with salad and those weird, extruded potato, 'curly fries'. I just cut some baking potatoes into wedges, tossed them in some vegetable oil and baked them at 200°c for 40 minutes.

Hubby usually takes care of bathtime after we've eaten, but for some reason the hot water hasn't come on, so he's currently marshalling a tantrum from a very tearful Christopher instead. Oh dear.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Pie, part one.

Spent the day filling the house with food . I made some stock from Sunday night's roast chicken carcass yesterday, so this morning I skimmed the fat off and put most of it in the freezer. I left the bread machine making a wholemeal loaf while we went out and did some shopping. We went to Owain's Butchers in Aberaeron for a kilo of beef shin , a vast breast of lamb and my husband's great weakness, a rather fine looking pork pie. All that for well under £8 - bargain! . We combined this with a trip to feed the ducks with the stale end of last week's granary loaf. I say feed the ducks, but actually it was more like feed the duck, singular. No reasoning with a two-year-old who's found a new friend, is there? Even if the 'friend' is a somewhat vociferous mallard drake.

Came home and made a chicken and ham pie using the leftover chicken from Sunday's bird, and a sauce made with 300ml of the stock made from its bones. Anything presented in 'pie form' is always well-received in this house...

Monday, 5 March 2007

Friends to Stay

So, our eldest son's godfather and his partner visited us this weekend and as usual I spent ages thinking about the food. I cooked a big chilli with all the trimmings (rice, tortilla chips, cheese, guacamole, soured cream) for when they arrived on Friday evening. We drank some San Miguel beer, which I love, with it.

On Saturday, poor hubby had to work, but the rest of us relaxed and played with the boys in the morning. For lunch I had decided to make a big couscous salad, based on the one that I concocted from the leftovers in my Mum & Dad's fridge a week or so ago.

Couscous Salad

200g couscous
400ml chicken stock
handful cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
150g Lancashire cheese, broken into smallish pieces
chopped parsley
olive oil and ground black pepper

Put the couscous into a large bowl and pour over the hot stock. Leave to soak while you get everything else ready. Break up the couscous with a fork, then stir in the vegetables, cheese and parsley. Dress the salad with a little olive oil and season with pepper.

This served 3 adults and a two-year-old, with enough left over for my lunch today.

After lunch we went to Aberystwyth, the sunshine was glorious, even if it was cold. We went to the brilliant Ultracomida delicatessen and bought some cheese for that evening; a nice slice of Morbier and a gorgeous little round of Pico.

That evening, we four 'grown-ups' (ha!) sat down to 'Green Beans with Anchovy & Soft Egg' (from a BBC Good Food magazine cutting), followed by Lamb in Puff Pastry with Port & Redcurrant Sauce with some little boiled potatoes and a salad. We finished with Nigella Lawson's Gin & Tonic Jelly (from 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess'). Fabulous. We drank a good quantity of Hardy's Crest Shiraz between us, and had some cheese, and a little port, to round off the evening.

Because hubby had decided to roast a chicken on Sunday evening, I made tomato soup for lunch, which is something I serve regularly when visitors have to leave; most people travel a long way to see us and don't like to drive on an overly full stomach.

This recipe makes enough for four adults (and the same two-year-old!), with some bread and cheese to accompany it. You can freeze any soup you don’t want to eat straight away, or it will keep in the fridge for 3 days. I get the herbs from the garden, but put a pinch of dried mixed herbs in with the onion instead if you like.

Simple Tomato Soup

drizzle olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (or just use garlic olive oil)

1 400g can chopped tomatoes
½ pint chicken or vegetable stock

¼ pint milk (full-fat is best)
1 tbsp tomato purée

1 bay leaf & a few sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Gently cook the onion until soft, but not coloured, then add the garlic, herbs, tomatoes and tomato purée. Stir well, then pour in the stock and milk. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and cook for 15 minutes. Liquidise the soup (I use my hand-held electric blender), then taste the soup and season it to your liking.


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