Sunday, 29 April 2007

A (not entirely) Lazy Sunday

Well, it's been a beautiful sunny day, here on the west coast of Wales. The boys and I had breakfast together this morning before nipping out to get the Sunday newspaper. After I'd hung the washing out on the line in the garden, I actually had some time to sit down and read the paper; after a good night's sleep last night, James was in a remarkably good mood.

I treated myself to Asparagus Holstein for lunch today. It sounds fancy but is, in fact, just asparagus and a fried egg (or two). Christopher opted for a fried egg on toast, while James enjoyed a bowl of courgette and rice purée with cheese, and then chewed on a stem of steamed asparagus for afters.

After some confusion about whether Hubby was working late tonight or not, he did eventually rearrange his staff for tomorrow morning and therefore managed to get home for supper. I decided this morning to cook a meat loaf, knowing that it would keep for him if he couldn't get away after all. My meat loaf recipe is based on one in 'The Times Calendar Cookbook' by Katie Stewart. I have a fairly extensive library of cookery books, but of course some are favoured above others and this book, first published in 1976, is one of the chosen. Oven-Fried Chicken with Bacon, Lemon Freeze and Gooseberry Mousse are among my other favourites from this book.

My Meat Loaf

2 slices of white bread, crusts cut off
50ml milk
1 small onion, finely chopped
250g minced beef
250g minced pork
fresh sage and thyme, chopped finely
1 egg
grinding of black pepper
pinch of ground mace
40g butter
a little plain flour

Mix all the ingredients, except the butter and flour, together. Form into some semblance of a loaf, then roll it in plain flour to lightly coat the surface. Melt the butter in a frying pan and brown the loaf all over. Transfer it to a roasting tin, then stir 150ml water into the pan juices. Tip this liquid over the meat loaf. Cover the tin with foil and bake at 180°c for about 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake the loaf uncovered for the last 5-10 minutes.

I do think that it's best eaten hot, though Hubby has a liking for a cold meat loaf sandwich occasionally! Today, I served the meat loaf with some steamed new potatoes and a salad of Cos lettuce, though creamy mashed potato and green vegetables are a perfect accompaniment if it's cold outside. A slice of meatloaf and a potato whizzed down to a nice nubbly purée for James. Clean plates all round!

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Happy Campers

For the last few days we've been away from home - Hubby and I thought it would be a good idea to give the whole 'family camping' thing a dry run nearer to home before we go off for a proper holiday later in the year. Karl is a seasoned walker and camper (he's done the Coast to Coast and everything) and is therefore pretty experienced at this outdoor living thing, but I haven't been camping at all since my parents used to take my brother and me 'Eurocamping' when we were young.

We stayed at Brynich Caravan Park and Campsite, near Brecon. Not too far from home (just in case) but, especially since it was our first time, we all did really well. It was an absolutely brilliant site, with great facilities. We wished we could have stayed longer, as by the time we got sorted out, it was time to pack it all up and come home again. Boo! Still, we tried out the tent (a Vango Aurora 400) and the Coleman stove Karl got for his birthday (on which he cooked a mean fry-up) and have plenty of ideas for next time.

After a late night last night, when no-one but James had any supper to speak of (we stopped for lunch during the day and ate loads) I had a rummage in the freezer and dug out a pack of beef mince. I thawed that and thought I'd better make an effort. I'm particularly pleased with this casual, savoury mince dish, which I made up as I went along tonight. It only uses one pot and better still, we were all able to share it. I put James' portion in the mini-blender and just whizzed it slightly, keeping most of the texture. He took a bit of convincing at first, but once he'd got used to the new sensation he loved it and quickly got the hang of doing a bit more chewing. Hopefully he'll be able to eat it "as is" by the time we go camping next, as this would be a fab meal to cook on the camping stove.

Savoury Mince with Peas

1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500g beef mince
1 red pepper, diced
400g can chopped tomatoes
100g frozen peas

Heat some olive oil in a large pan and soften the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Fry the mince, until browned, breaking it up as you go. Add the peppers, then tip in the tomatoes and mix well. Turn the heat down, cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes. Turn the heat back up again, then add the frozen peas. Cook, covered, for a couple of minutes and then take the lid off the pan and let any excess liquid bubble away.

I served the mince with salad, grated cheddar cheese and some pitta bread, warmed in the oven (though if we were camping I'd warm them in a frying pan). Christopher is very keen on pitta bread, and after Karl suggested we took it to eat while we were camping (as it doesn't really suffer from getting a bit squashed as other bread does) he's got even more so. James is very keen on a piece of bread to chew (or suck, more often than not) so it works well for him too.

It's always such an anticlimax when you get home from a holiday. I love being at home, I really do, but I'm already planning the next 'getaway'. It's so nice to always have something, however small, to look forward to.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Sufferin' Succotash!

Hubby's week off is so far proving to be very productive. We've booked a date for James' baptism, sorted out the application for Christopher to start nursery school next January and Karl is now well under way with a long-standing project to build a wardrobe in our bedroom. As if all that wasn't enough, we've also decided to go camping for a couple of nights, to give our new Vango tent a test run before our main holiday later in the summer.

For supper tonight I roasted a chicken. Always welcome, but especially when the cold meat can be enjoyed in sandwiches for a picnic lunch while we're away. To go with the bird, I cooked some succotash, not very traditional I know, but extremely good nonetheless.


1 onion, chopped
175g unsmoked bacon, chopped
400g tin cannellini or butter beans, drained and rinsed
340g tin sweetcorn, drained and rinsed
100ml chicken stock
100ml double cream

Melt a bit of butter in a deep-sided frying pan. Cook the onion until soft, but not browned. Add and fry the bacon. Pour in half the stock, add the beans and sweetcorn and cook, stirring well, for a couple of minutes. Add the rest of the stock and the cream. Season with pepper, then bubble until the liquid has thickened slightly.

Some chopped fresh parsley stirred in before serving tastes fab, but we didn't have any, so we had to do without. I often think that I should grow some parsley with the other herbs in the garden, but I use so much of it that I could never grow enough without having to give over just about the entire garden to parsley cultivation.

James had a little puréed chicken and succotash for his supper. I used organic tinned beans and sweetcorn, with no added salt, and defrosted some homemade (and therefore also saltless) chicken stock. The meal was as much of a hit with him as it was with the rest of us.

Alongside the roast chicken and succotash I also served some steamed broccoli and some Herefordshire asparagus - the first of the British crop I've seen this year. James reacted well to his first taste of what is, undoubtedly, my most favourite vegetable. Christopher ate some too, but Hubby remains unconvinced. Fool. Still, all the more for the rest of us...

(The red mark is from bashing his poor little cheek while he was rolling around on the floor, playing, earlier today)

Sunday, 22 April 2007

It's All Good...

A few weeks ago, I was sent a money-off coupon to sample the new 'McCain Gourmet' range. It took a while to get hold of any, as no stores in the Aberystwyth area seem to stock the products. We eventually got hold of some by dropping into Tesco in Carmarthen, on the way home after our day out on Friday. As Hubby starts a week of annual leave today, I thought it would be interesting to try it out, as part of a quick and easy dinner.

I always like to keep, in the freezer, the components of one quick meal that I can bung in the oven, from frozen, for half and hour or so in a real emergency. This vastly reduces the stress levels when we've been away for a few days and there is no fresh meat, nor any vegetables, in the house. Having to stop and go food shopping on the way home is simply unbearable (especially with tired young children in tow). I usually keep a box of (usually breaded) chicken steaks or fish fillets for this purpose, the sort containing whole pieces of meat or fish, rather than mechanically-recovered sludge. We always have a selection of frozen vegetables; usually peas, sweetcorn and broccoli florets. Some kind of potato is good, too, but more difficult, unless you want chips or funny-shaped things. These new products interested me greatly; being composed of cut-up whole potatoes rather than creepy extruded stuff.

I'm always a little concerned about the levels of salt in processed food, but we don't eat much of it, so once in a while I don't mind too much. As another plus, the only slightly spooky ingredient listed on the pack was 'Glucose & Fructose Syrup'. Sugar? Not something I would put into a potato gratin, but still better than a whole load of modified starch, E-numbers and the like. Naturally, James did not share this meal with us - I defrosted and heated some of his favourite cheesy lentils instead, which went down very well as always.

So, this is what the 'Mature Cheddar Cheese & Wholegrain Mustard Gratin' looked like before it went into the oven:
I cooked it at a slightly lower temperature than the manufacturer's recommendation, because my fan oven runs quite hot. After 25 minutes, it did look appetising; a little less browned than the on-pack picture, probably because of the lower temperature, but it was cooked through at this point, so I decided not to give it any longer, lest it collapse into mush.

The finished product was really rather good - Karl and I agreed there was no real cheese taste to speak of, but it had a nice twang of mustard and a good amount of sauce, neither too sloppy nor too dry. It would probably stand up on its own, with just a watercress salad or something, but we ate it with coarse pork sausages and some peas and sweetcorn alongside.

As I've said before, we don't eat much processed food, but I do think these would be worth having in the freezer as a standby. I'd certainly be interested in trying some of the other products in the range (they also do, among others, 'Diced Potatoes with Leek, Onions & Parmesan’ and ‘Baby Potatoes with Oven Roasted Tomato & Garlic’) Maybe if they start stocking them nearer to home...

Saturday, 21 April 2007

The Continuing Saga of Pie

A busy few days for us - when is it not? We spent the day shopping in Carmarthen yesterday. After an enormous pub lunch (at the New Stag in the town centre), all we could face at supper was a plate of sarnies. Karl didn't even manage that, having gorged himself on a rather large mixed grill. He had a pork pie and a packet of crisps, which is very like him. He's working the night shift tonight, so today we ate our main meal together at lunchtime. To fill his stomach for a long night, and to lift his spirits in anticipation of same, there was only one choice; pie.

A pie that I could get ready in time for lunch had to be a fairly simple affair. I cooked some chicken thighs yesterday, in advance of this morning's quick assembly job. It sounds more fiddly than it is, trust me.

Chicken & Sweetcorn Ladder

25g unsalted butter, diced
25g plain flour
300ml milk
pinch mixed dried herbs
250g cooked chicken, diced
150g sweetcorn (defrosted if frozen)
500g pack puff pastry
1 egg, beaten with a splash of water

Make the binding sauce. Put the butter, flour, dried herbs and milk into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, whisking all the time. Turn the heat down when it reaches boiling point and cook for a few minutes longer. Set aside to cool.

Roll out the pastry to a large square (about as thick as a £1 coin) and cut in half. Place one piece of pastry on a baking sheet. Mix the chicken and sweetcorn into the sauce and spoon along the centre of the pastry. Cut slits in the second piece of pastry, about 2.5cm apart, leaving a 4cm border all around the edge. Brush beaten egg on the pastry edges, around the filling, and then top with the second piece, pressing the edges together well. Brush the top of the pie with more egg (sometimes I sprinkle over more mixed dried herbs at this point, to ape my loved and lost 'Devon Savouries' Chicken & Sweetcorn pastries) and bake at 180°c for about 25 minutes, until puffed up, crisp and golden brown.

We ate this with some salad and it was just perfect for a main meal on a warm day like today. Some steamed new potatoes would be lovely if you want to gild the lily, or if you have to stretch the meal a little further. This served Hubby, Christopher and me very well, with enough for seconds. I'd also held a little of the filling back for James to eat for lunch, whizzed to a purée, with some toast on the side.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Another First...

Hubby finished work just after 3pm today and, as the weather was glorious, we decided that cooking dinner on the barbecue would be lovely. Our first barbecue of the year, fabulous! We quickly nipped down to Owain's Butchers in Aberaeron for some chicken, to grill alongside the sausages we already had in the fridge.When we got home, Karl went out into the garden to sort out the barbecue - a gas one, which makes impromptu decisions like today's a little easier. Meanwhile, I sliced the chicken and threaded it onto some bamboo skewers I'd left soaking in the sink, then made some garlic-and-parsley butter with which to stuff some mushrooms. These are one of our favourite barbecue specialities;

Barbecued Garlic Mushrooms

flat field mushrooms
garlic, finely chopped
parsley, finely chopped

Blend butter, garlic and parsley together - as much as you need to fill the mushrooms you have. Spoon plenty of the garlic butter into each mushroom, spreading it out to the edges (you can do this in advance if you like - I often do it in the morning if we've planned a barbecue). Cook the mushrooms on the barbecue until the butter has melted and dripped down through the mushrooms, leaving tender flesh and a thick surface covering of garlic and parsley. The fat will cause the flames to flare up a little under the mushrooms, but the slightly charred underside is part of their charm.

Poor James was a bit young to eat much of the 'barbecue' fare (there's always another time), so he had a portion of his Root Vegetable Medley and then chewed on a bit of bread for a while.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Cooking by the seat of my pants...

This afternoon I took the boys to a friend's house to celebrate her birthday by eating chocolate cake while the children played in the garden/ran around shouting. We nipped to the shops beforehand as I needed some shoes. I have rather large feet (size 10 until recently, but they seem to have shrunk a size after having the children and losing quite a lot of weight), so shoe shopping has always been a nightmare for me, but today was the first day of the rest of my life! I walked into Brantano and found a substantial display of shoes in my size, not only suitable for my needs, but which I actually liked! This could be the start of a horrible problem...

We were quite late back from town, so dinner needed to be a fairly quick production. I had some minced lamb in the fridge, which I originally bought with the intention of making burgers, but instead I used it to make this rather snappy couscous dish. It was inspired by the growing selection of Middle-Eastern titles in my burgeoning library of cookery books. I shan't pretend that it's even remotely authentic, but it does taste good.

Vaguely Middle-Eastern Couscous

250g minced lamb
large pinch each of ground cumin, ground coriander, ginger and cinnamon

200g couscous
400ml hot stock (I used some lamb stock, but vegetable stock would be fine)
3 fat spring onions, chopped

handful of sultanas
handful of flaked almonds, toasted in a dry pan
small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

Put the couscous into a large bowl and pour over the hot stock. Cover the bowl with a plate or something and put it to one side for 10 minutes while you get on with the rest. Fry the lamb, with the spices, in a non-stick frying pan (no need to add extra fat) until brown. Add the sprimg onions and sultanas. Fluff the couscous up with a fork, then stir in the lamb mixture and the chopped parsley. Turn into a serving dish and scatter over the toasted almonds.

Very good, even if I did make it up as I went along. I served it with some toasted pitta bread and a salad of tomatoes and cucumber. Some natural yoghurt to dollop on top would have been lovely, but we had none. Eschewing the idea of Petit Filous, we made do with some sour cream, which worked just fine.

This wasn't really suitable for James; for him, I soaked a little couscous in some stock I'd made earlier in the day from pea-pods and a chunk of onion. I then whizzed it briefly in the mini-blender with a bit of cooked broccoli and a small spoonful of fried lamb held back from our meal. After some initial uncertainty, he cleared the bowl, then howled for pudding. He ended up on his Dad's lap again, this time chewing a bit of pitta bread, while I ate my (by now cold) supper.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Pirates & Pork Chops

Today, Christopher decided that he wanted to be a pirate - and that meant having a pirate hat, which meant some rather insistent nagging. After I'd given both boys their lunch and got the baby off for his nap, I got down to fashioning some semblance of a pirate hat. I dragged some foam sheets down from the art & craft shelf and cut out a couple of hat-like shapes. Glued together, they were actually quite convincing. I am very proud of the skull-and-crossbones, which I cut out of white A4 printer paper and glued on to the front.

Chris was thrilled and wore his hat all afternoon, most of which was spent dancing around like a loon to 'You Are A Pirate' from the Lazytown CD he got for Christmas. So that's what Karl found when he got home from work.

Flushed with success, I made him an eye patch as well, but beyond suggesting that his baby brother would like to wear it (I think not), Chris was less than overwhelmed. Oh well, it can go in the dressing-up box. When I get around to sorting one out.

Dinner tonight was one of Hubby's favourites - Pork Chops. What do you expect with a name like his? Homer by name, etc... Pork Chops can often be dry, mainly because they are so often sold boneless and trimmed of nearly all fat. Get some good thick chops, with the bone still in and a good slab of fat around the edge. You can always trim it off after cooking, I do - and give it to Hubby, because he doesn't put on weight. Ever.

Cook the chops in a roasting tin with a rack. Season them with pepper and pour some water into the bottom of the roasting tin. I sometimes use wine if I'm feeling fancy, and you can add some herbs to the tin as well if you like. Sage works very well, but also thyme or bay. I wouldn't use rosemary here, as I don't think it works terribly well with pork. Cook the chops in the oven at 190°c for about 20 minutes.
Christopher can't eat a whole pork chop of this size, and neither can I, so we shared one between us. Alongside the chops I served steamed new potatoes with butter and chives, steamed broccoli and some sweetcorn. For James I blitzed some potato, a couple of small broccoli florets into a nubbly sort of purée. He seems to prefer his food to have some texture now, so I whizzed in a spoonful of sweetcorn, too. We all eat loads of sweetcorn, frozen or tinned for most of the year, then we'll go nuts on fresh corn when it comes into the shops later in the year.

This time of year brings a lot of other seasonal favourites to look forward to - and Christopher and I have already been gorging ourselves on early peas, eaten raw, straight from the pod. This is the best way to eat peas and qualifies as something of a family obsession - my Grandad used to grow peas especially for my Nan to eat raw like this. My Mum gets through plenty at this time of year, and I'm going to have to increase supplies to cope with Christopher's voracious passion for them.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Titchy Toads

After a busy couple of days, I'm really ready for a sit down tonight. I spent most of Friday doing laundry and tidying up our bedroom; turfing out yet more clutter which had been uncovered by our furniture-moving antics the day before. Karl was working a late shift, so I cooked some pasta, with tomato sauce and a bit of cheese, to share with Christopher at dinner. Yesterday the boys and I had a fairly quiet day and then, in the evening, Hubby took care of the boys while I went out for a meal with some friends at 'Casablanca', a restaurant in Aberystwyth. We had a great evening; I chose Stuffed Vine Leaves for my first course, then had some gorgeous Grilled Chicken with Lemon. No pudding (such restraint!), then we went on to a bar. No booze for me, as I was driving (and I'm still breastfeeding, which rules out drinking much alcohol anyway), so I drank lime and soda. I'm ashamed to say that I felt like a dirty stop-out when I got home at midnight, which shows how long it's been since I went out. A few years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of getting home so early.

This morning we went food shopping. Stocked up for the next week or so, give or take the meat, and some fresh bits I'll need to pick up in a few days. The boys had their lunch when we got back, then Chris played with his toy farm. I read the paper and had a sandwich, then joined him in his game. He'd decided to use the farmhouse as an oven instead, so that was a little surreal. Particularly when he shoved his stuffed Postman Pat inside and informed me that it needed "40 minutes".

I've already given my recipe for Toad in the Hole. For supper tonight, I cooked it in three portions; two in individual pie dishes (with 1 sausage apiece) for Christopher and me to eat at teatime; one in a larger pie dish (with 4 sausages!) for Hubby to eat when he gets home from work - he's got a long day today and he'll need something good and hearty to fill up those hollow legs of his. Goodness only knows how he manages to stay so slim.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Steak & Stuff

Well, James slept through the night again - things are looking up! Now that he seems to be established in 'the boys' room', Karl and I decided it was time we finally reclaimed our bedroom. The cot has been in there for months and we'd had to move quite a bit of furniture around to make room for it.

We ended up rearranging some of the furniture from its original layout. After a bit of thought, my darling hubby came up with the idea of shifting my dressing table to the other side of the chimney breast and relocating the row of small chests-of-drawers that had been there to the front of the room, beside the window. This created a space we'd needed for a long time; to accommodate my beloved dolls house. I always dreamed of owning a 'proper', wooden dolls house when I was a child and a few months after we'd got engaged, Karl gave me one for my birthday! He'd also gotten my brother involved, so I had a 'basement' section to attach to it, thanks to Graeme. It's a 'Classical' model from the Dolls House Emporium and is very much still a work in progress (one day I'll have some time for hobbies again, I promise). Christopher is enchanted by it, though, and often asks to have "a look inside the little house".

After all the kerfuffle of moving furniture, we needed something effortless, but satisfying for dinner. At half-past-four I shoved some potatoes in the oven to bake, then just before six I got some salad organised and mixed up some chive and horseradish cream, before slapping a couple of steaks on the griddle.

Christopher is not too keen on steak (too much chewing, I think) so he ate a 'lid potato' with tuna fish for his dinner. We encouraged him to have just a small piece of steak, which he did happily.

Lid Potatoes

This is something I used to eat as a child - an idea which originally came from a Milly Molly Mandy story.

one largeish baking potato per person
the filling of your choice (grated strong cheddar is the best, but it works with other cheeses too, or other favourites chez Homer are tuna-and-sweetcorn or corned beef)
fresh chives or parsley

Bake your potato (I cook them for 1½ hours at 180°c). Slice the top off and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Mash with a knob of butter, some seasoning and the filling of your choice, then pile it all back into the potato skin. Scatter over some chives or parsley if you like, then top with the 'lid'.

For James, I mashed a little bit of potato with some butter and a tiny bit of flaked tuna (tinned in spring water). As usual, he wolfed it down as quickly as quickly as I could feed it to him, then sat on his Dad's lap for the rest of dinner, trying to grab his fork. We told him he was too small for steak, but he kept on whingeing. I don't know if he's jealous that we're still eating, or what.

I love tracklements, condiments and relishes of all sorts, not least because I have always liked to play with my food. I am always penking around making bits and bobs to accompany meals. I adore horseradish with all sorts of things (traditional or not), but it is, of course, at its sinus-clearing best with a nice piece of beef. This chive and horseradish cream is one of my favourites, great with steak (of course) but also with ham or smoked mackerel. I like it as a 'dip' with crunchy vegetables, too.

Chive & Horseradish Cream

I use The English Provender Co's grated 'Hot Horseradish', in jars. I keep trying to get horseradish roots started in the garden, but to no avail.

125g crème fraîche (or use soured cream)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1-2 tbsp grated horseradish, according to your taste
2 tbsp snipped fresh chives, 1 tsp reserved

Mix all the ingredients together, then garnish with the reserved chives.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

A chip off the old wok

A good start to the day - James slept right through last night! No feeding, no tears, no wailing and best of all, no getting up. As if that wasn't enough, the weather has been beautiful today -glorious sunshine all day . In fact, the boys and I have spent most of the day in the garden - even having lunch outside (sandwiches for Chris & I, mashed potato for James), which was very enjoyable. Christopher was able to have a really good run around and I was able to get some washing hung out on the line. Yay! James just looked on, bemused as always by all our antics.

Hubby was home for dinner this evening, and it's his day off tomorrow, so I wanted to cook something yummy. When offered a few options to choose from, Christopher requested "noodles, please" offered, so noodles it was.

Hoisin Pork Noodles

oil for stir-frying
250g minced pork
350g prepared stir-fry vegetables of your choice
2 tbsp oyster sauce
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
2x150g packs 'straight-to-wok'-type noodles
soy sauce, to your taste

Heat the oil in a wok until very hot. Stir-fry the pork until cooked through, then toss in the vegetables. Cook briefly, then mix the oyster and hoisin sauces together and pour into the wok. Add the noodles and stir-fry until heated through. Add a little soy sauce, then serve immediately.

It doesn't really need any accompaniments, but Hubby always likes a little extra soy sauce, and a bowl of prawn crackers (ready-made) never goes amiss. I am rather fond of my 'Rookie Stix' chopsticks for the incompetent, and Christopher was also quite taken with them, but found the whole idea a little too difficult to comprehend and ended up having to use his spoon, with the occasional mouthful administered by Mummy to assuage his disappointment. He really enjoyed the meal in the end though, so that was the main thing. James clearly couldn't share this meal with us (way too much salt in those sauces), so he had some lamb and vegetable supper, which I'd made with the last bit of leftover roast lamb, a little steamed potato and some cooked green beans. He wolfed all that down and then sat whingeing for more while we ate our supper, so we gave him a few spoonfuls of Petit Filous for pudding, which did the trick.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Simple Supper (to recover)

Hubby is working the late shift today - he didn't have to leave home until 11.30, so we had a nice morning together. Even if we did spend most of it sorting out chores and the general mess accumulated over Easter, when I did (ssshhh!) hardly any housework!

I took the boys out shopping this afternoon for basic provisions - milk and nappies, mainly, but Christopher decided he wanted fish for his dinner tonight, so we bought some nice-looking trout as well. It was quite a relief to hear him ask for fish, to be honest, as I'm a bit cooked-out after the weekend and a fairly basic, low-effort supper was just what I needed to get back into the swing. It won't last, I assure you - I enjoy it all too much to relish a break for more than a day or so.

So this evening we've had trout, fried in a little unsalted butter and frozen peas, boiled, with some homemade granary bread for Christopher and me. James had a spoonful of peas and a little bit of fish, whizzed in the mini-blender with a little of the pea cooking liquid to loosen it a bit. I love evenings when he can share the same meal as the rest of us like this. We all enjoyed it very much, and even the cat enjoyed the last few trimmings from the trout too, so smiles all round (if cats can smile, which I doubt).

Karl's got some shepherd's pie, left over from last night, waiting for him when he gets home, which works well, as he's not big on fish, but VERY big on pie.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Easter Holiday (Phew!)

Well, we've really enjoyed the Easter holiday weekend. I love having family or friends to visit at any time, but especially when we can enjoy some really great festive food together. On Thursday we had a fairly ordinary family meal; our great favourite, Savoury Mince Crumble. On Thursday evening, before we all went to bed, I made some hot cross bun dough (for the first time ever) and left it to prove overnight.

On Good Friday, I finished off the hot cross buns and we ate them for breakfast, still warm from the oven, with butter and a little cheese. They were so good that I was convinced to make a second batch of dough that evening for Saturday's breakfast.

The weather was not as good as had been forecast, and very misty, so we decided to spend part of the day shopping in Aberystwyth and went for lunch at 'Le Figaro', a restaurant which Hubby and I used to go to quite often when we were first married.

For supper that evening I cooked a Fish Pie, with smoked and unsmoked coley, sweetcorn, wilted spinach and wedges of hard-boiled eggs, all coated in bechamel sauce and topped with mashed potato. I served it with some broccoli. James had a small portion, whizzed in the blender and seemed to absolutely love it; opening his mouth, kicking his little legs and shouting for more.
On Easter Saturday, the weather was glorious, so I took my parents and the children to one of our favourite spots for a picnic of rolls, salad, cold meats, eggs, fruit and some homemade bara brith.

We had a fairly simple supper on Saturday night, a casserole of chicken thighs, with sausages and butter beans. I cooked it last week and put it in the freezer so that I could simply defrost and then reheat it , topped with a thick layer of breadcrumbs. A few vegetables were the only accompaniment necessary and then we had Jane's Grapes for pudding, which I had prepared the night before

Jane's Grapes

Small Seedless White Grapes
Whipped Double Cream
Granulated Sugar

Fold the grapes into enough whipped cream to just coat them. Pack into a serving bowl (about two-thirds full) and smooth the surface as much as you can. Cover the top with a thick layer of granulated sugar and chill overnight (don't cover the dish). Just try it...

For breakfast on Easter Sunday, we all had boiled eggs, even Hubby, who didn't have to go to work (hooray!). Christopher and I had made Easter baskets for everyone, which I filled with a selection of small chocolate eggs. We all exchanged eggs and some other gifts, and later spent some time in the garden, before having a lunch of Leek and Potato Soup, homemade Granary Rolls and some cheese (including Drewi Sant, Perl Las, and some Gorwydd Caerphilly).

Leek and Potato Soup

large lump of butter
5 sliced leeks
2 large potatoes, peeled and roughly cut up
1 litre vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
500ml whole milk

Melt butter in a large pan, turn the prepared leeks and potatoes in the butter until well coated. Pour in the stock, add the bay leaves and bring to the boil. Simmer (with the lid partly on) for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are well cooked. Remove the bay leaves and purée. I use my hand-held stick blender, but use what you like. Stir in the milk and heat through. I topped it with a swirl of cream and some chopped fresh parsley.

This soup freezes very well, but you may need to purée it again when you reheat it after defrosting; sometimes it can get a little lumpy with freezing.

The Easter Sunday dinner was the highlight of the weekend for me. We spent some time in Aberaeron that afternoon, so before we left, I prepared the (2kg) leg of lamb by stabbing it and stuffing the slits with garlic and fresh rosemary. I rested the joint on a couple more large sprigs of rosemary in my Silverwood roasting tin and poured over a glass of red wine.

When we got home, when I put it in the oven and gave it a couple of hours at 200°c, adding about 200ml of water to the tin after an hour. While the meat was resting, for 10 minutes or so, I tipped all the juices from the tin into a small pan and added a teaspoon of redcurrant jelly, Simmered for a few minutes, with the meat juices from the carving dish added just before serving.

I served Hasselback potatoes and plenty of vegetables with the lamb and gravy, then we followed it with a lemon cheesecake. This recipe works really well and everyone always likes it. My brother, in particular, is very partial to it and in the past has phoned me from the supermarket to ask what ingredients he needs to make it.

Really Easy Lemon Cheesecake 
200g digestive biscuits, crushed
60g butter
405g tin condensed milk
200g cream cheese
142ml carton double cream
zest and juice of 3 unwaxed lemons
Melt the butter and mix in the biscuit crumbs. Press into the base of a 20cm springform cake tin to form a crust and chill (not you, the tin) while you make the filling. Whisk the condensed milk and cream cheese together until smooth. Mix in the cream and then add the lemon zest and juice. Stir well, but quickly as it will start to thicken immediately. Pour the filling over the base and cover the tin. Leave it in the fridge overnight. Leftovers will keep for a couple of days, unless Graeme's around.

There was enough lamb and gravy left over to make a superlative Shepherd's Pie for our supper tonight, after my parents had embarked on the long drive home.

Shepherd's Pie

1-2 tbsp leftover lamb dripping
1 onion, chopped finely
leftover gravy
300g leftover roast lamb, minced
6 medium potatoes, peeled and halved
butter and milk, to make mash

Cook the potatoes (I prefer to steam them). Meanwhile, melt the dripping in a deep frying pan and gently fry the onion until cooked, but not coloured. Add the gravy, and a splash of water if needed, and bubble for a moment. Tip in the minced meat and mix well, then turn into an ovenproof dish. Mash the cooked potatoes, with butter and milk as you like. Use the mash to top the pie. Rough up the surface a little with a fork and then bake at 180°c for 30 minutes until browned and bubbling hot. Serve with peas.

James had a spoonful of pie whizzed in the mini-blender with a few peas and wolfed it down. It hardly touched the sides. He's turning into a right little greedy guts, that one, can't think where he gets it from...

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

A simply lovely day

I took the boys to the leisure centre this morning to meet a friend. Her little girl and Christopher ran amok in the soft play area for an hour or so, then we all went for a drink in the café. I brought the boys home for lunch (corned beef sandwiches for Christopher; cheese sandwiches for me; puréed apple for James), then they both went for a post-prandial nap while I washed the pots and sorted out yet more laundry. I set the bread machine to make some granary bread dough (for rolls) while we were out in the afternoon.

After they'd got up, we went to Aberaeron to pick up the leg of lamb I'd ordered from the butcher for Easter. I also picked up some Perl Las (a Welsh blue cheese) and a nice chunk of brawn. We had a little walk around, then came home. As it was such a lovely sunny day, we all piled out into the garden for an hour or two, which was great. Christopher had a whale of a time, playing on his little slide and pushing his toy wheelbarrow around, then he and I played throw-and-catch for a bit. He's getting really good at actually catching the ball now, rather than simply watching it fall to the ground. James sat in his highchair and just looked at us both as though he thought we were mad.

I finished off the bread rolls before getting the boys' dinners. They'll be great, filled, for lunch tomorrow and to accompany some soup on Friday or Saturday.

I cooked Chris some chicken for his supper, with some crunchy salad vegetables alongside. James ate a portion of Root Vegetable Medley (see yesterday's post) with great enthusiasm. I gave them their baths, then read 'Mr Mischief' and settled them into bed and cot respectively. I'm now going to carry on with William Black's 'The Land That Thyme Forgot' (highly recommended), which I am currently re-reading whenever I get the chance. The intention (ha!) is to have a quiet and fairly relaxing evening before my parents arrive tomorrow. I might even try and have an early night, if the boys feel like letting me get a wink.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Traditions (and Roots)

Hubby's day off, so it passed in a blur of taking turns to hold the baby or get jobs done. He mowed the lawn and vacuumed the stairs. I tidied the bedrooms, put some laundry away, finally mended 3 of my skirts and made the Simnel Cake for Easter (using Nigella Lawson's recipe, from Feast, for the second year running). I really enjoy this kind of festive cooking and, while I don't get quite as excited about Easter as I do about Christmas, I love the way that every family forms little traditions of its own around the festivals that matter to them.

I love marzipan, so Simnel Cake is a real highlight of the culinary year for me. I know a lot of people like to have a rerun of Christmas dinner at Easter, but I prefer to make it different, keeping that very special meal to look forward to all year (I'm not joking, I really do). Living where we do, lamb is an obvious choice at this time of year, but nevertheless an excellent one. I've ordered a leg of lamb (Welsh, naturally) from Owain's, the butcher I use in Aberaeron. I'll cook it with garlic and rosemary, though I'm still hoping to persuade the hubster to let me use anchovies as well. Potatoes, of course, and lots of veg to go with, and then pudding. I like to serve something lemony after our roast lamb at Easter, so I've to decide on something along those lines before Sunday...

We had a nice, simple dinner of Pizza, Garlic Bread and Salad this evening. Later on, I finished making the batch of baby food I'd started while dinner was in the oven. James is still very much enjoying his food; making appreciative noises as he eats and even shouting if the next spoonful isn't quick enough to his mouth. This was one of Christopher's favourite meals when he was a baby:

Root Vegetable Medley

1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced

¼ swede, peeled and diced

Place all the vegetables in a pan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until very soft. Drain the vegetables, reserving the cooking liquid, and purée. Add as much of the reserved cooking liquid as you need to bring the purée to the desired consistency. Makes 10 portions.

The little boxes came from Lakeland and I can't praise them highly enough for freezing baby food in. I label them using my wonderful Dymo LetraTag which I adore, beyond all reason really. I accept that it might seem a little OTT to some (OK, to most) people, but it makes the freezer drawer very easy to keep tidy and it's a snap to select meals for the following day.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Stocking Up...Again

We went food shopping this morning. Why is it that supermarkets make their trolleys with baby-seat-and-toddler-seat combos so much smaller than the other trolleys? Is it because they think that shopping with small children in tow is so much fun they ought to make us do it more often, because we can't fit a week's supply of food basics, plus toilet paper, cat food and the like into the trolley all at once? It's not even as if I'm trying to fit all the food in there - I buy quite a bit from the shop in the village, and most of our meat comes from the butcher now (my New Year's Resolution).

Preparations continue for the Easter holiday. My parents are coming to stay, arriving on Thursday, so I've been trying to do a little bit extra every day in order that I can enjoy their company instead of spending all my time cleaning and catering. Still, a bit of extra-curricular kitchen pottering is a great way to wind down. Today I made some Coconut Biscuits (as the biscuit tin was empty and has been for some time) and marinaded some olives, to pick at over the course of the weekend. I'm hoping for good enough weather to accomodate another picnic. Keep everything crossed!

Marinaded Olives

1 x 340g jar pitted black olives in brine
1 large stalk rosemary, needles stripped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
100-200g feta cheese, diced or crumbled (aesthetic preference, really)
olive oil

Drain and thoroughly rinse the olives. Mix the olives, garlic, rosemary and cheese together, grinding in a little black pepper as you go. Pack the mixture into sterilised jars, then pour in enough olive oil to just cover. Keep the jars in the fridge for a week or two, if they last that long.

I use masses of feta cheese because, if I'm honest, I prefer the cheese to the olives and I don't want to be the cow who's picked out all the cheese and left only olives for everyone else. This way, everyone gets a fair crack of the whip (or something). Use the smaller amount of cheese if you're keener on olives/more restrained in company/less flipping greedy.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Is it that time already?

I don't know where the day has gone! We went to church this morning, but apart from that, none of us seem to have done anything at all today. The baby has taken well to his food, and is now having two small tastes each day, one at lunchtime (puréed pear today) and one at dinner (courgette and potato, puréed and then mixed together). This is what I made for our dinner tonight, after realising that it really was nearly supper time. It's one of my favourites and, thankfully, quite popular with the rest of the family too.

Potato & Bacon Layer

900g potatoes, washed and thinly sliced (no need to peel them)
1 large onion, halved and sliced
170g streaky bacon, chopped
300ml double cream
100ml milk
75g cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 200°c. Cook the potatoes and onion in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain, and then tip half into a large ovenproof dish. Scatter over the bacon bits, and then add the rest of the potatoes and onion to the dish. Mix the cream and milk together and season with pepper. Pour over the potatoes and onion in the dish, then sprinkle the top with cheese. Bake for 40 minutes, then serve with a green salad.


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