Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Sunny Day!

Hubby had a day off today - especially nice as his parents are visiting and he hasn't seen them since January! It's far too long, but his job just doesn't allow for more, well, anything really. He dropped the bombshell this morning that we won't be able to have our holiday in June after all, as he has to work. Luckily we haven't paid for anything yet, so at least we're not out of pocket, and the boys are too young to understand what's happened. Grrrr!

Still, after I picked myself up from that disappointment, we all went off to New Quay for the day and spent the day on the beach. The children had great fun building sandcastles and digging holes, plus it was warm enough for a good splash around in the sea. We had a picnic lunch (with all the attendant sand-in-the-sandwiches that eating on the beach entails) and then ice-creams later on.

We all piled back to ours late in the afternoon and had dinner. I made a large batch of bolognese sauce yesterday evening and, after setting aside and freezing one meal's worth for me, Karl and the boys, I put the rest in the fridge. I quite like doing it this way anyway - having a few cartons of this in the freezer is a good standby for weeks when there's a hole in the menu plan.

Bolognese Sauce

1 large onion or 2 small ones, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2tbsp chopped fresh herbs - I used thyme, bay and a little rosemary
1kg minced beef
200g streaky bacon, chopped
a handful of mushrooms, finely chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
4 tbsp tomato purée
100ml water

Heat a little olive oil in a big pan. Cook the onion and garlic together until the onion is just soft. Stir in the herbs, then add the bacon and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the beef and brown it thoroughly, breaking it up as you go. Tip the tinned tomatoes into the pan, then dissolve the tomato purée in the water and stir this in, too. Grind in some black pepper, then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the juices have cooked down and the sauce is a nice consistency. Either serve immediately, over pasta, or cool quickly and freeze in meal-sized portions

Getting ahead like this meant that when we got home, tired, hungry and covered in sand, I just had to boil a big pan of water while Christopher and James had a bath, then cook some spaghetti and reheat the sauce. It went down very well, especially with the children, who'd been running around like mad things and were ready for a good meal. James had some bolognese sauce (but no spaghetti) and a little grated cheese. I say 'a little' but he ate his and then shouted at his Grandad, until he gave in and shared some more food with him. And some more, and some more. Methinks JD is having a bit of a growth spurt!

Monday, 28 May 2007

Well Bread

The enormous Sunday dinner went very well - we even had enough left over to purée and freeze for James' dinners. The children were shattered last night - we put them to bed nearly on time, but after a late night on Saturday and a busy, exciting day yesterday, I wasn't at all surprised that Christopher slept late this morning. Actually, it was quite nice just to have a little time with James, who was in a lovely mood and very good company. I also made some Bara Brith this morning. I'd soaked some fruit last night, anticipating a nice bit of gentle kitchen pottering.

I make quite a lot of loaf-type cakes and like to bake two at a time in 1lb loaf pans; one for now and one to freeze. The one in the freezer is earmarked for the day before James' christening, as we will doubtless have people popping in and out as they arrive and I'd like to offer them something more than just a cup of tea.

Bara Brith is Welsh for 'speckled bread' and recipes for it vary. Some are very 'bready', or even made with a yeast dough. I prefer quite a cakey texture with a lot of fruit, so this is more like a traditional tea loaf than a bread, I suppose. It does taste best if you soak the fruit overnight, but if you forget (or if it's a spur-of-the-moment kinda thing) you could give the fruit and tea just enough time to cool down and go from there. The fruit itself is up to you - I use sultanas, raisins and plenty of mixed peel, which I love, but all sorts of things are good. In fact, it's quite a good way to use up all those funny ends-of-bags that are lurking in the cupboard. Well, in my cupboard, anyway. I usually use ordinary orange marmalade, but have made it with other preserves too. Apricot jam and ginger marmalade were particularly good.

Bara Brith

500g mixed dried fruit
cup of hot tea (with no milk added!)

Put the fruit in a bowl and pour the tea over it. Cover the bowl and leave it overnight.

100g butter
a good dollop of the jam or marmalade of your choice
2 eggs, beaten
450g self-raising flour
175g light muscovado sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
splash of milk, if needed
demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Butter and flour two 1lb loaf pans. Melt the butter and jam or marmalade in a large pan, then set aside to cool a little. Stir in the beaten eggs, then add the soaked fruit. Mix in the flour, sugar and spices, adding a little milk if you think the mixture is too stiff. Divide the cake batter between the two tins, sprinkle over a little demerara sugar and then bake at 160°c for an hour. Cover the tins with foil after 30 minutes, to ensure that the cakes don't burn on top before they are cooked through.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Wibble Wobble

The hordes have descended (in the nicest possible way). Yesterday we spent the day with Christopher's godmother Steph and her flastmate Marie. Christopher and James were both thoroughly spoiled with presents and cuddles. We had a lovely evening, too, drinking wine on the patio and gossiping. For supper, after the children were in bed I cooked pasta alla carbonara and some very strong garlic bread. Not quite as strong as the now-infamous garlic bread that Steph and I made a few years ago, but still with a whole head of garlic to the loaf. I've posted my method for making garlic bread before and you can find it here.

Because I'm cooking Sunday dinner for 9 tonight, I got ahead a little yesterday morning by making a jelly. This one is exceptionally easy, though to be honest, making jelly is a snap as long as you can get the leaf gelatine. I see that Supercook have started selling it as part of their 'Select' range, so it's now available in the supermarket here. Measure the liquid before you soak the gelatine leaves, then work on 1 leaf to ¼ pint of liquid. If I'm setting the jelly in a mould, rather than in individual glasses, I add a little more gelatine to get a really good set and a proper 'wobbly' jelly. For the jelly I made yesterday I had rather over a pint of liquid, so I used 5 leaves.

Rhubarb & Orange Jelly

200g rhubarb, trimmed weight
100g caster sugar
350ml water
zest of 2 oranges

Cut the rhubarb into shortish lengths and place in an ovenproof dish with the sugar, water and orange zest. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 180°c for about 45 minutes. Pour the contents of the dish, through a sieve, into a measuring jug. Set the rhubarb pulp aside and use it for something else (James had some for breakfast this morning and enjoyed it immensely, or you could make a small, one-portion crumble).

juice 2 oranges
4-5 gelatine leaves (see above)

Mix the orange juice into the jug of rhubarb juices. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes. Gently warm a little of the liquid in a small pan. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and, off the heat, quickly whisk it into the pan. Tip this juice back into the jug, then pour it into whatever jelly mould or glasses you’re using.

Supper tonight will be good old roast chicken (2 smaller ones rather than a monster sized thing which would take ages to cook), baked potatoes, sage & onion stuffing and some vegetables. I'll also make some bread sauce, which I love with baked potatoes (and with the chicken, of course).

It's just started raining, which is fairly typical for a Bank Holiday weekend, isn't it!

Friday, 25 May 2007

Why did the strawberry cry?

Because he was stuck in a jam! (boom boom)

As it's almost the bank holiday weekend, half-term to boot and Hubby didn't start work until 1pm, we spent most of this morning doing housework and laundry - getting ahead of ourselves as we probably won't do much this week. Christopher's godmother (and nearly James' too!) is coming to visit us tomorrow. Hubby's parents are also coming to visit - they've booked a holiday cottage nearby and are bringing our nieces to stay for the school holiday. Christopher is so excited about seeing everyone!

I took the boys food shopping this afternoon, knowing I shall have at least one meal to cook for 9 people in the week. I hope to do more, but plans have yet to be made. I've stocked up on planty of sandwich-making things, too, as if the weather hold we'll be off picnicking, I'm sure.

After a busy day, I gave Chris some chicken, potatoes and peas for his dinner. James had the same, puréed a little. For afters, Christopher enjoyed a big bowl of the first British strawberries we've had this year. Not, sadly, ours from the garden yet, but we walked past a display of them and the heady, unmistakeable scent of ripe strawberries was just too much to resist. I've got some more to eat later, too.

As to the garden crop, I'm hoping for a bumper year, judging by the large number of flowers and the small fruits already appearing. Karl is checking them regularly and I don't think it'll be long before he appears at the back window, grinning, clutching the first homegrown strawberry of the year. I still don't think they'll be enough, so I'm already planning a trip to the pick-your-own farm at Penlanlas. I really fancy having a go at strawberry jam this year. That is to say, making it, though I'll doubtless eat more than I should. Story of my life really...

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Playing in the Garden

Well, I made the pâté this morning as planned - to my Dad's fabulous recipe. I didn't, however, get the cake done. It was Hubby's day off and the weather was just too nice to waste today, so (after Karl had mowed the lawn) we all had a lovely time out in the garden. I did pop out to get some more play sand for the sandpit. Last year's sand had gone all mossy and horrid, and was all wet where the sandpit's lid lets the rain in , so it needed replacing. We also got the baby swing out of the shed, where it's been since Christopher grew out of it, and assembled it for James, who loves it!

It was too hot for the Sausage and Bean Casserole I'd planned to cook for supper this evening, so we barbecued the sausages instead, and supplemented them with some beefburgers from the freezer, a bowl of Brown Rice Salad and some crudités. James had some tuna and broccoli mornay from last night, and browsed the bread and vegetable sticks while the rest of us ate our dinner.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Children can be so strange sometimes!

Not too much on the schedule today - though I decided, mid-morning, to nip down to Aberaeron and get some liver from the butchers' shop. I want to make some pâté tomorrow and freeze it, ready for James' post-christening buffet in a few weeks. I've also got to make his cake soon. I've got all the ingredients, now I just need to find the time (ha!). It's not difficult to make a fruit cake, I know, but it does need a good stretch in the oven and the evening doesn't really allow for that as I need my bed too much.

This is a lovely midweek meal, using mainly ingredients that we always have in the storecupboard or fridge. I have used frozen broccoli in the past, which worked OK too, but I don't normally have it in the freezer and, if I'm buying it specially anyway...

I use mature cheddar to make this, but any cheese with a good strong flavour will be fine. Half gruyere, half parmesan is anyway more correct for a Mornay sauce, but I prefer cheddar to melt on top and grating three different types of cheese for a quick weekday meal is too much for me.

Tuna & Broccoli Mornay

large head of broccoli, cut into florets
400g tin tuna chunks in spring water, drained
40g butter, diced
40g plain flour
1 tsp English mustard powder
600ml milk
150g strong cheese, grated

Steam the broccoli florets for 6-8 minutes, until just tender, and then place it in the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Meanwhile, put the cold milk, butter, flour and mustard powder in a saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking (pretty much) all the time. Turn the heat down and simmer, still whisking for a few minutes until the sauce is thick and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 100g of the cheese. Scatter a layer of the tuna chunks evenly over the broccoli in the dish, and then pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the surface and season with some black pepper. Bake at 200°c for about 20 minutes.

Tonight I served some brown rice alongside, but we just as often have a bowl of steamed potatoes to go with, especially if we’ve got some small new potatoes.

James had some cooked spiced lamb, set aside from last night's dinner, mixed with some mashed potato and carrot. I've been putting him a 'day behind' our dinners lately, as he tends to start howling for his supper while ours is still in the oven. He still eats (most of) the meals that we eat, just a day later. On that note, tomorrow night he will be dining on - you guessed it - tuna and broccoli mornay.

For the last few days, I've struggled (unsuccesfully) to get him to drink out of his cup. The same cup that he's been drinking out of for ages. I was getting rather worried that his breastfeeds alone weren't going to give him enough to drink. He's been really ratty, which I suspect has been down to thirst, but shrieked even more, arching his back away, when 'confronted' with his cup. . Tonight, in desperation (after giving him juice from a spoon, which was never going to work long-term, was it?) we tried changing his valve cup for a simple Tommee Tippee First Cup, free-flowing with just a small spout. I'm relieved to say he's drinking again - and not terribly surprised that he guzzled down his drink as though he was just back from the Sahara.

I don't have any idea what was up with him - and I don't suppose I ever shall...

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Going a bit 'lentil'

Sunday is my day for 'General Tidying' - that's the task I set myself in addition to my usual daily chores. Today it was more successful than it has been of late. James had a nice long sleep after lunch and Christopher was engrossed in his toy food collection, so I really got cracking and sorted things out. Things are starting to settle back into a routine again now. I've cleared out (most of) the extra clutter we've accumulated since James came along, and a bit more besides. Things are slowly, but surely, coming good on the housekeeping front!

When I planned the week's meals, Hubby requested our good old favourite, Savoury Mince Crumble , so we had that for dinner this evening, accompanied by some steamed greens and baby corn (Christopher's favourite). For James, I defrosted and heated up one of the little meals that I make in bulk and keep on standby in ther freezer. This lentil dish is another recipe culled from my extensive cookery book library; this time from Lorraine Kelly’s Baby & Toddler Eating Plan.

Christopher loved this when he was a baby and it has turned out to be a great favourite with James, too. I cook it in larger quantities, using a little less water and a bit more cheese but, to be honest, I don't think there's much to be done that really improves the original recipe. I do add a little ground black pepper because Karl and I both like quite a lot of pepper in food and I wanted the children to get used to the flavour early on. I chop the vegetables into tiny shards using the large jug of my hand-blender so that it is easier to purée the mixture later, but chopping them any old how will do fine, though it might increase the cooking time a little if the vegetable pieces are a lot bigger.

Cheesy Lentil Savoury

4 tbsp red lentils (60ml)
1 little onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

350ml water
black pepper
50g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Put the lentils and chopped vegetables into a pan and pour in the water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the lentils fairly mushy. Purée as necessary, then stir in the grated cheese. This makes about 6 portions.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Home Alone

Hubby is working this evening so, having fed the boys, bathed them and put them to bed, I've cooked just for me!

This is a recipe I adapted from something I saw in a magazine ages ago when I was dieting to lose weight. Successfully I might add, so there's a plus. On my rather unscientific reckoning, this comes in at about 350 calories, which is a good evening meal as far as I'm concerned, allowing for 'illicit' snacking during the evening (or an entirely off-diet G&T). I use tikka masala curry paste to make it, but I'm a bit of a chilli wuss.

Curried Prawn Pilau

1 heaped tsp curry paste
1/2 small onion,
75g basmati rice
200ml hot vegetable, fish or chicken stock
40g cooked, peeled prawns, defrosted if frozen
7og frozen peas
1/4 red pepper, finely diced
parsley and a wedge of lemon, to serve

Fry the onion with the curry paste until soft. Tip in the rice and stir, to coat in the curry. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Put the lid on and simmer until the rice is cooked and all the liquid has been absorbed (about 10 minutes). Fork in the peas, prawns and diced pepper, cover the pan again and leave for 5 minutes before fluffing it all up and serving with the parsley and lemon on the side. You could chop the parsley and scatter it over, but I quite like it 'whole', as a salad.

Right, now it's time to go and watch 'Doctor Who', which TiVO is kindly recording for me as I type. Saturday night telly is finally great again...where's that popcorn machine?

Thursday, 17 May 2007

And again with the pie

I don't know why, but I'm absolutely exhausted today (more than usual, anyway). Christopher had a bad dream last night and kept waking me up afterwards, complaining that he'd "fallen over". He did settle back down eventually, though, which was something. Hubby didn't get back from work until nearly 1am either (after a supposed 10pm finish), so that didn't help.

I chatted to some of the mums at playgroup this morning about James' newfound hatred of his bouncy chair and accompanying unwillingness to sit 'propped-up'. He tends to repeatedly thrust his hips in the air in complaint, which looks quite amusing, but which inevitably causes him to slide down whatever he's leaning on and start crying. One of the girls suggested a Bumbo Baby Sitter, so after playgroup finished, I took the boys off to Argos to acquire one (reasoning that if it didn't suit us, I could always return it). So far he loves it! He tried his hip thrust thing a few times initially, but seems to have given up in favour of actually sitting and playing. Best of all, it leaves both his arms free, so he has been happily rummaging in his toy tub for most of the afternoon. We also realised it will be brilliant for trips away from home and especially camping holidays.

I tried cooking something new tonight. I've been trying to make time for reading again now that James is a little bigger and - guess what - the books I read most often are cookbooks! A favourite for quick, low-cost family meals is Meals in Moments by Maggie Brogan. I picked it up in a local (and sadly, now closed) discount bookshop a few years ago and several dishes from it have entered the list of family favourites that I go back to regularly. Most have been adapted along the way to suit us, but then I love tinkering about with recipes and only very rarely cook one 'as is'.

I don't know if Karl was very convinced by the idea of a cheese pie. He asked a few time whether there was anything else in the pie and what else we'd be having. Still, I went ahead and it was a success in the end. To go with it, I steamed some new potatoes and prepared a bit of salad. The original recipe that this was based on, 'Cheese Plate Pie', specified a 20-23cm tin pie plate, but I just used one of my ordinary non-stick pie tins, which was fine.

Fluffy Cheese Pie

Preheat the oven to 200°c and put a large baking sheet on the shelf to heat up.

400g plain flour
150g butter
25g lard

Rub the fat into the flour (add a pinch of salt if you're not cooking for tinies). Add a little water and knead lightly together to make pastry. Roll out the pastry quite thinly, line your(lightly oiled) pie tin and trim off the excess. Roll out the remaining pastry for the top and set it aside while you make the filling.

50g butter
75g cheddar cheese, finely grated
2 large eggs
a pinch each of plain flour and mustard powder
freshly ground black pepper (+ salt if you like)

Melt the butter, over a low heat, in a largeish saucepan. Beat the eggs, cheese, flour and mustard powder together, then grind in some pepper to taste. Pour this into the melted butter and cook gently, whisking all the time until the mixture thickens, which will take just a few minutes. Pour this into the pie case and quickly top with the other piece of pastry. Crimp the edges together (using the tines of a fork or just pinching with thumb and forefinger) and brush the top of the pie with a little milk, then put the pie tin on the pre-heated baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes until the pie is cooked through and the top crust is golden brown.

The pie should slip out of the tin and onto a serving plate quite easily.

Next time I might put some very finely chopped spring onions into the filling, or perhaps some fresh thyme leaves as I am very 'into' thyme at the moment. We had one reasonable-sized slice of the pie left over (not bad for this house), which will be great for Hubby's packed lunch tomorrow, that's if he doesn't have it for a snack before we go to bed!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Smart Cookies

The weather turned nasty this morning, but we didn't have any plans and so stayed at home. Karl didn't start work until one, so we had a lovely, relaxed morning all together. After lunch, when Hubby had left and while James was napping, Christopher and I made some biscuits (although Chris kept wandering off to play with his LeapPad). We've refilled the biscuit tin, which is always a good feeling. Both these types of biscuit are very easy to make, though with different methods, and both keep very well in the biscuit tin (and would keep longer if we didn't eat them so quickly).

Cherry & Oat Cookies

100g soft butter
100g light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
140g self-raising flour
50g porridge oats
80g glacé cherries, chopped

Beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Mix in the syrup and flour, then add the cherries and oats. Stir well to combine, knead briefly if necessary and then form the mixture into 16 balls. Place well apart on lightly greased baking sheets and bake at 180°c for 12 minutes. Allow to crisp up for a few seconds before removing to a rack to cool.

Ginger Fairings

110g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
175g self-raising flour
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp each of ground ginger and ground mixed spice
50g light muscovado sugar

Melt the butter and syrup together, then stir in the other ingredients, mixing well. Form into 12 balls and place well apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 190°c for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. As above, allow to crisp up for a few seconds before removing to a rack to cool completely.

I love both types, but the ginger fairings just have the edge for me!

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Green Fingers?

We've had pretty good weather here for the last couple of days, so I took advantage yesterday to get some gardening done at last. I'm hoping the weather will be good enough to use the garden when we have people over to celebrate James' baptism in a month or so, but until yesterday it was lo0king a bit neglected. I put a load of bedding plants in; stocks, pansies and snapdragons. This is the best way I know to brighten up the garden quickly (thanks Mum) and I filled a few containers on the patio too, two with impatiens (busy lizzies) and one large one with a gorgeous hydrangea grandiflora I spotted at Arthur Newman's Garden Centre, which is on the other side of Aberystwyth, but well worth the drive.

We also planted some Clematis montana var. rubens against the back fence, to grow up the trellis there. I grew sweet peas there last summer, which were glorious but they took so much work to keep them flowering that I decided to go for something less high-maintenance.

I also tidied up the herb garden. That's my rather grandiose-sounding name for what is actually a herb bed, sorry. It's well stocked now with

- oregano - mint - sage - tarragon - chives -
- rosemary - bay - thyme - marjoram -

So, the only herb in regular use that I need to buy now is parsley. I use so much that to grow enough I'd have to grow nothing but parsley. To be honest, though, part of it is that all the herbs we have are perennial and take little looking after (except regular culinary pruning).

Our little fruit patch is doing well too. We're rich in rhubarb, the gooseberries are coming on well and Christopher is asking if the strawberries are ready on an almost daily basis. The raspberries are a bit disappointing, but they didn't come from the garden centre, they came (pretty tiny and sad-looking) from Woolworths' sale, so perhaps they'll take longer to establish. Still, I wish we had space for more. Maybe vegetables in pots on the patio next year, what do you think?

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Back in the swing of things

Today was the first day for ages that I've been really on my own with the children, so as you can probably guess, it was pretty hectic. I got some housework done (though not as much as I should). James was in a foul mood for a large chunk of the day, but he had a good long nap after lunch, which did improve matters a little. I gave him some courgette and rice purée with cheese for his supper. This is one of his favourite meals, so hopefully a good full tummy will settle him for the night.

I did find time while the baby was having his post-prandial snooze to make some gingerbread. Hubby has had no packed lunch made for him because I've been away, and today's was pretty basic as I'd done no baking for a while. Gingerbread is a favourite of his, so that was that. This is his mum's recipe, which is brilliant. I've tried a lot of recipes, but always end up back at this one, probably because Karl likes it so much. The recipe uses imperial measurements, because that's the way it was when Barbara gave it to me, and that's how I always cook it.

My Mother-in-Law's Gingerbread

8oz self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
2oz soft brown sugar
40z treacle
1 egg, beaten, with milk added to make 1/4 pint of liquid

Mix the flour, salt and ginger together. Melt the butter, sugar and treacle together (in a largeish pan), then stir in the flour mixture and the egg-and-milk mixture. Mix well. but do not beat. Pour into a greased tin (either a 7" square or a 1lb loaf pan) and bake at 180°c for 30-40 minutes. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.

You can add 4oz of raisins with the flour mixture, which is nice for a change (and much favoured by Christopher), but generally we eat this just as it is, with great enjoyment. No mother-in-law jokes in this house!

Friday, 11 May 2007

Fooling Around

The sun was shining beautifully this morning when I got up, so off we all went to the garden centre. After wandering around there for a bit, choosing some bedding plants and a couple of Clematis plants, we drove home. And it started raining. After lunch, James had a nap and Christopher played 'shop' with his toy till while Hubby and I did some tidying up around the place. Late this afternoon, it was still raining heavily, so we gave up on the gardening as a bad job and went out again, this time to buy a new toilet seat, as the old one had finally given up. I don't know why the manufacturers don't seem able to get around the problem of the bolts on toilet seats rusting through after a while. We also went into the carpet shop to look at some lino for the bathroom floor. What a glamorous life we lead!

We were so late back from town that Karl had to give James his dinner and get him ready for bed while I got supper ready for the rest of us. Luckily I'd made a pudding earlier in the day, so I quickly assembled a Kedgeree, nipping upstairs to feed James and settle him for the night while the rice was cooking. In spite of being somewhat 'thrown together' it was very much enjoyed by all three of us. We followed the kedgeree with Rhubarb Fool (made with rhubarb picked from the garden only this morning) and some shortbread biscuits.

Rhubarb Fool

500g rhubarb, washed and dried
150g vanilla sugar

Put the rhubarb and sugar in a ovenproof dish, cover with foil and bake at 180°c, for 45 minutes. Strain off the juices and boil down to about 125ml. Purée the strained rhubarb, then set this, and the reduced syrup, aside to cool completely.

300ml double cream

Whip the cream until thick. Fold in the fruit (actually, it's a vegetable, but who cares) purée, then drizzle the syrup over.

Serve the fool in individual bowls or one big one, as you like. Use glass serving dishes if you can, so that you can see the pink swirly beauty of it all. Shortbread biscuits to go with are a must for us.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

What's that Ting!

Back to the usual routine today, in part at least. Hubby has his days off for this week today and tomorrow, so that's a nice way to ease back into life at home after a week away. We took the boys to playgroup this morning as usual. I say 'as usual', though we haven't actually been for a couple of weeks. The first week we were away camping on our 'mini-holiday' and the second week, playgroup was cancelled so that the church hall could operate as a polling station for the Welsh Assembly elections.

This evening I made, at Hubby's suggestion, a warm chicken and bacon salad that we often ate last summer. The weather hasn't exactly been summery today, but it was nice to pretend! I roasted a small chicken this afternoon, specifically to make this, but any sort of cooked chicken would be fine. The dressing really is a matter of choice; we all enjoy it best with a honey & wholegrain mustard dressing, though others do work well. I suggest a blue cheese or caesar dressing if you want an alternative.

Chicken & Bacon Salad

cooked chicken, cut into smallish pieces
6 rashers streaky bacon
12 'baby new' potatoes, halved lengthways
handful fine green beans, trimmed
salad leaves
dressing of your choice

fresh chives (or parsley, if you prefer)

Steam the potatoes for 20 minutes and add the beans for the last 10 minutes. Cook the bacon until crisp. I do this in the oven, on an oiled baking sheet, for about 15 minutes at 200°c, but you could grill it if you prefer. I hate cleaning the grill pan, so I avoid it. Bacon cooks very well in the oven, as do sausages if you have a tin with a rack. I do a whole cooked breakfast (bar the eggs) in the oven when we have guests staying.

Cover a large plate with a selection of salad leaves. I like some to be substantial (like Frisée) and some to be more delicate (like Lamb's Lettuce), so I usually have to mix up a couple of different packs. Scatter the cooked beans and potatoes over the leaves, then top these with the chunks of chicken. Snip or crumble the bacon into rough bits and then drizzle over your chosen dressing. Sprinkle with a palmful of snipped chives and serve.

I think a bit of bread is needed, too. Something quite crusty, like a baguette or good English bloomer. A glass of chilled white or rosé wine is the best thing to drink with it, though I have to confess that tonight Hubby had a beer and I had a can of Ting (in a glass, of course!) This is a grapefruit-based soft drink from the Caribbean, which I am extremely fond of. I can't get it locally, so stock up whenever I'm away and see it. I normally find it in big supermarkets, my most usual sources being Tesco in Trowbridge, Wiltshire (near my parents' house) and Morrisons in Hillsborough, Sheffield (near the in-laws'). Somewhat bizarrely, you'll find it with the ghee and stuff in the 'World Foods' bit, rather than with all the other soft drinks. It deserves more recognition as it is lush, so try it if you get the chance!

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Making a Hash Of Things

The boys and I are back at home now, having enjoyed a really great few days with my parents. We've done all sorts of things and are all thoroughly exhausted (but in a good way, for a change!) We had a pretty ghastly journey home because of the heavy rain , but never mind that, we're all in one piece.

I cooked dinner for my Mum and Dad last night and, by request, made a corned beef hash. Karl and I have this quite often, it's a nice, quick meal to cook and so comforting. I do think you need to use a tin of corned beef for this, and dice it yourself. The sliced stuff is great for sandwiches, but no good for hash. On the subject of corned beef for sandwiches, I especially recommend that you buy the supermarket 'economy' versions. I find they're generally fattier, and therefore tastier. Corned beef is hardly a 'diet' food in any case, so the little extra shouldn't matter too much.

Corned Beef Hash

1 large onion, diced
leftover cooked potatoes ( about 6 to 8 egg-sized spuds), diced
340g tin corned beef, diced roughly
Lea & Perrins™ Worcestershire Sauce
fresh parsley, chopped

Heat a bit of oil in a large, deep-sided frying pan. Fry the onions until soft and just starting to 'catch' on the edges. Put a good-sized lump of butter into the pan and allow to melt, then add the potatoes and continue to cook until they are quite brown and a little crisp around the edges. Grind in some black pepper, then add the corned beef and shake in some Lea & Perrins™. Stir it well as it cooks, breaking it up, but allow it to 'sit' in the pan for a bit after each good mixing. This gives you a nice mixture of crisp fried and meltingly soft meat. Scatter in some chopped parsley just before you serve it.

Go easy on the portion sizes, as it's very filling. This amount fed three hungry adults easily. I like to top each heap of hash with a fried egg. Make sure the yolks are nicely soft and runny, you get a gorgeous flavour from it as it oozes down over the hash. Oooh, my mouth waters just thinking about it...

Friday, 4 May 2007

Home to Mum

I've been feeling rather poorly for a few days, probably over-tired more than anything, but still pretty under the weather. However, the prospect of taking the boys away to visit my parents for a few days cheered me up a bit and so here we are. No Hubby with us, unfortunately, as he has to work over the bank holiday (of course), but we're used to that by now.

We managed to see my brother for a little while yesterday, but won't see him again until Monday as he and his girlfriend are off to Cornwall for the weekend. Can't say I fancy the traffic, which was already pretty bad when I was on the M4 this afternoon (thankfully on the other carriageway), but I do fancy the dinner that they are having at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow on Saturday night. I will be 'extracting' a full report at the earliest opportunity, not that I anticipate any great reticence on their part.

We had my Mum's fabulous chicken casserole for dinner last night. Mum thickens the juices with cornflour before serving, but, even though I make this at home quite often, I still cannot make it work (it just goes lumpy). I don't bother trying anymore, it still tastes good.

Mum's Chicken Casserole

Chicken Pieces, on the bone (legs are best)
Bacon, chopped
Mushrooms, sliced
Dried Mixed Herbs
Chicken Stock

Heat a little bit of oil in a large casserole. Cook the bacon and mushrooms just a little, then add the chicken pieces and just cover with hot stock, stirring in a good pinch of mixed herbs. Cook at 180-200°c for about an hour and a half. I usually do some baked potatoes in the oven alongside it. Serve with the baked potatoes and some green vegetables. I like nothing more than some simple steamed or boiled Savoy cabbage here, to soak up the all the gorgeous gravy, but Karl and Christopher really like peas with it, so we usually have both.

James had some puréed Chicken and Spring vegetables that I'd brought with me, left over from our family dinner on Wednesday night. It's a recipe I got from BBC Good Food Magazine, and it's available on the web here. Highly recommended, and if you use homemade (salt-free) chicken stock, the leftovers make great baby food!


Related Posts with Thumbnails