Saturday, 30 June 2007

Honkin' Salad

Not a very flattering name, is it? But this is how my beloved husband refers to my blue cheese salad. I admit it is rather, shall we say, pungent. Unsurprisingly, since it contains, among other things, strong blue cheese and raw onion. Never let it be said that I don’t like strong flavours – it’s just best that I enjoy them when Karl’s not around. Lovely turn of phrase he’s got though, don’t you think? Ummm, no. This is a Saturday night regular for me, though I vary the cheese and other ingredients according to my mood (and the contents of the fridge). Always with the raw onion though, so no kissing for me tonight!

Blue Cheese Salad

salad leaves
green pepper
sweetcorn kernels

red onion
blue cheese, crumbled
olive oil, to dress

Chop, dice or grate the vegetables as you see fit. Crumble the cheese. Put everything into a bowl and toss with a little olive oil to dress the salad. Serve with some crusty bread.

I have to confess a weird passion for ‘Bacos’ those odd little bacon-flavour soya chips for salad. They claim to be suitable for vegetarians, though I can’t imagine a vegetarian with any level of self-respect wanting to eat bacon-flavour anything, even if it’s never been anywhere near even so much as a picture of a pig. Still, I put some in my salad tonight, and very nice they were too.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Comfort Food #2

It can't be a coincidence that so many 'comfort food' favourites contain potatoes or cheese. This one has both, and the potatoes are mashed, so it's pretty certain to be high up on the list of favourites. Added to the obviously comforting nature of the food itself is, for me, a healthy dollop of childhood nostalgia - this is something my Mum gave me for supper many a time. I use mature cheddar to make it, with just a little red leicester added to the cheesy topping. I like the extra colour it gives, plus it does seem to be rather less oily than most strong cheddars, so the top crisps up better.

Cheese & Potato Pie

potatoes (1kg makes 4 big portions)
unsalted butter
black pepper

Cook the potatoes. I prefer to steam them, as it keeps them drier, plus the flavour is much improved by not immersing them in water. Mash them with a big lump of butter and a splash of milk, then beat in plenty of grated cheese (a good handful at least) and some black pepper. Turn the mash into an ovenproof dish, or dishes if you want to do the individual portion thing, and smooth the surface. Scatter over some more grated cheese and blast it under a hot grill until the top is blistered and bubbling. I prefer not to let it brown, but take it as far as you dare.

Hubby had some sausages and sweetcorn with his share when he got home from work, but earlier in the evening the boys and I opted for tomatoes and cucumber. I like it best with crunchy salad veg, but most veg, cooked or raw, would work. I suppose baked beans would probably be popular too.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Emergency Trifle

A pretty ordinary Thursday for us today, with playgroup this morning. The highlight of which was a visit from some fire officers from the local fire brigade, who came to talk about fire safety, bringing with them a fire engine for the children to look at. As you can probably imagine, it went down very well.

In what can only be described as a fit of mad efficiency, I had prepared the boys' lunch before we left for playgroup so that I only needed to reheat it in the microwave when I arrived home with two over-excited and fractious little boys. There were some roasted vegetables left over from last night's dinner, so I puréed them to make a sauce and stirred in some cooked and cooled mini pasta shells. After lunch had been bolted down with amazing speed, they both went upstairs for a nap. Peace!

I made some flapjacks while the boys were asleep, trying a variation on my usual recipe. For some reason, a few of them were rather crumbly when I cut them up. I therefore had to think of something to do with a few handfuls of deconstructed flapjack. I can't bear to waste food, and the flapjacks were tasty, even if rather like muesli in appearance. Not really suitable for breakfast, though... A rummage through the kitchen revealed a couple of cans of peach slices in the cupboard and double cream in the fridge, so this trifle came to mind. I was worth the accident with the flapjacks, as the trifle was lovely. I am already thinking of trying it again, perhaps using one of those frozen bags of alleged 'fruits of the forest'.

Peach & Flapjack Trifle

2 cans peach slices in syrup
6-8 flapjacks, crumbled
284ml carton double cream
plain chocolate, grated

Put a layer of peach slices in a large bowl and scatter some of the crumbled flapjack over. Spread a layer of whipped cream over this, then repeat the layers. Arrange a few peach slices on top and grate over a little chocolate. Chill until you are ready to serve it.

Dinner tonight was a bit of an experiment too. Hubby doesn't go for blue cheeses, but I thought he might like the flavour in cooking, provided he didn't know what it was first. So, Pasta with Broccoli and Cheese Sauce it was. I used a bit of Danish Blue for the sauce today, but any hard(ish) blue cheese would do - Stilton, Dovedale, Perl Las, something like that. My undefeated favourite - Oxford Blue - would be wonderful, but frankly it's just too good to cook with. I had the Danish Blue in the fridge anyway today, ready to make a blue cheese salad for Saturday supper this week. My Saturday supper is becoming a little tradition now - when Karl's at work late on a Saturday (most weeks), I give the boys their tea, bathe them and put them to bed, then prepare something special and enjoy having the evening to myself.

Tagliatelle with Broccoli and (Blue!) Cheese Sauce

300g tagliatelle
150g broccoli, in small florets
75g blue cheese, crumbled
200ml crème fraîche
black pepper
fresh parmesan, to serve

Cook the pasta in viciously boiling water for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Meanwhile, cook the broccoli in a separate pan of boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then drain. Heat the crème fraîche and blue cheese together, stirring until the sauce is smooth, then add the broccoli and plenty of black pepper. Drain the pasta and toss in the sauce. Scatter grated fresh parmesan over before serving.

Everyone loved it, I was very proud to see Christopher shovelling it into his mouth and telling me it smells good, I love it, and the like. He's a right little cheese-face, though, like his Mum (she of the nickname 'Mouse'), so perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Another Simple Supper

We've been away since Saturday morning, visiting Hubby's parents in Sheffield, who celebrated their Ruby wedding anniversary on Sunday. The highlight of the weekend was certainly their the anniversary party on Sunday night, in 1960s fancy dress, which was great fun. Karl and I also managed to slope off on Monday night for supper at the Beijing City Chinese restaurant in Stocksbridge. In fact, we'd intended to go somewhere else, but the dreadful floods all over Sheffield put paid to that. Still, we were very lucky not to feel worse effects from the flooding than a cancelled restaurant table.

After a long drive back yesterday, we left the house in disarry and went to bed early. So today I had a lot of tidying-up, unpacking and laundry to organise. Plus, I had to go to a meeting first thing to make arrangements for our playgroup to continue, as our much-loved leader is moving away from the area this summer.

A nice simple supper was definitely in order tonight. This is a great thing to have up your sleeve (though not literally). Use whatever quantities of vegetables you need and however many pieces of chicken. Do use portions on the bone, however, as breast fillets wil dry out before the veg are sufficiently cooked.

Chicken with Roasted Vegetables

red onion
red and yellow peppers
small tomatoes
garlic cloves, peeled
chicken pieces, legs or thighs
fresh thyme

Pile the roughly cut-up vegetables into a large roasting tray and drizzle over a little olive oil, tossing to coat them thoroughly. I use my hands, which is easiest. Lay the chicken portions on top of the veg. Grind on plenty of black pepper. Tuck some sprigs of thyme here and there amongst it all, then cook for 40 minutes at 200°c.

The best accompaniment I've found is a big bowl of rice, and tonight I cooked some mixed Basmati & Wild Rice. I say 'cooked' but actually what I did was bung it in the electric rice cooker with some water and leave it until we were ready to eat.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Comfort Food #1

Today has been very hectic, but lovely with it. After the usual Thursday at Stepping Stones we went shopping in Aberystwyth. punctuated nicely by lunch at the excellent Fresh Ground Café on Cambrian Street. It's a brilliant place to go with young children; they offer a £1.99 'pick 4 items' menu for little ones, with choices like cheese on toast, baby bagels and several type of fruit. The meals are served in 'froggy' bowls (I think they're from IKEA), so it has the novelty appeal of a childrens' menu without all the chips.

Having left the house early for playgroup we didn't get back until mid-afternoon, so dinner had to be fairly low on effort, but still good and filling. Kedgeree is my all-time favourite comfort supper and this is how I cook it. I use my electric rice cooker to do the rice, but you could cook it in the microwave, or in a tightly lidded pan on the hob. I generally use smoked coley or hoki for kedgeree, as I do for most dishes needed smoked fish. I avoid using cod or haddock because of the worrying overfishing of these species. Plus coley and hoki tend to be cheaper, so that's a bonus.


300g smoked fish

1 medium onion, diced
250g basmati rice
fresh parsley, finely chopped
black pepper
2-3 hard-boiled eggs

Poach the fish in just enough milk to cover it. Lift the fillets out out the milk, wrap them in foil and keep warm. Measure the milk in a jug and top the liquid up to 450ml (3/4 pint). Use this liquid to cook the rice (and see above). Meanwhile, fry the onion in a large knob of butter until soft and just tinged with brown. When the rice is cooked, flake in the fish and then stir in the cooked onion and the parsley. Season with plenty of black pepper (no salt, as the fish is usually quite salty enough). Slice the hard-boiled eggs, or cut them into wedges if you prefer, then very gently fold them into the kedgeree.

Kedgeree freezes very well if you leave out the hard-boiled eggs. You can reheat any leftovers (not likely in this house!) in the microwave the next day but, as with all dishes containing rice, please take care to cool it quickly, chill it as soon as it is cool and don't keep it more than a day before thoroughly reheating it.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Tinkering With The Classics

For ages I've intended to try making some kind of variation on our great favourite, Savoury Mince Crumble, so tonight I got down to it. As the original is beef-based, chicken seemed a good choice and with a bit of thought the rest came quite naturally. I used chicken thigh meat for this dish; I think it works best when the chicken is combined with other ingredients like this, as it generally has more flavour than the white breast meat. Peas were good as a side dish, but you could even throw the frozen peas into the chicken filling too if you want fewer pots to wash. James had a portion pulsed in the processor, with some whole petit pois stirred through after. He ate masses, as you would expect from a baby with - count 'em - two teeth now!

Chicken, Leeks and Bacon with a Crumble Topping

2 leeks, trimmed and sliced into thick 'coins'
400g chicken thigh meat, diced
150g lardons or chopped streaky bacon
fresh thyme

Heat a little oil or butter in a large pan and fry the chicken, leeks and bacon until just cooked through. Mix in the chopped thyme leaves and tip everything into a deep ovenproof dish.

30g plain flour
30g butter
450ml milk

Make a white sauce. I use the all-in-one method; put the cold milk, flour and butter into a saucepan together 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 season the sauce. I don't use salt because of the baby, but one day I might. Pour the sauce over the ingredients already in the dish, mixing to coat, then make the crumble topping.

200g plain flour
100g butter
handful grated cheese
black pepper

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. Bake for 30 minutes at 180°c The crumble topping should be golden brown. The sauce may bubble up the sides a little, but we never feel that's a bad thing in any sort of crumble.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Get Organised!

We're still very much trying to recover from the weekend. Most of the tidying-up and general stuff is done; now it's just a case of working through the tiredness and getting things back to normal. We are, however, looking forward to another 'big' weekend this week, as Hubby's parents are having a party to celebrate their birthdays and Ruby wedding anniversary. Fancy dress, too, with a 1960s theme, so that should be a giggle.

As well as trying to get things back to normal, I'm currently working on 'better than normal'. Having recently bought and read 'Time Management for Manic Mums' by Alison Mitchell, I'm trying very hard to put it all into practice. My new 'Life Book' diary from Organised Mum has just arrived, and very natty it is too. Today, with James having a nap and Christopher engrossed in a DVD he was given as a gift at the weekend, I spent some time filling all the birthdays and important dates into it. I've used a Dairy Diary for years, but I'm afraid this all-singing, all-dancing new one has usurped its position.

I couldn't face doing the usual weekly shop the other day when I went in to town to get all the stuff we needed for the christening buffet, so the boys and I had to go food shopping again this morning. Christopher was very insistent that we should have broccoli for supper. When pressed, he suggested "chicken too". So there you have it. I roasted the chicken breast fillets on a rack, with a little water in the tin, giving it about 25 minutes at 200°c. I made a cheese sauce and poured it over the steamed broccoli florets, arranged in an ovenproof dish, before scattering a hanful of grated parmesan over the dish and putting it in the oven with the chicken for the last 10 minutes. Christopher and I enjoyed it very much, and James had a good portion too, which I just pulsed in the processor to make it more suitable for him. I made up an individual portion of the cheesy broccoli bake to put in the oven for Hubby later on, along with a chicken breast quarter. Hopefully, that is just the sort of dinner he wants to come home to after a long day at work.

Monday, 18 June 2007

What a weekend!

A 'big' weekend always leaves a lot of tidying up and things, but this weekend we had James' christening, so it was a really big one.

On Friday night, my brother and his girlfriend stayed, before heading to a B&B for Saturday night. I cooked a version of Nigella Lawson's One-Pan Sage-and-Onion Chicken and Sausage from her book 'Feast'. I used a mixture of chicken thighs and drumsticks, marinaded them, along with some wedges of onion, using olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon, fresh sage from the garden. I added the sausages just before cooking, giving them about an hour at 200°c. Some baked potatoes and cabbage was a nice simple accompaniment to a really good supper. We drank (rather a lot of) white wine and played Trivial Pursuit.

On Saturday the real work started. We were expecting about 30 people at the house for drinks and a buffet after the service on Sunday, so I tried to keep things quite simple. I made some pastry and lined two tart tins, plus I fried bacon, cooked leeks and chopped up cheese ready for the fillings. I wanted to assemble and bake the tarts fresh on Sunday morning, as I don't think they are at their best when they've been refrigerated. I also got the pâté that I prepared in advance a few weeks back out of the freezer to defrost.

On Saturday evening we had a takeaway and played Scrabble before I drove my parents, my brother and his girlfriend back to their B&B, then came home to get the house ready for Sunday. We crashed into bed just before midnight, then James woke us up again at 5. Thanks, James! I lay in bed trying to sleep for an hour or so, then gave up and left JD doizing with his Dad while I got on with it all.

I cooked the tarts; cheese & bacon and leek & caerphilly and put together a large platter of cold meats. A cheeseboard of Welsh cheeses and a basket of small granary rolls supplemented the home-made dishes, along with the usual suspects like sausage rolls, pork pies, crisps and crudités.

James' godparents arrived early to help out. We got them on babysitting duty while Hubby and I showered and got ready. Karl drove down to the shop in the village to fetch the ice we'd ordered. We filled an empty plastic toy trug with the ice, and put the wine in to chill while we were at church. There's never enough space in the fridge at parties, is there? So this was a great wheeze. The service was lovely and James was really well-behaved. I'm used enough to the bilingual services now to sing along with the Welsh-language hymns, even if I don't always know what I'm singing about!

After the service we all trooped back up to our house, squeezing everyone in. Drinks were handed round, with tea or coffee, plus sparkling water and orange juice to supplement the sparkling wine that my parents had very kindly provided. After everyone had eaten and drunk, we opened all James' lovely gifts with him, plus Christopher opened the presents that people had generously brought for him, lest he feel left out. We toasted James' health and then cut his christening cake, which went down very well. All in all, a brilliant day. I could sleep for a week now, mind, shame I can't...

Thursday, 14 June 2007

The icing on the cake

Well, the frenzy has started. After playgroup today I went shopping for, among other things, a few nice chunks of Welsh cheese from Ultracomida, as I'm offering a cheeseboard as part of Sunday's buffet. We also got a couple of types of ham for a platter of cold meats. After just managing to miss the rain (phew!) we hurried home, as fast as the roadworks would allow anyway, to have lunch.

In other news, I iced James' christening cake this afternoon. The little resin boots were saved from Christopher's christening cake, so it was pleasantly nostalgic to use them again, but I did want the cake to be a little different this time, so I added the cross, studded with little silver sugar balls.

Hubby and I have moved some furniture and done a decent bit of cleaning, so we're about sorted on that front. I bought a cheap IKEA Bambu wooden roller blind to use as a table runner on the buffet table, so I took the draw cord and metal fittings off that, too. With our plain white cotton tablecloth underneath, I'm hoping it'll look really good - but as it was one of those middle-of-the-night ideas, we'll just have to see.

For a quick supper tonight, I made this Sausage and Tomato Pasta. With some grated parmesan to scatter over, and a bit of garlic bread to go with, it was just right for a rainy, but still warm, evening.

Sausage & Tomato Pasta

200g dried pasta (I used conchiglie)
6 pork sausages, cut into chunks
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
pinch mixed dried herbs
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
handful spinach leaves

fresh parsley, chopped

Bring a big pan of water to the boil and put the pasta on to cook. Fry the onion and garlic in a little oil until just soft, then add the sausage chunks and cook until brown. Tip in the tomatoes, tomato purée and the dried herbs. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, then stir it the spinach into the sauce to wilt the leaves. Drain the pasta and toss through the sauce, then add the chopped parsley to serve.

I'm now going to sit and make about 4,000 lists of all the bits and pieces I need to buy or do over the next couple of days. My brother and his girlfriend are staying with us tomorrow night, so I've got to think of something to give them for dinner when they arrive. Time to get the cookbooks out, I think...

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Pork Chops, but better

We had another fairly quiet day today - I'm trying to keep things calm, before the storm of activity in the few days running up to James' christening. I marzipanned the cake today and have left it to dry out a little before I ice it, which I intend to do either tomorrow or Friday.

A nice filling lunch yesterday put both boys (and me!) in a good mood for the afternoon, plus it seemed to help James sleep better for his afternoon nap. So I decided to make these little sweetcorn pancakes for lunch, with a few left over to reheat for their lunch tomorrow, after we've been to playgroup. These, with some salad veg and obligatory ketchup, are one of Christopher favourite meals, whether it's a lunch ot teatime thing. James had them for the first time today, cut up into small pieces, and seemed very taken with them too. This recipe originally came from a little 'Cooking for Kids' booklet that came with BBC Good Food magazine. They're also quite nice with some bacon and soured cream if you want something more substantial and main meal-ish. I didn't add any salt, as James was sharing these, and the sweetcorn should be canned in water with no added salt if you're feeding baby under one. Or you can use 150g of frozen sweetcorn, defrosted, if you'd rather. I mainly use strong cheddar for this recipe, but it works well with Red Leicester or a creamy Lancashire cheese, too.

Sweetcorn Pancakes

175g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
125ml milk
198g can sweetcorn, drained
100g cheese, finely grated
fresh chives, chopped

Beat the eggs and milk together, then whisk in the flour and baking powder. Stir the sweetcorn, cheese and chives. Season with black pepper. The batter will be very thick, but it's supposed to be; don't be tempted to add more liquid. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, then drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan. You should get 10-14 pancakes out of this batter, depending on how big you want them. Cook them in two batches, keep the first lot warm in a low oven while you add more oil to the pan and fry the second batch.

For dinner tonight I tried a meal idea that I saw on another food-related blog, A Slice Of Cherry Pie, which is this month's blog of the month in delicious. magazine. I was immediately drawn to this Butternut Squash, Potato and Pork Cheesy Bake, largely because of Karl's near-legendary love of pork chops, but also thanks to its simple and unpretentious quality. It doesn't disappoint, the potatoes and butternut squash baked alongside the chops were delicious and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Cheese on top of pork chops is something I've tried before, using Y Fenni, a Welsh cheddar with beer and wholegrain mustard. I'm going to try this again, using Y Fenni next time.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Soup, Shopping, Smoked Fish

All in all, it's been quite a relaxed day today - after a morning playing with the boys, I made some tomato soup for lunch, which we ate with some granary bread and a wedge of Applewood cheddar that was languishing in the fridge. Christopher loves this soup, which I call my Simple Tomato Soup, and ate two big bowlfuls, as well as bread and cheese. James had some too, with some coarsely grated cheese and diced bread stirred into his bowl of soup. While the smallest Homer napped after lunch, I sorted out a few odds-and-ends of housework in anticipation of having lots of visitors at the weekend. I tidied up all the shelves and things downstairs, then dusted all the surfaces. I'm very proud of our fireplace, which Hubby built (clever old thing that he is), so I gave it some special attention, especially the mantelpiece, which is half a planed roof beam (Karl again). I cleaned it with slightly abrasive cream cleaner, then gave it a good polish and buff with Beeswax furniture polish. I shall try to do a blitz-o-clean of everything before the weekend, but tempus fugit, you know what they say. If if comes to it, I'll just do the bits that show...don't tell anyone!

We went and did a bit of food shopping this evening, to get some of the bits for Sunday's buffet that would keep well. I need to go to the cheese shop and a couple of other places in Aberystwyth on Thursday after playgroup, then I should be able to pick up everything else as part of my usual shopping on Friday. We've ordered some bags of ice from the petrol station/shop in the village. We'll use it to fill a big storage trug and cool the fizz in that while we're at church. After catering for Christopher's christening two years ago I'm not even going to hope for fridge space to chill wine!

We got some smoked coley from the wet fish counter in the supermarket, plus some bread and a bag of salad, so that was supper in the bag (quite literally !). I poached the fish fillets in milk, with a knob or two of butter, a sprig of thyme and a couple of bay leaves. I cooked some bacon rashers, until they were really crisp, to top the fish. I love the combination of fish and bacon anyway, but with smoked fish it's just gorgeous.

The big news today? James got his first tooth! It's still minute and only just barely visible of course, but proud!

Monday, 11 June 2007

Strata & Strawberries

The boys and I were on our own for supper tonight - Hubby's shift changed at the last minute. I decided to cook this cheese strata, which is one of those brilliant standby dishes I always have all the ingredients for. As a bonus, it's very easy to throw together and fantastically comforting. A strata is basically cheese sandwiches baked in a savoury custard. I sometimes put some chopped cooked bacon in, or some slices of ham in the sandwiches along with the cheese. I think granary bread gives the best texture and flavour, but use some decent white bread if you prefer to. I use Dijon mustard because it's what I tend to have in the house, but any mustard will be fine, or leave it out entirely if you're not keen.

Cheese Strata

6 slices granary bread
100g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Spread the bread with butter and a little mustard. Use 75g of the cheese to make sandwiches. Cut off the crusts and slice the sandwiches in half diagonally. Arrange the sandwiches in an ovenproof dish with the points pointing (ha!) upwards. You may need to cut one of the halves into two to fill the ends of dish if your dish is oval like mine.

200ml milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Beat these together with a little black pepper. Pour the mixture over the sandwiches in the dish, making sure you soak all the protruding parts. Scatter over the remaining 25g of grated cheese, then bake at 200°c for 25 minutes. Allow to cool a little before serving. At this time of year, there's nothing better than a big bowl of gorgeous ripe tomatoes to eat with it.

As a quick pudding, I sliced some strawberries that I got cheap because they were a little over-ripe. To each serving, after dolloping on some nice thick cream, I added one of the coconut biscuits that I made yesterday. This is a really good use for any biscuits that spread a little too much on the baking sheet and join up at the edges with their neighbour. Pop them in a pudding bowl with some fruit and cream and it looks terribly clever and entirely deliberate (which, of course, it is).

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Pride comes before a...sandwich

Hubby started work early this morning, so the boys and I had breakfast together, then we (mainly I) spent the rest of the morning doing the usual Sunday tidy-up. The mustard-and-cress Christopher and I sowed on some damp kitchen paper a couple of weeks ago was raring to go, so we sampled a little with our lunch. Chris is very proud of his little crop, as you would expect. I'm proud of it too. Egg and cress sarnies tomorrow, I think.

After lunch, when James had gone for his nap, Chris and I took folding chairs out into the garden and spent a pleasant hour or so reading together and making sandcastles in the sandpit. Later on this afternoon, I got the baking urge, so with a little help from Christopher, who loves switching on the KitchenAid and from James, who was simply in a very good mood and happy to play, I made some coconut biscuits. This is one of my select group of regular biscuit recipes – we don’t go long without these in the biscuit tin. They’re lovely, sweet and crisp, plus they keep very well and pack into Karl’s lunch bag for work without disintegrating into a mass of crumbs.

Coconut Biscuits

110g butter
175g golden caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
80g sweetened desiccated coconut
175g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180°c. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, half the coconut and the flour. Form about 30 little balls with the mixture and roll these in the remaining coconut. Place well apart on baking trays, and then bake for 12-14 minutes until golden brown. Leave them briefly on the sheets to firm up, then transfer the biscuits to cooling racks with a palette knife.

Supper tonight was some chicken pieces, simply cooked in the oven, with some herbs, lemon and black pepper. I stirred more herbs and lemon through a big bowl of (150g) couscous made up with some (300ml) of yesterday’s enormous batch of chicken stock, took a portion out for James, and then added sultanas and flaked almonds for the rest of us. With some green salad, the only other thing needed was a bowl of this lemony sauce to drizzle over.

Lemon Crème Fraîche Sauce

200ml crème fraîche
zest 1 lemon
juice ½ - 1 lemon (use enough to get the consistency you want)
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl, along with a fine grinding of black pepper. That’s it. I also add a pinch of sea salt (I use Maldon) if the baby’s not having any, but tonight he was, so I didn’t.

Very simple and very tasty. It goes with so many things, too. We have it most often with chicken, but it also goes very well with fish (in fact, I first came up with it as an accompaniment to salmon steaks). Almost best of all, though, I like it, thinned down with a little more lemon juice, as a salad dressing or, left nice and thick, as a dip for crudités. To be honest, I'd eat it with a spoon if I got half a chance, but sadly there are rarely any leftovers.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Pizza & Pampering

Hubby's day off. The boys and I went to playgroup as usual this morning, then came home to find that Karl had vacuumed and mopped the downstairs floors. Bless him! We had a bit of a tidy up and did some dusting and polishing elsewhere in the house, then - disaster! - the rotary airer collapsed, with all the clean washing on it! So that's another expense, grrr.

On a brighter note, I went to get my hair done this afternoon, in time for James' christening on the 17th. Anyone with small children will know how things like haircuts plummet down the priority list after their arrival, so it was a real treat to go out and be a little pampered, with no nagging little voices urging me on! With that in mind, I made a batch of pizza dough in the bread machine earlier today, so that when I got home I could just roll it out, top it and whack it in the oven. I always make more pizza than we can eat, as cold pizza is one of my secret snacking passions.

Pizza Dough (in the bread machine)

Obviously, add the ingredients in the order that suits your machine - mine is a Panasonic Bread Bakery, so the ingredients go in yeast first, liquid last. If you want to make it by hand, or in a mixer, go ahead, but I would use 30ml olive oil in that case, for ease of mixing the dough more than anything.

1 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
600g strong white (bread) flour
1 tbsp sugar
15g butter + 15ml olive oil
2 tsp salt
400ml warm water
30ml milk

Put all the ingredients in the machine and set it for a pizza dough cycle. It takes 45 minutes in my machine, then I usually bung it in a floured freezer bag until I want to use it. Rolled out thinly and topped with tomato purée and mozzarella, plus whatever else you fancy, it will take about 12-15 minutes to cook at 220°c. Cook it on a very lightly oiled baking sheet

Karl and Christopher had pepperoni on their pizzas (Chris had some sliced yellow pepper as well, but he was already eating when I took this pic). I had anchovies on mine, again with some sliced yellow pepper.

James is a bit small for pizza, really (and there's salt in the dough, in any case), so I made him some hummus, which he had for his supper, along with some organic mini rice cakes from the baby range at Boots. It's not terribly authentic hummus, as it hasn't got any garlic, nor any tahini paste, in it, but it's close enough. James likes it, it's good for him and very easy to make. I use Biona tinned organic chickpeas, which have no sugar or salt added. One can of chickpeas will make at least two meals, probably three, though you might want some yourself. I like it in a granary roll or wholemeal pitta, with grated carrot and some raw spinach.

Hummus for the baby (and you too, if you like)

1/3 of a 400g can chickpeas, drained (see above)
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch ground cumin
squeeze lemon juice

Whizz all the ingredients in a blender or mini processor, adding enough cool boiled water to acheive the consistency you need. Serve with toast fingers, rice cakes and/or vegetables (either lightly cooked or raw, depending on the eater's age).

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Tasty Tarts

I spent today, in the few minutes available between sorting the boys out and doing an unprecedented massive amount of laundry, trying to get the house back to some semblance of order. It amazes me how just one or two days away from my usual schedule can reduce the house to an unbearable tip. But at least the worst of it is sorted and the rest can be dealt with tomorrow when we get back from playgroup, as Hubby has the day off.

Thinking about what to cook for supper tonight was difficult - it was too warm to want anything too heavy and we fancied eating out in the garden again. Rummaging in th fridge I found some courgettes and the last bit of some St Helen's Farm goat's cheese that my Mum had brought with her, so decided to try doing something new; a courgette and goat's cheese tart. I made some pastry and lined a tart tin while James was having his afternoon nap, then Christopher and I made some little jam tarts with the pastry trimmings. He has a little set of baking trays that his Granny and Grandpa gave him, so it was a good chance to use one of them. We made three tarts filled with blackberry jam (homemade) and three filled with lemon curd (sadly not). One of them made a nice afternoon snack for Chris, and another provided a nice surprise for Daddy when he got home.

Karl took the boys to the park in the village for a bit before dinner, which gave me chance to cook uninterrupted, with The Beatles turned up loud, which was a lovely treat.

Courgette & Goat's Cheese Tart

For the pastry:

300g plain flour
150g butter
cold water to bind

Make the pastry, using whichever method you prefer. Roll it out and line a 20cm deep fluted tart tin. Mine are made by Silverwood™ and I recommend them wholeheartedly.

For the filling:

2 courgettes, sliced into rounds
knob of butter and a little oil
few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
150g hard goat's cheese, cut into small cubes
1/4pt milk
2 eggs
15g fresh parmesan, finely grated

Preheat the oven, with a baking tray already on the shelf, to 200°c. Fry the courgettes with the thyme leaves in the butter and oil until soft and just starting to brown. Layer the courgettes and thyme with the cubed cheese in the prepared pastry case. Beat the milk and eggs together with some black pepper and pour this into the pastry case. Scatter the parmesan over and transfer the tart to the oven, putting it on the hot baking tray. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is nicely browned and the centre of the tart just set. I prefer to eat tarts like this once they have cooled a little, warm but not hot.

It was very tasty, and for a first attempt I was thrilled with how well it had turned out. I baked some potatoes and cut up some salad vegetables (cucumber, carrots, peppers and the like) to accompany it. A glass of rosé wine, from a bottle we opened the other day, was a perfect addition to our meal in the garden. . It really feels like summer...

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Dinner for the workforce

Today we've been putting up the new shed. Not so difficult, however dismantling the two other sheds it replaces and taking them to the tip was less fun. Karl was really quite taken with the whole 'Shedopolis' look of three(!) sheds in the garden, but that was never going to fly, was it sweetheart? Now that it's all up and painted with wood preserver stain thingy, it looks great. Chris enjoyed helping his Dad with some of the painting, althought 'muggins' here volunteered to climb around behind the shed to do the back wall, which is probably less than a foot from the neighbours' fence. Still, at least it's exercise. James just sat, in his Bumbo, under a parasol, watching us and chewing on a selection of toys. Never mind a dog's life...

Because we'd been hard at work in the hot sun, we had dinner tonight in the garden. I made a risotto, something we all love but that we haven't had for quite a while. I really enjoy making risotto, a mindless half an hour spent stirring means some much-needed down time. Today I listened to good old Radio 4 while I was cooking dinner, but I always have the radio on or some music playing.

I prefer to use carnaroli rice for risotto, which has larger grains than the other two kinds I've tried (vialone nano and the most widely available type, arborio). I can't find it locally, so it's another of those things that I have to stock up with when I'm away from home, or chat up visitors into bringing some for me. The stock should be homemade, but chicken stock is so easy to make that it shouldn't be a problem. My freezer is normally full of the stuff since we have roast chicken so often. It's not the same, but the Knorr liquid stuff called 'Touch of Taste' will do if you really can't face it. I should probably point out that James eats this because it's made with homemade (and therefore salt-free) stock, but if you use a prepared stock it won't be suitable for babies. Put the stock in a saucepan and keep it hot, but not boiling, at the back of the stove while you cook.

Bacon & Pea Risotto

25g butter and a drizzle of olive oil
1 onion, diced
200g risotto rice
glass white wine
800ml hot chicken stock
170g chopped bacon or lardons
100g frozen peas
fresh parsley, finely chopped
20g fresh parmesan, grated

Melt 15g of butter with a drizzle of olive oil in a deep, heavy frying pan. Soften the onion, then tip in the rice, stirring to coat all the grains with the fat. Pour in the wine and cook for a minute or so to evaporate the alcohol. Then, still stirring all then time, add a ladleful of chicken stock at a time and allow it to be absorbed by the rice each time before adding the next. After you've put in 2-3 ladlefuls, add the bacon and continue cooking in the same way. When only one ladleful of stock remains, and the rice is almost cooked through (test as you go, scooping out a grain of rice with a fork), stir in the frozen peas and the last of the stock. When this is absorbed add the parsley, parmesan and the last 10g of butter, cut into pieces. Give it all a good stir, then take the pan off the heat, cover it and leave it for a couple of minutes while you finish off any last minute bits.

Serve with a green salad and another glass of wine for the grown-ups (or at least the over-18s!).

Monday, 4 June 2007

Sickbeds, Stickers and Strips

Poor Hubby had to call in sick to work today - he had a migraine but actually I think they're just pushing him too hard and he's exhausted and stressed out, which is not a good combination for someone prone to migraine.

So, the boys and I had to keep things down to a dull roar. After breakfast we got the toy cars out and Christopher played them for ages. We keep most of the toys in big plastic storage boxes in the boys' bedroom and bring different things downstairs in turn. They each have an additional toybox downstairs in which to keep a small (in theory) selection for every day. It's a good idea to put toys away for a bit when their popularity wanes; after a while they seem quite novel and exciting again. The other huge advantage is that our sitting room can easily be returned to a more adult-friendly living area, so we don't feel as though we're wading through an ocean of garish bits of plastic and things with odd faces on them all evening.

After lunch, during James' "official" nap time, Christopher and I had some art-and-craft time. I do keep a rather extensive collection of this kind of stuff in the house, but it's fun for all of us (even James, who loves to watch and play with bits of crinkly paper and ribbon) and it comes in handy on a day like today when we need a quiet activity. Using some stickers from a colouring & sticker book I picked up a month or so ago, Chris made a great collage of the Mr Men in the park. I helped him a little, mainly by peeling stickers off the backing paper. I also made the pond, as he had a duck sticker and insisted it needed water to go swimming.

For supper tonight, I was glad to be organised. Anticipating Karl's original shift of 10am to 7pm, I'd planned to sort the boys' supper out at the usual time and then cook again for us later on. James enjoyed a bowl of Cheddar & Parsley Mash from the freezer, which I make simply by baking extra potatoes when we have them, then ricing them with some grated mature cheddar, some chopped parsley, a knob of butter and a little black pepper. It freezes very well in individual portions and can be microwaved from frozen whenever we need it. Christopher had some chicken strips with a bit of pasta and some peas. He's going through a big chicken phase at the moment and he loves these! It does mean thinking ahead a little, slicing the chicken and marinading it, but it's not really hard work. You can buy cartons of buttermilk in the supermarket, but I prefer to mix this homemade substitute up as and when I need it, for scones mainly, but also recipes like this. One chicken breast makes enough strips for two children, or for Christopher's supper and a snack for me when I'm going to have dinner late. I tried the idea for using toasted breadcrumbs for the first time tonight. It came from the June issue of BBC Good Food magazine and I think it works really well, but you could use crumbs of whatever kind you like, as long as they're not too soft.

Chicken Strips

1 chicken breast fillet
1/4 pint semi-skimmed milk
1 tsp lemon juice
2 slices of white bread, well toasted and crusts cut off
1 egg, beaten

Stir the milk and lemon juice together in a jug and set aside while you slice the chicken breast into small strips Put the strips into a freezer bag or a shallow dish, pour in the milk and either seal the bag or cover the dish with clingfilm. Leave in the fridge overnight.

Whizz the toast into breadcrumbs in a food processor. Lift the chicken strips out of the marinade and dry them on a clean tea towel or a bit of kitchen paper if you prefer. Dip them in the beaten egg, then in the crumbs. Transfer them to a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake at 200°c for about 10 minutes.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

"Cath's School Dinners"

My Mum was still here today, so I finally made James' christening cake this morning while she looked after the boys for a bit. The recipe comes together quite quickly, then it needs a good long stretch in the oven, which gave us time to pop down to the park in the village before we had lunch and Mum had to go home (boo). This is the cake I make for special occasions like birthdays and christenings when a fruit cake is needed (or simply desirable). It's also the cake I make every year for Christmas. When I was still working full-time outside the house, I used to take one to work just before Christmas to share in lieu of Christmas cards, as I thought it a little excessive to give cards to people I saw every day. I think the cake went down better anyway.

Celebration Fruit Cake

175g unsalted butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
750g mixed dried fruit
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
100ml brandy
3 large eggs, beaten
100g ground almonds
200g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp each of ground mixed spice, cinnamon and ginger
¼ tsp ground allspice

Put the butter, sugar, dried fruit, lemon zest and juice and brandy into a large pan. Heat gently, stirring to melt the butter. When it reaches boiling point, remove the pan from the heat and leave it to cool for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 150°c. Grease a 20cm cake tin and line it with baking paper. Stir the eggs and ground almonds into the fruit mixture. Add the flour, baking powder and spices to the pan and mix well, then transfer the mixture to the lined cake tin and level the top. Bake for 45 minutes, then turn the oven down to 140°c and cook for a further 1 hour until the surface is dark golden brown and firm to the touch. Put some foil over the tin if the surface starts to colour too much. Check that the cake is cooked through by piercing the centre with a skewer. It should be clean when removed. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, then wrap the cake in a double layer of baking paper and foil. It will keep in a cool, dark cupboard for two or three months.

If you like a boozier tasting cake (I do), you can make little holes all over the top of the cake with your skewer, then spoon about 60ml of extra brandy over the surface.

For the last couple of days, Hubby has been bringing home some lovely things from the end-of-the-day reductions at work. Included in the haul was an organic free-range chicken (reduced from nearly £7 to 9p!) and dozens of sausages (ditto). Most of it is now in the freezer.

Thinking I had better do something with some of the sausages, I made something tonight that was my absolute favourite when we used to have it for lunch at school when I was a child. In light of the recent hoohah about school meals, I feel very proud to look back with such culinary nostalgia. The food we got was GREAT, God bless Mrs Owens! I honestly can't praise it enough, and this recipe, based on the memory of my schooldays, goes down very well with everyone I give it to. Christopher adores it, as does Karl. I think its pretty much ideal food as far as they're concerned; after all, when you look at it, it's a big sausage roll! On that note, I should add that leftovers are great cold the following day, as you would no doubt expect.

Sausage Plait

For the Pastry:

300g plain flour
150g butter
a little cold water

Make the pastry. I use my KitchenAid, but use a processor if you prefer, or do it by hand, rubbing the fat into the flour and using a knife to mix in enough cold water to bind it.

For the filling:

12 pork sausages or 800g pork sausagemeat
1 large onion, coarsely grated
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp fine semolina

Mix all the filling ingredients together. Using your hands is easiest (and quickest), but a spoon will do if you feel a bit squeamish about handling raw meat. Please remember to take off your rings, or one might go astray and break someone's tooth! Wash your hands well before and after.

Roll the pastry out into a largeish (about 30cm) square. Spoon the filling down the centre, then make cuts down the sides at right angles to the filling, every 3cm or so. Fold these strips over the filling to form a ‘plait’. Tuck the ends in, then transfer it to a oiled baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg and bake at 180°c for about 40 minutes, or until cooked through.

I served the plait with baked potatoes and a big bowl of salad. For pudding we had some of the lemon tart my Mum bought for us to eat while she was here, which we didn't eat because we were all too full of curry lunches and other good things.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Not Gonna Stop!

The last week has just been so hectic. After a week of barrelling around with Hubby's parents and our nieces, doing all sorts of fun things, I am definitely ready for a rest. Thankfully, my Mum has come to stay for a couple of nights, so the boys can play with their Granny for a bit and we can all be a bit spoiled.

We took the boys into Aberystwyth this afternoon. Because of a combination of holiday traffic, roadworks and the like, it took us an hour to drive 10 miles! We were definitely ready for lunch after that, so we took the boys to Shilam, a lovely Indian restaurant in the centre of Aberystwyth. They run a lunchtime buffet, with 'all-you-can-eat' for a very reasonable £5.99. I'm very proud to say that Christopher loves his curry. Today he was especially keen on the onion bhajis and potato pakoras. Despite having taken some food for James with us, he still tasted a good variety of the dishes on offer.

After that huge meal at lunchtime, Mum and I decided on bread and cheese for supper - so that meant a trip to Ultracomida to buy some lovely Welsh cheese. We decided on Drewi Sant, Perl Las and, as an experiment, Caws Preseli, which we haven't tried before. Cheese, bread, a few tomatoes and a good bottle of red wine - what a treat.


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