Thursday, 31 January 2008

Variations on a Theme

I'm rather getting into this rice pilaf thing at the moment. It makes a change to be cooking it on the hob, rather than just bunging it in the rice machine. Although I had no particular plans for it, I bought some minced beef in the butcher's the other day; you can make lots of different dishes with it and I can always knock up a Savoury Mince Crumble if I'm really stuck for a meal idea. After some thought, however, I came round to this, which is an on-the-hoof revision of another mince dish I occasionally make.

Spiced Mince Pilaf

Obviously you can substitute another minced meat for the beef, if you prefer. Lamb would probably be my first choice, though I have a feeling that turkey would work excellently here too.

garlic-infused oil
1 onion, diced
450g minced beef (and see above)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
250g basmati rice
4 tbsp split red lentils
200g frozen peas

Heat some oil in a large pan that has a lid. Soften the onion, then brown the mince. Tip in the spices and 150ml water. Bring this to the boil, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon or whatever. Stir in the rice, lentils and peas, then pour in a further 450ml water. Cover the pan and bring back to the boil. Reduce the heat, then simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed.

This makes a meal on its own, to be honest, but I added a tomato salad and some pitta bread, together with sour cream for dolloping over the pilaf. No pudding tonight, as we had apple crumble and custard yesterday (with no leftovers, pah!) and I don't seem to have gotten rpound to much baking lately. I really must do something about that.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Red, Red Beans

Today started out beautiful and then the weather got progressively worse. Grrr! No matter, as there wer plenty of indoor things to keep us busy. Karl is still on annual leave, so he looked after James this afternoon while I took Chris to school, then trekked around town between the butcher's, the greengrocer's and the haberdashery, where I bought a length of fabric to make a summer dress (here's hoping). It's red, with a simple white floral print. I first saw it a couple of weeks ago and have been pondering whether I should buy some ever since.

The in-laws are coming tomorrow, having phoned the other day to invite themselves down for a last-minute visit. I'm looking forward to it; I find myself in the enviable position of having parents-in-law who I get on with very well. When I went to the butcher earlier, I got some lamb chump chops for tomorrow's dinner. Karl had earlier intimated that he'd like lamb for supper when they were here and I've got a nice way of doing lamb with garlic and rosemary; unfussy but delicious, so I shall do that (giving myself another good excuse to hack bits off the rosemary bush in the garden, which is reaching Triffid-like proportions).

Tonight's dinner was one of those dishes that I can adapt to whatever I've got (within reason, of course). Different meat, poultry (or no meat at all), different pulses, whatever. Give it a whirl!

Pork with Red Beans and Rice

1 onion, diced
700g pork, cut into strips
500g brown rice
400g can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 litre chicken stock
big handful spinach leaves

Heat some olive oil in a large pan (which has a lid) and soften the onion. Add the pork and brown it a little, then tip in the rice. Stir to coat the grains with the oil and meat juices. Add the beans, then pour in the stock. Cover the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked through and the liquid absorbed. Add the spinach and leave the covered pan, off the heat, for a few minutes until the leaves have wilted. Give everything a good stir and serve.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Turkey Lurkey

Today I finally cooked some some turkey steaks that were lurking rather mournfully in the freezer. I bought them because they looked lovely; but having any idea what I was going to do with them, I froze them. Fatal mistake; they've been sitting there, mocking me every time I open the drawer, for too long. Combined with some bits and bobs from the vegetable box and a large side of basmati rice (as always, courtesy of the rice machine) though, we had a very nice meal. I won't pretend that this is any kind of stir-fry; for one thing, I did it in an ordinary frying pan on an ordinary hob ring, for another, I only stirred it quite lazily.

The addition of the fresh mint was really quite inspired (she write, modestly). The parsley on the kitchen windowsill was, shall we say, parst it so I used some mint instead. Mint is fast becoming my favourite culinary herb - it's fabulous with tomatoes (for us, it easily trumps basil) and now replaces parsley too. As mint grows like a weed in our garden come summer, I will definitely be trying this substitution in other dishes.

Turkey & Veg Box Fry

garlic-infused olive oil
2 large turkey escalopes
2 thin leeks, halved and shredded
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
handful spinach leaves
fresh mint, finely chopped
about 2 tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (or a wok, if you have such a thing). Cook the leeks briefly, then fry the turkey and add the peppers. Pour in the lemon juice and mix well. When everything is almost cooked to your liking, stir in the mint, then toss in the spinach and briefly cover the pan to let it wilt. Serve with rice.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Ace of Kings

I've already mentioned our lovely January King cabbage - today I finally got around to using it, in a recipe that has been slowly forming in some deep, reptilian part of my brain for ages. I love cabbage, and always enjoy it most with plenty of good meaty juices to soak it right through, so baking it with sausagemeat seemed like a good idea; thankfully I was not wrong. This is in no way an elegant dinner, but good family fillers are what we cooks need most, I feel. Believe me when I say that if this can fill my Hubby up, it'll satisfy even the heartiest of appetites.

Sausage & Cabbage Bake

As always, this will only be as good as the ingredients you put in. A nice dark green cabbage with large leaves (Savoy would be just as good as January King, I've no doubt) and some quality coarse sausages will make this into a real feast.

1 cabbage, shredded
1 onion, halved and sliced
fresh thyme leaves
800g sausagemeat
500ml hot chicken stock
100ml single cream
grated cheese (I used a mixture of Cheddar and Parmesan)

Mix the cabbage, onion and thyme together in a big bowl. Press half of this into the bottom of a large, deep, ovenproof dish or casserole. Make a layer on top of this with all the sausagemeat, then top with the rest of the cabbage mixture. Mix the hot stock and cream and pour this over the cabbage. Cover the dish or pan and bake at 160°c for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan, top with a thin layer of grated cheese and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes.

There are some lovely juices in the bottom of the pan when this has cooked so, not wanting to waste them, I think the dish is best served with some bread. I didn't have time today to make a proper loaf (this was nothing noble; I went to playgroup with James, had lunch with a friend then went out again for coffee with same friend and others). Instead I whipped up a batch of these wholemeal scone wedges while the bake thing was in the oven. You can, of course, use a cutter to cut out 'proper' scones if you'd rather, but this is a faster, dare I say lazier, way to approach things.

Mustard and Herb Scone Wedges

The amount of mustard you use really depends on your constituency; because I'm cooking with the children in mind, I err on the 'safe' side.

150ml milk
1 tsp lemon juice
200g strong wholemeal flour

1-3 tsp English mustard powder
3 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
30g butter
1-2 tsp dried mixed herbs

Mix the lemon juice into the milk and set aside. Sift the flour, mustard and baking powder into a bowl. Add the salt, then rub in the butter (fine breadcrumbs, yada yada...). Stir in the herbs, then use as much of the milk-and-lemon mixture as you need to bind it all into a soft dough. Pat it out to some kind of roundish shape and cut into 8 wedges. Dust with flour and bake at 200°c for 15 minutes or so.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Going for an English

This year, my resolution was to learn to cook Indian food properly. Not so much in the "lose weight, stop this, stop that" way I know - but I long ago decided that making resolutions that I just know I won't keep is not the best way to start a year. So now I resolve to do things that I've wanted to do for a while. Ticking off goals, if you like.

Tonight I got started. Armed with a copy of Madhur Jaffrey's Simple Indian Cookery, I made her 'Creamy Chicken Korma with Almonds' for our dinner. It was so eay to make and so much fun to do somethng completely new - as a bonus it tasted totally LUSH!
To go with the curry, I did a bowl of plain basmati rice in the rice machine, chopped some cucumber and tomato with a little mint for a side salad and made some naan bread. These I have been making for a while. Even when curry making consisted largely of opening jars, I did do my own naans most of the time. I can't swear to how authentic they are (having not an iota of Indian blood or influence), but they do taste lovely...

Naan Bread (sort of...)

The kalonji, or black cumin, are fairly easily obtained from any shop with a reasonable selection of spices. They may also be labelled 'nigella seed'.

1/2 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
250g white bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kalonji
1 tbsp sunflower oil
3 tbsp plain yoghurt
100ml warm water

Stir all the ingredients together into a roughly combined dough, then knead until smooth and springy. Put the ball of dough into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and put it somewhere warm to double in size. As my kitchen is like a fridge, I switch the oven on - low - before I start, then switch it off and stash the bowl in there for the dough to rise.
When your dough is ready, divide it into four and roll each piece out to an oval, naan bread-ish shape. Put these onto lightly greased baking sheets (you'll need two sheets, two breads on each) and bake at 200°c for 15 minutes until puffy and golden brown. Eat warm, with all sorts of good things.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

In Dreams

Now, I know this is not the way that normal people do things, but the other night I had a dream in which I was cooking something along these lines, so after a bit of thought I decided to try it out! The dream did also includeC hristopher tap-dancing on the kitchen worktop, but I thought we'd give that a miss - he has school tomorrow and that sort of accident could be hard to explain! I based the recipe loosely on my regular recipe for a Sausage Supper, but tinkered with it a little to get the effect I imagined. I used some cocktail sausages which were still languishing in the freezer after Christmas, but I think next time I'll do this with some well seasoned coarse bangers, perhaps cut into chunks after browning. Regarding the stock, use what you like; chicken, vegetable or beef all work well with the sausage supper, so I should think they'd all be equally good here too. If I have any leftover gravy from a beef stew, I like to save it, and freeze it, to use in dishes like this. It's a big "if", though, having married a man whose familial reaction to leftover gravy is to fetch a mug and a hunk of bread

Sausage Suppertime Bake

1 large onion, halved and sliced
450g sausages
500ml stock (and see above)
mixed dried herbs
black pepper
1 heaped tsp cornflour
4-6 potatoes, depending on size

Heat some oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions over a low heat until soft and just golden. Turn up the heat and add the sausages, browning them a little all over. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Add a good pinch of mixed dried herbs and grind over some black pepper, then remove from the heat . Remove a little of the gravy to a measuring jug and blend with the cornflour. Stir this mixture back into the sausage-and-gravy mixture, then transfer it to an ovenproof dish. Cover with slices of potato (I didn't bother to peel them) and bake at 200°c for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through and crisp on top.

It tasted great. I rather love the way it looks, too, with the overlapping potato slices just scorched and crunchy at the edges and the gravy bubbling up around them. The children, particularly, couldn't wait to get stuck in, and I'm pleased to report clean plates all round this evening. We had a big, gorgeous head of grey-green broccoli delivered in the vegetable box this morning - and we all adore broccoli - so I cut that up and steamed it to go with the bake. The cabbage we also got would have been just as good, I'm sure - but I have other plans for that...

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Dinner Deception

OK then, this is how to put dinner on the table with no work at all, really. It needs half an hour in the oven, but only five minutes to put it together and get it into the oven can't be bad! James and I had a busy afternoon. We went for a pootle around town while Chris was in school; visiting the library and doing some bits and bobs of shopping, then after we'd collected Christopher we all went over to a friend's house for a drink and a piece of cake, lovely. All this social butterflying meant, however, that it was nearly six by the time we got home. No matter, with some bought filled pasta, plus homemade tomato sauce and cheese, a supper catastophe was averted, and no-one was any the wiser!

I think it's well worth keeping some of these so-called 'fresh' pastas in the freezer; they can be cooked from frozen as easily as from fresh and make a great lunch for the children with a little butter and parmesan. I already had some homemade tomato sauce in the fridge, but if you can plan ahead at all, take a carton out of the freezer in the morning or even the night before. To be honest, if you've got a favourite brand of tomato pasta sauce, you could just use a couple of jars of that.

Cheeky, Cheaty Pasta Bake

I had pesto & mozzarella sacchettini, but any filled pasta will do, I'm sure.

2 x 300g packs filled pasta
800ml homemade tomato sauce
2 balls mozzarella, sliced
40g parmesan, grated

Tip the pasta into an ovenproof dish. Mix 400ml water with the tomato sauce and pour over the pasta. Top with sliced mozzarella and grated parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes at 200°c.

Bada-bing, bada-boom. Dinner is served. If you can summon up the energy, bung some bread and a bit of salad on the table. I think you might even get away with this for 'friends-for-supper' emergencies...

Monday, 14 January 2008

In a Stew

This week so far (she says!) has been one of those "look in the kitchen and see" times, as far as meal planning goes. On Sunday, I used the Swiss chard that came in last week's vegetable box to make a risotto, adding the chopped stems early on and the shredded leaves towards the end of cooking. Risotti are a great way of making a hearty meat-free meal, especially good for us as we often get just a small amount of a reasonably unusual vegetable in the weekly box. Not enough to be a side dish, but just enough to play the lead in a risotto or pasta sauce. Last week I made a variation on my Broccoli and Blue Cheese Pasta, using a titchy head of Romanesco, or Fractal broccoli (a name I adore), for the boys' and my lunch.

Today, with Chris at school, James and I were in town visiting a friend, so before we went out I got a stew together in the slow cooker. There was a lovely 450g piece of braising steak still in the freezer from my trip to the farmers' market in Aberystwyth so I defrosted that last night.

Beef Stew with Bacon, Red Wine and Rosemary

450g braising steak
2 onions

200g bacon
leaves from a large sprig of rosemary
red wine, 600ml or so

6-8 mushrooms (optional)

Peel, halve and slice the onions. Put them in the bottom of the slow cooker. Chop the bacon, slice the beef and add to the pot. Scatter over the finely chopped rosemary and add seasoning. Bring the wine to the boil on the hob and pour it over the ingredients, then put on the lid and slow-cook. I put it on MEDIUM just before lunch, then we had dinner at six. Slice and add the mushrooms an hour or so before you want to eat (or leave them out entirely if it's easier, timewise).

I made some mash with half potatoes, half parsnips and steamed the rest of the winter greens. To be honest, the stew would be fab with some thick slices of bread, but my Hub is a bit of a meat and two veg man, and especially likes a trad plate of stew, mash and greens.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Cauli Gosh!

We had a lovely little cauliflower in our veg box this week, so tonight it made a cheering dinner of cauliflower cheese for the children and me. We'd been out all afternoon as I had a session with the BFN, who are training me to become a breastfeeding helper. The boys spent the afternoon playing in the créche, so we were all three ready for a hearty meal, when we finally arrived home and got in out of the rain.

This is another of those straightforward bung-it-together family meals, made comforting by lashings of cheesy sauce. I like to use a mixture of milk and cream to make the sauce for this particular dish, as it helps it to really cloak the cauliflower, rather than completely running down the sides. I also prefer not to break up the cauliflower into florets, but to steam it whole. This is purely an aesthetic thing, and I won't deny that breaking it up beforehand does make this quicker to cook, and easier to serve.

Cauliflower Cheese

1 smallish cauliflower, trimmed of outer leaves but left whole (and see above)
30g butter
30g plain flour
1 tsp mustard powder
150ml double cream
300ml milk
handful grated Cheddar cheese
grated parmesan, to finish (optional)

Cook the cauliflower until tender. I steam it, but you can boil it or even stick it in the microwave. Don't over-cook it to mush, but equally you do want it soft(ish). Crunchy cauliflower cheese? Not good.

While the cauli is cooking, get the sauce ready. Put the butter, flour, mustard, milk and cream into a pan and bring to the boil, whicking continuously. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the sauce is thick and glossy, then, off the heat, stir in the grated Cheddar.

Put the cooked cauliflower into an ovenproof dish and pour over the sauce. Dust with a little parmesan, if you like, and then flash it under a blazing hot grill until parts of the sauce begin to scorch a bit. Serve straightaway, while still sizzling hot.

We had some cheese and onion bread (made in the machine from a Wright's mix) and a few bits and bobs of salad veg alongside.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Heggerty Haggerty

Christopher started nursery school yesterday, so I'm now officially a 'school-run mum' and already immersed in the world of sewing on nametapes and remembering PE kit. He was exhausted yesterday evening, so a quick dinner of cottage pie and an early bedtime was in order. He seems to be enjoying it, though, and has talked about little else since going (though he does save time for chatting abour Wallace and Gromit, whose films are the current favori du roi)

Karl and I had friends over for supper last night, a couple Karl knows from work who live relatively close to us. I got together a few 'nibbles' as a starter; olives, some of my quince paste with chunks of Manchego cheese from Ultracomida in Aberystwyth, chorizo sausage and some very moreish paprika-toasted almonds cooked (for about the hundreth time) from the recipe in my copy of the beautiful, evocative Moro cookbook. As the main course, I poked some soft Welsh goat's cheese under the skin of some free-range organic chicken legs, then roasted them on a bed of sliced red onion and halved cherry tomatoes, with a handful of rosemary tips and a good slug of Chardonnay. Hardly a recipe, but delicious nonetheless and a million variations on the theme exist. A pot of rice to go with was the only accompaniment required, and pudding was a plate of my Fabulous Chocolate Brownies.

Tonight, the boys and I are on our own as Karl has a late shift at work, so dinner was a simple affair, Pan Haggerty with a bowl of grated raw carrot as a side dish. I first cooked Pan Haggerty, a traditional Lancashire dish with a wonderful name, after reading about it in William Black's wonderful The Land that Thyme Forgot, and have since found it to be a wonderful, easy family supper. It's one of those 'storecupboard affair that you can easily rely on and only needs about 10 minutes of 'hands-on' work. My Hubby (Yorkshire born and bred) easily overlooks its white-rose roots because it is so yummy. Try if you can, to get a 'tasty' rather than a 'creamy' Lancashire, as the texture and flavour are far better for this dish. You can use whatever size of pan you need to cook for the number of folk you've got to feed - pan haggerty is definitely a stretchable feast! Just remember that it will take longer to cook the more layers you have.

Pan Haggerty

butter and oil

potatoes, peeled and sliced

onions, halved and sliced

Lancashire cheese (and see above)

Heat a good-sized knob of butter and a splash of vegetable oil in a pan. Layer potatoes and onions in the pan with crumbled or grated cheese and plenty of seasoning. Tightly cover the pan and cook over a moderate heat for 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes are tender. Put the (uncovered) pan under a blazing grill to brown the top and serve straight from the pan at the table.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Hot Scotch

Tonight I finally got around to trying the little deep-fat fryer that I was given at Christmas by my folks. It's the perfect size for a single Scotch egg, so guess what I made... you got it! Scotch eggs are one of those traditional foods that have acquired a bit of a bad reputation, probably because the manufactured versions are so widely available and therefore nothing to look forward to. The meat is cheap, the crumbed exterior mushy rather than crisp and the egg rattles around in a central void. A homemade Scotch egg, still warm from the fryer, is an entirely different matter and we've been horribly deprived since our old fryer packed in after being dropped (don't ask).

You can get great sausagemeat for this recipe by slitting open some good porky bangers and seasoning the meat to your own taste. I don't like a pronounced flavour of herbs in a Scotch egg, but I do like plenty of black pepper and a good pinch of ground mace, which somehow gives pork pies, Scotch eggs and the like that authentic 'British' flavour you just can't replicate without it.

Scotch Eggs

4 eggs
450g sausagemeat (and see above)
seasonings of your choice
fine breadcrumbs

oil, for deep-frying

Hard-boil the eggs, but err on the side of them still having a bit of 'squidge' in the middle; after all, they're going in the fryer as well, aren't they? Season the sausagemeat and divide it into four. Pat each portion of meat out flat in your wetted palms, then place a shelled egg on top and bring the sides up to encase the egg completely. Roll in the crumbs, then repeat for the rest of the eggs and meat. In my fryer (a Moulinex Minuto), the eggs took about 5 minutes each to be cooked, with the oil at 170°c.
As Scotch eggs are one of the best traditional picnic foods, I served them in that style, with some crudités and a few pickles on the table. Christopher wanted ketchup (bien sûr), but James preferred just to wolf down his egg at lightning speed with no additions.
A word of advice: The recipe will only make four, so hopefully you'll have no leftovers, but try, if you can, not to put these Scotch eggs in the fridge. I find that if you chill foods like this, they go a bit woolly and end up with a texture no unlike the plastic packaged ones (though the taste, still, is quite different).

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Say Cheese!

The last few quinces were starting to look like they might go over-ripe any day, so this morning I boiled up some quince cheese or quince paste (membrillo, if you prefer). This is lovely to go with a selection of cheeses, or as part of a Spanish-style tapas table. I have a secret, unfulfilled ambition to hold a Spanish-themed garden party one day, but it's a bit too cold at the moment and the paste is unlikely to last until the summer (though it does keep well). We've got guests coming for dinner on Thursday evening, so perhaps I'll use some then.

Quince Cheese

3 quinces
675g sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

Peel and core the quinces. Chop the flesh and put it into a large pan with 450ml water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is soft and collapsing. Liquidise the pulp and return the purée to the pan. Bring back to the boil, then add the sugar and lemon juice. Reduce the heat slightly and keep stirring while the puréed fruit begins to turn a rich orangey brown. Let it bubble away until it has reached a stiff, syrupy consistency. Line a swiss-roll tin with greaseproof paper and pour the quince mixture on to it. Leave to set completely, then cut into small pieces (this is very sweet!) and store in an airtight container.

Karl is at work late tonight, so for the boys' and my dinner, I cooked some Chicken Strips and Real Oven Chips. Quick and simple, with a few peas and plenty of ketchup for Christopher.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Mutton Dressed As...Mutton, actually

Today was Karl's day off work. For a family dinner that was low on effort but high on enjoyment, I decided to do a warming mutton stew, which I could leave in the oven while we got on with all those little jobs that inevitably get left until we're both in the house. I defrosted some organic shoulder of mutton that I bought from Elan Valley Mutton at the farmers' market in Aberystwyth, then cooked it with rosemary and red wine; good, gutsy flavours for good, gutsy meat.

Mutton with Red Wine and Rosemary

I know the wine quantity is a little vague, but this is always the way I do stews and things; one for me and the rest for the pot. Some chopped bacon, fried with the onions before browning the mutton, would also be nice, if you've got 100g or so in the fridge.

2 onions, halved and sliced
650g mutton, diced
leaves from a large sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
75cl bottle red wine, less one large glassful

Heat some oil (garlic-infused, if you've got it) in a large casserole and fry the onions until soft and tinged with brown. Add the mutton and brown it well, then stir in the rosemary and pour over the red wine. I used a fairly basic 'French Country Red'. Bring to the boil, then cover the pan and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2 hours at 150°c.
The obvious accompaniment to a stew, for us at least, is mashed potatoes. I steamed them for half an hour, then mashed them with a (huge) lump of butter - in for a penny, in for a pound I say - and served huge dollops to slowly soften in the gravy as we ate. We had some carrots too, just steamed and scattered with parsley. No pudding was really necessary after that lot, but the boys like to have something, so they shared an orange, which squirted juice in my eye, the git.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Dining on Mince, and Slices of Quince

What is a runcible spoon, anyway? I shall have to look it up. I still don't feel like we've got back to any semblance of normality after Christmas; although the tree and decorations are down, everything is still a bit topsy-turvy. On Friday I went to my friends' wedding - having managed to make, decorate and deliver their cake without wrecking it, I was looking forward to finally having a taste. It was a huge relief to find that, as the first wedding cake I've ever made, not only was it edible, but it was really rather delicious!

The cake had a bottom layer of traditional fruit cake (made to my usual Celebration Fruit Cake recipe) and a top tier of rich chocolate cake (adapted from my recipe for Fabulous Chocolate Brownies). I rented the heart-shaped tins from Cakecraft in Aberystwyth, kneaded colour paste into 2.5kg of RegalIce (ow!) and made the sugar roses according to the instruction given by a speaker/demonstrator at December's WI meeting in the village. I also discovered that writing on the icing plaque could be easily done by dipping the tip of a cocktail stick into a little colour paste diluted with a few drops of water, then using it to write with. This was a case of needs must, when I couldn't find the blue food-colour pen that I thought I had!

It's cold, wet and miserable here, so tonight's dinner was a nice, comforting winter meal. I made a cottage pie by frying minced beef with some chopped bacon and onions, turned it into an ovenproof dish and topped it with potato that had been mashed with a little cheddar cheese. I raked the surface with the tines of a fork, to look like a slighly haphazardly ploughed field, scattered a little more cheese over, then baked it for 20 minutes at 180°c. I like this best served with just a simple vegetable; carrots or peas most often, but tonight I shredded and steamed some winter greens that came in this week organic box . As if that lot wasn't filling enough, I made a crumble for pudding.

Good old apple crumble is made even better by adding one peeled, cored and sliced quince to the filling. I love quinces, as do most people who have (a) discovered them and (b) are lucky enough to be able to get hold of them. A local wholefood shop occasionally has a few for sale and I cleaned out the basket when I spotted them a few weeks ago. They sit in a bowl (usually on the windowsill), giving out their sweet, captivating fragrance until they are perfectly ripe and ready. With 3 left, I can't decide whether to preserve them somehow (jam? jelly? membrillo?), or just bake them with brown sugar and eat with lashings of cream...

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Or, in English, Happy New Year. I hope that the festive season has been kind to all of you (and not too exhausting). I've been revelling in the fact that since Christmas, the meal planning has pretty much taken care of itself; all those leftovers and the inevitable 'good idea' buys that didn't get used as quickly as I thought.

The relative lack of cooking in recent days has given me time to make a wedding cake for a friend who's getting married on Friday and start my next knitting project; a knitted patchwork blanket. I can knock one or two squares out quite easily in an evening and knitting them corner-to-corner is really quite addictive. My Mum got me into these, she used to knit squares this way as a girl. You cast on one stitch, then increase by one on every row until the 'half-square' is the size you want (for my blanket, that's 15cm in width along the needle). For the other half, you knit two stitches together at the end of each row. A little pile of squares is now growing in my knitting bag and will (eventually) get stitched together into a blanket.
Dinner tonight was good old spaghetti alla carbonara and some garlic bread to go with. I've recently taken to doing garlic bread using those part-baked petits pains you can get in the supermarket. As long as you've made the garlic butter (and I usually have this in the freezer), it's no harder than heating up packaged garlic loaves. Just split the rolls lengthways, spread with garlic butter and bake as per the pack instructions. Lush. Do make the garlic butter good and strong, though, won't you? I would never use less than a whole head of garlic per 250g pack of butter (and frequently use more than that).

I can hardly wait to see what 2008 has in store for us...


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