Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Stories and Sausage

Today was a hugely inspirational day; I took James to an event at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, called (rather naffly) "Check It Out!", aimed at giving parents access to a number of local organisations with an interest in helping them out in various ways. We met some really interesting people and went away with a lot to think about. There was also the usual haul of freebies to be had - promotional balloons, keyrings, pens and the like.

After lunch, we listened to a talk from the author and inventor of StorySacks, Neil Griffiths. The only word is WOW - that guy can sure tell a good tale! Such a simple thing, and he makes it look so easy to do it really well - but did you know that 1 in 9 children have never been read to at home? Or that in some ares of the U.K. that figure increases to 1 in 2? That's right, HALF. I bought a couple of books while we were there, picking up Neil Griffiths' Itchy Bear and a (bilingual) Welsh book, Tynnu llun gyda sialc from a local company @ebol.

When we'd finished for the day, and picked Christopher up from nursery school, we pootled home. I started dinner faily swiftly when it became clear that I had two hungry, over-tired boys on my hands. Why is it that the more tired children get, the more active and obstreperous they become? So I was really glad that, not only was I feeding the children and we adults separately tonight, but that theirs was to be a simple and quick pasta dish.

Spicy Sausage Pasta

I defrosted a package of my homemade tomato sauce, but use a favourite bought one if you'd rather. Equally, replace the saucisson with any other 'slicing' sausage or salami.

100g pasta shapes
200g tomato sauce (and see above)
40g saucisson sec
4-6 pitted black olives
scant pinch chilli flakes
chopped fresh parsley

Put the pasta on to cook in lots of boiling water. Meanwhile, chop the sausage and olives roughly and put them into a pan with the tomato sauce. Reheat slowly, stirring in the chilli flakes and parsley. Drain the cooked pasta and toss with the sauce, topping it with parmesan to serve.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Long Awaited

Do you ever find that you've spent all day looking forward to what you've planned to cook for supper that night? Daydreaming about suet pastry, wine bubbling and steaming into a pan,or the smell of curry spices, when you should be doing something else? Speculatively eyeing the clock, in forlorn hope that it'll soon be time to get cooking? I hope so, because I certainly do!

Take today for instance. Because we had roast chicken last night, I got up a little earlier this morning to put some chicken stock on, preparing for a batch of what we now call Mexican Chicken Soup. Maybe it was the fact of making that small effort, maybe it was just how much I like the taste, but all day long I was thinking about that meal; even finding reasons to mention it in conversation so that I could dwell on it just a little longer.

I didn't disappoint, I'm happy - and a trifle relieved -to say. I really enjoyed my (first and second) helping, even managing to save some leftovers, ready for portioning out into boxes for the freezer.

As a footnote I did, this time, decide to use my posited shortcut idea of substituting shop-bought tortilla chips for the deep-fried tortilla strips. Just as enjoyable, in a different way, but massively less effort.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Oh, that sunshine can be trouble...

We've all been manically busy this week - I think that the week of doing nothing (or at least, as little as possible) to enjoy the sunshine has finally bitten back, and we've realised just what a mess the house has gotten into while we've all been out in the garden! So, I've been relying on my routine, and on some old favourites, to get me through the day and put dinner on the table. Just in time for the weather to go wrong. Hmph!

However, this morning we awoke to sunshine and decided to make the most of it. Feeling part full of sunny goodwill and part (OK, mainly) hopelessly envious of my brother's recent acquisition of a very fancy juicer, I dug out the electric citrus press (a free gift my Nan got from Damart donkeys ago) and squeezed fresh orange juice for breakfast. The children were astoundingly keen on it - even for kids that adore fruit I couldn't keep it coming fast enough and eventually had juiced every orange that we had in the house. Oh well, it's all good stuff...

We had a roast chicken for supper - mainly because that ensures a decent amount of leftovers that can form the basis o0f several meals this week. I was loathe to do too much food shopping this week because, as next week is half term, we'll all four be decamping to my parent's house for a break. Just who it's a break for, I'm not certain, but we're guaranteed to have a fabulous time - and lots of juice when we go to Grae's, I believe!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Chickening Out

I'm hardly doing any cooking at the moment. It's so gorgeous outside that I just want to be out in the garden; reading, playing with the children and tending my plants. The most I seem to do lately is (lazily) stir a bowl of Tzatziki or Minted Yoghurt together to dip torn pieces of pitta bread, or potato wedges, into. I did, however, manage to sling some chicken fillets into a marinade, for tonight's dinner, this morning.
Herbed Chicken in Lemon
I used a couple of handfuls of herbs; parsley, chives, rosemary and a few bay leaves. Some thyme would be nice, too, but mine seems to have died. Pants.
4 chicken fillets
fresh herbs (and see above), very finely chopped
juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
Stir together the marinade ingredients in a large, shallow, ovenproof dish. Turn the chicken in the marinade, coating it well with the herbs, the cover the dish and refrigerate for as long as you can, up to 12 hours. Bake the chicken at 200°c for 15 minutes or so, then slice and serve.

Friday, 9 May 2008

No Basket Required

Chicken and Chips is, to us, a pretty perfect Friday night feast. I made my Crisp Chicken, supplemented today by Nigella Lawson's 'Fast Fries' from Nigella Express. I used maincrop potatoes instead of new and cooked them in the oven instead of frying them. I find that I am always less harried by food that is out of sight (and the reach of children) in the oven than on the hob. I am hugely grateful for the idea of breaking up the spuds by bashing them with a rolling pin. Totally therapeutic! Also, because the potatoes are bagged up, there's nothing more than the oven tray (not even a knife) to wash up after making these.

To start tonight's meal, I adapted one of my favourite party snacks. I know, I know, "life's too short to stuff a mushroom" and believe me I agree with you, but this way makes it quicker, honestly. I make no apologies for using 'Bacos' rather than actual bacon - I know they're as proceesed as you can get, but I do have rather a soft spot for them (and see here for more on this subject). No matter, though, here we go.

Cheese & Bacon Mushrooms

'Bacos' (or cooked bacon, if you'd rather)
chopped parsley
grated cheese

'Pull the stalks out of the mushrooms and put them, cup-side up in an ovenproof dish. Don't throw the stalks away, will you - there's always 'shrooms on toast or an omelette to be had with the leftovers! Sprinkle 'Bacos' into each hole and cover with chopped parsley. Blanket the whole lot with grated cheese, grind over some pepper and bake at 200°c for 20 minutes. Serve with salad leaves.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Glitter Bug

This is just fabulous - I have to share it. Showing my toenails in summery peep-toe shoes means that a bit of a (rushed) home 'pedi' is in order. I am a great one for colour anyway, but wearing bright nail polish in a vivid colour can really make my day. This is my latest favourite - Barry M Nail Paint in 150 Red Glitter. It's so quintessentially 'ruby slippers' that it just feels perfect for toenails.

I can hardly stop wiggling my toes around because it's so great. Doesn't it make you want to click those heels together? Or is that only me? I think this might just be the best nail polish ever!

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Supper in the Garden - just!

Only just, as well - the end of our meal was rudely interrupted by a crash of thunder, so (putting aside any wistful thoughts of a evening spent lingering in the sun with a drink) we rushed the children and the crockery inside before the rain came down. And how it came down!

Never mind, at least we did get supper outside tonight. We've had lunch outside for the last few days, but I hadn't been quite brave enough to go the whole hog until this evening. It was a lovely supper, though; just right for a warm evening and not too many pots to wash up afterwards. We started with chickpea patties and tzatziki. I used to make the patties for the children, when they were babies, as early finger food and I suddenly thought how easy it would be to make them again; to use for ambulant snacks or as part of a first course.

Cheesy Chickpea Patties

Strong Cheddar or Parmesan are my choices for the cheese, however any hard cheese would suffice.

2 x 410g cans chickpeas, drined and rinsed
60g cheese, grated (and see above)
1 egg
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp tahini paste (if you have it)
2 tbsp olive oil
chopped parsley

Bung everything in the processor and whizz to form a nubbly purée. Scoop out spoonfuls of the mixture onto baking sheets, then bake for 30 minutes at 160­°c until just tinged with brown. Cool on a rack, then store in an airtight box until needed.

To go with, I made tzatziki. For me, it is the apotheosis of hot-weather food and during the summer I make it once a week or thereabouts, as inevitable as the rain which follows the heat. I should own up, here, that I have never been to Greece, but I did know a lot of Greek students at university and something rubbed off, I guess. This is so easy and way better than the dismal stuff you can buy in a tub.


The easiest way to dry the rinsed cucumber is to put it on a clean teatowel, gather up the corners and squeeze!

1 cucumber
500g tub Greek yoghurt
2 tsp 'Lazy Garlic'
1 tsp lemon juice
chopped parsley

Quarter the cucumber lengthways and scoop the 'seedy' bit out of the centre with a spoon. Chop the cuke and plce in a colander. Sprinkle with salt, mix well then put a plate on top and set aside for 20 minutes or so to draw out excess water. Rinse and dry (see above). Mix the dégorged (for that is what you have done) cucumber with the other ingredients in a large bowl. Serve with, well, anything you like really.

The main course that followed is really simple and well received by all (maybe not veggies). You can, once assembled, freeze this in the dish, if it's freezerproof, then cook it (once defrosted) for 20 minutes at the same temperature given in the recipe. If you aren't prepared to 'lose' your oven dish to the freezer, line it with a big sheet of foil before you assemble the melt. You then freeze it like this and, once solid, simply 'pop' out the foil-bottomed block, wrap it over and return to the freezer. Bingo! I made one of these towards the end of both my pregnancies, to provide sustenance after each of our babies were born.

Tuna Melt

750g potatoes
25g butter, melted
1 small onion, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely diced
2 x 160g cans tuna in spring water, drained
chopped parsley
4 tbsp mayonnaise
150g Cheddar cheese, grated

Peel and grate the potatoes. Line the bottom of an ovenproof dish with the grated potato, press down and brush with the melted butter. Bake at 180°c for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the other ingredients (bar the cheese) together. When the potato-lined dish is ready, spread the tuna mix over the base and top with the grated cheese (this is the point at which to cool and freeze it). Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


What a glorious few days we've had! So gorgeous that I just had to be outside (sunnies on, in my Capri pants, natch) rather than inside doing housework or holed up with the computer - sorry!

The garden is finally ready for summer, just in time for meals outside to become a very real possibility (suddenly, but long may it continue). The other huge plus is that Hubby has finally gotten around to sorting out his shed; the same shed that has contained precisely a mountain of junk ever since we took delivery a year ago. This is in spite of our 'agreement' that if we upgraded to a new, larger shed, it would be organised and tidy from day one. Ha! He saw me coming, didn't he... No matter, I could now dance a jig in there, should the mood take me. I assure you that this is unlikely, however. Wii Sports is my exercise limit.

Tonight's dinner was, in a word, fabulous. I have long been thinking of a way to adapt my chili recipe for a veggie meal, as I do like us to eat the occasional meat-free meal (in fact I've been trying for once or twice a week lately). Feeling that I should perhaps reward Hubs for a job well done, I turned this half-baked idea into a pie extravaganza and, my goodness, was I impressed with the results. I had to really stop myself from eating the leftover third (so that's lunch tomorrow sorted).

Vegetable & Mixed Bean Chili Pie

The spices are so many and varied because I discovered, too late, that I'd run out of chili powder. Replace the cocktail itemised below, if you like, with 2 tablespoons of MILD chili powder.

1 onion, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground chiles (I use de arbol)
2 x 400g cans mixed beans, drained and rinsed
400g can chopped tomatoes
100g frozen sweetcorn
2 courgettes, halved and thickly sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
270g pack filo pastry, defrosted if frozen
butter, melted

Heat a little oil in a large pan and fry the onion until soft. Mix in the spices, then add the beans and tomatoes with 1/2 a can of water. Bring to the boil, then tip in the sweetcorn and the chopped veg. Return to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Tip into a large, ovenproof dish. Brush each individual sheet of filo with melted butter and scrunch onto the surface of the chili, to completely cover it. Bake at 180°c for 15 minutes until crisp and golden.

There - if that's not a huuuge help towards our five-a-day, I truly despair!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Sticky Chicky

This morning was a lot of fun; playgroup was cancelled today because the church hall was being used as a polling station, so I invited a friend and her little boy over instead. After playing in the garden, dressing up (and just a teeny bit of gossiping), we all had lunch together. I'd prepared Chicken Strips and made some garlic mayo to go with, plus we had bread, olives and all sorts of salad bits. I brought out some Chocolate Muffins for pudding. Chris trotted off to school with a full tummy and a big grin on his face. I only hope he wasn't too exhausted.

We've had, for the most part, a truly gorgeous afternoon. I took the opportunity to do a bit of pootling about in the garden, putting a trellis on the side of the shed for my sweet peas, weeding the patio pots and cutting dandelions from the lawn to bring indoors. Why is that that so many people seem to think of dandelions as a weed? They're one of my favourite garden flowers and look just like their name; a 'dandy' lion. If a flower could be a diva, this one would...a flashy, brassy cabaret of a flower. They are now sitting in an old Shippams fish-paste jar that we dug up when we moved in and started clearing the garden.

Tonight's dinner had a vaguely Oriental feel to it, but as usual it was inauthentically so. The first course is inspired by those lovely steamed dumplings, stuffed with char siu, that you get with dim sum.

Hoisin Pork Rolls

250g pork mince
6 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp tomato pureé

Fry the mince until browned, then stir in the hoisin sauce and tomato pureé. Leave the filling to cool while you make the bread dough.

3/4 tsp active dry yeast
400g strong white (bread) flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
300ml warm water

Mix together and knead to make a soft dough. Leave to rise until doubled, then knock back and divide into 12. Flatten the pieces into discs and place a blob of filling in the centre, then pull the edges up to cover it completely. Place the rolls on an oiled baking sheet, dust with flour and leave to rise again for half an hour or so. Bake at 200­°c for 15-20 minutes until puffy and tinged with brown.

The main course was these chicken pieces, doused in a marinade and left in the fridge earlier today, before being blasted in the oven tonight, accompanied by rice and a cucumber salad.

Sticky Chicken

10-12 chicken thighs or drumsticks (or both!)
4 tbsp sunflower oil

4 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp garlic vinegar
1 tsp ground ginger
black pepper

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together, then turn the chicken pieces in the mixture and leave them to soak up the flavours for a few hours. When dinner time is looming, lift the pieces out and place them on a rack over a baking tray, then cook at 200°c for 30-40 minutes, until cooked through, crisp and burnished.


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