Sunday, 27 December 2009

Creamy and Dreamy

A proper, old-fashioned cream-style soup is a real joy to cook and to eat.  At this time of year it also allows for judicious using up of leftovers in a way that they seem freshly comforting and welcome.  It's nice, also, when hanging around the house, to have the rhythms that cooking can bring to your life; it is all too easy to allow oneself to flop, unoccupied, in front of the television  at this time of year.  Getting up once in a while to potter in the kitchen provides a focus and, in some ways, an escape.  Here, I've infused the milk with some 'bread sauce' flavourings to the milk to bump up the festive factor!  Making stock with the turkey carcass is an annual job for Boxing Day; most of goes for soup of one sort or another, though I do siphon off a little to make a velouté sauce for a Turkey and Ham pie filling.

Cream of Turkey Soup

500ml milk
1 small onion, peeled and halved
few cloves
few peppercorns
2 small bay leaves
grating of fresh nutmeg
450ml turkey stock
30g turkey dripping (or butter)
30g plain flour
leftover turkey meat, cut into small shreds
a splash of double cream, if you have some to hand (well, it is Christmas!)
white pepper and salt, to taste

Stick a couple of cloves into each onion half, then place all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring just to boiling point.  Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse. Add the turkey stock to the cold milk, then add the fat and flour and bring to the boil, whisking continuously.

When it is smooth and combined, add the shreds of turkey meat and then, when it has returned to boiling point, turn the heat down and simmer until thickened.  Swirl in the cream and then season with white pepper (to keep that creamy beige unspeckled) and add a little salt if you think it needs it.

 Lovely, creamy soup like this with homemade bread, could only be improved upon as a meal by a tranche of this year's Christmas cake and a fine chunk of Stilton... Bliss!
Cath xx

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Building the Ultimate...

Ah, the turkey sandwich.  Cornerstone of Christmas; much joked about, often belittled but enjoyed nationwide on Boxing Day.  I have spent a not inconsiderable number of years adjusting and improving my turkey sandwiches and now, I believe, that the once-humble TV snack has reached the apotheosis.  In fact, I spend (almost) as much time looking forward to it as I do to the Christmas lunch itself.  I know it looks a little 'Scooby Doo' but believe me, y'all, it's worth it!  If you're lucky enough to have a few pigs in blankets left over, snaffle them up quick with your sandwich

Cath's Ultimate Turkey Sandwich

The bread should be good, preferably homemade, but at least a decent loaf; no claggy 'plastic' sliced, thank you.  It has neither the satisfying bite, nor the structural integrity necessary for sandwich-construction on this higher plane!

White bread, 2 slices
Leftover Bread Sauce
Leftover Cranberry Sauce
Turkey meat, sliced (I love the dark meat in my sandwich, but you may be a 'whitey')
Leftover Stuffing, sliced or squashed
Watercress, a generous handful

Butter the bread, then spread one slice with bread sauce and the other with cranberry sauce.  Lay your slices of turky over the top of the bread sauce and cover it with stuffing as best you can.  Pile the watercress atop, then slap of the cranberry sauce-covered slice.  Squash down gently and cut in half.  Slump on the sofa and watch your choice of Christmas special... enjoy!

Cath xx

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Why I Love Christmas

 I am so busy, mainly with the children and their very active social lives, that I hardly have time to breathe, let alone blog!  This is definitely my absolute best time of year, because of:

  • Making the Christmas cake in October and starting to get excited...
  • The Christmas Story
  • My Christmas hat 
  • The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge 
  • Making Paper-Chains
  • Wrapping presents 
  • Getting the decorations out and adding the new ones to the pile
  • Tins of Quality Street  
  • It’s A Wonderful Life
  • Wishing really hard for snow 
  • Collecting holly, ivy, pine-cones and herbs to decorate the house
  • Satsumas and Chocolate Coins 
  • Reading magazines and making lists, fantasy and reality
  • Cuddles in front of a roaring, crackling log fire
  • Singing Christmas songs, like, all the time
  • Groaning at cracker jokes
  • The smell of giblet stock on Christmas Eve
  • My children being so excited that they don’t know what to do with themselves
  • Drinking to absent friends
  • Leaving sherry and a mince pie for Father Christmas.  Don’t forget a carrot for Rudolph!
  • That very first bite of Christmas lunch
  • The Doctor Who Christmas Special
  • My ‘Ultimate’ Turkey Sandwiches and a bowl of Christmas Soup

And that's just for starters!  Hope the season is going well for you, too. 
Cath xx

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


This is one of our real family favourite that, while it bears a slight resemblance to, and carries the name of, a classic dish, probably bears no real resemblance to the same.  I have never been to Italy, and I have no formal cookery training so attaching an Italian name to this dish is rather cheeky, to say the very least.  A slightly easier undertaking for a weeknight than lasagna al forno, but just as satisfying to serve and eat


One quantity of meat sauce
couple of handfuls dried macaroni, cooked

When the meat sauce and the macaroni are cooked, mx them together and put into the bottom of a large ovenproof dish.  Set aside while you make a white sauce with;

1 pint milk
40g plain flour

40g butter, cubed
freshly grated nutmeg (we like LOTS)
ground white pepper, to taste

Put the milk, flour, butter and pepper into a saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking all the time. When it boils add the nutmeg, turn the heat down and simmer, still whisking, for a couple of minutes more.

Por this sauce on top of thre meat-and-macaroni mixture, then scatter over a topping of mixed breadcrumbs and grated cheese.  Pop the dish in the oven and bake for 30 mninutes at 180°c unmtil golden browen on top and really sizzling.  Leave the dish to sit and rest for a few moments before you serve.

This is one of those suppers that (all) my boys would eat and eat (and eat and eat!).  Leftovers are lovely reheated the next day for lunch, on the rare occasions that I manage to claw some back for that purpose...

Cath xx

Monday, 23 November 2009

Scratchy Scratchy

The only (slight) problem with cooking joints of meat in the slow-cooker is the lack of crisp, crunchy bits.  For a piece of pork this presents a real problem, as the crackling is (in most households, anyway), awaited as eagerly as the meat itself.  Happily though, this problem is not insoluble; if you take the fatty rind off your joint before popping it in the cooker, you can have your meat cooked beautifully while you do whatever you like and then, when you feel inclined, follow the recipe below for a fab pre-dinner snack.  Scratchings are a great favourite of my beloved; not to say that the rest of us don't like them too, just that his passion for them by far eclipses any interest we might have.  I admit that these are barely dietetic, and certainly an insalubrious pleasure, but every once in a while they are a real treat...

Really Scratchy Scratchings

Pork Rind
2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp English mustard powder
several good grindings of fresh black pepper

Cut the pork rind (sharp kitchen scissors are easiest) into pieces about 2 x 1cm.  Mix the salt, mustard and pepper together in a plastic bag, then pop in the rinds and toss to coat.  Tip the rinds onto a baking sheet and cook for 20-30 minutes at 200°c until brown, crisp and sizzling.  Drain the scratchings on kitchen paper and tip the fat remaining on the tray into your dripping pot.  Serve the scratchings (with a pre-prandial G&T for preference) while they are still just barely warm.
Cath xx

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Stir-Up Saturday

I know it's not Stir-Up Sunday yet, but I did our Christmas pudding today. The collect Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord is, anyway, a spiritual entreaty rather than a culinary one, but I like the tradition, all the sameWith the weather as manky as it has been, however, it wasn't as though we were likely to leave the house, so I made my decision and got it ready first thing, then left it in the slow-cooker all day. The first time I made a Christmas pudding I had only an ordinary pan to cook it and filled the kitchen with sticky brown steam in the process, my poor Hubby was horrified! For a few years after that, the pressure cooker proved a much better option, but this year I decided to try using the slow-cooker.  I'm aware that my alcohol 'selection' may look bizarre, but it’s because one year when I made my pudding I didn’t have enough brandy, so I made up this mixture. Result? Best pudding ever, so I stuck with it. Use all brandy if you prefer, though – or all rum is good too.  Don't forget to have everyone in the house stir the pudding and make a wish!

Christmas Pudding

Butter, to grease the bowl
350g mixed dried fruit
100ml brandy
100ml amaretto
100ml dark rum
150g wholemeal breadcrumbs
150g shredded suet
50g self-raising flour
200g dark muscovado sugar
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1 large egg, beaten

Butter a 1.2 litre pudding basin and line the base with a cut-out circle of greaseproof paper. Mix all the ingredients together (and see my notes above) and pack tightly into the bowl. Cover with a sheet each of greaseproof and foil, laid together and pleated in the centre. Tie tightly with string and cook, either all day on HIGH in an electric slow-cooker, in a pressure cooker (with boiling water) for 3 hours, or steam in boiling water for 6 hours. Carefully remove from the pan and leave the bowl to cool overnight. Take off the top wrapping and replace with a double layer of clingfilm. Store until Christmas in a cool, dark place.

Cath xx

Friday, 20 November 2009

I Feel Like I'm Cheating!

The nights are drawing in and the weather is COLD.  So the time is right to remind myself, and anyone else I can reach out there just how wonderful are these machines, and how much easier they make one's daily life.  If you have yet to discover the delights of the electric slow cooker, may I beg you to please consider it.  Tonight's dinner was prepared this morning while the kids were eating breakfast; all of three minutes' work!

Cheaty Chicken Curry

1 onion, diced
6 chicken thigh fillets, halved
1/3 jar curry paste (I like Patak's Tikka paste)
400g can chopped tomatoes

At breakfast time, bung everything in the slow cooker.  Add 100ml water from the kettle (which you've anyway just boiled to make your cup of tea!), put on the lid and cook on LOW until suppertime.  How easy?

For accompaniments, cooking some rice is hardly taxing, and while I occasionally swirl some yoghurt through the curry just before serving, more often than not I make this lazy raita-style sauce to go with.  It also goes rather well with poppadoms and mango chutney for an almost-instant but still decadent late-night snack...

A Relaxed Raita

200g pot natural yoghurt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tsp mint sauce (from a jar!)

Mix together.  Chill until needed (you, and the sauce!)

Cath xx

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Is it that time already..?

In spite of my best efforts to pretend otherwise, the Christmas things are fast appearing in the shops and James' birthday is next week.  So today was decreed (by me) to be Christmas cake bonanza day chez nous.  On no other day of the year would a third of a bottle of brandy have been used before lunch, without a drop passing a lip (well, OK, maybe a drop).  My recipe doesn't change much from year to year; coming out like a trusted friend whenever I need a richly fruited celebration cake and I passed on the recipe back in 2007 when I made it to serve as James' christening cake.  Today I made not only our 'proper' cake to decorate for Christmas, but a smaller one to be my part of a competition entry with my W.I. for our local federation's Winter Rally and another half-a-dozen mini cakes to give as small gifts to teachers and suchlike.  All safely stowed away now, double-wrapped in baking parchment and foil, and thankfully no longer taking up mental 'space', so to speak...

Much as I am loath to admit it, I am a total Christmas junkie and have already hauled my Chrismas cutting book down from the highest shelf, started making cards and gifts and dusted off my special Christmas hat (yes, really, I'm afraid) for December 1st.  I did make a batch of my Spiced Apple Chutney with James' help a couple of weeks ago but, as it is already being eaten (out of the jar with a spoon, in James' case), I suspect that I ought to make another batch to be sure of having some left for the festive season!

Cath xx

Sunday, 18 October 2009

'Raisin' the Bar

When you have friends coming to stay (as we did this weekend), it's nice to feel you've given them a good time, isn't it?  Lots of food, lots of wine and LOTS of fun and laughter.  All this can be smoothed by getting as much of the slog work out of the way in advance of of your VIPs' arrival  A lovely pudding is always popular, even if you have the sort of friends (I don't) that claim not to eat puddings!  Rum-and-raisin ice cream is a great favourite of my beloved and so a cheesecake inspired by these flavours seemed like a grand idea to me.  Thankfully it worked; trying out a new idea without testing it out on my long-suffering family first could have been a disaster!  You do need to start this in plenty of time, you need an overnight soak for the raisins and then another overnight (or most of the day) chilling to set the topping on the base.  Spreads the workload, though...

Rum & Raisin Cheesecake

100g raisins

4 tbsp dark rum

Pour the rum over the raisins, cover the dish with clingfilm and leave to soak overnight.  The next day:

300g digestive biscuits, crushed
100g butter, melted

Combine the crumbs with the butter and mix thoroughly.  Pat into the base of an oiled 20cm springform (or loose-bottomed, at any rate) cake tin and chill to firm up, while you prepare the topping.

2 eggs, separated
50g light muscovado sugar
150g cream cheese
200g ricotta cheese
150ml pot double cream
Beat the egg yolks with 25g of the sugar, then beat in the cream cheese and the ricotta until smooth.  Tip in the raisins and the rum and stir to combine. Whip the cream and fold this in as well.  Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then tip in the remaining 25g of sugar (sieved) and whisk until stiff and glossy.  Fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture, then pour this over the prepared base in the tin.  Chill for several hours, or overnight, until set.  Run a knife around the edges before releasing from the tin to serve.  Divinely delish!

Cath xx

Friday, 16 October 2009

Kitchen Therapy

Everyone must have, I'm sure, those dishes that they always return to when they feel down and in need of some comfort.  Pork Chops top Hubby's list every time, Chris loves a good casserole and James always asks for a pasta bake.   My comfort food is steak and kidney pudding; a hug encased in suet pastry, though I would never turn down a plate of kedgeree in a miserable situation. For me, however it's not so much the food that's the comfort in a lot of cases, but the mere act of cooking.

I knew I'd had a lousy day yesterday, because all I could think about on the way home was gertting back and getting a risotto started.  Not because I wanted, particularly, to eat a risotto, but because I knew that half an hour of (relatively) uninterrupted, therapeutic stirring was just what I needed.

Today has been, again, a real tonic for me in that department, as we have friends arriing this evening to stay for the weekend.  Instead of using the sainted bread machine today, I've made a loaf of bread by hand, which rates very highly on my 'Kitchen 999' scale.  I've made a batch of my favourite tiny toasts for quick pre-dinner nibbles over the weekend and beyond, the childrens' supper for this evening, ready to reheat later and a pudding for tomorrow night (more of which another time...).  And so, fortified and comforted by a morming of satisfying kitchen pottering, I may proceed serenely (by my standards at least!) with the rest of the day.
Cath xx

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

There's a Leek in the Pot!

Another day, another quickly assembled pasta meal with whatever ingredients are handy...  This one went down really well tonight and I suspect it will now become one of my regular supper standbys, and a bit of a bargain supper too, really.  We (almost) always have the ingredients in stock, especially now that I have discovered the advantages of keeping a bag of frozen,sliced leeks in the freezer.  I first picked them up as a bit of a novelty purchase (see how rock 'n' roll my life is..!) but am now devoted to them for dishes like this, where you want a touch of allium flavour but not a whole load of onion getting in the way.  For casseroles and such I just bung them in from frozen, but when I cook them in dishes like this, I give them a quick whizz round in the microwave, to just defrost them.  You could just as easily soak them in some boiling water to defrost, refresh them under the cold tap and drain them really well.   A lifesaver, nonetheless.

Mustardy Sausage Pasta Pot

300g pasta

4 sausages (I like Porkinson's), skinned

1 leek or equivalent frozen (and see above)

1 tbsp mustard (use your favourite)
100g créme fraîche
handful of watercress, roughly torn up

50g parmesan, grated

Put the pasta on and heat some fat in a wide frying pan.  Break the skinned sausages into chunks and fry them, with the leeks, until the sausages are browned and everything is nicely cooked through.  Stir the mustard into the créme fraîche and swirl this into the pan with the sausages. Reserve a cupful of pasta water, then bung in the watercress in with pasta, stir and  then drain it immediately.  Return the pasta and watercress to the pan, tip the saucy sausage back in and throw in the parmesan.  Mix well, adding some of the reserved pasta water to keep the sauce nice and liquid, so it clings to the pasta without being 'claggy'.

Cath xx

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Leaving Well Alone...

Coronation Chicken is one of those true classic dishes that (almost!) everyone likes and yet people will keep trying to 're-invent' it. Ahem, not unlike Christmas lunch, then. In the same way as I can't abide the annual, seasonal onslaught of 'new alternatives' for Christmas dinner, shoving confit of duck, individual venison-and-cranberry pies and heaven knows what else, I can't stand seeing perfectly delicious dishes 'updated for the 21st century, when no-one is fed up with them in the first place! So here we are, no cubes of fresh mango, no anchovies, no shaved coconut and no cherries. All of which I have seen included in pretenders to the throne of this wonderful dish. Even the anchovies. Yes, I know...

In true Distracted fashion, however, you will find this to be a rather less labour-intensive option, no poaching of whole chickens and no making of mayonnaise. Sometimes, I agree, homemade mayonnaise is very much what you want but I, for one, fail to see the point of all that effort if you will subsequently 'curry' it and obliterate the delicate flavour of the vrai article.

For this outing, our contribution to a Bring & Share Harvest Lunch at church, I cooked the chicken yesterday (breast fillets, on a rack over a roasting pan of water, covered in tinfoil - 25 minutes at 200°c) and chilled it until this morning, when I sliced it it neatly and folded it into the sauce, before plating it up for the buffet table. You can, of course, use any leftover cooked chicken; shredded roast chicken in this sauce does make a rather superior sandwich filling (and see also my Coronation Chicken Rice Salad).

Easy-Option Coronation Chicken

500g cooked chicken, cooled
200g mayonnaise
150g Greek yoghurt
40g mango chutney
30g tikka masala curry paste
toasted flaked almonds
chopped parsley

Slice or shred the chicken, according to what you have and to what degree of finish pleases you. For a celebratory buffet dish, I like to see definite slices; for a more homely affair or a sandwich filler, I'm less fussy. Set aside while you prepare the sauce.

Beat the mayonnaise and yoghurt together, then stir in the mango chutney and the curry paste. If it is anything less than runnily silky, let it down with a little freshly boiled water to reach the desired consistency. It needs to sloppily coat the chicken and ooze very slowly across the plate, not bind it into a sticky, homogeneous mass. Fold in the sliced chicken, and chill this for anything from one to four hours to let the flavour develop. Pile watercress onto a seving dish, then top with the Coronation Chicken. Scatter over some toasted flaked almonds to add that desirable bit of crunch and then chopped fresh parsley to finish the dish.

Cath xx

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Cook's Nip(ping Out)

Today has been a busy day for me. I've been out at a study workshop since this morning(which, luckily, had a créche for the children), so first thing, just before leaving, I bunged a seasoned chicken in the slow-cooker and left it there to cook while we were out. The thought of coming home to dinner being mostly cooked was a huge comfort and allowed me to concentrate on the matter at hand.

In fact, it was such a comfort that tonight's dinner became rather more than the chicken and salad I had anticipated. Having been relaxed about not having to cook a meal when I got home, I suddenly felt like doing EXACTLY what I had thought I would NOT want to do. So 'chicken and salad' became 'chicken with creamy bacon and pea pasta and salad'.

Creamy Bacon & Pea Pasta

This is really rather lovely as a side dish with chicken, but it also works very well as a meal in its own right. I left the quantities roughly the same as for a main meal, as I can freeze the leftovers for quick children's meals in weeks ahead.

200g dry pasta shapes
150g chopped bacon
50ml chicken stock or white wine
100g créme fraîche
2 tbsp tomato purée OR 6 tbsp tomato (pasta) sauce
100g frozen peas, defrosted
25g parmesan, grated
chopped parsley

Put the pasta on to cook. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a very little fat until it is just crisp. Splash in the wine or stock to deglaze the pan. Stir in the créme fraîche and tomato purée or sauce, then add the peas, the parmesan and the parsley. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water, then toss the pasta with the sauce. Add some of the reserved water if you need to moisten the finished dish, to help the sauce coat the pasta and remain silky and delicious.

Add a plate of salad leaves and, actually, that was rather more than the dull chicken dinner I was expecting to produce.
Cath xx

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Changing Lanes

Sometimes, no matter how much I think about, and organise, my weekly menus in advance, when the time comes to cook I just don't feel like the cooking, or the eating, or indeed both and so I change my plans. Tonight I was going to make some lamb kofte to eat with salad and pitta, using up some Mint Raita I made at the weekend to go alongside. However, it became this filling and very moreish rice dish instead, which borrows heavily from my Vaguely Middle Eastern Coucous. I have a horrible, sneaking suspicion that this went down better than the originally intended, more labour-intensive dinner. Never mind, if nothing else, it provides proof indeed that the very best meals are often little more than happy accidents brought about by my fickleness.

Lamb Pilaf with Fruit & Spices

Lamb stock is more useful than you might initially think and I make it easily with whatever bones we happen to have from chops, shanks or other joints. It's really worth having in the freezer, but if not, I should substitute vegetable stock.

1 onion, sliced
500g minced lamb
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
500g basmati rice
handful sultanas
handful dried apricots, chopped
1 litre lamb stock
plenty of chopped fresh parsley

Heat some oil or butter, or indeed both, in a large pan and fry the onions until soft and beginning to colour. Add the lamb and brown it, then tip in the spices and stir well to mix. Stir in the rice and the dried fruits, then pour the stock into the pan. Bring up to boiling point, then clamp on a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and without removing the lid (no peeking at all, trust me), leave to stand for 5 minutes. Fork through some chopped parsley; I would have loved to put some fresh mint in too, but I didn't have any, then take it to the table and serve straight from the pan. Yum!
Cath xx

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Freezer Burn

Back in cyberspace again...don't ask. Suffice it to say that my absence has not been entirely down to laziness on my part. But no matter, onwards and upwards!

Keeping the freezer organised can be a problem for me, to often it seems to become a black hole of food amnesia if I don't keep on top of it ALL THE TIME. I have to force myself to use the freezer properly, that being said I do enjoy having it all efficient and fabulous! As well as the inevitable cache of frozen vegetables (so useful, I don't know what I'd do without them), homemade stock and the boines to make it with, I keep hunks of meat bought when there are good deals to be had, and a stash of both sweet and savoury crumble topping, ready mixed to be used from frozen.

I don't very often cook specifically for the freezer, though that time of year when I do is fast approaching. More often what I do is double up on things I'm cooking anyway; pies, casseroles, chili con carne and bolognese sauce (to name a few) are as easily made in double or triple portions as in single and then I've an extra meal or two to parcel away, in anticipation of a busy day.

Today I had a good quantity of leftover meat from a whole turkey leg joint I cooked for our Sunday roast at the weekend so this, combined with a tin apiece of ham and sweetcorn, plus a little leg-bone stock to make a savoury sauce went into two pies. The pie for tonight's dinner is in the oven as I type this, and you can see the other in the freezer picture above. I lined the (oiled) pie tin with some (oiled again) foil, then open-froze it in the tin once I'd assembled it. Once hard, it's the work of a moment to pop it out of the tin and wrap it in more foil. Thus, my pie tin is not buried on Hoth for weeks on end!

Cath xx

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Lazin' on a Sunday

With our little mini-summer (at last, is all have to say...) still going strong, today was a day for just chilling out. The children and I had a late breakfast of Eggy Bread ( the Girl Guide in me will never call it French Toast), followed by a lot of messing around in the garden, before I headed inside to get this little beauty into the oven for our supper. Days like today are just made for this sort of dinner; a little bit of none-too-taxing preparation and a long, slow cook which allows for knitting, reading and running round the garden with the kids, while they hold plastic swords aloft and scream "By the power of Grayskull!" at the tops of their voices. Blame my sainted brother's 1980's He-Man collection, or blame my recent LoveFilm rental of He-Man Vol. 1, but they are currently OBSESSED with everything Eternia...

Shin of Beef with Mushrooms & Chestnuts

Phenomenally long recipe, but very little actual work...

2 or 3 tbsp oil
800g shin of beef, cut up to your liking
2 tbsp plain flour

1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 sticks celery, sliced thickly

2 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped

250g mushrooms, halved

240g can vacuum-packed chestnuts

a large glass of red wine

a little tomato purée

500ml beef stock

splash of Worcestershire sauce

few bay leaves

Put the flour and some seasoning into a large plastic bag. Add the beef and toss it around to coat it in the flour. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large casserole and brown the beef in a couple of batches (this keeps the heat up and ensures a good sizzle to really brown the meat). Remove to a plate and set aside.

Add another tbsp of oil if you think the pan need it, then chuck in the onions, celery and garlic. Fry these until soft. Add the rest of the seasoned flour from the bag and mix well. Throw in the mushrooms and chestnuts, then add the wine, stirring up any and all sticky bits from the bottom of the pan. Squidge in a little tomato purée and stir well to mix (this is not so much for flavour as to correct the purple colour brought by the wine). Pour in the stock and the Worcestershire sauce, bung in the bay leaves and bring to boiling point. Cover the casserole pan and transfer it to a 180°c oven for 1 hr 30 minutes. Check it at 1 hr 15 minutes; if it seems to 'wet' for your liking, cook it uncovered for the last quarter of an hour. If not, leave it be for the rest of the cooking time.

Serve from the pan with whatever vegetables you fancy. I personally think that the chestnuts make potatoes
de trop, but you may feel differently. Anyway, sweetcorn is such a favorite with the males of the house as to make it an unavoidable, inevitable inclusion, but I have to say that good old Savoy cabbage is always a favourite, and definitely my first choice here!
Cath xx

Friday, 11 September 2009

Back to the grindstone...

Now that school has started again, we are once more in the plod of normality. For all that people (particularly the mass media) talk about parents 'surviving' the holidays I, for one, love them. To have both my babies at home all day, every day, is heaven for me. To make our own rules and basically have fun for 6 weeks at a pop is even better than that.

Back to reality means back to the routines of old; planning our meals and shopping less often. It also means checking the school meals plan so as not to give Chris the same, or similar, meals twice in one day. I am very keen on the ethos os this, and sit down every week to plan our meals add make my shopping list. Some weeks have meals more elaborate than others, by reason of visitors or out-of-the-ordinary events. But the eve of the weekend, especially the end of the first full week back seemed to demand a fanfare of some sort. Friday night is, after all, always a special occasion, however small!

Fruity Spiced Chicken

6-8 chicken thighs
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced
2 tsp Jamaican jerk seasoning
200ml pineapple juice
50g creamed coconut
1/2 tsp cornflour

Put the peppers in an ovenproof dish. Slash the chicken pieces a couple of times, then lay them on top of the peppers. Sprinkle the jerk seasoning over the chicken and pat it into the skin. Heat the pineapple juice to boiling point, then blend in the coconut and cornflour. Pour this over the chicken, letting it run into the dish, then bake at 180°c for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is well cooked.

This was lovely served with plain rice (courtesy, as always, of the sainted rice machine) to soak up the lovely juices but, as usual, I felt it necessary to gild the lily; my Black Bean and Sweetcorn Salad provided the extra note required. This is so easy, a quick assembly job in the morning that even I can cope with (having two children under 5 and a 10 mile drive to school of a morning).

I cook the black beans by soaking them in boiling water from the kettle for an hour, then bunging in the slow-cooker with more boiling water from the kettle and leaving them overnight, before draining them, rinsing them with cold water and continuing as below. I realise that not everyone has a slow-cooker to cook the beans this way, but no matter. Some supermarkets sell canned black beans (not ours yet, sadly) Happily, even if you do, like me, live deep in the heart of Banjo-land, Mexgrocer can provide you with canned black beans by mail-order. Hooray for the internet!

Black Bean and Sweetcorn Salad

This does make a lot, but it is lovely for lunch, especially in a tortilla 'wrap' with some sour cream or guacamole (or both for that matter).

140g dried black beans, soaked and cooked
250g sweetcorn, defrosted if frozen
4 spring onion, chopped finely
handful chopped parsley
juice of 1/2 lime
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground chilli

Combine all the ingredients in a big bowl. Stir well, cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or all day. Try to avoid eating spoonfuls throughout the afternoon (though it must be said that, for me, this is a counsel of perfection!)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Take time to smell the...not roses, but seaweed!

In the midst of the maelstrom that is the last week of term before the summer holiday, my youngest and I took time out. We went for a long walk over the sand dunes at Ynyslas, north of Aberystwyth. The beach at Ynyslas is often a good place to see particularly fine examples of gnarled and twisted driftwood, owing to the ancient petrified forest that lies just of the coast between here and Borth.

Dating back to the Ice Age, at low tide it is still possible to see the stumps and even branches of these trees that may have shared the earth with some of our earliest ancestors. Amazing. On our walk we enjoyed a little 'beachcombing', looking for what James rather charmingly called his 'beach treasure'. Fascinated by sea urchin cases, crab carapaces and oyster shells, he then became mesmerised by the sight of a jellyfish that had been washed ashore, though thankfully he soon moved on to other things.

Only a small thing; no money and no effort, really - but a precious and wonderful memory...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

In Praise of Slow

I honestly do not know how I'd cope without my slow-cooker. Especially on a day like today, one where I've been out since early this morning, at a study day for local BFN helpers. Being able to come home to a meal that's ready to serve is a huge help when trying to squeeze just one more thing into an already busy life.

That said, I have very little patience for the kind of 'help' one is offered by slow-cooker recipe books (whether those supplied by the manufacturer or written independently). How is it supposed to save time when you are basically expected to cook everything before even putting in in the sainted appliance? The most I ever do is boil the kettle for hot water, or bring some homemade stock to the boil in a saucepan while I'm chopping the other ingredients. If I'm cooking a chicken or a chilli con carne, I just bung stuff in and turn the switch to 'on'.

This, then is our version of having a takeaway because there's no time to cook an evening meal. In the evening, that is. Our nearest Chinese carry-out is 10 miles away, even the nearest chippy is a good 5 miles. So I have to be a little more prepared (dib dib dib) for these occasions.

Sweet & Sour-style Chicken

I don't claim that this is in any way authentic, but it does taste nice. Again, I include some (easily!) homemade Garlic Vinegar, a precious substance I can no longer live without...

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 green pepper, quartered and sliced
425g can pineapple chunks, drained and juice reserved in a jug

Put all these ingredients into the dish of your slow-cooker. To the reserved pineapple juice, add:

4 tbsp garlic vinegar
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
60g sugar (brown for preference, but no sleep lost, eh?)
2 tbsp cornflour

Whisk together to dissolve the sugar and cornflour, then add a very little salt and some pepper and pour this mixture over the waiting ingredients. Turn your slow cooker to whatever setting is suitable, depending on your model and how long you want to leave it for. Serve with rice or noodles (and a bowl of prawn crackers always goes down a treat).

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Big Man Salad

Today was one of the those days, really. No matter how carefully you plan a week's meals and shop thoughtfully, the weather can really scupper things. Well, this is Britain... So the oft-requested and much-anticipated Idle Pie went for a burton today as I tried to prepare something we could all stomach in this very humid weather. We're just not used to it, are we?

A salad is the obvious choice for a hot-weather meal, but, without being too stereotypical, most blokes (i.e. mine, and every one I ever dated) don't think it is a meal. So this is my big man salad.

Triple Cheese Salad

If you don't have garlic vinegar, please consider it, but you may easily substitute a white wine or cider vinegar.

200g Brie
2 tbsp crème fraîche
1-2 tbsp garlic vinegar

Cut the rind away from the Brie and cut it into cubes. Put it in a pan with the crème fraîche and the vinegar, then heat gently until melted and smoothly combined. Use to dress a salad made with:

Cos lettuce, shredded
Cucumber, de-seeded and sliced
100g Caerphilly cheese, cubed
Crôutons (you could use bought ones, but I made some, with added paprika; easy and delicious)

Toss well, grate some parmesan over the top and serve. Yummy!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Attack of the Fridge Raiders

Nigella Lawson wrote in How to Eat, and I quote, "'s the food I haven't planned on cooking that I want most to eat." I find this to be so true, it's the 'what-can-I make-from-what's-in-the-fridge moments that really lead to culinary creativity and therefore, sometimes, to some fabulous discoveries.

My Spiced Lamb with Butter Beans is still, for us, the apotheosis of this phenomenon, but everyday meals can strike a chord here too, with lunch time a rich source of fridge-raiding discoveries.

Today I made, as I often do, a lunchtime salad for myself with whatever bits and bobs needed using up. Today that involved cos lettuce, the end of a chorizo sausage, some vac-packed feta and a bit of parsley from a somewhat straggly looking bunch in a vase on the windowsill. The thing that made this salad go from so-so to super was my all-purpose honey-mustard dressing. Honey-Mustard is my big favourite, coming even above Caesar dressing in the Dressing Olympics (if only such a thing existed...) and this does all sorts of wonderful things for me. It's so easy, try it...

All-Purpose Honey-Mustard Dressing

1 tbsp Dijon or wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp honey
3 tbsp mayonnaise

Liquefy the honey in the microwave (it needs to be liquid for this), then beat it, and the mustard, together. Beat in the mayo and taste for seasoning. This largely depends on the mayo you're using, but a li'l pinch of salt and a good grinding of pepper is what I usually add. Let the dressing down with boiling water (from the kettle) to reach the consistency you need. This is usually, for my taste, a couple of tablespoons' worth for a mixed salad and a little more for potatoes. I have also dressed pasta and rice salads with it, the world can truly be your oyster, in salad terms at least.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Tag - Six Unimportant Things That I Love

Ooh, this is new - I've never been caught up in this tagging thing before! As a somewhat idle member of the blogging community, I have missed out somewhat I suppose, but here I am with my first tag... Caroline at WhatsHappening@MyHouse tagged me to list six unimportant things that I love and how could I resist? In no particular order (as they say), here goes..

1) BBC 7 - a beloved nighttime companion, for me with a night-shift-working husband and two small children with a tendency to wakefulness. That DAB radio is the best present I've ever kidding.

2) The sound of wine pouring from a new bottle in the evening after the children are in bed. Aah, that glug, glug, glug. Was ever a sound so rewarding and relaxing?

3) My Yankee Candle 'Baby Powder' Scented Candle Jar. £18 for a candle is pushing it, to say the very least, but everyday I thank the man upstairs for this little luxury.

4) UltraComida's delicatessen in Aberystwyth regularly puts a week-long smile on my face for a the price of a glossy magazine, courtesy of their Black Olives with Rosemary.

5) The Breakfast Club - my girlfriends and I don't need to go for a fry-up at a local caff once every couple of weeks as a full-stop to the school run but, boy, does it make us happy...

6) Unexpected nice 'phone calls - You know how normally you answer the 'phone in the middle of making pastry and it's some random, wanting to sell you something? Isn't it fab when it's a friend wanting a chat or, even better, wanting to arrange a get-together? Love that.

As for tagging? No idea about etiquette here, so I tag:

Corrine's Corner


Creating, Laughing & Loving

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Noodles For My Little Noodles

This noodle soup has, for a very long time, been one of my secret and most satisfying comfort foods. One of those fab things you eat, slurpily, from a bowl in front of the telly. Or, in bed (and hang the sheets), if things are really bad. It had never occurred to me to cook it for the children until the other day, which is odd as (1) I spend so much time thinking about their diet and (2) it is such a flexible option feast, and can be made to contain all sorts of things they like. This, my favourite, was their first taste of noodle soup and I'm gratified that it was a rip-roaring success. I can see this becoming a rather enjoyable habit.

My Favourite Noodle Soup

Use whatever amounts seem suitable for your needs

GOOD chicken or pork stock
green Thai curry paste
finely sliced spring onions
sweetcorn, frozen or canned
pak choi or other greens 
dried fine egg noodles
cooked chicken or pork, shredded
soy sauce, to taste

Break the slab of noodles up a bit and put them in a bowl. Cover them with boiling water from the kettle, put clingfilm over the bowl and leave to soak . Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil in a good-sized saucepan and stir in the curry paste. Slice the greens finely and put it into the boiling stock with the spring onions and sweetcorn kernels. Shred the cooked meat and drain the noodles, then add these to the soup as well. Season with a bit of soy sauce, tip into deep bowls and serve, with plenty of napkins and prawn crackers too, if you fancy.

I confess to something of the MTD's (Mum's Two Dinners) tonight - I had a bowlful of this noodle soup with the boys earlier, and will be enjoying a repeat performance when the Hubster gets home later...

Monday, 15 June 2009

Best Trays of My Life (sorry...)

Last night, as Hubby was working a weird shift and wasn't home for supper, the boys and I needed a delicious Sunday dinner which would be light of cooking duties for yours truly. A full-on roast-and-trimmings is easier to manage when we are two; one (i.e. me) cooking the meal and the other occupied with child-wrangling. Such fun we have... As cooking in trays in the oven is definitely the easy option, this - not so much a one-pot supper as a two-trays feast, was the result.

To start off, I made some herb butter with tarragon, parsley and mint, then poked some of it under the skin of a chicken. I roasted another tray full of chunked-up leeks, carrots and potatoes, with the rest of the herb butter. As there were only three of us to eat, there were lots of leftovers. I stripped the meat from the chicken and made stock from the carcass this morning; these will go towards tomorrow night's dinner.

The leftover vegetables went to make this soup for lunch today - with boiling water to cover, I simmered the veg until very soft, added plenty of pepper (the secret- along with a shot of dry sherry - of a truly good vegetable soup, i feel), then whizzed it all in the blender. No work at all, really, and enough for two lunches, with cheese toasties on the side. Result, three clean bowls.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Barrel of Laughs

What is it about the plinky-plonk, tinkly sound of a barrel organ that makes it the quintessential sound of a British summer? Especially if it's sunny and you have a waffle cone of Aeron Jersey ice cream in your hand. This was our day, wandering around the Aberystwyth & Ceredigion County Show, looking at the traction engines and vintage tractors, marvelling at the many breeds of chicken being shown and watching the kids go nuts on the bouncy castle, another British institution.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Summer Lovin'

This is an ideal basis for supper on one of those days when it's hot and you want supper to be summery and perhaps a little Mediterranean, but have minimal access to shopping or exotic storecupboard paraphernalia.

Quick Lamb Stew with Summer Flavours

olive oil
1 aubergine
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
500g minced lamb
1 glass rosé wine
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin

Slice the aubergine and brush the slices with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning once. Meanwhile, heat a very little oil in a largish casserole and fry the onions until soft, then add the garlic and cook until its fragrance wafts up enticingly. Brown the lamb mince, then pour in the wine. Cook briefly to sizzle off the alcohol, then add the tomatoes, oregano, cumin and plenty of freshly-ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Roughly chop the baked aubergine slices and add to the pan, then cook for a further 10 minutes.

You can, of course use this stew in the same ways that you might use any meat ragú; with pasta, with baked potatoes, to form the basis of a pie - but for this sort of meal you can really go to town on the whole 'taverna' idea and serve flatbread, chunky salad, olives and a dish of crumbled feta cheese with fresh oregano stirred through. I have fresh oregano in the garden at this time of year, so this is not out-of-the-ordinary for us, but if you don't have any (please do consider the idea, though) just season the cheese with a little pepper. The dried stuff will just about do, but only if you combine it with some other fresh herbs (mint, parsley, basil are all good, severally and together).

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Blowing Raspberries

The raspberries I mentioned on Saturday had been soaking for six days (rather than the usual five, but that's motherhood for you) so this morning I finished off the bottle of raspberry cordial. Diluted with (fizzy, for preference) water, this is a beautifully refreshing drink and not too sweet for my taste - unlike most fruit-flavoured drinks you can buy. Apart from the five-day waiting period it's a quickie and, let's face it, it doesn't ask anything of you than for a bowl to be in its service for a few days. Oh, and for a corner of the kitchen counter.

Raspberry Cordial

500g raspberries (I tend to use frozen ones)
300ml white wine vinegar

Put the raspberries in a bowl (not a metal one, though) and crush roughly. This is why frozen berries can be better than fresh - no juice squirting everywhere! Pour over the vinegar, cover with clingfilm and leave for five days to steep. Line a colander or large sieve with a J-cloth (or a piece of fine muslin, if you happen to have such a thing lying about), then rest it over a saucepan and strain the berries and juice through the cloth until you have all the drips. Try not to 'help' by squeezing and pressing the fruit as it will end up cloudy. Less work, too...

400g caster sugar
250ml boiled water (preferably still hot, but only boiled ONCE)

Add the sugar to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the water. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer while you skim off the scum that has surfaced. I use a tea-strainer for this, and very well it works, too. Pour through a funnel into a sterilised bottle and cool. Stick the lid on and bung it in the fridge.

You don't need much per drink - maybe a tablespoonful for a tumbler topped up with water, and it is a glorious pinky red. My children are very keen on it and I'm happier for them to drink something like this than regular squashes or fizzy pop drinks as I know what's in it. It may be sugary, but it's all-natural, no nasties.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

'Boys of Summer' skirt

A skirt I had a brainstorm for a while ago. I ran this up the other night, after watching Snakes on a Plane - with one ear on Bill Bailey's Tinselworm - because I always find a good comedy performance makes me speed through my sewing. It's a very simple skirt - gathered with an elastic waistband (using some fabby no-roll elastic which doesn't roll over on itself during the course of the day).

The print on the green cotton is of a white paisley pattern and I think it looks great with its trimming of bright pink ric rac braid. I adore the pairing of pink and green all year round (and claim this combo as my 'favourite colour'), but somehow it screams summer to me and so far, it's true, the skirt has heralded better weather than has been forecast. I like to name the skirts I make and, as I have had Don Henley's 'The Boys of Summer' whirling round in my head for a couple of days, this, coupled with the pleasant weather of recent days led to the, I think exceedingly appropriate naming of this one. It now hangs in the wardrobe beside my 'Red Shoes' skirt while I wait for inspiration to strike once more.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Making Sunday Funday

Wet Sunday afternoons really are awfully tedious, particularly at this time of year. So something fun is very necessary - and this book is just the ticket. With the boys ensconced in Muppet Treasure Island, I took a much-needed creative moment to myself.

Aranzi Aronzo Cute Stuff is a real tonic for a grey day and, as my little tissue case (pictured, in pink leopard-spot felt) has proved to be so covetable, today I made a rather more boyish one for my eldest son to pop in his schoolbag. I made his with some camouflage print felt from good old Hobbycraft - thankfully their sheets of craft felt are sufficient for two of these cases as I then had to make one for the jealous little bro! As a tissue is never far from the hand if you have small children (or if you are one), it's nice to bring a little kitschy fun to the day-to-day...

The tissue cases are in a a simple envelope style and, while I eschewed the funny face appliqués in the book, I can never resist a bit of pretty, so some simple iron-on appliqués which have been hanging around in my sewing box for a while were the perfect way to make clear to whom which case belonged. With the robot and the fire engine, the y have the boyish designs they love - but there's a teeny bit of sparkle to keep Mum happy too.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Drinks for Lazy Summer Days

So we've had a teeny taste of summer. I suppose it's a bit of a case of "get us addicted and then jack up the price", because now I'm sitting watching the rain beating down outside and thinking back to the last few days of sitting in the garden of an evening, with just Radio 4 and a long drink for company.

Looking ahead hopefully to warmer weather to come (fingers crossed, at least) I've made a start on our summer drink supplies. I've some raspberries stewing in white wine vinegar for my raspberry cordial (watch this space...) and fresh lemonade can be made using my Lemonade Base, but this ginger drink can be whipped up whenever and stored in the fridge for all sorts of occasions. It's lovely poured over ice and diluted with water (fizzy or still, your call). In fact, once diluted, it tastes like 'proper' ginger beer, but carries with it none of the problems or effort. It is also rather nice to splash it, neat, into cocktails, pop or fruit juice for an extra hit of fire.

Ginger Drink

Please don't worry about peeling the ginger too scrupulously, will you?

3 large pieces of root ginger, peeled and sliced
1 lemon, zest pared and juice
1 litre water
1 heaped tbsp ground ginger
250g caster sugar
2 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar

Put everything, bar the vinegar, into a pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil (uncovered) for 30 minutes or so, then remove from the heat. Stir in the vinegar and then pour through a funnel into a sterilised bottle. As you can see, I use an old wine bottle. I line the funnel with a J-cloth to stop any bits or sediment going into the bottle. Leave the bottle to cool completely, then stick the lid on and keep the bottle in the fridge.


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