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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