Monday, 29 March 2010

The Gift of Finding Beauty

I am very sad to hear of the loss, too early, of Elspeth Thompson, a writer whom I greatly admired for her gift to see the beauty in the mundane and to find wonderful ways in which incompetents like myself could dare to upcycle the world around us.

I shall think of her often, and the ways she inspired me to feather our little nest just that little bit more...

Rest in Peace, lovely lady.
Cath xx

Monday, 22 March 2010

Casserollin', rollin', rollin'!

Apologies to Limp Bizkit, there...  Casseroles of one sort or another are a real regular favourite in this house;  Christopher, especially, when asked what he'd like for supper, invariably requests a casserole.  Sometimes, though, one wants to feel that the finished dish is somewhat more than the usual bung-it-all-in-and-see; more of a classic dish that happens to be a little bit like the good old cass.  Chicken Chasseur is much maligned by packaged 'recipe mixes', purporting to recreate this classic dish (just add chicken, onion, mushrooms etc.).  It is, in fact, hard to see how following the instructions on one of these packets is , realistically, any easier than making it properly.  There are no strange, recherché ingredients here, just a short list of, well, real food.  The only, perhaps, slightly specialist item you need here is a large plastic bag...

Chicken Chasseur

I keep some of those small 200ml bottles of wine in my kitchen cupboard to use in cooking; if I open a 'big' bottle just for a little bit, I inevitably drink the rest, so better safe...

8 chicken thighs
plain flour
salt and pepper
20g butter and a splash of oil
1 onion, sliced
200g mushrooms, sliced
200ml white wine
200ml chicken stock
a bay leaf
parsley, to finish

Put some flour a a large plastic bag and season it well.  Chuck in the chicken pieces and toss them well in the flour to coat them thoroughly.  Shake off the excess flour and ditch the bag.  Heat the fat in a large casserole, then brown the floured chicken pieces well and set them aside for a moment.  Fry the onion until soft and golden, then stir in the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they  absorb all the fatty juices and start to 'squeak' a little on the pan.  Reduce the heat, then pour in the wine and stock and bring to a low simmer.  Add the bay leaf and return the chicken to the pan.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and simmer for another half an hour.  Turn the heat up a lttle towards the end, to bubble the juices away just a little.  Throw over a handful for chopped parsley, for pretty, and serve.

Tonight, we ate ours with mashed potatoes and a dish of leeks in cheese sauce, but it's equally good with a bowl of rice or some plain steamed potatoes and peas.  Quite frankly, bread and salad is more than enough... Enjoy!
Cath xx

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A Very Porky St. Patrick's Day

James and I had a lovely St. Patrick's Day lunch today, cooked for us at the Aberystwyth family centre by some Irish friends.  Coddle is not so very dissimilar to the Welsh favourite, cawl;  a casserole of bacon and sausages cooked in stock with potatoes, parsnips, swede and carrots.  Served with some gorgeous soda bread it was, truly, a meal to make you sit up and beg!

Wanting to offer the rest of the family a little of the culinary comfort they had missed out on at lunchtime, tonight I opted for an easy midweek roast; potatoes, parsnips and (unpeeled) carrots, chopped up and roasted with a small, 1kg joint of pork loin.  I added a glass'-worth of chicken stock (as I had no pork stock) and cooked it all at 200°c for an hour.  Served with some stuffing balls and some steamed broccoli (plus the inevitable sweetcorn), it made a meal with very little work on my part. Result!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, Cath xx

Sunday, 14 March 2010

French Connection

Hope all the mummies out there had a lovely, lovely day.  I took my boys to the park for a bench-bound picnic lunch and a 2-hour climbing-frame fest earlier, so I feel I've earned my lovely new bubblegum-pink handbag and my rainbow-coloured necklace...they know me so well, somehow!

Dinner tonight was pretty lazy Sunday roast, a roast chicken, supplemented by steamed potatoes (although, to my mind, a loaf of good bread is just as good, if not better!) and one of our favourite sides, known to us as French Peas.  Loosely based on Petits Pois a la Française, this is another of those dishes that keeps on giving; I've already earmarked the leftovers for tomorrow's lunch...

French Peas

100g butter, preferably unsalted
1 tsp vegetable oil
200g bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely diced or 2 thin leeks, halved and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 little gem lettuce, sliced
200ml chicken stock
900g petits pois
1 tbsp crème fraîche 

Melt half the butter with the oil in a large pan.  Fry the bacon until nicely tinged with gold, then add the garlic clove with the onion and fry the onion or leeks intil soft but not coloured.  Add the lettuce and cook until wilted, then stir in everything else.  Cook at a low simmer for 5 minutes or so, then cut the remaining butter into cubes, add it and cook until the butter is melted and the sauce is thickened and glossy.  Fish out the garlic clove (and snaffle it, cook's treat!).  Tip into a warmed bowl and serve.
Cath xx

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Going Coco-nutty!

This is a lovely, mild and creamy curry for a weekend family supper.  It is quite 'saucy', because we like lots of sauce to soak into our rice, and to mop up with our naan, but you could cut the liquid down a little if you want, I guess.  Creamed coconut is a lovely addition to make to curries when cooking for the children as the sweetness seems to allay any potential tiresome behaviour about 'too spicy' foods.

Coconut Chicken

50g ghee (or butter and a splash of oil)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
a few cloves
500g chicken, sliced
1 pint milk
1 tsp cornflour mixed with 1 tsp water
100g creamed coconut, chopped

Heat the fat in a large pan (one with a lid!) and fry the onion until soft.  Add the garlic and stir well, then mix in the spices.  The aroma will really hit you sometimes, so be careful with your eyes and that cayenne!  Add the chicken and fry quickly to seal it, then pour in the milk, cornflour-and-water mixture (which will stabilise the milk and prevent it from curdling unappealingly).  Simmer gently for 30 minutes, then stir in the coconut until the sauce is smooth and thickened.

Serve with rice or naan bread, or both in this house.  Yum!
Cath xx

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Get Inventing!

"With tuppence for paper and can have your own set of wings", or so the song goes.  With a few more varied bits and pieces and some sticky tape or glue, however, the world is a child's oyster.  My boys' favourite pastime is junk modelling, constructing all sorts of fantastic machines, robots and spaceships out of everything and anything that we save for them; everything from loo roll tubes to chocolate box trays, from bottle-tops to lolly sticks. 

Incidentally, don't throw away those irritating bits of plastic that are used to wire toys, almost irretrievably, into their packaging.  They are fab for junk modelling and have made robot legs, lorry grilles, oven racks, you name it!

I want to encourage the creative spirit, but I'm not too keen on the mess all over the house, so today we turned their playshed into their very own 'invention club'.  With boxes, tubes and cartons galore, all sorts of bits-and-bobs and a ready supply of sticky tape, glue sticks and marker pens, they have their own little mad haven of creation...

Cath xx

Monday, 1 March 2010

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi, unwaith eto!

St David's Day and, for children that means dressing up in national costume for school and, for everyone else, it means CAWL!!.  As three of the four of us had already eaten cawl at lunchtime, however, I decided not to repeat it at supper, opting instead to prepare another of our favourite Welsh dishes, Wyau Ynys Môn.

I love the patriotic enthusiasm that March the 1st brings out in the Welsh, and as Wales is my adopted homeland and the birthplace of my children, I do all I can to embrace it.  People may joke about the Welsh; the language, the long placenames, coracles and the ever-popular sheep gags, but their passion for their country should never be denigrated.  A straw poll of my Saes (English) friends revealed that no-one does anything to celebrate St George's Day (though I do wear red roses in my hair on the day, most years in any case!) and none could tell me when the English patron saint's day fell (23 April, if you're interested).  If you can find me a Welsh person who doesn't know the date of St David's Day, it would be rhyfedd iawn (very surprising)!  Just a thought...

Cath xx


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