Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Tortilla for the Illa

My children aren't ill very often, we've never (touch wood) had many of the usual childhood bugs, coughs and colds to deal with.  So it comes as a horrid shock when one of my babies is laid low by being really, properly poorly.  Earlier this week, my youngest boy broke out with spots all over his little body; attack of the dreaded chicken pox! We've been holed up at home for most of the week so far, and it shows no sign yet of abating.  Luckily, a homebird like me doesn't feel the cabin fever thing so much, but I am struggling to find seemingly endless ways to entertain a crochety child, who is missing his schoolfriends, feeling a bit pathetic and who is really too young to completely understand why.  We've read lots of stories, talked to Granny on the telephone, done colouring and sticker art.  We have also, snuggled under a duvet on the sofa, watched rather more television than I would normally allow, but I am choosing not to feel bad about that.

We have also made one of our current favourite treats;
chocolate covered pretzels! I say 'made', of course what we actually did was coat a bag of Julian Graves' salted pretzels in melted milk chocolate.  These are always a real nostalgia trip for me; does anyone else remember those bags of Nestlé chocolate-coated 'Pretzel Flipz' that were around about 10 years ago? They were gorgeous.  Then they disappeared, how rude.  I did think of doing a little more baking with him today, but he has spent most of the day in and out of the bath as it seems to soothe the itching, poor boy...

Supper tonight just had to be chicken soup for the invalid, more specifically my Chicken Tortilla Soup, which is comforting and easy-to-eat, with grated cheese and soured cream on the side.  We had a roast chicken for supper last night, so I made my usual 'overnight stock' in the slow-cooker to have it ready for tonight's supper  Quick shopping trips hardly being a priority at the moment, we had no convenient carton ofc soured cream in the 'fridge, but did you know you can make a perfectly good substitute by mixing 3 tsp of lemon juice into 150ml double cream? No? Well you can, and I am more likely to have a bit of double cream knocking around than I am to have bought soured cream 'on the off chance'.  Actually, last week I'd overbought double cream because it was on offer when I did the shopping, knowing that we had visitors at the weekend.  So it all worked out in the end... now we've just good to wait for the pox to vacate the residence!
Cath xx

Monday, 22 November 2010

Pork Rescue

After a fabulous weekend with friends, the centrepiece of which was surely the 4kg shoulder of pork we roasted on Saturday afternoon, I found myself with a huge hunk of meat still left in the 'fridge.  As pork seems to roast so much better when cooked in a large piece (and anyway, you get more crackling this way), it seems silly not to cook a large piece when you get the chance, especially if the only 'problem' is having meat left over; leftover pork is so lovely, whether you cook it or not , and so versatile when you do. This recipe also, happily, uses up the rogue green peppers so often lurking in my 'fridge; refugees from bargain mixed bags of peppers.  The frozen 'mini rösti' I sometimes use to top this sort of meal are easy enough to get hold of in most supermarket freezer sections;  the usual mashed potatoes for the top are great, but ultimately, on a cold Monday evening, these are the easy option, however lazy it may seem... and, justifiably so, as it's very tasty either way!

Pork Pot (as named by James)

1 tbsp dripping, oil or butter
1 onion, peeled, halved and sliced
1 stick celery, chopped
1 green pepper, de-seeded and chopped
200ml pork gravy (or water)
500ml passata
400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 or 4 handfuls of shredded cooked pork
frozen mini rösti (12 or so)

Heat the fat in a large casserole and fry the onion, celery and pepper until softened.  Add the gravy (or just some water if you don't have gravy left over, or to hand) and the passata, then stir in the chickpeas and the shredded pork.  Stir well to mix, then turn it all out into an ovenproof dish.  Top with the frozen rösti (and see picture) and cook at 200°c for 25 minutes.  Serve with something a little crunchy, whether salad or vegetables.

Cath xx

Monday, 15 November 2010

Mother's Ruin

"Do not allow your children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth."  Social Studies, Fran Lebowitz, .
If you have access to damsons, this is a lovely thing to make at this time of year. Because of the time of year that the damsons start to fall,  it will be ready in time for Christmas and makes a good present, if you are generous and would like to give some away.  It is also great to be able to offer your guests a nip during the cold winter months. It takes a good six to eight weeks, but a little shimmy-shake occasionally is all that is required of you for most of that time.

Damson Gin Liqueur

This recipe also works very well with cranberries for a pleasantly bittersweet liqueur, to be served icy-cold in shot glasses.

450g damsons
450g caster sugar
1 litre gin (inexpensive, even cheap, stuff is fine)

Put everything into a large, clean Kilner-style preserving jar and seal.  Store in a cool, dark place and shake the jar vigorously every day (or as close to that as you can manage).  After six or eight weeks the liquid will be a gorgeous deep purple-red colour and look slightly syrupy.  Strain the liquid from the fruit and bottle.  I pop the gin-soused fruit into bags, and then into the freezer, to use in 'naughty' jams and chutneys later... anyhow, enjoy!
Cath xx

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Passing it on...

This is something of an old-time family classic for me, one that my Mum cooked when I was a child and that I, in turn, now cook for my brood.  I'm sure that my boys will one day pass it on to their own families.

In fact this recipe was originally passed on to my Mum. A teacher at the school where she worked as a newly-qualified teacher, a lady named Doris, unselfishly passed on several of her recipes. Now, years later, I pass it, and others, on to you now through this blog.  Part and parcel of a love of cooking is, often, the almost obsessive collecting of recipes, which inevitably leads to the sharing of the same.  I understand the (perhaps perceived) necessity for a business to keep a 'secret recipe', but I have no real idea where the benefit might lie for a home cook.  Sure, I eat things that I'd rather keep secret, but that tends to be my 'dirty little secret' foods; Bombay mix eaten with a chunk of mature cheddar, cream crackers with cheese spread and sweet chilli sauce and peanut butter-and-salad sandwiches.  But I digress...  This is my version of the genuine article, modified as it is with my preferred garam masala replacing the curry powder used in the original recipe.  You can also use some chili powder for a spicier edge; try both, and decide for yourself which you prefer.  It works well in the slow-cooker too, but do make sure you buy condensed mushroom soup, not the regular kind, or the sauce will be altogether too watery.

Quick Chick

4 roasted peppers (from a jar!), cut up roughly with scissors
6 chicken thigh fillets, halved if very large.
1 tsp mild chilli powder
295g can condensed mushroom soup

Put the pepper into the bottom of an ovenproof dish (or, indeed, in the slow-cooker).  Put the pieces of chicken into a plastic bag, add the chilli powder and give it a good shake about.  This is by far the easiest way, but if you prefer, put the chilli powder on a plate and roll the chicken in it.  Pour and scrape the soup over the top of the chicken, it won't look like enough, but slap it about with a spatula to get a bit of the soup over all the bits of chicken.  Cover the dish with foil and stick it in a 180°c oven for 45 minutes or so.  Do all this in the morning, if you're using the slow-cooker, forget about the foil, stick the lid on and leave it on LOW all day.  Serve with rice, though noodles are also a very acceptable side dish.
 Cath xx

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Slow Spuds

I haven't got a recipe for you today, but I do bear news of a bit of a fab discovery.  Did you know, if you have a slow-cooker, you can use it to bake potatoes?  Well, you can.  Granted, they come out more like jacket spuds that have been cooked in the microwave than the (still infinitely superior, to my mind) crisp-skinned and fluffy version baked in the oven BUT... this has changed my life.  With this 'in hand', as it were, I can come home knowing that supper will be on the table in less than 10 minutes; very handy when life takes over, as it so often does, especially when there are the children's social lives to manage, not to mention all the other commitments one rashly takes on.

First thing in the morning, prick your potatoes, pop them in the slow-cooker and stick the lid on - no water necessary - then, and this is the part I really like, you are free!  Go back to bed, go to work, go off out for the day and leave them to it.  They need about 10 hours on MEDIUM, or a little less on HIGH and, when it comes to suppertime, your potatoes will be ready; needing only the customary knob of butter and whatever filling(s) you and your fellow diners currently favour.  That'll be cheese for all of us, then; with baked beans added for the boys - big and small - of the household and a heap of coleslaw for me (and a spot for my little James as well, who never likes to feel that he might possibly be missing out on anything, bless him!
Cath xx

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Confession Time

Tonight I broke one of my own golden rules and sat at the table with the family for dinner to eat a completely different meal to the rest of them.  My lovely hubby had decided, with the children, last night, to have turkey burgers and chips for supper this evening.  Not being the biggest fan of chips in the world, and having absolutely no interest whatsoever in a breaded turkey burger, we came to a decision that they would eat theirs and I would have something different, but that we would, at least, still all eat together at the same time

Scrambled eggs is, at a time like this, one of the easiest and quickest meals to put together and, luckily, is also one of my favorite things to eat.  Not a traditional supper dish, perhaps, but one that I find welcome at pretty much any time.

I'm not going to give you 'a recipe' for scrambled eggs, as they seem to be quite a personal thing; a real matter of taste, but I will tell you how I like mine.  I prefer scrambled eggs to be very soft and creamy.  The very firm, fluffed-up version one so often encounters is all very well, but when I make them at home,  I cook them like this.  Have the toast ready before you begin and keep it warm.  Heat a knob of unsalted butter in a small pan (non-stick, if at all possible, washing up the scrambled egg pot is a particular bête noire of mine!).  Crack 3 eggs into a jug and beat them with one teaspoonful of anchovy sauce or a little squeeze anchovy paste, in lieu of salt.  Tip the beaten eggs into the foaming butter in the pan and quickly give them a good stir.  Season with plenty of black pepper and continue to stir until the eggs are cooked, but not dry – they should be nice and oozy.  I like my scrambled eggs next to toast, not on it, but that's another of those personal things.  I would have to eat this many, many times before I even began to tire of it.  It really IS one of those things, I suppose...
Cath xx

Monday, 8 November 2010

In the Mood

So, what do you think of the new look?  Freshened things up a little, hasn't it?  I've been in that sort of mood today and , after redesigning the page this afternoon, I was entirely ready for some serious kitchen action.  I say serious, but, despite the loooong list of ingredients below, please know that I put this meal together tonight in little over half an hour.  All the ingredients, bar the meat, are standard storecupboard and 'fridge stock in my home, and I usually have some minced lamb in the freezer.

Frankly, I think that this dish is perfectly flavoursome without the lamb, but the males of the household prefer it with, so there we are.  Rice and lentils are a great combination anyhow and adding just a handful or so when cooking 'plain' rice gives a new dimension of texture and taste to an ordinary side dish. Lentils are a great, inexpensive source of protein and the children have loved them since they were very small.  One of their favourite weaning foods was this Cheesy Lentil Savoury.  Type 'lentils' into the search bar above to see more of my recipes using this often-underappreciated (in the West, at least) ingredient.

 Spiced Rice & Lentils with Lamb

2 tbsp oil (I use rapeseed)
2 x 1” pieces of cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf
3 cloves
5 cardamom pods
1 large onion, quartered and sliced thinly

3 cloves garlic, minced
5cm piece ginger, minced
1 tbsp cumin seeds
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp cayenne pepper,
250g minced lamb (optional!)
175g red lentils
200g basmati rice
750ml  water

1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp  melted ghee or butter
1 tbsp lime juice (bottled, in my case)
Chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a heavy pan and briefly fry the cinnamon, cloves, bay and cardamom.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, then mix in the garlic, the ginger and the other spices.  Add the lamb, if using, to the pan and brown it well, then tip in the rice and lentils and add the water.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for15 minutes, until  the rice and lentils are tender.  Using a fork, stir in the garam masala, the melted ghee (or butter), the lime juice and plenty of parsley.  Serve with some sort of flatbreads (pitta, naan, chapati...) and some raita or natural yoghurt.
Cath xx

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Small Life, Big Happiness

I am a homebird. My house is my home and my escape; that is the way I like it, cosseted with family and friends.  When it is gloomy outside, damp and windy, when the light is grey and cold, I retreat ever more into what can be my little world of colour and comfort.  Not 'cocooning' in any sense, but most definitely 'nesting'...  Small pleasures are all the more appreciated at this time of year and, while I feel grateful for much in my life, sometimes the trivial things can be as life-affirming as the most important and significant people and events.

This afternoon, in front of a roaring fire, the children and I have been curled up on the sofa, snuggled under piles of blankets.  We watched The Sarah Jane Adventures, their very favourite program for a long time and, well-scripted as it is, I confess to loving it too, as well as the time I spend watching it with them in quiet contentment.  For a little afternoon snack, nothing could have been better, today, than a cup of tea (for me), a glass of milk apiece (for the children) and a chunk of tiffin.  Call it chocolate biscuit cake, call it fridge cake if you like, but it always has and always will be tiffin to me.  Not for me, however, the extravagant concoctions of amaretti or wafers, with cherries, nuts, ginger and marshmallows.  If you fancy something more along those lines, have a look at my recipe for Rocky Road.  Tiffin should be, to my mind at least, quite plain and unfancy; a no-frills treat if you will.


I prefer half-and-half milk and plain chocolate for the topping, but you may, obviously, do as you please

220g digestive biscuits
75g raisins
100g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp cocoa powder
2 tsp caster sugar
200g chocolate

Crush the biscuits finely and stir in the raisins.  Melt the butter, syrup, cocoa and sugar together and mix this into the biscuit crumbs.  Press into a 9" square tin.  Melt the chocolate and spread over the surface.  Chill until just firm, then mark into squares.  Chill until solid before breaking up the bars.  Put the kettle on and hold any errant, pleading children at arm's length until their bedrooms are tidy...

This doesn't keep well.  I mean, it can be stored in a box in the 'fridge just fine, but it doesn't generally hang around long enough to need that kind of treatment!
Cath xx

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Antipasto Antipasta?

The pairing of tuna and butter beans makes for a classic Italian antipasto, and a combination that I adore.  It also works well as a suppertime pasta dish and this is a simple recipe using mainly storecupboard ingredients, except for an onion, some parsley and a lemon (and if I can pick those up in our tiny, though fabulous, village post office then I'm sure no-one else will find too much of an excursion in them). As for the pasta, I am currently having a total linguine moment, so I used that tonight, but cavatappi and fusilli have worked equally well for me in the past.

Pasta with Tuna and Butter Beans

250g dried pasta (and see above)
200g can good-quality tuna in olive oil
1 small onion, halved and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
 can butter beans, drained and rinsed well.
chopped fresh parsley
grated zest of one lemon and a spritz of its juice
Cook the pasta.  Meanwhile, drain the tuna and reserve the oil.  Heat the oil in a heavy pan and fry the onion with the whole garlic cloves until the onion is very, very soft.  Tip in the butterbeans and turn in the oil until they are warmed through, then add the tuna to the pan with some parsley and the lemon zest.  Fold it all together carefully; try not to break the tuna up too much or the dish will lose its pleasing texture.  Drain the pasta (reserving some water from the pan) and toss it with the tuna-and-bean mixture, adding a little of the pasta water and a squeeze of lemon juice to bring the flavours and consistency together.  Please, no cheese...


We went to Pizza Express in the half-term holidays while we were on a shopping jaunt to Carmarthen and the children were freshly, as always, enamored of the famous dough balls with garlic butter.  Ever since, they have been regularly nagging me talking about them and finally I thought it was time I knocked up a home-style batch; driving to Carmarthen just for an order of dough balls would be extravagantly decadent in the extreme!

Dough Balls

450g strong white flour
7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
250ml warm water
 flour, fine semolina or cornmeal, to dust

garlic butter, to serve

Mix all the ingredients for the dough together and knead for 5 minutes.  Put the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.  Knock the dough down and knead for another 5 minutes.  Re-cover and leave for another 30 minutes or so.  Divide the dough into 16 and roll into balls.  Place on a floured baking sheet and dust them with a little bit of flour (or, even better, a little fine semolina or cornmeal/polenta flour).  Leave for 30 minutes until puffed up and then bake at 200°c for 15-20 minutes until tinged with gold.  Serve warm, with dishes of cool garlic butter on the side.  Dip the balls into the butter, or break them open and spread with the butter; your style, your choice.
Cath xx

Friday, 5 November 2010

Trés Bon-Fire

"Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot." Traditional.
Good old Bonfire Night was tonight, once again, let down by our Welsh weather.   Plaaning ahead, and rather than attempting any 'outside' jollity in the face of biting winds and lashing rain, we opted for a night in front of the fire. Indoors.

Food for Bonfire Night is a pretty easy piece, really; things along the lines of bean casseroles, sausages, chili, cheesy toast, baked potatoes and always, always, something really sweet and sticky to follow.  Tonight, and (voluntarily) housebound, I prepared a pot of chili and some rice for supper.  I also added, for later, a plate of my special Bonfire Hotdogs to munch while we watched a fireworks display on the television, before letting the children loose with a couple of dozen glowsticks in lieu of sparklers; a truly wonderful idea as it turns out; no buckets of water, no stress about potential injuries nor any (imagined?) need to constantly lecture the poor kids AND more gratification time than your average sparkler!

 'Bonfire' Hotdogs

These are great for bigger gatherings or parties on a budget, as the treatment you give the sausages somehow manages to make even cheap bangers taste a whole lot better than they really ought to.  Good sausages can be transformed into an almost-gourmet trea; great for barbecues or even for eating cold as part of a 'posh picnic'.

8 thick pork sausages
8 rashers streaky bacon
4 tbsp barbecue sauce (e.g. HP)
finger rolls, to serve

Skin the sausages.  This is easily done by scoring lightly along the length of each sausage, then peeling away the skin and it really makes a difference, trust me!  Wrap each sausage in a rasher of streaky bacon, then place on an oiled rack over a baking tin.  Brush each sausage, quite liberally, with barbecue sauce.  Bake at a low temperature (130°c fan, 150°c conventional ovn for 30-40 minutes until well cooked.  Slip the sausages into top-sliced finger rolls and return to a very low (i.e. as low as possible) oven to keep warm and crisp the buns slightly in the meantime.
Cath xx

Thursday, 4 November 2010


 I may have pointed out before, just once or twice, how much pie means to the members of this household.  I am always greeted with smiles, and shortly thereafter blissful munching, when I bring a pie to the dinner table.  This is my version of a classic chicken pie; no frills really, but easy to make and lip-smackingly rewarding to eat. Adding suet to the pastry makes for a gorgeously flaky, almost melting texture.  I have all but stopped glazing pies with egg-wash; dusting the pastry with flour instead makes for the pie-crust of my husband's dreams, soaking up, as it does, the chickeny juices and his beloved Henderson's Relish.

Old-Fashioned Chicken Pie

350g plain flour
90g suet
85g butter, diced
cold water, to bind pastry
400g chicken thigh meat, diced
1 tbsp flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 sausages, skinned
100ml chicken stock
1 tsp cornflour, slaked with 1 tbsp water

Make the pastry. Rub the suet and butter into the flour, season it well and bind it with some cold water.  This is made much, much easier if you can just bung it all in the processor and whizz, but no matter if not.  Roll out the pastry and line a pie dish.  trim the excess and roll out a lid for your pie.

Toss the chicken in the flour, then mix this with the chopped onion.  Squidge the sausagemeat together with a handful or so of fresh breadcrumbs, divide the mixture into six and roll each into a small ball.  Put the floured chicken, onion and sausagemeat balls into the pastry-lined dish.  Mix the sock and the slaked cornflour together and pour this liquid evenly over the ingredients in the dish.  Top with the reserved pastry lid, crimp the edges and dust lightly with flour.  Bake at 180°c for  25 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 150°c and cook for a further hour. 

Serve with a (preferably green and leafy) vegetable of your choice, tonight we had some simple steamed-and-buttered cabbage.  Perfect plus.

Cath xx

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Delicious Autumn

"Youth is like spring, an over praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes.  Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits."  ~ The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
Autumn.  It may be  cold and dark (and, for us in West Wales at least, misty and extremely damp), but it does have its plus points.  Roaring open fires, hot chocolate, snuggly sweaters and beautiful colours on the trees.  All these, and cooking lovely, warming casseroles like this one.  It truly is food to warm your heart and soul.  Even more so when it comes with a baked potato; crunchy-skinned without, fluffy and buttered within,  on the side... just pop your pricked spuds in the 160°c oven as you begin to prepare the casserole and everything will be, perfectly, ready at the same time.

Casseroled Pork Chops with Cider and Mustard

4 pork chops, bone in
2 tbsp dripping or butter
1 large onion, halved and sliced thinly
2 eating apples, cored and cut into wedges
500ml cider
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp cornflour, mixed with 1 tbsp water
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley

Melt the fat in a large, deep pan which has a lid.  When it is hot, quickly brown the pork chops, then remove them to a plate.  Add the onions to the pan and fry until soft and golden.  Pour in the cider and add the mustard and slaked cornflour, stirring well to combine everything, before adding the apple pieces and returning the chops to the pan.  Cover and bring to the boil.  Transfer the pan to a 160°c oven for an hour, then check the seasoning and correct it to your liking.  Stir in the parsley and serve with baked potatoes.
Cath xx

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Insolence of Youth

My baby is four, how did that happen?  Four! How very rude of him to keep growing up... Yes, it's JD's birthday and as usual I am finding it a little harder to cope with than his elder brother's progression in age.

He, on the other hand, is having a whale of a time.  From the early morning wake-up call, through the tearing of paper, punctuated with gasps and cries of "I've always been wishing for a [insert name of relevant gift here]....", through lunch and the blowing out of all four candles at once!

Ah, yes, the cake... always a pleasure to make a lovely cake for my boys' birthdays.  Though I don't believe that anyone should ever feel guilty about buying birthday cakes from the supermarket, or paying a bakery to make one, I get a lot of enjoyment from decorating the children's cakes to match their latest interests or passions and see it, in a way, as another gift; one given with special love and time from Mummy...

As we are very much all about dinosaurs at the moment, this volcano cake seemed appropriate.  Two ordinary chocolate sponge cakes; one made in a pudding basin and the other in my tarte tartin tin.  Iced with chocolate buttercream and sprinkled with grated plain chocolate and a little dessicated coconut, dyed black with food-colouring paste (just mix 1/4 tsp paste with 1/2 tsp or so of water and mix in the coconut to colour it.  Spread on foil to air-dry a little before using).  The 'molten lava' streaming down the sides is actually melted white chocolate with a little orange colour paste stirred in (Sugarflair's Tangerine/Apricot, if you're interested).  Spooned into the top crater and running gloopily down the sides, it looks rather good, I think.  The 'magma'-filled recess also made a good spot to place the candles, the chocolate achoring them steadily.  A good result all round, I feel!

Cath xx

In the interests of honesty and transparency, I feel that I should confess that, actually, I messed up the first attempt at the basin cake, by cooking it at too high a temperature for too short a time.  So we had a kind of melting-middle chocolate sponge with cream for pudding on Sunday.  As Homer (Simpson, this time) might well have said "Mmmmmm.... unexpected pudding".


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