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And now for something completely different

24 Jun

Pick yourself up dust yourself off – it’s a bit more complicated than that!

Firstly let me say I’m not perfect. I woke up to the referendum result this morning and cried, then swore, hugged Dan hard, then went on to blame the elderly, the ignorant and the racist for making what I think is huge mistake and ruining the future of the country! None of which is really helpful, and much of which isn’t necessarily true.

It felt like waking up after a going to a fantastic party where the mood suddenly soured, we had all drunk too much, kissed people we shouldn’t and might have started a fight or two but can’t really remember. The only thing we do know is that we have to go to work today, or out in the streets and see the same people we were punching or inappropriately snogging yesterday.  It’s uncomfortable and upsetting, and will take a while to move on from.

My fear is that as a county we have become so divided – flung into binary choices and opposing views that we are going to have to climb down very quickly to avoid being pulled even further apart.

There is already a lot of discussion about whether the result is binding – it isn’t – but I can’t see any politicians going against “the will of the people” just yet. It may trigger a “better” offer from Brussels that would see us all vote again. There is definitely going to be a Conservative leadership contest and I’d guess a Labour one too fairly soon, and possibly a snap general election. There is going to be a lot to sort out in the next few months and years – whatever the eventual outcome.  All fun and games for a country full of tired/bored/angry/scared people with political parties more divided than ever.

The landscape of politics is changing with independent and smaller parties across the spectrum attracting more interest and vying to be political contenders. Terrifyingly the far right have been emboldened by the rhetoric and scaremongering of the past few months. With divided parties, and more voices comes the need for greater cooperation and collaboration at a time when British politics is more adversarial than it has been for decades.

My personal view is that proportional representation would better fit the current landscape – dare I say it a more European model where parties talk, bargain and negotiate rather than try to trample each other into the dust. I don’t see much chance of this becoming reality soon, because it’s a trickier, more nuanced and MORE GROWN UP way of doing things and I’m not sure if political parties can or want deal with this yet. But we as individuals need to as well.

Representative democracy would mean us all taking a step back from the binary politics and first past the post system. Move away from individualism, stop running to polar opposite points in an argument then standing there with our fingers in our ears screaming back at the supposed opposition. This isn’t fair or equal and it’s dangerously divisive. It’s being led around by the group that can shout the loudest or drowned out by them.

The question for me today is am I big enough to lick my wounds, climb down from my high horse and get stuck back in?  Are we collectively able to come together and work through things? Or are we going to keep standing on either side of a widening gulf hurling insults at each other until we can no longer hear or understand the other side?

It’s difficult, like the aftermath of the party that turned bad, it’s going be very awkward looking each other in the eye for a while. But if we don’t an awful lot of important things like the NHS, good quality education, a fair and supportive benefits system will fall into the void and we won’t be able to organise ourselves to save them.

So let’s get it out of our systems today – wallow, cry, swear, go for a run, go to the pub and drown your sorrows, celebrate, howl at the moon!  Then take a long hard look the small number of politicians  we are really be giving control of the country to, find some common ground with each other – even just a tiny bit and start getting shit done.

further adventures without the bread maker.

2 Dec

Since my fab bread masterclass with Warings I’ve been honing my kneading skills and playing around with different recipes. Recently I picked up some lovely local-ish apple and cinnamon bread mix from the Wessex Mill, down the road in Wantage. I’ve never used a bread mix before and the instructions on the packet were designed for the bread maker but said it could be made by hand without altering any of the amounts so off I went.

Following the instructions on the packet I mixed the ingredients together with 320ml of warm water and kneaded for about 8-10 minutes. At first I was a little worried that the dough would be too wet, the packet says that if  the loaf collapses in the bread maker and to use less water if this is the case, so I was concerned; but the dough came together nicely as you can see.

I left it to prove until it had doubled in size, knocked it back and the left it to rise again in a greased round tin.

As the packed didn’t have any baking instructions (assuming you know or are using a bread maker) so I used my Waring’s instruction sheets and gave it about 25 minutes at 200° ( or until it sounds hollow when tapped which I will admit is a concept I still don’t fully understand). I was pretty pleased with the results.

I even managed to slash the top properly, the structure of the loaf was pretty good too, by my standards anyway.

It rose very well and wasn’t overly cinnamoney (sic) or sweet, I did add sugar which was optional in the recipe and whilst I’m not sure it would work with savory foods it was a lovely breakfast loaf with butter, honey or jam.  I must confess I’m still enjoying making bread by hand when I have the chance, it’s a little bit magical which is a good job as I’ve got to loaves worth of this flour left in the cupboard!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

24 Nov

Having a mid November birthday I try to hold off doing anything Chirstmassy before it, and increasingly difficult task with Christmas sneaking in earlier and earlier, but I try. Once my birthday, and that of a very good friend even later in November are over I let myself start thinking about Christmas; I build up slowly otherwise I think I could get a bit carried away.

The first step is making a Christmas cake, a bit of a faff yes but always in my experience nicer than a bought one and while people are want to joke about turkeys lasting far to long, but a large Christmas cake soaked in enough booze will keep well into the New Year, whether you still feel like eating it then is another matter! But here is the best recipe I have found and one which has drawn the most complements for Jamaican Black Cake; a rich, fruity, boozy cake which everyone seemed to enjoy. I don’t know if this is authentic, a search of the internet shows up a variety of methods, some involving soaking fruit for a month or longer, but this recipe suits me.

Ingredients

113g mixed peel

113g glace cherries

227g prunes

454g raisins

grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 lime

2 cups dark rum

1 tsp vanilla essence

227g margarine or butter

227g dark brown sugar

2 tbsp caramelized brown sugar (browning sauce)

170g plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp salt

1tsp baking powder

4 eggs

Method

  • 24 hours before baking finely chop the fruit, zest the lemon and lime and place in a large bowl with 1 cup of the rum and vanilla essence and leave to infuse.
  • Grease and line a 9 inch round cake tin
  • Pre heat the oven to 180°
  • In a large bowl cream the butter, sugar and caramel until light and fluffy
  • In another bowl sieve the dry ingredients together
  • Beat the eggs and last cup of rum together then add to the creamed butter mixture in two halves, adding a spoon or two of the flour mixture if it looks like curdling.
  • Fold in the remaining dry ingredients and pour into the tin.
  • Level the top of the cake and bake in the centre of the oven for approx 1 ½ hrs, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool in the tin and store in an air tight tin, you can feed the cake with an additional shot of rum every week until it is needed.

Make no mistake this is a very rich cake, and ideally it should be made a month in advance so it can be topped up with rum and to allow the flavours to develop. However, I think you could make it quite a bit closer to the big day and still get away with it. It also ices very well, although I did over do it with the edible glitter!
 

Treacle flapjacks

17 Nov

For the past few years I’ve make my own Christmas Cake…but this post isn’t about that, it focuses on an annual problem; what to do with the left over ingredients from making the Christmas Cake. Which ever recipe I use there are always a few things left over.

Glace cherries tend not to hang around for very long as both The Man and I will happily eat them from the packet, raisins etc are also eaten swiftly. Candied peel usually lurks in the cupboard until some time in the summer, and this year there is treacle too. Trying to cut down on food waste I don’t want to throw these things out if I can help it so I am on a quest to use them up. First up, treacle flapjacks.

I used to hate treacle with a passion, Mum would make treacle toffee every bonfire night and watch as her ungrateful daughter spat it out or turned my nose up at it. I have since made my peace with treacle, good job as there is the rest of a large tin in the kitchen; and this recipe is quick, easy and delicious.

Ingredients

  • 150g butter
  • 75g dark brown soft sugar
  • 75g dried fruit of choice (I used sultanas)
  • 75g  black treacle
  • 225g porridge oats
  • pinch salt

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas mark 5.
  • Melt the butter, sugar and syrup or treacle in a saucepan, but be careful not to let it boil. Stir in the porridge oats and the salt and mix thoroughly.
  • Press the mixture into a 20cm (8 in) round baking tin and bake for 25 minutes, don’t be tempted to leave them in the oven for longer or they will set solid and be really difficult to get out of the tin!
  • Remove from the oven and mark into slices. Lift from the tin and leave to cool before cutting. Store in an airtight container.

TA DA! Not the best picture in the world, but they are much darker than standard flapjacks too. You could replace the treacle with golden syrup, but these had a very comforting old-fashioned taste too them. They aren’t very healthy either, with all that butter and sugar; but as a treat or an energy boost I don’t think you can beat a good flapjack. Luckily there is plenty of treacle left so I think we will get through plenty of these.

Autumnal allotment

8 Nov

Although I think it’s still unseasonably warm the allotment is winding down, and we should really get on and do those end of season tasks we always put off until the weather turns really wintry; we never seem to learn! Most of the vegetables are over now and the beds have been cleared but there are still a few plants still hanging on though.

We still have a few chillies left, the others are drying at home.

These little chillies are supposed to be mild but a taste test suggest otherwise! I had to pick them all as the plant was looking a bit bedraggled.

The very last of the cherry tomatoes were sweet and delicious,they have benefited from the extra warmth and staying on the vine for longer.

It’s not all digging up and the end of the line, these cabbages are starting to develop hearts and as long as we can keep the slugs off them should be ready in spring. Our cavalo nero is also doing well and should see us through the winter and into spring nicely.

Ox cheeks with blood orange and green polenta

30 Oct

I’ve had a bit more time to do some cooking recently and as the nights draw in and it gets colder I like start craving warming, comforting dishes and a favorite cut of meat to use are ox cheeks. Not only are they cheap, a little goes a long way and they can be bulked up with other cheap ingredients to make something quite wonderful like this.

The inspiration came from this recipe for Pork Cheek Tacos by Helen Graves which I had a feeling would work with ox cheeks and I was right, the result is a perfect Autumn/Winter dish that The Man described as ” a triumph” the highest level of foodie praise in our house! It takes a long time but you don’t have to keep an eye on it and the results are so good I’d urge you to give it a try, it is seriously tasty

Ingredients, serves 2

1 tbsp oil

2 tbsp plain flour for dusting

1 large ox cheek

2 onions finely sliced

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 glass of red wine

juice of 1 blood orange or 1 cup of blood orange juice

1 chippotle chilli crushed ( or a heaped tsp of paste)

1 tbsp tomato puree

500 ml vegetable stock

½ cinnamon stick, 4 cloves, 4 allspice berries and 2 bay leaves, preferable tied in muslin bag so you can pull the out at the end.

Method

Lightly dust the meat with flour.

In a large lidded pan, heat the oil and brown the ox cheek on both sides then set aside on a plate. Turn the heat down a little and fry the onions for 5 minutes, add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes being careful not to let it burn. Next deglaze the pan with the wine and orange juice, add the chilli, tomato puree and stock, stir until combined then add the spices in their bag before returning the ox cheek to the pan. Place the lid on the pan and cook on a very low heat for at least 3 hours, longer won’t hurt.

After at least three hours the meat should be soft and tender, remove from the pan and on a plate or chopping board, use two forks to shred the meat and then return it to the pan with the sauce which should now be thickened. Remove the bag of spices taste and season as you wish.

I served this with quick cook polenta with kale stirred through to give it a green colour and Thomasina Mier’s pink pickled onions, which marinated in lime juice give a nice crunch and tang to the meal as well as looking beautiful with the other colours.

A bread masterclass with Warings Bakery

23 Oct

A post in which I learn to make a decent loaf of bread. The Man and I have had a bread maker since last Christmas and have really enjoyed “making” our own bread but I’ve become more interested in the hands on process of making bread. However, despite having a brilliant book about on the subject and my Mum being pretty good at making bread I’ve never really made a hand-made loaf (apart from soda bread) that resembles anything other than a house brick! That is until I went on a bread making masterclass with the lovely team at Warings Bakery in Reading.

I joined 6 other keen bakers for a four-hour masterclass which we were assured would leave us much more confident; as well as leaving with our own freshly made bread. Under the knowledgeable, funny and supportive guidance of two of the Warings family we worked our way through 5 types of dough, different shaped loaves and a variety of rolls. There is a lack of photos from the early stage because I very rapidly got flour and dough all over my hands. It was the first class they have run and if there were any teething problems or nerves it didn’t show.

This is the haul I went home with, glowing with pride that I’d made proper bread and it was all pretty darn successful!

Clockwise from the top, white coburg, seeded brown vienna loaf, my attempt at a four strand poppy seed plait (enriched dough) and a humble but very tasty brown tin loaf.

Rolls, loads of them! Cottage rolls, knots with poppy seeds and some cheese topped soft rolls; I had to share these with The Man something I was not entirely happy with, they were so lovely). My favorite bread was the focaccia we made we the enriched dough (we also used this to make the plait and some rolls)

I’ve made focaccia before but this one; made  with a rich dough, topped with rosemary, garlic oil, sea salt and olives and brushed with even more oil when it came out of the oven it was delicious.

I found the 4 hours going very quickly,  we had an introduction to the principles of making bread including stretching the gluten and  how yeast works and then began mixing and kneading, knocking back and shaping furiously, working on one dough at a time while others rose and proofed. Baking is hungry work, so while our creations baked we were treated to a cream tea using Warings bread and some cracking scones which apparently they don’t make very often ( but really should).

I have to admit, much to the amusement of my fellow bakers, it was very excited at the prospect of my bread coming out of the oven, it felt a bit like Christmas and I had a stupid grin on my face for most of the afternoon!

We had the opportunity to taste the bread as it came out of the oven and look at the texture and crumb. We went home loaded with what we had made, a Warings apron, recipe cards for everything we had made, the smell of fresh bread in my car was so powerful I had difficulty not tucking in on the way home and saving some for The Man, lucky I’d filled up on scones.

I really enjoyed myself, being taught in a small group by such enthusiastic knowledgable people was great fun and I’m pretty sure I got better as the course went on and I’ve made bread since and it’s much better than before so I must have remembered something! Warings are going to be running more masterclasses and covering different breads and pastry and if this first class was anything to go by they will be great. I’d recommend them as a great way for beginners or the baffled like me to develop your skills and confidence and have a great time doing it.

Reading Town Meal

16 Oct

Another weekend of eating but not cooking, basking in early October sunshine I spent a lovely afternoon in Readings Forbury Gardens and the first Reading Town Meal. The meal was the brain child of  Food4Families who work with schools and families across the borough to create a network of food growing spaces.

Bringing together allotment-holders, gardeners and producers with catering students from Reading College who prepared and cooked the meal the afternoon saw around 1000 meals served to a crowd who also enjoyed live music, cookery demonstrations and a host of other things in the glorious sunshine. The weather brought the community out in force, but the organisation went really smoothly and soon people were spreading out on the grass to enjoy the food.

A zingily dressed mixed salad with beetroot and some borlotti beans which were an interesting and welcome addition. The main was a mild curry which contained lots of squashes , impressive as it hasn’t been a particularly good year for growing them.

The service was staggered so those who ate early had time to look around the stalls or watch a demonstration like I did, picking up a nifty recipe for partridge, although I think it would work with other meats. Pudding was a Canterbury Tart, making the most of this years bumper crop of apples.

I found it a little too sharp for my liking, but that’s probably personal taste and when you take into consideration the huge amount of work involved in putting together the event it was really a minor quibble, and it didn’t stop me eating all of it. The sunshine helped create a friendly and relaxed atmosphere and despite the fact that I was in the minority coming on my own I felt perfectly at home. I thought the town meal was a great event, really well organised and an inspiring model of what can be achieved across a town like Reading. All in all it was a tasty and inspiring afternoon.


Urban foraging, finding a feast in East London.

8 Oct

Whilst it’s been a quiet few weeks on the home cooking front, we’ve been out and about on food related adventures. The first one was a fab urban foraging trip in East London organised by a new social enterprise  The Amazings. The Amazings help people who are about to retire or have retired create  experiences with the skills, knowledge and passion they’ve picked up throughout their life. You get to learn something new and they get some money for sharing their skill, a pretty nifty deal. Off we went one Sunday morning to the east end oasis of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park to meet Terry, our Amazing for the day.

After a cup of wild tea, yarrow for me;

we were off, following Terry and his assistant into the park to pick our lunch.

The Man and I have been on a foraging course before but it was really interesting to forage in a different environment and one we are more likely to find near to us.

We tasted as we went, and collected leaves for later and I was amazed at the number of things we could eat that I didn’t know about. We also had the chance to test our mettle by picking and eating raw nettles. I didn’t trust myself enough to pick the leaf and roll it without getting stung but I did eat one and can report that I didn’t get stung, and it was tasty too.

After our picking session we headed back to the education centre to cook the results of our foraging.

Comfrey fritters, very tasty but being deep-fried helps. I always enjoy communal cooking but when it looks as pretty as this salad it’s even better!

We also made a really interesting stew with mallow leaves and went away with a jar of jam made with Guelder Rose berries (only edible when cooked) which I can report is delicious! We had a great time, it’s a really interesting way to spend an afternoon sharing someone elses knowledge and enthusiasm. Terry was a really engaging teacher and we cooked up some interesting and tasty food, the realisation also dawned that perhaps we should give up growing vegetables because most of our weeds are edible too! As a taster of urban foraging it was a great introduction and worth traveling into London for and would be a great way of exploring your local area and seeing it in a different light. The Amazings have another foraging events line up and some other awesome opportunities lined up and I’d certainly recommend this one.

Seasonal Supper

28 Sep

After what has felt like ages of preparation, and a little bit stress about whether people would come, would people get it, would there be enough food and a hundred other scenarios the first Seasonal Supper was a success. People came, we ate, swapped recipes had a good time and people seemed keen on running something similar at different times of year with different produce.

There were 13 of us in the end (re-branded as a lucky number for the evening) not a huge number but for a first run it as a good number, not too few but not more than I could cope with and make sure everyone was interacting and enjoying themselves.

As expected courgettes featured pretty heavily with everyone apart from us having a bumper year. The Man made these mini pies with a cheese, potato and herb filling.

I made a tarte tatin with our apples, the only thing which has had a really good year this year, for which I can’t really take credit! My other favourites included some gorgeous onion bhajis which arrived warm and this tomato, olive, caper and feta dish which I made sure I took a copy of the recipe for.

I’m really glad I took the plunge with the Seasonal Supper, now that I’ve got one under my belt I’ll be having a think about how else and where else it might work and all the seasonal recipes people could be sharing. Hopefully it’s onwards and upward, watch this space.

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