Monday, 8 October 2012

Yes. It has been a long time...

... but I am back!

I am sure it is not only me, but 2012 has been a busy year, both at work and at home. In these times, work is hard, busy and also with an ever-present risk of redundancy. Home life continues apace, supporting children with homework and also with the quest (and pressure) of trying to maintain a quality home-life.  And what about me?

Anyway needless to say we have not starved. Neither have we been eating processed or ready made meals.  I have discovered a lust for frugality, not just in these austere times, but also through an almost zealous dislike for waste (especially when so many go without).  But my baking skills have not improved!

I have continued to cook from recipe books. I have also resisted buying new books as per the original principle of this blog.  I have also cooked from my magazines, supermarket recipe cards and occasionally from the Internet.  I still love formal dining, even if it is just me, A and our daughter.  This includes using the linen napkins. I have them so I'm gonna use them - no "saving for best" for me (otherwise they would never get used which is also a form of "waste").

My culinary journey will embrace Britain's finest, as well as from other countries. I will continue to cook seasonally, and free-range / organic as possible - but also keeping an eye on cost.  Sadly our allotment did not produce much this year which means relying on shopping for vegetable more than usual.

So I hope you stay with me, and share your thoughts and comments on this blog.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Where has the time gone!!?? Time for a fresh start.

Oh dear, what a delay in posting on my blog.  I hope I haven't lost you!  Lucky I didn't make this a new years resolution.

What with commitments at work and home, Christmas and New Year arrangements, and life in general - I have not posted anything lately. I am rather behind.  It is difficult to fit everything in and there are periods of time when something has to give and be dropped, albeit temporarily.  Usually it is the gym!  Recently it was both the gym (any excuse) and my blog.

I have started back at the gym this month and now it is time to discipline myself with keeping the blog up to date.

I look back from when I started 10 months ago at how my ideas, writing and content have developed and think, "I am getting there". I enjoy rambling on and enjoy trying to make something interesting out of something so mundane.  I still have more ideas to incorporate into my blog and I am determined to carry on with it.  I just wish I could do it more often and admire those who can blog each day, especially when they lead such busy lives as well.

Anyway, this was just to let you know that I am still here, and I am still cooking (to varying degrees of success)!

Watch this space!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Salmon with lentils and patty pan (my own recipe!!!)

We are in the throws of autumn and I am a little late with this particular post.  But this summer has been something else!  I went on two holidays quite close together (i.e. ate and drank a lot).  I started slacking at the gym.  These two elements combined mean I have put on (more than) a little weight. 

In the absence of returning to my pre-summer gym regime, I decided to be a bit more careful about what I ate.  One thing I decided was to cut back on the carbs.  Not "cut out" but "cut back". 

With this approach, I decided to add more lentils to my repertoire, to replace pasta / rice / potatoes.

A meal I ate at a "chain" restaurant during the summer was delicious. I thought I would be able to recreate the dish without having to buy any of the ingredients.  I already had lentils in the cupboard and salmon in the freezer (always bought when there is a special offer on).  The herbs, garlic and vegetables were all home-grown (by A).  The patty pans also home-grown, were added as a side dish as we had them and they needed to be used.

Although this meal was not using a recipe from one of my books as per the objective of this blog, I did look up ways to cook lentils.  I kind of consolidated similar methods as follows: added chopped garlic, onions, carrots and celery all grown by A and also added some chopped pancetta.  I have since made it without pancetta but from a personal point of view, I think even a small amount adds to the taste - but of course you don't need to add any meat.

With the patty pans, I again looked up different recipes on the Internet and decided to keep it simple. I rubbed in garlic and mixed herbs with olive oil and roasted for about 20 mins.



As you can see, my daughter did not add any patty pans to her plate, but she did eat everything else.

Well, that is the end of my summer recipes.  My next posts will be warming, comforting, traditional dishes, using recipes perfect for the cooling weather.  Until then....

Monday, 31 October 2011

raspberry and milk cholcolate cheesecake (bbc good food website)

One of A's daughters and her boyfriend were staying the night and I was looking for a simple recipe that I could follow straight from work. 

I had a glut of raspberries to use up. I selected a cheesecake recipe which was "no cook" and everyone loves chocolate don't they!!??

This also gave me the opportunity to use my new spring-loaded cake tin thingy that A bought for my birthday present.
My first clue that all was not right!  Maybe it was because I part substituted full-fat cream cheese with reduced-fat cream cheese?

Maybe the cream should have been whipped???

Why I don't do desserts...

... but it tasted lovely!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Sticky toffee and date cake (Delia)

Getting the garden ready for a mild summer' day barbecue

After eight years, I still love our patio (inspired from a Geoff Hamilton garden book)

Oh deary me.  I seem to be very behind in my blogging.  Or I have cooked more than I intended to blog. 

Anyway, buoyed by the success of my recent rhubarb cheesecake, I decided to bake again.  One of my BFFs had made this for me a while back, and as I love sickly, sweet, sticky puddings, I thought I would bake this for the pudding at a Sunday bar-b-q.

I don't have the recipe in a book and ended up going on-line.

A cake made with condensed milk and dates - should be yummy.

and with sooo much butter!!!!!!

Now with the flour added.

Ready for baking....

Cake baked...

And wouldn't you know it... by the time I served this, I forgot to take a picture.

The cake was NOT as nice as my BFF's one. In fact I would not even describe mine as a sticky toffee and date cake.  My one tasted like a fruit cake.  Back to square one - I will learn to bake one day!

BTW it was nice warmed up in the microwave as it seemed to make the cake moister- but I still think I jinx making puddings.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Autumnal Sunday Lunch... in Summer!! - From "One Pot Suppers"

I am trying to reduce the amount of food shopping for a number of reasons.  Like many people in the Western world, I have a stock of food in tins, jar and packets that never seem to get used - which end up being wasted.  We (and by that I mean A) grows veg on the allotment so again, trying not to waste food so finding recipes that use what we (A) grow.  Also, I am trying to be more budget conscious as no jobs are safe and one day I might find myself unemployed so like the Girl Guides, I like to be prepared.

The last Sunday in August, Grandma coming over, bank holiday weekend (am bit behind on my blogging) - surely time for a lovely Summer meal on a Sunday?  Well it would be if the weather had been nicer! Not feeling particularly inspired I decided on braised lamb shanks with garlic mash - a very autumnal menu but...

The recipe is from a book that I got as a Christmas present as I had recently bought a slow cooker.  And I (or you) needed a break from my regular dive into the "Pasta" book. 

The only thing I had to buy were the lamb shanks from butchers (trying to reduce reliance on, and my hard earned money going to the supermarkets).  The herbs, red onion and garlic are home grown - haven't costed them but again, like the idea of not relying on the supermarket (although should I feel guilty about depriving the local greengrocers)!?  As you can see I am combining frugality as well as my dislike of the power of the supermarkets.

Lots of pictures of the fresh ingredients (to show my gratitude to A).

Be prepared for lots of chopping but once done, the most arduous bit of the recipe out of the way.

I must admit I usually skip the marinated bit in recipes (usually because I have not read the recipe properly and left it too late).  In the interests of this professional blog(!) I followed the recipe and I marinated!

Scraps and peelings stored for the compost bin  Green too!

Then I went to the gym (I go to the gym so that I can eat!). When I got back, although slightly less than the two hours stated, I browned the meat then added the wine and stock (used beef Oxo as that is what I had in the cupboard).  I used twice the amount of stock as quoted in the recipe as I cooked it in the oven instead of the slow cooker (which is supposed to need less liquid).

Once in the oven, I cooked at 125oC then down to 100oC.  The recipe is actually for the slow cooker so I did guess what temperature to cook at.  Cooked for six hours but the meat was so tender and fell off the bone.  Think I should have cooked it at the lower temperature from the start though.

While it was cooking we went to "Harrow in Leaf" show and looked at all the displays of fruit, veg, flowers and crafts that seems from bygone era but still going strong(ish) today.  Surprisingly very strict rules for competitors to comply with.

Keeping with the frugal theme, I made apple and raspberry crumble - all the fruit from the garden.  And the crumble, again all ingredients already in the cupboard.  I do not usually "do" desserts but crumble is so easy!

Once prepared I kept the crumble in the fridge and finished getting the dinner ready.  Veg (string beans and carrots) were all from allotment.  Although we have been growing new potatoes, this dish really suits mash potatoes so I made garlic mash (from a Delia recipe).  Lets face it, it was not a hot, sunny day so mash potatoes it was to be (or is it only me who thinks mash potatoes are not summer weather food)?

I have to say that this was not a typical Sunday!  I might manage the gym and cooking dinner, or a trip out and cooking dinner, but not all three!  And as for making pudding.... it is only because I don't want to waste the cooking apples growing in the garden.  Luckily it was still school holidays otherwise I would have had to cram my daughter's homework into the day too.  And luckily it was a bank holiday so I had an extra day to do the ironing!

When ready to eat, I took the pot out from the oven, and took the lamb out of the pot and kept the meat warm while finishing off the sauce / gravy.  Where I went different to the recipe was to add cornflour to the liquid to thicken it. 

This is such a good way to cook lamb shanks and relatively cheap.  Also good for dinner parties but I am not sure if it is starting to be a bit of a dated recipe (regularly appears on pub menus)... but so what, they are quite cheap, tastes good and is easy to make (even if you didn't bother with the marinade).  We didn't use up all the sauce so I froze what was left as I am sure I will find a use for it with another meal.

I forgot to take pictures of the dinner. But it was delicious!

A picture of the garden instead!!!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Slow Cooked Beef With Herbs - A Little Taste of Morocco

This is one of those books that I bought cheaply at a garden centre. No fancy chef.  No TV show. But a lovely and inspirational book which includes information about Morocco with lots of picures not just of the food, but all sorts of photos of stuff associated with Moroccan food, so I consider this book a bargain.  Does it conatin authentic recipes?  I have no idea but it certainly has all the flavours associated with middle eastern recipes.

What I like about North African dishes is that you can make something fairly traditional (e.g. a stew) and throw in some spices (e.g. cumin, cinnamon) and you then transform the dish into something that is different.  You might not serve stew at a dinner party, but you might serve a Moroccan beef tagine with couscous.

Actually I did serve stew once at a dinner party, it was game casserole with Stilton cheese & herb dumplings.  I guess what I am saying is, it is not difficult to adapt something you might make a lot and sounds a bit "plain", into something that seems completely different and exotic! 

I chose this dish as a family meal for the weekend, when I have more time to prepare and cook meals.  Also being the summer months, it did not seem right to cook a stew or a casserole.  However Morocco is hot and if I call it a tagine, then it seems OK to cook it during July or August (which admittedly was more like winter this year).  Also as these are austere times, choosing cheaper cuts of meat then cooking them slowly for a long time, produces something that is both cheap, easy and tasty - which ticks a lot of boxes for me!

The recipe also uses ingredients that you tend to have stored in a cupboard anyway and we grow lots of herbs - and this uses lots of herbs, so a winner!

To complete the dish I made couscous, which is so easy to prepare (just add hot water and leave to stand).  To make the couscous slightly more interesting and more visually attractive, I stirred in fresh mixed herbs and pomegranate (and no, holding a cut one upside down and whacking the shell does not get the berries out any easier)!!!!

I introduced my daughter to couscous when she was young on the premise that couscous was like little rice!!! It worked and she does not her nose up at it - but I do know that not everyone likes it.  I guess you could have it with rice.

Of course the true test of success is my daughter eating it without making any comments whatsoever - so this meal was a success!