Eating it, cooking it, thinking about it

Either eating it, cooking it or plotting it

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Pollyanna and pork based products

Nine days into the new year and its all very purposeful so far. All food cupboards and fridge cleared of anything past its sell by date or thats lost its pizazz, (13 jars of half eaten condiments from the fridge alone..defeat admitted with a sticky jar of pomegranate molasses, extraordinarily, some lemonade from 2009) then onto my make up box and not inconsiderable ramshackle heaving wicker basket of assorted half used body creams and showergels ( practically all of them food/drink related - green tea/ orange/ basil & bergamot/ honey & almond...just an extension of the kitchen cupboard really. I'm that predictable..) and I'm feeling very New Broomish and self satisfied. Add to that an alcohol free last 7 days, fruit, veg and at least 2 lentil based meals and  I'm well into Smug Territory. Its almost as if late Decembers staple diet of pork pie, cheese & wasabi peas never happened...There is real danger of The Steamer being cracked out next week and I'm not going to lie...I'm really looking forward to a white china cup of hot water and steeped fresh mint leaves a little later on. The shift into clean livin' is entirely predictable in January of course, buts its no less postive-vy-fying for that. Even the sun peeped out today, and just before midday, I could hear, from my kitchen the sound of church bells riotously ringing. I'm not sure if it was a particular ceremony, or if the bell ringers ( what are they called again...campanologists ? Or is that studying bells ? Maybe its the same thing.) were having a spirited practice, but it was lovely to stop still for a moment and listen. Its refreshing to have the musty Eeyore dust blown away by Pollyanna-ish sunshine ! New Year enthusiasm ! You gotta love it ! I make a small ceremony every year of sitting down to write all my notable dates / birthdays/, high days and holidays in my new diary and that helps lift the spirits. 3 weddings upcoming this year, 2 holidays already planned and a new member of the family due in June..there is much to look forward too. I am even enthused by the prospect of ham salad for tea (fancy schmancy salad - asparagus, soft boiled egg, rocket & red piquillo pepper). Speaking of ham, I made my ham hock terrine over Christmas ( for the starter for Christmas day) and very pleased with it I was too - particularly as it set in its natural jelly, giving the dish a satisfying sense of completeness ( even though my niece and nephew wouldn't be drawn in - Fair Enough. At 11 I'm not sure I would have been enthused over a brick of terrine either, clear, perfectly set jelly or not...) I had my quintessential Christmas moment whilst buying the hocks for the terrine. They were ordered especially from the Butcher , Mettricks in Glossop, where ordering is pretty much essential to avoid disappointment. The queues outside Mettricks over Christmas are quite the local feature, and are easily 70 people deep, patiently queueing at any one time. They even have to run a separate express queue for their pork pies (truly deep and crisp and even. I bought 2. Oink) I waited my turn ( 45 minutes!, even with an order !...This is sheer proof of the quality and popularity of the place) and whilst I was queuing, snow fell, people thronged past with gifts and good humour, and a small group of students were playing Christmas carols, just outside, on the pavement to entertain the queue. By the time it got to 'In the Bleak Midwinter', the queue hushed and snow flakes ever so gently falling, well, I may, just may, have had something in my eye that needed dislodging... Oh...and Christmas day - mum had made her trifle. I was first to dig in. Of course. Happy New Year !

Monday, 20 December 2010

Happy Christmas


Nail the softest, lightest vanilla sponge recipe known to man
Order takeaways only ever as last resort
Re-acquaint with frighteningly expensive & complex juicer
swim . or walk. or something
stop apologizing for Radio 4 preoccupation
Admit growing interest in Gardeners Question Time
Admit also listen to Radio 2
Make good the things I let slide
Be less wasteful
Rejoice in M& S Christmas Tea and Coffee range, only ever to be drunk from my Christmas mug (had since I was 14, ceremoniously brought out every year)
Stop hiding dodgy folk music cds when friends visit
Work out deeply conflicted attraction to Andrew Marr
Watch all subtitled high brow films I have stored in Sky Plus. Dating back to 2008.
Make a bright white buttercream meringue icing. Not ivory. Grrr.
Stop backing the horse you know will never win. You won't win the long game, the short game or ever devise any strategy , or make any odds to go in your favour. Enough.
Really, enough.
Continue to be grateful for all the friends and family that made it through another year in good health and good humour
Remember those who didn't
Have a happy Christmas
And a very happy new year 

Monday, 13 December 2010

What follows is a true story

Monday 6 Dec : asparagus, homemade meatballs, pasta
Tues 7 Dec : boiled eggs & toast
Weds 8 Dec : roast veg, potato & sausages, chunkily cut and roasted with garlic oil, chilli & herbs
Thurs 9 Dec: takeaway pizza, vegetarian.
Fri 10 Dec : East z East, for a curry. Manage only the starter, distracted by wine and conversation and wine and wine. Thankfully escorted home, eats tesco finest horseradish microwaveable mash with grated cheese. In bed.
Saturday 11 Dec : oven chips & hellmans mayo ( lunch). Make no sudden moves, keep eyes shaded, have to renege on long term plans for lovely dinner at lovely friends house as am foul and unlovely beast who got distracted by wine. Indian takeaway for one. Korma. Several pints of ribena. Soothing.Swear never again.
Sunday 12 Dec : Earle, Simon Rimmer's restaurant in Hale. Dear friends birthday and happy trip down memory lane as lived in Hale for a while. Poached chicken & chorizo to start, with shallot & sherry vinaigrette. Main of beer battered fish and chips, chunky tartar sauce. Cheeseboard to follow. Excellent, unfussy laid back meal. Cocktails and merlot and martinis and merlot and merlot..Sing Christmas songs. Early night. Never again.
Monday 13 Dec : A new dawn ! A new day ! A new life ! Blueberry probiotic yoghurt and fresh mango for breakfast. Lunch of fresh vegetable soup. Snacks of dried cranberries and a cereal bar. Been virtuous all day so one small glass of wine. Last episode of Any Human Heart to watch. Another glass of wine. 8pm, investigates fridge options. Find carrots. Dials takeaway. Pours wine.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Fanny Craddock, pickled onions and the Birdy Song

Earlier today, just idly channel hopping , I managed to catch 15 mins or so on the Food Channel of a clip of  a   Fanny Craddock at Christmas program - from 1975, I noticed on the end credits. It was mesmerizing. I know her high camp style,grotesquery, lurid creations, and pantomime dame get up are already well documented ( did you ever see the BBC drama with Mark Gatiss and Julia Davis ?  Well worth seeking out if you haven't. Absorbing) and I have no fresh insightful observations to offer on her countenance or probable demons, but it unexpectedly made me come over all nostalgic. She was making a trifle - a billowing blousy Elsie Tanner of a dish, approachable and terrifying at the same time. It had bright yellow bouncy custard (not the refined ivory, vanilla pod seeded unctuous creme anglaise style stuff) and on top of this, she thickly piped cream in a sort of spider web design with great dollops of cream rosettes at each tapering point. And then she stuck chocolate rose leaves into each cream rosette . And then, along each strand of cream, she placed (with her chunkily ringed fingers) bright green, red and yellow glace cherries. It was a triumph. This was the trifle of my childhood. Its good natured largesse took me right back to all the Christmas parties (every Christmas eve my mum and dad held a kind of open house for friends and relatives), boxing days, high days and holidays there ever were in my childhood. My mum was (is!) a very good, skilled cook - growing up I thought it standard to have homemade rockbuns, cheese and onion pies, bakewell tarts, apple pies and chocolate cake (made with scotch block chocolate!) in the house. A bottled or jarred sauce was virtually unknown*. Meals were, 9.5 times out 10, made from scratch, fresh veg,fresh meat, fresh fruit, an emphasis without us knowing it on good eating. Meals were proper, and we sat at the table to have them (on our individual brown woven table mats, and we were directed without fail not to "fill up on pop" before every meal). And this is the trifle I remember - sherry soaked sponge fingers, strawberry jelly, bouncy custard, thick cream, bright coloured decorations ( I think this is where I first met bright green angelica) and it was spooned out, from the great wide and deep cut glass bowl,  with a distinctive squelch and always greedily eaten. I suppose nowadays it'd be a parody of a trifle - in the same way that soft green floppy lettuce, tomato and cucumber are no longer a 'salad'. And the last trifle I considered making was to have lemon grass syrup, fresh raspberries and limoncello soaked savourade fingers in. Its like comparing the Carry On Films to The Office, bawdy or sophisticated, both have their charms. (And right now, the notion of prinking up such a brilliant nursery dish begins to strikes me as a bit gauche.) But at the time, it wasn't a hokey dish, and we didn't eat it ironically nodding and winking at each other. It was generous and celebratory. I remember excitedly asking for mums special pickled onions at Christmas - sliced white onions left to steep in malt vinegar and sugar for a couple of weeks. And eating a saucer of them, quietly sat on the stairs, watching, through the stair railings, the adults crash round merrily hooting to the Birdy Song, ignoring my stomach ache because the excitement of proximity to tiddly grown-ups, dancing, and special pickled onions was too good too give up on. This year, I have ready some balsamic pickled onions in the cupboard, and there's green and pink peppercorns suspended prettily in the jar amongst them. I'll be making my clementine sponge & cranberry jam bakewell tart, red wine and stilton gravy, rosemary focaccia, smoked salmon rotollos, hot spiced nuts, parmesan & proscuitto bites, reindeer and myrrh parfait (kidding) and I love them all, but I don't think any of them will ever be as rip snortingly exciting as those sliced malt vinegar pickled onions, or the yellow custard trifle.

*until my sister and I discovered Uncle Ben's Sweet and Sour sauce in a jar and begged to be able to dip (homemade) chips in it. From there it was a descent into microwaveable Chicago Town pizzas, frozen chicken kievs and Sara Lee defrost-able chocolate gateaux. Sorry mum, we must have broken your heart.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Gingerbread biscuits

These biscuits have the virtue, if using a processor, of being very fast as well as being exactly what you'd expect from a ginger biscuit. They will keep well in a tin for up to a week. I usually make this recipe specifically to cut small chubby gingerbread men or pretty stars to top cupcakes with. Its a very fast recipe because at the end of an intensive cupcake baking session, the last thing I have the energy to do is start an unnecessarily elaborate biscuit recipe (  some methods leave dough in the fridge for an hour, some involve multiple processes) so this is the one I've developed. I have the dough made, and biscuits cut and in the oven in under 10 mins. Biscuit fact.

170g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp bicarb of soda
70g butter
70g sugar ( I generally use white caster sugar)
heaped tsp ginger
half tsp cinnamon
good pinch salt ( this really makes the difference)
115g of golden syrup

With the exception of the syrup, blitz everything in the processor til rubbly crumbs. I've done this with fridge cold butter and both room temp butter, and haven't noticed a great deal of difference when it comes to the baking. If you don't have a processor, use the rubbing in method with the butter, flour and salt. Then add the sugar, bicarb, soda and spices, rubbing in again. Measure out the syrup ( I grease a large serving spoon with oil, before dipping in the tin. I always get syrup in tins. But I've seen the squeezy bottle ones too. I saw marmite in a squeezy bottle once too. Weird) into a microwaveable bowl. This is my Patented Important Step. When you have your 115g of syrup, blast it in the microwave for around 15 - 25 seconds, so its warmed ( not hot!) and loosened. Tip your other mixture into this, and then bring it all together with wooden spoon/ your hands. Bring the mixture into a flat disc shape, whatever thickness you desire, and then roll out on a surface dusted with icing sugar. Thats it. Cut into whatever shapes you want, and bake in at oven for approx 20 mins at 160 degrees. Check them after 15 mins. And remember, they should be slightly soft when they come out of the oven as they harden on cooling. I've cut these into all kinds of shapes, and have also dipped them into dark melted chocolate. Just because. Obviously decorate them however you want them, more often than not, mine are brushed with edible lustre dust as they are sat on top of a big old cupcake as it is. Oddly good with lemony crumbly white lancashire cheese . Biscuit fact 2.

Mulling it all over

It's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas ! Snow on the ground in Glossop this weekend, apparently minus 3 outdoors today, and the town Xmas lights have been switched on ( I don't know who switched them on this year though ? It was Ricky Hatton one year) . Oh, and (not festive related, but) that coffee and pancake place I was talking about the other week is open now too, though I haven't had chance to go in yet (though on a stride past, I saw 3 Youths sat in there, making as decent a fist as possible of looking as Street as they could in what is essentially a Pleasant Tea Shoppe). Anyways, I've had my first couple of gingerbread lattes, mulled a cider and I've seen the Coca Cola Christmas ad, so for me, the season is well underway. Even if I do have a feeling of things slipping away before they've begun - but I suspect this is because I haven't done any Christmas shopping yet and I keep seeing Other People hoying bulky shopping bags around with them. I'll be putting my decorations up tomorrow so that'll help me wrest control back. Funny, the pressures we put ourselves under ...I forget frequently that LifeStyle magazines and telly programs are mainly void stuffing throwaway fluff, replaced by some upbeat new fad just the week after and that there really is no pressing need for me to make ginger biscuits to hang on the Christmas tree or Get Ahead for Christmas Dinner by parboiling parsnips now etc. But I still think about Doing It All. I have a vision of presenting family and friends with great gleaming jars of homemade fresh crisp piccalilli, or beautifully matured limoncello and sloe gin, all tastefully wrapped in brown paper and tied with jaunty flowing tartan ribbon. I made hokey pokey, truffles and fudge as some gifts last year, to some success, but for some reason this year, I'm on a savoury bent. Quite possibly because I've spend so much time in the pursuit of sweet stuff this year already ( and particularly so over the last couple of weeks, many cupcakes have been baked, including 100 for a wedding, plus wedding cake) so at the moment, I'm dreaming of terrines, chutneys, bread sauce and stilton. Though I've had a lovely time getting my Christmas cupcakes ready for the shop - I've gone the way of cranberry and clementine cupcakes , and mincemeat and orange zest cupcakes, all decorated in a festive stylee. I'll be doing some chocolate Rudolph ones soon, will try and post a pic when I have a min. There's also gingerbread cupcakes, topped with lemon frosting and gingerbread men (recipe to follow), and I'm thinking of some kind of mulled spice cupcake too. I love mulled wine, but I think I prefer hot mulled cider. I've also considered mulling cranberry and apple juice, and some kind of mulled cider sorbet. Isn't chai tea just mulled tea ?  I think I just like having cinnamon sticks and star anise floating around in a deep pan. So ancient and so exotic. Had a terrible hot cherry mulled wine at the Manchester xmas markets the other evening by the way, a real eye popping throat rasper. Soothed self immediately with a standard mulled wine and order was restored. And then went on to have a meal at Zouk, the recently much lauded new-ish Indian restaurant on Chester St in Manchester. Recommended - spanking fresh food, unobtrusive decor and fairly priced. Excellent wine prices too. They also run a cookery school which I quite fancy a day at - you know, just as soon as I've made the piccalilli, finished ( finished - who am I kidding ? started ) the xmas shopping, and woven tartan ribbon to wrap it all in. Hope your plans are coming on apace...Next post -  a recipe for gingerbread biscuits (ready for you to hang on the tree, naturally. And not snarf down 3 at a time with gingerbread latte. No sirree. Not me)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Cats & Crumble


Being Grown Up Cons : Bills, mortgages, responsibility, eye watering dental bills, worry about health, worry about worrying too much, catch self humming Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes, worry watch too much tv, worry not enough time to read, worry Not Improving Self, worry not enough time generally, worry drink too much pepsi max

Being Grown Up Pros : Big Bowl apple crumble with ice cream for tea.

Apple Crumble 
 4 - 5 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
250 g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
1tsp baking powder
175 g butter
175g sugar ( I use half brown and half white, both granulated and caster)
pinch sea salt
good pinch or two of cinnamon
extra tbsp plain flour

Put the peeled, cored and chunked apple into a buttered baking dish. Tumble it all together with the tablespoon of plain flour and pinches of cinnamon.

Put all other ingredients into a processor and pulse til rubbly ( or, if by hand, rub fat and baking powder  and flour together, then add the sugar & sea salt). Pour on top of apple. Bake for 45 mins at 180 degrees. Eat for tea. Feel disproportionately pleased. Have seconds when its gone cold and claggy. Hum something from Cats.