Saturday, 31 December 2016

A happy failure and here's to the future...

I sit here in a rare moment of quiet.  A sleeping husband and son after yet another evening of festivities.  I say and mean rare, it was the end of May that I last blogged, where has the time gone?

2016 was my year of not making plans, of throwing caution to the wind, spending time with my family and indulging in my hobbies.  Quitting my much loved and busy job was a tough call, but one that felt right at the time, especially in the wake of another devastating and rather protracted miscarriage.  Nigel Slater, his book and this blog saved me in those first few months.  Gave me a focus, allowed me to enjoy the hobby I love so much and spend time cooking for and eating with beloved family and friends.

It sadly waned at the beginning of the summer as life moved outside, holidays came, weddings and celebrations took over and what a glorious summer it was.  Care free days with happy occasions full of love, laughter and of course lots of food and wine.

One of my biggest fears is failure and I suppose in a way I failed this year.  I failed to complete what I set out to do, cook my way through Nigel Slater's wonderful book.  I thought I would feel sad and in a way I do.  I did not get to enjoy all the recipes I was so looking forward to cooking but you know what I am ok with it.  I will get round to it one day, my books and passion for cooking will never falter and as my husband says I will always be a feeder.

Looking at the positives of this year, I made a good stab at the blog and enjoyed every moment, I did live up to my plan of not making plans, I threw caution to the wind and threw myself into life.  Saying yes to everything including a random day spent basket weaving in the wilds of Cambridge!

So now as it draws to a close, I can genuinely say I have no regrets.  Some sadness yes, another miscarriage reared its ugly head but I am grateful for the treatment, care and support from the wonderful NHS.  That journey continues in 2017 and I remain hopeful that we will have a sibling for our son.  Although the guilt I feel at wanting another child is hard.  I feel so blessed and grateful for everything we have.

So, as 2017 is about to start, I am pleased I have finally taken that gap year.  I needed it then but this year I need to return to a little bit of me.  I need to make plans it is who I am and I need to work, it is good for my mind and soul.  So it is back to work (part time) whilst my son embarks on pre school and adventures of his own.  It is continuing to cook, spend time with loved ones and enjoy life.  If 2016 has taught us all anything, it is that life can be all too short. Carpe Diem my friends and thanks to all who have read this (surprisingly far more of you than I ever thought and I am truly grateful).  Happy New Year, thanks Nigel for setting me on the right path.

PS I am having a take away tonight!

Friday, 20 May 2016

The best mash ever...

Ok, so this is a high accolade right there!  I feel slightly nervous with so much of the book yet to cook but the recipe for Cumberland Sausage with a Shallot and Cheddar Roast Potato is amazing.  The recipe and picture is on pages 151 - 153:

As you may have seen from my previous blog I am used to cooking for the 5,000 and thanks to my butcher, he made me up three cumberland sausage rings, after guests kept getting added to what I thought would be a fairly cosy family dinner.  

Aside from the sausage rings which I advise you get from a butcher, all the other ingredients are easy to come by.  Now, we all know that potato, onion and cheese are a holy trinity.  Think the lovely tartiflette previously cooked in this blog.  However, the trick to this mash and what makes it really special is that you roast the potatoes first.  Weird right?!

The whole lot gets roasted altogether and if you were catering for a smaller party, it would be easy on the washing up.  Once cooked you separate the two.  Technically, you are meant to keep the shallots with the sausage but mine caramelised and blended themselves with the mash and I thought it nigh on impossible to separate. On the basis you eventually add the shallots back to the potatoes, I quietly cut this corner:

The beauty of the roasting of the spud and the mingling with the shallots is you get the wonderful caramelised flavour with the fluffiness of the inside of a roast spud! I served the sausages on boards.  Unfortunately as I had three, it did look something a dog would produce...



Put more spuds on - an impromptu supper

My family are Kings at the impromptu supper.  Living in close proximity to an underground and mainline train station and the centre of town meant a constant stream of friends and family popping in when we were kids.  My mum was the Queen of meat and two veg cooking and the amount of times my sister and I ended up sharing a chop and pile of spuds to accommodate the extra mouths at the meal table.

I often find myself doing the same in my house, whether for toddlers, friends or family, we always try and whip something up! The night we cooked Nigel's Chicken with Soured Cream and Gherkins (pages 148 - 150 of the Volume III Kitchen Diaries, no picture) was a prime example when my lovely neighbour and partner in crime popped in and ended up staying for supper! Queue another leg thrown in the pot!

Before I continue, I should point out the value you get for buying this book!! There are tonnes of extra seasonal recipes which do not actually form part of Nigel's diary.  Meaning in the book, there are over 250 recipes!  I have cooked some of these but I am not going to blog about them.  These are great supper ideas and the recipes are easy to follow.  Ok, enough gushing about how much I love this book ! Link here:  the-kitchen-diaries-volume-iii-_bk_36

Ok, so onto the recipe in hand! I am excited by this recipe as I LOVE a pickle and a gherkin is right up my street.  I was the kid that used to eat all the ones the other kids picked out of their hamburgers!

I started preparing this supper for my husband and I, but when my friend Angela popped in, another leg was thrown in:

The colours are great with the pinky tinge of the banana shallots and the bright green gherkins.  Towards the end of cooking you dollop in the soured cream.  Be sure to turn the heat right down and remove from the heat at the point your stir in the soured cream to avoid it curdling.  I once served a stroganoff with a sauce the texture of frog spawn.

As Nigel suggests, I served with brown rice and I cheated with one of those microwave bags which for a midweek supper was ideal:

This is a great midweek dinner!  It is absolutely delicious.  The softness of the chicken, the crunch and piquancy of the gherkins with a lovely creamy sauce.  I think if I cooked this again I would use skinless thighs.  No matter how much you crisp up the skins they always go soggy.  Further I find a chicken leg in a sauce a tricky thing to eat without either wearing half the sauce or looking like some sort of caveman.  Neither a good look for a slummy mummy ; )



Sunday, 1 May 2016

Keeping up with the Eyres

There is an old saying about keeping up with the Joneses.  About wanting to make sure you are maintaining the standards of those neighbours with the manicured and hoovered (yes that is a thing!) lawns, the car on the drive, the handbags, the shoes.  Being a foodie for me, I want to be eating what everyone else is eating.  Not in an envious way but in an excitable exploratory way.  What else is out there, how do they prepare X compared to the way I do?  

Now, our friends, the Eyres, are one set of friends where I watch, listen and eat avidly at their house. We swap ideas, recipes and to be honest, I always think they do it slightly better.  They do not know about this, as unfortunately they were not around, but I think this once, I trumped them.  Our lovely mobile beautician does a job lot of us girls, whilst the rest of us contain the toddlers.  Then we all eat lunch and the Eyres always put on a lovely spread.  The last time though, time did not permit and they kindly provided some posh packaged sandwiches from everyone's favourite knicker seller.

At the next beauty gathering, it was my turn to do the spread in the Eyres absence and I made my own bread.  Ok, so it was Nigel's recipe, but I baked bread.  Is there anything more impressive than homemade bread?  Well, this recipe is foolproof and delicious and the recipe is on pages 110 - 112 and this is what we are after.  A Green olive and thyme focaccia:

The ingredients are easy to come by and most I actually had in the house.  This is the great thing about cooking through this book.  As it is seasonal you see recurring ingredients and more often than not enough left for the next recipe requiring them.  I cooked this in a springform tin and actually used the one I bought for the peanut butter cheesecake.  Frugality at its best.

Right on to the recipe.  It is a basic bread recipe and you need time to let it prove.  I was doing some tumble drying this particular day and popped the bowl with the dough on top of the tumble dryer and it more than nicely doubled in size.  Once at this stage you add the rest of the ingredients and a 'cheffy' drizzle of olive oil that sinks in the cracks:

In then gets popped in the oven and the house fills with the most wonderful aroma.  They always say the smell of baked bread sells houses! I can see why:

We cut this bread into huge chunks and served with cured meats, cheeses and salad.  It was delicious and wonder if for once, someone might utter the never heard phrase of, 'keeping up with the Thorns'...?



A belly buster of belly and beans

The level of excitement I had over the pie, was now being demonstrated by my husband.  He LOVES a bean and a pulse.  Ooer missus...

This recipe is Pork Belly and Beans on pages 108 - 109 of Nigel's book and there is no picture.  Ingredients were easy to come by, although I managed to let my pork belly go out of date but thankfully my trusty butcher saved the day! Again, this is another frugal supper (two lots of meat aside).

You used dried cannellini beans for this recipe so have to boil them and scrape the froth off:

To be honest, if you were short on time I think you could use the tinned variety.  Nigel recommends cavolo Nero for this recipe or a dark cabbage.  I could only get a savoy cabbage and made sure to trim out the stalks.  For this alone I think the cavolo nero would have been better:

You put your onions, beans, cabbage, herbs and stock into the bottom of a roasting dish and pop your scored pork belly on top.  What I think you are looking for is the meat to be submerged to keep it moist but the fat high enough to crisp to lovely crackling.  So into the oven it goes:

This takes a while to cook in the oven but is worth the wait:

This reminds me of french peasant food, real home cooking to be accompanied by a gutsy red. It was absolutely delicious and we had leftovers for lunch the next couple of days.  My husband even ate the beans on toast for breakfast.  I told you he loved his beans...




I love a pie. I love pastry.  I even love making pastry (although I massively contradict this statement in a few paragraphs!).  I have my grandmother to thank for my love of pastry.  She makes the best pastry and always by hand.  When I was at university she used to post me her home made apple pies.  Yes, in the post, she used to freeze them, pack them frozen (on a plate!) and send them by special delivery!  The always arrived in perfect condition and I was always the most popular person in my shared house when they turned up.

The pie on the menu this particular evening is a Gammon, celeriac and parsley pie.  This is a pie with a twist.  I spoken before of the debate about whether a puff pastry topped dish can qualify as a pie.  Today we have a bottom layer of pastry but no top, so the pie debate rages on in this house.  Answers on a postcard to...

Anyways, this is what I am aiming for, recipe on pages 105 - 107:

Ingredients for this are super easy to find and there were no issues here.  It is also quite a cheap dish.  I must confess, due to still being in recovery from my flu and tonsillitis, I cheated today:

Ok, so this is not my finest piece of work, but for a pie, you do not want any leaks and no-one is going to see the inside anyway...

Thank goodness for 'blind' baking:

Banana shallots go in, in large pieces, which certainly makes the shapes and textures in the pie very different from a diced onion:

The rest of the ingredients get added, essentially making a casserole to fill the pastry case:

The lovely twist to this recipe is the grated celeriac on top of the pie.  Nigel recommends using a food processor.  I do not have one so used a normal grater to grate the celeriac and to prevent browning I immediately fried it in the butter which seemed less hassle than putting in a bowl of acidulated water.

Now for those pre and post oven shots:

Even if I do say so myself, this looks good!! I was so excited to tuck into this and it tasted as good as it looked! I would have cut the chunks of gammon a little smaller with hindsight.  I think it would have made it easier to cut and more presentable when served (hence no shots of the served dish!!).  I would also not add any salt to this dish.  I found the gammon more than salty enough for the dish, as well as the salted butter for the topping as well.

This is a cracking pie and one I will definitely cook again. Thanks Nigel!


1/5/16 - How is it May?!?!?

Monday, 25 April 2016

A recovery supper of squid

Having been beavering away in the background continuing to cook my way through Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries Vol III, I have failed miserably for various reasons to blog my efforts.  This in particular took me out of action for a bit (another one of my bake offs):

If I ever see another Love Heart again...Anyways, back to all things Nigel.  For me, a much more relaxed place than the world of cake baking! 

Now, on to 'A Little Stir Fry of Squid and Pepper'.  Which in Nigel's book was cooked on March 25 (this was cooked on 31 March) and the recipe is on pages 98 - 101 and includes the following picture:

I was in recovery at this point and the first time I made it down for dinner and my lovely sous chef (aka husband) did a lot of the leg work, in particular preparing the squid:

So, on to the squid.  I managed to get from a very large supermarket a bag of freshly prepared squid which had been frozen by the fishmonger as soon as it was prepared.  Accordingly, it was super fresh, meant I could keep it in the freezer until I was well enough to use it and actually required very little further work by us.  It was very well trimmed and very clean.   

The rest of the ingredients were very much store cupboard/fridge basics.  I bought my szechuan peppercorns from Amazon (other online retailers available) but annoyingly found them in another larger supermarket when looking for another spice recently.  

Nigel, does not have any carbs with his dish.  I do not need carbs every night, but whilst weak from recovery, I needed my energy so we boiled some noodles alongside making this quick and easy stir fry:

Once the spices are all prepared, it is a classic stir fry...bung it all in on a high heat and voila! Or whatever the mandarin equivalent is! 

Ours looks very different from Nigel's for a few reasons, one the noodles make it lighter, we discarded the tentacles (I was very fragile still) and I have an absolute fear of over cooking squid so just waited till it went opaque.

The dish was delicious.  A nice kick to it, which was very warming and the soft noodles and squid with the crunchy peppers and noodles.  Not quite the restorative supper I needed but a tasty one nonetheless.