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Monday, 26 September 2011

Where do all the teaspoons go?

Sometimes things just don’t go to plan!  Last week was one of those weeks.  But – I am woman – I can adapt.
Monday – week began without challenge to my sense of order – picked up a cabbage on my home from work.  I had a couple of gammon steaks in the fridge so I made some bubble and squeak cakes to go with them – and of course a fried egg. 
Eggs are the one food I couldn’t live without – followed closely by potatoes.  If I had to chose my “desert island discs” luxury item – it would be a constant supply of eggs (or some hens if that was allowed)
Tuesday didn’t go to plan.  I was going to do some pork tenderloin – but due to son ending up in A&E for most of the evening – I had to change the plan.... When we finally got home I dispatched husband to the fish and chip shop.  He-  asserting that he was not very hungry – not sure if he would actually get anything.  I told him to get me a small fish supper.  Clearly the sight and smell of fish and chips affected his decision as he came home with a small fish supper for me as requested and a “man versus food” portion for himself. 
If you have never seen man versus food – it is an American programme – title explains the premise... you wouldn’t think it could be in any way entertaining and – honestly, once is probably enough but for some reason my children have watched multiple episodes.  Sometimes I make pancakes and my son does a “James versus pancakes” session where he eats enough pancakes to feed a family of 6.  James always wins that contest – the pancakes always lose!
Wednesday – Pork tenderloin in cider and mustard sauce.  I used the pork that had been destined for Tuesday.  Ground up some fennel seeds, salt and pepper, mixed with some olive oil, cover slices of tenderloin in the oily mixture.  Sweat some onion in butter and a bit of oil add half a 330 ml bottle of cider (drink the rest – I hate waste!) and reduce by about half.  Add in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard – or more if you like – and a tablespoon of cream.  In a frying pan sear the pork slices in a bit of oil and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the pork to the sauce – or the sauce to the pork – who cares which way round – and it is ready to serve on a bed of rice – which we had – or with new potatoes.  I did some spinach to have with it.  Just wilted in a tiny bit of butter and cooked for a couple of minutes.
Thursday – Both daughters either late in or going to the gym or something – husband at an evening meeting so just me – or so you would think.  One thing I have noticed though is that despite the cries of “don’t worry about me – I’ll get a sandwich at the meeting” from husband, he can seem a bit miffed if there is nothing left fro him when he gets in.  So I usually put something in the oven to keep warm.  Thursday night is usually my dog training night.  My feeble attempt to get some discipline into the JRs.  I started with the best intentions but frankly by week two I was bored of the whole thing.  There is an awful lot of waiting for your turn to do something in a village hall that you can do in the comfort of your own home.   We tried agility last year and I found that tedious – as did Milo.  He had to wait for ages to get the opportunity to run through a tunnel and then wait again to do the same.  At least there is something in it for the dogs – bits of sausage.  So I made shepherd’s pie (my sister’s recipe).  My children used to come back from staying with her saying she made a much better one than me so I have adopted her recipe.  Sweat some onion in oil and butter, put the mince in and brown it.  Add a small tin of baked beans and a tin of sweetcorn, and some stock.  Cook for 20 minutes/half and hour put in a pie dish and top with either mashed or sliced potatoes and brown in the oven for half and hour.  Trust me – It seems a bit odd but it is really nice.
Friday - I made a lamb curry from my Nigella Lawson book Feast – I think it is the Maharaja’s lamb, some rice and home made naan.  I have experimented with naan recipes and ways of cooking them for ages.  I have cooked them in the oven, in the grill and now – I think I have found the best way.
7g sachet yeast
235 ml warm water
50g sugar
45 ml milk
1 egg
Pinch salt
Melted butter
Mix all the above together – knead for 5 – 10 minutes, let the dough rise for an hour, knock back and divide into about 10 – 14 balls which you flatten out with your hand stretching into a round shape – brush with melted butter and cook in a hot frying pan – both sides.  Keep warm in foil.
Saturday – Can you have too much of a good thing?  Not if it’s fresh fish.  Well that’s what I am telling myself.  Lovely fresh haddock – cut into chunks, dipped in seasoned flour and covered in beer batter.  Beer batter is the easiest thing in the world – 8oz flour and 10fl oz lager (drink the rest) whisk up and leave for 20 mins.  Dip the fish in and cook in hot oil in a frying pan.  Serve with chips and mushy peas. 
Sunday – We arrive back at roast chicken.  We must have roast chicken at least twice a month but I never tire of it.  But then I never tire of prawns, smoked salmon, slow roasted lamb shoulder, beef wellington, vichyssoise, eggs Benedict, jersey new potatoes, New York cheesecake, raspberries and so many other things.  As Sunday is pudding day – I made some little lemon possetts – one of my daughters all time favourite puddings and so easy to make.  Half a pint of cream heated up with 2 oz icing sugar, boil for a couple of minutes and cool.  Stir in the grated rind and juice of a lemon and pour into glasses or ramekins – put in the fridge to chill/set.  Serve with homemade shortbread.
So – that was our food week and it all begins again today.  Just realised I am out of frozen peas – better nip out and get some.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

A week of food

Usual Saturday conversation with husband... “What would you like for dinner?” I ask. 
He pauses and looks around the room as though the answer will appear in a vision in the far corner.
“I don’t know” he says as though I have asked him a really hard question ... He throws some random words at me in the hope that one of them will be the right answer.  ”Chops?  Fish?  Something with rice?” 
Every weekend we act out this scene.  Me in the hope that just for once I won’t have to dream up every single meal eaten in this house, and him looking like I have asked him to find the God Particle
Realising that it was down to me again – I have settled on some home made southern fried chicken.  The chicken portions are – as I write – bathing in a marinade of buttermilk, chopped shallot/onion, chopped fresh coriander, chopped garlic, chopped red chilli.  I have no idea why – but not only does it make the chicken taste really good but it seems to make it more juicy too.  When I take the portions out of the marinade (which I will save in the freezer for another time) I will roll them in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, mustard powder, celery salt, paprika and cayenne pepper.    I will brown them in some oil and then put them in the oven for half an hour or so till they are crisp and browned.  It is an adaptation of an Antony Worrall Thomson recipe.  I will serve it with salad, some home made guacamole (squash an avocado, mash it up with some chopped tomato, chopped spring onion or red onion – whatever you have – a few drops of Tabasco, some lemon juice or if you prefer, lime juice, a bit of chopped coriander and some olive oil) potato salad and coleslaw.  The coleslaw is homemade – easy – just shred some white cabbage and mix in some mayo (I always use Hellmans and have found that the Hellmans light is every bit as good as the full fat version!.)  The potato salad has an Eliza Acton salad dressing on it.   Boil 3 eggs – take out the yolks and mix them with a tablespoon of water, some salt and pepper till they form a paste.  Add about 10 fl oz single (or double if you don’t have single) cream slowly until smooth and then add a tiny bit of cayenne and a tiny bit of white wine vinegar – about half a teaspoon.  I like to add some chives or chopped spring onion.  Pour onto cold cooked potatoes and put in the fridge until you are ready for it.  
Eliza Acton published her book Modern Cookery for Private Families in 1845.  It was one of the first cookery books aimed at the domestic reader rather than the professional cook.

What did we eat last week?  Well - last week the menu (actually menu hints at some kind of planning – which gives the wrong impression – it was much more random than that) was as follows:
Monday – Creamy Chicken Curry (using the leftover chicken from Sunday).  Another regular in our house.  A brilliant Delia Smith recipe for leftover chicken  – takes half and hour max .  Veggie option was a vegetable and chickpea curry – made with he leftover sour chickpeas from Saturday (Sour Chickpeas – a Madjur Jaffrey recipe and a favourite of my  daughter. If you make a pan full they will last a couple of days.  I sometimes make the leftovers into a soup but this time I added some veg (courgette, carrot, celery, onion) to the chickpeas – with a bit of veg stock and it was done in 15 mins.  I also had some leftover new potatoes in the fridge so I mad some spicy potatoes by crushing some garlic and adding half a teaspoon of turmeric, some salt and pepper, pinch of cayenne and a couple of tablespoons of water.  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan when really hot (stand back and make sure you are wearing an apron) add the garlic/turmeric liquid and after it has stepped spitting pile the potatoes in and cook them till crispy.
Tuesday – Husband often comes back with random purchases (usually involving sausages – he never likes us to be without sausages to hand) this night he arrives home with some pork tenderloin.  I chop the pork into rounds and marinade briefly in mixture of honey, soy sauce, hoi sin sauce, tiny bit of chilli sauce and a splash of rice wine.  You can’t get rice wine in the supermarket – well I have never seen it in the supermarket – but you can get it in the Chinese supermarket down at the Chinatown shopping mall in New City Road in Glasgow. 
There is a fishmonger’s down there, on the corner, called The Golden Trawler.  It was recommended to me by the orthodontist – she and her parents go there all the time so I decided to give it a go.  My daughter and I headed down there for the first time one Saturday about six months ago.  I have never experienced a fishmonger like it!!  Firstly my daughter wouldn’t set foot inside as she could see a tank with the sign – “LIVE EELS” on it so she stayed outside, a safe distance from the offending eels.
The shop is small but was heaving with people – most of them Asian – who all seemed to know what they were looking for.  I felt very inept.  I don’t think you can do this shop unless you know what you are doing.  It is the closest thing to standing on the side of the harbour and getting your fish off a boat as you can get.  I wanted some monkfish and some squid but I almost left without buying anything.  Inside the shop are large white polystyrene boxes full of a huge range of fish most of which I had never seen before.  The only labels are in Chinese and if you can’t recognise your fish in its original unfilleted state then you are struggling.  The look on my face must have been a dead giveaway because I was approached by one of the fishmongers – a young Chinese man who realised with obvious amusement that I was struggling.  I explained that I was after some squid and some monkfish.  He explained that I had to buy a whole squid and a whole monkfish.   I picked out the smallest of each (they were huge) and he filleted the monkfish for me – but as far as the squid was concerned – I was on my own with that!  The fish is lovely – it is really fresh, a good price and they have a huge variety on sale but its not for the fainthearted.  Make sure you know what your fish looks like and I would suggest that, because you have to buy in larger quantities that in an ordinary fishmonger, going with someone else and going halves would be a good idea.

One of my chees souffles from last Sunday - after its first cooking - ready to be turned out and cooked again

Anyway – that was a small diversion from the pork recipe.  Back to the pork... After marinating I stir fried the pork with some spring onions chopped into inch long sections and served it with rice and a veg stir fry (mainly for veggie daughter) consisting of chopped carrot, peppers, spring onion, mushroom and cabbage with a tiny bit of chilli sauce and a tiny bit of soy sauce chucked in.
Wednesday – Veggie daughter out for dinner so we had smoked haddock fishcakes (not home made – there are some things that I don’t make from scratch and fish cakes are one of those things). Served on salad with a poached egg on top and accompanied by a baked potato.
Thursday – This was an evening that didn’t go to plan.  I needed to be out by 7.45 to get to dog training at 8 but I made the mistake of trying a new way of doing Toad in the Hole.  Big mistake – I should have stuck to what I know works.  Stupidly I decided that instead of doing the sausages separately form the Yorkshire pudding as I usually do, I would do them all in one big roasting tin.  It took FOREVER to cook.  Normally I do the Yorkshires in a muffin tray – serve little individual ones beside the sausages and baked beans and it is all done within 20 mins – half an hour.  It took so long to cook that I didn’t get to dog training in the end.  Not that I am that devastated – I find it really quite boring.   Had a glass of wine instead!
Friday - Burger and chips night.  Home made beef burgers and home made chips.  I think I must be one of the only people who still uses an old fashioned chip pan.  I cannot be doing with oven chips.  I would rather eat the packaging they come in.  I admit that I do buy curly fries and little potato lattices called crosscuts from Lidl – the children love them but I don’t think you can beat real chips.  I keep thinking that I should get a deep fat fryer but I am not convinced that it would make better chips than my plain old fashioned chip pan.  My beef burgers are made with Steak mince mixed with finely chopped half an onion, a desert spoon of pinhead oatmeal (helps keep them together), salt and pepper and a beaten egg.  Form into burger shapes, drizzle a little oil over each and fry in a hot frying pan till they are done to your liking.  I like mine still able to Moo – husband likes his cooked right through.  Put each one into a sesame bun and cover with a slice of cheese  (whatever you like – one of my favourites is Port Salut) which will melt over the burger.  Serve with salad and chips.  My chips are twice cooked.  I peel  Maris Piper or Dink Edward or Golden Wonder (you can’t seem to get Golden Wonder in supermarkets but you can get them in Roots and Fruits on Great Western Road, Glasgow) and cut into chips.  Rinse in water and then drain/dry.  When the oil in the chip pan is around 140C put a batch in and cook till the sort of float to the top but aren’t brown. – around 5 minutes should do it.  Drain on greaseproof paper and do the next batch.  When you are ready to serve – heat the oil to 160C and refry the chips.  They will brown quickly so don’t take your eye off them.  Drain on greaseproof paper and serve.
I am planning slow roasted shoulder of pork tomorrow. Not sure how I will do it yet but working on some ideas.
I think my love of food and cooking comes from my childhood – but not in the way you think.  Some people are brought up in homes in which their mother made amazing food and they have inherited passed down recipes.  Not in my case!  My mother struggled to boil an egg.  I think she could knock out a roast chicken of sorts and probably a squeaky pork chop but more than that – forget it!  I can remember coming home from school when I was about 8 and dinner was a bowl of tinned macaroni cheese (Heinz) or a bowl of tinned ravioli.  I couldn’t eat that ravioli now if my life depended on it! 
I went to boarding school at the age of 10 and that really teaches you to eat what is in front of you.  The alternative is to be hungry.  Some of the food was OK but there was never enough of it.   One of the best things was morning break.  Even now – some 41 years on – I can still remember that we had yellow iced buns with lemon curd on a Monday, Long iced buns with white icing on a Tuesday (we called them ballet shoes) Doughnuts on a Wednesday, Currant buns on a Thursday and jam tarts on a Friday.  I didn’t really like jam tarts so I swapped my jam tart on a Friday for someone’s yellow iced bun.  So I got two buns on a Monday.  Sweets were strictly rationed and because I lived in the Middle East it was difficult for me to bring much back to school in my suitcase.  Besides – the chocolate in Bahrain was the American Hershey stuff and had usually gone white with damage from the heat.  Not very appetising. 
At home – during the holidays we had our meals prepared by a cook who was Indian.  There was a small building out the back of our house which was the cook’s quarters.  One of our cooks managed to blow himself up – I think he had some kind of gas stove in there.  All British families had a cook – that was the way of things.  I never really thought about it much at the time but now I think back – what a wasted opportunity to learn about other food!!  The expat wives would often poach cooks from each other or, if a family left and went back to England, if their cook was any good there would be a race to see who could take them on.  The strange thing is that the measure of a good cook was their ability to turn out a good shepherd’s pie, a roast and a fruit crumble – just what we need in 40 degree heat! 
When you think about it that was a complete waste – there they were with an Indian cook who could probably make the most amazing real authentic Indian food and they taught them to make a shepherds pie.  I suppose it isn’t all that surprising when you consider that in the 1970s a Vesta curry was considered adventurous cuisine.   I can remember occasionally being invited to the homes of some of the Arab Directors of the bank my stepfather worked for and being amazed at the delicious food.  Meanwhile back at our house our Indian cook was probably struggling with the strange concept of steak and kidney pie.
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens/early twenties that I began to experiment with cooking and discovered what a pleasure it was.  My first cookery book was Robert Carriers Dishes of the World.  I have more cookery books now than I have space for – but I don’t think it is possible to have too many!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

My first posting

I'm just off to put a chicken in the oven - but before I do ...
This is the first posting on my blog.  Although I have been thinking about doing this for some time I haven't actually had the time to sit down and do it - till now.

My idea for the blog is to share a description of what we have for dinner every week so that people who - like me sometimes have no idea how to

a) make a given amount of money (around £150/week in my case) stretch across the week

b) think up imaginative, varied and healthy food to put on the table

c) get something from raw ingredients to on the table within an hour of getting through the front door.

Firstly let me tell you about my family.

I live near Glasgow - with my husband, my three children (two girls, one boy) and my two Jack Russells - who want a walk as soon as I get in. 

Here they are at the study window waiting for someone to come home.

My husband finds the whole idea of cooking very stressful - I may as well ask him to split the atom and anyway he has the palate of a labrador ... If I fed him pedigree chum he would probably wolf it down and say "that was very nice".

One of my daughters is a vegetarian so every meal has to include   a veggie alternative and my son is such a fussy eater that there is a limited list of things that he will eat.  I really think he believes that tomato ketchup is one of his 5 a day.

Of course - I should have dealt with that years ago and made sure that he ate whatever was put in front of him - second world war style - you have two choices take it or leave it - but I didn't have the energy for that.  When child number three comes along - whether it is because you are exhausted or just more in touch with reality - you are much more likely to let them get away with it.

To be fair though - he will eat most vegetables and fruit he is presented with and his favourite family meal is roast chicken - which we often have on a Sunday.

So today we are having
Roast Chicken, crushed and roasted in sunflower oil potatoes (vegetarian) carrots, peas, bread sauce and gravy.

Vegetarian alternative is
Twice baked cheese souffle (with above potatoes and veg) - this is a Delia Smith recipe - for twice baked goats chees souffles from her vegetarian cookery book but I use red Leicester and it is just as good.

Pudding is
Apple strudel (baked in a lasagne dish - it is much easier to handle than the rolled version)

I want my blog to be useful (and entertaining) to people who like me have to feed the family week on week without slipping into the - "if its Monday it must be shepherd's pie" - trap

I hope to share lots of my favourite and adapted recipes from my recipe books - you can never have too many recipe books - and hope that you will try them.

So ... I have some cheese souffles to make - so better crack on.