Sunday, 29 January 2012

A new bread guru (I'm so fickle)

For this week’s bread, I decided to leave Dan and go back to Hugh – well, to the River Cottage Bread handbook (number 3 in the River Cottage Handbook series). I have been reading Daniel Stevens’ bread-making philosophy for the last few days and was ready to give it a go.

The overall method is much more what I’m used to, and what I like about this Handbook is that there’s a big chapter about the different stages of bread-making, what each is for, and then he gives a basic blueprint recipe referring back to the ‘foundation’chapter, followed by a number of variations. To be fair, Dan Lepard does the same, but in slightly less detail.
I feel like I’m not a novice baker, so took the opportunity to fiddle around with the recipe, using half and half strong white and wholemeal flour. The last batch of Dan L bread I made, I followed the half sponge method for his farmhouse tin loaf, but used half spelt flour and it worked pretty. I am determined to go back to using more wholegrain flour, it’s just a matter of making bread that isn’t completely dense and bricklike with it.

So back to Dan S’s philosophy. In his blueprint recipe, he lists a number of optional extras including a ladleful of sourdough starter. My starter has been languishing at the bottom of the fridge, without so much as a feed, since the Husband broke his tooth on a piece of crackling before Christmas. Neglected and unloved, I thought the chances were slim, but to my surprise, it seems to have survived. I added some as instructed, and then gave the rest of it a feed. I’ll keep it out of the fridge for a few days and see if I can pep it back up.
Rather than using my trusty Kenwood dough hook, I have been hand kneading my bread recently, and I took care to give my bread today a good 10-15 minutes which it seemed to knead. The instruction is to leave the dough to rise wrapped in a bin bag – this I did not have but a plastic carrier bag seemed to do the trick. I followed the instructions to the letter, letting the risen dough rest before being shaped, and then I followed his instructions for shaping what he calls a ‘stubby cylinder’. I left the 2 shaped loaves, coated in oats, to do the second rise wrapped in a floured tea towel, covered again with the plastic bag, and then baked according in a hot oven for 10 mins followed by 30 mins at 180. He gives some helpful cooking guidance for ditherers like me – “Hmm – looks done – has it had enough time? – I’m not sure it’s had enough – may be I should take it out – maybe I should leave it in” and is very supportive about trusting your instinct. I like this.

And was it all worth it? I think it probably was. I am truly thrilled with my loaves. I’ve never got wholemeal rising so well  - even a half and half dough like this batch. How exciting.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Soup of the week ... Parsnip and Ginger

This is almost unheard of but I have nearly 2 hours to myself, and THEN a hair cut booked. On a Saturday. So I’ve walked the dog, and done the washing up from last night, sorted out the washing and completed (in case you were worried that I was being all efficient there, please understand that ‘completed’ has a fairly loose meaning) my menu planner for the next couple of weeks. I’ve started compiling the shopping list (first shop of the month – the BIG one) and retrieved some bread from the freezer (the last sourdough loaf) for lunch. So that took care of the first hour or so.

Fortunately, apart from making sure the bread was out of the freezer, lunch is pretty much sorted due to my new ‘soup of the week’ regime, which is proving very popular (well, it is for me anyway). I make a batch of proper soup on a Friday night which will feed us over the weekend and then provide enough to be frozen in portions for the Husband to take to work with him for lunch.

Take last week. Soup of the week was Mexican Tomato and Bean. Along with some portions left over from other weeks, he had a veritable feast of soups throughout the week. That, some left over roast root frittata (on Tuesday) and the game pie that he made a couple of weeks ago which also got frozen into portions, along with the beetroot variation of the Pumpkin and raisin tealoaf also out of Veg Everyday - I was really quite jealous assembling his lunches. To be honest, anything that reduces the amount of sandwich making to be done has to be a bonus, but the flaw is that he gets the good stuff, and I go fridge diving every day. Sometimes this is good – it all depends on what we ate at the weekend.

Last weekend was a Veg Everyday triumph (ish). So my lunches this week have mainly been fusion soup, which in this case involved left over ‘3 root boulangere’, left over ‘steamed greens with a hint of garlic’ whooshed (technical term for what my ‘stickblender’ does) and some extra stock, then some left over leeks added in on Tuesday – more whooshing. It was rather tasty.
Soup of the Week this week is another new one for me – back to Veg Everyday and the Hefty Soups section – Parsnip and ginger. I’m definitely liking this section of Veg Everyday, and this soup is looking good. I have used ginger with butternut squash before, but haven’t really thought of parsnip as anything other than something to roast, although I do recall a parsnip risotto somewhere in the dim and distant past.

I had to grind up some cardamom seeds for the ‘ground cardamom’ specified, but otherwise, the ingredients are fairly standard store-cupboard stuff. I do usually have root ginger in the freezer because I got fed up of being told that I should have once too often. My major breakthrough has been to peel it before freezing it in chunks, because trying to peel it when frozen is a recipe for losing fingers but once it’s defrosted it just goes to a mush, and it’s all I can do to chop it up/grate it (or whatever is required) without worrying about peeling it too.

Back to the soup. Very easy to make – just a chop fry and simmer job, and I will do the finishing off with milk at lunchtime today. I suspect that the addition of cayenne may make it slightly too spicy for Pink, but I have decided to give it a go. Hopefully, then this will feed us for lunch today and due to other activities this weekend will give us plenty for the week. Who knows, I might even get some this time!

Friday, 27 January 2012

G&T time - but not before I tell you about these chocolate muffins

I was mentally trying to review the day ahead over breakfast this morning with half an ear on the children’s conversation. They’re big on jokes at the moment and Blue in particular is trying to push the comedy boundaries

“What do you canaries eat for breakfast” “Tweetabix!”
“What do you get if you run a canary over with a lawnmower” “Shredded Tweet!”

“What do you get if you run a banana skin over with a lawnmower” “Slippery gears” then (rather despondent) “That’s not really funny is it mummy?” “Well, not really, love, but it’s a good try.”
It’s hard being 8.
“Mummy” “Yeeessss” “What if I really did have a lawnmower, and there really was a banana skin and I revved it up really hard – vvvrrrroooommmmmmm - and it went racing over the banana skin?”

cup of tea - necessary when listening to Blue's jokes
Too early.

So where was I? Oh yes, reviewing the day. With a cup of tea.

I remembered that I’d had a vague arrangement to see a friend for coffee. I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to fit it in during school hours, but that I could invite her and her boys over for tea. Quick text, job done. Now, what are we going to eat?

Nigella’s fabulous marmite spaghetti was already on the menu for the kids – easy to double, no problem, slice up some carrots and cucumber, add a few cherry tomatoes (with lots of added food miles) -  but what for pudding? I still have some of Hugh’s pumpkin and raisin tea loaf left over (although I made the beetroot variation – I couldn’t resist the promised purple marbling, and it didn’t disappoint, although I’d say not so much purple marbling as pink flecking). Blue and Pink have been enjoying it in their lunch boxes all week (really, they have – Pink, who will often survive a day at school on half a slice of cucumber and a few crumbs of oatcake regardless of what delights I put in to tempt her, has eaten a whole slice every day – amazing when you consider (1) that normally she won’t touch beetroot with a bargepole and (2) how much giggling and whispering time eating a whole slice must take up). However, I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing I would offer up as pudding to guests. Especially discerning guests of the 7 & 5 yr old boy kind.
I had a quick flick through Kitchen, and then reached for Dan. Muffins had occurred to me, and when I saw this recipe, I couldn’t resist. It also appeared that I already had everything required in the cupboard apart from eggs which I was going to have to buy anyway. Excellent.

Having completed the daily beasting that is making sure the kids are dressed and ready for school, and having kissed Blue goodbye (he walks to school on his own – I bite my nails every morning) I had a few minutes (have to give him a head start) so decided to be super-organised and get everything lined up and ready to go so that I could whip up the muffins while I was making my coffee and before settling down to the day’s work . While doing this, I realised that we didn’t have enough cornflour, but given the recipe decided that custard powder would probably do in its place, and headed out the door, Pink and the dog in tow.
After a glorious walk  – bright blue skies, crisp frosty morning, dog basically behaved – I got home with my eggs and some vegetable oil, and set to. I’ve never made muffins this way before, basically making a chocolate custard then beating in eggs and sifting the flour on top and beating in – and I was worried that they might be quite dense, but after the requisite 25 minutes, they looked risen and cooked and smelled divine.
out of the oven and looking good!

treacle chocolate fudge frosting
I had to put off the frosting till after pick up this afternoon. But work, another dog walk and dealing with the fall out of a busy week at school on the 15 minute walk home, had at least given me the time to decide between meringue butter cream and treacle chocolate fudge. More custard (again custard powder instead of cornflour, this time with treacle) and not quite enough dark chocolate, plus some butter and vanilla extract, and bingo. Treacel chocolate fudge frosting. Divine doesn’t begin to describe it.
I have to say that I couldn’t wait – in the interests of deciding whether they were the best chocolate muffin I would ever eat, I had to try them. Reader, I was not disappointed. If I was going to make any adjustments, I might include some chocolate chips, rather than just melting the chocolate in to the custard when making the muffins, but they weren’t heavy, and the frosting went beautifully.

Did I mention that my friend and her boys couldn’t make it after all? All the more for us!

a better cup of tea - one with a muffin attached

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

It would be a good thing if being annoyed with a recipe used up all the calories that were in it...

I made another batch of the lovely Dan Lepard’s honey and multiseed bread (or is that Dan Lepard’s lovely honey and multiseed loaf) – double quantities based on the success of the first batch. It turned out just as yummy.
However, if anyone else is feeling inspired, I wanted to flag something very important – a health warning that no recipe book will ever carry, but really should in such cases. Here it is:

This recipe will make you very, very sticky and very, very messy, and also a little bit wound up. You will doubt yourself and the person who wrote the recipe. You will want to add more flour. You may shout at your children when they try to help, and there may be language. But then the bread will be very delicious and you will forget all about it. Until the next time – because there will be a next time because the result was so delicious. And then you will remember all over again.

That last bit is very important. That bit about forgetting. True, when I made this loaf the first time, I wasn’t really concentrating, mainly because I was hoping that I might get a beautifully risen loaf of wholemeal (I was doing 2 different recipes at the same time). I was also trying to make tea. As I re-read the recipe, alarm bells did vaguely ring – the bit that says ‘mix it all into a sticky dough’ (or something like that) – but clearly not loudly enough.

I had it all timed in my head – the various kneadings and restings, but frankly after the first knead the kitchen and I were covered in dough, and the dog had disappeared under the dining room table – usually a place he only frequents when the hoover is out. I think the wetness does improve the finished loaf, but it is a complete pain to work by hand, and I may well resort to the Kenwood next time.
Not quite in the same vein, but it’s another of my irritants which is recipes which seem to be a bit wrong. I think I’ve had a little rant before about recipes which promise that you’ll get so much out of them, only for me to be bitterly disappointed. Well, I discovered another one this evening – Dan, I’m waiting for an apology.
Oat and sour cherry cookies. Well, I didn’t have enough sour cherries, so they ended up being oat, sour cherry, a few dried cranberries and some chocolate chip cookies, but nevertheless, when a recipe promises 50 cookies (“makes 2 batches, each about 25 biscuits” is what it actually says), I’d expect to get at least 45. To be fair, I didn’t bake all of it – I put half the dough into the freezer for next week (ha ha – that is if I remember – more likely I’ll dig it out sometime next year and wonder what on earth it is because I didn’t label it very well), but the recipe definitely says to make the cookies using tablespoonfuls of the dough.

Now, I don’t know if Dan’s tablespoons are smaller than mine, but having scooped out 4 tablespoonfuls, it was quite clear that if I carried on I’d get about 12 cookies at most, so I moved on to dessert spoons. Much more satisfactory. I really must write him a letter and tell him about these little amendments he needs to make to his book, but Dan, if you did ever get to read this, I’ll admit that they are delicious!

A meat free Monday, thanks to Hugh - Roast Root Veg Fritatta

While we were enjoying our meatfree Sunday lunch at the weekend, Blue was clearly considering how to phrase a question that was bothering him. Blue is 8 and thinks almost constantly about where his next meal is coming from, interspersed every now and then with some quick Lego building. To be serious for a moment, it gives me huge pleasure to see him enjoying his food, and in particular good food that I have cooked for him. There was a time, when he was in the grip of steroids during treatment for leukaemia that he lived on a very limited diet. True that included such delights a Moroccan lamb meatballs, but more often than not, what he craved was 1. 53% pork cocktail sausages (any higher meat content and he refused them – I even tried to disguise Waitrose organic 98% pork ones in a Co-Op packet. He could tell the difference); 2. Mature Cheddar cheese; 3. Cherry tomatoes – summer or winter – kilos of them and 4. Shreddies. By the packet. And so now, to see him enjoying normal food, normally, is one of my favourite things.

As he was manfully tucking into his Three Root Boulangere, clearly trying hard not to think about where the chops were, I could see that something else was troubling him. “What’s for tea tomorrow?” He asked, trying to be nonchalant about it. “Roasted root frittata”. I said. I think he could sense an certain undertone, because it took him a few seconds to say “And the day after?”. Poor chap. I’m not trying to go vegetarian but actually I am quite liking this reduction in meat. For a start my shopping bill has greatly reduced. I promised him spaghetti bolognaise and African Chicken (a Nigella recipe, from Kitchen) as forthcoming attractions on the tea time bill of fayre, and he seemed to be satisfied.
So the roast root veg frittata. It is delicious, and beautiful to look at. And a doddle to make – a winner on all counts in my book. Shame the kids didn’t like it. I had thought Pink would go for it because she loves omelette, and I was hoping Blue would like the veg and overlook the egg element (he’s not a huge fan) but to be honest Blue’s a bit post-viral and Pink has a stinking cold and neither were taken. They did like the steamed leeks that I did with it though.
However, I will try it again in a few months time (well, let’s be honest, probably next autumn), and it’s always something the Husband and I can enjoy. I wonder if it would be nice upping the beetroot content and adding dill as the herb, with a sour-cream dressing. What do you reckon?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Good greens, shame about the yellow

It’s not been altogether successful day, but on one level at least, my quest to follow in Hugh’s footsteps and eat less meat (while not becoming a vegetarian), things are moving in the right direction, although the reviews have been mixed (as they say) depending on age and outlook.

Yesterday, I took a bold step and served a meat free (yes, MEAT FREE) main meal on Sunday. It’s a long story. I’d planned to have chicken, but I forgot to buy one, This was a fairly fatal error as my week’s menu relied on there being at least one left over chicken meal. I quickly re-wrote the meal planner mentally replacing chicken with some of Melvin’s pork (the pork is ours, I should hasten to add, we did acquire it lawfully, from Melvin, who raised the pig. Hence it is Melvin’s pork). However, when, as I often do come Sunday, I surveyed the food situation, it was clear that I had enough root veg to feed a small country, so the opportunity was there to take that leap. I didn’t have any cream or anything interesting like that hanging around, so the Three Root Boulangere in Veg Everyday was my best bet. A brief forage in the garden turned up some sprouts and sprout tops, and some cavolo nero with which to try the steamed greens with a hint of garlic. To be fair, my kids are pretty good with veg, but leafy stuff – kale type things – doesn’t do it for them. When I saw this (and I think Hugh might have cooked it in the series) I thought it was definitely one to try. Of course, no meat on Sunday meant no leftovers for Monday night, but never fear, Hugh is here – Roasted root frittata saves the day for Monday evening. “Excellent”, I thought to myself. “That was easy”.

 “What’s for tea?” asked Blue. “3 root Boulangere” I said. Quickly.  Too quickly,  fear – rats were smelt – and no, the dog hadn’t brought one into the kitchen - “Do I like it?” asked Pink “Of course you do” I breezed. And crossed my fingers.

The dishes are both dead easy. I made a minor error by miscalculating the length of time the boulangere would need, so the veg had steamed at the wrong time, and I forgot to remove it from the steamer so that it was rather overcooked, but very edible nevertheless.
The kids came steaming into the kitchen ready to eat. I waited for the wails of ‘where’s the meat’ but actually the comments was “MMM smells like garlic bread.” Oh dear. I could sense bitter disappointment just around the corner.

I am pleased to report that, in the main, the food was eaten. Pink in particular enjoyed the greens – she is my ‘veg eater’ (Blue prefers fruit) but she’s not been keen on leafy green stuff. However, chuck in some garlic oil and it seems kale is just delicious. She wasn’t so keen on the Boulangere, mainly because of the celeriac, but she had a good stab at it. The Husband enjoyed it, although I did catch him looking under his slices of potato and parsnip – possibly wondering if there was some bacon somewhere. Blue similarly, I think, was secretly hoping that somewhere there would be some meat somewhere, but he manned up. “It’s a bit yellow” was all he said. But he ate it too. He wasn’t so convinced about the greens – mainly because he had been cruelly conned into thinking there was garlic bread on offer.
On reflection, my intention has been to eat less meat, and had I planned it better, I would probably have chosen something slightly richer than the Boulangere. It was very nice, but felt a little austere, especially as I had overcooked the greens, and pudding was stewed apple cinnamon and raisin out of the freezer along with various yoghurts lurking in the fridge, rather than a delicious crumble. Hell, I hadn’t even made some custard to go with the apple. Fine for a week night, but not perhaps for a Sunday.  I shall plan better next time. Watch this space.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Didn't get my haggis after all

Burns’ night – we were promised haggis, whisky, barely comprehensible poetry and bagpipes. Rising to the occasion, I persuaded my father to lend the Husband his kilt, and then persuaded the Husband to wear it. Rather lovely he looked too. I had a Tartan Burberry skirt circa 1965 from Allotment Junkie ("Oh, real Burberry, not ‘chav Burberry’." as someone pointed out to me – what a relief!).

What a splendid evening. Whisky Macs made with ginger liqueur on arrival, to the background accompaniment of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers (check them out – Coldplay’s ‘Clocks’ bagpipe stylie ). Great company,  much tartan in evidence. It’s amazing how many exiled Scots or semi-Scots there are this far South. Before we knew it the teenage minions were bringing out mugs of cock a leekie soup with baskets of pumpkin seed or sundried tomato bread. Mrs W – your bread was delicious. I had 4 slices. So was the soup.
I was eagerly awaiting the main course, though, I love haggis. In time, it was duly piped in (Youtube is a wonderful thing), addressed by our host in the traditional way and then stabbed to death with a kitchen knife. Mrs W had done great things – we were having a buffet and to accommodate the traditional fayre, there was mini- Yorkshire pudding stuffed with haggis, and venison casserole stuffed baked potato skins. Genius. I filled my plate and was just about to settle down when Mrs W approached with the telephone...

Poor Pink. By the time I’d got home she had calmed down but was pathetically pleased to see me. Normally, (smug mummy moment here) both Blue and Pink go to bed and go to sleep and I don’t hear from them till morning (one of my only successes as a parent I feel, although for those of you feeling annoyed about that, for ‘morning’ read no later than 6.30. No lie in for me). I had been slightly concerned earlier in the evening when I’d settled her off, fully calpol’d up, and she hadn’t gone immediately to sleep but had had to be comforted a couple of times due to the cough.  However, by the time my lovely friend had arrived to babysit, all was quiet, she was asleep and I was happy to go out. It’s always better to travel in hope than expectation, I feel.
I had almost forgotten that she was poorly (well I had had 2 whiskies by then) when the call came, but there we go. Eventually she settled back down to sleep but not before expressing in her cutest, most appealing 5yr old way (rather than the irritating and demanding way she can sometimes employ) that she would really rather I stay at home. How could I refuse? Typically, she then went to sleep and didn’t stir till 3, but while I am not too sure what time the Husband finally made it to bed, I feel I was probably better able to deal with her having taken myself to bed at 11 (cup of tea and a chat with my babysitting friend who was putting off some marking, followed by a quick and sneaky bit of quilting), than whenever it was that the party ended.
So I didn’t get my haggis. Perhaps I will just have to make my own. Maybe next year.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Soup of the week ...

It’s been a week of illness this week. Blue off school since Wednesday, and had to miss his school trip to the British Museum which he was gutted about, and Pink is full of cold. A friend who is a GP suggested at pick up on Tuesday afternoon that the spots on her (Pink’s) face which I had vaguely put down to a surge of hormones or something might actually be an indication that she had “hand, foot and mouth”. She advised me that if she was well in herself there was nothing else to be done, but I felt a surge of guilt that perhaps I should have realised something (not quite sure what) and kept her cosseted at home. I felt slightly less guilty having read Lucy Mangan in the Saturday Guardian this week in which she writes about her (Northern, calpol is for wimps) approach as compared with her partner’s. . It’s very funny and very true – I know where she’s coming from. Incidentally, Tim Dowling is also hilarious this week – for any cat/dog owners out there . I’m not suggesting you change your own weekend newspaper habits, but what with Hugh and Dan writing as well, this is my current paper of choice, and these 2 particular articles really rang true for me this week.

Anyway, a much improved Blue has gone to Oxford with the Husband in pursuit of a suit, so Pink and  I have hung out, mainly at the library, where I managed to pick up 3 books about quilting (my latest mini-obsession) and Pink persuaded me to let her get The Sword and the Stone DVD. I have one of my internal dilemmas every time I go with the kids to our little library. In my heart, I want them to race to the books, eagerly perusing the shelves, quickly becoming utterly absorbed, but oh no. Every time, straight for the DVDs. “Can’t we have a DVD?” “Pleeeeaaasssse” “But why not?” and then, always “But it’s not FFFAAAAIIIIRRRRRR”. It gives me mild palpitations. To be fair I don’t know what my objection really is. The kids do watch TV but I try to restrict it to a certain extent – probably because that’s how it was for me – BBC One only, and definitely not Grange Hill, but getting DVDs out of the library just feels wrong.

Still, I crumbled fairly quickly this morning, because, going back to the sick household theme, I was up at 3.30 this morning not with one of the kids but with the dog, Fred, who had an upset stomach. I have to say that I wasn’t feeling much sympathy for him at 3.30 this morning as he strained his way   around the garden (did I mention his recent penchant for eating baby rats – the less said about that the better, for all concerned, but you get the picture), and even less when I got back in and found the sick that also had to be cleared up, but he really is feeling sorry for himself today. I crawled back into bed about 4 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so you can imagine that it didn’t take much for me to give in to the pressure to have a DVD.

To be honest, as I was making the soup of the week (HFW’s Mexican tomato and bean) after we got back from our little outing, I could hear her hacking away as if she’d been smoking Marlboro Reds all night, and I decided there were worse ways she could spend an hour or so than watching the adventures of the young Arthur as told in glorious Disney technicolour. It also meant that I could get on with swearing at the bread dough – which is a story for another day – and chopping up onions and tomatoes for the soup. Hugh bills it as a summer soup – a kind of salsa in soup form – using black eyed beans and chopped tomatoes. I’m sure it would taste even better using lovely, home-grown tomatoes in the summer months, and the food ethics of using hard, polytunnel (or worse) ripened fruit from Holland haven’t escaped me, but there we go. I left out the chillies just because as I’ve said before, the kids don’t go a bundle on heat just yet, and I used a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander, being spices that I use when making fajitas, and which have a familiar taste for them.

Anyway, it’s lunch time now so I’m going to see if I can pack some soupy goodness into Pink at least, and feel like I’m being slightly less negligent a parent! Fred won't be getting any. He's on a starvation diet for 24 hrs. Maybe that will teach him to leave the little ratties alone.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A poorly boy, a sulking dog, a minor attack of recipe rage - but LOVELY biscuits

It hasn’t been a happy day in the Recipe Junkie household. The beautiful crisp winter weather we had for the last couple of days turned into horrible damp drizzle. Yes, it’s warmer, but the greyness does nothing for my soul. Blue has been off school, which is not in itself a drama, but having felt this morning that I was probably just giving him the benefit of the doubt, by keeping him off, I had to send him to bed this evening with a temperature of 38.7, knowing full well that he won’t be able to go on his school trip tomorrow. He’s supposed to be going to the British Museum to see the Egyptian things, and he has just been dying to go, counting down the days since before Christmas. I feel so sorry for him – he will just be gutted. I think secretly he knew, but I didn’t dwell on it this evening. I’ll leave that joy for the morning.

As a result of Blue being poorly, Fred the dog is barely speaking to me, having only had the shortest of walks, on the lead, to take Pink to school and then to pick her up. I see him lying there – hardly deigning to raise an eyebrow- simmering with the injustice of it all. I took a picture of him – don’t be fooled into thinking that he’s asleep. He’s not – he’s just sulking.

Pink’s got the back to school blues – you know the ones where they’ve been excited to go back to school to see all their friends, the activities have started back up again (ballet, Rainbows), and then the realisation that this is it for however many weeks, with only the brief respite of half term to look forward to – and the Husband hadn’t had a great day at work. Even the planned supper didn’t work out – no one felt like eggs so instead of Chachouka, we had pasta with the pepper & tomato stew as a sauce.

So guess what? I did some baking. It was a necessity really. I’m embarrassed to say that we had finished off the weekend baking (bar 2 slices of the chocolate cake) by lunchtime today, and the empty tins were making me twitchy. Having felt a bit let down by my failure to miraculously produce wonderful wholemeal bread by following Dan Lepard’s recipe, Dan’s back in my good books, despite a little recipe rage, which I will come to later, with his spelt and ginger cookies. With all this cake stuff, it’s easy to forget that biscuits can take no time at all, and be totally scrummy. These are no exception – the dough takes hardly anytime at all and the only slightly tricky thing is separating an egg. I thought I might make meringues with the white, but it’s hardly worth it for just one white so I decided to freeze the white, I have done this many times before – but this time it was different. This time, I remembered to date the plastic tub and also label it with the number of egg whites I’d put in. So that hopefully, when I have another white or 2, I can add them to the tub and either update the number of whites, or be confident in how many I have altogether with which to make some meringues. I can’t tell you the number of times I have ended up having to chuck frozen egg whites out because I have no idea how many are in the tub.

But back to the biscuits. So you make the dough, and he’s very precise about how big each lump of dough should be – he qualifies ‘a teaspoon’ to be about 15g – that you put on the baking sheet. So, as you can probably tell from my revelation about the egg whites, I’m not necessarily a careful cook, but I thought, “Tonight, let’s go that extra mile, and let’s just check how much these bad boys are weighing” (oh yes, it’s rock and roll at our house, I tell you). So rather unusually, I used pretty much the right amount of dough for each biscuit. Some weighed 16 or 17 g, some 13 or 14. So how come, Mr Lepard, I only ended up with 24 biscuits when the recipe states that it will make about 35?? 32 or 33 I could have lived with – but 24?? (and I know what you’re thinking, but no, I did not eat the mixture before I started dividing it up, and no there wasn’t much left for scraping the bowl afterwards). This really irritates me. However, I feel sure I can move on. The biscuits (or cookies are lovely, and look very appetising in my Alessi jar which was looking very empty once I’d moved it from the dresser to pride of place on the new shelf. But now it looks full, and the little man hanging down has something to rest his feet on for a little while – until they all get eaten.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Storecupboard surprises

In truth, I had a bit of a dilemma about what to cook for supper this evening. The Husband had always intended to make a game pie this weekend, and the plan was to use some venison and pheasant we had in the freezer, courtesy of friends, and I was going to use the rest of the venison to make a casserole for us to eat yesterday evening. However, on Saturday, when I got home from swimming with the children, the Husband admitted that not only had a bought rabbit and bacon from the butcher for the pie, but somehow, accidentally he had also purchased bacon, sausages and black pudding what for having a full English on Sunday morning. So much for eating less meat and embracing veg.

It was totally delicious – really good bacon, and I love black pudding -  but having eaten it at 9 in the morning, I was still completely full at 2 that afternoon when Blue, full of indignation, exclaimed “Mummy! It’s 2 in the afternoon and we haven’t had any lunch”. I was a little irritated, so we had ‘fusion’ soup (fennel & celeriac combined with the leftover dahl and some water – reverting to type) with the multiseed bread (on a totally unrelated matter, I have been typing these posts up in word first to spot any spelling errors – did you know that it will autocorrect multiseed to read multispeed...). The bread was delicious – the soup less so, but edible. By 5 o’clock, the venison casserole I had put in the slow cooker in the morning was done and smelling lovely. The children wolfed it down but still I couldn’t face it. The Husband baked his pie, and made another casserole with the leftover meat, and then ate some of the first casserole at about 9. I had some stilton on the brick bread that I’d baked on Saturday. And a glass of red wine.
And then today, I still couldn’t face the meat. The casserole I’d made was already in the freezer. I wondered about having the Husband’s this evening, but it still felt like too much meat. The planned meal was chachouka (formerly known as egg surprise) but both kids were out for tea and the frozen sauce was supposed to feed all of us, so I decided to leave it in the freezer and so I turned to Hugh for inspiration. I have to say that I don’t think much of his ‘store cupboard suppers’ section. I’m sure they are all delicious, but are they really ‘store cupboard’? I guess it’s subjective, and probably only right that a book called Veg Everday pre-supposes a large amount of ‘veg’ in the store cupboard/fridge/garden, so perhaps we’re just not there yet, but there does seem to be an inordinately large amount of fresh stuff involved. In my book (the one I’d love to write, but, let’s be honest, is never going to happen), you can’t do much better for store cupboard than Nigella’s spaghetti with marmite. I always have spaghetti and marmite in the house. Job done. Most of Hugh’s truly ‘store cupboard’ ingredients are things like artichoke hearts in oil and other such delicacies. Not in my store cupboard, I’m afraid. – Hugh is clearly a man who has never had to resort to egg surprise.
The only truly store cupboard recipe as far as I could see was ‘Quick Chickpea Pasta’. You’re probably thinking what I was secretly thinking, and certainly what the Husband was thinking when I told him what it was called. However, I had pasta, a can of chickpeas, and cheese in the fridge. I had the leftover garlic oil from the Saturday night flatbread extravaganza, so I only needed to add some chilli at that for the dressing. Salt & pepper – done.

It was really, really good. As the Husband said – “If you’d told me what it was before I’d eaten it, I don’t think I’d have been very excited about it.” It just goes to show, really.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Soup and other disasters

When I was growing up, soup was a fact of life, not necessarily a particularly pleasant one, and it never came from a recipe. Soup used to evolve, and I think I may have commented to this effect before. Stock from a Sunday joint would be made into a fresh pot of soup, using up whatever veg was around, and would be eaten and added to throughout the next week – and beyond. As with other things, it is true to say that I absorbed this method of soup by osmosis. Soup made in this way can be delicious and it can be awful, but it was just how it was, and I’ve only recently really discovered that following a recipe can turn soup into something that’s really something to look forward to, rather than a convenient way of using up the sad and limp veg left towards the end of the week.

I’ve got a recipe for quick tomato soup which the children love, but soup hasn’t really featured highly on their list of favourite things to eat – possibly because of the approach I have previously taken to soup making. I recently discovered Sarah Raven’s mushroom soup as a means of cooking the results of one of the Husband’s foraging expeditions. I’ve also used it just for shop bought mushrooms, and very good it is too. Being that it’s winter, and cold, and soup is a great weekend lunch, I have decided to engage my quest for Veg (nearly Everyday), as a means to campaign for more soup eating, particularly as far as Blue and Pink are concerned. It also occurred to me that if I make a big pot of soup on a Friday night, it means that lunch is ready for Saturday, and I can freeze some in convenient plastic containers for the Husband to take to work with him for lunch. Anything that reduces the need for faffing around with packed lunches on a weekday morning has to be good in my book.

So first off, this weekend, Fennel & Celeriac soup with Orange Zest. There’s no magic in how it’s made – 3 fennel bulbs and some celeriac, plus the grated zest of an orange. Unfortunately, when I was making the shopping list, I forgot about the oranges, so it was just Fennel & Celeriac soup, but it was very good indeed. We had it for lunch on Saturday. Blue loved it and Pink ate what I’d given her. It’s a bit strange that she is my veg eater (as opposed to Blue who is less keen on veg but will eat fruit till it comes out of his ears) but isn’t great with veg in soup. Anyway, the rule is that they have to try, and it’s working well. This approach has meant that Blue in particular has eaten much more variety in the way of veg than I would have expected previously.

Saturday was a big veg day. The Husband and Pink went into Town on Saturday afternoon leaving Blue and I to prepare a curry feast, using Veg Everyday. In the end we did the cauliflower and chickpea curry and dahl along with more flatbreads. The curry was dead easy as was the dhal and the results were really delicious. The dahl in particular was really tasty and both kids scoffed it down. I have to say that I didn’t put any chilli in the curry, to cater for the kids, but it was fine without it. Perhaps this counts as wimping out, but I’d rather they got used to the flavours without being put off by something that was too hot. Blue made the flatbread dough pretty much on his own, but despite my intentions, in the end I did all the rolling out – by the time it was dinner time, I just wanted to get it on the table. We did the garlic oil to be drizzled over the flatbreads too and this was a great addition, although we would have floored any number of vampires by the end of it.

Spurred on by my success with Dab Lepard’s white bread earlier last week, I decided to make some of his wholemeal. I’ve long since given up making wholemeal bread – at most I’ll do half and half – because it’s just not great bread. But I was feeling confident, sure that if I followed Dan, all would be well. I’m afraid that my first attempt has not been a success. Just as brick like as ever. I’m sure I did everything as the recipe stated, but perhaps not. I was feeling slightly downhearted, (particularly as the alchemists chocolate cake I made on Friday turned out rather dense in the end – lovely but dense. Perhaps 2 large eggs does not equal 3 medium... Still, nothing a melted slab of green and blacks drizzled over the top can’t fix), and had to leave the rising loaf of honey and multiseed bread in the anxious hands of the Husband while I went out to babysit for a friend. It uses the half sponge method and also uses a kind of porridge of oats, seeds and honey. While I was out, the Husband texted me: “I’m worried about the bread”. “Just follow the instructions in the recipe” “But there are options” he said. “Feel the fear” I texted back – with hindsight, rather cruelly. The boy did good, though. The wholemeal may have been a disaster, but my faith is restored by the honey and multiseed loaf, and as I type, Pink and I are waiting for our ‘Toll House YoYos’  (a Dan biscuit) to bake – to be sandwiched together with a vanilla icing. Smelling good, and perhaps even better than custard creams...

****STOP PRESS****
the yoyos are ready...

Friday, 13 January 2012

what a week!

I can’t believe how quickly this week has gone. There I was getting right back into the swing of the blog and before I know it, it’s Friday again. So here I am, G&T in hand, wondering what to blog about.

Perhaps, most importantly, I should say that the Husband has made me 2 lovely shelves in the kitchen so now my recipe books are where they should be and not in the study, to be carted back and forth. One shelf has my favourite books on it and the other, I couldn’t resist, has the remains of my Granny (she of the lovely biscuit tin)’s old coffee set and some nice jugs that I have collected. The ‘display’ shelf is lovely – secretly, and very occasionally, I fantasise about having one of those kitchens where the home owner’s ‘lovely things’ are out on display, apparently full time, and there is never any clutter. When we had the kitchen ‘done’ a couple of years ago, I did promise faithfully that the top of the dresser, which is something we inherited with the house – would be clear of clutter and everything would be put away, but inevitably, it was not to be. I once had a (male) friend whose parents kept such a kitchen – clear worktops apart from a beautiful dualit kettle, and some minimalist white crockery artfully placed.  I remember him taking me home later on one evening to my parents’ house, and remarking how he was glad to see someone else’s kitchen was a mess – I didn’t spoil the illusion, but in fact the kitchen was, at that precise moment probably as tidy as I had ever seen . But I digress. I am now the proud owner of some lovely shelves, and it gives me a little thrill of satisfaction to see Hugh, Nigella and friends all nestled up together, casting their collective watchful eye over proceedings.

Maybe it’s their presence in the kitchen that has inspired me this week, but it does seem to have been one where I have particularly enjoyed cooking.

Last Saturday, looking for something to cook for a Sunday lunch, I retrieved a cut of lamb from the freezer. We got a jointed lamb last year – jointed but unlabeled. Having slowly worked our way through the more identifiable pieces of meat, there are now 3 or 4 pot luck lumps, so feeling brave, I decided to go for it. Given that I wasn’t quite sure what joint it was, the Husband and I decided that the best approach would be the slow roast, so when I got up on Sunday morning I did the HFW merguez spice mix that’s in River Cottage Everyday, slapped it on the meat, sizzled it in a hot oven for 30 mins then turned it right down and left to do its thang. We headed off to the allotment for a morning of digging and came back for lunch, by which time the meat was really lovely, with loads of juice (you chuck in a couple of glasses of water during the cooking time). It really is a fantastic way to cook lamb.

There wasn’t much left over of the lamb, so the kids had to have fish fingers and chips for tea on Monday – in the interests of eating out of the freezer, which was one of my stated aims for January (“Are they chips from the shop, mummy, or your ones?” “From the shop” “Hooray!! Shop bought chips!!” – the children are easily pleased) – and the Husband and I had a variation on my favourite leftover chicken recipe which is basically couscous baked in the oven with cold cooked chicken, couscous, tomatoes and peas and a spicy stock. In the absence of any of those ingredients, apart from couscous, I managed to use up the left over lamb along with the olives and artichoke heart (tinned I’m afraid) we’d used on Saturday night’s pizza, and some feta that had been languishing at the back of the fridge. I used the left over juice from the joint mixed in with some lamb stock to make the cooking liquor and bingo. There was even enough left for the Husband to have for his lunch on Tuesday, although I’m not sure he was as thrilled about that as I was.

On Monday, I also decided that I needed to see if Dan’s ‘farmhouse tin’ would stand up to the double batch treatment. It did. Need I say more.

On Tuesday, in the interests of eating less meat, and having found a jar of korma sauce in the cupboard, left over from the camper van last summer and needing eating up, I bit the bullet and made cauliflower korma and flatbreads for supper. Blue doesn’t like cauli much but does like curry, Pink vice versa, and the result was a surprising success. I literally fried an onion, and steamed the cauli before adding it along with the jar of sauce and cooking it. I used HFW’s magic bread dough – the one with plain flour in from Veg... that I used for pizza on Saturday, and blow me down, if it doesn’t make fab flatbread too. I got a bit enthusiastic and started off letting the kids roll out the individual flatbreads before I cooked them, but that was a mistake – it was late and I was tired. Tempers were frayed (mostly mine) so I decided that in the interest of their life expectancy, I had better finish it off myself, but the results were great.

We’ve eaten meat the rest of the week (although only a little chicken in fajitas – mostly red pepper, and yes, we used bought wraps – on Wednesday) but tomorrow, spurred on by the success of Tuesday’s curry, we are going to have a curry feast out of Veg. We will have flatbreads, and I will be good mummy and let the kids roll out as many flatbreads as they wish. I will not get grouchy and mean when they cover themselves and the kitchen in flour. We will be the very image of domestic bliss.

Finally, I made Dan’s alchemist chocolate cake this evening, the one with no butter, and only a little oil, and which uses a kind of pear/cocoa emulsion to bind it all together. So far so good – the mixture tasted scrummy, but I’m thinking that perhaps substitution 2 large eggs for the stated 3 medium eggs might have been an error as it’s looking rather flat. Still, I’m sure once I’ve drizzled some melted chocolate over it, flatness will be last thing on my mind...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Living on the Edge...

It’s been a long time since I have made bread using any other recipe than one of St Hugh’s, or made pizza base without consulting Lord Jamie, but never let it be said that I don’t live on the edge. I made not one but 2 dramatic departures from the Recipe Junkie repertoire today, prompted by baking withdrawal. I haven’t had to bake anything for weeks because the Christmas cake lasted, as it should, until the early part of this week, and I had baked and frozen quite a lot of bread before Christmas to see us through (you’d think we were being blockaded or something), and that alone had my fingers itching to do something with dough. Secondly, despite, the arrival of Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard, and Veg Everyday, HF-W’s latest over the festive period, I was somewhat delayed in my reading of both tomes – Dan’s because I got absorbed in Emma Kennedy’s ‘I Left my Tent in San Francisco’ – which I would thoroughly recommend, but the reasons are probably the subject of a different blog altogether – and HF-W’s because the Husband acquired it by swapping some of the other, duplicate, books he’d been given over Christmas (I mean, how many copies of ‘Fifty Ways to Kill a Slug’ does a man need to own...) Anyway, quite sensibly, he wanted to have a perv – I mean read – before I started to use it and covered it in the same light coating of olive oil, cumin and cocoa powder that all my cook books seem to acquire just from being present in the kitchen. As a result I have only just got stuck into both books in the last couple of days.
Anyway, Dan – what a man. The book is fab and I’ve only read about bread and cakes so far. I am planning much cakeage next weekend (watch out for ‘the alchemists chocolate cake’ – only 220 calories per slice and appears to use a can of pears instead of butter. This I have to try). The Husband is currently dentally challenged, and has requested a postponement of further sourdough activity on the grounds that the bread is more chewy, so in the interests of trying something new rather than reverting to my old standard recipe for bread with quick yeast (loosely, the old HF-W recipe that’s in the Family Cookbook but I haven’t read a bread recipe for ages), I decided it was only fair to give Dan’s bread (and besides I didn’t have any tinned pears in the cupboard and the chickens aren’t laying so well so I didn’t have enough eggs). I went for his farmhouse white tin loaf. It uses a ‘half sponge’ method so you mix flour warm water and yeast together and leave for a few hours then add the rest of the flour and salt to that. But first you rub butter in to the flour. Bizarre. I felt like I was making crumble, not bread. I guess my previous method involved olive oil, so using butter is just an alternative to that. He’s got lots of top tips for bread making. I haven’t kneaded a loaf myself for a long time, preferring to take the easy route and chuck it all in the Kenwood, but I thought I’d do it as instructed, which involved kneading the bread 3 times, each time only for a short time, and with a break of 15 or 30 minutes, and then leaving it rise in the tin for a long rise, which is kind of the opposite of how I’ve done it before (without the multiple kneading). The other thing that was different was the cooking time – much longer – but dare I say it, the end result looks and smells totally fabulous. I am desperately trying to resist the urge to cut off a slice, smother it in butter and marmalade and devour. But I fear that once I start, I won’t stop...
But what would a day be without Hugh? Nigella featured at lunchtime with her Sunshine soup (out of Kitchen – basically cook frozen sweetcorn in stock and roast 2 yellow peppers in a hot oven then blitz together. A big hit indeed). I couldn’t leave him out of the party, so I decided to use his ‘magic bread dough’ out of Veg Everyday to make the pizza bases. I was a bit surprised because it uses half plain flour which I’ve never come across before, but it made very good pizza base. The pizzas were great too – I mixed together a tub of frozen homemade tomato pizza topping with a portion of frozen red pepper pasta sauce that I must have squirreled away at some point in the past, and combined they made a lovely tomato sauce to top with the rest. I confess that meat did make an appearance – the Husband’s pepperoni and some anchovies – along with the usual. I flung them in the oven, and set the timer.
“Why did you put someone else’s pizza on top of mine, Mummy?” asked Pink. “Well, to fit them all in” I said. “But you put it RIGHT ON TOP of my one” she persisted. “No, no, the shelves are just quite close together”.

8 minutes later, tea towel to the ready, I confidently took out the first pizza. A crash as Pink’s pizza and baking sheet fell off the bottom of Blue’s, olives scattering onto the floor, and a howl from Pink “My PIIIIZZZZZZZZAAAAAAA!”. I really had put them on the same shelf, one on top of the other. Forget recipes – I need a basic oven driving book...

Thursday, 5 January 2012

A little bit of Veg Everyday

When the Husband and I had no money, and lived on the edge of Salisbury Plain miles from any shops (well, it seemed like miles at the back end of a long commute into London) one of our regular meals was ‘Egg Surprise’. Egg Surprise consisted of whatever we had, cooked up with a can of tomatoes. The surprise was whether there was an egg or not, cooked in the tomato sauce. I was talking to a neighbour about this not so long ago and she told me about ‘Ifits’ which turned up at least once every couple of weeks in her household. ‘If it’s in the cupboard, I’ll cook it’ is what her mum would say. Same thing really.

Well it turns out that there is a recipe for Egg Surprise, although according to HF-W, it’s called ‘Chachouka’ if it’s got eggs in it and ‘Pepperonata’ without. This is very gratifying. The fact that a mainstay of our early married life features in Veg Everyday pleases me greatly. To be fair, Chachouka in the HF-W sense does involve specific ingredients (finely sliced onions and red/yellow peppers) to be cooked with the can of tomatoes, and also includes saffron, smoked paprika and cumin which I don’t ever recall being integral to Egg Surprise, although when the Husband was in charge it usually had a fair amount of chilli in it.

Anyway, as part of our current bid to embrace HF-W’s philosophy of eating a bit more veg instead of meat, Chachouka was supper this evening. I read the introduction of Veg Everyday the other evening and he is quite persuasive. It’s not about replacing meat in a meal, more leaving it out altogether and cooking something so delicious without it that you don’t feel cheated.

I thought Chachouka would be a good place to start, partly for reasons of nostalgia and also because I thought it would be relatively easy to sell to the kids. Pink adores eggs and Blue is a fan of anything tomatoey sauce, but I wasn’t 100% certain that they’d eat it: The sauce isn’t whizzed up – it’s more of a stew, and if the eggs weren’t runny enough, that might have been a show stopper. However, I was more convinced they’d eat that as compared with kale and mushroom lasagne.

It helped that by the time I’d finished cooking it, it was quite a bit later than they would normally have had tea and they were both starving. I’d read the recipe but failed to notice quite how long it needs to be cooked – onions for 10 mins then the peppers for another 20 mins followed by another 15 mins with the tomatoes and then a final blast in the oven with the eggs. I should also ‘fess up and admit to giving them garlic bread with it. Bought from the shop. Bound to make them feel well disposed towards their tea. However, notwithstanding the garlic bread and hunger pangs, they both ate it up and Blue (who I was least convinced about because he can be funny about eggs) said it was delicious. Good job I made a double quantity of the stew so we can have it again without waiting for hours for it to cook.

The Husband and I ate later. “This looks remarkably like egg surprise” he said. Funny, that...

Monday, 2 January 2012

nearly finished the cheese

So there it was, Merry Christmas, I had lots of fun. It’s been a while, but frankly the end of term descended into madness, and I’d managed to cook so much in advance that there wasn’t much to blog about (I mean – “went to freezer, defrosted cinnamon buns, ate them, groaned for 20 minutes”– hardly merits much webspace). I should also confess to watching far too much Kirstie Allsopp in the pre-Christmas period, and was temporarily diverted from baking onto homemade Christmas cards. It’s amazing how compelling cutting and sticking can be... 

The Christmas food all went to plan. We had coffee and cinnamon buns for breakfast, smoked salmon with sour cream and dill on blinis late morning, then Doris (the bird) early afternoon. I don’t know why we gave her a name. It was Pink’s idea really, but it does go against the grain a bit as we’ve always said about the chickens that we wouldn’t eat chickens that we knew – so French, Saunders, Hornby, Barbie and Pepper are safe, and naming the Turkey seemed to imply to me a certain intimacy, but it didn’t seem to bother the kids. Doris was a Copas bird – free range, and 4.5 kilos fed 4 of us for a week plus a pie (about which more later) and about 3 litres of stock. I didn’t do anything fancy with it but followed a combination of Hugh FW and Nigella’s suggestions re: cooking times and stuffing – so I covered the breast with salt and pepper, pancetta and some olive oil, put a halved orange and a couple of sprigs of rosemary inside the bird, and only stuffed the neck, and for cooking did a sizzle in a hot oven for 20 mins before turning it down for the rest of the cooking time. I managed to remember to baste every 30-40 mins and I also ‘rested’ her breast side down. Whether it was one thing in particular or a combination, she was cooked to perfection (if I do say so myself) – not a stringy dry thigh in sight, and was very delicious.

I hadn’t bothered with a ham partly because our after- Christmas guest is vegetarian – so I was very pleased to trade some of the leftover turkey for some gammon from one of the neighbours who hadn’t done a turkey. There are many, many things to do with leftover Turkey, but there’s a turkey and ham pie in Nigella’s Feast that is really scrummy. You basically make a sauce from butter, flour and turkey stock plus some cream (I didn’t say it was slimming) , throw in the cooked turkey and ham plus some sweetcorn, top with pastry and bake. I’ve made it a couple of times now and if anyone’s interested, the sauce is better with a dollop of wholegrain mustard. I made it this weekend for a New Year’s day lunch at my father in law’s and it went down very well. Actually I’ve done pretty well with pastry this festive season. I made many, many mince pies using Nigella’s pastry (Domestic Goddess) for a Christmas Eve drinks thing, and the pastry I made for the turkey pie worked fine, although that may be because my father in law doesn’t own a rolling pin so I rolled it our using a (full) wine bottle wrapped in cling film which is probably heavier and colder than my usual implement.

We really enjoyed having people round for drinks on Christmas Eve. Somehow instead of making Christmas more stressful, it all worked fine, but that may be because of the huge amount of mulling that went on. The Husband spent most of the afternoon tending a couple of large pans, one of the 2011 vintage cider, the other with a wine and sloe gin concoction, and probably doubled his alcohol intake by the inhalation of the vapours. While he was in charge of the content of the cider pan, I’d googled mulled wine and come up with a hybrid recipe taken from about 7 different suggestions I’d found. I can thoroughly recommend the addition of sloe (or damson) gin. T’was very drinkable, as was the ‘sloegasm’ that I enjoyed on Christmas Day – sloe gin and champagne – a kind of shabby chic kir royale, but no less drinkable and possibly more potent. I did however resist the suggestion to have multiple sloegasms – after all, I was in charge of Doris, and she deserved better than that. 

We’ve now eaten our way through most of the Christmas provisions, although there is still some cheese left over. Despite my best intentions, I got ‘Short and Sweet’ by Dan Leppard and ‘Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache’ by Harry Eastman for Christmas from Allotment Junkie and I am very much looking forward to some more baking. However, to counter the cake, we also got the River Cottage Veg Everyday book, so on a healthier note I am resolved to cook at least one meal a week from that, plus one other veggie meal, so watch this space for progress.