Eating it, cooking it, thinking about it

Either eating it, cooking it or plotting it

Monday, 20 December 2010

Happy Christmas


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

Monday, 13 December 2010

What follows is a true story

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

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Fanny Craddock, pickled onions and the Birdy Song

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

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

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Gingerbread biscuits

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

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

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

Mulling it all over

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

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Cats & Crumble


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

One of the only plus points of my recent toothache* has been the omnipresent taste of clove oil in my mouth. I won't bang on about My Toothache* as there's nothing duller than hearing someone else's hard luck story ( and, have you noticed, people take it as cue to tell you theirs - only you can guarantee that their story is far more dramatic , heroic amounts of pain withstood, fortitude and suffering, the likes of which Andy McNabb would have a hushed reverence for) . I find the taste of cloves just the right side of antiseptically spicy, both treaty and medicinal. And very seasonal. Most of my recent baking has been suffused with the good stuff,  cinnamon, cloves, ginger and brown sugars - spiced pumpkin cakes, carrot cakes, sticky toffee cakes, both for the shop and for private orders. I have a wedding order in a couple of weeks for a spiced pumpkin cupcake tower that I'm particularly looking forward to working on. The decoration is on an autumnal and ivy leaf theme which I think will work beautifully, all russets and greens and golds. I'm also working on a cupcake order for an 18th birthday, going with a vibe of elegant sparkle, and that feels sneakily festive too, silver sparkles and stars. I am such a sucker for the festive vibe, I've already got my seasonal candles on the go of an evening ( spiced apple, honey and chocolate, spiced pear, red apple wreath, silver fir) and tonight, some people are coming over for a meal and I'll be cracking out a mini Christmas dinner, roast parsnips, stuffing, sprouts and all ! Sticky toffee sundae for pudding. Having had a fairly heavy baking time of it particularly over the last week, its almost a novelty to be making something non cake related ( and easy to eat - me teeth, you know..).Still,spaghetti hoops on brown buttered toast with grated cheese takes some beating ( had for tea twice this week. Never knowingly restrained..) but beaten it was this week, by a 7 course meal at Ramsons Restaurant in Bury. I've long wanted to go, having read the reviews , and finally made it late last week. Carpaccio of brill, seared scallops, breast of woodpigeon, brown shrimp ravioli, roast loin of venison, cheeses, pannacotta with fragolina grapes and then marmalade sponge with drambuie custard. Each course matched to a particular wine. All very well executed, smartly served , with purees and dashes of sauces and oils ( pea, saffron, lemon, beetroot, liquorice, rowan and juniper) here and there as you might expect, but I dunno...something lacked a bit. It felt, perhaps rather than tasted, all a little bit uniform. The owner was keen to make his presence felt and seemed to make sure we knew how much he knew about his wines. His bon mots felt a little bit over polished., as if he was determined to make himself the very epicentre of Your Ramsons Experience.  I don't want to be churlish about a place that starting serving raw fish to Bury diners in 1985, and I won't groan that the scallops were served with a pea puree, because a classic is a classic ( spaghetti hoops and grated cheese) but I did find the atmosphere to be a little off. And try as I might, I just don't like wood pigeon. I want to, I think I should, but I don't. Same with duck and seabass. I'd love to love them, and airily order them..I've had them all done well, done badly but I just can't enjoy them. No-one knows what I suffer. Have I mentioned me teeth ?
* painful
*  very painful

Sunday, 24 October 2010

buns, buttercream, business as usual

Halloween theme cupcakes, made earlier
Buried under buns and buttercream all day, then got the urge for another preserve-athon, so rattling through my cupboards for glass jars to pour the goods into (the chutney, not the cakes, obviously) . The house smells fuggily sweet and spicy and the windows have steamed up quite pleasingly. V busy day ( v busy week !,), my favourite apron still to mend (one of the cords ( straps ?) frayed off ( see how busy I must be ...) but good glass of red now and pancakes for tea , exhausted ...wouldn't have it any other way . Looking forward to half snooze-watching Downton Abbey, then electric blanket on ,drift off dreaming up ways to use some new gourmet extract oils I've invested in (note to self - internet shopping when sober would be cheaper) and wake up ready for a New Week Of It All. Hope you've had a good one.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

this week, I have mostly been....

pepsi max rather than diet coke
coffee rather than tea in the morning
pizza rather than burger
cream rather than custard
toast rather than cereal
dark rather than milk chocolate
red rather than white wine
thai rather than chinese
carrot cake rather than lemon drizzle
butter rather than margarine
ribena rather than vimto
roast lamb rather than roast pork
never - liver, seabass, duck or Radio 1
always - parmesan, wotsits, chorizo, sushi, Radio 4
You ?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Edward Woodward, Kenwood(ward) and the best beloved Boxer.

Look, I don't want to bore on about this, but I've been having muffin dramas again. Its a slap of the face and a honk of the nose to me from muffins. I am actually starting to sneak up on the recipe now, trying to distract it before they realise I've gone and baked them. This time, the batch rose , tall and tender, but the tops were completely flat. Like spirit level flat. Ice skating rink flat. It was the lemon and poppy seed recipe again. And you know what I'm going to say - I did nothing different from last time. Weary sigh. Same spot in the oven and all that. Exasperated ( for these muffins only ever do this when they know they are bound for sale in the shop) I made a batch of berry muffins instead (with a little lemon zest* - blueberries, raspberries and blackcurrant, so jammily jewel like when they burst in the muffin, beautiful) and they came out Just As They Should. And very pleased with them I was too. I guess lemon muffins are tired of me taking them for granted. I never take them out or send them flowers, I turn the telly up when they're speaking to me.  They are putting their (flat) foot down. I'll make it up to them somehow. Right after I've finished my honeymoon with Berry Burst Muffin. And as if all this weren't pale shivery nightsweat high drama enough - fasten your seat belts - my best beloved balloon whisk from my best beloved Kenwood mixer has given up the ghost. As ends go, it was a good and noble death, in amongst a batch of chocolate meringue buttercream, working , like Boxer from Animal Farm, tirelessly to the end. One of the metal wires just pinged off ( suspect cahoots with lemon muffins). I've had this mixer for ever - it has Never Ever let me down. Its a Kenwood Chef, its older than I am, (they were manufactured between 1962 and 1976, fact fans) I've never had to replace a part or have it serviced, and its used , heavy duty, weekly. I love it. It has its quirks - it sounds like a whale with tummy ache when its doing its thing, and I have to hit the hinge button thing with a hammer to make the top bit ( I simply have no idea what this bit of the machine is called) swing up so I can attach the accessories. I don't think my baking life would be possible without this reliable, sturdy, no nonsense beast. So I've been looking on ebay for spare parts ( I have me eye on a meat grinder attachment also, I fancy a bit of a go at sausage making. Or to be able to mince pork fat for pates and such) and thankfully, there are some. I'm just not sure I'll be able to throw the broken one away. I see you smirking and thinking I'm being all whimsical, but I bet you'd feel grousy if someone threw away your favourite fork, or cracked your favourite cereal bowl. The lure of the ShinyNew is strong - see the gleaming red of curvy kissable KitchenAid ! - but my heart belongs with my Boxer like mixer. Old is Gold as they say. One box of chocolates and bunch of lillies for the lemon muffins then.

*My reader has suggested that some of my muffin dramas might be due to the levels of acid in different lemons. In most baking recipes where there is acid content, bicarb of soda is added ( aswell as baking powder) to neutralize the acid ( the Edward Woodward Equalizer of the kitchen) and help the stuff to rise (its 4 times more powerful than baking powder  ( Edward Woodward pimped in a cape then, who can now fly and shoots laserbeams from his eyes). So maybe thats why its changeable. Maybe.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Sausages, Simply Red & Simpering

If you filter the world and its goings on through the newspapers and tv alone, its almost obligatory to take a pretty dim view of proceedings. And there is a lot of dim and grim, there’s no doubting it. And that, coupled with the wearying routines of most peoples working day leaves little energy for wide eye wondering at well, natures wonders. I get irritated by, rather than amused by, the harmless posturing squealing chatter of a group of actually, fairly decent teenage girls. This isn’t an original sentiment, I know . Its RH Davies "What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare" and Ferris Bueller "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it" And to be anything other than smartly cynical in the gimlet eyed and purple bloated face of politics, economics, populist entertainment and adverts cashing gold meercats in car supermarkets or whatever ,would leave you wide open to the charge of being the greenest goofiest simpering chump who ever dared evince a Chewbacca like groan. Fair enough, there is plenty, ( and always plenty more to come) to be waspishly cynical and despairing about. Or even just things to be quietly ,intensely sad about - I’m thinking here of some friends who have had recent news of a terminal illness, a thing that can’t be soothed or bargained or loved away. I’m thinking of someone close who’s just lost a job, someone else who’s just had twins but now diagnosed with cancer. Much to be despairing about. And Piers Morgan mugging all over the telly, and Mick Hucknall, warbling mercenary little goblin not having the decency to call it a day. In casual conversation with a wise friend a couple of years ago ( I forget what we were bemoaning - it may have been a State Of The Nation opinion piece - or more likely a theatrically appalled dissection of yet another disappointing meal out. My friend has the most remarkable track record here. She attracts bad food and shoddy service the same way Greggs stock sausage rolls - constant, reassuring, inevitable If we ever get the time ( to stand and stare together), I’d love to give you a run down of her personal top ten bewilderingly thwarted attempts at simply enjoying a meal. One of her recent triumphs was being served the same ratatouille , at 4 distinctly advertised different courses over the duration of an evening. By the cunning insertion of a handful of raisins in one serving, an imperceptible change in temperature in another , serving it in a shot glass in the next and lastly ‘dressing’ the next serving with ( not hiding, definitely not hiding) rice, 4 different courses were indeed claimed by the restaurant. Room Restaurant, Manchester, I’m looking at you. And you’re not even looking away embarrassed are you ? Anyhoo…..there we were, bemoaning something) and we concluded that the best you can do, really, is to make your little corner of the world as pleasant as you can for as long as you can. No more revelatory that than the old adage of Count Your Blessings, but I think we only tend to do it when a crisis is on.... So I consider myself lucky in that I get to be involved in Happy Occasions - baking for weddings, parties, special occasions etc. And I consider myself lucky in that walking through Manor Park yesterday, I saw a lolloping fat brown spaniel chase hopefully chasing a lithe squirrel. And it made me laugh - the squirrel outpaced the spaniel, shot up a tree and sat there in regal regard at the dog. And the chubby spaniel whined and pawed the tree trunk a bit, and then, in what I can describe only as a kind of gallic shrug of his doggy shoulders, literally turned tail , cocked his leg and peed on the tree. Take that squirrel ! And I felt lucky that I saw a home made poster advertising a Hoe Down in a church hall, and I felt lucky to meet someone who is always good company for lunch, and I felt lucky to be able to pause and watch the tail end of a good humoured bowling match in the park. And I saw oak and sycamore leaves on the ground, and properly noticed autumn for the first time. And I’m happy that the Wheat sheaf ( where I had said lunch) has won an award for its sausages . I feel lucky to live in a place where a local pub makes sausages with local ales and local meat and wins awards. I’m happy that people give awards for sausages. And that people bother about community and raising money in church halls. I’m lucky to have been out again for lunch today, with good friends and lucky to be involved in their wedding ( who else would make the cake ?) I'm lucky I remembered to look around. Today the BT Infinity Advert with the shooting star light things make me go soppy. Today I’m the greenest goofiest simpering chump you ever did see. Aside from Piers Morgan.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

feeding favourite famous people

Nigel Slater - a cold beer, a fat buttery baked potato, sticky mustardy sausages & plum crumble
Zooey Deschanel - a verdant green herb soup, gremolata & white peaches
David Mitchell - a rare roast beef sandwich, horseradish & mustard mayo, green leaves. Cup of tea & custard tart
Stephen Fry - red wine, egyptian tomato salad, salmon fillet wrapped in parma ham, asparagus, hollandaise, french green beans & raspberry pavlova
Mariella Frostrup - beetroot & goats cheese salad, hazelnut dressing, lemon tart
Michael Sheen - chorizo spit sizzling in red wine , olives, lemon marinated artichoke hearts . No bread. He keeps mercurial and slight.
Philip Larkin - a ham sandwich on white, smear of fierce hot mustard, gin and tonic and a rock cake
PG Wodehouse - toast, gentlemans relish, poached eggs, scones with jam and cream, trifle
Sue Perkins- roast tomato & roast red pepper risotto ( starter size) langoustines, deep fried courgette, key lime pie with ginger biscuit crust
Michel Roux Jnr - jersey new potatoes, salt, butter & mint. Cheese board. Must have roquefort.
Piers Morgan - kidding
You - fresh warm focaccia, thin but large crust base pizza , fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, oregano. homemade vanilla icecream, warm chocolate sauce.


Sunday, 19 September 2010

Muffin to worry about

Muffins. Stroppy.
A couple of years back, I read A Fact which made me smile ( I think I read it in Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery) - that an old ladies tea party used to be called a Muffin Worry. How could that not make you smile ? I'm fairly sure it was in reference to english muffins, the round yeasted dough bread ( not the belly bulge over hang on tight trouser - I guess thats what young ladies worry about at tea parties. Because they're always at tea parties these young folk) and not the the American/ Canadian cake bread style ones. Anyhoo, description read and thought nothing of until yesterday, as I was baking some of the American style ones for the coffee shop, some lemon and poppy seed and something that I've done a hundred times over. Mix made as usual, carefully spooned ( well, I use an ice cream scoop) into the cases, left to bake for 20 mins and out they came...(cake drama ! cake drama!) ...half the size they normally do, with flat smooth tops. They came out the size of cupcakes (where I strive constantly for said flat smooth top, all the better to thickly ice), and were still springy, moist and perfectly edible, just....well, not mighty and tall and splendid. Puzzled it out for a bit, consulted sources, questioned equipment , peered into oven accusingly ( incidently, I always use oven thermometers as I've learnt to be distrustful of manufacturers over the years. I'm not saying they lie, but they are very much mistaken) and drew blanks. Drank a coffee and calmly made another batch, and whaddya know ? Out they came, mighty and tall and splendid. I am looking you beseechingly in the eye and telling you, I did nothing different. Muffin Worry ! Muffin Drama ! Still a bit non plussed by it, except to say that I'm very sure that every now and again, food just likes to be mischevious and won't be taken for granted. At the risk of coming over a bit Prince Charles, I already (albeit silently) entreat cakes to please please bake agreeably, but I guess we all get stroppy sometimes. Recipe as below. Show it who's boss. Muffin Worries aside, its been a week of autumnal eating, roasting of potato, parsnip and chicken (note - cold roast chicken - v good smeared with last weeks chilli jam) and baking of pears , a determination to cook Something Proper everyday. The cooler weather always gets me this way. Actually, the baked pears were one of the most low effort high reward things I've eaten in a long while, so I'll post that recipe too. I think, in the sweetly 1950's language that some food magazines drift into, that the pears might also be 'smart' enough to serve at a dinner party. Perhaps those young folk will serve them at one of their tea parties.

Lemon & Poppyseed Muffins.

Makes 12 large

3 eggs
150g caster sugar
360 ml milk
150ml veg oil
350g plain flour
3 and a half tsp baking powder
1 and a half tsp bicarb of soda
half tsp salt
zest of 3 lemons, chopped finely
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 - 2 tbsp poppy seeds

Oven at 200 degrees. In one bowl, sift the flour, then mix with lemon zest, salt, baking powder, bicarb,poppy seeds and sugar. In another bowl , mix the wet ingredients - beat the egg, then add the oil, milk and lemon juice. Combine the 2 mixes ( I use a large metal spoon. I think its supposed to be a salad server..) and scoop or pour carefully into cases - they should be full. Bake for 20 mins, till risen ( ........) and springy. Take out of the tin as soon as your brave little fingers allow - don't let them steam/ keeping cooking on in the tin if you can help it. I make a lemon drizzle topping to spoon over while they are still warm - combine juice of 1 - 2 lemon with approx 85 - 100g caster sugar. Thats it.

Autumnal pears - for 2 people

Think of this as more refined pears in custard. Bananas would work also I think.

Oven at 180

2 - 3 ripe pears, peeled and cored ( or use tinned)
150 ml double cream
scant half tsp cinnamon
2 tablespoons caster sugar
tsp of vanilla extract
3 -4 ginger biscuits, smashed up into jaggedy crumbs

Butter a small baking dish, tuck the pears in ( I placed them in top to tail style). Whisk the cream lightly with the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and pour over the pears. Bake for 20 mins til the cream is thickened and started to brown and bubble. Smash up the ginger biscuits, crumble over the cream. Seriously, seriously, transportingly good. Don't speak while you eat it, commune with it.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Condiments to the chef

The bbq last week was pretty near perfection. A ponderous afternoon of eating and talking, course following course from the bbq, stretched over the afternoon ( and stomach). The Kind Friends, lets call them Tom & Barbara, have a heavenly little dell of a garden from which beautiful and good things are grown. Apples, tomato, peppers, courgette, chilli and even, we discovered, after a bit of internettery, hops ! The chilli plant they've grown is one of the lovliest things I've seen - bright tight shiny red & green chillis, jewel bright through the sage shaped leaves. Honestly, I thought it was stunning, a little bit of Christmas potted in their green house ( aw c'mon, we're in early September, the Christmas word is bound to pop over the parapet...I love summer, I really love spring, autumn is breathtakingly awesome, but Christmas really is my pick of the seasonal bunch. Obviously I will join in the wailing and gnashing of teeth at summers end, and be sure to eye roll against the long dark nights but, ignore me. I'm playing to the gallery.I'm lying. I love winter. I'll take a plum pudding over a strawberry sorbet, and a goulash over a caesar salad. I have my Christmas cake already baked, tucked away and regularly soused with sherry). We found out the strength of the chillis via the traditional method of just taking a bite. Some excitement later, we found that they are officially called Apache chillis, which apparently "...once they've matured to red chillies they can be very hot". Quite. Apaches. Not noted for their amenable insouciance. Anyway, I'm a game girl and was very happy to be gifted some of the little pocket rockets and today I've made a sweet chilli and tomato sauce from them. Hellzapoppin', my fingers knew about it when I chopped them, and its sure is a perky little condiment.* I went the de-seeding route. It was for the best.

Sweet chilli & fresh tomato sauce

500g fresh tomato
8 red chillis, deseeded
knob of fresh ginger, peeled
6 cloves garlic
50ml thai fish sauce ( optional)
300g caster sugar ( I used golden)
100ml red or white wine vinegar

Blend the tomato, garlic, chilli & ginger in a processor ( or finely handchop).
Place the puree with the sugar and vinegar in a pan, bring to the boil and then simmer for 40 mins or so.
Thats it !

Pour into kilner jar that snaps satisfyingly shut like an angry turtles mouth.

*I am obsessed with condiments. I currently have 21 jars of different condiments in my fridge. I am not exaggerating for comic effect. Sometimes, I talk to them. Kidding. A bit.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

BBQs and Buns

Heres some I baked earlier

Oho ! Its a good day ! First off this morning , presented with pancakes fatly oozy with syrup and sharpened with lemon juice, and a tooth staining tannin-y mug of builders tea. Just The Thing ( on account of attending a wedding yesterday, and enjoying, shall we say, the refreshments). And this afternoon, its off to a bbq, for the sun has got his hat on hip hip hip hip hooray ! Thus also rather neatly avoiding doing any cooking myself today. Which I have to say is a welcome break, having had a kitchen intensive week. There was much to do ( and done) with a large order for a wedding, a large order for a christening, two cakes and over 130 cupcakes for supply to the coffee shop, each batch in a different style and flavour. Its been busy, good busy but busy. Which explains some of my curious lunch choices this week, cous cous with mashed avocado on top, soused with lemon juice and salt ( try it) and cold meatballs dipped in salad cream (cold fishfingers would have been better, alas) . Anything that was quick and easy really. Anyhoo, I'm rubbing my greedy little hands ( whilst I'm typing..)at the thought of the bbq to come . The Kind Friends hosting the happy event are no slouches in the kitchen, and I've eaten greedily and gratefully from their table previously - home grown tomatoes and strawberries, scallops, lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic, fresh baked bread, marinaded halloumi hot and squeaky, smooshed onto bread with good olive oil ( this wasn't all at the one meal, though I'd have no issue if it was). So like Harold Carter, I too expect to be shortly peering at Marvellous Things. Or was it wonderful things ? And thinking on, he was peering into a tomb. And a kitchen is nothing like a tomb. And further more, we'll be in the back garden, not the kitchen. So nothing like Harold Carter in fact. Sorry. Except for the Marvellous Things. Which I aim to be eating rather than just peering at. I'll stop now. Oh, except one last thing - when does a nugget become a goujon ? I was thinking about this the other day (seriously. I am heroically dull. Not like Harold Carter) I think it might be only when the Dark Art of Sales is involved. Because I'd buy ( and did in fact) sole goujons, but not sole nuggets. Are goujons a bit longer ? A sylph nugget ? I'll ask Harold.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

rhubarb & roses

Some poaching of rhubarb aside ( with apricots, orange zest, juice, fresh ginger, sugar and cinnamon) its been an unusually light Proper Cooking few days. And I don't think poaching up a dish of rhubarb can make a compelling case for Proper Cooking really. Food has either been delivered ( those promising brown bags with the handles again, always with a grease spot the size of a 50p coin) or we've eaten out. My default meal when busy with other kitchen projects ( baking for orders) is pretty much always a baked potato. Nigel Slater describes a baked potato as the culinary equivalent of a hug, and I don't think that notion can be bettered. I like my hugs with butter and cheese, cornish sea salt ( get me) and pepper. Sour cream and spring onions too if no-ones looking. Its a meal to capsize into, and generally leaves me with a kind of post hot bath happy simpleton glow. I'd like to say said potato ( and rhubarb) were organic, in mitigation of the lack of wholesome eating thats coloured this week, but they weren't. They were from t'Co-op so I doubt it. By dint of the fact that t'Co-op is a stones throw from me and that I pass it most days, I'm frequently in there either stalking up and down the baking ailse ( looking for items I know fine well they don't stock, but hope springs eternal) or making a smash and grab, amongst commuters, for something for tea. With t'Co-op being fairly handy for me, its sort of my big corner shop. No, they don't always have everything I want ( but they've started stocking halloumi a bit more regular ! 3 Cheese Cheers !) but their fair trade range is great,(and growing) and their recently gussied up cafe part is also all fair tradey , fairly priced and very well placed for skulking in when a train is late or cancelled. Remember the snow at the beginning of this year ? Well, the train service, shall we say, was not unaffected and I spent many a thwarted foray into Manchester in t'C-op cafe , riding an emotional rollercoaster following train time updates and eating toasted teacakes. But there's about to be a new kid in town ! I see on the high street, next door to a bakery, that a new coffee and pancake shop is set to open ! During my late teens, we'd go to the Dutch Pancake House in Manchester, see a film at the Cornerhouse and would thill to our metropolitan sophistication. So I shall let you know, this place has a big plate to fill. In the meantime, heres a pic of something thats been occupying me much of this week - sugarcraft. I've 3 large orders this week, for a wedding, a christening, and a new thing for me, a supply to a local coffee shop, so I've been busy handcrafting sugar paste roses and butterflies. And eating baked potatoes.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

early riser

Exactly as the picture says. Wide awake at unpleasant o clock this morning, made a maple & seed loaf... 

450g wholemeal bread flour
200g white bread flour
350- 400ml warm water
2 tablespoons maple syrup
50g mixed seeds
tsp salt
tbsp oil ( or butter)
7g sachet yeast

All ingredients except seeds into the mixer, combine with dough hook for 10 mins.Check for dough being too wet/ dry, adjust water, or sprinkle in a little more flour if needs be. Leave to rise for an hour, covered in an oiled or floured bowl. Knock back, add in seeds , re-knead then pop into floured loaf tin ( I used a 2lb tin) and leave to rise, covered again for another hour. Bake at 200 for 30 mins, knock the bottom of the tin and you should get a hollow sound that tells you its ready. Its a toothsome little loaf, a good teeth sinker-inner.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Toasting bagels for Thomas Stearns

Inadvertently, its been the week of sweetcorn. Monday saw an impromptu bbq, determined to make the most of summers last hurrah with a couple of friends. We had it baked on the bbq ,wrapped in foil, then charred a little with requisite butter dribbling down our arms and chins ( well, mine anyway). By 9pm it was fierce chilly but we were stoic. Til, ohh, 10pm , when eton mess and comfier seats called us inside. Tuesday was salt & pepper king prawns with egg fried rice. My egg fried rice always includes sweetcorn ( and peas) . Its akin to law in this house, and works as a great almost pillowy foil to the zippy salt and pepper king prawns - designed to make your mouth feel like that Dodo in the fruit juice advert, taste buds howling and  jangling "I'm Alive !". Well worth the inevitable tongue shrivel. Weds was left over egg fried rice for lunch, and for tea, cajun blackened salmon, sweet potato wedges and fresh boiled corn on the cob. Thursday was more left over fried rice . I'm constitutionally incapable of making a one-meal sized portion. I always hope for leftovers, like a sad eyed dog eyeing the table. I find leftovers almost as promising as a brown paper bag arriving into the house. Especially a brown paper bag with handles, theres every chance then its a takeaway or, thrillingly, it'll be from our local deli, Praze, purveyors of very fine cheeses and Elderflower champagne. Anyway, to make a succesful sandwich and throw a succesful party, you have to be generous ( another Law in this house) And so with cooking tea. Not like King Henry the 8th or anything, but enough going so as to not feel anxious. Thursday was sweetcorn free, but Friday returned to form with a chicken and sweetcorn soup. I have these little episodes, the new-best-friending of a particular food. Sometimes it'll be with a particular ingredient for Proper Cooking, other times, especially if left to my own devices , it'll be peanut butter and toast for a week. This coming week however, may well be a little heavy on the bagels ( with peanut butter ) . I made 15 of them this morning ( see, I didn't fib about the plotting of leftovers), some with poppy seeds, some just sprinkled with semolina. One just snaffled seconds out of the oven with butter. I had a small baking session underway as it was ( birthday cupcakes) so it was very little effort to measure out a few more ingredients and let the dough get on with its slow rising. TS Eliot's Prufrock, hauntingly, reductively and brilliantly had a life measured out in coffee spoons. I have a life measured out in baking tablespoons. Its a bit cheerier. Pull up a chair Tom, pop your collar and I'll toast you a bagel .

1 kg bread flour ( plain flour wouldn't be awful)
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
7g sachet of dried yeast
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500ml warm water
1 egg beaten
2 tbsps maple syrup ( or sugar would be fine)

Combine everything except the egg and maple syrup ( thats for later) in a mixer and mix for a good ten mins til elastic and pliable. This is a very stiff dough so it takes a bit more power than usual. You can of course do it by hand. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover ( I use a clean plastic carrier bag to cover. It gives room  for the dough to grow and is mightily convenient). It'll take about an hour to double in size. When it has risen, knock it back, the break it into 3 pieces. Roll each of these pieces into a fat sausage, and then cut this into 5 rounds. Roll them either into sausages again, and seal the ends with a bit of pinching and water, or roll into little fat rounds and stab through the middle with a wooden spoon, whirling the bagel about on it abit to make the hole bigger. Sit the 15 bagels aside on oiled trays to rise for 20 mins. After 20 mins, bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the maple syrup. On a good-ish rolling boil, drop in 2- 3 bagels at time and poach them for 1 minute, flipping over once. Return them to the oiled tray ( when I lifted my bagels off the tray I whizzed a bit of semolina under where it had sat) , brush with beaten egg and sprinkle on whatever you fancy, then bake for 15 - 20 mins, til nicely browned at approx 220 degrees ( 200 fan) . Use greaseproof if you are worried about them sticking to the tray.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Pizza pizzaza

The dough, the bruschetta, the pizza. Saturday night, done.

The Colonel, La Tasca, Dark Peak Ale and Me

Its been a funny old week, foodwise ( which is how I measure most weeks, come to think of it) . Saintly steamed veg and quorn sausages on Monday, swooping nose dive on Tuesday straight into a bottle of rose and bucket of fried chicken from the white whiskered Colonel (what ? what ? you have no guilty secrets? No diary lea on toast ?) a meal out at Glossops finest pub on Wednesday , The Wheatsheaf - real home cooking, fresh made pastry on the pies, locally sourced meat & fish, generous portions. I remember Rick Stein bemoaning recently that British Pubs are fast becoming more the go-to place for thai fishcakes rather than a Ploughmans. Not so the Wheatsheaf . Sure, you can have here your chicken  in cajun spices, and your fish ( fresh) in chilli and lime - but you're well advised to set about the cheese and onion pie, Dark Peak Ale and Steak pie ( local meats, locally brewed ale) or the Barnsley chop. And I do. Set about them, I mean. We happily waited an extra half hour not so long ago, for the seasonal wimberry pie to come steaming from the kitchen. Light buttery crisp pastry, great toothstaining purple wodge of wimberries, sweet and tart, deep as a ball pool and just as giddy making. With ice cream, thank you very much. I don't have any undisclosed interest in the Wheatsheaf by the way, I just like it. Very much. Thursday , a cheap and cheerful get together at La Tasca on Deansgate, Manchester with a couple of friends. Tapas, whats not to like ? Yes, I know....  Evuna, Luso, El Rincon are much more The Thing and we've been to and love them all. But there was (still is till Sep 5th, fact fans) 50% off at La Tasca at the moment so that was that. And as I've probably established with my visit to the Colonel, there's no food snobbery here ( I mean, you eat dairy lea on toast) there's a time and a place for everything. Particularly at 50% off. And then Friday, under the weather and and lacking in pizazz, Tesco's Finest king prawn malaysian biryani. It was very good, as it happens. Not just one top note layer of heat and spice. I'd have it again . I'm thinking home made pizza tonight. I thought that before I even wrote the word pizazz. In the meantime, heres a pic (blurry, I'm working on it...) of a fruitcake made a couple of weeks ago and steadily being plied with sherry in time for a wedding in September. Its to go on top of a 200 strong cupcake tower . Hows that for pizazz ?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

You can tell its summer, the rain gets warmer

Its grey and chill, here in Glossop. Its August and the heating is on. Not for nothing are we called the Dark Peak. There was a nod to summer yesterday, in the kitchen at least with baking a vaguely Greek, light and airy orange yoghurt cake, but todays a day for roast rib of beef, mustard crust, port gravy and roast potatoes. Followed by a slice of said cake. Best get the oven on then.

Greek orange cake

Greece by way of Glossop. And a zested orange and half a tub of low fat greek yoghurt that needed using.

Oven at 160 (fan) or 180 conventional. Line the base of an 8 inch cake tin, grease bottom and sides.

310g plain flour
4tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
150g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
250g greek yoghurt ( I used low fat)
150ml vegetable or sunflower oil
half tsp good almond extract
half tsp vanilla extract
                                             2 tsp poppy seeds

Orange sugar syrup
175 caster sugar
200ml water
juice of a large orange

stir all sugar syrup ingredients together, and let bubble and boil in a pan for 5 - 7 mins. Let cool slightly.

Sift the flour and baking power into a bowl. Add the salt, sugar and mix. Make a well, add in the eggs, yohgurt, extracts, oil & poppy seeds. Combine with wooden spoon. Pour into tin, bake for approx 45 mins. Let it cool for 20 mins or so, then prick holes in the top and then spoon over the orange sugar syrup.