More food

Food I

I’ve settled into a normal routine of one big cooked meal in the evening with a variety of snacking throughout the day and evening.   Managing to go a long old time between supermarket visits – I went on Wednesday not because I’d run out of food but because I had some slightly specific ideas about what I wanted to cook over the bank holiday weekend. Specifically I wanted a chicken, which I was pleased to get.

Most things I wanted were in the supermarket and I again managed to spend a small fortune – in the long run although it’s only food for one person, it was a shop for two weeks’ food, so I suppose it’s not too bad really. I also found a rhubarb plant for the garden which is now planted… I wonder how it will do…

Alcohol is a bit of a feature – there is a fun weekly videoconference call with OutdoorLads where we all have cocktails and a chinwag.  I am still working through the last delivery from the Wine Tanker, although now I am out of red…  And recently I found the website Beer is Here, an industry sponsored directory to connect people to closed pubs and breweries who are nonetheless still providing a delivery service. They put me in touch with Adventure Beer, who, it turns out, are two streets over from me and specialise in Nottinghamshire breweries.

Further food

Here are some cocktail pictures to start with. The first week (we’ve had three of these now) I thought it would be fun to dress up and teleconf from the kitchen. By the following week I’d set up more of a zoomlab in the upstairs office and everyone else had decided to dress up but I’d decided to dress down.  Week two I joined late and just drank wine.

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Red Snapper – a bottle of spicy tomato juice came with this month’s Gin Club and apparently if you make a Bloody Mary with gin, it’s a Red Snapper (with tequila, it’s a Bloody Maria)

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Espresso martini. There was definitely something weird in the long-unused moka pot that I didn’t clean out properly.

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White Lady – not many people have eggs spare for cocktails right now, I suppose. I started making these because they’re mentioned in a John le Carré book.

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Tequila sunrise, only I don’t have grenadine so the red tinge is coming from Briottet Crème de framboise.

(I was making the cocktails with single shots, so it’s not quite as much alcohol as it looks like.

Risotto bolognese leftovers after the call finished, here’s Nigella’s recipe. It’s a great extra idea of a thing to do with a portion of frozen bol: just add stock, arborio rice and parmesan, optional glass of wine.  You don’t really need to defrost the bol before you start. This is from the huge bolognaise pot I made at the start of all this which is still in the freezer. So far it’s done pasta (but not spaghetti so far!) lasagna, risotto twice and topped a jacket potato.  To remind me to eat it, I’ve put “defrost bolognese” as a recurring event in my Google calendar which is also my meal plan.

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Neighbours left me some chocolate biscuit cake to thank me for the sourdough starter I gave them.

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I made a double batch of sourdough which I turned into a loaf and tried Jamie’s rollup idea as well as a round loaf.

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The day I made the bread the oven was really busy all day proving and baking the bread, so I actually phoned for pizza while it was cooking. Pizza Roma is still open. I tried to get ham, pineapple, mushroom and black olives, but I think all that arrived was ham and olives…

I don’t eat enough fish but a month ago I put fishfingers and breaded fish fillets in the freezer for a very easy way of getting fish portions into a week. Wedges are perhaps the easiest way to ape chips at home: cut up a potato, toss in olive oil and spices and herbs and salt and pepper and cook with the fish.

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Conscious of not eating enough fruit and veg, I had some tinned pears and a banana with Nutella/peanut butter sauce.  (Nutella sauce – easy – microwave a few tablespoons of milk and a spoon of nutella – microwave a minute or so but stop just before it catches fire, stir.)

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I am loving these new pots from Ikea – they come with a variety of different lids including a microwave one and bamboo ones. Brilliant for leftovers in the fridge because you can see what’s in them!

There’s a couple of things I ended up making just because I heard about them on the radio. The Kitchen Cabinet is back, and they suggested hummus, so I opened the last tin of chickpeas (that’s proven quite hard to replace)

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Great for using up really old bread and eating crunchy things like celery, radish, peppers, and getting an extra portion of fruit and veg.

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Sheila Dillon on the Food Programme was just talking about cake so I made a Victoria sponge.

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Dead classic – just jam in the middle and just granulated sugar on top. It’s a strange colour because I don’t have white caster sugar so made it the dark brown sugar I use for banana bread. I still don’t have scales so it was made with 4 eggs and essentially guessed quantities of butter, Stork marj, sugar and SR flour bought last year.

I made two cakes and baked till a skewer came out clean

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But one of them still wasn’t cooked properly so mostly made chicken food and I cut the other one in half. Don’t know why that didn’t occur to me before!

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A  bacon joint made a really good roast dinner as a weekend treat:

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With frozen home grown beans from my neighbours (who’ve had a baby today!)!

The ham chunk is great for slicing and snacking, as chunks in carbonara (or wasabonara if you fancy adding wasabi?!) and risotto and cauliflower cheese.

Oh, yes, cauli cheese. I put this off for a couple of days and in the end made it slightly more macaroni than cauliflower because as a friend said on socmed, the cauliflower ruins the cheese. So mine had ham, pasta, cheese, the frozen cauli and brocc mix, and a breadcrumb topping.

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The ham also went in an omelette and I still have a chunk left.

Not eating enough eggs – every few days I leave a bunch on doorstep in a bowl and let the street-specific WhatsApp group know that they are there.

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Here’s a neighbourhood cat called Felicity who likes to supervise production:

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I’m enjoying playing with nail polish. Was trying to do a different colour each week, but didn’t quite manage it.

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Sainsbury’s tinned ravioli is surprisingly good – the sauce has actual pieces of tomato in it.  I usually buy it for camping and at the end of year there’s still a can or two in the pantry.

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There’s lots of tins of soup and curry for the same reason. I’m mostly putting off starting them in case I do actually have a few days sick with flu and need super easy meals when starting to eat again at the end of it.

Neighbours have been pruning, so currently have a pot of clippings on their steps for people to help themselves to. I am trying to start cuttings:

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Just the same has happened with wild garlic and bluebell bulbs, all of which I’ve planted, so hopefully they will come up next year.

Remedial smoothie features occasionally

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Did a fair amount of cooking over the Easter weekend. The main idea was to roast a chicken and make hot cross buns, which I did.

The hot cross buns are awful. I don’t know if it’s because my yeast is BBE 2012 or some other reason, but the recipe did not go well. They smelled wrong whilst cooking, seem a bit damp in the middle and just don’t taste nice. Such a lot of flour too!

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Chicken went a lot better 🙂

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And with loads and loads of leftovers for next week’s meals. Risotto is planned but the idea has changed a bit with Jamie’s suggestion of a biyriani. I don’t have curry powder or paste so will have to improvise massively.

I am watching a huge amount of food TV at the moment – I am enjoying the daily glimpse into how awful Jamie Oliver’s hair is right now. I feel for Jack Monroe who finally got a daily TV show only to start coughing the night before and have to present it from their own kitchen across an incredibly flakey internet connection and a bizarrely hostile Matt Tebbut in the kitchen. Masterchef is continuing too.

More news on cooking in the coming days…

 

Sourdough – here’s what I do

With lots of time at home and a lack of yeast in the shops a few people have got in touch with me about sourdough.  This does make me a little uncomfortable because I am really not very good at it and certainly no kind of expert. But I do have a live culture right now and some success in making loaves from it, so all I can say is what I do. There is so much to read out there on the internet and so many people with better answers, feel free to try that too.

What I do is based on instructions from S John Ross, but the home of that on the internet has changed a couple of times.  Here’s a version I found recently, but it’s less than the full pages that SJR wrote that I read ten years ago.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is how humans have made bread for around 50,000 years. Bakers yeast is less than 100 years old.  If cavemen could do a version of this, so can you. It’s not going to be as beautiful as some of the bakers on the internet, but who cares.

My starter – made ten years ago, but saved some – I spread it on a baking sheet and let it dry out then froze it.  Last year I woke it up again and augmented with some crumbs posted to me from California in exchange for a few Paypal dollars thanks to the Friends of Carl. I have no idea how hygienic any of this and my kitchen is far from catering standards of clean, so if you have any concerns, and I’ve given you starter culture recently beware! Especially if you are in a vulnerable group!

Sourdough starter

Even worse, I did have a mould problem recently, which I fixed by pouring the mould off the top and taking a teaspoon of the culture from the very bottom, dishwashing the pot and then feeding frequently.

If you’re in feeding stage and leaving on the counter, the culture needs a daily feed. If you’re in a maintenance feed and it lives in the fridge, it needs feeding weekly.

You should wash the pot regularly – reserve a little bit of culture and wash the main pot.  I put it in the dishwasher every time I bake.

My recipe uses American style cups because  my kitchen scales broke years ago and I never got around to replacing them.  Two things to think about if you’re not used to cups: a) loads of things you already have in your kitchen are approximately the same size as a 250ml cup:

250 mls

and b) the recipe is a ratio  so it matters less what size cup you use and more that you use the same cup for all the ingredients.

To make a starter – Equal quantities of flour and water in a jar kept in a warm spot, every day for a week stir and pour half of it away and replace with more flour and water. It will start to bubble. Any flour except self raising, but strong white best and easiest, spelt and rye for flavour. In these days of limited availability of flour, you don’t need to use a whole cup every time.  Some people maintain a starter with a tablespoon of flour in a tiny jam jar, but I think if you do this you need to feed it twice a day.

It’s supposed to smell beery and yeasty and a bit sour.

Once the starter is alive, you can actually start cooking with the bits you throw away, you don’t need to go through the full knead and bake routine. You can just fry sourdough starter in a hot pan with a little oil.  There are also recipes for crumpets (be careful, baking soda and baking powder are different things…) and crackers. You can also make pancakes by beating an egg into one cup of discard. If you make tiny pancakes you can call them blinis.

If you were given a starter culture, here’s how you bake:

The day before you bake, you need to feed the culture to make enough starter for your baking the following day. You will need two cups of starter for the recipe plus leftover starter to keep alive for the next day’s baking, so feed the starter 1.5 cups of flour and 1.5 cups water.  Leave it on the counter.

Ideally the starter is vigorous enough to double in size over night – you can keep an eye on it by putting a rubber band around the pot and seeing how big it gets. Ideally you bake with it when its at its biggest, it will grow and fall back. So long as there are bubbles on top and hopefully bubbles you can see through the sides, it’s ok to cook with.

Measure 3 cups of flour into a bowl. If you want rye or wholemeal, use that for some of the flour, but you’ll get a very heavy loaf if you don’t include at least some strong white bread flour.  Add to the flour two cups of starter, then reserve the starter you’re going to keep in the fridge and wash up the starter pot. A tea spoon of salt. Optional extras: generous glug of olive oil and a table spoon of sugar to feed the culture. First stir it with a wooden spoon, then get your clean hands into it and knead. Some recipes have no kneading at all, some say you should knead for 10-20 minutes and do it so vigorously you get slightly breathless. I tend to punch it about a bit in the bowl or flour the worktop and stretch it a forearm’s length along the counter.  If it’s flakey at this point, it’s too dry, add a teeny splash of water. If it stays sticky and won’t come off your hands it may be too wet, add a little flour. (but some bakers try and keep it really wet as that’s the best way to beautiful sourdough holes in the finished loaf.)

A very great deal has been written about proving, kneading and shaping doughs.  You will found a million different ways of doing it on the internet. And making bread. Here’s the very little I do:

Make the dough as above.  The recipe will make one round loaf, two 2lb loaf tins, or a dozen little rolls / baps.  The rolls are good for me because I live alone and can’t eat a whole loaf before it goes rock hard. The rolls can be refreshed in the microwave or frozen and used as and when.

Let the dough prove in the mixing bowl somewhere warm until it doubles in size. Ish. Cover it with a tea towel or the top will try and go crispy (not a problem but not ideal). This might take a very long time – up to 18 hours.  IF you don’t have anywhere warm, you can put the oven on for a couple of seconds, then turn it off and put the dough in the oven. Just don’t use the oven for anything else accidentally while you do!  You can also do the initial prove in the fridge – this will take much longer but the sour flavour develops.

After the first prove, knock it back – do a very small amount of kneading and the dough will collapse.

Then shape the loaf and prove again, covered with a damp teatowel or in a giant plastic bag.

For a round loaf – you need to repeatedly gently pull/smooth the top down and bunch it underneath whilst turning it round. Then allow to rise in a floured banneton. If you don’t have one, flour a dry tea towel well and put it in a colander.

For loaf tins – you need to divide it into two, flatten into squares, roll up the square like a swiss roll and put that in each LINED tin – if you don’t use parchment you may never get it out again!  (I haven’t done this in ages and can’t remember if the dough makes 1 or 2 tins!!)

For rolls/cobs/baps – divide dough into half then quarters then each quarter into 3. Roll each piece in your hands and place into a baking tray with sides. Line at least the bottom of the tray.

(this is after it’s risen for the second time:)

Sourdough rolls

Look at the terrible portion control.

The second prove can be a variety of times too… maybe two three hours?

About 45 minutes before you want to put it in the oven, put the oven on as hot as it will go to have a good go at getting very hot indeed.

I then turn the oven down to 180 when I put the loaf in. Rolls about 20 minutes, loaves in tins about 30, round loaves about 45. Knock the bottom of a baked loaf – it should sound hollow.

You’re looking for “oven spring” which means the loaf gets a lot bigger quickly when it gets to the heat.  Because of oven spring it’s good to slash the top of the dough before it goes in the oven with the sharpest knife you have. This controls where the dough opens instead of having it burst at an unpredictable point.

Trad yeasted rye loaf

If you’re cooking a round loaf, you can get excellent results if you cook it in a Dutch Oven / Le Creuset / cast iron casserole. Allow the whole pot to heat up to as hot as the oven will go. Turn the round loaf out of the colander / banneton onto a sheet of greaseproof and use this as a sling to lower into the preheated pot. Try to be gentle at this point because you don’t want to knock the air out now! Slash and bake with the lid on.

You can also put icecubes in the oven, even a cup of water, which evaporates and makes steam, and keeps the crust slightly softer.

You’re supposed to let the whole thing cool right down before you slice it, I don’t always manage.  You can let it cool with a tea towl over it which lets the crust reabsorb some of the steam and stop it being too sharp on your teeth.

Let me know how you get along!

 

Food in the time of Coronavirus

For a bunch of reasons, some of which I can put a finger on, some of which I can’t, I have been off my game since before the start of this year. One of the several ways this manifests itself is that I have been well off track in terms of planning and cooking. When I’m fully myself I like to have a list of meals coming up and shop sensibly accordingly. When I’m not, I find myself relying on the places I can drive through on the way home and find myself eating my dinner whilst driving so that I can go straight to bed when I get home.

Two Mondays ago it was pretty clear that some serious societal change was in the offing, so like many many others I decided to go home via the supermarket and stock up.  I spent a lot of money, filled the freezer and shopped around the gaps other people had left.  Two days ago, very clearly stuff was up – by then, schools were closed, although we had a whole staff meeting (on socially distanced chairs in the hall) at 8.15 to set out a plan for how we would cope with setting work and supervising the key worker children.  So again I called at the supermarket for long life essentials – and this time also stocked up on some nice things as the week before I spent a small fortune without even buying alcohol or chocolate!

So, the first Monday I made a huge pot of bolognese. This was all the more challenging because judging from the gaps in the shelves, everyone else had had the same idea. There were no celery, carrots, or onions. No mince of any sort in the fresh isle. No tinned tomatoes.

Giant pot of bolognese

As it happens I pretty much always stockpile, so apart from the meat,  I had much of what I needed at home, including some wrinkly old carrots and onions. I eventually found a kilo of frozen lamb mince and used that. I blogged about a good mince sauce for pasta over ten years ago and I did just that. I also planned for the lasagna! I also hid a bit of extra veg from myself – supermarket trip netted a huge bag of frozen cauliflower and broccoli and I blended some of that till it was tiny and put it in the sauce and cooked down, and now you’d never know it was there!

My mince sauce was 8 portions – one that night (although I just ate it by itself because it took so long to cook I’d stuffed my face on bread by then), one the following night with a jacket potato, and then made lasagna at the weekend.

Bolognese

I am currently mostly cooking a meal for two each time I cook and having the spare one two nights later to try and avoid eating the same thing two days running.

Monday 16 – bolognese

Tuesday 17 – bolognese with baked potato. Cooked two potatoes to avoid toooo much wasted oven heat. Put the oven on a timer so it was ready by the time I got home from work.

Thursday – a pack of stuffed pasta with pesto. A delicious fast meal with nearly no nutritional benefits at all. All carbs and no vegetables.

Filled pasta and pesto dressed with pine nuts

By Thursday school was already a bit odd… we’d closed to two year groups and Y11 got the news that they would not have to sit exams this year which turned their remaining lessons into end of term lessons.

Friday I had the other baked potato with cheese and beans

Spud with beans and cheese

Saturday was the lasagna

Lasagna

Sunday – the other half of the tin of beans turned into an all day breakfast. I ended up cooking 8 sausages to eat two and have been snacking on the rest of them ever since.

All day breakfast

Monday leftover lasagna with jacket potato

Lasagna and jacket spuds

Tuesday – delicious mozarella pasta bake from this recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a while, although I simply left out the cream. Halved the recipe and ate only half of that and overdid the garlic.

Veggie(ish) pasta bake

Tonight – even more jacket potato, this time stuffed with tuna and chopped pepper and onion.

Stuffed jacket potato with tuna and finely chopped pepper and onion

Future meals as of now…

Well there’s 5 portions of bolognese still in the freezer so that could be risotto bolognese or simply with spuds or pasta or as lasagna again.

I opened a pack of bacon for all day breakfast so that needs eating… could maybe have carbonara tomorrow. Could add in the leftover mushrooms too.

There’s half a veggie pasta bake.  Grief, but I’m eating a lot of pasta whilst the rest of the world has run short!

I have breaded fish fillets so they could be eaten with potato wedges as both need the oven.

Today I left the milk in the sun a bit too long so made rice pudding.

Plan to make a cheese sauce and a gratin (breadcrumbs in the freezer from a less than successful sourdough loaf) for that frozen cauliflower and broccoli mix.

In all this I have also resurrected my sourdough from frozen flakes and been baking bread with highly variable results… A fuller post on this another night.

Sourdough rolls

 

 

 

Pudding club millionaire pots

A variation on a theme of chocolate pots…

Pudding club millionaire chocolate pots

These quantities made 4 large Ikea ramekins, which was a whole lotta pudding. I’m sure the same quantities would make at least 6 Gu ramekins and maybe 10 shot glasses / espresso cups and still feel like pudding was had.

It was a very simple recipe, which benefitted from fridge stages at each layer, so definitely need making the day ahead.

The biscuit layer is an entire packet of Oreos blitzed, with about 50gr melted butter stirred through. Pack into the bottom of the ramekins and fridge. I intended to use Bourbon biscuits, but there weren’t any in Sainsbury’s when I went.

The caramel layer is an entire tin of Nestlé caramel from the condensed milk aisle, which comes in a handy 397g serving. Put the can in a bowl of warm water before opening it to make it easy to pour / serve and help you get more out of the tin.

The chocolate ganache layer is a mix of dark and milk chocolate – about 100gr each – and an equal amount of cream. Boil the cream, add the broken chocolate, stir until well melted and pour over the top.

A friend on facebook saw the picture and estimated each serving at over 1,000 calories. I’ve just run the ingredients through MyFitnessPal and she was highly accurate. This recipe divided by 4 clocks in at 1223 calories each.   Try and get it to 6, 8, or 10 portions for a far more sensible serving!

MFL revision activities

We just invested in new textbooks, which brings with it opportunities for a highly structured approach: teach chapters from books, assess chapters from books, support both with vocab sheets from the book, and have a revision lesson using the vocab sheet the lesson before you do the assessments.

Here are some activities I’ve been doing for that revision lesson just before the actual test. The emphasis on this has to be students using their vocab sheet in depth in ways that go beyond just looking at it.

My old go-to was a form of snakes and ladders. Students begin by using the vocab sheet to prepare 30 questions, where the questions is a vocab item or sentence from the sheet which someone else will have to translate.  Once four people have 30 questions, they can play snakes and ladders with each other on a basic board with counters and dice. They use their questions for each square they land on – if they can’t answer their team-mate’s question for that square they go back to where they came from.

Obviously the main revision activity here is creating the questions, but the game has a nice fun element as a reward for creating 30 questions. You can be specific about the target, eg 15 word level translations and 15 sentences, or 30 sentences for stronger classes. You can have them create questions in pairs and then two pairs play the end game.

One-pen-one-dice is a great end of unit activity too – as the teacher you write 20 sentences in the target language and print enough sheets for everyone, with enough space to write translations underneath each sentence. Steve Smith gives details on how to play the game.  My end of unit twist was to go back through the text book, look at the listening and reading resources you’ve used over the last few weeks, and get the 20 sentences from there.

I have been using my version of the three column vocab sheet  for a while. Learners have a column of English words, a column of target language words in a different order and a blank column. They then write the correct TL word next to the English.  To help make this more understandable, I’ve started putting the TL words in a box at the bottom. Here’s an example with my layout, revising the spec vocab for charity words in French. You can introduce vocab as well as revise it this way – although I find I do end up using quite a lot of lesson time to go over the answers, and that may not be the best use of time on what is essentially a word level task.

My new revision twist is to get the learners to make their own sheets, again based on the vocab sheet from the topic. I initially created a resource to give them blank sheets to complete  – this particularly helps with counting to make sure they have exactly 20 TL words and 20 English translations – but it is equally possible to just explain what you want and have them create it on blank paper. Once everyone has made a sheet, they can swap with a partner, or, have them make their sheets on a deadline towards the end of the lesson, and photocopy them before the next lesson, so that students have to complete several sheets to complete the task.

You can even combine this with the “red pen/black pen” revision task (NB actual colour of pens not important… could be pen/pencil or your pen/borrowed classroom purple pen).  Students complete all the items they can do from memory in one colour writing implement then switch to another colour so they have a very visual sheet in front of them showing what they know and don’t know.

As with many classroom tasks, both creating and completing these sheets is something that learners will do at very different speeds, so you need something else for fast finishers… I still have many blank 80 Word sheets in my filing cabinet, so that was my go to.

Things I cooked over Christmas

I made some cocktails for gifts before we broke up.

Chocolate orange martini: chocolate liqueur and triple sec with vodka in a 1:1:2 ratio.

Nigella’s Christmas martini: chambord and creme de cacao blanc and vodka, again 1:1:2

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Some of my friends also got tasters of my vintage elderflower gin – this was originally a mistake because I steeped elderflowers from my garden for far too long and the gin took on a very bitter taste. But later I added a lot of sugar, and over the 8 years or so it’s been on the shelf, it almost took on a Parma violet note. This is pretty much all gone now.

Also crab apple vodka. The old way of making this was to clean and halve crab apples then leave them in a jar with vodka for a couple of weeks until the sugar is dissolved and the vodka has gone a pinker a colour. Now I’m experimenting with making a sugar syrup by boiling the crab apples with water and sugar and simply adding that to the vodka. The best version I think comes from a mix: some crab apples in a jar with vodka and no sugar, some in a syrup, mix all together into final bottle.

Before we broke up I made some speculoos fudge out of Lotus spread – but couldn’t find last year’s recipe. This recipe is the one I don’t recommend. Jane’s patisserie version is much better and I think it’s the one I used last year.

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It’s great to start the festive season with a big batch of fudge… you have something in the fridge that can be turned into gifts to take with you or buffet contributions or feeding unexpected gifts. It keeps a couple of weeks, provided you don’t eat it.

The first Saturday of the holidays found me in front of Saturday Kitchen where I saw a recipe for mulled wine chocolate truffles, similar to this one from Waitrose.  If you are mulling wine anyway, just reserve a glass, otherwise the recipe gets you to make mulled wine especially. Looks like this technique could be easily adapted to getting other flavours into other chocolates… how about espresso into milk chocolate or mulled cider into white chocolate or …  Just as with the fudge you can make the ganache and leave that in the fridge to turn into truffles whenever you need them. And rolling ganache into truffles is a good activity to get children and non-cooking boyfriends involved in too.

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I had my friends and godkids over before Christmas for fondue, ham sandwiches, my own banana cake, and this “next level poke cake” – purely because I love the coffee flavour and don’t make enough coffee cakes.  I borrowed the key to church and we roamed all around it, including climbing the tower and looking at the bells, and we all ended up at the carol service, which was delightful.

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For Christmas day (I deliberately spent it on my own and had a lovely time) I roasted a chicken, with loads of roast potatoes, carrots. I repurposed leftover fondue as cauliflower cheese and made this strange Jamie Oliver red cabbage recipe with tinned pears and chorizo. It was nice enough but the ingredients did not really blend together at all. It fed me on Christmas day, did two of us on Boxing Day and there was plenty of chicken left to make a huge risotto much later in the break (after a long facebook thread about whether it was safe to eat roast chicken a week after cooking. No ill effects, but be careful out there!)

To Scotland I took the remainder of the fudge and truffles and made again a version of this very forgiving peanut and Crunchie bar rocky road recipe, which went down well.

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Yesterday, for pudding club, I made a fridge cake from a fridge cake recipe book, amended slightly but a super simple idea: melt 400 grams milk chocolate, add 300ml of double cream, tinned pears, chopped, and a pack of shortbread biscuits, also chopped. Fridge for a couple of hours in a cling-film lined 1lb loaf tin. Then whip together cream cheese, another pot of double cream and a little sugar (vanilla sugar adds awesomeness) turn out the chocolate loaf onto a cake plate and slather the cream on the outside. Grate chocolate over the top, because if it’s not garnished, it’s not finished.

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Dinner for David

My friend from choir, David, who lives in Cornwall was up in Nottingham visiting friends, so I planned a dinner for a few of us. Our choir is from all over the UK and a bit further afield, so having a few of us together in one place is unusual except of course during choir week. One of my guests had alcohol- and gluten-free dietary requirements which meant no poached pears, no pastry, no pasta…

Dinner for David

We had…

The mulled apple juice that I always do. For those that were drinking there was the offer of crab apple vodka to enliven it. I left out any ground spice, so it was just roasted apples, cardamom, star anise, cloves and a cinnamon stick, no mace or nutmeg, and it was much easier to serve with no grittiness.

Then smoked mackerel pâté – essentially this BBC recipe but no horseradish and wholegrain instead of Dijon mustard, because that’s what was in the fridge. Served in espresso cups with oat cakes and crispbreads that were naturally gluten free, and with an antipasti jar of roasted peppers and some almond stuffed olives.

Dinner for David

Nigella’s chicken shawarma, that I wrote about recently here. I forgot to buy yoghurt, although I went out of my way to get pomegranate seeds. I asked my guests to pick up yoghurt on their way and then forgot to do anything with it. Served with salad, cucumbers and tomatoes, and hasselback potatoes.

Dinner for David

For pudding was vanilla crème brûlée – a trial run in the week had shown me that you need to leave them in the oven for almost double the time in the recipe to get a set custard rather than a liquid vanilla cream. A garnish of a slice of kiwi and a fanned strawberry – the strawberries were so unseasonal they crunched like carrots when sliced. This is a very simple thing to make, just four ingredients. The only faff is owning a blow torch. I brought them to the table and let my guests brûlée their own crème, which all seemed to enjoy.

With coffee I made white chocolate salami again. This time it came out really well. Such a simple thing to make, looks really impressive. In it, I put a half a bag of shelled pistachios, some chopped glacé cherries and some chopped dried apricots.

Dinner for David

I did boast at one point that no individual dish took more than about 10 minutes to make – some of them longer to cook and marinate etc, but only a few minutes of my time. Cleaning and tidying the house, however…

 

Into the coop

Just over a year after coming home, one of the rescue ladies from the battery farm died, so this has necessitated more birds for the hen house.

I went back to  Hens4Pets to get two hybrid birds, a Magpie (black) and an Amber (white).  When they asked what I was looking for, I just said “not brown.” It’s good to have birds you can easily disambiguate.

They’ve been with me a couple of weeks now, settling in. The pecking order is very clear and the old ex battery Attila the Hen is not letting the new birds eat from the feeders, just the corn on the ground. This is when I’m standing there, anyway. Given that all of the food is going, the new birds must be able to manage to eat some of it when Attila is not looking.

The new ladies in the coop reminded me of some common chicken behaviour that the battery birds have never learnt to do. They dig through the ground. They fly up to the perches. They dust-bathe. Attila just doesn’t do those things. I’d forgotten that was odd.

On the whole the ex-battery hens have not been great. They haven’t laid well. The eggs they have provided have had extremely thin shells. Towards the end I’d resorted to paying for eggs and chicken feed, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Attila is not laying, but the new black chicken is very consistent and provides a tiny egg every day.

2018-08-29 11.40.41

(eating leftover pomegranate from pudding club.)

Look how overgrown the coop is now compared to when it was built five years ago!

New chicken palace constructed

 

Three pudding club eats

 

 

Three recipes cooked for pudding club so far in 2018, none of them blogged! #thehorror

At the start of the year, I was very taken with the new  Mary Berry TV series and there were a few things I wanted to cook. Her truffle chocolate pots looked super – a chocolate mousse with some of the mousse reserved and magicked into truffles to put on top. The recipe and her photos are here.

The mousse component was fine.  I mean, sure, it’s a faffy way of getting a food processor dirty to make a mousse – previously I have whisked the egg whites and folded into melted chocolate + yolks instead, but that’s not entirely safe if you might be feeding the immunosuppressed.

But the recipe for the truffles on top just didn’t work.

For starters the centres were incredibly sticky and refused to be rolled without extreme fridging and adding in extra icing sugar and cocoa.

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

And then just dipping them in molten white chocolate to get a shell…

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

Really, you need to temper chocolate to make it do that. And that’s nowhere in the recipe.

The final pot was delicious, but I totally failed to make it pretty. (Story of my cooking!)

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

For my next triumph, I made a chocolate cake in a frying pan!

No, I can’t remember why, either, but it was quite nice. The recipe had an interesting frosting and some interesting questions about American recipes. What is “Dutch” cocoa for example? We thought it was probably something to do with the difference between what we in the UK would call cocoa and drinking chocolate. I just used Bourneville. To make matters worse, the frosting calls for quality milk chocolate and I just used Dairy Milk. You could taste that it was Dairy Milk in the finished article and although we all knew that was bad, it turned out to be quite a nostalgic flavour for us all.

I also forgot to take any pictures, apparently…?

For our most recent outing to Pudding Club, my hosts provided this awesome Baked Alaska as the pudding, so I made the main course for a change.

Baked alaska awesomeness

I had previously halved the ingredients and just done the chicken component of Nigella’s Chicken Shawarma as a midweek supper; but this time, I bought everything needed for  the sides as well, including things that didn’t sound like I would especially like them… pomegranate seed bejewelled tahini flavoured yoghurt? But it turned out lovely, actually.

The chicken by itself had garnered a “you can make that again”, and it is fantastic, really delicious. The marinade is not hard, but it does have quite a lot of ingredients, and ideally you need to do it the day before. Getting the seeds out of the pomegranate is fun. Whack! whack!  Now, what to do with the rest of the jar of tahini?!  (Quick google, and these catch my eye: cookies, salmon, lamb, peanut hummus!)

This paprika smells wonderful and I am looking for excuses to cook more with it:

Nigella chicken shawarma

There’s lots of ingredients for the marinade but nothing is actually difficult. I left the coriander out because I don’t like it (tastes soapy to me) and so don’t have any.

Nigella chicken shawarma

Overnight in fridge

Nigella chicken shawarma

Hot oven for 30 minutes, then serve on a bed of lettuce and drizzle over the oily juices.  Unless you are, as Nigella says, for some inexplicable reason, anti-oily-juices.

Nigella chicken shawarma

Serve with salad and a pomegranate/yoghurt/tahini dip.

Nigella chicken shawarma

 

 

Recommended reads

A break with tradition and I’m telling you about some recent books wot I have read, and it’s not the end of the summer holidays.  I hardly manage to read books these days – and what I’m saying with that is that I don’t make it enough of a priority. As a friend said at work: you manage to find hours to spend with your phone. I have a few mental pictures of the life I’d like to lead – in bed by 9.30 and reading for an hour; cooking Sunday lunch every week and sipping sherry to the Food Programme (empty your glass if you hear “Chorley-Wood bread process”).  The only thing stopping any of these things happening is me.

The books below are books recommended to me that I have (mostly) totally enjoyed and want to pass on.

My friends at work were raving about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I think they were initially reluctant to recommend because it’s not classicly a boy book and it has been pigeonholed a bit as chick lit. I need to read about outside my comfort zone anyway (mostly nothing but crime!) and they did point out it was a short book and would not take me long.  Amazon’s Kindle preview thing lets you download the first chapter and see how you get along, so I read the first few pages on my phone in my classroom before going home one weekend – paid there and then and finished it in a couple of sittings – with kindle and pint in Wetherspoons running up to midnight on Friday night, and then in bed on Saturday morning.  It’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever read and it’s fab.  Eleanor is clearly on the spectrum and is a wonderful, spiky, unique, unreliable narrator.  The story unfolds with some complete bouleversements (hmm… is that not actually an English word?) unexpected changes in direction. It’s very hard to review without giving too much away, so you just have to read it, it’s amazing!

My friends at pudding club were raving about Magpie Murders. So much so they didn’t let me leave without pushing it into my hands and saying you must read this!  I took it to France over Easter but didn’t have a chance to read it before returning, so took a day on bed after to do nothing but read and again polished this off in super quick time. It’s a return to crime fiction but again it’s a book that gives you unexpected twists. It’s a book within a book – most of the story is a crime novel by a character within the wider text – so just by flicking through it you see two different typefaces. The metatext has all sorts of fun games to play with the story within, and you get two crime narratives for the price of one. Again, highly recommended and puts me in mind of reading more Anthony Horowitz – I might even borrow some Alex Rider from the school library.

Finally one of my friends from the language teachers who lunch collective recommended Holy Island by LJ Ross, and I’m sorry to say this is not something I would recommend at all. It’s the first in a series of crime fic / police procedural with a lead character with a back story, DCI Ryan. I found the writing overblown and clunky and there’s an obvious, heavily signposted romance between the detective and a female cult expert bussed in from a nearby university which is completely at odds with common sense and lead me to some heavy eye rolling. Then, guess what, the woman finds herself in peril with the police officer battling the odds, the weather and the antagonist(s) in the heavy-handed dénouement. I’m not in any hurry to read any more, didn’t read the “first chapter in next book” that I got free with this one and I was very happy finally to finish this story after months of it clogging up my kindle.

Coming up next – I moved straight from Holy Island to a welcome return to P D James – A Certain Justice, and will hopefully finish this afternoon, then I have been preparing some free sample chapters to see where we move next. Stephen Tall raved about Kate Atkinson so I’ve a chapter from one of her books. I heard a radio review of The Power and have been intrigued by the premise for months – “Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death.” – how different would the world be if no-one could argue with or abuse teenage girls!? An interview in the Guardian with David Sedaris has a throwaway recommendation for a book by Rebecca Front – he doesn’t appear to know who she is!  Someone – I now can’t remember who – recommended Mythago Wood, but it’s set in Herefordshire, so that’s reason enough to read it too.