A light lunch

After a few days in the bosom of my family I returned home, dropping father in Leominster and heading on to Nottingham, where I arrived late on the 27th – after the larger supermarkets had closed. I knew I was planning to cook for my dere friends and their darling children for lunch the following day and so I had to stock up in a little late night supermarket on the way home. Which affected my purchases somewhat as things I wanted weren’t there.

No harm done at all – plenty of food available and consumed and interesting stuff at that.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

We had mulled apple juice – forgot to offer the grownups an enlivening shot of crab apple vodka!

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

I made fondue (melted half a tub of cream cheese into a cup of white wine and added cups each, roughly, of grated cheddar and gruyère) the night before and reheated in the morning.  Accompaniments of crudités, chunks of salami and saucisson sec and some dry toast chunks.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

There was a plate of plain ham sandwiches which looked like an awful lot but mostly went 🙂

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

For afters, there was shop bought yum yums, rocky road,

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

and a version of the weekly nutribullet banana loaf with a not entirely successful cream cheese frosting. The cake I now make pretty much by eye – my scales broke ages ago or the battery ran out – so I just dump stuff in the blender to try and get the right consistency. I don’t use butter any more, it’s pretty much as good if you just use veggie oil, and easier to store.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

After lunch we went for a walk in Wordthorpe Park, and came back to play a couple of quick card games – Game of Thrones: Hand of the King and a rather cutesy foresty one, where you have to grow a tree, called Kodama.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

Blimmin cold! Barely over freezing all day, and the heating has been working hard.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

My present to myself this year was a cheap but sturdy trestle table with matching benches. This means I can now seat about 14 for a meal in my conservatory, especially if I borrow chairs – but the new table with a cloth over it was ideal for a smaller gathering too to stop the dining table getting too congested.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

Food I considered but didn’t make: Mincepie pinwheels – I have mincemeat in stock but couldn’t find puff pastry in the smaller supermarkets.  I looked for frozen sausage rolls, but found none. I rather liked this list of quick festive food, especially the parmesan carrot fries and the fast German mousse

 

Christmas newsletter

A departure in format this year – I saw the instagram hashtag #2016bestnine and mulled it over in my head for a few weeks before trying to put one together. Whilst thinking about it, I completely forgot what the hashtag had been and lost examples, and in my muddled thinking it turned into a set of nine images that reflected the year rather than in any sense were the best parts of it, or the best images I made.

I changed phones midway through the year which meant getting all the images into one place was a pain. And the idea of doing this sort of editing and processing on my phone rather than my computer was certainly novel and a sign of the times.

Here’s the image and short accompanying text that would have gone out in my Christmas cards if I had been better organised, printed it at school, not had norovirus the minute we broke up…

#2016bestnine

A photo posted by Alex Foster (@nilesuk) on

Nine things from 2016 – Hogmanay in a youth hostel in the Highlands.

My mum died in February.  RIP.

I’ve got out a lot more and walked more in the Peak District.

I’ve been baking a lot more and have been playing with sourdough.

My amazing sister in law produced another nephew.

I was in Germany during the world cup on a school trip.

In August, I worked behind the bar at the Great British Beer Festival in London.

Fudge and Steve the cats continue to bring great joy.

December took me to Paris with school for the first time in a few years.

Next year – New year in Scotland again; Norwich in May, Lincoln and Madeira in August – see you there!

 

(Looking back it appears I neglected to blog 2015, so here it is.  Entertainingly, I naively thought all the paperwork for my divorce would be done and dusted in January. In December, I just finally received the notification of dissolution for my files along with a final bill from my solicitor.)

 

School trip, baby!

Just getting excited about impending trip and getting my gif head on.

This is exactly how it goes.

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Weekend cooking

 

I’m feeling a bit like I never have time to cook. Even now I’m thinking, gah, when did I last cook anything?!

So to remind myself, this weekend, I have caramelised over a kilo of onions in the slow cooker over about 24 hours, resetting the timer every now and again as my too smart for its own good slow cooker has a maximum of 10 hours in one go.

Slow cooker caramelised onions

Some of these will freeze, some of these will go in a jar in the fridge. There was also a quarter of a pint of delicious juices so I’m thinking French onion soup at some point too. This was just quickly slice a kilo of onions – food processor ftw – bung in slow cooker with a good slosh of EVOO and several knobs of butter, and a similarly large slosh of balsamic vinegar.  House smelled amazing for all the time it was cooking.

Oh yeah, I made nutribullet pancakes on Saturday morning for a lazy brunch too, nearly forgot.

Nutribullet banana loaf got made at some point.

For a quick and easy dinner on Saturday night, I stuffed some giant mushrooms with stilton for a delicious starter – I have been meaning to cook this for myself ever since Evil Brian fed them to me on Come Dine With Me and it was really delicious when he did and really delicious last night too. I also fried some pork loin steaks with onions, apples, and red pepper, simmering down with cider and adding crême fraîche and wholegrain mustard at the last minute.

Today I fished the onions out of the slow cooker but didn’t clean it at all – set it going straight again for chicken tikka from a delicious looking video on Facebook. Since I can’t share the video outside of facebook and I can’t guarantee I can find it again, here are the ingredients from the video. I have doubled everything because I have a large slow cooker and I also managed to have a bit of a freezer declutter this weekend too.

250gr chicken breast pieces
1 tbsp flour
2tsp salt
1tbsp garam masala
1tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp paprika
1 onion diced
4 cloves garlic
2 chillis
100gr chopped tomatoes
2tbsp tomato purée

Cook on high for 3 hours, add 200 grams  plain yoghurt after cooking (presumably then bring back up to heat…) and serve with rice.

I’ve doubled everything (not sure I’ve ever put 8 cloves of garlic in anything before!) and put in way more tomatoes, since if you’ve opened a tin, you might as well use them all.

All ingredients bar the garam masala were in Aldi but I had to make a special trip to Sainsburys for that as Aldi only had curry powder.

Slow cooker chicken tikka

 

While that was simmering, I knocked off a quick rocky road with popcorn, salted peanuts and mini marshmallows, set the dishwasher going for the third time this weekend, put the laundry out, spread two bags of bark around the chicken run, put last week’s laundry away…

And I’m still beating myself up about getting nothing done!

Vegan afternoon tea

Friends of mine were looking for an excuse to meet, and were thinking about visiting one of my awesome neighbourhood cafés The Crimson Tree. But I have tea set, I have cooking skillz *uh* vegan afternoon tea.

Of my friends, I had a veggie, a vegan-who-eats-tuna, and someone who is with child, which presented slight fun on the catering front, and I though I would try where poss to make everything as vegan as possible, then everyone could eat it.

With a bit of warning, I was able to cook some things in advance. The vegan shortbread had gone into school for a taster earlier in the week, and I managed to make a vegan cake early on Saturday morning.

To add to the complication my weekend was quite busy: I spent almost all of Saturday behind all three of the cider bars at the Robin Hood Beer Festival. By the end of the day I had excellent product knowledge of the full range of ciders and perries on offer and Sunday morning, I was not quite ready to leap out of bed at 8AM to start hoovering.

I got out all the food I had planned, but my dining chairs were slightly cat-hairier than desirable. (The cats rather like sleeping on the dining chairs under the table, and to be honest, months pass when only the cats use the dining furniture. To mitigate this I keep bags-for-life on some of the chairs to dissuade feline encroachment and on the others I flip the seat pads so they are not sitting where people sit.)

A day on Saturday out of the house, and catering for a 2pm kick off made timing a sourdough loaf a little interesting. In the end I made the leaven at 11am on Saturday, went to the festival, made a dough at midnight and allowed it to prove all night. I knocked it back and put it in the banneton at 10am Sunday and sat it on the hob with the oven on beneath it at 50deg to take some of the chill of my unheated kitchen off. It went in the oven at 1315 and came out shortly before 1400 ever so slightly raw on the bottom.

What do vegans eat in sandwiches? Last time I did an afternoon tea, over five years ago, I did ham and cheese, and tuna. Last time I fed sandwiches to this group of people we were still only veggie so I made egg mayo. This time a little more challenging.

Vegan afternoon tea

Cucumber sandwiches with sunflower spread. Peeled and sliced cucumbers with salt and pepper. Unfortunately the Aldi shop done barely minutes before the guests arrived had not found a fully vegan spread, and the sunflower stuff had traces of whey in it.  Should have just stuck to actual butter!

Caramelised onion hummus and grated carrot. I’m a huge fan of caramelised onion hummus and was delighted to find it in Aldi too. The grated carrot hides extra veg in your sarnie and adds some texture. I think the idea came from the Archers originally – it was an organic lunch that Pat Archer made.

Antipasto pâté Smørbrød. Another use for the nutribullet. Blitz a handful of sundried tomatoes, chargrilled peppers and green olives, all from jars, in just enough of the oil to make the thing work.  This was absolutely delicious and I shall be doing it again, vegans or no vegans.  Served as open sandwiches.

Vegan afternoon tea

Vegan shortbread. This recipe, but a great deal simpler. I bought a bottle of coconut oil a few years ago after having read about butter coffee and some other alternatives. I have never quite managed to blitz coconut oil into coffee before heading to school, mainly because it’s solid at room temperature, and I bought it in a bottle. So this was finally a use for it. The entire recipe was 250ml coconut oil, 3 cups plain flour, 3 cups dark brown sugar, mix, chill, bake at 150 deg for 50 minutes.

Vegan choc fruit loaf. One of the many iterations of my now almost weekly nutribullet fruit cake. Blitz two bananas, two pears topped and tailed but otherwise not peeled or deseeded, two heaped tablespoons of cocoa powder, half a bag of dark brown sugar, a good dollop of desiccated coconut, and since, I wasn’t using eggs, a dollop of golden syrup. This was too stodgy for the nutribullet to turn properly so needed some water as well.  Pour out into a bowl and add a teaspoon of baking powder and enough desiccated and SR flour to get to a stiff dropping consistency, along with a handful of cocoa nibs for texture, then bake in a 2lb loaf tin at 170 deg for over an hour, until a skewer comes out clean, covering with a foil couche halfway through to stop the top burning.  Sorry for the vague recipe, but my scales have been broken for weeks and my baking is increasingly approximate.

Vegan afternoon tea

Also all the table: Aldi iced finger buns (traces of whey). Ikea gingerbread Christmas biscuits (traces of milk), Italian nougat brought by a guest, fruitbowl (untouched) elderflower gin, crab apple vodka, bottle of champagne, coffee, tea. A roundly admired beautiful spotty teapot made by my friend The Purple Potter.

Education double dactyl

The first line of a double dactyl is supposed to be gibberish, like hickory dickery or jiggery pokery.

Or…

Ofsted improvement plan
Nicola Morgan was
Rather mysteriously
in charge of schools.

How did this lawyeress
Involuntarily
End up at the helm of
This ship of fools?

I last got excited about double dactyls in 2008, which is a rather horrifyingly long time ago. I blogged here, here and here on the subject.

Fun with mascarpone

I somehow ended up with a surplus of mascarpone after buying a second tub forgetting I had the first. It keeps quite well but the last has just had to be discarded with blue furry bits. Here are some ways I’ve been using it, with nary a tiramisu in sight.

For a good old while I’ve been making vanilla mascarpone as an accompaniment for dessert instead of cream, custard or icecream. It’s astonishingly delicious and easier than homemade custard.  Just slash and scrape a vanilla pod to get all the tiny black seeds out and beat into a small tub of mascarpone with two tablespoons of icing sugar.

In 2009, a Lib Dem colleague suggested we should make lemon curd as something we could make and sell at Nottingham’s Green Fest. I duly did, and it was rather a pain and quite expensive. Smaller jars might have been a way of getting more money out of the endeavour since I found it took a pound of sugar and six eggs just to fill two empty Bonne Maman jars.

Anyway the reason for reproducing this story here was that the colleague who suggested I make it ended up buying a jar and reported back a lovely idea to use it in a simple dessert – she mixed the lemon curd with the same amount of mascarpone and used it to sandwich shop bought mini-meringues.

The same simple mix makes a delightful simple cheese cake. You can even make it with shop bought lemon curd, and make it in small quantities – so cheese cake for two – by making it directly into recycled Gü pots or shot glasses or espresso cups like this lovely set found in a charity shop when we were staying in Scotland for my brother’s wedding and used exclusively for desserts ever since.

Chocolate mousse

(pictured here on the old kitchen floor, as presumably at that point after making chocolate mousse, all of the available surfaces were covered in saucepans and whisks and bowls)

Mary Berry makes something similar using a ginger biscuit base.

Having successfully deployed the lemon curd / mascarpone mix sandwiched in meringues and as a simple fast cheesecake, I started to wonder if it could be mixed in other ways too.

Returning from Brussels last year I invented a recipe for a speculoos trifle – and blogged that recipe here.

Working further on the same idea and feeding a friend who does not like a dessert to be too sweet, I wondered about mixing the mascarpone 1:1 with bitter marmalade with thin cut shred.  This was… interesting. I piped it into shot glasses and instead of making a buttery biscuit base, I just scattered a biscuit crumb – speculoos again – over the top. Even for my friend’s savoury tooth this was not sweet enough. The bitterness of the marmalade did not quite overcome the sourness of the cheese and it was an interesting, not entirely unpleasant, but not brilliant flavour.  If I make anything like this again, I will sweeten it with icing sugar, I think. I was also wondering about how you could incorporate chocolate as chocolate and orange is a classic flavour combination. You could microplane chocolate into the mix, or include chocolate chips.  Dark chocolate would be a fab flavour to consider, but the multiple sources of bitterness from chocolate, marmalade and mascarpone would need something to lighten them.

What are you favourite ways of using mascarpone?