Ringers’ dinner

Last year I volunteered to host a Christmas dinner for our troupe of bellringers at Daybrook St Paul’s. We all agreed that while it would be a Christmassy meal, it would be much too difficult and expensive to get it in our diaries for December, so decided to try for January instead. And rather than go out for a meal, I volunteered to host.

I’ve been getting excited about it for months. I initially thought it would be an interesting way of having a second go at mass catering in my house after a friend’s vegan supper club  over five years ago. I bought a spare table and thought I could sit 14 and started to think about the logistics of cooking so much. I bought tablecloths that turned out to be way way too big and ended up using my old  but lovely ones. I used the day to day charity shop crockery and a bit of the tea set for desserts.  I bought new tart moulds to be able to make a lot of cheesecake and not fill the fridge up too much.

Ringing dinner Feb 17

In the end we had a much  more manageable 8, the core team of ringers, and we could sit around one table and use the new trestle as a buffet table again.

There were aspects of the food where my mind was still on a larger number, so I massively overcatered and there are a lot of leftovers.

We had young people and drivers represented, as well as vegetarians so there were some menu challenges, but quite quickly I settled on…

Mulled apple juice

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Oven roasted apples – deglaze the pan on the hob to get the natural caramel flavour out.

Crudités and hummus (no caramelised onion hummus when I shopped, natch 😦

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Bit unseasonal here.

Bruschetta of sorts – Aldi’s jars of antipasti, one each of sundried tomatoes and roasted peppers, blitzed to make a pâté and spread on toasted baguette slices with an additional whole piece of pepper or tomato as a garnish.

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Main was jacket potatoes with a variety of toppings – beans, cheese, sausages, vegetarian sausages, coleslaw, carottes râpées.

Ringing dinner Feb 17

I have not used the food processor so much in ages! Grated carrots, cabbage and cheese in huge quantities. There is no need to make a whole cabbage of coleslaw for only 8 people, there is so much surplus!  The recipe was cabbage, carrots, 2 apples, 1 onion with a dressing of mayo, Dijon mustard and a little cider vinegar, salt, pepper, dried Italian herbs.  The carrot salad was carrots, sultanas, sunflower seeds with a lemon juice / olive oil dressing.

For dessert I used the rectangular tart moulds from Lakeland to make two cheesecakes. A slight wasted opportunity here – I could have made two different flavours – but the one was easier. Simple lemon cheesecake with four ingredients – 2 packets of Speculoos biscuits blended in the food processor, 160gr butter melted, and the base packed into the frame

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Chill for at least an hour, then mix 500gr mascarpone with a whole jar of lemon curd (411gr!) and spread on the top.

With the old Queer Eye for the Straight Guy maxim, “if it’s not garnished, it’s not finished” I liberally decorated with monstrously unseasonal berries and served on an Ikea bread board:

Ringing dinner Feb 17

More mascarpone ideas.

Coffees and chocolates – a box of Aldi Choceur Mint Selection, which I really enjoyed but don’t seem to have been eaten much by others.

I got my 10,000 steps wandering around my house cleaning and tidying and cooking, but really enjoyed putting a meal together for friends. I must do this more often 🙂

I also injured myself hanging fairy lights. They were in my front window for Christmas and I really like the warm glow they provided, so I decided not to put them away but hang them more permanently in my living room.

Unfortunately to hang them I decided to stand on a chipboard desk that couldn’t support my weight, so I fell through it. I have a huge graze and bruise on the back of my thigh, and the wrist I landed on is quite painful and I can’t lift anything with it.  This came on top of falling over hard on slippery mud in the garden one morning this week as I went down in the dark to feed the chickens before dawn. Add in a minor car accident as well and everything hurts!

Still, the fairy lights look lovely!

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Ringing dinner Feb 17

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

 

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.

Homebrew… disaster?

Annie Gray suggested on the Kitchen Cabinet making basil wine and gave instructions here on her blog.

I had a go at it a few weeks ago and  have had a demi john sitting and bubbling in front of the telly right in front of me.  I carefully sterilised the demi john with brewing powder before adding the sugar syrup and basil leaves, but as I did so I wondered about whether the fresh basil leaves, harvested from a supermarket plant, would stay the course of the brewing process.

Homebrew

And of course they didn’t. They are now a festering morass of mould sitting on top of a pale green liquid with a yeasty mess underneath. This could have been avoided, I think, if I  had just boiled them with the sugar syrup, as that should have been enough to kill off anything nasty.  Similarly, it’s odd to have a recipe that only half fills the demi john. Why not simply double and fill up the space?

Is this normal? Should I throw it out? Siphon the liquid out carefully and strain?

(I don’t have a more recent photo because the camera on my phone has stopped working 😦

Slightly more optimistically, the crab apple tree in the garden is looking highly healthy.

Homebrew

So I had a go at this recipe for crab apple liqueur – basically halve and steep in vodka and sugar.

Homebrew

Homebrew

Homebrew

Homebrew

This has very quickly turned a highly satisfying deep ruby colour and as the weeks pass, the apple halves are slowly sinking down the kilner jar.

This week in delicious

Some things I’ve made over the summer holidays that have been absolutely gorgeous…

This salted peanut and honeycomb rocky road. Melt 200 grams each of plain and milk chocolate with a tablespoon of golden syrup and 50gr of butter. Weigh 100 grams each of salted peanuts, mini marshmallows and three chopped Crunchie bars, stir into the chocolate mix and pack the mix into a lined, 25cm square traybake tin.

A bizarre sausage and cheese sauce combo from a how-to video in Portuguese which I cannot now find, originally on Facebook. Boil a pack of sausages in beer for 15 minutes and transfer to a grill / hot oven.  Take a cup of the boiling beer and stir in a cup of cream cheese and a cup of grated cheese. This was one of those recipes where you think, I like all of the ingredients, how can it go wrong?  And yet it was especially delicious. It might have helped that the cheese I had was a mix of strong cheddar and shaved parmesan, and the beer was German, but on the flipside the sausages were a fairly ordinary supermarket own brand.  The mix felt a little thin as it was cooking so I added more cheese and a teaspoon of cornflour dissolved in cold water, and the cheese sauce at the end was just amazing. Delicious hot, delicious cold as a sort of cheese spread, and in future I’m wondering about using it as a fondue recipe. I can’t tell whether it would work as well without the sausage boiling stage.

This was vaguely a possibility for barbecue or camping meals.

Sourdough blini for pudding club

For a pudding club, I made blini – well, basically sourdough pancakes. A cup of sourdough starter with an egg and a spoon of bicarb beaten in and fried in small batches. I then planned to top with cream cheese and sweet chilli sauce, cream cheese and smoked salmon trimmings, chutney and parmesan shavings and cherry tomatoes and pesto.  All quick and easy to buy and yet somehow I forgot to actually buy the salmon!

Blini

Last night I got carried away and made three courses, trying to see how much I could get through the nutribullet. This was shortly after having got carried away in Aldi, so most of the ingredients came from there.

Quick, nutribullet pate – blitz two smoked salmon fillets, a large spoon of creme fraiche, squeeze of lime juice, jar of black olives.  This was delicious but the final consistency was perhaps too smooth and sloppy and a little bit grey.  Easily enough for 6.

Quick, 4 ingredient nutribullet cheesecake – in retrospect, make this first because if the blender case is even slightly damp the biscuits stick.  Blitz six digestive biscuits and tip into a pan in which you have melted a large knob of butter. Mix well, press into two ramekins and chill. When you are feeling sufficiently relaxed and the biscuit base has hardened mix well two tablespoons of mascarpone cheese with an equal amount of lemon curd, home made if possible, shop bought if necessary, and spoon onto the base. Chill further.

My main course was as lacking in inspiration as always. Marinade chicken breast chunks in the rest of the lime juice and oil for as long as possible and fry until golden. Add an onion to the frying pan towards the end, if you have any left that aren’t rotten. Boil new potatoes in bite size chunks. Mix the two together with pesto.  Serve with a crunchy salad of carrot, radish and cherry tomatoes – I made a honey mustard salad dressing with some slightly suspicious elderly dijon from the fridge.

Nutribullet banana loaf

With a little help from Mary Berry I have been making a banana loaf most weeks for the last two months or so. Since my Nutribullet lives on the counter it’s quite tempting to use it for other things, and making cake is definitely something it can do.  Even with the blender available to me I have found myself overoptimistic about how many bananas I can eat in a week.

I prefer my banana loaf less plain than the Berry version, so here is what I have been making:

Wet/blitzable ingredients
100 gr melted butter (using melted not softened makes the nutri vessel easier to clean)
175 gr caster sugar
2 eggs
2 bananas
1 other fruit – pear or apple?
good splosh of milk
generous teaspoon of mixed spice

Dry ingredients
225 gr SR flour
2 big handfuls of sultanas
a good sprinkle of nuts, eg walnut pieces, whole shelled hazelnuts
glacé cherries if you have them

Preheat the oven to 180 deg / 160 fan.

Line a 2lb loaf tin – I use Loaf Tin Liners.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Blitz the wet ingredients in the nutribullet.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for an hour.

Check after 45 minutes. If the cake is browning on top but still moist inside, cover with tin foil to stop the crust burning.

If after an hour the skewer is still not coming out clean – this is a moist, heavy cake, after all – turn the oven off and allow it cool with the cake still in.

Variations
The same fundamental method works with other fruit, not just bananas. I’ve tried a pear and chocolate cake by substituting three pears for the bananas and adding two tablespoons of cocoa into the flour.

Since the nutribullet means you can blitz any fruit into a liquid, rather than mashing bananas with a fruit, you can turn pretty much anything into a cake.  On much the same basis that you can hide vegetables you don’t like in a nutribullet with fruit you do, you can also put vegetables into cake this way.

I don’t see the need to use baking powder as well as SR flour – too much and you end up with a cake that gives you heartburn.

Diner à deux

Another opportunity to cook for a friend. As ever, starter and pudding ideas come easily to mind and coming up with a main is a little more challenging.

Tonight it’s potage parmentier – 3 leeks and one huge baking potato simmered in stock with a parmesan rind (thank you Julie/Julia) and some herbs, served with a swirl of cream and slices of the breadmaker bread mix loaf (“homemade” stretching it a bit) that’s on the go at the mo. Chicken breasts poached in stock (my friend is teetotal) then baked in homemade tomato sauce and strewn with cheese, with green beans, carrot batons and broccoli.

And the pudding is a chocolate chestnut ganache. In a French hypermarché years ago it seemed like a good idea to buy a multipack of little tins of Clément Faugier marrons glacés de l’Ardèche, in beautiful traditional blue and white designs, and I’ve been baffled about what to do with them ever since. I plumped on the idea of adding them to a ganache to make truffles as I was preparing something to take with me to Hogmanay in Scotland and it worked reasonably well. My first attempt with 150gr milk chocolate, 150ml of double cream and one little tin of chestnuts would have been fine as a chocolate pot to eat with a spoon but was too soft for truffling. Remelting with a further 50gr of bitter dark chocolate I had knocking around was enough to get the consistency right, but by then it was too late to form the truffles so I carted the lot off to Scotland in a recycled takeaway tub.

Since we are not eating chez moi ce soir, I’ve boxed the lot up for transportation, again in those hardworking recycled takeaway tubs. It was under an hour’s cooking at home and getting it on the table will be less than 30 minutes. There’s lots of spare soup and chocolate for later in the week.

Dinner for 2

This week an old friend posted on Facebook about chalet jobs in the Alps. I’ve had little fantasies about this kinda work ever since I heard about it. You spend a week in a chalet for 6 or 8 or 12 providing all the hot meals for the residents – a cooked breakfast, afternoon tea for when they come off the slopes, and then a full home cooked meal in the evening. I’d love to have a go at doing that for a season, even if I would almost certainly be terrible at winter sports, just for the cooking aspect. Of course it would be incompatible with paying a mortgage on the house in blighty and there are all the animals to look after so it’s not anything I’m going to move into any time soon, but… one day maybe?