Wanderlust

I had been feeling the urge to travel even before the pandemic. I did manage a wonderful escape last summer to Normandy and Brittany to a very different sort of holiday. Having got away there was much less pressure to Do Stuff as most places were still closed, so I had 10 days at the beach swimming in the sea every day and then spending the whole day reading, drinking coffee and thinking about what to cook. I’ll happily do that again and again!

It does presently feel that this year will be a write-off for any sort of travel. The school Easter and May weeks of holiday fall before the current timetable even for overnight stays with family. The summer holidays are the next big thing – have booked choir week in Gloucester but really only thinking at this stage it’s 50/50 whether that can possibly run, what with my choir having its fair share of vulnerable members, singing being rather suspect anyway in terms of filling the air with particles and whether the cathedral will be ready to reopen to visitors.

An American friend has floated the idea of coming to stay with me for all of August, and that’s theoretically fine – not least since it should prompt me, after 15 years in my house – to finally and properly sort out a spare bed. He can also stay on here by himself again theoretically to feed and drug cats and chickens while I’m away singing in Gloucester. But the amounts of theory here – travel from America being OK by August?? And is that it for me for travel this summer?!

So October would be next and mentally that’s very-lightly pencilled in as time for the promised and delayed trip with nephew to Paris. The Eurostar tickets were booked with Nectar points for last August and now I have vouchers which are valid until the end of 2021, again with a few assumptions, not least that Eurostar survives until the end of 2021!

Then winter? Last year’s ODL Hogmanay didn’t happen and I would very much like to do that again. Maybe a Christmas trip away to a Swedish log cabin the snow…

I’ve been feeling a long time that I haven’t travelled as much as I would like. Like returning to a favourite restaurant where the decision is always between eating what you always have and know you like or branching out to something new which might become a favourite or might not be as good as the tried and tested, travel is always a decision between returning the old favourite of France or getting further afield. I feel I really should branch out beyond Europe as even in my most distant travel I’ve never really left the EU. (Well, technically once when I had a weekend in Prague in 1999, and of course much more distressingly now that all of the UK has left).

I’d toyed with the idea of visiting my American friend in California and possibly then driving north from SF up the western coast towards Oregon and Washington to wave at a Canadian friend just over the water. I’d be looking at several thousand pounds just for the fights and one way car hire so it would be a holiday that would need some saving for! The last time I spent anything like that on a holiday it got me 6 weeks camping on a road trip around France and Switzerland. And I really want to do that again too!

When I’ve had conversations with better travelled friends about widening my horizons, I’ve asked for recommendations. Where in the world gives the best travel? Where would you go back to? Latin America comes up a lot as the most interesting place to visit and I’d be down for that.

I’ve not been independently to Germany since 2008 when I had a long weekend in Munich. So many parts of Germany I’ve never even seen. I’m quite tempted to go and see the north east coast. I’ve not been to Berlin since 1999 on my year abroad. I hear they’ve finished it now? It was awash with cranes when I was last there. Even the parts of the Rhine where we go on school trips are amazing and I would be super happy to go back there with adult friends too, maybe even wander around the castles we deem too boring for Y7.

We were planning an Easter trip to Vienna in 2020 that fortunately as it turned out never quite got as far as booking anything before the impending lockdown became more concrete. Would certainly be happy to reheat that plan again.

Maybe the Fernweh is more serious than that and I need to take steps into much more substantial foreign experience. Maybe it’s almost time to reconsider working abroad? There are plenty of posts for teachers in overseas schools around the world. But is that a young person’s game? Once you’re settled with mortgage and menagerie is there still the chance to take a long term post somewhere else?

Christmas dinner meal plan when cooking for one or two

@ianvisits tweeted a few days ago that someone was writing ideas on how to plan for Christmas day for 8 and that this wasn’t fair for the numerous people who needed to cook and eat for 1 over the festive period. My first thought was that recipes for 8 could well be 4 people eating the same thing over several days and wasn’t that unreasonable, but over the last few days I’ve been mulling over what a meal plan would look like for one over Christmas. I’m probably going to be in my support bubble of 2 for a couple of days this year, but I’ve spent Christmas alone in the past and would be entirely happy to do it again. Everything below would easily double to feed two, and would be a monumental, gut-busting and freezer filling feast for one. Which is what you want over Christmas, no?

The plan is for 3 or 4 days’ worth of food, and would be quite hard to fit in the fridge! I have been eating a diet which is supposed to be low in complex carbohydrates, but I might well park that over Christmas and eat some bread. I mostly shop in Sainsburys – I think I am planning to order online ahead of time and click and collect on the 22nd.

Christmas Season 4 Day Leftovers Bonanza

Sometime prior, eg Christmas Eve Eve – have a duck confit based meal and reserve lots of the duck fat. Also some time prior, you might like to look at this and make things like speculoos fudge, mulled wine truffles, Christmas martinis, choc orange martinis…

Start Christmas Eve afternoon by making the pudding you want on Christmas Day. I think I am making a pear frangipane tart, something like this maybe. (In the past I’ve made this awesome tarte bourguinonne, but have had request to not go mad on chocolate this year).

Another good thing to get out of the way on Christmas Eve is washing up the glasses you want to use over the festive period, especially if there are some that don’t get used all that often that might be dusty. I’ll be washing the Santa teapot at this point too.

For Christmas Eve dinner, while the oven is still recovering from the tart, bake a small bacon joint, two baked potatoes and a cauliflower cheese large enough to do two meals. If you like making it properly, roux, the works, do that. If you don’t, then buy the amazing free flow frozen cauliflower cheese in bags. It’s a bag of separate cauliflower pieces, each one coated in a cheese sauce, so you can put as many or as few as you like in an oven dish. As it cooks, the sauce melts and browns and turns into a really respectable cauliflower cheese. Add another vegetable of your choice. Green beans? Carrots? Whatevs.

Once it’s roasted, serve the dinner. The bacon joint turns into 4 portions, slices for Christmas eve and 3 other portions for the following day. Cut two portions to cubes and 1 to slices and put them in the fridge when they’re cool.

Defrost the frozen scallops for tomorrow in a dish in the fridge.

Christmas morning, I want bagels, smoked salmon and cream cheese. I’ll buy smoked salmon trimmings that are much cheaper, there’s no need for fancy slices here. Just toast the bagels, mush the fish and cheese on top.

This is also good time now to start drinking, because it’s Christmas, and for once, you’re allowed. For the last few years, I’ve started the day with Norman or Breton sweet cider, because I like it and it comes in champagne style bottles which allow for a feeling of celebration. I don’t really like champagne and this cider is also far far less alcoholic, making it a great breakfast drink. I thought ahead while I was camping in France over the sweet spot of the summer hols when we were allowed, and added some to my supermarket order. Last year I enjoyed using the carving knife to sabre my bottle and some of the glasses were augmented with things like crême de mûres sauvages or Clementine gimlet syrup.

Breakfast and the first bottle out of the way, suitably replete for an extended period out of the kitchen doing whatever awesome Christmas for one things you might want to do. A film, or phoning family or whatever. Ironing, or reading whilst you’re still sober enough to do so. Last year I went bellringing, but this year no so much.

You might want to get the lunch roast out to warm up to room temperature at this point.

Roughly two hours before you want your dinner, get going in the kitchen.

I’ve just scheduled scallops with romesco sauce as our starter this year having been inspired by this week’s Masterchef. Apparently you can make it in 20 minutes, and make a small amount of the sauce out of store cupboard ingredients in a Nutribullet smoothie blender. If you buy frozen scallops you don’t even need to spend 5 minutes opening and trimming them, you just need to remember to defrost them the night before. If you don’t, you can apparently do it in 20 minutes in a bowl of warm water. I will probably look at the plan in three weeks’ time and be completely baffled why it’s there. This recipe has it out of fresh ingredients, but I’m planning to make with sun dried tomatoes and peppers out of a jar. I’m also going to make at least 2 portions of the sauce.

I want to roast a chicken. A turkey is too much for one, and a chicken augmented with slightly more christmassy trimmings is enough for me.

The lunch sequence is roughly like this:

  • Oven on
  • Check the chicken cavity is empty and add a chopped lemon, onion and carrot
  • Chicken in
  • Parboil spuds for 10 minutes. Make waaaaay too many, they’re delicious cold from the fridge over the coming days.
  • Drain then shake the spuds with flour, put into roasting tray with the duck fat from earlier, and into oven for about the final hour of chicken roasting
  • Make and eat the starter at this point somewhere
  • Get the pigs in blankets and and stuffing balls in 30-40 minutes before serving
  • Put the leftover cauliflower cheese in to reheat
  • Take the chicken out when it’s cooked and let it rest.
  • Check the potatoes. If they’re not done enough, turn the oven heat up.
  • Make gravy
  • Start boiling your additional vegetables
  • Heat your serving plate (eg put it in the sink and run the hot tap over it – the oven is busy and too hot!)
  • Open the wine, if you’ve waited this long!
  • Carve the chicken, taking off just what you want for this meal.
  • Plate the rest of your feast.
  • Eat
  • Open the kitchen window and set the oven to pyrolitic clean

The dessert was done yesterday, remember? It could reheat in the oven’s residual heat. A vanilla mascarpone would go well with it – scrape a vanilla pod into a tablespoon of icing sugar and beat into a small pot of mascarpone.

A few hours for non-food Christmas activity. Queen, reading, film, presents, thank you letters, walk/stagger…

Fridge the now cold chicken and all the leftovers.

In the evening, cheeseboard, granary rolls, bits of leftover chicken, some of the leftover bacon joint. Chutneys, leftover pudding. Crunchy salad veg like raw carrots, peppers, celery, radishes all keep in the fridge much better than leaves; they could be chopped with a dressing. Remember cheese freezes, so maybe buy the several different sorts you want but chop half of them for the freezer before you start eating.

Boxing Day

This morning we are starting with poached eggs and with them the remains of yesterday’s romesco sauce. Perhaps with bagels if you feel the need for something crunchy.

Boxing day lunch – or maybe a picnic if you want to get out there somewhere – is the same as Christmas Day evening – cold cuts, rolls, salad, cheese, leftover pudding.

At some point on Boxing Day, find some time to strip the chicken carcass and make stock. Put all the chicken meat back into the fridge. I make chicken stock with my Pressure King Pro electric pressure cooker, so the bones and bits from the chicken, reserved veg peelings, salt, pepper, celery, carrots, bay, any herbs I have knocking about, in the machine for 2 hours, then cool. You’ll need 500ml stock for this evening and the rest can freeze.

The evening meal is risotto, made from the stock above, a portion of Christmas Day’s chicken, a portion of Christmas Eve’s bacon joint, the stock, mushrooms and dried porcini mushrooms if Santa was generous. Is there still leftover pudding? Then have that.

On the 27th December, start with more of the salmon/cream cheese bagelly goodness.

For lunch use a portion of the chicken to make coronation chicken and eat it with the spare baked potato you roasted on Christmas Eve.

In the evening use the final portion of bacon joint cubes and the rest of the eggs to make spaghetti carbonara. I sometimes put mushrooms in my mine just to annoy Italian friends but also to try and get past the idea that otherwise there are no redeeming health features in the meal at all.

So there we have it. Five days of eating like a king!

Christmas Eve Eve

Confit duck with sauté potatoes

Christmas Eve

Bacon joint with baked potato, cauliflower cheese and veg

Christmas Day

Smoked salmon, cream cheese, bagels

Scallops with Romesco sauce

Roast chicken, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, pigs in blankets, stuffing, sundry veg, gravy

Pudding

Cold cuts, rolls and cheese board

Boxing day

Poached eggs with Romesco sauce

Rolls with cold cuts and cheese board

Risotto

27th December

Smoked salmon bagels,

Baked potato with coronation chicken

Spaghetti carbonara

Outline shopping list

  • Duck confit in a tin
  • 750g bacon joint
  • 2 baking potatoes and large quantity roasting potatoes
  • frozen cauliflower cheese or ingredients to make
  • carrots and green beans, sprouts if you must
  • bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon trimmings
  • frozen scallops
  • jars of sundried tomatoes and roasted peppers, flaked almonds, garlic, olive oil
  • medium whole chicken
  • pre-prepared pigs in blankets and stuffing balls or ingredients to make your own
  • ingredients for a dessert or a microwavable Christmas pudding
  • mascarpone, vanilla pod, icing sugar
  • granary rolls
  • cheeseboard and chutneys
  • crunchy salad veg
  • eggs
  • risotto rice, porcini mushrooms, onions
  • mayonnaise, curry powder, sultanas or dried apricots, mango chutney
  • spaghetti

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.

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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…

 

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

2018-12-07 22.32.52

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.

2018-12-28 20.58.08

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.

2018-12-28 21.14.49

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.

2018-12-23 12.01.27

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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.

2018-12-29 00.03.07

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.

2019-01-03 18.12.06

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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.

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(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

 

Best nine 2017

Just as last year, I intended to sneak some of these off the amazing colour printers at work, and just never managed to get that done before breaking up. So the Christmas cards went out with no newsletter and I’ll just have to hope you read it here and care.

Quite a hard job narrowing it down to 9 photos this year!

bestnine2017

New Year in Glencoe in 2016 – up to the NE coast of Scotland to Torridon for 2017/8

Fudge the cat is old and ill and we are getting used to two tablets a day.

Holiday in Wales in Feb, some lovely but cold walking on the Gower peninsula

Went from crew cut to quiff during the year… but now what?

Attempted some interior design and made a feature on my landing of the sign that used to be over my grandfather’s shop

Attended an awesome wedding as my cousin on my mother’s side of the family got married

Bought a new tent and didn’t use it enough. Wanna go camping in 2018?

Took my brother, father, sister-in-law and all three nephews to Madeira

Refreshed soul and wine rack on a trip to Normandy in the October half term.

 

2018… August in Norwich… 40th birthday approaching…

Bring back ma girls!

New additions for the hen house – Tallulah and Attila the Hen – who come to me from the British Hen Welfare Trust, who rehome chickens from battery farms when they come to the end of commercial viability.

BHWT are very well organised – you sign up online, phone them to have a quick chat, and book into pick up some hens.  I needed two – the minimum you can have – to add to my existing lone hen, Perry. There’s masses of information on their website and it’s well worth having a read through all of it at an early stage.

On the day, pickup was fast and competent. They gave a guideline arrival time by surname within a whole afternoon, had people on the road to tell me where to park and checked my pet carrier was suitable on my way in. They guided me to sign in, sent me around the corner, and I was back in my car with my new birds in… literally under two minutes.

Tallulah and Attila

The girls are not in best condition. They have a lot of feathers missing and nasty floppy pale combs on top of their head. They are supposed to be red and a lot tighter. They are a heat dissipation method for the birds, and they grow large in their cages where they are kept warm.

Tallulah and Attila

The feathers are either missing or sparse in large chunks – the birds look almost skeletal!

But apparently both the combs and the feathers will start to sort themselves out reasonably quickly and the girls will be almost normal within a few months.

I had great plans for segregating the coop and finding ways of keeping the new hens separate. I have a large 2m cubed walk in run, an Eglu Classic hen house and half of an Eglu run which is covered from rain.  My plan had been to fence off a portion of the run using Omlet fence/netting, and let the new birds live in there for a while, sleeping in the cat carrier they came home in.

This plan lasted about an hour. Perry, the existing chicken, at first was just curious at the new girls, but when I went back later, she had managed to tunnel in under the fence but get stuck inside the fenced off area. The new girls were stuck in a corner at the opposite end.  So I lifted the fence to let Perry out, secured the bottom of it more with tent pegs, and went away to give them a further bit of time.

There was lots of shouting from all sides, without any actual pecking…

Interestingly, in their minimally feathered state, you can see their tails move in sync with their throats when they are shouting and crowing.

The next hour I went back to find Perry roosting on a perch over the fenced off area – she’d managed to fly over the fence – and one of Tallulah or Attila had flown out of the fenced area to perch on a rod.  That was a surprise – I didn’t realise they had enough feathers to be able to fly.

Perry perching

At that point I had to give up. The fence was more of a danger than a help! I removed it for bedtime and let the girls get on the best they could.

When I went down this morning, the new girls had found the chicken house and were in there. Not sure if cowering or sleeping – but I am pretty certain that Perry was keeping them in there and chasing them back in if they tried to come out and feed.

So I’ve had another go at separating them. This time the new girls get the real chicken house and I’ve fenced off the end of the tunnel. Perry gets the entire run and can sleep where she pleases – on a perch or in the cat box. She hasn’t got much rainproofing though. We’ll see how this continues and it will be interesting to see where she lays.

And on that, this morning, the first morning with the new girls, there have been three eggs, so despite the upheaval and the trauma of a new flock, everyone is laying…

More photos: album on Flickr

Did anyone else read Nicholas Fisk?

Last night we went to see Scarlett Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell. It was visually pretty but was definitely retreading the steps of sci fi movies we’ve seen before. Nothing in the plot was a surprise.

It put me in mind of young adult sci fi I read as a young adult in the late 1980s, and in particular the Nicholas Fisk novel A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair, the title, I know now, a quote from a Kipling poem. It’s a story of a family who have been resurrected from remains found in a graveyard, set in the future, but the family were killed in the second world war and their clones are also given a 1940s house and environment to live in. The story explores whether people from the past can be cloned to live in the future and there’s a clever twist in the end.

Twists in the end is a feature of Fisk’s writing and my strongest memory is of reading Grinny. It’s a fantastic YA novel and possibly I was reading it when I was too young, almost certainly pre-teen, having exhausted the library’s supply of Famous Five and Secret Seven. The story ramps up the tension throughout, with the children of a family realising their elderly aunt who lives with them is actually an alien, and then having to take matters into their own hands when unable to convince their parents there’s a problem. The ending really shocked me and upset me because I didn’t see it coming at all and it’s much more violent than earlier parts of the book. It ended up with a Serious Talk in the Middle of the Night with my parents about how to deal with books that are scary but also prepared the way for voracious teenage reading of Stephen King.

His Wikipedia page shows there were many more books than I realised – I think I only really ever read about five. Trillions is good and so is You Remember Me, the sequel to Grinny. I vaguely remember the title Antigrav  but nothing else about it.

Two puddings and a three course meal

A few things I have been cooking in recent weeks.

Poached pears in all sorts of ways – not a new thing in my repertoir (poached pear trifle | poached pear chocolate tart | poached pears) but not something I’ve made in a while.

Here’s some thoughts.  Red or white wine is fine – but different effects.  A fortnight ago I poached some pears ahead of time for a diner à deux and then accidentally left them on the kitchen counter for four days, so they were not useable. So I tried again with rosé and that was fab too.

With white wine, lemongrass and ginger are great flavours; with red you can throw the whole spice rack at it, especially cloves, star anise, cardamom and cinnamon.

You can also use white or dark sugar – you get a great hit from the caramellyness of muscovado.

Poach the pears whole, peeled and with their bottoms cut off so they stand up on the eventual plate, or more quickly quartered or halved, depending on where they are ending up. A whole pear is spectacular, but the most recent outing was intended as a topping for some leftover puff pastry, so they could be done in halves. Push a toothpick through them to test for readiness.

Poached pear tart

I’m a huge fan of vanilla mascarpone as an accompaniment, but this time, inspired by Jamie Oliver, I made a walnut cream by blitzing and combining equal quantities of walnuts and  mascarpone and sweetening slightly with icing sugar.

One final tip – the trad thing to do at the end is boil the poaching liquor down to make a syrup to serve. If you’re doing this, there’s no need to boil ALL of the poaching liquor down. Reserve maybe a cupful (for 2) or pint (for 4-6) and boil that down for a much quicker approach. It can be tricky to boil enough or too much, so remember you can drop a teaspoonful on a cold plate to see what the consistency will be when it has cooled.

Chocolate pots

I do love the Guardian’s “how to make the perfect…”series. I read Felicity Cloake’s treatise on chocolate pots in which she scampered through a range of different recipes, but in the end plumped for making something rather simpler.

My version still looked sensational, but was really ever so simple. The only tricky part is the time, but it barely takes an hour for each layer to set enough for the next. It would have looked even better if I could just learn to be a neater cook and not drip chocolate all down the outside of everything.

Layered chocolate ganache

I made the ramekins for my pudding club friends and the shot glasses for my friends at work, many of whom are dieting. Same ingredients.  A ganache is basically equal quantities ml for g of chocolate and double cream. Heat the cream, drop in the chocolate, stir until it melts, pour, refrigerate. Flavour if you wish with any strongly flavoured liquid, boozy or otherwise – cointreau, coffee, vanilla essence. Go for quality chocolate or a medium level supermarket own brand, but steer clear of the baking chocolate from the cake decorating aisle.

My five ramekin and four shot glasses were made from 150 grams each of dark, milk and white chocolate, unflavoured. My colleagues told me a shot glass was enough; I managed a shot glass AND a ramekin in one day; my friends ate half a pot and reserved the remainder for the following day.

Saturday’s dinner

The brief was “I’m feeling a little delicate so lots of fruit and veg” so I made…

Dinner 11/3/17

A hearty tomato and lentil soup that will also see me through the week – chopped carrots, onions, celery and garlic fired in olive oil, a spoonful of cumin and random dried herbs stirred through (I think it was oregano), veggie stock cubes and tinned and puréed tomatoes.

Whenever I now use my little stick blender I think of the ones in Nisbets the size of a pneumatic drill!

Mains were a salade niçoise of sorts

Dinner 11/3/17

A crunchy salad of lettuce, cuke, red pepper and black olives that match my fingernails, dressed in EVOO and sherry vinegar, with toppings of green beans, hard boiled egg and tuna mayonnaise.

For a dessert I had another go at Raymond Blanc’s pineapple three ways. I made this four years ago after it had just been on his TV programme. Then the recipe disappeared from the Beeb website. Now it is available again at Blanc’s own site. I don’t have the mandolin which makes the sliced / candied step too hard to do, and the roasting and basting every 15 minutes is a faff,  but still delicious.

The sorbet, however, is amazing – so simple and so delicious, and vaguely even healthy! I didn’t macerate, or measure sugar too carefully, just pineapple prepped and cored into the nutribullet with the juice of a lime and a slug of sugar, the resultant foam frozen in a Chinese takeaway box. Without the benefit of churning, this then needs to come out of the freezer half an hour before serving otherwise you will be chipping away at a pineapple iceberg.

Dinner 11/3/17

The roasted pineapple I served with a shot glass of the caramel basting liquid to mixed success. It set very hard and was quite hard but not impossible to eat. The butter separated out again as it cooled and was not nice. I had used the remainder citrus sugar to start the caramel and had worried the zest bits would burn, but they didn’t seem to…

Dinner 11/3/17