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

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…

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!

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?