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.

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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

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

 

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!