Wednesday, October 27

Stanley's blanket


Here is the other finished thing I referred to a while ago. As I have finally delivered it to its recipient, a charming young fellow called Stanley, I feel I can reveal it. I started this blanket sometime back in the summer and knew it was going to be a nice quick project. Obviously I then stopped working on it for about a month, and then after finishing it spent another month putting off weaving in the seventy billion ends, so it actually didn't get finished until September. Still, I am very pleased with it, and can only pray that it doesn't fall to bits the first time it goes into a washing machine. It shouldn't, but one worries about such things.

Monday, September 27

The more you beat them the better they be


We spent a very happy hour or so yesterday morning throwing sticks at a tree. The people of Abbey Wood do not wait for their walnuts to fall, and whilst this would not have been my first choice of harvest method it is clearly traditional in these parts. As far as I can see from the healthy trees the method does little damage apart from a light leaf-prune, so my conscience is reasonably clear. The harvest method mainly goes throw--miss--collect stick, or occasionally throw--hit branch--wait--collect stick. I discovered a great talent for lodging sticks in trees, and also had a little local difficulty with a dog who took a fancy to my stick (and well he might, it was very fine). Fortunately once he'd been distracted with a green ball (so fickle) I was able to get back to my throw-miss-collect stick routine. About once every twenty-thirty throws an actual nut fell from the tree. It was enormous fun.

About half of the nuts in the bowl were actually gathered a few weeks ago as green windfalls, but the green outer shell (a bit like a conker shell but without spikes) has rotted slowly away and yesterday we stamped on them to get at the nutshells. The walnuts are 'green' in that they have not been kiln dried, and have a more delicate flavour than their shop-bought counterpart. I could probably have bought three times as many at a supermarket for about £1.50, but these were hard won and as a result taste four times as good.

Saturday, September 25

I have finished a thing!

This is miraculous. Not only this, but I have almost finished another thing as well (just 4597 ends to weave in before that's finished too).
My amazing finishyness is probably due to the fact that I have recently started going to a knitting night at the Pelton Arms in Greenwich. I am enjoying this very much not only because of the knitting, but also and especially because of the opportunity to chat with a) people over 3ft tall b) intelligent adults with whom I do not work. Come along if you're local: I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 4

Griddled lemony courgettes

This year I am growing yellow courgettes which makes them easier to spot before they turn to marrows. I keep hoping that I am going to get a courgette glut any minute, but so far none has materialised. I'm not sure if this is because they are yellow or if it's because the evil bastard snails almost destroyed the seedlings so they too a long time to recover and subsequently went into the ground late. Who knows?

This recipe is incredibly easy, delicious and can be eaten hot or cold (or something in between). I think I fist ate it at Carluccio's but I can't honestly remember. We often have this as a side dish but it works well mixed with pasta, too.

If you don't have a griddle you can just as easily use a grill. Come to that you could probably fry them if you so desired.

Serves two.

A couple of courgettes
Half a lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Slice the courgettes. I usually cut them into strips or on the slant to make longish ovals. Griddle them until they are soft and covered with thick seared stripes. I have trouble waiting and turn mine a lot so they are are usually criss-crossed. When they are done put them into a wide bowl or plate with a rim. Squeeze the lemon over them, the glug on some olive oil. Stir to coat, then season with salt and pepper.

Monday, August 30

Roasted Carrots with Fennel and Lemon


While we were in Devon earlier this month we went to Riverford Field Kitchen to celebrate P's 40th. The menu is entirely seasonal and although meat is served, the vegetables definitely star. Amongst the many delicious dishes two really stood out. The first was roasted carrots with fennel seeds and lemon*. This elevated the humble carrot which my Mum always cooked 'for the colour' and which P remembers from school with great distaste to something actually delicious. I came home and hunted through my Riverford cookbook, but no joy. A little experimentation later I've come up with the following. You may notice that fennel seed features: it's my new favourite spice (herb?). This year I'm going to harvest the seed from my plant instead of having to pull up 60 million seedlings which look terribly pretty but actually have roots that reach to Australia. Let me know if you want some, my plant is huge.

Ingredients

Some Carrots ( The above pic was for two. They were quite small). Fresh ones are best but sad bendy ones from the depths of the fridge work OK too.
A glug of oil.
Lemon juice.
Fennel seeds.

Peel the carrots if they've gone a bit funny in the bottom of the fridge. Otherwise just scrub them. If they are small then leave them whole. If they are thicker than an inch then chop off the thin end and split the thick end into two, chopping them into roughly two inch lengths. You could probably cut fat coins, if you felt like it. (Go crazy: carve a goldfish, I dare you.)

After you have finished artistically chopping, chuck them into a roasting tin, and glug some oil in. One glug, I reckon. A big knob of butter instead of oil would probably be delicious if you aren't watching the saturated fat. Then squeeze some lemon over. I found that a whole lemon was too sharp for two people, so let's say half a lemon. More carrots, more lemon. Then sprinkle on about half a teaspoonful of fennel seeds, unless you are feeding six in which case try a whole teaspoonful. Stir the lot around to coat the carrots then season with salt and pepper and bung the lot in the oven at gas 7 for 45-60 minutes. In our case this time is determined by how long the roast takes. The carrots are ready when they are tender. If they happen to be ready before the rest of the food then shove them at the bottom of the oven to keep warm.

If you feel fancy you can chop some parsley over them to serve, but I'm usually too busy making gravy.

Here are some exciting carrot facts:

1) carrots contain more beta carotene cooked than raw.
2) Carrot vitamins are just below the surface of the skin, which is why it's better not to peel them.
3) Pre-scrubbed plastic packed carrots are evil.
4) The variety of carrots most commonly found in supermarkets is grown not for its taste, but for its resistance to breakage.

One of the above facts is the opinion of the author.

*The second was a beetroot salad, of which more later.

Tuesday, August 24

Runner beans with tomato sauce.

I wouldn't normally reproduce a recipe that I haven't at least fiddled with, but this one from the Able and Cole cookbook is so simple and so delicious that I shall make an exception. The brilliant thing is that just about everything in it is in season right now, so you can either use up your tomato and bean glut on it, or it'll be super cheap to buy the veg.

Serves two, mixed in with pasta. Good as a side too, apparently.

Oil
A handful of runner beans, cut into inch long strips
4 largeish tomatoes
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
a large clove garlic
a small chilli (optional)
slosh of wine (I used vermouth, I drink the wine)
1 tsp sugar
1tsp cider or wine vinegar
small handful of basil
salt and pepper

Deseed the tomatoes by making a small slit in the skin and squishing them over the compost caddy or bin or whatever. Chop them roughly. Steam the beans for 3 mins then run them under cold water to stop them cooking further. Next time I'll probably bung them in with the past for the last 3 mins and skip that step. Glug the oil into a pan and heat, then fry the garlic and fennel seeds. Do not allow the garlic to go brown, it tastes nasty. Add the tomatoes and chilli if using, along with a slug of wine/vermouth. Simmer for 20 minutes. The Able and Cole recipe says covered but my tomatoes were very wet and my wine slosh very generous, so I took the lid off so it'd reduce a bit. Once it's nice and saucey-looking add a tsp of vinegar and a tsp of sugar (these are magic ingredients which make tomato sauce taste fabulous), stir in the beans and cook until they are warmed through. Stir in some chopped basil and add another glug of olive oil if you are not dieting. Season to taste.

I stirred ours through pasta twirls and we had a bit of parmesan on top. It was bloody lovely.

Friday, August 20

A significant cake.


I asked P what cake he would like for his significant birthday and then proceeded to ignore his request for my Grandma's frankly delicious fruit cake. Fruit cake for a birthday? No, no, no. You can't put candles in a fruit cake. Well, maybe you can, but I don't hold with it. I know that the best birthday cakes are chocolate cakes. (You may wonder why I bothered to ask him. I do, too.)

The recipe is my mum's and was written on a scrap of paper by me in 1980-something when I first left home. A few years ago I scaled the recipe up as my cake tins are wider than my mum's (mine are about 8 inches) and the cakes were consequently coming out too flat. The recipe is for a straight sponge but includes instructions for making it chocolate. It is so easy-peasy to make that I honestly wonder why anyone ever buys a shop bought sponge.

8oz sugar (should be caster really but granulated does OK)
8oz marg/butter (my mum always used half and half. Proper birthdays get all butter around here. If you use all margarine and then you don't have to wait for the butter to soften.)
8oz flour (6.5 if making chocolate) My recipe at this point says 'sieved' but frankly I don't always bother.
4 eggs
a little milk or water

If you want a smaller cake then do 6,6,6, 3. A tiny one 4,4,4,2. A huge one? 10,10,10,5

If making chocolate cake
1.5oz cocoa (Green and Black's is my preference)
1tsp baking powder


1. Cream the fat and sugar. According to the Blessed Delia this is the most important part of cake making and you should cream until the fat/sugar mixture changes colour. I can't actually remember why.

2. Beat the eggs and add them slowly to the mixture. If you add them in a hurry then whole thing will go all curdled-looking which is not actually a problem, but you will feel much less of a domestic goddess.

3. Fold in the dry ingredients. If you are adding cocoa it's probably worth sieving it all in as cocoa can be a bit lumpy.

4. Add liquid if needed, says my recipe. Perhaps that's if you are using small eggs. I usually use medium eggs and can't say I have ever add extra liquid.

5. Divide the mixture between lined greased sponge tins. For goodness sake sake do line and grease the tins boring though it is. It is soul destroying when your cake sticks as I have learnt to my cost.

6. Cook in the middle of your oven at 350 degrees/Gas Mark 4 for 20-30 minutes. Try not to bang the oven door when you put the mixture in, and resist the temptation to check the cake for at least 20 minutes as a sudden change in temperature can cause the cake to sink. The cake is done when you can touch the centre and it springs right back. I also usually stick a skewer into the middle: When it comes out with nothing stuck to it then the cake is done.

7. Turn out and cool on a cake rack (aka the grill rack in our house).

For the buttercream filling soften 2oz butter (you can use margarine but it won't taste as good) and mix it with 4oz icing sugar. In my family we always flavour the filling in a chocolate cake with coffee. Mix a couple of teaspoons of instant coffee (I have tried making espresso and using that but it isn't really strong enough) with a little hot water, and mix slowly into the buttercream. Spread on the bottom sponge layer and slap the other one on top.

Normally I'd just dust icing onto the top, but a special birthday calls for a chocolate covering. I usually use supermarket cooking chocolate but I do make sure it's got a nice high cocoa content. Melt it in a bowl over a saucepan of gently boiling water. Try and avoid getting water in the chocolate as it goes all funny and grainy (still tastes fine though, so not a complete disaster). When it's good and runny pour it over the top of the cake. A whole bar is very generous so it will probably run down the outside a bit (yum!).

I had a brainwave and decided to add silver balls to P's cake. I like silver balls.

Wednesday, August 18

Don't mention the lettuce.

I planted lettuces in the ground for the first time this year and was astonished by how much better they grew than in pots or grow bags. Flushed with my success and thinking of salads to come I re-sowed under the bean tripod when it went in, thinking to transplant the seedlings into a new home when they came up. Except they didn't come up.

Undaunted, I assumed that my slapdash sowing style (chuck 'em at the ground and sprinkle some seed compost over the top) was the cause of my woes. I drilled a dutiful little line next to my radishes and carefully sprinkled seed down it, taking care to cover the seed and to dampen the soil afterwards. I waited a week or so, watched the radishes come up, but no lettuce emerged. Tant pis, I decided, guessing that the seed I had been using (different from my original sowing) was out of date and past it in the germination department.

A week or so on, I decided to make my third attempt. This time I used the newer seed, and I decided to sow into seed trays. I even labelled them. Imagine my delight when I returned after a damp week away to find that the little gems were coming up and that the dazzle (it's a red little gem) was on it's way too. It was a little late for a continuous crop (the original lettuce is mostly gone or bolted), but I was going to have lettuces eventually.

This morning I checked my trays. There is no lettuce. My normal snail-foiling method is to keep vulnerable plants on the garden table (it's a bit hard to eat in the garden as a consequence) but some evil mollusc has obviously made it to my high rise nursery and has hoovered up my beautiful lines of seedlings like snail cocaine.

How the hell did the first lot survive? It's a mystery. They were sown direct into the ground, right on snail level. To say that I am sulking would be an understatement. I'm so pissed off I'm not even putting a picture.

Wednesday, August 4

bread of heaven

I really really like making bread. I should do it all the time. I should give up my day job and become a baker. Or possibly I should just make bread more. I had a shitty day today but at the end of it there is crunchy chewy home made bread, so life ain't all bad. Even if the above picture *is* mainly out of focus and I deleted all the others.

This is rye bread which is denser than straightforward bread due to its lower gluten content. The up side of this is that it needs less kneading and only one rise, so it's a bit quicker. Plus it tastes of rye which I happen to think is delicious. If you don't like the taste of Ryvita then you should probably give it a miss.

10 oz rye flour
10 oz white bread flour
1 tsp salt
20g fresh yeast
1 tbsp sugar
14fl oz warm water
caraway seeds (optional)

  • measure out the flour, pour it onto a clean worktop and make a hole in the middle.
  • add the yeast to the warm water, then stir in the sugar until it dissolves (or alternatively forget to stir it like me and resort to scraping it soggily from the bottom of the jug and mixing it into the dough later)
  • pour a little of the yeasty water into the hole in the flour and combine with the flour.
  • continue like this until all the water is mixed with the flour. The dough will be sticky and wet.
  • knead for about 5 minutes .The dough will get more manageable and less sticky but it won't really go all stretchy like normal bread dough does.
  • shape the dough, cover and leave until the dough has roughly doubled in size. Mine took about an hour and a half.
  • sprinkle caraway seeds on the top in the certain knowledge that they will fall off and go all over the kitchen floor (a bit of milk would stick 'em on).
  • Cook at gas mark as hot as possible for 10 mins, then reduce the heat to about 7 and cook for a further 30-40 minutes, until you can knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow. My oven always takes at least 40 mins, which may be due to the gaffer tape holding it together.
  • Resist the temptation to eat the entire lot in one day.

Wednesday, July 28

And relax....


Following two days racing around frantically trying to get my classroom ready for next year (with ever-increasing inefficiency) I've done a bit of weeding, I've baked a loaf of bread, and I've made an almost completely unnecessary list of items we mustn't forget to take to the Cambridge Folk Festival. I think I might now be ready to start enjoying my holiday.


Thank goodness. Gin and tonic, anybody?

In praise of pink things II


Another vegetable I don't exactly yearn for, I bought the beetroot seed on the basis that a) it grows in shade b) it was 38p. I then proceeded to drop most of the packet when I was trying to sow it, so that far more got planted than I was planning. It has grown well enough under the mini fruit trees and the pink-ribbed leaves are pretty, and edible. I am told that when you have beetroot with leaves on you should remove the leaves as soon as possible as they draw moisture from the root. As you can see from the photo my beets are tiny (about 1.5 inches long). This may be due to the shade or it could be my desperation to pull them up and see what they look like.

A couple of weekends ago I mentioned the beetroot to P's mum. Her immediate reaction was 'You can make Prickley salad!' Cool name, I thought. The only thing I can actually remember from her list of ingredients is sultanas.

P did a bit of googling, and found a recipe which I proceeded to almost completely ignore, leading to the following:

Prickley Green Beetroot Salad*

1 raw beetroot, grated (or chopped small if you prefer to avoid the pink splatter factor)
a couple of delicious spring onions
a handful of sultanas
Chopped beetroot stalks (if available)
a slosh of vinegary salad dressing (I used half vinegar half oil: will try lemon juice another time.)
half a tsp cumin seeds

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and leave for 15 minutes for the sultanas to swell and the flavours to combine. I'd have served it with some fresh coriander on top, had I had any.

The earthy sweetness of the beetroot and sultanas are nicely balanced by the acidic dressing and spring onions. The cumin was a last minute impulse addition but I thought it worked really well.

*why on earth is it called prickley and green when it is neither?!

Sunday, July 25

In praise of pink things

Let's get something clear. I do not like spring onions. I hate the way that hours after eating spring onion I can still taste spring onion. I will expend a decent amount of energy extracting spring onion from any salad including this evil alium.

In which case it was foolish to plant them in the garden, but the vegetable strips at my local garden shop were on three for one and I wanted the golden courgettes having failed to get seed in time. I must've wanted those stupid round carrots, too. Don't waste your time on round carrots my friends; they are merely foolishly short carrots with no point.

Anyway, spring onions. I don't like them, but I bought some. I may have been seduced by them being bright pink, a colour that I used not to realise was my favourite. I planted a few in a window box, and a few amongst the strawberries and lettuce (I love polyculture: thank you Alys Fowler and your endearingly tussled hair).

A couple of weeks ago we pulled one. Oh my. These spring onions are delicious. They taste sort of like a super-charged chive, but the taste does not linger. They grew brilliantly in a window box: better than the ones in the ground (my neighbour reports that his spring onions grow better in a pot too), and they are pink!


A note for other (shop bought) spring-onion haters: if you griddle them they go soft and sweet and do not repeat. I would go so far as to say that cooked that way they are actually nice.

Friday, July 16

A funny thing happened on the way to the kitchen..

As we approach the end of term and the possibility that this blog will awaken from its lengthy slumber I present to you for your delectation a comedy carrot:

Exciting or what?

I have a few carrots in a pot this year, and they are doing far better than last years which never grew beyond 5cm long. They are a heritage variety and are supposed to be purple, which explains why this carrot has attractive pink legs. I did pull one the other day which was truly purple (and truly carrot shaped). They taste really good and I may make the effort next year to grow a useful amount of them. The only thing is that that would take up a large amount of space, which I don't really have.


This year's major success is lettuce. I've been trying to grow it for a few years and finally realised that they do best in the ground. Pots and gro-bags have only ever resulted in sad looking lettuce-ettes for me. We have been eating exclusively garden grown lettuce for a month or so now, and should be able to continue I hope throughout the summer. The only drawback to home grown lettuce is that the kitchen seems to be permanently dusted with soil from the roots, but this is a small price to pay for fantastically fresh and crispy lettuce.

Sunday, May 16

UFO Attack

I have a confession. I am currently suffering from the terrible inability to actually finish anything. Fortunately this doesn't extend to cooking (getting to eat is always an excellent motivator for me), but in the knitting department? Oh my. I am hoping that a confession will cleanse my soul.

Here is the list of unfinished object shame:

1. Lacy scarf. Abandoned because of my complete inability to follow the simplest lace pattern. Seriously bad for the ego, that. This scarf comes from a book called 'Knitting in No Time'. The book completely fails to mention that you have to actually knit to complete anything. Swizz!

2. Sock(s). I have about one and a half inch of sock. I can't get the bloody thing to knit up without a ladder up the side and have you seen the size of those stitches? Tiny. I know socks are supposed to be quick, easy and addictive but frankly they sell very nice socks at Uni Qlo which will not take me 300 years to finish and probably never fit, and I don't need to swear and throw them across the room (unless the cat does something particularly irritating).

3. Log Cabin blanket. Admittedly, I'm still thinking I might finish this, but that's mainly because I am clearly bloody delusional. I've knitted one peasly square of it. I don't much like the colour of yarn (I know: why the fuck did I buy it?!) which doesn't help as I'm not dreaming little dreams of putting a finished browny-orange blanket over anything (cat, for instance).

4. Black cowl. This will definitely (eventually) get finished, as I have promised a lifetime's supply to a friend who is going to GIVE ME his DSLR in return (I LOVE him). Guilt is almost as good a motivator as food (not as fun, admittedly). Still, it remains unfinished as it's a wool cashmere blend and a winter garment and it just seems wrong to knit that sort of stuff when it's (theoretically, at least) spring. That's the excuse, anyhow.

As well as the above four, I owe one knitted/crocheted baby gift and have one pending. I may be forced to visit Mamas and Papas. Have you seen the price of their crocheted blankets? It's enough to make me start something else.

I'm not even going to mention the sewing.

Friday, April 16

The Cake Diaries: beetroot and seed cake.

Beetroot and seed cake? It sounds far too healthy. The Cook's Company at the Royal Festival Hall seems to go in for these healthy-ised foodstuffs, and actually they do it rather well. They have a nut-and-honey concoction that sounds terribly healthy but can probably induce diabetic coma at 50yds.

This cake is so loaded with seeds that it is strangely reminiscent of the bread I've been baking recently. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, but it all adds to the feeling of doing something virtuous rather than naughty while eating it. Is that a good thing in cake? I'm not convinced. Still, the cake was moist and tasty, and I like seeds. The tea wasn't bad, either. 7/10

Thursday, April 15

Ginger cordial


I seem to be on a quest for the perfect cordial. I quite like my water to taste of something occasionally, but I really don't like the super-charged stuff you get in supermarkets. It's far too sweet and I'm not a great fan of cordialised orange/lime/blackcurrant flavours.

I bought some Rhubarb and Ginger cordial the other day which was...quite nice, but it lacked any kind of gingery kick. What's the point of ginger without the kick? I ask you.

I resolved to make some myself. You can tell I'm on holiday. Oh how I love being on holiday. A bit of googling later:

Ingredients:

1 large lump of root ginger (about 120g, actually)
1 lemon (might use 2 next time)
1l water
10fl oz sugar
square of muslin (I've been known to use a clean dishcloth..)
funnel
sterile bottles

Method

  • grate the ginger and put it in a largeish saucepan with the water
  • add the zest of the lemon (I took it off with a potato peeler)
  • squeeze the juice of the lemon into the pan
  • bring it to the boil
  • simmer for about 20 mins
  • leave the mixture to cool and infuse. I left it overnight. It tasted considerably better in the morning than it did 2 hours after it was cooked.
  • sterilise* your bottles (wash and dry in a low over for 10 mins)
  • scald your muslin/bottletops/funnel (pour boiling water over them in a bowl)
  • bring the ginger liquid back up to a simmer (I do this because otherwise it spits and boils when I pour it into the bottles which are still hot from the oven because I am too impatient to allow them to cool).
  • pour through the muslin/funnel into the bottles. Seal.
And guess what? It tastes great! Gingery, and everything. Not too sweet. I bet it'd be nice with sparkling water. I bet it'd be even nicer with vodka....

*I'm not sure my bottles are the most sterile of sterile things, frankly. I'm keeping my open cordial in the fridge, and keeping a close eye on the one in the cupboard for signs of fermenting. Though would fermenting be a bad thing? Ginger beer...now there's a thought...

Monday, April 5

Breadhead


I really love making bread, but for one reason and another (mainly the one labelled 'work') I haven't made any for ages. Two things last week hardened my resolve to get back to it. The first was Jo's recipe in the brilliant notes on the menu which I hope she won't mind me adapting a bit here, and the second was the Time Shift documentary A Loaf Affair (three days left to see that on iPlayer at the time of writing). This mentioned the Chorleywood Bread Process, developed in 1961 to speed up the breadmaking process, and largely responsible for what we refer to as bread nowadays. P also gave me the River Cottage Bread Handbook for Christmas; which is a lovely little book if a little frighteningly detailed for non-bread makers, in my opinion. Before the day before yesterday I'd been happily using the recipe from the back of the Allinson packet with great success. However I have to admit that the two loaves I've made since Friday have been far superior.

Here's what I've been doing, with apologies for the mixed units of measurement. What can I say? My scales do both.

Ingredients:

25g fresh yeast (available from your supermarket's bakery section, and ridiculously cheap)*
14 fluid oz warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 lb strong white bread flour
4 oz plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil).
60g 'extras' (seeds, oats, currants, whatever).

Method
  • Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar. My Dad says you should wait for it to froth, but I'm not convinced I did the first time I did this, and it rose just fine. I waited the second time just in case, though.
  • Add the yeasty mixture to the flour and salt and mix together. I add the oil at the very end. I usually mix everything in a bowl; as the dough is very sticky at first. Others do it straight on the kitchen surface. Notes on the menu suggests mixing in the food processor with a dough hook for about 10 mins until it's all smooth. I prefer to
  • Turn out onto the kitchen surface and knead, stretching the dough to develop the gluten in the yeast. This take about 10-15 minutes. The dough is ready once you can stretch it thin enough to see some light through it. At this point you can knead in some seeds or currants if you fancy.
  • Put the dough back into a bowl (it's worth oiling or flouring the bowl so it'll come out again easily), cover with some cling film or a cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough doubles in size. With luck this happens in about an hour. My kitchen isn't very warm so I often put the oven on very low and leave the bowl on top of it.
  • Once the dough has risen, flop it out of the bowl onto a floured surface and poke it all over to deflate it. This is my favourite bit. Just so you know.
  • Shape your bread (in the River Cottage book they dedicate three pages to shaping dough) and either put in a bread tin (sorry no idea what size as I never use one..), or put onto a baking tray.If you fancy paint it with milk and sprinkle some more seeds on. The milk helps the seeds stick.
  • Leave for about 20 mins, until the bread has roughly doubled in size again.
  • At this point I put my oven up as high as it will go (Gas mark 9 or 475 F, for the curious) and preheat the hell out of it. I rarely preheat ovens, but in this case it's worth it.
  • Put the bread into the oven on the middle shelf. The other day I'd also preheated a roasting tray at the bottom of the oven, and just after putting the bread in I poured boiling water into the tray, filling the oven with steam. Apparently this helps develop the crust. I didn't do this today, as I didn't feel like it. So there.
  • After ten minutes check the bread, and turn down the oven to Gas mark 4 or 350 F. I then set the timer for 40 minutes and go away and do some bad knitting. The bread is ready once it makes a hollow sound once you knock it on the bottom. My oven is frankly useless so my bread needed at least another 30 minutes, but yours may be ready sooner. You won't get as much knitting done though.
  • Take the bread out of the oven and cool on a wire rack. Resist eating any until it's cool, if you like a bit of pleasure deferment. Otherwise for goodness sakes cut off the end and eat it with some butter. Oh My.
* the fresh yeast is one of the reasons it might have risen so much better. The others are: not worrying that the dough is initially a bit wet and using white flour instead of wholemeal. Only time (and wholemeal flour) will tell.

Sunday, April 4

Playing catch-up.

Happy Easter! Thank goodness the end of term has finally arrived. I might soon be able to concentrate on something for long enough to write properly about it.

I spent a happy afternoon a couple of weeks ago planning what was going in the garden and where. Probably far too late, but what the heck. I grow veg in a space roughly 8ft long and 3ft wide, so planning is necessary. My Dad gave me a lunar calendar for Christmas. "It seemed like your sort of thing" he said, so I am playing with that. I can see that it might become excessively complicated, and apparently there are days on which it is unsafe to have one's hair cut, so at the moment I am restricting myself to sowing stuff on root, fruit, flower or leaf days. This has complicated the potato planting somewhat as dad says that potatoes should be planted on Good Friday (though I've never seen him do it), but Good Friday wasn't a root day. I'm going on holiday next week when there are root days so they will inevitably be planted next weekend. Ah, well. If my potatoes fail terribly I shall know what to blame.
Spring has sprung a bit, and these hyacinths which I plonked into the soil after having them in the house last year have actually flowered again. Result!
Last year's purple sprouting broccoli didn't really sprout, but the plants grew so mammoth that I couldn't bring myself to pull them up (so architectural, darlink!). I have been rewarded as this year they are going sprout crazy. That's my Easter Sunday veggies you're looking at there. Yum, I love purple sprouting.
Yesterday I made bread. I started off with the recipe from Notes on the Menu, and finished off with the River Cottage bread handbook, which I highly recommended, (though it does make bread making seem a lot more complicated than it really is). I have to say it's one of the best loaves I've ever produced, though I shall go a little easier on the onion seeds another time.

Saturday, March 20

Weekend soup: dal soup

I love dal. Yellow, spicy and yummy. When I cooked the yellow soup a while ago it occurred to me that it wasn't far off dal so I resolved to make a dal version. I cooked this in the pressure cooker, and while it would be perfectly possible to do it in a large pan be aware it would take a LONG time to cook down the lentils.

Ingredients

Itbsp oil (I used groundnut)
1 medium onion
1 clove of garlic, chopped
half a floppy head of celery (the floppy bit isn't entirely necessary, to be honest)
1 medium carrot
4 handfuls of red lentils (about 100 grams)
1tsp cumin seed
1tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp hing (aka heeng aka asafoetida powder. Not vital if you don't have any)
1/2 tsp chilli powder
5 curry leaves (available from Indian grocery shops. Not vital, but delicious)
water
salt and ground black pepper

Method

Heat the oil in the pressure cooker (or a large pan) and gently fry the onions until they begin to go translucent. Put in the garlic and fry for a while, then throw in the cumin seed and wait until they begin to sizzle and release their scent. Have a good sniff, it's a lovely smell. Chop up the celery (leaves and all) and carrot and add to the pan. Fry for a few minutes (or until patience wears out) then add the spices and give it all a good stir. Add the lentils and the curry leaves, then pour in enough boiling water to cover the veg.* Add a good big pinch of salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Bring the lot to the boil, put on the lid of the pressure cooker and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. When you open the lid you should find that the lentils break down completely when you stir the soup. Liquidise and serve. I sprinkled on some black onion seeds but that was mainly so that I could find the picture in my ever-growing collection of yellow soups.


*If you are not using a pressure cooker you will need about double the depth of the vegetables. You will need to cook the soup for at least 40 minutes (at least), and you'll need to check regularly that the water has not boiled dry. Buy a pressure cooker, already. No, I'm not working for the pressure cooker board, though if there's a job going....

Sunday, March 14

Primulas, potatoes and greens

We are in the middle of this at the moment. Although it is going to be great when it's done the mess involved is making me a bit miserable. I'm not the world's tidiest person but I do have trouble with dirty. Everything is currently covered in a layer of dust, and every time you wipe it away another layer descends. I hate it. Still. Great when it's done. Great when it's done. Great when it's done.


To cheer myself up I went to B&Q and got myself these. Those who know me well will laugh at the inevitable colour choice but these were the only ones available, honest! (Well, OK there were some white ones mixed in but I've potted them separately. Very tasteful they are too. Vita Sackville-West would be proud.) I planted a pot of them up with some Tete a tete daffodils for my Mum but I forgot to take a picture of those. You'll just have to close your eyes and imagine them.

My seed potatoes are busy chitting on the kitchen window sill. I didn't chit last year but everything I read implies that it is a Good Thing, so I'm trying it out.

We had this for dinner last night. It was bloody delicious. (Terrible photo, sorry.) It's Spring Green Gratin and the recipe is in April's Sainsbury's magazine. Basically it consists of blanched spring greens covered in a parmesan cheese sauce with toasted walnuts in it, and then an obscene amount of cheese on the top. The milk for the sauce is infused with onion, cloves and bay. It was very rich: so rich that neither of us could manage the seconds we had. Definitely one to do again.

Sunday, March 7

Weekend soup: broccoli and parmesan.


This soup was born of a happy accident involving week-old broccoli. Mostly I throw soup together from whatever is sitting in the fridge, and it's not often that the result sounds like something that came out of a recipe book.

Erin recently introduced us to the joys of adding our parmesan rind to soups. It's amazing how cheesy the soup comes out, and I now get quite excited when it starts to get low (yes, I do need to get out more). I actually saved this Christmas' cheese rinds to add to soup. Unfortunately I forgot all about them and when I found them again they were a bit greener than is strictly healthy.

Anyway: soup.

Ingredients:

1 large onion
2 sticks of celery
1 large carrot
1 clove of garlic
1 head of broccoli
a parmesan rind (or you could add a finger's width of parmesan, or another cheese rind).
Stock (we've run out so I used Miso soup powder).
Salt and black pepper.

Method:

Fry the chopped onions in a glug of olive oil until they begin to soften. Add the chopped celery and carrot along with a goodly grind of black pepper and some salt, and fry them gently while you chop up the garlic and the broccoli. Stick those in the pan (I added the whole head of broccoli: stalk and all) and stir to coat them with the oil. Put in the cheese rind. It will melt entirely during cooking and leave cheesy dots in the soup. Add the stock and top up with water until the vegetables are just covered. (If you're not using a pressure cooker then you'll need slightly more liquid to allow for evaporation.) I cooked mine at high pressure for ten minutes, though I probably could have got away with seven. If you're not using a pressure cooker then put the lid on your pan and cook until the vegetables are tender. I'm guessing 15 minutes.

Blend and serve.

Saturday, March 6

Waking up for spring 2.



There. I've swept the path and hacked back the vinca which was threatening to overtake it. I'm planning to cut a channel down the grass side and then possibly sow lettuces in there, but that's a job for another day.

The tall things (taller than me) with the sticks are my broccoli trees. They are last year's purple sprouting broccoli, which I couldn't (and still can't) quite bring myself to pull up. I am now waiting to see if I'll get any more sprouting this year. I think there might be some coming. Oh how I love purple sprouting broccoli. There is a recipe in March's Sainsbury's magazine for PSB with pasta, pancetta and walnuts which I keep meaning to try. Yum!

Friday, March 5

Waking up for spring.

Thank goodness for a bit of sun.

I've cut back the lavender along my front wall this morning. It looks quite dead at the moment, but hopefully it will have escaped the ravages of winter and the evil evil rosemary beetle and will come back to life. There are buds on the fruit trees in the back garden. Let's gloss over the awful mess that the lawn is in. I'd dig it all up if I didn't like to sit in the garden occasionally.

We managed to order some seed potatoes a couple of days ago: Swift, Maris Peer and Charlotte. Marshalls do refill packs for the potato grow bags that we use, which is handy as I really didn't want only one type of potato growing. Or 75 spare seed potatoes. While we were at it some fennel seeds fell into the basket (easy to grow, apparently) and also red kale and yellow scotch bonnets. Vigorously sticking to my policy of only choosing things to grow because they are pretty or have the words 'easy' on them there. P also came home with some globe artichokes from the market on Berwick St, and I'm contemplating shoving one or two of those into the ground to see what happens (you can only buy the tubers in 25s from the seed people). Heaven only knows where I'm going to put it all. I was eyeing up the concrete path earlier and contemplating taking it up to get a bit more growing space. I'm resisting though as I'm pretty sure that would end in garden tears.

I'd post a picture of the garden but it's so untidy that I am too ashamed.

Monday, March 1

Growing Chillies


Yesterday I came over all efficient and sowed my chilli seeds. Usually I am the sort of gardener who decides to grow cabbages three months after they should have been sowed. I'm a bit of a fair weather gardener and usually only start thinking about planting in April, when I also happen to be on holiday and therefore can think things other than 'sleep' 'cake' and 'do I have to go there again?' However I read somewhere the other day (I really wish I could remember where) that chilli seeds could be sown from the beginning of March, and by some fluke I actually remembered. I had to buy compost and everything. Why yes my compost heap *does* need turning, thanks.


I've had varying results with chillies, but last year I put three plants on my south-east facing front window sill and I harvested a small selection (see above). Better than the previous year when I had them on the warmer but less sunny inside kitchen window sill. Given the terrible weather last summer I was not surprised that they didn't fully ripen (they should have been red), but I'm hoping that starting this year's off earlier will solve that. I'm also on the look out for some scotch bonnet seeds so we can have a go at those, too.

Now, if I can only get some potatoes in (last year's went in in MAY fer chrissakes) I shall feel really pleased with myself.

Sunday, February 28

Sweet potato and cumin soup.

Soup: it's a weekend thing. I saw a recipe for a soup of this name on MyDish, and then changed it. I'm difficult like that.

Oil (I used olive oil)
One large onion
One tsp cumin seeds
One medium leek
A couple of sticks of celery
A large sweet potato
A palmful of ground almonds
Chicken (or vegetable) stock
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper



Chop up all the veg. Actually I do this as I go along but you may like to chop them all up and put them into little bowls so that you can pretend to be Keith Floyd. You'll need a glass of wine for that..

Heat a small sploosh of oil in a large pan or pressure cooker. I try not to use much oil as I eat too much cheese and cake. Add the onions and fry gently until they are beginning to turn translucent.

Add the cumin seeds (you could use ground if you have no seeds) and wait until they begin to sizzle and release their smell. Put in the leeks and unless you are in a tearing hurry (as I usually am), wait for them to wilt a bit before throwing in the chopped celery and sweet potato.

Next add a palmful of ground almonds. These are a thickening agent (taste nice too, plus almonds are right good for you: high in calcium and magnesium don'tcha know), so if you have none you could use flour, (I'd rather have thinner soup.) Stir the whole lot around a bit then add enough stock to just cover the vegetables.

At this point I bring it all to the boil, stick the lid on the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 10 minutes, but if you have no pressure cooker and like waiting longer for your lunch then you can cover and simmer for 20 mins (or until the sweet potato is soft).

Liquidise, then stir in a squeeze of lemon juice (I used half a lemon but your lemony threshold may be lower than mine) before serving. This cuts the sweetness of the sweet potato and almonds and just lifts the whole thing a bit.

Happy Souping.

I see no-one's ironed the tablecloth....

Tuesday, February 16

Cheesy Valentine Hearts

So you have spare egg yolks because of a minor indiscretion with a chocolate roulade, what are you to do with them?



Duh, you make cheese straws. Or in this case Cheesy Valentine Hearts. Because of Valentine's day: geddit?

My Cheesy Valentine Hearts were made with wholemeal flour and half fat cheese, because I am a masochist. They still have butter in, because I'm not yet completely insane. I strongly suggest that you use proper white flour and proper cheese for the full saturated fat experience. Alternatively, you can have them hippy chewy like I did and pretend that they are a bit healthy (they aren't).

Here is P's mum's recipe, for a modest quantity. Naturally, I made double. We will never be thin.

2oz flour
2oz butter or marge (butter tastes so much better)
3oz mature cheddar
1 egg yolk (I added an extra egg yolk to compensate for the wholemeal flour)
pinch salt
pinch cayenne
teaspoon chilli flakes (optional, for chilli addicts)

Combine all the dry ingredients, then add the egg yolk. It's that hard. It's even harder if you use a food processor. Roll out to 1/4 in thick on a floured surface, and either cut into strips about half an inch thick or have fun cutting out pretty shapes. I used stars at Christmas, and am now looking for an excuse to use my flower-shaped cutter. lay on a baking sheet* and cook at Gas mark 8 (450) for 5-9 minutes. You do need to keep an eye on them because the window between 'nicely browned' and 'burnt and horrid' is quite a narrow one.

*they have so much fat in them that there's no need to grease, but they will stick a bit because of the cheese meltage. A fish slice is handy for scraping them off, and if they break you are allowed to 'test' them. Them's the rules!

Monday, February 15

Chocolate Roulade


We're supposed to be on a healthy diet here, so naturally any excuse to step off the low fat low carb high fibre regime is eagerly embraced. Naturally Valentine's day is such an excuse. We decided to cook a meal on Saturday night, and when P said he'd do the main course I volunteered to do pudding. Then out of my mouth, as if from nowhere came the words 'Chocolate Roulade'.

Chocolate Roulade has been a stalwart of family celebrations since roughly the mid 1980's. It's something I have eaten hundreds of times, but never made. I had to ring my Mum for the recipe.

6oz plain chocolate (yeah baby)
5 eggs, separated
6oz caster sugar
3tbsp hot water
1/2 pint double cream
something nice to go in the cream (optional)
icing sugar
13 1/2 x 9 1/2 inch shallow tin*

1.Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of slightly simmering water.

2.Separate the eggs. Put the whites into a glass before you pour them into a bowl, that way you might avoid having to use three extra eggs because you accidentally got yolk into the whites so had to throw it away, like I did. Actually later Mum told me it probably would have been OK with a bit of yolk in the white, but still.

3. Whisk the sugar into the egg yolks. It seems like a lot of sugar into not much egg yolk, but it's OK. Whip until the yolk/sugar mixture goes paler. (That's the air going into it which will help it rise, innit.)

4. Remove the melted chocolate from the healt and allow to cool a little. In this instance I decided 'a little' meant 'until you can dip your finger in and lick it without fear of burning'. Stir in the three tbsp of hot water, and marvel as the chocolate changes colour and thickens. Coo!

5. Stir the chocolate mixture into the yolks and sugar. At this point I had a major panic that the yolks were cooking, but later I realised that it went instantly much stiffer because the yolks were cooling the chocolate. Phew!

6. Whip the egg whites until stiff. I now have a food processor. It's bloody marvellous, it would have taken an age by hand.

7. Fold the egg whites gently into the chocolate mixture with a metal spoon, then pour into a tin which has been oiled, lined with greasproof paper and oiled again. The oiling is key. Do not skimp on the oiling.

8. Put in the centre of the oven at gas mark 4 (350 degrees) and cook for 20 mins.

9. After 20 mins remove from the oven and allow to cool for a bit. In Emma patience terms this means 10 mins. Place a sheet of greaseproof paper over the top of the tins, and then cover with a damp tea towel. You are then supposed to leave this overnight. I left it for about four hours. It was fine. It basically needs to have got soggy enough that you can roll it up.

10. Whip the cream until it is stiff. At this point I added the zest of two oranges. I remember my Mum adding raspberries. My Dad said that sometimes they add Grand Marnier, or Creme de Menthe. You could add anything that goes with chocolate. You could even add more chocolate.

11. Turn out the chocolate sponge onto a sheet of greaseproof paper which has been dusted liberally with icing sugar. Do not panic if it breaks (mine did). Spread the cream over the sponge, mending any breaks.

12. Roll up the sponge and cream from the narrower end. I found the I could lift up the geasproof paper and get my hands under to help it roll and squish together.

13. Eat. It's very rich, so you will probably need a friend to help you. If you do not have a friend, this will almost certainly buy you one.

Thanks Mum! :)


*I do not have a tin of these dimensions. I used two smaller ones, so now I have a spare Chocolate Roulade in the freezer (yes, it freezes well too). It is available for parties, christenings and bar mitzvahs.

Sunday, February 14

Anything to swap?

I went to Plummy Mummy's house on Friday for an Indian cooking lesson. The original intention was to swap skills; I was supposed to show her how to crochet in return for her okra curry making lesson. Unfortunately (or possibly luckily for her) she worked out how to crochet a square all on her own using only the power of the internet. So in the end I definitely got the better deal, and very very good deal it was too. My goodness the curry was delicious. So was the other one, with the vegetable I have forgotten the name of. I hope she will also post that recipe (hint, hint). I wish I'd taken a picture to jolly up this entry, but I was too busy scoffing. No change there, then.

Despite the one-sided swap, I did think: this could be a Good Thing. So many people do things that they could teach other people. What if more of us got together and exchanged our skill? I reckon it'd be brilliant.

Here is a list of stuff I reckon I could show other people how to do.

1) How to crochet a square, and then crochet another one and join it on as you go.
2) How to play the ukulele.
3) How to knit a seamless hat with magic loop.
4) How to cook various cakes.
5) How to make chicken stock.
6) How to make gravy.

I'm sure there is other stuff, too. I have a slew of printmaking skills but those slightly require a studio and specialist equipment. I am really thinking of more ordinary, every day stuff.

Do you have anything you could skill-swap? I bet you do.

Monday, February 1

Yellow Soup

For reasons too tedious to go into, I am attempting to cut down on carbohydrates in my diet. This has had a knock on effect on my soup cooking, which frequently involves potato. I like a bit of potato in my soup as it improves the texture and makes it a bit more filling.

This weekend I devised a soup which has no potato, but still has a smooth texture and is plenty filling. Here 'tis:

olive oil
1 small onion
1 medium leek
2 sticks of celery
a large carrot
1 clove garlic
1tsp tumeric
4 good handfuls of red lentils
about 2 litres of stock. I used chicken stock from the freezer and supplemented that with a tbsp of vegetable stock powder.
salt and pepper

Slosh some oil into a large pan (I used my pressure cooker) and heat. Chop the veg and garlic into whichever size you fancy (I was having a small day yesterday), and sautee gently in the oil for about five minutes. Add a tsp of tumeric and stir. Chuck in the lentils and stir them around to coat with the oil, then add the stock, a good pinch of salt and some pepper.

At this point I brought the soup to a simmer and pressure cooked it on high for ten minutes. This meant that the lentils almost completely disintegrated, leaving a smooth sauce for the rest of the vegetables to sit in. If you don't have a pressure cooker* then could probably need to simmer the soup for at least 50 minutes to really cook down the lentils, which means you'll have to add extra water to prevent the pan from boiling dry.

The resultant soup is a cross between a thin dahl and a thick soup. The tumeric, which I seem to remember is supposed to be good for colds (I just like the taste) gives the whole soup a lovely golden yellow colour.

You could probably do something fancy with browned onions as a garnish, but I had a bit of toast. I can't give up carbs altogether, can I?!


*get one, they are bloody brilliant.

Sunday, January 31

oops

A quick heads-up about the recipes from the Hairy Bikers programme. They seem to have been written down by the women who cooked them on the show, and many of them contain errors of omission which extreme familiarity with a recipe can bring. P made a delicious Key Lime Pie from the show yesterday, but as the recipe forgot to mention that one should add the caster sugar in the list of recipes to the egg whites for the meringue, and he's never made meringue before, the topping was not as successful as it might have been. (It was still yummy.) I had a similar problem with the Pakora recipe but fortunately it was fairly obvious that they should be fried (plus I'd seen the programme).

I've had a little moan about this on the BBC forum about the show. I expect they'll leap into action and double check them all (!), but in the meantime take care with them and if it's a recipe you aren't at all familiar with, perhaps google and compare with another similar recipe just to make sure nothing obvious is missed out.

Making connections

It's funny how things come together.

A few weeks ago I filled in an application course for the snappily entitled 'Diploma in the Theraputic and Educational Application of the Arts'. I had to think hard about myself as an artist: something which I probably haven't done for several years now. A day or so later I had a very vivid dream in which I found myself apologising to someone for the fact that I hadn't finished any prints recently. When I woke up my first thought was 'well, that's ridiculous, I haven't done any printmaking for five or six years', but the dream lingered and my vague feeling of missing something in an artistic sense got a little stronger.

The other day I found an old friend's blog. In the middle of pictures of his lively sculpture, found objects and paintings, Tadeusz writes about the protestant capitalist ethos where everything must have a profitable end. Reading this it occurred to me that I have slipped into this trap with my creativity: I make things for people to wear, or for people to eat, and occasionally I make cards for birthdays. I love making these things, but I rarely do anything nowadays which doesn't have a discernible use. I think that's OK really, but maybe it isn't enough.

On the interview day for the above course yesterday there was a moment when we were asked to respond to a piece of music. We had firstly to dance to it, and then when the music was played again used pens and paper to draw our response. Having overcome my initial horror at the thought of dancing in a room full of strangers plus someone with a clipboard with my name on it, I managed to forget myself and dance. Later I sat with my felt tip, absorbed in the music, drawing shapes on the page. I managed for a while to stop caring about what I was drawing, or whether it was a 'good' drawing which might lead on to some Actual Art that Might Sell, and just drew. When we 'shared' at the end of the session I poured out words (mainly about how good a time I'd had), something which I'd been singularly unable to do earlier in a painting session.

It seems to me that somewhere along the way I have lost the knack of pleasing just myself with what I do, and of just playing around for the sake of it. The trick now of course, is to do something about it.

Sunday, January 24

Diary of a sock pt1.

I've been meaning to knit socks ever since I started knitting about two years ago. It may even have been the sight of someone knitting a sock in the pub at a blogmeet which triggered the desire to knit. There is something special about knitting a sock; such an ordinary item which we wear almost without thinking, which makes it a desirable thing to make for myself.

I've been working up to it for some time now. I bought myself a Regia sock kit in the sales after last Christmas, and spent some time staring at the coded pattern and eyeing the incy wincy teeny weeny double pointy pointy needles. Terrifying. I managed to lose one of the needles in the kit almost instantly and after a month or so shoved the rest of the kit under the sofa (which is where my knitting yarn stash lives).

A while later I bumped into a fellow knitter at a Londonist meetup, and she suggested I try the magic loop method. I spent hours on Ravelry trying to find out about this (for free: I am an internet cheapskate), and eventually got to grips with it when knitting the hat for my Dad this December. This meant I was Ready For Socks, or so I thought. In the inevitable post-Christmas Amazon splurge (or is that just me?) I ordered two books about knitting socks. One for knitting from the toe up, and one for magic loop knitting two at a time (a boon for impatient folk such as I, surely?) I cannot fail! I thought. I cannot fail to be more confused, it turns out. Back to the incy wincy teeny weeny double pointed needles and the original kit pattern. Back to cursing and swearing at thin yarn slipping through my fingers, dropped stitches and mis-counting. I can't deal with those needles, however easy other people seem to find them.

Luckily the other day I stumbled upon a magic loop tutorial for one sock at a time, and I have now managed to both cast on and knit about an inch of cuff. Inevitably, I have cast on four stitches too many (I was confused, alright?), and as usual it took three goes to do that. I am not at all convinced that I have the stamina to make it through two whole socks with yarn not much thicker than button thread, and I am steadfastly ignoring the bit in the pattern where I have to go around a corner, but at last I am knitting a sock!

Sunday, January 17

Pakoras

Let me just begin by saying that the Hairy Bikers irritate me. They are no substitute for the Two Fat Ladies, and many of the eleven year olds I teach are more mature and infinitely funnier. Usually I give their programmes short shrift.

Having said this, I have become strangely addicted to Hairy Bikers: Mum Knows Best. If you are not familiar with the format, the hairy pair travel the country talking to mums and collecting their family recipes. If you can overlook the rampantly sexist assumption that only women cook for their families, then there are some genuinely interesting and manageable recipes. The segment when the hairy ones cook in front of an audience indicates that their banter works live, too.

This week's gem was the Pakoras. I've never fried anything in more than a couple of tablespoonfuls of oil, let alone attempted the sort of Indian street food I salivate over in Plumstead, but it turns out that they are ridiculously easy to make, and delicious. Apparently Garam flour does not absorb oil as much as wheat flour, so they are virtually a health food, too.


Ooh, they were yummy. I suspect they would have been even crispier and yummier had the gas flame not gone out without me noticing for a while. I used carrot, onion and chard (from the garden!) in ours. Next time I shall also make some fresh chilli and coriander chutney to go with them. I'm salivating already.

A hat actually for me.

Every time I knit something, I have to cast on at least three times. Don't ask me why, it's just one of the mildly irritating idiosyncrasies of my knitting life. This time though, I excelled myself. Not only did I cast on several times; I actually started three different hats. The first was a cloche style which I quickly realised might look as terrible on me as all beanies. The second was a straightforward beret which three inches in I realised was boring me stupid and therefore never likely to be completed, and the third was this Star Crossed Beret. You will need a Ravelry account to access this free pattern, but if you like knitting even a bit then you should get one. I'm on there as cheerfulone: add me as a friend.

There were several hairy moments in this 'ideal first cable project', mainly brought about by my inability to reliably count a pattern of three lots of three (you will begin to understand why I have no intention of ever attempting any Fairisle.) Fortunately I am adept at knitting backwards. You have to be, when you can barely count to three. The stickiest moment was when my stitch counter fell off and I began to cable a row I'd already cabled: something which it turned out I was unable to knit backwards, but the pattern is forgiving and if you can see the mistake I'll thank you not to mention it.



With a cast on of 72 stitches and 8mm needles it's a quick knit even with backwards knitting and trying to knit in semi-darkness whilst watching Max Beasley dig people out a heap of rubble in Survivors. It took me about four days and I am the world's slowest knitter. Knitted in Rowan Cocoon it's nicely hairy and warm and just in time for the snow to melt.

I'm going to attempt socks next. Pray for me.

Monday, January 11

Who you gonna call?



I made me some Coldbuster. It had better work as I've had an on and off cold for about a month, which I am now extremely bored with. It's a pre-made version of my 'quarter a lemon and slice a lump of ginger put it in a cup with a spoonful of honey then pour boiling water over' cold cure. Arguably it's more convenient, and it has a snappier name, too. Plus I like making things with lemon, for some reason. I am a fan of the lemon.

Coldbuster comes courtesy of the Leon book which we were given for Christmas.*According to the book they keep a bottle by the kettle all winter to help ward off colds. I'm guessing that they drink it, and that the liquid does not have actual magic powers. Though if it does: hooray!

It consists of the juice of 5 lemons (that's 200ml to you), 5 tbsp of honey, 2 big wodges of grated raw ginger and about eight inches of rosemary. You warm up the lemon juice, add the honey and stir until it melts and then add the rest of the ingredients. Then when it's cooled you bottle it, put it by the kettle and wait for a miracle. Or alternatively you can pour half an inch into a mug and top it up with hot water. It tastes very nice, especially with the addition of another teaspoon of honey. It might taste even nicer without the hot water and with an inch of whisky, I am thinking.

*I kept nearly buying this book and then deciding I honestly didn't need it, but now that I have it I am glad. It has lots of interesting information inside (including posters and pull out stuff) and really is
more than a straight recipe book. The recipes look good too.

Sunday, January 10

A little bit of spring

Back in October, my mum handed me a paper bag with five brown bulbs in. 'Put them in the bottom of a tall vase with some stones in and fill the vase with water so it just reaches their bottoms' she said. I took the paper bag and stashed it away in the bread bin (where else?).

At the beginning ot the Christmas holidays I duly followed her instructions, and three weeks later this is the result:


They're paperwhites. Ain't they purdy? They smell nice, too.

Friday, January 1

Oat cakes

When I got the River Cottage bread handbook for Christmas I was excited to see a recipe for Scottish oat cakes. I love oat cakes, and what doesn't taste better homemade than shop bought? Home made oat cakes: must be a definite yum yum. In between casting on another hat and ripping it out again and swearing and casting it on again and ripping it out again, I dived into that recipe the moment I had a moment.

I had a false start involving a misunderstanding about oatmeal* (you can't food process porridge oats and use that instead of oatmeal, OK? It's different stuff despite also coming from an oat.) A trip to a health shop later I returned to the recipe armed with proper actual oatmeal (chopped rather than rolled like porridge oats), and set about combining them with equal parts porridge oats, a pinch of salt, 2tbsp of sunflower oil, some just boiled water and a hefty pinch of salt.

Things didn't look too bad as they went into the oven: They held together in the cookie cutter I was using and went into the oven undamaged. Thirty minutes later we were standing over the oven waiting to taste (and waiting to go out for lunch).



I am sorry to report that my oatcakes mainly taste of plain old oat, with perhaps a hint of sunflower oil. A rather noticable and not very pleasant hint. I realise that given the ingredients this should not be a surprise, but somehow I expected them to taste a bit better. They may improve when introduced to some mature cheddar, but I suspect that the oatcake will have to be balanced on the cheese, as they are considerably crumblier than is practical for the other way around.

It is a disapointment: I cannot lie. I suppose I'll have to go and cast on that hat again.

EDIT: We tried them with cheese. Not only did they not taste that good, but they were incredibly hard work to eat. Hours of chewing.

*confusingly, the Americans call what we Brits call 'porridge' 'oatmeal', so if you google it you get a lot of pictures of porridge.