Monday, 28 February 2011

Things to make 5am more bearable

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When you live with two small people who think that 5am is a perfectly decent time to rise, you need to arm yourself with an arsenal of things to counteract this. In the war against the early birds, I own copious boxes of earplugs and have perfected a fail-safe way of curling my pillow over my head at just the right angle to best shut out the noise. But the time comes (normally approx 5.05am) when it's game over and I have to admit defeat and get up.

I have always been a tea-drinker, ever since I used to get into my parents' bed as a small child (hmm, is there a pattern emerging?) and my mum would pour me sugary tea into her saucer to cool it down fast enough for my impatient, petulant mouth to swallow. I dabbled with black coffee (instant, two sugars) at university to get me through all-night, essay-writing hell.

Seeing 5am regularly is a fresh hell, though, and one that requires fresh coffee. Our coffee-making equipment is rather meagre - we have a dusty cafetiere that comes out when we have people over for a meal, and we have two Moka pots (one small, one large) which are used daily. You can tell immediately what kind of a night we've had according to whether the 3-cup or the 6-cup Moka is on the hob.

Not content with necking strong coffee (now with milk but still sweet), I also apply it liberally to my face in the form of Origins GinZing Eye Cream, and Garnier Caffeine Anti-dark Circles Concealer. Add a bit of Clarins Beauty Flash embalming fluid Balm and you have the perfect recipe for small person survival.
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Monday, 21 February 2011

Rhubarb, rhubarb

Rhubarb: I can never quite get my head around which type is in season and when. Considering I am writing about this strange fruit today, I thought I'd better look it up and then discuss the subject as if I am an expert. According to my Eden Project 'Seasonal Food' compendium, the stuff that's around now is forced rhubarb, traditionally grown in the dark. I remember watching a Rick Stein Food Heroes programme where RS visited a Yorkshire rhubarb farm. The plant was growing in huge barns and the farmers tended it by candlelight, and you could actually hear the rhubarb creaking as it grew. Magic.

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So this is the pale-fleshed, pink-skinned variety, which looks a little like crabsticks when you chop it up. Donna Hay is clearly a total master at everything, and turns out she knows a thing or two about rhubarb - there is an entire cooking section devoted to her rhubarb recipes in the March 2011 edition of Living Etc. DH is also a genius at styling, and all the recipes looked beautiful but I decided to attempt the Rhubarb Scones with Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam. Afternoon tea is always good, and this version would be particularly nice with a new Chamomile and Vanilla Pukka tea I've just bought. Perfect for a winter weekend of baking. Less so with two small people to look after at the same time, getting under my feet.

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The scones began well. The recipe calls for a basic scone mix with the addition of cream instead of butter, to which you add the diced rhubarb that has been macerating (isn't that the best word?) in vanilla essence and sugar. Inevitably, this process resulted in a couple of tablespoonfuls of liquid coming out of the rhubarb. I had to think quickly... add this or drain the fruit? The recipe didn't say. The scone mix was quite stiff, so I decided to add the liquid. Wrong decision, which I realised almost immediately but it was too late. I blame the smalls. Donna instructed me to roll the mixture out to a 3cm thickness, which I would've done had the dough not been completely soggy. 'Cut into 5cm scones', said Donna. I gave it a go, but the mixture was too loose and began to creep out towards the sides of the baking tray. I had right royally rhubarbed it up. I had to cook the 'scones' for longer than the recipe said, and the end result was not good - more like cookies than scones, they were thin and hard rather than chunky and light. But the flavour was perfect - sharp fruit sweetened by the sugar and vanilla, and rich with cream. A second attempt is definitely on the cards. Incidentally, the cookie-like appearance made me think a rhubarb and white chocolate cookie would be really rather marvellous.

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The jam, though. Well, it was something else. So simple - rhubarb, sugar, water, vanilla pod/seeds. Boil up, as you would any other kind of jam. Makes a very small amount - 250ml or so - but as it's a soft-set jam you have to keep it in the fridge and it only lasts for 2 weeks. The end result is utterly beautiful... that perfect pink, the shade only rhubarb and Mattel can produce, densely polka-dotted with vanilla seeds. (Incidentally, if you like a good soft-set, I can recommend Marks & Spencer's soft set plum jam. Falls just at the right place on the sharp-sweet spectrum.)

So not entirely a success, but enough of one to try again - better hurry up before the fleeting rhubarb season is over.

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Saturday, 19 February 2011

How to make washing up more appealing

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We have a pretty good division of labour in the our household. I do most of the cooking, Ben does most of the washing up, although the baby bottles are mostly my domain (writing this, I think I get the better deal).

I can't bear washing up - the feeling of putting your hand into a cold sink full of dirty water to pull out the plug is one of my most hated jobs - but those pots and pans aint gonna wash themselves.
To make this most tedious of tasks slightly more bearable I have installed a jasmine plant on the windowsill. Earlier today I was washing out the sink and the beautiful scent from this lovely plant made the job almost pleasant. And the view from the sink window is improving every day... I can now spot snowdrops and violets, plus the green shoots of bulbs on their way up and out into the open.
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Friday, 18 February 2011

Today's delivery

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Oh, it's a very seductive thing, getting fresh, organic vegetables delivered to your door. And here's today's Riverford Favourites delivery - what a beautiful box. On first sight, anyway.

Lurking inside are my culinary nemesis - mushrooms. I'm 34 years old. I should really be a bit more grown up about this kind of thing, but I just really, really hate mushrooms. Love the flavour, but hate the sliminess, the mouthfeel (now there's a word invented solely for mushrooms, I'm sure), the way they look like slugs when they're cooked. If you really want to upset me, serve me a giant portobello mushroom in a bun. Or mushroom soup. I can barely type these words.

So what will I do with them? Perhaps I can find a recipe to combine the dreaded mushrooms with the green pepper gang currently doing time in the bottom of the fridge. I love a green pepper in a big, hot chilli - it seems to really enhance the flavour if diced very small and added up front as a seasoning, along with the onions and garlic - but other than that they're not much cop, are they? I have consulted the good book, my trusty Leith's Vegetarian Bible for inspiration, but the index has precious little to offer me. A mushroom and green pepper stir-fry? Maybe...

My search led me to the Riverford recipe site, but still nothing doing. Everything seemed a little to mushroom-heavy to me. I kept searching. Over to Riverford's competitor, Abel & Cole. Is that disloyal? Perhaps, but I'm a slave to my appetite and refuse to be beaten by these blighters. Incidentally, yogis do not trust mushrooms. Apparently anything that grows in the dark is suspicious. I think this knowledge has fueled my funghi paranoia.

Anyway, so Abel & Cole have come up trumps with their Mushroom Bolognese. Finely diced sounds good to me, and this looks like the sort of thing A would eat up and ask for seconds.

But what about the peppers? The only Leith's recipe to catch my eye is one for Metboukha Tartlets. From the recipe intro: This rich and spicy tomato and green pepper marmelade has its origins in North Africa. It can be served in tartlet cases as a first course or in smaller ones as a canape.

Well, seeing as we are not regular canape-eaters in this house, nor do we often have more than one course, I think I'd have to think of a way to make it a little more substantial to eat as a main. But it's a possible. Watch this space.
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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Rainbow Ragout with Hedgehog Spuds



Rainbow Ragout

Ingredients:
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, cut into half moons
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 red pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 yellow pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 courgette, diced
1 sweet potato, cut into 1" pieces
3 mushrooms, chopped
1 tin tomatoes
1 tin black beans
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper

Method:

Heat the oil in a sturdy pan, before adding the onions, garlic, celery and herbs. Allow these to soften and cook for 5 minutes or so, before adding the remaining vegetables (this is when you have a rainbow in your saucepan - beautiful). Cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly, until the vegetables are beginning to brown slightly. Add the tomatoes, fill the tin half way up with water and add this too. Finally add the sugar and the drained black beans (why do I find it so difficult to get hold of black beans? They are one of my favourites). Cook on a low to medium heat, just bubbling away gently, for half an hour or until the ragout is thick and soupy. Season with pepper.

I didn't add any salt so that I could whizz a portion up for Baby Tea, and had intended to throw a few black olives into our portions, but predictably I forgot to do this so added some salt on the plate.

We ate the ragout with hedgehog potatoes - inspired by Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks recipe - although I used chilli flakes in the spuds rather than harissa, and served a bit of Belazu Rose Harissa (to which I am fully addicted) on the side, along with broccoli and green beans. I think this probably equals at least 5-a-day, if not more.

More vegan recipes
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Monday, 14 February 2011

A Spoonful of Sugar

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A and T were both been summoned by the NHS for immunisation boosters on the same day - what joy! I was very proud of them as they were a brave pair. No tears were shed. I promised an ice-cream treat afterwards, and A opted for fragola (strawberry) with sprinkles, while I went for a mint choc chip gelato. T even had a little taste, and as he ate I could see the curiosity and confusion spread across his face along with the drips and smears of Bedminster's finest ice cream. I'd never have given his brother ice cream at such a young age, but I'm making a huge effort to be less precious with this one. It's working out okay so far...
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Thursday, 10 February 2011

Souk Kitchen

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Sloe gin with pomegranate tonic. What a way to finish the day!

And the most amazing middle eastern dips - white bean, beetroot, and carrot and rosewater. All scooped up with delicious oily, salty, garlicky flat bread.

Not made by me, though, but I will give it a go at some point as the wonderful Souk Kitchen provides its customers with recipes to take home. Instead we were lucky enough to get a. a babysitter, and b. a table at short notice at our newest, most favourite local restaurant. My main course was a delight, too - squash and lentil tagine which, combined with the gin aperitif, warmed me up good and proper. Ben had halloumi skewers served with a delicately spiced pilaf, studded with almonds and pomegranate seeds. Everything was wonderful.

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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Cherry and almond cake

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It's been a while since I last made a cake. I had a yearning.

This recipe was a good one, although next time I'll up the cherry quota and put a bit more of the jam in the centre, and marble it up a bit more than I did this time. It was so good straight from the oven, less so the next day or two. The jammy centre became more and more necessary as time went on and the cake dried out.

Incidentally, I can't recommend these loaf tin liners more highly - no more fiddling about with baking paper and butter. Result.
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Saturday, 5 February 2011

Brunch with Debo Mitford

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I escaped from the boys to enjoy a solitary breakfast at Rosemarino in Clifton.

You're never alone when you've got a good book, though, and I took 'Wait for Me!' by Deborah Cavendish, youngest Mitford and dowager Duchess of Devonshire to keep me company. I have loved the Mitfords for years, and I'm fascinated by their escapades, no matter how often I read about them. It is taking me forever to read this book, an experience anyone with small children will share, I'm sure, so it was an extra treat to be given a chunk of time to enjoy it. 

My brain fed, I needed to feed my tum too, so I ordered granola with fruit and yoghurt, a Pago juice, and one of those really thick, dark hot chocolates that are almost custard-like. I could stick my spoon upright in this one - it was intense. The granola was delicious, the berries sweet and fragrant, and the yogurt rich and soothing.

Amazing how even just a little pocket of time like this can feel like a holiday. Returning home I was desperate to see the boys, who had been cooking up a storm of their own. A was so proud of the spaghetti sauce he'd helped to cook, and it was really rather good. It does fill my heart with joy that he's interested in food, ingredients, cooking. Doesn't have much choice, living in this food-obsessed house.
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