Cooking this week

There are times when, having taken time to prepare a dish, I can’t help but feel slightly annoyed by the fact that it took longer to prepare than to eat. I thought I would share with you a super-simple, super-tasty recipe that I made this week and which takes less than one minute to make…..mackerel pate. It requires just three ingredients.  Remove the skin from three medium sized smoked mackerel fillets and flake them.  I use the ones that are covered in peppercorns. Mix with two heaped tablespoons of Total 0% fat free Greek yogurt and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Blitz in the blender. Done.

 

The soup maker needed another airing so I made pea and mint soup. The instructions say that frozen vegetables cannot be used so I cooked the potato and onion with stock in the soup maker, added a packet of defrosted petit pois and two teaspoons of mint sauce concentrate as per my blogging friend Margaret Powling’s recipe and blended it.  Quick, simple and very tasty.

 

I made another loaf of Rosemary and Seed Oat bread, the recipe for which is from an old Sunday supplement. It has a dense texture, quite heavy and scone-like than bread but goes perfectly with the pea soup. This is a photograph from a previously made loaf. Husband is not at all keen so I freeze it in individual slices.

This pear and almond cake was really moist and very tasty. Based on my oft-used apple cake recipe, I substituted pears for apples (I know … you guessed that bit!) and ground almonds replaced a quarter of the flour. It also contains sultanas. With a sprinkling of almonds on the top, it really was a hit.

Cooking 5

A vegetarian lunch was required today and I decided on Chilli potatoes, quinoa & feta salad, cauliflower cheese, beetroot, apple and onion salad and a ricotta and spinach pizza. The later was bought rather than home made. We rarely eat pizza but when we do I always wonder why we don’t do so more often. It was delicious.

 

Otherwise meals have been mainly chicken or fish dishes. As much as I enjoy creating meals as I go along, there are times when nothing tastes quite as good as a plump piece of M&S breaded plaice. I like this better than any plaice I have ever cooked from fresh.

Today’s cooking playlist included (as most batch cooking sessions do) the marvellous Juan Caldera, Spanish guitarist (actually he is Italian but spends most of his time in Madeira). We have come across this hugely talented man every time we’ve been in Madeira and always stop to watch his street performances. He also plays in the local hotels and is a very popular attraction. We have just one cd but at about an hour and a half long, its excellent music for the kitchen!

 

Just another day

Raise your eyebrows or even shake you head in disbelief, but do not underestimate the sheer pleasure derived from opening organised, tidy kitchen cupboards. Some might think ‘how sad’ but truly, the cathartic benefit of yesterday’s labours has lightened my heart. OK, maybe a little exaggeration there but it really was a good feeling, when opening the first cupboard this morning, to see how neat it looked. Mind you, it was the wrong cupboard…but hey, these things take time to get used to.

Today was a little more relaxed: off to the gym this morning where I paid for my ticket to the Christmas lunch. We’re off to the same pub that did us proud on Grand National day.  December is filling up – four Christmas lunches booked already. For one reason or another I haven’t seen a couple of my gym friends for a month or so, so it was good to catch up with a post exercise coffee room. It’s been a day for catching up as, after a quick change and make up touch-up at home, I met up with my friend J this afternoon. We have known each other since infant school but became friends when our eldest children were babies. We’ve shared high days and holidays, tears of happiness and painful despair, and have been there for each other through every milestone in the past thirty eight years. No wonder two and a quarter hours of conversation flew by.

In between these engagements I did a little shopping. I always mentally tot up the rough cost of purchases and it’s a good job I do. In Boots I handed over £40 and was expecting around £9 change. I was handed £1.04 because the till hadn’t been programmed to account for a 3 for 2 offer. In Dunelm I put two items on the counter. The cashier rang them through and asked for £42. I laughed out loud and told her that it was closer to £22. It turned out that she had rung one item through twice. Now, the discrepancies in both cases was obvious but it does make me wonder how often overcharging happens. If you have half a dozen items and are overcharged by perhaps £5, would you necessarily notice?

I picked up my car which I’d dropped off for a wash and wax earlier an went  home to make a start on dinner. A defrosted one-I-made-earlier lasagne for husband and a healthy option for me…a salad of various beans and peas, bulgar wheat, red pepper, onion and warm goat’s cheese.

Needing to use up various bits of fruit we finished the meal with a warm fruit salad (i.e. a thirty second blast in the microwave) I also made another banana cake, this time remembering to add the flour!

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Finally, a bit of television: Have I got news for you. 

Yet another day when the hours just flew by.

 

How the hours fly by!

Spring cleaning has come a little late to the thisissixty household.

The day began with a text – youngest granddaughter wanted to stay at home. We had no firm plans  as to what we were doing but she was being dropped off at 9.30am and we would probably go to town or to the garden centre. It was agreed then that I would instead go and look after at 1pm for a couple of hours as her mum had a hair appointment (i.e. she is the stylist).  A free morning beckoned.

At 9.30 I wandered downstairs to make porridge but got waylaid.  The new soup maker was still sitting on the worktop waiting for me to find it a home. The cupboards needed a bit of tidying in order to accommodate it. Why I started on the job at that moment, I’ve no idea but during the next two and a half hours every cupboard was emptied, cleaned and reorganised. Husband complained that he wouldn’t be able to find anything. The task was long overdue. I filled two bags with various kitchen bits ready for the charity shop. They joined the bag of toys in the boot of the car which I put there yesterday.

I also did three loads of washing (i.e. loaded the machine three times). By 12 o’clock I was feeling peckish but it was a choice between making lunch or putting on my face, doing my hair and getting changed. Pride won and I arrived at grandaughters’ house looking presentable if a little hungry! “Help yourself,” said Daughter-in-law. I did – to a packet of crisps. Granddaughter gave me a bite of her Chomp (like a Curly Wurly but without the holes).  Then I did her ironing.

When D.I.L got home she washed and blow dried my hair. We have a mutually agreeable barter system in process – she does my hair twice a week; I pay her for one and do her ironing in exchange for the other. Since we both feel that we are getting the best end of the bargain, this works very well.

By then it was around 3.30pm. I went to Tesco and did the main monthly shop – just the thing to fill all those spaces I’d made in the cupboards! I also bought a new microwave. I don’t use a microwave that often but it’s very useful when its useful, if you know what I mean. The old one looked to be still in good condition but the dial had stopped moving which meant that everything had to be watched very carefully since the only setting was 95 minutes! (Quite what would survive being microwaved for 95 minutes I have no idea). I was also looking for new table mats but wasn’t taken with the limited range on offer. I shall take a trip to Dunelm tomorrow.

When I got home I cooked six portions of chicken (four for the freezer):

  • 2 with potatoes,roasted parsnips, carrots and peas ready for dinner tonight
  • 2 sweet & sour with peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and pineapple
  • 2 with apple, parsnip & onion in a peppercorn sauce

And that was it – a whole day gone. Tomorrow’s itinerary includes the gym (with the obligatory coffee and chat with gym friends), the trip to Dunelm, then to town to buy a few necessary bits & pieces and where I am meeting up with a friend for (more) coffee. And that will be another day gone  – how the hours fly by. Saturday will be a writing day and on Sunday we are off to visit eldest son and family who moved house recently. I need some baby grandson hugs!

Incidentally, todays was a more successful cooking exercise than yesterdays when I made a banana cake…except that it wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why, when I removed it from the oven, it was flat, slightly soggy and omelette-y looking. I’ve made banana cakes before without any problem. I have to say that it tasted pretty good topped with yogurt –  like a sweet toffee/banana pudding. Nevertheless, I pondered most of the evening on what could have gone wrong. I went back to the kitchen and looked at the recipe……Bananas, flora, sugar, eggs, flour…….eeek, I forgot the flour.  Yes, I forgot the flour!!

 

 

Autumn colours, winter food

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I’ve always loved autumn. In fact I’ve often said that October is my favourite month of the year. The trees look so pretty and there’s  a special smell in the air that heralds warm winter coats, boots and thick black tights.  And as the weather starts to get colder my mind turns towards what I suppose would be described as ‘warming winter food’. I like salads but they somehow just don’t cut the mustard as the nights draw in.

My winter menus will no doubt include an increase in soups and more casseroles-type dishes.  I often prepare for a couple of days at a time and where possible I make extra portions so that I can freeze them for later use.  We have a large freezer but even so, when I’ve been engaged in a cooking marathon, I can run out of space.

Favourite soups include Spicy parsnip, Tomato & red pepper and Leek & Potato (I prefer this one left quite chunky). We also like ‘Susan Soup’, a Mediterranean tomato & bean soup which we named after the cousin who served it to my daughter and I back in 1993. The reason I can be certain of the date is because she told me she’d found the recipe in the current issue of Good Housekeeping magazine and I went and bought a copy. The recipe was duly cut out and has been in my recipe folder ever since. Two recent additions to my soup repertoire are my friend Margaret’s French Onion (a meal on its own when served traditionally with French bread and gruyere) and her Pea and Mint creation.

I borrowed a soup maker from my daughter to see whether I might like on but having tried it once I decided it wasn’t for me. However, Slimming World Magazine has on offer a different type (the kind I had thought I’d like before trying daughter’s)  and I’ve ordered one, hoping that this fulfils my requirements.  The soup maker cooks the vegetables and then blends them into soup with a choice of smooth or chunky. The advantage I see here is that once the timer is set, it needs no further attention which leaves me free to be doing something else. This appeals to my increasingly busy lifestyle. I often wonder how I ever managed to work full time? I’ll report back on the soup maker in due course.  I’m not a great one for gadgets so hope that I haven’t wasted my money.

A lot of people like to use slow cookers but not me. I have one and it’s very useful for keeping things warm. It’s ideal for large quantities of gravy or custard when I have a large family lunch but for casseroles and the like, I’m not at all keen. After everything has been marinating together for several hours, I’d defy anyone to identify whether they were eating a chunk of potato, celeriac, parsnip, swede or a Jerusalem artichoke- it all tastes the same, so totally does the gravy or sauce permeate each piece! As for the meat, who can tell what it is? Casseroles in my house are cooked in the oven.

See the porridge, don’t see the porridge

The title of this post came about as I related a story to a friend. More of this later. If you think that porridge is an incredibly weird subject for a blog post, yes, you’re right – it is.  The idea for it came about thus:

A few days ago I was eating my breakfast and thinking, as I often do, that porridge is such a nice way to start the day. Occasionally I’ll choose a hard boiled egg on toast or a couple of crumpets spread with peanut butter  but most days, it’s porridge. If I’m absolutely honest I’d probably go for a large bowl of Sugar Puffs as my first choice but they’re just about as unhealthy as you can get so I almost never buy them – maybe a box every couple of years! Well, we all have our weak moments.

For years and years I didn’t eat breakfast on weekdays and I probably still wouldn’t if I was leaving the house soon after 7am. Nowadays, however, on work days I don’t leave until 8.50am so breakfast has become a (good) habit.

Anyhow, I was eating porridge with raspberries at the time but already wondering what fruit I might put in the following day’s bowl when it came to me that a post on porridge might be fun to write, (not everyone’s idea of a riotous time, I agree), so over the next few days I took photographs of my breakfast.

Friday – With raspberries. These were frozen ones. No need to defrost. Just crush them and pour the hot porridge over the top which defrosts them almost immediately. Works well with frozen blueberries or Tesco frozen breakfast topper (a mix of peach, mango, strawberry, pineapple) too.

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Saturday – With green and black grapes

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Monday  – With  banana, plum, pear and raspberries

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Tuesday – Baked oats (a Slimming World recipe). For 2 servings: mix 70g of oats with one Muller Light Yogurt, two eggs and sweetener to taste (if you don’t like the artificial flavour then use Natvia, a natural plant sweetener – it is so much better). I find a couple of teaspoons per serving is right for me. Beat it all together, add a bit of fruit and bake at 170 for about 30 minutes. In this one I added finely chopped rhubarb (looks like spring onion but it really isn’t)! It’s a bit like a batter pudding.  Some like it hot – I prefer it cold so I tend to bake it the previous evening. Frozen fruit doesn’t work well here.

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Whilst I was shopping yesterday I bumped into a friend who commented that she liked my nail polish (OPI Ro-man-ce on the Moon in case you’re wondering) and we got talking about nail polish in general. The conversation ended with me relating a story about my daughter, then aged about four. I went into my bedroom one day to find her sitting on the bed looking faintly terrified.

“Don’t see the porridge,” she said sounding rather wobbly.

“What do you mean, porridge? And what are you hiding behind your back?” I asked her. The penny hadn’t dropped.

“Don’t see the nail porridge,” she said, now starting to cry.

It was everywhere – all over her hands and worse, all over my bedding.

A little story which has nothing at all to do with breakfast but it did give me a more interesting post-title than simply ‘Pictures of porridge’.

Three lunches and a hot water bottle

It’s been such a busy week and my blog has taken a back seat. On the plus side I had an unexpected, completely free Sunday and used it to work on my novel. I wrote and edited and wrote and edited and…….you get the picture. Writers each have their own way of working. Some choose to write the whole and then go back and edit. Others, like myself, cannot move on until satisfied with each paragraph. The writer Dorothy Parker once said “I cannot write five words but that I change seven.” I can identify with that. I’ve no idea how many I wrote but I ended up with 2,000 satisfactory words and I was very happy with that.

I had three lunch dates this week. I did try to be mindful of my Slimming World membership!  The first was a belated birthday lunch with an old friend i.e. she is a couple of years younger than me but is a Friend of thirty-eight years standing. We went to a pub that I used to visit regularly in the 1970s. In those days they served scampi and chips in a basket for 55p. Isn’t it funny how the little details stay in the memory? It’s undergone many transformations over the years but it must be seven or so since I was last there so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We both decided that a starter and dessert was more appealing than a main meal. My Greek salad was ample with a very generous helping of feta cheese. It was really tasty but totally overshadowed by the ‘white chocolate creme brûlée with raspberry shortbread’. Oh my goodness, it was amazing…the best creme brûlée I have ever tasted. My friend chose the same and agreed wholeheartedly. The shortbread was sprinkled with raspberry sugar. Yum, yum, yum! That reminds me, I still haven’t tried the lavender shortbread again. The first batch I made didn’t quite make the grade.

Lunch number two was to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We visited a pub which always offers several fish dishes. Depending what is available wholesale, the menu varies. When I saw that there was fresh dressed crab on offer, there was no other choice for me. With a sprinkling of black pepper and a dash of vinegar there’s none better. It came with thick slices of soft brown bread and a salad. Two lunches out so far, and salad both times. No pudding today!

My daughter took an afternoon off work today and we met in Bridgnorth. It’s closer to her than to me but is the nicest place between the two of us. Winner of five Britain in Bloom gold medals it is situated on the edge of the River Severn in Shropshire and is split into low town and high town, the latter being reached by means of the cliff railway (or a road…thank goodness). Evidence suggests that this busy market town originated during Saxon times, and certainly the Saxon caves, known now as the Hermitage Caves were in existence then, with King Alfred’s grandson being the first inhabitant, though it wasn’t until the Normans built a castle and that a larger settlement was formed. The town boasts an array of architecturally interesting buildings. I really do have to get more practice at taking photographs. The few I took were very poor so I’ve decided not to include most of them.

 

At The Brasserie I chose a mushroom and melted cheese baguette with chips, onion rings and side salad. Shortly after we’d finished the waitress walked past with a plate of lemon meringue pie. It looked amazing and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t tempted but I did manage to resist.

Bridgenorth is a ‘moochy’ sort of place so we walked the length of the High Street where I bought a hot water bottle (more in a moment) and a couple of OPI nail polishes.   I chose a deep red and a deep purple, both pearlised which I prefer. Daughter bought new pillows and treated me to a notebook that I’d admired and then we had a coffee.

I’ve been suffering from ‘shin splints (severe cramp, not in the calf as usual, but in the shins). Extremely painful, it starts across the instep of my foot and is apparently caused by either excessive exercise (haha) or extreme cold. Now I know the weather has taken a turn for the worse in the past week but this is England in September, not a time of year known for its freezing temperatures. The only way to relieve the pain is vigorous rubbing and heat.  Though it happens during the daytime, it affects me more at night. I like to get into a cold bed but wonder whether if I warm it first, whether it will help, hence the hot water bottle.

Not the most exciting photo but here’s what I came home with:

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No other way to slice an egg!

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Some while ago Delicious, a rather nice upmarket foodie magazine ran an article on the most useless kitchen gadgets. I don’t remember what most of them were but I was certainly surprised to find that an egg slicer featured among them. The egg slicer was probably the most exotic piece of kitchen equipment my mother ever owned! You may remember from my past posts that she wasn’t renowned for her culinary prowess. Though to be fair, a look around my kitchen wouldn’t exactly shout ‘domestic goddess’ because I’m not a great one for gadgets. However, the egg slicer was one of the first things I bought for my ‘bottom drawer’ (does this concept still even still exist?) and I’ve never been without one since. A knife doesn’t do the job nearly so well. It’s hard to cut the egg thinly enough to provide enough slices to cover a piece of toast adequately (and I do enjoy a hard boiled egg on a piece of toast that’s been spread with marmite – I’m one of those who loves the stuff). When my daughter left home to go to university I was required to supply various kitchen bits and pieces and top of her list? Yes, an egg slicer.

There are several other small items that I wouldn’t want to be without in my kitchen… like the set of measuring spoons shown in the photograph above. Who would have guessed that the contents of a Christmas cracker would have proved so long-lasting or useful? The rim whisk (sometimes called a spiral whisk) is regularly used for gravy, custard or sauces and must be forty years old. The oldest whisks were made from twigs but although metal versions were available in the 19th century, it wasn’t until a 1963 television cookery programme featured one that they became popular.

So far as modern equipment goes I’m not really bothered beyond my garlic press (why ARE the bowls on these round? I’ve never found a round clove of garlic) and the electric steamer. My first steamer (a stove-top two part saucepan style stainless steel one which I still have) was another item bought for the bottom drawer. I’ve rarely ever boiled a vegetable. It’s so much more practical to cook several different ones using only one piece of equipment and it’s a healthy way to cook.

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The most recent addition to my kitchen is a pair of tongs kindly gifted to me by my son’s girlfriend when I admired her own. Oh what an exciting life, I lead!
And apart from my liquidiser (good for soup) and an electric hand blender, I think that’s about it for gadgets. I borrowed a soup maker from my daughter to see if it was something I’d use but it didn’t impress me enough to make me want one, and I’ve always made cakes by hand, never bothering with an electric mixer/chef type of thing either. It just seems like overkill for jobs that only take a few minutes.
How about you? What kitchen equipment do you consider essential? And does anyone else out there own an egg slicer?