Time seems to be flying by much quicker than I had planned, recently.  May was supposed to be a while away yet, but here it is, rolling round the corner with it’s two bank holidays and plethora of activities, already on the doorstep.

I always find, when life is busy, that cooking meals becomes a little more of a task than a pleasure, and it is times like this that frittatas and the like, come to the fore.

The word frittata is Italian and translates to ‘fried’, but unlike an omelette, my bete noir, you simply pour the egg over whatever you’ve decided to put into the frying pan and let it cook.  But for me, the beauty of this dish is two fold.  Firstly, it is an opportunity to use up any left over bits and pieces such as potato, peas, asparagus, meats or cheeses, and secondly it is absolutely delicious hot or cold.

I tend to cook the frittata on the hob and finish it off under the grill.  And magically, it takes just minutes to make.

Of course the other wonder of a frittata is that it is a meal that can be eaten at any time of the day.  Perfect for those ‘so much to do, so little time’ moments in life.


Poached Egg in Avocado

avocado and egg

We have a friend, a very dear friend, who is, at the moment, very poorly indeed. Despite this there is not a conversation we have where there isn’t laughter at some point.  I know of very few people who have such a positive attitude to life.  This has always been one of her many endearing qualities.  My admiration and love for our girl only continues to grow.

Alongside all the usual unpleasantness, my wee pal, who is a lover of food, has become afflicted with the most awful reaction to almost all foods that were her usual ‘go to’ ingredients.  And as a consequence has had to exist on what she describes as the most bland of foodstuffs, just so that she can keep something down.  Most of it revolving around mashed potato.

Anyway, I saw the combination of avocado and poached egg a few days ago and immediately sent the lovely one a message, thinking this may be delicious, and, moreover, something she may be able to keep down.

Now the thing about recommending something is that really, you need to have given it a go yourself, if only to point out any pitfalls or tweeks that may need to happen.  So today, being mindful of my own advice, I gave it a go.

Firstly, unless you are using a ginormous avocado or a very tiny egg, you will need to ditch quite a bit of the egg white and  secondly, I presumed you would need to bake in the oven, and as we all know, avocado’s are wobbly things, so it needs something to sit on.  I plumped for a bun tray and consequently most of the egg white drained out of the avocado into the tray, so perhaps a mound of gravel or rice would work better.  This all became irrelevant after tasting though, as it was bloody awful.

So after quickly texting my gorgeous girl, asking her to hold fire on the avocado until I’ve experimented a little more, I have given the whole thing some thought.

Sometime in the ’70’s my mum went through a phase of making oeufs en cocotte for almost every guest that came for dinner.  Obviously we were too young to stay up for the meal, but they always looked delicious, and the yolks, especially, were always rich and runny looking, unlike the shrivelled stone affair that greeted me. And this is when I remembered that she would always cook them in a bain-marie, (a hot water bath) which tempers the heat of the oven whilst gently cooking the eggs allowing the white to cook, whilst the yolk remains runny.

I have also been thinking about another method of cooking avocado which I was taught many years ago.   It’s the most simple but effective starter imaginable.  Halve the avocado, take out the stone, cover in a beautiful blue or goats cheese and place under the grill until the cheese has melted and is bubbling.  It is divine.  And what makes this so successful?  The ripeness of the avocado.

And that is where the beauty of learning lies.  Mistakes are always going to be made, but it is when we learn from them that we begin to truly succeed.  So, I am going to try this again using a ripe avocado and putting the whole lot in a bain-marie.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Car Biscuits

car biscuits #2

As those of you who read regularly will know, once a week the wee boy and I have our ‘me and you’ day.  Sometimes these days are filled with places to go and people to meet.  Other times they are less busy which affords us the pleasure of doing something we both enjoy.  Baking.  So, by popular request, today we made car biscuits.

There is nothing special about these biscuits other than they are made together, over time and with love.

For those of you who may have the slightest interest, they are in fact, shortbread biscuits.  250g butter, 88g castor sugar, 275g plain flour and 25g semolina.  The semolina is not a necessity needed to make shortbread, but in my experience it gives that extra ‘shortness’ to the biscuit which I find irresistible.  You may, on the other hand, not enjoy such a ‘short’ biscuit in which case just replace the semolina with plain flour.

Mix butter and sugar together but don’t over cream.  Add the flour and semolina until the whole thing starts to chase itself around the bowl and become one.  Roll out on a floured surface until the mixture is half a centimetre or so thick.  Cut out and place on a butter and floured baking tray.  Prick the biscuits to stop them from rising.  Bake in a warmed oven, gas mark 3 until they look ready.

Take off the baking tray and place on a cooling rack.  Dip into melted chocolate.  Leave to cool.

The wee one has not, until recently, been that interested in using shapes to cut out but was quite insistent that we made cars from a cutter he had found in one of those ‘chuck everything in and put the lid on’ boxes.  And then there was the chocolate. We had actually bought some chocolate buttons from a stall in the market, but sadly they disappeared, slowly but surely, until we weren’t left with enough to dip a cornflake in, so ended up buying a cheap bar from somewhere else and just melting it.

Obviously with the amount of ‘quality control’ that was needed throughout the process, we were not able to dip all the cars into the chocolate, however, it’s quite nice to have a mixture.

Meanwhile the delights of stirring, adding, scooping and cutting have been glorious.

And the biscuits?

Delicious, though I say so myself.

Little Balls of Wonder

Healthy Cocoa Truffles

These little balls of wonder are to die for.  And what’s more they don’t have a grain of sugar in them.  Not one iota.

Now this is the thing.  Whenever I have a go at making balls of things, they never look as they should, in my opinion.  I’m not the world’s best circle roller.  Actually, I have no idea how those people on the telly do it, but it always looks so simple. Anyway, that doesn’t detract from the fact that they are delicious, and, I’m sure much more healthy than other round sweet things you could make.

Why? Because the only ingredients they have in them are dates, cashew nuts, raisins or sultanas, cocoa powder, ground rice and water.

Now I know all dried fruit has natural sugars, in fact some are as high as 70%, but what they also have is fibre which, in my book, makes them good for you and I have decided I am an expert on the matter since I once gave up sugar for six weeks, four hours and thirty seven minutes.

*moves swiftly on*

The trick, I think, is to make sure you get the proportions right.  45% or so of the mixture needs to be dates, 25% cashew nuts, 15% raisins or sultanas and 5% cocoa. The more observant of you will, by now, have realised that my ingredients add up to 100% and there is, as yet, no mention of the ground rice.  That is because it is an optional added extra that I literally just sprinkle a little of over everything else before setting to, and pulping.  It adds a little texture and fortitude, but they would be just as scrumptious without it.

As a slight diversion away from the subject in hand, but a necessary discussion to have, I have realised that to get any further on my culinary journey, I really must think about investing in a food processor.  I used to have one, but a combination of age and not paying attention when it was on meant that, gradually, all that was left was the motor.

For a while I convinced myself that I would replace the parts that had worn or broken, but one day, in a moment of enlightenment, I made the executive decision to ditch it.

Since then I have relied upon my trusty steed, otherwise known as a hand blender, to see me through the ‘make into a pulp’ or ‘liquidising’ phases.  However, even the trusty steed has it’s limits, and today we reached one of them.  You really do need a food processor for these little balls of wonder.  I managed with a combination of using the mezaluna to cut the big pieces down to size, and the trusty steed to completely blend together, but it wasn’t without hazard and not the most enjoyable process, whereas with a food processor it’s bish bash bosh done.

Once the mixture is all pulped, you may need to add a little water to bring it all together.  Then roll into balls and roll these balls in some cocoa powder.  The size of the ball is up to you, but there is a certain satisfaction about just popping something whole into your mouth and savouring, so I would recommend a small teaspoon size or less.

The only down side to this taste sensation is that it is very difficult to not scoff the lot in one day.  Consequently, I have absolutely no idea how well they last.

So if any of you do decide to give them a go and get past the 24 hour mark, do let me know what happens next.

Wooden Spoon

wooden spoon

This is my newest addition to the wooden spoon collection I have inadvertently started.  At the moment my collection is small.  Almost non existent really.  I have three.

For years I pottered along with just the one wooden spoon that I truly used.  There were others, yes.  Especially when I shared houses with people.  But, for me, there was just the one spoon that was my go-to stirring friend.  This relationship must have lasted fifteen years or more, until one day, last year, a bit snapped off.

Now obviously I had seen the signs but had, of course, chosen to ignore them in the hope that my wonderful wooden spoon would somehow regain all it’s composure, and indeed it’s composition of years gone by, and fix itself.

Alas this was not to be.  However, wooden spoons are ten a penny, and I had a couple of other stirring utensils so bode my time, constantly searching for the perfect wooden spoon replacement.

Eventually I thought I had found it, and with a great sense of relief whilst not wanting to replicate the spoon of days gone by, I invested my hard earned pence into a spoon with an extra long handle.  However, when I returned home with said spoon it did not fit in with my imaginings at all.  In fact it was then that I realised the visual proportion in the shop changes dramatically when you return to your own kitchen.

The wooden spoon I had invested in had one major fault.

Whilst stirring the food it is traditional, is it not, to taste?  Sadly, the newest acquisition would not fit in my mouth, (comfortably, obviously I now have a technique which crosses that bridge), which just would not do at all.  What is the point, I ask you, of have a stirring spoon that does not allow you to taste from it?

Since then I have been, once again, searching.  And on Sunday, at a car boot sale, for the grand price of 50p, I found what I have been looking for.  My perfect replacement wooden spoon.

Obviously, along the way I have picked up a couple of other spoons.  Temporary measures you understand.  But now, I can say without a hint of irony, that this wooden spoon is my new kitchen utensil love.

Key Lime Pie

Key lime pie

I have a confession to make.  This is a Nigella recipe filched straight from ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’.   I haven’t altered a thing.

You see, as with everything that has a structure, be that science, language, music, etc. I believe you need to understand the fundamentals in order to play around with the concept.  That’s my excuse anyway.

The other thing is, I have never made Key Lime Pie before, although I have flicked through this book many times.  I think probably one of the things that has made me scan over this recipe and not really consider it before, was the almost nonchalant way she describes how to make it.

There is non of that oozing flamboyance here.  Unlike further along in the book, when, in the preamble to the recipe from her friend Joe Dolce regarding his Italian Cheesecake, she quotes directly from his email, ‘Eat it and weep’.  Still one of my favourite cookbook quotes of all time.

However, we had some limes that needed using up, and a tin of sweetened condensed milk which didn’t actually need eating up but was there – very similar in my book – so I decided to give it a bash.

As with many cheesecake style recipes, this one starts with the digestive biscuit (200g) and butter (50g) combo, whizzed up and squished into a 23cm lined springform tin.  Normally this would be a round one, but we have a 20cm square one which I have only used once so felt it needed an outing.

Invariably with recipes that use a biscuit base such as this, the recipe insists, or as near as damn it, that you have a food processor to ‘blitz’ the two ingredients together.  I don’t have one of those which is, perhaps, why my biscuit base, despite being bashed to billie-o, never manages to hold itself together.  It does often give me false hope though as there are always parts of it that initially look pretty good and my heart punches the air thinking that, at last, I have managed to make a cohesive biscuit base.

It’s a short lived story.  As soon as I move the blighter, it moves with me.  In all directions.

I’m thinking it may be to do with my impatience not allowing it to linger in the tin enough, not cooling it enough, not letting it be.  Next time.

Meanwhile the filling consists of 5 large egg yolks, 3 egg whites, zest of 3 limes, 150ml lime juice and a 397g tin of sweetened condensed milk.

In Nigella’s recipe blurb she talks about key limes and how it is unnecessary to use actual key limes.  She uses ordinary ones.  I’m afraid I have to hold up my hands and say I am completely lime ignorant.  I have never had a key lime so therefore wouldn’t be able to advise anyone on their importance, or not.

Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks then fold into the yolks (which have been beaten), lime and condensed milk mixture.  Pour on top of the biscuit base and cook on a baking tray which has been lounging in the centre of the oven, gas mark 3. Leave it there for around 25 minutes or until the filling is firm.

Pop onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

Chill well – Nigella’s advice, and who am I to argue?

*pops off to make a margarita*

Toffee Apple Yoghurt

Toffee Apple Yoghurt

What glorious weather we’re having.   It has been pretty sparkly all week, incentivising the plants to put some genuine effort into growing.  Which is kind of them as our garden was starting to look a little like a wilderness, and is now looking like a wilderness with purpose.  As one of my nieces once said,

‘I love your garden, it always looks so wild’

Which is now exactly how I like to think of it.  A wild garden specifically groomed to be that way for all the wee beasties that need ‘wildflower’ plants, to flourish.  In abundance.

Meanwhile, I am having to do a shift in thought around food as we slowly move from more comfort based carbohydrate stuff, to rainbow food.  I know, there’s me showing my hipness and complete ability to be down with the cookery buffs…

Rainbow food, for any of those of you who may not have heard the phrase before (to be honest, I’m very late to the zeitgeist party) is about all the colours you have on your plate.  And apparently, if you manage a rainbow, you’ve got it covered.  Yep, that’s it.  Not really rocket science is it?

So today, I am going to extol the virtues of adding your own fruit compote to natural yoghurt.  Which actually has nothing to do with rainbow food, although in my defence I am, as I write this, baking some rice in the oven which has red, yellow, and orange pepper in it, along with sultanas, green beans, chicken and pork.  But I digress…

There are two wonderful things about adding your own flavour to plain yoghurt. Firstly, you can decide exactly what combination is for you and secondly you can monitor the amount of sugar that you are eating.

Now as you know, we gave up sugar for the whole of lent, for non religious, timeframe reasons.  And although we now have no restrictions per se, the knowledge we’ve gained of unnecessary sugars in food, has changed the way we eat.  Not dramatically, it has to be said, but enough to raise our levels of consciousness when it comes to sugar.

Which is why by sharing my knowledge you, too, can polish your halo if you make your own fruit yoghurt.

I peeled and cored a few wrinkly skinned apples and a ‘just on the turn’ pear, (I am also attempting to throw away as little food as possible) popped them in a pan, sprinkled some soft brown sugar over them, added a dash of water and left them to simmer until mushy.

It is here that I would like to point out that the type of sugar you use really will affect the taste.  Soft brown, for me, is perfect as it isn’t too dark but does add that slight toffee-ness.  Obviously, the darker the sugar the more molasses-like the taste.

Let it cool, and whizz up with the trusty steed.

Either stir or whizz into the yoghurt.  We use Grandpa Yoghurt, which is a local-ish natural bio yoghurt that the wee one’s Grandpa introduced us to.  You can use anything you fancy, but I recommend the more natural the better, as most ‘low fat’ products have something added to compensate, and nine times out of ten, it’s sugar.

Obviously yoghurt is wonderful with any type of fruit addition, and it’s actually a lovely way to experiment with food without too much effort.

I mean you could, if you were feeling truly rebellious, just eat the compote and yoghurt separately.  Now there’s a thing…