Croque Madame

croque madame

There is something quite strange about working in the summer holidays when everyone else is at home.  Today, for example, I returned home from work to the sound of the hoover.

I’ll give you all a moment to mentally digest that information.

Not only that, but the dirty dishes by the sink had most definitely been dipped and wiped in a bowl of very bubbly water and then taken out and stacked on the other side.

Once again, a moment is needed, I believe.

On the end of the hoover stood the wee boy, who had been merrily hoovering the first three stairs in the hall for a good ten minutes (apparently), and proceeded to do that glorious thing of talking over the sound, to let me know how comfortable I could now be, as there wouldn’t be any more bits on the floor, whilst son #1 gave me a blow by blow account of how the washing up had been accomplished.

Of course the other thing that happens during the holidays is that time, warps, as very slowly, the usual routine is no longer adhered to and a different pattern emerges.  Similarly with food, the usual pattern begins to morph into a very different experience, as holiday food ideas start to make an appearance.

As part of our honeymoon, himself and I spent some time in Paris.   Every morning we would go to a cafe round the corner from the hotel, for brunch.  It was nothing special in terms of decor, lay out or typical French-ness, in fact it had the feel of a greasy spoon, or how the French may interpret that phenomenon.   There were a couple of slot machines, bright overhead lights, a long serving counter and a very laissez faire serving staff who were extremely polite but you just knew that disagreeing with them on anything culinary would not be worth it.  Which is perhaps what gave the place it’s charm.  That, and the people who went in.

There were obvious regulars who went in for something specific every day.  There were those who just popped in for a coffee, and those who stayed to drink their coffee.  And then there were people like us.  People who were easing themselves into the day, who went, not only for the food, but to just sit and watch the world go by.

It was a glorious place and one which makes both himself and I smile from the inside out when we recall those days. And always, alongside that memory, is the delight of discovering Croque Madame.

This is the most delicious of foods, and will set you up for the day.  Moreover, it is the easiest thing in the world to make, as long as you have mastered the art of the poached egg.

Firstly, toast a good doorstop sized slice of white bread on one side, turn over and add a good slice of ham and some mature cheddar cheese.  Toast on a low heat. Turn your attention to the egg.

I have to admit that it has taken me a great deal of time to feel confident about poaching an egg in just a pan of water, having so often used an egg poaching pan. In fact it has taken many, many failed poachings to get this right, and I am still working on the presentation, however, I believe the key to a good poaching is to put the egg into a small bowl or ladle before placing in the pan of boiling water.  It’s worth mastering this method as I promise you the egg taste so much more delicious than the preprepared egg poacher method.

So, put a pan of water on to boil and add a sprinkling of vinegar.  Once the water has begun to boil add the egg and wait for the water to boil again.  Turn off the heat and leave for about a minute then dive in with a slatted spoon, removing any floating egg white that may have found it’s way to the top of the water.  Beneath that is the perfect poached egg.

Place the egg on top of the now bubbling cheese and serve.

It will, without a doubt, leave you wanting more.

Meringue Strawberry Surprise

meringue

Meringue is one of those words that always makes me smile.  I think it sounds like a latin dance routine, especially if you mispronounce it.  Even when you bite into them, the taste seems to create an exotic dance in your mouth. You don’t think so? Next time you bite into a meringue, just imagine those sweet particles of sugar and egg white dancing together…

Another beautiful thing about meringues are, if you invest in a box of them, you can add whatever you fancy on top and still feel you’ve ‘made’ a pudding without the extremely long wait of having to slow cook anything in the oven.  Which is lucky, as we still haven’t got round to replacing our oven yet – it’s on the list.

I can hear you tutting gently in the background, and to be fair, you would have a point.  How could I possible write a blog about life and food if one of those elements has been seriously compromised?  A very good point which I could, if I were so inclined, counterbalance by saying I am challenging myself to create or write about foodstuffs which do not need any oven-ing.

However, the truth is we have not really missed the oven.  Firstly because it is summer and secondly because life has been so busy recently our routine has taken on a completely different rhythm.  Therefore, as is so often the case, the emphasis on what we eat, has changed.

Yesterday, though, I returned home from work determined to make a proper meal.

Now I don’t know about you, but I always feel as though we’ve eaten a proper meal if both a main course and a pudding have been presented.  Obviously if you add a starter to the mix, you are, in my opinion, veering into ‘dinner party’ territory which is a whole different ball game.  No, two courses to me says special family weekend meal, and this is where the shop bought meringues come into their own.

Basically, you can add anything to a meringue and it will taste divine, moreover, ready mades create puddings in minutes which are completely family friendly, by which I mean any sized hand can put the various elements together to make their own, individual, piece de resistance.   This little number is one that comes highly recommended.

Firstly, make up a packet of strawberry Angel Delight.  For those of you who have led a sheltered life and have not experienced Angel Delight, it is a glorious magical powder in a packet that you sprinkle onto half a pint of milk, whisk, and leave for five minutes only.

Within this timeframe the magic powder transforms the milk into a thick, sweet, creamy dollop of gorgeousness which just happens to work extremely well when plonked into the middle of a meringue and topped with fresh strawberries.  When you bite into it you will smile from the inside out.

We may not have a working oven, the sunshine may only be shining sporadically, life may have been flying by quicker than a bolt of lightning, but we have been making and eating Meringue Strawberry Surprise together.

Perfect.

Couscous Salad

Couscous salad

I do absolutely adore this time of year, but my oh my it’s busy.  There is a plethora of galas, fetes, fairs spelt this way and fayres spelt that way, shows, goodbye drinks and general merriment to be had which has once again involved the smoothie bike and this year, the bringing together of a musical.  Not single handedly, obviously.

I know, so much to do, so little time.

Amidst this party atmosphere there has been little or no time at all to even consider writing my blog.  To be honest that’s not quite true.  It’s not really time that has alluded me, after all, I have had a couple of hours before bed.  But by that time it is all I can do to muster up the energy to stare mid distance.  It’s head space.  That glorious breath you take to just think.

A measly, but honest admission.

Suffice to say, I have been remiss and must apologise for this hiatus, short though it may be.  Miniscule in the grand scheme of things.

Cracking on…

My beautiful niece Madeleine popped down to visit both ourselves and one of our local universities the other weekend, and we stopped by a salad bar for lunch – cosmopolitan things that we are.  As a base for our salad we both chose couscous which I have to say I have shelved for the last couple of years due to a couscous over eagerness.  However, I am so glad she gently persuaded me that salad was the way to go thus allowing me to indulge once more in its hidden delights.  The salad we had was absolutely delicious and it reminded me how versatile, quick, easy and nutritious couscous can be.

There are just two things to remember when making couscous.

Firstly, always read the packet to ensure that you have the correct ratio of grain to water, and secondly, seasoning.

When I add the boiling water to the couscous (160g couscous to 200ml boiling water) I always add a stock cube and leave, covered, for five minutes.  Alternatively, I boil some stock from the freezer, otherwise, for me, it’s a little too bland with just fruit or vegetables in it.

I mean you may, if you so desire, add whatever takes your fancy, but we are talking about salad for the moment and I must learn to not digress.

The beautiful man will occasionally comment on the time it takes me to make a cup of tea.  Not that I don’t do it, just that I do a million and one things whilst doing it which can often delay the receiving of said cup of tea for a ‘short’ while.

*ahem*

After five minutes, take off the cover and fluff up with a fork.  To the wonderfully fluffy couscous I add peppers and cucumber and then a couple of fruits such as blueberries and tomatoes.  Whatever combination you enjoy, add it. Then, for that added zing, I tear up some basil.  Berries and basil is such a lovely partnership.

Mix it all together and serve with meat, fish, or something softer such as humous. And if you really fancy pushing the boat out, a lovely warm flatbread or pitta. Mouth wateringly delicious and surprisingly filling.

Just one last tip, couscous salad doesn’t freeze well and becomes all globular and unappetising although it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Right then, I’m off to fly around being busy, back as soon as I can…

Energy Drinks

Purdey's

When I was in my 20’s I spent much of my time awake.  Not because I couldn’t sleep but because there was so much to experience I didn’t want to miss a minute.  I worked hard and played hard.

Not being much of a coffee drinker at the time, and not really enjoying fizzy pop, I was always looking for an alternative.  Then one day, out of the blue, I stumbled across Purdey’s which, as I recall, had the liquid zeitgeist guarana, in it.

And so began a lifelong love affair with a berry that, for quite a while, became my best friend.  However, life moves on, and as so often with friends or a close relationship borne through work or social connections, it will often fade over time if one or another stimuli aren’t there.  Similarly with Purdey’s, my once best drinkable buddy and I, despite loving not only the taste of the drink but also the design of the bottle, slowly drifted apart.

Until this week, when, whilst pottering around Waitrose picking up something for lunch, I spied, out of the corner of my eye, a silver bottle.

Now I’m not declaring myself to have magpie habits, but I do feel I am probably naturally drawn to something that catches the light, which this bottle did.  Taking a closer look I was delighted to see that it was, indeed, my old friend Purdey’s.  Instinctively I picked up a bottle and sashayed over to the ‘pay for me now’ counter, without even checking the label.

Imagine my surprise then, when eventually reading the label, I realised guarana was no longer present.  However, I had, by this point, opened and begun to enjoy once more, the multivitamin taste sensation, coupled with a trip down memory lane, both of which I enjoyed enormously.

I won’t be buying Purdey’s regularly, and am not disappointed that it no longer contains guarana, but it’s nice to know it’s there, just in case the feeling takes me.

Honey Mango

Honey Mango

I am one of those very lucky people who live in an area where we have the opportunity to try many different food types.  This weekend we have had the pleasure of enjoying a different variety of mango.  The honey mango.

It has a glorious dusky yellow skin and smells divine.  As you cut into it, you realise that the stone is not the usual mango shape but smaller in terms of width, and therefore so much easier to cut.  Which in itself is an absolute joy, however, for me it is the taste that will blow you away.  It strokes your palette in a way that only the sweetest fruit can, lingering around your mouth long after the fruit itself has gone.

And perhaps the piece de resistance is the packaging.  Glorious bright colours and absolutely no fancy words.  Honey Mango, Produce of Pakistan.  That’s it.  Quite frankly, what more do you need?

Meanwhile the wee boy and I had the most wonderful conversation this evening.

Like all young children, he has gone through a phase of wanting to know when I might die, and what will happen.  I have reassured him that I am not planning to leave any time soon, but when I do I would like to be planted in the ground with a tree seed so that I can continue to grow.

Tonight, after asking once more when I’m going to become a tree, and being reassured that it won’t, hopefully, be for a long time yet, he said,

‘When I die I want to be buried under your tree’

Beautiful.

Butter Wouldn’t Melt…

Butter wouldn't Melt

This is the face of a puppy which looks as though butter wouldn’t melt – a proverb meaning someone is acting as if innocent.  In this case, Billie, our puppy.  Now I know I have mentioned her quite a lot recently in the few blogs I’ve managed to write, and I promise you normal service will resume shortly, but if you will do me the honour of indulging me for a while longer, I would be eternally grateful.

Although Billie has, naturally, shifted our family rhythm, there are some things which remain a constant.  The bat mobile (car) breaking down, the bath overflowing and water coming through the kitchen ceiling, the heating system deciding to work full blast every time the hot water tap is used, on the hottest day of the year so far.  You know the score and I’m sure we all have these little things come to try us.

So today’s chapter went something like this…

As you know we have attempted to make some Elderflower champagne recently the success of which is, as we speak, unknown.  However, we did bottle one sample which hadn’t had the yeast added to it, as an experiment, you understand. Although our partner in crime had bought corks, it turns out they didn’t have the metal twisty thing, so we improvised and stuck a bit of tape around the bottle top after having pushed the cork in as far as it would go.  Strange thing to do you may think, but I have grown up with a dad who truly believes that ‘a bit of tape’ will resolve most practical issues, and who am I to disagree?

The bottle was then left on a shelf to do it’s thing.

This morning I noticed a funny black thing lounging incongruously on the table and for a while I thought nothing of it. Living with boys you get used to unfathomable small bits just hanging around and I have learnt not to touch or move them. However, it dawned on me after a short while, that this thing bore a striking resemblance to our champagne cork, which, on further inspection, proved to be correct.

So I knocked it back in with a mallet, and double taped it.

As the weather is doing an extremely brilliant impression of being summery, we have taken to having our morning cup of tea outside and having a moment to just enjoy the sunlight.  It’s also imperative that we spend this time outside as Billie needs her morning shenanigans.

Today’s foray into the unknown revolved around digging out some soil from a plant pot.  As she dug deeper she happened upon a few dormant daffodil bulbs and, as is a puppies want, chewed them.  Thinking very little of it, we prepared for the day.

As the bat mobile is now fully up and running again, I was able to book Billie in for her first vaccination at the vets.  We arrived, and waited.  Nothing unusual there. Eventually the vet was ready to see us, and, full of anticipation, we strolled in.

I mentioned, in passing, the daffodil saga of a couple of hours ago, enquiring without much thought, whether it was ok for dogs to chew bulbs.  As she’d not heard of a dog eating daffodil bulbs before, the vet Google’d it only to find that daffodil bulbs are, indeed, not conducive to a dogs health and can actually cause all sorts of tummy upsets.  So we were advised that it would probably be best to come back later.

The following conversations with both the vet and the veterinary nurse regarding the daffodil episode, ended with both of them rolling their eyes knowingly with a ‘that’s chocolate labradors for you’ kind of look.

This makes me think of two things.  One, we will probably be seeing them quite a lot and two, I must check the insurance policy to see if it specifically covers a chocolate labrador’s undiscerning palette.

So for the rest of the day I have become particularly vigilant of all things going in, and coming out of the puppy, whilst trying to cool down the house and find a way of restoring some semblance of order back into the household contents. This includes moving all jars, bottles, cups, paper, boys hair, and soft items that we would prefer to keep intact, out of reach of a small, but ever growing, puppy.

Which brings me to why, I believe, puppies have a butter wouldn’t melt face. Because even though nothing is out of bounds for investigation as far as Billie is concerned, her total dependence on us, her unashamed and completely innocent curiosity about everything, coupled with the most beautiful expressive face, creates the perfect environment to fall in love.  Which is what we have.  Hook, line and sinker.