Mushy Peas on Toast

mushy peas on toast

Before you say anything, try it.  I know it looks decidedly vibrant and slightly unctuous, but you have to trust me when I say that warmed, tinned mushy peas on toast with a sprinkling of black pepper and a drizzle of mint sauce is one of the most comforting foods you could possibly wish to eat.

Obviously this comes with the caveat that you must love all the various ingredients in order to even attempt to put them together.  ‘It’s ok,’ doesn’t cut the mustard in this particular case.

However, if you have ticked all the criteria, then try you must, as there is something absolutely outstanding about this combination which will make you wonder why it hasn’t been in your life earlier.  A perfect lunch, a wonderful afternoon snack, and suppertime just will not be the same again.

The other thing in it’s favour is the speed with which it delivers.  For me, at the moment, this is crucial.  I am, as some of you may be aware, not a fan of the bought sandwich, which flops, unenthusiastically out of it’s packet like a wet dog’s ear, although I understand completely why it is so popular amongst the busy.

That said, barring the odd occasion where needs must, I just cannot bring myself to dine on the mass produced, cold, and unfulfilling.  However, if you sashay to the left, just a little, in your thought process, the light bite medium that the sandwich has dominated for so long can be easily replaced by something much more enjoyable.

Invariably, but not exclusively, on toast.

Meanwhile this week’s shenanigans have flown by.  The highlight?  My wee boy became a knight.  Oh yes.  In the glorious place he attends, along with his two friends, they held a ceremony with a story created just for them, telling about their heroic actions in order to help others, culminating in them all being deigned worthy of being knighted with the wooden swords they had spent months making.  I cannot tell you just how much this makes my heart glow from the inside out.  Every nuance of translation touches my soul, but perhaps it is the mantra they were asked to learn which transcends into everyday life the most.

I have strength and courage

to do what is right,

To protect those in need,

For I am a knight

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Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire Pudding

One of our weekend family favourites, especially in the winter months, is Yorkshire Pudding.  There is a light, crisp warmth to it that, if food could speak, would say, family.  Not just my family, but many families.  Partly, I think, because it is a shared dish, but partly because there is something synonymous with the anticipation of sitting around the table awaiting Sunday dinner, invariably the one meal of the week when people still do sit round a table to eat.

Referring to, once again, my touchstone of food history, The Food Timeline, the phrase that catches my attention the most, is the following, as it describes the first known mention of Yorkshire Pudding:

In 1737 the recipe for ‘A dripping pudding’ was published in The Whole Duty of a Woman.

As I’m reading it, I begin to wonder, were there prequels to such a book?  Perhaps, ‘The Occasional Duty of a Woman’ or ‘Can’t be Arsed Jobs of a Woman’ don’t, I suppose, have the grand sweeping statement which encapsulates in one title, just exactly where womankind was placed in the pecking order of life.

We’ll never know.  They were probably all burnt at the stake with the women who dared to look at life differently.

*Steps down from miniature soap box*

Cracking on.  My favourite recipe for said pudding is by Delia Smith, mainly because it never, and I mean never, tastes rubbish.  And I say this with experience of many a Yorkshire Pudding I have made looking as though it fought two battles to get there.

The magic ingredient though, is not whether you use dripping, lard or vegetable oil, but how hot it gets before you pour in the batter mix.  If it isn’t smoking, it’s not hot enough.

The ingredients for a large pudding are as follows:

150g Plain Flour, 150ml Semi-skimmed milk, 110ml Water, 2 large eggs, salt and pepper.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that adding more milk and less water will make it more luxurious.  You need the balance of water and milk to keep it light.

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth and pour into your piping hot oil.

Now then, here’s a wee tip: did you know you can keep the oil hot by placing the dish over a turned on hob ring, or two?  No, neither did I until recently, and to be honest I still often forget this little trick until I’ve put the pudding back in the oven, but hey ho, you can’t have everything.

My beautiful man’s grandma used to put onion in the bottom of the pan with the oil whilst it was heating, before adding the Yorkshire Pudding mixture.  That’s delicious, especially with gravy.  And here’s another thing to tickle your fancy, were you aware that Yorkshire Pudding was often served before the main meal in order to fill everyone up so they didn’t need as much meat?  I know, a fount of information, that’s me…

Anyway, onto other things.  This week the wee boy and I were driving home one night when he said:

Mummy, guess where Poppy (his friend) lives?

Me: I don’t know darling, where does she live?

W.B: In the future…

Me: And where do you live darling?

W.B: (Indignantly) In a house, with you and daddy, etc, etc…

 

 

Ice Cream

ice cream

See these cream clouds of fluffy ice?  I made them.  Well, to be honest it was the ice cream maker (bought for us by some of our favourite people) that did the hard work, I just threw all the ingredients together with an insouciant flair.

*takes small bow*

The thing to remember about making ice cream is that you need time and patience.   You cannot start the process in the morning and expect it to be all done by the afternoon.  Oh no.  Not unless you count the early hours of the morning as a humane time to start ice cream preparation, which I most definitely do not.

In fact I would go so far as to say that arising during the hours of darkness should be withheld for special occasions and holidays only.  However, even if you did commence project ice cream very early on in the day, there are processes that have to be adhered to, which all take time.  Processes such as waiting for things to cool down.   Things you’ve just been told to heat up.  There’s a lot of that.

Between you and me, I have placed a small wager with myself that I will be cutting corners in the very near future with regards to this ‘time’ element.  All under the umbrella of research, obviously.  Not because I am the slightest bit impatient to see the results.

I recently made a lemon sorbet in our glorious machine, mainly because we had a plethora of lemons, but also because it takes a lot less time.  I do think, however, that I may have overdone it a little with the lemon content as everyone who tried it did the ‘twisted lemon’ face relatively quickly after having spooned in that first mouthful.  I’m considering changing the balance between the amount of lemon juice, made by dissolving sugar into fresh lemon juice, and water.

I think fourteen lemons may have been a little excessive.

Meanwhile, I have also made an incredible discovery.  Did you know that a crusty loaf is created by putting a small amount of water in a tray at the bottom of an oven when you’re baking bread?  You did?  Right… Back to the ice cream.

I used this recipe as I was completely swayed by the strap line, ‘Is Angela Nilsen’s vanilla ice cream the smoothest, creamiest homemade ice cream in history?’ (sorry Nigella).

But I think, having read quite a few recipes, they all, in the main, have an egg, cream, milk, sugar and vanilla combo.  Probably not a diet staple for the calorie conscious amongst you.  Although to be honest, love of great food and calorie counting does seem to me to be a slightly odd paradox.

Anyway, today I have made black cherry ice cream.  It looks the part but still tastes of vanilla.  Anyone know why that is?

Answers on a postcard, please.

 

 

 

Butterfly Buns

butterfly buns

This weekend I made a decision to bake.  Partly because I have fond memories of winter weekend baking afternoons and partly because the wee boy is quite keen to make a rainbow cake – having watched a youTube video of it endless times – so feel I’d better get the practise in before attempting said cake.  I have until February half term, which is when I have promised we will try it.

Meanwhile, I am still coming to terms with my ‘new to me’ oven.  It seems that I have not quite mastered the time needed to warm an electric oven before putting in the food to be cooked, and am still over compensating.  As a result edges are often cooked way before the middle has time to readjust itself to the heat, which can create surprising results.

For example, I recently cooked some roast white and sweet potatoes together and was taken aback when I popped my head in to have a look only to notice that the sweet potatoes had almost turned to charcoal.  Undeterred I turned them over, kept a closer eye on them and, when serving, muttered something about being well done but probably edible.  Imagine my surprise then, when they actually tasted delicious.

Similarly with mini cakes, I have not yet mastered the art of creating a mini cake that is happy to be peeled out of it’s case.  The attempts I have made so far have all resulted in the cake clinging onto the case for dear life.  However, not to be beaten, this time I resolved to create a distraction by turning the mini cakes into butterfly buns.  After all, who focuses on buncase separation anxiety when there’s a glorious buttercream to devour?  And of course, as we eat with our eyes first and foremost, creating a butterfly bun means that any flaws can be covered with a light dusting of icing sugar… but shhh, let’s keep that little gem between ourselves shall we…?

Butterfly buns aside, there are still a few truly simple but wondrous things in life that genuinely make me tingle inside, one of which is watching that first snowfall of the year.  Yesterday, as the wee boy and I gazed out of the window at the silent white blanket covering the earth around us, he turned to me and whispered,

‘This is the most incredible thing ever’

Magical.

 

 

 

Winter Warmer

photo (5)

One of the many wonderful things about having a dog, and there are many, is the excuse it provides for the whole family to don wellington boots and partake in a Sunday constitutional.

Of course there is a small amount of mental preparation that goes on prior to said constitutional consisting mainly of me talking about us all going on a walk together, for at least 24 hours beforehand.  This ensures that all are aware, if not completely accepting, that we will be ‘taking air’ with the dog in the very near future.

Sometimes I have a slight memory lapse of what needs to occur and spring the ‘family walk with the dog’ on them out of the blue, without prior warnings, hints or general blitherings.  When this happens I am often met with looks of astonishment, confusion and sometimes disbelief. Despite the fact that we have had the beautiful Billie for over seven months now and she does, in the main, go out every day.

I refer to this as the mental dance of the dog walk.  In fact it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Debussy wrote a piece of music about such a thing, as I remember as a child going through the very same moves the boys now display.  (Why Debussy you may ask?  Well, he wrote a whole series of piano pieces for his children to help them learn the piano, all of which reflected what they were interested in, and their characteristics).

However, yesterday all went according to plan and there wasn’t a grumble to be heard.  Bedecked in layers, we trudged off into the no man’s land between city and countryside to be met by rays emitting from that golden globe in the sky that has been very remiss of late.  It was absolutely glorious.  Moreover, Billie could go bonkers without recriminations and the boys began to understand the joys of owning a pair of wellington boots.  It was, without a word of exaggeration, very boggy.

Now I don’t know about you, but I am a great believer in having something warm to look forward to on a return from a walk, so we all agreed that a hot chocolate was the order of the day.  It is, by far, my favourite winter post walk drink especially when made with real chocolate.  And as easy as you like to make.

Simply pour into a pan the necessary amount of milk and break up a large bar of chocolate.  Plain is best.  Allow the chocolate to slowly melt into the milk, whisking occasionally to ensure it is all mixed together.  Wait for the chocolate to become hot but not boiling, then take off the heat and pour.  For that added extra treat we also broke into our Christmas Panettone which is delicious dipped into the hot chocolate.

Nothing quite warms the soul like sharing hot chocolate soaked cake with the ones you love.

 

 

Huevos Rancheros

huevos racheros

This, my friends, is my new breakfast obsession.  Simple, refreshing, apparently very good for a hangover, and an absolute doddle to make.

However…

Before anyone starts jumping on my case blithering on about how this is not a traditional recipe and really you should be using blah blah blah cheese etc. etc. etc. as they have done with Jamie Oliver, may I remind you of two things.

Thing 1.  All the recipes I share are an eclectic mix of stuff I have read and snippets of useful bits and bobs I have managed to retain from watching others, embellished with a slight dash of my own je ne sais quoi.

Thing 2.  I am not a professional Essex Boy and therefore should be exempt from all slatings.

Right, moving on.

So, I hear you ask, what is in this wunderkind of breakfast what not?

Well, it is the simplest of things.  Collect a couple of red peppers, a few green chilli, a large bunch of fresh tomatoes and blend together in a food processor.  If you no longer have one of these because you’ve given yours to your favourite eldest daughter-in-law, chop all ingredients finely together using a large knife or mezzaluna.

Put a splash of olive oil into a frying pan and warm through before adding the tomato mix and cooking slowly.  Add a little salt.

Meanwhile, put another pan over the heat and place a corn tortilla in it. Warm through one side and turn over.  Place on a plate.

When the tomato mix is cooked, crack open an egg and put on top.  Cook.  You may need to just cover the pan for a wee while so that the tomato base doesn’t burn, although to be honest there should be enough liquid in it from the fresh fruit to stay moist, providing you haven’t used a tiny bit of mixture and a ginormous pan.  Don’t laugh, I’ve done it myself…

Once the egg is almost cooked, grate some of your favourite hard cheese over the egg.  I use cheddar as we always have it in, but I’m sure it would work well with any type of hard cheese.  Allow it to melt slightly before placing the whole tomato, egg and cheese affair on top of the toasted tortilla.

Gloriously more-ish.

Just a word of advice.  I have been using the thin green chilli as I like to feel the heat on my tongue without it leaving a slightly sizzling numbness.  You will need to experiment with this but I suggest you start with a ratio of two chilli to four or five tomatoes and one red pepper.

If you are cooking for more than one, just increase the amounts of fruits etc. proportionately but still cook within the same pan as the eggs just sit on top of the tomato base.  If you are cooking for one, make sure you have all the ingredients in to remake it.

 

Gingerbread

photo (4)

This is one of the most delicious gingerbread experiences you will ever have.  It is moist but not soggy, gloriously gingery but not overpowering, and has a dark alluring stickiness that is simply more-ish.  So however restrained you think you may be, you will always at least consider that one piece was just not enough.

Of course it isn’t my recipe but that of the lady herself, Ms Lawson.  Interestingly, whatever people opine about Nigella, there is always a given; the girl knows how to chuck a good bake together, and this one is no exception.

This style of gingerbread, although not related to bread in any way, is soft and therefore more synonymous with the Lafayette style gingerbread, (Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book, [T.B. Peterson:Philadelphia PA] 1857 (p. 538-539) as opposed to the more medieval European culinary tradition of gingerbread very popular with the Germans.  Think gingerbread house; crisp and biscuit like, tea dunkable, but you’ve got to watch it as it goes ‘on the turn’ very quickly.

Ginger, having been flavouring foods from ancient times onwards and, thanks to the spice trade, becoming part of our European cultural heritage from as early as the 11th Century, is a wonderful spice and one whose versatility can never be underestimated.  I could go on as I do find the history of foods quite fascinating, and for those of you who share my delight, here is as good a place as any to start your journey.  For the rest of you, you may now stop skim reading …

There are many ideas of why gingerbread is so synonymous with Christmas, but for me it represents home.  I always used to go home – which to me meant my mum’s house – at some point over the Christmas holidays, to be greeted by a glorious smell, a sparkling smile and an engulfing hug filled with love.  Very lucky.  Ironically, we only truly appreciate those magical moments when we no longer have them.   However, although I no longer have a home to go to, I have been taught well, and am immediately transported to that place when I cook gingerbread.

Which leads me, almost seamlessly, to another little mum-tip for you. If you’re trying to sell your house make sure, just before a viewing, that you have either just baked bread or made gingerbread.  The house becomes filled with the smell of a warm welcome which is very difficult to resist.

Anyway, the first batch of gingerbread that I cooked in my new to me oven, was not as successful as it should have been.  Two reasons.  Firstly, distracted by my big sister and her pal popping by (my excuse, my blog, sticking to it…) I managed to put a teaspoon of baking powder instead of bicarbonate of soda into the two tablespoonfuls of warm water, and secondly, I made the fateful mistake of leaving it in the oven over the recommended time of 45 – 60 minutes, working on the old cooker mindset that it would need at least another 15 minutes.

The result of gingerbread number one was that, although edible, it didn’t have the ‘I need more or I’ll not survive the day’ feel to it.  And this recipe especially, benefits from being slightly undercooked rather than overcooked.

So, batch number two was cooked the other day after having had a little word with myself regarding the need to focus on ingredients, and keep an eye on the time, and yes, this time it was everything it should be.

Just a word of warning, if you’re making it to take over to someone’s house, remember that you will need to make enough for everyone in your house to have at least one piece before wrapping it up, otherwise there will be sulking…