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.

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Cinnamon & Sultana Loaf

Cinnamon and Sultana Loaf

I have been slightly remiss on keeping up with the blog at the latter end of this week.  Partly because we haven’t solved our oven conundrum yet, a situation which lends itself to less innovative meals, and partly because the bat mobile is still out of action thanks to the clutch slave* breaking which has meant we’ve had to rework our travel timings to include buses or walking.  But mainly because we have a new addition to our family who we picked up on Thursday evening.

So, in honour of both my first birthday as a blogger, and the excitement of it all, I am going to break my usual pattern of behaviour and insert another photo

Billie2

May I introduce you to Billie, our beautiful eight week old chocolate labrador puppy, who is heart-meltingly gorgeous in every way.  Her full name, for those who may be interested, is Billie Jo Bob, (chosen by the wee boy), although we are just using Billie for everyday wear.

Now who amongst you didn’t go ‘ahhh’?  Not many, I imagine.

Beautiful distractions aside, we still need to eat and although our oven may have gone on a permanent holiday, we do have other gadgets, such as the bread maker, that can cook.  So today, at the request of the wee one, I made some cinnamon and sultana loaf.

I tend to use a basic bread recipe and add stuff to it, then call the bread whatever I may have added.

So, my basic bread recipe (apologies, it is in ‘old money’) is 14floz lukewarm water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 20lb 10oz good strong white bread flour – I always get my flour from Bradshaws – 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 generous teaspoons dried yeast.

To make this particular loaf I added another 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and a bowlful of sultanas.  I like my fruit loafs to have a lot of fruit in them, you may feel less inclined to pack in the fruit.  It is, once again, your own personal taste.

Now this is the thing.  The nutmeg is a rough guess really as I have been using whole nutmegs and grating them.  So in this bread recipe, I grated some nutmeg into the flour mixture until I got a little weary.  But I’m guessing it was about half a teaspoonful.

Put the bread machine onto a sweet bread setting and start.  I have one of those machines which is not as meticulous as I at getting into the corners, so I tend to give it a starting hand with a spatula.  At some point, about 10 – 15 minutes in, the machine beeps like a very annoyed alarm clock for approximately one minute.  This is when I add the sultanas. Then leave the whole thing to bake, which in my case, takes 3 hours and 25 minutes.

I never find bread maker bread tastes as good as bread cooked in an oven but it does the job.  The top of the loaf always looks as though it’s just recovering from a debilitating bout of influenza, and the bread maker ‘paddle’ as it’s called, has to be pulled out which leaves a slight gap in the bread half way through the loaf, but none of these slight irritations are insurmountable and, quite frankly, we are very lucky to have the bread maker at all.

Finally, whilst the bread top is still warm, melt a dessertspoonful of castor sugar in a drop of boiled water and brush on the top of the loaf.

Delicious warm or cold, with or without butter.  Perfect with a cup of tea.

*Whoever named car parts should take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves where they left their soul when they named the inner workings of a car.

Fish Finger Sandwich

fish finger packer

I know what you’re thinking, and you would be right.  But, in my humble opinion everybody needs to indulge in a little fast food every now and then, and this is one of my favourites.

However.

The choice of ingredients are crucial, the cooking method, vital.

Firstly, the bread.

I am partial to white sliced, wholemeal or granary, although now that the particular seeds get a mention in the title of the bread, granary no longer seems the third alternative (I don’t count brown).  Today’s choice of bread is pumpkin and sunflower seed. Delicious.  What you must never do though, is have a fish finger sandwich in a roll, bap, bread cake, bun, stottie, scuffler or any other round bread type affair.  Oh no, no, no, that will never do.

Your bread must ALWAYS be sliced.  And just as a little N.B. don’t buy brown bread. It’s pointless.  If you want brown coloured bread go for wholemeal, much better for you and tastes so much nicer.

Next, the fish finger.

It’s a funny old thing eating something covered in bright orange bread crumbs, as I’ve never seen a loaf of bread that’s bright orange or indeed toasted crumbs that come out bright orange.  To be honest I have absolutely no idea what they put in the crumbs to make them so orange, and quite frankly, I have no intention of ever finding out.  Some things are best left in the ‘don’t want to know’ cupboard.  After all, this is about fast food indulgence which, by it’s very nature, has very little intrinsic health value.

That said, I prefer my fish fingers to have a declaration on the front, some thing along the lines of ‘made with 100%…’ or ‘made entirely from…’.  Probably because it makes me feel better about what I’m eating.  What was that, advertiser’s dream?

*Pops rose tinted glasses back on*

Onto the cooking process.

Place four fish fingers under a medium heat grill, and turn regularly until the fish innards begin to bubble through the breadcrumb topping, and everything goes slightly crispy on the outside.  Meanwhile butter one slice of bread and spread tomato ketchup on another.  With a little black pepper if you fancy a tastebud kick.

When done, place three fish fingers side by side going vertically from left to right on the slice of buttered bread, and one horizontally on top.  Gently crush.

Put the tomato ketchup slice of bread on top of the fish fingers, press ever so slightly, and cut in two.

Take that first bite and sigh deeply at the complete and utter indulgent pleasure of it all.

Distraction Baking

tomato pepper oregano bread

Although I am back to work, things are a little less busy as all the boys are on holiday this week.  Let me clarify that.  They’re at home.  Last time the wee boy and I discussed the Easter holidays he asked where we were going and was deeply disappointed that we weren’t all going away for the duration.

Anyway, I have also recently picked up a bag of the fabulous Orion bread flour from Bradshaws, and as I haven’t dabbled in bread flavours for a while, I decided to make a loaf of sundried tomatoes, picante peppers and fresh oregano.  I know, sounds delicious.

All was going very well, and although the dough was a little ‘wet’,  it got itself together well, and shaped beautifully.

Meanwhile, we recently had some dead and diseased trees cut down in our back garden thanks to my lovely in-laws.  Once again, let me clarify, they didn’t cut the trees down but paid for it as our birthday and Christmas present.  However, as the weather has been constantly dark and damp we haven’t been able to burn the bits of tree we don’t need for other things.  Not until this week.

In fact, it was turning out to be a very productive day all round. Bread, tree burning…

Women are renown for being able to multi task, it has even been scientifically proven that our brains are wired differently and can therefore, much more competently juggle more things at once, than men.  I’m not sure whether this research was done by men though, which may point a suspicious finger at the whole scenario.  After all, if you become competent at something, you are often the ‘go-to’ person for that thing.  But I digress.

So, I placed the dough on a baking tray under a tea towel and put it in the grill part of the cooker with the oven on underneath it, to prove.

I then went outside to join himself in the big burn.  We have one of those fabulous holy metal bins.  And by that I don’t mean it’s religious.  It is one of those old fashioned style dustbins that some design genius realised would be perfect for burning outdoor stuff, as the air drafts through and makes the wood, especially, burn extremely quickly.

There is something deeply satisfying about burning stuff.  All kinds of stuff.  I remember one Easter weekend I had hired a skip to clear the house and garden of un-necessaries.  As it was a bank holiday, one of my cousins popped over for the weekend and we ended up having a cheekie glass of wine outside and lit a fire in order to take the evening chill off.

As darkness descended we took out a couple of blankets and nipped down for a rummage in the skip to see if there was anything we could keep the fire going with.

By the end of the evening the skip was almost empty.

I love fire.

I am married to a man who also has a penchant for fire.  Together we lost ourselves in the sacramental art of fire.  And then it dawned on me that the bread was still snuggled in the grill section.  It had exploded and flattened, but, not to be disheartened I popped it in the oven with a mental note to self that I should come back and check it within the next twenty minutes or so.  An hour or so and a plethora of sticks burnt later, I remembered.

Although not what I expected, it hadn’t burnt to a cinder.  Turns out it’s pretty tasty dipped in olive oil.

Hilariously, it seems that fire isn’t my only non negotiable distraction.  I have just done exactly the same thing again today. Different circumstances, same scenario.  Almost.

I think I will revisit that multi tasking theory, and delve a little deeper…

Eggy Bread

Eggy Bread

This is one of my all time go-to favourite breakfasts.  Or lunches.  Or snacks.  Or suppers.

Why?

Because it is simple and quick to make for anyone of any age or ability, can be made as sweet or savoury and can be eaten in whatever proportion you fancy, either as a full to popping experience, or, as they say round these parts, just enough to ‘put you on’.  Which translated means, keep you going.  It’s one of my favourite phrases which I never tire of hearing.

Now there may be some of you out there who do not refer to this wonderful marriage of egg and bread as Eggy Bread, but instead insist on it’s more formal title of French Toast.  Some believe this name was inspired by the French version of ‘pain perdu’, which in itself means lost bread, or bread that can no longer be used for it’s original purpose.

In fact Eggy Bread is one of those fascinating foodstuffs which has a plethora of potential originality, and therefore, to those of us who are curious about that kind of thing, extremely interesting.  I do concede though, that most people don’t really give that much of Chaucer’s toot about such things. *

Meanwhile, there may be someone who has never dabbled in the making of Eggy Bread, so this is what you’ll need to do.

Whisk eggs and splash of milk together and add your seasoning.  This could be either salt and pepper, cinnamon and vanilla, chilli, etc.  The choice is yours.  I tend to opt for salt and pepper.  Also, the ratio of egg is proportionate to the amount of bread you are hoping to make.  I follow the ratio of 3 eggs to 5 slices of white bread.  You could do one egg per slice and just add the tiniest splash of milk, or indeed no milk at all.  It’s totally up to you.

Cut the bread into quarters and pour over the eggy mixture.  Leave to soak for ten minutes.

Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan and put as many of the quarters as you can into the pan.  Fry until golden brown, turn, repeat.

This is the wee boy’s favourite part of the process.  Well, actually, it’s his second favourite part.  His favourite favourite is the melting of the butter in the pan.  He stands on his chef’s chair, swirling around the butter, looking completely and utterly in control of the situation.  Similarly when the bread is placed in the pan, he delights in giving it a shake.  And I empathise completely.

Anyway, once both sides are cooked to a glorious golden brown, they are ready to serve and for some, that is it.  Others enjoy embellishing with vinegar, Tommy K, HP, sugar, syrup…  the list is endless.

But one thing is for certain, you’ll always, eventually, make more.  It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but eventually, everyone who has Eggy Bread in their repertoire, revisits.

*Just in case you do, check out this link

Kiwi Bread

Kiwi Bread

Having found myself with a plethora of kiwi fruit, I decided to give making kiwi bread a bash.

This was about a week ago.

It has taken me until today to actually get around to making said bread and I have to say, as far as taste is concerned, the jury is still out.

It’s ok, but as himself said, it tastes a little like a doner kebab.

Why is this?  You may well ask.  I have absolutely no idea.

However, it may well taste differently tomorrow when it’s had time to settle in to itself.

I’ll keep you posted…

Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup

There is nothing like the taste of Heinz Tomato Soup to comfort you from the inside out on a cold winter’s day.  This recipe comes a very close second.

First things first though.  Today it snowed.  Not as much as I would have liked as I’m desperate for a snowday.  You know the ones, where you just can’t leave the house and everything feels suspended?  I long for those days in winter.  There is absolutely nothing like them.  I’ve always thought it would be a great idea, if I were a television programmer, to completely change the schedule just for snowdays.  The very idea makes me tingle with delight.  Slightly less relevant these days with the onset of smart TV, but still, makes me smile nonetheless.

Of course, on snowdays you wear layers of clothing, starting with pyjamas and add inappropriately throughout the day.   Moreover, you graze on anything and everything because snowdays are full of magic which means nothing counts as real. Watching, mesmerised, as the flakes fall silently onto the ground, willing them to create a thick carpet so that you can go out tomorrow, and build a snowman.

Whilst grazing on the most bizarre combinations of foodstuffs, the notion of tomato soup almost always pops up.  It’s thick, sweet, creamy texture just makes sense in an otherwise flurried world.

I’m not sure whether it’s still the case, but as I was growing up, every household had a tin of soup stashed somewhere in the kitchen.  A ‘just in case’ tin.  On snowdays, when we were left at home, we invariably opened said tin, which was, inevitably, Heinz Tomato Soup.  However, if you find yourself without this 1970’s prerequisite, then it is the simplest thing to make.

Firstly, chop an onion and fry in a little butter and oil until translucent.  Then, add as many tomato products as you can find, all chopped.  Today I have put in fresh tomatoes, tomato puree and sun dried tomatoes.  Add salt, pepper and of course, sugar.  It is the catalyst that allows the tomatoes to dance.

Now then, at this juncture I add my own tomato based vegetable stock which consists of carrots, celery, onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, pepper, olive oil, oregano, sugar and a splash of red wine vinegar all cooked together in a pan very slowly, until everything is soft.  If you haven’t got any of that or can’t be bothered, a vegetable Knorr stock pot will do just as well.  I would recommend adding a little oregano though, as it is one of those herbs that suit tomatoes very well.

Then add boiling water and simmer for about 20 minutes.

This next bit is crucial.  Turn off the heat and allow to sit for a while.  Drink tea, go shopping, write something interesting, go to work, watch the snow fall.  Eat the last piece of Christmas cake.

I then hand whisk the whole thing, and, if I’m feeling particularly meticulous, sieve. Although it tastes just as good without sieving, you will be doing those with false teeth a favour if you sieve.  Small pieces of tomato skin can be irritating, so I hear. So I guess what I’m saying is consider your age range and sieve, or not, accordingly.

I like to make some small bread rolls to accompany the soup, but am also very at home with hot buttered toast.  Either way, something to dip does nothing but enhance the experience.  Just before you’re ready to serve, warm up the soup, adding a good splodge of single cream.

Tomato soup.  It’s what snowdays were made for.