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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Harissa and Cheese Omelette

Harissa and Cheese Omelette

Well, well, well, would you look at that.  After years of mismanaging eggs which miraculously transform themselves from omelettes to scrambled in the blink of an eye, I jolly well think I’ve cracked it.  (Pardon the pun).  So much so, that I have begun branching out from the no nonsense plain omelette.

*grins*

Today’s experiment is one that I will most definitely be trying again.  It was absolutely delicious.  All I did was add half a teaspoon of harissa paste to a couple of seasoned and gently whisked eggs.  Then, I pulled it about with a fork in a medium hot buttered pan before adding cheese, throwing one half of the omelette over the other and then turning.  And for those of you who have never had harissa, may I suggest you give it a go?

Harissa, according to wikipedia, is a Tunisian hot chilli pepper paste, the main ingredients of which are: roasted red peppers, serrano peppers, hot chilli peppers, spices, herbs such as garlic paste and coriander or caraway seed, as well as some vegetable or olive oil for preservation.  For me, it is a wonderful paste to add to anything where you would like it to have a little kick without being too chilli hot. Perfect, it turns out, for an omelette.

Meanwhile we are just starting the second May bank holiday weekend, which hasn’t come a moment too soon.  I’m unsure as to whether I may have an inherent lazy gene, but I really look forward to the weekends where we have very little planned thus allowing us, over a long drawn out period of time, to potter.  I have already started having a jolly good think about what I might accomplish and have mentally drawn up a ‘to do’ list.

Obviously these things take time, so today I may just do a little more contemplating. After all, there’s no rush…

Breakfast Burger Bagel

Breakfast Burger #2

If you look for half a second with your eyes slightly squinted and the wind blowing in the right direction, do you not think this bears more than a resemblance to the Rolling Stones lips image which, until recently, became ‘a thing’ on almost every piece of cloth produced?  Just me then…

I have had the most indulgent morning hanging out with Nigel Slater.  Not him personally you understand, more specifically, his cookery books, ‘The Kitchen Diaries II’ and ‘eat’.  Both beautifully written, albeit in different styles, both leave me with a slight sense of being at the bottom of a mountain, looking up.

However, as the wee one and I were flicking through, I came upon a breakfast recipe in ‘eat’ and thought two things.  Firstly, I have a version of everything in that is required, and secondly, it looks quite easy.

You will need sausages, bacon, tomatoes, cheese and bagels.

Nigel suggests 3 herb sausages, but we didn’t have those in as my boys are not keen.  We do have gorgeous ‘I know where that pig grew up’ sausages though, which I reckon is just as good.  Similarly with the bacon. Nigel suggests 2 slices of smoked streaky bacon, I used non smoked back bacon from the same known stye.

Skin the sausages and chop the bacon in a bowl.   I added some black pepper at this point, because I really like that little kick it gives.  You may not.  Squidge together. Make into patties.

Put a little oil in a pan and fry on a medium heat, turning regularly.  At Nigel’s suggestion I put a lid over the patties inbetween turning.

Toast the bagels, add slices of ripe tomato onto the bottom piece of bagel, place the cooked burger on the top and cover with cheese.  Today I used mature cheddar which was very complimentary to our burgers, but I reckon a beautiful, nutty, mild cheese such as Jarlsberg or Emmental would be just as delicious.

Put the loaded bagel bottom back under the grill, to melt the cheese.  Place the other empty half of the toasted bagel on top.

Eat.

Cheese Scones

Cheese Scones

Sundays lend themselves to afternoon tea.  Of course that usually means a wonderful cup of tea to accompany a plate of something cold and savoury, followed by something sweet.  Well I’m having to forego the sweet treat but have, instead, decided to make some cheese scones.

But before we go any further let us address, head on, the elephant in the room.  The pronunciation of the word ‘Scone’.

I am not, at this juncture, prepared to get into any type of disagreeable argument with regards to this word, as I am of the firm belief that, in this particular instance the ‘each to his or her own’ philosophy most befits the situation.

However, I will say that, according to my research, those of us on this little plot of land, are more inclined to the pronunciation of scone to rhyme with the word ‘con’, whereas those of our cousins across various waters, are more inclined to pronounce scone to rhyme with the word ‘tone’.

*leaves slight pause for reflection, thus realising that this information neither helps nor hinders a ‘Scone’ argument*

Throw 8oz self raising flour, a pinch of salt and a pinch of mustard powder into a bowl.  Rub in 2oz of butter until it resembles soft sand.  Add 2oz grated mature cheddar cheese and 5 floz of full fat milk together into the bowl and roll it around until it all forms a ball.  Pop said ball onto a floured surface and flatten it into a round, approximately 2cm thick, circle.  Cut out 10 – 12 scones and place on a baking tray. brush with a little milk and cook in the oven for around 12 – 15 minutes at gas mark 7.

Of course, I completely forgot that I was slow cooking a ham in the oven on a low heat, so put my scones in and thought nothing more of it.  Until 10 minutes later when it dawned on me that I was actually cooking two things in the same oven, at the same time. Thankfully I managed to rescue the situation before the scones decided to give up the rising ghost and turn into cheese biscuits.

I should also probably mention that as the weather is so inclement today, these cheese scones have been prepared, baked and eaten in my ‘at home’ daywear.

Comfort personified.

Cheese and Lentil Loaf

cheese and lentil loaf

This is an old favourite that I used to make when I was a student.  A recipe originally taken from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Kitchen Book, and made on a regular basis as it really is delicious hot or cold and makes a great snack food.  Which is lucky as since giving up sugar – I am now on day 2 – I am trying to beat the urge to snack on bananas.  Let me tell you, when there’s a whole bowl of fruit sitting in front of you waving hello, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to turn a blind eye.

Not that it is in anyway comparable to the multitude of atrocities which humankind bestows upon itself.  A point made very succinctly in another ‘ditch the modern food evils’ diet.  The Whole30 programme.  I don’t know whether you have heard of it, but basically it is a bootcamp for only eating certain foods in which they remind you, albeit very politely, that giving up cheese etc for 30 days is nowhere near akin to losing a right arm.  Well, I’m not sure they use that very same example, but the point is, it’s not true hardship or pain.

Anyway, back to the cheese and lentil loaf.

Wash 175g of red lentils and place into a pan filled with 350ml of water. Pop the lid on and cook for 10 – 15 minutes checking that the pan doesn’t boil dry.  There’s nothing quite like the smell of burnt lentils on the bottom of a pan, and they’re a devil to get off.

When cooked add 110g of grated cheddar cheese, 1 peeled and chopped onion, a tablespoon of fresh parsley or a little less if you decide to use fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, a splash of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of single cream an egg and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix it all up and pour into a greased loaf tin.  Bake at gas mark 5 for approximately 50 minutes.  I say approximately because you need the top to be firm to touch which may take longer than 50 minutes.

Let it cool for 10 minutes and eat with whatever you fancy.  Potatoes, rice, salad, homemade tomato sauce, broccoli…

The world is your oyster.

Pitta Pizza

pitta pizza

Pitta pizza is one of our favourite ‘on holiday’ lunches.  We haven’t actually gone anywhere, but it is half term at the moment so we are indulging ourselves in all things holiday.

Moreover, it is the simplest thing to make and something which all small people can get involved in.

Firstly, I make a tomato base.  Today it was made with olive oil, an onion, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, tinned chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, red pepper, salt, pepper, oregano, sugar and a splash of red wine.

Chop all the chopables up into tiny pieces and saute in the oil.  Add everything else and season according to taste.  Let it simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until everything is soft.

Now then, at this point I usually whizz the whole thing up, but today we left it chopped as it adds a great texture, especially when you’re just adding cheese on top. However, if you plump for a variety of toppings, I suggest you whizz up the tomato sauce as the pizza may get a little top heavy.  Especially if you’re using something light like pitta bread.

I love pitta breads.  I love their versatility, their gentle taste and texture, and their varying sizes.  But most of all I love them because you can take them out of the freezer, and as long as you separate them on a cooling tray, they are defrosted by the time you are ready to load ’em up.

The next bit is the most exciting.  Prepare a series of toppings you would like to use and put each one, separately, into a bowl. Today we just had tomato base and grated cheese, but you could have whatever takes your fancy.  Give each child a pitta base or two which is already placed on a baking tray, and let them create their own piece of magic.

As I like a kick to my pizza I added a thin layer of harissa paste before adding the tomato sauce.  I also recommend a sprinkle on the top of the cheese of either dried or fresh chilli for those of you who enjoy a little heat.

Anyway…

The wee boy has taken a shine to using the oven gloves so he put the baking trays carrying our pizzas into the oven, gas mark 5, for around 15 minutes. However, if you like to throw caution to the wind you could put the pitta pizza straight onto the shelf in which case it will only take around 10 minutes.  I will warn you though, what seems like a pretty innocuous amount of food can often explode with vengeance. That could of course, be just me.

Meanwhile, I will leave you with this little piece of wonderment:

Wee boy: Mummy, if you go to school you have to wear a school unicorn

I wish…

Macaroni Cheese

macaroni cheese

I have a strange relationship with macaroni cheese.  It evokes very fond memories of my big sister and I being left ‘home alone’ whilst ‘the Runtles’ went out.  Usually on a Saturday evening.  Usually for something to eat.

Consequently, we had to make our own tea, and, as a treat, were allowed to open a tin.

*leaves slight pause for the excitement to die down*

So, aside from Tomato Soup, which was an obvious favourite but really had to be left for ‘poorly days’, there was a whole section on the ‘tinned food shelf in the cupboard’ dedicated to Saturday tea food, our favourites of which were tinned Ravioli, tinned Spaghetti Bolognese and tinned Macaroni.

Invariably I plumped for the tinned Macaroni Cheese and would warm it up in the pan, plop it into a bowl, add a spoonful of Branston Pickle, put the bowl and a drink on a tray, and carry it, with an inner glee, into the lounge.

You see not only were we allowed food from a tin, we were also, as a special treat and as long as we kept the food on a tray, allowed to eat our tea in the lounge.  In front of the television.

*another pause to reflect on the absolute giddiness I still feel*

Now I know to many this is now de rigueur.  Indeed it may be said that sitting around the table is now the treat.  But then, as now, I hold very dear, time spent sitting round the table, with all it’s little rituals.  A table tells a story that unfolds through time, both physically and emotionally.

Anyway.  This is where the story takes an unexpected turn.  You see, although the build up was fabulous, the actual eating of said Macaroni Cheese was always a disappointment.  It got very boring, very quickly.  There was just not enough going on to entertain my palette, and inevitably, the slight taste of wallpaper paste would always come to the fore, leaving me dissatisfied and slightly irritated that I had, yet again, plumped for the tin of bland.  To be fair, on reflection they were all pretty disgusting.

As a consequence of this I have never had Macaroni Cheese as one of my ‘go to’ recipes, although I know for many, it is a comfort food extraordinaire.  I don’t think this position for me will ever change, but I have always wanted to rectify my slight apathy at making it.  Having made a few unconvincing attempts, I decided to give Nigella’s recipe a go.

I know what you’re thinking, why did I not try that recipe immediately?  And I’d like to give you an answer, I really would.  But unfortunately I’m not sure why I never tried it before.  Tell you what though, it’s absolutely delicious and most definitely my ‘go to’ macaroni cheese from now on.

So, down to business.  You cook 250g of macaroni.  Meanwhile put 250g of evaporated milk, 250g of grated cheese and 2 eggs into a bowl.  Mix.  Add the cooked macaroni.  Grate some nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

Put into a dish and place in the oven, gas mark 7 for approximately 15 minutes.  To be honest it took more like 30 minutes in my oven, but then my oven has a mind of it’s own and is, as we all know, quite temperamental.

The most important thing to remember here is that the macaroni cheese should be spread out over quite a large surface area. Think width, not depth.

We ate it with steamed broccoli, but it would be delicious on it’s own or as part of a big dinner experience.  I believe our friends across the pond eat it as a complement to ham, others put it together with salad.  Whichever way you decide to eat this macaroni cheese, one thing is for certain, you will definitely be making it again.