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.

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Semolina

semolina and strawberries

When I was a child, milk based puddings popped up regularly on the menu at home. Rice pudding, angel delight, custard and of course, semolina.

I haven’t eaten semolina pudding for decades, but always have a bag of the stuff in, as I add a little to shortbread biscuits.  More recently though I have joined the terribly fashionable crowd, and started buying semolina to shake onto my par boiled potatoes before popping them in the oven to roast.  I know, marvellous.  To be fair it does give the potato an amazing crunch if the fat is hot enough.  Goose fat, naturally.

Today, as we were shopping for a few bits and pieces, the wee boy asked if we could buy a block of jelly cubes.  As we hovered in the puddings section of the supermarket, I looked up and saw a box of semolina, so, out of curiosity, had a look to see how it was made.

During my childhood, semolina was always made on the hob, then put into a buttered dish with a few extra knobs of butter and nutmeg grated on top.  But did you know it tastes as delicious just cooked on the hob?  In fact, hot or cold, it’s quite the pudding.  It takes just three ingredients to make, 100g semolina, 1 litre of milk and only 25g castor sugar.

When I look at all the prepared puddings, such as low fat yoghurts, ready made jellies, etc. and how much sugar they contain, I am flabbergasted that more people aren’t substituting them for more home made milk puddings.  They are absolutely delicious.

Anyway, the wee boy and I have spent the afternoon in our pretend cooksTV kitchen, experimenting with semolina.  We have tried it both hot and cold, with and without fruit, with and without vanilla (much better without), with and without nutmeg (lovely either way) and with and without jam mixed in ( which most definitely reminded me of school dinners).

It’s been a fun afternoon, with more than a hint of nostalgia and a taste of home thrown in.  Perfect.

Eating Custard Tart

Custard Tart

I would like to say I made this myself, but I didn’t.

It was, in fact, bought from a supermarket round the corner from where we live. Because sometimes you just have to buy in, eat, and smugly congratulate yourself on the research you have done proving that you could, more than likely, have made a much better one.

Had you the time and inclination.

The thing is, they come in packs of two, which was a perfect calculation in my mind as it’s the wee boy and my, ‘me and you’ day.  However, the wee one took one look at it and said,

‘What’s that?’ pointing to the nutmeg on the top.

And then before I had time to formulate an encouraging response he said,

‘I can’t eat that, I’m too busy’

So now I have a lonely custard tart that doesn’t taste of anything in particular, sitting on a plate waiting patiently for someone to taste test and confirm the wee ones suspicions.

Seeing is, sometimes, believing.

Cannelloni

Cannelloni #2

Cannelloni is one of my favourite types of pasta.  And not just because the tubes look great in a jar.  Very much like lasagne, it give you the taste and texture of pasta, but with much more equanimity of flavour.  Which is sometimes just what you need.

My favourite way to fill cannelloni is with spinach and ricotta cheese.  This does, however, come with a small caveat.  Be prepared to get messy.  Of course there may well be a very tidy way of filling the tubes, but, as yet, I haven’t found it, so instead wade in with the full knowledge of what is before me.

The other wonderful thing about this recipe is that, even when you are a little tight on time, if you have everything ready to go, it takes no time at all.  Well, not to prepare, anyway.

Whizz up some homemade Italian tomato sauce, and spread it in the bottom of an ovenproof dish so that it is just covered.  Then, wilt a bag of spinach in a pan, transfer into a bowl, and roughly chop with scissors.  Add one pot of ricotta cheese, or, if you’re wanting a more healthy version, a pot of cottage cheese.  Add salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.  Mix together, and start stuffing.  Place each stuffed cannelloni tube on top of the tomato base until you run out of space.

Now here’s a thing.  I always cover the cannelloni with a cheese sauce, but you could, if you fancy it, just cover with a white (bechamel) sauce and put grated cheese on top.  Bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes at around gas mark 5.  Take it out of the oven and let it stand for a few minutes before serving.

Of course you could, if you so desire, fill the tubes with bolognese, or anything else that takes your fancy.  Which is also another wonderful thing about cannelloni.  It lends itself to experimentation.  Perfect.

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.

Mini Fritattas

Vegetable fritatas

Well hello again.

Having had the most wonderful sojourn, I’m back.

The thing about going away is that it takes about three days to relax into your holiday and realise that the constraints of places to be and appointments to keep, just don’t apply.  It is only then that you completely fall in love with the holiday experience and truly allow your mind to begin expanding into possibilities.

And so it was with us.  Although totally mesmerised by the area where we were from the get go, it wasn’t really until we’d had a couple of sleeps that we began to relish everything around us.  There are always many tales of delight and wonder when you are surrounded by exactly what you need, but I won’t bore you with them all.  I have never had much patience for other people’s holiday/wedding/whatever photos, and, as I have got older have become brave enough to limit the amount I am prepared to look at – normally around ten does it for me.  I want a flavour, not the whole experience.

So it is with this ethos in mind that I will share just one story with you.

We were on a vast expanse of beach, walking towards the sea over a fairly dune like terrain when the wee boy turned to me and said,

‘Look mummy, the mermaids have been and left their tail marks in the sand’

I know, delightful.

Today’s little number is mini roast vegetable frittatas.  They are pretty simple to make, but just take time.  So when the recipe says slice 4 aubergines and 2 courgettes, place on a baking tray, brush with the warm garlic and onion infused oil and place in the oven to cook, 10 minutes on both sides, what they don’t realise is that my oven is small and therefore I have to go through this process around 5 times before all the vegetables are done.

However, eventually, I finish baking the vegetable marathon and slice them and the peppers into a bowl with chopped mint, basil, salt and pepper.

The eggs, cream, nutmeg and parmesan are whisked then the whole thing is ready to be assembled and cooked.

Tell you what, they are delicious.