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.

Quick Tomato Sauce

Quick Tomato Sauce #2

There are some days when it is almost impossible to really function properly.  I find these days usually follow a rather exciting evening where a couple of sweet sherries have been drunk and the long term committed relationship I have with my bed, has been tested.

We have had just one of those weekends thanks to one of our glorious nieces having her prom night and, as a consequence, my sister in law having a ‘bit of a do’.

These gatherings are always a huge amount of fun, and now that the boys are a little older, not so stressful in terms of getting everyone to bed at an appropriate time.  In fact, the wee one insisted that he curl up on the sofa without us even suggesting it, (with his beloved best friend blanket, obviously) and, as son #1 is 11, we allowed him, with guidance, to make his own decision about when he would retire.

It’s a funny old thing, staying up.  When you’re a child you think it will be so much fun, and, to an extent, it is.  But what is not fun is the next day when you experience your body clock battling with time itself.  However, I am a great believer in trying to understand the various effects lack of sleep can have on you before alcohol is added to the mix.  Therefore, it makes sense to me to equip the boys, whilst in our very protective arms, to get a feel for these things, in the hope that they learn, over time, not only what the lack of sleep does, but how best to look after yourself.

Being gentle with each other and catching up on sleep are two of the three main components to the morning after the night before.  The third one being food.

Ah yes, good old comfort food.

Now here’s the thing.  When you are the one that needs to make the food for the gang who need the food in order to feel comforted, you need something that is nourishing, fulfilling, and quick.

Pasta always fills this role for me, and in recent years I have begun to not just add grated cheese, tomato ketchup and a sprinkling of ground black pepper, but have actually started making my own tomato sauce.

Chop an onion and fry on a low heat in a little olive oil.  I used a red onion, but you can use whichever colour you fancy.

‘That’s not a red onion, it’s purple’, the wee boy said to me.  And he has a point.

Cracking on.  Add two cloves of finely chopped garlic and some salt.  Chop as many different types of fresh tomatoes as you have in the house.  I used cherry tomatoes and salad tomatoes.  Basically the riper they are, the better they will taste.

Add the tomatoes to the onion.  Then add a sprinkling of sugar and black pepper. Pop a lid on and leave on a very low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cook some pasta, make some toast, boil some rice.  Whatever takes your fancy.

Add the two together.  Enjoy.

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…

Pork Apple and Stilton Salad

Pork, Apple and Stilton salad

One of the many things that is wonderful about Spring is it’s never ending ability to take you by surprise and create an almost perfect few days when you least expect it. Unless you’re a meteorologist.

And so it has been for us over these last few days, which happily, has coincided with the Easter weekend.

However, unlike many who immediately whip out the barbeque, my immediate thought is salad.  Why?  Because it is one of the most versatile, light foodstuffs you can rustle up in the blink of an eye and, in my limited experience, almost anything goes with greenery.

This little number was particularly successful.  Probably because the union of pork and apple, or apple and stilton, is tried and tested and therefore not such a great leap of faith to imagine it’s glory together, chucked over a spinach and watercress combo, then sprinkled with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Of course my palette is also refreshed by something I haven’t rustled up in a while. That opinion may waiver slightly come September.

Meanwhile, I am insisting that we all spend time in the sunshine to top up our vitamin D levels, much to the chagrin of some.  However, I am unfaltering in my conviction that a small amount of time in the sunshine produces much happier people than sunshine enjoyed through a window.

And anyway, as always, the weather can turn on it’s head within the blink of an eye, so best enjoy it whilst we can.

Hummus

hummus

We are now on day four of no sugar, and my initial ‘rabbit in headlights’ approach is slowly being replaced with a more considered, less panic driven, one.

Now you may be thinking that I am revealing myself to be a bit of a numpty here, surely I should have considered the impact of giving up sugar and therefore have mentally prepared myself for the challenge ahead?  And if this is the case, what’s with the ‘rabbit in headlights’ scenario?

Well all I can say in my defence, is that I genuinely didn’t think I had so many sugar products in my life.  Yesterday I spent the day yearning for a pear.  Today I have had a coffee and, much to my chagrin, have realised that it only highlights my dependence (I usually have ‘just a spoonful’ of sugar in my coffee).

At the same time, I do not want to start going down the crisps and peanuts route simply because they don’t have sugar in them.  So I have, today, whipped up a little something which I love, and takes minutes to make.  Hummus.  Houmous. Hummous.  Spell it as you will, it all means the same.  A beautiful Levantine food comprising of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, cayenne or paprika and garlic.

Or combinations thereof.

You see the wonderful thing about Hummus is that you don’t have to use all the ingredients on the list to make a beautiful dip.  In fact, it is a very personal dish which you can, without fear of ruining the essence of it, adapt to your own desire. How splendid is that?

The other wonderous thing that has flooded the market (forgive me my slight exaggeration) is the tinned chick pea.  A joy, a pleasure and also the catalyst for the quickest Hummus making, bar none.

I whizzed up, with my trusty steed of a hand blender, one tin of drained chick peas, a clove of garlic, a pinch of cayenne and a glug of olive oil.  As the chick peas come in salted water I don’t add salt.  I don’t have any tahini in at the moment so left that out, and instead of just sprinkling cayenne on top of the dip I also added some into it and therefore decided to leave out the lemon juice.

So whilst the boys are merrily munching on malt loaf, we have had Jacob’s flatbreads dipped in hummus.

Delicious.

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.