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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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.

Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin

I love this kind of food.  You know the one, where everything goes into a pan and then just sits in the oven for a while.  There is something about a one pot dish that just makes me smile every time, and this is no exception.

Now I realise that Coq au Vin is one of those recipes that is popular, and therefore there are many versions around.  For me, it’s all about simplicity.

Which is good because that’s probably all I can muster at the moment.  It seems, unbeknownst to anyone, that this week has been voted the ‘if you don’t know at least three people who have birthday’s, you’ve not lived’ week.  Catchy eh?  And very true.

So, I have spent the week, making, buying, wrapping and visiting in a truly hamster on a wheel approach with the occasional element being missed out – we still have to deliver our nephew’s birthday present.  Very enjoyable if not slightly bewildering after a while.

But this evening we are at liberty to make our own fun, hence the Coq au Vin in the oven, with jacket potatoes snuggling up beside them, a bottle of Cotes du Rhone Village opened and ‘breathing’, and my informal wear (otherwise known as pyjamas) most definitely, on.  I am going nowhere.

And, for those of you who are the slightest bit interested, here is how I do it.

Get a large bowl, add some flour, salt and pepper and coat a few chicken thighs in the flour.  Some people use legs, but I prefer the taste of the meat on the thigh. (As I reread this, I’m thinking, ‘Ooo, err, one for the ladies there… ‘ I can only apologise for any misplaced innuendo)

Cook on a low heat for about ten minutes turning once, in a swig of vegetable oil and a generous knob of butter which has been melted in a pan.

Take out and leave on a plate.  Replace with shallots, garlic and streaky, or normal if that’s all you have, bacon which has been cut into smallish pieces.

After a while add two tablespoonfuls of tomato puree, a chicken stock cube, some boiling water, 3/4 bottle of red wine – saving yourself a generous glassful in order to ‘quality control’ – a few sprigs of fresh thyme (teaspoonful of dried if you don’t have fresh) and the chicken thighs.

Bring to the boil then place in the oven, gas mark 5 for around an hour then add some button mushrooms. I like to use the chestnut ones if they’re around, but it really is a personal taste thing.  Leave the mushrooms to enjoy the company of the other items in the pan, for around 20 minutes.  Then bring out of the oven.

Now, there are a couple of things that I should probably point out at the risk of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs.

Firstly, cook in the oven with a lid on.  And secondly, when you take the Coq au Vin out of the oven, let it sit for 5 – 10 minutes on its own.  I know that’s my ‘couple of things’ spot taken up, but there is just one more thing that I think is worth pointing out.  This can also be cooked on the hob.  Both ways taste just as delicious.

I like to serve it with jacket potatoes as the wee boy just cannot get enough of them.  It is also delicious with a crusty loaf.  Either way, it’s wonderful, and will leave you feeling completely satiated.

Perfect Sunday food.

Leek and Potato Soup

leek & potato soup

The key to a great tasting leek and potato soup is, in my opinion, butter.  As soon as you go down the route of frying the onions in oil, you’ve missed out on that beautiful creamy, indulgent feel to the soup, and quite frankly, no one wants a leek and potato to be too watery, do they?

So what I do is this:

Melt some butter – I don’t want to dictate amounts, but if you’re using 2 leeks and 4 potatoes may I suggest about 30g of butter?

Gently chop into small bits and fry a small to medium sized white onion, until translucent.

Add the washed and sliced leeks, salt and coarse black pepper.  Let them all hang out together for a few minutes.

Now then, the potatoes.  I like to keep the potato skins on, as I think they add a little more texture to the soup, especially if, like me, you whizz the soup up a little.  However, it is personal preference only, and if you cannot abide the thought of  potato skins in your soup, then just peel them.  Honestly, no one is judging you, and quite frankly, it’s your soup.  You are quite entitled to do with your potatoes what you want.

That’s the beauty of making soup.  Everything in recipes are guidelines only, for soup.  I remember having a lightbulb moment a few years ago when I realised that, having tweaked a recipe to my own taste, I could write my changes actually on the book itself.  Until then, for some reason, I had only, inadvertently, splattered the pages with food.  Of course, once I realised I could write in the book, I had to hold myself back from ‘over doodling’.  I must say I did experience an unusually satisfactory sense of freedom.

Back to the soup.

Cut and dice some potatoes, and throw them into the pan.  Stir it all around so that everything is covered in butter.  Just a little tip here.  If you have the heat up too high, you won’t get the natural juices oozing out of the vegetables.  Instead they will start to fry, which is not what you want.  If this happens, take the pan off the heat, turn the heat down, and pop the pan back on when it’s cooled down a little.  It is at this point that you could, if you fancy, add a little more butter, or a splash of water, but don’t do this whilst the pan is still on the heat as it won’t have the desired effect.

After a few minutes, add some boiling water and a vegetable stock cube.  I add enough water to cover the vegetables, and then the same amount again, once again, this is, I believe, a personal thing.  My suggestion is, add less water to start, as you can always add more later.

Let the whole thing simmer for about 20 minutes.

Take off the heat and let it cool for a wee while.  Have a cheekie taste to see if it needs any more salt and pepper.  I like my soups to have quite a peppery taste, but you may not.  It is at this point that you can either serve with some lovely warm bread, or whizz up and serve, with some lovely warm bread.

Just a last little note.  If you let this soup cook for too long, I think it start to lose it’s fresh flavour, therefore don’t be tempted to whip round with the hoover whilst it’s all simmering as, chances are, you may well forget your soup is simmering until it has gone past it’s best.  And there is nothing worse than a soup that tastes of yesterday’s cabbage.

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.

Sardines

Sardine tin

In my non- sandwich lunchtime quest, I consider many options prior to choosing what I will have to eat.  To be honest, it’s a wonder I manage to get anything else done at all as it is quite a preoccupation, let me tell you.  And today has been no exception.

Thankfully, I was inadvertently diverted to the tinned section of the supermarket and at last, found what I was looking for.  Unlike U2. (little musical pun there for anyone who’s interested) Moving on.

Now I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love the packaging of tinned fish. Especially those rectangular size tins with the ring pull.  There is just something so visually satisfying about the whole thing.  The font size, the picture, the shine… I’m also drawn to the feeling of history they seem to emit, as though they have been stored for a very long time, but, due to their marvellous packaging, they will not fail to delight when released from the tin.

And so it turns out to be.  Moreover, isn’t it bonkers how sardines really do seem to expand when you take them out of the tin?  Talk about packing them in…

Back to lunch.  Sardines on toast.  Simple, but delicious.  Now then, those of you like me, who are enamoured with the packaging of tinned fish will know that the classics come in tomato sauce or sunflower oil.  I always plump for the ones in tomato sauce when plopping them on toast because I like to add a couple of bits to give it a ‘je ne sais quoi’.

Also, they do it on the telly and it always looks impressive.  Not that we have a working telly anymore.  I’m hoping for the leaves to fall from next door but one’s trees soon so that I can re-engage with the television.  At the moment we have become the epitome of  the 1950’s.  Himself serenades me on the piano, and I have taken up knitting, which is wonderful, but…  It’s starting to get dark earlier, everything takes a little more time to spring into action, and at the end of the day it is getting a little easier to sit, slightly dribbling, on the settee for many more hours than you imagined possible.  But that’s a whole other story.

Anyway, where were we?  Oh yes… Having had the immense pleasure of opening the tin, put one slice of bread under the grill to toast and pop the sardines and sauce into a bowl.  Add salt, pepper, chilli flakes and a splash of vinegar in with the sardines, give them a mash up and plonk on the non toasted side of the bread.  Put back under the grill until the sardines are slightly bubbling.

Make a cup of tea.  Enjoy.

Sparkly Buns

sparkly buns

For the past ten years, the first Friday in the month of October is transformed into Light Night in our city.

It is the most glorious event, not because there are over 50 free creative experiences to enjoy, and not because of the diversity of arts and culture which included Opera North with its glorious array of musical instruments and classic set piece, Space2 and its garden of unearthly delights, to 365LeedsStories where all they wanted to know was what it is you hope or wish for, or where you will be in one years time – the wee boys answer? In a Bobba Fett outfit

*leaves slight pause to find relevance*

No, the reason this event is the most glorious of things, is that for one Friday night each year the city becomes alive with people of all shapes, sizes, colours, creeds, and cultural references to experience a collective enjoyment of all things that twinkle.

And then there is a relatively new thing which is starting to emerge.  The big piece. The unmissable.  The transfixingly mesmeric.  A play with lights and film projected onto the most apt of buildings, the City Hall.

Of course, what compliments a large group of people best of all?  Food.  Wonderful, aromatic street food.  I don’t think I have had such wonderful battered fish as we had from Fish& (@NoFishyBusiness).  The batter, which I normally discard, was light, fluffy and wonderfully peppery.

It is an amazing experience, as anyone who visits will testify.  The fact that it is only on for one night a year gives it that edge, rather like bonfire night – if you’re not there, whatever your excuse, you’ve missed it.  Which I also find very engaging.

‘So what did you do for Light Night?’  I hear you ask.

We made sparkly buns.