Fresh Apricots

fresh apricots

Look what popped up in our fruit box this week – gorgeous little fresh apricots.  You know summer is just around the corner when the fresh fruits on offer not only look as though they belong in your home, but taste as though they’ve been given time to ripen in actual sunshine.

Apricots are funny little things.  When I was growing up there were two versions of apricot.  The jam used for spreading on top of a Christmas cake before putting on the layer of marzipan, and the packet of dried apricots which my friend used to call ‘little girls ears’.  Funnily enough, they do bear a striking resemblance.

I have absolutely no recollection of when it was that I first tasted a fresh apricot but still always think they are going to taste like small peaches.  Which they don’t.

Similarly the doughnut peach has ‘appeared’ on the shelves recently, looking, for all intense and purpose, like it has been there forever.  And yet I don’t recall their presence as a staple summer fruit until a couple of years ago.

What I do remember was the first time I had a nectarine.  I can still recall with absolutely clarity, that juicy, sweet, soft pulp sensation in my mouth which, to me, was a perfect marriage between an apple, often too crunchy, and a peach, invariably too fluffy.  My tastebuds always sizzle with anticipation at the thought of the perfect nectarine.  Although holding a fruit in such high esteem does mean that the disappointment is exponentially hard hitting as a result.

Meanwhile we have had a few days of sunshine and warmth recently, which has not come a moment too soon.  I always think people look so beautiful on a sunny day.  The world seems to hold a lot more possibilities.  Which is a good thing as yesterday our bat-mobile decided that it had just had enough of driving us all around and stopped, quite abruptly.  Not only did it stop, but it had obviously made a secret pledge with itself that under no circumstances whatsoever, was it going to make any attempt to start.

Thankfully it had the decency to stop right in front of a house belonging to one of our lovely friends which gave myself and the wee boy chance to have a quick cuppa and a catch up before the man with his lorry came to take us home.

It also allowed the wee one to explain in detail to the twins, aged 8, whilst bouncing on a trampoline, that we were moving to Spain.  Which we’re not.

As a consequence of the bat-mobile’s unilateral decision making, we have all walked everywhere today which, thanks to the sunshine, has been a very pleasant experience.  I say that because it has been glorious weather and our timeframe has had enough leeway to indulge us in the pleasure.  For the record, I am not becoming a ‘walk everywhere’ convert.  I enjoyed the romance of walking in the sunshine eating strawberries and chatting idly about not much in particular because we don’t have to do it often.

*gives car the look*

Just so we’re clear.

Advertisements

Summer

Poppy

Oh my giddy aunt, it feels as though summer is almost upon us, and not a moment too soon.  What’s even more wonderful is that the evening light is only just fading at 10pm which always makes me feel as though we have much more ‘day’ in our lives.

It does, of course, also mean that everything is growing, blossoming, and generally shooting up at quite a rate of knots which has led me to declare that our garden is, officially, a wildlife garden.

Meanwhile, the wee boy has become very interested in the difference between bees, wasps and mosquitos – don’t ask, I’ve no idea why they have been included in the stripy wee beasties category – and as a consequence we have spent some time this afternoon ‘bee spotting’ in the garden, disturbing quite a few hidden cats in the process.  I never realised there were so many kittens in our area, but it turns out, there are at least three that are trying to invite themselves into our home.

This was personified today whilst I was cooking the obligatory weekly dose of spaghetti bolognese.

We already have a couple of cats who read the invisible ‘please, move in’ sign outside our door many years ago, but since the wee one inadvertently broke the flap piece of our cat flap recently, others have taken advantage of being able to silently enter the kitchen and make their way over to the bowls of food which, thanks to the warm weather, have not immediately been gobbled down.  Or, alternatively, sneak in at the dead of night and cosy themselves up on the sofa.

Interestingly, these visitors are all kittens.  The ginger and white one who managed, today, to eat half the food before we even noticed he was in the house, looked up at us as if to say, ‘What is your problem?’ before continuing to eat.  I physically removed him from the kitchen and popped him outside only to find, about ten minutes later, that we were living in Groundhog Day.

None of this detracts from the delight of summer being round the corner, and to that end, we are as I write this, eating the most delicious strawberries.  And nothing says summer, like the sweet taste of strawberries.

Weekend Breakfast

Weekend Breakfast

American pancakes, as you may well know, are a weekend family favourite.

I’m sure, were it on offer, they would be eaten regularly throughout the week, however, as a general rule, this breakfast is specifically created at some point during the weekend.

There are many reasons for this but if I’m totally honest, the main reason for only making American pancakes at the weekend is because I cannot get my head round putting it all together, sitting around the table to eat it, finishing a wonderfully made, Bialetti coffee, and then getting ready for the school/work day.  We’d have to be up at 6am which, for me, is a time reserved for going on holiday or an emergency only.

However, today being a Saturday, we did that thing.  And I discovered a lovely little combination of foods which I would like to share with you.  American pancake, bacon, maple syrup and strawberry.  Yes, you read that correctly, strawberry.  Who would have imagined this taste sensation could linger in the mind all day, but I’m telling you now, it’s an absolute treat and one that comes highly recommended.  Which is a good thing, as the repertoire of weekend dining has been severely slashed due to completely unforeseen circumstances.

Why?  Well, the oven has made a unilateral decision to go on strike without any prior warning.  And how, you may ask, did I find this out?  Whilst making a batch of sausage rolls which, having languished in a supposedly hot oven for over an hour, were still looking ever so slightly peaky.  Not right at all.

Thankfully the hob still works, and we are very close to summer which will allow us time to reassess the situation and begin our search for yet another vehicle of heated wonder.

Until then, prepare yourselves for an array of salads and one pot dishes…

Strawberry Cake

strawberry cake

We are nearing the end of our family birthday season as son #1 celebrated his 11th birthday yesterday.  As usual, we made a birthday cake which the wee boy decided should be a strawberry cake.  In December.

Funnily enough, I had seen some strawberries (from Egypt) in our local supermarket the other day as I was flying in for yet another thing that I had forgotten, so we, once again, flew into the shop and picked up a couple of punnets of strawberries.

I made a Victoria Sponge which consisted of 225g of butter, castor sugar and self raising flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 4 eggs.  But instead of adding vanilla extract, put a splash of strawberry essence into the mix.

Now here’s an interesting thing.  I used to cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs and extract/essence then sift in the flour and baking powder before folding it all into the creamed butter scenario.  However, I watched this very informative food history programme a couple of months ago which said that the only reason people sifted their flour, was to make sure there were no bugs or remnants of other wee beasties, hanging out in the flour.  No other reason.  So, now I just shove the whole lot into my glorious Kenwood and turn the knob on.

I tell you what, I think the cake comes out lighter than it used to.  Obviously both tins of mixture, when cooked, still resemble an attempt at K2, but that’s my oven.

So, back to the cake.  Having successfully cooked the sponge I turned my attention to the icing and, having tasted the strawberries, decided that they were not pleasant enough to plonk on top of the cake, and went on to severely reprimand myself for even considering buying strawberries in December.  However, as I had already purchased said offending article, I thought it probably best to whizz them up with icing sugar and a little butter to bring out their sweetness and make a beautiful coloured icing.

And this is where everything went a little pear shaped.

Firstly, I hadn’t taken into consideration the amount of water strawberries hold, naturally.  So, having whizzed up the amounts I normally use (half amount of butter to icing sugar) I found myself faced with a beautiful river of deep pink sweetness. No problem, I thought, I’ll just add more icing sugar.  After all, I had plenty.

After the whole jar of icing sugar had been used to no avail, I then did that thing which I presume most people do when they haven’t quite come to terms with the inevitable.  I opened the fridge door, and looked inside.

I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned it before, but our fridge is a little temperamental and has taken upon itself to make unilateral decisions as to the level of cold it pumps through itself.  Recently, it’s gone to full blast, almost freezing. As a consequence of which, a can of fizzy pop that has been lingering in the fridge for the last few months, decided it had had enough of hanging around in the ever increasing cold with no attention being given to it, and exploded.  Inside the fridge.

The thing about Christmas, is that the amount of time I can dedicate to menial tasks diminishes exponentially with the amount of time left until the big day.  In reality, this means that anything, such as the fridge wearing the after effects of an exploding can of pop, that should really be given my full attention, is given the ‘quick flick’ treatment.  As in, wipe away what you can see, leave the deep clean for another day.

I know, it’s appalling behaviour and I should feel much more ashamed than I do.  It’s on the list.

Back to the icing.  Having stared, mid distance, into the unappealing fridge, I realised that I had no option but to go out and buy some more icing sugar.  Which I duly did.  And this is where things took another interesting turn.

It seems that the weekend before Christmas, the world and his wife suddenly takes a fancy to buying icing sugar.

Of all the things that worry me, my local supermarket running out of icing sugar has just never made an appearance.   Until now.  Thankfully there was a box of royal icing sugar hiding away at the back of the shelf, so I swiped it up, paid for it, and made a quick exit.

To be honest, it didn’t make that much difference, and I should have maybe let it get itself together in the fridge for a while before popping it onto the cake however, as you all know, birthdays are only 24 hours long, and the clock was ticking.

You’ll be pleased to hear that eventually, everything came together and we managed to put candles onto a sloping cake sat in the middle of a strawberry river. But, as always, once a candle or two is lit, the magic always appears.  And yesterday was no exception.

It tastes pretty good too.

Now then, what else do I have to do?

*pulls out a list as long as your arm*

Strawberries in Dark Syrup

photo (58)

It is thanks, once again, to Nigella, that I discovered this most fabulous and extremely easy recipe which uses strawberries in a different way, because, as much as I love strawberries, they are not now at their best really and quite frankly, everything needs a little pick me up sometimes.

So, as I said, this is an absolute doddle to do, and it is as follows:

1kg Strawberries

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

10 tablespoons castor sugar

Time

Put all in a bowl (barring the time), stir, cover with cling film and place in the fridge for at least three hours according to Nigella, although I reckon an overnight stay in the fridge helps everything along very nicely thank-you.  Give it a stir occasionally to make sure all the strawberries are coated.

There are a couple of things to remember.  Firstly, these are best ‘with’ something. Yesterday we had them with American pancakes.  Sponge cake is good, basically anything that soaks up the deliciously sweet sauce is fantastic.   They are also very delicious warmed up and poured over very cold vanilla ice cream.  I wouldn’t recommend a cream accompaniment, too much sloshing round in one bowl for my taste.  However, you may absolutely love it.

The other thing is, make sure your quantities are relatively accurate.  I made the mistake of having a few too little strawberries yesterday, and although I halved the vinegar sugar combo, there was a hint of vinegar lingering disparagingly in the background like a unknown, quiet guest.  Not unpleasant, but not engaging either.

Once you have had these, I promise you, the flavour will tease you for days afterwards, enticing you to make some more and share the discovery with your family and friends, who will be bowled over too.  Job done.

 

 

Strawberry and Almond crumble

photo (53)

Well I was going to write about my infamous chocolate slices today, and rant about the use of the word tiffin, but I have found myself delightfully distracted by stumbling across Nigella’s recipe of the day on twitter.

As you may or may not be aware, I do have a huge amount of respect for Nigella. Not because of her television programmes, her sultry looks to camera, or her seemingly glamorous lifestyle.  In fact none of the typical love her or loathe her arguments cross my mind for more than a second.  The reason why I think Nigella is fabulous, is that in spite of all the heartache she has suffered over the years, her passion for food remains.  And her honest passion is just so obvious, as any lover will testify.

Therefore, it is to this end that I follow Nigella on twitter.  Now for me twitter, facebook and the other social media forums, are something that I dip in and out of. But with twitter I am especially drawn to the notion that you can ‘pop in’ for literally seconds, and get a snapshot of what those you follow are thinking.  Which gives me endless amusement and knowledge.

So today, when I dropped in for a few seconds to see what was happening on twitter, Nigella had posted strawberry and almond crumble, to which my mind said, ‘ah ha, we have some strawberries that we didn’t eat yesterday, I’ll use them’.  Of course, when I went to check the weight of the strawberries, (you need 500g, hulled), to see if I needed to buy more, the box I had were festering in the vegetable rack, oozing a red liquid which even to me, looked unpalatable.

And so it was, that I had to trundle off to the supermarket and buy more strawberries, and some almonds, and actually almost all the ingredients, which was not my intention but once I have the idea in my head, tell you what, there’s not much that stops me…  Barring lack of money, time, or just forgetting what I went for.

Having gathered all the ingredients together, I made the crumble which I have to say is extremely easy, and popped it in the oven.  Now, taking into consideration that my oven doesn’t always understand what it has been designed to do, I checked on the crumble regularly to make sure it didn’t come out half burnt, and did exactly as instructed i.e. left it out for ten minutes before serving.

The verdict?  We all agreed it was sweet, indulgent and absolutely delicious.

I’ll definitely be slotting this recipe into my repertoire.  Thank-you, once again, Nigella.

http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/strawberry-and-almond-crumble

Eating Mango

photo (42)

I absolutely love mangos.  The colour, the texture, the sweetness and the fact that they’re bloody difficult to cut open properly.  This means that when you do eventually get into the fruit there is an overwhelming sense of achievement completely disproportionate to the action.  But guess what? I’ve found a cheat.  Did you know that there are packets of mango, already cut, in the frozen section of the supermarket?  The wonders of modern day living eh?  Anyway…

Today we have been smoothie biking, and alongside the strawberries, bananas, cherries, raspberries, blueberries and pineapple, the golden cubes of mango have done a stirling job in adding sunshine.

However, there are still some people who haven’t experienced the delights of mango, and as a consequence, I have had the following conversation quite a few times today:

Them:  What’s that?

Me:  Mango.

Them:  Pulls a funny face.

Me: (enthusiastically) It’s delicious.

Pause

Me:  Would you like to try some?

Them:  No love.  I don’t think it’s for me.

Me:  (Not wanting to give up) Have you had it before?

Them:  I think I’ll just have banana

Me:  Right.

You see the thing is, I never want to force someone to eat something which may put them off for life, but I am always amazed that with mango, people don’t look at it, fall in love with the colour, and just give it a go.  I mean, what is there not to love?

Never mind, it left more for those who, like me, are fully fledged members of the eating mango gang.