Fruit Head

Fruit Head

Recently I have been hanging around with a lovely group of people, making fruit heads.  Then pottering down the road to pop them in the trees for the wee beasties that hang out there, to eat.

Interesting, I hear you say, but why are you telling us about the mundanity of your day to day life?

Well, the reason I have divulged this little ditty is simple.  There are sometimes much more enjoyable things to do with fruit and vegetables than merely eat them.

Enjoy.

Sunday Stew

stew

There are many versions of Sunday lunch that I merrily trough my way through regularly, and then, after a huge sigh, exclaim,

‘That was just delicious!’

Complete satisfaction.

With stew however, there is a little bit more that happens.  A certain je ne sais quoi of fulfilment which reaches the parts other lunches only dream about.  I think it’s probably a combination of the slowly marinated meat, perfectly complimented by the creamy mashed potato, and today, broccoli.

When son #1 was little, one day he sat at the table to a meal which included broccoli, and declared he didn’t like broccoli any more.  There was a slight pause and then himself, very calmly, explained to son #1 that his decision to not eat broccoli was his to make, but meant he would never be able to run fast, as the two things went hand in hand.

There was another thoughtful pause and we continued with the meal, by the end of which, all the broccoli had been eaten.

It has been thus ever since, and son #1 is a pretty fast runner.  I’m not saying the theory is conclusive, but…

Now then, everyone has their own stew method, but most stews reach the top echelon of satisfaction by being cooked slowly. To achieve this I rise early to prepare all the components, in order that they are given as good a chance as possible to become perfectly combined.  When I say early, my Sunday early is 8.30. Just so you know.

Anyway, toss the beef in flour, salt and pepper, then gently fry in butter and vegetable oil that has melted in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pan, until browned.

Take out the meat and set aside.  Add chopped onion, carrots and turnip to the pan. These are softened before I add boiling water and put the meat back in.  Give it a good stir, add a few sprigs of thyme, a good sprinkling of coarsely ground black pepper and some beef stock.  Put the lid on, place in the lower part of the oven, gas mark 2/3 for me, and leave there for 4 – 6 hours.

The next part is probably one of the most comfort evoking things for me.  The smell of the stew slowly wafts around the kitchen and gently infuses through everyone’s nostrils creating calm anticipation.  Obviously, if you leave your crew waiting too long, they do start to get a little grumpy, so make sure that any potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, vegetables, etc are ready to go.

I like to indulge in a creamy mashed potato one day and then fill a Yorkshire pudding the next.  You, of course, may decide to do both, or neither.  I would however (if I may), gently suggest that a green vegetable such as savoy cabbage, broccoli, green beans etc. compliments the whole thing perfectly.

And of course, having this meal for Sunday lunch means that everyone can sit staring into space, or even enjoy a cheekie forty winks, for an hour or so afterwards, without a care in the world.

It makes that ‘early’ start absolutely worth it.

 

 

 

Slow Cooked Pulled Pork

pulled pork

 I know, everyone’s pulling meat these days.  So on the recommendation from one of our lovely friends, I thought I’d give it a go as I felt I couldn’t possibly miss out on this culinary zeitgeist.

Now this is the thing.  It involves placing a piece of pork in a bath of cherry coke, honey, BBQ spices and a little salt.

That’s it.

You place everything in a pot, put in the oven, and leave it for 6 – 8 hours.  Actually, when I say pot, what was recommended to me was a slow cooker, but I figured as I don’t have one of those any more because I broke the lid, I would just use a pot.

Despite my slight misgivings at cooking with cherry coke (I used the supermarket brand version) I decided that I needed to shrug off my misconceptions and venture out of my comfort zone.  So I did everything that was required and spent the rest of the day metaphorically navel gazing.

Well, to be honest, not completely, but it did feel strange having very little to do, culinary wise.

Meanwhile, we have had a strange incident involving the curtain rail in the wee boys bedroom.  Amazingly, despite both boys playing rather boisterously very close by to said curtains, when questioned, the wee boy declared that the rail, holding up his bedroom curtains, ‘just fell off’.

I understand a well known curtain manufacturer have declared a product recall on their curtain rails ‘just falling off’.  Which, obviously, explains everything.

Anyway, to compliment the pork I roasted some butternut squash, carrots, shallots, potatoes and aubergines.  When the pork had been lounging in a low heated oven for many hours, I took it out and, hey presto, the meat just fell apart.  And, as I am a lover of sauces, I created something delicious out of the meat juices, which also complimented the meat and vegetables perfectly.

Who’d have thought cooking with fizzy pop could be so successful?

Wild Mushroom Pate

Wild Mushroom Pate

I don’t know about you, but I love mushrooms of any kind, be they fresh, dried, in soup, on pizza… you get the idea.   Therefore, it will come as no surprise for you to learn that, having done a little research, I have found a recipe for mushroom pate which I felt would do the mushrooms proud.

Oh my giddy aunt, if you love mushrooms, you will be smitten with this little number.

The ingredients are as follows:

20g dried wild mixed mushrooms

50g butter

375g flat mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons brandy or whiskey

60ml double cream (I believe Americans call it Thick Cream)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon juniper berries, ground

And here’s how you make it:

Soak the dried mushrooms in 250ml hot, not boiling, water.  Leave to replump. Have a cup of tea, eat cake, chat to friends, go shopping, anything which takes up 2 hours. Return to the mushrooms and drain, leaving 2 tablespoonfuls of the liquid in a cup for later.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the mushrooms, garlic, dried mushrooms and their little bit of liquid.  Cook for 5 minutes or so.  Then add the brandy and cook for another couple of minutes.

Leave to cool.  Maybe enjoy a little sherry.

Put the mushroom mixture and everything else, including 1/2 teaspoon of salt and black pepper, into a food processor.  Whizz up until smooth.

Now then, it is at this juncture that I have to admit to not owning a food processor any more.  Unfortunately, the processor and I fell out one day when I left it alone for a very short while, only to return and find it had whizzed itself off the kitchen surface, and now lay, silent, on the floor.

Since that episode, I have used a hand blender, which I have to say, has done me proud.  A replacement food processor is obviously on the list, but no where near as essential as I originally had thought.

Where was I?  Oh yes.

The amalgamated pate needs to be put into a bowl and left to refrigerate for a couple of hours, or until solid.  Which in the case of my fridge, is around 10 minutes.

It is delicious with raw vegetables, on toast, or even on Melba Toast if you can cope with it’s slight hint of sweetness.  If serving upmarket style, may I suggest toast, pate, dollop of creme fresh and leaf of flat leaf parsley?

Whichever way you decide to devour the pate, if you like mushrooms, you will love this.

Obviously if you don’t like mushrooms I really wouldn’t bother making this recipe, unless you’re being extra specially wonderful and just making it for mushroom lovers.

Cooking Chicken

photo (70)

There are very few cooking pots that stand out in a crowd for their innovative design and practical supremacy.  There are perfect pieces of pottery, and classic pieces of cookware.  It is rare to find a wonderful combination of the two.

Enter the Chicken Brick.

This beautiful piece of culinary design was created by David Queensbury for Habitat 50 years ago, and as far as I’m concerned, is one of their most successful pieces in their short, but colourful history.  It is one of my favourite cooking pots.  Or to be more precise, terracotta cooking pots.

And here’s how it works.  The pot acts as a culinary kiln, and because it is terracotta and therefore porous, it allows the heat to drift through it very nicely so that the chicken and its accompanying orchestra of vegetables, cook away in their own juices, thus creating a perfectly succulent bird every time.  And if you’re worried that the chicken may look a little anaemic having had no direct heat onto it’s skin, don’t. It manages to come out with a very healthy tan.

I always tend to put onions and carrots as a cushion for the chicken to sit on top sprinkled with salt and pepper, but to be honest, it is just as delicious without added vegetables, and it is absolutely up to you what you pop in there.  I add a little boiled water into the base before putting in the oven, to make sure I don’t have a minor panic attack as to whether there will be enough gravy or not.  You can never have enough gravy in my book.  Anyway.  I then put the brick on the shelf nearest the middle of a pre heated oven.  Gas mark 5.  There is a rule of minutes per weight for every meat, but as with everything oven based in my home, I have to adjust according to the outside influences.  Therefore, I tend to just use a thermometer.

So why is this so fabulous then eh?  Well, there are a few reasons.  Firstly, the chicken always tastes succulent and gorgeous which is a bonus as chicken, although texturally satisfying, is quite a bland meat if it doesn’t have a great support act.  I find that the sweetness of the carrots and onions imbibe the chicken enough to add flavour, but without overpowering it.  As a slight diversion, I have found that this combination makes beef, cooked in the chicken brick, taste wonderful as well. Secondly, the stock that I use for the gravy has a taste that I find hard to replicate through any other formula, and finally the pot itself has a quirk and style to it that is unbeatable.  If you like that kind of thing.  Which I do.

There are a couple of very, very minor downsides to the Chicken Brick.  The first one is that it takes up quite a bit of space if you don’t have other pots or dishes of the same shape.  Luckily I do.  But if you didn’t, you would probably have to either buy some oval dishes, or accept the fact that the brick needs it’s own space.  And secondly, it doesn’t take kindly to letting go of washing up liquid, so wash wisely.  But hey, these are blips on an otherwise perfect piece of innovative culinary design.

And so to dinner.  As it’s Sunday, I am opting for a traditional Sunday affair.  Chicken, sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, and steamed mini sweetcorn, long stemmed broccoli, sugar snap peas and mange tout, all covered in gravy.  Delicious.

As a final thought, if you like the idea of using a Chicken Brick but are a little concerned about spending money on something you feel you may regret, why not find someone who owns one and ask to borrow it?

Mine will be free from this evening, if anyone’s interested.