Monday, 14 December 2009

Oaty bread rolls

Sometimes things turn out perfectly and with me it's usually an accident. The same can be said for bread which is a moody beast at the best of times. It seems to be affected by the weather and humidity and the temperature of the room and the position of the moon in pisces. Actually I made that last one up, but I might be right!

Anyway I made a batch of bread on Sunday having been shamed into it by Pipany who, besides making pretty hand sewn and embroidered things also bakes bread almost every day. I used to, but then I went back to work and a few daily habits (bread making, dusting, tidying up, mowing the lawn) have been lost on the way.

The basic recipe I use for bread is in Bread: River Cottage Handbook Number three by Dan Stevens, which is such a brilliant book. He explains exactly how to make excellent bread and my breadmaking has improved since I got it.

His basic recipe is for a kilo of flour with 10g of yeast, 20g of salt, a handful or two of extras (like oats and seeds), 600ml of warm water, maybe a glug of oil or a knob of butter and then the magic of kneading.

For Sunday's rolls I use white flour and 10g of dried yeast which I start in the warm water with a teaspoon of golden caster sugar. I leave that in a warm place to froth up while I add the other bits to the flour: salt (but I only use 15g, not Dan's 20g), one tablespoon (or so) of runny lavender honey, a good big glug of sunflower oil and two handfuls of porridge oats. I then pour in the water and yeast and leave it in the Kenwood mixer to knead for ten minutes.

I then put the dough to rise until it reaches the top of the bowl, then let the mixer gently knead it again - and you must be gentle with the dough. Dan Stevens has got me out of my kneading and pounding at dough frame of mind and into a much gentler one. I then leave it to rise for a second time, again to the top of the bowl. I think it's the double rising that really develops the gluten and makes good bread. It can't be rushed.

Next it's time for shaping (again gently) and I cut this dough up into 16 pieces and shape into rolls. Then you need bowls - I use wide soup bowls. The first is for milk and the others for whichever coatings you want on your rolls. I use porridge oats and poppyseeds. What you do is submerge the rolls in the milk and then into the coatings, patting it in all over. Then put the rolls onto a baking tray and leave them to rise for a third time until - as Dan Stevens puts it - they're absolutely bursting to be baked.

They then go into a pre-heated oven at it's hottest temperature (I manage Gas mark 9, but hotter is better) for ten minutes. Then you turn the oven down to Gas 4 to 5 for another 10 to 15 minutes and they're done.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Way Things Are

I could never really say what we actually eat from day to day. I'm not a great planner of meals. Most of the time I tend to just cook whatever happens to be to hand. Sometimes, though I'm organised and that's great.

Last night is a good example of The Way Things Are. I found a packet of prawns in the freezer. I didn't know they were there because Brian bought them. He does most of the supermarket shopping and I do most of the cooking which can lead to Old Mother Hubbard moments when there's nothing in the house except Marmite and bran flakes.

These prawns were the fat, juicy frozen uncooked type. What a find! I had some risotto rice and a head of broccoli, so it seemed to suggest a risotto.

I sweated off a finely chopped onion in a bit of butter, added the chopped broccoli with the tender parts of the stalk, and then a cupful of rice and let that lot toast and sweat in the butter for about five minutes.

Next I added a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and let the rice drink it up before adding a couple of mugfuls of hot chicken stock made from those lovely little Knorr Stockpots - dinky little pots of jellied stock without the powdery taste of previous fave Marigold bouillon.

Then I left it to cook. There is a school of thought that says you should hover over a risotto, stirring it lovingly and adding ladles of hot stock as the rice drinks it up. Then there's another school of thought which says bung the whole lot in at once. I belong to the latter.

Then the cat arrived among the pigeons - or rather the mobile fishmonger arrived and I'd not only forgotten he was coming, I'd also neglected to make sure I had the requisite cash to make a purchase. Granny in the Annexe took pity and procured me half a kilo of mussels. Perfect to add to my seafood risotto.

So I did, along with the prawns, a pinch of thyme and a bit more butter and very delicious it was too (I was told).

So that was The Way Things Were last night. Tonight's going to be much the same, except I haven't got a nice bag of prawns to discover any more.

There is, however, a rather charming lobster...

Friday, 23 October 2009

Halloween cupcakes

H7, no longer the teeniest Brownie in the pack, has decided it is time for her to do her cooking badge. This requires her to complete a number of cooking-related tasks and to understand that hands must be washed and that knives are sharp.

She has had to cook a healthy meal (leek and potato soup - her current signature dish) and some cakes or biscuits that she can take and share with her fellow Brownies.

Hence the Halloween cupcakes (yes, they're fairy cakes, but 'Halloween fairy cakes' sounded odd).

This is your usual run of the mill fairy cake recipe: two large eggs, a slosh of vanilla extract and 125g each of butter, caster sugar and self raising flour. H7 mixed it all in the new Kenwood; the first time she has used it and extra-exciting because of it. Then the mix is spooned into cake cases and baked for 15 minutes, which is about the time it takes to lick fingers, spoons and bowls clean.

She then topped them with glace icing and spirals of black icing dragged out into spider web shapes with a toothpick. (I helped with the spirals - the icing tube was a bit tough to squeeze for little hands, but she did manage three.)

All it needed then was a bag of jelly spiders (actually some of them are bats - we ran out of spiders) and there you have it - Halloween cupcakes and a step in the direction of a Brownies cooking badge.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Really fast courgettes and pasta

Finally the courgette plants have started producing and, as usual, after a complete drought we now have a glut of the things.

I plant two varieties of courgettes: Genovese, a pale green skinned variety, and Cocozelle, a stripy traditional Italian style one. I don't grow the dark, green skinned ones any more because they just used to get overlooked because we adore the taste of the other two varieties more.

Generally when we eat them with a meal I just roughly cube the courgettes and put them into a pan with about a tablespoon of butter and let them cook until they're soft.

Sometimes, though, I serve them with pasta and this is how:

Fusilli with courgettes and crème fraiche.

(This method is loosely based on a River Cafe recipe from the new River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book which was previewed in the November issue of Red magazine, although it's something I've made before, but without a recipe. The River Cafe recipe uses 150g of butter which might be authentically Italian, but it's too much for me!)

Boil the fusilli according to the packet instructions in boiling salted water. I use 9oz for the four of us - two adults and two children. The River Cafe uses 320g, is that about 9oz? Probably.

Add a slug of olive oil to a pan and cook a sliced clove of garlic for a few minutes.

Add to that 250g (or so) of courgettes chopped into rounds, halved or quartered if the courgette is a little rotund.

Add a slice of butter. How much does this weigh? About 50g or so, but it's not important.

Leave to cook, turning the courgette and garlic over in the buttery oil, scraping the bits off the bottom. Use a medium to lowish heat - not too high, if it browns it'll taste bitter.

When the courgette is soft, take the pan off the heat and let it cool for a few moments. If you've timed this correctly the pasta will be about done by now too. Often it isn't, but the courgettes don't mind hanging around.

Add a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche (I use the lower fat version) to the courgettes and stir. It will seem a bit thick, so add a couple of ladlefuls of the pasta cooking water and stir again. This will give you a lovely silky sauce.

Toss the fusilli into the lovely creamy courgette-y sauce and serve in bowls with plenty of freshly grated parmesan and black pepper.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Simple suppers

Just a couple of aides memoires for me really.

These are two suppers from the past week which got the thumbs up from the family.

The first was a Pork Pastry Plait.

250 g minced pork

Place in a bowl and add all/most/some of:

Chopped spring onions
Grated apple
Generous handful of chopped fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary)
Salt and pepper
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce (actually tamari)
Two to three cream crackers whizzed to crumbs in the processor (or breadcrumbs or porridge oats)

Mix together and shape into a stubby, fat sausage.

Unroll a sheet of puff pastry and roll it out a little thinner. Place the pork on top and cut horizontal slashes in the pastry. Bring the ends up and then lattice the pastry strips across the meat, crossing them over and tucking the ends in as you go.

Place on a baking tray, brush all over with beaten egg and bake at Gas Mark 5 for about half an hour, until it is golden brown and cooked through.

I served this with some courgettes, fresh from the garden, which I cubed and then cooked quickly in about a teaspoonful of butter in a pan.

The second is Creamy Store Cupboard Pasta

This is a really fast tea and is perfect for one of those happy moments when you find the tail end of a tub of creme fraiche in the fridge, along with odds and sods of other tasty little treats.

Boil a handful or two of pasta per person in a big pot of salted water for 10 minutes, until al dente.

Raid the fridge for: Mushrooms, ham, cheese (soft or semi-soft, preferably blue), leftover olives anything really that goes with all of the above. Chop them up a bit. Toss the mushrooms into a pan with a little butter and some garlic, if you've got some (and you're not going to the dentist tomorrow. Although last time I went to the dentist she had definitely been eating garlic!)

When the pasta is cooked scoop out a cupful of the cooking water, drain the pasta and put it back into the hot pan. Add the creme fraiche and the mushrooms and all the other yummy bits you could find, stir around so that everything gets hot. If the sauce is a bit thick, add some of the water you reserved (which also helps the sauce to meld with the pasta).

Add some lovely fresh chopped herbs too, a good handful and some pepper and a swipe or two of nutmeg on the grater.

Pile into bowls and top with freshly grated parmesan and lashings of ground black pepper. This is never the same twice (it varies from fridge to fridge!) but it's always delicious!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Sunday pancakes

Sunday is always pancakes day. We don't rush out of bed, so it's usually at least 8am by the time I'm digging the blender out of the cupboard. The coffee maker goes on and bubbles away to Aled Jones on Radio Two's Good Morning Sunday while I make the batter. Steve Wright's Sunday Love Songs generally accompanies the actual cooking part. It all makes for a mellow, relaxed Sunday morning, before I charge off on a long run. Today it's an eight miler, so I feel quite at liberty to smother at least four of these pancakes in maple syrup or Nutella.

These are based on Nigella Lawson's banana buttermilk pancakes from 'Feast', but as ever I have tweaked things to suit the way I like to cook them.

RECIPE: Banananilla Sunday Pancakes

Place the following into a blender and whiz:

Two (or three) VERY ripe bananas, the sort that are so black they're falling out of their skins in a banana-type strip tease. Less ripe ones work too, but are less bananary. Green ones are foul. Just don't.

1 egg. Or two, if you've got hens and they're showing off. I have been known to add up to four eggs to this.

250 ml plain yoghurt. (The original recipe specifies buttermilk, if you've got a pot of that, use it. I've always got yoghurt and rarely got buttermilk. If you've got neither use milk, perhaps a little less to begin with, you can always add more. Acidify the milk with a little lemon juice - the acid reacts with the raising agents and makes the pancakes fluffy.)

150g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

(Last Sunday I forgot to add the baking powder and the bicarb. The pancakes were still edible, but they tasted slightly sour - no alkaline agents for the acids in the yoghurt to react with and make carbon dioxide bubble to make the pancakes fluffy. Not just a recipe - a science lesson too!)

30g (about a tablespoonful - life's too short to measure this!) melted butter.

A good slug of vanilla extract.

Whiz together until nicely blended, then dollop spoonfuls (about one and a half tablespoonfuls per pancake) onto a hot griddle. Wait until bubbles appear...

...then flip over to cook the other side.

Pile onto a plate and serve.

Serve with maple syrup, golden syrup, Nutella, strawberry jam, peanut butter, chocolate sauce, toffee sauce, honey, etc!


Add: More bananas, less bananas, very ripe pear, tablespoonful of peanut butter, blueberries (drop onto the surface of the pancakes before flipping), wholemeal flour, handful of porridge oats, chopped plain chocolate (choconananilla pancakes), the sky's the limit, play!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Simple autumnal supper

Has anyone else been enjoying Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers? It's on BBC1 in the early evening on a Wednesday, I think, but I've been missing it and catching up on iPlayer.

I love Nigel Slater. Not least because he's a good cook, not least because he's from the same neck of the woods as me and used to pass my childhood home on his school bus every day (according to his autobiography, Toast), but mainly because he cooks like I do and now he's got a programme all to his lovely self passing on all his brilliant tips.

He's not a slavishly follow a recipe man, just as I'm not that sort of woman. Who ever has all the ingredients to exactly follow a recipe? I don't and I'm sure most other people don't either. He cooks instinctively: What's in the garden? What's in the fridge? What's about to go off? What's just perfect for now? And then he wings it.

Tonight I wung it as usual. I was faced with a hungry man who wanted 'chicken, but tender' on a plate, and two equally hungry children, one of which has been clamouring for mashed potato for weeks. I ignored the latter (she hadn't been digging new steps in the garden) and I made up a chicken thing using a punnet of chicken thighs from (dratted) Tesco, the tail end of a chorizo from Narberth's glorious Spanish deli Ultracomeda, a couple of fabulous onions (proper boo-hooers these) and some nice maincrop spuds. Into the mix went some black olives and a jolly good glug of Taffy Apples cider, made in Wales and absolutely delicious (though it pains me to admit liking Welsh cider, being a Worcesetershire girl.) I remembered the lovely Nige and headed out into the garden for its contribution: A big handful of broadleaved thyme seemed to fit the bill.

I sizzled the chorizo, then added the chopped onions and cubed spuds. The thighs were already skinless and boneless so I snipped those into cubes with a pair of kitchen scissors (I find that much easier than using a knife) and added those to the pan. I then shared the Taffy Apples between the pan, the hungry husband and me (it was a 500 ml bottle), popped in the olives and the thyme and slapped on a lid. It was done, I decided, when the chicken was tender and the potatoes had gone soft and thickened the sauce a bit. I peppered it, but not salt as the chorizo is quite salty already.

While the chicken thing simmered I tackled a bowlful of mixed plums (Victoria, greengage, damson) that was slowly turning to honeyed mush. These I halved and tossed in a pan for a while with a tablespoon of butter and two of caster sugar. Result: thick, sweet, chunky plum sauce the colour of unicorns' eyes (which is a deep ruby red, by the way).

The chicken thing was lovely in bowls with steamed broccoli, the plums were beautiful as well as delicious with vanilla ice cream.

It was a simple, cheap, autumnal supper. I think the lovely Nigel would have been proud of me!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Happy Days...

I've been neglecting my cooking blog! Not because I haven't been cooking, but just lack of time. Anyway I was in receipt of a lovely shiny new cook book yesterday. (Mr PM: "Of course, you really need another cookbook. Quite obviously you haven't got enough already..." Sarcastic rolling of eyes, etc. See photo. It's not that many...).

But food, like clothes, develops over time. There are fads and fashions. Things go out of date. Why am I justifying myself?

So, I'm not going to review the new book (which was Rachel's Favourite Food by Rachel Allen, for those who want to know) instead I'm going to revisit an old favourite and tell you the tale of a favourite recipe from it.

Here it is:
This was from the days when young Jamie was still 'nobbut a lad', before he got into the politics of school dinners and the fact that people may watch his programmes by the million, but they don't actually cook (mostly because they can't).

It's an excellent book, full of lovely stuff that I love to cook (as the fact that it is bristling with green Post-It notes testifies).

So which recipes have I cooked most often? Beef Stew with Newcastle Brown Ale and Dumplings; Roasted Cod with cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella; Baked Cod with Avocado, Prawns, Cream and Cheese; Chicken Breast Baked in a Bag with Cannellini Beans, Leeks, Cream and Marjoram; Chicken Breast Baked in a Bag with Mushrooms, Butter, White Wine and Thyme, are the ones I have cooked more than once without really altering them, although we do have Smush Ins, which is more of an idea than a recipe, but the king of recipes is Rosemary Skewered Monkfish with Pancetta and Bread.

Actually I have never cooked this one with monkfish or pancetta and I don't use the rosemary skewers or the recommended ciabatta either. Mine's a more British version.

What I do (for four) is buy a couple of nice fat skinless, boneless salmon fillets from the fishmonger (okay, I'll admit, it's in Tesco. Sigh.) Cut these into neat cubes, then cut up some nice white bread from an unsliced loaf (or an uncooked garlic bread) into similar-sized cubes. Thread them alternately with the fish on to metal skewers.

Take some nice smoked streaky bacon from kindly-reared happy British pigs and stretch it and wind it around the kebabs. Them bash a few needles of fresh rosemary (about a tablespoonful or two) and a clove of garlic in a pestle and mortar until, well, bashed. Add some green extra virgin olive oil, stir and then drizzle over the kebabs. (You can leave this bit out if you've used garlic bread, which is a really fast cheat's version of this recipe.)

Bake in a pre-heated oven at Gas Mark 6 (Jamie says 7, but I always cook it at 6)/22o degrees C/425 degrees F until the fish is cooked and the bread is golden brown and crispy. I usually serve this with some steamed broccoli or a green salad and I remove the skewers in the kitchen.

If we're feeling really hungry I might par-boil potato wedges for nine minutes, then spread them on a tray, spritz with oil and cook them on the highest shelf in the oven (and definitely as Gas 7 - or even 8 - this time.)

A great meal, loved by all the family (you can make dinky cubes for small children) and one we have at least once a month, if not more often. It could probably be barbecued in the summer too. I've known fish-hating children eat this (it has bacon sandwich flavours with lots of garlic and the fish is well hidden) and the bread soaks up all the good Omega oils from the fish, so even if they don't actually eat the salmon, they get all the good stuff in the crispy bread cubes (and I've never known anyone turn those down).

Monday, 23 February 2009

Bread and butter pudding - again!

Now we have new enthusiastically laying hens my thoughts keep turning to things to do with all these lovely brown eggs we're getting.

I don't do weekday puddings, but a weekend wouldn't be a weekend without one (just as Sunday mornings aren't proper without pancakes).

So this weekend found me heading in the direction of the bread and butter pudding yet again, having plenty of eggs, various bits of sliced white from the local bakery and, serendipitously, a pot of double cream.

This time I did the jam sandwich method. You begin by rootling around in the fridge or the cupboard for suitable jam. Marmalade is also more than suitable and actually preferable in many cases, but not this one as I had marmalade-haters (who'd have thought there's such a thing?) to feed.

This time I found a pot of Andrew's strawberry and rhubarb jam, a jam of such stupendous deliciousness I did toy with the idea of not using it, but I knew it would be fabulous.

What you do is butter the bread and make rounds of jam sandwiches and cut into pretty triangles, enough to fill your dish in a single layer (squeeze them in like passengers in economy class - they don't need to breathe).

I put them pointy side up, but it's not really vital. If you like the crusty bits to be crusty try the other way up or alternate, whatever.

Next empty the 284 ml pot cream into a bowl or jug, fill the pot up again with milk and add that to the cream. Crack in three eggs and whisk it all together with two tablespoons of golden caster sugar.

Now add a tot of whiskey. This is fabulous in the marmalade version of the pud. Go mad and add two tots if you wish. I restrained myself to one as there were children present. Whisk the creamy whiskey mixture and then sniff. It smells like fabulous egg nog. Pour over the sandwiches in the dish and press down.

I hadn't enough of this lovely mixture to quite fill the dish and cover the sandwiches, so I whisked up another egg and half a pot of milk and poured that over too. It doesn't seem to mind this sort of treatment thankfully. I have been known to forget to add the sugar and then have to stir that in afterwards too. Press the sandwiches down into the creamy custard and leave it to stand for about an hour. It is vital the bread has time to soak up the yummy custard.

Heat the oven to Gas mark 4, sprinkle the pudding with a handful of soft brown sugar and bake until the middle is just set and the sugar had caramelised to a lovely crunchy golden brown.

Serve with single cream or ice cream.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A simple pleasure

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a lot to answer for. Last night I watched the Channel 4 programme in which HFW attempted to persuade Tesco to change its policy and stock free range chicken instead of those poor flabby barn-raised ones.

What really incensed me was Tesco's attitude in general (making Hugh foot the £85,000 bill for the postage costs; on-camera and off-camera interviews etc). It is far too easy to rely on Tesco. I'm forever banging on about this, but then 'just popping in' for something (pesto, for example) and coming out with our food shopping. (I was going to describe it as our weekly shop, but I only manage to get to a supermarket about once or twice a month - it's 17 miles away and local shops are just more convenient. It almost makes going to such a palace of consumption a bit of a treat. I said almost.)

So this morning, in need of a bit of green grocery I popped out to Narberth (a mere 11 miles away) a nice little town, twinned with Ludlow no less, and filled a bag full of lovely things from the oddly-named Wisebuys. Its name makes it sound like a pound shop, but it is a large deli-style place. Possibly the only place in Pembrokeshire you can get wasabi, for example. It also sells bunches of herbs in buckets, smoked things from local farmers (and Scottish ones too). It probably sells pesto (I must check).

It sells good quality fruit and veg too, such as the monster comice pears I bought this morning. These pears would be far too big for the likes of Tesco, but are pears like I remember from our comice tree in Worcestershire. On slightly breezy sunny pear ripening days the ponies and I used to stand beneath the mighty comice waiting for it to drop its fragrant bounty (it was about half a mile tall - or seemed so.) One gust of breeze and a soft, perfectly ripe pear the size of a small football would plummet to the ground. If it hit you it bloody hurt. Then you'd have to fight two ponies for it, but the taste was worth it... ah, memories.

Anyway, also available today was purple sprouting broccoli. I phoned my husband to brag and then ate all of it lightly steamed with a poached egg, lots of black pepper and a dash or two of tamari. A simple pleasure, a lovely treat, and all thanks to the hard work of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the stubborn intransigence of bloody Tesco.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Taking the pesto

I have a longstanding fascination with what other people eat. This overflows into supermarkets where I love to indulge in trolley gazing and in close analysis of other shoppers' shopping as it flows along the conveyor belt to the checkout.

The old ladies, for example, with their cakes and pouches of Whiskas. Fat chavs, in low slung jeans with low slung bellies clutching sulky sullen kids, with their heaped trollies of biscuits and burgers and smiling fried potato slices.

What do they think of the contents of my trolley? Well Tesco is pretty sure that I'm a vegetarian as I never buy meat there, but I do occasionally buy fish, so what does that make me? A piscatarian? (Or possibly a 'taking-the-piscatarian'.) Anyway, I don't buy many veggies there either as I either grow them or buy them from the Farmers Market.

So what do I buy from Tesco? Those round Finn Crisp crispbreads for a start. These I top with low fat soft cheese (NOT the high fat stuff which is too tongue cloggingly bleurch) and then a scrape of pesto. This is a case in point. It MUST be Tesco's own brand fresh pesto to which I am addicted. It is, in fact, the sole reason I go to Tesco and not Morrisons, Lidl or Aldi. And Delia Smith is totally to blame. I know in the past I was scornful of Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking book, but I did get a copy and she did recommend this pesto and (as expected) Delia was right and now I'm addicted. Which means I must occasionally darken the door of my nearest Tesco to get my pesto 'fix'.

This is quite simply the best pesto I have tasted. I could eat it from the pot with a spoon (and quite often do!) My children love it too, particularly dolloped into homemade minestrone soup or stirred into a quick tortelloni pasta supper. It's also lovely on top of cottage cheese on a nice crunchy skinned baked potato.

Which takes me back to the reason for this blog. What do you eat when you're in a hurry? If it's just me I'll probably eat the crispbread/cream cheese/pesto combo, but if there's a family to feed I have a couple of store cupboard fallback positions.

One is tuna noodles: Take a couple of sheets of dried egg noodles, chop a head of broccoli and add both to a pan of boiling water. Simmer for four minutes, drain and add a tin of drained tuna and a knob of butter. Top with plenty of ground black pepper. This quantity serves two adults and two small children. It's ready in five minutes and is a bit of a life-saver.

Tortelloni gratin: This is for those packs of filled tortelloni that supermarkets offer, but NEVER the ones with meaty fillings (too much like Whiskas). Ricotta and spinach is the best, or maybe the four cheeses or pesto versions. The beef ones are far too spooky. Simmer in boiling water for the recommended time. Meanwhile sweat shredded savoy cabbage, onions, leeks and chopped garlic in a little butter or olive oil until soft and unctuous. Add half a tub of creme fraiche (soft cheese or even cottage cheese) and as much of the aforementioned Tesco pesto as you wish. Mix in the tortelloni. Now you can either serve it as it is (which is quickest) or you can pile it into a gratin dish, top with a mixture of grated Parmesan/Cheddar/Gruyere and pop into a hot oven (gas 6, 200 degrees C) until golden brown and bubbling. This is lovely with a watercress/spinach/rocket type of salad. Serves four.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Throughly yummy sandwich for a Tuesday

I had this sandwich for lunch today. It was one of those lunches forced on me by happenstance. Hannah, you see, in reaching for carrot peelings to feed to the Guinea Pigs, had knocked over the eggs and one cracked.

"Mummy you're going to be cross," she said, leaving the kitchen at a sprint.

Lunch, therefore, began with one slightly cracked egg from our lovely bantam who came into lay, quite festively, on Christmas Day and has honoured us with a daily egg ever since.

I poached said egg and its brother from the day before in a small pan of boiling water. Being so tiny and so fresh, they're a joy to poach, setting to a pleasing oval shaped white with a shocking jaffa orange yolk.

I had a handful of spinach, so I washed it and wilted it in a pan. Meanwhile I toasted two thin slices of white bread and lightly buttered it.

Sandwich assembly time. Place the bottom slice of toast on a plate. Top with spinach and a grind of black pepper, then a dollop - small one, it's January - of Hellman's mayonnaise. Top with the eggs and then the final slice of toast.

Apply, as Nigella would say, to face. If you can eat this without getting egg on your chin, then you're a better woman (or man) than I. Either that or you cooked your eggs for longer. Any which way, it was delicious.

Monday, 12 January 2009

A snuggly pear and almond pudding for a chilly day

I made this last night for to follow a Sunday dinner of Shepherds Pie and Savoy cabbage. It began life as a bag of four rather attractive but hard pears. They were the sort that go from 'hard and inedible' to 'rot' without passing 'yummy and ripe'.

So, something cooked with pears it must be. I'd seen Rachel Allen's BBC2 programme earlier in the day and she had done a very yummy thing which began with peeled chunks of eating apples happily sizzling in a pan of butter, involved a panful of toffee sauce and ended with a heap of crumble topping. Not really what I was after, but I began with the pears in chunks in butter in a lidded frying pan, thinking, possibly, tarte tatin, but veered off into the realms of frangipane.

This is the recipe:

Start with four hard and hopeless pears. Peel, core and cut into chunks. Add to a small frying pan with a heaped teaspoonful of butter. Toss about a bit and then slap on a lid. Leave on a low heat while you make the frangipane.

Weigh two eggs. Remember how much they weigh and put to one side. You then use that weight for the butter, sugar and ground almonds/flour mix. I used two bantam eggs. If you've got monster eggs, use one or be prepared for slightly more frangipane than you bargained for! (Any extra could always be baked separately as a cook's perk.)

Put the eggs to one side while you weigh out the butter and sugar. (I used Clover buttery spread as I had run out of butter.) Beat together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one by one and a good teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Then fold in the ground almonds and self raising flour (in the ratio of about four parts almonds to one part flour, more or less) and a teaspoonful of baking powder.

The pears should now be softened and sitting in a pool of peary buttery juices. Tip them into a shallow oven proof dish, top with the frangipane and cook at Gas Mark 3 for about 45 minutes. It's done when it's golden brown and springs back when pressed.

Serve with lashings of lovely custard.