Update – no food, but a bit of news

So I’ve been pretty quiet on the posts recently.  I know, and I’m sorry.  It’s not likely to change for a few more weeks, I’m afraid (potentially longer).  I’m going into my company’s year end, and we’re in crazy busy season, and of course, my boss is on holiday…  But I have been cooking a fair bit, and have a few things to post, and the 4th birthday party cake has already been imagined, planned, and is ready to be executed at the proper time (and once I have sufficient space in my fridge).  More to come.  Promise.  For real this time.

So news is, I have a new job – you heard it here first.  Haven’t given notice yet at my previous employer (see note above about boss being on holiday).  I prefer to have a contract in hand before telling people I’m out the door anyway, as this means that the potential new employer can’t then change their mind without legal implications (which has happened to me before – I only need to be burned once, thank you very much).  So exciting things to go forward with, and I’m looking forward to it very much indeed.  Not much more money, but the commute is about 30 minutes less each way, and the working day is 30 minutes shorter, so that’s a win win in my opinion.  And it’s a good company, which does lots of exciting things, and isn’t grinding itself into the ground.  And I’ve kind of wanted to work there for the last 5 years.  Wow.  And I’m going to have to like it, because I’m going to need to be there for the next 5 years at least in order to repair my CV.  Wow.

Happy Friday indeed :-)

It’s chocolate time!

My sincere apologies for the great big break!  I fully intended to update from a family members computer whilst away, but quite frankly, it just didn’t happen.  Lots of other wonderful stuff did.  Admitedly, as I look at the bleak frozen expanse which happens to be just outside my window right now, I can assure you that I would rather be back in sunny, sunny Florida – more daylight hours, warmer, dryer weather, and wouldn’t you know it, my hair frizzes less, and my skin cleared up.  Hints are no longer being made to Husband – subtelty is obviously not working.  We need to move to the US now.  Sorry England – it’s been nice(ish), but I think I’m more than ready to go home. So there you go.  Ahem.

Onward to more food related things…

I know, I know.  We’ve all had more than enough chocolate over the last few weeks / months to last quite a long while.  But really – is there such a thing?

Admittedly, I can eat enough chocolate to feel just a wee bit ill, but I’ll soon get over it.  And maybe I’m not as excited about it this year as last year, but we got out the Quality Street tins have been on sale since forever, and got more expensive as we got closer to Christmas – score one for us for buying (and eating) about 5 tins in September…  By November, we needed a break, and by December, they just weren’t that exciting any more.

That’s my VERY EXCITED snowflake – just had to pop my kid in there, didn’t I? Totally unrelated, except for a bit of a holiday theme – and to introduce my helper…

A few years back, I used to work for a large UK general retailer with a Milton Keynes based head office.  Milton Keynes has an unfavourable reputation among many people in the UK, but once you get over the round-abouts (and it will teach you how to drive around them like no where else), it’s really rather a nice place .

Point of the story… (random, I know) – there was a shop in the mall in the city centre which sold American foods – the first time I visited, I easily dropped 50 quid with just shear excitement.

I soon learned to contain myself, and began to feel a bit self-righteous about spending enough on a chocolate bar to pay for it’s flight across the Atlantic.  So, feeling a bit homesick one day, and lusting for a peppermint patty, but without one to hand, and tight-fisted as I am, unwilling to fork out my child’s college fund to pay for one, I decided to learn how to make one myself.

It started with a recipe from VegWeb, which gave me the basics, and I just sort of took it from there – after a few tries, I played around a bit with other flavours, and now, every Christmas, and sometimes more often, I make my own cream chocolates – so here’s my recipe for you:

Home made Chocolate Creams

  • sweetened condensed milk (lowfat is ok) – about 400g tin (I think it’s 397g, if we want to be pendantic…)
  • flavouring extract of choice (see flavour options below) – about 1 TBS
  • optional – food colouring – as much as you want for desired colour
  • about 1.5kg icing sugar
  • 500 g chocolate of your choice (I prefer dark chocolate – it works with everything
  • 2-3 TBS fat of choice – oil produces a smoother finish, butter has a nice mouth feel, but can discolour the chocolate
  1. In a large mixing bowl, add milk, flavouring, and colouring if using
  2. Blend well, then start to add in icing sugar – about 120 g at a time
  3. Continue adding icing sugar until your mixture resembles play-doh and is no longer sticky to the touch.  If you’re using a hand mixer – be careful, you don’t want this to happen:
  4. If using a hand mixer or a kitchen-aid, go for the bread hooks – this is not a light dough…
  5. Knead the dough cream a bit with a bit more icing sugar, making sure it’s not at all tacky to the touch
  6. Roll dough into small balls (you can totally make these huge – I just like the bite-size idea better)
  7. Place balls onto cookie sheets lined with greaseproof paper and leave to dry – a few hours at least, best overnight.  They will firm up, and you will be able to flip them and dry the underside after about 2 hours – so do that.  It makes the chocolate dipping bit easier!
  8. Melt chocolate in a bowl over scalding water (I used to do these with microwave melted chocolate – but it’s just easier to melt it properly – just trust me).
  9. Dip cream centres into melted chocolate, using two forks – one to dip, one to drip melted chocolate off cream centre – otherwise you have a big thick chocolate blob with a teeny tiny cream centre.  If you want that – go for it.  We’re easy that way.
  10. Place the chocolate covered cream onto a greaseproof paper lined baking sheet to firm up.
  11. Decorate if desired. 
  12. Store in a cool place, between sheets of greaseproof paper, if stacking
  13. Recipe makes about 4 baking sheets of chocolates

  Flavouring options (in lieu of things I would do differently, because the different flavours are pretty much it…):
The sky’s the limit here – I do peppermint, to which you really should add equal parts mint and vanilla – trust me, as well as strawberry, orange and lemon.  I can imagine these would be wonderful with almond, with an almond stuffed in the centre, or any variation thereon.  You’re only limited by what flavourings you have.  Just remember – if you’re going to do lots of different flavours, do something different to the tops of the chocolates – so you can tell them apart!


Dear Florida

We’re all heading out to go “home” tomorrow (depending on whose perspective you’re looking from).

To the people on the aeroplane, I have had many conversations with my daughter – she promises not to kick the seat in front of her, and has suggested making a picture for that person instead.  I will do my best to contain her, but it’s a 9.5 hour flight, and she’s 3.5.  Just be nice.  She’ll be nice back.  Her world works that way.  Everyone’s should.

Once we get there:

I have only one huge favour to ask of Florida – and really America in general – and hopefully it shouldn’t be hard at all.

Please, please, please be AWESOME.  I have big future plans for you (maybe not Florida so much, but it’s time for the state to represent!).

Yours sincerely,

g

Mince pie-cookies?

Christmakkah is in full swing!  No work for a whole 3 weeks!!!! (So excited!), mother-in-law is making Christmas dinner (at her house – score for our side – no cooking or cleaning for me :-) And grandparents to look after child).  Holiday in America is just around the corner (and it’s really warm in Florida right now – didn’t have summer over here, so we get it for two weeks over there – score again!).

We had the annual nativity play at the nursery.  That’s my little snowflake in the front (so proud -even if she did cry a bit, and insist that I sit on the stage with her… again).  I’m not sure why a nursery feels it’s a good idea to put a bunch of three and four year-olds on a stage in front of all the parents – so many crying children – not great fun.  But the little ones were snowmen this year – SO CUTE.  They were Christmas puddings last year (do you know how hard it was to find a Christmas pudding costume?  Thank you Sainsbury’s – my Christmas pudding last year had wings and a wand – perfect – but didn’t stop the crying…).  This year, my little one graduated to snowflake.  And she was an awesome spinning snowflake.

Anywho, I’m the Jewish half of the Christmakah celebrations over here – husband is the gentile.  So I didn’t really grow up with mince pies.  Actually, I’d never had one until I moved to the UK.  And to be brutally honest, I don’t much care for them.  Husband and daughter, on the other hand, can get through 6 dozen a day, if given the chance (I think they’re both growing – just in different directions)…

I made mince pies once for husband (before child).  They weren’t his mother’s, so he didn’t eat them.  I decided not to try again.

This year, we tried something different – since Monkey wanted to do some weekend morning baking, and we were short on ingredients, but had some basics to use, and a jar of mincemeat malingering about in the cupboard.  So we turned them into biscuits / cookies (I prefer cookies… obviously).  And the went down really well.  Husband, child, and co-workers have all been fed on them.  Superb.

Mince pie cookies (based on the Borden Nonsuch recipe)

  • 3.25 c flour
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sodium bicarb (baking soda)
  • 250 g butter (about 1 cup)
  • 1.5 c demerara sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 411 g jar mince
  1. Mix flour, salt and bicarb in very large mixing bowl
  2. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar, then add eggs and mix well
  3. Add wet bowl to dry bowl and mix well
  4. Add mincemeat and continue to mix until well incorporated
  5. Drop onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper / greaseproof paper and bake at 350 F / 180 C for about 8 minutes, until lightly browned.
  6. Transfer to wire rack to cool before eating / storing.
  7. This makes about 50 cookies –  enough to fill two tins, so be prepared for gifting!

What I would do differently next time

I might consider halving the recipe, but otherwise, these were really nice – everyone’s eaten them, and to me, that’s what makes a great cookie :-)

Happy holidays!

Little Green Tomato Fail :-(

In keeping up with the current theme of using what’s left over in the garden (and it may be nearly January, but thanks to this rather mild late autumn we were having, for which I have been extremely grateful, whilst remembering sitting outside of businesses in my car in -7 degree weather waiting for interviews last year… ahem, there’s still a little bit of life in there), we finally made the decision / realisation a few weeks ago, that it was time to finish off the tomatoes.

Now, we had an insane number of tomato plants this year – tumbling ones.  Entirely due to my mother-in-law.  Not sure if I should thank her and encourage this again…  I did attempt to rear 25 plants one year – it was the first of the really wet summers, however, and I got tomato rot and didn’t get a single one :-(

That aside, after picking off all the tomatoes, this is what we were left with:

Actually, we had three bowls, but you get the idea – this is a salad bowl, incidentally…

At first, I thought I’d just try to eat them as they were – never really tried it before, but they’re not part of the nightshade family or anything, and other people have cooked with them and survived, so I gave it a go.  They were fantastic on the first day – just popped them in my mouth as a snack – straight.  Tried it again the next day, thinking I’d fallen upon an exceptionally healthy, free snack.  Alas, it wasn’t to be.  Too much acid in the tomatoes to really eat them this way.  My tummy and I were not particularly pleased with the result.

So then I thought I might ripen them a bit.  so they went like this for a week:

Great use for rather old apples…

That worked reasonably well – certainly more red and yellow in there than green by the week’s end.

So on the weekend, after considering a number of potential recipe ideas, I decided to be brave and use them in a savory dish.  We love our pies, and I figured, after Hester at Alchemy in the Kitchen posted a lovely green tomato and gooseberry pie (http://www.alchemyinthekitchen.ie/), that I would give it a try.

I asked Hester if it would be okay to just go all tomato, as my husband has a fear of gooseberries (something to do with his childhood – I think it’s best not to ask…), and she wisely advised me that something was needed to temper the flavour.  Indeed, as I was popping them into my mouth raw, I thought they would have been amazing with plenty of mozzarella or a queso fresco (not widely available in the UK…).  So I thought I would kind of go there.

Realising quite how tart the tomatoes were, I figured I would roast them first, to bring out the sweetness – and not skimp on the oil (for a change).  They did smell divine whilst cooking – alas, smell and flavour disconnect again…

As ever, this came together on a bit of a spur of the moment day, so I went with what I had in my kitchen, as opposed to what would have tasted best.  So here’s a recipe not to try – take my word on it.

Sour Green Tomato Tart

Ingredients:

For the crust:

250 g fine cornmeal
125g cold unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg yolk
a bit of cold water as necessary

Method:

  • Grease tart or cake tin (I used a springform pan as this is what I had)
  • Add cornmeal and butter into a bowl and rub together until fine crumbs form
  • Add egg and continue to mix until a dough forms – add water slowly to help form the dough as necessary
  • Knead dough briefly if possible.  Cornmeal doesn’t work like a flour, so it may be a bit crumbly
  • Put dough into pan and press out to form a crust – the cornmeal will not roll out.  Use a heavy glass to smooth into corners and avoid an overly thick crust.
  • Prick the base with a fork and leave to chill for 30 minutes.
  • Cover in baking paper and add ceramic beans and bake for 20 minutes at 200C
  • Leave to cool slightly before adding filling

Filling:

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 cups of cherry tomatoes – green
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TBSP oil
  • 3 yellow peppers, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1/2 c cheese
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200C, if not already warm from crust
  2. Mix tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper and oil in zip loc bag and toss about to combine flavours
  3. Spread tomatoes onto roasting pan and roast for about 20 minutes
  4. Whilst tomatoes are cooking, soften onion and pepper by placing in the microwave, covered, for 5 minutes
  5. Add tomatoes to pepper and onion, then add eggs and milk and mix well.
  6. Pour into crust
  7. Top with cheese
  8. Bake at 200C for 20-25 minutes, until filling is set
  9. Slice and wince.

Things I would do differently:

  1. Obviously, far fewer green tomatoes – a few might have added a nice punch, but not sooo many.  This would have been really nice with red tomatoes or anything else really – lesson learned!
  2. The cornmeal crust was nice, but a bit too crumbly – I think it could have used another egg to help it bind, and probably been a bit wetter – would maybe cook it as polenta first
  3. More cheese – I just used what I had to hand, and that was all we had – more cheese would have helped temper the flavour a bit more

And breathe

happy againThings are finally, slowly starting to get back on track – ish…  And we can revert to happy smiley people again (ish).

To recap:

Husband went off to America, got snowed in, came home for a bit, went off to Bangalore for a bit, came home for a few days, turned around, went off to Spain, came home, straight into my company’s financial quarter end.  (And when I say my company, I should clarify that I meant the company I work for, and not one I own – I haven’t got an entrepreneurial bone in my body… yet).

Just to make sure I was enjoying myself, add into that a flat tire less than 5 miles from work, which set me back a bit (ran over a keep left curb which was not properly signed in the dark… the council has now fixed it, and apparently I may be able to reclaim my GBP200… which is great).

And then there was the fun eye thing which is still clearing up (after two trips to the chemist / pharmacist, one trip to the GP, and one trip to the eye hospital, no one’s much the wiser, but I no longer feel like I’ve been punched in the face, nor do I look it, so all good).

To bring it in to the present day:

I’m now suffering from a lovely cold, which I can only hope was passed on to me by my daughter, because I really don’t want her to get this otherwise.  But a cold is okay.  I can cope with that.

And the neighbour’s au pair is looking for another family – so there goes the morning childcare help when husband isn’t around.  Not sure how he’s taking it.

Let’s ice the cake with an e-mail from my boss saying she’s now not happy to let me work from home on a more ad hoc basis as required for childcare purposes.  I’m pretty sure that nearly 2 months after this has been requested, it’s a bit late now (what do HR people do, really?  I’ve asked Husband, who teaches them, but I’m none the wiser…) but don’t want to get into any arguments.  I do, however, think regularly of no longer working at said company, because it would improve my quality of life, but for the paycheck.  Ah, the paycheck…

But my Monkey-Moo/baby girl is fantastic.

So now that the majority of crises are over, I’ve got a few more normal posts to put up.  Just not quite today.  But really soon – because there’s still some stuff in the garden that we’re working through (in December – can you believe it), and I’m still working on being inspired by everyone else’s blogs!

TGIF never came too soon.

Crazy days are here again!

Just a quick update as I’ve been saturated in madness this week (and next week really isn’t going to be pretty).  Husband returned home from a trip to Bangalore only to turn around and head off to Spain for a few days (all for “work”), leaving me to be a single mum with lots of deadlines to meet at work, and not a lot of time to meet them.  Quarter end reporting is next week for me, so I’ll continue to be a bit of a ghost for a while longer and I number crunch frantically away!

Wish me luck!

In the meantime, think of me like this…