Monthly Archives: November 2011

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…

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Winding down the garden – Chard-fest 2011

I got the nicest e-mail this morning.  It seems an old business colleague who has wronged me would like to make financial restitution to me whilst lying on his death bed.  As the dollar signs flashed before my eyes, I though, do people really fall for these things?  I can kind of understand spam e-mails eliciting more favourable responses (for the scam-er) maybe 10 years ago, but now, not so much.  That said, they can be quite amusing.  My favourite one I’ve gotten lately is from someone who desperately wants to give me an extremely well paid job, and all I need to do is guarantee money laundering.  Brilliant!

As I know that, although I regularly play my Publisher’s Clearing House games, because it’s free, and you know the old saying, you’ve got to play to win… I know that, in reality, it’s probably never going to happen.  So in this belt tightening era (which seems to have been going on for an awful long time now…), I’m very grateful to be in a position to grow some of our own fruit and veg.  That said, it’s getting to the end of the growing season (we’ve had an awfully mild November, so it’s probably gone on a lot longer than it should have!), and it’s time to finish what we can, and get things ready for next year.

Enter chard, which I haven’t been regularly picking, (so we have lots), and which will usually over-winter (so we’ll have again next year).  Time to use it.  So I did.

And it was good.

Chard and sausage saute with home grown mash

Chard

  • 2tsp (or to taste) each minced ginger and garlic
  • 1c white wine
  • 1 stock pot/cube
  • 1tbspn dijon mustard
  • 2-3 pork sausages per person (this was for planned leftovers, so I used 6), could easily use soy/quornsliced into rounds
  • 6c chard leaves, chopped, stalks and leaves separated
  • 3 trimmed leeks, chopped
  • 200g grapes (I prefer red)
  • 400g tin black-eyed peas
  • 0.25c yoghurt or cream
  1. In large pot / dutch oven, bring wine, garlic, ginger, stock pot and mustard to boil
  2. Add sausages and cook for a few minutes until it starts to look less pink
  3. Add leeks, and stalks of chard and cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring infrequently.  Add water if it looks dry (or more wine)
  4. Add grapes and stir in
  5. Add beans and stir in
  6. Add chard leaves in bunches (it’s an awful lot of chard, but cooks down to so little!), adding more as the last batch shrinks to provide more room!
  7. Cook for another 5 minutes to ensure everything is cooked through, then add yoghurt, mix through and heat for another minute.
  8. Serve over/or with (I’m one of those people who kind of doesn’t like food to touch too much…) mash or grain of choice.

   Mash

  • About three medium to small floury potatoes per head, sliced into large chunks
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 0.5 – 1c yoghurt – depending on how floury your spuds are
  1. Boil potatoes (peeled or not – I like them peeled, husband prefers skins on) in plenty of salted water for 15-20 minutes – this will depend on the variety of potato  (as these are some sort of home-grown heritage variety, they were done in under 15 minutes, which is really odd…) in a large pot with lid
  2. Drain potatoes using lid on pot to act as strainer, keeping some of the water with the potatoes
  3. Mash with potato masher to desired consistency (I like a bit of chunk in there…)
  4. Add salt and plenty of pepper
  5. Add yoghurt to achieve desired consistency.
  6. Serve alongside chard.

Tips, tricks, mistakes, etc:

  • I always try to work with slightly frozen sausages.  After 15 years of vegetarianism, I still have trouble touching meat products, so try to handle them as little as possible.  Sausage is no exception.  It’s way less oogie to cut into bits if it’s still a little frozen.
  • I dropped a bit of agave nectar in the pot whilst cooking this, to counteract any bitterness in the chard.  It came out a bit too sweet with the grapes, so I have omitted above.  That said, the chard was buttery goodness.  I think that was all the chard though…

Macho, macho Duck – he is a winning sensation

When I’m driving to work in the wee hours of the morning (I leave the house at 5:20 am – well before day-light – I dream of the day this will change…), I pop my radio on to BBC Radio 1 (because I want to pretend I’m young and hip).  The DJ is a bloke called Dev, and I’ve enjoyed listening to him for the past few years now.  At about 6am, he’s got this feature called “I’m here all week” (I think?) where a member of the public gets to play DJ for the week, and picks one song a day to a particular theme.  Thursday is First Bought Thursday.  I think most people fudge this to make them sound a bit cooler, because I don’t think anyone’s first record is really going to be Take That, or Metallica or whatever.  I like to pretend that the first record/tape I bought was The Pretender’s Learning to Crawl.  That may be true in that it’s one of the earliest real music albums I requested to be purchased for me, but there were certainly others before that. 

My first album I remember having was a Disney album.  All the characters had their own songs, and I remember singing and dancing along.  The one I most remember, however, was Donald Duck’s song – Macho Macho Duck – sung, you guessed it, to the tune of Macho Macho Man.  And whenever I have anything remotely Mexican flavoured (which, in our current place of abode, must be home made – very sad place to live sometimes…) makes me want to sing “Nacho, Nacho Duck!”- Sometimes I do, out loud, if no one else is around.

So after a long day at work, knowing that I was hungry, and Husband was likely to be hungry too, and needing something quick, easy and relatively healthy, I polished off my quacking shoes and got on with this simple dinner (many thanks to The Kitchen Noob for the inspiration / reminder! http://thekitchennoob.blogspot.com/2011/11/beans-n-rice-rice-n-beans.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FBGBQn+%28The+Kitchen+Noob%29):

No Nacho Chicken Bowl

  • 400 g chicken breast (or whatever protein you want – could omit if you wanted a no-chicken bowl…)
  • 400 g tin black eyed peas, drained
  • 400 g tin red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 bag boil in a bag rice (I have issues with rice – don’t ask…)
  • 1 200g jar salsa
  • 1 400 g carton chopped tomatoes
  • As much hot sauce as you can handle (I used Fat Cat brand – see below)
  • 2 stock cubes
  • for serving:  shredded cheese, avocado, nacho chips (if you wanted a Nacho chicken bowl!), sour cream/yoghurt, etc
  1. Add stock cubes to large pot of boiling water and leave to dissolve
  2. When stock is dissolved, add chicken breasts to stock to boiling stock to poach for as long as you like (I tend to leave mine for about 20 minutes, but have done longer – poaching leaves it tender no matter how long it’s in there – unless you go overboard)
  3. Once chicken is cooked, set aside, and add rice to boiling stock
  4. In a separate bowl, mix beans, tomato and salsa.
  5. When chicken is cool enough to handle, chop and add to bean mix
  6. Cover bean mix and microwave for about 5 minutes, until heated through (or the English equivalent – Piping hot!)
  7. Season to taste with hot sauce.
  8. When rice is done cooking, dish up into bowls, top with warm bean mix and toppings of choice.
  9. Dinner is served.

Tony Chachere is my Hero

Around 2001, on a trip home, I discovered something which was to have a major impact on my cooking, and to a degree, improve my quality of life.  Enter Tony Chachere’s:Apologies for the rubbish picture – maybe the BlackBerry phone camera wasn’t the way to go with that one, huh?

I’m a spicy food fan – my mom used to slip hot peppers into our salads growing up.  My dad has fond memories of growing up with something called schoog (which I found is both a hot chili paste and a sweet drink – there are some Hebrew words that I’ve never quite come to terms with – imagine asking for one and getting the other.  Um, no.)

My husband is not.  But as we’ve been together for nearly a decade now (where does the time go – oh yeah.  There), he’s learning to love it.

Enter Tony’s – salty and spicy.  Perfection in a shaker as far as I’m concerned.  And the uses!!!

  • mix it with Parmesan cheese over pasta – yum
  • use it to season a pot of black bean, sweet potato and pepper stew – yum
  • shake some on top of chicken or veg when roasting
  • soups, stews, roasted meats and veg (great on potatoes) you want it spicy and a bit salty (I do love my salt), add Tony’s

Tony’s Roasted Courgette/Zucchini sticks

Ingredients:

  • Two large or four medium courgettes – cut into batons
  • spoon full of oil of you choice
  • generous shaking(s) of Tony’s to taste
  1. Put courgette into a zip loc bag
  2. Add oil, then Tony’s to bag
  3. Zip closed
  4. Shake, shake, shake
  5. Pour into roasting dish
  6. Pop in an oven (doesn’t really need to pre-heat) and turn it to about 400F/200C and roast to your liking (I like mine a bit dark, so left it in there fore about 45 minutes)Things I would do differently
  • Make more – so good.  Can’t wait to restock on my Tony’s in January!

Petrol station oatmeal cookies

When I was a little girl, one of my favourite things to do on a Sunday morning was to go to the CVS with my dad to pick up the paper.  Not to enjoy the journey or anything, but because he always bought me candy when we got to the drug store (my particular favourite was, and still is, Toffifee, but I would swing with whatever floated my boat at the time…).

I kind of have a similar tradition with my little girl.

Because I work about 50 miles from home, and drive a car powered on petrol rather than diesel (purchased well before I had a 100 mile a day commute), and because one of my big driving fears is running out of fuel, I tend to fill up my car about twice a week.  You won’t be surprised to know that food, fuel and childcare costs use 66% of my take home pay, with the balance going to my wonderful student loan for the three University degrees I’m not using because I couldn’t afford to… (Not bitter, really…).

So on Saturday morning, Monks and I head out to the petrol station well before Daddy wakes up.  I get a tank full of gas, and she gets a treat for breakfast.  If I’m feeling a bit flush, I might even swing for a coffee for myself (Monks doesn’t like coffee – before you call Family Services, she’s only tried decaf – she no longer asks to try my coffee in the morning).

This Saturday, when we got inside the petrol station, Monks had a good rummage around – there wasn’t much to choose from as they hadn’t stocked up on the day’s pastries yet (not sure why they don’t do this before they open… but that’s okay – we’ll moan about that another time).  She eventually settled on some pan au chocolats and then found these:

I know I can whip up some cookies in no time at home, but she seemed so eager, and it’s just been one of those weeks (Monday began with a flat tire, broken front axle of the car, migraine headache, 3 hours sleep, etc. – the week finished better than it began, but really, it wasn’t a very big ask…)

She usually has a bit of a bite to each in the car on the way home – yes, I let my kid have cookies for breakfast.  I often had cake for breakfast on the weekends growing up.  I still got in to Oxford.  So I’m going with it.

When I got her in the car, I asked her if she wanted a cookie or a chocolate croissant (because her French lessons provided by the insanely expensive nursery apparently don’t extend beyond Frere Jacques), and she said she wanted the raisin cookie.  Bless.  She thought the chocolate chips were raisins.  She was devastated to hear they were not raisins, but chunks of chocolate (we’re still working on her with the whole chocolate thing – she clearly takes after her dad), so agreed to the croissant.  The only way to return a smile to her face was to promise her that we would make some raisin cookies when we got home.  So that’s just what we did.

Not- petrol station Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1c sugar (I used demerara)
  • 0.5 c butter, softened
  • 0.33 c golden syrup or honey
  • 2 large or 3 small eggs
  • 1.75 c flour
  • 2 c rolled oats (mine had added wheat bran – go fibre!)
  • 1.125 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c raisins
  • 0.5 – 0.75 c chocolate chunks (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F/180C, and line cookie sheets with greaseproof paper
  2. Mix sugar, butter, golden syrup or honey and eggs (ideal if you have a helper)
  3. In separate bowl, mix flour, oats, baking soda and salt, then add raisins and chocolate if using (if you have a family member who recently left you with a 4 pound bag of assorted hershey’s chocolates – definitely use chocolates – particularly if you have gotten through the majority of the bag alone over a 2.5 week period)
  4. Mix wet into dry bowl
  5. Once well combined, either with wet hands or teaspoons (or tablespoons if you want really big cookies) drop blobs of dough onto cookie sheets (these don’t spread hugely, so aim for about 1.5-2″ apart between cookies – I went for 9-12 per baking tray, and only two of my cookies came out holding hands, which is sweet in its own way)
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes
  7. Let cool for a few minutes on baking tray before transferring onto wire rack to coolMy daughter almost shares a particularly vexatious habit with my husband – he doesn’t like to eat home baked goods whilst they are still warm (what planet is he from?!).  As usual, I blame my mother-in-law.

I did manage to convince her to eat one whilst they were warm but not melting chocolatey goodness hot.  She came back for a second one.  Job done.

Things I would do differently, things I learned:

  • The original recipe which I’ve had for about 10 years now (ergo not attributed, as it was scribbled down long ago) has the 1 1/8 of baking soda in it.  This seems really wrong, and leads to a very soft, pillowy cookie.  I wonder if this shouldn’t actually be baking powder, so I will try this next time
  • I bet this would rock with dried cranberries and white chocolate – because most things do.
  • You can cut hershey’s miniatures with scissors – no knife required!These are dollar/pound store scissors (three in the pack) and really did the job well, so the next time someone is so generous with the chocolate, I’m going to take the scissors to them earlier.
  • I could have saved GBP1 by not buying chocolate chunk cookies – next time, ask Monkey what kind of cookies she thinks they are before purchasing!
  • When typing out a recipe for oatmeal cookies – make sure you add the oatmeal

This recipe makes enough biscuits to feed a normal family for about a month.  If they stay in the house with me, I expect they’ll be done before Friday.  So they’re going to work on Monday.

Have a lovely weekend 🙂

Curry in a hurry (cheesey, but true)

Every Friday night, after finishing work, we try to start the weekend right by having a family meal.  This either means going to “The Dinner Store” (bless my little girl), or me cooking something nice/easy at home.  One of my staple Friday night dishes is a quick curry which uses pretty much whatever you have on hand, plus a few quick ingredients.  If it’s spicy, Monks has something different.  This Friday was a spicy one, so Monks happily had her favourite dinner:

We didn’t go for the Charlie and Lola book giveaway this time though.  Maybe next time.

We did use this as an opportunity to learn about ingredients.  She especially liked the turnips because they are partly purple, and you can make turnip flowers on them. Sometimes…

All good things, anyway…

Husband and I had the curry.

My curry recipe is fairly standard, and all surrounds a good curry paste.  Find one you like, and you can have a lovely curry up in no time.  Try different ones too – there’s so many to choose from!

We normally go for Fern’s, which I get from a local market in Oxford.  It rocks my socks…

Unfortunately, we’ve not had the chance to visit said local Oxford market for some time, and Patak’s curry pastes were on sale at the Sainsboring’s, so I thought I’d try something new.  Here’s the result:

Basic curry in a hurry

  • one stock cube or gel stock tub
  • about 1 litre of water
  • about 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • about 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • a good .5 or more cups of curry paste of choice (more or less to taste – used to be able to get away with a few tablespoons, alas, no longer – I tend to use 0.25 to 0.5 of a jar each time)
  • protein of choice (I used black eyed peas and borlotti beans and used the water from the tins instead of adding all the water above)
  • your choice of veg to feed as many as you need (I used one head of cauliflower, four trimmed leeks, two aubergines and one box of chopped tomatoes – my favourite mix is with sweet potato or butternut squash, potato and cauliflower)
  1. Prepare your vegetables in a good sized dice (I like chunks!)
  2. Heat up a dutch oven / large pot over medium heat
  3. Add about 0.25- 0.5 cups of water to pot, then stock, curry paste, garlic and ginger.  Cook whilst stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes – until it looks like you need more water or it will start to stick
  4. Add you basics – onion or leeks, and another 0.5 c of water.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking, and cook for another 3 minutes or so.
  5. Add in your beans and remaining veg (hold off on the tomato, if using, until after your veg has softened up lest they pickle in the tomato juice!), and enough water to not quite cover (depending on how dry a curry you like).
  6. Pop the lid on your pot, turn the heat to medium low, and let simmer until veg is soft.
  7. Eat

I will say that this curry paste was rather on the spicy side (more so than usual!), so a bit of yoghurt really went a long way here.  Probably should have served it with a bit of grain as well, (cous-cous would have indeed been quick), but we all learn from our mistakes, right!  Monks tried it too and said it was yum.  But then she was under strict orders not to spit her food out lest she not be allowed to have dinner with mummy and daddy again.  Perhaps she was biased?

Pumpkin patch kids

I know Halloween has long since gone, but it’s just my absolute favourite, and as I can’t do Thanksgiving here per se, I do try to pretend Halloween lasts a little longer than one night.

One of the main ingredients for a proper Halloween, in my opinion anyway, aside from ghosts, spiders, etc, are pumpkins!

I sort of went all out with them this year – we had these three, and two more:

 

 

 

The stickers are courtesy of the Monkey-moo – Hello Kitty goes well with ghosts, right?!

We also did this:

Twice.  Once with just salt and a bit of oil, the second with a bit of oil, cinnamon, ginger and agave nectar (which I recently found and wanted to try).  I’ve never roasted my own pumpkin seeds, but will definitely be doing it again and again (will be trying butternut squash seeds next).  So easy, apart from the cleaning part, and they do take a while to dry, so I sort of oven-dried them first (low oven) before tossing the seeds, oil and seasoning in a zip lock bag and tossing it around.  Then I plonked them onto a lined baking tray.  I will definitely use greaseproof paper instead of the foil next time (I did one and one).  The sweet ones came off much better with the greaseproof paper than the foil!

For the insides of the pumpkins (the smaller ones – the bigger ones just got gutted and binned) – we have this:

Or rather, this is what’s left over.  I didn’t really grow up with pumpkin (my folks are not American – and this is not a food from either of their childhoods!), so didn’t really know what to do with it, but I just treated it like a general winter squash, and the love is certainly growing.  Roasting 6 pumpkin halves at once in the oven was also a good idea – bish bash bosh, as my husband would say (and lots of other people!).

I’ve seen plenty of recipes floating around for what to do with the rest of it, and I’ll let you know if I get around to trying one!  (Time’s been a bit tight of late)

I’ve also managed to snag this:

A present from my brother and SIL.  Very kind of them to fly it over for me!  I’m almost afraid to open the tin as I don’t know how long it will be before I can get another tin, and I expect it would cost me about GBP 7 to get one here (I love how you have to pay for the tin’s flight over when you’ve buying some foreign products…).  I’ve seen far too many good things to do with it as well.  Again, once I am brave enough, I will let you know.

I think I need to teach my daughter about Thanksgiving this year…  Let the pumpkins live on!