Wednesday, 11 May 2011


"If you only do what you know you can do - you never do very much" Tom Krause, inspirational speaker (b.1939).

My craze for jelly and all manner of set puddings continues!  When we have a glut of fruit juice in the fridge, I'll make some jelly using gelatine and pop in some fruit.  Some tinned fruits are good for this too and you can add the juice to the jelly.

Needless to say, the kids go love it.  They also love making it, although of course it involves the slightly tricky ingredient of boiling hot water.  We sometimes make a rainbow jelly over the course of a few days, this requires that the jelly is cooled, but not set, before you add each layer, rendering it safe for little helpers.  The pouring of the jelly in the mould is a much coveted kitchen task.  It also teaches kids some patience as they can't eat it until it's set.  Then there is the wobble and the will it/ won't it collapse spectacle on serving.

If you want to see some amazing jellies visit Bompas and Parr website.  They are famous for their architectural and neon, glow in the dark jellies.  They also make custom jelly moulds, (starting at eight hundred pounds).  I haven't progressed past my two pound fifty plastic Partridges white rabbit mould but it's nice to dream.  Us jellymongers clearly inhabit a broad church.

My daughter (aged 4) wants to know what will happen if you drink jelly before it sets!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Lentil Bake with Walnut Crumble

"As is the mother, so is her daughter".  Ezekiel Chapter 14, v 44.

When I was heavily pregnant with my first child, my Mother stayed with me Monday to Friday as my husband was working in Bordeaux.  Baby (a daughter) came late and so she was a regular commuter between north London and her west country home for quite a few weeks.  There is nothing quite like a mother's love.

One evening she showed me a store cupboard standby that apparently she has been serving for years.  Strangely, but I have no prior recollection of it.  She says it came from a Slimming World recipe from the early 1980's.  Both my parent's are slim and the family joke is that this is because my father has been unknowingly on the Weight-Watchers core programme for thirty years. 

You chop and onion and some garlic and saute them in water (!), yes really, it works perfectly well, although I do tend to use olive oil.  Then add some diced carrots and some of the following; diced courgettes, red pepper, celery.  After about 5 minutes, add some tinned tomato's, some vegetable stock and perhaps a sprig of rosemary.   Simmer for 20 minutes.  Then add a tin of lentils and simmer for 5 mins.  In effect you have a lentil sauce that you can do one of the following things with;

- pour over spaghetti and cover with grated cheese
- layer with lasagna sheets adding a white or cheese sauce or just a layer of natural yogurt and grated cheese on top, pop in the oven for 20 mins.
- layer with sliced boiled potatoes with a layer of natural yogurt and grated cheddar cheese on top before bunging in the oven to brown the top.
- blend it up into a soup
- Serve it with rice and vegetables

-My favourite; top with a savoury crumble.  Rub some soft butter into some wholemeal flour, add a handful of oats, maybe some breadcrumbs, some grated cheese and ground nuts - walnuts work particularly well with this), sprinkle on the top and bake in the oven.
-or finally, freeze it.

Sometimes I also substitute the lentils for chickpeas and add a squeeze of lemon juice - makes nice soup or a stew to have with wilted spinach and couscous.

Cranks Flapjack with Molasses

"Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do".  John-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). La Nausee, Vendredi.

My son went crazy a while back over some flapjack squares from an M&S bucket that were on offer at the music group we go to.  They were incredibly sweet.  It had me thinking that I could make this at home and adjust the sweet content  It can't be that difficult. After consulting a few recipe books, I was shocked at the amount of butter and sugar that goes into these things.  But of course!  How else would you make oats so delicious?

First, I tried a Prue Leith recipe produces some nice bars, but they set so hard that they'd risk breaking a tooth.   My Mum makes several 'healthy' flapjack variations with dates and oranges which I will try next but I wanted something that just used oats at this stage.  Co-incidentally it was at her house I was thumbing through a copy of the Cranks Recipe Book (Canter, Canter & Swann, 1982).  I remember a beautiful Armemian soup from here many years ago at a friends house.  I also used to meet my brother for lunch at their Covent Garden restaurant in the early 1990's when we were students.  Sensing Mum was a little reluctant to loan me her paperback (knowing how many of her other cookery books are on loan to my shelves), I decided to buy a copy online. However,  I didn't want a modern reprint, only an original dogeared paperback would do.  I found one for 99p (minus postage and packaging) and it arrived home before me.

The Cranks flapjack is a triumph.  It contains raw brown sugar and molasses.  The molasses gives it a depth and second flavour.  But most of all, it stays perfectly moist out the tin, three days after I made it.  Son and husband love it and it was perfect to make at 3pm in the afternoon and then bung in the oven later with supper (apologies to Sartre).

Also, I have finally found an outlet for the jar of molasses.  It hasn't so far proved popular on any previous outings in my household, even in tiny amounts, on breakfast porridge.  It may contain health-giving minerals, but it looks like tar.

I see Cranks now have a restaurant at the Dartington Cider Press - I've lunched here twice in recent years, why has this completely passed me by?  I'll make sure I find them on our Devon trip, this summer.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


"Better by far far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad". Christina Rossetti (1830-1984) Remember.

So the planned Easter camping trip took place and was a great success.  We went to Dorset and stayed at Norden Farm .  It was fantastic; the kids loved it and the weather held.  Lots of animals running around, passing tractors, a steam rail to Swanage across the road.  I diligently packed and measured out an evening meal (pasta, anchoives in olive oil, fresh asparagus, lemons and garlic along with a packet of instant custard and a tin of peaches for dessert).    The flaw in this plan was that while darling husband had brought the camping cook box, he assumed that the actual camping stove was underneath all the other implements.  It wasn't.  Stoveless, husband suggested we just get fish and chips - I retorted that there was no way we'd find that on a bank holiday.   So imagine my surprise when we found a surf n' turf van open on  the camping site.  By now the kids were starving and my expectations were low.  However, we all enjoyed fantastic pan-fried haddock with chips and salad.    Chatting to the vendor, he assurred me that it was a local catch in that day and it was too good to put in batter.  It was most certainly was.  We also had buttered bread rolls with the meal which the kids found very funny, made into chip butties.  The next morning the lady in the farm shop took pity on me and filled up our tea mugs with boiling water.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Hot Cross Buns

"The flesh, alas, is wearied; and I have read all the books there are".  Stephane Mallarme (1842-1898), Brise Marin

Every Good Friday since 2007, I've made a batch of Hot Cross Buns.  I've used three difference recipes - hand baked buns from Jane Grigson's English Food, a recipe from Leith's Cookery Bible and I've also dug out my old breadmaker (long retired after heavy service) to prove a dough that then can be shaped into the buns.  I have to say, all of these come out pretty well.  The thing I struggle with is the cross!

I've taken to adding the cross after the final proving so that it's the same size as the bun (adding it before the final rise was my first mistake in 2007) but I still can't seem to get it quite right.  I think that people assume that a cross is shortcut pastry but there seem to be plenty of alternatives including; a knife slash, almond paste (marzipan) or a paste of water and flour that can be piped.  I tried the water/ flour  last year and it was very bland and a bit of a faff.  This year I tried home made almond marzipan paste.  I'd made this before at Christmas and again, it is completely different to the shop bought yellow marzipan.  I grinded whole almonds in a blender, added icing sugar, a whisked egg and lemon juice and then kneaded.  I sliced thin stips off and rolled them out with my hand to create crude crosses.  I had been hoping that they would blend into the dough, but they didn't and were a little crumbly and crude looking when the buns came out the oven.  They tasted delicious though.  I might make some more tomorrow and this time flattened the almond paste into strips (akin to shortcrust pasty) to go for a neater look.  I also did the daft mistake today (in my keenness to get the crosses on) of not glazing the buns in egg and milk until after the crosses were on.  This interfered with the crosses and made it unnecessarily fiddly.

Bread making is perfect for kids; short bursts of activity and dough is very forgiving to little fingers.  My two year old loves putting the dough down for a nap and carefully covering it with a tea towel.  I've told him that it grows in it's sleep, like him, and he says "shush" as we put it for a 'nap'.   I used bread maker dough today as I wanted to concentrate today on the crosses. At least this has given me the energy to do another batch tomorrow of which our neighbours will be the recipients.

Thunder & Lightning

"And snatched from Jove the lightning shaft and power to thunder". Manilus, 1st Century AD, Astonomica.

Thunder & Lightning is the name given to a pasta/ chickpea dish I read about in Elizabeth David's Italian Food.  The pasta is the lightning and the chickpeas, the thunder.  They are mixed together and lightly dressed with olive oil, melted butter and Parmesan cheese.   The pasta is traditionally mixed broken pasta , often leftovers.  The simplicity appealed to me and I've served it to the kids before.  However, I decided to embelish it a little for a family supper.  I used only spaghetti and finished up a jar of basil pesto.  I'd been flicking through ED's Italian food and there is little mention of pesto which is surprising considering it's ubiquity today in British/ Italian cookery.  However, I recalled that ED said pesto could also be made with parsley and Walnut and our friends at Simply Italian do a lovely Walnut pesto.  I mixed the remaining basil pesto into the spaghetti and warmed chickpeas and added olive oil, Parmesan and then a couple of tablespoons of ground walnuts I'd just whizzed up in a blender.  The side was mushrooms, garlic and courgette sauteed in wok. 

Just as I was about to start serving up, my husband invited the children into the garden to put up the tent.  We're going camping next week and so this is to check the tent out.  I knew I couldn't compete with this excitement, so instead I cleared up, prepared a soft fruit salad for dessert and put the Thunder & Lightning into bowls on a tray and took it into the garden for an al-fresco supper.  By now, my husband was finishing off the guy ropes and the kids had lost interest and were playing.  My entry was well timed and everyone enjoyed the meal, although the kids were a little picky about the courgette.  I consoled myself with the thought of their eating walnuts.  Dessert was the soft fruit salad (kiwi, mango, satsuma, banana and white grapes with ice-cream.

I haven't worked out what we're going to be eating on the real camping trip yet.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Pork & Fennel with Vegetable Rice

"Procrastination is the thief of time" Edward Young, English Poet

This was one of those occasions when I start cooking before I've decided what I'm actually going to make.   I'm chopping an onion and boiling some hot water, still with no idea what we're having to eat (so much for menu plans eh?).  However, I did have some organic minced pork out of the fridge which I mashed in a bowl before adding some brown bread crumbs, a couple of eggs, some chopped parsley, onion and a wedge of raw fennel which I'd blitzed in the food processor. I'd usually shape something like this into small balls, but I was worried they'd dry out in the oven and I didn't fancy frying them.  So instead I pressed the mixture into a buttered loaf tin and baked in the oven for just over an hour.   We ate it with vegetable rice and corn on the cob.  Very nice it was too - I cautiously put some soy sauce on the table, but no-one added any. 

The kids struggle to eat meat and in it's softer forms, they are often happier, so a meat loaf has been on the back of my mind for a while and was worth a spin. 

Give Peas a Chance!

"How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways..." Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806-1861, Sonnets from the Portuguese, 43.

Ah the humble pea?  Peas are somewhat sullied by the bad company they often keep. But that is to do the humble pea a disservice - they deserve so much more than fish fingers and oven chips.  Kept apart from such common fare, they make fantastic pea soup, are lovely minted, make a lovely bed for other vegetables, contrast so well with carrots and sweetcorn and are a really great side to roast chicken and gravy. 

Why does it have to be frozen?  Well, it doesn't, but let's face it, most of the time in my household, it is.  I'm not actually sure fresh peas taste any better, although there is much pleasure to be had in the task of shelling.  I daren't count the number of times in a week that I reach into the freezer for a handful of frozen peas.  To me, they are a garnish, a flourish, beautiful flecks of colour across an omelette, scattered across pasta, nestling in a school besides mash potato, a bowl on their own with melting butter.  To their credit, they are nearly always there (a freezer stalwart), they cook in four minutes, provide folic acid and my kids have no strong aversion to them.  They've recently been enjoying a book by Kes Grey and Nick Sharratt called "Eat Your Peas" about a girl's mother bribing her to eat the small green balls.  This hasn't put them off, although there are now distractions of lining them up for counting or using them to craft a picture. 

Don't be embarrassed to get out those frozen peas or be put off by the strange afterlife they lead in their dehydrated form after they've rolled under the cooker.  I'll be back to the freezer for another quick fix.

My Favourite Frozen Vegetables:
1. Peas (see above)
2. Sweetcorn (also corn on the cob)
3. Broad beans (a joy!)
4. Spinach (so easy, though it can have a slight metallic flavour)
5. French beans

Vegetables that should NOT be frozen:
1. Broccoli (water retention problems)
2. Mushrooms (ditto)
3. Carrots (they have a mushy edge)
4. Asparagus (just not themselves)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Mum knows best!

I'm really enjoying the current BBC2 TV series of by the Hairy Bikers - Mum Knows Best. Their unpretentious style is refreshing and of course, Mum does indeed know best!  Looking through my recipe book, it's amazing how much came from my Mum or Grandma.  I frequently ask my Mum for a recipe she made us that I think my kids might like now.  I've inherited various kitchen implements from her

Back to the Hairy Bikers - I like their plundering of other people's recipe books and the cooking in people's real kitchens instead of faux studio sets.  They made a fantastic looking mulligatawny soup in Northern Ireland this week and I saw my first George Washington cake - a light fruit cake, with jam filling, topped with white icing and glace cherries.  Might be fun to do this for July 4th.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Breakfast al-fresco with Swan

"When I was young, we always had mornings like this" - Toad of Toad Hall, A.A. Milne dramatization (1929) of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

The other morning before we'd got to the breakfast table, I thought we could do with a change of scene so I suggested to the kids that we had a breakfast picnic on the way to my daughter's nursery.  This was a cunning way of mine to avoid having to wipe the kitchen table as we were running late.  The only disadvantage was that, just this once, we'd have to clean our teeth before breakfast.  Crazy.  I filled some wraps with cream cheese, chopped banana and raspberry jam, and made up flasks of warm milk for the kids and some coffee for me. 

The children were very excited and I was wondering which picturesque spot we could make it to en-route to the nursery for our winter picnic.  Five meters down the road from our house my daughter stopped at the first street bench and announced this was were she wanted us to have our picnic.  Realising the clock didn't give me much option and keen to build on the children's enthusiasm for this venture, I agreed.  It was actually quite fun to sit down outside by the house (rather cold too) and watch the world go past; commuters, delivery vans, school children - and pretend that we weren't part of this commute.  We played one of our favourite bench games that we call "Dog or Pram" - you have to guess which will go past first.  My daughter also played 'fantasy dog ownership' commenting on which passing dogs she'd like as pets and why. The picnic was going down a treat, the only thing I had to wipe was son's mouth/ hands.  We even witnesses a fabulous flock of swans flying overhead on their way to Hampstead Heath ponds.  It was a little 'wow' moment.   We even had a few smiles and good mornings from passers by and our next door neighbour stopped for a chat on his way to get his paper.  Once he'd gone and I was clearing up, I noticed someone had left a can of Special Brew under the bench where I'd been sitting.  Some of the innocence had been lost - maybe those smiles had been in sympathy for those poor children whose mother gives them breakfast on a street bench?  We gathered our things and made it to nursery on time.

(N.B. Husband is away)

Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk & Raspberry Jam

"Life is a jest; and all things show it
I thought so once; but now I know it".  John Gay, My Own Epitaph.

So after my foray into chicken satay, I'm left with an opened tin of coconut milk.  I decant it into an old jam jar and it looks disconcertingly like dirty white spirit in the fridge.  If I leave it there a few days, my husband will throw it away.  While my kids are still finishing off their chicken satay, I start making rice pudding.  While I'm pouring out the milk, I suddenly realise that the coconut milk and rice pudding could be a marriage from heaven. 

Now making home made rice pudding, when it's left festering at the bottom of the oven for a couple of hours, is lovely.  But most of my deserts are done on the spur of the moment in response to hungry appetites so this isn't an option.  Thankfully a few years ago my Mum introduced me to flaked pudding rice.  It has cooking instructions on the packet; either in the oven for 1.5-2 hours or on the hob for 6-8 mins!  Yes, 6-8 minutes!!  Ok, so you don't get to enjoy the skin, but that often seems to divide people anyway.  OK, so there is quite a bit of stirring - but I added the coconut milk towards the end to loosen the pudding that was thickening a little too much and again at the end to help cool in down quickly for impatience children.  They loved it and ate it with a blob of raspberry jam.  Incidentally, everything "tastes like jam" at the moment, according to my 2 year old or tastes "like tractor".  For some unknown reason we haven't had jam in the house for a couple of months.  The children don't usually eat jam, but due to the sudden novelty, they can't get enough of it and it's getting lots of requests.

Chicken Satay & Noodles

"Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them" -  Shakespeare's Othello

The kids often struggle to eat meat and can be a little funny about the texture of chicken.  I mixed a tablespoon of peanut butter with some coconut milk and lemon juice and chopped chicken breast into cubes and marinated it in the satay sauce then grilled the chicken.  Served on bamboo sticks 'kebab style' with tinned pineapple and fresh cucumber quarters on a bed of sticky noodles.  The kids loved the novelty of pulling the morsels of the sticks (although 2 year old did require some supervision as he tried to sword swallow his bamboo stick at one point!).  What to do now with the rest of the coconut milk?

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Saturday Night Spaghetti

"The Right Hon was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!"’  PG Wodehouse, Very Good Jeeves (1930) Jeeves and the Impending Doom.
I always struggle to know what to put on the table on a Saturday evening so often fall back on that perennial favourite of spaghetti with lots of fresh vegetables served on the side.  My favourite things to do with spaghetti are as follows;
-        Mixed with a green pesto, grated parmesan cheese an extra drizzle of olive oil, grated black pepper and a runny poached egg on top. This is especially good with broad beans.
-        Red pesto mixed with added crushed toasted walnuts (I do mine dry in a non-stick frying pan).  This works nicely with watercress on the side. 
-        Anchovies’, garlic fried in olive oil and mixed into the pasta with parsley, lemon juice and chilli flakes.  The children eat this without the chilli. 
I usually buy my pesto from the lovely Natasha at Seriously Italian. They have a fantastic range including; sage, walnut, wild rocket, basil.  I tried to make it myself once, first with a pestle and mortar and then in a food processor.  The consistency was totally wrong and no amount of meddling could right this wrong.  Definitely leaving this one to the experts for the time being!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Cauliflower & Fennel Soup

“Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams” W.B. Yeats (He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven)
A wilting cauliflower had been pulled from the back of the fridge and left on the kitchen island. My husband walked into the kitchen and asked ‘what are you going to do with that?’; I replied; “cheesed, souped or curried – you decide”.  He asked for soup and I after a quick visit to the book shelf, I found what I thought would be the perfect soup for him, in Jane Grigson’s English Food.  This is favourite book of my husbands and the recipe she gives is from Scarista House on the Island of Harris. My husband and I ate here about five years ago on a very happy holiday.  You cook the chopped cauliflower and fennel with an onion in a little oil until the onion is soft.  Then add water and simmer for ten minutes.  Add cream (I used milk) and the juice of a lemon.  I knocked up a wholemeal loaf of bread (Doris Grant loaf, incidentally also recorded in Grigson’s English Food) and was very satisfied with this lunch offering.  I tasted a spoonful of the soup and thought it rather good, though it did need seasoning.  Cauliflower soup usually punches above its weight, and I thought the fennel and lemon gave it lightness and, dare I say, sophistication. 
Unfortunately my efforts were in vain; my husband thought it “disgusting”, “too thick” and complained that you couldn’t even taste the cauliflower.  I’ve frozen the remainder in individual cups for me to digest, alone.

Lemony Curdy Pudding

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” W. Camden, (Remaines Concerning Britaine, 1614)
As a Sunday treat, I made a lemony curd pudding.  My Mum used to a make a version of this, far superior to my own. It was one of those dishes that didn’t come out to my satisfaction, but paradoxically, was very popular with the family.  So popular, that a silence fell across the room while they ate it.  When I commented on this, G4 (girl, 4 years) responded “that’s because we love it so much Mummy”.    My husband even liked it and he doesn’t have a natural affinity with desserts.    For that reason, I make no apologies but note the reasons for my dissatisfaction: it was made without due care and attention either side of my husband’s monkfish dish and between bathing the kids.  I didn’t have time to monitor it in the oven and left if for 45 minutes on a low heat as my oven has a tendency to cook very quickly. 
However, it was great fun to make as it involves whisking egg whites into white peak; one of my favourite kitchen tasks.  The kids love watching them turn like it’s some magic trick.  They also helped beating egg yolks (2), with 2oz of SR Flour, caster sugar, and butter adding lemon peel zest and lemon juice.  The whisked egg whites are then folded into the cakey mixture.  After piling into a buttered oven proof dish, it is put into a roasting tray filled half with water.  The result is that the bottom half of the dish stays a curdy, custard consistency, while the top half rises a little and bakes like a cake.  As I was doing it quickly with the kids I didn’t put much lemon peel or lemon juice in.  Husband thought this fragrant and subtle.  I was also disappointed as the curd lower half looked a little like scrambled egg, which I don’t think it’s supposed to.  This didn’t put anyone off.  B2 (boy, 2 years) started crying briefly with frustration when I told him he had to wait for his portion to cool down before he could eat it.
This was done from memory from a Jamie Oliver recipe.  I'll reference it later ....

.....  Lovely Lemon Curdy Pud from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef, 2001.

Monkfish with Spring Onions, Sesame Seeds and Ginger Sauce

“I bear a charmed life”, Shakespeare (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
The kids and I love Monkfish, the meaty texture is reminiscent of chicken which makes it a good fish for fish wary young children.  My husband says it’s “not proper fish” (by which he means something oily and full of tiny bones), he’s happy to cook it though.    This is the second time he’s done this as a light alternative to a Sunday roast.
The fish is chopped and soaked in a marinade of ginger, caster sugar, soy sauce, lemon juice.  It’s then lightly fried (he used a wok) in sesame oil with garlic, root ginger and chopped spring onions.  A spoonful of dry toasted sesame seeds is added.  To me, this really lifts the dish.   We ate it with brown rice, mange tout and baby sweet corn.  The kids loved the fish but G4 (Girl, 4 years) wasn’t too keen on the rice.  I don’t normally give the kids brown rice, but the store cupboard is low.  The adults added dried chilli flakes to our dishes to taste.  Both the kids asked for a second helping of fish.
He adapted this from two recipes: Turbot with Spring Onions and Ginger Sauce (Leith’s Cookery Bible) and Oriental Steamed Fish with Ginger, Soy and Sesame (Delia Smith’s How to Cook, Book 1). 

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Arame, Broccoli, Carrot and Walnut Salad

Vice makes virtue shine:  T. Fuller, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, 1732.
I bought a packet of arame seaweed in a health food shop, oh months ago, and it’s been sitting in the cupboard and reminder of good intentions to try something different everytime I reach for a bag of dried pasta. It looks a little scary in its dried form and smells, well, reassuringly I suppose, of the sea. 
I soaked the dried arame in a sieve under running water, then placed the sieve in a deep bowl for 6 minutes to soften.  The shiny strands stuck through the sieve and had to be picked out.  Then I steamed small broccoli florets and carrot matchsticks for just 3-4 minutes.  Meanwhile in the serving bowl, mix the following for a dressing;  25g (1oz) walnuts, lighted toasted and chopped (I toasted in a dry non-stick frying pan), 2 tsp sweet rice vinegar, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp light soya sauce, 3 tbsp apple juice.  Finally, add the arame and vegetables to the dressing, toss and serve. 
By now, there was a distinctly seaweedy smell across the kitchen.  I ate this for lunch with my ‘nosy parkin’ friend (who incidentally should be credited with mixing the dressing).  She assured me that she regularly eats seaweed and that the black slimy arame strands I was churning into the earth vegetables would be fine.  However, there was a silence as we first ate, eyes down and unsure of what beheld us.  After a couple minutes, not sure of myself, I asked tentatively; do you like it?  She replied “it’s growing on me and part of the pleasure is knowing that it’s good for me”.  That beautifully sums it up; there is some indulgence in its mere virtue.  By now the toasted walnuts definitely came through strong with the soya sauce and I was getting into my stride and beginning to enjoy it.  We both reached for seconds ...  but perhaps this was because we hadn’t prepared anything at this stage (though Spiced Parsnip soup did follow).  I ate it again, cold, the following day.  I will finish the packet of arame, but I am a slow convert.

Potato Floddies: the Home Front

Potatoes new. Potatoes old, Potato (in a salad) cold, Potatoes baked or mashed or fried, Potatoes whole, potato pied, Enjoy them all including chips, Remembering spuds don’t come in ships.   WWII Ministry of Food advertisement
I’ve been reading a lot about WWII cookery and rationing in Britain inspired by a visit last year to the Imperial War Musuem to see their exhibition ‘The Ministry of Food’). The two most sobering thoughts are that we didn’t starve (when so many did in central Europe) and that the nation was, as a whole, far healthier than when the war began.  While I’m not at the stage of putting my family on rations, there must be some lessons to be learnt from this era of austerity and some receipes worth revisiting. 
Reading through the exhibitions accompanying book by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall I can across a receipe for Potato Floddies.  Basically you grate potato, add spoonfuls of plain flour (I also added a tablespoon of oats) and mix to a paste like consistency.  The Floddies can be sweet or savoury.  I opted for the latter and so added to the paste some paprika and mixed herbs.  Then, heat some oil in a pan to shallow fry tablespoon size ‘pancakes’ of the mixture for about four minutes each side.  Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests dripping or vegetable oil; I used a light olive oil.  I’m sure they’d taste amazing with dripping, but it’s just not something that one has around these days.  My concern was whether the grated potato would cook in time suggested, and although my floddies were small, they probably did take a little longer.  I served with Heinz tomato sauce as a side dish with fish and vegetables.  My husband and son liked them but my daughter wasn’t persuaded to even try.
It is remarkably similar to what they were selling in a local farmers market with grated onion added (I’ll try that embellishment next time) and crème fraiche.  Daughter was happy to eat those, so worth revisiting at some point.    Fearnley-Whttingstall also says that they could be served with jam and clotted cream or lemon juice and sugar.
My reading list links:

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Sardine Pate

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – The more it changes the more it is the same thing:  Jean Karr, Les Guêpes, 1849.

My Mother thinks I’m cruel serving little kids cold sardines when they come round to my house for lunch, but my daughter and her friends seem to love it and will eat this by the spoonful. My son is less enthusiastic, but usually eats a little. It really must be served chilled, so ideally, make a little ahead of time or put the tinned sardines in the fridge.  Seasonable at any time!
Blend a whole tin of sardines (in tomato sauce or just oil) in a food processor and add variations of the following; olive oil, lemon juice, fresh tomatos, cream cheese (or natural yogurt).  The sardines without the fresh tomato/ tomato sauce look a little grey (and to my mind unappetizing), but some friend’s kids prefer this if they’ve an anti-tomato thing going on.  (I’ve left out the dairy before too, for a lactose intolerance 3 year old).  I like a little texture to my pate, but the kids seem to like it smooth.  We serve either on toast (can be grilled topped with fresh tomatoes), or in individual pots with toast fingers or that toddler favourite; the bread stick. 
Elizabeth David refers to a version of this recipe twice in “An Omelette & a Glass of Wine” as Sardine Butter with versions given using the same amount of sardines as butter; a “scant ounce of butter” and also adding cayenne pepper.  She clearly took her sardines very seriously as she spent time touring French sardine-canning factories as research. 

Nosey Parkin

“Vox et praeterea nihil” – A voice and nothing besides”. Latin
A dear friend came over today and during the afternoon I suggested we did some baking.   A Yorkshire lass, she suggested her mother’s recipe for Parkin; a soft treacle cake with oats.  She asked for a cup and a mug to measure dry ingredients and proceeded to make the Parkin from memory and calling out the ingredients as we went along.  Genius!  We mixed the whole lot up and put into a baking tray of six buttered mini-loaves.  At which point I over enthusiastically bunged it into the oven, the tray fell and somehow ended upside down in the bottom!   The smell was fantastic as the hot oven singed a thin layer of the fallen mixture.  We shovelled it back into the tray with spatulas and after the clean up all went well.  Against the all the rules of cake making, I kept opening the oven to take a peek.  The result was delicious; the oats and black syrup gave the Parkin a robustness and depth which contrasts with the surprising lightness of the cake. The mini-loaves looked cute too.  I’m going to save some for a few days to see how it ages.  We ate some for desert with blueberries, which I’m sure they don’t do in Filey. 
I scribbled the recipe down as; 1 x mug of SR Flour (we used both wholemeal and white); 1 x cup of sugar (brown); 1 x cup of oats; t-spoon of ginger; t-spoon of bicarbonate of soda; 2 x tablespoons of golden syrup; 1 x tablespoon of black syrup; 1 cup of hot water (or warm milk); one beaten egg; 5oz soft butter.   

Saturday, 8 January 2011


"The worth of a thing is best known by the want of it"  J Ray, English Proverbs, 1670
Post Christmas, I'm craving simple, nourishing, veggie dishes.  Having bought celery for the expressed purpose of making a Minestrone soup, I first turn to Elizabeth David's Italian Food (1954).  She gives five different recipes for Minestrone using various kidney beans, marrows, leeks, and gammon.  They are all quite different and I seem to be missing key ingredients in any of them.  By now, my 25 month old son is keen to "help Mummy" so we quickly pull out the excellent Prue Leith's Cookery Bible (1991).  It has a single recipe for the soup and the ingredient list seem to almost match what is now gathering on my kitchen table - haricot beans, garlic, onion, carrots, celery, potato, vegetable stock, basil, parsley and olive oil.  I don't have tomato puree so substitute some of the vegetable stock for tinned tomatoes (seems to work).  I'm a little saddened to then leave out the fresh tomatoes*.  We don't have any white cabbage either.   
My son takes great delight in stirring the soup at various stages, picking and washing fresh bay leaves, pouring, draining (and tasting) the haricot, grating Parmesan and his favourite; breaking up spaghetti and mixing it with small macaroni.  He is enjoying himself so much that when the soup is simmering, he agrees to set the table (rather haphazardly) for lunch.  *We eat the fresh  tomatoes as a salad dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  He eats the whole meal and asks for seconds.  The next day, at the mention of lunch he asks, for "my zoupe, my zoupe". 

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Case of the Hidden Vegetables

'He that hides can find' - 15th Century Proverb...
Let’s face it, lots of kids don’t really like eating vegetables and it seems to be an obsession among parents to get their kids to eat the darn things.  The suggested approach from food writers, nutritionists seems to be;
a)     disguise/ hide them  (see Annabel Karmel’s Hidden Vegetable Sauce).  I have moral reservations about this.  OK, I have, in the past, pulped perfectly good courgettes into tomato sauce to go on pasta.  But isn’t this just plain deception?  I mean, if I knew an adult who didn’t like carrots, I wouldn’t dream of grating them raw into his bolognese sauce as I know best.  Likewise, I wouldn’t disguise meat in a  vegetarian’s food to widen their palate.  My poor compromise is to serve up the hidden vegetable in its complete form alongside the hidden version.  At least then they’ll be able to recognise a vegetable in a line up.  You might also get the pleasure of them eating the hidden vegetable while simultaneously telling you that they don’t like it. 

b)     The second idea seems to be to dress vegetables up into some pretty picture on the child’s face to make a smiley face, a sailing ship etc.  I did this once and my kids just stared at my work of art in disbelief and wouldn’t touch it. (Annabel Karmel’s Crunchy Salmon Fishcakes).  Perhaps they thought my artistic effort so fantastic they couldn’t possibly destroy it.  Life is definitely too short to be doing this. Besides, I personally think this sort of cuisine should be saved for  serving up to teenagers with the purpose of slightly unnerving them or when they bring their new girl/boyfriend home to meet you for the first time. 
PS Nothing will hide broccoli

Like porridge? .... you’ll love this!

"Save your breath to cool your porridge"  16th century proverb

We’ve slipped into some bad breakfast habits with the kids in recent weeks with sugary cereals making their way into our larder. Everyone was also getting a little bored of hot porridge every other day during the recent cold spell.  So it was a relief that, at the request of my four year old, we went back the other day to the summer favourite of Bircher Museli. My kids rather disgustingly call it ‘cold porridge’, but they love eating it and helping to make it the night before. 
The key elements are oats, grated apple and raisins soaked in milk overnight in the fridge.  You then get a creamy consistency that fine as it is or can be embellished with other dried or fresh fruits, nuts (ground in our case for the kids), yogurts, honey etc. It’s also good for two days, in fact like many foods, it’s actually better the next day.  We added chopped dried apricots one morning and fresh blueberries the next.  I first read about this in a Jamie Oliver’s ‘The Return of the Naked Chef’ about eight years ago.  He called it ‘pukkolla’ with no mention of Bircher Museli.  By co-incidence my husband simultaneously read an article on Bircher museli in one of the broad sheets and started making it. It’s made regular appearances on our breakfast table since.     

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Why Twenty-one times?

Well, simple really ... this is the amount of times in one week that I put a meal (excluding snacks) on the table for my family.  This blog is my attempt to approach the essentially monotonous task of day to day family catering by finding some kind of poetry and inspiration to it all.
I won’t just be sharing my cookery tips and seasonal meal plans with you (oh joy!) but also putting the food we eat into an historical and cultural context. I’ll also be testing out recipes from contemporary food writers alongside those from long forgotten, by-gone eras. 
My family of diners consist of two young children (just turned 2 and 4 years old), my husband (with impossibly high minded culinary ideals) and various visiting family and friends.  Each with our own foibles, loves and dislikes.  Join us as we eat our way through 2011 – it should be a feast! (P.S. Twenty-one is also the amount of times in a week I wipe clean my son’s high chair, twenty-one times a week is alot of washing up......).