Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A place called home

I've almost certainly mentioned on this blog before that although I now live in God's Own County (Yorkshire for the uninitiated) I was born and grew up down south, at the part of the Underground map where the District Line meets the county of Essex, only moving in my early twenties. Leaving the house I grew up in was relatively painless in the end. It happened while I was at university and during that period so many things were in a state of transition that it didn't register as much as it might have done a few years earlier. And I always assumed I'd go back. Not to the house you understand, but to The South, to London, because that is what graduates, clutching their shiny new degrees, did.

It never happened and somehow, eleven years later, I find myself a kind of expat. By which I mean I think that I think of myself as a Southerner living in the North. They don't let you declare yourself a Yorkshire(wo)man until you're third generation.

And now I'm moving again, from North to West Yorkshire. And, oh,  the wrench at leaving York is far more acute than leaving Essex. I guess it's because my really formative years took place here, my  real growing up.  In the last ten years in this, my beautiful city, I have had my first proper job (it involved chocolate), and my first flat (damp and nasty).  I got my heart broken a little bit and bruised a couple in return and, of course, I met the man that I would end up marrying. It was in York that D and I had our first date, at a grotty pub that happened to be handy for the station, in York that we made our first home together, spent our first Christmas, probably had our first big fight. York is where I think of as home.

I don't want to leave.

But then, what is home, really?  Is it a physical place?  Or is it just anywhere that the people you love are?  I suppose the very fact that my heart now belongs so firmly to the grim North is evidence that the concept of home is more than geographical.  It is love and memories rather than bricks and mortar.  And so, although I got a bit sniffly when I looked round our little flat, devoid of furniture, and will get a lump in my throat when I walk down High Petergate towards the Minster, I must be brave and resolute and accept the idea that in a little while they'll be a whole new set of Leeds based memories and a home built there too.

I leave you with one of my favourite views of York taken by D a few years ago. And I promise to follow this up at some point with something more relevant to this blog - a Foodie's Guide to the capital of Yorkshire.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


It turns out that I am moving.


After weeks of delay and a torpor suddenly things have started moving rather more quickly.  We have yet to find anywhere to go so we are descending on my parents for what all parties hope will be the briefest of sojourns. D is attempting to ram our sofas into their garage as we speak.

Cooking and meal planning may go to the wall a bit for the next week though, so please bear with.

But look, in the meantime, here’s a lovely picture of some strawberries!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Meal planning Monday - 20th August 2012

After last week’s successful return to the meal planning fold (meal plan not only made but pretty much adhered to) I find myself in a bit more of an anxious mood today. Perhaps it is the fact that we are living surrounded by boxes and that we are still awaiting confirmation of a moving date, but I don’t really want to commit myself to anything more than a few days in advance.

I can tell you what we’re eating tonight – Shepherds Pie. We were supposed to have it yesterday but it got bumped in favour of a rather delicious sausage sandwich, using award winning sausages from this butcher.

I know that I’m out tomorrow night – going over to Liverpool for a couple of days to have a handover to the replacement me – so D is fending for himself.

And I know that on Wednesday I’ll be back late and so quick, easy and tasty is the order of the day so that old reliable, pan fried salmon fillets with pasta pesto is popping up.

I’m pretty sure nothing much is happening on Thursday, which will give me the opportunity to cook my third Capricorn goats cheese recipe. I’ll leave that one as a bit of a surprise – suffice to say is is going to be a savoury version of a dessert classic.

The weekend though – that seems way too far into an uncertain future to have a plan. I’ve got some pigeon breasts in the freezer, and some puff pastry, and so have had the idea of doing little pigeon Wellington type things. That’s a possibility.

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to finally being settled and back into routine. I start my new job on 10th September and would like to be well ensconsed by then, so please cross all digits for me. And, after you’ve done that you might like to pop over to Mrs M’s for some more meal plans.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Mid week catch up

Moving blows goats. There is simply no polite way to put it. We are currently living surrounded by packing boxes as we wait for the sale of our flat to go through. If and when this happens it will be no thanks to our completely inept solicitor, who is very good at finding new things to charge us money for, but little else. I’ve been reduced this week to chasing up various bits of information on their behalf and have proved to be about ten times more efficient. And I am not an efficient person at all. When I beat you in the efficiency stakes there is something seriously wrong.

They need to pull their finger out because we have to have a moving date so that we can sort out where we are actually moving to. At the moment it’s a toss up between my parents’ shed and a blow up bed under my desk. I am not dealing well with the uncertainty. We’ve seen a couple of places that are potentials, but the rental market in Leeds moves so fast that agents are, understandably, not keen to agree a let when the let-ees think they might be moving at sort of around the end of the month, assuming their solicitor can rouse themselves from post-lobotomy torpor to lift the phone and agree something with the buyer’s solicitor (who is, by all accounts, equally useless).

Anyway. D decided that it was not worth shipping my ridiculously large, tottery pile of food magazines over to Leeds and so has been spending his evenings ruthlessly ripping out the pages he deems worthy of keeping and ditching the rest. I see his point but was rather fond of my pile and have secretly decided to start building it up again as soon as possible.

Mind you, I’m starting to wonder how many recipes one person actually needs. I’ve recently started trying to catalogue all the various internet bookmarks I’ve got and they total 330 so far. That’s in addition to shelves groaning with cookbooks, a box file and additional folder stuffed with clippings and two recipe notebooks. And still I struggle when it comes to meal planning! Anyone know why that is? Answers on a postcard…which you might need to address care of Leeds station toilets.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A second #capricornchallenge recipe corner - Summer tomato pasta with goats cheese

So, as I explained here a lovely goat called Ethel sent me all sorts of gorgeous ingredients in return for coming up with some fun and funky ways of cooking her beautiful cheese. Easy for a dedicated cheese lover such as myself.

We've already had a classic tart, and this recipe, inspired by the Barefoot Contessa (love her!) is a fresh and summery pasta dish which would be perfect for al fresco dining if, you know, we actually had any summer to speak of.


3-4 plum tomatoes
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Fat clove of garlic
Tbsp olive oil
Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
120g fresh pappardelle pasta
100g Capricorn Somerset goats cheese
20g Parmesan, grated

Serves 2, 16 pro points per portion

The key to this dish is to allow the tomatoes plenty of time to macerate - at least a couple of hours at room temperature. I prepared them the day before, refrigerated overnight then took them out of the fridge a couple of hours before cooking the pasta.

So, firstly you need to halve the tomatoes then, using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and discard. Dice the flesh.

Then, julienne the basil leaves. To do this, lay them flat in a pile, roll into a cigar shape and then thinly slice into a heap of green slivers.

Combine the tomato, basil, oil, vinegar, lemon juice and the crushed garlic clove with a hearty amount of salt and pepper, cover and set aside.

When ready to serve, cook the fresh pasta in boiling salted water for a mere 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the goats cheese. I removed the side rind but left the top and bottom and then roughly diced to help it melt through the sauce a little quicker.

When the pasta is cooked, drain well and then stir through the tomatoes, the goats cheese and
half the Parmesan. The cheese will melt and combine with the macerated tomato liquid to give a beautifully delicate, creamy sauce which coats the pasta.

Serve with the remaining Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 13th August 2012

So the fireworks have been fired, the last medals presented and the Spice Girls, er, spiced. The Olympics are officially over.

Back to meal planning!

For the first time in a few weeks I have sat down with notebook and pen, chewed said pen thoughtfully, and put together a meal plan. Nice to be back in control - or as much in control as I ever am.

So, this week is looking a little bit like this....

• Hake fillet with tapenade and pears - a delicious and unusual Hairy Bikers recipe

• Pear, blue cheese and walnut salad with crispy pancetta (I have pears to use up).

• My next recipe for the #capricornchallenge - summer garden pasta with goats cheese.

• More pasta - filled with spinach and ricotta this time and tossed with butter and Parmesan, a quick supper before a murder mystery evening!

• And something a bit more wintry (we cater for all seasons here) - Shepherds Pie with green veg to use up some delicious lamb gravy from the freezer.

As always, more meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Friday, 10 August 2012

A #capricornchallenge recipe corner - pissladiere with goats cheese

Cheese is a very serious business.

I am a huge fan. Check out the recipe page of this blog and you will see that a large proportion of the dishes that I am encouraging people to cook contains the stuff. Yes, most cheeses are relatively high in calories and fat – but. Choose something with good flavour and a little will go a long way. Plus, wouldn’t you rather eat a small amount of something outstandingly delicious than a huge bowl of tasteless diet pap?

(Ahem. Climbs down from soapbox).

Ethel the Goat, of the Capricorn Somerset Goats is currently encouraging food bloggers to get creative and come up with some recipes that show off her rather tasty cheese. Now, goats cheese tends to divide people but I am firmly in the love it category. It has a gloriously pungent quality that is always (to me at least) reminscent of the smell of summer farmyards, of sunshine on straw. One tweet to Ethel later and the most amazing hamper of goodies turned up on my doorstep. This is clearly a goat who takes her cooking seriously.
The cheese itself is fresh and creamy and to be honest, I was quite tempted to just smear it on some crusty bread and leave it at that. But that would not make for the most exciting of challenge entries. So I’ve come up with a few different ideas, the first of which revisits an old friend.

One of the things I wanted to cook was a real classic – a red onion and goats cheese tart. I sometimes find when I eat this that the onion component can be a little too sweet and jammy. So I looked back at the first ever recipe I posted on this blog – pissaladiere. This is an onion tart where the sweetness of the onions, tomato and balsamic vinegar are whacked around the chops with an intensely savoury garlic and anchovy hit. I had a feeling that sliced goats cheese melted on top would be absolutely delicious. I was right.

You’ll find when you make this that the amount of topping looks a little meagre. Don’t be tempted to increase it – there are some serious flavours in there so definitely a case of less being more.

125g puff pastry
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
100g (half a small can) tinned tomatoes
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
22g (half a small can) tinned anchovies
100g Capricorn Somerset goats cheese, thinly sliced

Serves 2, 15 pro points per person

Preheat the oven to 220˚C unless you are preparing the onion mixture in advance.

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil and then stew the onions, covered, over a low heat for about half an hour until they are wilted and golden. A pinch of salt in with the onions will help them release moisture and sweat. You might need to give them the occasional stir to ensure that they don’t catch.

Add the thyme, one of the garlic cloves, the tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar. Turn the heat up slightly and let the sauce reduce down for about 5 minutes.

Drain the anchovies on kitchen paper to remove excess oil and then pound them up with the remaining garlic clove. When the sauce is reduced, remove it from the heat and stir through the garlic and anchovy mixture.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the pastry into a rough square shape. Spread on the onion mixture leaving a small 2cm margin around the outside which you can then fold in to make a crust. Top with the slices of goats cheese (resisting the urge to swipe one or two for yourself).

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 - 20 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden. This is best eaten warm rather than hot, so leave to cool for 5-10 mins if you can manage it. Gorgeous served with a simple dressed salad.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The hairy bikers stole my USP!

Humph. So the Hairy Bikers, lovers of beer, baking and butter, are on a diet and the BBC are paying them to make a television programme about it. What's with that, BBC? I've been writing a blog about how to lose weight while enjoying gorgeous food for years now! Where's my TV deal?

That aside, I enjoyed the first episode - still available on iPlayer, although I was a little bit sniffy about the fact they used cornflour to thicken their white sauce rather than make a proper roux.

They've apparently lost a fair bit of weight between them (good for them) and they are affable chaps, so I shall watch forthcoming shows with interest.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 2 August 2012

In which I paint the town red in Liverpool

As you may know (because I can be quite repetitive) I am starting a new job in September. While this is, in many ways, a Good Thing, I will miss the people that I have been working with very much. We are situated in various offices all over the country, generally only coming together a few times a year to deliver training or mark assignments but we are incredibly lucky in that from the very start we all hit it off and found that our working styles, despite being different, easily mesh.

This week was the last time that I was to see most of them so we were determined to Go Out and paint the town, if not red, a very definite shade of pink.

We went to the Olive Press in Liverpool mainly because they were offering a good midweek discount deal and we civil servants haven't had a payrise in a while. For £30 a head (three courses and wine) it seems churlish to complain. But the food, while adequate, did not rock my world.

My chicken liver pâté starter was woefully under seasoned though nicely presented - I'm a sucker for a Kilner jar.

Lemon chicken with goats' cheese and basil risotto was, again, a little lacking in flavour. Oh, and the chicken was overcooked. I know people can be squeamish about chicken but really, it needs to retain some moisture...

However. I can't complain about the liqueur coffee. So I won't. And the pizzas that were delivered to some of the party looked excellent - a pleasingly blistered base with a good amount of toppings - not so much as to be overkill, not too little to be sparse.

The hardcore contingent then made our way to Revolution for shots and giggles.

Don't you just love the idea of cocktail teapots?

What I learned here was:

• Birthday cake vodka is not nice.

• If you have had enough alcohol
previous to said birthday cake vodka, you will drink it anyway.

• Long Island Iced Tea ROCKS.

• I am no longer very good at late nights midweek.

Which is why, if you will excuse me, I'm off for a little nap. If you happen to be travelling across the Pennines on the way to York at the moment and you hear someone snoring away in the back carriage then do feel free to give me a sharp dig in the ribs - or at least wipe the drool off my chin.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone