Monday, 27 June 2016

MPM: the Old Mother Hubbard edition

Actually, the title of this post is not strictly true. Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard was bare, and our cupboards (and freezer) are, as per usual, well stocked with a variety of random items. It's the bank accounts and wallets that are looking a little sparse - and so, we are eschewing Waitrose until Thursday (pay day) and getting creative with things we already have in the house. And by getting creative, on Monday and Wednesday I apparently mean "removing pots of stuff from the freezer and heating them up".

D is out on Friday so it will be prick and ping for one, or, that perennial favourite of mine, filled pasta tossed in butter and Parmesan. Elsewhere...

Monday: pasta with tomato and 'nduja sauce

Tuesday: masala spiced hake goujons, potato salad

Wednesday: creamy butternut squash and red pepper soup

Thursday: chicken breasts, giant couscous with lemon and feta, asparagus

Saturday: we have friends round for a games night (squee!) so we'll be serving up chilli con carne with all the appropriate accompaniments

Sunday: D is in charge of co-ordinating a roast chicken dinner.

So while it may be the end of the world as we know it (and I most certainly do not feel fine) there is at least good food and good friends to ease us in to the new order. Happy cooking (and eating!) this week.

Friday, 24 June 2016

TWTWTW: make bread, not war

It is not in the nature of this blog nor this blogger to be political, but let us just pause for a moment and say WT actual F before moving swiftly on to the cute cat picture of the week:

In other news, my bread making career goes from strength to strength, when I took a break from revision on Sunday to bake a batch of oven bottom muffins. I have written out the recipe and, once I've made a second lot just to test it again, I'll be sure to post. They were far nicer than the shop bought ones.

I was in Manchester for a couple of nights and, on the first of these, was reminded of the delights of Hotel Food. I really, really don't understand the thinking behind the menus of these chain hotel restaurants - you know the kind I mean. They're a sort of confused Greatest Hits of world cuisine. To be fair to the Jury's Inn, none of the food was bad, I just don't get what salt and pepper squid and Asian crispy duck salad are doing nuzzling up to steak and chips.

Now, sorry to post and run but we're heading off to a wedding weekend shortly so I need to go and dust off my fascinator. I hope, whatever your plans, you have a lovely couple of days and I will be back on Monday for another edition of Meal Planning: the end of the month and we're brassic and we need to live on stuff from the freezer edition.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A somewhat reduced MPM: 20th June 2016

I have an exam tomorrow.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have been so tense that I currently have a permanently painful jaw from all the clenching.  It is remarkably difficult to relax your jaw without thinking really hard about relaxing your jaw.  Anyway, tonight and tomorrow night I am in Manchester and poor old D is left to fend for himself.  He was muttering darkly about subsisting on pimped up baked beans, the little lamb.

Then on Friday and Saturday night we are off to the country!  For my sister in law's wedding!  The name of the venue continually escapes me but I'm sure it will be a lovely occasion and perhaps by then I'll have stopped with the jaw clenching.  Plenty of champagne is bound to help.

The upshot of which is that there are just three meals to plan this week.  And one of them is a repeat from the last two weeks because we are both slightly obsessed.

Wednesday: Homecoming dinner - chicken breast and giant couscous with lemon, mint and feta.

Thursday: Poached trout with minted mayonnaise, asparagus and new potatoes.  We just can't get enough of this quintessentially British combo.

Sunday: Five spice braised beef from this recipe (already made and in the freezer), probably served with soba noodles and stir fried veg

To anyone else out there currently experiencing exam stress, either directly or via an associated teenager: I send you sympathy, solidarity and a plea for jaw relaxing exercises.  To everyone else: have a great week you jammy, jammy bastards.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Father's Day

My Dad doesn't really believe in Father's Day.  In addition to that, I doubt very much that he knows how to find my blog.  But I'm going to write him a little post anyway.

While in terms of personality, I am very similar to my Mum, when it comes to looks I am very much my father's daughter.  We are both short and round and curly.  Exacerbating the tendency towards the round is our shared love of good food, (lots of) good drink and a slight obsession with cheese.  Whenever I am sad, I always find myself craving cheese on toast or cheese sandwiches or pasta bake and I suspect that this is because, deep in my subconscious, cheese means Daddy and home.

I admire my Dad tremendously.  He has a work ethic and a tenaciousness that I wish I had inherited along with the cheese thing.  He went to a top university, despite the fact that he did not come from a family of academics, and achieved great success both there and later in his chosen career, all through dint of incredible hard work.  He can be stubborn, ridiculously so, but he knows how to channel his stubbornness to achieve results.

He has a love of adventure, of new experiences, and has the endless curiosity of the academic.  He is loyal and steadfast and, undoubtedly, adores his family.

And if he were here right now he would probably tell me to stop procrastinating and to get on with some work (remember, I didn't inherit the work ethic).  So I will, but happy Father's Day to him and to all the fathers out there, quiet fixed points in a moving world.

Monday, 13 June 2016

MPM: 13th June 2016 (with added musings on when a diet blog is not a diet blog)

Once upon a time, this was a blog that was not just about good food but about proving that it was possible to eat good food AND lose weight.  It has drifted from that in recent times which is sad.  On the one hand, I love writing my little blog which is a wonderful aide memoire for all our foodie based adventures.  On the other hand, the weight loss thing has fallen by the wayside, for all the posts in the archive (and there are many) which proclaim fresh starts and renewed endeavour.

At the moment, I genuinely feel like I am juggling one too many balls to add dieting in to the mix as well.  It's not that I am overeating particularly, it's just that dieting requires time and effort and energy which I don't have to spare.  But D and I have both agreed that something needs to be done (he wants to lose a bit of weight as well) and, once this current spate of exams is over, we will both take steps to do it.  In the meantime, we are trying to at the very least commit to cooking and eating well, and meal planning is an absolutely fundamental part of that.

It helps that we both enjoy meal planning, but for all that, it seems to fall by the wayside in times of stress.  Not this time.  This has to be the one habit that is so ingrained that it never falls by the wayside.

So, onto this week.  I will be mostly in the study, weeping over tax manuals.

Monday: unusually, we're having the same dish that we had last Monday, which is poached trout and asparagus with minted mayonnaise and new potatoes.  The original recipe called for minted hollandaise but we decided that making hollandaise was a wee bit faffy for midweek, so just added the required flavourings to (shhh!) shop bought mayo (D favours Mellow Yellow).  It's such a nice combination of flavours and perfect for the time of year.

Tuesday: odds and ends salad - shredded roast chicken, 'nduja onions and goats' cheese croutons

Wednesday: Butternut squash and tarragon soup, with homemade baguettes for dunking

Thursday: a real favourite dish of mine!  Spaghetti vongole (from Russell Norman's recipe in "Polpo").

Friday: a no cooking night - we're indulging in our once a month treat of fish and chips (you can tell that we're middle aged though, as we order one portion of chips to share. I don't have the capacity that I did in my youth!)

Saturday: the plan is to go to the coast with D's dad and sister as a Father's Day outing.  D is going to slow cook a batch of his famous chilli con carne for us to eat when we get home.

Sunday: salmon with pasta pesto.  It's a tradition on the eve of exams.

That's our lot, mes amies, and a very tasty looking lot it is too.  Have a wonderful week of good cooking, eating and whatever other -ing tickles your pickle.

Monday, 6 June 2016

MPM: 6th June 2016

We're approaching the mid point of the year which is, frankly, unbelievable. They say time flies when you're having fun, but this also, apparently, applies when you're having a generally stressful, miserable pig of a time. Yes, dear reader, I'm not in my happy place at the moment.

But there are bright spots on the horizon, including a very exciting meal out this Tuesday on which I shall report back in due course. Also, on Friday we're off to York Races for the day - and perhaps I shall win my fortune.

Elsewhere, we shall be eating:

Monday: poached trout with asparagus and mint hollandaise (from Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Heaven")

Wednesday: chicken (leftovers from the Sunday roast) with wild mushroom sauce and Puy lentils (adapted from a recipe in Diana Henry's "A Bird in Hand")

Thursday: courgette, herb and rice filo pie

Saturday: rarebit burgers (adapted from a recipe in "Delicious" magazine, June 2016) with baked spiralised curly fries

Sunday may well prove to be another roast, meat type yet to be decided. Although if the sun decides to make an appearance something a little bit more summery may be in order.

Happy cooking and eating this week mes amies! I shall try and ensure my mood is improved by the time the next meal plan rolls around...(you could always post your favourite joke in the comments! Mine is as follows: what is the definition of blu-tack? Smurf poo!)

Saturday, 4 June 2016

TWTWTW: Goodbye to an old friend

Beautiful Minerva McGonagall Cat left us this week. She was diagnosed with a tumour several months ago which had, at last, started to have an impact on her general health and so my Mum made the heartbreaking decision to put our little friend to sleep. She had been a part of our family for 16 years. I have been surprised at quite how much it has affected me; I mean, I cry at the drop of a hat anyway, but this feels like genuine grief. The level of impact that animals have on our lives cannot be underestimated - poor Minx has been subjected to a LOT of weepy cuddles this week. At the same time, it was the right decision to make and I take a lot of comfort from the fact that my Mum allowed a much loved, elderly cat to end her long and happy life peacefully and with dignity. We should all be so lucky.

D and I went over to spend the evening with my parents to say a proper goodbye to Minnie and, while there, cooked an absolutely gorgeous recipe - this cauliflower risotto by Jamie Oliver. Nothing is as luxurious and comforting as a risotto and this is a particularly delicious example of the genre and brought a smile to all our faces even in the sad circumstances.

Elsewhere this week, D and I popped to Headingley for an end-of-the-working week lunch and had some very nice sandwiches at White's Cafe Bar. I like White's - it has a nice atmosphere with just the right balance of buzzy and laid back, and is equally amenable if you want a good cup of coffee or if you want to drown your sorrows at the bottom of a large glass of wine. The group of very LOUD, very ENTHUSIASTIC students at the table next to us did threaten the mood a bit and, as D pointed out, it is quite dark if you sit at a table near the back of the room. Still, behold these sandwiches:

I went for the Philly cheesesteak which was doused with a pleasing amount of black pepper and American mustard, while D had a BLT with cheddar and coleslaw which was huuuuge. I mean, not "Man Versus Food" huge but still, required a bit of a jaw stretch. How does Adam Richman do it?

Right, I am off to cuddle my cat again - and to all pet owners out there, give your furry friend an extra kiss this week and remind yourself how lucky we all are to share a bit of our lives with them.


Friday, 3 June 2016

Recipe corner: Fresh baked baguettes

Paul Hollywood does not know me from Adam but he has, in a small way, changed my life. I am now a woman who after a day at work thinks nothing of whipping up a couple of baguettes to have with tea. From being a total bread phobic* a couple of years ago to this - what a way I have come.

*To be clear, I was frightened of making bread, not eating it.

I suppose, to the purist, I still don't really make bread because I rely heavily on my Kitchen Aid and her dough hook and do very little kneading by hand. However, the fact that in his baguette recipe Paul Hollywood tells you, specifically, to do it that way (baguette dough is quite wet and sticky and difficult to work with) inspires me to think that it's OK. God, or Paul Hollywood or someone, invented dough hooks and standing mixers so that people like me could come home in the evening produce fresh baked, crusty bread on a whim.

The recipe below is from Paul Hollywood's "Bread" book but since it is published elsewhere online, I don't have too many qualms about putting it here as well. Also, I must admit that my version reduces the water a smidge from the original 180ml. It may only be a tablespoon's worth but I found it made a huge difference to the way in which the dough came together.

My other top tip, if you specifically want to make baguettes, is to invest in a baguette tray like this one. The first time I attempted baguettes the taste and texture were right but the shape was ridiculous - this is not easy dough to work with. But allowing the dough to do its second prove and bake in one of these trays solves that problem completely.


250g strong white bread flour, plus additional for dusting the surface
5g instant yeast
5g salt
160ml cool water
2 tbsp olive oil, plus additional for greasing the bowl

You will also need: a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment fitted, a large bowl, clingfilm, a large plastic bag and a baguette baking tray

Weigh out the flour into the bowl of the mixer. Add the yeast to one side of the flour and the salt to the other.

Combine the water and the two tablespoons of oil into a jug.

Set the mixer off at its lowest speed and gradually pour in the water and oil mix. When all the liquid has been added it may appear quite wet and sticky. Have courage. Turn the mixer up a notch and, gradually, it should begin to come together. Once it has gathered into a ball around the hook, turn it up another level so it is now going at a decent, medium speed and allow to knead for about 7-8 minutes. After this time you should have a dough that, while still slightly sticky to the touch, is also silky and stretchy.

Oil a separate, large bowl and tip the dough into it, turning it a couple of times so that the entire surface of the ball has a light coating of oil. Cover with clingfilm and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size - I found that this took around 1.5 hours but it may be longer in cool weather.

Lightly flour a work surface and your baguette tray. Tip the dough on to the surface and use the heel of your hand to knock some of the air out of it. Then fold it over on itself a few times which will help the structure.

Divide the dough in two and, as if it were plasticine, roll each piece out into a rough sausage shape. Place the dough sausages in the baguette tray. Then place the whole in a large plastic bag and return to the warm place for the second prove - about another hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220 and place a roasting tray full of water in the bottom. This will create a steam that helps the bread develop its crisp crust.

Bake for 20-25 mins until golden brown and crisp. I find that I need to cover the tops with foil after about 15 mins in my oven to stop them over colouring. The internal temperature of baked bread is 190-200 degrees if you want to use a cooking thermometer to check if they are done.

Enjoy, mes petites!