Tag Archives: cooking

Try something new today…

Having a domestic moment last weekend, I sorted out the kitchen shelves where our cookery books live. In doing so I found myself reminded of the time one of my ace chums challenged herself to make one recipe from every Cook book she owned (she has considerably more than housemate and I but that’s by the by). Since I’ve got back into cooking lately this seemed like the optimum moment to challenge myself to justify the continued existence of all the books on the shelves… Watch this space for fruits of my labours. Or tales of woe. Or both.

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On the subject of trying something new, you may recall that I’d fallen in love at first relevé with my freed classics. They’ve died a sad and tragic death since and I’ve replaced them with another pair (different maker, more paste, hopefully lasting a little longer but I do feel like I’m cheating on my first maker). After a little more than a year, I think I’ve found my shoe…

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“We are on the brink of a new era, if only…”

Conversation in my kitchen this evening.

Housemate: What are you having for dinner?

Me: *dishing up* Oh tomato-veg-pasta with chorizo… chorizo…

Housemate: Huh?

Me: FORGOT THE CHORIZO *returns dinner to pan, chops chorizo, adds chorizo, swearing*

The above kind of sums up today which has been a bit of an unday. I haven’t quite been able to get started, surviving in four hour bursts from one dose of painkillers to the next. So I’m writing the rest of it off and curling up in bed with Mr Chaplin, Mrs Swinburne et al. I urge you all to go forth and watch Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke Trilogy (the Affair, the Tapes and the Connection) possibly instantly.

James Bolam & Barbara Flynn in 'The Beiderbecke Trilogy'

Normal service will be resumed soon when I will be back with more successful culinary tales and probably a thing or two about knitting. Woe, it is very much me.

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31 days without ballet/what to do with a bag of pearl barley…

The year is already a month old, tempus fugit and all the jazz. My desk continues to resemble to aftermath of a small paper explosion (it was tidy, briefly, for about five minutes before Christmas), my hair still has a mind of its own, I eat breakfast whilst reading a dog eared copy of Good Food rather than the Dance Direct catalogue and I haven’t yet been to a ballet class this year, which was my intention for January.

I’d thought a month’s break would be enough. I’m not wholly sure just yet. I miss dancing, of course, and it’s rarely far from the forefront of my mind but I think, in some ways (and without meaning to be melodramatic) the separation is probably still too raw to be thinking about going back just yet. So I’ve decided I’m going to leave it for February as well and reconsider at the end of the month. A little more separation and distance can’t hurt really. I know that, mentally, I’m just not ready to dance again yet (despite what my clicky, crunchy joints and stiffening muscles and tendons are screaming at me – I should probably start stretching if nothing else, blah).

What I do need to do though if I’m not starting again just yet is throw some actual exercise back into my routine. This is utterly where I’ve fallen down in January. I walk about five or six miles on an average work day but I’m not doing anything else and I’m starting to lose (scratch that, have pretty much lost) the tone that I’d built up from dancing. My thighs in particular are in a distressing state (okay, maybe I’ve sloped into melodrama with that statement) and I’m certainly not doing anything to keep any sort of muscle sustenance with my arms. Ho hum, that shall be my aim for February to avoid watching my evenings get sucked away doing nothing. Not least because I certainly do feel a lot more sore, joints feel stiffer, my knees are definitely creaking more and my feet are tight.

On the other hand, my relationship with my kitchen is doing quite nicely thank you very much for asking. I had success with rice on Sunday night which was a first (I tend to cheat and use boil in the bag because I am the biggest failure at cooking rice) and did not utterly destroy any pans cooking the lemon prawn and chorizo rice pot. I also made Good Food’s tuna pasta bake for lunches this week but have discovered it’s… lacking something. I left the sweetcorn out (what with the bit where it is evil) but that’s made the dish a little too ‘pea heavy’ and I like a good pea but they can get a bit boring after a while. For future reference, I’ll probably substitute the sweetcorn for mushrooms. Keeping it in the fridge means, however that it’s looking a little like some kind of weird crustless quiche. It looks better once you’ve shoved it in the old micro-onde for a few minutes to heat up!

Success with rice, finally!

Tuna pasta bake, currently more resembling some weird tortilla or quiche-esque affair

Mind you, the relationship with the kitchen went rapidly downhill last night when I opened the cupboard to raid for baking equipment and was brained by my pot of baking powder which then liberally coated both me and the kitchen. That was a pest to clean up. In the grand scheme of things, it’s much easier when it’s the vanilla essence attempting to put a stop to my existence (now there’s something I never thought I’d see myself type). On the plus, I made those allegedly healthy cookies by LondonBakes again after my near death experience and they are scrum (although I burnt the raisins a little having a quiet tizzarama over Torvill&Dean’s routine on Dancing on Ice Sunday past…)

Omnomnom

I do, however, have half a bag of pearl barley to use up that I am not sure what to do with. Answers on a postcard please.

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“What became of the people we used to be?” (A terribly proper grown up dinner party)

I confess to having a soft spot for The Likely Lads – well anything featuring James Bolam can’t go far wrong in my book – but on contemplation my biggest soft spot here is for the theme tune. Oh what happened to you, whatever happened to me? What became of the people we used to be? Once upon a time parties were riotous affairs wending their way into the small (and oft large) hours of the morning with copious amounts of free flowing alcohol and that odd moment waking up afterwards and never being wholly sure who was in your house. My student days are long gone and a party now is more likely to involve a civilised dinner, conversations about the price of chickpeas and pensions, everyone off to catch their respective methods of public transport by 11pm, washing up done before bed and knowing exactly who is staying in your house. Middle age, it catches up with us all.

Those of you paying attention to my ongoing ramblings will have picked up that my housemate’s been away for a couple of weeks and I’ve been left to my own devices (largely remembering why I don’t live alone, i.e. I need someone to look after me to make sure I eat more than toast). So I decided to demonstrate my growing love of cooking by inviting some friends over for dinner. All well and good. In fact it all was well and good until 5pm on Saturday when I stuck a chilli coated hand on the rawly sensitive bit of skin between my nose and upper lip and spent the ensuing half an hour in the bathroom with my head under the cold tap weeping in pain. Don’t worry, I manned up, went back downstairs and valiantly continued to finish preparing my feast with a soggy bit of kitchen roll clamped to my face. I was halfway through doing my make up when the first of my guests arrived – lucky my friends are all quite used to me really and didn’t bat an eyelid over either this or the fact that my kitchen resembled the aftermath of a bomb explosion.

I’d spent a week or so poring over the various cookbooks stashed under our kitchen counter deciding what to make and settled on Mexican purely because you can make that in reasonable quantities (especially useful as my guest tally was variable right up until the last minute) and also because my Woman’s Weekly book of Mexican cooking had been left sorely unused since it was bought for me. I selected my menu, wrote out my ingredients list, pulled them together and undertook stage one of every successful dinner party: invite the Tesco man to cometh. He was a jolly nice Tesco man too, somewhat distracted by the fact that you can see quite a lot of stars from the doorstep of my corner of the metrop but we had a good chat as I unpacked the box about cooking and my previous chilli related disasters.

The Tesco man cometh: just as well, I wasn't ever going to manage to packhorse all that home by myself

The second stage is to then have to actually physically go to Tesco on the day to buy the few bits you forgot to put on the order and to replace to sour cream that died a sorry death when it leapt out of the fridge.

Okay, so 'going back to Tesco' translated as 'I completely forgot to order booze'

On return from my shopping mission it was time to get down to the cooking. So  I started with dessert, as you do. At New Year I acquired a copy of the Green & Black’s chocolate book and I was itching to bake something from it. So naturally when the lovely LondonBakes posted about these Celebrations brownies I knew what my direction was. They are seriously yummy although I have yet to perfect the art of baking a brownie right through – the edges were perfection but I got impatient and the middle remained a somewhat unset gooey mess that I shoved in some tupperware and ate the next day for breakfast and nearly made myself sick. Halfway through the cooking process I decided we needed more dessert and whipped up some fairy cakes, which I didn’t photograph because there was a teeny tiny icing disaster and it makes me sad.

An excuse to use my cake stand!

Then I worked in a slightly more logical order and set about making the main course. I wound up making three different dishes for this for a sort of ‘pick and choose’ affair. There was a spicy sausage and bean stew (which I’ve just finished off for tea aided by liberal dollops of sour cream and cheese), chicken with black beans and pearl barley and vegetable fajitas. Essentially there was a lot of chilli and flavour kicking about.

However, my pizza de resistance came as the starter. It wouldn’t be a Mexican extravaganza without nachos, would it? No. And these were seriously good nachos if I do say so myself. I butchered the recipe slightly having realised that I’d screwed up by buying refried beans which was not what I wanted at all. Yeah, one of these days I’ll learn to read properly that day is not today. I gently friend some kidney beans, tomato puree and garlic up together, then mashed a couple of avocadoes to within an inch of their lives and chopped some beef tomatoes and red onions in a vague kind of fashion. Next step was to empty a bag of tortilla chips over a couple of plates and liberally sprinkle with cheese, pop those in the oven until the cheese melted then throw the beans, avocado, tomato&onion and sour cream over the top. They were properly yummy.

The pizza de resistance: nachos

We ate sitting on the living room floor, because that’s how we roll in this house. Well mostly I couldn’t be bothered to fight getting the table out of the back room… At quarter to eleven after a few hours of varied conversation and plenty of giggling my friends concluded they should be heading their respective ways home and so I waved them off from the doorstep wondering when my housemate’s next going to be away so that I can play at chef for the night…

Yummy scrumboes and scrummy yumboes

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“Cos baby you’re a firework…” or a cautionary culinary tale

Dinner for the last couple of nights has been what I’d lovingly term a ‘mess’, that is I’ve sort of chucked everything I’ve got at a pan, crossed everything and hoped for the best. This is how this game works: 

  1. Leave work, wonder idly about what’s in for dinner, walk to station, get on right train this time* and head homewards. Remember existence of Lidl en route, decide solution to all ills is mushrooms. Become irate because there is a dearth of mushrooms in Lidl. Buy aubergine, courgette and cheese instead.
  2. Arrive home, liberally scatter possessions throughout house, head to kitchen to raid fridge for mince and fresh chilli. Retrieve garlic from freezer, pile ingredients up on side. Remember bag of frozen chopped onion in freezer.
  3. Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan, add onions and garlic to brown. Chop aubergines, courgettes and the leftover half green chilli from night before’s chilli burger. Decide half green chilli isn’t enough, chop half red chilli too.
  4. Throw aubergine and courgette in pan, add mince and chilli. Rescue tin of tomatoes from back of cupboard. Watch mince brown, throw in tin of tomatoes and move pan to ‘simmer’ hob until it looks ready.
  5. Raid freezer for naan bread. Notice skin between nose and upper lip is a little tingly. Open window. Skin starts to tingle more. Leave room to turn TV on and find Sherlock Holmes DVDs. Return to kitchen, wish to rip entire face off with itching.
  6. Idly wonder if there’s possibly too much chilli in dinner. Decide there is no such thing and are just being wimp. Put naan bread under grill. Add grated cheese to pan to melt (I am a lazy ho and buy my cheese ready grated, don’t judge me). Realise all feeling in top lip has gone.
  7. Remove pan from heat, decide there’s definitely enough for two dinners in there. Rejoice quietly. Realise there is now no feeling at all on lower half of face bar itchy tingling. Put dinner on plate, add liberal dollop of sour cream.
  8. Retreat to living room, press play on DVD, eat dinner, inform Twitter that there is too much chilli in dinner. Wonder if feeling will ever return to face, wallow in own self pity, be attention seeking drama queen. Conclude that dish needs only half the amount of chilli.
  9. Watch Sherlock Holmes and knit for two hours to recover whilst feeling returns to face. Wash up, put leftovers in tuppaware and leave in fridge.
  10. Eat with pasta following night and an even more liberal dose of sour cream. Suffering is vastly more minimal than on first outing. Regret not having foresight to photograph dinner, decide not being hungry is vastly more important. Decide you are a culinary genius and this love-love affair with the kitchen is going jolly well actually. Ha!

 Ingredients for ‘kitchen!fail dinner’, makes two servings:

  • 100g mince
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • Relatively liberal amounts of aubergine and courgette
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Handful frozen chopped onion**
  • Fresh chilli – I heartily recommend half a green one 😉
  • Cheese (grated)
  • Sour cream (to serve)

 To cook: follow above instructions but remove stupidity and whining. Then eat.

 

*I never quite learn my lesson about listening to the announcements at train stations. On the plus side getting on the wrong train this time wasn’t massively disastrous, just an additional couple of miles walk home rather than finding myself stranded out in the middle of nowhere (well, as middle of nowhere as one can get in the metrop).

 **I’m not sure what this equates to in fresh onion terms as I fail somewhat with them (slightly over sensitive eyes, I prefer not to mistake my fingers for onions funnily enough!).

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Things I have learned so far this year…

1. If you go to a fancy dress party as a ballerina, it is advisable not to decide it is too much like hard work to chuck your dress back on at the end of the night and go home in your practice skirt as, owing to a combination of rucksack and coat, you will wind up catching a train looking like you’ve forgotten to put your skirt on.

2. Related to one, don’t walk between pubs in your pointe shoes. They are not outdoor footwear. (Fortunately they’re not damaged but if I do go back to pointe I think I need new shoes anyway, the Grishkos just don’t feet quite right.)

3. Prancing around the pub in your pointe shoes will result in you accidentally challenging a random bloke to a ballet off. Oops.

4. Ballet break = getting home by 7pm = being able to really work on turning my cooking relationship into a love-love one. So far this week I’ve made (for dinner) Delia Smith’s trout fillet in lettuce with Thai stuffing, butchered one of Delia’s chicken skewer recipes and Gary Fook’s Chinese sea bass.

5. Kathryn @ LondonBakes’ Allegedly Healthy Cookies are incredibly scrummy. However, what neither she nor Gwyneth Paltrow tells you about agave syrup is that it smells funny but you should all go and make them instantly nonetheless. I’m impressed I still have some in the box left to be quite honest…

Whole wheat oatmeal, raisin and chocolate chip cookies à la LondonBakes. Yumyumyum.

6. Working on my love-love affair with cooking will lead to a compulsory serious reorganisation of your kitchen cupboard because there’s too much to go in it all of a sudden… if anyone can explain quite why I need about six varieties of sugar, I’d be incredibly grateful 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Things you should not watch when rampantly hormonal: the last two episodes of West Wing. I sobbed my heart out for the entire last episode, perfect show is perfect. Also you shouldn’t go and watch the Railway Children at the theatre. Housemate and I went to see it at Waterloo station last night and it was rrrrrrrrrrrrreally good, so cleverly adapted. I managed to avoid full on sobbing at ‘daddy, my daddy’ but it was a close call…

8. Basil Rathbone is the definitive Sherlock Holmes. I’ve finally managed to persuade my mother to lend me her box set (on the promise that I return it when I’m next up next month… heh) which means I can curl up of an evening and watch them. Just don’t ask me to pick a favourite: I’m constantly torn between Hound of the Baskervilles, Voice of Terror and the Scarlet Claw.

Staying in for January

9. DANCING ON ICE IS BACK ON TONIGHT, PEOPLE! And, even more importantly than that, SO IS WILD AT HEART! As I’ve oft said, Dancing on Ice is just something to pass the time until Wild at Heart… the only thing WAH doesn’t have over DOI is my future husband Robin Cousins, my future wife Katarina Witt, object of my affections Karen Barber, the oh-so-easy to mock (because I love) Christopher Dean or my lifestyle guru Jayne Torvill. Hmm. Still, Sunday night televisual viewing is sorted for WEEKS now and, consider yourselves forewarned, that DOI will be preoccupying my thoughts for the next few months – I never intend to get so emotionally involved and yet I always do.

They're back, been let out of their ice cages and defrosted for another series... 😉

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…to try new ambitions and learn new friends’ names/authority via the medium of cake

Things I have learned this week: class is a super struggle after your work Christmas lunch. Pre-class I was unattractively draped over the barre having hit that ‘too full’ wall of sheer exhaustion. To be quite honest, I’m surprised I managed to haul myself into the air for any of allegro. But I survived (just). Unfortunately there were no pirouettes in that class so I couldn’t test out the assertion that drinking wouldn’t help with them – not, mind you. that I’m wholly convinced the tiny glass of fizz I’d had six hours and three courses previously would have made much difference. Anyway, that’s by the by and not really the point of this post – I was merely on an anecdotal tangent as is oft my wont.

Over the summer I accidentally got promoted at work (long story, very dull) but in the immediate aftermath of this I brought ‘brownie buns’ (boring story involving a tragic lack of greaseproof paper in my kitchen) into the office to have at tea break time and declared I was ‘asserting my authority via the medium of cake’. Seriously, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to get some respect around here… So as I had a couple of days off after I got back from Paree I thought I’d have a baking day and take the spoils in to work in lieu of writing Christmas cards (frankly I’d far rather make pastry any day than sit and write Christmas cards, surely that’s not just me?). I baked for about four hours solid, realised my kitchen is poorly designed to deal with the quantity of baking I was doing and lived in mortal fear of putting my foot in a mince pie running up the stairs to the loo…

The spoils resulted in being: Christmas cake muffins (whip up a fruit cake mix and put it in muffin cases rather than one giant cake, cunning), apple & cinnamon muffins, gingerbread stars, mince pies and a couple of stray jam tarts to use up the last of the pastry (yes, okay, I’ve got a bit of an obsession with jam tarts, what of it? :P).

There was probably just the tiniest fraction too much for work so that means my housemate gets me leaving her such lovely notes as this:

Also over the weekend I cooked a roast dinner AND it all came together at the right time. I was properly impressed with myself. Particularly because I have a real thing about meat, and raw meat in particular. But I roasted a whole chicken ALL BY MYSELF. Well I had to get my housemate to carve it but I’d done everything up to that point. Proudest of all though I was of my apple sauce, it was seriously good and just worked to perfection. Usually I don’t put enough water in to stew the apples and it never works quite right but this was nomnomnom… There’s still a wee bit left so I’ve stuck it in the freezer and at some juncture am going to make myself a tiny crumble. Mmmmmm.

Oh yes, remember in my last post I said go and get the Puppini Sisters in your ears? Well, whilst I’m doing a ‘show and tell’ I’m just going to kind of force them on your ears. This number is brilliant, largely because of Queen Mullins’ imaginary trumpet, but mostly because it just highlights how awesomely talented these ladies are (Steph and Marcella are doing a sterling job in making the ukelele sexy):

You know what, you should totally also checkout Marcella and the Forget-me-nots. So yeah that’s Marcella Puppini of Puppini Sisters fame in her ‘other’ band but they’re equally awesome. This song is probably my second favourite of theirs (YouTube seems to be sadly lacking in ‘Born Beautiful’ though):

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