Friday, 28 January 2011

Well I'm sorry not to have got the second Frugal post up yet. Been a bit stupid busy last week. We're moving buildings at work so everything has been packed up and we're now trying to get it all straight in the new centre! I'll do my best to get a proper post up soon. Bear with me!!

Monday, 24 January 2011

The art of living frugally #1 - food shopping

I don't pretend to have any hard and fast rules for a magical fix, just what I've done myself to help stretch the money in these lean times.*
Keep awareness of your options - try to remember a few key points when out shopping. It's my golden rule to always ask myself 'Do I need it?' Particularly where food is concerned. If you're a bit of a foody like me then your eye will be drawn constantly in the shop by the exciting lovely things [lovely things sweetie darling, lovely things] on display, cunningly designed to attract you and make you buy them. With food costs ever rising and the higher VAT making its presence felt we could all potentially do with a little more awareness of our actual needs when entering the shop as opposed to what we'd like. Obviously whilst it is theoretically possible to live off oats and the occasional lime to stave off scurvy; you really wouldn't want to. I'd imagine it'd make you fairly ill after any length of time as well - even with the lime! [ We are not advocating this diet btw. Or any in particular - just offering a few common sense tips on saving some pennies here and there.] So use your common sense and strike a balance.
So - golden rules of food shopping.
1.) Check the CFC - always! Whilst entering the store knowing what you need is a good plan you can be flexible if items on offer are those you'd otherwise buy at a higher price another time. In particular fresh veg, bread and for me - cheese, are things to look out for. Next - is the discount worth it? If it's a pack of crumpets that's now 60p instead of 65p then the answer's a pretty clear No! [A real 'reduction' I've seen btw!] Will you eat it before it becomes inedible? [Applicable to both CFC and full price purchases - we throw some hideous amounts of food away annually in this country alone - let's not add to that when you've just spent your hard earned cash on it.] Now I'm not too rigid about 'best before' dates [helped by the fact that I don't eat meat] but there really is no point buying something only to eat maybe a quarter of it and throw the rest away. (Bear in mind that the product does not magically know when the clock ticks over to midnight of the day after its' 'best before' date so will not therefore through concerted effort turn green and illness-making on you.) The freezer is your friend. If it can't be frozen 'as is' can it be cooked - either prepared ready for use (eg tomatoes into passata) or made into a big batch of soup etc and frozen that way? Then you have the added advantage of several 'ready meals' [but homemade therefore correspondingly nicer] on hand ready to go. [I will mention that I freeze stuff that's supposedly 'not suitable for home freezing' using my common sense and have had no probs so far. This is your choice though.]
2.) Home cook/make - almost all of the time this works out cheaper than buying premade. [Unless the CFC has any startlingly good bargains - see pic!] Even more so if you do this then take a frozen pack to work for lunch rather then spending £2-3 a day on a lacklustre sandwich. Or make your own sandwiches if that's your preference- it'll still work out cheaper and you can have the filling exactly how you want; not how some overpaid ad-exec/marketing/nutitionist bod thinks it should be.
3.) Buy in bulk / loose - but always work out if it's a better price. I have a loose food shop near me and some stuff can be much cheaper from here. Then I can get as much as I want too - so if needed I can bulk buy or if I only need a small quantity I'm not tied to buying a whole pack at an inflated cost as I might be in the supermarket. Things like herbs and spices are way cheaper in here too, as well as in the local health food shop. Which neatly brings me onto the next point -
4.) Shop around. I know locally which shop is best for washing powder, which for gravy granules, which for frozen sweetcorn. Not owning a car I walk everywhere anyway so am not tempted to get everything in one massive shop at a supermarket. If you want to save some pences you need to be prepared to trail around a bit - but on foot or by bike. It doesn't work if you spend all your savings on petrol driving around!
5.) Get what you pay for - sounds silly I know but a lot of the time people can't be bothered or are too self concious to open their mouths and point out when something isn't right. Recently I had 2 seperate instances where packs of items didn't contain the stated number. One was a pack of 6 pitta breads - it only had 5 in. I phoned Co-op and they sent me a £1 voucher in the post. As these were the value pitta breads costing 26p that's nearly 4 packs back - not bad! The other was an Aldi pack of 15 yorkshire puddings - only contained 13. They gave me a full refund and we'd already eaten the 13 yorkies. :-D
Now I'm most deffo not suggesting we turn into whinging bastard customers [yes - I've worked in retail before - can you tell] but if you've paid for something and not received it then point it out. Companies should be happy to put it right.
6.) Don't be a snob. There's nowt wrong with most 'value' ranges. Most of them are exactly the same thing from the same factory as the supermarkets own brand 'regular' item. When it comes to things like pasta and rice how different can they be? Yes - some value items may be less than great - S'bury's veg stock cubes being a case in point [incredibly salty; inedibly so] but stick with the basics and you'll be safe enough, or learn which are worth buying as I have. If there's no 'value' option available the store's own line will nearly always be cheaper then a brand name.
7.) Grow some food. You'll have to have been taking a sabbatical on the moon to have not seen all the GYO stuff about recently. I think there's enough out there on the subject that I really don't need to add much to it. Suffice to say you don't need an allotment - any bit of garden, patio, pots, hanging basket, sunny windowsill could yield anything from some runners in a pot up a wigwam of canes - doesn't need a lot of floor space, or just some herbs on your windowsill. Seeds are cheap as chips compared with what we pay for the end product in the shops. Try it.
Also don't forget the potential for free food growing in our hedgerows and coastlines - get some proper foraging guides if you want to do this though. I take no responsibility for any self poisoning incidents!
*This was shaping up to be a monster post so I've split it into this predominantly food orientated one and the next thrilling installment - non-food orientated stuff. Woop eh??!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Muppetry all my own

Well - I had a post filled with frugal tips for today. Notes and pics aplenty ready to send out into the world and what have I done - left the lot at home. Doh! So no lunch time witterings from me I'm afraid.
I do tend to the forgetful sometimes and I must admit - it infuriates me so god knows how it is for anyone else! (Sorry!)
It's one of my unlisted resolutions for this year to be better at getting on top of stuff rather than prevaricating and eventually forgetting as I am so very good at doing. [I am a world class 'faffer' sometimes.] The Chap is a much more 'let's get it done now' leaping into action type which seems to be good for me; although somewhat frustrating for him I feel.
Anyway - wittering aside we have a weekend of activity planned to include allotmenting - in need of some tidying and tlc after the weather we've had. Chap is extremely excited that I'm letting him join me in my 'domain' and it's infectious. I'm even going to rope him in to help build my shed - another project that ground to a halt rather over the latter part of 2009 and the first half of 2010 - not my best 'happy bunny' time. More of the grandiose shed plans at a later date - when I have them to hand for a start but it will be a very ecologically sound upcycled number costing nowt or as near to as is physically possible. Yes - skips are my friend! :-D

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The kindness of strangers

I'm absolutely blown away by the loveliness of a fellow blogger.
I went via allotment2kitchen to littleblackfox's blog last week and made a comment on a veggie meat substitute she had made involving the use of Wheat Gluten. Now in the past I've trekked round all the various health food shops in Exeter trying to find this in order to make Seitan - pretend meat. I got various reactions ranging from total bafflement to the most informative at that time - or so I thought - of the news that you don't buy the stuff, you make it yourself through some long winded dough washing malarkey; or something like that. It sounded terribly worthy and a disparate amount of effort involved for the volume of finished product you end up with. I shelved my ideas and ever since have been trying to use up a huge tub of 'nutritional yeast flakes' I had already purchased with a view to making this recipe; which was what had sparked the whole thing off for me.
Now here was a foodie blogger gaily discussing the use of wheat gluten like it was a totally normal product one could pick up any old where - 'What's her secret' thunk I; and asked in my comment. Rather nicely indeed littleblackfox suggested a couple of options for me to try and said she'd send me some in the post. As she has - a whole pack of the stuff!! And some really interesting sounding teas to try as well. As I mentioned at the top - I'm just in awe of how lovely that is of her to a total stranger who had not even commented before on her blog. Little Black Fox - I salute you as the cream of humankind.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Forage on the coast

As you'll know [if you've been paying attention :-p] we went traipsing on the Dorset coast at the weekend. Whilst there we foraged a couple of items to try once we'd returned home.
Whilst the Chap was poking around various caves in the cliffs (left from the quarrying that once took place in these parts for Purbeck stone) I came across an enclave of Sea Cabbage/Kale plants on the clifftop. Being cognisant of the fact that nationally this is a rareish species I took just 2 or 3 leaves from any one plant. It was good to see that there were a lot of these plants in this area, and I know they've been thriving on this coastline for years as I've been seeing them all my life. I was chastising myself for lack of preparedness as I emptied the top of my bag of camera, purse etc and dumped the leaves in. Really must remember to carry a suitable receptacle for unforseen foraging opportunities like this!
Further on at the top of a set of steps up from the valley floor to the cliff top the eagle-eyed Chap let out a delighted cry of 'Ears - Jelly Ears' which may well have earnt us the odd look or two had anyone else been foolhardy enough to be out in the howling wind and, at this point, driving rain. Luckily they weren't so were spared the sight of the childlike excitement of 2 fully grown adults exclaiming over the finding of what have been less than charitably described as looking like 'the pigs ears I gave the dogs tonight' on one forum I frequent! Jelly Ear fungus admittedly aren't the most immediately appealing item to pull off a tree and contemplate eating but they are one that it's nigh on impossible to misidentify meaning a safe bet for fledgling foragers to try. We gathered the larger growths, leaving the smallest to carry on; wrapped them in a tissue [it's all I had to hand] and popped them in the top of my overloaded bag taking care not to squish them. Further on round our walk we spotted some more but these were old and dried out so after a quick photograph we left them alone.
After our visit to the Square and Compass we headed back down to 'sunny' Devon [ha] - through driving rain, massive side winds and a pea-souper fog. Not fun driving conditions for the Chap.
Safely back home I looked up the Jelly Ears. Whilst we both knew they were edible we weren't so sure what to do with them - I'd had some vague recollection of stewing in milk being an option. [I know - sounding more and more tasty by the moment eh!! :-D]
The River Cottage 'Mushroom' book has this to say:
"The Jelly something of an acquired taste. The undistinguished mild flavour and unassailable crunchiness...has proved something of a challenge to western palates. ...used with discretion in a spicy soup or stew where they can absorb the surrounding flavours, their unfamiliar qualities become clear assets."
"It should be washed well, and sliced finely, for although the translucent flash is thin, it can be tough and indigestible.
Stew for at least 45 minutes in stock or milk and serve with plenty of pepper. Ensure it is cooked properly, otherwise the flesh will be very rubbery. The result is crisp and not unlike a seaweed."
Doesn't that all make you want to rush out and find some to try yourself?!!
I decided to casserole them for at least the stipulated 45 mins and see what we thought.
A check of the River Cottage 'Edible Seashore' guide had left me fairly certain that I'd collected Sea Cabbage but a *google later has now made me think it could be Sea Kale as most sources seem to use 'Sea Cabbage' to describe a type of seaweed which this most definitely isn't. Anyway, the book mentioned that you want the smallest leaves in Spring time - 'uh oh' thinks I - wrong time of year. Oh well - I did go for the small leaves so we'll give them a try. Lightly boiled they could make a nice 'greens' accompaniment to the Ear Casserole. [I can hear you thinking 'yum'.]
So; here we go with our Dorsetshire Jelly Ear Casserole and Seaside Greens Supper:
Splosh EVOO - about 0.5 tbsp
1 onion peeled and chopped
3 sticks celery chopped
Sprig rosemary - chopped
2 carrots chopped
Swede - approx 7-8oz - chopped
Veg stock - I used a total of 0.75 pint
2 bay leaves [look at my beautiful fresh bay leaves courtesy of mother's plant and my cute lttle jar for putting them in!]
2 medium spuds - 10-12 oz in total - chopped
0.5 tsp dried garlic - or 1 crushed and finely chopped fresh clove
1 small sweet potato peeled and chopped
Jelly ear mushrooms - small handful washed, trimmed of any hard stalk part and sliced finely
Glug red wine, approx 4 tbsps-ish
1tsp veg gravy granules
Handful green beans - chopped
Sea Cabbage/kale

Heat EVOO. Add onion and celery and fry gently to soften. If using fresh garlic add this now.
Add rosemary, carrot and swede and stir.
Add stock to cover - at this point it was 12fl oz. Add bay leaves and garlic if using dried granules.
Put oven on to heat up - Gas 6.
Chop both kinds of potatoes and add to pot.
Prep fungi and add these too. At this point the Chap made the helpful comparison between the sliced fungi and slugs. Not exactly the image I wanted in my head - thanks lovely man!!
Stir all well together.
Splosh in the red wine and sprinkle over the gravy granules then add enough stock to just almost cover the veg. As mentioned this took me to a total of 0.75 pint.
Stir again and pop in the oven for 40 mins.
Remove, add beans, stir through and replace in oven for 5-10 mins.
Meanwhile lightly simmer the sea cabbage/kale for 2-3 mins then drain well.
Verdict: hmm - er - well they were right that they don't really taste of anything themselves. The Jelly Ears had soaked up the flavours of the casserole so worked in that respect. However, they did have a slightly 'slimy' kinda thing going on, and were chewy with it. No sign of the crunchiness both books mentioned - not sure what they meant there? They were edible - no more than that.
Overall - I wouldn't go out of my way to find these again although I think the Chap would like a try at drying them and using in an oriental soup. Glad to have the opportunity to try them and this was our first foraged fungi meal so kinda exciting on that front.
Oh - and the sea cabbage? Bleargh!! This was absolutely vile. No other word for it - or at least no other polite one! I think it's the wrong time of year. I did try a tiny baby leaf - about 1cm size of tiny - and that was ok so I think these will be worth a try as spring baby leaves but now - totally unpalatable. They'd keep you alive and that's about all can be said for them. Very rich in iron the chap said through making faces at the taste.
All in all not a total success then but life is a patchwork of experiences is it not?
I now know not to either gather sea cabbage/kale [whatever the damn stuff is] in the depths of winter nor to post a photo of dubious looking fungi on a forum and expect to get away with it. :-D
*I'm not sure when 'google' became a verb but it now seems firmly ensconced in the national, if not international, conciousness as such if not in the actual Oxford English so I'm afraid it may well get used in this way on these pages. If it makes you wince - sorry 'bout that.

Mid-winter weather turn?

It finally stopped raining - woo hoo!! This pic was taken yesterday morning and you can see the river has been up over the paths again with the volume of water that the skies have seen fit to chuck at us over the last week or so. You can also see that the sun is peeking shyly out though, preparing to drape us in golden radiance for the day. Come on sun!
What the clear skies mean by today though is a return of the cold. Frosty start to the morning and the river steaming on my way to work. Hey ho. It is mid-winter. We may have turned the corner. Maybe? Please?...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A favourite place

Whilst in Dorset at the weekend I wanted to show the Chap one of my favourite places there on the coast. If you drive through Corfe Castle, turn right and follow the road all the way up through Kingston, drive along the top of the ridge (admiring the view as you go) then turn right again you will end up in Worth Matravers. Park in the honesty car park and from here you can walk down past the strip lynchets (medieval terracing system) to the coast to join the SW coast path . (You can see the strip lynchets in this photo taken in January '09 on a much sunnier day. As I have to admit, several of the photos on this post were. The really grey ones are from this year!) Or you can do as we did and scramble down to see the sea at Seacombe. (On the far right of this map.) Now it was, to say the least; a tad windy whilst we were there and the tide was in so we couldn't get all the way round to where we used to spend many a happy hour as nippers dabbling in the rock pools, but we got to see the place, the Chap diced with the idea of being washed away and we had what I believe would be covered by the term 'bracing' walk before retiring back up the [very very muddy indeed] hill to the pub.

Ah the pub - the Square and Compass. This is my very favourite pub, quite possibly also fueled by many memories as a kid of reaching the refuge of it after a similarly bracing [although perhaps slightly more challenging sized 3 feet tall] walk along the cliff tops. It's an old low stone building with a stone roof that nestles into the top of the hillside in Worth Matravers looking down to the sea. It's been in the same family for over 100 years and has appeared in every single edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. They have free range chickens running about and a stone carving festival in the summer. There's roaring fires and a chair made from driftwood and branches. There's a bar that's really just a hatch with barrels of real ales behind. There's a mini museum of fossils and local finds collected by the current landlord's father. [Sadly passed away now.] There's a pumpkin carving festival in autumn. There used to be a semi-tame Raven when I was small but it attacked me once so I'm quite happy that's not around any more. It did also stuff an inebriated man's fiver down a drainpipe one memorable New Years eve to our geat amusement though. There're tables made of massive slabs of rock in the garden and a lovely view to the sea. There's some of the freshest air I know and quite importantly there are pasties. Just pasties. Only pasties. As in - NO OTHER FOOD but pasties. You have to have a pasty when you go there. It's the law, or an old charter or something. Or it should be. Assuming you've done your bracing walk in the howling gale [did I mention it rained too] then you've earnt a nice hot pasty and a pint, whilst you steam gently by the side of the fire. They're scrummy pasties too; from memory and other's comments now. Served on a paper plate with a choice of sauces at the bar and a piece of kitchen towel for your fingers [though there is cutlery if you want it] this is the proper Square and Compass experience. They even have a veggie option these days so I too can have my pasty with my pint. Bliss.
Go there. Do it now.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Silent Woman - Wareham. A pub not a genuine rarity! :-D

The weekend was spent 'back home' [not sure why I still say that as I've now lived longer away from there than I did there] in Dorset. We had lunch to celebrate little big sis's birthday at the Silent Woman pub just outside Wareham in Coldharbour. [A place which incidentally didn't appear on my road atlas - it's that small.] We've eaten there a couple of times in the last year and a half and the food has always been good. I must admit to being slightly disappointed to see it was the same menu as the last 2 times though but we have always been in the colder months so maybe it's their winter menu...
However, they do have a specials board which always seems to have some good sounding choices on it and this trip was no exception. As well as the various meaty options (beef and guinness pie, some sort of ham hock dish, beef madras, er...) there was a smoked salmon and prawn pasta dish, a mushroom risotto and what caught my eye - *Quorn pieces in a mushroom and brie sauce. As a veggie [or pescatarian to be entirely accurate] I was inordinately pleased to see this and in fact, I can't bring to mind a single other time I've seen a Quorn dish on offer in a pub or restaurant that wasn't specially catering to vegetarians. This made my mind up for me so I really had to choose this. It was a good dish, creamy so somewhat rich - not for those watching the calories. [Mind you if you're eating out you really shouldn't be, at least for that one meal.] The brie flavour came through without being overpowering, which had worried me a little. It was a generous potion and cooked well - Quorn can be ruined if overcooked. Served with a choice of spuds and veg or salad I went for the tarragon saute spuds [not the healthy option again] which were lovely and the stir fried veg which were a little on the greasy side. Overall though a good dish. The others had variously: scallop topped salmon fillet dusted with cajun spices - a hit and the scallops were nice big plump 'uns. This was what I nearly went for had the Quorn not had my allegiance. There was a venison casserole and a lamb casserole (aha - the lamb was the other dish on the specials board). Both went down well also. The final dish of our party was a beef in black bean sauce stir fry with noodles. Said by the Chap to be like stir fry when an English person makes it; apparently the sauce was more of a gravy consistency and the noodles were a bit overdone. Hmm - perhaps they should stick to what they know.
Overall though generally good food, a pretty pub with roaring fires and good Badger beers on tap and the courage to put Quorn on as a main meal choice. Oh and the Silent Woman namesake? In their words:
"Once a smugglers haunt, legend has it that an 'unusual' Landlady (one who talked too much, heaven forbid!) gave away the smugglers' secrets in Wareham market place. Fearful of capture by the ever-present Excise Men, the smugglers silenced her by cutting out her tongue, thus creating that unique phenomenon 'The Silent Woman'. "
Tsk - you can tell a bloke wrote that!!
*Can we assume that after every time I've written 'Quorn' in this post there appears a little 'TM' in the appropriate place. I neither know how to make it 'top-align' [if that's the phrase] nor do I much care. Quorn people - rest assured I have the greatest respect for your product and it's intellectual, market and whatever else integrity. :-)

Friday, 14 January 2011

Home Made Crackers

I've recently been looking at recipes and thinking about making crackers for myself. Not sure why I've never done it before as it's as simple (if not more so) than making sweet biscuits or cookies. Anyway - this was my first attempt using a recipe from Atomic Shrimp's site.

Cheesey Oaty Crackers
200g SR flour
100g butter / marg
75g rolled oats
75g grated cheddar
1 heaped tsp whole grain beer mustard
8tbsp water

Preheat the oven - the recipe said Gas 4 but I found this was a little under doing them [I've noticed this before with my oven at Gas 4. :-( ] I ended up turning it up to Gas 5 and got far better results on this setting.
Mix the fat and flour together until it looks like breadcrumbs - the instructions say with a knife but this was going to take me to approximately the end of the century so I used my fingers.
Add the cheese, oatmeal and mustard and mix.
Add the water 1-2tbsp at a time until you get a dough.
Roll out - this can be sticky so flour your board, rolling pin and hands well throughout.
Cut into pretty shapes - hell if you've got interesting cutters use 'em. Mine include a watering can and a carrot, and who doesn't have a hippo and an elephant? :-D
Place onto greased baking tray and bake for 10-15 mins until golden and 'done' looking. As mentioned I found the Gas 4 batch underdone so gave them some extra time but once I whacked the oven up the results were far more satisfactory.
I found these a little dry for my taste but nice nonetheless. After storage in a tin that evidently wasn't as airtight as you'd suppose they softened up just a little and I actually preferred them like this. It's all a matter of personal taste though I guess. What it did convince me of is that I really need to be doing a lot more of this cracker making malarkey - so easy and I can already see the vistas opening up of seed, herb & cheese flavour combos. Hmm - I feel a cheeseboard moment coming on...

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Random bits

It's been raining here - a lot. The ground is absolutely sodden, saturation point.I want to get stuff done outside!! Waah!!
The Chap is continuing to prove his cooking prowess with an adaptation of this Roast Vegetable and Bean Stew recipe - I don't have all the details though I know he used the veg he had, blended half (?) ish of the veg into the stock / cider and used red kidney beans; again as this was what he had in the cupboard. I can attest that it's blimmin scrummy!!

Not the best start to the new year for the Chiefs - their away game v Bath on boxing day was postphoned owing to the pitch being frozen. Our first home game of 2011 was v Leicester Tigers [hwak ptooie] on the 2nd January. Despite a valiant effort we lost though we held the Tigers to 15-22 giving us a losing bonus point. I'm afraid no pic of the score as the ground was that packed by the time I'd fought my way half way there [against the stream of people leaving] they had wiped it off. It's the fullest I've ever seen Sandy Park which bodes well for the future of the club.
Boding apart though our last outing was away to Gloucester on the 8th and another loss - this time 37-23 putting us down to 9th on the table. Not really where we want to be but there're another 9 games in the premiership before we start hitting the finals so plenty of time for us to climb back up again. Lets hope so eh?!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Roast Spudato Experiment

Having had a 'discussion' [ie - not quite an argument] recently about the best way to roast potatoes - in particular concentrating on the oil used; I decided to hold a little totally-non-scientific and arbritrary test as I was making roasties last night. [Yep - we missed the traditional Sunday slot - so?] As my roasts just consist of spuds, veg, yorkshires and gravy the quality of the roast spuds is important. I've always used olive oil and sea salt after my mother [I believe she got this habit from Nigel Slater] but in the aforementioned discussion was being told in no uncertain terms that this was all wrong because of the boil/heat points of relative oils. Well no-one likes being told they're doing it all wrong - especially when it's Ma's recipe so I thought I'd test this out. I cooked 2 dishes of roast spuds - 1 in EVOO and 1 in Vegetable oil. Both were otherwise done in my regular style:

Put kettle on.
Put oven on to preheat to Gas 6.
Put oil in ceramic baking dish and put in oven to heat up.
Wash and chop spuds. Leave skins on. Parboil for 5 mins and drain.
Return to pan and shake about to fluff up edges.
Spoon into dishes with hot oil being careful of splashes.
Grind sea salt over and stir round well with a spoon.
Roast for 1.5 hours, stirring every 20-30 mins.

Here's the final result. On the left are the veg oil, on the right the EVOO. Chap thought initially that the veg oil ones looked crispier but I don't see much in it myself. I know I definitely preferred the flavour of the EVOO potatoes. Chap said on initial tasting the veg oil ones then on second try couldn't discern a difference.
Verdict - doesn't make a lot of difference but I prefer the taste of the EVOO ones so will continue cooking them with it.
Conclusion - my friend's talking rot - or at least as far as roasties are concerned!! :-D

Monday, 10 January 2011

Slow cooker spicy root soup

I adapted an old favourite of mine - this spiced carrot and lentil soup recipe - for the slow cooker. Piece of piss; if you'll pardon the expression. I'm loving the SC more and more!
It ended up being carrot & swede as I had less carrots than I thought but once blended I'm not sure you could even tell. I think it's a good base recipe to use with most root veg to add some warming flavours in the winter months.

Spiced Carrot & Lentil Soup - the SC way
400g carrots }
200g swede } Or 600g carrots in original recipe
2tsp cumin seeds
0.5tsp dried chilli flakes - or adjust to taste
2tbsp EVOO
1l veg stock
140g red lentils
125ml milk

Dry fry cumin and chilli together for a few mins to release the flavours. Keep an eye on them to ensure they don't burn - give them a shake around every half min or so.
Meanwhile stick the kettle on for the stock then peel the swede and chop this and the carrots into chunks. Place in base of SC.
Add the spices and all the rest of the ingredients and switch on. I put mine on high and it had about 6 hours in the end.
Walk away.
Several hours later return and blend soup. This came out quite thick so I added another 0.5 pt veg stock but let your tastes guide you here. And that's it. YAY for Slow cooking!!
This is a nice simple but tasty recipe. It's cost effective too; especially if you keep your eyes peeled for deals or CFC bargains. This week Aldi has both carrots and swede on their Super 6 for 39p. Just remember to pick the biggest one you can find! :-D

Friday, 7 January 2011

The man can cook!!

Well; this is a rather nice thing. Never having seemed to have picked one that had the ability and / or inclination to do so before; especially not with any regularity, it's refreshing to find that the Chap not only likes cooking but is veritably good at it. Even having been out with no less than 2 chefs [amongst others] in the last decade, even they failed singularly to manage any sort of proof of culinary prowess for me. Sheesh - easily impressed - moi? Ha!
His curry method [which I'm going to unashamedly nick] is; after roasting the veg, pureeing half of them in with your choice of curry sauce. This ensures you have a 'gravy' that is nice and thick and sticks to your rice rather than running through it. Worked for me - lovely! Watch this space and I'll do a proper post when I have a go for myself. In the meantime - I really feel he needs a pinny...what do you think... ;-D *snigger*

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Pressies - the materialistic bit of chrimble

Yes - it's a post about stuff. But this bit of stuff is a help for both money and time frugal peoples. Also it's only a short post. So read on...
I was overly excited to receive a slow cooker this year [Amazon wish lists are great] from *mini-big sis - I am in love with this already. I hummed and hawed about one of these for a while as worktop space is, to say the least, at a premium in my kitchen as is storage space for when it's not in use; but it's just brilliant. Simple, time saving, the long cooking time develops and blends the flavours together - I could go on and on but doubtless you will be seeing some recipes for this in the weeks to come. So far I've made a veg stew - first thing to try it out; a fish stew and a big batch of leek, potato and stilton soup adapted for the slow cooker from the recipe here. All have been great - if you're thinking about it I urge you to get one. Having looked into them before and from my meagre experience so far I would say go for one with different heat settings - mine has 3. This allows you to adjust the cooking time dep how long you've got / you're at work for without making the food too much like mush - as I don't eat meat and will be using this predominantly for veg it's a fairly important consideration.
*Mini-big sis: I have 2 older sisters and this is the next one up from me. She's also pretty short. Sorry!
[I also got various other lovely items over chrimble but I'm not about to harp on about them here. This space is to share ideas / experiences &c not 'this is what I've got.' Suffice to say I love all my gifts and all the givers dearly. Thank you. x]

& then it was chrimble

Well I hope you all had a lovely season. I had the festive lurgy - hey ho. Still can't speak properly but it didn't stop us enjoying some bracing walks in the Dorset snow along with a pint or 2 in the local.
Rather bravely Chap came along with me too this year and met the rest of the familial members for the first time on chrimble eve. There was time to pop the pressies under the tree, grab a bowl of veg curry before nipping down the (heaving) 14thC local for a bev or two before bed and chrimble morn. Sated on a full brekkie [I don't do that often] we got on with the gift unwrapping before venturing out onto the skating rink masquerading as a road [closed] outside Ma's house. Had a little amble around and took some pics before a [quieter] visit to the local pub and returning home to make the dinner and all that entails.
Then before we knew it it was Boxing day and a rather sunnier if damn chilly day saw us on the heath by Wareham forest - time for some more pics of the beautiful winter landscape and the fantastic forms the hoar frost makes.

Christmassy foodie things #2 - Preserved Clementines in a spiced ginger syrup

I made this recipe from the Atomic Shrimp website as a last minute foodie type gift for friends and family. They look great and are relatively inexpensive to make as a gift for any time of the year. The small Kilner jars I used were £2 a go from Wilkinsons and are a nice touch I think. I doubled the amounts in the original recipe as clementines were on offer 2 bags for £2 when I bought them. I added a couple of thickly sliced lemons to make up the weight and used Stones Green Ginger Wine in place of the suggested spirits.

1200g fruit - 2 bags of clementine + 2 lemons
1kg Sugar - white granulated
200ml Stones Ginger Wine
900ml Water
5 Cloves
1 stick cinnamon broken into pieces

Heat the water, 100ml of the ginger wine and the spices gently with the sugar until the sugar dissolves.
Meanwhile wash and destalk the fruit.
Thickly slice the lemons discarding the ends that are all rind.
Put 2 cuts in the non-stalk end of the clementines in a cross - Atomic Shrimp says this is to let the juice out and the syrup in.
Once the sugar is dissolved carefully add the fruit and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, turning the fruit every 10 mins or so.
10 minutes before the end of the cooking time sterilise your jars.
Remove lid from pan and gently 'squish' the fruit a little against the side or base to release some extra juice. You can see from the picture that the cuts on the fruit will open up as the skins are much softer now.
With a spoon place in jars - the fruit is very soft now and will squash easily so take care.
Add last 100ml Ginger wine to the syrup in the pan and stir. Spoon over to cover fruit in jars and seal.
Adorn with a lovely bow and tag if wanted or keep for yourself and guzzle on top of yoghurt or good quality vanilla ice-cream. Mmmm...

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Christmassy foodie things - the return of cake sunday

One of the foodie bits I made over chrimble were some filo pastry mince pies. Frankly these are so easy I feel a bit of a fraud giving a 'recipe' so here's a synopsis with pics of the process.
Filo was my choice as t'chap hates pastry having a pathological hatred of fat and has too many times over the years had soggy bottomed pasties putting him right off, I think. I also hate thick pastry - all too often found on bought mince pies, which is a shame as a mince pie is one of the sweet things I like at this time of year. We only had a couple though - the rest came to the pub with us in a much belated return of 'Cake Sunday'.

1 Jar mincemeat - mine was homemade from a friend and boozy and gorgeous it was too!
Filo pastry - note that it needs to be removed from the fridge 20 mins before use - I only realised this on reading the box immediately prior to wanting to use it so it had 5 mins on the radiator instead. ;-)
A little melted butter

Preheat oven to Gas 4.
Unroll filo and carefully seperate 2 sheets. The size of sheet can vary vastly - I was using 'Jus-Rol' chilled and the sheets are way smaller than their frozen version. [In fact about half size, near enough.] Anyway - cut into sections - 4 for this size sheet. Lay them at angles to each other - see pic. Place in case / cake or muffin tin hole - push down carefully. I reuse foil cases as well as using my silicone cases - one of the few useful things I've found to do with them frankly as they stick like gits with cakes. [The silicone ones, not the foil.]
Fill generously [though I may have been a little too generous as I only got 11 from the whole jar of mincemeat!] Brush a little melted butter on the edges of the pastry and draw closed, scrunching together.
Bake 10-15 mins until pastry edges are golden.
Cool on a wire rack - be aware that if you have accidentally torn the pastry the filling will ooze out at this point until it cools enough to 'glue' itself shut.
Take to pub and share with friends and feel all warm and festive and fuzzy. :-D

Use last cut bits of filo for a savoury mushroom, pesto and blue cheese mix as a treat for Chap for leaving me be in the kitchen even though we were running about an hour and a half late at that point!

Felicitations for the new year

Happy 2011! It's been a few days since my last post - days that have incorporated the whole festive season so as you can imagine I've a few bits lined up to post on. Firstly though I wished to share this with you all:
"Every new year people make resolutions to change aspects of themselves they believe are negative. A majority of people revert back to how they were before and feel like failures. This year I challenge you to a new resolution. I challenge you to just be yourself." Aisha Elderwyn
This quote struck a resonance with me and is one I am going to try and remember through the coming year. We should be ourselves rather than what others or society want us to or think we should be. Continuing pressure to conform to social 'norms' can lead many to lose sight of the fact that it's your life and nobody elses and it scores no points living it for others. Hold onto yourselves my friends and take the time for a 'Tiny Pony' moment every once in a while. Enjoy 2011.