Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The familiar becomes unfamiliar

They're (finally) resurfacing our road.  Consisting of Victorian (I think) terraced housing parking is at a major premium round our way and normally the street is chocka both sides up the street with cars, vans, motorbikes and the odd camper van wedged in and overhanging the corners where the double yellows start.  Due to the resurfacing though everyone has to be cleared out by 8am and it looks so so very different.  It's actually quite a wide street without all the damn cars up it!  I like it but they'll all be back by tomorrow I think.  You can see why it needs re-surfacing though - looking a little bit patchy eh?!
It makes me wonder what it was like back in the day to see it looking so unfamiliar.  I'm quite interested in the random little bits of history you only pick up by (for example) perusing old photos on the walls in pubs or flipping through those self published old postcard collections.  I find it fascinating to see places I know so well looking so different - sometimes just a scant handful of decades before.

Monday, 28 November 2011


Last week at work we had various moustache themed goodies on sale in aid of Movember.  This is a charity event where men grow a moustache for the entirety of the month of November in aid of mens health charities but in particular testicular cancer.  A very worthy cause as I'm sure you'll agree.  We managed to raise a not too shoddy £116.36 with our munching!
My friend's husband has been growing his own 'tache for this and I'd like to shamelessly plug his page on their site.  If you'd like to make a donation he'd be very very appreciative - no matter the size.  Consider it - even just £1 makes a difference!  Will's Movember page.
If you fancy having a go yourself next year then check out their handy guide to moustache shapes below!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Reality tree

I was walking back from the doctors earlier (gastroenteritis if you were wondering - not fun) and I was feeling a little sorry for myself.  Then I happened upon this tree and the colours and the perfect carpet of yellow the leaves had made, made me stop and stare and forget the rest of the world just for a moment. 
It started me thinking why was I feeling sorry for myself?  It's not a life threatening illness, here at least.  I have a roof over my head, clothes, a job, I don't live in a famine zone or the arctic ice where conditions make life infinitely harder than I've ever had to deal with.  We take so much for granted - easy access to the doctors being one when really; I'm very definitely not that badly off.  This therefore is my tree of wisdom today - stop and look at something beautiful and get a sense of perspective every once in a while.

Salt, Pepper & Chilli Squid & Prawns

I made this for us on Sunday.  It's one of my favourite things and it's pretty quick and easy to knock up.  Perhaps not the ultra healthiest as it's fried but drain off any oil really well and as you only have a starter size portion it could be worse.  (That is assuming you do only have a starter size portion!!)  I adapted my recipe from one found here on the Gastronomy Domine blog.

For 4 starters: (Halve it for 2)
500g raw squid and raw shelled prawns mixed - or all one or the other whatever you like.  Get your fishmonger to clean the squid for you and cut into thin rings and the tentacles into short lengths - 2 inches ish.
3tbsp rice flour
3tbsp cornflour
1-2 fresh chillies - to your taste
2 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns - whole
1 tbsp freshly ground (for preference) black pepper
1-2 tbsp sea salt (I actually used the lemon fennel and chili salt I bought at the farmers market a little while back)
Oil - for frying so sunflower / vegetable etc

Dry fry the Szechuan peppercorns in a heavy pan for a few mins to release the flavours.  (If you have trouble finding Szechuan peppercorns try health food shops or oriental supermarkets.)  They're less solidly dense than the black ones so you can crumble the odd one up a little with your fingers to add to the textures of this dish and make the flavour of them more accessible having more available surface area.
Slice and chop the chilli finely aiming for small squares no bigger than the peppercorns - it's up to you whether you leave the seeds in or not - of course depending what type of chilli you're using as well.  I used Aji Limon - a yellow one with a slight citrus taste that's nicely hot but doesn't blow your head off and I only used one so I left the seeds in.  [This is the one plant of mine from the 13 chilli plants in 11 different varieties the Chap brought up this year!]  Incidentally if you're as rabidly paranoid as I am (fueled by all those horror stories of people inadequately washing their hands then touching their parts in the bathroom or rubbing their eyes etc) then you can get a pack of these plastic gloves and use those for chopping chillies.  They can be washed and reused as long as you haven't holed them and their tight enough to the hand to enable you to feel properly to chop.
Place the chilli, flours, salt and black pepper in a bowl and add the Szechuan peppers once done and mix well together. 

Put the oil on to heat - about an inch deep will suffice.  It needs to be frying temp - 180/190ish C (that's 350-370ish F or when a cube of bread browns in 60 secs).
Gently dredge the squid pieces and whole prawns in the mixture and fry them off in batches.  Use a slotted / holed spoon and keep turning them regularly; removing from the oil once golden and crisped to your taste.
Drain on  kitchen towel and serve.  A fresh crispy lettuce side would provide a refreshing contrast with this and a piquant chilli dipping sauce of some kind would also work.  Yum!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Meat Cooking for the Faint Hearted #3 - Roast Chicken

It being cold and miserable and generally grim I thought I'd treat the Chap to a nice roasted chicken dinner when he got home from work on Monday.  Having text him about it and got the boy all excited I realised I have zero idea how to do roast chicken.  Despite reading many and varied cookery books and recipe websites over the years I tend not to retain the details of the meat recipes so much, not eating it myself.  So - how do you roast chicken?  Answer - google it.  :-)  Top results are Jamie, Delia, BBC &c &c.  I'm afraid I don't tend to go for Delia's recipes very often as I dislike her needlessly didactic tone so I checked out the Jamie Oliver and the BBC effort as well as a handy page here which deals with the entire process including weight vs cooking time tables.  I settled for Jamie's recipe in the end as it sounded tasty with the lemon and herbs but pretty straightforward with a minimum of faffing about - just what I wanted after a long day at work.
So - roast chicken.  First buy your chicken.  Depends on budget whether you'll go for an organic or free range but at the very least please get a 'higher welfare' bird.  From watching various stuff like Hugh's Chicken Out campaign &c I've heard that the free range and/or organic birds taste better - a more concentrated 'chickeny' flavour so I guess you can get that bit more out of them in terms of stock, leftovers etc.  The next decision is size - the Jamie recipe quotes for 4 people but I was cooking for 1; albeit 1 large appetited Chap.  So - I thought I'd look for a smaller size chicken.  Pointless!  In the stupormarket they had large - deffo too big, then medium and small sizes.  The medium were about 1.4 - 1.5 kilos - the recipe seemed to be for 1.6kg bird.  The smaller birds were anything from 1 kilo to 1.2 but were only about 20p cheaper than a medium size!  A no-brainer so I went for the medium.  First hurdle out of the way.  (You may be wondering at this juncture why I feel the need to chronicle my chicken buying exploits in quite such detail but as a non-meat eater who went veggie before she learnt most of her cooking; buying meat is not something I'm familiar with at all, nor confident about.  So - I'll share with you guys and maybe help a fellow 'faint hearted meat cooker' or more likely - you can tell me how to do it properly. :-D )

Ingredients as used by me:
1 chicken
2 red onions
1 parsnip
2 carrots
Approx 3" section butternut squash  - from the narrower neck end
About 4/5 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
Sprig rosemary
Olive oil
1 lemon
Home then and after sticking the oven on at 240 - top temp - I peeled the veg (except the garlic which also stays whole) and scraped the carrots as they were looking a little tired and sorry for themselves.  Chopped them into chunks and piled on the baking tray and drizzled with oil as per Mr Oliver's instructions.  Well - I say drizzled - kinda had a bit of a gushing out moment so there was a bit more oil than I intended.  My little big sis has greatly recommended an oil drizzler to me for moments like these - given that she is the least domesticated person I know I'm not sure how she knows this but perhaps I should suggest it as a suitable chrimble item.
Righto - using the tips from the 'help with cooking' site linked above I made sure to wash the chicken - inside and out - then dabbed dry with a kitchen towel.  Apparently this helps get a nice crispy skin.  As my chicken was tied up and Jamie's recipe didn't specify I chose to untie it as the tips site seemed to think this could help it cook more evenly. 
I sploshed some oil on and rubbed it in then realised my obvious error and had to ask the Chap to grind on the S+P for me to then rub in.  After a good washing of the hands I duly stabbed my lemon and microwaved it on a plate for 30 seconds as recommended to bring the flavour out.  Insert herbs and lemon inside chicken - possibly whilst averting your gaze as this really is a bit 'ick'.  Plant bird firmly atop your veg and bang it in the oven - turning this down to 200 at the same time.
Cook for 1 hour 20mins, basting half way through.  Basting means getting the whole lot out and spooning the juices that have come out of the chicken back over it to help prevent it from drying out.
Remove chicken and put on board - cover with foil then a tea towel (don't ask me why - it's what Jamie says to do so I duly did) and leave to rest for 15 minutes.  His recipe then helpfully says: 'Now is the time to make your gravy' without offering the slightest hint how you go about this.  Well - in my house I'm afraid gravy comes from veggie granules; generally Aldi's own so I made some of these up a little bit thicker than usual and left some room in the jug.
I poured off the juices from the meat tray into a mug and stuck it in the freezer - the Chap does this when he's had roast beef so the fat solidifies and can be removed easily leaving the stuff with the meat flavour in it that you then add to the gravy.  This fat didn't really solidify, quite possibly because a) it didn't have enough time and b) there was a fair bit of olive oil in it but we managed to pour it off and added the meaty juices left to the chaps gravy jug.
I then carved (first time ever!) as per Jamie's instructions - quite easy once I worked out where the leg joint was he mentions.  And ta - daa!!  Roast chicken all by my own fair hand!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Light displays

No fireworks for us this weekend though we had a busy one.  We were at the Chiefs game against Gloucester on Saturday; sadly we lost 19-24 but we put up a valiant fight.
After the game the sky put on a good show for us; even without any fireworks.
Then we saw this on the way out - not sure where it landed from but I rather like how it looks.  :-)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Frugal tip and unseasonal plant madness

Frugal tip of the week - Boots has Aquafresh toothpaste on half price at the mo - that makes it 52p rather than £1.05!  Even cheaper than their own brand which is 70p - not a bad deal so I thought I'd stock up and got 6 tubes.  :-)

We were in Dorset last weekend and I noticed that in my mothers garden these poppies were not only still blooming - they're bursting back into life with new buds!  It's been an odd 'Autumn' so far for the weather that's for sure.  How lovely they were.