Sunday, 23 December 2012

Pudding vodka

No - it's not vodka to be sipped with your pudding course like a dessert wine.  Although that is perhaps an avenue worth exploring.  This is vodka infused with the scents and flavours of chrimble pud.  Taking just 3 days to steep I started this on Thursday evening for some last minute presents.  (I did mean to make this about a week ago but the Chap kept using the vodka for cocktails so I had to send him out for some more!)I'm afraid my tardiness in writing this up means it's a little too late for you to make it for chrimble but it could be a New Years Eve winner.
It's a frugal recipe as you can use the cheapest vodka - Aldi do a 70cl bottle for about 8 and a half quid.  S'burys basics version is £9.85 so you can happily get a bottle for under a tenner.  Some dried fruit, spices and an orange and a lemon complete the ingredients.
The recipe comes courtesy of the lovely Dan over at Frugal Living UK blog and can be found here - made rather earlier than mine as he's rather better organised than me!
I chose to up the amount so ramped up the rest of the ingredients correspondingly.  His recipe is for a single 70cl bottle so head over there for the quantities if you wish - mine are for a bottle and a half (1050ml) of vodka.

Christmas Pudding Vodka
Vodka - a bottle and a half (1050ml)
450g dried mixed fruit
112g sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
9 cloves
1.5tsp grated nutmeg
What should have been: 3tsp ground mixed spice but, as I was rather lower on the mixed spice than I thought it actually was: 1.5tsp mixed spice, 1tsp chinese 5 spice and 0.5tsp ground all spice berries
Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon

Put the lot in a big container and stir well.  Cover.  The original instructions said to keep it in the fridge but I've got mine out on the counter - it's alcohol so it won't spoil. 
Stir at least once a day - I'm doing mine most times I go past to get all the lovely flavours into the drink. 
Steep for a minimum of 3 days - if I had longer I'd leave it longer but tempus fugit and we are hurtling headlong towards the day of festivities.
Strain though a coffee filter paper.  Dan mentions you can use muslin but I think a filter paper will give a better result - though it may take a while!!
Decant into some sterilised and prettified bottles and label.

Now Dan mentions that the vodka has a less than promising look; being the sort of brown colour that one would normally avoid putting in your mouth.  To this end I have come up with a little rhyme which I shall write on the labels for the vodka:

 Be not afeared
Of a taste that's weird
The colour it be
Is just mimicry

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The sealed pot challenge

I'm taking part in SFT's sealed pot challenge for 2013.  This involves finding a suitable receptacle that can be tightly sealed to allow no sneaky borrowing over the year; then you chuck your spare change in from  today the 4th to next year the 3rd December.  At that point you unseal your pot and see what you've managed to save. 
In theory having an idea of what the funds will go towards is a good idea but I'm not sure on that front yet.  Being one of life's perpetual procrastinators I am keen to non-commit in case I want to change my mind half way through.  Not that there's anything to disallow such fickle intentions in the rules but I have an abiding guilt/complex type thing about stuff like that, that leaves me stymied and more likely to not do something at all rather than cope with the idea of announcing my goal early on only to have to admit to failing on it later.
DSCN7694c Does that make any kind of sense?  No, thought not.  Anyway, back to the pot...
My pot cost me a grand total of nowt - free.  As a friend of ours says 'nuppence - it's my favourite price'.  This was full of Ferrero Rocher and a gift to the office by a visiting agent.  I begged the container, no-one else wanted it tbh so it wasn't exactly a great feat.  There were even some Ferrero Rochers left in it but I was ever so good and left those behind in the office.  Ok, ok, I did have one but as I now have the next 8 days off work (using up annual leave before the end of the year) I doubt there'd be any left by the time I return.
I need to remove the FR label, seal the pot up and hacksaw a slot in the side but here it is with the first contribution - the change from my purse today minus the £ coins.  These may get in in later months but not this month.  Even with trying to make things / buy pre-loved and generally not partake too much in the materialistic crapmas shopping hell that December can all too easily turn into; it is a more expensive month. 
I will post a pic now and then as we go on with the challenge but for now I am holding off decorating Pot with pics of the end goal - as aforementioned I really don't have one decided upon yet.  :-)
Before you think me totally humbugish let me assure you I do enjoy the festive season; the lights, the colours, sparkles and the warmth that giving brings.  I offer up my advent surprise I did for the Chap yesterday (ok, I was a little late; then again he is 42 so should count himself lucky to receive chocolate bears and elves with popping candy in at all) as proof that I am not bereft of the chrimble urge.  Just lacking in motivation to get into debt over a religion-hijacked pagan celebration of midwinter.  So there.  ;-p

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Random Recipe - Meat Cooking for the Faint Hearted #5 - Roasted Leg of Rabbit with Bacon and a Mustard Sauce Gravy

This month's Random Recipe challenge as set by Dom over at Belleau Kitchen was to use our birth date number to count books from one end of your cook book shelf to pick a book, then to pick a recipe at random from said book.  My birthday is on the 22nd so we were going to end up midways into the shelf somewhere.  Apparently it didn't matter which end you counted from; as Dom had gone right to left I did the same and ended up with.... Oh - one of only 2 books (at the time, he's had a birthday since) on the shelf that belong to the Chap not me.  Huh - oh well.  An extra layer of randomness.  (Out of interest at this point we both counted from the other end too and we ended up with the second of his 2 books.  Huh again.)  Anyway the book was (drum roll please) - Simon Hopkinson's 'Roast Chicken and Other Stories'.  This was in fact a gift to him from my big sis last chrimble and I'm not sure we've made anything from it yet.  It proudly boasts  it's 'the most useful cookbook of all time' as voted by 'Waitrose Food Illustrated' on the front cover.  Reeeeaaaalllly.....
So - I gave the Chap the task of opening it at random to find me a recipe.  Then I could blame him of course.  Not stupid me.  ;-)  The page is... ah - small hiccup.  It's the page describing (wittering on about) garlic.  No recipe here on either side.  Try again good chap, try again, we cry.  As the pages stop fluttering past I get a little jump of excitement - it says crab - one of my favourite things!!  Woop!!  Oh - it's just another 2 pages wittering with no recipes.  Huh.  So- third time lucky and.... well, presumably you've read the title and that is indeed what he managed to pick for me the swine.  Page 174 gives you 'Roasted leg of Rabbit with Bacon and a Mustard Sauce'.  Hmmm.  Now I know I've eaten rabbit at some point as a nipper but I sure as hell have never ever cooked it myself.  Oh well - that's why we trust the recipe right - they'll lead us gently by the hand right?
First things first.  Reading the recipe immediately apprises you of Mr Hopkinson's somewhat didactic style.  You should use French Farmed rabbit he decries.  "A wild rabbit will not do" he sweepingly states.  Well tough boyo cos that's what I can get I'm afraid.  This book was first published back in 1994 so perhaps you could nip into your 'enterprising' butchers (his phrase) back then and buy a) just legs and b) specify that they are not only French but farmed none the less.  I'm not entirely convinced you could unless it was just at the 'enterprising' (read 'hideously brow-beaten') butcher that had the misfortune to ply his wares nearest Hopkinson's casă but no matter - I'm getting my rabbit - legs plus rest of body attached - from a local butchers here in Exeter.  They do rabbits at £2.99 each or 2 for £5.  For some reason I bought 2 - I can't help it when it's better value.  All those HFW programmes telling me it's a great frugal meat with the best free range existence (true for my wild examples) were obviously shouting strong in my subconcious when I was discharging my rabbit purchasing duties.  Not sure it was a good idea but hey ho.  Anyway - I digress.
So - having failed entirely to buy just legs I now needed to detach the desired appendages before I could start on the damn recipe itself.  (Are you picking up that this experience was no picnic??)  Google to the rescue - gave me this page from the Guardian.  Looking at the picture it appears I'll learn how to detach the wings from my skinned little bunny angel.  I would point out the pic is 'upside down' (to our head uppermost conventions of thinking) in that those 'wings' are in fact the back legs - the bits I wanted.  I also however needed to do most of the rest of the instructions so the rest of flopsy could be put to good use feeding Chap and, worst come to the worst, Zeke.  So, not just meat cooking for the faint hearted but a crash course in bunny butchery.  Thanks Chap, your veggie/pescatarian girlfriend thanks you.  No really...
At this point I will let you know that's there're bunny butchery pics coming up.  If you, dear reader, eat meat and flinch at confronting these I shall be most disappointed.  That was me hacking bits off it so if I can manage that....  [High horse gives up and throws Ruth off in disgust.  'Don't woo the readers by lecturing them' he neighs.  Maybe.  Or maybe I just need more sleep.  Whatever.]  And yes - I will get to the recipe at some point.  Honest.
DSCN7590 Lay bunny out.  Flopsy has innards still intact.  Blimmin brilliant.  Extract innards.  Marvel at the ickle kidneys.  Be secretly disappointed when Chap refuses your kind offer of devilled ickly bunny kidneys and insists on 'gifting' them to Zeke instead.  Huh.
Remove legs as per Guardian instructions.  (The rib cage bit was a nightmare but I'll spare you.) 
DSCN7598 We can now finally join the recipe I'm supposed to be cooking and writing up.  Longwinded - moi??! 
You can find the recipe online here, albeit in an americanised version.  I'm reluctant to copy the entire thing out as it's not mine to do so with, so I'll give you the edited highlights.
Preheat oven to 220c / gas 7. 
Mr Hopkinson's next instruction is to remove the thigh bone from the leg and is, I guess, calculated to reassure; stating as he does "This is only slightly tricky." 
Totally correct. 
DSCN7603 What he omits to mention is the essential and much more fiendishly awkward next step of detaching said thigh bone from the lower leg bone in order to remove it from the thigh totally. 
The joint is very tight and I eventually had to stick the point of my knife in the very small centre section and force the joint apart at the same time as getting through the tendons.  This Flopsy has spent his life jumping and racing around outside therefore the tendons joining indiviual rear legs bones together are strong.  However, perserverence gets us there albeit with a renewed and lower opinion of Mr Hopkinson.
At this point I will fess up to having 'adapted' (messed up on) some of the ingredients for this dish.  The recipe calls for fresh tarragon which I hadn't got so I had already resigned myself to using dried. 
DSCN7608 I was however smugly secure that we had a whacking great bunch of fresh thyme available to use; the other fresh herb the recipe calls for.  Err - where was that then?  Says Parsley here?  Got any of that have you?  At 5pm on a Sunday?  We'll use the dried Parsley as well then yes?  Oops.
After which the fact that I had back bacon instead of streaky seemed a minor point.  I know the purpose of the streaky is to ensure the naturally very lean meat of the rabbit stays moist by utilising the pork fat but the Chap hates fat on meat and trims it off back bacon so would not touch anything wrapped in streaky.  He was the one eating it after all so I let him have that one.
DSCN7612 Mix butter, garlic, [dried] parsley and tarragon and the zest of a lemon (or half - I halved the entire recipe) together with S+P and stuff the leg cavities with it.
Grease a baking tray.
Wrap the legs with bacon ensuring the rasher ends are on the underside, thus keeping them secure in the cooking process.
DSCN7614 Roast for 10 minutes then remove and rest for another 10.
At this point myself and the recipe parted ways; with I the adventurer in the uncharted random waters of attempting to make a mustard sauce intended to be composed from cream and Dijon out of; erm, no cream (gone off after defrosting - see last post) and (I'm ashamed to admit this so will do so in a small voice in the hope that you won't notice it flashing past and won't therefore laugh too uproariously at me) a single sachet of Heinz French mustard.  Oops doesn't really cover that one eh?* 
DSCN7619 I tried using a little spoon of yogurt and a dash of milk instead of cream but after tasting it both the Chap and I unanimously voted it 'minging' and it was ditched.  Given the Chap's fat phobia he wasn't too happy about the idea of the cream sauce anyway so I made him a nice gravy by boiling flopsy's rib cage with a bay leaf, garlic, onion, carrot trimmings, etc instead; added some veggie granules and  mashed a couple of roasted garlic cloves in.  Job done.  I served it vaguely à la Hopkinson; cutting the prescribed 3 slices from the bulbous end of the leg and standing the bony end next to it but really went for the massive fail by not serving it with the 'suggested' (an unaccustomed laxing of the preceding levels of didactic pedantry) dish of plain boiled potatoes and green salad but instead providing Chap with a full on roast.  Which isn't in this photo as that would just be far too messy and detract from my fantastic (sarcasm) presentation; natch.
So - a random recipe that had me hands deep in dead bunny, attempting butchery for the first time ever and (sorry Waitrose Food Illustrated) starting to really not rate Mr Hopkinson's usefulness at all.  It was - an experience.  However - Chap did declare the legs delicious to eat so I guess the recipe's not all bad.  Though if he thinks I'm making it again in a hurry he can damn well find me one of these 'enterprising' butchers I've heard so much about that'll sell me just the legs of flopsy...
*In my defence I would like to point out that we usually have Dijon, Whole Grain and English mustard in but I have a Chap that will happily slather half a jar of mustard on his beef joint before roasting it then eat it with the other half of the jar.  Means we sometimes unexpectedly run out of mustard mmkay?

Baking for Insomniacs - Jam buns

Buns, with jam in.  Jam wrapped with bun.  That's kinda it.  I was going to make my mooted 'Devonshire Dodgers' on Sunday evening but the cream I had planned on using turned out not to like being frozen (I'm so sure people are always saying you can freeze cream) plus by the time I had finished the epic making of this months random recipe that same evening (that'll be the next post) I couldn't have been bothered even if I had got cream that wasn't redefining 'lurking' as a verb for a dairy product to utilise when bored and hanging out at the bottom of it's pot.
However, today* I had an early awakening (Chap is dying of man flu / cold remember - with that condition goes certain attendant night-time snorty/snoring-but-with-added-volume noises.  Sigh.) so by 6am I gave it up as a bad job and decided to whack a quick bunch of buns together for the office peeps.  I used this recipe that dates to 1923; being a sucker for an old family version of anything, just adapting it in line with the sugar I had and using the Strawberry jam work had gifted me to use up as opposed to the Raspberry in the original recipe.  I also measured the milk, being physically pained by recipes that say 'a little' of something or any other such massively imprecise measurement.  As a novice at baking these sorts of things really do not help me at all.
* It was in fact yesterday - Monday. T'internet went down when I was trying to load this post last night though thankfully Blogger had saved it! I couldn't post it though. I'm blaming the weather.

So - simple, easy and pretty quick to knock up and needing only 15-20 mins baking these are an ideal time-frugal tea-time (or early morning!) bake for when you need buns in a hurry:
(and lets face it languorous buns are an entirely different kettle of fish, non??!) hur hur hur...

8oz SR flour
1 tsp (and a scant 1 more as mine was out of date) baking powder
3oz butter
1oz soft light brown sugar*
2oz caster sugar*
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1fl oz milk
6-12 tsp Jam from one of the 2 unopened jars work purchased for cream teas for the students in the summer then never used.  Tsk!   Or your own choice of jam of course!  In preference I would go for a higher fruit content one and not strawberry in any way shape or form but that's just me...
A little extra milk
A little extra sugar
*The original recipe says to use all caster.  I only had a couple of oz of it.  That in itself is surprising for me as I tend to be more of the school of thought that says - 'use damn granulated - what's the big difference huh?' when a recipe demands caster sugar.  And yes - I know it's bigger granules.  (And yes - I also know full well you should never start a sentence with 'and' but it's my blog and...oh - I'm sure we had this discussion before...)  So - on to the baking bit:

Preheat oven to 180 - I used 170-175 ish as we have a fan oven.  Anyone with a diff temp scale go to the link on the right side bar for a well handy temp conversion chart.  I'm good to you aren't I?
Sift flour and BP into a bowl. 
If your butter is not soft (for example when you decide to start baking at dawn o'clock rather than planning for it therefore your butter has come straight from the fridge) chop into smaller bits and pop in the microwave for 10-20 secs to soften.  Then rub it into the flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.
DSCN7631 Stir in the sugar.
Make a well in the centre and add the egg and milk.  Use a wooden spoon and draw the dry goods into the centre gradually incorporating all of it to make a soft dough.  If it's too dry you can add a little more milk - a tiny drizzle at the time.  If it's too wet then you should use a smaller egg.  Or you could add a little more flour of course....  (he he he he...)
Grease a couple of baking sheets in preparation.  Flour a board and your hands. 
Form the dough into a sausage and cut in half, then half again (4 bits now else you've gone terribly wrong already and should probably at this juncture just go back to bed).  Each of these pieces should be then cut into 3 giving 12 in total. 
In turn, roll each into a ball and flatten slightly.  Add jam to the centre.  A whole teaspoonful is nicer but harder to wrap the dough round.  You'll get a feel for it.
DSCN7632  Flatten the edges a little more then brush a small amount of milk on - just enough to help the edges stick to each other securing the jam inside, too much and it'll be too soggy to maintain it's jam resistant integrity.
Place the buns join side down on the baking trays, they spread a little but I forgot to take a pic at this juncture so can't show you exactly how much by.  (Oops me.)  Not double in size like some similar recipes I saw said they would though!
Brush with a little milk and sprinkle with a little sugar - I used the light brown here.  Large granule stuff (like the 'coffee sugar' you get in paper sachets - whatever the heck the official name for that is) would be nice here I think, for a little contrasting texture.
Bake for 15-20 mins.  Mine had the full 20 and I felt would have benefited from a couple of minutes less.  I thought they were very very slightly on the dry side but opinions were divided at work with people not noticing or actively liking that aspect so - it's up to you / the vagaries of your particular oven I guess.  "Until golden brown" is; I guess, a term we are all happily familiar with whilst being every bit as uselessly subjective in actuality.
Cool on a wire rack.  They have jam in - don't eat them hot and if you're dense enough to try to don't come a-suing me after.  Just enjoy them like a well adjusted fully rounded individual would ok.  Or fall upon them with cries of bun, BUNS, my preciousssss....  Whatever floats your boat.  Just wait until they've cooled to do so.  Nom!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

& the storms continue unabated...

Ok, ok, that isn't technically correct as we did have a day off (mostly) from the rain on Friday.  The river fell so you could nigh on see the paths, if not actually pass along them without dipping your toes in but yesterday was a return to form with heavy rains battering us along with some high winds and up went the water again.  Here's a daytime shot from about the same viewpoint as the night shot in the last post. 

The water's actually slightly higher this time. 

Anyone for a nice relaxing bike ride on a Sunday?  No??!  (Look at the size of that log!  If only we had a wood burner.  I'd be out after every flood scavenging the river banks for free fuel.)
DSCN7564DSCN7568 'Welcome to soggy Exeter' that should perhaps read. 
I think this little chap is wondering where his home's gone.  Along with a lot of unfortunate people in these floods.  Sadly a woman also lost her life locally when a tree fell which in turn took a wall down on top of where she was living in a tent.  Another example that if we as a society could take better care of all members rather than worrying about sh-t like what we'll be sitting on come crapmas day we'd perhaps all be a little bit richer human beings.  (What is it with this pressure of supposedly needing a new sofa for chrimble?  Will my old one spontaneously give up the ghost in shame at it's non-newness?  I somehow doubt it - it's managed to tough it out each year so far.  Piss off ad-men.)
I didn't intend this to be a ranty post so excuse the slight tangent; though I am asking no excuses at all for the content.
Anyway - a whistle round blog-land this morning has appraised me of 2 things.  Firstly, in a slightly suspicious coincidental way Blogger has apparently told several of the blogs I perused that they've run out of space and would they like to pay for the privilege of uploading photos?  It just gave me this message too.  Now, I know that the finite space they give you will fill up but the fact that they've all gone at the same time makes me think it's a ploy.  Plus someone had put a comment somewhere saying it's Blogger wanting to shift us all to another provider or something.  :-(  Anyway, no, I do not want to pay, especially to an online company that can't tell I'm in the UK and would therefore use a corresponding unit of currency so I am using Flickr instead from now on and uploading from there.  Or at least I am if there are images in this post.  If it's a bit lacking on the image front then I evidently failed to get it to work!  Hmm - you seem to have to add it as html code otherwise if you use the 'share' to blogger option it makes it a new post.  Slightly more longwinded but I'll cope with it.
The second fact I quickly caught on to is that it's 'stir-up Sunday' - traditionally the day when chrimble puddings are made.  (Having just skim read the wiki article I've linked there it actually appears to be a religous thing that has become associated and overtaken by the pudding thing.  Shows how much of a heathen I am that I had no idea of that I guess!)  Now, being somewhat lackadaisical in some areas I have yet to make our chrimble cake (having been inspired to by both Being Penny Wise and Frugal Living UK's frugal based versions) so I figured that with a month to go perhaps I'd better worry about that first.  Although when I think about it I probably prefer a very small pud rather than cake.  Never made pud though and it strikes me as something one ought to have at least a little forward planning for so it shall have to wait for next year, or the year after, get the picture.  I'm slightly alarmed by the reminder that both those blog authors soaked their fruit for a week - mine shall have overnight and be grateful for it I think. 
Given that I'm stealing some of the dying-from-man-flu (that I gave him) Chap's medicinal brandy to soak the fruit in, along with a mix of some in which he steeped spiced baked apple, a freebie single malt whisky and possibly some of this chrimble mead (though I'm not sure that at 13% it's up to the job.  Anyone?) I don't think I can really nick enough off him to last a full week! 
Anyway, in keeping with their Frugal theme but with a slightly different bent I decided to make my cake only utilising what is in the cupboards already.  IE no new purchases.  Hence the theft of the Chap's brandy and slightly idiosyncratic line up of ingredients / booze that will be utilised.  That's another post though - right now I really must get the fruit and brandy in the bowl before he finishes drinking it all.  If that comes to pass I'll have to sacrifice some of the sloe gin instead.....  Noooooooo.........  :-D

Thursday, 22 November 2012

'Tis a little damp here in the south...

The torrential rain of the last 2 or 3 days has caused flooding and seemingly, travel chaos all over the region.  You'd think (and this from a nation of perennial weather moaners) we'd never had to deal with a bit of wet before!  Due to my interminable saga of leg related tedious monotony I am still catching the train for the short hop to and from the shuttle bus for my work.  When I got to the station on my way home last night mine was one of a whole 2 trains on the board that was actually running.  I was glad of that!  Felt for the poor souls in the 100+ strong queue across the front of the station waiting for a replacement bus though.  I think that's why it's like a ghost town here in work today.  Seems like everyone has stayed home and battened down the hatches.  Wish I could have!  The wind is howling and the rain is due to hammer it down some more.  No doubt the river will continue rising - this is it last night at about 6.30pm. 
There should be steps and paths down in that lot somewhere!  The water was absolutely heaving past, you really would not want to fall in when it's shifting like that.  It's always slightly sinister when it's so far from its normal self, I think.  Seems like a much more malevolent force than usual.
There's the odd ray of sunshine and patch of blue sky; or there was this morning anyway.  Autumn continues apace whether we like it or not.
It's 2 months today since I injured my leg and sad to say it seems to be infected again.  I'm back on antibiotics - of 2 kinds this time.  I shall get the results of a test tomorrow to determine which actual pathogen we are dealing with then perhaps I will be given something targeted and we can finally get rid of this thing once and for all!!  I hope so; thoroughly fed up with it now as is everyone around me I'm sure.  The Chap has been brilliant, doing all the cooking, washing up etc.  I'm itching to get back in the kitchen now after so long a forced abstinence but the Chap has dictated that I am not allowed at the moment.  I want to get my Random Recipe for this month done before the cut off date, I want to cook an idea I've been toying with in my head of  'Devon Dodgers' - I'm thinking a cross between these Devon flats I made before and a jammy dodger, primarily because there's 2 full jars of waitrose jam sat at work needing to be used up that I have permission to make something nice from.  I want to feel like I'm doing something for him for a change rather than the other way round too!  I want the house to smell of good things and be able to think 'I did that'.  I think it's the hibernation vibe kicking in; it's dark now in the morning when I get up and in the evening when I leave work, plus it's cold, wet and windy and the mournful wind makes it sound even worse.  And now I am truly wittering away.  I hope you are warm and dry wherever you may be, and that I get to do some cosy baking soon.  :-)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Shitey day, pretty sky

This is a pretty sky.  A pretty sky to try and ameliorate the effects of a less than pretty day.  There's been a witch hunt atmosphere at work today and thoroughly unpleasant it's been too.  I've felt on edge and frankly; close to tears, for much of the day.  A couple of us feel we can't trust anyone other than each other and the office has been much subdued and quiet.  It isn't nice.  However, I realise that it has re-affirmed my belief in the need to get myself a different job and given me the impetus I needed to get looking again after recovering from my leg accident.  That is what I will choose to see as the silver lining here.  Onward and upward, as my mother would say!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Alt route work

I'm missing my usual walk along the river on my way to work of a morning.  It's different every day and the way I go I can lift my gaze just a little and see green fields and trees climbing a hill to the skyline.  It's lovely and also somewhat calming before plunging into the office for another day.
Due to the injury to my leg which is still healing, I am currently walking a much shorter distance in a different direction to take a 2 minute train journey so I can then hop onto the Uni's free mini bus shuttle service.  So I am missing my riverside jaunt and the lovely scenes it brings.  Although from the dinky station I use you can see over many of the houses and shops.  This is a church just up the road built from the classic red Devon stone. 
Sorry it's not the best shot - the conditions this morning weren't great and it's at the limit of the zoom on my small digi camera plus I then, rather ill-advisedly, cropped it but you get the idea.  I'll try and get something better another time.  It's not quite the same as my previous views though, is it?


Monday, 5 November 2012

Return to work

Well it's half way through my first day at work in 6 weeks and I have cleared all the paperwork from my desk - most of that has gone into the shredder bin!  I've managed to get my unread emails down from a frankly staggering 1207 this morning to a mere 861 so far.  My leg is protesting for sure - roll on 5.30pm!!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Boo!!! Did I scare you, did I, did I??

'Tis All Hallows Eve.  Or Samhain.  Or Hallowe'en. Whatever.  There's a short article here on the names.  I'm not partaking overly, I have popped this sign on my door as the idea of hobbling to and fro all night answering it is fairly non-enticing.  I know that normally little chicks like that aren't overly season appropriate either but you will note that these are not in fact normal little easter type chicks at all but are in fact...Chicks  Of  Doooom!!  They eat brains.  No really.
I'm not particularly a believer in the whole trick or treating thing anyway.  Smacks a little of glorified begging with menaces for stuff kids today (in this country anyway) certainly don't need.  If there was a halloween equivalent to 'Bah Humbug' that is what I'd be uttering right now! 

I have my little 'autumn' themed vase of twig, interestingly curly grass and mini pine cone things that is suitably adorned and that'll do me.

This blog has an entertaining poem about Samhain based to 'the night before christmas' cadence / style. Do check it out.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Random Recipe - Store Cupboard Stuffing Bake

With all this time on my hands recently I've been blog surfing a lot more than I normally do and have stumbled across many new to me fab blogs.  Several of which have been inspiring me in different ways and one of those is the lovely Belleau Kitchen blog and the monthly challenge 'Random Recipes'.  
Now normally this involves picking a recipe at random from a cookbook; similarly picked at random, and having to make it. (Assuming I've understood that correctly, I have a feeling that there may be themes involved sometimes too.)  This month however is slightly different in that it's a store cupboard ingredient that must be picked, then you make something with that.  Now although I had more random items available than the stuffing mix I used, everything else needed me to visit the shops for additional ingredients which as I'm off my feet as much as poss at the mo didn't seem like the best of ideas ever.  It's not quite an 'essential' trip like the doctors is you know?
So - I decided to use up a couple of the 5 packs of stuffing mix I had in the upstairs store cupboard from a past Approved Foods order.
Right - next step - find a recipe - from your cookbooks. Hmmm - now surprisingly enough none of my cookbooks have any recipes listing 'packet mix stuffing' in the ingredients list, not even quasi healthy 'mixed seed wholemeal' stuffing.  I know - I'm as shocked as you right?
So I thought (in an admittedly slightly tortuous justification after the fact sort of way) that I could treat my blog as a recipe book too - as a load of the stuff on here I scribble down very roughly as I make it then transcribe to here which is then it's lasting format.  And enough people seem to search my slow cooker carrot and coriander soup for me to feel the reference aspect could at least be argued for, if not fully justified.  So - I'll go ahead and we'll see if I'm allowed in the challenge.  This is all quite apart from the fact that today is the deadline.  By which I'm not sure if it means submissions should be in by today or up to and including today.  Yes - I'm a pedant when it comes to language and that's just waaaay too open to interpretation for this virgo!  :-D
So - witteringly long intro / justification / obfuscation in the hope the host will give up and just allow my submission through out of pure boredom aside - here's my frugal, quick and simple 'store cupboard stuffing mix bake'.  As 'inspired' (ahem) by this one I previously made, with the added advantage of also using up some of my stocks of cheese, or 'dairy crack' as we now prefer to call it in our household, the need for which was highlighted in my last post.

Vaguely Italian themed Stuffing Mix Bake:
2 packets stuffing mix - or you can make this with one if you don't have a massive overstock of stuffing in your cupboard like me
0.5 tbsp dried basil
0.5 tbsp dried oregano
Boiling water - amount as per packet instructions
2 tbsp tomato puree
Black pepper
Cheese - I used about half to 2/3 of a 300g tub of soft cheese.  You could totally use a harder cheese grated here, whatever you need to use up really.  Some parmesan over the top would work too.
Little butter for greasing dish
 Put oven on to heat as per instructions on the pack of stuffing.  Put kettle on to boil.
Put stuffing, herbs and a few grinds of black pepper (to taste) in a large bowl and give them a quick mix.
Add water as per the stuffing packet instructions.
Add the tomato puree and stir really well.
Grease your ovenproof dish; I use a ceramic one, and spread half the mixture evenly over the base of the dish.
Evenly spread your cheese over - a little easier said than done using this soft cheese as it wanted to move the existing layer of stuffing about.  I found leaving it resting on top of the hot stuffing for a few seconds softened it a little and made it easier to spread out; as did placing it on in smaller amounts than the big dolloping spoonfuls I started out with!
Spread the second half of the stuffing over and place in the oven for the time specified on the stuffing packet.
Ta daa!!  Bit messy to serve and please bear in mind I'm not a professional food photographer but served with a little refreshing salad this was a nice wee snack.
Very cheap to make with items you're likely to have in the house already and taking little time this ticks both the £'s and time frugality boxes.  You can jazz it up as pleased - I'd perhaps add more tom puree next time.  Oh - and if you want to photograph it letting it cool and firm up for a few minutes would be a good idea.  Not one I had until after my messy photo efforts mind you...

Friday, 26 October 2012

Cheese - the 'dairy crack' danger in our homes... ;-p

Cheese is addictive!!!  Who knew??!  Well apparently quite a lot of people, just not me. 
Coincidentally I had been wondering yesterday why I had felt so dissatisfied after finishing my lunch and had been noticing this rather more often than normal recently.  I had put it down to the general sitting around I've been forced into for the last few weeks meaning I'm more bored and therefore wanting to eat more - always a danger with me. 
Later for my dinner I made a very simple dish of bulgar wheat; flavoured with a veggie stock cube in the soaking water with a handful of peas, sweetcorn and broad beans added then a generous portion of grated mature cheddar cheese stirred through.  Other than a grinding of black pepper that was it yet it was soooo much more satisfying to me.  I had figured it was the flavour and to a lesser extent, the fats from the cheese as it's not exactly the most inspiring looking of meals right? 
Well apparently dairy has trace amounts of morphine in, plus the casein protein when digested releases casomorphins which also have opiate effects!  Blimey!!  So in fact - you can be 'addicted to cheese', or as that article calls it 'dairy crack' - fantastic phrase. 
I feel I may be verging on a dairy crack addiction myself.  A quick scoot in the fridge has produced this lot; that's 17 different types of cheese.  That's normal right?
I just stumbled across this information this morning whilst bimbling around on the t'internet and once again, am in equal measures awed, impressed, humbled and slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of random factoids and ways to waste your time that are available.  Although I'm also thankful for it given my enforced house bound state recently. 
[Although it's truly silly this still made me smile; then I must admit, full on giggle out loud.]
Right - guess I better think up something to use up some of that cheese huh?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The vexedness of the feline species

Well I had intended to write a short post advocating the joys of pet ownership; how when you're down they know and give comfort, how they entertain us, how they keep you warm snuggling up on the sofa together, and how my Zeke cheers me up in the long dark hours insomnia brings on you.  (Woke up at 4am today- proper 'bing - full awake' styley too.  Pah.)
However, my little furry friend decided that instead of offering comfort and succour to a soul much in need of rest, he would lose the plot; tearing up and down the stairs repeatedly, attacking the kitchen door - no idea what it had done to him but it was a full on claws wide 'Banzai!' moment I can tell you.  Then finally have a go at me by jumping at me from the stairs when I came out of the kitchen door at the bottom - a favourite trick of his when he's in 'wide-eyes-mental' mode.  I now have a bleeding scratch on my knuckle which will be itchy as hell in a few minutes as technically I'm apparently allergic to cats.  Only when they break the skin though luckily.  Or not so luckily right this moment but I can at least breathe in the same room as them, which being a life long cat person is the lucky bit.
Just to remind us what a very sweet little thing he once was; here he is at a minuscule week and a half old.

Now here he is over 2 years later and a master at ruining photos of himself.  Tsk!

As the cat was not obliging on the 'comfort in the wee small hours' front I went to the default position of a hot chocolate.  Although I'm far more of a savoury girl there are only some things that seem right when it's 4am and hot chocolate with a biccie is one of them.  I did have a minor biscuit dunking disaster though.  I guess my motor functions were still waking up...

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Stolen Saturday...

Well I didn't get to post my sandwich for this months No Croutons Required yesterday which was the last day for entries.  :-( 
Having made the bread on Friday - a variation on my beer bread with added linseed and black pepper, I had then planned to griddle the halloumi for the filling yesterday morning then submit my post. 
First however the dressing on my leg was due for a change.
I'd noticed a little redness on my skin showing out from under the edge of the tape on the friday evening so I was extra cautious peeling the tape off.  Hmmm - not looking too good.  The area of redness had grown to a couple of inches in diameter overnight, it had been oozing a little and worst of all, a small amount of the top edge of the wound where my leg is still knitting together (4 weeks after the inital trauma) looked like it was breaking down again.  Eeeek!!!!  Having been through this before I shouted the Chap out of bed in a panic and we went *straight to the walk in centre.
(*After he had showered and breakfasted and generally faffed about for ages - or that's what it felt like to the slightly panicking me!)
Luckily enough the wonderful Kathleen the tissue viability specialist who had seen me before was in residence and after a surprisingly short wait, compared to the hour and 15 minutes we were quoted, she was ushering me into her room. After an inspection of the wound she agreed with my intial assessment that the infection was returning but due to the extensive nature of the problems I'd had with it decided to phone the plastics team at the hospital that had done my operations and consult with them.  They requested that I be sent to see them so we duly drove across town and booked in at the reception.  After an hour there I got taken through to a cubicle and issued with wristbands.  'It doesn't mean you're staying in' they attempted to reassure me as they fitted them.  They like to get them on me as I am allergic to a certain drug so the red band warns everyone to ask what it is that I can't be given. 
Another 30 minutes ticked by then a specialist appeared and explained they would do blood tests on me to see if my white cell count was up, which it should be if it was fighting infection, and if some other marker was also affected - I forget what it was called now.  He took the blood, uncharacteristically* gave me an idea of what was happening next by telling me it takes about 45 minutes for the results and vanished off again.  (*I am in no way belittling our wonderful hard working health professionals at all but what I found far and away the most frustrating thing during my recent stay in hospital was the lack of information when you were waiting for things, especially when I was getting admitted.  If you have some sort of end time / goal in sight it makes sitting there doing nowt for 2 hours rather more bearable.)
After nearly an hour I enquired gently as to my results and the lovely staff said they'd chase them for me.  Duly the same guy reappeared and told me that according to their blood test my leg isn't infected and he thinks the redness and accompanying 'icky' bits were just due to general healing processes and I was free to leave.  Which should have reassured me but I'm afraid to say, it hasn't.
I'm one of those people that as a general rule has the utmost faith in our health professionals and what they tell me.  Only this time...I think they're wrong.  Now I have no idea how long it takes your white blood cell count to go up in case of infection but as this only started coming on the previous evening I'm wondering if it would show up on a blood test the very next day.  Both Kathleen and the triage nurse who admitted me had taken one look and been convinced it was infected and after I got home from the hospital there was a definite few degrees temperature difference to that area of my leg compared to the rest of it.  Which is still the case today.  Anyway, I shall keep a very close eye on it today.  I am also taking the antibiotics I had left from the first time I
went into the hospital and they put me on IV ones instead.  It can't do me any harm and perhaps will keep this at bay until I can tell whether I need to go and see anyone further about it, or if it really is just the healing process.  Fingers crossed!
All this kerfuffle meant that I didn't get to make my proposed 'Griddled Halloumi on Black Pepper Seeded Bread – with lime and fresh coriander leaves' sandwich for the aforementioned NCR comp.  Tsk!  I did get the bread made though and used my dinky little mini loaf tins for the first time - aren't they great?!  I'm a sucker for miniaturised versions of stuff for some reason and purchased these in TKMax some time ago so was glad to have finally justified them.  So we had bread but not the final sandwich; and I had a Saturday but not the one planned.  Unfinished weekend - oh were did you go?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Pre-loved beauties, some bargain foods and post #300!

Well I'm safely ensconced back home now after finally being allowed out from the hospital last Monday after getting into theatre on the Sunday for my second op in the late afternoon.  Not much to report since then as necessity has dictated I have done very little as standing about is on the banned list which means most cooking / baking activities are curtailed.  I have been falling back in love with bulgar wheat though having got 4 x 500g bags of it in my latest Approved Food order for the princely sum of 99p.  What a bargain!!  And as it only requires soaking in boiling water for 30 mins I don't have to stand there cooking it when I want something to eat in the daytime and the Chap is out at work.  Incidentally if you haven't come across Approved Food in your frugal wanderings then check them out.  They sell discontinued, end of lines, change of packaging and out dated stock which changes constantly.  The postage can sound a little steep as it starts at £5.25 but that covers up to 25kgs of goods so it's the kind of place to shop when they have a whole bunch of items you'd like.  If there are items you can get in the case deals; as I did with the bulgar wheat, then all the better.  I also picked up a load of pasta, various sauces and indian meals, cat food, tofu, 12 pack case of cous cous (also 99p!), crisps etc etc and my favourite; 1.9kg of Bisto veggie gravy granules for £1.49 - that should keep me going for a while as it makes 25 litres!!!  This is just some of the items I got as I've already started using various things and packed away others but it gives you an idea.  My order came to £29.74 in total including the postage - I got a little discount on that as certain items carry a P+P discount.  Full price for these items is £87.52 so that represented a saving of just under £62!.  Not too shoddy at all.  :-)
Anyway, the point of this post was to show you some other bargains I got from our local charity shops on one of the few forays out of the house I've been allowed. 
 Cast iron griddle pan - I'm especially pleased with this as I've wanted one for a few years now but as I wouldn't use it overly often I can't really justify spending £20 or £30 on one so when I saw this in perfect nick for a mere fiver I snapped it up.  Coincidentally I've also been running an idea for a sandwich with griddled halloumi through my head in the last few days (as a possible entry for this months 'No Croutons Required') so this was a truly serendipitous find.
The gorgeously coloured glass vase is for my mother, it's truly beautiful made of a mixture of blue and green glass fused together and blown into this sort of swirled bauble shape.  This was a whole £3 and is perfect with nary a scratch or mark of any kind, not even on the base.  I thought I might see what pre-loved items I can spy for chrimble pressies for the family this year, in addition to home made goodies.  For the last few years we've had more of a home made / token gifting theme as we're all of the age now that we have houses full of stuff pretty much.  That said this piece obviously does fall into the 'stuff' category but my ma loves glass pieces like this so I immediately thought of her when my eyes alit upon it.
Finally some wool - yarn - whatever it is.  And needles.  Knitting ones.  Though they're the wrong size I've since discovered.  Tsk!  Being of a somewhat ambulatory challenged nature at the moment I felt that perhaps the time had finally come to learn how to knit, even if only in the most basic fashion.  I want to make myself a hat and for the last year or so have been gently getting around to it.  I spied 2 balls of this rather pretty graduated grey soft wool/yarn malarkey and equipped myself with these and what I erroneously thought were the correct size '8' needles indicated on the label.  Apparently not.  That referred to the 8mm size not a UK size 8 which is in fact 4mm.  Obviously.  (There's 3 sizing conventions commonly in use for knitting needles I've discovered so as a newbie what chance did I stand?)  Anyway that charity shop had a whole box full of different needles so I plan to visit again on the morrow on my way home from the latest doctors appointment and have a rummage for a bigger set.
Finally - the more observant amongst you may have noticed a certain alluding to the fact that this will be the 300th post on my blog.  It should be rather more by now for a blog that's over two and a half years old but I have been somewhat slacker at posting this year.  As we enter autumn and the nights are drawing in again I feel hopeful that this may change and I can shake off the edge of general malaise I have felt around my spirits for the last few months now.  As one who has been dragged rather deeper by that before I have no wish to revisit it so am doing my utmost to be resolved to do more, make more, bake more, plant more and last but very definitely not least, keep trying to change job as to quote my beloved Firefly, my current one is 'damaging my calm.'  So - a small pat on the back for post #300, and thanks for joining me here whether you've flitted past by accident or are one of my small band of followers.  And a cheering image taken on Saturday during one of the many downpours we've been having.  Pretty huh?