Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Cookery Calendar Challenge: August

I'm joining with Penny at The Homemade Heart who invites fellow bloggers to choose one cookery book each month, select and cook two dishes from it and post their thoughts at the beginning of the following month.

For August I chose Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Three Good Things.  We have my elder daughter's signed copy on loan and I've been taking full advantage of the opportunity to try out as many of the recipes as I can manage.

The idea behind the book is simple and exactly as its title suggests, that many of the dishes we enjoy can be reduced to the winning combinations of a few (three?) good things on a plate.

I'll preface my chosen dishes with the confession that they involve little or no cooking and the explanation that this is due to them being the only ones for which I have any photographic evidence.  More complicated recipes were attempted on occasions when the light was too poor for a good shot, or when we scoffed the lot before I remembered to capture them.

My first offering is a breakfast duo: Egg, Toast & Anchovy and Toast, Olive Oil & Honey.  Spreading mashed anchovies onto soldiers before dunking them in a soft boiled egg takes is ingenious (if you relish the rich saltiness of  anchovies as much as I do).  As for the pairing of olive oil and honey, you have to try it to realise that it does work.  Holidays in Greece suggest that a smear of soft cream cheese might add another dimension  I'm always on the lookout for ideas to brighten up weekend breakfasts and these two fit the bill, with the added advantage of being simple enough to fit into a weekday routine as well.

My second offering of Tomatoes, Bread & Olive Oil, makes the perfect summer's lunch, but only if you use the best quality ingredients you can find.  Pallid tomatoes and plastic bread won't cut it.  

Three Good Things is divided into chapters offering recipes for salads, starters and soups, snacks and sides, vegetables, fish, meat, pasta and grains, fruits and deserts.  Although each contains three main ingredients most of them require a few extra, but they are all simple to prepare.  Hugh also suggests variations to ring the changes.

Of the other dishes I've prepared the Chicken, Plums & Soy is my favourite, but I also enjoyed the Leeks, Cheese & Bread and the Lentils, Spinach and Potato.

I'd recommend this book to inspire courage to challenge your taste buds, to be bold in your combinations of flavours and textures and to produce a delicious plate of food within a very short time. 

My book for September is Prasad by Kaushy Patel.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Cookery Calendar Challenge: July

I'm joining with Penny at The Homemade Heart who invites fellow bloggers to choose one cookery book each month, select and cook two dishes from it and post their thoughts at the beginning of the following month.

 In July I finally got round to cooking from Persiana.  They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but I'd defy anyone to resist the seductive colours and textures of Sabrina Ghayour's delightful book.  I'd coveted it for some time but it wasn't until the beginning of the year that my husband used a money off voucher to pick it up in Foyles.

Having been brought up in India I appreciate the use of herbs and spices and have recently enjoyed visits to our local Middle Eastern restaurant, Souk Kitchen.  Now I had the opportunity to recreate them at home.

The first dish I chose was Baked Eggs with Feta, Harissa Tomato Sauce and Coriander.  It's traditionally a breakfast dish, but I cooked it for dinner  I began with the harissa tomato sauce, spiced with warm tones of turmeric, ground coriander, cumin and cinnamon, as well as the fiery kick of harissa.  I've eaten in before in the Souk Kitchen but I don't remember there being any feta in it.  I  think its salty creaminess adds another dimension.  The eggs are slipped into craters created in the rich sauce before the dish being finished off in the oven.  We ate it with flatbreads to scoop up the rich juices.

The second dish was Lahmacun, or spicy minced lamb pizzas.  First I kneaded the dough which is similar to bread dough, but with the addition of Greek yoghurt which gives it a softer tangier flavour.  The topping is a paste made from minced lamb, onion, tomatoes, chilli flakes and parsley.  The recipe specified Turkish chilli flakes and advised holding back to avoid too much heat.  I used normal chilli flakes, which I imagine are milder, but held back anyway, which I regretted.  I would have liked more of a punch.  I would also turn the oven temperature down a little bit as they browned very quickly.  We ate the lahmacun with a coleslaw dressed in a mint and orange blossom dressing lifted from a salad recipe in the same book.  It went down well even with my daughter who's particular about her dressings.

Other recipes we've tried are Lamb & Sour Cherry Meatballs (I substituted cranberries for the sour cherries) and Cod in Tamarind, Coriander & Fenugreek Sauce.  I have my eye on plenty of others, particularly ones involving aubergines of which I am very fond.

I'd heartily recommend Persiana to anyone who likes hearty stews, interesting salads and mezze style eating.  It does call for a variety of unusual ingredients, especially spices, but these are now readily available and can be used to brighten up other dishes.  It has even inspired me to attempt a jar of preserved lemons.  

My next book is by one of my favourite cookery writers and food campaigners, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal.  I heard him speak in Bristol a couple of years ago and got him to sign the book he was promoting,  Three Good Things, for my daughter.  We have it on loan and I intend to take advantage of this to try as many recipes as I can.         

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Making Every Day Count: Days 6-11/40

Day 6

Another sorting and tidying task, this time the shelves in the hallway just outside the kitchen, which serve as an overflow for foodstuffs.  On our last trip to Ikea we bought four flatpack wooden crates to separate and store tins, spices, flour and pulses.  These are now full, with another list of contents.  I could do with another couple, but will resist for the moment as I hope that when I tackle the kitchen cupboards I may be able to rationalise them and free up some space.  At least that's the theory!

Day 7

A light day.  I allowed myself to be distracted by catching up with the previous evening's Celebrity Masterchef and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's War on Waste, and lost momentum.  Still, it is my holiday.  I did however devote 15 minutes to blitzing hot spots in each of the dining and living rooms.

Day 8

I spent an hour and a half on our monthly Green Party stall in our local high street.  We were collecting signatures for the proposed closure to cars of a city centre bridge.  Response was mixed with some car owners admitting to wishing to continue to be able to drive across it.  Still, the sun was out and we stayed on for a cup of coffee and a chat with one of our local councillors afterwards.

Day 9

I spent an hour in the back garden sweeping and tidying.  It's not much more than a concreted yard with a raised rockery and a small pond at the end of it.  We grow (or at least attempt to grow) a variety of plants in pots, window boxes and a mini greenhouse.  As I mentionned in an earlier post, the elections put paid to any serious attempts at planting this year, but we still have a few bushes and herbs which we're keeping alive.  Now that the summer holidays allow us the time and weather to spend more time eating and relaxing outdoors I've spread our table with one of the colourful French tablecloths I bought in the French market one Harbour Festival, and dragged out the umbrella, to create a temporary outside room.

Day 10

I made a start on my kitchen cupboards.  First in line were the corner shelves.  A few items were binned and others rationalised to create more space.  I really should have managed the one over the fridge but we went to the cinema in the afternoon.  We saw The Commune which I enjoyed.  It's been too long since our last visit.

Day 11

Our fortnightly vegetable box was delivered.  Normally it sits in a corner of the kitchen floor from where we pick items as required.  Unfortunately this leads to some vegetables being neglected, rotting and being wasted.  So today I sorted through it as soon as it arrived, refrigerating all the perishable items, making a list of all the items and starting to think of how I would use them and in what order.  I made a start on them this evening adding cavolo nero to our dal at dinner time.    

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Making Every Day Count: 5/40

This morning I drew up an inventory of everything in my freezer.

I counted 102 items ranging from tiny sachets of herbs to a long roll of filo pastry.  My printed list divides them up by drawer, and colour codes them by category.  Orange items are cooked, blue raw, green vegetables and fruit, yellow miscellaneous and pink desert.

There are 12 items coloured red - for danger!  These are items which have been languishing at the back of my freezer for longer than I care to admit, and which may longer be fit for human consumption.  Does anyone know the freezer life of puff pastry?  Or what terrible fate would await you if you ate it?

Then there are the unlabelled containers filled with orangey yellow substances that could be dhal, or mashed swede or stewed apple.  Who knows?  Fruit puree on a bed of basmati anybody?  How I wish I'd taken the few minutes to label them before squeezing them in beside yet another nameless package.

There are 7 balls of pastry, 12 egg whites, the juice of 14 lemons, four bags of bread in various forms, another four of grated cheese and half a dozen sachets of fresh herbs.  You'll gather I don't believe in throwing anything away, but equally that I don't often get round to using up these leftovers.

I reckon I've enough frozen food to keep me going for some time, even if I do ditch the dodgy items.  On which note I'll leave you to consult Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on what to do with a tub of cubed beetroot.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Making Every Day Count: 2,3 & 4/40

Day 2

On Sunday I led our Quaker Children's Meeting on the theme of 'Living Adventurously'.  It was inspired by no 27 of the Advices & Queries:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

We talked about adventures, adventurers and the qualities that might be required.  We then played a game which involved plotting symbols on a compass, drawing a map, looking for blue birds in the trees, drawing mini beasts, taking bark rubbings and tying knots.  Card cutouts for each task fitted neatly into coloured card backpacks, all designed and drawn by my younger daughter.  The rain held off allowing the meeting to be held in the garden with plenty of scope for mini adventuring.

One of the aspects of Quakerism I find attractive is this notion of allowing one's life to speak.  It's also quite a challenge.

Day 3

On Monday I cleared my kitchen windowsill and planted some herbs.  My daughter brought home an Ikea pack containing pots, soil, and basil, mint and parsley seeds in circular tissue mats.  We potted them up, sprayed them with water and are checking daily for the first signs of green.

I've failed miserably on the gardening front this year.  I blame the local elections which had me out leafleting and campaigning when I should have been digging and sowing.  Although I've missed the boat for anything major I'm determined to grow some herbs, and perhaps a few salad leaves. 

Day 4

I attended a interview to become a volunteer for b.friend.  This is an organisation that matches local people with refugees and asylum seekers to develop mutually rewarding relationships.  Once matched I'll meet my befriendee once a week for a cuppa, or go for a walk, or to introduce her to the local library or to help her with English or ... the possibilities are endless.

Issues surrounding refugees have been headline news for some time now.  I've been sympathetic to their plight but, apart from making the odd donation and signing the odd petition, I haven't personally done anything about it ... until now.  It's a totally new experience and I'd be lying if I pretended I wasn't a bit apprehensive, but I'm sure it will be fine.  I'd like to be able to make even one person feel at home in Bristol and I suspect that I will receive as much, if not more, that I can offer.

I'm back to where I started in this post - living adventurously! - although I'm sure that even my most daring adventure will pale into insignificance when compared with what most refugees have to go through.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Making Every Day Count: 1/40

Today is the first day of my summer holidays.  I work term time only in a primary school office and and am looking at 40 days of freedom before the beginning of another academic year.  With such a long break and very few concrete plans, it would be easy to fritter the time away.  In years gone by I've drawn up lists of activities and am already working on one in my head.  But this year I've decided to raise the stakes, and recognise my good fortune by making every day count in some way or another.  I haven't yet worked out all the details and perhaps I never will.  Maybe I'll just run with it.

Anyway this afternoon I attended Bristol's Green Party leadership hustings.  You may not have realised that the Green Party is in the process of re-electing its leaders, perhaps because the media often overlook the Greens' activities or perhaps because they are (thankfully) not nearly as dramatic or contentious as those of the Tories or Labour.  We're just getting on with it.  Polls open at the beginning of next week and, as a result of today's question and answer sessions, I'm now pretty well decided on who is going to get my votes and pleased that under the single transferable voting system each of them will count.