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.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

(Not the) Cookery Calendar Challenge: June

I'm (sort of) 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.

Finish Potato Salad

In June I should have been cooking from Sabrina Ghayour's Persiana but, in honour of the EU Referendum (to which I fervently hoped the answer would be 'Remain'!) I decided, over the course of the week leading up to the vote, to prepare and eat one dish (or drink one wine/beer) from each of the 28 nations of the union.

Maltese Scrambled Eggs
Danish Bubble

I kicked off with Irish soda bread and rounded it off with a Hungarian goulash.  In between we were treated to a cheese pie from Sweden, a Danish bubble and squeak, a fiery pepper sauce from Coatia to go with Bosnian burgers, an almond cake from Spain and a Finish potato salad.

Bulgarian Yoghurt & Cucumber Soup

I tried two cold soups, the first a refreshing yoghurt and cucumber one, spiked with garlic, from Bulgaria, and the second a dayglo pink beetroot one from Lithuania.  The recipes ranged in effort required from the lightly pickled Latvian cucumbers to the tricky cheese noodles from Austria.  I included a few indulgences including a Dutch apple tart and some Slovenian apple doughnuts.

Lithuanian Beetroot Soup

There were a few dishes that did not particularly inspire, which may have had more to do with the lack of authentic ingredients or my inexperience in cooking them, but there were many more that I would happily try again.  These included a simple yet tasty mushroom and potato gratin from Estonia, a delicious Greek take on ratatouille, a delightful honey and lemon flavoured haloumi dish from Cyprus and a rich and creamy Portuguese custard tart.

Portuguese Custard Tarts
Dutch Apple Tart

Tackling three or four new recipes a day proved to be more of a challenge than I anticipated but I can honestly say I enjoyed the experience.  It's just a pity that what started out as a celebration of our union ended as homage to its demise.  The Italian prosecco bought to cheer our victory ended up drowning our sorrows.

Halloumi with Honey & Thyme

Persiana has not been forgotten and will be my cookery book for July.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Cookery Calendar Challenge: May

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.

Simon Hopkinson's The Good Cook

This month I chose Simon Hopkinson's The Good Cook, a present from my daughter who knows my love of cookbooks.  We'd watched his television series together and warmed to his gentle presentation and simple yet elegant dishes.  It's an unusual book in that it's arranged by ingredients rather than courses: anchovy and aubergine, nice rice, and ham, bacon & a little pig.  He's a believer in good ingredients, not necessarily expensive, treated well.  Despite having had his book on my shelf for several years I'd only ever baked his rich and creamy rice pudding and looked forward to trying out more of his recipes.

Smoked Haddock Pilaf with Ginger & Parsley

The first I attempted was Smoked Haddock Pilaf with Ginger & Coriander.  My first set back came when my fishmonger didn't have enough smoked haddock in his fridge and I had to resort to a luminous yellow overpackaged fillet from Aldi.  The second was when I discovered I didn't have a suitably sized oven proof lidded pan and had to settle for a larger one which didn't allow sufficient depth.  Lastly I forgot to buy any coriander.  The parsley I'd picked up for Sunday's dinner was acceptable, although not quite as appropriate.

However I didn't let any of these contretemps deter me from recreating Simon Hopkinson's delightfully simple yet deliciously light supper dish.  A few minutes' attention on the stove top and 20 minutes in the oven and it was ready to eat.  Simon declares a pilaf to be possibly his favourite way to eat rice in any form (marginally better than a risotto) and I'm inclined to agree.

Lamb's Liver with Sweet & Sour Onions

The very next day we ate his Calf's Liver with Sweet & Sour Onions.  Offal is not to everyone's taste, but I love it in all its manifestations.  Our butcher didn't have any calf's liver, so I had to make do with lamb's, but that was the only substitution.  There was just enough creme de cassis in the bottle to fill the required tablespoon.

This was another simple dish.  I fried the liver for longer than Simon suggested and was afraid I might have overcooked it, but I must have judged it accurately as it remained soft and tender.  The red wine vinegar and the creme de cassis lifted the sauce.  I would have enjoyed it with the recommended soft and buttery polenta but we had potatoes and swede to use up which worked just as well.

Later in the week my partner prepared the Aubergine Parmigiana, which was gorgeous.

I've a feeling that The Good Cook will not be languishing on my bookshelf any longer.

My book for June is Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Cookery Calendar Challenge: April

I'm back with my second Cookery Calendar Challenge report. 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.

My recipe book for April was Five Quarters by Rachel Roddy.  I first came across Rachel when she was the Guardian's cook in residence (she now writes a weekly column) and instantly warmed to her style of writing as much as to her cooking.  Rachel's a British woman who has made her home in Rome where she lives with her Sicilian partner and their wee boy.  She's my favourite kind of food writer ie one who sets each recipe in context - where the ingredients were bought, who sold them to her, the history of the dish and how it is eaten today.  It's as if I was exploring her local market, standing by her in her kitchen or sitting across from her in a local cafe.

I bought her book (her first, there is a second in the pipeline) at the beginning of the year and had already dipped into it on a couple of occasions.  This month I tried out two new recipes:  Pollo alla cacciatora (chicken, hunter's style) and pasta e patate (pasta and potato soup).

Pollo alla cacciatora
(with apologies for the quality of the image)
 The chicken dish was delicious and was well received by everyone, including my daughter's boyfriend who is a bit of connoisseur when it comes to food.  It was simple to prepare, using easy to hand ingredients (with the exception of black olives, optional, but included because I like them).  It is essentially chicken portions sauteed in olive oil flavoured with garlic, chilli flakes, rosemary, wine and vinegar - and those black olives.  We ate it with boiled potatoes and an assortment of vegetables (carrots, cabbage and sweetcorn) which needed using up, but when I cook it again, which I shall, I'll follow Rachel's advice and serve it with green beans or a  green salad and a hunk of sourdough to mop up the fragrant juices.

Pasta e Patate
Once again, my image doesn't do it justice!
The pasta and potato soup doesn't sound right, does it  Too many carbs?  And there's not much else in it.  An onion, a carrot and a celery stalk.  It calls for water, not stock, and even the pancetta is optional.  But it works, falling into the category of comfort food, a dish that throws it arms around you and gives you a big hug.  Simple and honest.  We ate a bowlful before setting out for another session of local election canvassing and it kept us going very nicely.  The only tweak I would try would be to slip half a parmesan rind in with the water to add a touch more depth.

My book for May is Simon Hopkinson's The Good Cook.


Thursday, 7 April 2016

This (last) Weekend

Last weekend was spent in Glasgow.

          Our first booking via airbnb and a huge success.
  I was sorely tempted not to leave.

  • We walked through the Botanic Gardens and along the river Kelvin.

  • We visited Zara Hadid's Riverside Museum.

  • We spent a day in Edinburgh with my sister and her family.
We reckoned it had been five years since all of us were last together.

I was reminded of visits to my great aunt's house in Govan as a child.

I highly recommend the food and service in Glasgow's only Vietnamese restaurant.
  We donated a Bristol £1 note, featuring a cyclist, to add to their collection of bank notes.

  • We viewed the world's first comic at the Hunterian's Comic Invention exhibition.
An interesting history of the comic book & its relationship to other art forms,
 including medieval manuscripts.

  • We had lunch in the famous University Cafe where I ate a scotch pie and chips.
A Byres Road institution!

Cookery Calendar Challenge: March

Welcome to my first Cookery Calendar Challenge report. 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.

I chose Jamie Oliver's The Return of the Naked Chef, which I almost instantly regretted.  It's not that I don't like Jamie Oliver.  I do.  He's an entertaining TV cook and I value his contribution to the debate over the nutritional value of school dinners, over-fishing etc.  It's not even that I didn't like the book.  It's just that I'm trying to cut down on my meat intake, and although he does offer a number of vegetarian recipes, very few of them appealed to me.  In addition, because the challenge slipped my mind until the end of the month, which coincided with my attempting to use up the contents of my fridge before going away for a long weekend, I found myself even more restricted.

My first dish was Spaghetti with Anchovies, Dried Chilli & Panagritata. Being quick and easy to prepare - boil pasta, melt anchovies in garlic oil, toast breadcrumbs, throw together - it made the ideal holiday lunch.  I shared it with my daughter.  She didn't like it, mainly because of the anchovies.  I did enjoy it, but found the panagritata made it feel a bit dry in the mouth.  If I made it again I would add a bit more reserved water from the pasta and hope it didn't take the crunch from the breadcrumbs.  Perhaps a touch more olive oil would be better?

I'm afraid my photograph doesn't do it justice.  I though afterwards that it would have looked better if I'd tossed it together beforehand.

My second dish was Pappardelle, Spicy Sausage Meat and Mixed Wild Mushrooms.  For practical reasons I swapped pappardelle for tagliatelle, wild mushrooms for a mixture of button mushrooms and broccoli and stirred in a couple of spoonfuls of cream. We ate it for dinner with a green side salad, sharing it with my daughter's boyfriend.  It went down better than the first dish.  Its versatility and the fact that it makes a little meat go a long way means that I'm sure to make it again.

Again, apologies for the photograph with its very shiny plate!

Flicking through the book there are a couple of other recipes I'd try - pukkolla (Jamie's take on muesli), pan-toasted almonds with a touch of chilli and sea salt, salmon fillet wrapped in prosciutto with herby lentils, spinach and yoghurt, his marinades and rubs and chickpea Moroccan flatbread.

My book for April is Rachel Roddy's Five Quarters.  I first encountered Rachel in the Saturday Guardian where she was one of a series of cooks in residence (she now has a regular column) and clicked through her book in Foyles on many occasions before finally buying it.