A week of holiday, away at Center Parcs means not much cooking. I brought a stack of ready meals (Charlie Bigham), and supplemented by my mother-in-law, we’ve brought enough food to last the week in our little lodge.
The amusements here are relatively basic if you’re 18 months old, but fortunately, at this age, you don’t need much to amuse you. Some time in the swimming pool, a few walks and the novelty of riding in a cycle trailer are all very diverting. And a mere three DVDs, plus a stack of books and a teddy bear are enough to occupy the dark and rainy hours.
Before we went away, we had our final all-comers Sunday lunch of the year. As we were catering for a gluten-free guest, I made two small modifications – using rice and potato flour to thicken a slow-cooker beef shin stew, and making a pavlova rather than a tart or cake for dessert – pretty undetectable modifications. The pavlova in particular was a great choice – a Nigella recipe for a dark chocolate, chewy meringue, topped only with whipped cream and raspberries. My daughter just wanted to pick the raspberries off the top, and demanded that someone else remove the cream from them. Sometimes I’m not sure that we are related.
- Slow-cooker beef shin stew – I flitted between recipes for this, but eventually based it on the beef shin recipe in Slow Cooked, with some Boeuf Bourguignon twists: I substituted the beer with a mixture of red wine and beef stock. And after it had cooked overnight, I strained out the meat and vegetables, and reduced the sauce with a bit of potato flour to thicken it further. I added this back to the meat, along with some sautéed mushrooms, some browned pancetta, and a few sautéed shallots. This then had another hour in the oven just before it was served.
- Hasselback potato gratin from Serious Eats – I couldn’t quite bring myself to make the full cheese-and-cream version, so mixed cream and milk to coat the potatoes, then added the remains of the beef stock to the bottom of the dish before baking. It probably could have used some extra butter on top to make the tops properly crispy, but was pretty good nonetheless, and much easier than the traditional version of layering.
- Chocolate raspberry pavlova – from Nigella’s ‘Forever Summer‘
- Dark Banana ginger bread – using up the browning bananas before we left on holiday. This is an old Dan Lepard recipe, super-simple to make, but with a good flavour. I added the zest of a clementine and a teaspoon of mixed spice as well.
Without a recipe:
- Pasta with tomatoes, with bolognese
- Various ready meals: Charlie Bigham fish pie, chicken and mushroom pies, lasagne. Donated sausage casserole and cottage pie (thanks, Chris!)
- Cheese and ham quesadillas
I’ve spent much of the week engrossed in Ruth Reichl’s new book, ‘My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life’. Ruth is one of my favourite food writers, but she’s not very well known in the UK. She was a restaurant critic for the LA Times and New York Times, then editor of iconic American food magazine ‘Gourmet’ until it was shut down by Conde Nast in 20xx. This book is about the year after she lost her job, and the healing power of getting into the kitchen. Much like Nigel Slater’s recent books, it’s organised into seasons, and has a story with each recipe of what she was doing at the time. I’ve already bookmarked a stack of recipes to make, including Venetian pork (little pieces of sticky pork ribs), her basic chilli, diva grilled cheese, gingered applesauce cake with caramel glaze and Big New York cheesecake.
And if none of that is your thing, Sali Hughes has her beauty gift guide out too.
Today was a not-much-to-show-for-it day. There was breakfast, and swimming, and grey skies. There was a little bit of work squeezed in here and there. There was family and comfortable silences. There was paper, and glue and crayons and pretending to make cakes. I’m not even making dinner tonight – it’s a rare night out for the two of us. It was a day where if you asked what happened, the accurate answer would be ‘not much’.
But it was a good day, not a disappointing day. These are the days that make up a life. It contained cuddles and conversation and smiles. It didn’t have that much TV or email. It would have been good to spend more time outside, but the sudden chill in the air drove us indoors, with me wondering where my gloves are.
This weekend we are entertaining friends and family, and getting ready to go on holiday next week. If you have a quieter weekend planned, and would enjoy a baking project, it might be a good time to make Christmas cake (I posted about the recipe I use this week), Christmas pudding (Deborah at Licked Spoon is making hers) or advent gingerbread (from Jules at Butcher Baker blog).
- Slow cooker roast chicken
- Slow cooker sausages and beans – a severely corrupted cassoulet
Without a recipe:
- Chicken pie
- Pasta bolognese
What a difference a night makes. Last night I was hastily putting this post together and decided I would leave until Saturday morning to post. This morning, although I usually avoid the news, there is no escaping the news frpm Paris. And instead of writing about cooking from the freezer rather than the slow cooker, or the rain and falling leaves, I can only think of families, couples that went out on a Friday night, and never came back.
Without a recipe:
- Fish curry
- Fish and chips
- Slow-cooked chinese pork – from the freezer – with rice and stir-fried cabbage
This week has been all rain, leaden skies and soggy leaves coating the pavements. Appropriately, the slow cooker has been on most days, and there have been lots of potatoes and roast veg – cosy autumn food. There was also a thin apple tart – the last piece of it is in the picture above. This was to use up a sheet of puff pastry in the fridge, and a tray of slowly rotting apples in the garden. I had forgotten how good a barely sweet apple tart can be. You can often see them in patisseries, but they never seem to be special enough to splash out on. And it’s very simple: a sheet of ready-rolled butter puff, brushed with egg and scored near the edge. Sprinkle a little bit of ground almonds and caster sugar on top – just enough to soak up any excess juices. Peel and slice the apples thinly, and overlap them in rows. Add a little more sugar on top, depending on how sweet the apples are, and bake in a hot (200C) oven for about 20 minutes. The egg makes the pastry edges golden, the apple just about gets soft. This is just as good room temperature as warm, and I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Without a recipe:
- Apple tart
- Sausages and roast pumpkin, jacket potatoes
- Roast beef, parsnip chips and potato wedges
- Fish pie (Charlie Bigham ready meal)
My meal plan ran out half way through this week – I just didn’t get around to planning the second half of the week. Which meant we ate pasta on those nights I failed to plan for. What I was doing while I failed to plan meals (apart from going to work) was making the Christmas cake.
I love the ritual of making the cake. Even when all my good intentions of early present buying and homemade decorations go out the window, I feel better for knowing the cake is done. And the process itself is satisfying: wrapping the cake tin in brown paper, like a present. The bittersweet smell of candied peel. Tumbling raisins, sultanas and currants into a bowl, and covering it all with brandy. Just the smell of brandy says Christmas to me – is that wrong??
So this weekend I will be building more good intentions and writing lists. But if all else fails, there will still be cake.
Without a recipe:
- Fresh pasta
- Chicken curry – Spice Tailor sauce with some edits
- Waitrose pizza
A week of travelling, so I haven’t had much of a hand in weeknight dinners this week. It was strange to get out of the daily commute, the nursery routine. I went to bed very late (for me) a few times, slept for eight hours without waking one night (I think that’s the first time in 2 years!) and found space to be myself. Rewarding, but also tiring when that was my work-self most of the time. Without the forced change of role at nursery pickup time, my work thoughts can keep spiralling around all the way to bedtime.
This weekend has several guests woven through it, so time for some big pieces of meat, some oven time and perhaps some apple puddings, using up the vast tray of apples my mum and dad brought with them. These feel like the last few sane weeks of autumn, before we hit Halloween, then fireworks night, and before you know it we’re on the downhill slope to Christmas. Happy weekend.
Our routines were thrown off this week, leaving me a little off-balance. The skies were grey, some of the dinners were patched together, but by the time we got to Friday night pizza, everything felt a bit more back to normal. I’m starting to see what Shauna meant about the comforting rhythms of eating the same thing each day of the week. I’m not ready to go all that way quite yet, but baking bread each week, a curry at the weekend, a pizza on fridays – these start to join the week together. Especially in weeks when other parts of our routine have been discarded, there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that on Friday evenings, we sit down together, and eat pizza.
Without a recipe:
- Chicken curry with lentils
- Carrot and cabbage soup – including the leftover braised cabbage
- Pizza – with the last of the home-grown courgettes and tomatoes, and some of the roasted mushrooms
- Pork and potato hash with cabbage
- Plus a takeaway curry and bought lasagne