Archive | October, 2012

Autumn days

22 Oct

Yesterday was a beautiful autumnal day today. The sun shone all day long, and my wee chickens scrubbled about out in their yard chuntering away to one another. I discovered that my few remaining plants in the greenhouse were all beginning to get covered and smothered in greenfly, so I took a couple of pots of greenfly-ridden chilli plants out to the chooks for them to nibble at. Minutes later the leaves were stripped off and gobbled up by my happy girls.

So, with chooks happy in the garden, it seemed like a good day to spend in the kitchen, preparing this and that to make the meals easier through the week when I get home from work each night.

So meatballs are cooked and in the freezer, with a tomatoey sauce in a separate pot.

making meatballs

shaping meatballs

There’s a big old pot of lentil soup for lunches, made with a smoked ham hock and a wee smidgin of curry spices.

There is of course a lovely sourdough loaf (wholemeal) and the bread machine also made a half and half (granary/white) loaf. The meat from the ham hock has been cut up into wee cubes to be added to a frittata or omelette later in the week.

I made a big tub of granola with nuts and oats and fruit – mixed with apple juice, a wee bit of syrup and some ginger and cinnamon.

In between times I made some delicious cinnamon squirlies. I blame delicious magazine – they featured them on their facebook page and I just caved and had to make them. They were totally worth it, really easy to make and absolutely scrumptious, especially warm with icecream.

cinnamon squirlie dough

cinnamon squirlies – just pull apart and eat

And as if that wasn’t enough, I had already decided that for supper we were having roast pork with all the trimmings. The trimmings on this occasion included roasted apples, curly kale, a beetroot and potato gratin and roasted beetroots and caramelised onions, all brought together with a jus made with juices from the roast pork dish and apple juice reduced down till it was concentrated flavoursome perfection.

Autumnal roast pork

I don’t cook roasts too often, but after this success I may do it more often. And there were delicious leftovers for through the week: we’ll have sliced pork and chutney sandwiches for lunch and this evening we had the rest of the beetroot and potato gratin, served with spicy roast butternut squash and chicken wrapped in smoky bacon.

I think my focus in the next few weeks will be on how to make really good meals quickly on weekday evenings – some will be from scratch, others will involve some prep the weekend before. Watch this space.

The first sourdough loaf from my own starter

13 Oct

I did it!

I made a starter out of nothing but flour and water.

And I added some more flour and water and a wee sprinkling of salt.

Flour, water and salt

And I threw it about a bit (‘air-kneading’) for about 5 minutes.

And I left it a while.

sourdough resting

And I folded it.

And I left it a while (see pic above)

And I shaped it into two loaves.

sourdough loaves – one freeform, one in a tin

And I left it a while.

And then I popped it in a really hot oven.

And then we had bread!

sourdough loaf just out of the oven

No bought yeast, no bread machine, no sugar, no oil, no dried milk powder, just flour and water and a wee sprink of Maldon sea salt. Amazing!

freshly baked sourdough loaves – perfect with unsalted butter

Going to work on an egg (or the arrival of my Greek heroes)

13 Oct

People who know me may know that for some years now I have wanted to have chickens. I don’t really know when this desire first rooted in my heart, but I suspect it was long long ago on summer holidays up at Marbrack, a Galloway hill farm where my Aunt Joyce lived (with my Uncle Frank and 5 of my cousins).

Marbrack had one of those lovely farmhouse kitchens, the real heart of the home. We all sat on a long wooden bench at the even longer kitchen table, with our backs warmed by the rayburn behind us. The same rayburn which occasionally would bring a wee cold dying lamb back to life in the bottom oven (or have I made that bit up?). And the same rayburn which produced all manner of delicious teatime treats, including scotch pancakes (drop scones) freshly made straight from the hot plate.

Anyway, I think we went to stay a few days every summer holidays. My memory is of being a hopelessly shy child, especially around all my big boy cousins, so I spent most of the time close to Aunt Joyce’s apron strings. Spending time in the kitchen was bliss – there was the huge bowl of fresh milk to be brought in from the back kitchen, so I could skim off the cream from the top. And there were cakes to bake. But best of all, there were chickens. Each day we would take a pail of scraps out to the chickens, and then would look for the eggs. Thinking about it, now I know why there were so many cakes – all those eggs to use up!

For years I lived in London and there was no possibility of having chickens in a basement flat, so it wasn’t until my life changed a few years ago that I thought about being able to have my own chickens.

And now that I live in the country I have my own three wee chook chooks.

And thanks to The Song of Achilles being our recent book group book, two of the chickens are named after Greek heroes – well, one Greek hero and one Prince of Troy: Achilles and Hector. The third is called wee Tommy.

And yes, I know these are boys names.

Two things:

  1. I don’t suppose chickens know the difference between a girls and a boys name
  2. If by chance they do, I feel very comfortable with gender dysmorphic / transsexual chickens in my coop. And they seem very comfortable with it too.

l to r: wee Tommy, Achilles, Hector

And after three days I’m getting three eggs a day from these wee heroes. When I go out in the morning and call them they come running out of their wee hen house to see what treats I might have brought them, and they peck around my feet. I’ve learnt that shoes with shiny buckles are too enticing for chickens. And that a corn on the cob on a string is the best sport for chickens in a coop.

So, there will be many more pictures, and many recipes for what to do with an egg laid by a Trojan Prince. But for now, I give you my failsafe boiled egg for breakfast recipe.

The perfect boiled egg

Now, of course if you have access to a super fresh egg, straight from a Trojan Prince that is what you should use. Otherwise, just use an egg from an egg box. But I hope your egg is at least free range – those batteries are nasty places, and I hate to think of hens cooped up with no space to move about and be inately henny.

And where do you keep your eggs? Mine are kept at room temperature, so they are at the same temperature as everything else when I am baking cakes. I don’t see the point of keeping them in a fridge, they don’t need it. Or not in our cold kitchen anyway! If you have a larder that is where I would keep them.

The best place for eggs

Anyway.

Get a small saucepan, and pop your egg in the bottom of the pan. Pour water over the egg, so the egg is just covered with water. If your eggs is super fresh it will sit on the bottom of the pan. If it’s been around a wee while one end might bob up to the top, which is fine. If the whole thing properly floats I would chuck it – it’s been around too long and may be icky.

Place the pan over the heat – a medium heat is fine – and bring to the boil.

At this point you should make your toast if you want any.

Once the water is properly boiling, put your timer on for one minute. The water should be properly boiling, not like wild rapids so the egg is being thrown about the pan, and not a wee soft simmer, but something in between.

After a minute, take the pan off the heat.

Get your egg cup ready and pop your egg on the egg cup. It should be at that delicious soft yolk stage. And all you need with it is a scrunch of black pepper, and a teaspoon for breakfast perfection. Of course if you made that toast, then a single slice of hot buttered toast works (perhaps with a scraping of marmite, if you’re feeling in need of a salty hit and some B vitamins).

For a low carb diet a boiled egg (or two) for breakfast is just perfect – in fact for everyone it is the best start to the day, with a wee hit of protein to get you up and keep you going till lunchtime.

Autumn baking

3 Oct

So, it’s October. I’m not entirely sure where September went, but it seems to have been and gone and now we are truly in the grip of Autumn. So, apart from all that lovely Autumnal weather (which is just an excuse to knit and wear a bright scarf) and Autumnal colours (yup, when you have a wood at the bottom of your garden you hardly need television this time of year) there is all that lovely Autumnal cooking and baking.

And this weekend I suggest you make your Christmas cake. Yes, really. Just do it. The smell in the kitchen is awesome, and the baking is relatively simple (although you will need several large bowls). And come Christmas you’ll be so glad you baked it early.

I’ve made this cake for the last few years – last year I made it in late November, but for various reasons it wasn’t eaten till June. It had been wrapped in cling film, then silver foil and just left under the stairs for months. And oh my it was sensational. So, bake now; eat later. You’ll thank me.

I added 1/4 again to this recipe as my tin was 23cm. When I say I added 1/4 again I mean approximately 1/4 again. Some people say that baking is an exact science and for some recipes it absolutely is, but this cake is forgiving. And so long as the totals of nuts vs dried fruit is about right it’ll be ok. I hope.

Here we go. Light Christmas Cake. Make it now. And again next month for a wee late January treat.

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