Category Archives: Musings

Christmas. Let’s face it, it’s all about fruit and booze.

Hello hello hello.  I know, I know, it’s been bloody ages, but my cooking is pretty dull these days I’m afraid.  Something called work is apparently preventing me from being creative…

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was about time to start making my staple Christmas prepare-ahead foods – the cake, the pud and the mincemeat.  I wrote this blog post at the time but for some reason forgot to post it after I’d taken the photos, but now I can add a picture of my tree, so perhaps it’s all for the good 🙂

I'm really pleased we've wrapped what we've got because it just makes the tree seem so much more Christmassy!  Note Father Christmouse guarding all the gifts :)

I’m really pleased we’ve wrapped what we’ve got because it just makes the tree seem so much more Christmassy! Note Father Christmouse guarding all the gifts 🙂

This year, I don’t actually need to make a cake because a) last year’s never got eaten and is still in the cupboard and b) we still have wedding cake left (which is also a fruit cake).  Just need to ice it in a couple of weeks’ time.  Easy!

I soaked the fruit for the mincemeat for a couple of days as per my previous recipe.  It’s more or less identical, except I added some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (as I had some pomegranates in the fridge) and I used madiera instead or port, as I didn’t have any port in the house.  It smells gorgeous but doesn’t have that same wonderful ruby colour, so I’ll probably revert to port next year.

I also rolled and froze 90 pastry cases (!) so I’m well geared up for mince pies again.  The pastry is amazingly flaky and short, and the madiera has worked fabulously.  I’ve made a medly of different shaped lids this year using some new mini cutters I bought recently; they’re so cute!

Stars, Angels, Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men.  Also available: Candy Canes, Holly Leaves and something else which entirely slips my mind...

Stars, Angels, Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men. Also available: Candy Canes, Holly Leaves and something else which entirely slips my mind…

The puds also follow more or less the same recipe as before, except I didn’t have any dark rum, so the fruit was soaked for a week in a combination of Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum and home-steeped raspberry whisky.  I am now the proud owner of a silver sixpence, given to me by my dad and worn by me in my shoe on my wedding day for luck, so (after having been cleaned!) that was stirred into the mixture.  As A Man was out at a kickboxing thing today, I made sure I chucked all the ingredients into the bowl before he left so he didn’t miss out on Stir-up Sunday and making a wish!  The main change this year is that I’ve finally treated myself to some ceramic pudding basins, spurred by succeeding last year in melting one of the plastic basins in a friend’s saucepan at our annual get-together (whoops!).  They’re pretty too, with their polka-dotted exteriors.  I got one 2-pint basin and two 1-pints.  I also bought a lovely tall 10 litre pan yesterday, so I was able to steam the puds properly!  Now it’s just the case of finding a proper steaming trivet, as I managed to split a saucer in two this time, using it to stand the basin on…

Yay!  Pudding basins that won't melt!

Yay! Pudding basins that won’t melt!

I also decided I should do something with a load of cooking apples given to us by A Man’s mum.  The mandolin was out after having made chips last night, and I had just treated myself to an apple corer, so I decided to try my hand at apple crisps.  They are one of my absolute favourite snacks, but they’re bloody expensive to buy!  To be honest, I wasn’t sure about using cooking apples as I thought they might be too bitter, but they worked fantastically!  It was simply a case of washing and coring the apples, thinly slicing them into water mixed with lemon juice, laying the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cooking at around 100C for a couple of hours, until they had dried out.  Then they get stored in an airtight container to be nommed at your leisure!  Before baking I sprinkled some with cinnamon, some with mixed spice, some with five spice and left some plain.  Some people like to add a little sugar too, but I like a nice tart apple slice, so I didn’t bother.  Honestly, they’re better than the ones you can buy!  I’m almost tempted to buy myself a dehydrator from Amazon…  So good for you, and a nice way to preserve surplus fruit, without having to go down the jelly or chutney route (which I had already done a couple of months ago, and have jars and jars of stuff leftover).

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They’ve actually all disappeared now, but they were yummy while they lasted!

I’ve now marzipanned and iced the cake, but haven’t bothered to take a photo yet as I need to decorate it yet.  Hopefully it’ll be ready before next weekend, which is the annual get-together which this year is being hosted in Birmingham, the day after my office Christmas party…  See a hint of the carnage of 2011 (when A Man and I hosted) here.

Hope you’re all sufficiently into the spirit of the season!  Much love.

Gemma xx

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Happy Blogday to Me! Celebratory duck dishes and musings on stock-making to follow.

Hello hello hello

It’s officially been a year since my first ever blog post on recipeforprocrastination!  And in the spirit of celebration, I’ve returned to my roots and have been squeezing every single possible ounce of deliciousness out of a couple of ducks.*

As I am currently awaiting the start of my new job, I am due to have some visitors next week, including my mum and family friend Elaine.  This means I’ve got to try and cook something spectactular for their visit.  Whole ducks were on offer at the supermarket, and it seemed like a great excuse to buy a couple whilst I still had access to a staff discount card!

Why two ducks?  Because there will be four of us and I plan to serve a breast each.  As a packet of two duck breasts cost £7 and the whole bird was £8 (with 10% discount taking it to £7.20) it was an absolute no brainer to buy whole ducks instead.

Once I got home, I butchered the ducks (see this post for how I did it).  The livers were separated from the giblets and put in the freezer (along with some other duck liver and rabbit liver which are currently sitting in there) and the breasts were also frozen.  Unfortunately, that more or less exhausted all of my freezer space, and I still had the legs and the carcass to deal with.

One of the photos from my original duck butchery post.

The carcass was easy – I roasted the bones, along with the giblets and excess skin, until they had browned and the fat had started to run (roasting both improves the flavour of the stock and makes the duck fat useable).  The fat was poured into a tub for later use, and everything else was put in the slow cooker with a couple of carrots, a bit of leftover fennel (from my rabbit meal the other day) and topped up with water.  I cooked on low for several hours, in order to make a delicious smelling stock (see this post for my basic method).  Now, with the frequency that I make stock I had assumed that I knew everything there was to know about it.  However, recently I have started doing a few new things.

  1. Using the slow cooker rather than the hob makes a lot of sense because for one thing, the likelihood of it boiling dry is more or less nil and for another, I can leave it on overnight or while I’m out of the house.
  2. I’ve discovered that you can re-use the same bones when you make stock, up until the point that they basically crumble.  Chicken carcasses will only last for a couple of batches, but duck carcasses appear to be a little more resilient.
  3. Adding a couple of spoons of vinegar to stock will improve its mineral content.  Did you ever do that thing in science where you soaked a chicken bone in vinegar until it turned rubbery?  That’s because the acidity of the vinegar encourages the calcium to leach out.  Calcium’s good for you, and you can’t taste the vinegar in the end product, so this small addition is a great idea.
  4. Reducing the stock down concentrates the flavour and takes up less storage space.  This is an obvious one, but I’d never really thought about it until looking through the Ballymaloe Cookery Course book (yes, I know I mention that one a lot, but it really is a manual as well as just a recipe book).  Since I’ve started reducing my stocks, they’ve got better and better.

Another ancient photo to illustrate stock-making.

I do declare that the duck stock I currently have on the go is the best I’ve ever made.  It smells incredible, and just tastes of liquid duck.  It’s so gelatinous that it’s basically set hard in the fridge and I’m really looking forward to using it.

I still had to deal with the pesky legs though, as I couldn’t use them immediately, but didn’t have any room in the freezer for them.  Enter confit duck.  I’ve not made it for a while, and this time I actually had nearly enough fat to completely cover the meat.  I used primarily duck fat, but also some bacon fat from my carbonara and a roast gammon we cooked recently (both of which came from A Man’s dad’s pigs).  The confit duck legs are currently sitting in a casserole dish in my fridge, submerged in fat and covered with a lid.  See this post for my confit duck method.

A previous experiment with confit duck. I may well try out the green lentils again – they were perfect!

So there we have it.  I can cook stuff for a whole year, and still I’ll return to the same old things again and again.  Nothing much changes.  I’ll probably start hanging back on the food blog front now (I’m sure you’ve noticed me starting to slack off over the past couple of months already).  I start my new job on 29th October and will have less time to cook, and a lot of my free time is being taken up by wedding planning now.  I’ll pop back now and then though, if only when I manage particularly unusual or beautiful food.  It’s been fun though!

Massive huge love

Gemma xx

*As a side note, the duck thing was honestly completely unintentional – it just happened that way!  It did amuse me when I realised my first post was about duck, I checked and it happened to be a year ago.  Perhaps it’s providence (or more likely, I guess this time of year must be prime for special offers on ducks).

Café review – Scoffs Café, Chippenham

Hello

Yesterday, A Man and I gave notice of marriage in Chippenham (yay!) and it took less time than we thought it would, so we got to go to a café before he had to go back to work (double yay!).  He recommended Scoffs, which is fairly close to his office.

I (and clearly also A Man) would absolutely recommend this café.  The staff were really friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed and it was reasonably priced.  I also love their ethos – supporting local producers, and providing great quality home cooking and baking – qualities I really respect in an independently run café or restaurant.

After A Man went back to work, I stayed for my lunch and was served with a truly enormous jacket potato with chilli, cheese and salad.  I had asked for coleslaw but hadn’t expected it to be a) home made and b) bloody delicious.  The chilli itself was well spiced without being too hot and contained loads of different veggies as well as the mince.  The portion size was incredibly generous and very reasonably priced – I happily popped my change in the tip jar.

I must have been in the café for around an hour and a half in total, and never felt pressurised to leave.  Even after I’d finished my mega-lunch, I sat reading for some time before I left.

If I’m ever in Chippenham over lunchtime (or even just fancy a coffee and a cake) I will definitely be considering Scoffs.  Yet another great example of why you should support local, independent cafés, coffee shops and restaurants!

Restaurant Review – The Cellar Door, Edinburgh

Greetings!

I’ve been away for several days (one longer than intended, due to travel issues!)  and have therefore not been cooking.  However, during C’s hen party, we did spend an afternoon at The Cellar Door making chocolate.

We turned up and were immediately ushered downstairs. We were invited to choose a 2 course lunch from the menu, after which we would make our chocolates.  They would be chilled, and lunch would be served after that.  All sounded good so far.

First, the chocolate making.  We were each presented with separate blocks of milk and dark chocolate ganache, and the table was covered in plates and bowls with melted milk, white and dark chocolate, cocoa, nuts, sprinkles, marshmallows, fudge and other treats.  We had to mould the ganache with our hands and fill and cover it as we wished.  It was great fun (though incredibly messy!) and a prize went to C’s bridesmaid I for making the best choccies (apparently they were some of the best they had ever seen on the course – what a teacher’s pet!).  Unfortunately mine suffered significant melting on the journey home, but they nevertheless tasted yummy.

Messy messy chocolatey table. You should have seen our hands…

For lunch I ordered breaded haggis with chutney and salad to start, followed by grilled hake with lemon and herb crushed potatoes.  It had been a toss-up between the fish and a skirt steak sandwich, but I tried a little of the latter from R’s plate.  I was seriously seriously impressed.  The plates were presented beautifully, but there had been no scrimping on the quantity of food.  My haggis was light rather than greasy (which I had feared slightly) and went fantastically with the chutney.  I had never eaten it like that before, and it was delicious.  I would have been really happy with the steak sandwich, as the beef was cooked to rare perfection, was seasoned wonderfully and was served with a delicious-looking homemade coleslaw.  My hake was moist and tender, the potatoes slightly buttery and perfectly herby.

I just had to take a photo of my lunch because it looked so lovely.

I would 100% recommend The Cellar Door.  The staff were friendly and attentive, but not pushy.  The chocolate-making was good fun and perfect for the occasion, but if you don’t fancy it they do cook meals anyway 😉  The thing I found most amazing was the quality of the lunch.  Ordinarily, a 2-course weekday lunch like we had costs only £7.95 per person.  I had to check that price about 15 times because it was some of the best restaurant food I’ve had in a long time, and certainly the best I’ve ever eaten at that price!  I will definitely be revisiting The Cellar Door if I am in Edinburgh again.  My only slight criticism was that the area our table was in could have done with a little more lighting – perhaps a nice standard lamp in the corner.  But all in all it is only a minor thing which by no means affected how impressed I was with the place.

Love love

Gemma xx

Feeling Lazy

Hullo hullo.

I have been a bit lax on the posting front recently.  This has been primarily due to a lack of exciting kitchen activity.  I have been throwing things together which have been massive cheat meals!  The intention for Saturday lunchtime was a shop-bought quiche and salad; a plan which was somewhat scuppered by the fact that I’m incredibly clumsy and splattered the quiche all over the kitchen floor, annoyingly after it had been heated through and the smell was making me hungry!  Saturday’s dinner was tortellini with a chilli-tomato sauce and salad, Sunday’s was Moroccan lamb chops with cous cous, yesterday we had veggie mince enchiladas from a kit and today we celebrated the great weather with salad, sausages and a baguette.

However, I did make one thing this weekend which required a little baking skill, rescuing some overripe satsumas from the bin by making Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake.  It was made infinitely more delicious with the addition of a lot of crystallised ginger.  Yum!  My only other creation of the weekend was a glass of absinthe.  Unfortunately, when we came back from Amsterdam we only had hand luggage so I couldn’t buy a big bottle.  *sniff sniff*  Next time….

Love love

Gemma xx

It’s no trick of the light – it really was that colour 🙂

Gemma goes mad and makes butter. Buttermilk pancakes are the inevitable result.

Bonjour!

We went out for a meal for A Man’s Aunt’s birthday yesterday evening, and were mooching back home today.  We got back to town just in time to dash into the supermarket to get some bread, which of course meant they were reducing all of the short date produce.  I came back with a loaf of bread, a bottle of milk, 4 packets of 2 “The Best” gammon steaks, a packet of bread rolls, eggs, some biscuity cakey things, a quiche, pork pies and some double cream, all for the grand old price of £2.42.  Huzzah for emergency shopping!  Of course, my freezer is now utterly full again but I had the issue that cream doesn’t freeze all that well.  I decided I’d try out something I’ve been wanting to give a go for a while – homemade butter.

It’s not something that’s going to save you money unless the cream is highly reduced in price but it’s quite interesting to watch it happen.  The way I did it was the jar method, but you can easily use an electric whisk or stand mixer instead.  Pour the cream into a jar twice as big (i.e. for a pint of cream, I poured it into a 2 pint jar) with a tight fitting lid.  Shake the jar (or whip the cream) through the stages of lightly whipped and stiff peaks, right through until it’s overwhipped.  Just keep going.  Eventually, the cream will start to separate and you’ll get little yellowish lumps of butter in the cream.  It’s ready once the butter is sloshing around in a puddle of buttermilk.  Drain the buttermilk and wash the butter under very cold water, until the water runs clear (you need to wash the excess buttermilk from the butter or it’ll go off very quickly).  Shape, wrap and freeze your butter until needed.  From a pint of cream, I got about 200g butter and 200ml buttermilk.

Don’t throw out the buttermilk.  It can be used in place of ordinary milk in more or less any recipe.  I decided to make these yummy apple buttermilk pancakes.

Love love

Gemma xx

Apple Buttermilk Pancakes

200ml buttermilk
1 egg
200g self raising flour
100g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 apples

  1. Whisk the buttermilk and egg together.  Sift the flour, caster sugar and cinnamon into a bowl and whisk the buttermilk into the dry ingredients.
  2. Grate the apples on the coarse side of a grater.  You don’t need to worry about peeling or even coring the apples – just grate the whole lot together.  Mix into the batter.  If possible, leave the batter to sit for a little while so that the dry ingredients soak up the wet ones.
  3. Heat a frying pan to medium-hot.  Add a little oil and spoon in small amounts of batter.  It should start to puff up a little and cook from the outside in.  Turn once the batter has completely set and cook until both sides are brown.  Either eat them as you go or set aside on a warm plate.
  4. Serve with maple syrup or a little butter and jam.  Yummy!

I’ve been just so busy! Café review – Under the Stars, Bristol

Hello people!

I will be back blogging soon, but I’ve been doing lots and lots of stuff requiring me not to cook dinner recently 🙂  For one thing, my freezer is full of leftovers, so I’ve not really been doing a great deal of cooking even when I’ve been at home.  For another, we went on Wednesday for dinner at our wedding venue with both sets of parents (excitement!!) and A Man and I also stayed the night there.  It was a lovely evening and I’m really starting to visualise the wedding now.  Unfortunately, I had about 2 hours’ sleep.  It was fairly relaxing insomnia though; I could hear the brook across the way and the owls hooting (which eventually turned into the dawn chorus…).  The venue is up in the hills, and I’m so glad we picked somewhere that feels so out of the way despite being pretty close to the nearest town so it’s nice and easy to get to.  I also went bridesmaids’ dress shopping with one of my bridesmaids.  It was a fab day and we actually made some headway with dress styles and stuff, so yay!

We had lunch at a place called Under the Stars in Bristol.  It’s a floating café/bar on a boat in the harbourside.  We had a relaxed lunch of some excellent tapas with homemade bread (we arrived for an early lunch and it wasn’t quite ready, so was very fresh!)and yummy teas and a fairly good vegetarian/pescetarian selection.  I thought it was very well priced – £25 for 6 dishes, a bread basket and drinks.  I’m so glad we chose to eat there as it was something a bit different and gave us a chance to have a good old catch-up.  And we just kept on eating, even though we were full – a testament to how nice the food was.  We had patatas bravas, baba ganoush, stuffed peppers, greek salad, gambas ajillo and risotto ball stuffed with mozzarella as well as the bread basket.  If you have a Taste card and book in advance, you can get 50% off the food prices, so it’s even better value.  A perfect location for ladies who lunch 🙂

No food post tonight – we’re having leftover paella from the freezer.

Love love

Gemma xx