Birthdays are for wine and cake and chocolate

So why not combine all three?

Hello there.  It’s been a while, I know.  Life has been…hectic since starting work.  I make no apologies – I simply don’t have the hours at home that I used to.

 

It was A Man’s birthday yesterday.  After work on Monday, I went to the supermarket to buy the ingredients to make him a birthday cake.  “No need to buy brown sugar,” thought I, “We’ve got some in the cupboard.”  Little did I know that, because of the following rule, the brown sugar was gone.

YOU HAVE TO BRING YOUR OWN BIRTHDAY CAKE INTO THE OFFICE

It would appear that, when he arrived home, A Man made his own birthday cake (a carrot cake) to take to work with him the following morning.  Cue another trip to the supermarket.  Grrr.

Anywho, this is an incredible cake recipe I have made once before.  I was searching the internet for red velvet recipes when I came across this one.  I made it as a kind of gimmick, as the person I was making it for is known for loving red wine.  As it happens, the cake was INCREDIBLE and was dubbed by my dad as the best cake he had ever eaten.  Needless to say, I just had to make it again.

I cocked up the frosting somewhat last time, and I have to confess that due to that and the aforementioned job thing, I bought a tub of ready-made cream cheese frosting.  I felt guilty for about 3 seconds and then decided there are more things in life to get het up about than whether or not I made the frosting on the cake.  It’s just one of those skills I can’t seem to get the hang of.

One tip for you: by all means sprinkle the cake liberally with finely grated chocolate.  Just remember that you’ll get chocolate dust everywhere when it comes to candle-blowing-out time…

I won’t repeat the recipe here, but here are some photos of my efforts.

Much love

Gemma xx

A Man attempts to entinguish the candles without blowing chocolate all over the dining table.

A Man attempts to entinguish the candles without blowing chocolate all over the dining table.

Masterfully slicing the cake and transferring it to a plate.

Masterfully slicing the cake and transferring it to a plate.

Got to be honest, I am obscenely pleased with this cake!

Got to be honest, I am obscenely pleased with this cake!

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Meat in a Box

An unwanted horse headI rarely have a pious moment, so indulge me and let me say a massive “I TOLD YOU SO”.

For the last 18 months I have been banging my drum about conscientious meat consumption. I’m hardly the first person to have talked about it, nor am I the most influential. So see me as an average member of the Joe Public who made a pledge and stuck to it – and it’s time you did too.

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Look! It’s been snowing.

Hello there.

As you will undoubtedly be aware, it’s been snowing.  You get many many bonus points if you can tell me where the innocuous phrase in the title came from.

I had to work from home yesterday, as my trains were cancelled, and A Man also worked from the Warminster office as riding 50 miles on a motorbike with snow on its tyres would not have been an especially sensible idea.  This meant we were able to meet up for a lunchtime walk, and take some pretty photos of the park.

Let it Snow

I love this man’s olde-worlde sledge!

WARNING – THIS POST IS ABOUT TO GET CHRISTMASSY 3 AND A HALF WEEKS TOO LATE

Thanks to Charles Dickens, snow in the UK is commonly associated with Christmas, despite it actually hardly ever happening.  The fact of it being snowy outside led me to make a somewhat rash decision.  Bring out the Christmas pudding!

By all rights it should have been flamed, but I was a little too tipsy to be trusted with a ladle full of rum and a match.

By all rights it should have been flamed, but I was a little too tipsy to be trusted with a ladle full of rum and a match.

I made 2 Christmas puds this year in November, both 2 pints and one with a silver sixpence in.  The first we took to our friends’ house for our annual Christmas dinner and as I had no idea which pud had the sixpence, there was no question of microwaving to warm it up (not to mention, it always tastes better when steamed).  Unfortunately, a combination of drunkenness, a too-small pan, boiling dry and stupidity, the plastic pudding basin melted.  The pud was luckily salvageable and very tasty but didn’t even have the sixpence so I knew it was in the one at home.

The sixpence is hiding right in the middle of the wedge, so at least we know where it is now!

The sixpence is hiding right in the middle of the wedge, so at least we know where it is now!

As we were visiting family over Christmas we never got the opportunity to have the second pudding.  I decided that, to be safe, I would reheat the pud in the same way I cooked them: wrapped in a muslin, and steamed in the slow cooker sitting on a saucepan.  It worked really well and the pudding was surprisingly light.

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The recipe was more or less the same as last year’s, but I used the following fruit instead:

4 oz Dried figs
3 oz Prunes
5 oz Apricots
6 oz Currants
1 lb Sultanas

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After last year’s embarrassingly alcoholic pudding, I recorded how much rum I fed the puddings: 1 capful once a week for 5 weeks.  A little more wouldn’t have hurt, but the amount used was pretty good.

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Christmas pudding served with its perfect accompaniment of lots of clotted cream.

I’ve also still got the Christmas cake in the cupboard, without marzipan or icing, again because we didn’t really have an opportunity to eat it.  I’ll save it for another post, but I’m seriously considering keeping it in the cupboard until next year, and having a 13-month matured cake – that’s got to be good, right?!

If you’ve read this far congratulations.  Have a mince pie (yup, I’ve been cooking those too!).

Much love

Gemma x

Fusilli con Pollo

Evening

I’ve been experimenting again!  Again using my gorgeous new casserole.  I’m not entirely sure where this idea came from beyond the thought process of: these are the things I have in the fridge; I haven’t had pasta for a few days; let’s try that.  It worked out really well, and I made just enough to have leftovers for a yummy pasta salad for my lunch later in the week.  Win!

I’ve not gone crazy with the photos tonight.  Lucky you!

Love love

Gemma xx

Fusilli con Pollo

1 chicken leg per person
Olive oil
Red onion
2 cloves garlic
Mushrooms
Yellow pepper
Cavolo Nero
Fresh tomatoes
Small amount of Chicken stock (I used a few home-made concentrated stock cubes which I had frozen in an ice cube tray)
Half a lemon
Fennel seeds
Salt and pepper
Teaspoon of sugar
Fusilli

  1. Procure some chicken legs.  Ours came from the whole chicken A Man attacked with his cleaver the other day.
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  2. Heat the oil in a pan.  Brown the chicken legs and remove from the pan.  Turn the heat down to low.
  3. Dice the onion and finely chop the garlic.  Fry for a few minutes.  Slice the mushrooms, pepper and cavolo nero stalks and add to the pan.  Chop the cavolo nero leaves and set aside.  Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Chop the tomatoes and add to the pan with the cavolo nero leaves.  Add the stock and lemon juice and stir well.  Make wells for the chicken legs and replace in the pan.  Cover the pan and cook for at least half an hour or until the chicken is cooked.
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  5. Cook the pasta until it is al dente.  Drain and set aside.
  6. Remove the chicken  from the pan, stir through some fennel seeds, salt and pepper and a teaspoon of sugar.  Add the pasta and stir well.  Replace the chicken in the pan and cover until required.

 

Chorizo Stew

Oh hi there!

Happy new year.  Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas.  Ours was fab and I’ve created an experimental dish to use my favourite present – a beautiful teal coloured cast iron casserole dish given to us by my parents.  It’s bloody heavy but that metal helps to distribute the heat evenly across the dish.  The enamelled surface is great because you get a crust of deliciousness which can be easily scraped up into the sauce thanks to how non-stick it is.  The lid condenses all of the steam back into the sauce, and it’s virtually silent when it’s boiling.  And thanks to how pretty it is, you can feel proud to take it to the dinner table. 🙂  In short I adore it!

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A Man’s dad gave us a mandolin which has already been used to make coleslaw and to slice a gammon joint.  I foresee a dauphinoise or gratin in my future…

I also bought A Man a new knife – a rather dangerous looking beast of a cleaver.  We’ve agreed that I’m banned from using it, because given the ease with which it cuts through an entire chicken I’d be quite likely to go straight through my finger.

The sword and shield of the kitchen!  A Man's  chopper and the lid of the casserole.

The sword and shield of the kitchen! A Man’s chopper and the lid of the casserole.

My other kitchen-related present was a trio of teapots.  I’ve got a feeling that I’ve become a bit predictable…

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That’s a glass teapot for fruity teas, a Le Creuset teapot for posh teas and an “It’s always Time for Tea” teapot because, well, it’s true.

The stew I made with some little sausages made with garlic and paprika.  They were from Morrisons and I would thoroughly recommend them – they were yummy!  I was really pleased with this meal and the only thing I would change would be to add some spice (I dropped some of my chilli jelly into the leftovers for next time we eat it).

Much love

Gemma xx

Chorizo Stew

Olive oil
Red onion
Garlic cloves
Chilli (optional)
Fresh tomatoes
Fresh parsley
Green pepper
Cavolo nero
Chorizo sausages
White wine
Brown rice to serve

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  1. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a wide pan.  Dice the onion, crush the garlic and chop the chilli finely if using.  Fry gently in the oil.


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    This photo’s out of sequence because I didn’t go snap-happy until slightly too late. Deal with it!

  2. Dice the pepper and add to the pan.  Finely chop the stalks of the parsley and cavolo nero and stir in.  Chop the tomatoes and leaves of the parsley and cavolo nero to add later.
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  3. Brown the sausages with the onion.  Cook for several minutes.
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  4. Add the cavolo nero leaves and cook for a couple of minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and a small glass of white wine.  Cover the dish and leave to simmer for 30 – 45 minutes.

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    Action shot!

  5. Taste the sauce and season as necessary.  Cook the rice.  Remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce slightly.  Add the parsley just before serving.

    Open wide!

    Open wide!

Friday night is Fish night

Oh, hi there blogworld.  You’d forgotten all about me?  Well, I used to write a food blog fairly regularly, and then I started work in the real world and suddenly had other stuff to do than cook elaborate meals on a weekday.  Like just cooking something quick because I was starving.

So let’s face it, I’ll probably post this and then abandon my blog for another few months.  Such is life.

Recently, A Man and I have been able to buy a lot of fish from the supermarket which has been reduced to absurd levels of cheapness.  We’re talking 19p here.  I therefore have absolutely no option but to buy it, which inevitably results in there being heaps of fish in my freezer.

Due to this, a couple of times recently we’ve had ‘posh fish and chips’ for dinner on a Friday.  I have written about this previously but have done it slightly differently, so thought another post couldn’t hurt.

The first I won’t write a recipe for, as frankly it’s just a case of wrapping the fish in foil and baking for 20-30 minutes depending on how big it is.

This is a rather unhappy looking sea bass.

This is a rather unhappy looking sea bass.

That was some time last month.  However, last night I set about to improve January’s battered fish recipe and I honestly think I’m onto a winner now.  Fish fingers are absolutely one of my guilty pleasures, but when they contain whole pieces of actual fish like these do, I don’t think there’s any reason to feel guilty!

Much love

Gemma xx

Battered fish fingers and chips

Fish (any type is fine – I used one lime and coriander marinated salmon fillet and one whole lemon sole)
Potatoes (or a mix of ordinary and sweet potatoes)
Herbs and spices (I used some ground chilli flakes, smoked paprika, cumin and thyme)
Olive oil
Cornflour
Egg white
Water
Herbs
Sunflower oil
Peas

  1. Turn the oven up as high as it will go.  Chop your potatoes into chips – they don’t need peeling (not even the sweet potatoes!).  Place them on a baking tray and liberally coat them with your chosen herbs and spices.  Drizzle with a good amount of olive oil and put them in the oven.  Check on them every once in a while and shake them about a bit.  They should go crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.  If necessary, turn the oven down slightly.
  2. This next bit depends on the type of fish you have.  If it’s just fillets then you’re safe.  If not, you will have to fillet your fish.  I used Darina Allen’s instructions for filleting flat fish (see below) and it worked beautifully!
  3. These instructions assume you’re right-handed.  If you are left-handed, you may want to do it the other way!
  • Lay the fish dark-skin up and head towards you.
  • Using a very sharp (and preferably flexible – mine was totally the wrong type of knife really) knife, cut down the left-hand side of the spine.
  • Turn the knife horizontally and gently, using long sweeps of the blade, separate the flesh from the bones.  Be careful not to chop through the bones!
  • Once you have removed the whole of the fillet, turn the fish so that the tail is now facing towards you and repeat for the other side.  Once you have finished filleting the top of the fish, flip it over and fillet the bottom.  Voila!
Like I said, the knife was totally inappropriate and I may have been able to do it more quickly with a proper filleting knife.  Pretty pleased with the overall result though!

Like I said, the knife was totally inappropriate and I may have been able to do it more quickly with a proper filleting knife. Pretty pleased with the overall result though!

 

  1. (I don’t know how to resume the numbering at 4, so pretend I have)  Cut all of your fish into strips and set aside.  Separate the egg white from the yolk, and mix the white with some cornflour.  You may need to adjust the batter with more cornflour and water, but you should get something the consistency of single cream.  Season with herbs if you like.
  2. Place a plate in the top oven to warm, and put some kitchen towel on it to drain the fish onto after cooking.
  3. Heat some sunflower oil in a pan until a small piece of bread starts to sizzle and brown (but not burn and blacken!) as soon as it hits the oil.
  4. Put the peas on to cook.  They only need to be hot through, so as soon as they are, turn off the hob.
  5. Fry the fish fingers in small batches.  Once they are cooked, transfer them to the kitchen towel.  Once all are cooked, serve immediately.  They should be light and crispy on the outside and beautifully moist in the middle.
  6. Serve with tomato ketchup, tartare sauce, pickles and of course lemon wedges.
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The batter is very pale, as only the egg white has been used. This allows the pinkness of the salmon fillet show through.

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A Man dives into the bowl of sweet and ordinary potato chips.  These were perfectly seasoned with all the spices.  Yum!

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).