30th August 2020

  • Feeling: Up and down
  • Listening to: Nothing today
  • WatchingStrike

Up late today (around 10am). I’d decided to try a pulled-pork recipe today which cooks for 5 hours (ended up being more like 6 hours, and I even think it could have done with longer to really get to the “falling apart” level) – so getting that in the oven was the first thing which meant I didn’t get breakfast until about 11am.

I was feeling a bit better today (although I hit a wall in the middle of the afternoon and got tired and grouchy). Unfortunately D wasn’t feeling so good today and spent a lot of it curled up on the sofa reading.

After I’d had breakfast and had coffee while watching F do a self-designed obstacle course in the garden (a result of watching too much Ultimate Beast Master), I started off some dough for some brioche buns – I wanted to try a different recipe to the brioche I made in May and I thought I might as well try the one recommended alongside the pulled-pork recipe. I had some misgivings about the recipe (who measures butter in tablespoons?) and I struggled with the recipe a bit – despite 20 minutes kneading I didn’t manage to get the dough to the kind of consistency I’d expect. However, despite this (and it contributing to my grouchiness in the afternoon) the results were OK.

The final part part of the dish was a barbecue sauce made with the juices from the pork. I half (or even quarter) followed another BBC Good Food recipe but mainly did it by taste and ended up with a couple of jars of tasty BBQ sauce.

The end result was a success – F, B and I all enjoyed the pork & BBQ sauce and we all enjoyed the brioche buns (D had her’s with veggie sausages)

Stay safe, stay strong

15th May 2020


Got up early (6) to try to catch up on some work this morning – although it took me a while to get going at least I was working before 8am and got quite a lot done this morning – although the early start rather caught up with me in the afternoon.

Had an OK day, and dropped some plants and other things off for C – and got to see N – a real life friend in the flesh! (albeit from a distance) and with two deliveries (pillows and a cold frame for the garden) – by lockdown standards this was already a pretty interesting day 🙂 However, the real excitement of the day wasn’t until the evening when we sat down to watch the final / banquet episode of the Great British Menu.

What seems like an age ago, although in reality just a few months, B was invited to attend the children’s literature themed banquet at Exeter (aka Jordan) College in Oxford by Scoop magazine (an arts & literature magazine for children) – because he has written book reviews for them.

On a very stormy day in February B and D set off to attend the banquet, only to find that trains were either cancelled or extremely delayed. So F and I interrupted our breakfast at the nearby Costa to go and get them and drive them to Oxford.

While F and I went on and spent a really nice day with my Mum in Cheltenham, B and D got to enjoy the banquet and to meet some of their heroes. It probably goes without saying that they thought the food was amazing, but it was also an opportunity to meet a whole range of brilliant people from Lemn Sissay to Nina Wadia to Cressida Cowell to … too many to name (not forgetting, of course, Susan Calman).

It was so exciting for us to see the results today of what was a very long day and for D and B to relive the experience with us – and even in this digital age it was still incredibly exciting to see them on the actual telly!

I’m still feeling excited by it now! (and also still chuckling at B saying “possibly the best dessert I’ve ever had” as if he had some other contenders to consider alongside the amazing edible book cooked up by top chef Alex Greene!)

Stay safe, stay strong.

13th April 2020


Easter Monday felt like the laziest day since lockdown for me, although D took on the challenge of tidying F’s room (with, sad to say, no help from F who just gets incredibly grumpy if it is suggested she should do the smallest bit of tidying her room).

We all got up late and didn’t do a huge amount in the morning. F curled up on the sofa listening to Cabin Pressure then played computer games, and I think B worked on the computer game he is writing some more. I read and mixed up some bread. We’ve got an excess of wholemeal bread flour so I thought I should try to use some up and decided to get a bit experimental. I had a wholemeal bread dough recipe from Richard Bertinet and a couple of recipes for bread made with honey, and so I decided to try baking a wholemeal loaf with some chestnut honey which I got from a stall on Warwick Market a little while back. The honey is quite dark and has a strong flavour (when I first tasted I said to the stall owner that it “tasted of old wardrobes – in a nice way”). I decided to go for a no-knead approach to the bread and just mixed, then stretched & folded a few times over the next hour, before leaving it to rise for another hour, then another stretch & fold before putting it in a proving basket for another hour before I baked it. Sadly that meant it wasn’t ready for lunch, which the kids had outside despite it being much cooler today.

The bread looks and tastes great. The honey flavour comes through enough to taste but not too strong. The texture a bit too soft for my liking – but I suspect the kids and D prefer the softer crust.

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Chestnut honey wholemeal bread

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In the afternoon F watched High School Musical 2, while I did some work (I’m a little behind where I need to be with some projects) and D worked on a blanket she’s been knitting. It was only when I got a reminder pop up on my computer that we remembered the kids had Maths/English sessions online today – and that we’d already missed an online art class for them earlier in the afternoon (in addition to missing Bs online piano lesson on Thursday).

It’s slightly odd that classes are carrying on despite the bank holiday – I guess we are all finding our perception of days and time is being affected by the lockdown and since no one can go away on holiday why not carry on with lessons and appointments.

I roasted a chicken with potatoes for me and the kids while D had eggs for tea, and we finished off Fs birthday cake.

We had an issue with F at bedtime and she got very upset, but I can’t bring myself to relive it right now – just 9yo drama but upsetting for us all and it makes us worry about her.

On a more upbeat note, D finished the blanket this evening after weeks (months?) of work!


Stay safe, stay strong.

Brown chicken stock


A few days ago we had some chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks), but had decided to take the meat off the bones to stir fry – so we were left with the bones and various scraps plus the skin. I’m trying to be a bit more conscientious about not wasting food, so decided I should make something with these scraps. I found a recipe for brown chicken stock in delicious magazine and decided I’d do a variation on that. To be honest I didn’t follow the recipe that closely – it more just inspired me …

We’d be blanching some broccoli and green beans to freeze, so I reserved the water from that to use to make the stock.

I put the chicken scraps in a roasting pan and cooked them on 180-200C for about half an hour.

Chicken scraps

While that was happening, I chopped some carrot and onion, and softened that in some oil for 20 minutes or so.

Once the vegetables were soft and the chicken brown I added the chicken to the veg, and deglazed the roasting pan with some sherry and put that in as well. I then added the broccoli cooking water and a little more cold water (probably about 2 litres altogether, but that’s a bit of a guess), a bay leaf and a little bit of rosemary that I had going dry and then brought it all up to a simmer and left it to reduce for several hours – at least 3, possibly 4 hours.

Stock reducing

It reduced by about two thirds it’s original volume – it produced around 600ml stock after I’d strained it.

I strained the stock through a sieve and then through the sieve with a little bit of muslin in the bottom (which I’d rescued from a supermarket bought bouquet garni which I’d used to make soup previously.)

The final result was a cloudy brown stock that doesn’t look that great but definitely has the right flavour. I’ll be using it to make something later in the week …

Finished stock

Kiwi and grapefruit (gin) jam


We get a fruit and veg box delivered each week, and generally if there is an option that we don’t like or don’t use that much we can set a delivery preference to say we don’t want it. However, kiwi fruit is one of those things which I never take off the list of options because … well actually I’m not sure why – I suspect I feel that we *should* be eating it – but so often we end up putting soft kiwis in the compost bin.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided enough was enough – and I really should do something with the kiwis. One recipe I’ve used before is Jamie Oliver’s kiwi salsa (part of his fish taco recipe) which I recommend, but I was looking for something different – so I decided to try making kiwi jam.

I started with a recipe I found in the Guardian which is great because its so simple:

  • Kiwi fruits – as many as you want
  • 1 tbsp sugar per kiwi
  • 1 tsp lemon juice per kiwi

I used to be a real stickler for following recipes to the letter, but years of living with D and reading food writers like Nigel Slater, plus some confidence in my ability to cook, has meant I’m more ready to experiment and deviate from the recipe.

The recipe says to leave the skin on the kiwis, but I knew D wouldn’t like that, so I just scooped out the insides with a teaspoon instead. I’d mixed up the kiwi and sugar and was adding the lemon when I realised I was a little short on lemon – so I was wondering what I could add that was ‘citrusy’ and remembered a bottle of grapefruit gin I had in the cupboard (a Christmas present) – so I added a few splashes of that as well (it was total guess work – I was adding a bit more than I would have of lemon juice to try to get the flavour through – but still measured in teaspoons I’d say).

Grapefruit gin

Having mixed this all up, I put everything in a small pan (I only had 8 kiwis so I wasn’t making huge amounts) and cooked it until it went “jammy”. I thought I’d overdone it as it was quite thick and sticky even when hot – but I think it actually turned out pretty well.

I poured boiling water into a couple of jam jars, let them sit for a few minutes, then poured it out, and put the jam in. Making in small quantities meant I wasn’t really worried about the jars being completely sterile (which, to be honest, is the thing that I struggle with most when making jam!).

The end product was delicious – quite sweet, with the gooseberry qualities of the kiwi fruit coming through and the grapefruit gin just very faintly at the back of it.

I tried another batch this week but substituted the lemon juice with grapefruit juice (as we had a grapefruit in our delivery box) and left out the gin – the result was more “tart” than the original jam, and I missed the herbally/gin note that my first attempt had – so I think I’d definitely add the gin again next time – perhaps tweaking the amount of lemon.

If you haven’t tried kiwi jam I’d highly recommend – it’s really good!

Kiwi jam on homemade bread

Autumnal hot chocolate


Last night we got back from the fireworks display at Warwick Racecourse, and Damyanti suggested making some hot chocolate, having found a recipe in ‘delicious’ magazine which included double cream, vanilla paste and Frangelico liqueur – none of which we had, and the last of which we’d never heard of. Frangelico turned out to be a hazelnut liqueur.

So I improvised and came up with this alternative (amounts for one mug):

  • Hot milk
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp Nutella
  • 1 shot brandy (depending on how you like it – just under a shot and I’d say you won’t get the brandy flavour, but you will know there is alcohol in it)

Adding the Nutella seemed to help mellow out the brandy, and make the drink just the thing for a chilly autumn night.

Sour cream pancakes


We love to have American style pancakes as a weekend breakfast treat. Until recently my favourite recipe was one I found on (no longer operational) Google Knol by Scott Jenson – luckily the recipe is preserved in several places online, including this site called Tastebook.

Because we don’t always have buttermilk in the house I’d occasionally played around with alternatives, and had a bit of success mixing yoghurt and milk – but I found if I got the proportions wrong in this mix, the flavour was a bit off. Then one day I had some left over sour cream, and used that, mixed with milk, in place of buttermilk. The result was the tastiest and fluffiest pancakes I’ve made:

Wet ingredients

  • About 100ml sour cream mixed with 200ml milk. The amounts are quite rough here, because I tend to use whatever sour cream I’ve got, and top up with milk (and rarely note exact measurements). I try to be a bit conservative with the milk – you can always thin the batter with some more milk later.
  • 1 egg
  • 50g melted butter
  • 1-2 tsps vanilla extract

Dry ingredients

  • 125g strong white flour
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix the wets and drys separately, then mix them together and let them rest for few minutes for the raising agents to start working. The resulting batter should be a bit lumpy. How thick you make the batter is up to you – if you make it on the thicker side you’ll get thicker pancakes that will need to cook a little slower to cook all the way through in the pan.

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagne


This is a recipe that we improvised at home a few weeks ago – but unfortunately we haven’t taken a picture of it either time. We tend to eat this over two nights, so I guess it would serve 4 at one sitting – although perhaps accompanied by some bread?

Pre-heat the oven to around 220C.

  1. Peel and dice a large butternut squash, and put it in a roasting tin. We dice into relatively large chunks – it’s up to you, but the smaller you dice it, I guess the shorter you’ll want to roast it
  2. Season with salt, pour some oil (we use a cheap rapeseed oil – basically anything that can cope with the high roasting temperature – which probably means not olive oil). You could put some woody herbs like thyme or rosemary in as well, although we haven’t
  3. Put the squash in the oven to roast – 30 minutes will do it for a relatively large dice, but basically until it is cooked through and soft. Once the squash is done you’ll want to turn the oven down slightly – to around 180C
  4. While the squash is roasting make a tomato sauce – we recommend making it with fresh tomatoes which keeps it lighter than the tinned. Basically chop an onion and fry gently to soften in plenty of olive oil (Damyanti says “lots of olive oil”), add some crushed garlic, some oregano. Blanch, skin and chop the tomatoes in the meantime, and then add them. Simmer it until it has reduced to a nice consistency – you don’t want too much liquid
  5. Make a bechamel/white sauce (sorry, not going to go into this here – but plenty of places you can find out how to do this)
  6. Now build the lasagne – first a layer of tomato sauce, then squash, then some fresh spinach leaves scattered over, then lasagne sheets (we use fresh and find you can just use it , but if you use dried you’ll want to put it in some boiling water first), repeat this pattern, and then top the final sheet of lasagne with the bechamel sauce.
  7. Put the whole thing in the oven for about 20-30 minutes – until the top has gone nicely brown

That’s it – it sounds complicated but to be honest it doesn’t feel like a big hassle once the squash is in the oven – it gives you time to do everything else. We really like it, and recommend it!

Malt Loaf


Making Malt Loaf

A few weeks ago, I got this craving for Malt Loaf, and thought it would be a good thing to bake. I didn’t have a recipe at home, so I asked for a recommendation online, and Anna (after suggesting I could just go and buy some Soreen), came up with the following:
75ml (2 1/2 fl oz) hand-hot water
200g (7oz) brown flour or 100g (3 1/2 oz) wholemeal flour and 100g (3 1/2 oz) strong white flour
2.5ml spoon 1/2 tsp) salt
2 x 15ml spoons (2 tbsp) malt extract
2 x 15ml spoon (2 tbsp) black treacle
25g (1oz) margarine
30g (1oz) dark soft brown sugar
100g (3 1/2 oz) sultanas
Honey or golden syrup to glaze

2 x 5ml spoons (2 tsp) conventional dried yeast + 5ml spoon (1 tsp) sugar
or 15g (1/2 oz) fresh yeast
or 1 x 5ml spoon (1 tsp) fast action easy blend yeast

  • Stir the dried yeast and sugar into the water and leave until frothy, or blend the fresh yeast with water, or mix the easy blend yeast with the flour.
  • Place the flour and salt in a bowl, add the sultanas.
  • Warm the malt, treacle, margarine and sugar until just melted and the sugar dissolved, and stir into the flour with the yeast liquid. (Note: if using instant yeast add to dry flour and warm the water with the malt mixture).
  • Mix to a soft dough.
  • Turn onto a floured surface and knead until no longer sticky (about four minutes), adding more flour if necessary.
  • Shape and place the malt loaf in a greased 500g (1lb) loaf tin. Cover the dough and leave to prove in a warm place until doubled in size – about one and a quarter hours.
  • Bake at 220°C, Gas Mark 7, for 30 minutes until browned and the malt loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  • Cool the Malt Loaf on a wire rack. Whilst the loaf is still hot brush the top with honey or syrup.

So Bryn and I set to making our first ever malt loaf. After mixing the dry and wet ingredients we weren’t left with a ‘soft dough’ but rather a pretty sloppy looking batter. Luckily Bryn was pretty good at adding liberal amounts of extra flour 🙂 I’d guess maybe as much as another 50g (strong white bread flour). It was still pretty sticky, but with a liberal dusting of flour on my hands I was able to knead it a bit, and get it into a loaf shape.

It didn’t really seem to rise much, but we put it in the oven, and hoped for the best. The result was a dense, but rich flavoured bread, with a crunchy crust when it was fresh out of the oven. We ate it while it was still warm, with butter, but it was even better the next day (with butter again!). Soreen it isn’t, but it is very nice.

Slices of Malt Loaf

Slices of Malt Loaf

Trio of curries


I felt like curry last Monday, with Owen going to be home late, I had an hour to myself to kill but hadn’t been shopping luckily we had lentils, potatoes and eggs so I made tarka dhal, egg curry and bombay potato curry.


Before making a curry it’s best to make up some masala – a mixture of chilies, garlic and ginger all finely chopped and mixed with a ratio of 2 chilies to 1 garlic clove and small knob of ginger.

Scrambled Egg Curry – this is one of my favourite my curries and only takes 10 mins to make

  • Sliced Onions
  • Eggs x 2
  • Masala
  • Turmeric (pinch)
  • Cumin powder (pinch)
  • Coriander powder (pinch)
  • Coriander Leaves

Fry the onions slowly, once they are translucent and browning add the chopped chilli, garlic and ginger and the dried spices. Fry for a minute or two while stirring, then break in 2 eggs and scramble until the eggs are cooked well. Once cooked stir in some fresh coriander leaves.

Bombay Potato – another of my favourites

  • Potato x 3
  • Oil – 1 tablespoon
  • Mustard seeds – pinch
  • Masala
  • Chili powder – pinch
  • Turmeric – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Cumin powder – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Coriander powder – 1/2 teaspoon
  • salt – pinch
  • Coriander leaves

Quater the potato and then finely slice, each piece about 1cm thick, its best to try and get all the slices to be the same size and thickness so they cook evenly, rinse in cold water.
Add the oil to a frying pan then the mustard seeds. Once they start popping add in the sliced potato and stir (be careful as the oil will spit). Add the masala, spices and salt and stir. Leave to cook on a low heat till the potatoes are soft, if they start to stick to the pan add a little more oil. When the potatoes are nearly cooked add some coriander leaves.

Tarka Dal – I use a recipe from ‘Easy Indian’ by Das Sreedharan. Serves 4-6. This a good curry to make as you just add all the ingredients to the pan and leave, its also a good curry to freeze.

  • Red lentils – 200g
  • Yellow split peas – 50g
  • Sliced Onions x 2
  • Diced tomatoes x 2
  • Garlic cloves chopped x 2
  • Green chili sliced x 2
  • Chili powder 1.2 tsp
  • Turmeric 1 tsp
  • To finish – 4 cloves of garlic sliced & 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds

Add all the ingredients to a big pan and then add about 2 pints of water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and leave to simmer with lid on for about 20 mins or till the lentils begin to soften. I find the red lentils cook quicker than the yellow. Leave uncovered for 5 mins. If very watery then I tend to pour some of the liquid out as I prefer my dhal to be thick. Before serving, fry a little oil in a small frying pan and add some cumin seeds and the sliced garlic, once the garlic starts browning pour into the dhal.