Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas Time, Mistletoe & Wine (and cheese...and oysters...)

It's that time of year when everyone goes a little bit crazy in many different ways, some not as positive as others, and hopefully celebrates with loved ones. I will certainly be celebrating with said loved ones - mum, dad, not-so-little brother, Big G (also known as Grandma), two family friends AND my lovely Scouser - on the big day.

Needless to say, Christmas Day is a big event in our house. I cannot imagine being anywhere other than the house I grew up in, opening my massive stocking, giving out presents and getting very excited when I realise even though I didn't tell mum and dad what I wanted, I got some lovely stuff.

Of this big event, food plays a big part. Obviously! We start on the champagne at 12 noon (not a second later if I have anything to do with it) but this year we are commencing with a bloody mary on arrival - at 10.30. After me and The Scouse go out all afternoon on Christmas Eve, and take the hour and a half walk to my parents with our mutt, this will be much needed. When we went to Masterchef Live, my dad bought some bloody mary vodka, which you can buy here - littledevilspices.com - it's a spicy vodka mix that makes the best bloody marys and we will be indulging. Don't worry, we're still doing the champers too!

I have taken the drastic measure this year to introduce one of my true loves into the day's proceedings - not cheese, that comes later, but oysters. I've ordered them from Rosemore Oysters - www.oysters.co.uk - and I have a selection of Jersey Rock and Loch Ryan being delivered on Friday ready for Sunday. I am slightly nervous about cracking them open, but I've done it before with a knife. I like them with lemon only, but I know my little friend Jamie O has a good recipe for a few different dressings which I might try if I find some time...

For the main event, the lunch, which ends up happening around 2pm after the champers runs out, we start with a starter,  as you might expect! Most have smoked salmon (one of my real faves) but mother has to do another option now, for the fussy men, of a platter of cold meats. It actually catches my eye and I sometimes manage to steal a slice of bresoala or parma ham if I'm really lucky.

The only thing I'm not overly excited about at Christmas is the turkey. We had a goose one year and it was absolutely wondrous. But we'd need two geese to feed eight people, so I won't give my mother a hard time. Dad demands the largest turkey that will fit in the oven so I try to avoid the family home post-Christmas Day to avoid the very-Bridget-Jones turkey curry.

Now, to the cheese. Anyone who reads this blog that knows me reasonably well (i.e. gone for lunch with me at least once) will know that my true love - after The Scouse and our mutt - is cheese. The smellier, the better. I will regularly roast a Camembert, I will hunt for new cheeses, eat old ones that smell like feet, I don't much like crackers getting in the way and I've spent sometime perusing this year's options. Even though another guest has been tasked with bringing the cheese platter... This year, I'm going for Epoisses, possibly the stinkiest and strangest cheese ever. It has to stay in it's box otherwise it would be the size of a dinner plate, it's that ripe. I am also hunting for some Blacksticks Blue. I saw it wrapped up looking all squigdy (a word I reserve for cheese) but M&S Kingston seem to have sold out - I'm taking my search to the streets, watch this space.

Readers may now realise I am not a lady with a big sweet tooth. I would prefer two courses of cheese. However, my darling mum does make a chocolate log, courtesy a la Delia. My grandma makes a traditional Christmas cake and of course there's always the Christmas pudding, made originally by my late Granny, now the reins have been taken by my mother. I do not eat these things. Normally, I do end up sticking with the cheese.

The evening normally consists of post-nap Baileys and more cheese - for me. Mum always manages to crack out a retro prawn cocktail and endless slices of bread.

Goodness me, I just cannot wait.
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Monday, 19 December 2011


Have a little read of this - an interesting take on how to be a foodie without much cash.

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Thursday, 24 November 2011

New Cookbooks

I've added some new cookbooks to my collection recently, but have had no time to read them, let alone start cooking properly...

  • Jamie Does...: Another treat from Jamie Oliver. Accompanying his TV show where he travelled through various countries - Sweden, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco - it showcases some amazing recipes with the usual Jamie slant. Most of the recipes look relatively easy and definitely things we'd eat in the House of Barchester. After a quick flick, the faves on the list are Calamari (I bought some squid on a recent trip to Weymouth) and the Steak Tartare. 
  • Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey: Having recently enjoyed cooking Thai Green Curry, I thought we should branch out at the Barchester and try some different things. The food has so many ingredients, I'm not sure where I'd start but there's loads of interesting noodle soups and though I'm sure this food isn't necessarily meant to be eaten in Winter, they will keep us warm in our single-glazed box when it starts snowing
  • Appetite (Nigel Slater): Having watched ol' Nige on the TV with his highly annoying yet somehow addictive voice, I came to love his food and especially how he cooks. This book is more of an encyclopedia rather than a recipe book. Every seemingly simple recipe has bullet points on how to mix it up and add to it. It's an amazing book and will definitely become a big favourite of mine. Just need to find the time to spend reading it and learning it...Why wasn't I so interested in 'revising' at school?
I'll keep you updated my achievements and failures. This weekend, I'm cooking a duck crown - a first for me. I've seen a recipe online about cooking some honey down with water and spreading it over the skin to crisp it up. I quite like duck on it's own but The Scouser will want some sauce - perhaps I'll try Nige's gravy recipe... 
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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Thai Green Curry

I made the thai green curry from Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food book. I've made it before but without a food processor - trust me, it takes an age to chop everything up into small enough pices to make it really paste-y.

I used loads more coriander this time - nearly two bunches (saved some for the rice). It was reallty tasty and The Scouse loved it. I used two green chillies and he does say to put one raw red one in but I think that would have blown my head off.

The only issue with this is that it is time consuming and not especially cost efficient. From making the paste and buying all the fresh ingredients... It's worth it but definitely not an every-week addition to my repetoire. Unfortunately!
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Monday, 14 November 2011

Masterchef Live & The Wine Show

I went to Masterchef Live, which incorporated The Wine Show, with my family on Friday 11th November as we got some cheap tickets through one of those voucher sites. We were all a bit dubious, but having just come back from 11 long days of work and not much fun, I needed to do something fun that would keep me from sleeping all day.

I don't wish to bore you endlessly so here are my points about the whole thing...

  • The oysters from the east coast were amazing. I will be doing a mail order in the future (when I've saved up)
  • John the wine man - he tried his hardest, sweated through the whole thing, but we didn't buy any wine from him as the minimum was 12 bottles. Can you honestly tell me that there's enough people attending these events to spend 240 quid to make it worth this company's while to buy a large stand? I work in events and I know these stands aren't cheap. Sorry John, I did like the Pinot Noir. 
  • Jesus meat - my dad bought some dried meat called Jesus, because the shape of this salami-type meat is like Jesus wrapped in swaddling. Hmmm... Anyway it was lovely, but expensive. My brother and I went for the less expensive versions. We're still enjoying them!
  • Bloody Marys - I love a good bloody mary (not too spicy) and my dad bought a bottle of this amazing mix made from all kinds of juicy stuff, like vodka (no brainer), balsamic vinegar, spices and it was lovely. It will definitely be making an appearance this Christmas!
  • All the wine - by the time, we got around the wine show it was all a bit bewildering...I do know that Marks & Spencer have some great wines and I think I will be splashing out on their delights more often. 
Would I go back? Yes, if the ticket was 11 pounds next year. And I had a little bit more cash to splash. 
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Reveal the Veal! (or something equally cheesy...)

I had veal for the first time this weekend. I bought it from a responsible supplier at the Masterchef Live show (more on that later) and that was the only reason I broke my promise to avoid eating it.

I roasted it quickly and in a not-too-hot oven, about 170 degrees without the fan on. That would dry it out. It was topside so needed to be rare as I hate dry meat and don't like gravy that much. And I could eat a piece of meat still twitching!

I read that it needed to be rested for some time, so gave it as long as I could before I was too scared it would be cold - 20 minutes. It was a little tricky to slice, but much easier than it would have been if I hadn't rested it. Resting tip - cover it in foil tightly and then lay a tea towel over the top. Keeps even more heat in.

My verdict - it was nice, but I'm not sure it's worth the extra cost and I'd probably prefer to eat older cows who have had a nice life (don't worry, that isn't me swaying towards vegetarianism).

Scouser's verdict - he loved it. So watch this space for more poor veal puns.
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Monday, 17 October 2011

Roast Lamb Shoulder

Last night I cooked another roast dinner, this time a lamb shoulder. This is quite a cheap cut, but cooked for a long time it tastes fantastic.

As it's on the bone, the meat stays juicy - cooked for four hours, the meat falls off the bone easily. The recipe for this is in the Jamie at Home cookbook, however it's very easy.

Slash the fat side of the joint with a sharp knife, cutting through to the meat. Rub the shoulder with olive oil, salt and pepper, getting it in the slash marks too.Get a load of garlic cloves and rosemary and put half of it in the bottom of the baking tray. Put the joint in and then put the rest of the garlic and rosemary on top of it. Cover it tightly with foil - this is important to keep the joint protected from the strong heat of the oven.

Leave it for four hours. Seriously, don't touch it.

Then get it out of the oven, keep the foil on and put a tea towel over it, let it rest for 10 minutes. Put it on a big plate and let everyone  - or just you and your dining partner - rip into it.

Mr Oliver suggests serving it with smashed up veggies, but just have whatever you fancy or whatever is in season. My one recommendation having now made this twice is to get the joint from your local butcher. It is more expensive but far superior to the joint I bought in Tesco yesterday (even if The Scouser and I gobbled it up!)
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Friday, 14 October 2011

Weekend Eating

Last weekend I finally got to cook my little socks off. Thought I'd do a little run down of last weekend's eating.

Friday night: One-Pot Wonder of Chicken Thighs, Potatoes & Cherry Tomatoes - from the Jamie at Home cookbook. Now I'm not a massive fan of this cookbook, it's lovely to look at and I love to flick through it, but the food is a little tricky for an after-work meal. This recipe is a good 'un though - very easy and cheap. You have to use chicken thighs, it says fillets, but I used boned as fillets are tricky to find and more expensive so it doesn't make any difference. The red wine vinegar and juice from tomatoes make a sweet yet thin sauce and the chicken is succulent as thighs normally are (well mine are anyway...!).

Saturday night: Spicy Sausage & Fennel Pasta - another Jamie Oliver special! From his second book, this recipe is one of The Scouser's big faves. You need a bulb of fennel which can be expensive but luckily I'm close to a veg market where it's always available and not extortionate. I use chorizo in 'sausage' form, which is more economical as you get much more value for money than buying slices in a pack. It's easy to make  - throw everything in a pan and cook it down. The dried chilli adds a nice kick without burning your mouth off.

Sunday night: Good old Roast Chicken - as the nights are drawing in and it's getting chilly, I'm so happy to be able to have roasts again! I rub mine in a mixture of butter, garlic and whatever other random ingredients are at hand - fennel seeds, dried chilli, sundried tomatoes, smoked paprika... Smear it all over the bits with skin and even under the skin on the breast as it then flavours the meat too. Save a bit for the potatoes too, the butter makes them nice and crispy.

So definitely not a weekend of watching the calories. It never is for us!
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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Cheesecake for Macmillan Coffee Morning

I made a cheesecake last week for our office coffee morning in aid of Macmillan - we did raise nearly £300 but I didn't win. Perhaps too lemon-y?

Anyway I have now got over the pain of losing, and can bring myself to blog about it. It's a Jamie Oliver recipe (aaah, a pattern is emerging) from the Ministry of Food book. This book is great - there are some things that seem quite simple in there, but it's great for ideas. In fact, my brother text me about the Chilli Con Carne over the weekend - "it's amazing! Just make sure you've got a massive saucepan".

So the cheesecake. It's not baked, but very easy. The recipe isn't online, but if you want it, leave a comment below. It says to use 1 lemon, 1 orange and some vanilla essence, but I love lemon cheesecake so I went with three lemons. I would recommend including the vanilla as it tastes better I think. I would also say that it could have more of the filling - it doesn't look that deep, but that would make it a lot richer.

Back to the drawing board with this one...
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Friday, 16 September 2011

Not Enough Food...Too Much Working

I haven't been very good at this blogging lark so far have I? I haven't even had time to make that Goat's Cheese Salad I posted about. Unfortunately my work means I have to go away for a week running events sometimes, and it's crazy season. Crew catering has me running for the hills - straight back to work.

So last weekend we headed to Ross-On-Wye for my mum's birthday - we surprised her, hence the secrecy in the last blog. The food in that area is fantastic - the cheese is unbelievable and as such a massive cheese lover, I'm in heaven. If you can get hold of some Hereford Hop, have it on some crackers - it's like cheddar, but creamier and softer. We also get a ham hock - a piece of ham, cooked on the bone, that is incredibly tasty but costs between 1-2 pounds. So much nicer than buying sliced ham in a packet and MUCH cheaper.

We also visited the Bridge at Wilton, a restaurant I'm sure will get some kind of Michelin star recognition soon. Or at least the chef will. I had scallops with squid ink risotto and then fillet of beef that had been rolled in ash and cooked in hay, one of the best meals I've had for some time.

Tonight, to make up for my week of mass catering, I will be enjoying some oysters followed by a big juicy steak. The Scouser will be joining me on the steak, he's not quite ready for oysters since I described them as 'squashed, salty eyeballs'.

We'll be having some family time this weekend, my parents are hosting a large family party and my mum will be cooking. She's already told me she has some exciting things for everyone - I will never beat her cooking.
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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Goat's Cheese Salad

Just found this recipe on Jamie Oliver's website - also known as my online bible - Herb Salad with Goat's Cheese. I think I'll try this at the weekend. Me and The Scouser are off somewhere exciting food-wise...I'll explain more next week!

Tonight I'm cooking for friends and will be making another beaut from Jamie - Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola (spaghetti prawns and rocket!). My mum introduced me to this and it's so good for dinner with friends - quick, easy but effective so you can serve up a storm whilst enjoying your guests and the vino simultaneously. Raw prans are always cheap or on offer now so no excuses for using those rubbery frozen types.

I will take a picture so you can see my effort compared to Mr Oliver's!
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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Spaghetti Carbonara plus Champers

Last night I made a delightful spaghetti carbonara - a very easy pasta dish that I love. Always reminds me of my mother - I'm proud to say I've never used those horrid jar sauces and never will! So much easier and most of all CHEAPER to create it yourself. This was also acccompanied by a bottle of my favourite champagne as I got promoted yesterday and The Scouser was being amazing as ever!

Anyway I digress. I'm afraid there are no pictures as I was in late after a dash to the hairdressers. However to make the carbonara, you need:
Sauce - 5 eggs yolks, 100ml of cream, parmesan (cheddar will do if you're on a budget!)
Also - pancetta, spaghetti (or penne is good too)

Mix the saucy ingredients together in a bowl - including a big handful of the cheese - make sure you use the smaller holes on the grater, as you don't want flakes of cheese in the sauce and it will melt quickly. Meanwhile, cook the pasta and the pancetta/bacon - make sure the bacon gets cripsy.

When the spaghetti is done, drain and then throw the pancetta/bacon, sauce and spaghetti back into the pan and mix it like a crazy person. The heat cooks the eggs and coats the pasta. Serve it up with lashings of parmesan (if you are as much of a cheese fiend as me). That's it!

Now promise me you won't use jar sauces again?
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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Sausage n' Mash!

The venison sausages and spring onion mash were both a success. Sausages were quite thin so quick to cook and very tasty. I added a clove of garlic crushed raw into the mash for a little extra taste. The Scouser was, as ever, very complimentary. Below is the before shot - I like getting everything organised before I start cooking...

And here is the finished product. I love mash so I always make too much and end up feeling way too full. It's not that exciting but I tell you, it was tasty.

So tonight it's Spaghetti Carbonara - definitely not out of a jar! Does anyone make proper carbonara sauce? It's much better with fresh eggs and cream - much cheaper too.

I'm also looking for some inspiration for the weekend, because I have to work all 3 days at home so will be cooking to keep myself amused.
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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Tonight's Dinner

This evening I'm cooking venison sausages. I haven't had them before, but they looked amazing on the shelf. I do love sausages - I never used to as a young 'un. Now I always keep loads of packs in the freezer, especially as The Scouser likes a sausage and bacon butty for breakfast.

I'm also making mashed potato - a proper fave of mine - and will be adding spring onions at The Scouser's request to make it 'more interesting'. I have a potato ricer, which is absolutely fabbo for making smooth mash. Imagine the play-doh machines you played with as a child. I use loads of butter - proper butter - and olive oil too.

Final ingredients tonight are red onion marmalade and mustard.

You may now be realising that we aren't that healthy in the Barchester Kitchen!
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Why, hello there

Here we go then, my food blog. I'm obsessed with food - eating it, talking about it, spending too much money on it and enjoying it as much as possible. I blame my mother for this, she's an amazing cook and both of my parents had me eating all kinds at a very young age. My dad force-fed me oysters once, which I now LOVE.

I love to cook at home - much to The Scouser's delight (my boyfriend) - and have been known to spend the whole day preparing a feast.

I'm planning to write about what I cook at home, what I buy from the supermarket / markets / farm shops / butchers, what I eat when I go out and ideas for future culinary successes or disasters.

I'll post some pictures too, as long as I can stop The Scouser eating it all first.
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