Posts tagged cooking
Traditions

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I am a sucker for traditions...be they from my childhood or new ones that we make up as we go. There is comfort and certainty in them, from small things like Friday night pizza or big things like the yearly Easter Egg Hunt.

Our traditions are simple, not one for planning at the best of times, I can not pull off elaborate craft activities or making much other than my orders and other work at the minute.  But that's OK. Its the simple constants that mean the most: Friends, Greek Easter Bread (I half this recipe), Lamb Osso Bucco (I sort of use this recipe, but cook the lamb in 2x tins of chopped tomatos/ 1 cup of wine and 1lr of beef stock for 2 hours before adding the veg)  Egg Hunt and Chocolate.

Simple. Perfect. 

 

Soup for Sol

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To say I loved my Grandfather Goldin would be an understatement.  For as long as I can remember, I doted on him and he on me. I was his favourite. In the 4th grade, I "invented" a bird feeder with him in mind that won a contest.  I chose my university so I could live close to him.  One of the main reasons the children have double-barrelled names is so that Ellis could have Grandpa's name within his.

When I knew him, he was a kind man, with a love of music, gardening, birds and sweets. He used to sing me "K-K-K-Katie" and tease me about my childhood obsession with the film Annie. He could play the piano and I can not hear Scott Joplin's The Entertainer without thinking of him.   

Grandpa loved to eat.  Unlike the stereotype of people of his generation, he was adventerous.  We would meet for lunch at a variety of resturants - Asian Fusion, Mexican, Steak Houses.  He was up for trying things and we would sit and talk for hours, enjoying each other's company over a meal in ways that I only hope my children will share one day with their grandparents.

However, his favourite restuarants were the Jewish diners peppered around Chicago.

Grandpa Sol was Jewish.  He married my Irish Catholic grandmother in the 1930s and had 5 children, all of whom were brought up Catholic.  He never spoke much about his faith and other than my last name, there were few things that showed my links to that side of the family. But some things passed on.  When I grew up in Iowa, we were some of the first people to know what bagels were.  And Halva. And Matzo's, eaten with a shmear of margarine and a dash of salt.

But when Grandpa and I met up, it was Matzo Ball soup we would eat. On paper, a big ball of mushy bread hardly sounds appetising, but they became some of my favourite foods.  He would tell me stories and I would do my best to make a dent in the dumpling the size of my head.

I hadn't thought about Mazto Ball Soup in a long time. I'd never told Ellis the story of his name or every really mentioned my beloved Grandpa Goldin.  But when I stumbled across a bag of Matzo meal in the local grocery store, I knew I had to make them.

And I did.  I listened to The Entertainer and cooked.  And we ate it. And talked about the man I loved so much. Ellis asked the questions 4 year olds ask, "Did Grandpa Sol like Lego?" (Probably) "Did he eat chocolate?" (Most definitely) "Could he come over?" (Unfortunately not)

And I thought, that is what food is, at its best. Its not only good and nourishing, but its tradition and memories and connection.

And, like everyone who ever has lost a loved one, I wondered what he would think about my life now. Would he be proud? Would he hate my nose ring?   What would he think of my house? My work? Would he laugh at Ellis' jokes?  Be taken in by the demon with pigtails? Or think Theo is the sweetest baby ever like everyone else does?

And importantly, what would he think of my Matzo Ball Soup?

 

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Basic Mazto Ball Recipe (Makes 15ish Matzo Balls)

6 eggs

1.5 cups Mazto meal

dash of salt and pepper

1/3 cup of chicken broth

1/3 cup of melted butter or margerine

 

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl and let sit in the refrigerator for about 15minutes.  It will be very wet initially, but firm up with resting.  Wet your hands and form into smallish balls, roughly 1.5 inches across.  Drop into broth or soup. I use them like dumplings in a chicken vegetable soup, but they are very often served with just broth.

Christmas Traditions and Minestrone? Soup

Even though Kevin and I have been married for 10 years, in many ways I still feel like we are figuring out what 'our' Christmas traditions are.  Maybe its that the kids are still so young, so we've not had much time to renegotiate what family means to our little family unit, or maybe its that we have spent every other year in America since we were married...I don't know.

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We go back and forth on traditions...one family opens presents on Christmas Eve, the other on Christmas day.  The big man in the red suit is "Santa" to some of us and "Father Christmas" to others.  Some people eat the vile blob of eewy-gooeyness that is Christmas Pudding, while others go for delicious perfection in a pie plate that is pumpkin pie.

One thing we can agree on, this soup is eaten every year on Christmas Eve.  It is absolutely not Christmas without it. 

Now, in my family we call this Minestrone. In looking online *gasp* I don't think it actually IS minestrone.  I think this is just what we call it, in the same way my mother pronounces Fajitas as "fruh-heet-ahs"and Georgia calls dogs "kitty"...not really right, but everyone understands what is meant.

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And so, I give you Minestrone? Soup.  Amounts are totally made up, because I just make it to whatever size I need to, based on the number of people I'm cooking for. The quantities below feed 6-8.  If you are going to make it smaller, then reduce the meat and veg accordingly, but I'd still be heavy on the olives, I'd just let Georgia eat more of them before they went in the soup.  

500g or 2lbs of stewing/casserole beef

1 onion

2 smallish courgettes

1-2 carrots

1 can of chopped tomatoes

1 can of pitted green olives (no pimentos)

1 can of black olives

1 can of kidney beans

a lot of beef stock (at least 1 litre)

garlic

a handful of short pasta

 

Chop the onions and cook until translucent. Chop and add the carrots. Brown the beef and then add the stock, tomatoes and some garlic, let this cook for a couple of hours on low on the stove until the meat is very very soft.

Drain the kidney beans and add them to the soup.  For the olives, you can just dump them in, brine and all or you can drain them.  I like the soup with the briney saltiness, but then the stock I use doesn't have added salt in it.

Chop up the courgettes and add them and the pasta about 15 minutes before you serve. 

Serve with bread and a sprinkling of cheese...and Pumpkin Pie (but NEVER Christmas pudding)

What You Make Of It

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The last few days have been so very challenging.  It seems everything we look at breaks, dies or just goes wrong. My patience has all but disappeared as we leap from one catastrophe to the next.

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I've mentioned before that I love to wallow.  Oh yes, give me the hint of excuse and I will whine and moan and sulk with the best of them.  My particular talents - throwing things in a rage and sobbing on the floor.

And so yesterday, as the destruction reached comedy levels, I wanted to shut the children in the lounge in front of a DVD and mope.  Fighting against that primal urge, I grouped us un the kitchen where we spent the afternoon listening to Michael Buble's Christmas album at full blast, making salt dough ornaments and peppermint crisp.

 

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And yes, it was 800g of the cheapest chocolate I could find at Lidl. No I didn't have any peppermint extract. And so what if the candy canes were from the Pound Store and obviously very close to their use by date. And no, the salt dough did not set at all. But actually, the ingredients matter very little on days like yesterday.

 

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Because, in the end, its what you make of them.

 

 

Unintended Consequences
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Six weeks ago, I gave up dairy to see if it helped with Georgia's fussiness.

At first, I honestly didn't know what to eat. My meal plan was largely built around cheese...halloumi salad, broccoli cheese muffins, mexican, tortellini. not to mention coffee.  With Milk.  A lot of milk.  Those first few days were really hard.  I was hungry all the time.  I was afraid to eat out, for fear of not being able to reliably find anything I COULD eat.  I bought and tried every kind of alternative milk product on the market.  As soy is often linked to dairy allergies, that was out.  And black coffee is not for me.

A few weeks on, I was getting in the swing of it.  I had found that coconut milk makes a tasty coffee and my meal plan has a definite Mediterranean feel to it. At the same time, we realised that part of Georgia's grumpiness was that she wasn't getting enough sleep and couldn't be awake for more than an hour and twenty minutes at a time.  

The transformation was astounding.  Georgia went from a fussy wee thing to an extremely happy chilled out little girl.  Wanting to see if it was the sleep or the dairy that was improving her mood, I added a generous handful of cheese to my dinner one evening.

The next morning, unsurprisingly, Georgia woke up a rather unsettled little girl. Dairy was definitely out for her. Rather more surprisingly was that I also woke up with terrible stomach cramps. I felt sluggish and awful all day.   I realised it wasn't the first time I felt like this.  In fact, MOST mornings, prior to giving up dairy, I woke up with stomach pains. I just thought it was 'one of those things'. It seems that dairy is out for me too.

When embarking on this 'experiment', that is all it was.  A few weeks, months, maybe a year until I could happily eat dairy again. However, it seems that my future is now dairy free.  

It amazes me that something I have eaten every day of my life can be so bad for me.  And of course, its in everything, so not only am I not eating dairy, but things like cakes, chocolate and the like almost all have milk in them. And many of the non-dairy alternatives are filled with chemical alternatives that I do not particularly want to eat. So my consumption of those things is essentially non existent.  In fact, I only have a few teaspoons of sugar a day now (in said cup of coffee).  Most of all, I feel great!  Fewer mood swings, more energy.  

Unintended consequences, but we are all better for it.

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The photo above is of one of the s'mores we made at the weekend with homemade graham crackers.  Yes, it has milk in it.  Yes, I ate one.  Yes, we all paid for it. But they WERE good.  

Strawberries A Go-Go

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mmmmm

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It seems that my blog readership extends far beyond the world of the internet...my strawberries appear to have read Tuesday's post about their lack of compliance and decided to  hold up their end of the gardening bargain.

And so the berries are here. While I have visions of jam and homemade crumpets, the boys just sit in the garden and eat what they can.  I'll get my time...

(I promise not to mention strawberries again for awhile)

 

Unashamed Love of Asparagus

What is it about spring vegetables?  You see, my very favourite veggies in the world all live their short lives in the springtime: purple sprouting broccoli, broad beans and asparagus.

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growing up, we had an enormous asparagus patch.  My father has always been equally besotted with these sharp green spears and he would send us out to collect them by the bucketful.  It was always a sad day when we couldn't find any more edible spears amongst the asparagus forest.  Being a meat and two veg kinda guy, he liked them steamed with butter.

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As I cook my own meals, I have to say that there are really only two ways to eat asparagus: grilled with a bit of oil, salt and pepper or paired in some way with eggs.

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It must be the smooth creaminess of eggs that sets off the sharp fresh taste of the asparagus. Add some bacon, goats cheese and whole hazelnuts and you have culinary heaven (a fact that Tantie set me on to).

Now, I suppose I should give a recipe here, but truth be told, I usually just wing things like this...sometimes its more of a frittata with potatoes, sometimes I go the whole hog and actually use shortcrust pastry.The number of eggs usually depends on the size of the pan.

But here goes:

Asparagus, Goat's Cheese and Bacon Pie (ala Tantie):

1 bunch of asparagus - about 7 spears (We don't grow our own because for the last 4 years we've been saying that we're gonna move soon...and we're not putting one in this year because, we're gonna move soon)

4 large eggs

3/4cup (1800ml) milk

1 cup (100g) of hazelnuts

1/2 cup (100g) soft goats cheese

3 rashers of bacon (I like smoked)

dash of nutmeg

salt and pepper

shortcrust pastry (I get mine from the butcher as its better than anything I can make)

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:: Line a large pie tin with the pastry or if you want to make a frittata, oil and line the bottom with 2-3 layers of thinly sliced potatoes

:: In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and whole hazelnuts.

:: Finely chop the bacon.

:: Roughly chop the asparagus into good sized chuncks (3cm/1in pieces)

:: Add the bacon and asparagus to the egg mix

:: Break up the goat cheese and  fold it gently into the egg mix

:: Pour into pan and bake for 45min in 360F/180C preheated oven. Top should be lightly brown and the eggs firm.

TIP: I usually underestimate the number of eggs to use, because in these kind of dishes its always easy to whisk up another egg and a bit of milk and pour it into the pie if its looking a bit dry.

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Lucky Escapes

In our young and childless days, Kevin and I lived in Windsor. For anyone whose travels have not taken them to this well-trodden tourist town on the outskirts of London, it is a delight to visit:

:: The way the castle towers over the small and bustling town centre

:: The plethora of delightful shops and restaurants

:: The huge amount of greenery and park land that surrounds the town

:: The pomp and circumstance, activity and sheer people-watching joy that you find anywhere that tourists, wealthy commuters and royalty meet.

For most of our time there, we lived in a converted attic of the old guards housing, directly overlooking Windsor castle.  The building itself was hundreds of years old, black beams, low and lopsided doorways and walls, huge open fireplace. Our lives were so full of history, we couldn't even put the garbage bins out in the summer because they were a security risk when the changing of the guards would march past our front door.

Our lives were busy. When we weren't commuting, we were eating out, going out, drinking out and spending out our bank accounts and London salaries. A different life.

Most Saturdays, one or both of us would wander down the main street to the local coffee shop for 2 hazelnut lattes. We would sit for ages, reading newspapers nibbling biscotti and bagels, smiling at our "lucky escape" as we watched couples struggle with toddlers and babies.

Five years and almost 2 children later, life couldn't be more different. Lucrative jobs gave way to meaningful ones. Nights out on the town have turned into nights in with the needles. Where I used to boast about my ability to hold my weight in alcohol, I now make similar statements about tea consumption (though my pelvic floor does play a factor in my ability to hold it in). Life is simple, small and centred on someone other than ourselves.

And even when life changes beyond recognition, some things still stay the same. I love the crisp almondy taste of a biscotti nibbled with a cup of (cold) coffee. And every time I make a batch, I thank my stars for my "lucky escape".

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Nigella's Breakfast Biscotti from Feast

1 egg

100g (just less than half a cup) sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

few drops of almond essence

125g (1 cup) plain flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

50g shelled almonds (optional)

75g dark chocolate (optional - I prefer mine without chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 180c/360F

Whisk the egg and sugar together until frothy and thick.

Beat in the vanilla and almond essense and then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt.  It should form a firm-ish dough.  You may need a bit more flour at this stage, depending on the size of the egg.

Fold in the slmonds and chocolate if using.  Form into a loaf-like log, about 25x5cm (10x2in).

Place on a piece of waxed paper/baking parchment and bake for 25 minutes until pale brown.  Take out of oven and let cool for about 5 minutes to firm up.

Cut diagonal slants, about 1cm (0.5 in) thick.  Put these back in the oven on the waxed paper for another 10 minutes or so.  Turn biscotti over and bake for another 5 minutes.  Let them cool and then dunk away.

These keep quite well and make lovely gifts, wrapped up with fancy paper or a dressed up jar or tin.

A Different Kind of Loafing - A Guest Blog

I used to be unemployed. When I first came to Scotland, it was six months after Kat moved up and six months before I found a job. I decided to fill my time with a few of the things I never had time for when working. I discovered the unique satisfaction of daily bread-making. 

There is nothing to come home to than a clean house and freshly baked bread and I provided the latter on a record basis. I was kitted out with apron, a silicone baking mat that promised never to fail and loaf after loaf of yeasty warm bread, consumed with as much butter as vigour. I only broke one spatula in the proceedings.

There was the sense of pride in creating something that everyone could enjoy on the most basic level and the confidence that grew from producing something so often that you stopped looking at recipes and instructions. It took time and care and there is nothing more therapeutic in my mind than kneading the hell out of dough.

And then I found work...

Three years, 2 slugs, an additional cat and a toddler later, I had all but forgotten that time, as isolating and demoralising as being unemployed could be, I still had the fond memory of that process, of being involved and engaged in something that was just satisfying and practical. Nostalgia aside, where could I possibly find the time or patience to put into baking bread again?  Kat was tired of hearing me whine and decided to take action to get me baking again.

Last week a book arrived for me by post. Now Kat is a bit of a book fiend, she gets through them in seconds, literally consuming them. I used to have that passion, but now approach books quite cold. I need to be wooed to engage in a book. I am happy to dip in and flick through sure, but to really throw myself in and immerse requires a special book and Kat's present was more than that, it was a godsend.

Below is the result, just one of three breads I was able to produce this weekend, in this case decadent pecan cinamon rolls, that were lashed in cream cheese frosting (thanks to Kat).

Artisan Bread: Sticky Buns

So why the inspiration? Well, it was simple really. A concept that a cook and a scientist explored and tested, a concept that eliminates time from breadmaking in an extraordinary way, and a concept that produces better bread than I have EVER made before. The title:ARTISAN BREAD IN 5 MINUTES A DAY

The book shook many assumptions I made about bread making and vividly and clearly showed the way to produce, in my mind anyway, beautiful and tasty bread. Below is my first attempt at a Couronne crown-shaped French loaf, perfectly complemented by some of Kat's vegetable soup with freshly homemade egg noodles.

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And below again was my first attempt, the French Boule, the most basic recipe.

My one sadness in this all, is the loss of kneading as a part of the process. And yes, you heard right, there is no kneading, no waiting for the yeast to rise at the beginning of the process.

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I feel a rush of creativity emerging as one batch of dough can make all sorts o breads, from baguettes, to loaves to sweet breads, and there is much more to try and learn. The bread has lost the overly yeasty flavour, the outside is appealing and crisp while the inside is fresh and chewy. My book of the year for sure. And it only takes a few minutes to mix, with more than half the steps of preparation gone. Magic.

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