Skye

Rosie, my sister and I spent the last week in Skye exploring the island and relaxing in a seaside cottage.  I’ll save the commentary and just share some pictures.  I’m sure you’ll be able to tell how wonderful it all was.  :)

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Spinach

Maninas is hosting a competition this month based on cooking with your favourite ingredient.  The prize (actually, prizes as there are five of them) is a copy of Marcus Waring’s “One Perfect Ingredient“.  After putting up yet another shelf in my kitchen, I promised Dad that I would not buy any more cookbooks unless I got rid of one first.  But if I win a cookbook… Well, I don’t think that would count!  Do you?  No?  Good.  So here’s my entry…

 Beloved by Popeye, despised by young children: spinach is most definitely one of my most treasured ingredients and I am never without it.  Last year when I attempted to grow food for the first time, spinach was the first crop to peek it’s leafy little head out of the ground.  Later in the summer, when my beans had failed and my roots were attacked by the evil carrot fly, the spinach was growing so well I began bagging and freezing bunches to see me through winter. 

Not only is spinach a faithful crop, it is also ridiculously good for us and very versitile.  High in vitamins A, K, C and B, spinach features almost daily in my salads, soups, curries and side dishes.  The following is currently my favourite way of eating spinach.  Light and tasty, this dish keeps well for up to five days and makes a perfect packed lunch.   

 Bulgar with Spinach

1 cup bulgar

2 cups light stock

1 tblspn cumin

1 tspn fennel seeds, crushed

1 red onion

2 – 3 handfuls fresh baby spinach

50 g raisins

50 g walnuts (bashed)

Handful of parsley

Handful of mint

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

  • Add the bulgar, cumin and stock to a pan.  Bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and cover.  Let simmer for 10 – 15 mins until the bulgar has absorbed all of the stock.  Cool then fluff up with a fork.
  • In a large bowl mix the bulgar, spinach, fennel, onion, sultanas, walnuts, parsley and mint. 
  • Add half the lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and seasoning.  Combine gently and have a nibble.  Add extra seasoning, lemon juice or oil to taste. 

Thai-Spiced Squash and Coconut Soup

Received The Cake Bible through the post today and, while my fifth year pupils puzzled and scribbled their way through a particularly difficult test, I began to educate myself on the intricacies of baking.  After half an hour of reading about all of the variables, my head exploded. 

As you probably know, the only cure for an exploded head is curried squash soup.  How fortunate!  Not only had I brought that very dish for lunch, the theme for this month’s No Croutons Required event is spicy soups.  Must be my lucky day.  :)

 Thai-Spiced Squash and Coconut Soup

1 large squash, cored and cut lengthways into 6 slices

Olive oil

Seasoning

100g desicated coconut

150ml water

3 – 8 tablespoons thai green or red curry paste (home-made or from a jar)

300 – 500 ml stock (chicken or vegetable)

Coriander leaves to serve

  • Preheat oven to 190oC.  Brush the squash segments with olive oil, season and roast for 45 minutes until soft and beginning to caramelise.
  • Meanwhile, soak the coconut in the water.
  • Scoop the roasted squash from it skin into a large pan.  Add the hydrated coconut and 3 tablespoons of thai green curry paste.  Pour stock into the pan until the ingredients are just covered and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Blend the soup until smooth but speckled.  Add more stock if it is too thick.  Taste and add more curry paste until the soup is spiced to your taste.
  • Reheat and serve topped with coriander leaves. 

The Wedding Cake – 1

Firstly, can I say an enormous thank you to everyone who has given me baking advice in the last few days.  It has been greatly appreciated and will, undoubtably, come in very useful in the next couple of months.  I’ve made a wee bit of progress this weekend in that I’ve become more organised and have also been clearly reminded of what my cake baking abilities are at present.

 Firstly, D’s mum has very kindly lent me her rather cool 1970′s Kenwood Chef.  I can now experiment with both hand and electrical mixing.  Some people swear by mixers, others think they create more problems than they solve.  Joy from Almanzo’s Belly suggested I stick with the manual approach and “use a wooden spoon for [my] creaming and really beat the air in, and a metal spoon for [my] flour folding.”  

Secondly, on Lucy’s advice I’ve ordered The Cake Bible from Amazon U.S. (it’s not available over here).  Eagerly awaiting its arrival and wondering what Ms Levy Beranbaum thinks about mixers.

 Thirdly, the happy couple have given me a clearer idea of what they’d like: a square cake, with royal icing, not fruit cake, decorated with gold ribbon and fresh flowers.  The above picture is from their wedding invitations and was painted by Faye Anderson, the same artist who designed my banner.  :)

 And finally, I had another go at making the stunning vanilla sponge that I’d spotted on Confections of a Foodie Bride a few months ago and, yet again, I failed miserably to produce anything edible.  Not only did it in no way visually resemble Shawda’s beautiful cake, it wasn’t cooked through and it had an odd greasy texture when cooled.  I’m not fazed by this disaster though.  This cake is my public starting point.  I have eight weeks to become a more confident, more successful cake baker. 

I can do it, I can do it, I can do it….  :-D

Spring Cleaning Lunch

 I’m spring cleaning.  My face is grubby with dust, my knees are black with grime and my nails… Well, let’s not go into too much detail there.  This is a food blog after all.  Don’t want to put you off the post in the first few lines.  All you need to know is that I’m a busy bee today and don’t have much time for preparing food.  

Kathryn at Limes and Lycopene is also busy this week and, as a result, is blogging about eating well when short on time.  She asked her readers what they ate when in a rush.  My first reponse was baked beans, eaten cold, from the tin.  But that’s only when I’m really really rushed.  Or really really hungry.  On normally busy days I usually just look in the fridge, cupboards and freezer (in that order) and see what I can whip up with as little hassle as possible. 

Today was a day like that and what I whipped up was really rather good.  The idea comes from Helen at Food Stories.  A few weeks ago she blogged about an Edamame and Broadbean Salad with Panchetta.  It looked so very pretty and sounded so very delicious I knew I’d be making it soon.  And I will.  Today, however, I borrowed the basics of the dish and turned it in to a rather more substantial pasta lunch.  Thanks for the inspiration, Helen.  It was superb!

Edamame, Broadbean and Bacon Pasta

(serves one busy person)

Handful of frozen podded edamame (soya beans)

Handful of frozen broadbeans (fava beans)

2 rashers of bacon, chopped up

50g wholewheat pasta

8-10 basil leaves

Seasoning

Extra virgin olive oil

  • Bring a pan of salted water to the boil.  Add the edamame and broadbean and boil for 4 minutes.  Scoop out of the water with a slotted spoon.  Peel the broadbeans if you feel the need – I like the skins. 
  • Add the pasta to the boiling bean water.  Cook until al dente.
  • Meanwhile, add the bacon to a non stick frying pan, without oil, and cook over a medium heat until crispy.
  • Reserving a little of the cooking water first, drain the pasta.
  • Add the beans, basil and pasta to the frying pan with the bacon.   Toss.  Add a little of the cooking water to loosen. 
  • Season carefully, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve. 

Trial and Error

If your name is Genna and you are getting married in a couple of months and you have asked your only bridesmaid and oldest friend to bake your wedding cake, then read no further.  The contents of the following paragraphs are of absolutely no interest to you whatsoever.

Go away.

I said, go away, Gen. 

Jeez, you’re so nosey.  Get!

OK… I think she has gone.

I’m in a bit of a pickle.  My bestest friend in the whole wide world and her lovely fiance are getting married in May.  So excited was I at the prospect of being part of the wedding that I offered/demanded to make the wedding cake.  That I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and that I am not a baker did not faze me in the slightest.  I had five months to learn how to bake a cake and five months to learn how to use royal icing.  She didn’t even want a proper fruity wedding cake: she wanted a light sponge filled with jam or cream or something else moist.  And it was to serve just twenty five people.   It didn’t seem like a tall order.

Well, I have since tried out five recipes and each cake has been highly disappointing.  I haven’t even ventured into icing territory yet!  Where am I going wrong?  Is my lack of mechanical mixer the problem?  Have I simply been unlucky in my recipe choices?  Am I just a rubbish baker?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I am running out of time and if I cannot crack this I’m going to have to admit defeat and order a cake from the local bakery.  Boo!

Antonia commented earlier in the week that she likes it when we share disasters.  That’s fortunate as starting this weekend I am going to share with you all my cake trials.  Including all of the errors. 

Any advice before I start?

Celebratory Pizza

Saturday.  Buoyed by Scotland’s unlikely win against England in the rugby this afternoon, a jubilant D has volunteered to make us a celebratory pizza for tonight’s dinner.  His last attempt, though very tasty, was a bit doughy and heavy.  Can he perfect it tonight? 

17:30 - He’s making the sauce and garlicky aromas are wafting through the house.  Now, this part was absolutely perfect last time.  In fact, I thought his tomato sauce was better than the version that I’ve been making for years and it’s far simpler to make. 

Tomato Sauce for Pizza and Pasta

1 tblspn extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Small handful of basil, torn up

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

  • Warm the oil in a small pan over a medium low heat.
  • Add the garlic and fry gently until starting to turn golden.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and basil leaves.  Stir well and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

18:00 - Sauce is ready and I got to taste it.  Yummy.

18:03 – My kitchen is trembling.  He’s about to make the dough.  The work surfaces are still raw from being scrubbed to a flour free state (by me, can I add) last time pizza dough was made. 

18:05 – D has just shouted at me for repeatedly calling out “What are you doing now?”  Apparently it’s distracting.  Wonder how he’s going to react when I start taking pictures?

Pizza Dough Recipe

D is following a recipe identical to the one found here.  For visual instructions, click here. 

18:24 – The dough is coming together nicely.  D appears to be mellowing as he has not reacted at all to me hovering around with my camera. 

18:30 – The dough is resting.  D is covered in flour and is leaving a trail of white powder wherever he goes.

 18:50 – Oven’s on.  Dough’s being rolled.  Toppings are chopped.  Tonight we’re having chorizo, red onion and mozzarella. 

18:55 – Oh, it’s all looking wonderful.  I’m starving. 

19:05 – Disaster has struck.  One pizza went in the oven, no problem.  The second, which is D’s, stuck to the work surface.  Our attempts to move it have resulted in a mangled mess.  It’s in the oven anyway. 

19:20 – Time to eat! 

Pizza number one looks like this -

 Pizza number two (no giggling, now) looks like this -

20:00  – Both pizzas tasted fantastic.  I’m stuffed and the kitchen is covered in flour.  It’s going to have to stay that way until tomorrow as we’re off to the pub. 

Enjoy your weekend!