Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Bubble and Squeak

Christmas Bubble and Squeak

This is a great idea for leftovers from your Christmas Dinner. The chestnuts add that extra “Christmassy” touch, but they aren’t essential. Use about 60 percent potato to get the right consistency, then whatever vegetables you like - carrots, Brussel sprouts, swedes, turnips, onions, leeks or savoy cabbage.

1 ½ pounds floury potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 ¼ pounds mixed winter vegetables such as carrots, Brussels sprouts, swedes, turnips, onions, leeks or savoy cabbage, peeled or trimmed and chopped into equal-sized chunks
Olive oil
1 knob butter
200g package vacuum packed chestnuts

Cook the potatoes and mixed vegetables in a pan of boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes. When they're cooked right through, drain and put aside. Heat a glug of olive oil and a knob of butter in a large frying pan and add the chestnuts. When they start to sizzle, add the potatoes and vegetables. Mash the vegetables up in the pan, and then pat the mixture into a thick pancake shape. Fry on a medium heat for about ½ an hour, checking it every 5 minutes. When the bottom turns golden, flip it over bit by bit and mash it back into itself. Pat it out flat again and continue cooking until really crisp all over.

If it still hasn't browned, put it under a hot grill for a few minutes.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake

I was going to include a photo, but the cake didn't last that long!

Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake

This cake has a great, light texture and will keep, covered, for at least a week. You'll find, though, that you'll go back to it every few hours for "just another sliver".

200g unsalted butter
380g caster sugar
4 clementines, zest grated, and juiced
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
280g ground almonds
5 medium free-range eggs, beaten
100g plain flour, sifted
1/8 tsp salt
Orange zest, cut in strips, to garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Lightly grease a 24cm spring-form tin, and line the sides and base with baking parchment.

Put the butter, 300g of the sugar (the remaining 80g is for the syrup) and citrus zest in a large bowl, and use a wooden spoon and/or spatula to combine. Do not work the mix too much or incorporate much air. Add half the ground almonds and continue mixing to fold through. Add the eggs gradually, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as you go. Add the remaining almonds, flour and salt, and work until the mix is smooth.

Spread the cake batter inside the tin and level with a palette knife. Bake for 50-60 minutes - a skewer should come out a little bit moist.

When the cake is almost cooked, in a small pan bring to the boil 80g of caster sugar and up to 120ml of the citrus juices, then remove from the heat at once. The moment the cake comes out of the oven, brush it all over with the hot syrup, making sure it all soaks through. Leave to cool down.
Serve it as it is, (or garnished with orange strips optional), store in an airtight container.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The End of a Chapter

It's been a fabulous, exciting 10 years since my brother took up the sport of motor racing.

Testing at Donington Feb 2008.

I've followed him through the highs and lows (and a couple of scary high speed smashes), and visited every major racing circuit in the UK on many occasions.

I've supported him through torrential rain and blistering heatwaves, often cooking for the team and making endless cups of tea to sustain them through the long hours of preparing/repairing the car.

But, it is no more.
The racing car has been sold, the motorhome is up for sale, and I'll have to find something new to occupy my summer weekends.

I'm In Love with My Car.

Friday, November 28, 2008


I love the simplicity and beauty of this video. The music by Max Richter is both gentle and slightly haunting.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Knock on the Door

Well, it wasn’t exactly a knock.

It was the sort of crashing that I imagine a police swat squad makes as they force their way into a crack house. (In fact if I’d known in advance I’d have sent them down the road to Number 103.)

So I ran at high speed down the stairs and leapt at the front door (which was still on its hinges), thinking that some terrible emergency had happened.
Imagine my consternation to see a man from Scottish Gas. Before it occurred to me to ask why he was so far from home, I asked him if there was a major gas leak.

“Are you the home owner sir?” “Never mind that" I said, “give me a meter box key and I’ll turn the gas off”.

It dawned on me that he wasn’t showing the sort of urgency I’d expected from the manic knocking at my door.

He was a s-a-l-e-s-m-a-n.

Because of the plague of salesmen round here who want me to buy gas and electricity at twice the price of my existing tariff, and the ones who want me to replace my very serviceable wooden framed double glazing with naff plastic double glazing; I have a large sign on the door provided by the Crime Prevention people
It says “NO COLD CALLERS”. The purpose of it is to discourage annoying twats from interrupting me, especially when (as was the case) I’m replastering a ceiling.

I pointed out the sign. The salesman said he wasn’t selling anything.

Strange that! Was he being paid to go house to house in a competition for the most disliked non-salesman of the week? Sounds like a cushy number as long as you don’t knock on Number 103’s door. They respond to unwelcome interruptions with something akin to a scene from “Apocalypse Now”.

I bade him farewell………….well perhaps I didn’ second word to him was “off”.

Terms of Endearment

Calling older patients "dearie" or "love" is set to be ruled out as offensive by new guidelines from the Nursing and Midwifery Council

Congratulations to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for outlawing the human touch, in pursuit of its alignment with the nonsense brigade.

Whilst not yet qualifying as an “older person”, I am incensed that a disciplinary body has compromised the notion of individualised care, a concept that is an integral part of the practice of a registered nurse.

If I were in hospital, in pain, distressed, lonely or confused, I can think of nothing more comforting than a nurse holding my hand and saying “it’s OK love, everything will be alright sweetheart”.

But now a nurse might lose their job for showing that essential humanity and compassion.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stuffed Courgettes

I've just made and eaten this. It's very moreish!

Stuffed courgettes

2 or 3 largish courgettes.
1½ tbsp virgin olive oil plus some for “drizzling”.
2 shallots or ½ small onion, finely chopped
1-3 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
400g unskinned fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
200-400g Cooked or tinned cannellini beans, drained.
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
½ tsp crushed chilli flakes (optional)

50g wholemeal breadcrumbs
50g Parmesan or Italian-style hard cheese, freshly grated

Preparation method
Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas 5.
Trim the ends from the courgettes, then cut them in half lengthways. Remove the soft centre flesh with a spoon or small sharp knife. Finely dice the removed courgette flesh and set aside.

Put the courgette halves in a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Leave for 2 minutes, then drain in a colander and arrange them, upright, in an oiled large ovenproof dish.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently cook the shallots or onions for 3–4 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add the garlic, and diced courgette flesh and continue cooking over a low heat for a further 5 minutes until they are almost tender. Remove from the heat. Stir in the tomatoes, the cannellini beans, the coriander and the chilli flakes, if using, then season to taste.

Spoon the bean mixture into the courgette halves, piling it up on top.
Sprinkle the courgettes with a mixture of the breadcrumbs, cheese and a little freshly ground black pepper, if liked. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 30-45 minutes until the courgettes are very tender and the breadcrumbs/cheese are crisp and brown.

When marrows are in season, use them in place of courgettes. Peel and cut a 1.5kg marrow into 9 rings, then scoop out and discard the seeds. Finely chop the flesh of 1 slice to add to the stuffing mixture, made with butter beans instead of cannellini. Stuff the remaining rings and bake as in the recipe.

A Winter Warmer for Carnivores

Sausage hotpot with beans, for carnivores .

Serves: 4
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes (though the longer the better)

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 to 4 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
500g sausages
55g cubed pancetta, or bacon lardons
4 baby leeks, or 2 average leeks finely sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme 5
55g chorizo sausage, cut into chunky bite-sized pieces
250g butter beans, haricot beans or cannellini beans (drained)
1½ litres vegetable stock
8 mushrooms (medium flat mushrooms), sliced (optional)

1 Gently heat the olive oil in a deep pan. Add the onions and garlic and fry until softened. Add the sausages and gently brown. Add the pancetta/bacon, leeks and thyme. Put in the chorizo and turn the heat up slightly so that it sweats off some of the oil. This gives the leek and onions a lovely orange colour.

2 Add the beans, and stock.. Bring this all to the boil, turn down and leave to simmer for as long as possible, at least 40 minutes. The longer the better. Add mushrooms (optional) and cook gently.

Serve with creamy mash.

If you have time cook the sausages and pancetta first, drain well and add back to the pan with the leeks and thyme.

A Winter Warmer for Vegetarians

Vegetarian sausage hotpot with beans

Serves: 4
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes (though the longer the better)

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 to 4 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
8 veggie sausages
4 baby leeks, or 2 average leeks finely sliced
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
250g cannellini beans (cooked and drained) reserve the liquid for the stock.
1½ litres vegetable stock (made using liquid from beans and 1 Knorr Veg Stock cube)
8 mushrooms (medium flat mushrooms), sliced (optional)
Hot smoked pimenton and paprika powder

1 Gently heat the olive oil in a deep pan. Add the onions and garlic and fry until softened without browning. Add the veggie sausages and gently brown them. Add the leeks and sprigs of thyme, and sauté until the leeks are soft. Turn up the heat, put in the hot pimenton (up to 2 tsps) and paprika powder (½ tsp) and stir to prevent burning. This gives the leeks and onions a lovely red/orange colour.

2 Add the beans, and stock. Bring this all to the boil, turn down and leave to simmer for as long as possible, stirring occasionally, for at least 40 minutes. The longer the better. Check and adjust seasoning. Add mushrooms (optional) and cook gently.

Serve with creamy mash.

This is one of my favourite winter comfort dishes.
I found that the best way is to fry the veggie sausages first, drain well and add back to the pan with the leeks and thyme.

Also you can add some finely chopped savoy cabbage towards the end of cooking. (I don’t!)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Slow-cooked courgettes on toast

Cooked this way the courgettes lose most of their moisture and become a thick, fragrant, chunky mass. They can be used as a pasta sauce (just add a little cream) or the base for a lovely soup (blend with a little stock and/or milk). They also make a great toast topping/ bruschetta, which is my favourite.

Serves six.

3 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1kg courgettes, finely sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the toast/bruschetta
6 slices of coarse country bread
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Extra-virgin olive oil, or butter
Parmesan, or other grateable cheese (optional)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the garlic, courgettes and a little salt. Cook gently, so the courgettes soften without browning. As they release their water, turn up the heat to bubble it off. When they become more concentrated and pulpy, turn it down again. Stir whenever they begin to catch on the pan, and do not allow them to brown more than a shade. Keep cooking until they are rich and oily, but not watery. Check seasoning.

Grill the bread, rub each side with garlic, and trickle with olive oil or melted butter. Pile a mound of the hot courgette mixture on top, grate over a little cheese, if you like, and serve.

Words Fail Me.....

Ben Foster 1985 - 2008

The latest news has not been good.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


My car doesn’t have the multimillion pound technology that enables the pilot of a fighter jet to see its target many miles away in pitch darkness. Neither, I’d hazard a guess, do white vans and many other vehicles on my daily journey to work in the dark. Furthermore, not being a Super Hero, I don’t have X-Ray vision, (or the ability to pat my head and stroke my stomach in clockwise circles simultaneously.)

I’d always thought that street lights were a remarkably sensible invention as they would (surprisingly) illuminate the streets when it’s dark. Regrettably my local council differs. They need to save money (no doubt the “fact-finding” tours to exotic Caribbean islands are a much higher priority). Of course switching off the lights isn’t publicised as a way of containing their budget, it’s proclaimed as a “Green Initiative” by the expensively hired marketing consultants.

Consequently pedestrians and unlit cyclists manage to disappear in the gloom and deep shadows of the early morning, when most sensible people are still in bed.

The great thing about headlights on cars is that the cost of switching them on is almost negligible, unlike domestic electricity bills which often equal the size of a City banker’s annual bonus. They enable me to see the cyclists and pedestrians before I run them over and upset my boss by being late arriving at work.

So, can someone explain to me why it’s apparently cool to drive with only sidelights on in the pitch dark?

Put Your Lights On!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


The weather continues to be dank and grey. What happened to the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"?
I had a few days coming to terms with this yearly transition, triggered by the switch from British Summer Time to GMT. Like many others I whinged about the impending darker evenings, but luxuriated in the extra hour in bed on the Sunday morning.
However, I've now adjusted. I revel in drawing the curtains in the afternoon, the house is cosy, I'm cooking "hearty" food, having cake for tea at 4pm and my normally selective brain is insisting I "veg" in front of cr*p TV.

The mellowness continues as I dig out some of my favourite music.....

Monday, November 03, 2008

Life Changed Forever

On 27th April 2008 my nephew Ben was killed.
He brought joy into the lives of everyone who knew him.
This tribute to Ben was created by his friend Luke Doyle.


I've been in hibernation.

But yesterday something happened that inspired me to resurrect this blog.