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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Easy Chopstix

At Christmas, my sister bought some great easy-use chopsticks for the kids. They are joined together at the top so are a good way for kids to learn to eat Chinese food in a fun way and not starve. It’s an excellent way to learn not to drop food on yourself. And you can always use a spoon at the end!

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The Joker had his ninth birthday party a couple of weeks ago. He had an old-fashioned party games do in the church hall. Since the Joker and his brother are currently obsessed with Dr Who, the theme for the party was obvious. A bit of crowd-sourcing of games using Google and Twitter and we were sorted.

The Joker with his amazing cake. And an alien jelly.

The wonderful Bee, fiancee to Rocky and Vicar’s-Wife-In-Training, made a fabulous topper for the cake – Dr Who and Amy standing in front of the Tardis. Since my only cake decorating method is slathering butter icing and sweeties all over and sticking a few plastic toys on, this was a great improvement in looks and sophistication. The Joker placed his Christmas collection of Dr Who incarnations around the cake for the full effect you see above.

Our games were heavily Dr Who influenced – even playing musical chairs to the Dr Who theme tune. And as well as the cake, I produced alien jellies – with added sweetie snake lurking inside the lime jelly beneath the spray cream. We didn’t quite manage the games within a story party that one organised Twitter friend sent me, but we had lots of fun. And the tuna sandwiches were eaten up and not the jam ones. Kids and catering, eh? You never know what will be popular. Apart from cake and sweeties, obviously.

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One of the things I love about my Vicarage cooker (my treat when we moved here) is its small slow oven. The slow oven is a bit titchy – only big enough for one large pot or only a single baking sheet of meringues, but I am using it more and more for winter casseroles. Tonight I cooked sausage casserole – one of our top favourites which has a few variations but is always very popular with the kids (and grown ups too).

I make this using Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference chipolatas. I’d recommend using good quality ones as cheap ones can come out rather spongey. And you only need to use a single packet to feed a family and can get that for about £2 if there’s an offer on.

The Vicar's dinner

Ingredients

  • 1-2 onions, finely sliced
  • Pack of sausages
  • 2 cups (500ml) lentilles vertes or green lentils
  • Bay leaves, mixed herbs
  • Red wine (about a glassful) and stock
  • Optional – tin of tomatoes, chunked carrots

Brown the sausages in your casserole dish and then remove them to a plate or bowl whilst you pop in a little oil or butter and the onions. Leave the onions to get nice and soft then return the sausages, chopped up into bite sized chunks, to the pan. Tonight I chopped the sausages with a spatula before I removed them and fried the onions, otherwise you can slice them with a knife once removed – I recommend pinning them to the chopping board with a fork rather than fingers (I speak from experience of burnt fingers and escaping sausages).

To the onions and sausages add the lentils, bay leaves and herbs and wine and stock (I use hot water and vegetable stock powder). This evening’s casserole also included a tin of chopped tomatoes. The liquid needs to be added to a generous level above the lentils and sausages – say 5cm/2″ in your pan. This gives space for the lentils to swell and liquid to evaporate.

 Bring to the boil and then simmer for at least 1/2hr on the hob, or pop in a slow oven at about 140ºC (Gas Mark 1) for a couple of hours or more. The slow cooking method has the advantage of keeping the Vicarage kitchen warm, so this is obviously my preferred option.

I tend to check the casserole every hour or so if it’s in the oven, just to make sure that there is still enough liquid. If you’re adding carrots it’s best to do so about half an hour before the end of the cooking time, otherwise they can get a bit soggy. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving and add a little extra liquid if needed to ensure a bit of sauce to soak into the essential accompaniment of mash.

As you can see, I served the casserole with mashed sweet and normal potatoes, and some braised red cabbage. This is a great winter warmer and excellent value for money. We had leftovers that will do well with a bit of chunky bread for lunches whilst the kids are at shcool.

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This recipe is cheeky because it involves minimal scone faffing ie rolling and cutting. And it’s cheekily zingy with strong cheese and a dose of spice. It’s also cheeky because it’s not that square, but I liked the alliteration for the title.

Ingredients

  • 1lb/450g self-raising flour
  • 2tspns baking powder
  • 1tspn salt
  • 1tspn smoked paprika (or paprika, or 1/2tspn chilli powder)
  • 4oz/100g butter
  • 7oz/200g grated cheddar (preferably mature) or other strong hard cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Milk

Place flour, baking powder, salt and paprika in a mixing bowl. Add chopped butter and rub in until butter chunks are the size of smallish gravel. Stir in grated cheddar. Break eggs into a measuring jug and whisk, then add milk to make up 10floz/300ml of liquid. Add to the flour and stir in to make a soft dough.

Place dough in lined or greased small roasting tin (around 12″x9″/30cmx23cm). I just press it in lightly and it doesn’t always become a perfect rectangle and is often square-ish (hence the recipe title). Cook in a preheated oven at 230ºC (Gas 8, Fan 220ºC) for 15-20mins until the scone is golden, well risen and no longer doughy. It sometimes looks a little crisp on top but that’s fine. Turn out to cool on a wire rack then cut off squares or rectangles to eat as you like.

Didn't manage to get a pic of this before most was consumed!

This scone is fabulous on its own as a snack, but is also delicious served with soup or cold meats. It keeps 4-5 days in an air tight tin and is also very good toasted (which is how we ate up the remainder yesterday). It’s extremely fast to make so is a very useful recipe to have up your sleeve if you have only half an hour’s notice before lunch guests show up.

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Things in parish have been a bit crazy since the new school term began and my blogging habit has rather dried up. But today I’ve just about got my act together and thought I’d share a great recipe for autumn – my mother-in-law’s lentil soup. The Vicar comes from a small town in the Scottish borders with views over heather clad hills and a high street of family run shops. This warming soup is very inexpensive and simple to make and feels like a little slice of old fashioned rural life. Lentils are especially great for those on low GI diets and for diabetics as they are low in carbohydrates and release their energy slowly.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 or 2 leeks, sliced
  • 2 or 3 carrots, sliced
  • Other diced vegetables such as swede, butternut squash or potatoes, even leftover veg from Sunday lunch such as mashed potato or runner beans can also be used
  • 1 cup (250ml) orange lentils
  • Ham stockcube (or genuine ham stock if you’ve cooked a ham recently, but usually I haven’t, or the ham’s been cooked in coke, which isn’t so great in soup)
  • Approx 1.5l boiling water

Gently fry the veg until softened, then add the lentils, stock cube and hot water. Simmer for about 20minutes until veggies and lentils are soft. Then use a stick blender to create a smooth soup. If you don’t have a blender, a potato masher will give you a slightly chunkier soup. The Vicar likes to add a lot of pepper – no need for salt because of the ham stock.

Serve with crusty brown bread if you remember to pick some up. This soup is very filling. I often make a double batch, which fills a casserole dish and keeps us going for Vicarage lunches for most of the week. Lentil soup has the strange property of thickening every time it is cooled, so you may have to add a little water on reheating or after freezing. It freezes brilliantly.

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I found an impressive mushroom on our lawn yesterday and was wondering about eating it. I was under the misapprehension that there were only a few types of poisonous ones and it was likely to be fine.

Then I went googling and searching around the internet and it’s a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. So we’ve not eaten it – it’s sitting in my kitchen but I think it will just be going in the compost. I think I’m best to stick to the radishes and salad leaves I planted myself.

Bit of a pity, but best not to poison the family, eh?

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Last week I had to bake for Cake & Chat and wanted something a little different. I also had a packet of rhubarb that I’d picked up on the reduced section at our local Morrison’s. And so here is a recipe for rhubarb pudding cake (I found the original online at a National Trust historic cakes site).

It went wonderfully with creme fraiche on Thursday and with cream on Sunday. I had to bake a second one this weekend as the first one had disappeared before lunch on Thursday. The leftovers are in the fridge tempting me now.

The recipe involves three separate sections – a cake batter, chopped and sugared rhubarb and a crumble topping. Althought it’s slightly faffier than a bog standard sponge, it’s worth the extra trouble for a delicious dessert cake. The one in the pictures has some gooseberries in it aswell as I didn’t have quite enough rhubarb second time round – they worked very well.

Ingredients

  • 1lb rhubarb (or gooseberries, or mix of both), chopped into 1″ pieces and sprinkled with 1-2tbspns brown sugar

Crumble topping

  • 2oz butter
  • 3oz plain flour
  • 1oz caster sugar

Cake batter

  • 3oz soft marg or butter
  • 3oz caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3oz self raising flour
  • 1 tbspn milk

Firstly, prepare the rhubarb, chopping it into chunks, or top and tail your gooseberries. Place it in a bowl and sprinkle the brown sugar over the fruit and set aside. Then make the crumble topping, chopping the butter into the flour and rubbing it into small crumbs with your fingers. Then stir in the sugar and set aside. Finally, in another bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar, beat in the eggs and fold in the flour. I do this using an electric hand mixer – there’s not enough mix for my freestanding mixer. Add enough milk to give a dropping consistency – if you’re using large eggs you might not even need the milk.

You’ll need an 8″ cake tin, lined with baking paper (or a reusable liner). Then you layer the cake up – first the batter, then the fruit (with another sprinkling of brown sugar) and finally the crumble topping mix. Bake at 190ºC (Gas 5, Fan 180ºC) for 40-45 minutes until the cake feels firm on top.

This cake is delicious hot or cold and best served with some sort of cream. It would be good with custard too.

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Well, a small one, anyway. Last year we bought some very cheap strawberry plants and stuck them in a flower bed where they failed to produce anything edible. This year, however, they have given us some sweet strawberries – a whole (small) bowlful. And we’ve been able to pick them at peak ripeness. Delicious. Please excuse the shocking lack of focus in the picture. The one I took using the flash made the strawberries look purple.

We also have some small and very sour cherries, about five radishes, a handful of gooseberries, some spindly rhubarb and some snail-chewed bok choi. And there will definitely be potatoes. It’s better than last year, and if our gardening continues to improve at this rate I reckon that we might have a good harvest by the time the Engineer leaves home (he’s six btw).

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The Vicar and I were married at St Andrew the Great in Cambridge. I’d been a member of the church for about eight years when we wed. The year before that the congregation had moved from the Round Church, a beautiful Norman building which had become far too small for the church to meet in. The move cost the church (as I recall) £1.8 million, as the new (to us) building needed extensive refurbishment, having been redundant for 25 years. The congregation gave generously, but there were a few more traditional fundraising efforts. One of these was a Round Church cookbook.

A recipe from the cookbook that I still use regularly is Rosemary Sennit’s malt loaf. It’s great for batch baking – I normally make three loaves at once and quick to put together. It’s egg free and therefore suitable for Asian Vegetarians & Vegans.  It’s low fat aswell and I now prefer it to the Soreen option – it’s less strong and squidgy, but still delicious with butter. All brilliant reasons to use this simple and tasty recipe.

Ingredients

  • 12oz self raising flour (1lb 8oz for double batch – you can double all the other ingredients easily yourself!)
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 2oz sugar
  • 4oz raisins/sultanas or mix of them
  • 2 tbspn malt extract (buy it in a health food shop eg Holland and Barrett)
  • 1 tbspn black treacle
  • 1/2 pt milk

Put the flour and salt in a bowl, adding the sugar and dried fruit and mixing together. Put the malt, treacle and milk into microwave jug. I heat it for 1-2 minutes on maximum heat and then mix it together. You can also do this in a pan over a low heat on the stove. Then pour the liquid into the dry ingredients & mix thoroughly. Pour everything into a well buttered 3lb loaf tin, or one lined with a reusable liner. Or if you double the batch you can make three smaller loaves in 2lb tins – this is what I normally do. Don’t use a paper liner as these will stick (I speak from traumatic experience).

Bake at 180ºC (Gas 4, Fan 170ºC) for 40-45mins or so until firm to touch, and a skewer comes out clean. I’ve found that the cooking time is about the same for both sizes of loaf. The original recipe said to cook a single quantity in a 2lb loaf tin in 75mins, so if you only have that tin size your deeper loaf will take longer – you might want to cover up towards the end of cooking to prevent the dried fruit from burning, though. Turn out and cool on a rack, or you can leave to cool in the tin. Slice and eat with butter (or low fat marg for the health conscious).

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This is a brilliantly quick and easy cookie recipe given to me by Mrs Rev Ted, whose husband was the Vicar’s boss when he did his curacy. So she was my training incumbent, and this recipe was an essential part of my vicar’s wife training. It’s speedy, just like Failsafe Flapjack and is also flexible so you can fill them with whatever you have to hand – chocolate chips, raisins, cranberries etc.

Ingredients

  • 3oz butter or margarine (soft is fine)
  • 3oz soft brown sugar (or caster sugar if you don’t have brown)
  • 3oz demerera sugar (or granulated)
  • 1/2 tspn vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 6oz self raising flour (or 5oz self raising flour, 1oz cocoa, 1/4 tspn baking powder)
  • 4oz chocolate chips, raisins, cranberries, or whatever you fancy

Cream the butter and sugars, then beat in the vanilla extract and egg. Finally add the flour (or flour, cocoa powder and baking powder for chocolate cookies) and your chocolate chips or raisins.

To bake them I line 3 baking trays with reusable silicone liners (you can use baking paper or grease your trays well) and use two teaspoons to make walnut-sized blobs of mixture. I can make about 40 standard biscuit-sized cookies from a single batch of this mixture. Bake them for 12-15 minutes at 180ºC (Gas 4, Fan 170ºC), until they have turned golden (you can only see this when they don’t have cocoa in them!) and have risen. They will flatten out again and harden a little whilst cooling – wait a few moments before transferring to cooling racks with a palette knife. If you slightly undercook them you can get a chewy cookie texture, or leave a little longer for a crunchier bite.

Options I have tried successfully for these cookies include double choc chip (cocoa in the mix with white choc chips) and cranberry and choc chip with a plain mix.

Double Choc Chip Can Do Cookies

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