Sunday, 13 March 2016

Spring Has Sprung!

I think I'm a little in denial that we are in to March already and that it's been several weeks since my last blog - before I know it, I'll be packing my bag for my summer holiday! 

The weather is certainly looking up and it's nice that it's lighter for longer, so yesterday I ventured out into the garden.  I do feel I have neglected the garden more recently, not quite putting in the work last year as I have done previously, so, in a burst of enthusiasm, I managed to clear more than I expected in a relatively short time, likewise with another short stint today. It's nice to see so many plants starting to sprout, although there are some things I wish wouldn't sprout quite so much - I had to do battle with a bramble that had ensconced itself behind a large holly bush - hopefully I have got the better of it - plus there are a couple of plants that are really too big for the garden and the thought of trying to bring them down to a manageable size is quite daunting, but I'll give it a go, possibly next weekend.

I enjoyed another trip to York at the beginning of last month - we don't usually do visits so close together, but we were keen to go back again and I was keen to meet up with my cousin Chrissy, who I haven't seen for..............well, too many years. It was so nice to get together for a bit and catch up, and it has made me determined that we will stay a bit longer on our next visit, so we can have a bit more time together. All in all, it was a good trip. This time round, our eating out was in places we have visited before, largely because that was what we wanted to do.  Our first stop on arrival was the Newgate Coffee Bar on Newgate, where we had a fairly nice cappuccino each, plus date and walnut scones with fig jam and cream cheese, which went down pretty well. We went to Bombay Spice at night, a place we have visited quite a number of times over the years, but it was a first receiving a complementary whisky! Well, if I'm completely honest, I had the one which was brought for my other half too - he gave up alcohol ten years ago and it is amazing how many people don't quite get someone saying no to a drink and still put one in front of him. This is something I will admit to shamelessly taking advantage of.

Another visit to York Cocoa House was also on the cards - the quest to try out all the different types of hot chocolate could mean a stop-off every time we are in York. This time the Spanish hot chocolate was an interesting choice. This is described as "a meal in itself", which is not an understatement - I couldn't finish it! The menu is good at giving clear descriptions of everything, which I can't argue with, it was an unsweetened drink that you could stand a spoon in. Maybe the shortbread biscuit on the side was a bad idea, but I did think this hot chocolate should come in a cup the size of an espresso cup, rather than the larger cup it was served in - it really is a different beast to the average hot chocolate. Part of me wants to try this again, but there are so many other hot chocolates to try that it might be a while. Anyway, we also ate in Mama Mia - a favourite of many years standing; family run, with good Italian food (one that fuelled me round the inaugural Yorkshire Marathon in 2013). Of course, running was also part of the trip, so we ran late afternoon on the day of arrival; early morning on the following two days. On the last day, I made sure the run took us along past the old family home on Bishopthorpe Road - or Bishy Road as it has become known as - voted the best high street in Britain last year.  This is something I find hard to get my head round - the old family home, part of which was sinking into its own foundations when we live there, plus the kind of shops I remember as a child, have all developed into this trendy, happening place to live.  The former family house is looking more spruce these days I have to add.

A new cook book was purchased on the trip to York - I saw it on our last trip and hadn't noticed it elsewhere, so felt I couldn't pass up the chance - Prashad at Home.  I have the first book, the recipes I've tried so far have been very good, so I just couldn't pass up the opportunity. I attempted Makai Cutlets (sweetcorn bhajis) as I thought the recipe read quite well, but they didn't work out. The mixture looked and smelt wonderful, but the bhajis disintegrated during cooking. Maybe I didn't leave the mixture to stand for long enough, maybe the potatoes should have been a different variety, but I was disappointed, so will have another attempt in the future. The other recipes I've tried have been good - Renghan Lothiu (Spicy Fried Aubergines) is simple to make - sliced aubergines, soaked in salted water, then dipped in a spiced gram flour and fried - delicious! One of the recommended side dishes, a fluffy tomato rice - Tameta Pilau - was good too. I can see this book is going to be well used.

Aside from lovely Indian food, I have made more bread - a walnut and blue cheese coil loaf from a Paul Hollywood recipe.  I can't resist the smell of something like this when it is in the oven - cheese, like chocolate, would be hard to give up if I ever had to.
A handsome loaf if ever there was one.

Just a quick one!

I made an old favourite loaf too - Waterford soda bread from "The Handmade Loaf" by Dan Lepard. This is a wonderfully quick loaf to make as there is no yeast so no kneading or proving, though Dan has devised a number of bread recipes which take out a lot of the kneading associated with more traditional bread-making - fairly wet dough seems to be the key. 

I realise that with all the cookery books I own it means, in theory, I could go for quite a long time without making the same thing more than once, but why would I want to do that when some things are just too good not to have again (and again).  One recipe I have had several times is a puff pastry filled with a spiced couscous from "The Vegetarianean" by Malu Simoes and Alberto Musacchio. Usually the pastries are done as squares, but for Valentines Day I went with hearts.

I have adapted the recipe slightly and the quantities given should feed four:

20g peas
1 small clove of garlic
olive oil
10g butter
1level teaspoon ground cumin
1 level teaspoon curry powder
1/2 tablespoon grated root ginger
5cm piece of celery, chopped
5cm piece of carrot, cut into 5mm pieces
1/2 small courgette, cut into 5mm pieces
20g broccoli, broken into small florets
1 small shallot, finely chopped
20g couscous
30ml vegetable stock
1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon raisins, soaked in hot water
Salt and pepper
250g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
20g Pecorino or other hard cheese, cut into four

Put the peas in a small pan with enough water to just cover, add a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil and cook until just tender.  Drain.  Saute the garlic in the butter and a tablespoon of olive oil, once brown, add the cumin, curry powder and ginger.  Toss in the remaining vegetables and cook until they still have some bite.  Season. 

Toast the couscous in a small frying pan then put in a small bowl and pour over the hot stock.  Cover the bowl with cling film and leave for 10 minutes.  Flake the couscous with a fork and add to the vegetables along with the pinenuts, drained raisins and peas.  Cool.

Roll the pastry out until quite thin and cut into equal squares.  Place the couscous mixture in the middle of each square and place a piece of cheese on top.  Fold over two diagonally opposite corners and seal with beaten egg, do the same with the other two corners and join both sides together to make a parcel.  Brush with egg and place on a baking sheet.  Make for 20 to 25 minutes at Gas 4/180C/350F.

Last week, as it was Mothers Day, I had my Mother and Father-in-law round for tea - my starter was inspired by a dish I had in the Dunmuir Hotel - a mild goats' cheese served with caramelised walnuts, beetroot and oatcakes.  I made spinach filo tarts - a simple mixture of spinach, eggs, Greek yoghurt and seasoning (salt, pepper, nutmeg), plus sheets of filo brushed with melted butter.  I didn't add cheese this time, but tried these out a couple of weeks previously with brie sliced over the top before baking - around 20 minutes at Gas 4/180C/350F. The dessert was a lemon meringue roulade with soft fruits from "Crumb" by Ruby Tandoh - it went down pretty well.

Now all I have to do is think what to make for dinner tonight!

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