Tuesday, 3 January 2017

If I'd Known You Were Coming, I'd have Baked A Cake

It's hard to believe that's another Christmas come and gone and we're now into a new year! Really, where does the time go? 

One explanation for me is that work commenced on the house in October and we have gone from having to go through two front doors (or back doors) to do various bits and pieces, to now having what is shaping up to be quite a nice home. The first stage was to move my existing kitchen into the 'other' cottage, and from then on in the work progressed pretty well. The reason for the kitchen move was that a large portion of a hefty stone wall between what was our kitchen and the living room of the adjoining property was to be removed to join the ground floor of the two properties. It seems funny now that I went through a period of baking a number of cakes at a time when I wouldn't normally have baked so much, then the usual period of cake baking, the run up to Christmas, didn't happen.  The reason for more baking than usual was so that the guys doing the work could have more with their tea or coffee than a couple of Hobnobs - though the said biscuits did find their way on to a few plates along with the cake.  I made the Hummingbird Bakery coffee and chocolate loaf a couple of times, my trusty lemon drizzle cake from the first Great British Bake Off book, a banana loaf recipe also from the Hummingbird book, which I had never made before, likewise the honey and walnut loaf I ended up making twice along with their fabulous nutty apple loaf. So the two cottages are now connected on the ground floor and I have tried out a couple of new cake recipes while the work was going on!

Once the rubble had been removed and the dust settled
Looking a little different now.

Nutty apple loaf (also contains chocolate)

Honey and walnut loaf
Obviously we were in a state of upheaval for a few weeks then decorating took up our time in the lead up to Christmas - I felt really thankful for recipes which are quick to prepare so we could eat something more than pasta every night (although Stuart claims he could happily eat pasta every day, I like some variety).  There have been a couple of curries along the way, a great Yotam Ottolenghi recipe spotted in the Saturday supplement of a certain newspaper - aubergine/paneer rolls on a bed of lentils (surprisingly quick to make) - focaccia filled with roasted peppers and halloumi, chilli, but I was really missing being able to have a leisurely stint in the kitchen. Even doing some baking to take into work on my Birthday required a certain amount of forward preparation - arriving home from a cross-country on the Sunday afternoon, I set about doing as much as I could. I really wanted to make the marjolaine, which had been a technical challenge in the last series of the Great British Bake Off.  I was aware that there was a lot to it, but once I'd made the meringue and the praline for the buttercream, nothing was going to stop me.  I was taken out for a meal on the Monday night as a Birthday treat, thinking I would come home and decorate the marjolaine and a lemon cake I had made ready for the next day in around 15 minutes.  As with all the best laid plans, a freezing cold kitchen meant that the buttercream, the chocolate ganache and the limencello cream were practically solid, so 15 minutes stretched out to about an hour and I finally got to bed feeling shattered.  I was pleased with the marjolaine, but I could have done without the late night.

Rogan josh, pilau with coconut and cardamom pancakes

I couldn't eat a whole one!
Something a little healthier.
So, December ended up vanishing rapidly as Stuart and I pressed on with the decorating - I've lost count of the number of times I said "everything always takes longer than you think" as the anticipated weekend or two of painting stretched to very close to Christmas itself.  On top of the work on the house, we had both agreed to take part in Marcothon - meaning we were agreeing to run every day of December - as well as signing up to a couple of races along the way. We did the Water of Leith Half Marathon on the first Saturday in December, which I really enjoyed, especially as I have looked at a lot of the ownerships along it's banks in the course of my job.  It was brilliant to run along some scenic and interesting parts that I've only ever looked at on a map before!  Once we were home, we did some work on the house.  The following weekend we had a cross-country, followed by painting and me decorating the first of the Christmas cakes I'd made towards the end of October. The other two were decorated the following evening after some painting. The weekend before Christmas saw us doing a trail race in Binning Wood on the Saturday, painting before and after that, then our own club's Festive Half Marathon on the Sunday, followed by more painting. Small wonder we were both feeling exhausted.  We bought a beautiful Christmas tree, decorated it, but didn't get to appreciate it until Christmas day was almost on us.  I was trying to wrap presents, write cards, make curtains for the living room and make sure that the decorating was going to be finished so that we could use the new living room/dining room on Christmas Day.  Madness! I briefly wondered if I could get away with taking the curtains into work to finish sewing up at my desk, but that might have been a little too obvious, though no different from others who do their own thing in the office every working day, I don't think that would have been looked on too kindly!

I did hit a low ebb on the Wednesday before Christmas - tired and feeling that there was no end insight, but by that night, I felt fairly optimistic that everything would fall in place and on Friday evening I finally sat in the living room and got to appreciate what we had done.

Christmas Eve was all about preparing everything for the meal the next day, though I did finally get the curtains hung up in the early evening.  I hadn't given a huge amount of thought to Christmas dinner other than, when I made the marjolaine for my Birthday, deciding that it would be a good dessert to make, with white chocolate ganache rather than the dark...possibly fruit rather than the nuts on top.....oh and whipped fresh cream rather than the buttercream...so, not quite the same thing then!  The main course was another thing spotted in a weekend supplement - a butternut squash, chestnut, feta and filo pie.  The starter was still undecided until fairly near the day - a mushroom pate from The Food Aid Cookery Book from 1986 - a recipe I hadn't made for a number of years.  Stuart's contribution was to suggest ice-cream to go with the dessert - he thought that whisky and honey with bits of Crunchie through it would be a good one to try.  So, I had my work cut out on Christmas Eve, but loved it, just been able to focus on cooking and baking.  I even made some nibbles for when we opened the presents - cheesy bites and spiced nuts.  The nuts are pretty quick and simple, just use any selection of nuts and pop in a food bag with a little glug of olive oil, a little black pepper, a generous pinch of paprika, onion seeds and salt to taste.  Shake the bag and empty the contents on an oven tray, pop in the oven at 180C and bake for 10 to 15 minutes - keep an eye on them and remember, when they come out of the oven, the nuts will appear to be soft, but they do crisp up as they cool.  Quick and tasty!

I did completely forget to take pictures of what was made, but I would certainly do any of it again.  I forgot how much I like that mushroom pate, I also forgot how much I love homemade oatcakes - I made ones cut in the shape of Christmas trees - again, a long time since I've made oatcakes.  The pie looked and tasted great - that's one I would made again - and the dessert went down well, though I opted for cream with mine, while everyone else went for the ice-cream, which seemed to work - Stuart was quite proud to say that he had suggested it.

So, I have enjoyed the time off work over Christmas and New Year, and adopting a more leisurely pace of life.  I have still run every day, with a couple of races in the mix - by the time I have a rest day, I will have run every day for seven weeks, so a day off will seem very odd.  Time in the kitchen has been really enjoyable as everything has being pretty unhurried.  I had bought myself The Cardamom Trail by Chetna Makan - it's another cookbook worth having.  On Boxing Day, I adapted one of her recipes for a filled naan bread by way of using up potatoes left over from the day before.  The next day I made her beautiful cumin loaf, the following day her pine nut and onion rolls, a couple of which we had warm from the oven with an Italian bean soup. I have also cooked up a large amount of dried chickpeas, cannellini and kidney beans, bagged them and frozen them ready to use when I need such things to hand.

Cumin loaf - wonderfully aromatic

Pine nut and onion rolls

I also made Chetna's paneer and tomato loaf which we had with her smoked aubergine.  Gorgeous. I've also baked a couple of things from Ruby Tandoh's "Crumb" - a date malt loaf and chickpea and cumin seed buns.  Ruby says that these buns complement robust fillings, such as falafel, bean burgers, spiced lamb.  I was a little sceptical as to how these would work as I wondered if the inclusion of mashed chickpeas in the dough would make the buns heavy, but not in the least.  Two more great recipes to try again from Ruby.

Date malt loaf - great toasted
 I did think I would make a recipe from "Nopi" (Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully) - the spiced chickpea patties with coconut leaf paste - a recipe to do when you have a little more time than usual.  I really enjoyed it; Stuart less so as he found it a little too spicy for his taste.  I was amused to see that I made this round about the same time last year, though can't recall what Stuart's reaction was then!

Chickpea patties
Happy New Year.

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