Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Its fishy

Last week we had a dinner party for some delectable folks, one, my brand new goddaughter Alice May, peach that she was, she didn't drink a drop of proffered wine, insisted quite simply on her mother's finest homebrew. Meanwhile, however, the rest of the bunch well possibly just moi and one or two others got completely plastered.

I know it is the responsibility of the hostess to stay focused and deliver fine food to her invited guests. Yet somehow I always seem to get overexcited and drink rather too quickly, is this just me - do I have some genetic cog that makes me quaff booze faster than others, there is a history of hard-boozing in my family so I cannot rule it out. Others who seem to be able to slowly drink a glass of wine seem incredibly controlled and, quite possibly, dull. Does that mean its better to be a lush and get pissed - of course not, i just enjoy tossing these theories around to make myself feel more, well, enlightened.

I had one vegetarian, so rather than knock up one veggie dish, I decided to do the entire meal vegetarian. A good idea? Well maybe. Being an old school Brit born in the 70's I subscribe to the need to feed people MEAT at a dinner party. The idea of doing an entire fish based feast was, in short, exciting and for a moment I thought I would rise up on my meteoric hostessing star and provide an abundance of delectableness....

I forgot that I always get pissed.

The starter was fine, smoked salmon, served with julienne beetroot, a dollop of creme fraiche with horseradish and vodka and sprinkled with dill - easy and sublime to boot. This is easy I foolishly thought.

By the main course it was nigh on ten o'clock and several people were seriously starving. I had chosen to serve a tomato-based paprika-ed fish stew. But decided first to smoke some kind of fags - a ridiculous idea and one I always regret the next day. The fish and prawns in the fish stew were actually perfect I cooked them to perfection terrified of over-doing them. Sadly the stew was a disaster for some daft reason I did not follow my normal rules and barely cooked the tomato and chick-pea stew. A tomato based dish must always, always be cooked slowly and gently for bleeding ages to allow the tomatoes to mellow and to give the dish some depth.

Fortunately for me, my honey tends to stay focused at these occasions so he took it upon himself to blast the stew up for another half hour or so. Pudding I managed to pull out of the hat, coffee creams with chocolate orange sauce, courtesy of that old Brit pack Gary Rhodes. beat mascarpone with some 85g of caster sugar, stir in several tablespoons of cold expresso - to taste. Whip some cream and fold it altogether. Make the sauce by melting dark chocolate with a drop of butter, mix in some orange juice and orange zest for a divine sauce - drizzle over and serve.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Frosty beginnings

Stunning frosty morning this November and joy - no rain.

A walk early doors, to breathe the cold snappy air, crunch through the stiff crispy leaves is a promising start to the beginning of a new chapter in our lives...


Monday, November 8, 2010

A Fowl weekend

After a super healthy stroll through the stunning forest that is Bedgebury National Pinetum. A perfect spot for super healthy families; you know the type: with long-haired dogs, bikes, helmets and matching rain jackets for all the family. Though we, sort of, try our best to be 2.4, the truth is I am not a good or even a bike-rider at all, and only learnt whilst heavily up la duff with twins in the fifth month of my first pregnancy age thirty. (When I did finally get on again about a year later I fell off and cut my ankle and have been a total wuss ever since.) We do not own good raincoats or even coats that match, more a medley of wool and second-hand adidas macs - that look good - but do not keep the rain out.

Anyway - we needed that healthy walk and the need to feel a part of the ordinary human race, becuase we'd got horribly plastered the night before. We peaked too early for our weekend together with delicious and divine buddies. Consuming buckets of vin rouge, beer, and my new favourite tipple Disaronno - an amaretti liquor which is beautiful with a rich chocolate mousse - gently flavoured with Disaronno and served with crushed amaretti biscuits on top and an ice cold Disaronno on the side.

Anyway, the point is we needed to be good, we needed to air our brains, stretch our legs and feel nature around us. It worked we felt so fabulous and damn well for being so conformist that we immediatly set off for the pub.

To find a decent free-house in ole Blighty is almost impossible these days, but they do exist and they are of the roaring fire, hairy dog, friendly locals variety which are invariably the best for Autumn in Blighty. In the car-park outside the pub we met a hunter who was waiting for the game butcher to turn up so the two could exchange dead fowl for live cash whilst enjoying an al fresco pint of ale.

The image of the ducks and pheasants strung up in their deathly beauty struck me as unique and darkly beautiful.

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Buying houses - playing poker

Why is buying a house such an almighty headache? The game of stoney-faced poker one has to play whilst either buying or selling is so exceptionally stressful. To take part you must be a bloody good liar. Lying about your income, your deposit, your state of play, how much you don't like something, when secretly you do. It is a nightmare and I for one am totally crap at it. You look around the house with the estate agent, generally a spotty teenager, who aimlessly wanders about 'showing' you the bathroom or bedroom - I mean how hard can it be?

However, when you do get out there and nose around other peoples houses you realise just what incredibly bad taste people have. One house we visited, their child owned some kind of animal in a cage. The stench in the room was unbearable; a sort of sweet, warm, acrid urinal scent mixed in with rotten hay - we could barely breathe and could not wait to get out of that house - we mumbled something sufficiently polite to the estate agent and legged it.

In the shed of another house the owner had a, not so, secret obsession with trains - the shed housed hundreds of model engines. Even those with pots of money to splash out on a decent bathroom or kitchen still show no signs of having any kind of simple taste with vast swathes of chintz curling creepily and suffocatingly all over the walls, sofas, windows and beds.

When we found the house of our dreams, which we did tucked away on a beautiful hill overlooking the Box valley - the owner took it off the market unable to part with her home. And for us, although we could barely get the cash together to buy it anyway, we were still absolutely gutted to lose the one house we fell in love with...

However, coming down a peg or two in your financial reality is no bad thing - and something we must all embrace if we want to stay buoyant - so when we stumbled across a crumbling Victorian town house in deserate need of some serious love, cash and work spent on her - we realised this could be made into the dream...given plenty of time and deniro....So we lied about it and pretended to show interest elsewhere all the while, weighing up the pros and cons of living in another old house in need of constant attention and furthermore being in town when we had wanted to be in the country. But the grass is always greener right?

No sooner had our hearts become immersed in this property, we, now foolishly I see, applied for local school places assuming that it was in the bag. Oh how wrong we were, just weeks later moments before the contracts exchanged our sellers bailed out - leaving us very much high and dry once more.

Despondent and dejected we have returned once more to the drawing board.

Pear & Plum Chutney

The thing with chutney is you never know truly how good your batch is until several months after you have made it. Maturing is the name of the game in chutney-making. And the more mature the better the taste, so patience is indeed a virtue.

With a glut of Pears on the trees - I made it my mission last month to not allow them to rot and got the old man up the tree and picking away. We had several basketfuls, enough for about ten pots of good rich chutney perfect with cheese, cold meats, in sandwiches and as presents for Christmas.

The other thing you need for chutney, alongside patience, is time. Chopping up many many pounds of onions, pears, dates, apples and plums, into small uniform pieces is seriously time-consuming and often exceptionally dull. But well worth it when you line up your jars of home-made pear chutney and see your stellar effort.

The recipe I followed was a basic one to which you add whatever ingredient you wish. Mine included: 1.5kg pears, 500g plums, 500g apples, 500g mix of onions and shallots, 250g stoned prunes - to this mix I added 500g soft brown sugar, 650ml of organic cider vinegar, a pinch of salt and a good amount of chilli-flakes. My spice bag held plenty of bruised fresh ginger, peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds.

After several hours (3-4hrs) cooking very gently my pear chutney was thick, glossy and ready to pot. The chutney is cooked when you draw your spoon through it and if the channel does not fill with vinegar then it is ready.

An initial taste test proved that the chutney had a definite spicy depth to the mellow sweetness of the pears and plums. It is currently being stored in boxes under the stairs waiting for its debut as Christmas presents in December when I shall finally allow myself the chance to taste it...watch this space.

Someone small kept munching all my pears..