Archive | January, 2012

What’s in a name?

31 Jan

I’m the Shewolffe.  Not the only one, nor the original one. But it’s a name that fits. And now my blog can be found at Ignore the w’s, you don’t need them to find me.

And thanks to the most fabulous patothecity not only for her inspiration and enthusiasm but also for her invaluable help in making this all run smoothly (and relatively cheaply).

PS – I have to share with you some of the suggested tags for this post: David Hume, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Deity. Please someone explain to me why wordpress thought these might be appropriate.

Tollhouse cookies

30 Jan

Tollhouse Cookies are a memory from my childhood. I had a recipe written in my childish hand-writing, which if memory serves me correctly had the list of ingredients but no instructions. I made them so often I didn’t need instructions and so I knew that they were the most delicious of cookies.

I’m pretty sure the recipe came from my Aunt Joyce, the Queen of Baking in my world. And I’m also fairly certain that the recipe is in my mother’s recipe book. So, if I really wanted I could no doubt get back the original, and make them exactly as they were in those eternally sunny summers back in the mid 70s. But I also recall that they had half lard, half butter (or even marg) … and I know that using half lard can make pastry beautifully short, but I don’t think I want to use lard in my biscuits any more. So, if I’m going to play about with the recipe anyway, I may as well just find a new one, and adapt from there.

So, this weekend I did some internet research, so you don’t have to.  Although if you really want to find out more, you can do worse than starting out here on my friend wikipedia.

Now, a bit of background for you. One of the reasons I feel quite so strongly about Tollhouse Cookies might be because my father’s office was in the original Tollhouse in our town.  I know it’s purely circumstantial, and literally hundreds of towns must have their own historical tollhouses, so clearly my recipe was no more authentic than any other. But, my recipe had choc chips AND nuts and I am not about to mess with my memory by either making a Tollhouse Cookie with no nuts, or re-naming the biscuits of my childhood Choc Chip n Nut Cookies.

But anyway, the research revealed a few things about 21st century tollhouse cookies: the butter should be melted and the sugar needs to be a mixture of brown/muscovado and caster – this will give a more caramelly taste and chewy texture, which works for me. And the cookies should be left on their baking sheet once nearly cooked so they complete the cooking out of the oven. No-one seemed to want to put nuts in them though, so feel free to omit them if you want. But then please just call them choc chip cookies.

Tollhouse cookies

Preheat oven to 170C or Gas Mark 3. Grease at least two baking sheets. Or I guess you could line them with baking parchment instead.

170g unsalted butter

250g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarb of soda

1/2 tsp salt

200g dark brown or muscovado sugar

100g light brown sugar (or caster)

1 TBSp vanilla extract

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

200g dark chocolate, chopped into wee chips

125g mixed nuts, chopped into wee chips. I’ve not tried it, but you could probably use salted nuts if you’re a fan of the sugar-salt-choc thing.

  1. Melt the butter in a big bowl (this is the bowl that the whole mixture is going to end up in so make it big enough). I use a microwave to melt the butter, but of course you could melt it in a pan and then tip it into the bowl.
  2. Sift the flour, bicarb and salt together in a different bowl – this is really just to mix it together, as most flour these days doesn’t need sifting – but it’s an old habit with me, so I like to sift it all
  3. Add the sugars to the melted butter and beat with an electric beater (or a wooden spoon if you want to work off those bingo wings) until you have a light fluffy mixture
  4. Now add the vanilla essence and the eggs and beat some more
  5. Mix in the flour and stuff with a wooden spoon, then mix through the nuts and chocolate chips
  6. Depending how warm your kitchen is, you’ll either have a soft-ish batter, or a much stiffer dough… my kitchen was baltic this weekend, so the butter cooled down quickly and I had quite a stiff dough
  7. Now, how big do you want your cookies? I use about a soup-spoonful of mixture in a big lump, and they spread out to around 3-4 inches diameter.  But you might want to make ENORMOUS cookies like those ones you get at train stations… you’d probably need about 4 TBsps of cookie mixture for that size.
  8. Remember to leave gaps between each dollop of mixture – the larger the dollop the bigger the gap required. For the enormous ones you’ll need at least 3″ I’d say.
  9. Bake for about 16 minutes, but this will depend on which shelf they are on in your oven, how hot the oven actually is and what size you’ve made your cookies. Ideally you need to take them out when they are golden around the edges, but not toasted in the middle. Leave them on the baking tray to cool down, they will continue to cook. Then remove them to a cooling tray. This will give you a slightly chewy cookie, if you prefer them crisper, just keep them in the oven a wee bit longer, till they are uniformly coloured.
  10. Once they are cool, transfer them into two separate airtight containers. Keep one lot at home, and take the rest to your colleagues, or to someone you love (not mutually exclusive).

There!  How easy was that? And according to my colleagues, they’re a winner.
But before you run off to bake cookies, a top tip for you. Some of you will know this already, but if you’re not a baker you might not. Don’t keep opening the oven door to check your cookies, and when you do open the door, be sure to shut it gently afterwards, as slamming it shut will blow in cold air, and mess with the cooking. This is even more important when you’re baking cakes, or anything you expect to rise. If you slam the door, it’s like slamming a big weight onto your delicate cake.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

15 Jan

I started Jeanette Winterson’s latest book before Christmas, it was a paperback proof copy. I don’t usually like proofs, but this one is pretty much like an ordinary paperback, so it was fine and passed my criteria for readability.

But then I got a Kindle for Christmas.  Well, initially I got a Kinder Surprise!  The hints had been dropped, and clearly picked up, but through the Chinese whispers the desirable object had transformed itself into a wee plastic toy inside a small chocolate egg. Not a bad egg, but still a chocolate egg, and I don’t eat chocolate any more. Well, not much. But it certainly was a Surprise! It was also not the real present, and the Kindle-Not-Such-A-Surprise-Afterall came close behind the disappointing chocolate egg.

So, I had to try out my new gift straight away didn’t I? And that meant that the half-read Why Be Happy… lay forlorn for a few weeks until I had read the last book in the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy, and then also Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie which we will be discussing at book group this week.

But today I picked up Why Be Happy… again, and curled up on the sofa to read it. And I didn’t get up again until I’d finished.

What a book. For those that don’t know, this is a story of her life, the ‘true’ story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I read Oranges.. when it was first published all those years ago – last year was the 20th anniversary of its publication.

I remember reading it vividly. I had recently become a Samaritan volunteer, and discovered the fiction of both Jeanette Winterson and Jenny Diski – I voraciously read everything they published, loving their fictionalised worlds. As a Samaritan I was in a new world, of peoples’ emotions and feelings, of loss and despair, of love and rejection, but most of all a world full of expression. People were expressing their feelings to me, and it was rarely easy for them.  It was my role to help them, to hold them as they dug deep within themselves and talked about themselves in terms of their feelings. It felt absolutely right for me, this listening to others, being a vessel to hold their fears while they discovered what they’d been hiding for so long. I don’t know why it felt right, but it did. And an enormous privilege.

So, now coming full circle and reading Why Be Happy… I am reminded of those conversations, of the nameless, anonymous, faceless people who told me their secrets. I know how hard it was for them to open themselves to one single anonymous faceless individual. And I am blown away at how Jeanette Winterson has expressed so much emotion in a book, laying her emotions bare for all to read. It is a brave book. It is a glorious book, full of anger, and hurt, and longing. Deep, deep longing. It is about love, and the search for love. And about loss, and the loss of loss.

Read it.

But have a hankie ready.

Any suggestions for what to read next?

Roasted peppers in a jar

14 Jan

A jar of summery goodness

I love roasted peppers in a jar.  Well, they don’t have to be in a jar, they can be in any container you want really, but they can look pretty so why would you hide them in plastic, or one of those lovely brown stoneware pate dishes?  As an aside, I’m very fond of those brown stoneware dishes – they conjure up happy memories of home. At lunchtime there always seemed to be something delicious in a brown stoneware pot: mackerel pate, pork rillettes, roasted peppers in olive oil, etc.

But, it’s glass jars all the way for me these days, apart from anything else, I can seal them up and take them with me on a Monday morning to the flat in Edinburgh, or the office for jazzing up tasty lunches.

Chop everything into a big bowl

Place in a single layer on a baking tray

Roast till peppers are soft and you have caramelised edges

Pop them in a jar

Slow roasted peppers in a jar

3 bell peppers – you can use any colours, but in my experience green peppers often end up looking a wee bit grey, so I prefer to use 2 red and one yellow.

At least 2 big cloves of garlic

2 small onions, or one large

a large sprig of rosemary

a couple of small bay leaves

a red chilli pepper

a glug or so of balsamic vinegar

a tsp honey, if you want it

any other herbs, spices that you fancy – eg thyme, cayenne pepper

a good pouring of olive oil (if you have any at the bottom of a jar of sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, or artichokes, or other such tasty goodies, then use that)

more olive oil – you’ll need enough to cover the peppers once they are in the jar

a grinding or two of black pepper

a mere sprinkle of maldon sea salt

  1. Chop the peppers into large chunks – I like mine about 1.5″ across. Put them in a big bowl.
  2. Cut the onions in half from top to bottom. Lay it on the chopping board on its cut side, and then cut it into wedges. Depending on the size of onion you’ll get 3 – 5 wedges. Add them to the bowl with the peppers.
  3. Place the flat side of a large knife on top of the garlic clove, and then smash it with your fist – this will release the garlic easily from its papery skin and will also give you a nicely smooshy clove.  You still want it pretty much whole(ish) but all squished so you benefit from the release of all that tasty juiciness. Yup, throw these in on top of the peppers and onions too.
  4. Chop the chilli and add as much of it as you want – if you don’t like heat, don’t bother.  I like heat in most foods, but this doesn’t need much, if any, so feel free to omit it.
  5. Strip the rosemary from its stalks and throw the leaves into the bowl.
  6. Add any other herbs and spices you are using.
  7. Now today I had a jar of honey that was solidifying in the jar, so I added a tsp or so of honey into a wee mug and poured a wee bit of boiling water on top and stirred till it was liquid. Then I added a big splish splosh of balsamic vinegar and a good glug or two of olive oil. Mix all this together and add it to the bowl.
  8. Mix all the ingredients together to coat everything in the dressing.
  9. Pour into a single layer onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with a grinding of black pepper and a wee sprinkle of maldon sea salt.  Don’t bother if you only have table salt.
  10. Pop in a medium oven (it was gas mark 3 ish I think).

You’ll probably smell when it’s ready.  Did it take about 45 minutes?  I don’t really know. You don’t want crispy burnt bits, but you do want soft peppers and caramelised brown edges on some of the onions and peppers.

Cool for a bit, then put into a jar. Pour over enough olive oil so the peppers are covered and keep in a fridge for a week or two.  You can eat it immediately if you want, but it’s really nicest after all the flavours have had a chance to infuse in the jar, so I would leave it a couple of hours at least.

In the summer months, you might want to add slices of courgette or aubergine to this. Or beetroot in the autumn. And if you want mushrooms, add mushrooms.

Eat it as a salad accompaniment, or with cold meats, in a sandwich with hummus, or added to a bowl of soup (if you’re doing this don’t do it straight out of the fridge or it will be a bit weird, although I know Nigel Slater would argue for that juxtaposition of hot and cold). Or I’m sure you’ll find other ways of using it to jazz up your meals.

What I’ve read this year – 2012

14 Jan

So, let’s see how I do against my targets for this year… Let the reading commence!

Oh, and in case you care, my links to buy the books are all for If you don’t like amazon, other booksellers are available, just google.  


Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  The final book in his Millennium series, and yet again a book that could have done with a good edit. Having said that it was yet again a good thriller and a compulsive read, finished in about a week.

Carol Birch‘s Jamrach’s Menagerie.  Our book group’s first book of 2012, and a worthy book to discuss.  What started as a kids’ adventure story became a true horror story, full of gore, slime and grime. It will generate interesting discussion, of that there is no doubt.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. A powerfully emotional book, the ‘true’ story behind her debut Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson only came to my attention because it is in the Richard and Judy book group, and I saw Judy absolutely raving about it on telly one evening. It’s a quick read, and kept me guessing. The narrator of the book is a woman close to my age who wakes up each morning with no memory, but with a sense of horror that she’s in bed with a middle aged man – her initial thought is that she got wrecked the night before at a party and can’t remember who she came home with. It’s not a Groundhog Day book, and it’s not a love story – more a psychological thriller. And, as I said, a quick read.

I loved Resistance by Owen Sheers. And it brought my total for January to five books finished. Yay!


In Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman Harri searches for clues after the murder of a boy from his school. He hopes the clues will lead to the killer. Harri has an innocence, he is a boy about to become a man. But what sort of man can he possibly be, brought up in this violent, unkind environment? His mother has brought him from Ghana, in the hope of giving him a better future. Harri’s voice felt ‘true’ although I did find it vaguely annoying after a while.

I read What a Carve Up by Jonathan Coe as a book group book. And unusually I read it all the way through (not enjoying much of it at all) and then refused to go to book group to discuss it. I just felt I had nothing I wanted to say about it. And I found that after I’d finished I couldn’t even distinguish between the different hideous family members. Various friends have told me how much they loved this book. I didn’t. And I’m not sure it was helped by reading it in e-book form, so I couldn’t flip back easily and see who was who.

I read about The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicolson in the Sunday Times one weekend. It wasn’t a review, but was in someone’s column, and I honestly can’t remember whose. I kinda wish I could, as I really enjoyed the book, which absolutely is described in the title. It focuses on a few days one early summer in a small village in commuter distance from London. The characters are well drawn, the situations perfectly described. It’s not a rip-roaring read, but thoroughly enjoyable.




My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’Farrell had been on my shelf for years (I got it as a bookcrossing random act of book crossing kindness years ago, and really must pass it on now that I’ve actually read it). It had elements of Rebecca about it, and inspired me to re-read Rebecca and Rebecca’s Tale.

After my Maggie O’Farrell feast I turned to an author new to me, recommended by my good friend Salidatious: Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz. Sal had read it quickly and loved it, and wanted someone else to read it so she could talk about it. I love that about her. And was so glad she’d recommended, and loaned, this book to me. A worthy shortlisted book for the Orange, a tale of an adulterous affair in Ireland. The backdrop to the tale is the arc of the Irish economy, from roaring tiger in the boom years, to the depression of the recession.

And so it seemed sensible to read another Orange shortlisted book immediately after I’d finished the Anne Enright. And as I’d bought Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder a couple of months earlier, now seemed like the time to start reading it. Some books nourish you, and stay with you long after you finished them. This is one such book.

Ewan Morrison’s Tales from the Mall has been in my subconscious for a few months, mainly on social media, but also in bookshops, and newspaper book reviews. It’s a fascinating read, especially for someone who doesn’t like either shopping malls, or short stories. It’s made up of perfect bitesized chunks of reading goodness, a mixture of fact and fiction, but all related in some way to shopping malls. You’ll learn all manner of things, like why cross dressers like malls, and why walking round a mall is considered a terrorist threat. Unsettling and fascinating (but not necessarily in that order).

After I’d whet my appetite with TFTM I chose Swung, also by Ewan Morrison. There’s a lot of media coverage of 50 Shades of Grey just now, but I suspect it isn’t nearly as interesting as Swung, the story of a Glasgow couple trying to make their relationship work.

A list for 2012

8 Jan

OK, here goes.  These are NOT resolutions.  Resolutions are wrong, but what is most wrong about them is the time of year we generally make them.  Who on earth has the energy in these cold dark January months (in Scotland at least) to change all those bad habits?  Not me.

Must update my things to do list...

  1. Lists I am going to write more lists in 2012. This is my shorthand for planning better, and accomplishing things I want to accomplish. I know, from experience, that once I identify a goal I am usually pretty good at achieving it. It’s the identifying bit that has always come hard to me. So, 2012 will be the year of accomplishment (through the medium of the list!)
  2. Fish I am going to cook and eat more fish in 2012.  And more varieties of fish too. Yes, Hugh Fearnley Whatsit, I’ve listened to you.
  3. Spice Another very specific one related to cooking and eating. I am going to sort through my kitchen cupboards, specifically the jars and jars of spices and herbs.  I’m going to throw out things that are way past their best, and only smell of dust now. And I’m going to start again from scratch. I’ll make a list of what I’ve got, and will use them regularly. I’ll be experimental, I’ll try things out for myself, and I’ll be inspired by new recipes and other cooks/chefs.  If I buy new jars of spices I’ll endeavour to use them over and over again so I don’t need to throw out a nearly full jar again in 3 years time. And, to make things easier, I’ll put wee labels on the lids of all the jars so I can easily see what I’ve got (they live in a twirly pull out corner cupboard unit thing below eye level).
  4. Craftiness OK, I’m going to get specific here.  I’ve already signed up to the Underachievers Group in Ravelry and am committed to knitting at least 6 things this year.  That means finishing 6 things, not just starting them and then moving onto something else when I find something new and shiny to do instead. I also want to sew at least 6 things and embroider (either by hand or by machine) at least 6 things.  Oooh, it’s looking a bit like the craftiness of the devil now, with my 6-6-6 goals. Hey ho!
  5. Weight I am going to lose 3 stone. There, I’ve said it.  So my first goal will be to lose 1 stone by the end of March.  That’s surely achievable? I’ll keep with my low carb diet, which worked well for me to start with, but (inevitably) led to a plateau once I became less strict with it. Over Christmas I ignored the diet altogether – I was relatively sensible, but ate the things I wanted to eat, as opposed to only the things I should eat if I want to lose weight. I put on 1lb, which I don’t think is too bad, but I want to reverse that trend again and get healthier.
  6. Being social I go out quite a lot through the week when I’m living in Edinburgh. I stay home in the Valley at weekends. I love my life and although living in two places has its drawbacks (the right accessory is never in the right home when I want it) it’s a pretty good balance between social and chilled. Some weeks I find I’d like to have another night or two in my flat instead of being out.  And I’d like to see more things, do more things when I’m out – yes, I love blethering with my mates, but I also love experiencing new things. So, I guess I need to put numbers on this.  I’ll aim low.  I’m going to go to the theatre/cinema (or attend ‘something’) at least once a month. And I’m going to have an average of at least 2 nights a week in the flat.
  7. Holiday I’m going to go somewhere this year.  Don’t know where, but I need to get away and see something new and different with these eyes.  And perhaps get the warmth of the sun on my back. Any suggestions?
  8. Progress Spreadsheets!  Oh, I do love a good spreadsheet.  And I’m going to spreadsheet my life this year. I already have one for my weight loss(gain!) but will also record all the other goals and see how I go.  I will also report back here of course, but perhaps not too regularly – really you don’t want to know about the minutiae of my life.
  9. The blog Last year I decided to really get going with this blog, pretty much as a way to record recipes as I went along. It’s intended for me more than for anyone else (sorry readers, but that’s how it was at the beginning!). Now I’m more aware that other people read it occasionally, in fact if I look at my stats quite a lot of you read it!  Thanks! So, I’m going to be a better blogger. I’ll try to blog something every Sunday. And, if I treat myself to a new camera at some point I will take better pictures of everything.  Occasionally you might have a blog which is just pictures.  After all, one’s worth a thousand words.  Think of all the typing I could save myself!

Right.  I think that will do it.  I like odd numbers. And 9 is one of my favourite numbers. I like numbers. I like that 9 is 3 squared. And I like that it’s part of 29 (a prime number) which is my favourite number.

Oh, and to keep my list at a nice odd 9, instead of a hideous decimal 10, I am leaving my books list elsewhere. But shall record it on my spreadsheets, oh yes.

August doesn’t count I’m not sure I need to say much more on that. It just doesn’t. It’s my month off. Some things can be achieved in August more easily (I hope I’ll go to more events in August than in the rest of the year put together) but others are trickier. I’m relaxed about that. I’ll achieve what I can, and not stress about the things I can’t.

Fishy fishy

8 Jan

I did a REALLY stupid thing yesterday.

After a rare shopping expedition to Sainsburys, instead of my usual, closer Tesco, I left my hand bag hanging on the trolley when I left it at the trolley park.  I’d been home an hour, and had unpacked all the shopping before I realised what a muppet I’d been.

I phoned the store straight away and the bag had been handed in and was waiting for me at customer service, so I went back to retrieve it.  I was amazed that everything was still in it, from my cuter-than-a-button lego notebook (seriously it is like a great big piece of your favourite lego and you can write in it) to my mobile phone (OK, it’s just confirmation that my phone is a piece of shit) and my purse with all its cards in it.  Thanks Sainsburys customer, I think I love you.  And I will forward the good karma to someone else.

I was determined to stick to my shopping list yesterday. I have a habit of going off-piste in a supermarket, but one of my aims for this year is to get better at planning and sticking to those plans, and not just in relation to supermarket shopping.

But I like seeing what is fresh, and seasonal when I shop.  And I can easily be seduced by a bargain, especially if it’s in the ballpark of the list. So, fish was on the list. I want to eat more fish this year (see, I should just write a proper list shouldn’t I of all the things I want to achieve this year?).

And the fish pie mix was on special – half price, so I bought 300g of fish pie mix.  And a bag of mussels.  Mussels will be eaten today. They weren’t on the list, but trying new recipes is, so that’s ok!  The fish was yesterday’s supper – not a fish pie as such though, because the potatoes I’ve got don’t mash well. I know, why do I have a bag of new potatoes at this time of year?  But I do, and they are lovely just boiled, but not so good any other way.

Anyway, this is what I did.

Fish Gratin

300g mixed fish, cut into large cubes

2 leeks

knobs of butter

a TBsp or so of flour

about 1/2 pint of milk

about 4 TBsp double cream (optional – only used as there was some in the fridge which needed to be used)

a fish stock cube (or a veg one, or just use salt and pepper to taste)

a tsp dijon mustard

a few threads of saffron (again, optional, but I had some in the cupboard)

1/2 cup of fresh breadcrumbs

about 2 TBsp grated strong cheddar or other strong-flavoured hard cheese

Gas Mark 7 or 8

If you’re having potatoes with this, prepare them first, and put them in a pan of water.  If you’re a quick cook then start boiling them now, before you start the fish gratin, otherwise put them on to boil once you are half way through.

  1. Melt a knob of butter in a pan over a medium-low heat
  2. Slice the leeks down their length and then cut them into half moon slices and gently cook them in the butter till they are soft, but not browned
  3. Tip the leeks into a gratin dish and spread over the base
  4. Put the saffron fronds into a wee cup or dish and cover with a wee bit of hot water, from the tap is fine
  5. Add another knob of butter to the pan the leeks were in and melt it
  6. Stir in some flour to make a roux
  7. Add the milk, bit by bit, stirring all the while so it doesn’t go lumpy.  I added some hot water from the potato pot at this point.  You’re looking for a sauce that easily coats the back of the wooden spoon – but if it’s too thick, just add more water/milk.
  8. Stir in the fish stock cube, the mustard and the saffron water. Stir to make sure the fish stock cube is melted in properly and then add the cream
  9. Add the fish to the sauce and gently stir together
  10. Pour the fish mix on top of the leeks
  11. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and cheese on top and put in a hot oven
  12. Cook till it’s bubbling and the top is crispy crunchy and a caramel brown colour.  Mine was in for about 15 mins, but it could be in longer at a lower temp if it suited your plans better.

This was served with boiled potatoes and brussels sprouts.  Now, I never used to be a fan of brussels sprouts, but the man is and so I’ve discovered various ways to make them scrumptious and my vegetable of choice!  Oh yes, not just leftovers, I choose to buy and cook them!

Brussels sprouts with chestnuts

About 7 brussels sprouts per person

a knob of butter

A few roasted chestnuts

  1. Prepare the sprouts by chopping off their ends and the very outer leaves.  You don’t need to do anything else, no crosses in their bottoms are necessary, but if this is your traditional way of doing them, feel free to indulge
  2. Put them in a pan so they form a single layer on the bottom of the pan and add about 1/4 cup of water (this was for two people, you’ll need more if there are more sprouts in a bigger pan I suppose).  I use enough that I think will have all but disappeared in about 8 minutes of boiling (this recipe is an art, not a science.. or it is the way I’m writing it.  I guess I could be more scientific about it if I really tried but for now this is all you’re getting I’m afraid)
  3. Put the lid on the pan and bring to the boil. Once it’s boiling, sit the lid on the edge of the pan, so it’s covering the pan but let’s a little steam out. Jiggle them around from time to time. If you run out of water, add some more hot from a kettle
  4. Once they look cooked (about 7-8 minutes I think) and there’s not much water left at all, add a knob of butter to the pan and jiggle them around again.
  5. Then crumble in the roasted chestnuts, and jiggle around some more over the heat
  6. Done!

You may have noticed I don’t add salt to many things as I go along. I used to, but a few years ago tried to cut down on salt intake when my blood pressure was slightly higher than was desirable.  I stopped adding salt to pans of boiling water – pasta, potatoes, vegetables, rice… and I discovered that after the first few days none of them needed it, or not in the blanket coverage way I used to add salt.  I now occasionally add salt at the end, when I taste it and think it needs some, but more often than not I don’t.  I probably wouldn’t get anywhere on Masterchef but my blood pressure is fine.

Banana goodness

3 Jan

So, most weeks I’ll buy some bananas at the supermarket, as I know he’ll take a banana to work each day, and it’s a way of getting towards that 5-a-day of fruit and veg.  I hadn’t really thought through the whole Christmas/New Year thing and how it might interrupt his banana consumption.  So, this morning I decided to do something with the three blackening bananas left on the side in the kitchen.

Banana loaf was the obvious choice.  Or I have a good foolproof and adaptable banana muffin recipe. But if I’m going to make muffins in the next 24 hours, it’s going to be vodka-soaked-cranberry muffins, using the cranberries from my vanilla cranberry vodka which are currently in the freezer waiting to be enjoyed.

So, I turned to the internet for inspiration and good old Nigel Slater came up trumps again. He calls it black banana cake.  And I’m not sure if that is a reference to the state the bananas are in before you start, or the fact there is plenty chocolate in there, so the cake will be darker than you might expect for a banana cake.  I figure it’s probably the former.  As ever, I vaguely modified the recipe as I went along, but you can find his original here.

Banana choc nut cake

175g/6oz unsalted butter, softened in the microwave as it’s so cold in the kitchen.  In fact it was softened so much that some of it was melted, and I had to beat it back together again

175g/6oz sugar (half golden caster, half light soft brown muscovado type sugar)

75g/2 ½ oz mixed nuts (Nigel wanted hazelnuts but I had mixed in the cupboard so that’s what I used)

2 free range eggs

175g/6oz SR flour

2 very ripe bananas (Nigel asks for about 250g/9oz in weight, but all I know is I used two ENORMOUS bananas)

About ½ tsp vanilla essence (Nigel only wanted a single drop)

175g/6oz good quality dark chocolate chopped into rough chunks

A little Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 170C/325F/GM3

Line the base and sides of a 20cm x 12cm / 8in x 5in loaf tin.  I used a 1lb loaf tin – cake is still in the oven so I’ll find out soon if it was big enough (it was!)

  1. Toast the nuts.  Rub them in a tea towel to remove their skins if you can be bothered (I didn’t) and then grind them in a food processor, or with a zizzer or whatever implement you have to grind nuts. You’re looking for a pretty fine consistency – a bit like sand. I used a hand held zizzer, you know the kind of thing you’d usually use to blend soups.
  2. Beat the butter with the sugar till light and fluffy
  3. Add the eggs one by one and beat into the butter and sugar mixture.
  4. Mix in the nuts and SR flour.
  5. Peel the bananas and chop them into small pieces into the bowl with the sugar/butter/egg mixture.
  6. Gently fold in the vanilla, bananas and chocolate nuggets into the cake mixture. Don’t overmix.
  7. Shlop into the prepared loaf tin. Dust with a little Demerara sugar (I forgot to do this, and doubt it will matter too much).
  8. Bake for 1hr – 1hr 10 mins, covering the top with foil if the top looks like it’s about to burn.

Oh my world, it’s amazing!  Lovely light texture, strong zing of chocolate when you get a nugget of it.  And gentle banana flavour running through it all.  Scrum.  Eat with a cup of Earl Grey tea, in a china teacup of course.

Banana choc nut cake anyone?

Books 2012

2 Jan

Hmmm.. I had some rather grand plans last year about my reading.  Some achieved, some nowhere near… but perhaps that is the way with reading, sometimes you see something and you want to read it there and then, and you pick it up and off you go. Other books you see or you hear about, and you decide to read them, but you don’t start them for a while.  I have so many books on my shelves that aren’t yet read, but most of them will be one day – and in 2011 I made inroads into the pile.  I do worry that having a kindle may reduce the speed at which I get through the To Be Read pile though – they make it just too easy to buy something there and then.

Anyway, what am I going to read this year?

I’ve already finished my first book: the last in Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium series.  Not the best.  And I think they all could have done with some serious editing, this one particularly.  And I wonder if anyone came to this book first,would they ever understand it and be bothered to wade through the bits that make little sense? Who knows?

I’ve also got a book half way through: Jeanette Winterson‘s utterly brilliant Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal.  I’ll try to finish it in the next few days, and then start my Book Group book for January: Jamrach’s Menagerie.  I’ve got it loaded onto my kindle already, so that’s a good start.

What else, what else this year?

  1. I still want to attempt Ulysses.  And read a Margaret Atwood.
  2. And I still want to read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  3. I’ll finish Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography
  4. The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson.  I read a good piece about it the other day which inspired me to put it on my wishlist.
  5. Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman.  Is it Stephen?  I think so. I heard about this when it was first published and meant to buy/read it then.  I forgot.
  6. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I have a beautiful hardback illustrated edition of this, bought at the Edinburgh International Book Festival a few years ago. I started it this year, but I just hate carrying big books around with me.  Perhaps I have to download it onto my kindle too.. would that be too extravagant?
  7. I’ll read Book Group books, even if I don’t always make it to book group.
  8. I’ll aim for 30 books this year.  I think I can do that, although I’m also hoping to increase the number of things I make this year, and not just foodie stuff – I’ve been doing a lot of knitting recently, and have started sewing again, so who knows what homemade goodies will appear from the Valley in 2012?



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