Huevos Rancheros

This post follows on nicely from the last one. The link? Both recipes were shared with me by Emirates cabin crew. A complete coincidence, but not surprising I suppose living where I do. I have decided that the best thing to do with the blog while living in Dubai is to collect international recipes – this recipe is number two in the series and shared with me by Raquel who is Portuguese – although the recipe is Mexican. You can follow Raquel’s travels on Instagram here.

Ingredients

  • 1 Onion
  • 4 tomatoes
  • a red pepper/ capsicum
  • a bay leaf
  • ground black pepper
  • a 400g can of beans (such as red kidney beans)
  • eggs (maybe one per person – how hungry are you?!)
  • chopped coriander or parsley to garnish.

Method

Chop one onion and throw it in a pan with some olive oil. Let it fry for a bit and add four chopped tomatoes, red capsicum to your liking, a bay leave and some ground black pepper. Add some organic tomato puree. Let it cook for 3 minutes. Add a 400g can of beans (I used red beans) and let it cook for 2 minutes. I smashed the beans a bit to release its flavor into the stew. Add the eggs (as many as you like), some salt and cover the pan. Let it cook for 5 minutes. At the end sprinkle some coriander or parsley and voilà!

Serve on a slice of bread.

Yum!

In defence of modern parents

I introduced the lovely and talented Jane a short while ago when she shared her vegan chilli recipe with us. It was actually this parenting article which gave me the idea to ask her to write a guest blog post; she wrote it to encourage her friends on facebook but I think it definitely deserves to be shared more widely. Please do share it with parents who you know are doing a good job, we so often feel judged negatively that we could do with a little encouragement!

in defence of modern parents

So this past couple of weeks there has been an upsurge in the number of wildly overblown, emotive and derisory anti-parent fodder on Facebook and it’s beginning to drive me a little bit insane. Apparently modern parents are lazy, digitally distracted, lacking in the skills of a disciplinarian and all for an easy life as regards parenting. We are presented with black and white photos of crying children needing more from momma or graphics showing a huge phone dominating a lounge featuring sad children wanting daddy to play with them. In the same diatribes our generation’s failings are allegedly connected with the large incline in mental health problems and diagnoses of ADHD in the future generation.

So a few points to raise, factual and non confrontational, as counter arguments; The average loan to value percentage for a couple buying their first home is a whopping 82%. with the necessity to save a substantial amount for a deposit. Steps up the property ladder as families expand see mortgages soar past £200K and pretty much everyone, first time buyer or not, parent or not, is paying between £700-£1,000 per month for a mortgage and a similar amount for private rents per month. Most families now have both parents working around 37-40 hours a week and often running two cars due to the necessity to commute to find the right job. We are paying for the food, clothes and hobbies of our children. Debt is at an all time high and costs are rising all the time, particularly with the uncertainty of what will transpire economically and politically.

Fundamentally, it’s not an easy time to raise kids and despite all the accusations of lazy parenting and digital distraction lets have a think about these phenomena and re-frame these ideas in light of the above points. So full time working parents doing long hours and commuting long distances probably don’t have as much time to enjoy their kids as much as they would like to and part time workers are cramming vast amounts of work into shorter hours to prove their worth against a backdrop of sneering colleagues who envy their 2pm finishes. Those who run their own business throw heart and soul into trying to guarantee a regular and healthy income and though often working from home don’t get to benefit from the home life they are trying to sustain. We’re up against it aren’t we??

Parents are hard working human beings who have to plot hobbies and associated tournaments/exams, sports days, nativities, birthday parties, school trips. We also have to deal with unexpected illnesses and hospital trips, broken boilers, car problems and save for Christmas and birthdays. This factor hasn’t really changed to be honest over the years but what has is that because of both parents generally having to work long hours there is a very short window of time left to both accomplish the raising of healthy and well rounded children as per guide books and forums, and also the need to see our own friends and family and keep our minds healthy too.

There is constant “noise” from parenting forums, the guide books, the health visitors and the opinions of all and sundry on how we should be accomplishing this crucial task of shaping and nurturing a human and it is very bewildering and constant. It also makes it so hard to feel 100% confident in what you are doing, leading to further self-doubt.

The importance of modern parents keeping in contact with their own friends and family, the wind beneath their wings, cannot be underestimated. Especially when you think about the stress and exhaustion issues around modern parenting. Furthermore, the importance of parents having time for each other cannot be underestimated. Mental health problems in adults are rising as well as children because we are all depleted and struggling to cope.

And has ADHD really risen that dramatically in kids or was it simply not diagnosed back in the day? Were the kids labelled as “the naughty ones” and simply put in life’s Room 101? ADHD is real, it’s not a label, and physiologically the brain of a person with ADHD differs in structure and make up. It’s no-one’s “fault” and maybe statistics on this incline are not reliable because of the former lack of care and diagnosis.

As for the bad press single parents get, don’t get me started. For whoever reads this raising kids on their own I take my hat off to you, truly, because you are warriors.

Digitally distracted? To have a look at Facebook is sometimes the only time we can connect with our friends and see what they are up to, drop them a quick message and check all is well with them. It may not always be as meaningful a connection as a night out or a coffee with them but with busy diaries sometimes it is the only way. Those who love you the most will find the time for you no matter what and I am embracing the big night in these days rather than the big night out now haha! It takes weeks to find a date where all concerned are available but we get there.

When I look around and think of all my friends and acquaintances I see parents setting good examples of the work ethic, showing how you get what you want through graft and effort alone. I see parents encouraging their children to enjoy hobbies and taking them to wonderful museums, theatres, big green spaces, foreign climes and expanding their minds with these efforts. I see parents who work long hours standing on the sidelines of a football pitch through winter for more hours at the weekend when they could be relaxing!!!

For those on lower incomes just the simple things have to be enough, and those like us on a single income plus a smidge from the cakes try to find out about the free stuff and seek out the vouchers, which takes commitment and skill to find haha! My kids have visited some wonderful places though, climbed a thousand trees, swam in open waters, enjoyed roaring fires in cottages, and tried all sorts of everything from a hobby perspective and never at a great cost. But however and whatever parents are doing I see in my friendship circle that they are doing it universally well, with the greatest love and commitment. I want to say to you that if you ever doubt yourself when reading these derisory posts, to challenge your self-doubt and think about what you have done that has made your child smile and all that you have achieved on life’s hardest but most rewarding journey. I can assure you that just being there for them, in a warm environment, with a decent meal and the example of a parent or parents who work hard and love them immeasurably is enough. You are enough.

Thanks again Jane, I needed that bit of encouragement!

Janey’s Venerable Vegan Chilli!

Hurrah, a guest post – thanks Jane! It is so refreshing to be able to share someone else’s cooking and writing styles. I met Jane at a toddler group that I used to go to when I lived in the UK. She is a supermum (although I’m sure she doesn’t always feel like it) who has set up her own business making incredibly impressive party cakes. You can see her fabulous cakes here. This isn’t a cake recipe – I expect that she didn’t want to share her trade secrets!

I really enjoyed testing this recipe. We used smoked paprika because we couldn’t get hold of liquid smoke. The observant amongst you will also note that we missed out the sweetcorn – we were convinced that there was some at the back of the cupboard, but alas there was none. This made a huge amount of chilli – we should have invited the neighbours! I am looking forward to having it again as a freezer meal on a lazy evening.

vegan chilli

I love this “chuck it al in” chilli in January, a veg packed antidote to the over indulgence of Christmas and mercifully quick to temper one’s exhaustion at the thought of what to serve for tea (the eternal dilemma haha)! Protein rich, store cupboard friendly and super yummy with either long grain or wholegrain rice with some home-made guacamole or for vegetarians sour cream with chopped chives/grated cheese. The liquid smoke, if you can get hold of it, adds a super special magic and really does take it to a new level! Lastly, kids actually like this….all three of mine and this is a minor miracle as they all have such different tastes (I have a Venn diagram under a fridge magnet lol).

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 red and 1 yellow pepper
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into batons
  • 1 broccoli head chopped into florets
  • 1-2 tbsp of chilli powder depending on your spice threshold!
  • 1 tsp of smoked paprika or a splash of liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp of oregano
  • 1 tin of chick peas
  • 1 tin of kidney beans
  • 1 tin of tomatoes (add a little veg stock if required)
  • 1 tin of sweetcorn
  • 1 tsp sugar (I would start with half a teaspoon and then add more to taste)

Method

I used a large, shallow pan with a lid.

1)  Saute the onion and garlic on a medium heat in the olive oil until starting to soften.

2)  Lower the heat and add the carrots and broccoli, plus the peppers, stir frying until they soften a little.

4)  Add the chilli powder, smoked paprika/liquid smoke, cumin and oregano and stir until the veg are thoroughly coated.

5)  Add the tomatoes and chick peas, as well the kidney beans and sweetcorn. Add the sugar and stir through.

6)  Simmer away on a low heat until the veg are cooked through but still a little al-dente and the liquid in the tomato base sauce has thickened (if it is still a little watery add some diluted cornflour to thicken at the last minute or add more liquid if vice versa…either another tin of toms or veg stock).

Serve as suggested above and enjoy!

vegan chilli

Vegan Chestnut Stuffing Sausage Rolls

I love a guest blog post – this isn’t because I’m lazy (much), but because I love discovering and sharing other people’s recipes and writing styles. This recipe comes from the fabulously creative Kate.

Kate is, amongst other things, a Laughter Yoga teacher, a creative writer and seriously skilled at making cakes. Embracing the vegan lifestyle has, if anything, made her more creative in the kitchen and I always enjoying sampling the tasty treats she makes.

So without further ado, and in her own words (and with the help of playdough), here is Kate’s recipe for Vegan Sausage Rolls.

vegan sausage roll

So… near the start of the month I had a vegan sausage roll from Greggs (pleasant warming snack).

But then I got obsessed with sausage rolls!

I wrapped a Linda McCartney vegan sausage in pastry… also good.

Then I made my own stuffing with bagels, chestnuts, pecans, sage, dried cherries and spices and made it into this super fancy braided sausage roll based on some random video that appeared on my newsfeed. And it is the best yet!

I wrote it into my titchy recipes notebook (started in 2002!) but here it is slightly more legibly.

Day one: make the stuffing and eat some of it with some roast potatoes and veg

Day two: turn the rest into sausage rolls.

Special skills needed: adding just the right amount of water to things.

Ingredients:

(Stuffing fills a 15cm diameter, 7cm deep round oven dish)

STUFFING

  • 2x bagels
  • 200g ready to eat chestnuts
  • small handful pecans
  • 8 dried cherries (I like the Urban Fruit ones as they aren’t sweetened)
  • 6 sage leaves
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • sprinkle of mixed pepper
  • sprinkle of mixed herbs
  • water
  • dessert spoon of vegan margarine

PASTRY

(to make three sausage rolls)

  • 180g plain flour
  • 90g vegan margarine
  • pinch of salt
  • cold water to mix

Method:

Day one:

Blend bagels, chestnuts and pecans on a low speed until they are in crumbs/small pieces. Tip into a mixing bowl.

Boil the kettle.

Preheat the oven to 180oC.

Snip cherries into thirds, add to bowl (It is possible that using a different amount of cherries cut into different fractions will also work!).

Skip idyllically into your garden to harvest some sage leaves, wash them, then rip them up and add to the bowl.

Add the spices and smush around with your fingers.

Pour a splurge of boiling water on until the texture looks like stuffing. Add the margarine on top and stir to melt it in.

Cook in an ovenproof dish for 25 minutes.

Day two:

Preheat the oven to 200oC

Make the pastry. Rub margarine into flour and salt. Tip a little cold water in until you get a dough, then roll it out and cut it into thirds. Top tip: don’t go back and forth over your pastry like a steamroller, just push it one way at a time then it won’t go tough.

Place a chunk of stuffing in the middle of each rectangle.

I didn’t have the opportunity to make another batch of pastry to demonstrate the braiding technique… but I did have some play dough and giant chalks (see below images for a step by step guide. ed).

Please do not consume chalk or play dough in a moment of confusion.

Cut the pastry in diagonal lines, wet the edges, braid it and do something rustic with the ends (or find a slightly more detailed tutorial if you aren’t a fan of super chunky pastry!).

Cook for 25 minutes.

Enjoy the wodge-tastic January comfort food goodness! Smile and then you can ingest your chestnuts in jest. Sausage ROTFL. Ha!

😋

braided sausage roll

vegan sausage roll

 

Salmon Pinwheels

I have found that I am not very good at blogging in summer – I am too busy enjoying my garden! So I was rather chuffed when this little recipe dropped into my inbox from the fabulous Michelle, who has guest-blogged for me before and who coined the wonderful phrase ‘fridge gravel‘. This is a true storecupboard recipe and I will be giving these pinwheels a try next time I need to make canapés at short notice  (yes, that does happen).

Thanks Michelle!  salmon pinwheels

This is something I do when I fancy something a little different – salmon pinwheels.

It is quite a simple dish. The omelettes are just one egg, a little salt and pepper and a pinch of tarragon beaten together and cooked gently in a small egg pan in a knob of butter.

Spread the egg out until it covers the base of the frying pan and cook until set on one side, flip over and cook on the other side for about one minute.

Slide out of the pan onto a chopping board to cool.

Once cold, spread the omelette with a mix of tinned pink salmon that has been mixed with a bit of mayo and apple cider vinegar.

You could use any filling you like – chopped cooked chicken and mayo, leftover minced beef etc.

Roll up the omelettes into a cigar shape and slice into bite sized pieces. Delicious!

Adding the tarragon to the omelette works really well with fish, but that could be subbed for other herbs.

Simples!

 

 

A little lesson in distilling and gin appreciation…

I hope that you are all enjoying Kitty’s Storecupboard Gin Week as much as I am! This post has been written by ‘Australian Sarah’ (not ‘Winemaker Sarah’ or ‘my sister Sarah’) who was given the very difficult task of visiting one of the Edinburgh Distillery’s near where she lives, so that we can all better appreciate  the hard work that goes into making the smaller scale ‘craft’ gins which we  enjoy so much. Read this post with an Friday evening G&T in hand, and as Sarah concludes her piece ‘never forget how much love and care has been put into your handcrafted gin’.

Happy Gin Week, and Happy Friday!

As an oompa loompa of science I find the world of distilling and brewing quite fascinating.  Basically Chemistry class for adults!  So to celebrate Gin Week and a couple of visitors from home I headed to Edinburgh’s first gin distillery in 150 years: Pickering’s, situated in Summerhall in Edinburgh’s south.  I had unfortunately missed out on Juniper Fest over the weekend and had already visited the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, so was keen to learn what made Pickering’s special.

Pickerings gin is based on an original Bombay recipe dating back to 1947 and kept as a family secret until it resurfaced in 2013 when Matt and Marcus began distilling at Summerhall.  The tour begins at the Royal Dick Bar in Summerhall, also home to one of Edinburgh’s breweries Barney’s Beer, with a G&T to sip throughout.Collage_Fotor

From the bar you are taken past the Mens room, then the Ladies, through winding corridors and over uneven ground to what used to be dog and cat kennels.  They have since been repurposed with some of the kennels used to store raw ingredients, gin and boxes.  But how do they make their gin?

A neutral grain spirit with 96%abv is piped into one of two copper stills on site, one called Emily, the other Getrude after Matt and Marcus’s great-grandmothers.  In the still the 9 botanicals are added and the spirit left to steep.Collage_Fotor2

The 9 botanicals that go in to making this tasty drop are juniper, coriander, cardamon, angelica, fennel, anise, lemon, lime and clove.  The two stills have an ingenious custom-designed bain marie heating system that provides a gentle simmer able to coax out their subtle, soft, highly drinkable flavours. gin_5b

After steeping, this bain marie system is used to heat the spirit to vapour.  As the heating begins this vapour is trapped in the ‘onion’ of the still, condenses and travels back down to the heart of either Emily or Gertrude.  This process of vapourising, condensing and travelling back to the spirit can occur up to 16 times before the spirit is warm enough for the vapour to bypass the onion and travel through the swan neck to the neighbouring condenser.

The condenser uses water that is stored in a local underground well to cool the vapour back to a liquid.  Similar to whisky distilling, the potable alcohol the distiller wants to capture has a boiling point of 78.2oC, with the first vapours to boil off being more volatile and known as the ‘heads’.  The heads include chemicals such as acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), acetone ((CH3)2CO) and esters (pretty sure I learnt about those in chemistry back in the day!).  Once the desired boiling point is reached the ethanol liquid is called the heart and piped through copper piping to one of three vats.  The heart will be ethanol.  The tails are left, containing water, carbohydrates and less volatile alcohols, all undesirable.  The tails will consist of 1-propanol (CH3CH2CH2OH), butyl alcohol (C4H10O), amyl (Isobutyl carbinol) and acetic acid (CH3COOH) to name a few.

The copper in the still and piping is very important as it helps produce an even, smooth flavour and impurities are left on the inside of the copper piping thereby keeping the spirit pure without excessive filtration.

Once stored in the vats the distillers will monitor the temperature and density of the spirit, regularly taking temperature and density readings and adding water until the desired alcohol content is arrived at.  Pickering’s Gin has 42%abv, slightly more than the required 37.5%abv to qualify as a London Dry Gin.  It is a particularly high tech process at Pickering’s, adding the water by hand in smaller and smaller quantities, stirring using a oar bought from an outdoor shop and taking individual measurements with thermometer and hydrometer then double checking them in a large book full of tables.

Collage_Fotor3.jpg

This is a one-shot method, only mixing their end distillate with water to cut it to bottling strength, compared with larger distilleries who use more base spirit to stretch their distillate before cutting with water.

When the desired alcohol content is achieved then it is piped in copper pipes to the room next door where it is bottled by hand.  It is also stoppered and waxed by hand.

If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Pickering’s you’ll know the bottle isn’t square, which makes attaching labels by hand consistently rather difficult.  The distillery is housed in part of Summerhall, an old Veterinary Hospital that is now home to many community groups including Edinburgh Hacklab.  This hacklab is a space for people to mess around with technology for fun so Pickering’s asked them to come up with something they could use to attach the labels, as they were worryingly close to their launch date and had a few hundred bottles to label.

The resulting machine is quite something, and is still going well considering it was designed to be used on a few hundred bottles and has now been used on over 60,000.

Once labels are attached, and the stoppers are waxed the bottles are boxed up and stored in the old dog kennels.  Throughout this whole process it s evident that everything is done by hand by a very small team, and it is definitely a labour of love.Collage_Fotor5.jpg

The original 1947 recipe was altered as they were creating a gin that goes perfectly with tonic, and it seems they have hit the nail on the head.  They also produce a Navy Strength gin, as official partners of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and have also created a gin using the original 1947 recipe which is a spicier, sweeter and more intense spirit.

Their most recent release has its beginnings in a trip around Scotland to the iconic whisky regions in search of the best casks they could find.  They then age their Original gin in one of five ex-Scotch malt whisky casks, and the result is truly something!

gin_13b

Well that’s all from me today.  I hope you feel a little better informed about the process of creating one of my favourite gins.  I definitely believe a greater understanding of something leads to a much deeper appreciation of its beauty. So next time you sip that G&T ask yourself what botanicals are in it, how they affect the gin, whether it is a one or two shot distillate, and never forget how much love and care has been put into your handcrafted gin.

gin_12b

… and that’s nearly the end of Gin Week guys and gals. Not quite though, because Winemaker Sarah and I are going on an unexpected little adventure tomorrow afternoon which we will share with you tomorrow – watch this space!

Gin and Tonic Tart!

Sarah* and I have been drooling over this recipe for months and we finally got around to  making it one sunny weekend in May; it certainly lived up to expectations! In Sarah’s own words…

Gin and Tonic Tart
Serve with a decorative cat and some sunshine… and of course Gin!

When Kitty’s Kitchen came to visit me in deepest Hampshire (I like the idea of Kitty’s Kitchen being a vibe of relaxed and joyful cooking which follows me wherever I go – thanks Sarah! Ed.), a mere stone’s throw from the Bombay Sapphire distillery we made sure to put the local produce to good use. It seemed only right to make a Gin & Tonic tart we had been sharing with each other for over a year and I won’t go too heavily into detail because the recipe is pretty clear and the images speak for themselves.

Gin and Tonic Tart

We found that the pastry shrank fairly dramatically in the oven (which could be a problem of temperature and humidity but is always a danger when one isn’t familiar with baking in a particular oven). I think it is worth being quite generous with the edges on a first attempt to avoid this since too much shrinkage leaves less base to contain your filling; I speak from experience!

However, the whole was very pleasing; the filling zesty and smooth, the pastry light and the syrup gave an excellent added tang. I am not normally a fan of fiddly desserts but this one came out excellently and I would certainly do it again.

The gin and tonic syrup kept very well in the fridge, so well that it made it back to Northamptonshire and became the base of a blended gin for my Grandmother who was finding her dry gin too sharp having been spoiled with Edinburgh Gin Elderflower Liqueur for Christmas.

* who I call ‘wine-maker Sarah’; as opposed to ‘Australian Sarah’ who is writing a post for us later in the week, my sister Sarah… and the many other lovely ladies in my life of that name.

Gin and Tonic Tart