The strangest thing I have ever done in a car

… well, I bet THAT got you interested!

Those of you who read this regularly might have noticed that I haven’t been posting as much as usual – that’s a combination of work getting in the way and a few worries at home. I’ve hardly done any cooking at all. My darling aunt is really quite ill, so I have returned to the grim North to see her.

I got up to the most marvellous sunrise and tried to think what it meant.. red sky in the morning?

Was that the bad weather portent.. or was it going to be good weather?  I set off muttering “red sky at night….shepherd’s delight… red sky in the morning…. oh dammit!”

I had a long drive…….

.. and yes, it started to snow… AGAIN!

By the time I was driving up this road, my most favourite road in the world, the road back into my village, it had snowed.

In two hours everything had gone from a normal wintry day, with no snow,  to thick snow

When I went to my mother’s house, what had been clear of snow, two hours previously, was now two inches deep.

I just wish it would all go away.

Anyway, back to the car thing……my aunt hasn’t been eating and as I would do anything for her, I asked what she could manage a mouthful of. She’s stuck in hospital, watching yet more snow whirl past her window  and marvellous though the NHS have been for her, they can’t possibly make dishes to order.

They have to cater for thousands every day and that means making stuff that appeals to the majority. That’s fine, in the main, but she was tired of yoghurts and jelly…. but she could, perhaps, manage a spoonful or so of creme brulee.

So, the devoted niece drove straight to Marks and Spencer and bought two little creme brulees. I would have made it myself but, quite frankly, I didn’t have the time.

That’s the packet, balanced on the dashboard of my car.

They looked delicious…but, and this was the big but… you had to put the sugar on the top and grill it to get the lovely brulee crunchy top.

Now, as I said, the NHS is truly marvellous but they just won’t let you wander into their kitchens and borrow a grill.

I had thought of that and I brought along (being a most resourceful niece – comes of being in the Girl Guides, I reckon) my kitchen blow torch.

They wouldn’t let me fire it up in her room, either. 

Risk of fire and all that.. so….

I sat in the car in the car park and brulee’d the little pot, balanced on my leg,  until it was golden and crunchy.

Was it worth it? Oh yes. My little aunt ate it all up… and the added bonus was that my car smelled divine!

So. Beat that. Of all the things anyone has done in a car, I reckon finishing off a creme brulee is probably the strangest…

Unless, of course, you know different?

Fairtrade Fortnight (22 Feb – 7 March 2010)

A couple of weeks ago I got the following email from a friend I have known for years… years and years.

And I thought you all might like to see what she said, because we are, of course, not only massively interested in delicious cooking but we are all supportive of Fairtrade.

So, read on and see if you can do something. After all, baking is not just for tea-time….

To encourage fairer baking, Tate & Lyle  and cupcake queen and author Lily Vanilli, have developed a trio of delicious and unusual recipes using Fairtrade ingredients, which I am delighted to share with you.  You’ll probably be aware that the Fairtrade mark is the only independent consumer label that ensures farmers in developing countries receive an agreed and stable price for the crops they grow that covers the cost of sustainable production… so it deserves support

Two years ago, Tate & Lyle announced plans to move its retail cane sugars range to Fairtrade with no resulting price increase to consumers.  In the first year alone, this switch created a return of  £2 million in Fairtrade premiums for cane farmers.
I hope that you will feel able to support Fairtrade Fortnight  through your blog and encourage “Fair” baking during the run up to Fairtrade Fortnight. Maybe you would also try one of Lily’s recipes with a view to sharing the results with your readers?  What could leave a better taste in one’s mouth than a delicious cake made from fairly traded ingredients?!
Lily Vanilli’s Fairtrade Bacon and Banana Cakes
4 rashers unsmoked organic back bacon
150g ripe Fairtrade bananas (approx 2 small)
60g Fairtrade honey
100g unsalted organic butter (at room temperature)
40g Tate & Lyle Fairtrade caster sugar
140g organic plain flour (sifted)
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 large, free-range organic eggs (at room temperature)
Handful Fairtrade Brazil nuts (toasted & chopped)
1/2 tsp grated Fairtrade nutmeg
1/2 tsp Fairtrade ground cinnamon
12 paper cupcake cases


1. Lay rashers of bacon on a foil lined sheet and place in a cold oven with the temperature set to 200c for approx 20 mins or until crispy. Allow to cool

 2. Turn heat down to 180c

 3. Mash bananas with honey in a small bowl and set aside

 4. Sift together all the dry ingredients into a large bowl – flour, sugar, baking powder, salt

 5. Cut butter into small chunks and add to the dry ingredients, blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until evenly incorporated

 6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition

 7. Mix in the banana/honey mixture, spices and Brazil nuts to taste

 8. Spoon into cupcakes cases, filling almost to the top 

 9. Bake in preheated oven for 15 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean

 10. Remove and leave to cool in the pans for approx 3 mins – then transfer to a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.


55g unsalted organic butter (at room temperature)
325g Tate & Lyle Fairtrade icing sugar
1/2 cup (4fl oz) organic double cream
2 tbsp Fairtrade honey

 1. Beat the butter until smooth, then add half of the sugar, the double cream and the honey

 2. Continue beating, slowly adding the rest of the sugar to achieve a smooth, even texture

 3. Ice each cooled cupcake with a thick swirl of frosting and top with strips of cooled bacon and chopped Brazil nuts.

Fairtrade Devil’s Food Ale Cakes
115g unsalted organic butter (at room temperature)
45g Divine Fairtrade cocoa
155g Fairtrade ale (Honey Ale)
170g organic plain flour (sifted)
Pinch of salt
2/3 tsp baking soda
225g Tate & Lyle Fairtrade caster sugar
1 large free-range, organic egg (at room temperature)
3 fl oz (3/8 cup) organic buttermilk
12 paper cupcake cases


Preheat the oven to 180c

 1. Bring ale to the boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa.  Leave to cool until it reaches room temperature

 2. Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda and set aside

 3. Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixture until very light and fluffy (about 5 mins)

 4. Add the egg and beat until just incorporated

 5. Beat in the cooled ale/cocoa mixture

 6. Add the sifted dry mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk in two parts – beginning and ending with the dry and beating after each addition

 7. Spoon the batter into a baking tray lined with cupcake cases (2/3 of the way full)

 8. Bake in preheated oven for 15 mins or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean

 9. Cool briefly in the pans and then transfer to a wire rack until cooled completely.


1. Boil ale in a saucepan, remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa. Allow to cool completely – transfer to a bowl and place in the fridge if necessary

 2. Beat the butter until smooth

 3. Add the vanilla, ale/cocoa mixture and half the icing sugar and continue to beat. Gradually add all of the sugar – beating continuously until you reach a consistency you like

 4. Spread onto cooled cupcakes and top with shavings of Fairtrade chocolate and Brazil nuts. Or do as I did and just add more chocolate!

Fairtrade Burnt Butter, White Chocolate and Brazil Nut Cookies
280g organic plain flour (sifted)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
170g Unsalted organic butter (at room temperature)
220g Tate & Lyle Fairtrade light brown sugar
100g Tate & Lyle Fairtrade granulated sugar
1 large free-range organic egg (at room temperature)
1 free-range, organic egg yolk (at room temperature)
1/2 tsp Fairtrade vanilla essence
Handful Fairtrade white chocolate chunks
Handful Fairtrade Brazil nuts (chopped)
Zest of one Fairtrade lemon


Preheat oven to 150c

 1. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt

 2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and heat, stirring continuously until brown bits begin to form at the bottom of the pan (approx 5 mins)

 3. Beat the melted butter together with the light brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth 

 4. Add the egg & egg yolk and beat to incorporate into sugar/butter mixture

5. Set the mixer to a low speed and gradually add the sifted dry ingredients

 6. Add lemon zest, chocolate and Brazil nuts to taste

 7. Roll dough into 2 inch diameter balls and lay on a lined baking sheet, approx 2 inches apart, bake in preheated oven 15 mins or until brown around the edges and soft in the centre.

So what do you think? Fancy a try at any of these? It’s not just for our own enjoyment – well, it is, but think of the greater good – this is your chance to help Fairtrade!

Thanks, Emma!

(Oh, and have something nice for tea!)

Dal. Delicious dal.

It’s obviously the weather for comfort food…the cold and damp and gloom affects everyone’s mood and general levels of happiness.  I am still working as a temp and that is not helping matters either. It’s good that I have work, but how I long for a real job with some sense of security because working week by week means I can’t plan anything. The uncertainty just nags away at me.

Ho hum.

I seem to have been working my way through my favourite comfort food recipes…recipes that can be relied upon to make me feel safe and happy. I was reading one of my friend’s blogs, Anne’s Kitchen, and her take on dal reminded me just how much I love it… and how long it had been since I served dal for supper.

One of my favourite things to eat (and, now, a favourite of The Bear’s, too) is dal. Beautifully soft and fragrant lentils, or split peas, chickpeas or beans, spiced with chillies and assorted spices and served with steamed basmati rice.

 There are hundreds of recipes for dal but this one is one I have developed over time and one that we love.

I travelled round the south of India (surely one of the most beautiful places on earth?) before I met him and ate dal all the time…

and what follows is  an amalgam of all the lovely dals I ate on trains, in cafes,  in railway stations….at  beachside huts

I saw some brilliantly fresh coriander in my local Asian supermarket. It was a sign, I felt, that I had to buy it and go home straightaway and start on dal.

Before you do anything else, you need to get the spice mix right. I love the slight popping effect of the mustard seeds in the finished dish. I start by heating the frying pan with a splash of chilli oil and adding chopped onion to soften slightly before adding heaped teaspoons of kalonji (black onion seeds, or nigella), brown mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds.

They pop slightly as they heat and add a delicious fragrance and flavour to the finished dish.

A teaspoonful each of tumeric and cumin powder add a deep rich smell and taste… and a pinch of asfoetida gives it a pungent, almost garlicky hit

Just put them in and stir them round mixing everything so the ground spices cover everything

I adore coriander and I have that lovely big bunch, so I like to chop the stems and add them at this stage too – layer upon layer of delicious herbs and spices transform a simple dish of lentils into something truly marvellous

I do need to add heat, of course, and I have some fantastic dried chillies

That can bubble away in the dal as it cooks…..

So, to the mix, add a cup full of yellow split peas

And a cup full of lentils.

Two different sizes, you’ll notice, which adds a delicious variation in the finished dal…

Add two cups of water and stir it round….

and add a tin of coconut milk

Look at that lovely rich cream…. stir it round…

and just leave it so simmer away… will take about an hour.

While that is chugging away gently, I make the rice, the way I was shown by an Indian friend

I heat some the indispensible chilli oil and throw in 6 cloves. Count them, don’t just thrown in a handful, because at the end, it is a good idea to know how many you are looking for. Cloves are marvellous but biting on one, unexpectedly, suddenly makes you think of the dentists, not of comfort and happiness.

Throw in a cup full of rice and stir it round so it gets a coating of chilli oil and the slight scent of cloves, then add a scant cup and a half of water a decent pinch of salt  and bring it to the boil.

Turn down the heat and let it cook until the water is absorbed.

Now, all you do is take it off the heat and lay a clean teatowel over the top of the pan and put the lid back on

What this does is absorb any extra steam and moisture and your rice turns out beautifully fluffy, with each grain separate and perfect.


All you need now is to serve up the dal….with fresh coriander

Look at those little mustard seeds… the split peas and the lentils…but to make it absolutely perfect and in homage to my love of the south of India, some shavings of raw coconut add the finishing touch

Utter, absolute luxury from the most basic of ingredients.  Utter and absolute comfort food, costing pennies.

What more could I want?  (Well, apart from a job!)


We have a new T.O.B Cook!

Once upon a time I had a good job. A great job. And I had great friends working with me. I still have the friends, it’s just the job that went by the wayside.

One of those friends is Lolly who was always there to sort everything out – she was the one who listened to me trying to run over my phone in my desperate attempt to get shot of the dreadful thing and get another…. she has listened to me shriek in disbelief at the tortures inflicted on me by computers… she has rescued me from all sorts of things and made sure that all was well in my world.

And what did I give her? A potato ricer. It just goes to show what a brilliant person and cook she is that she loved it!

And now the lovely Lolly is reading my blog…..

She decided to make the Blueberry Yoghurt Cake

Doesn’t that make your heart skip a beat?

That truly is one beautiful cake! I don’t think I have seen a more beautiful one.

And she decided to try No Knead Bread….

That’s her bread in progress – and it is a testament to her skill as a baker that as soon as it was ready to eat, her parents and her beloved ate it!

I shall get Lolly to tell you more, but until them, look at her pictures and drool at her cake!  

October 2010

Autumn is here as is the apple crop. We have all been trying to do as much as we can with the huge haul of apples and the lovely Lolly is no exception.

We both love cake baking and Laura and I have been working on delicious cakes using apples. One thing we found on our searches was that apple butter or stewed apples can reduce the need for fat in a cake and anything that can make cake almost a health food is good for us!

  Lolly had emailed me one morning and we were talking about the potential for cake ” I was having a look at your blog and came across the recipe for the Apple Cake that you made with Apple Butter, and some chopped up apple pieces. I have 3 smallish apples left from my bounty, as well as a small Tupperware box of stewed apple and I wondered if you thought it would work if I made it like this….

Peel and core my 3 remaining apples, mix with juice of ½ lemon.

Put 250ml greek yogurt in a bowl and add 200g golden caster sugar, 60 ml veg oil, 2 eggs and the seeds from one of your wonderful vanilla pods and gently mix

In another bowl put 300g plain flour, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp bicarb, and then instead of the apple butter, two heaped dessert spoonfuls of stewed apple and a tsp of cinnamon.

Mix through and add dry ingredients and chopped apple.

 Do you think that this would work, or do you think I should also add a little bit of butter for a bit of fat?”

Look at that! I think you could say that it worked!

Lolly says ”  Well I made it! I think that I put too much of something in, perhaps flour as the cake is a little dense. However, that hasn’t stopped it from being devoured by everyone at work so it must taste alright!!! I also made a small heart shaped one for Giles…!”

I think that is how it should be for a cake that is best eaten with tea or coffee – somehow, light and fluffycakes belong more with afternoon dainty teas. This is the sort of cake that is perfect for a mid morning break, say. Nothing too sticky… nothing too airy, just a perfect slice to have with a hot drink.

Well done, Lolly… and I bet Giles loved his heart shaped cake!

Lamb Henry

Remember the crushed potatoes? That lovely perfect mix of crunchy and soft… savoury, yet almost sweet from the proper cooking of the carbohydrates? Now I think they can stand alone as a dish, and in an emergency, when you need something quickly then that is a great option.

I made them last week in under half an hour, but what I didn’t go through at the time was what I served them with. I made roast lamb.

Now you know that time was of the essence that night, so what I had to do was to cook something really quickly. I think my favourite meat is lamb, so when I found the perfect quick-cook lamb roast I was in seventh heaven.

Lamb Henry is  a cut, like a shank but cut from the shoulder instead. You can cook it slowly, which is what all the recipes I have found suggest, or, do it like we do – cook it hot and fast!

That piece there is more than enough for the two of us – it could easily stretch to three, I think, if I made more vegetables or just increased the potato – and guess what? It cost £2.96.

Now, imagine the pleasure of having a fresh, hot-roasted piece of lamb, mid week, cooked with the minimum of fuss and bother, costing less than a burger from a fast food joint, and ready in less than an hour. You’d be pleased, wouldn’t you?

So, first things first, get the oven on to preheat – 180 degrees – and while that is getting up to temperature start on your potatoes and rub the skin of the little lamb henry with salt.

Straight into the oven with it, where it will stay, undisturbed for 45 – 50 minutes.

(You can pop the potatoes in if you are doing them, but they will need only 20 or so minutes)

That’s it after 45 minutes…..

… and a nice thing to do is to put a spoonful of mint jelly on the top, maybe 5 minutes before the end. Or maybe redcurrant jelly?

It melts over and bastes that little henry…..

Let it rest for five minutes or so and then cut delicious slices of lamb.

Perfect with crushed and roasted potatoes……

Supper cooked from scratch in just under the hour. Each delicious portion costing less than £2. What more can you ask for mid week?

Crushed potatoes

Working full time is, as most of you will know, a pretty tiring business.

Working as a temp in an office is actually not that lucrative, so there’s always a fine line to be drawn between saving money and making things taste good.

This cold, dark winter seems longer than usual and it affects everyone’s mood. We get up in the dark, go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. If it’s not snowing then it’s raining or just bone-chillingly cold. The street lights come on mid afternoon and the freezing fog just hangs about.

I feel permanently exhausted and everything seems so much effort. Even cooking – my great joy – seems to be suffering. I want to come home and do the minimum…. the minimum, that is, until I have to eat it. I want something to cheer me up and make me feel marginally more special than a cold, dark and miserable Thursday warrants.

The answer is, of course, make something that takes the least effort imaginable, in the shortest time, with the loveliest taste.

When your mood is low then the thing to do is to get some potatoes… life always seems better when spuds are involved

The answer, therefore, is….. crushed and roasted (sort of) potatoes.

You’d be happy, I take it, with something that takes less than half an hour to make and serve? Some of those packet meal things take 40 minutes.. so something fresh and easy would be better? Surely?

So, you get some potatoes, peel them and cut them into manageable pieces… put them in a microwavable bowl with a sprinkle of salt and some water.

Put the oven on at 180 degrees.

Cover it with a plate and cook on high power for 6 or 7  minutes. (I say cover it with a plate because that is quicker and more economical than covering it with cling film and then throwing it out. Besides, that’s what I always do)

That’s just enough to mainly cook them but them still to keep their shape. Jab them with a knife to check there’s give in them.

Drain the spuds and put them on an oven tray… and get out your potato masher.

(Funnily enough, when I make mashed potato I won’t use the masher, I always use a potato ricer to make sure the mash is as smooth as can be. The masher is, however, perfect for part crushing the potatoes)

Now, don’t go mad. You aren’t mashing… you are bashing.

The potatoes need to be broken down around the edges… not flat, just bashed about.

Drizzle oil over it… garlic oil is good… as is chilli oil if you want your potatoes to have a bit of a bite … then shove them in the oven on a top shelf for ten minutes or so.

See how the littler bits have gone golden and crispy?

And the bigger bits have crisped up round the outside?

And there you have it… perfect to serve with (as I did) some roast lamb…. or maybe left over sausages, heated through, or maybe some roast chicken.

Sometimes, it is just enough to have a bowl of potatoes.

That really did take just about 30 minutes to make. 

And it really did take the edge off a bad day.


It’s Friday.

The end of another working week and I have been promising myself a treat for when I get in… when I get in and change from work clothes into my jeans and a jumper.

….. for when I go upstairs and  lounge on the sofa with my feet up.

I can picture it now. I can imagine the comfort of putting my tired feet up…. and I can see, in my mind’s eye

I have a bottle of my favourite gin, Tanqueray and some Fever Tree Tonic and a lemon that is just asking to be sliced….

I’d like to think I lived an elegant lifestyle with cocktails at 6… but the truth of the matter is, I will be sitting, not in an elegant cocktail dress, with a cigarette in a long, slender  holder, looking impossibly elegant and oh-so-well groomed, making light and amusing conversation, no, I will instead be wearing old and faded jeans, warm socks and a rather happily smug expression….

The glass will, however,  still have 1 measure of Tanqueray to 3 measures of tonic, over lots of ice and a slice of lemon.

The glass will still bead with condensation and the ice will still clink in that lovely way…


I deserve it…. and so, maybe do you.

Welcome to the weekend.

Beef and Ale Casserole with dumplings

I’ve been craving big meaty dishes  recently. It’s the bad weather of course. That and still feeling sorry for myself after I fell on the ice and banged my head so hard. I still have a bump you know and  I just hope I don’t go bald because I have a very odd shaped head now.

When you think about it, that could have been a really nasty accident, so the best thing to do is to celebrate…. not with champagne… but with dumplings!  There’s something rather lovely about a dumpling, don’t you think?

I used to hate them – as I did anything that reminded me of a school dinner.

How on earth could a mixture of suet and flour possibly taste half way decent? My friends talked of the joys of a decent dumpling, all crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, bobbing merrily about on a luscious stew or casserole but I still refused to have anything to do with them.

I have no idea what changed my mind but one day I thought it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I thought. I think I’d been to my favourite butcher and seen fresh suet for sale at a ridiculously low price and thought I had to give it a go. I knew that I had managed to conquer other fixed dislikes…. it really does come down to how things are made.

So if I was to experiment, then buying some suet for 33p wouldn’t break the bank, would it?

33p? For 282g? That had to be a bargain and I had to be able to make something decent with it. So I did. I looked up recipes and thought about what I wanted to achieve and then I made my first dumplings.

I’ve never looked back. I’ve made apple and chive dumplings to go with a chicken and cider casserole.

I made minty dumplings to go with lamb. I’ve made all sorts of dumplings and, do you know, I have enjoyed every one.

Now I fancied a beef and ale stew…and what would I do with the dumplings? I thought I would mix beer in them…

I had some lovely beef, just crying out to be made into a stew, and some incredibly beautiful looking carrots from the farm shop….

And I had some ale – Theakston’s XB. It would be the work of moments to get everything ready the night before and then just set it off in the slow cooker when I went to work. I’d be able to sit at my desk all day, knowing that while I was working, the supper would be cooking, and, best of all, when I opened the door of the apartment, I would be greeted by the smell of a rich and delicious stew. I love coming home to the smell of supper waiting for you. But until I become independently wealthy and can afford household staff, it is only going to happen when I sort things out by putting something in the slow cooker the night before…….

I really do think the slow cooker has been worth every penny I paid for it. I was always too cautious to go out leaving the oven on all day but I feel quite safe with the slow cooker. Maybe it is because I grew up with a gas oven and there was always the potential for explosion… I don’t know.

Anyway, fast as you can, peel and chop carrots and put half of them in the slow cooker

Sear the chopped stewing steak in a hot pan with some oil.

Put that in on top of the vegetables

Cover the meat with the rest of the carrot and onion, give everything a quick but generous shake of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and then pour in a bottle of ale.

That pan that you seared the meat in? Look at the lovely meat juices in there…

Add a spoonful of flour and stir it round to mix with the meaty juices

That will thicken the gravy beautifully while it chugs away when I am at work, so there’s no need to worry about cooking it out. Just get a smooth mixture

And pour it over the meat and vegetables in the slow cooker.

And that’s it till the next morning. Maybe ten minutes work, including wiping up.

One word of advice though… if you do this, as I did at 11.00pm, you will go to bed with everywhere smelling of fried meat. Maybe it would be better to do it earlier in the evening.

I wished I’d done it earlier as I lay there, trying to get to sleep, smelling meat that overpowered everything else, including the  lavender that I normally sprinkle on my pillow. Serves me right, eh? I should have got everything done sooner instead of leaving it till the last minute.

See that? Pitch black at 7.15 am and I am on my way out of the door – but not before I have turned on the slow-cooker. I use the Auto setting, which means it starts it off high and then turns down to low for the rest of the day.

And off I go to earn my pennies….

On my return, there’s a glorious smell of meaty loveliness… and all I have to do is mix up some dumplings.

Now, I would have fancied putting some horseradish in the dumplings to give them a bit of a zing, but the Bear hates horseradish (I really will have to do something about that…. ) so I think tonight I will mix the dumplings with beer, instead of water. That should give them a lovely beery, malty kick. Perfect for beef in ale….

120g of self raising flour and 60g of that lovely suet … mix it together with

a teaspoon of stock granules… I need to put some seasoning in – salt and pepper is good,  but I thought this might round the flavour out ….

 And instead of mixing it with cold water, a couple of tablespoons of beer will do just fine.

That does, of course, leave you with the rest of the bottle to deal with…..which might not be considered a hardship.

Anyway, roll that slightly sticky dough into dumplings (remember they will expand in the stew)  and pop them in, but because I am using a small two-person slow cooker, I can only get four in… so the rest go into the oven alongside some little potatoes which are baking….

they will  crisp up beautifully… while the others baste  in that gorgeous meat and gravy

They swell plumply as they bob about…..

And the baked ones have a gorgeous crispy crust…

Look at that – steaming, savoury beef in ale with dumplings that make you laugh with pleasure.

Can’t ask for anything more, can you?

Baked polenta pie

Remember the polenta? How I said I had an idea for it? Because I’d made a big pan full of it?

Well I also had some broccoli…. and this was Saturday. The Bear was still away and, therefore, unable to kick up a fuss about me making something with broccoli in again. You can just hear the sigh in his words…. “oh not again…”

I’m sure I read somewhere that if you eat something you dislike ten times then you will learn to like it. Perhaps he is just a very slow learner? I don’t know. I keep feeding him broccoli. It has to have been more than ten times now, surely?

Admittedly he has stopped clenching his mouth shut and turning his head away in disgust as I try and make him eat it, but he just WON’T give in gracefully. Still, he wasn’t there and I could do what I liked!

When I made the polenta, I poured the majority of it into in silicone paper cake liner, in a springform tin

(Whoever invented these deserves a medal… the hours they have saved people cutting and snipping at baking parchment

I needed it to set… which it did, overnight.

All I had to do was prepare some broccoli…

I only used the florets this time – the stalks can be used elsewhere  (I’m fancying Broccoli Slaw later this week) – and put them in to steam, with some chilli oil. A quick way of doing this is to rinse the broccoli, shake off most of the water and put it in a bowl. I drizzle it with chilli oil and then cover the bowl and put in in the microwave for a minute or so on high. This is just enough to soften it and give it a gentle chilli bite.

While that is going on, I slice the polenta “cake” in two with the bread knife

And then (actually, this bit was quite tricky, but I did manage) get the base back in the tin (I put extra tin foil in because I thought the etxra fillings might run out…..)

I laid the bright green semi cooked pieces of broccoli on the base

Just because you can… and because you know it is going to make this taste more delicious than anything else….. add a few bits of Tallegio cheese.

I had some roasted peppers in a jar, leftover from when I made pork and pepper goulash, so I layered them between the broccoli florets

And then added tomato – I thought some quartered little Pomodorinos (tiny little plum tomatoes) would lighten up what is , essentially, a large wodge of polenta and cheese.

Flip the top over and on to… it might crack or break but don’t worry… it will all come together in the heat of the oven

And bake it at 175 degrees for maybe half an hour

Just look at it!

Doesn’t that make you feel like smiling? That gorgeous colour? The smell of delicious melted cheese and vegetables?

Absolutely perfect with some green leaves.

Major plus points – it is gluten free, quick and easy to make, and doesn’t cost a lot at all.

In my eyes, though? Best of all? It’s got broccoli in it!

Cooking with kids… gluten-free Bear Bars

When I was a kid, we used to spend Saturday afternoons watching the wrestling on TV. Not the kind of wrestling that’s on now – in those days it was English wrestling with the likes of Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy. And, I have to say, we watched it on a black and white television. My parents didn’t really like us watching television, so it was only while they were out and we were being looked after by one of our parents’ more indulgent friends that we could manage to sneak the TV on.

It was all faked, you know. The wrestling, that is. But we used to love it. I’m sure we should have done something more constructive, but, somehow, sitting down on the floor with a bag of sweets and watching staged fighting was great fun. I suppose we knew, even then that it wasn’t real, which is why it didn’t frighten us all. Kids are OK with play acting.

Actually, now I think of it, I’m sure we couldn’t have watched wrestling every weekend. For one thing, I can’t believe that our parents would have been out every single Saturday. Funny how things like that stick in your memory.

It would be nice if I could be part of a child’s memories of growing up though…….

Last week my friend came round with her daughters and we made pasta and we had such good fun that we decided to spend this Saturday afternoon cooking something else. We needed to choose something that the children could make easily at home and it would be good to make sure that the   something was something that would taste good enough, while being healthy, and might just replace chocolate biscuits.

This time, one of their brothers came with them. We decided to make Bear Bars, but as I was trying out recipes to see what they were like gluten-free, we thought we would adapt our usual recipe and make sure that everything we used would be safe for coeliacs.

I got my little helpers to carry the jars of nuts, seeds and fruit from the larder. Because I want them to learn that so much of cooking is just good judgement (well apart from fancy sugarwork or pastry, say) we got out a big bowl and a scoop. I wanted them to see that cooking could be relaxed and fun.

We had pistachios, goji berries, green sultanas, dessicated coconut, raw flaked coconut, chopped mixed nuts, golden granulated sugar, ground almonds, dried cranberries, raisins, two small jars of Bramley Apple Sauce (thank you, Tesco!) two eggs and, because we were making this for coeliacs or gluten intolerant people

instead of using my normal wholewhat self raising flour, I bought gluten free flour and (and this is a rarity, according to my coeliac friend, A)  porridge oats that are guaranteed to be gluten free.

It’s not the oats that cause a problem…. it’s the fact that they are usually processed in a factory that processes other grains so the oats are liable to pick up some trace of contamination. For a coeliac this can cause (even in minute amounts) severe problems. If you are using oats make sure that they, like these, are made in a controlled environment and are certified as being gluten free.

We started off with two scoops of gluten free porridge oats

A scoop of gluten free self raising flour

And then we set about, taking turns, adding a scoop from every jar. The one who scooped, couldn’t stir… the one who stirred could scoop the next time.

We loved looking at all of the different colours.

All of the dried ingredients have to be mixed together with a scoop of sugar and a pinch of salt added.

With a bit of help, two eggs were cracked into a jug and enthusiastically whisked with a fork and that, along with the contents of two small jars of Bramley Apple Sauce into the big bowl and stirred round.

This was probably the hardest bit of the job – partly because they both insisted on mixing the egg and apple in together.

One of the good things about having lots of ingredients was that it makes lots of Bear Bar mix. That means the two of them could have a flapjack tin each to spread out the mix

I’d lined the tins with silicone sheets so the bars would be easier to get out once they were baked and the two of them decided to race each other to see who could get the smoothest mix….

The oven was lit , heated to 160 degrees and the tins went in for half an hour.

Now, good and clever those children are (they knew, for example, the difference between herbivore, carnivore and omnivore)  they somehow hadn’t managed to grasp the concept of time….

“Is it half an hour yet? Are you sure? I can smell the Bear Bars… are they ready?”

Eventually they were. The only problem I had then, was keeping them from snaffling some until they were cooled.

The children went home clutching a ready supply of gluten-free Bear Bars, that, I have to say, were no different from normal Bear Bars.

The only question they had was that if they were made for the Bear (our lovely Omnivorous Bear) was that because they had everything in that a Bear would eat? I said yes, of course.

“So where’s the meat, then? A bear would eat wolves and there’s no wolf meat in there”

How very true. We appear to have made gluten-free and wolf-free Bear Bars.