Strawberry Pistachio Shortbreads

I love reading. I especially love reading food writing.  I think there’s nothing better than reading the story behind the recipe. A recipe just set down by itself doesn’t grab me the way a recipe does when I get to know more about the cook… the reasons why they made that recipe and just how they did it.

 I have quite a large collection of cookery books  (well over 150) and a mountain of food magazines. The Bear is always on at me to do something with them but I just can’t. I suppose I should go through the magazines at least and cut out the recipes I really want to try but I just haven’t got around to it yet. Part of it is, I think, that I was bought up never to despoil a book (and by extension, a magazine.) I would no more take a pair of scissors to a book than I would turn down the corner of a book or crack its spine. Books are to treasure and read again and again.

Jeffrey Steingarten – now, there’s a writer! A lawyer turned food writer for Vogue, his books “The man who ate everything” and “It must have been something I ate” kept me enthralled for hours and I still go back and read a chapter every now and again. That’s not so much recipes as mini essays and it is one of the things the Bear and I bonded over when we first met. If you are looking for entertaining (hugely entertaining) and erudite, informative stories about food, he’s your man.

Nigel Slater is another – endlessly fascinating with a huge list of cookery books to his name. “Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger” is his autobiography… start to read that and I bet you won’t put it down. His “Kitchen Diaries” is one of my favourite books of all time. Nigel also writes for The Observer and the monthly Observer Food Magazine is one of my treats. There’s always something I want to cook from his articles –   everything he does is so beautiful – just look at his website and see what I mean.

The last Observer Food magazine (June 2010) featured his garden recipes and there was one in there that instantly appealled – Strawberry Pistachio Shortbreads. Strangely, for England, we have been having a marvellous summer – lovely bright days with lots of sun and the strawberries are making the most of it. There are mounds of fresh British strawberries everwyehere and this was my chance to make the most of them.

I wanted to take something nice to a friend’s house and the thought of lovely shortbreads topped with strawberries and vanilla cream seemed to be a brilliant idea. Very summery. Very British. Which would be good, because we were going to J’s house (he’s from Catalonia) and meeting N (from Argentina)  and L from the Czech Republic! Our get togethers are always brilliant international affairs.

Anyway, that was what I was going to make.

I needed  100g of butter, 3 tablespoons of caster sugar, an egg yolk, 200g of plain flour and 100g of finely ground pistachios for the shortbread….

And that is when I started to wonder. If you look at the article you can see a picture of the shortbreads and they seem to have bits of pistachios in there… not finely ground at all. So what should I do?

I sat at my desk (OK, so I was at work, but a girl can’t work constantly…) and flicked through the article again… it definitely said ground pistachios and the picture didn’t show that. Then I noticed at the end of the article was Nigel’s email address at the Observer.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained has always been my motto, so I emailed him, just asking for clarification. I mean, had he done it one way and decided the other way was better?

I didn’t really expect an answer but within 20 minutes he had replied! How marvellous was that? I never for a minute anticipated a reply.. or if I had got one, it would have been a standard response, copied and pasted into an email some weeks later. What a gentleman!

And the answer… you can use ground or roughly chopped as you choose. the resulting difference will only be the texture.

I liked the look of the ones in his photograph so I decided to do roughly chopped pistachios.

So… I was ready…

I weighed 100g of butter, beat it until it was soft and fluffy with 3 tablespoons of caster sugar (that’s superfine to those of you across the Atlantic)

Roughly blitzed (briefly) 100g of pistachios so I got a range of shapes and sizes of bits of nuts

Then dropped the pistachio bits into the buttery mix and mixed it in well

One egg yolk was added to bind it together and then the  200g of flour was added.

It was a stiff mix and Nigel advised adding a tablespoon of water to it all to make it into a firm dough.

This had to be kneaded into a ball and then rolled into a thick sausage shape. As this was to serve 8, I could see how big the roll should be.

Don’t they look pretty?

I pre-heated the oven to 180 degrees C/355 degrees F (actually, Nigel didn’t put the temperature on the recipe but I used what I thought would be appropriate and anyway, it was a bit late to be emailing him again. I couldn’t really expect him to be sitting there just looking at his emails)

In they went, lying on a silicone sheet for ten minutes or thereabouts. They weren’t to get coloured really,  just dry to the touch.

The cream was made by mixing extra thick double cream with some vanilla seeds…

 just slit the pods with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds

and mix it through for the most gorgeous vanilla cream.

I sliced my beautiful strawberries and they were ready to be balanced on great, generous spoonfuls of delicious cream… on top of those gorgeous shortbreads.

What could be more British than strawberries and cream on a hot summer’s day? Our international gathering made short work of them.

Thanks, Nigel. Thanks a lot – they were lovely. And thanks for replying!

Maggie’s Lemon Drizzle Cake … an homage to my aunt

As some of you know, my aunt passed away a few weeks ago. What you might not know is just how much of an influence she was on my life.

When I started this blog, I told you how I had spent a lot of my life not cooking. I ate, obviously, but I got other people to cook for me. I didn’t need to cook as I lived on my own and anyway, I was always travelling. I ate in great restaurants and had a marvellous time.

I come from a family that always celebrate things with a family meal. Every occasion was marked with a get together. My mother and my aunt used to swap occasions… Christmas Day, one of them would cook, Boxing Day, the other would do it. Whoever did New Year wouldn’t do Easter. Everybody’s birthdays were a reason to come together as a family and eat.

My aunt was a great cook and always made the most superb cakes. Her Christmas pudding really couldn’t be beaten and, since I started cooking,  I always used to ask for some to take home with me so I could use it in Christmas Pudding Icecream. She always believed that a person should be able to cook and, more to the point, be able to cook well.

She was so pleased when I started cooking and asking her how things were done. I used to ring her from my car as I drove the thousands of miles I used to do on motorways in my other job. She would tell me how I was supposed to make things and patiently go through the shopping I would need to get in order to make whatever it was she was helping me with. I would stop in some far away town, get my ingredients and carry on driving home. Then, when I got there, I’d ring her again and check I had everything right in my head.

She was the one who taught me how to cook ham properly….. she taught all of us.  My brother adapted her recipe and came up with Gingery. Which is, in our eyes at least, possibly the world’s most delicious roast ham. Her daughter, my cousin, has been baking for years and is the maker of the world’s most delicious chocolate cakes which pleases her sons and her nephew no end. My aunt was never happier than helping people learn – she was a teacher all of her life. She even taught my postman when he was a little boy and whenever I saw him he would always send his best wishes and tell me that my aunt and uncle were the best teachers in that school.

Anyway, while my cousin and I were sorting things out at my aunt’s house, she dragged me to a bookcase and said she had found this….

………An ancient copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

My cousin said she wanted me to have it, tattered though it was, because it was something my aunt had had for years. It’s falling apart, as you can see and the covers are hanging off. I wish I’d asked my aunt about the book … who it belonged to before her and what she had learnt from it….anyway, I have it now and it is on my cookery bookshelves. You never know, it might get picked on the next round of Cookery Lotto!  How proud she would have been to think that I was even contemplating cooking something from it.

The very first cake she taught me to make was her simple and delicious Lemon Drizzle cake. I found the recipe in my cook book, scrawled on a piece of paper. She will have dictated that to me as I, no doubt, sat in the car at some motorway services, parked up in the rain.

I think she chose that as it is the simplest cake in the world to make and if she was going to entice me into the world of baking, she would need to make sure that I could manage. I think she was reckoning on a small cake, emerging triumphantly from the oven, would be the first in a line of cakes.

And, I suppose, in a way, it was. I decided, this weekend, to bake the Lemon Drizzle cake because it reminded me of her.

The ingredient list was simple and concise – 4 oz each of soft butter, caster sugar, self raising flour and a couple of large eggs. How hard could that be? And some lemons for the lovely drizzle to be poured over the top.

My note did say to cream the butter and sugar together and I’m certain she meant doing it with a wooden spoon… but you see the Kitchen Aid mixer? She bought me that as my wedding present. I have to use it, then, don’t I? I think she realised by the time I eventually got married that I was turning into a cook and a Kitchen Aid was going to be far more use to me in my married life than some standard wedding present of crystal or maybe bed linen. It was an incredibly generous gift, from an incredibly generous aunt.

A couple of the brilliantly golden-yolked free range eggs turn the mix into a vibrant yellow. Finely grate some lemon zest in there – you will be using the lemons later. Just remember to make sure you used unwaxed lemons and if you don’t, give the lemons a good scrubbing first.

That 4 oz of flour (she told me to sieve it) was folded in and then everything put into a lined loaf tin.

Those silcone paper tin liners are an absolute godsend. No more snipping about with pieces of greaseproof paper or baking parchment… the hours they must save across the world!

And into the oven for about 30-40 minutes at 140-150 degrees.

Now to make the lemon drizzle…

That too, is simple…. Just the juice of one and a half lemons and some icing sugar – a good 2 ounces.

(I know that whenever you see chefs on the TV they squeeze lemons in their hands but I always use that glass lemon juicer. I don’t think you need to get your fingers covered in juice and besides, the pips will always drop in whatever it is you are making. Anyway, you get far more juice out of the lemon or the lime with one of them than you do by just squeezing. Maybe my hands aren’t strong enough? )

Heat it gently in a pan until the icing sugar dissolves.

Then let it cool.

At the end of the cooking time, take the cake out and peel back the paper to let it cool for ten minutes or so.

Once that’s done, take a fork and prick over the surface of the cake

This will let the lemon sugar syrup sink in when you gently drizzle it over the surface.

And there you have it.

The simplest cake in the world… but also one of the most delicious.

Golden cake with a lovely, sweetly sharp lemon drizzle. The first cake I made and one that will always remind me of my darling aunt.

Thanks for everything, Maggie.


It was really hard trying to think what to call this post. The original recipe called it Tomato Pudding and I just didn’t think that really described it.

I’d bought the book, “First Ladies Cook Book – favourite recipes of all the Presidents of the United States” while we were on a weekend break in the north

One of the recipes in there was, apparently, a favourite of Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President, from January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961) and was called Tomato Pudding. Doesn’t sound attractive does it?

The recipe, as it was written didn’t sound that interesting either:

Tomato Pudding.

1  10-ounce can of tomato puree, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes, 1/4 cup boiling water, 1/4 cup of melted butter and 6 tablespoons of light brown sugar.

Add sugar and salt to the tomato puree and water and boil for 5 minutes. Place bread cubes in a casserole. Pour melted butter over them Add the tomato mixture. bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. Serve with quail or roasted meats.

So, a President of the United States of America, thought this was the bees-knees? And served it as a delicacy at State Dinners?  Bread and tomato?

But I could see that there was potential here… I thought at the time that the recipe was overheavy on sugar and just using puree would make the bread a rather solid block, so something was needed to lighten things up. I would, perhaps, use chopped tomatoes so there would be a difference of texture within the dish and then I needed to think what would be best served with it.

My brother makes sure that my freezer always has some game in it and I often roast a little pheasant or other bit of game, so a dish that would work alongside a roast morsel of something or other would be good.

You often find pheasant served with croutons or fried bread and I was thinking of this tomato pudding as working along those lines.

And this is what I came up with.

I had some crusty bread… I sliced about half a loaf and then cubed it. This filled a large square baking dish.

The original recipe asked for melted butter to be poured over the bread cubes but I thought if I replaced that with a drizzle of oil that would lighten it and make it a healthier option. If I used chilli oil then that would add a subtle bite to the whole dish. Chilli oil doesn’t overwhelm you with the taste of chilli, but rather comes in as a subtle afterburn, a tingle really, just enough to give things a bit of bite and interest. Even if you don’t like chillies, you should try it at least once. You will probably be very pleasantly surprised.

The original recipe used tomato puree and diluted it with water and added a huge amount of sugar.  But in the interests of dragging this dish into the 21st century and making it slightly more healthy for us….

 …I thought that chopped plum tomatoes would lighten the texture, giving it a bit of interest, so that it wasn’t just solid tomato paste covered bread.

And not sugar to sweeten things, but port. 

If the original recipe used tomato puree, that seems to me to be a rather solid substance so the water would be necessary. Using chopped tomatoes means there’s more liquid there so you wouldn’t need to add too much port.

 That would add another level of flavour (and don’t worry, any alcohol would evaporate in the cooking, so any children eating it won’t end up rolling drunk)

Port is sweet and I had a bottle that needed using up. If you don’t have any, use water and add some sugar… but I don’t think you need to add the original 6 tablespoons.

Stir it round and cook it down a bit.

Just boil it down gently until it reduces a bit.

Then, pour it over the bread cubes.

And just because I have been cutting back on  all sorts of things to make this a healthier, tastier dish, I thought a few knobs of butter on the top would help it cook and get a lovely crispy top.

I put it into the oven, alongside some pheasant to serve with it, at 175 degrees C  for 30 minutes.

And what was it like?

Really rather good. A crunchy, savoury top and a meltingly tomatoey middle. The contrasts of textures was appealling and the taste was excellent.

I think there’s room for improvement – maybe add some garlic to the tomatoes? – but served with a little pheasant leg and breast it really was rather delicious. I shall make it again to serve with roast pork and maybe add some chopped apples to it to break up the texture even more. There’s all sorts of tweaks I can think of with this.

Using half a loaf of bread (the staler the better, I think) a tin of chopped tomatoes, a dash of oil and a slurp or so of port (if you want to add it) you have a very quick and easy side dish that costs coppers.

So, Dwight D. Eisenhower, thanks for the idea. If it was good enough to be served in the White House in the 1950’s, then with a bit of tweaking it is good enough to be served in our house today.

The Beautiful North – Part One

As some of you know, I was born and brought up in the far north of England. I’m only living in the Midlands now because I married the Bear…… I try and get back there at every opportunity. That’s where my family and and also where some of the most stunning places in the UK are. The Bear, being a Cockney, from the south of the country, doesn’t  know much about the North and hasn’t really travelled around there. I kept saying I had to show him how beautiful and wild the countryside is and how stunning the coastline.

As you might also know, it was my birthday recently and we decided to make the most of it, so both of us had time off to celebrate and to head north… which kind of explains my absence from the kitchen and the blog. This then, isn’t about cooking… just eating and travelling. Travelling to somewhere that most people know nothing about and have never visited.

Maybe it will inspire you to visit Northumberland.

Before we started out on our trip north we had a meal at Iberico World Tapas – one of my favourite ways of eating…. what greedy person wouldn’t love tapas? Instead of having just one delicious thing to eat we chose lots of delicious things – cheeses and hams; salted squid and stuffed courgette flowers; patatas bravas and beef…… and belly pork…so many wonderful tastes, textures and flavours. The menu is on the website if you want to look…..

The next day we started driving north.

To those that don’t know, the industrial towns of the north can look dark and grim and people assume that is all there is, but once you get past Newcastle and take the coast roads heading further north you get to some of the wildest and most spectacular coastline anywhere. All I ask is that you look at the pictures and follow the links for more information. I am so proud of the north and its wild beauty and I hope that some of you will make your way there at some point.

On our way North we stopped, first of all at Alnwick (pronounced Annick, for those of you not brought up in the North) because there is the most wonderful secondhand bookshop there called Barter Books and one of the things I wanted to do was to see if they had any old cookbooks to add to my collection. What you can do is bring your old books (if they are good quality) and barter them for credit or other books…. It is the most fascinating place – in the old railway station at Alnwick – with a model railway running round the top of the bookshelves in one part of it. It is the perfect secondhand bookshop, with tables and comfy chairs amongst the stacks. Imagine the bliss….. look at their website and you will get a far better idea than I can give you.

And look what I found  in the cookery book section…

… an old cookbook, printed just after 1963, “The First Ladies Cookbook – Favourite Recipes of all the Presidents of the United States”

It starts with George Washington and goes right through to Lyndon B Johnson who was President of the USA at that time.

All those Presidents…. all those recipes!

I had to buy it. Well, when I say buy… I had arrived with two bags of books I didn’t want and handed them in – Barter Books assesses whether they want them and if they do, how much they want to pay for them and that amount is put into your account… so you can spend it on books in the bookshop. So, not exactly bought, but bartered.

At first, I thought I would play Cookery Lotto , thinking that would really broaden our cooking experience, but as I started leafing through it I realised that this may mean I was being forced into making something like this

Calvin Coolidge’s favourite… Pineapple Salad, which involved covering a fresh pineapple with cream cheese, glace cherries and strawberries…..

I have to say, that just isn’t going to work for me.

(But you see that tea pot? My mother has one like that… it has a little burner underneath to keep the water hot!  Isn’t it gorgeous?)

Anyway, the more I looked, the more danger I was in of having to cook something that really wouldn’t be to our taste at all, so Cookery Lotto was out.

There were recipes I was interested in… how about this…

Tomato Pudding.  Adored by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

If you can’t quite see the recipe, here it is

1  10-ounce can of tomato puree, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes, 1/4 cup boiling water, 1/4 cup of melted butter and 6 tablespoons of light brown sugar.

Add sugar and salt to the tomato puree and water and boil for 5 minutes. Place bread cubes in a casserole. Pour melted butter over them Add the tomato mixture. bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F (that’s about 190 decrees C for us in the UK) Serve with quail or roasted meats.

Not written to be the world’s most tempting recipe, but, you know, I can see that Dwight may have been onto something.

I bet that bread goes deliciously soft and develops a lovely crustiness to the top… the tomato would make it savoury…..and to serve it with meat?

Well, I am going to give it a whirl.

I may have to tweak it a bit, perhaps using chopped plum tomatoes to lighten the texture and decreasing the amount of sugar… but there’s something about it that appeals. What do you think?

And then I looked at Herbert Hoover…

Well that’s not Herbert Hoover, obviously. That is a picture of his Maryland Caramel Tomatoes.

8 ripe tomatoes of equal size, white pepper, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar 1/4 cup of butter


Skin the tomatoes. Carefully cut off the tops. Place them in a buttered baking dish, suitable to serve them in. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and brown sugar. Dab each of them with butter.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C in the UK) and bake for half an hour. Then, remove to the top of the stove and over a low flame, reduce the juice until it is a thick syrup. The, once again, balke them in a hot oven (400 degrees F/200 degrees C) for half an hour. Serve hot.

Again, it might need a tweak or two… AND a baking dish that can go in an oven and on top of it…. but perhaps to serve alongside pork?

So. Pretty much of a result. A fascinating book and potentially a few great ideas in there. I was feeling very happy with myself and really, we hadn’t even started our little holiday.

We left Alnwick and carried on heading north… driving out to the coast, first of all to  Craster, a tiny village famous for its kippers, with a tiny harbour

and walked from there, along the coastline to the ruined castle of Dunstanburgh

before driving further north to Bamburgh where we were staying for the next two nights. Bamburgh is a beautiful village, once the capital of Northumbria, with yet another huge castle, high above the village.

Click on the links and see just how lovely the Northumbrian coast is.

That night, sitting in a tiny restaurant, we toasted each other and congratulated ourselves on choosing the far north as my birthday trip.

And there were even more lovely things to do the next day!

Cookery Lotto – and the book is….

In my attempt to widen the variety of dishes I cook and also to introduce an element of randomness, I thought of the weirdly wonderful Cookery Lotto. I have lots of cookery books that I might read but really need to start cooking from.

Thing is, I hadn’t really got round to doing anything – I just chose what I fancied. The one time I let the Bear choose something he picked a dish, Pork and Pepper Goulash   which was something I would never have chosen. Turned out to be absolutely fabulous!  Just goes to show that I need to be nudged along a bit.

So, I told you all how many books were on the bookshelf next to me. If you remember, everyone had a chance to pick a number and the plan was that we would get the average from those numbers. That would determine which of the books on the bookshelf would be picked.

I used my incredibly advanced mathematical skills to work out the average

See that? That was 6 am this morning as I added everything up.

And then I divided by the number of people who had put numbers in.

It came to 57.2222.

So I thought 57 would do.

I scurried along to the bookshelf and started counting.

And this is what came out.

The Australian Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook. I bought it last year in Melbourne as we sat around the airport waiting for a hugely delayed flight to Hobart, Tasmania.

The interesting thing is, though, see that first picture where I am dragging it out of the shelf? You can see index tabs.

That’s what I do when I see recipes I would like to cook.

Notice, I said “when I see”

I haven’t actually done them!

So, it looks like a very good book to pick. There are recipes in there that took my fancy…. now all I have to do is cook them!

The next part of Cookery Lotto is picking the recipe.

The recipes start on page 16 and go right through to 236.

There are three columns.

So… first one to pick a number between 16 – 236 picks the recipe page!

Then pick either 1,2 or 3 to get the column and the recipe.

First answer wins!

(Oh and be very grateful – the next book along was this

I have a feeling that any recipe from there might not be as exciting as one from the Gourmet Traveller!)

Time for Cookery Lotto…. again!

Right back in the beginning, when this blog started out, I knew that I would have to stretch myself. 

It’s easy, so very easy, to just stick to cooking what I normally cook when what I wanted was to see if I could do something different most days of the week. I thought that taking pictures and telling  you all what I was doing, would make me too embarrassed to repeat  myself. I have lots of cookery books so there had to be thousands of recipes close at hand… just waiting to be chosen.

I needed to work out how I picked the recipes I was going to make. The difficulty was that I might just go along with whatever I fancied, when what I needed to do was to cook things completely randomly.

Could I be trusted to pick randomly? Probably not. I’d probably choose what I quite liked the look of and reject the tricky or the not immediately likeable recipes.

And then I came up with Cookery Lotto. I had lots of cookery books  and I have lots of friends. Put the two together I thought……

The basic idea was that one of them chose a random number and, in a very scientific fashion, a cookery book was chosen.

The technical explanation of this method? I counted along the bookshelves until I got to the number that was chosen.

Then… and this was the cunning bit… I told them how many pages there were in the book and someone else picked a page number!

I had nothing to do other than cook what they came up with.

On the first go, Looby picked “The Prawn Cocktail Years” and Els picked page number 49… and the result was Creamed Spinach. A resounding success in my eyes, but there again, I do so love spinach.

The poor Bear isn’t such a fan but as I am training him to be truly omnivorous then he does what he is told and he eats what he is given. He sort of liked it.

He’s really hoping that this time he gets something he would really want to eat.

So… Cookery Lotto, Part Two!

New rules though….. what we do this time is that everyone who wants to join in just picks a number… then one day later I see how many answers there are and divide the sum of the numbers by the amount of people picking them… that gives answer number one, which is, the cookery book we are working from.

Once we know that, we will know how many pages are in the book and we do the same thing for the recipe.

I have just gone and counted along the bookshelves…in this apartment  there are 156 books close to hand. That should give us something to go at.

They range from cookery books bought in Bangalore for a few rupees to books bought in specialist book stores costing over £50. There are thick books, thin books, old books and new books… There’s books on there that I adore and there are, I have to say, books I have never ever cooked from.

So…. the game is on.

Pick a number from 1 to 156.  It’s not too much to ask is it? Just pick a number and tell me what it is….

New Year’s Eve

Today is the day that I think about what I want to achieve in the new year.

I am going to be more focussed this year – the resolutions I made  last year were “discussed”


…………with the help of numerous glasses of champagne, and our beloved L&L, in a revolving restaurant, high above Hobart, Tasmania.

We were spending days in the brilliant sunshine of an Australian summer 

and eating fresh oysters and fish straight from the boat

and it all seemed so easy.

Of course this would be the year that we did things… we would lose weight, become supremely fit, reverse the ravages of time and become all-round-gorgeous.


Maybe it was the sun that went to our heads?

This year, though, I am going to really make an effort. In all honesty, all I did try to do was to cook delicious things for the Bear and his friends. I just didn’t try to make us thinner. Butter and cream featured strongly……Nothing wrong with butter and cream, though, but perhaps I had been just a tad generous.

I have started to collect recipes that gave us 400 calories and under per serving, so that if we were very sensible with breakfast and lunch, we could have a delicious supper and still keep to just over 1000 calories a day, which should, theoretically, make us whippet-thin within weeks. It would also allow us room for manoeuvre if we had people round.

The problem with diets is that it is so easy to lose interest when faced with a crispbread and some cottage cheese. If I could produce meals with a sense of luxury about them but still keep the calories low then surely we would be on to a winner?

Of course, last year I wasn’t writing this. Any bold promises I made were only heard by a select few and they are unlikely to point and laugh and tell me I am a failure.

This year I am writing it down so whoever reads this will see what I have said. I can’t threaten you with violence if you point out that I have failed, as I do to my nearest and dearest.

So… in 2010 I will make it my aim to seach out delicious recipes that are low calorie… BUT would make you think you are not on a diet.

I will make sure that  we eat healthily and happily.

I will make sure that this time next year there will be a distinct difference in our shape and size and general state of health.

I will still cook the occasional greedy and gluttonous treat but that will be balanced by our other efforts.

Instead of saying “I really should” or “I’d like to” or “Let’s think about”, I will say that we ARE doing something. That mushroom foraging course I always say we must book – well, we will do it.

Those walks I say we will go on – well, we shall do them.

I shall read my favourite cookery books again and work through them… I have picked out the first few…. Elisabeth Luard, for example. There is so much to explore in this book – European Peasant Food reflects recipes that make the most of the ingredients to hand. Recipes that have been forgotten, in the main, and really need to be revived

Also, we are very lucky in that we have some marvellous friends from Turkey who KNOW how to cook – nights spent with F & E have inspired me to look through my collection and I shall make more Middle Eastern/Turkish/Moroccan food…

And I shall also read through some of the books that  first inspired me to cook

And once I have done all that….. well there are still many more packed bookcases to work through

So, this time next year, the last day of 2010, how much will I have achieved? Will I be thin, fit, well fed and well read? Or will I have fallen by the wayside and just managed the reading and feeding?

Here’s to 2010!

Happy New Year to everyone and may all your wishes and resolutions come true!

Planning ahead

After several weeks away from work because I had an operation on my arm, I will be back at work from Tuesday. That’s good because I need to get back to earning money, but bad because I will be leaving at 7.30 am and getting back after 6 pm.

If  we are to be eating at any kind of reasonable time I need to be organised. I need to plan shopping and ingredients…. I need to plan meals that kind be either cooked while I am out or cooked quickly when I get in.

So from now on there are going to be meals featuring slow cookers or ultra fast put-it-all-together meals.

There’s a couple of things I must do  – first, I really have to sort out shopping lists so I can get things in advance or, at least, know what I am going to grab as I race through a supermarket on the way home after a long day so I will be searching through recipe books and magazines…. oh the work I put into this…

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I might as well relax while I read because, after this, I will be at a desk all day

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Oh, and the other thing?

Without putting too fine a point on things, The Bear and I are no longer the sylph like creatures of our youth…. a diet is called for. Well, not so much a diet as a restriction on the amount of calories we have been consuming. I know the government has said I actually need more than the 2,000 calories they said a normal woman needed but  I really don’t think my waistline was paying attention. For some reason I seem to have…. well, expanded!

Over time I have been collecting and developing recipes that are 400 calories and under as a serving – we shall be going through that file as well. 400 calories for a tasty portion? That should help. Of course you would have to add in extra calories for the side dishes but it HAS to make a difference…….. doesn’t it? Well, it has to.

Cookery Lotto!

Well, I know how easy it is to have good intentions…. to make plans that somehow just get a little bit sidelined. Life’s like that. I read cookery books, for example, and think that I’ll try this recipe or that menu.. and then I carry on doing the same things I normally do because I’m tired, or in a rush, or I’m just back from work, or when I did the shopping I just grabbed the old familiars so I could get out of there and get home.

But that is going to change. And you, my dear friends, are going to make me change. The added advantage for you, of course, is that I do the work, you get to look at it and see if you will do it yourselves.

So, I have lots of cookery books….. you’ve seen one bookshelf. Here’s another. There are 132 cookery books within easy reach.

Cookery Lotto 002


Now that photograph isn’t brilliant (I’m not going to win awards for my camera work) so you won’t be able to read the titles and that rules out, to some extent, you lot picking the book other than randomly.


And I’m not going to tell you whether I start the count from the bottom or the top.  But I will be fair – there’ll be no cheating on  my part….. all you have to do is pick a number and that will be the cookery book I work from. Then pick the page number. I will cook the recipe (Frantically crossing fingers that I don’t have in there a recipe for sheep’s eyeballs or one involving 2 kilos of very expensive caviar)

Now that, I should think, will introduce some new ideas into our cooking. And yes, I say “Our” because I want you to try them too!

So… Pick a number!

Back in the North

Things are very different in the North and I don’t mean that as a comment on the economic situation. My kitchen here is completely unlike the apartment kitchen where I spend most of my time. The view is certainly different – I’m not high above the city, looking down on the houses and streets below me.  Here, when I look out of the window, I can look straight out onto the only road through the village and even see the village water pumpKitchen in the Village 001.


I haven’t done any cooking today because I have been busy with visiting the family. I did do a lot of shopping, though, and have been to our local butcher to stock up on meat for the freezer. I have come home weighed down with rabbits, woodpigeon, oxtail, belly pork, lamb shanks, brisket, suet, beef plate and little lamb joints. A hint, there, of the type of cooking I shall be doing when I get back to the city…. slow, long cooked meaty dishes to keep the chill of the autumn and winter away.


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I’m going to bring more of my cookery books down with me to add the collection I have in the city and that gave me an idea…… I shall count all of my cookery books (they are randomly shelved) and ask any of you to pick a number. That will give me the cookery book I will work from. Then, I see how many pages are in the book and someone else will pick a number and that will give me the recipe to work from. Cookery Lotto!

It’s so easy to stick to the same recipes all the time, the tried and trusted ones that you always make – from now on there’s every chance the chosen recipe will be something I have never cooked before. See what I do for you?