Angela’s Apples … another T.O.B Cook

Everybody, welcome Angela, the newest T.O.B. Cook. Angela is my dear friend from the North.

We were both Northern girls and adored our birthplace… but I married and moved to the Midlands to be with the Bear and she married and then moved away even further. She’s ended up in Georgia, USA.

Angela’s the one I think of when I try and do gluten-free food as she is coeliac (or celiac as they spell it in the USA) We keep in touch, most days, through email and Facebook and she follows what happens on here. She’d read the posts on Apple Butter and Apple Butter Cake and, after a jaunt out with her neighbours where she picked apples, decided to see what she could do….this is what she wrote to me this morning:

“I needed to make some bread so, I thought, as I was putting the oven on, I might as well make the apple cake. And as I was chopping apples, I thought, I might as well make the apple butter. OK, I’m not a novice in the kitchen, but I’m not an accomplished chef either…. maybe it was all a bit over-enthusiastic…

Oh, I started off by sterilising the jars and the lids – in the dishwasher!!! Only the Americans could come up with such an easy way? That gave me a couple of hours to get everything done….

So I mixed the gluten-free bread mix, put it in the laundry room to rise. That gave me 45 minutes….

I chopped all the apples, putting 4 ½ lbs in a pan with apple cider vinegar, which then got left whilst I…

… made the cake mix. I used “Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Baking Flour” to which I added Xanthan Gum. I had no yoghurt so used low fat sour cream. I, for some reason, bought brown sugar instead of caster sugar.

I, for some reason, bought canola oil and can’t find out why.

(I’d already been shopping on Thursday, but then went back up again on Friday! But – I did see a good yard sale……)

Vanilla pods were replaced by ‘fake’  vanilla and I had no bicarb!!! Instead of “3 smallish apples and a box of stewed apple” I used 3 large apples – too many apples to be honest!

45 minutes was up, so the bread and the cake went in the oven.

Apples by this time had been left for over an hour… but were nicely mushy. I don’t have a Mouli and, to be honest, I do as little transferring and dirtying of dishes as possible.

(Hey, I’d already used two bowls for the bread, two bowls for the cake, chopping boards, pans, cake tins, bread tins…. the kitchen looked like a massacre… and by this point last night’s empty wine glass kept catching my eye….)

So, I used ‘Billy Blender’… I have to say I thought it would be really sharp – apples plus cider vinegar, but it tasted good – so no sugar was added.

It was 6.30, what about tea? So on top of all that I started making a salmon and prawn risotto.

Stir the apples, stir the risotto. Wine was required for the risotto……

Bread was taking an age, so turned the oven down for the bread and the cake. I think they were both in for an hour, maybe the cake was in for a bit longer.

Risotto was nice, if a little too much wine had been added!!!

Bread was normal – takes longer than it says on the packet, but gets there in the end.

Cake was absolutely gorgeous. Very moist – quite heavy. As I don’t eat cake or biscuits very often it was absolute bliss. I had been cooking since 4.30. By now it was 8 – 8.30 pm.

The spoon was leaving a trail. So…. jar filling….

What the hell happened?!?!?

3 jars? 3 jars is all I got.

Four bloody hours of cooking and I got 3 measly 8 oz jars!!!

I’d bought 12 Mason jars! Cost me 10 bucks!

4½ lb of apples and I got 3 measly jars. What went wrong?

I used 4½ lb  and I got 3  jars.  Lorraine got 10 jars – dunno what 14 cups translates as? You used 3lbs – how many jars did you get?

Maybe I cooked it for too long? Maybe I didn’t cook it for long enough – it’s more like jam/spread than ‘butter’.

It tastes OK – very, very rich taste though. But with vinegar – no need for sugar, which is good?

I won’t be making apple butter again, but will, most definitely, make the cake! And bread. And risotto…..”

I read all of this when I got to work in the morning and yes, I laughed.

Not in a mean way, you understand, but as I often laugh when I read her emails. I could just picture her glaring at the pans and staring at the wine bottle. I laughed at the thought of her looking at the canola oil and wondering why she bought it. I could just imagine her outrage at only ending up with 3 jars… “THREE measly jars”.

I suppose I should have told her than when I did my second batch of Apple Butter I did, in fact, use at least ten or twelve pounds of apples….

Still, she has cake that she can eat while she plans going out to get more apples!

Let her eat cake, I say…..

Meatfree Monday – Baked Butternut Squash Gnocchi

The weather had changed. It was blustery and rainy (and can you believe that this morning the weather forecast included the possibility of hail? Hail?? In August?) I wanted something that would make us feel happy. We needed comfort food… but not too comforting. It was still warm so I needed something that didn’t generate too much heat. Something that I could have with salad. I wanted to have it on Meat free Monday so it needed to be vegetarian. And then, I thought of something I had first made a couple of years ago.
Baked butternut squash gnocchi… it was a comfort food, so that was good… it is great served with salad, so that, too, is good and best of all, it is only 280 calories per serving. And no meat… so perfect for Meat free Monday.
I could have delicious comfort food and still stay on a diet!

When I see recipes that provide, per serving, less than 400 calories, I save them in a folder called 400 and Under so that I can make a delicious supper that leaves room for manoeuvre with side dishes or even a glass of wine.
This recipe first featured in “delicious.” in September 2008, by the equally delicious Jean-Christophe Novelli. Just as well that I copied it out and saved it because I can’t find it online now. Anyway, doing it like that means I can print it out and take it with me when I shop for the ingredients and then work with it at the kitchen bench.
Also, it means I can then insert it, in its entirety, at the end of this post, something that some of you have been asking for.
Anyway, I did this on my return home from work… supper was delayed slightly as I had to roast the squash first, but not by much. This can be done easily as a weekday meal but if you were feeling efficient, the best way would be to roast the squash the day before while you were cooking something else.
No worries though… it was no problem to peel and dice a butternut squash
I put it onto a silicone sheet and drizzled it with oil, garlic puree and sprigs of thyme. Jean-Christophe says to take the leaves off the sprigs of thyme but that is so fiddly because the stems are soft… if you pull off as many as possible, that’s good and any that are left on the sprigs… well, don’t worry about it. Once everything roasts in the oven, the leaves fall off and the stems are hard and bare – you just remove them from the dish at the end! (See, Jean-Christophe is a chef and he does it properly. Me? I am someone who cooks when she gets in, tired from work. I find shortcuts. I have to.)
The covered roasting pan went into the oven at 180 degrees C/160 degrees if it is a fan assisted oven… and for those of you who use Fahrenheit, that is 356 degrees. 45 minutes was enough to soften the gorgeous squash.
I picked off the stems of thyme and then whizzed the squash to a smooth puree.
While the squash was roasting, I grated 40 g or thereabouts of Parmesan cheese
And added it to 9og of polenta (that’s grits to those of you in America!) , stirring it round to make an even mix before I added the (still hot) butternut squash puree and 65g of  butter.
The heat started to melt the butter…you could tell this was going to be delicious.
In another bowl I mixed three lovely eggs with 125ml of double cream and then added that to the polenta/squash mix.
I lined a baking tin with a silicone sheet and poured in the mix….
Back into the oven, covered with tin foil to stop it burning,  for thirty minutes
When it emerged, all golden and flecked with thyme leaves. It feels firmish, if you press it… firmish but not solid. This is the joy of this gnocchi…it uses no flour so it is suitable for those on who are coeliac or who are on gluten free diets (I shall make this for my dear friend Angela if she ever returns from America)  and it has no potato in in it so it is light and fresh.
Let it cool enough so you can handle it – while you are waiting, cut slices of Tallegio cheese (and if you can’t find this, get some other cheese that would melt well)
I didn’t bother with a cookie cutter, as suggested, I just cut the gnocchi into squares and laid slices of Tallegio on top.
And then put it under the grill to melt the cheese…
Then serve with a light green salad…
The texture of the gnocchi is light and delicious – you can tell it is polenta rather than potato or flour. The taste of the cheeses blended together is rich and satisfying and even better, you can eat it cold. Perfect to put in a packed lunch and take it to work. Immensely satisfying and just right for a blustery day…
And now – here’s the recipe, exactly as it was in delicious.
Baked Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a starter
280 calories, 21.3g fat, 8.1g protein, 14.4 carbs, 3g sugar, 0.4g salt
500g – about half of a large butternut squash – peeled, deseeded and cubed
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked off
95g  semolina or polenta
40g grated Parmesan or Gran padano
65g butter, softened
3 medium free range eggs
125ml double cream
Tallegio or other melting cheese to serve.
Preheat oven to 180C/fan 160C. Place squash, garlic and thyme in a roasting tin, cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes. Leave the oven on.
Transfer to a food processor and whizz until smooth. Spoon into a bowl and add semolina/polenta, Parmesan and butter. Whisk eggs and cream together and add to the mix. Season.
Spread in an 18cmx24cm roasting tin, lined with baking parchment or silicone sheet and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
Cool slightly in the tin then cut into rounds using a cookie cutter – or squares if you don’t have a cutter. Preheat the grill to high, while you put the gnocchi on the grill, covered with slices of Taleggio. When melted, serve with a green salad.

Jean-Christophe Novelli, French Horn. Published in “delicious. magazine” September 2008

Try it… it’s another Meat free Monday success!
(Oh, and in case you are wondering why I haven’t got spaces between paragraphs and decent formatting – well, so am I!
WordPress seems to be refusing to do what I want and no matter how many times I change everything – it just goes back to cramming everything together. If anyone has any idea on how to fix it, let me know!)

Superfood salad

Right then. Celebrations  are over and spring is on the way. 

I have a new job and a new bounce to my step. Everything is looking bright and cheerful and I am filled with optimism. Not only about having a real job but I am optimistic about starting a diet. Well, when I say starting… I seem to remember saying I was starting one some months ago but the horribly cold weather and gloom got in the way.

The brighter days and increasing warmth make me feel lively and less in need of solid, warming foods. Lovely though that Toffee Apple Crumble was, it seems my tastebuds are shouting out for brighter, fresher things too.

One of the things the Bear and I like to eat when we start to feel like this is Superfood Salad.  Lovely chopped salad with fresh, raw vegetables and quinoa with a lovely savoury, light dressing.

It makes a delicious meal by itself, or perhaps served  as a side salad alongside salmon or chicken. 

The basis for the salad is quinoa (and if the spelling confuses you, it is pronounced “keenwa” ) It was important to the Incans of South America (who called it the Mother of all Grains”) but nowadays, according to Wikipedia,

” In contemporary times, this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%), making it a healthy choice for vegetarians and vegans. Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source.[4] It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights.[4]

I don’t suppose you can say fairer than that, can you? And if you add a good selection of fresh, crisp and crunchy vegetables, well, you have Superfood salad.

So, first of all, get your quinoa.  About a half a cup full would make enough, when cooked, to make a decent sized salad for maybe four people. Or, if you are us, it makes enough for supper with two portions left to take to work for lunch the next day.

Give it a rinse and then put it in a pan to boil. It will take maybe ten minutes.

You will know when it is ready, because it goes from looking like little grains into grains with little sprouts appearing

See what I mean?

I often put a sprinkle of stock powder into the water to give the quinoa a bit of a hint of taste… you could try that.

Next, start on the vegetables.

The Bear won’t eat anything “stringy” (he thinks celery will strangle him) so I peel the outside with the potato peeler to get the worst of the strings off.

Once the celery has been transformed from a Bear-strangling-vegetable into a crisp and juicy stick of fresh greenness, I chop it into cubes.

And do the same with baby courgettes

And after scooping out the wet, seedy middle of a cucumber, I chop that into bits, too.

Get carrots, baby corn, spring onions, red pepper and baby plum tomatoes and do exactly the same to them.

A ripe avocado makes a good addition as well.

Now it really is a case of just putting it together – I put a handful or so of sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a bowl, then having rinsed in cold water and drained the cooked quinoa

I add that to the bowl and stir it round

Then add the chopped vegetables, stirring them into the quinoa and seeds

A good handful of chopped nuts  gives the salad an extra crunchy dimension

I make a light dressing with some walnut oil, some balsamic vinegar and some lemon juice and pour that over the salad.

And that’s it!

Look at it, isn’t it pretty? Fresh and crispy and delicious?

By itself it is gorgeous but I want to add a little extra to make it the perfect spring meal….

I have a lovely crisp pear and some organic feta cheese that, if I cut up, will go perfectly.

All that needs is the juice of half a lemon pouring over it to stop the pear turning brown and you have a sharp, sweet and salty extra to add to the salad.

So…. all you have to do is get some quinoa, a selection of vegetables that you like and with the aid of a sharp knife you can make yourself a really tasty salad that will not only brighten up your day by the sheer colourful crunchiness of it but it will also do you the world of good.

Spring is here – let’s eat something light and bright and good for us!

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.

Breakfast egg and polenta and a new camera

When I made cheesy polenta  I made sure I had made enough for more delicious meals. My greediness makes sure I always make extra of everything. There’s something about leftovers that is so appealing….

I had plans for a small portion of it –  breakfast! I had a lot to do and I wanted a quick, really quick breakfast.

Apart from racing round the apartment to get everything looking lovely for the Bear’s return, I also wanted to play with my new camera, which arrived this week.

My lovely friend, L, suggested it for me and, on the grounds she has known me long enough to recognise just HOW inept I am at technical things and how much I need things to work properly and not torment me with wicked technical tricks, I bow to her superior wisdom and all round good taste.

She has had to put up with so much from me over the years, times  when I’d ring her wailing that the computer hated me and was deliberately ignoring me, me claiming that I was jinxed and that all computers and technical gadgets were only built to make my life a misery. There was one time she listened to me run over a particularly evil mobile phone…. I had been talking to her and was just enraged at what a rotten piece of equipment it was. It would cut out and refuse to do things, oh it was maddening. It wasn’t just me, mind you. These phones were notorious for being useless. Everyone who was unfortunate enough to have one hated them.

Because it was on a contract I had to keep it – unless it was broken beyond repair. I’d tried “dropping it” but it was always fine. It just carried on cutting in and out of conversations, driving me to distraction. That day it was particularly bad. In the end I pulled into a layby, jumped out of the car, put the phone under the wheel and drove back and forth over it. L was still on the other end…..I was certain this would kill the vile phone and then I could get another one…. but what happened? I got back out of the car, picked up the phone and heard L laughing.

Say what you like about that now-departed mobile phone manufacturer – the phones were rubbish, but by golly they were sturdy.

So, L knows I need something that will be kind to me and take pictures easily. She doesn’t want to have to go through the saga of me shrieking in temper as something goes wrong. She knows I need foolproof. It has to take close ups of food and it also has to take horizon shots. L said the Canon IXUS 200 would be the one for me and there are all sorts of options – even (and this is a real plus point) even an option for fireworks!  If you have read this blog in the past you will know that our wedding anniversary is on Bonfire Night and we like to toast each other with champagne as we watch the fireworks going off from the city below us. Try as I might I hadn’t been able to take pictures successfully.

So, I now have a super-duper camera that even I, with my fumble fingers and low tolerance level for fiddling about,  can operate with some degree of success – all I have to do is learn how to use it.

That’s why I am up so early. I need to get everything ready for the Bear, I need to have breakfast …. but first, I just had to try the sunset setting. OK, so it’s dawn but it’ll be all right, won’t it? Same sort of thing?


 Isn’t that pretty?

Now, I really must get on. I like a savoury brekkie, rather than a cold one and I didn’t have time to make breadbuns so I could have a fried egg sandwich. I always feel that a weekend breakfast should include eggs somewhere along the line. I like them boiled, scrambled, poached, baked and best of all, I like them fried. I love the way the yolk dribbles out when you cut into it, all deep gold and glistening.


All I had to do was heat, quickly, in the microwave, a few decent sized spoonfuls of the lovely cheesy polenta…. maybe a minute, if that. While that’s spinning round, I got out the frying pan and fried an egg.

The fastest cooked breakfast imaginable!

All it needed was a grinding of black pepper over it and a cup of strong black coffee to wash it down and I was in breakfast heaven.

Simple? Check.

Tasty? Oh yes.. oh very, very yes. Check.

Fast? Two minutes, so a definite check.

Economical? Oh, very much of a check.

Try it. It was delicious.

Cheesy Polenta

At the end of a long and tiring week, when it gets to Friday night, I really don’t have the energy to go gallivanting around town. I must be getting old, I suppose, or maybe it is that I really like my home… my sofas, the peace and quiet, the comfort…

I want to come home, sit down and pour a glass of wine, safe in the knowledge my alarm is NOT going to go off at 5.50 am.

And of course, any glass of wine that I pour will be much better than some extraordinarily priced glass bought in a bar, so the pleasure of that  is heightened as I sit there, relaxing. Of course, it is better when the Bear is at home because then we can sit together and talk about the week… but it is pretty darn good when it is just me!

I don’t just sit and drink wine though, I need to eat, too. I need something nice and easy… I need something that will restore me after a full week’s work …. the best option?  Something savoury and delicious… it could, occasionally, be a takeaway from our local Chinese, but tonight I fancy something  carb laden and heavy on the cheese.

Cheesy polenta, in fact!

I’ve been thinking of perfecting more gluten-free dishes – my brother is badly affected (though not coeliac) and one of my dearest friends was diagnosed relatively late in life (in her thirties!) as coeliac. As I adore both of them there’s every chance that they will come and stay, so I need to be up to the mark should they arrive. The fact that A, my friend, recently moved to the USA, means she is less likely to turn up on the doorstep  but you never know.

So, tonight is not just about sheer self-indulgence – it is about making sure I can make something for my darling brother and my dear friend. The fact that sheer indulgence and a full tummy are the results… well, that is just a bonus!

First, look through the fridge for any cheese that you have – I have some parmesan that could do with being used, some cheddar that needs some surgery (just cut off the mouldy bits, that’s fine) and a lovely bit of Italian Tallegio (all soft and rich and creamy)

Get  your polenta out, and a large pan.

I always have polenta in the house because apart from using it in a polenta recipe (obviously) it is also brilliant for using to dust the outside of the fabulous No-Knead Bread 

When you make polenta to eat, you will need one measure of polenta and four measures of liquid.

I’m just using a mug here – that’s going to make one big, gorgeous portion of polenta for me tonight… some for breakfast (don’t grimace like that, it doesn’t suit you!)  and enough to make a huge polenta flan. All of that will be revealed in posts to come. If you just want to make enough cheesy polenta for, say, four people, you will only need half a mug. (And, therefore, 2 mugs of liquid.)

Pour it into a large pan (this will need a large pan) and then add 4 cups of liquid… I am using half milk, half water. You can use plain water… but I am going all out for luscious comfort tonight.

Stir it round so it mixes smoothly and start heating it.

Polenta is rather lovely to make… I  stand there, quite calmly, stirring. It is almost a meditative experience.

Do be careful though – it is so thick that when it gets up to the boil it has a nasty habit of spitting violently at you, if you aren’t stirring it.

Grate your odds and ends of cheese. I dare say an Italian person might have ideas about what sort of cheese, but I am being very economical and using up all the bits and bobs in the fridge. There’s that cheddar I told you about and some parmesan…. you are looking for a huge mound of cheesy goodness.

By now, the polenta will have thickened beautifully and be glugging away – when you lift the spoon and drag it, it will leave trails behind it.

Now add handfuls of cheese

Stir it in… all of it

.. and watch it melt into the polenta.. becoming part of the polenta….

And, as I believe I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, I drop in a chunk of butter and watch that melt into swirls…

Remember I said I had some Tallegio? It’s a beautifully soft cheese with a rind

I don’t want to stir that in but I do want it in there… so what I do is cut a slice

and after putting some hot and steaming polenta into a bowl… lay the slice on top and then cover it with more polenta.

Imagine that – a beautiful, creamy, extra cheesy surprise, melting secretly in your bowl….

Now, polenta by itself is a delicious supper, but I happen to have some roast pork with crackling left over… so a slice of that on the top will be perfect. Those that don’t eat meat will still be ecstatic at a bowl of polenta


And that Tallegio? Look how it has melted perfectly.

All you have to do now is return to the sofa, bowl in hand, and tuck in.

Friday nights, eh? Who needs to be rocketing about town, spending lots of money when you can be at home eating polenta?

The beginning….


October morning mists
October morning mists

…. it is the beginning of October, the beginning of this blog and, it seems, the beginning of Autumn. When I got up this morning instead of being able to see for miles from kitchen window, it was cool and misty. When I went out onto the balcony there was a definite chill in the air. The kind of chill that suggests a need for big meaty dishes.

The Bear had set off early to work and crept out trying not to wake me so I thought I would make a decent effort in return and have something  ready for him tonight. I also needed to make sure there was enough for him to eat tomorrow night as I was going back to the north for a couple of days. Not that he couldn’t cook for himself, but  I had plenty of time and he was busy. Might as well make myself useful. What I wanted was something with minimal effort and maximum kudos. I had bought the November issue of “delicious.” at the weekend and one of the recipes in the slow cooking section,  Spiced Shoulder of Lamb,  sounded just the sort of thing for a chilly day – with the added bonus of gorgeously aromatic smells filling the apartment while it cooked. The sheer simplicity of the recipe meant that it had a lot going for it as certain of my friends (yes, you know who you are) prefer not to exert themselves too much…… and they need encouragement.

It did suggest making it in a slow cooker but as the one I have is a very small two person pot and this recipe serves 4-6, then it seemed a good idea to do it on a low heat in the oven all afternoon… and that would also warm the place up a bit.

Spiced Shoulder of Lamb from delicious. November 2009 issue

1.5kg shoulder of lamb,

good pinch of saffron,

1 onion finely sliced,

2.5cm bit of ginger, peeled and cut into matchstick sized pieces,

2 garlic cloves, 

1 tsp chilli flakes, 

1 tsp coriander seeds,

1 tsp. cumin seeds,

 2 tsp garam masala.

I bought a piece of rolled shoulder – not for any other reason than that was what Mick the butcher had.   


Cooking 032   



The lamb was browned all over in a hot frying pan before I put it in my Le Creuset casserole. While that was browning, I soaked the saffron in 2 tbsps of warm water and started on the paste. All of the other ingredients needed to be blitzed to a rough paste and then the saffron and water added. The paste was seasoned well and then rubbed all over the lamb

 Cooking 033

 Cooking 035








That was it. Into a preheated oven (160 degrees/140 degrees, fan assisted/gas mark 3) and leave it to do its stuff for 4 or so hours.

Now I’m just lolling around while the apartment smells gorgeous…… ‘delicious. ‘ suggests serving it with couscous, which I will make later and making a garlic, mint and yoghurt sauce to go with the lamb.

The sauce is made with 150ml Greek yoghurt, 1 crushed garlic clove and a handful for chopped fresh mint, all stirred together .

So, my friends, do you think you can make this? It’s not hard is it? Five minutes work and then leave the oven to deal with it?

The outcome?

Lamb Lamb – the finished dish

Finally… after several hours, the Bear returned home from work and demanded to be fed. I should have taken a photograph of it before I took the string off (carefully with scissors… no running around waving knives, please!) and broke up the meat with two forks.

Oh, and then we took several portions out so there was a lot more than this. It really did fall apart. It really was soft and luscious. I made the couscous – which for coeliac/gluten intolerant amongst us wouldn’t be appropriate, you’d be better off with a jacket potato – anyway, for those that can eat couscous it is a simple matter of pouring boiling water on it and letting it fluff up.

Pastryless pie 007

I made the sauce with Greek yoghurt, some chopped garlic and the last handful of mint growing in the pot on the balcony. I just put it in a jug and whizzed it till everything  was smooth then put it in the fridge to chill. I think if you make the lamb then the yoghurt sauce is a must have – it gives the finished dish a bright sharpness and livens up the couscous.

Pastryless pie 005

I possibly could have presented it more attractively but after a full day of taking photographs whilst cooking (I kept forgetting… I was into “The Zone”) and trying to upload them… well, by the time it got to putting it in a dish, I just dished up.  No doubt the style gurus amongst us will suggest a white dish for better effect but hey ho… I have these. I like them. They’ll do.

Final thoughts? It was easy, it wasn’t expensive (£5 for the lamb and that is from my butcher who doesn’t do cheap) there’s enough there for at least 6 people. The apartment smells nice, the Bear seems happy. You can prepare it and stick it in the oven or the slow cooker and then get on with other stuff. It is very forgiving if you don’t know when you will be serving it up. I say do it. You won’t regret it….