Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Cake

There are many things I love about river Cottage books not the least of which is that they reliably give good cake recipes. This is the chunky apple and marmalade cake from the new 'Fruit' book, or as near to it as my store cupboard would allow, and is the sort of cake which I used to pass over in favour of chocolate when I was younger and less wise. I still appreciate a good chocolate cake (really, really, appreciate - so much so that writing this is making me wish I had a slice to hand) but I'm less keen on icing and a chocolate cake so often wants a bit of frosting on it and somehow these days things with fruit, nuts, and spices are just more appealing. 

Anyway this is a lovely cake - it glowed like gold in the morning sunlight, it's damp and luscious with much of the depth of flavour you get from a traditional fruit cake but without the heaviness, and above all it makes an excellent accompaniment to a cup of tea (or coffee).

3 tablespoons of whisky, 100g of sultanas, 100g of ground almonds, 175g of plain flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch of salt, 5 nice apples (or about 500g), 200g of unsalted butter, 200g of soft brown sugar, 3 eggs, 150g of thick cut marmalade (this version reflects what I had to hand, the original recipe uses a darker sugar which would be better, and also brown flour). Warm the whisky and add the sultanas to soak. Prepare a 20cm springform cake tin, heat the oven to gas 3/ 170C, and peel, core, slice the apple into chunky slices. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, mix the flour, almonds, baking powder and salt. Beat in the eggs one at a time with a spoon of the flour/nut mix then add the rest of the flour/nut mix before folding in the marmalade, apples, and sultanas. Into the tin and bake for about an hour and a quarter or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 mins before removing and letting cool completely.   

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Very Happy Find

I'm about to make an admission that will, at the very least, raise eyebrows in the book blogging community and quite possibly worse... I don't care for hardbacks (they take up to much space and are to heavy to cart around) and I don't like having duplicate copies of books... I know there are so many lovely copies of favourite books out there that sometimes it's hard to resist having a second or third copy but it always feels wrong to me. This is also partly a space based issue but it goes deeper than that - the books that I might get extra copies of have been without exception second hand gems and tempting as they are it feels selfish to deprive somebody else of the opportunity of discovering whichever brilliant book it might be. 

However as with any hard and fast rule there are naturally exceptions and I made one for this Penguin copy of  'Devil's Cub'. I have a reasonably large collection of Virago books and a small but growing collection of old Penguins. With the Virago's there's a genuine effort to only buy titles I think I'll read but with the Penguins I'll get anything that sounds amusing without worrying to much if I'll ever get round to it, of the few duplicate titles I do have most are Penguin and Virago titles. There is something so pleasing to look at about the plain old penguin covers, but I think what I appreciate even more is how compact they are - they exactly express everything I love about paperbacks. 

My father is fond of observing that there's nothing as permanent as temporary; this paperback is testament to that, these are basic books, flimsy even, but this copy of 'Devil's Cub' was printed in 1954 is still in pretty good nick, certainly still readable, the 2 shillings it cost when it was published relates to a value of £2.32 today against the retail price index or £5.91 measured against average earnings - it cost me £2 (I find that interesting). Curiously I saw a picture of this very book somewhere about the internet a week or so ago and had intended to search amazon for a copy as it was my favourite Heyer title for a number of years. My old copy is falling apart and I fancied this for a replacement, so you can imagine how happy I was to find it in an odd little second hand bookshop (Christine's Book Cabin) which is basically a shack tucked into the side of a car park in Market Harborough. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Crochetdermy - Shauna Richardson

Not a book but art. Since July some of Shauna Richardson's work has been displayed in what used to be a bakery in Leicester. I think the exhibition continues until mid October and anybody who can should go and see it. I try and walk past it as often as I can, have dragged several people along to have a look, and to my today finally got round to taking a few pictures on my phone through the windows. (I hope this isn't breaching any sort of copyright). Please do have a look at links here and here as well.

33 Cank Street had been empty for a couple of years so seeing it as a pop up gallery is brilliant, though I'm sorry that I only spotted it by chance - this is the sort of thing that deserves posters around town to draw the would be viewers attention (would it surprise anybody to know that almost all of the very many council funded posters about the place feature Richard the Third in some way?) The old building has been divided up into a series of little rooms and dressed in the manner of a Victorian diorama, the Crochetdermy is extraordinary - anatomically correct animals ranging from small (rabbits and the like) to the huge (bear) made out of crochet. Crochet has never really conjured images of wild animals to me before, it's always seemed a particularly homely sort of craft, and I have no idea how you get these type of results out of it but it's amazing - my pictures (crappy though they are) will do a much better job (painting a thousand words and all that) than anything I can say. I really hope Leicester does more of this kind of thing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Headmistress - Angela Thirkell

My early forays into Thirkell left me with an over all impression that she wrote pleasant, easy, generally amusing books that were as good a way as any to pass a few hours but not much more. As I've found more titles to read and been prompted by the Virago reprints into re-reading so my respect for Thirkell has increased. She is still a nice easy read and a good way to spend a grey afternoon but books like 'The Headmistress' are much more than that suggests. Published in 1944 the Angela Thirkell society describes this as her most acclaimed novel and the story of a strong woman in wartime, I can see why it's her most acclaimed novel but there are at least three contenders for the position of strong woman.

The headmistress of the title is Miss Sparling, a woman who I assume is in her 50's, she and her school have taken over Harefield park from the impoverished Belton family who can no longer afford to live in Palladian splendour. Miss Sparling is an exemplary headmistress and woman who soon becomes popular in the village where there is speculation about her romantic chances with the vicar and Mr Carton an Oxford Don. Meanwhile Mrs Belton would be another contender for the strong woman title, the Belton's are uneasily aware of the fact that the world is changing, their removal from Harefield is officially temporary but they both know it might well be permanent as a way of life has quite decidedly ended for them, and then they have 3 children at war - one son in the navy, another in the army, and a daughter doing something very hush hush and responsible. All three children are at that stage on independence before they can become friends with their parents and whilst they're still quite horribly selfish. My third contender is Mrs Updike the solicitors wife who has an unfortunate habit of picking up cuts, bruises, scalds, sprains, lumps and bumps. Accident prone hardly begins to cover it, pre-war this is a woman who's life would have been cushioned by servants and who has none of the necessary skills for doing without but who also accepts  her lot with unremitting cheerfulness.

Of these three Miss Sparling is probably the lucky one, she has a successful career to look back upon and by the end of the book a dignified romance to look forward to, Mrs Updike is an example of an intelligent woman who has never been trained or educated to do anything in-particular which leaves her vulnerable in a changing world but again (barring a fatal accident) she will adapt. Mrs Belton on the other hand is a woman who's outliving her role as lady of the manor, hers will be the regrets of being the generation who could no longer make it work and she is the one who has to watch her children go out into the world knowing that not only is it dangerous and that she can do nothing to protect them, but that she can't even offer them the same old certainties to come home to. Thirkell is clever enough not to lay it on to thick, there is a general air of nostalgia for what once was but also a hint that change isn't so very bad either all overlaid by the familiar humour and need to marry off at least a brace of couples. 

Elsewhere I was delighted by the Trollope references - there are plenty of references made to the events in 'Dr Thorne' and the Barchester chronicles generally, and also in the way that she uses the authorial voice. Other bits are pure Thirkell - my favourite being a description of one character wearing a string of pearls just the right length for a country outing. There are also the troublesome moments of casual anti semitism and decidedly un pc attitudes towards women, sometimes it bothers me but this time it simply served a reminder that some change is very much for the better.      

Sunday, September 22, 2013

River Cottage Fruit Every Day - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

There are many I things I have a weakness for - chocolate eclairs, pearls, tweed, gin (the list goes on and on...) but somewhere near the top of it lie River Cottage cook books. Each time I see one in the offing I think about resisting (resistance is futile) partly because it seems inevitable that eventually there will be a duff one and every time I give in within moments of seeing the thing buying it from whatever retailer I happen to be in at the time (luckily for me it was WH Smiths this time who have some terrific bargains when it comes to cookbooks). The timing with 'Fruit' was particularly fortuitous because my damson contacts had come good with a vengeance and in the end I had something like 14 kilos of them to do something with before they went off. I made as much jam as I could find sugar and jars for, there are another 5 kilos in the freezer which will probably be jelly when I can get more jars and sugar, a liqueur is brewing (a rag tag mix of gin and vodka dregs which hopefully will be pleasingly mellow and not annoyingly bland and sweet), and finally some damson puree to make Hugh's damson ice-cream from the new book.
I've only had 'Fruit' for a day or two so I've not really had a proper look at it yet but have already managed to tag a number of recipes. there is a terrific looking apple and marmalade cake which I can't wait to make. It promises a slightly lighter take on a traditional fruit cake and boasts whisky soaked sultanas along with marmalade and chunky slices of apple and lots of brown sugar (more things I have a weakness for). I also like the sound of a blackberry syrup cake where a magnificently purple blackberry syrup stains the sponge in a pleasingly dramatic sort of a way. Sloe syrup looks good too - I've only ever used sloes for gin but syrup sounds like a much more versatile option, apparently it's good on pancakes and can be used for mixing in drinks, I think it'll be well worth experimenting with. There are also plenty of salads, savory dishes, and unexpected things to do with strawberries (pizza) which look to be very much my cup of tea.

Given that this 'Fruit' has more than a bit in common with Jane Grigson's 'Fruit Book' (which I consider to be one of the best cookbooks ever to cross my path and quite likely one of the best ever without any sort of qualification) it's no surprise I'm taken with it. In fact the only quibble I have with the River Cottage 'Fruit' is one of lay out. One of the things I really like about Grigson's fruit and veg books is that she arranged them by fruit (or vegetable) alphabetically so when you have a glut of anything it's a very simple matter to flip to the relevant section and find a whole host of suggestions, here the fruits are divided into categories (stone fruits, summer berries and currants, pears and quinces etc) which for damsons (yes it's an obsession) I spent a lot of time consulting the index because however they're classified the recipes do not fall especially close together. However that's a small quibble for what's clearly destined to be a useful and inspiring cookbook.

The damson ice cream is custard based so I cheated a bit and bought ready made custard from M&S (you need the extra thick luxury stuff and a spoon, and that's another thing to add to my list of weaknesses). This is partly because I've never been a huge fan of custard based ice-creams, I like custard but have always found the eggy flavour gets in the way of whatever else is in the ice-cream and that's never been what I wanted, also custard is a little bit of a hassle to make in that you can't take your eye off it - not something to be combined with jam making, a tub seemed much more practical. The damson bit was a puree of 500g of fruit simmered with a couple of tablespoons of water and 50g of sugar until it's all soft and ready to be pushed through a sieve. After that it needs to be chilled before churning. Eventually mix with cold custard and churn in an ice cream maker (or freeze and stir every half hour or so until it's suitably soft set) and then finish off in the freezer. It's quite a grown up flavour (and you can taste the custard in it) with a definite tang of tannin (which manifests itself as a slightly smokey tea like flavour) and quite rich with a lovely velvety texture, a little goes a long way.      



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Damson Thursday and a couple of links

Yesterday when I was all energetic after a half day at work and with the prospect of a whole day off today I dragged one friend out to the country after a hard day at the office to evict another friend from the place on the sofa she'd earned after a whole days teaching so that we could go and bother her father who has a damson tree in his garden... I love damsons, I love them more than enough to impose on the good will of anyone who has access to them, and I even love them enough to be sanguine about the fact that I came home with something like 10 kilos of them which turns out to be 5 kilos more than I know what to do with tonight especially know I've run out of jam jars. 

After an exhaustive search of the county revealed that jam jars are apparently more precious than gold (when did it become acceptable to charge £2 or more for an empty jar? I could buy crappy jam and throw it away for less) I was more than grateful to discover that WH Smiths have 'River Cottage Fruit Every Day' in stock (I think this is early) even better they have it quite keenly priced so I didn't feel at all guilty about not being Salt Sugar Smoke' for Damson and Gin jam, this is the perfect jam if, like me, you prefer sweet things with a tart edge and believe that gin is A Very Good Thing (in moderation).
able to come home without a copy. I love River Cottage books almost as much as I love damsons, a River Cottage book with a good selection of recipes for damsons... Well you can imagine how happy I am (there will be ice-cream, for which there is a recipe). Meanwhile it was back to Diana Henry's brilliant '

Out in the wider world Thomas at My Porch has compiled a list of his top 80 most enjoyable novels by women. It's a great list with links to other lists and is an excellent reminder of just how many great books there are out there (by both men and women). I really like that Thomas had a list of 80 books that had scored more than 8 out of 10 on his personal rating system - somehow a satisfactory sort of number. I see too that Lyn at I Prefer Reading has been reading Georgette Heyer... And not just any Heyer but 'Sylvester' which judging from the comments is everybody's favourite (mine as well). 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Harpoon At A Venture - Gavin Maxwall

Over the last couple of years I've periodically checked amazon for copies of 'Harpoon At A Venture' in the hope that someone somewhere would think to reprint it so that I could replace my much read and finally disintegrating copy. Earlier this year my wish was granted - Birlinn have just reprinted 'Harpoon at a Venture', even better a copy landed on my doorstep in a delightful and unexpected way.

I'm deeply attached to this book, I wrote about it here last year, and thought about it a lot more after reading Hebridean Sharker (also republished by Birlinn). 'Hebridean Sharker' is the book that Tex Geddes who had been part of Maxwell's crew wrote about his experience of shark fishing. Most of it takes place after his time with Maxwell and the two books compliment each other nicely. Geddes was a larger than life character and certainly a memorable element in 'Harpoon At A Venture', 'Hebridean Sharker' is full of great stories and is an entertaining book which in turn shows just how good a writer Maxwell was because 'Harpoon At A Venture' is in a different league.

I've read it many times over the years, each time finding and taking something different from it. At first I saw it basically as a tale of adventure, albeit one that ends badly, later it raised questions about conservation and the ethics of hunting, the last time I read it I thought far more about what it had to say for a generation of young men adjusting to peacetime. Maxwell was a prolific hunter during his lifetime with a youthful passion for shooting in an era where game bags reached near genocidal proportions, the impulse he acts on when he first sees a basking shark is to shoot at it (which he does, and eventually from this inauspicious beginning the idea of the shark fishery is born), even in 'Ring of Bright Water' he's having homicidal thoughts about killer whales, yet it wasn't until Maxwell's fishing operation that biologists got round to taking a really close look at basking sharks. 

It is still the war element of the book that fascinates me at the moment however. I find it hard to imagine the impact 6 years of war must have had on young men, because really what would you do with yourself if you'd come out of that to find yourself 30, with no career, and a skill set that probably doesn't fit you for office life? Shark hunting suddenly begins to look like a logical answer. For Maxwell there is also a class issue which in turn I also find fascinating; the pre and post world war for younger sons of the landed gentry must have been very different places - much of the Soay venture looks like an attempt to maintain the role of an officer and a gentleman and was likely a reason that it failed. 

'Harpoon At A Venture' brings a time and place vividly to life, regardless of how you feel about hunting sharks it's a rewarding (I think important) read. This new edition has more pictures in it than my old copy which was an unexpected bonus. It's a book I can't recommend highly enough, it's my benchmark for nature writing (and in fact for all non fiction) and is one I know I'll read many more times over the years - perhaps eventually I'll be able to write about it in a way that does it justice. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fudge and Sweet Things

There's a distinct nip in the air of a morning and evening this week (and a cold dull grey day of rain in-between) which makes it very clear that Summer is over and as any retailer knows that means Christmas is almost upon us. Evidence to that effect is stacking up at work in the form of tins of Quality Street outside my wine store and the first customers have been asking for stout and barley wine which means they're making their Christmas puddings. At home I'm sorting out jam jars, stockpiling sugar, idly sketching out possible decorative ideas for Christmas cakes, and thinking about trying out recipes.

I bought a copy of Annie Rigg's 'Sweet Things' as a birthday present (and was really loathe to give it away) I really liked 'Gifts From The Kitchen' a couple of years ago and really want a copy of 'Sweet Things' of my own but have settled for sneakily copying down a couple of recipes from it for now, one of which was for the fudge I made last night. The thing with Annie's books (you surely have to be on first name terms with an Annie) is that she's an amazing stylist 'Gifts From The Kitchen' made me think as much about presentation as it did actually cooking, and 'Sweet Things' looked to have something of the same aesthetic about it.

Home made fudge is much better than any I've ever bought and is the perfect thing for making to share as no one person could reasonably get through a whole batch on their own. Last night's effort was maple pecan (or in my case walnut) fudge and is possibly the sweetest thing I've ever eaten. There was also a recipe for cherry and brandy fudge as an alternative for rum and raisin which sounds good and one for candied almonds rolled in chocolate and freeze dried cherry powder which sounds very good. The maple walnut fudge is interesting, I will make it again but was unprepared for just how rich and sweet it would be, it was also quite different from any other fudge I've made...

Maple Walnut Fudge
150g of caster sugar
300g of maple syrup (thank god for Costco or this wouldn't be financially viable)
2 tablespoons of golden syrup
150ml of double cream
75ml of full cream milk
2 tablespoons of whisky (Annie says bourbon but I'm a scotch girl and used Highland Park 12 for it's slightly smoky edge, I might try something really peaty next time...)
1 teaspoon of Vanilla extract
25g unsalted putter
100g pecans toasted and roughly chopped
A 17cm square tin lined with baking paper.

Combine everything but the butter and nuts in a heavy based saucepan (one that can be plunged in cold water later, so not a preferred and prized Le Creuset which really objected to this treatment) and cook gently over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar, stir frequently.

Stick a thermometer in the pan, bring to a gentle boil, and continue to cook until it reaches 114 degrees C, Keep stirring to prevent it from catching and burning. When it's ready take it off the heat and plunge the pan into a sink of cold water to stop it cooking any more. Add the butter and gently stir before scooping it into a large heatproof mixing bowl. Leave undisturbed for 15-20 mins (I don't think I waited long enough which has possibly affected the texture as I couldn't get the lovely grainy crumbly finish I prefer).

Beat (Annie says with a wooden spoon or spatula, I say with an electric hand whisk) for 3 or 4 mins until the fudge thickens, looks less glossy, and gets a bit grainy. Stir in most of the nuts saving a few to press into the top and spoon into the tin, leave to cool overnight. This should keep for up to 2 weeks in an air tight container.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kitchen Stuff - The Sugar Thermometer

Another of those posts about things in my Kitchen... I've been making fudge tonight which I was going to post about in detail but the recipe says I need to leave it overnight to cool and as it's both the oddest fudge recipe I've tried to make and one that I think I might have made a bit of a mess of (I certainly made a mess with it) I guess it would be better to wait for it to be ready and try it before saying much about it. I don't think it's going to beat this fudge recipe from Hope and Greenwoods 'Life Is Sweet' which is so far the best I've found and the bench mark against which all other fudge has been measured for the last 3 years (the salt in that recipe was my own addition and totally unnecessary).

The thing is that without a sugar thermometer I wouldn't be making fudge at all. My sister and I had a go at it many years ago, we wasted a lot of ingredients trying to make 2 batches and totally messing it up. What the recipe failed to adequately explain was just how bloody long it takes, all it said was bring to a rolling boil after the sugar has melted and that it was done when it made a soft ball in cold water. You can get what looked for all the world to us like a soft ball long before we were really at the soft ball stage (somewhere about 112 degrees C) and it's not like you can stick a finger in to see how you're getting on. It was a bit vague on the stirring bit as well - Miss Hope makes it clear that a good ten minutes with an electric beater is called for, a couple of minutes with a wooden spoon (which is as long as any reasonable person is likely to want to beat something with a spoon for) just won't do the job. 

My sugar thermometer is a fairly unsophisticated model (it came with a warning not to expose it to extreme temperatures which was a little bit worrying), I have occasionally hankered after a swish probe sort of a thing which would give exact readings on some sort of easy to see display panel (no more squinting through clouds of steam nose a mere inch or two from a volatile pan of boiling sugar and fat) but I wouldn't swap this one for two reasons. It was a present from my dad who had heard me mention that it's something I wanted so went to the trouble of finding one and posting it down from Shetland as a surprise. It's not the first time he's done something like that but it's enough of a novelty to invest the thermometer with a certain sentimental attachment (I'm also sentimentally attached to a small adjustable spanner, thanks dad!). I also prefer things that aren't battery operated because I can guarantee that the batteries will fail at the most inopportune moment possible. 

It's amazing the difference the right gadget makes. It's not impossible to make jam without a sugar thermometer, all it takes is a cold plate to check for setting points, but it's so much better when you can take the guess work out of it. Watching the thermometer creep towards the magic temperature has given me a far better idea of how long it takes and helped me notice how the textures change (it hasn't stopped me letting things boil over because I turned my back for a moment at a critical stage or was overly optimistic about how much would go in the pan). Fudge, as I've said, is beyond me without one. Post thermometer fudge has become a Christmas staple (everyone gets a bag of it, like it or not), and there's a whole world of other sweets it opens up (for better or worse I swear this will be the year I make Turkish Delight).     

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bolsover Castle

It was going to be a reading day but in the end it turned out nice and into a whisky hunting and castle visiting day instead. We went up to Derbyshire which is far more scenic than Leicestershire (in my opinion), had a slightly worrying time following the sat nav instructions (it kept changing it's mind about where we wanted to go which was both confusing and frustrating and there was a crazily steep hill with a lot of sudden bends on it). Eventually though we managed to get safely from Bakewell to Bolsover.

Bolsover looks over the M1 and I must have been past it 100's of times but never until today stopped to have a look. Shame on me because it's beautiful. As it stands it was started by Charles Cavandish, one of Bess of Hardwick's sons (you can just about see Hardwick house) and finished by his son William. They seem to have liked women and horses. It was an unplanned trip so the only camera I had was on my phone which isn't brilliant but here are a few pictures anyway...

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Thirkell!

It's been a very busy week, so much so that I'm currently slumped on the sofa fighting to stay conscious - the only thing energising me at all is a desire to share the news that I found another Angela Thirkell this week. I went over to Uppingham with my friend R on Wednesday afternoon where the highlight was a browse around The Rutland Bookshop. It's impossible to describe how tiny, dusty, cobwebby, and crammed with books this place is. There are some pictures from a previous visit here (along with an excellent recipe for Rowan jelly) but they really need somebody in them to give a sense of scale. Unfortunately it's hard to get far enough away from a second person in the shop to get all them in the picture to really give that sense of scale. the place is a treasure trove (neither very cheap or terrifyingly expensive, it has a wonderful collection of middle brow fiction, hunting shooting and fishing books, and Victorian children's books). 

My treasure this time was an old Penguin paperback edition of Angela Thirkell's 'The Headmistress' in not bad condition and reasonably priced at £2. There where a few hard back Thirkell's as well but they were more than I could afford (more than £2) and take up to much space on the shelf to be really attractive to me. I struggle to find affordable second hand Thirkell and when I do come across her books it's almost always 'The Brandons' or 'Wild Strawberries' (why is it that there are so many second hand copies of specific titles around and so few of others? It's a rare charity or second hand shop that doesn't have 'Precious Bane' and 'The Well of Loneliness' knocking about for example) so I'm delighted with this find. I've not had much time to read more than a few pages yet but was really pleased to find a little recap of a couple of Trollope's Barchester chronicles (mostly Doctor Thorne) relayed as gossip.

On the Thirkell front there's more good news - a quick search on amazon reveals that Virago are reprinting 'Summer Half', 'August Folly' (which I think is my favourite so far) and the ubiquitous 'The Brandons' in May 2014. I'm more excited by November's release of 'Pomfret Towers' and 'Christmas at High Rising' (apparently an exclusive, never before collected set of short stories) as both will be entirely new to me but overall the portents seem good for an extensive re-print of her back catalogue and that's excellent news.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's that time of year again...

The time of year when I find myself hunched over a boiling pan of jewel coloured liquid (garnet tonight) frantically trying to read a sugar thermometer through the swirling steam. Yes its finally cool enough to consider making jams,  jellies,  and marmalades again. There's not much that I really like about the autumn but preserving is one of the few things that reconcile me to the end of summer. Time to fall in love with Diana Henry and Pam Corbin all over again.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


It's been a long overdue domestic day today. I've cleaned (a few weeks overdue) moved some pictures around and painted the wall underneath when it became clear there were unsightly black marks around where the pictures had hung (a couple of years overdue), have started some red current jelly (last years red currents found at the back of the freezer) and put a couple of pheasants to slow cook (hopefully last years, possibly the season before that, if they're really dry I'll try them in soup). I chipped the lime scale off my bathroom taps (needed doing since I moved in almost 9 years ago, cillit bang stinks but at least it works on lime scale if not the black bits on the grouting I actually bought it for) polished some silver, watered the plants and have generally been very virtuous. 

I also took my new laptop back to the shop I got it from as it has an irritating habit of throwing 5555555555's in to text which is bad enough, but was making it impossible to sign into as I couldn't tell which were letters and which were 5's. This is annoying for a couple of reasons - primarily that due to being at work during shop opening times I missed getting the dratted machine back in time to get a simple exchange by 2 days it's now gone for a likely 2 weeks so I'm back on my old laptop which is prone to overheat or just stop working (it's 6 years old and had deserved it's retirement) . With this in mind I'm not sure how feasible blogging will be over the next few weeks so don't be surprised if I disappear for a bit. At least whilst out I picked up some cushions so the fabric I bought in July might soon get turned into the cushion covers planned for it. 

Altogether a fairly productive day off - and much of it displacement activity because I should have been finishing a book that I just can't get into or see the point of. At this rate I might even do some ironing ...  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Friday's Child - Georgette Heyer

Thank god for Georgette Heyer. I'm reading avidly at the moment - newspapers, instructions, journals (well 'Friday's Child' and I had it partly confused with 'Cotillion' (I think) and again it's not a title that was a particular favourite so I'd forgotten most of the details over the last 20 odd years. 
okay, Slightly Foxed and PPC) magazines - everything but books really. I'm struggling to concentrate on anything that requires a lot of thought but am craving story telling so Heyer is rescuing me from my reading slump. There's nothing at all demanding about reading Heyer, and she's a master story teller. It's a long time since I'd read

What I've found re reading these Heyer's is that they're far better than I remember. 'Friday's Child' is bitter sweet comedy. It's light reading but perfectly crafted, over the years I've read enough trashy romances (I used to share my grannies Mills and Boon as a teenager, and for my sins once borrowed a Barbara Cartland from the library. The Cartland was The Worst Book I've Ever Read. Ever.) to have an idea of how poor they can get. Heyer who liked to mix her romances with elements of other genres (mostly detective fiction) it can get. Heyer manages plots that hang together and characters that the reader can warm to - not as common as you might hope. She has a magic touch at what she does.

I'm aware that after writing about 5 Heyer titles in the last few weeks (I think I've read about 9) that I'm running out of things to say about her - but she really is good. I keep describing her as light which is accurate but probably does her a disservice. I think these are books that are meant purely for entertainment, a way to avoid thinking about the every day rather than reveling truths about it but often that's what you want. To find someone who does it with grace and humor is something to be very glad off.      

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Goan Pork with Potatoes (for Debbie)

This is, so far, the best recipe I've found in the Madhur Jaffrey book. As a pork dish it's great but I like it because I think the sauce part will be extremely versatile - I certainly mean to use it with some sort of white fish (salt cod if I can find it) and possibly with beef or lamb. Jaffrey says it could be described as a simple Vindaloo which is intriguing. 

This quantity serves 4...
2 teaspoons whole brown mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, 3 whole cloves, 140g of onions peeled and finely chopped, 5 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped, 2.5 cm piece of fresh garlic peeled and chopped, 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (I halved this), 2 teaspoons of paprika, salt, half a teaspoon ground turmeric, half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, 560g boneless pork shoulder cut into cubes, 3 tablespoons of oil (corn or peanut) 340g of small waxy potatoes, half a teaspoon of sugar.

Put half the mustard seeds, all the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cloves in a clean coffee grinder and grind as finely as possible. Put this mix with the onions, garlic, ginger, vinegar, cayenne pepper, paprika, and 3 tablespoons water into a blender and blend till smooth. 

Rub a generous teaspoon of salt plus all the turmeric, black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the spice paste over the meat, marinade for at least half an hour.

heat the oil in a large heavy non stick lidded pan over a medium high heat, when the oil is hot add the remaining mustard seeds, after a few seconds they will start to pop at which point add the rest of the spice paste, stir and fry for about 5 mins or until the paste is lightly browned, add the pork and marinade and stir for a minute. Cover and reduce the heat to medium, let the meat cook for about 10 minutes until it's lightly browned, add the potatoes, sugar, and a little more salt, cover with water, reduce the heat to low and cook gently for about an hour or until the meat is tender.   

Monday, September 2, 2013

Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible

Really? This much spice for one little stew?
Sometimes a thing is so blindingly obvious that I just don't see it, sometimes blind prejudice gets in my way, and sometimes I feel really stupid about it. Leicester is arguably the best place in the country to find and eat an authentic, excellent, curry (people certainly argue about it and I'm prepared to back my city to win on this). The thing is that I really can't handle hot food, anything but the very mildest of heat floors me and because there's no shortage of good (if beyond my pain threshold) curry to be had in the city I'd never thought about cooking it.

spices being heated prior to grinding - very satisfying process
When I was in Shetland earlier in the summer my step mother (who's a chef) was trying recipes for a wedding she was catering, one of them was a bhuna from Jaffey's book and long story short it was delicious - and here's the bit that makes me feel stupid - she'd gone easy on the chilies. Obvious isn't it, catering for a 150 people with wildly different tastes made a very mild heat more desirable and so all you need to do is dial it back a bit. Inspired I tried the same recipe when I came home (happily I had the same book courtesy of a Christmas present a few years ago) and it was pretty good. Since then I've been experimenting with a  few other things in there and again they've been great which is all quiet exciting.

I'm sticking with dishes which are on the milder side anyway - if something is genuinely meant to be hot it would probably lose something fundamental by the time I'd scaled it back to my palate but cooking in a different tradition with a whole new set of spices is something I love doing, and in this case I couldn't be in a better place to do it, there is no ingredient no matter how obscure which I shouldn't be able to get hold of within a 15 minute walk from my flat (or at a push a 5 minute bus journey away). I also understand for the first time why the basic spices for this kind of cooking are so often sold in such epic quantities. I've never cooked anything that demanded so much seasoning or so many different seasonings before so learning my way around these flavours is going to be interesting.