The Cold Shoulder

Another cookery post. I’ve been looking for ways to make the Sunday roast more exciting. We’ve tried not having a roast at all. We’ve tried whole and partial ducks, pork, beef and chicken. We’ve slow cooked, pot roasted and normal roasted.

Today, I tried something a bit different. My husband bought a bone-in shoulder of lamb and a bag of salad. He hates salad, so it was clearly aimed at me. But I turned that into the basis of a delicious meal for the whole family for Sunday lunch, but the title of this post is a clue – it takes rather a long time to cook at such a low temperature.

Slow-cooked Shoulder of Lamb with Salsa Verde

15 minutes to prepare, 4.5 hours cooking

1 bone-in shoulder of lamb (ask for one that serves about 4 people)
1 bag watercress and rocket salad
1 teaspoon chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice + set of a lemon if you are using fresh lemon
1 teaspoon child flakes
(3 anchovies, finely chopped)

Preheat oven to 200c. Snip the lamb all over with scissors to make tiny pockets in the meat and fat.
Put the mint and half the garlic into a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
Chop the salad down to chopped herb size. Put one third into the bowl, season and stir. Rub all over the lamb.
Put the lamb in the oven, ideally in a baking tray that has a rack in the bottom.
After 15-20 minutes, turn down to 110c. I know it seems low. Cook for four hours. (If you are brave try at 85c for six hours – not tried it myself, but a friends with a meat thermometer swears by it! This is why I called this the cold shoulder.)
Remove from oven, cover in foil and rest for 10-15 minutes. Watch out, the bone will be hot to touch.

Salsa Verde traditionally contains anchovies. If, like me, you are not an anchovy fan, this works just as well without. Mix the rest of the olive oil, the rest of the chopped up salad bag, the rest of the garlic, all the lemon juice (and zest if you have it), the chilli flakes, and a LOT of salt and black pepper in a jar. Lid on, shake this and put it in the fridge for use later. It comes out a gorgeous bright green colour.

I served the lamb in a couple of different ways, some chunks, some shredded. I added roasted butternut squash cubes (or mini roast potatoes for the kids), with steamed carrots and asparagus. And red wine. Absolutely delicious. The salsa verde really cuts through the fat too.

Cake with no eggs – apple and cinnamon


 Kids home ill today, which always ends up meaning baking. But without any warning of illness, I don’t have the right ingredients in. I don’t even have enough flour and butter, and no eggs at all…
But they’re ill and clamouring for cake.
Ok then. Let’s see if we can make a fabulous cake with only random ingredients…
And we can! This is an awesome, fruity, light cake. I was amazed!

Store-cupboard Apple and Cinnamon Cake

5 heaped dessert spoons of soft brown sugar
5 heaped dessert spoons self raising flour
3 heaped dessert spoons polenta
2 heaped dessert spoons natural fibre boost powder (Matt Dawson branded)
4 kids’ little fromage frais, apricot flavour
2 apples, finely diced
1or 2 dessert spoons cinnamon
8 dessert spoons olive oil
2 dessert spoons lemon juice

I mixed all the above together, and baked for 1 hour at 190c.

I mixed the last of my icing sugar and butter together with some more lemon juice to make a toupee of butter cream icing on the top. It’d be great to kid myself that with the polenta, fibre powder and fruit this approximated to healthy, but it’s cake at the end of the day, and a lovely one too. After all, if you can’t have comfort food when you are ill…

Easy Hollandaise for diets

So I am trying to lose some weight. This time, my husband is trying too so it is feeling a bit easier, I feel more supported.

It’s a bit low GI, a bit low carb, quite a lot of portion control. I can’t fast, so 5:2 was just not going to happen. My husband won’t have anything to do with things he thinks are faddy. He won’t do Harcombe, the diet which some have my family have yes successfully because he doesn’t want to separate carbs and protein-rich meals. I am happy doing that, but actually I think the rule may be less about the science of protein v carbs and more about making sure making sure you definitely make a minimum five fruit and veg by swapping out carbs.

Sunday lunch. I made gammon. Baked aubergine slices for me, four tiny boiled potatoes for my husband. Carrots. But how to tie it all together?

Hollandaise. I was a bit nervous, but having read several “easy” recipes I thought, why not? I’ve got a couple of egg yolks kicking around from the number of egg whites required in diet recipes.

Here’s mine… Annotated.

Easy hollandaise

2 egg yolks and the equivalent amount of olive oil, six tablespoons of butter, pinch of cayenne/ hot paprika, salt, juice of one lemon.

I stuck the lot into the blender. It didn’t look right. I suddenly realised I should have melted the butter first. I transferred the whole lumpy lot to a small saucepan and put the heat in for about thirty seconds while using the hand blender. Apparently the blade friction combined with the heat of the melted butter cooks the egg yolks, so the heat is kind of important! After blending it smooth, I put the gas back on for another minute and blended a little longer. It started foaming and turned into fantastic orangey-coloured (as I used hot paprika for the kick!) lemony flavoured hollandaise!

It’s high fat, obviously, but carb free and I would say the amount this recipe delivers is fine for four dieters portions.

Bon app!

Easy Banana Cake

Ok, I should probably confess that this amazing recipe came about by accident. My son came home from school with a week’s worth of fruit in the front pocket of his backpack. The apples were salvageable for another day, but the bananas and pears were definitely turning a bit brown.

“Yuck,” said my toddler, after demanding ‘nana for about ten minutes before I remembered where they were likely to be (my son had put them next to the fruit bowl, obviously, not in it where I’d have spotted them in a few seconds). My husband has a pathological hatred of wasting food, so I decided to use up the fruit in a cake.

While my son got his school shoes on, I skimmed the internet for banana cake recipes. There were “ultimate” banana cakes, and “best ever” banana cakes. The method for both of these seemed to involve putting the cooked cake (in the pyrex dish you would obviously naturally bake a cake in) into the freezer for a rapid image1chill. Who has space like that in their freezer? Ours is crammed with chips, ice lollies, ice cream, frozen herbs, frozen peas, fish fingers and assorted meats and fish that we buy and suddenly realise we can’t plan a meal around before the use by date.

I decided “really good” banana cake would do, and eventually settled for “easy” banana cake with cream cheese frosting from an Australian website. I love Australian food websites, they are often no-nonsense and have the temperature in celsius and the measures in both metric and cups. Also, I’d got a pot of quark in the fridge that outlasted the blackberries it was supposed to join on top of a flan case, so the icing sounded a great idea for really using things up.  After delivering my son to school, I popped into the shop for eggs, the only real missing item…

Once I started, I realised I’d misread, and I only has two squashy bananas not four, and not enough icing sugar so I had to make chocolate cream cheese icing (it works, think about the Dairy Milk and Philadelphia cream cheese you can buy!).
The end result is so delicious for an improvised recipe, it deserves to be recorded for posterity, so here goes:

Stick the oven on at 180c and butter a 20cm/8 inch silicone cake tin, which needs to stand on a baking tray.

2 eggs
125g (half a block) butter
315g (1.5 cups) golden sugar
2 mashed bananas
2 mashed pears
1 tspn vanilla essence
buttermilk made with juice of 1 lemon and 100ml milk

Mix these all together. I used a turn-the-handle hand whisk but you can probably use a food processor.

Then fold in:
1 tsp baking powder
220g (1.5 cups) self-raising flour

Pour carefully into silicone tin. Bake for 1 hour. Check it’s cooked by sticking in a skewer or narrow blade knife. Leave it for ten minutes, then turn it out onto a rack.

In a bowl, mix:
half a cup cocoa
2 cups icing sugar
1 pot quark (I guess other cream cheese would work too)

This blends nicely to a nice bitter chocolate creamy icing and a quantity that will spread right over the top of the cake and down the sides in one thick layer. You could probably split the cake horizontally and put some in the middle if you want, but it doesn’t need it.


A cup of tea for Jesus

I was listening to a sermon.
Shocking, I know, if you watch church services on TV you would assume that sermons are the dull bit of a church service where most people doze or daydream. (Maybe I watch The Simpsons too much).

Anyway the passage being preached was Matthew 25:43, the verse that was being preached to was the bit where Jesus says (in the ESV):

I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

This is a challenge.
We live in a world where political dialogue is about the “other” – the limitations needed on immigration, who is worthy of state support. Actually accepting a stranger into your household would be a risk deemed foolhardy- murder, rape or robbery would surely follow.
And with headlines about crises in the prison service, and prison guards having to get hep jabs just in case, who would visit unless they had to?
And as with hospital visiting unless it is friends or relatives who has the time?

I know myself – I’m not a spiritual hero.
So the sermon got me thinking and I recognised that while I clothe the needy (usually donating clothes via charities), and donate to our food bank (with some unease- I heard the CEO say he wanted a food bank in every town but I would prefer that our brilliant welfare state be properly funded to support those in need rather than a return to the pre-20th century approach that the church and civil society should provide), this sermon was a challenge to me.
What if it was Jesus sitting at the roadside? He of course says it is him (Matthew 25 again):

‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

So how can I do nothing with this clear message in front of me?

I can argue I don’t do nothing- I worked for a homelessness charity and would always donate money to them rather than hand over cash because of the risk of fuelling self-destructive drink and drugs.
I can think about the charity donations and the churchgiving, and maybe I can feel I do my bit and be thankful for the life I have that means I can do the giving.
But that’s Pharisee thinking.

Jesus as always makes things a bit less comfortable.
So with this sermon still ringing in my ears, I got off the bus to walk to work. There was a man there in a battered old leather jacket: “spare any change for a cup of tea?”
I walked on. But I felt awful.
He was there the next day too. I walked past.
And the next- I took a different route.

Then I considered what I was doing.
I was so bothered by what a sermon at church asked me to think about that a specific situation was calling on me to act.

So what to do?

The next morning I stopped at a coffee shop and got two cups of tea.
“Oh, yeah, I guess.”
I took a handful and a stirrer and got on my bus.
On the way I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing.
What should I do, hand it over and walk off?
Stay for a chat?
What if he refused it? Maybe he doesn’t actually want tea?
Would it just be massively embarrassing for both of us?
What if I got mugged for my bag/ phone etc. through showing I was a soft touch?
What if once I had done this once he expected a cup of tea every day?

He wasn’t there.

So I did the same the next day.
And the next.

But he hasn’t been back.

I can reflect that God gave me a chance to see how I react to a specific challenge from a specific sermon.

Or I can think, I hope that man is ok. I hope he has a good reason for not being at the bus stop asking for change for a cup of tea and that his life has changed for the better. I hope his story has a happy ending.

And if I see him again I will buy him that cup of tea.

The Anything Cupcake Mix

My toddler has a new hobby: baking. I discovered recently that he bakes once a week at nursery – he has usually eaten his biscuit or cake before he gets home so I have rarely had the chance to see the results – but he came home this week saying that he had made a red nose and digging in his bag revealed a smiley face cookie with icing and a glace cherry.

So we’ve been cooking at home too. He corrected my crumble the other day (I’d made it with flour and butter and his help but just as I was about to use it he said “no Mummy, you need to put sugar in it now then rub it some more”) and told me the timing (“it goes in d’oven from 11 to 12” – in actual fact it took about 50 minutes).

So we’ve started baking cakes. It’s great fun when he has friends round, and an easy and tasty way of spending some time together in the afternoons. To date, we’ve made peaches and cream cupcakes, and adapted the recipe to be banana and toffee, triple chocolate, summer fruits, and vanilla and raisin. Baked at 180 degrees in a fan oven for 15 minutes (for mini cake cases) or 25 minutes (in the standard size silicone cupcake cases) these are speedy and fun.

Here’s the basics:
150g sugar
150g butter
Beat these together with an electric whisk.
Beat in 1 egg.
Add 150g self-raising flour – I’ve never yet found a need to sift it.
Plus a pinch of baking powder.
Beat in 2 further eggs.
Add in your flavours. I recommend big chunks of chopped banana and bits of dark chocolate (put half a bar into a plastic bag, seal the top and bash with a rolling pin to break into suitable chunks.
Stir in so these are distributed evenly.
Spoon into cake cases – I’ve found it fills 12 larger and 12 smaller cake cases usually, but sometimes a few fewer.
Cook as described above.
These timings will give a slightly soft and springy centre.
Cool on a rack, after peeling off the silicone cases.
These can be eaten just as they are, or with a buttercream cupcake icing (butter beaten into icing sugar and cocoa powder) piled on top, or a frosting (water or and appropriate fruit sauce beaten into the icing sugar and drizzled over).


Leftovers for lunch- twisty turkey lattice

So, leftover turkey.

It’s a pain, isn’t it?  Cold and sliced for a couple of days, hot and stirfried or chopped up into pesto for pasta.  Curried, too, if you can stand the thought.  It get’s hugely tedious. I know the real answer is buy a smaller bird, but no one ever does, do they?

Anyway, thought we were going to be snowed in today, so this is the leftovers recipe I’ve just made.  And rather yummy it was too. As it was made with leftovers, the measurements are somewhat approximate.

Twisty Turkey Pie

Left over turkey, shredded
3 slices left over bacon, chopped
third of a box of passata
third of a tube of concentrated tomato puree
3 chopped carrots
3 lumps of frozen spinach
1 glass white wine
5 chesnut mushrooms, sliced
1 pack frozen puff pastry, defrosted
olive oil
salt, dried thyme, lemon juice

Firstly shred as much turkey as you can stand.  My food processor’s still in the box from moving house, so I actually grated mine.  Very odd feeling, doing that, but worked brilliantly. Turkey is very low fat, so add a slug of olive oil and start frying, gently.
Add the bacon, and the tomato puree.  Boil a kettle and cover the three spinach lumps in a measuring jug to defrost.
Add the wine and passata to the turkey and stir, remember you’re still sort of frying it. Then add the spinach and water.
Chop carrots and slice mushrooms, add to the mix. Season with the salt, thyme and lemon juice.

You’ll end up with a kind of pale orange mixture, studded with veg and flecks of spinach.

Butter a pie dish, or if like me you’ve not actually unpacked those yet, a springform cake tin.  Roll out the puff pastry on a floured board, and put it into the tin, lining all sides with the pastry.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit patchworky, as long as it’s sealed.  Load in the filling.
You will probably not have enough pastry to make a full pie top from the leftover pastry.  Cut the remaining pastry into long strips.
Twist these and attach them across the top of the pie, like a lattice.
Butter or milk around the edges to glue them to the edges of the pie pastry, and across the lattices to make them nice and shiny in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes at 190c, then check every 10 after that to see if it’s done yet.  Mine took 50 minutes, but it will depend on the quantity of filling.

Best use for leftover turkey I’ve found yet…

(NB that’s not my pie – can’t get my photo to upload – so that one’s from and may actually be filled with rhubarb… but it does nicely illustrate the twisty lattices)

Feeling autumnal, feeding autumnal

(not my pork, but a very similar looking one from Asda magazine!)

I promised to share a recipe that we made up the other week and which turned out to be totally delicious and perfect for autumn.

Pork and Cider Casserole

4 pork neck steaks
1 330ml bottle decent cider
pork/ chicken/ vegetable stock cube
1  bag chantenay carrots, topped and tailed
8 portabellini mushrooms, sliced
2 eating apples, cubed or in neat slices
4 sprigs rosemary
salt, pepper, dried thyme
olive oil

(one chopped onion and two crushed garlic cloves)
(crème fraiche)

We started off by coating the steaks in flour, and browning them in the olive oil.  Put them into a big lidded pan for the oven (we used a Le Creuset).
Once that’s done, really you should cook the onion and garlic in the same pan until the onions are golden after which they should go in the same oven pan as the pork.
But we forgot to add them all together and the casserole was still delicious.

Next, we added half the carrots, all the mushroom and apple to the pan, frying these a bit to release the flavours,  then tipped those into the same pan.  Seasoning with the salt, pepper and thyme, we topped up the pan with cider so that pork and bits were completely covered, adding the rosemary sprigs to the top.
We dissolved a stock cube in a little bit of boiling water and stirred in the resulting goop.
This all went into the oven at 180c for an hour and a half.  You could take the lid off for the last half hour to reduce the sauce into something nice and sticky.
You could stir in crème fraiche at the last minute if you like.

We served ours with jacket potatoes, and more carrots (the other half bag) – yum.  Just the thing now the nights are drawing in…

Fat is definitely still a feminist issue

As the bloggers have it, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Christina Hendricks has apparently got so fed up with being called curvy, she’s going to slim down from her (UK) size 14 to fit the Hollywood norm. This is her at her current size.
Christina is of course already gorgeous, someone to aspire to look like and sparking a fashion revival of 1960s style c/o her role in the show Mad Men.
But she’s far from the first to feel the pressure to lose weight to seek public approval or worse, to feel happy with herself in public.

Sophie Dahl was voluptuous, the first plus size super model, but shed loads of weight after becoming famous. This is one of the “before” pictures.

Even Margaret Thatcher, whose voice famously changed as part of her makeover to become a credible party leader, lost a stone.  It was never mentioned.

What’s going on?  Leaving aside the issue that the fashion industry has nothing to do with making the average woman look beautiful and everything to do with selling us something to idealise (and to keep buying their products to cover our flaws), we have to ask ourselves why do women do this?

The idea that this might be being done to appeal to men is nonsense – men tend to prefer curves (according to an article in Current Anthropology, a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 is thought to be the best in terms of demonstrating good health and fertility).
So is the pressure coming from other women?  The front of the weekly gossip mags always seem to be about celebrities who have lost or gained weight, and in the case of the latter, sometimes there are pregnancy rumours. That seems a particularly cruel way of noticing that someone’s gained a few pounds.  Look at the female columnists: they seem to gain their prestige by criticising other women.  Which man gets the criticism for his looks that women in the public eye are subjected to?  It’s ludicrous.

The classic TV pairing of older-man-younger-woman is still the norm on regional news programmes around the country.  Moira Stewart has disappeared from our screens.  Jenny Murray and Libby Purves seem confined to radio.
But Kirsty Wark and Martha Kearney do still seem to be allowed out, and the BBC at least has been trying some positive action to encourage women over 35 to appear on our screens.  Last year, in an effort to overcome the apparent ageism, the BBC advertised for older women to read the news and added Zeinab Badawi (world news on BBC Four), and Julia Somerville and Fiona Armstrong to their portfolio of news anchors.
And I try to feel grateful for the existence of Loose Women on ITV1, even if it’s not really my sort of programme…
Notice though that these older women presenters are still relatively thin and certainly glamorous.
The average sized woman in this country is a size 16. For older women, the average is higher.  Can it really be the case that average sized women are only represented on screen by Mary Bryne on the X Factor and Anne Widdecombe  on Strictly Come Dancing?
Mary Byrne on the X Factor

Before you wonder if I’m going too far, think about Adrian Chiles, Michael Macintyre, Eamonn Holmes, Mark Addy in the Tesco ad… With the exception of Michael Macintyre (who appears solo and whom we can forgive almost anything if he can indeed get the country skipping again…) most appear on screen with a younger/ slimmer/ more glamorous female partner.

Having an all-male panel on comedy programmes is still acceptable.  More usually these days there’s one woman – for example Jo Caulfield, Andi Osho, Lucy Porter, Shappi Korsandi on Mock the Week,  Sandi Toksvig, Maureen Lipman, Jo Brand or Emma Thompson on QI.  But as Sandi Toksvig said recently, when are we going to get the three woman, one man panel without it being considered a “special edition”?  Well part of the problem could be that women aren’t funny (rubbish + more of this rubbish from Christopher Hitchens),the rumour that it’s women that don’t find women funny, and men don’t fancy funny women
(If you’re interested in all this, try

Age is a problem, but fat seems to be the last taboo.
It seems that being fat is the fat person’s own fault, and therefore they’re a reasonable target for worse treatment or rudeness.
A while ago Ryan Air floated the idea of BMI-priced seating, and a fellow euroblogger stirred the controversy.  But my point – that pregnancy (and miscarriage) cause weight to increase, as does the menopause, show that policies like this could potentially discriminate against women…
I should probably at this point mention the fat/ poverty link.  But this is not an infallible rule. Some people who are fat are comparatively rich – not everyone subscribes the the Wallis Simpson maxim “you can never be too rich nor too thin”. And I’ve not even started on the race/body fat issue.
All I’m saying is that the issue of fat is a bit more complicated than the media might have it…

It’s worth noting that while one third of UK women are overweight, one third are underweight.  Being overweight can lead to all sorts of health problems, but so can being underweight.
So we should really be asking why, if fat people are kept off our screens in case they’re “normalised” or seen as anything other than a problem, why is it acceptable to show underweight people with such frequency?
I have friends with young daughters who are really concerned already by their daughters calling themselves fat, worrying about how they look – and the scary thing is that this seems now to apply to toddlers.  And don’t get me started on pink and princesses…

But if fat is a feminist issue, what should we do about it?
1) every time there’s a gym without childcare facilities, that’s a problem for mothers who want to exercise.  Any woman going to a gym should challenge this ongoing problem, on behalf of all.
2) Every designer who makes their clothes so that they look good on skeletons, and doesn’t provide samples/loan dresses even in a size that fits pre-diet Hendricks and Dahl, they put off someone like me from even bothering to slim to look good in their designs as I’m never going to both be happy and fit those clothes. We should make clear – perhaps via social media – that this is unacceptable, and by the way do they not realise how much of a potential market they are alienating.
3) Every time a female journalist criticises another woman for her weight or her looks, particularly if the woman criticised is a politician, scientist, writer, or is involved in a career which does not naturally lead to being a “brand ambassador” for a cosmetics company, we should comment on the website or email.

What do you think?

Basil’s grown up cooking for kids

(image from Omnivorous bear who read the same Observer article)

Another installment in my efforts to teach my toddler to cook.  We do this when it is raining. Today, we made packet Postman Pat cakes.  No information needed.

But we also made basil biscuits.

This is amazingly easy.

50g butter
50g sugar
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 handfuls chopped basil leaves
(I used thai basil as it happened to be at hand, but greek or standard is perfectly good too).

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Toddler can do this, slowly.
Blend in the flour and baking powder.
Knead in the bowl, or on a board, roll into a sausage.  Put back in bowl, roll in the chopped basil leaves, keep rolling around to mix the basil leaves in evenly.
Make the dough into a 2cm wide sausage. Cut into 1cm slices.
Put on a greased baking tray, and bake in the oven at 180c for 12 minutes.

Now, these could happily be changed around – parmesan in place of the sugar, lemon juice and peel in the sweet biscuit mix,or tomato puree or sundried tomatoes in place of the sugar.
Toddler’s not completely sure about them, but has said he’ll try again after his nap…