May 2008 be filled with happiness, peace, and the odd greyhound.
May 2008 be filled with happiness, peace, and the odd greyhound.
So J, C and little C finally came up for their long-awaited visit. Hubby and I made a special trip to Flood’s the butchers in Oldcastle to get a joint of their fantastic beef. It’s a very busy place which is always a good sign in my book, and they have all the details about where their meet comes from (even the abbatoir if you’re that interested) up on a blackboard in the shop. The chap brought out a whole bloody great wodge of cow so we could choose a nice cut for our roast dinner. Small distractions like me dropping the entire tray of Yorkshire puddings mid-pour, and leaving the potatoes so long that they turned into mash and I had to do some more for the roasties did nothing to dampen our spirits. J & C came armed with so many pressies you could hardly see J for the piles of boxes. I got the most AMAZING Le Creuset bean pot in the same blue as my Denby Jetty that I shall be salivating over for years to come (Hubby and C just didn’t get it).
Bertie went mental as soon as he saw C, his favourite person in the whole world. A quick check-up indicated that we’re doing well – lovely coat, just the right weight, but claws a bit too long (uh oh, I hate doing those), and Bert even got to show J & C his favourite route past the cows and sheep down the boat road. He was a happy boy. Later, when C was lying on the sofa, Bertie gingerly climbed up on top of C and perched, happily if a little guiltily, until told to get down. It’s love, pure and simple.
Later we made cocktails, which descended into throwing everything you could possibly imagine into the blender and seeing what the result was. J’s masterpiece was this, a slightly spicy strawberry number that, quite frankly, will blow your hat off. Woohoo!
Death By Strawberry
Tin of strawberries
Morgan’s Spiced Rum
So add a few spoonfuls of the tinned strawberries, along with a splosh of juice. Add a shot glass full of Morgan’s and another of Absolut. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime and a handful of ice. Blend until smooth. Drink until giggly.
I know, I know… but I’ve got half a bird clogging up my fridge and Hubby and #1 are mad for a curry. I got Anjum Anand’s wonderful ‘Indian Every Day’ for Christmas and she has this brilliant idea for a basic curry paste that, once you’ve knocked up a batch, you can keep in the fridge (or freeze in little portion sizes in an ice cube tray) so I’ve used this, but hey, there’s always Sharwoods. I was also desperate to make Naan breads and she has a recipe for these (I’ve just kneaded the hell out of them and they’re currently resting, so I’ll let you know how they turn out). Here goes then…
Easy Turkey or Chicken Curry
Big glug vegetable oil (oooh, about 3 tbs?)
2 red onions
1” chunk of ginger
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons curry paste
Half an enormous child-crushing turkey (or 4 chicken breasts, cubed)
Tin coconut milk
Right, so heat up your oil in a nice heavy based pan and add the chopped red onions and the grated ginger and garlic. Cook on low until the onions are browned. Add your cooked turkey (or raw chicken/prawns/whatever) and the curry paste. Stir around so the meat is completely covered and if you’re using raw chicken, until it’s pale and not translucent.
In a blender, whiz the tin of tomatoes with half the tin of coconut milk and add to the meat. If you like it less creamy you can substitute chicken stock for the coconut milk. Bubble away on a low flame (or put a lid on and bang it in a low oven) for around 30 – 45 minutes. If you want to leave it a bit longer (say if you’re using lamb), watch the liquid, you may need to add more. Because Hubby is asbestos-stomached, I cook it like this, and then after I’ve dished Hubby’s out, I add the final half of the coconut milk for #1 and me.
And that’s it. Serve with rice and your lubly home-made peshwari naans (clever, me.).
Happy Boxing Day! Or Happy St Stephen’s Day, depending on where you reside. I hope, dear reader, that your Christmas Day was as happy and mad as ours. The smalls didn’t get up until 8am (very satisfying, especially as Lou next door was up at 5am – no, of course I’m not smirking). Hubby and I had next door round for drinks and proceeded to get very happy (proof in itself that you can leave a turkey for an hour and a half in foil with no ill effects – it was certainly rested), ending in an unfeasibly giggly Christmas dinner that was enjoyed by all (oh, apart from the chestnuts but that’s another story). I got some lubly presents, including a beautiful heart necklace from Hubby with a pink diamond in the middle, and more cookery books than you can shake a stick at. Small Eric Clapton and Smaller Slash got the guitars of their dreams. The rest of the day passed in an ear splitting blur of riffs and jagged feedback. Bliss.
Anyhoo, digressing. To the baked salmon. There’s a great fishmonger near us (bit of a rarity these days I’d say) who’ll cut you the biggest fleshiest chunks of salmon that make perfect baked parcels. We usually wrap them in baking paper or foil, but if you’re feeling flash, you can wrap them in pastry too and they’re divine.
For the salmon:
4 large chunks of salmon fillet (boneless)
½ pack butter
1 fennel bulb
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 200/gas whatever (6?). So slice your fennel and onion very finely, melt a large knob of butter in the pan, add a pinch of salt and some ground black pepper and cook them slowly until they’re translucent (they don’t need to be done, they’ll get another 20 mins in the oven). Cut four large squares of greaseproof paper or foil, pile a spoonful of the onion/fennel mixture into the middle of each square, then plonk your salmon on top. Add a sprig of dill and an extra knob of butter, maybe a bit more seasoning, then fold up into a parcel and plonk onto a baking tray. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes (depending on the thickness of your salmon) and serve, with a flourish, still in the parcels, so your guests get treated to a lovely fenelly facial sauna as they open their parcel.
If you’re feeling flash, knock up some pastry:
9 oz plain flour
5 oz cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
First, mix the flour and butter in a food processor, slowly adding the egg until it comes together (or do it the tried and tested English Mum way, which is to shove it all in then add the whole egg and hope for the best – if it’s a bit sticky add some more flour). Or to do it the old fashioned way, rub the butter in to the flour, and bring together with the egg. Squish your pastry into a flat lump and cool in the fridge for half an hour (or however long – it’ll keep in there). Then just roll out your pastry, cut into squares, then dollop your mixture in and wrap your salmon with the pastry as you would a parcel. One word of warning – if you opt for the pastry version, be less generous with the knob of butter on top or you’ll end up with a very soggy bottom (and who needs a soggy bottom eh?). After I’ve done the first wrap, I roll the edges with the rolling pin and discard any extra before bringing them to the top, which both seals them and ensures they’re not too thick. These will take about half an hour. Serve and bedazzle!
Well, it’s Christmas Eve Eve (if that’s possible) and it’s time for me to head off to do all the wrapping, cuddling, talking, drinking, eating, mixing, stuffing, steaming and more eating that makes Christmas the best thing ever in my book.
Just before I go, I hope you’ll indulge me while I dish out a few festive thank yous. Firstly to you, my loyal readers: thanks for tuning in, guys. It wouldn’t be worth sitting down at my desk were in not for the little hit counter notching up the hits every day, and your fantastic comments and emails.
To me Mam, my naughty Disreputable Dad, Mad Uncle A, Sensible Uncle I and the cast of thousands that are our fantastic Aunties, Uncles, nieces and nephews, and all of my Hubby’s lovely family: we love you and miss you every day. Come visit soon! Oh and Happy 21st Birthday to my nephew, B. Cheers, geezer!!
To the lovely, patient, kind and caring C next door, who accepts what life is currently hurling at her with a peace and dignity that constantly amazes me, along with D (stop getting my husband drunk!), Lou and Little C (don’t mention the star costume!): I’m so glad we stumbled upon each other! May your Christmas be the one that you wished for, and roll on next summer and those barbies in the garden eh?!
To my wonderful, wonderful friends, C, R and Bea: thanks for your emails and texts and for not forgetting me, my darlings, love you loads and hope to be seeing you soon.
And to J, my wonderful, dizzy, greyhound-loving, Merlot quaffing, shopaholic (Prada? You shouldn’t have!), bonkers BF, who would cheerfully sell her liver for me: love you babes. And to C, the Betty to J’s Frank Spencer, and little C as well: big wet kisses. Mwah xxx
Finally, to my long-suffering Hubby (’Not da mama!’) and my unfeasibly mental children. Love and kisses are due in spades to you fellas xxxx
Right, I think that’s it. Have a lovely, lovely Christmas and good suet aplenty. And no doubt I’ll be back on St Stephen’s Day when I’ve finally run out of things to eat and people to annoy. I’ll leave you with a quote from Dr Seuss, who was a damned site deeper than people give him credit for.
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Oh, and me and me Mam were reminiscing about this little beauty. It was a Christmas tradition in our house and it may sound weird but it tastes bloody fab.
1 packet ginger biscuits
Sherry or orange juice (ooh, or Morgan’s Spiced Rum would be great)
Double Cream, whipped
So take each biscuit individually and then dunk it in the sherry (or orange juice if you’ve got kids eating this and you don’t want them staggering around telling dirty jokes). Sandwich them all together into a long roll (don’t dunk too many at a time, you’ll get mush) with a splodge of cream. Then cover the whole thing in the whipped cream and then completely cover in shaved (or grated) dark chocolate. It looks very chocolate-log-like and festive. Stuff a bit of holly on top and Bob’s your Auntie. Oh and leave it overnight in the fridge to get even more soft and delicious. Yum.
So we woke up this morning to a total white-out: freezing fog and a heavy ground frost meant that we could see absolutely nothing. Not quite snow, but close enough for us to feel slightly Christmassy. Bertie thought it was wonderful and legged around the garden, crunching and scrunching, whizzing round in circles and generally being a bit of an arse.
I crawled at a break-neck ten miles per hour all the way down to the nearest big town to get my hair done (a girl mustn’t neglect her roots, even at Christmas) - taking the extra time to view a veritable menagerie of dead beasts by the side of the road: dog, cat, fox and hare amongst the frozen solid delights on offer today - it’s like an ‘Evil Dead’ safari park on the N3 - and was amazed to find that even though there was less fog in town, the traffic chaos continued. It seems that the whole of the Midlands of Ireland goes bonkers and insists on doing all of their Christmas shopping on the last Friday before Christmas as every car park was full to capacity and every pavement heaving with shoppers. Inside my favourite hairdresser, it was the same story: hoards of people, blow dryers blowing, hairdressers… er… dressing… Still, now I’m all coiffed and lubly again I don’t care as I’ve done my Christmas shopping, it was back up to English Towers for a large mug of mulled cranberry (cranberry juice, brown sugar, slices of lime impaled with cloves, cinnamon stick) and a slice of mincemeat tart (pastry, mincemeat, flan tin, oven…you know the drill) before settling myself down in front of the fire for a foodie-fest of the Christmas specials on UKTV Food.
Did I mention I love Christmas?
So J’s on nights at the moment. We love this as it gives us the opportunity to have random nocturnal chats about all sorts of things while she’s on her break in the bowels of wherever it is she works (she does something incredibly clever and technical which I don’t honestly understand). Hubby came in last night very late to find us gabbing away about the kitsch retro food of Fanny Cradock. Remember her?
This brought me neatly along to the subject of Boxing Day (St Stephen’s Day over here) at Grandma Maudie and Grandad Sam’s house, when four hundred or so of our closest family members squished together in Grandma’s ‘parlour’ to be treated to a Boxing Day feast of epic proportions. I was one of the youngest and therefore was allowed to sit in front of the evil electric fire, which would strip the skin off a bare young calf in a matter of seconds, but she had this fab furry rug, so it was plum position, third degree burns or no. Grandad Sam would have been put to work peeling several hundredweight of new potatoes, ready to be turned into potato salad (with salad cream, not mayo – and covered in snipped chives). When not rushing up and down getting drinks, taking coats, giving cuddles, mending broken toys, playing snap, or any other of millions of uses that every good Grandad has, he used to have a swift swig of whisky in a very comical Monty Python type way while Grandma was in the kitchen, giving us a conspiratorial wink as he hid the bottle again. We laughed like drains.
The grand opening of this gargantuan spread would always be prawn cocktails: forever an eye-watering shade of Barbie pink (J fears that the dreaded crushed beetle may have come into play here) with added chopped tomato on a bed of lettuce, served in Grandma’s best posh glass bowls. I hate prawns but somehow could woof down several of these delights. Other wonders on the heaving table would be sausage rolls, glistening slices of ham, pickled onions, pickled walnuts (ew), Piccalilli (double ew), thinly sliced circles of cucumber (no skin: Grandma Maudie would rather have impaled herself on a sharp implement than served cucumber with skin on), and half of a mystery fruit (melon?) covered in foil and then randomly stabbed with cocktail sticks containing tiny sausages, squares of cheese and baby silverskin onions, or cheese and pineapple, or cheese and cheese. All were the height of yumminess. I also loved the hard-boiled eggs which she used to halve, remove the yolk, mix with salad cream and pipe back into the whites. Fantastic. Ooh and what about the celery sticks cut into 2 inch lengths and piped with cream cheese before being sprinkled with something pink (paprika??). I must talk to me Mam about this because she’s bound to remember loads of other bits.
Puddings were wobbly jellies containing floating fruit pieces, (and squirty cream!!) and, oh…the rabbit mould containing Crème Caramel which was turned out with a flourish to provide a glistening brown edible bunny. Wrong on so many different levels, but oddly nice. There were cakes and chocolate swiss rolls and ice cream floaters, meringue nests filled with cream and topped with enough (tinned) fruit to make Carmen Miranda feel slightly bare, and then while we could still just about waddle to the kitchen, we’d be allowed to make Snowballs.
I’m misty eyed and nostalgic about Snowballs. So much so that Hubby bought me a bottle of Advocaat on our recent trip to the North and I’m going to get the kids to make them. Snowballs, if you didn’t know, are in my family the only form of alcohol widely accepted to contain no actual alcohol and therefore permissible for small children on that one night of the year. They’re actually very simple (slosh some Advocaat in a glass, top up with lemonade), but with Grandma Maudie at the helm they took several wonderful hours of careful mixing and blending with her handheld plastic whisk to get just the right level of frothy topping, then to choose the perfect complementary colour of plastic cocktail stick, and the roundest, pinkest cocktail cherry to nestle in the top. No wonder I have a serious cocktail addiction. Ahhh, all our Christmas yesterdays, eh?
I firmly believe that our Bert should have come complete with a little handbook strapped securely around his scrawny neck. Never, ever have I come across a creature so endearing, yet so totally and utterly infuriating and perplexing.
Let me elaborate: in our house, it’s often difficult to try and establish what Bertie might try and eat next, the fruit bowl being his current target of choice. The fixation before that was the Christmas tree chocolates: expertly donning his karabiners and heavy-duty tinsel rope, he would scale the lofty heights of the Christmas tree to get at the tasty morsels, foil and all. Then it was lip balm, swiftly and expertly extricated from where they nestled, in the top of my handbag or on the coffee table, we’d come home to find him burping contentedly, empty tubes of lip balm in his bed, his lips soft and luscious. He moved swiftly and strangely on to satsumas. So at the moment we have this daily dilemma as to where to put the fruit bowl so that Bertie the Christmas Kleptomaniac can’t reach it. Not easy when he’s probably as tall as Hubby when he’s on his hind legs. Arriving back from the dogs, then, we found that the breakfast bar hadn’t been a good choice, and that he’d carefully swiped each piece of fruit, given it an experimental chew, then, dependent on its yumminess, it had either been devoured or spat out. Yes, okay, I know that as obsessions go this isn’t the unhealthiest, but having established that he doesn’t really like satsumas, he’s seemingly unable to resist temptation to keep nicking them. Like the kid in the candy store, they’re there and he just has to have one more.
This prompted yet another interesting text conversation with J’s lubly other half, C (our resident greyhound expert) about our general lack of luck with greyhounds (racing or otherwise) and Bertie’s current bonkers obsession. ‘That’s our Berts’, remarked C, ‘rewriting centuries of indoctrinated beliefs about greyhounds: rabbit killers? Nah. Agile? Nah. Satsumas? Yes please. What a dope’
Inevitably then, every morning the children stumble out of bed to discover new patches of luminescent orange vomit, usually on my new carpet at the top of the stairs, prompting cries of ‘Mum! The dog’s hurled again!’ and more swearing than even the Power Plate elicited the week before. What next, I wonder, on Bert’s gastronomic tour of the house? Condiments? Leather goods? A trip to the bathroom for a shampoo sundae? Give me strength.
Thanks are due to Auntie Heth, me Mam’s friend and queen of the rude email, for this one: