Monday, 22 November 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

I love winter. I really do. I love all the winter root vegetables, the stews, the hotpots, the snuggly warmth of a cup of hot chocolate, wrapped up, indoors, looking out at a frozen world, the excitement of Christmas just around the corner...

The cold I can just about deal with, but I have to admit that even I struggle sometimes with the short days. And this weekend just gone was a classic: heavy, ominous, dark grey clouds, not a glimmer nor a spark of sun or blue sky. There wasn't even any rain, just this constant threat hanging the air. We had to have the lights on to see all day both Saturday and Sunday.

And that's partly why Christmas is so exciting: we counteract the darkness with sparkling, glittering lights, glimmering tinsel, shiny giftwrap; and then we fill ourselves with warm, rich, exotic foods. We feast, we drink - we damn well make the best entertainment for ourselves that we can to ease the pain of the long, dark, cold winter.

So, I spent this dark and dreary November weekend comforting myself with fruits from sunnier climes and spices from exotic lands... and then soaking them in lots and lots of booze.

I made this mincemeat last year as well, and lots of people said my mince pies were the best they'd ever tasted! Recipe here.

My first attempt at Christmas Cake! It looks and smells good, so here's hoping it delivers on the day... Recipe here - thanks to Farmersgirl Kitchen for linking to it on her blog.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

An unusual drink (and how I became radioactive)

As I've mentioned before I suffer with an overactive thyroid (or hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis). I was first diagnosed with this over two years ago, although it was in remission for a while, but this year it relapsed.

As a result, on Thursday I underwent radioactive iodine treatment in an attempt to sort it out once and for all. This is a lot less scary than it sounds, but still a little daunting. It was, however, quick, painless and, largely, side-effect free so far.

Oh, yeah, apart from the radiation my body is emitting that is. (I also may develop an underactive thyroid, but that is far more treatable and can be controlled effectively with drugs.)

I took the treatment at the hospital in the form of a drink. I can bet this will be the most unusual thing I have ever consumed. It came in a large, round lead pot. The technician had trouble removing the lid because it was so heavy. Inside was a tiny shotglass-sized glass pot. I was given a straw and told to proceed when I was ready. This was probably the scariest part because it does feel a little weird willingly putting something into your body which has to be transported in a lead container. But then I thought of the alternative permanent treatment, which would involve having my neck cut open, and I gulped the liquid down. It tasted like water, save for a slight metallic aftertaste. I was surprised at this, because when they told me it was flavourless, I didn't believe them.

What has this got to do with food? I hear you ask. Well, for the next three weeks my body will still be emitting beta particles, although this will lessen as time goes on. This is affecting almost every aspect of my life at the moment. I have to avoid close contact with people as much as possible, particularly pregnant women and children for the next 3 weeks; I'm currently sleeping on the sofa so as not to expose my partner to radiation for 8 hours a night; I have to wear gloves while handling food (that's been interesting so far...); and while I am allowed outside, I can't go anywhere crowded, like, you know, shops and stuff. So, I am trying online grocery shopping for the first time. I am going to be working from home for a few weeks, as I can't go to the office, which means that while I'm being restricted in lots of areas, it gives me more flexibility over my cooking schedule.

Swings and roundabouts, eh? :)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Sausage and Bean Stew

I've really been enjoying the second series of Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers. His passion for creating delicious meals is really inspiring and shows just how much you can do with a few simple ingredients. Although, he did upset me this week by putting raisins in a curry, but I am willing to overlook this blatant wrongness.

Last week I decided to make Sausage and Bean Stew from the 'Making Things go Further' episode, and it really is a cheap-to-make, yet hearty and scrumptious recipe.

The stew turned a gorgeous shade of crimson as colour from the tomatoes and chorizo blended together.

I adapted the recipe for 2, but I think this meal would be brilliant when you are cooking for a large number of people. I definitely plan to cook this again!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Bonfire & Bangers night at the Red Lion, Hunningham

We've been frequenting the Red Lion pub in Hunningham for about a year now, and it has quickly become our favourite pub ever. There are a few reasons for this, which I will present in a list format like the anal retentive that I am.

1. The food. With an emphasis on local, fresh produce, they already go some way to winning me over, but they also make tasty and delicious and fairly unusual dishes. Their menu is constantly changing to reflect the season, but highlights for me have included the Ploughman's Platter (because you can't beat a good ploughman's), British rosé veal and Napton Water Buffalo cheese tart. Mmmmm.

2. The wine. It is both varied in selection and reasonably priced.

3. The decor. There are framed comic book covers all over the walls. There is a tube which runs from the bar to the kitchen which delivers the orders. There are open fires. What more could you want?

4. The staff. They are all bonkers.

5. The events. August bank holiday weekend there was a film festival (which sadly we didn't make it to). But, this brings me neatly onto Bonfire & Bangers Night 3, which was last night.

Of course, it chucked it down, but when you're in a field with deliciously spiced mulled wine, a massive hog roast, sausages, bonfire and fireworks, who cares?

The pork & stuffing baps were truly amazing. And huge. And amazing. Did I mention amazing? Good.


Fireworks were also very pretty (although didn't get any pictures because I was too worried about the camera drowning) and very impressive, particularly for a free-entry display!

So, yes - Red Lion in Hunningham - go there.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Roast squash with bacon & mushroom rice

It was time to play guess the mystery squash this week when our veg box arrived. A few googles later, I came to the conclusion it must be a carnival squash. You've got to admit, it's quite funky.

I decided that peeling this would be a bitch, so opted for roasting in the skin. I'd never baked a squash before, but my whole recipe ended up being quite successful and I made it up myself! I'd learnt from my first attempt at cooking pumpkin last week that the sweetness of squash goes quite well with salty, savoury flavours (check out this recipe), so I just kind of worked on that basis and on the food I had in.

Here goes, folks.

Serves 2

1 squash (carnival or otherwise)
olive oil
1 pack streaky outdoor-reared bacon, chopped
250g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
100g white basmati rice
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
a bunch of kale or cavolo nero, chopped
a few sprigs thyme
pepper to season (unless you also fancy adding salt to salty bacon)

Pre-heat the oven to 200C.

Prepare each squash by cutting in half. Do this carefully with a big, sharp knife. It may take a bit of time to work it apart. Use a spoon to remove the 'guts' of the squash (this is the seeds and stringy stuff in the middle - I call it the guts). You should then have something which looks a bit like this:

Drizzle with a little olive oil, place on an oven tray and bake for 40 minutes until golden and soft.

Meanwhile (although not immediately - co-ordination, people!), fry the bacon over a high heat until cooked and beginning to crisp. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are starting to brown and soften. Add the rice and stir and then add the stock. Simmer with the lid on for 12-15 minutes, until the stock has nearly all been absorbed by the rice. Add the thyme leaves and kale and stir through until wilted. Season with the pepper.

Remove the squash from the oven when ready. Stuff the squash with the bacon and mushroom rice. You should have something which looks a little like this:

This was so delicious that I ate far too much and gave myself tummy-ache. And even the veg-phobic fiancé approved (although the bacon probably helped a lot)! I think it could be improved, however. Maybe a bit of garlic next time and some lemon juice.

Nom nom nom.