Monday, 16 March 2015

The Quince Tree is on hold. For how long I can't say. I don't think this is the end but I cannot deny that blogging has become a bit of a chore. I think maybe I have run out of things to say. Quite possibly I'll be back next week with renewed enthusiasm, who knows? But for now, thank you so much for reading and commenting. 
Au revoir x

You can still find me on Instagram where I post pictures of my tea, my laundry and other stuff.

In My Kitchen


Friday, 6 March 2015

In my kitchen this week there has been a bunch of mint in a jug on the windowsill. I chopped it, mixed it with softened butter, shaped it into a two inch log, wrapped it in clingfilm and put it in my freezer. I will slice discs off to melt over grilled lamb or chicken. I also have sage butter in my freezer which is delicious with pork chops or turkey escalopes.

In my kitchen on Saturday there were six duck legs. I slow roasted four of them on top of potatoes, parsnips, shallots and sprigs of lemon thyme (note to self- make the leftover thyme into thyme butter). We ate the duck and potatoes with rocket, spinach and watercress salad. They were very good. I put the other two legs in to roast in a separate dish at the same time for another meal.

There was also an apple crumble spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Just enough for four. I reflect that I am getting better at cooking just enough food for the four of us. Before I have time to feel too pleased about this George calls to say he will be home on the 21st for the three week Easter break, after which he will be back in Hull for a mere seven weeks before the academic year ends.

On Sunday there were these delicious savoury pork burgers. These were inspired by the recipe for meatballs in Nigel Slater's Appetite. They are made from minced pork, herbs, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and have little cubes of gruyère cheese pressed into them.

On Monday I took the meat off the two cooked duck legs and used the bones plus the ones from Saturday's meal to make stock. I added a carrot, an onion and a couple of celery stalks to the bones.

I froze most of the duck stock but saved some to cook the rice for this pilaff. When I roasted the two duck legs I saved the fat, I used it to fry the onion, spices and rice before adding the stock. While the rice was cooking I shredded the duck meat and skin and fried it until crisp and hot then stirred it into the rice with a handful of sultanas, some toasted almonds and some fried onions.

On Tuesday I made my fall-back meal and garlic bread to go with it.

On Wednesday we had dhal with eggs and peas. Cheap and very tasty. Yesterday I forgot to take a picture of our supper. It was chicken chow mein. I followed Ching- He Huang's video here adding matchsticks of carrots in place of some of the red pepper. It was fast and fabulous.



Saturday, 28 February 2015

I think we're getting there springwise, don't you? It certainly was a beautiful day yesterday allowing me to rush around with my camera taking pictures for February's sampler.

Number of books read from my reading list - 2 halves
I finished the second half of Housebound by Winifred Peck and found it to be about far more than housework. Well worth reading but if I'm honest I would have preferred it to have been all about housework.
I am now half way through Bird in the Tree the first of Elizabeth Goudge's trilogy The Eliots of Damerosehay which I am enjoying. I have cast Tom Hiddleston and Judi Dench as the main characters. Does anyone else do that? I expect I watch too much tv and have lost the ability to use my imagination.

Number of decent tv programmes watched  -2
Speaking of tv, Wolf Hall is still the best thing I have watched for a long time. I watched the first episode of Indian Summers which I quite liked but then found I couldn't be bothered to watch the second episode but I am enjoying Dr Janina Ramirez' programme about monasticism on BBC4 Saints and Sinners. I like a good history programme. Of all the current historians on tv she is the least irritating and doesn't talk about historical events in the present tense, at least not too much. Why do they do that? It drives me mad.

Number of special dates - 2
Tom celebrated his 18th birthday by going to the pub and Charlie and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary by visiting this.

Number of sporting events enjoyed - 1
I am greatly enjoying the Rugby Six Nations as always. Such a good idea to have something like this to cheer up February.
I was hoping to be able to enjoy the cricket world cup too but as England are playing so badly I am not. But if you are from New Zealand feel free to enjoy it as much as possible.

Number of books donated to Oxfam -more than can be counted.

My Essential Cookbooks


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Despite my love of a good clear-out I am in no way a minimalist. My home is not a sterile, comfortless place, it simply contains only the things its inhabitants want, use and need. Following my book clear-out I am left with only the cookbooks I really use whether it's to cook from or more often just to read and be inspired. Just three shelves. 


I used to have a lot more. A lot more. Some I have mentioned on this blog but are no longer on my shelves, not because they were bad books but because after the initial fun of reading through them I hardly, if ever opened them again. This is good example. Rereading that post makes me shrivel with embarrassment and despite the fact I gushed that there were dozens of recipes I couldn't wait to try I actually only made one. 

The cookbooks I bought when I began to cook for myself and Charlie are the ones I use most. I think if I were starting to cook today I'd choose new publications but for the stage I am at in my cooking life there is little the current trendy cookbooks can offer, unless I want to know how to cook without gluten or what to do with chia seeds and quinoa*,which I don't.

The thing is I don't need recipes any more. I don't say that to show off and I'm not saying I can cook everything, but I can cook all the things I want to cook. For example tonight I have some smoked haddock fillets for our supper. I'm going to poach them in milk and then use the milk to make a thick sauce. I shall flake the fish into a shallow dish and cover with the sauce and some grated cheese (gruyère or cheddar I haven't decided yet). I will put it under a hot grill to brown and we will eat it with crusty bread and spinach salad. If I were cooking for less fussy people (myself for instance) I would include cooked spinach with the fish. One could make a similar dish with large flat mushrooms instead of fish, they'd be delicious with blue cheese in the sauce. There are recipes for similar dishes in books but I won't be checking my books for one. It is a very rewarding stage to have reached in one's cooking life and very empowering. Learning to cook without a recipe is such a valuable skill. Luckily there are cookery books which can help develop this skill and the ones in the next picture are my favourites. 

The Art of Simple Food - Alice Waters
Appetite - Nigel Slater
The Modern Cook's Manual - Lynda Brown (out of print but there are bound to be second hand copies available)
An Everlasting Meal - Tamar Adler
The Thrifty Cookbook - Kate Colquhoun

Of the above Nigel Slater's Appetite is the one I have found most useful and pleasurable to read. As an experienced cook I find these books very inspiring but I do think a beginner needs something more prescriptive at least at first. I have a recommendation for such a book at the end of this post.

The two books above are my favourite and most often consulted baking books. Mary Berry needs no introduction and I have frequently mentioned her cake book. It's not just cakes, there are biscuits, cheesecakes and scones too. Susan Reimer's little book of muffin recipes has been my companion for many years. I haven't made every muffin in it but her basic muffin recipe at the beginning is so useful and the yogurt-oatmeal muffins are delicious and a good way of using up the homemade yogurt I always seem to have too much of.

The books above are my favourite budget/thrifty/frugal cookbooks. They are possibly my favourites of all my favourites. Simple, unpretentious and useful. 
More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre
The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn -not a cookbook but containing a number of recipes and brilliant advice about running an economical kitchen. Full of creative solutions to living on less.
Feed Your Family For £5 a Day by Bernadine Lawrence. There is a newer edition of this but I like this one. The recipes are basic and maybe a little dull but as a framework for feeding a family on very little it can't be beat. 
The Pauper's Cookbook by Jocasta Innes. I have the original 70s edition plus the most recent one. You probably don't need both. This has some excellent thrifty recipes from various cultures.
Frugal Food by Delia Smith. Good old fashioned recipes. The new hardback edition has quite unnecessarily in my opinion expunged all references to lard and dripping and replaced them with more expensive oils. 
The Good Scots Diet by Maisie Steven. Not a cookbook but a comforting and reassuring reminder that a diet of simple home produced foods such as oatmeal, oily fish, fresh veg, berries and whole dairy is not only one of the healthiest in the world but much cheaper than flax seeds, coocnut oil and goji berries.

As for the best all round cookbook on my shelves, one that has recipes for everything the average Brit is likely to want to make, is great for beginners and experienced cooks alike, well, it's this one.

Delia, you can't go wrong with her. Not the best for encouraging experimentation perhaps, but that will come with experience.

*Buy a nice bit of steak instead.

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