Mini barbecue experiment


One of the downsides of living in a flat is the lack of a garden, and by extension an inability to barbecue things when the weather is hot. We decided enough was enough today, and picked up a small barbecue at the supermarket. How small? About mid-shin height.

It worked though, so this evening after a long and hectic day, Lady M and I ate barbecued steak in a teriyaki, onion chutney and tomato ketchup marinade, with salad, in a bun, with coleslaw and a baked potato each. A couple of bottles of wine helped wash it all down very nicely. We may have to treat the Sunday gamers this weekend, and I didn’t even set anyone on fire…

Being Sociable


We had friends over last night for a meal, which made for a nice distraction after a busy day. I’ve known K for years, on and off and we’d reconnected through the ex-Lady M and our semi-regular Tuesday nights at the pub. Her partner J plays regularly there in an irregular gathering of musicians so we’ve not really had much of a chance to get to know him, so this was a good opportunity to catch up.

Over a venison sausage and bacon risotto, with plenty of wine, we put the world to rights with the usual mix of politics, gossip, recipe comparisons and the general geekery you might normally expect. The twin pressures of rebuilding a friendship after many years distance, and learning to read someone new kept it all very gentle and this was precisely what was needed.

One comment that did amuse me during the evening was the contention by K that she would consider it a sign of having finally “made it” when she achieved the ‘Lady’ prefix on this blog. The temptation to go into a wind-up and stipulate an outrageous series of conditions for achieving this was pretty fierce. I resisted; it would have been unkind rather than funny.

Still, a great evening, and only a very, very slight head to show for it when Lady P brought Chips over this morning for a long walk over in Bushy Park. Despite growing up in the area, she’d never been before, beyond a family picnic many years ago. As we’d thought it fun to start exploring London again it was a good excuse to get out into the fresh air and sunshine today.

And I’ve just realised that the weekend has another day to go, and the Sunday Hooligans D&D group is coming over tomorrow. Can’t complain…

Is that the time?

I’ve been too distracted to post recently, mainly with work being short-staffed and with what I really hope is the end of the saga of Lady M’s foot, so apologies to my regular readers for the radio silence.

So the clocks went forward today here in the UK, leading to a lot of people looking very tired wherever I looked today. I seem to have become one of those irritating people who barely notices the hour’s difference. Yay, insomnia! With it being Mother’s Day  here too, it’s also meant taking Lottie home early so she could spend time with her mum.

To help her celebrate, we had our first ever attempt at making chocolate truffles.


They seem to have turned out rather well. They’re really quite simple to make.

All you do is melt a large high-cocoa chocolate bar over a water bath with a tub of double cream and a good dollop of butter so that it is smooth and then you put the bowl in the fridge for forty minutes or so. Then bring out the pliable chocolate and roll it in cocoa or flavoured hot chocolate powders, or in chocolate sprinkles or nuts and refrigerate overnight.

Even if it doesn’t work properly the first time, it’s delicious, and Lottie had three boxes to take home with her in the end.

Between that and hugely enjoying the Captain America: Winter Soldier film, it’s been a good weekend.

Spanish Sausage Casserole

Like anyone who loves to cook for their partner, I’ve found certain foodstuffs that they don’t particularly like. The reasons will range from the texture of the food to its taste in isolation. Like pretty much everyone else in the universe, my initial reaction if this dislike is directed at something that I actually happen to like is one of confusion. This is then followed by attempts to get my partner to eat the foodstuff in one way or another, convinced that they’ve simply not had it prepared properly.

My partner, for instance, likes neither olives or chorizo, and pulls the most amazing faces when I buy them. She’s also not a fan of Marmite – which we have taken to referring to as “the yucky brown stuff”. Personally, I love all of these items, both as individual elements and as ingredients in main meals. I will happily consume vast quantities of it on toast, but as an ingredient in my stocks and sauces I find it adds a depth and saltiness that can help rescue what might otherwise be quite a bland dish.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with cooking what I call my Spanish sausage-ish casserole – which is basically a bake that uses the following ingredients:

  • Mild chorizo sausage (about a third of a loop)
  • 4 lincolnshire sausages
  • A red onion, finely chopped
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • A handful of baby sweetcorn, chopped into thirds
  • A handful of whole mange-tout peas
  • A whole red chilli, diced, including seeds
  • A couple of handfuls of diced stuffed olives – I usually use a mix of garlic and peri-peri stuffed giant olives from the deli counter.
  • garlic
  • turmeric
  • paprika
  • salt
  • pepper

First I grill the sausages to brown them evenly. While that’s happening I dice and slice everything else up and load it all into a casserole dish and mix in about 150ml of cold water to create an orangey sauce to coat everything. Then I chop the grilled sausages into thirds and stir them into the rest of the ingredients. I cover the dish and then put it into the middle of a preheated oven at about 200C for roughly forty minutes.

I usually accompany it with some potatoes that I’ve parboiled and diced before frying on a high heat in some oil with some more chorizo pieces, but it also goes well with salad or plain boiled rice, depending on taste and time.

With so many strong sweet and fiery flavours going on in there, my partner wolfs down the olives and most of the chorizo without comment (though there are usually a few bits left over at the end in the bowl). This is hugely satisfying to see, although it does still leave me open to being called a fussy eater when I turn my nose up at parsnips…

That said, t’other half’s roasted honey parsnips are amazing, so turnabout is fair game and all that…

Cupcake Decorating

Its been a bit of a mixed week – mostly sorting out odds and ends for the wedding like presents for various parents and escorting t’other half into the high street for her first haircut in a couple of years and her first ever eyebrow threading – mandated by the person who will be doing her makeup on the day.

A small cupcake tower
Cupcakes Galore

Its also been a week where my daughter has discovered she enjoys making and decorating cupcakes. When I wandered over to see her on Wednesday there was a small pile of delights waiting in the kitchen to explore.

Made with chocolate sponge and decorated with butter icing and (variously) glace cherries, sugar threads and those curiously solid silver sugar balls capable of cracking tooth enamel at forty paces, they were lovely and light and not too sugary to enjoy even for me.

Imagine my delight this evening then when Lottie unpacked a small mountain of decorating gear, a couple of boxes of fresh cupcakes, some icing sugar and proceeded to mark her stay with us this weekend with yet more – this time with a plain sponge and a butter icing we put together with some cocoa powder and vanilla essence.

Lottie Icing
Lottie Icing

Some we’ve eaten – others are earmarked for some friends that she’s visiting tomorrow. This has been cause for some amusement in our household – because this marks the first time on a weekend with us that she’s asked to spend time elsewhere. My little girl’s growing up…

Ah well – at least she’s following in our footsteps and ensuring that as a good guest she takes food and drink with her to share with her friends. I strongly doubt we’ll see any of the new batch of cupcakes left over when she returns later in the evening…

Cookery Experiment – Bread

Fresh-baked BreadWell yesterday’s bread baking experiment went well – this is my chocolate wholemeal bread – took a couple of hours but happy with how it came out. I could probably have got it a bit lighter, but I’ve a few ideas about timings to try

I used about 500g of wholemeal bakery flour, and a fifty-fiftyish mix of plain flour and cocoa powder weighing about 100g and mixed it with about 150g of butter before adding a couple of teaspoons of salt, a teaspoon of sugar and a sachet of yeast, roughly equivalent to a couple of teaspoons and mixing it all up.

400ml of warm water mixed in smoothly and I worked it for about ten minutes on a floured wooden board before putting it in a bowl covered with a damp tea towel for about forty five minutes to prove. It about doubled in size so then I put it in a lightly greased roasting tray on gas mark six / 200 C in the middle of my oven for about forty minutes before lifting it out to cool on the rack you see above.

I could probably have done with another five to ten minutes cooking time on it, but it sounded appropriately hollow and tastes good – very filling though – there’s a slight bitterness from the cocoa but its not overwhelming and you only taste it if you’re looking for it.

Still – a nice surprise for t’other half when she got home from a night out – and it made for part of a nice breakfast in bed for her birthday this morning 🙂

A quick Update

So yes, here we are – November and Nanowrimo has begun – my profile page there is and should be reflecting the word count as I remember to update and transcribe my pages of notes. I’m only counting what I’ve typed up as opposed to what is scribbled, so the actual running total is somewhat higher.

This week has also seen a significant step forward in my shenanigans with HSBC over missold PPI – having upheld/agreed to follow the court decisions and told me as such back at the end of August, I was supposed to have been told by the end of September what they would be offering as a settlement. That date came and went and after giving them a week or two extra I started making myself known at the local branch on a regular basis and being politely irritated about the lack of information.

After being told that my name seemed to have dropped off the distribution list without explanation and expressing a little mild disbelief at the failure of their efficient CRM systems I’ve had a call this week offering a new settlement which sounds reasonable and which should pay off the last of the wedding costs – so we’ll see what arrives in the post shortly and make a decision at that point.

And this evening’s fun and games would not be complete without revealing to you that even as I sit here typing, my first wholemeal dough is currently ‘proving’ in the kitchen ahead of its bake. If it works then it should be an intriguing chocolate wholemeal loaf. If it fails then it might be turned into a Dwarven Battle Croisant.

If it works I’ll post the recipe and a picture…

From the Nanowrimo – a short extract posted today:

It has to be word of mouth, I guess, for the most part. Really, it has to be – I don’t really have the budget to advertise, no matter how tax-deductible it is. There’s a regular advert in the local paper, and an entry in the yellow pages and the online equivalents – but there’s only so much I can put in one of those before attracting the attention of either trading standards or the tax man. Craigslist has been a bit of a boon – though its also a source of serious headaches – the very anonymity that is its draw makes for a high signal to noise ratio which can make it extremely frustrating, especially if I don’t recognise a time-waster soon enough.
Quite how this had translated to a semi-regular stream of consultations I never really worked out – I’m still resolutely an outsider but I have useful skills that I’m willing to use. I’m not a charity and I don’t pretend to be anything but mercenary – and perhaps that simplicity appeals. Money is never discussed, but a fair price ends up being paid for results. The poker games down the pub are always fun too – although I don’t play as often as I like. This is a pity as its often at these evenings that the work finds me. In this particular instance I’d been introduced to my client by one of my semi-regular fellow players in one of the breaks in play while we waited for the other tables to finish their games.
I’d heard the basics – the bones of the story if you’ll forgive the somewhat macabre pun under the circumstances. I’d mostly heard it from the professionally scandalised reports in the local news: the desecrated grave, graffiti, damaged headstone and picture of the grieving parents and local gypsy spokesman.
It was being reported as a hate crime: a senseless targeting of the gypsy community by small-minded bigots on a drunken rampage. The family – or families, rather – were not so sure.
The grave itself had been disturbed and that seemed to be too much effort for drunken thugs no matter how drunk or drugged up or otherwise sick in the head. The police pathologist had confirmed that the body was intact – but in the listing of grave contents, the girl’s mother had noted that a locket buried with her was not mentioned.
Distraught, the family had raised it with the investigating officers but no great progress was made from that point. The trail had precious little evidence about who had disturbed the poor girl’s final resting place and more than enough circumstantial evidence to link it to anti-Muslim attacked in nearby Feltham.
Angry as they were, the family might have given up – chalking it up to the system failing them again, were it not for their daughter’s ghost appearing to them at the dinner table.
The ghost part of the story hadn’t been reported of course – as the stranger at the bar told me, they’d thought of asking a local priest but they didn’t much like any of the current bunch:
“Your old man now – he knew what was what – he did good services and people stayed down when we put them in the ground. The new guys though – good enough for the births, weddings and the like but they’d laugh us out the church, or try counselling us…” and here he paused a visibly shuddered at the thought. “No good to that poor girl and her parents though. Can’t ‘counsel’ a girl away – doesn’t work like that, wouldn’t be right if it did either.”
I’d known at that moment where this was going – its never been a part of how I define myself but that damned word of mouth bit tends to embroider what I’ve done sometimes.

Pork and Spicy Tomato Spaghetti

Ingredients: Pork loin, half a red onion, 1 fresh red chilli, 4 cloves of garlic, tomato puree, 6 baby or cherry tomatoes, mixed herbs, spaghetti, olive oil, tin of sweetcorn, 1 orange pepper, salt and pepper to season, worcester sauce, marmite

What to do:

Stick the kettle on to prepare boiling water for the spaghetti. Finely chop the onion, garlic, tomatoes, chilli (keeping the seeds) and pepper. Trim the fat from the pork and slice into thin strips.

Put oil into a large frying pan and put on a medium heat, adding the onion and garlic to caramalise. When the onion begins to take on a golden hue, add the whole chopped chilli, a large tablespoon of tomato puree and about 100mls of water to the pan, stirring regularly for another five minutes. This takes some of the edge off the chilli making for a warmer and sweeter flavour.

In another pan put your spaghetti and pour on boiled water and a dash of oil to stop it sticking – heat on a high heat, stirring occasionally.

In your main pan, turn up to a high heat and add the pork, stirring vigourously to ensure an even coating of the sauce while the meat cooks. Having sliced it thinly it won’t take more than a couple of minutes, at which point reduce the heat back down to a medium heat and keep stirring, adding a little more water if its looking a bit dry.

Add the sliced pepper, chopped tomatoes and sweetcorn, still stirring every now and then so that nothing sticks. Check on the spaghetti – as it gets to the al dente stage: soft enough to eat but still a little resistance to it, drain it and add it to the pan.

Mix the ingredients well and add a dash of worcester sauce and a large teaspoon of marmite, mixing them well into the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste, top up the water if the sauce is starting to thicken too much – you’re aiming for a sweet warming flavour.

Allow the pan to gently simmer for about ten more minutes while the spaghetti absorbs the tomato and spice flavours, then serve in a bowl. Should serve 2-3 people, more if you add more pork and spaghetti.

Chicken and Prawn Madras with Basmati chicken stock Rice

You will need: a chicken breast, frozen prawns, half a red onion – finely chopped, baby sweetcorn – julienned, a carrot – julienned, chestnut mushrooms – sliced, frozen peas, 2-3 garlic pieces – finely chopped, madras paste, olive oil, basmati rice, salt, yellow pepper cut into strips, a chicken oxo cube

Instructions: slice the ingredients, put the kettle on, and heat oil in a pan on a medium heat, adding the onion and garlic to caramelise with a pinch of salt. Add three teaspoons of madras paste (I use Patak’s but any brand will do according to taste. Three spoons sounds a lot but there’s a lot of ingredients which will absorb the flavours here) and stir in, allowing to heat with a dash of water for two to three minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking.

Measure out the rice – I use a “rocks glass” worth for two people and add twice the amount of boiling water to it in a fresh saucepan with a chicken oxo crumbled into it. Loosely cover and put on a medium heat for about ten minutes, checking occasionally and lifting off the heat when the rice is cooked.

Turn up the heat in the pan and fry the chicken strips, ensuring they are completely coated in the sauce. After a couple of minutes add a handful of frozen prawns and keep stirring. Then add the carrots and pepper strips, stirring in for another couple of minutes. Add the chestnut mushrooms and frozen peas to taste and reduce to a medium heat, stirring regularly for another five minutes or so. Season to taste if needed.

Serve in a bowl – half and half, rice on one side and the curry on the other. If you prefer, naan bread warmed on the side makes a good addition.


Spicy meatballs and spaghetti

Made this last night from odds and ends around the house – worked out as a nice set of contrasts in flavours

You will need: minced beef, half a red onion, paprika, salt, pepper, red chillis, korma paste, tomato puree, water, worcester sauce, spaghetti, olive oil

fine chop the half onion and add the mince with a generous couple of shakes of paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Add a couple of teaspoons of red chillis (I use very lazy red chillis, but fine chopped fresh or other similar products will do.

Squish and roll all these into small meatballs about the width of the top joint of your thumb and leave to stand for an hour. There will almost certainly be bits of onion left over or that don’t stick to the meatballs – leave these to one side for the sauce.

When ready to cook, put the kettle on for boiling water to start the spaghetti and add olive oil to a deep frying pan or wok. Bring to a medium heat and add the leftover onion and allow to caramalise to a golden colour.

The kettle should be boiled by now so add enough spaghetti for the number of people you’re cooking, add a dash of oil to stop the pasta sticking and add the boiling water, putting the pan on a high heat and stirring occasionally.

Return to your frying pan and add a good squirt of tomato puree and a couple of teaspoons of korma paste (I use Patak’s, but whatever equivalent you have will do). Mix with the oil and a dash of water and bring to full heat.

Add the meatballs and fry them up, shaking the pan back and forth to prevent sticking while they initially cook – then gently stirring  once they’re not in danger of losing shape too badly. Add a dash of worcester sauce and reduce heat to a low-medium, adding water to feed the sauce in small 10-15ml increments.

Stir thoroughly, and when the spaghetti is ready, drain and rinse with cold water before serving in bowls. Ladle the meatballs and sauce over the spaghetti and serve.

The sauce is quite mild with a gently fruity undertone that contrasts with the heat of the chillis in the meatballs