Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Yummy Spinach!

I am away at the moment so I can't take pictures - so forgive me. Here are a few quick and easy spinach ideas that I often make.

Boshka's Spinach Pie

Boshka is a lovely Bosnian friend of mine and this is one of her family recipes. She often does it in a greased over dish, but as it is my standard veggy option as any party I tend to make it look special by preparing it in a ring shape.

1 standard size pack of cream cheese (low fat is fine)
1/2 to a full pack of feta
A small tub of cottage cheese
One egg
Spinach - cooked drained and chopped. One large bag should do.
Filo pastry
Flaked chilli's are optional
Melted butter

Take the filo out of the fridge to allow to get to room temperature but keep it sealed. Mix together all the ingredients (except the filo and butter), if it looks too dry you can add an extra egg. If you are making it in a ring sometimes I drain a little of the liquid off the cottage cheese to make it firmer. Take out the filo, brushing the melted butter between layers - work out the base area you want for the shape of pie you want and layer up 2 layers (if you like pastry you can add more) with plenty of spare filo to fold up onto the top.  Carefully spoon on the mixture and fold the pastry up and over. The easiest shape is an oblong but rings look pretty. If you do not have quite enough filo to cover the top you can just layer addition sheets of buttered filo on top. Pop into a medium oven and cook for about 25 mins, or until set.

Recipe 2 - Instant food!

Take a pack of washed spinach and microwave with feta, tuna and lemon juice. Eat with a dollop of sweet chilli sauce and loads of ground pepper. Like I said, instant food! I don't eat much tuna now so this is a rare treat - maybe I could try it with mackerel or braised tofu?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Chelle's Cinnamon Club Entry: Curry

I love food! I used to go out in serious way, ticking off the Michelin stars and generally being a little pretentious. Being a Mum has cured me of that affliction but now I seemed to spend a disproportionate amount of time cooking. A little person does not appreciate you forgetting meals, or being too knackered to cook. As a consequence of all this cooking a new cook book is a source of great excitement - I read them, put them down, forget them and then make up things from what I remember; if they are particularly good I may even follow the ingredients, if not the quantities.

Now take a bow Mr Rick Stein - I salute your Far Easter Odyssey as it has transformed Friday nights. So after contemplating Chelle's prompt for Cinnamon and considering all kinds of sweet offerings from my yummy blackberry and apple crumble to pancakes I settled on curry.

If you are Rick Stein now please look away, your precise measurements get thrown to the wind (15g garlic? I have never weighed garlic, and rarely use measuring spoons). Anyway, as I did the transition from gourmet to cottage cook the coffee grinder got relegated/promoted to spice grinder (and actually makes really good spicy coffee too if ever called upon).

First make your curry powder:
1 tbsp rice
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp each cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, cloves, peppercorns, turmeric. Missing out any you don't have and ad libbing as you feel fit.
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds (this are a pig to find, so don't worry if you can't find them)
A few cardamon pods
1 -3 dried chillies
Grind together into a power - and put in a screw top jar as you will not use all of it at once and it can last for a month or so.

Tomato Curry
This is quite unusual but really fresh tasting and quick and easy to do. It serves 4-6 people.

Gently fry a 5cm cinnamon stock with a few cardamon pods and cloves for a minute then add up to 6 cloves of garlic, grated ginger (about 2inches or a thumb size piece) about 3 medium onions halved and thinly sliced and fry until soft. Add 2tsp of your home made curry powder and chili powder to taste (Rick says 2 tsp) and fry a little more. Next add  a sliced medium green chili (or in our case 1/2 a b****d hot one), about 1lb finely chopped tomatoes, 150ml water and simmer for 5 mins.
Add another 1lb of tomatoes, this time cut into wedges and a glug of coconut milk and 1tsp of sugar (ideally palm sugar or jaggery) and salt (if you cook with it - I don't) and cook for about 3 mins longer.

I served this with rice, a chili spiced cabbage salad, raita and potato, paneer and cheese curry. My excellent step son says that my paneer curry is the best he has ever tasted even better than going out - so maybe I ought to share that too. Or just say that the Hubster is still gaining brownie points for buying me the Rick Stein book for Christmas last year - so it maybe worth a hint to anyone stuck for a present for you.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Hurrah for holidays!

We are back, we have got over the jet lag, unpacked, sorted out all our foreign currency and life is back to normal(ish).  Well, we did spend the weekend at a gorgeous wedding in the Welsh Borders.

We swam, we played and we drank good beer - a pretty good recipe for a fun holiday and it really was! It started off a little shakily with a visit to the Lands End Pub . We are always told that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything. So I guess I should compliment them on their dexterity with the deep fat fryer, their imagination to call deep fried sloppy potato a fish cake and ambition when it comes to prices. So after a glorious, if interesting,  cycle to the pub (with two adults, a toddler and an enthusiastic border collie on a lead you can imagine that it was not straight forward) the destination did not quite live up to the journey. The bill became the running joke for the rest of the week proving that everything else must be, by comparison, great value.

The next day we hit Bracknell. Yes, I know, you often think of Bracknell as a metropolis on a par with London, Paris, New York and we were that lucky!  They are pretty child focused. First, virtual cutlass in hand we attacked the Pirate Ship at the Coral Reef  (shit website, but not unexpected from a council). Surprisingly despite being thoroughly dunked when we went a little too fast down the anaconda slide she decided that the gentle currents were scary as we swooped gently around an island carried by the 'tides'. When we had turned all 'pruney' (technical term) we decided to head across the road to the Bracknell Lookout Discovery Centre .

The Bracknell Lookout is FAB. Loads of woodland walks, some archaeological remains (if that floats your boat) and a great playground. All for free. If you want to go into the Science Discovery centre there is a charge, but it was well worth it. It is compact but full of hands on science fun. The Pickle was far to young to appreciate any learning but just had a good play with water and the ball pool. The day we were there they had free face painting too.

(The Pickle has her own sense of style and who am I to interfere?)

The next day we did something that we would only ever do if we were new to an area and went into town. The Pickle loves making and loves her teddies so we took her along the Build a Bear Workshop. If you know me you will appreciate that this is normally the last thing that I would do, as it is so commercial, but you have to hand it to the clever marketeers, they know what they are doing and the Pickle LOVED it. She chose the biggest Hello Kitty, begged her Daddy for a matching chair and was generally spoilt rotten. The only thing that made us giggle, in a dark kind of a way, was that at least it was not deep fried like our last ruinous waste of money at the Land's End. So with daughter happy, we set off to please the Big Daddy. He is simple soul and a range of beers and Ethiopian food from Tutu's Kitchen at RISC was all that was needed.

We have discovered so many places to go for free - from the garden centres on the A4 for their free play areas to the long walks in the country parks and even visiting the field of llamas on Beggar's Hill Road. The Wyevale on the A4 gets our vote for their mini soft play area in an airy cafe - despite normally being regulars at the Sheeplands centre across the road. We had the best walks, play and picnic at Dinton Pastures and even found time to visit the fun but delightfully ramshackle Monkey Mates soft play centre for a birthday party (you could not do that if you had gone away!). So much fun, and none of it deep fried.

We had to have a big splash highlight and where better for that then Lego Land. Armed with supermarket loyalty points and discount vouchers we approached early and with trepidation (we are the last family in our area to be initiated it would seem). The dawn raid approach seemed to pay off. We hurtled around, got soaked, splashed and generally flung about before it got too crowded to be fun. I really did hear someone on a mobile phone giving directions saying 'We are here by the big lego thing'. DOH!

Just as we realised that we were never going to tick off every activity on Sarita's holiday list we escaped to the Welsh boarders for one of the most beautiful weddings ever. Between staying at home and discovering the amazing town of Bishop's Castle in Shropshire my wanderlust has been abated for another year.

Even though I live in Berkshire there are so many hidden gems, or clever approaches to popular attractions, that local knowledge unlocked. A few weeks of chatting to people in shop and at the nursery gave us some worthwhile tips - I think I have now passed them on to you too. P.S. Writing about the Land's End was not a recommendation! xx

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Mummies in the Playground.

It is funny how you end up by not altogether choosing your friends, but if you are hurled together with enough of a maelstrom some friendships stick. I am thinking about work colleagues or more specifically 'Mummy Friends'. You know the ones, you go to the same playgroup, same antenatal classes etc.

I joined a great gang on our antenatal classes, but it was only weeks into motherhood the cracks appeared. A relationship ended and one Mum disappeared, and then there were 5. So we bumbled along, meeting randomly. I did my thing and then one of the others joined me in a set of classes. So I saw this other Mum weekly and our little darlings played beautifully together so a friendship developed. This Mum seemed to be the natural leader of our pack, as she wanted to see everybody individually as well as en masse and it seemed to fit with everybody's plans. She was driven and we were laid back.

This particular Mum had become a friend as she was highly entertaining, with real drive and joie to vivre. When motherhood and lack of sleep hit her, I was there with a chocolate cake. When her hubby failed to live up to ideals, I listened. It has been heartbreaking to see her life ebb away. She has aged a decade and the trendy fly away hair cut has been replaced by a severe bob - verging on the pudding bowl; the hair seemed to my a metaphor for her outlook.
Then the last year things started to go a little pear shaped. Around about the time I miscarried things started to unravel. We were planning a joint party and then suddenly all my ideas were inappropriate - I had the audacity to suggest pass the parcel. Then the dagger went in "I don't want to do presents as I will give and receive presents to my real friends" came the comment from the other Mum who I had been seeing weekly.

Of course I was hurt, hormones were raging and the 'mutual' support that I had shown was a little lacking. Every time we met up since there have been strange comments and mildly bazaar behaviour from that very Mum, but I'm secure enough to dismiss or rise about pettiness - besides who knows if any slight was meant. I don't believe in biting back, being nasty is just not my style - I was born with my foot in my mouth so I have to contend with collateral damage without seeking to be cruel.

Fast forward a year and on Tuesday evening we all met up. I thought the evening was going well, we were all chatting. She was included in the conversation, but to be fair she was not the focus. Suddenly she got up, burst into tears and fled. Apparently, she had felt excluded. I have phoned and texted but somehow feel that whatever made her upset was far beyond anything we said or did not.

What is a girl to do? I wish her well, but I don't think that I can help her sort out whatever is going on.  Some relationships run their course - and I hope that she can find some one support her through the next stage. I hope that in 10 years time I see her image smiling back out of a magazine, seeing her have found happiness again and achieved her potential. As for me, I will be bimbling along in my own happy world, hoping my happiness can rub off - after all it need not be that hard!