Pasta La Vista!

June 1, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Posted in cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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I’ve bored you with my bizarre pasta omelettes on a previous occasion, but hey, we all need reminding from time to time about weird eating experiences.

It’s simple: snip up your fridge-cold leftover pasta (tagliatelle on this occasion for me) using scissors, à la Nigella, mix it with eggs (say 1 per 25g pasta) and season (add dried/ fresh herbs if you wish). The lower the heat level you use, and the slower you cook your omelette, the better the result.

I also had a hankering last night for a sort of sophisticated mushy peas, the sort of consistency Hugh Fearnley Poshboy might call ‘smashed’. So I grabbed my stash out the freezer (everyone should always have frozen peas), boiled them up, mashed them slightly and mixed them with grated cheese. Nursery food at its finest.

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Coconut Mushroom Cake

April 1, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Baking, cake, cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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I saw the light in Marks & Spencer. A beauteous bag of coconut mushrooms spoke to me, and what they said was good. And what they said was, ‘Lady, you will make a coconut cake, and anoint the top of this coconut cake with us, the sweets of heaven’.

So yeah, I bought the bag of coconut mushrooms, ate half of them and saved the rest to put on top of my cake. I used this recipe, but I didn’t bother with the lime syrup and I substituted an 8 inch round cake tin for the ring tin. Once the cake was cool, I slit it in half using a bread knife and spread raspberry jam on the base. I made a simple water icing by mixing icing sugar and water ( I didn’t bother measuring out the icing sugar, but I should have used more to make a thicker icing). As my icing was much thinner than I wanted, after securing the coconut mushrooms to the top with a bit of jam, I sifted icing sugar over the top.

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Ireland, March 2013

March 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Posted in books, food, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Restaurant review, travel, Waterstones | Leave a comment
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Ireland: land of leprechauns, Guinness, potatoes and poetry. Well, yes, but, as any Father Ted fans will know, ‘Der’s more to Ireland dan dis’.

The main purpose of my trip was to meet my great nephew, Jamie, who was born in Co Louth in January. However, I also wanted to see more of the North, as having been to Dublin seven times, I was getting slightly bored of it (sorry, Dubbers).

Originally, as I cherish my time alone, I was going independently, but my dad came with me in the end (I’m nearly thirty, but he still worries). We hired a car at the airport and stayed at the rather expensive Bewley’s Hotel, five minutes from the airport. It was nice, but frankly not worth the money.

The next day, we set off about ten for Drogheda, a rather boring town which, nonetheless, has the historically significant River Boyne flowing through it, named, of course, after the battle. Its saving grace has to be its proximity to Newgrance, the Irish Stonehenge, if you like, and a surprisingly nice shopping centre (within which lies a rather lovely Waterstones).

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After I met the lovely chap above, Dad and I made our way to Belfast. After checking into the IBIS Castle St (more central and better value than Bewley’s), Dad chilled in our room and I made my way into the town, where I looked up the newly refitted Waterstones on Fountain St and was interviewed by BBC Radio Belfast.

That night, having been recommended Home on Donegall Sq for a good meal, but not being able to get in (always a good sign), we went to Coco on Linenhall St instead. The decor was fabulous – my favourite piece of art depicted a cigarette packet with the words, ‘Religion can seriously harm you and others around you’. Usefully, the food was even better: Dad had beetroot risotto and I had chicken liver parfait to start, then we both had shoulder of lamb, which was divine.

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After breakfast on Tuesday, we drove to the Giant’s Causeway. It was freezing at the very north of the country, but worth it to see the amazing stones, which really are hexagonal. The visitors’ centre, rebuilt and redesigned in 2012, was impressive too. Dad enjoyed seafood chowder and I wolfed down soda bread pizza.

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Back in Belfast, after an afternoon of reading, we headed to Salt Bistro in the Cathedral Quarter. Unfortunately, my meal was disappointing: the bread served was unsuited to my tapenade and hummus starter, and my thai vegetable curry also contained mussels and prawns, which the waitress suggested I had ordered.

On Wednesday morning, after a delicious breakfast of berry and cinnamon scones and sweetened cream in Avoca on Arthur St, we headed south again. Dad fancied seafood in Howth, but as time was getting on, we headed through Dublin Bay to Dalkey. Again, our food was pretty ordinary, but not a bad end to another lovely stay in Ireland.

So, do I prefer Belfast or Dublin? It’s got to be Belfast!

Sick Lady Soup

March 8, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Posted in cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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On Tuesday, I was sick. Every time I moved, I felt like the oldest person in the world. I spent the entire day under a yellow cellular blanket watching Bergerac.

Until, that is, I needed nourishment. The sort of nourishment which can only come from soup. There’s nothing quite like the warming spiciness of an Asian broth when you’re besieged by flu. However, as I a) failed to find my fail-safe Nigella recipe and b) had no pak choi or noodles, I decided to invent my very own Sick Lady Soup.

The following recipe is just a rough guide. Hey, I’m not going to dictate what goes in your own Sick Soup. Let your tastebuds and fridge, feeble as they may be, decide.

2 x stock cubes, vegetable or chicken
Ginger, either fresh and grated or powdered, to taste
Salt and pepper
Mushrooms, whichever variety you like, chopped
4 x fat spring onions or 2 pak choi heads, chopped
Spaghetti or noodles
Lime juice

1) Place stock cubes in a medium-sized saucepan. Pour over boiling water until pan is half full.
2) Add salt and pepper, then grated ginger. Stir.
3) Add mushrooms. Cook on a medium heat for a few minutes.
4) Add spring onions.
5) Chop 1cm-sized lengths of spaghetti into your pan, of add quick cook noodles. Cook for another five minutes.
6) Pour soup into a bowl. Squeeze in some lime juice.
6) Eat soup, preferably whilst watching Bergerac.

If You Can’t Sleep, Learn Something

March 5, 2013 at 1:40 am | Posted in cooking, food, History, insomnia, internet, Ireland, Maps, Northern Ireland, Recipe | Leave a comment
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So. I can’t sleep. A fairly common problem for me, exacerbated by flu, a child with an unpredictable sleeping pattern and an overactive mind. So I decided that instead of aimlessly tweeting, I might take advantage of my insomnia and learn something. This is what I have learned:

1) The six counties of Northern Ireland;
2) The largest county of the Republic of Ireland;
3) The perceived difference between a Loyalist and a Unionist;
4) When the Act of Union was;
5) The 10 best Irish history books;
6) The 10 best Irish novels;
7) The recipe for an authentic spaghetti bolognese.

So, food & history: these are the things which keep me awake at night.

Frugal February: Post No 2

February 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Posted in Baking, cooking, family, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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Today, children, I made, in my humble opinion, an almighty apple crumble.

As a child, my mother used to make the most fantastic rhubarb crumble: the rhubarb was just the right side of sour and the topping was caramelised and crunchy.

However, rhubarb is not a fruit to eat raw (although I must declare a penchant for sucking on those deliciously sour stalks of goodness), and thus, unless one intends on cooking with it, it is not a foodstuff one would have in the house by chance. It is not a frequenter of fruit bowls.

So, why did I decide to make this apple crumble? Well, in the spirit of limiting food waste, instead of throwing away the browning apple segments which Jude refused, I decided I would actually use them. And, as luck would have it, I had all the ingredients I needed.

I’ve adapted a recipe from Annie Bell’s Gorgeous Desserts. The original recipe uses apricots, but I used apples for reasons I’ve already explained.

4 apples, whatever variety you like (I used Coxs and no sugar), peeled, cored and diced
160g unsalted butter
150g golden syrup
150g rolled oats
1/2 tsp sea salt
Tbsp light muscovado sugar

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees/Gas Mark 4.
2) Melt golden syrup, salt and 150g butter in a pan on a medium heat. Stir in oats.
3) Put apples in a medium-sized dish (although I used a cake tin lined with baking paper, so you can improvise) and dot remaining butter around the dish.
4) Place oat mixture over apples. Scatter over muscovado sugar. Cook for 30 minutes.

And that’s it. I ate this for breakfast and later on cold from the fridge.

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Frugal February: Post No. 1

February 5, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Posted in cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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I’m not the most amazing person in the world when it comes to food wastage. Indeed, I’m ashamed to say that, just last week, I threw half a loaf of bread away. So I’ve started February determined to cut down on what I throw away, and finally to dip into the seemingly endless supplies which my sister Jools left me when she moved to Australia. Don’t worry, it was only a couple of months ago…..

It being February, and its best before date being Jan 2013 (I always think that one can exercise a little common sense with best before dates), I decided to start with this:

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An easy recipe, obviously, and not one to inspire the most exciting of blogposts, but what I love about pancake batter mixes is that it makes everything so EASY. And it’s CHEAP! Hooray for ease and cheapness! Plus, pancakes are so versatile. You can have them for breakfast or pudding, and pop in some fruit to help you or your offspring reach that five a day target. Or you can stuff them with some delicious cheese and ham, as I once ate one in Amsterdam, and have them for dinner. Who doesn’t like pancakes?

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As you can see, I’m a bit cack-handed when it comes to crêpes, and the end result is fairly doughy and more like an American flabby pancake than a delicate Parisian crêpe. But Jude had no complaints:

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So go forth and flip, fellow pancake lovers. And let me know what your favourite fillings are. Here is mine, adorned with that old classic, lemon and sugar:

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Peanut and Rosemary Cookies

May 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Posted in Baking, cooking, food, Recipe | 4 Comments
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I love a good biscuit. They beat chocolate and crisps in culinary scissors, paper, stone every time. You’ve got the crunch of something savoury combined with a sweet hit: heaven.

Salty sweet food is one of my favourite things: I always get a mix of popcorn at the cinema, and Marks & Spencer’s Salted Chocolate Caramel Bar is divine.

However, this post is about something more sophisticated that chocolate and salt: salt, sugar and rosemary. I adore rosemary, but don’t often make dinner, and I prefer to use it in unconventional ways. So when I saw Dan Lepard’s recipe for Peanut and Rosemary Cookies, I knew I had to try it.

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This is such a lovely, stess-relieving recipe. Everything is in one bowl and the cookies don’t take at all long to cook: a massive advantage when you’re as impatient as I am. 15 minutes, however, is too long: even 10 might be enough in some ovens. Mine are slightly overcooked, but still taste delicious.

Spaghetti Omelette

May 14, 2012 at 11:37 am | Posted in cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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So you’re thinking, ‘What??? Spaghetti omelette?’. Admittedly, it sounds bizarre, but it’s really not so far removed a concept from Spanish omelette, which I love. And if you’re anything as bad at spaghestimating as I am (say, making enough pasta to feed 10 Alsatians & a Jack Russell), then this is the recipe for you.

1) Remove your pan of congealed spaghetti from the fridge. Snip the spaghetti up into 1cm chunks. This is essential: you will be able to mix your eggs into the pasta much more easily.

2) Add eggs: I went for 4. I would say 2 per 50g spaghetti is about right.

3) Add some vegetables/herbs. I’m being annoyingly vague, because it really is up to you. I’m not going to tell you to add onions if you detest them. I only added some fresh oregano and fresh ripped basil (ripping releases the flavour better than tearing), as my spaghetti was a courgette and basil carbonara in its first life.

3) Pour the mixture into an oiled pan and cook on medium until the base is firm and a good even cover. This will really depend on how much pasta you have: I had about 150-200g (cooked weight) and it took 20 minutes.

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Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Syrup Tins

May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Book Signing, books, food, History, Recipe | 2 Comments
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I have a incessantly sweet tooth. When I am stressed, I wander down to Waitrose for fizzy strawberry laces, sucking the sugar off each one until my tongue is sore. I’m much the same with chocolate raisins, letting the outsides melt in my mouth until only the shrivelled raisin remains. And do you remember Pop Cakes from The Magic Faraway Tree? I was so disappointed to discover that they were entirely fictitious.

So you can imagine how excited I am that the authors of The Sugar Girls, Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi, are coming to my shop, Waterstones Tenterden, to do a signing. The book has been extraordinarily successful and there have been calls to turn it into a Call the Midwife style miniseries.

I’m planning a window display largely dependant on Tate & Lyle tins, so if you can send me any empty golden syrup or black treacle ones, I’d be enormously grateful. Recipes using either of those would be wonderful too. Email me at amysmith500@hotmail.com and we’ll sort something out.

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