Sunday, 28 February 2016

Monthly Munch: February 2016

One highlight of the month was our trip to Dovedale, in the Peak District, which deserves a post to itself, really.  We went with my parents on an icy sunny day, and our intended stroll along a fairly flat river path turned into an epic adventure!  We hauled the pushchair across stepping stones, up steps, and over rocks and mud.  Finally we abandoned it altogether for a rocky climb under a natural rock arch and into a cave.  Going up wasn't half as precarious as coming down, but we all made it back to river level, where we celebrated with a sandwich.

Looking down at the natural arch from the cave mouth

Toby

- was a pro at rock climbing and caving, and is already asking if we can go again.


- has made a best friend at school.

- always wants to be building, making or drawing.


- scored highly on his curriculum topic of "Understanding the World", which is hardly surprising considering the questions he asks.   Tonight, after exploring the concept of A.D. and B.C. dates, and millions of years ago when the dinosaurs lived, I got hit with, "How old is God?"


- proudly announced that he can write his full name, with all the letters in his rather lengthy middle name in the right place.

Theo


-wanted to climb up all the rocks to the cave in Dovedale, but didn't like coming down.

-gets very excited when the microwave is on, and counts, "Three, four, eight, two, ZERO!"

On a big swing!
- is starting to put two words together to expand his communication.

- calls Toby "To-tar" for reasons best known to himself.

Fun in the rain
- can spot aeroplanes which are so distant as to be hardly more than a white dot in the blue.

Thankful for:

 - not falling off the stepping stones at Dovedale!



- getting out to hear some live music - Cattle & Cane and Karl and the Marx Brothers were completely different in style but both well worth listening to.

Recipe of the Month: Pancakes with Pears and Butterscotch Sauce



Usually we have American-style pancakes for breakfast (not every day, obviously) but on Shrove Tuesday we have English-style pancakes for dessert.  I thought this recipe sounded delicious, and I'm sure it is, but I ended up making a much-simplified version.  Here it is.

For the pancakes:
100g / 4oz plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
300ml / 10 fl oz milk

For the butterscotch sauce:
25g / 1 oz salted butter
100g / 4 oz light brown sugar
1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
150 ml / 5 fl oz milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 can of pears
butter for frying

Make the pancakes.  Put the flour and salt in a bowl.  Add the egg and half the milk, and beat well until smooth.  Add the remaining milk and whisk in.  Melt a little butter in a 20cm frying pan.  Pour in enough mixture to thinly coat the bottom of the pan (and if you know how to make it neat without being too thick, you're doing better than me!) and fry, turning once, until golden on both sides.  Keep going until you have used all the mixture, which always takes longer than you think it ought to.

Make the sauce.  Put the butter and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has melted.  Boil for one minute.  Blend the cornflour with a little of the milk.  Add the remaining milk to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring.  Add the cornflour and keep stirring while it boils again.  Cook for a couple of minutes, and stir in the vanilla.  Keep warm.

Drain the pears and chop into chunks.  Top each pancake with some pieces of pear and a drizzle of butterscotch sauce.

Monday, 22 February 2016

We Like Lincoln

A travel post!  I haven't got to do one of those in a while.  But we weren't sure we'd make it through the half term holiday week without going somewhere, and Toby was making noises about staying in a hotel again (I know.  He's five.  I don't think I knew what a hotel was when I was five), so we went, what the heck, and found ourselves a nice cheap deal in Lincoln for a night.

Lincoln is only about an hour and a quarter from here, and once you've bypassed Nottingham, you're into a slightly surreal world of fields of vegetables interspersed with air force bases.  We drove to Tattershall Castle before heading into the city, and ate lunch with tractors driving by on one side of us, and Eurofighters taking off on the other.  All the male members of the family thought this was fantastic!



Tattershall Castle is a mediaeval brick tower, restored and donated to the National Trust by Lord Curzon of Kedleston - bit of a Derby connection there!  It looks very trim today, if somewhat bare, so it was hard to imagine that it had once had cows living in it, and weeds growing from the walls.  Sadly the enormous fireplaces weren't in working order; the temperature wasn't much above freezing, despite the sun, and I'd kind of had an idea that going in a building would get us warmer.  Climbing the 149 steps of the spiral staircase helped a bit, though, and the roof was amazing!  The main level was surrounded by windows with wooden shutters, with views in all directions, and below each window were machicolations (there's a good word for you!) which are basically holes enabling you to drop rocks and boiling oil on your attackers.  Then there was a higher level walkway around the whole roof, to parade around and fire bows and arrows through the crenellations (another good word).  Or to chase Theo around in mortal fear that he would somehow manage to throw himself over a large drop.






Anyway, we haven't even got to Lincoln yet!  But we did, checked into our hotel and arrived at the cathedral just as the last of the setting sun turned the stonework golden.  Beautiful.



We skidded our way down the aptly named Steep Street, looking for a place to eat, and paused outside a little place called Ribs 'n' Bibs.  It advertised meat smoked in two genuine American smokers, and even better, had a sign in the window saying, "Kids Eat Free".  We were not disappointed.  The drinks menu included margaritas and Samuel Adams beer, and the food was very meaty, very generous, and very delicious.  We were tempted to move to Lincoln then and there.




The less said about getting two excited boys to sleep in one hotel room, the better.  Against all odds, it did eventually happen.  Next morning they enjoyed eating breakfast at the window, with plenty of buses, garbage trucks and other exciting vehicles going about their business on the street below.


We wandered down to Brayford Pool for a look - the usual city centre waterfront surrounded by chain restaurants and hotels - then back up the hill for lunch in the castle grounds, and a tour of the cathedral.  Toby was impressed by the 'Treasure Room' with its collection of ancient silver.  I liked the huge central pillar of the Chapter House, broad as a spreading tree.  As we walked back along the nave, the moving sun cast patterns on the floor through the brightly coloured glass, and the clock chimed overhead.  Time was passing by, and our short visit was nearly at an end.





We resolved to come back soon - after all, Lincoln's not that far away.  And meanwhile, there's always time for fudge!


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Theo turns two!

Can you believe two years have gone by already?  Our little blondie is still as cute as ever, with an infectious giggle and a gleeful smile.  He'll happily give out hugs, high fives and "hiya"s to everyone he sees (at least after the first five minutes of staring suspiciously).  He likes things in order; he will make sure your cup is on a coaster and that spills are wiped up.  He has a sweet tooth that we struggle not to indulge, and an interest in vehicles which rivals his big brother's.  And he's been singing Happy Birthday for months now, so it's a good thing he finally got to sing it to himself!

His birthday was fairly quiet.  He enjoyed unwrapping presents, ably assisted by Toby.  The coach was a big hit, but I think he liked them all!  Graham took him out for breakfast, and I made pizza and birthday cake for dinner.



Is it mean to smuggle vegetables into your child's birthday cake?  Not when it tastes this good!  I came across a recipe for chocolate courgette loaf in Green & Black's Chocolate Recipes, and since I happened to have a courgette that needed using, I gave it a go.  Peeling the courgette eliminated the risk of suspicious green flecks in the cake, and even I, who knew it was there, couldn't detect it in the finished article.  It was just a nice moist chocolate cake.


Chocolate Courgette Cake

175g / 6 oz dark chocolate
225g / 8 oz courgettes (zucchini)
200g / 8 oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
110g / 4 oz sugar
175 ml / 6 fl oz sunflower oil
2 medium eggs

Grease and 8-inch / 20cm round tin and line the base.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.  Melt the chocolate, and peel and coarsely grate the courgettes.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cinnamon.  Add the sugar and courgettes, and mix together.  Measure out the oil in a jug, break the eggs in and whisk the eggs and oil together.  Tip into the mixing bowl and give it a good stir, then stir in the melted chocolate.

Put the mixture into the cake tin and smooth out.  Bake for about 50 minutes until firm to the touch.  Leave it in the tin until mostly cool, then turn out and finish cooling on a rack.

For the icing, beat together 150g / 5 oz softened butter, 300g / 10 oz icing sugar and 25g / 1 oz cocoa powder.  Add a spoonful or two of water or milk to make it a spreading consistency.  Ice the top and sides of the cake.  Serve to unsuspecting small children and watch them devour it.

 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Separate two eggs and add chocolate...

I can't separate you!
I don't usually make meringues.  Once, a long time ago, I made meringues, and I think I tried to wedge far too many of them into the oven at once.  They came out extremely chewy.  Usually I tell this story to people and they say, "oh, but chewy meringues can be quite nice..."  No.  This was the kind of chewy where you bit into it and it immediately glued itself to all your teeth at once, and the roof of your mouth, and your tongue, and you spent the next half hour trying to pick bits out with your fingernails.

So, I don't usually make meringues.  But recently I had a hankering for American-style pudding.  This, for the non-Americans in the audience, is a kind of thick flavoured custard, and is the only thing an American will think of if you say the word pudding - it doesn't refer to any other kind of dessert, and particularly not the British style of baked or steamed pudding.  This is useful to remember if you are ever trying to describe, say, Christmas pudding to someone across the Atlantic.  It's a bit like Americans describing biscuits to a British person.  The mental imagery is all wrong.

Anyway, the pudding that takes me back to my childhood is butterscotch pudding with raisins in, set in individual bowls with the skin on top.  (I seem to remember you could eat half of it and then, carefully, sliiide the remaining half out, leaving a perfectly clean bowl.)  There are, however, numerous other versions, and I thought I'd try chocolate this time.  This recipe is adapted from one in the Hershey's 100th Anniversary Cookbook.


Chocolate Pudding

1.5 oz / 50g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 3/4 cup / 400 ml milk
2 egg yolks
5 oz / 135g sugar
2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp / 12g butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Measure out 1 cup / 250ml milk and pour it into a small saucepan.  Add the dark chocolate pieces.

Measure out the remaining 3/4 cup / 150ml milk and leave it in the jug.  Add the two egg yolks and whisk together.  In a bowl, stir together the sugar, cornflour and salt.  Add the eggy milk and mix together.

Now it's just stirring.  Gently heat the milk and chocolate, stirring constantly, until the chocolate melts.  Add the sugar mixture gradually, whisking as you go, then keep stirring until it boils.  You will think it's not thickening, then it suddenly will, all at once.  Turn the heat down and cook for a minute longer (don't stop stirring!), then remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.  Pour into a bowl.  If you don't want a skin, press some clingfilm (plastic wrap) directly onto the surface.  Leave to cool.  If you're not eating it fairly soon, put it in the fridge.

You will notice that the recipe involves two egg yolks.  Which left me with two egg whites, which brings us neatly back to the meringues.

Meringues, say all the recipes, are very simple.  You take some egg whites, and a certain proportion of sugar for each egg white, and you whisk it all up...

...in a clean, grease-free bowl.  I have a sneaking suspicion I should have double-checked the grease-free-ness of my bowl.  Or maybe it was that my egg whites came straight out of the fridge.  Whatever it was, my meringues didn't stiffen up as much as I thought they should, despite a considerable amount of whisking.  Fortunately, this recipe involved adding cocoa powder, so in the end I shrugged, chucked the cocoa in, and came out with something that was just thick enough to pipe.



Cinnamon chocolate meringues

2 egg whites
4 oz / 125g caster sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Whisk the egg whites until just standing in peaks.  Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking between each addition (yes, this is as tedious as it sounds).  Keep whisking until the mixture is stiff (or in my case, just about not runny).  Sift the cocoa powder and cinnamon over, and fold in gently.

Preheat the oven to 130C.  Line a couple of baking sheets with non-stick paper, and put the meringue mixture in a piping bags fitted with a star nozzle.  Pipe little stars (or lines, squiggles or whatever) onto the paper, and put into the oven.  Cook for an hour, switching over the trays halfway through, and then turn the oven off and leave them in the oven to cool.

If you're feeling really decadent you can dip the bases in melted chocolate.  Or sandwich them together with whipped cream.

They taste good, anyway - delicate airy puffs of chocolatey goodness.  Maybe I should make meringues more often.