31 August 2007

When a door closes...

You know I've always had faith that when a door closes a window opens. Essentially that things were 'meant' to happen and that you needed to have faith in fate or whatever you want to call it. However, there comes a point when you wonder how can people live with themselves and be so unkind? I do often wonder how well they sleep but perhaps it is only me that is not sleeping because the other party obviously is! I know all of this sounds cryptic and it will to but only a few people who ever might read this posting or who will know what I'm referring to, but for now I won't commit it to print. At least not while the liable laws are/could be in their favour and not in mine. When they are in mine you can look forward to a song....

Until then, this isn't goodbye but so long. I have faith that things work out and when we look back on this date in a few months time we'll be able to laugh and see that after all it was how it was meant to be!

4 August 2007

Muffins - English or otherwise...

The other day I wanted to have a what I call 'eggy muffin'. Very similar to that horrid thing those crappy golden arcs sell by what I imagine is a comfortable margin but everything to my own standards. Well of course - what else would you expect?

I've always just bought the muffin parts but since getting on the baking bandwagon I've now decided it is time to take the plunge and make my own. So armed with a recipe (Rose Levy Beranbaums's from the Bread Bible) away I went.

Her recipe was quite easy and although you can let the sit for longer (24 hours if you like) I didn't. I made it with the minimum hours needed and they still turned out great. My only thing since making them is that I would probably form them by hand (using my largest cutter yielded too small of a muffin) and I would finish them off in the oven to keep them warm while continuing the cooking on the cast iron griddle. Only because mine seems to make them blacker than even I like.

However, all I can say is how easy they are. I will no longer buy them and instead will just freeze the leftovers. Now...on to brioche! Wish me luck!

17 July 2007

You say Tabouleh or tabouli, or tabbouleh, or tabbulah even...

Well rather a strange title but rather fitting for my post. It goes under several different names and many different ingredients. I think the best bit about this dish is that anything goes really. I saw it in a magazine (although I have a number of variations in my cookbook collection) and thought, that sounds easy.

So off to the kitchen I trot to make me some and how great it was. I'm always looking for something that is good, easy and doesn't take a lot of effort when you've worked all day. This recipe is just the answer. It doesn't cost a lot either since if you have a glut of one thing - just add that and skimp on the something else. Who is to know? Isn't the best part of making salads putting in what you have more of orr less of what you don't like?

I only decided on this recipe (aside from the ease of it) to help me overcome my fear/loathing of couscous. Yes, tabbouleh is traditionally Bulgar wheat but you can put what you have - I have done both Bulgar wheat and couscous. The fear/loathing - reason well I won't get into it here - suffice to say it isn't a pretty sight!

So now for the recipe - and remember you can adjust or delete or add things you like. I just happen to like this combination.

1 cup Bulgar wheat
2 cups stock (any kind you like - I used vegetable) or water

Pour boiling stock or water over Bulgar wheat which has been placed in a bowl. Cover with cling film and let sit for 30 minutes to soak up the water/stock. After the 30 minutes test to make sure it is softened enough. Leave longer if needed or drain in a fine-meshed sieve if done.

Cherry Tomatoes
Coriander (large bunch)
Juice from 2 lemons
Zest from said 2 lemons
3-4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Halloumi - several slices, cubed
Black olives - chopped (or kalamata olives if you have them)
Pine nuts - toasted
Salt & Pepper to taste

Chop the tomatoes into quarters and place in a big bowl. Cut the cucumber into small cubes (you can de-seed it if you like - I didn't because I didn't want to waste it) and put those into the bowl with the tomatoes. Roughly chop the coriander and put that into the bowl. Add the olives, halloumi and zest. Add the drained Bulgar wheat.

Pour over the lemon juice and olive oil and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss in pine nuts and have a final stir. Serve at room temperature. If you don't eat it all it will keep for several days and gets better! Pull out 30-45 minutes before dinner if it have been put into the fridge.

I did the above but also with couscous which I used 300 grams of couscous to 600 mls of stock. I found this seem to work well (as I always get it too water logged!). I at least now enjoy couscous - and you might too! Enjoy!

20 June 2007

Falling behind...

Well again a long time between posts as I have been super busy. Do what you may ask? Well cleaning and getting ready for the summer. You know the house faeries don't just come and clean for me because I'm a nice person. What? You mean they should? I knew it! Well until they come I guess I'll carry on - it has to be done.

Last week I made some home-made granola bars. I saw a recipe for energy bars and I thought - yeah easily done and not a lot of expensive ingredients. So I set about to make my own with of course my own twist.

I brought them into work the next day for one of our meetings and everyone thought they were pretty good. I didn't make them very crisp (although I like crunchy things) but I did find them crunchy and soft enough. So here is the recipe for those of you wanting to give it a go.

MysticBunny's Granola Bars

300 grams Rolled Oats (not porridge oats!)
100 grams flaked almonds (or any other nut you prefer - I just happen to have this kind)
100 grams pistachio nuts (see note above)
75 grams dried berry fruit (cherries, cranberries, etc. work well)

Put all of the above into a bowl and toss to combine.

100 grams unsalted butter
175 grams honey (use something neutral)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Melt all of the above in a small saucepan until it is melted and amalgamated. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Place on a shallow oven tray that is lined (parchment or greaseproof work well). Flatten out to the edges of the pan so that it is even. Please into a pre-heated oven at 180 C or 350 F and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until it is a nice toasty brown colour.

50 grams dark chocolate, melted

Melt chocolate and once bars come out of the oven score and cut them. Then to make your bars and then drizzle the melted chocolate over them. Allow to cool to room temperature and store in a tin.

Really you can use just about anything you want nut or dried fruit wise. The recipe is very adaptable and that goes for chocolate - if you like milk more than dark or white - use that. I just happened to have used what I had in the house. Now I'll begin to make these rather than buy those things at the store...just more of a reason for you to get into the kitchen! Enjoy!

25 May 2007

Marinating and inventing...

I got an organic leg of lamb the other day at the store (reduced of course!) and was stuck for something new to do with it other than roast it like usual. So quick inventory of the fridge and larder yielded some possibilities and I soon got to work.

I decided to marinate the meat since it was a work night and I don't have time to do much when getting home but put dinner in the oven and get it quickly to the table. So decided that I had a few lemons - always good for juice and zest. I also had some garlic and a bit of onion. Again just chopped it roughly - pretty doesn't matter in a marinade. I then got out the olive oil - an essential! Then some fresh herbs from the window sill containers - some chervil, parsley and coriander. Oh yeah, and some dried herbs too - oregano (my fresh kind has only just come up), some ground coriander and finally a few coriander seeds as well.

So into a zip lock bag goes the leg of lamb, juice of three lemons and zest, some garlic, onions, good few glugs of olive oil, and herbs. All get put back in the fridge for the day (I did this in the morning before work) and turned at lunch time (yes, I work so close to home I can often come home for lunch!).

When I got home it all got dumped into a dish and into a hot oven for about 80 minutes or so and it was lovely. The lemons did their job and it was permeated throughout but not in a over-powering kind of way. Lamb is usually quite tender but roasting it usually if done too well is tough. this was just right.

My point in all of this is - there was no recipe. I see people all the time (telly especially) going through a recipe and such and really it is about your own tastes and what you like. I just put together things I thought would work - worst case is you have a crap dinner - but you learned!

I have had only one real disaster - the fruit disaster (see previous post). Others might have more - I do too I just don't always reveal them. But that you try and can laugh (usually at a later date!) then that is half the battle. I might recount some day the petit four disaster - but it was an editable disaster! I'm not quite at the laugh stage!

BTW, earlier in the week I went with the librarians who buy our promotional items for the libraries. Our title for this month's promotion was 'Food for Thought' - quite apt. Anyway, I went as 'cookery book' advisor. Translated that meant I got to pick the cookery books. I also got to help getting some of the fiction stock as well. I had a blast going through the books and deciding what was good/bad. I only wish we had more money - but alas we made do. Enjoy!

8 May 2007

How does your herb garden grow?

Well it has been a while without posting but time flies when you are so busy. I have a few pictures though to keep you interested. I took a few of the herbs that I planted. However, since these were taken they have grown mighty big. I have already begun to harvest them and use them.

This one is coriander which I love to use in just about everything!

This is my parsley which again is used everywhere imaginable. They rather look the same but they are different!

I have also sown a few more since taking these. I planted chervil, lovage, basil (two kinds), and some oregano. The lovage however, is not co-operating and refuses to grow. I will give it another week and then pick something else. I'm not sure why the seeds didn't take.

Anyway, that's all for the moment...more soon!

Oh my quiche and men who eat them!

A few nights ago I made a home made quiche. I don't make them often simply because I tend to find them reduced every so often. However, the other day I got a load of free-range large eggs reduced so thought I'd make a quiche to help use up some of the eggs. On this same day I got some shrimp along with some asparagus, again reduced. Hmmm....sounds like a plan!

Of course I mentioned in an earlier post about getting some pastry flour that M&S supposedly use for their items. I had used it once in the past but for whatever reason it was difficult to work with. This time though I used a bit more water and it was actually quite easy to work with.

I was a bit lazy with the crust as I normally let it hang off the edges and when blind-baked I then just cut off the excess. But this time I just folded it in and that was it. I didn't want to waste one bit of the crust.

I popped it into the oven with my ceramic baking beads in some parchment paper for about 15 minutes. I then removed the beads and baked for another 5 minutes to crisp the inside crust. I then just mixed up some eggs, salt, pepper and milk and had that ready to go. The shrimp was already peeled - so no messing there. I just had to trim the asparagus and I cut them in half so that it would fit nicely into the pan. I also grated some double Gloucester cheese for the top.

Pan comes out and I arrange shrimp and asparagus on crust and pour over egg mixture. I then arranged some of the tips on top to make it pretty and then the cheese. Popped back into oven for about 40-50 minutes and presto - quiche.

Pictures to prove it!

This is the whole quiche - lovely!

This is a slice of the quiche on one of my vintage Pyrex plates. I got them 'new' as in never used before with the stickers still attached! You can hate me later!

2 April 2007

Dress that salad!

Hard to believe it but I used to eat salad dry. Yup, no dressing for me - remember I hate most condiments. Well at least the kinds you buy.

About two summers ago in a heat wave (well one hot day!) I made my usual plate salad. For me this is anything that I have left in the fridge and in it goes. So if I have some steamed veg, in. I might have some hard boiled eggs or left over bits of cheese - in. I also toss in some pasta usually small shapes that I can quickly cook on the hob in minutes without adding heat to the flat.

But we were stuck for dressings - no bottle in sight and J would not have this. I eat salad without mostly because I don't like mayo - most dressing have this in them. So off I trundle to cookbook shelf in search of something I can make that is easy and that I have the ingredients to hand. Up comes a gem of a recipe for maple dressing. Looked rather easy and with the heat looming it wasn't much of a bother either.

So that's how it began and we have since moved on to other delights. So I suppose I have to take it back that I hate condiments but I won't because I still do. I only like those that I make!

So what was the recipe you ask? Simple.

Maple Dressing

1 clove garlic (peeled and cut into quarters)
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons of cider vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
pepper to taste

In a jar combine all ingredients and shake well. Let stand for 3 hours to develop the flavours or overnight is even better. If you really like garlic up it to 2 or 3 cloves. If you can stand to keep it in the fridge for a few days the garlic is pickled (for lack of a better description) and is lovely on your salad - but not on the same day as you make it! Makes about 3/4 of a cup dressing.

This is a great dressing for most anything and it also is a good marinade too as I found out!

Parmesan dressing

1 clove garlic crushed or minced finely
juice of one lemon (throw in zest if you like too!)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/2 Parmesan cheese
pepper to taste

In a jar add the olive oil, vermouth, and lemon juice. Shake and then add your cheese and garlic. Shake again and season with pepper (you can add salt too but I find it doesn't need it) and let stand several hours or overnight for flavours to develop. This one again is better when it stands in the fridge for a day or two. This makes about a cup of dressing which for us lasts about 2-3 side salads.

Blue Cheese Dressing

2 tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons of sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Crumble cheese into bowl. Add sour cream and mayonnaise and stir until blended. Depending on the cheese and veining it can turn a light grey colour - don't worry - it will be lovely. This is enough to top two side salads or one large bowl.

Now, I can hear you all saying - but you hate mayo! I know I said I hate mayo but this dressing even for me is an exception (you will soon learn I'm full of contradictions and exceptions!) as I cannot taste it when mixed with the cream cheese. And if you are lucky to use Stilton then this too adds to the flavour. But I also only use Hellmanns as it is the only one I will tolerate all others are rubbish!

Next I'm going to try my hand at making Caesar dressing so I'll keep you posted but that's only if I don't keep finding blue cheese reduced! It seems since making this I find it now all the time! Makes like much more interesting as we have tried just about all of the major brands at a fraction of the cost.

So off you go - you know you have these ingredients in your larder. You now have no excuse - dress that salad!! Enjoy.

30 March 2007

Corn Tortillas - an update

Well tonight's dinner was enchiladas. While I didn't admittedly make the sauce (it was reduced though) I made the corn tortillas that I wrapped all the stuff in.

It has long been a goal to make my own. I got a press from America that would do all the pressing (not that I cannot roll it out but thought it would make them more even - which it does!). The goal came rather like most out of frustration. The frustration was borne because one cannot in this island get anything that is near an authentic corn tortilla.

A long time ago (not really but it sounded good!) while shopping for the usual food stuff I wanted corn tortillas. Of course here they only seem to sell them in a 'set' meal - meaning high cost for corn tortillas, a packet of spices and a pouch of sauce. Well in my usual fashion thought 'Nope, I'll make my own'. That will teach me!

So had to first find a tortilla press - check. This admittedly took the longest because I wanted a cast iron one (durability issue) and could find none on sale here in the UK. Only the US was open to me and it seemed everyone was interested in gouging me for shipping. Finally found a one at a reasonable price and shipping too was reasonable.

Then had to find the masa harina - check - see previous post below. This was easier - not sure why really. Then had to season cast iron pan for cooking said tortillas once made (before preparing them into dinner) - check.

So finally culmination is today - enchiladas. I found a recipe that gave me directions on how to make the tortillas and then how to use them in the press. Quite helpful but as usual I have a few tips.

One, don't use cling film for the press. I found parchment paper worked much better. I was able to flatten the dough and remove it far easier than cling film. I cut the paper so that I could fold it over and have one end that was closed. I used that end closest to the press handle.

Two, the recipe said to use a tea towel to keep the tortillas in while cooking them. This should probably be a slightly damp towel as I thought a dry one didn't keep them moist enough. Next time I'll wring it till almost dry and use it that way. Because when trying to roll them and tuck them into the dish they started to crack (not unsightly you understand but I wanted them to remain moist).

Otherwise I could find little to improve upon. The dough was quite easy to handle and only required a small sprinkling of water to get it to the right consistency of 'soft cookie' dough.

Sadly, no pictures but it was lovely. Although I'm not a condiment person (this applies to sauces, gravies, just about anything that spreads or is a liquid!) I must admit I enjoyed the dinner. Now off to find how to make sauce.

What is art?

I was watching Nigel Slater last night on the BBC and he was interviewing Keith Allen and one of his friends who was cooking a dish for Keith said 'Food is art without the evidence'. I could find nothing via searching to attribute this quote to.

It took me a while to register it but think about that quote for a minute. I thought how true that saying is. While we strive to cook we eradicate all the evidence of its existence. Well some people document its (as we see on other blogs) existence but by and large we (humans) cook and then consume.

Then I began thinking of other thoughts - dangerous I know. Is all of your cooking geared towards that final 'look'? That final picture perfect meal that we all strive for - otherwise why buy cookbooks? Why continue to beat ourselves up when it doesn't quite look like the picture?

Perhaps it is me getting older that I feel I don't have to 'conform' to anyone's expectations of me and especially about my cooking. I like to cook for people and I like to see that they have enjoyed the meal but I'm getting less impressed by the 'look' of something. Yesterday, I had some blackberries (brambles in the UK) and decided to make muffins with them. So I just took a few recipes I had and made my own - fearful of what might come out of the oven.

However, as usual my fear was for nought. The muffins were quite tasty and even appealing (although no pictures survive) despite my fears. I began to ponder this idea of why I am so fearful. I've had only one real disaster - we call it the fruit disaster. I once saw this program about fruit and creme fraiche and in some important way forgot something because it was awful - both in taste and presentation.

Otherwise, most of my cooking adventures are or have been edible (I'll skip over the mint doubling episode too!). I think the fear comes from the unknown. While I'm cooking or baking I just tend to throw in what I think will work. While I use recipes as a guide I often deviate from them. A friend of mine says we all have our palette. Mine just happens to be in cooking although I am quite good at a number of other things too!

Here's to the adventure in art of cookery.....I feel a title in there somewhere!

25 March 2007

Vegetarian cake?

In my reading quest - basically surfing around for interesting things to read I came across a blog post about a vegetarian birthday cake. Since I was a vegetarian this perplexed me since I never made much of a distinction between a veggie and non-veggie cake. After all most cakes are vegetarian, unless you are making something with gelatin in it you are safe with most if not all cakes.

Now I have had to make cakes with considerations for people who cannot tolerate wheat or gluten - simply make a flour-less cake, which will usually suffice. Or you can use soya flour which gives nearly identical results without much sacrifice to the taste. I made a mean flour-less cake in my 'Desserts to Die For' (recipe was For Chocolate Lovers Only but I omitted the chocolate nut ganache for another person's allergy) cookbook. I also made the wonderfully light frosting that went with it. Lovely... BTW, that blogger obviously had never heard of this cookbook - otherwise she would never have needed the net!

Anyway, that's my strange comment for today. Cooking wise I made bread (recipe from Dough - the sweet one because I'm going to make French Toast with it later in the week) and dinner was a bunch of leftovers from the week fish pie, potatoes, peas, and some shrimp. Rather pathetic but hey they all have to be used and I don't waste food. Unlike what I saw of some American households (even a few British ones too!) I do not throw food out. I work it so that it all is used up and not much goes in the bin. If only we had an outdoor garden to have a compost heap - I'd be a dangerous woman. Well I'm already dangerous - mostly to myself!

24 March 2007

Quiche and other things men supposedly don't eat!

About a year ago I found this site for flour - very good and can recommend them quite highly. I got several different flours and their bulk yeast. I thought it was good value for money and it actually is on par with Red Star, which is suppose to come from France. I believe this one came from Holland. However, performance for me is always key - this yeast is very good and performs spot on.

The one flour that I found interesting was the one for pastry that is/was the same kind as used in M&S pastry. I haven't had it (pastry from M&S that is) so cannot comment but it really is lovely. I don't make many things with pastry but recently made a quiche with it and it really came out great. Only thing is that is doesn't roll quite like my normal pastry but once you know this you can compensate for it.

I also got Masa Harina so that I can make my own corn tortillas. And yes, I am so sad that I finally got a cast iron tortilla press from the good old USA (via Mexico) so that I can press them out rather than having to roll them.
Pictures finally attached! Although I might try rolling them but we shall see. Now all I have to do is clean and season a cast iron skillet that I got for the job. It isn't a pan with a lip but no lip and very flat rather like a griddle but with a handle if that makes sense. I need to get it clean - lots of rust on it but perhaps when I am off next week. I found an article on-line about bringing them back to life.

Off to dream of future meals.......zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

21 March 2007

Pasta with a twist

Was tonight looking for a way to make pasta a bit different. I usually make fresh pasta and then just use a bit of garlic puree and lemon juice sort of thing. However, tonight I wanted garlic punch. I have seen garlic pasta but it pales once cooked. I think this is because it is dried and once you have cooked it for so long that its gone - at least the taste of it is.

So made fresh pasta (I use 100 grams of pasta to one large whole egg). However, I also added one clove of fresh garlic to the Magimix for every 200 grams of flour. What a difference this made to the final product. I then just did my usual of slicing thinly a red onion, added a knob of butter, some parsley and coriander, and the juice of one lemon. If you are really decadent then a small shaving of Parmesan is also called for.

All J could say was 'Cook that again!' which translates that it was a good thing (someone else says that!) and I can make it any time I want. I served it with some grilled zucchini and aubergine which was lovely with all its hatch marks on it (don't you just love the grill pan?!).

Anyway, try it sometime you might find you like it better. Off to have some tea and a cupcake. Last night had a burning passion for chocolate cake but made cupcakes instead with cream cheese frosting.

17 March 2007

Busy Bee....Buzz...Buzz

Well it seems life as always is on the super-fast speed. Why is it that things always just go by so fast but when you are in a meeting it goes so slow?

Yesterday was non-stop as I had to run to the hospital to have blood drawn that I couldn't have done at the clinic. What makes it bad was the doctor should have told me it needed to be done there. Instead I made an appointment at the clinic which wasted money (phone call to make appointment), and time (clinic's and mine). As they say 'It's annoyin'.

Weather was just lovely today but hear it will soon go back to cold. I only wish it would make up its mind and go one way or the other but the roller coaster ride is doing my head in.

Finally got around to beginning my herbs from seeds. I hopefully soon will have Italian flat leaf parsley, coriander, lovage, and chervil. Unfortunately, now I need more potting soil! I have never tried lovage before nor chervil - both I got as organic seeds from some place on-line and it will be interesting to see what they taste like. haven't a clue what I'll use them in but I shall find something that you can be sure of.

Off to find some pudding post dinner - perhaps some crepes. So easy to make and wonderful with just about anything but as usual I prefer the simple things - vanilla sugar or chocolate spread. Lovely....

11 March 2007

Quick meals for working women...

When I work during the week I try to have quick meals that don't take a lot of time to prepare and get to the table. Most of the time what I do is make a time-consuming dish at the weekends (or on my days off it just depends) and make enough to have leftovers during the week. This however isn't always the answer since I can often work 4 days or more in a row.

So what do you do then? Well I try to keep to hand the basics in the fridge or larder to help but often you can get caught short and have to work with what is at hand. The other day I was wondering what to make for dinner and there wasn't much in the fridge for dinner and the thought of thawing something also did not appeal. I took stock of what I did have (1/2 butternut squash, risotto rice, Parmesan, and some dried porcini mushrooms) and began to make dinner.

While risotto is time consuming in that you have to stand and stir for me it is a perfect meal. I roasted the butternut squash with some olive oil, salt, and black pepper and a teaspoon of honey. I then re-hydrated some of the dried mushrooms. Cut up an onion and a few cloves of garlic. Mixed up some low salt bullion and added to it the strained mushroom juice. I the began the sweating of the onions in some butter and olive oil. I then added the garlic and rice and cooked for about a minute. I then added a good slug of white wine and allowed that to evaporate and began ladling in my broth into the risotto. I then added the mushrooms at this point and continue to cook and adding broth when it has nearly been absorbed by the rice. When about 3/4 of the way done I added the cooked squash (if you cut into small chunks they will cook quickly and you won't have to prepare them before tossing in). Once you the rice is nearly cooked you add your knob of butter and good handful of Parmesan to thicken. Enjoy.

Now while it might be a lot of time preparing - there is only 20 minutes of actual stirring. It is a fast an nutritious meal that if you are counting the calories, fat, etc. you can adjust the point is that it is to personal preference. The best thing about risotto is that you can add just about anything and it will work. I've used asparagus tips (and even the stalks), peas, bacon bits, you name it then throw it in.

I also have a number of what I call quick dishes that take no time to prepare if you have the stuff. Quesadillas are a favourite in this house and really take only about 10 minutes of prep and 1-2 minutes cooking. There is also my stand-by of cooked breakfast. This usually consists of eggs in some form (either scrambled, sunny-side up, omelette), grits, sausages, baked beans, toast, mushrooms, etc. Although not all of that but you get the idea that you have a lot of options in that dinner choice to really make it with gusto. I also have a quick chicken recipe that I use when really pressed for time which while cooking means I can do my clean-up and have only the dinner dishes left.

I suppose it comes down also to a mind-set that you will cook something good for your family and commit the time and effort. I do have my doodle-noodle nights (think cup or noodles only not so salty or high in fat!) but they too are souped-up (no pun intended!) to include spring onions, shrimp, bok choi, or whatever I have in the veggie bin along with plenty of red chilli paste. The point should be use what you have and don't be limited by your mind. Enjoy your advventure!

Childhood food memories...

I must admit I have a large cookbook collection probably in excess of 300 or so books. I began collecting many years ago (more than I probably care to admit about now!) but I have since begun to refine my tastes and am now quite discriminating on what books I will buy.

I tend to go off on tangents and when really into something I would get all the best books on the subject. For instance, once when in the bookstore, I saw this book on chocolate - it was like porn for chocolate lovers. I could not put the book down. I did not get it that day but of course, it only took me a few days to go back and get the book. What was it you ask? Death by Chocolate by Marcel Desaulniers. I remember then finding a show on one of the cooking channels back home - how I wish I had kept the videos I had taped, I taped over them with Martha Stewart. While I am happy to have some of her older shows (they were the best if you ask me) it would have been useful to keep his shows too. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

Anyway, despite having the book I made only one item in it for a long time (probably more out of fear than anything else - the recipes often are intimidating to read through let alone make). I then, when moving to England, found that cakes here were nothing like our American counterparts. Icing here is usually fondant but I think it is such a super-sugar rush that I cannot stand it. They really do not do icing as we do. Therefore, I began to broaden my baking horizons and started making most of the items in this book. My particular favourite is the White and Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cake. It really is the best frosting by far and has just the right amount of sweet, chocolate taste.

Now for the reason for the posting - see I am already on a tangent! I made yesterday a loaf of bread - nothing unusual in that but instead of the usual loaf I made a sweeter type of bread more akin to a brioche but not as sweet. I got the recipe from my Dough cookbook (another one I recommend) and this got me to thinking of my childhood and how we had gotten this type of bread usually for our Easter dinner.

I then began to think of all the other breads I had that I cannot now find and one was a poppy seed confection that really was out of this world. Therefore, I naturally turned to a cookery book that I saw in the States about 7 years ago called Polish Heritage Cookery, what a gem this book has turned out to be. Eventually I found a recipe, which sounds similar to what I remember but of course, it will be a lot of work. I will have to gather a number of ingredients for it but I'll report back when I have made the item. I hope that I can get the camera to work and take a picture of it as well. I must admit I am a techie but working that thing is often beyond me.

Now this is a rather long post but I find it is often food that transports us back to our childhood and to relive those pleasant memories gone by. I am lucky to have many of my family recipes that my grandmother made. I so wished that she had written them down even if they were in Polish - it would be something. I do have her cookbook but the date in it is well past when she would have begun cooking so I can only assume it was a present. I can see some similarities to the recipes of some items I make but they are never the exact - nor are the ingredients.

I tend to cook the same way - I will synthesise a number of recipes and tackle it my own way. I sometimes have flops but then again life is a learning curve. Hopefully, I’ll have a bit more to pass on when I am gone as I try to keep a record of the recipes I like and have adapted. At least I hope there will be someone in my family that will enjoy cooking and getting the best they can from their food. We shall see…

6 March 2007

Where does your meat come from?

The BBC has a new program that I watched recently called Kill it, Cook it, Eat it which I found very interesting and informative. The program basically takes you back to the how your food gets to the supermarket before it is packaged so nice and sterile.

I have been on both sides and had I not many years ago, been in an abattoir and saw for myself how meat arrives to my table I might have found it shocking. But I'm a firm believer that you should know where it comes from before putting it in your mouth. If you cannot trace your food origins then my question is why are you putting it in your mouth?

This process for me hasn't been an overnight modification but a gradual change - an evolution in my ethics and responsibility as another person on this planet. I cannot do everything perfect - far from it. But I do try to be as responsible as my purse strings (and salary) will allow.

Many years ago when touring that abattoir I began a process of excluding meat from my diet. There was no special reason other than I liked other things. I had by 1989 cut all beef out of my diet (for a later post on why I did not enjoy beef) and was slowly working out pork. By that time I hadn't had a hot dog for some 10 years and still could not stomach the sight of them. I ate more poultry and fish and slowly lessened the poultry as well.

I then came to the UK and went on to becoming a vegetarian and excluding all animal products. This wasn't a 'choice' but rather a way to keep harmony among my partner and me. But I had a problem with eliminating fish as there was no acceptable substitute within the veggie world and I just plain liked it. So fish was incorporated into the diet but all the other animal products excluded.

But after about 5 years of this I began to miss being able to make things that my mother made. I was afraid I would lose those skills and recipes if I did not use them. I was inventive and made similar things that made them vegetarian but they of course never came close to the real thing. However, I didn't just plunge into buying any type of meat.

During this time of being a vegetarian I had done a number of studies on our household which gave me an idea of our ecological footprint. We paid a lot of attention to where our food was coming from and how far it was travelling before we got it in our mouths. The test in my opinion is skewed a bit but it is worth doing if only for you to get an idea of how much your fresh grapes which came from Chile cost the rest of the world in carbon emissions.

In any event, when going back to eating meat we opted for organic or free range meat only. We were both opposed to eating battery farmed anything. I buy only free-range or organic eggs as prices dictate and we only eat organic or free-range meat. We try to buy local produce when available and if it is not we then look at where the food has come from. Is there an option from France versus South Africa?

While we try our best it is often impossible to buy entirely local but you begin to see how difficult it will be for people to change. What I found most saddening was that people were unaware of how meat came to the supermarket but also did not seem to care - only that it was there and they could buy it. While the program gives people the option of finding out how meat is slaughtered if people are not interested in the first place - how will it affect them? Already the picture has widened and as yet no answer from the masses.

4 March 2007

Feeding America Project

I was ambling around the web doing my usual, finding links of interest and stumbled upon the Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. What a treat of a find! All manner of old cookbooks dedicated to American cookery.

While I have a great number of old cookery books (some American and some English) I was pleased to discover this site. You can view the actual pages on-line or download them in .pdf format for perusal off-line. What a gift! I even found one that I have in my own collection which can be found here. I really only had gotten the book for the title and not its historical significance. I just loved the title 'The way to a man's heart...' classic isn't it?

Don't go to this link and think you'll only spend a few minutes there - I've been there for over an hour just perusing the titles and pictures. I have even downloaded a few of the files for looking at later. I just love old cookery books.

I did a bit of updating on my website - more pictures of my purses and such. Although I like being able to post to this blog the website attracts a number of hits and I try to keep news current there. However, since my Uni career is now over (for the time being!) there isn't much to be posted on the web site.

Enjoy the site...

27 February 2007

Biscotti and other crunchy things....

Have another meeting this week at work so am making Chocolate Biscotti. I found this recipe from another blog and thought it was interesting in that it contained butter and not oil, which is how most biscotti are made. So thought I'd give it a go and see how well it works. I have made biscotti in the past - usually just a plain one with nuts or chocolate chunks in it.

However, this recipe is quite good and so chocolaty that a dipped layer of melted chocolate would be surplus to requirements. But then again I'm not a chocoholic but I do enjoy things made with good quality chocolate. I'll have to get some Valrhona chocolate as that makes the best brownies and I bet it would lend just the right amount of depth to this treat too.

I have to say that the tip of letting the logs cool was also quite helpful. I have always cut the biscotti while warm and wondered why I had more crumbs than biscotti. I now will always do this.

I also liked the tip of brushing the logs with a beaten egg white. This added a glossy shine the biscotti while also I think keeping the whole log together with less crumbs than I have had in previous batches.

So now that you have been tempted go ahead and try the recipe. You might be sorry because you'll see how fast they go! Enjoy!

11 February 2007

Winter comfort foods

There is something about winter and making comfort foods. I tend to always cook and bake more in the winter months than the summer ones. Not that I don't bake or cook in the summer time but I tend to make stews and soups much more now than in summer. Summer is about enjoying the weather and in England it changes so quickly you have to enjoy all the sunshine you can get!

Over the weekend I made some split pea soup - lovely. The chunks of carrots and potatoes made it more like a chunky feast that needed a fork rather than a spoon. I also made a loaf of bread which went nicely. J usually likes cream crackers with his soups but with my home made ones he doesn't use them - doesn't want to adulterate them! Awwww, how sweet.

Now a bit more about the reduced aisle. Unfortunately, the nearest thing you can find reduced in America is when it's on sale. Over here in the UK when something is coming close to its sell by date the store staff reduce the item's price by usually half if not more depending on what it is and does it sell.

I am quite lucky and find a lot of things that I continually use reduced. I also go through these phases where I find the same things consistently reduced. For instance, I love hummus and I might go through a few weeks of always finding this reduced then it will be organic produce, or something similar. I try to shop at least three sometimes four times a week for my fresh vegetables and fruit so this provides me with ample opportunity to scour the usual reduced aisles.

I'm not sure what others do but for me and J this provides plenty of variety of what I might find but also allows me to try new recipes without having to get numerous ingredients at top prices. I usually have a well stocked larder and pantry so the basics and staples are almost always there and available. It also is economical as I am not making a mint in money and have to make it stretch.

Do you buy reduced? Is there anything that you wouldn't buy on the reduced aisle? I don't think there's much I wouldn't buy except for things that look off or I know are well off.

9 February 2007

Keeping your buns warm!

Well I finally made the famous cinnamon buns and they were quite a hit! I found a few recipes from my books but also a few from the web. I sort of then just combined what I knew from past experiences. I found that adding a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg to the yeasted dough allows for more depth of flavour. I also made a cream cheese frosting which had vanilla bean seeds in to give a more pronounced vanilla flavour

I had a dilemma in how I was going to keep them warm (cold buns are just not the same!). I then had a brain fart - I used my pizza stone. It seems so obvious now but what took me so long?! I must be getting old.

While the buns were baking the pizza stone was in the oven too getting super hot. When ready to transport the buns I wrapped the stone in two large kitchen towels and put a few rubber bands around to hold them in place. It must be noted that next time I'll use string to secure the towels. A few rubber bands perished when I was trying to figured out how to wrap the stone initially. Probably not a good idea!

I then wrapped nice piece of damask cloth around it (to make it look nice) and set that in the bottom of my basket. I then put the buns on top of the stone, which I had baked in glass pie plates (glass holds heat longer) and set off for work.

As it happened we got a large amount of snow dumped on us. It wasn't the nice fluffy kind of snow but the sleek, wet kind that makes it slippery just to walk. Thankfully, I had a nice friend who offered to pick me up and take me to work which came in handy - especially that day!

So now for the recipe - I have altered it a bit but nothing dramatic that shouldn't work for you too.

Cinnamon buns


1 Tbsp yeast (I used quick active kind that you don't have to re-hydrate)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg
4-5 cups bread flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

Mix all wet ingredients in a measuring cup. Add to a mixer 4 cups of flour and yeast and salt. Mix thoroughly. Add all the wet ingredients and mix dough. You might have to add the last cup of flour to the dough until it becomes soft and manageable (it will be soft but firm enough to handle). Knead a minute more once you have mixed it in the mixer for about 4-6 minutes. I didn't heat my liquids as I have found heating doesn't make the dough rise any faster - the yeast if in date will work warm or cold. Now I never heat things unless I am using the kind of yeast that has to be proofed.

Place in greased bowl, cover with cling film and allow to rise until at least double in volume. I just left it out overnight on the counter or you can leave in the fridge.


Melted butter (at least 1/4 to 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vanilla sugar (white or raw)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix both sugars and the cinnamon until well blended. Roll out dough into a rectangle if you like lots of dough between your swirls then leave it rather thick - and if you like less then roll it thinner. Brush dough with melted butter until coated. Spread cinnamon sugar over and roll up dough. Slice with a serrated knife and place in a well buttered dish (use some of that melted butter to coat it). Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C or 350F for 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of your dough and slices.

Cream Cheese Icing

2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened
5 1/2 ounces icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Seeds scrapped from a vanilla pod (optional)

Cream the cream cheese until well mixed and add icing sugar. Add vanilla extract and seeds and mix again. Depending on humidity, etc. you might have to add a bit more sugar but this is normal. It should be spreading consistency but not too liquid like.

Spread on rolls when they come out of the oven. Sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy!

2 February 2007

Cinnamon Rolls Recipe Anyone?

Am now hunting for a good cinnamon rolls recipe. I have one for cinnamon bread but it would be too rich for rolls (plus expensive as it contains lots of sour cream in the dough!). I wanted to bring something in for this committee I am on at work (a committee to improve work moral!) and figured it would cheer people up to have something home baked. I am a rarity in these days of convenience foods - I actually bake and cook from scratch!

I'm not hurting for recipes you understand, as I do have lots and lots of cookbooks (something for another posting!), but I want a tried and tested recipe. I am off for a few days (yippee a three-day weekend!) and will just trudge out to the store for some bread flour and make some for home first. Found a good recipe for cream cheese icing for the tops - one cannot have cinnamon rolls without the obligatory icing!

I collect handwritten recipes as well - some I have are from the 1870's! But unfortunately none contain cinnamon rolls. Wish I had more of them (I only have a few handwritten items) but they now go for big dollars as me and my friend say.

I've posted a few links to the left of places I like to visit. One is my best friend in America who does lovely things with broken china and sells them on eBay. I suppose that would make us good friends because me and anything that can break do not get along - she is the recipient of my clumsy ways!

A bit more about me is that I've been on-line since 1993 - a long time and I can remember a net with no lag. Shame it now is so clogged rather like the arteries of Americans! I didn't know much about what the Internet was then but knew I had to find it, get on it and use it! So in my usual fashion I got a book and read about it. It seems no one now thinks they need to do that but experience has taught me they still do.

Well this doesn't get me any closer to cinnamon rolls and I'm now going to go and forage for some breakfast. I'll post more later about me - perhaps you are wondering who this MysticBunny is?! Stay tuned....

1 February 2007

Dumpster Diving

Two weekends ago I came home from work and was rounding the corner when I heard this most God awful screeching noise. I then saw only about 1/4 of this piece of furniture that was being pushed by this rather large dude towards the trash containers. I think to myself - that looks interesting but as usual, I avert my eyes and look to the ground (or floor as it is referred to over here).

So in the door I go and wait for the lovely elevator to come whisk me up to my flat. I am counting the seconds as I wait - hoping that no one else passes by and grabs the treasure. The rather large dude and his cohorts come in the lobby area and are now too waiting for the elevator.

Finally, it arrives and I get in and they ask what floor? I say 7th and they push 6 for themselves. I hoping and praying that significant other is upstairs to help with the rescue, as I know I cannot move the furniture by myself - otherwise I am going to be sitting down there alone for a long, long time!

Dude and company get off and finally it reaches the 7th floor and I'm out like a shot and in the door and screaming for partner who answers. I tell him to get his shoes on (in my most panicked voice!) and that we are going to do some dumpster diving. Bless him, he knows me by now when I am in this mode not to question me as I am usually onto a good thing, and time is of the essence.

Back we go down to the lobby out the door to the where our trash bins are, and we see it. It is even better than I hoped and cannot believe someone got rid of this furniture. Well I can believe it because you see; I have practically furnished this whole flat with items found in the trash.

Therefore, we just look at each other and J (name withheld on purpose) says 'You've done it again'. Yeah, I do not know why I get good luck finding furniture and such bad luck in other areas but hey, I will take it! So one, two, three, and we lift and carry back into the lobby and up the elevators for its journey past the 6th floor to its new home on the 7th!

Once in the flat and we squeeze past the cabinet, which is now blocking the hall wardrobe and just about everything else and we wonder where to fit this beauty in our already cramped flat. We are lucky that we have a lot of room for a two bedroom flat but by American standards, it is small.

Fortunately, we had this useful but ugly hallway entertainment centre thingy in the hall. It was here when J moved in and Landlord said it could go. It was just kept, as it was utilitarian and did the job albeit not great on the eyes.

We now look at each other (it is great when you can read each other's mind!) and say – it has to go. So the long task of taking everything out and finding some place to put it began. Every inch of available floor space used, we were still unloading the thing! What now? Onto every chair, bed, and anything, flat that would hold something.

Then came the fun moment – breaking it apart, well you have to have some fun! It is quickly dispatched to the trash heap (it was not fit to be donated which we do if it is possible). Back up to the flat and we have to move the cabinet back out into the hall to be cleaned (it was filthy).

Then of course, since we were never able to move said entertainment centre I took the opportunity to clean behind it and wipe walls, etc. Then we had to Hoover and do all of that stuff too.

Now the cabinet comes back in for internal clean and rub with furniture polish. It really is not bad looking and only one of the drawers looks somewhat damaged from what I suspect is from too much heat (i.e. being too close to a heater or fire).

There is a cool bit where you pull on the handle and it comes down like a writing desk does but inside is a little overhead lamp with a mirror in back and a lovely glass shelf. I am assuming it was some sort of sideboard/drinks cabinet at one point. There are two large doors that pull out and reveal two shelves that can hold a lot of stuff (we keep our important papers in notebooks).

Now we have the task before us of putting it all back again. However, what was even more important was deciding on what has to go. We both knew the cabinet could not hold what was there previously. Also it was an opportunity to get rid of so much of our clutter that we figured we would not have bought something to replace it and only something like this would have driven us to begin the de-clutter process.

So kick kindly received and we started at 5pm and yes, did not get to bed until 5am but we had nearly everything back. We only had a few things on the floor that needed to be dealt with the largest bit was all away.

Here are a few pictures (if I can ever get it to work!) of the cabinet and the ones below that are from our other dumpster diving expeditions. We figured about half of our flat was free stuff and the other half is stuff we got via charity shops for very little money. In all we have only paid about £175.00 total if that.

Well that is one long post but thought you might enjoy the story. More adventures to follow so stay tuned!

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