Sunday, 23 January 2011

One wooden spoon too many...?

I think it was William Morris who once said (and I paraphrase slightly), 'Do not have in your home anything you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful'. It was with these words ringing in my ears that I set about to de-clutter the kitchen ready for our move this week.

One of the tasks my husband had specifically asked me to do when going through the kitchen was to 'have a look at the wooden spoons'. His theory is that I have too many wooden spoons and that the cutlery drawer needs purging. Preparing for the move to Denmark, I've been completely on board with the de-cluttering and am in eager anticipation of embracing the Scandinavian minimalist style. Then I saw my wooden spoon collection...

I can't specifically recall going out to buy wooden spoons or even consciously setting about to become a wooden spoon collector but it turns out that I do have a number of them tucked away in my drawer of cooking utensils. Amongst the shiny stainless steel knives, tin opener, vegetable peeler, measuring spoons and spatulas etc are these wooden friends...

Full of texture and proudly showing off the scars from years of loyal service. There they are. Lots of them, the wooden spoons that my husband now wants me to cull.

It suddenly dawns on me that I can't part with these spoons. If I apply Mr Morris' maxim of utility and beauty, they win on both counts. How many sauces, stews, risottos, soups etc have they waded through? They alone could tell the tales of my cooking exploits.

But it isn't just the cooking. When my son first started hanging out with me in the kitchen, he would sit on the floor and bang a wooden spoon on an upturned pan. That was the start of his creative development and a first step on the path to imaginative play. These spoons have stayed the course and I can't recall a time when I opened the drawer to grab a spoon and there wasn't one there (having said that, this might be precisely my husband's problem - the endless supply of 'the wretched things'!!).

Well, what can I say? Even if I decide that they are too plentiful, how can I decide between them? The more old and battered amongst them are my favourites to behold but how absurd would it be the get rid of the new fresher looking models. I'm going to smuggle them all to Denmark. Maybe one day, I'll make a wooden spoon mobile or, who knows, maybe they'll be useful for firewood?! Minimalism be damned, this collection of humble cooking tools is coming with me. You can never have one wooden spoon too many...

Friday, 21 January 2011

This wasn't supposed to be about food!!

When I started this blog, only a couple of months ago, I did not expect that food would make such a regular appearance. Looking back over the festive end to last year and the wintry start to 2011, it does seem as though my days have been spent predominantly in the kitchen...

What about the wool I want to knit?

The books I want to read?

The pictures I want to take?

* Yes, I treated myself to a new Panasonic Lumix LX5 (bought brand new off Ebay :))

The cards I want to make?

I guess this is what happens when one looks for the sublime in the every day, one finds it in the routine. With two small children ruling the roost, it is kind of inevitable that my days are governed by feeding times and healthy(ish) eating. Of course, I shouldn't forget that in the background to the daily cycles of mundanity is the massive upheaval of an international move that is lurking in the shadows and will soon be properly upon us. Yes, my husband started work in Denmark nearly 3 weeks ago and in just 7 days time the movers will be here packing up our stuff and shipping us out to Copenhagen.

Its truly a miracle that there is time to cook nice things to eat at all. This time next week, I will be buried in cardboard boxes and packing tape. Waving goodbye to earthly possessions, the city that has been home for 18 years (ahem!) and the routines and rituals that I have woven together to keep me safe and brave in this world. Maybe, once we're settling into our new life and all the adventure and challenges that Copenhagen has in store for us, these familiar recipes will be a taste of home.

I can't wait to get settled again and to be able to embark upon the creative projects that keep me inspired and excited. Be patient and watch this space. I promise that I won't go on posting about food forever!!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Stove top fruit crumble

Everyone knows that spirits are lifted when stewed fruit is simmering on the stove and this recipe is a very simple and hearty winter warmer.

Unlike other fruit crumbles, this one is cooked in one pan on the stove top and takes no time at all. There's simply no baking involved and that's why its been a highlight of my week and I have to share it with you.

You can use any fruit but I chose apples and pears. The pears were only just ripe and therefore they didn't turn to mush when I stewed them.

First make the crumble: put 125g of plain flour in a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt and the grated rind of an orange. The orange zest gives the topping a delicious depth of flavour. Work 60g of butter through the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. When it is all combined, add 60g of brown sugar (I used light muscovado), stir it through and place the bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile peel, core and chop the apples (and pears, if using them). Melt 30g of butter in a sauce pan and add the fruit. Keep stirring and cook for about 15 minutes until the fruit softens. Then add a sprinkling of brown sugar and a tsp of honey and cook for a couple more minutes with the heat turned up.

I added sultanas too because my little boy loves them! Place the fruit in warmed dishes - either a serving bowl or individual bowls.

Take the crumble mixture from the freezer and place it in the saucepan and gently cook for about 3-4 minutes until golden then spoon it over the fruit. So simple and yet so tasty. I first came across a version of this recipe on a freebie recipe card in Sainsbury's - those supermarket giveaways are not to be sniffed at! I tend to use them for inspiration and then add my own twists and tweaks until I have a dish I like.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Easy-to-bake birthday party cookies

What better way to indulge in some creative me-time than baking for a party. This weekend was my dear friend's little boy's second birthday and we went over to celebrate. I usually try to steer clear of refined sugar and chocolate when cooking for kids but this time I was short for time. I decided upon a very simple and easy shortbread type biscuit and some colourful polka dot decorations.

Packed up in the ziploc bags, they looked great.

This biscuit dough is incredibly simple to make and because it needs to sit in the fridge for 30 mins (breaking the recipe into two halves), its a good one for mums trying to catch baking time with little ones vying for attention: make the dough, attend to the children, then back to the kitchen to bake. There isn't even any rolling and cookie cutting involved. Intrigued? Read on...

I like adding ground almond to short crust pastry to sweeten it and the nut oil keeps it from drying out. Here's what to do: Sieve together 175g of plain flour, a pinch of salt and 60g of ground almond. Add 100g of cubed unsalted butter (at room temperature). Work the butter into the flour mixture with fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then add 60g of golden caster sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla extract and an egg yolk. Mix this all together until it forms a smooth dough. Roll it into a log with a diameter about 5 cm, then wrap in cling film and put it in the fridge for 30 mins to bind it.

When chilled, cut the dough into slices about 4 mm thick and place them on a greased baking tray slightly apart.


Bake the biscuits at 160C (fan oven, 180C otherwise) for about 15 minutes, until they are golden. Then cool on a wire rack before decorating.

There, I said it was easy!! This recipe is loosely based upon the 'Crazy cookies' featured in the BBC GoodFood magazine (November 2010). The originals did not have ground almond in them and used salted butter. If you decide to bake these for a kids party, remember to check with the hostess for nut allergies! (I can't help it - I've been a lawyer for over 10 years and disclaimers come naturally.)

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Make changes, not resolutions.

For the last few days, a flyer from the local gym has been sitting in our mailbox. This is the marketing slogan: 'make changes, not resolutions'. How many of us come upon the new year and make lists of resolutions? This year I'm going to.... And we grit our teeth and strive towards that higher goal that we have set for ourselves. Through pure determination we promise ourselves that this will be the year that we take bold strides and become a better version of ourselves. But in my experience pure resolve is not enough and the real key to living a better life is about making changes.

The slogan from the local gym is now my mantra for the new year and the refrain that I playback when I find myself wishing that things were different. It is actually much more empowering to set about changing things rather than resolving to try harder at something.

And so, in 2011 I am going to make changes. First, I am going to go to bed early at least one night per week in order to get more sleep. Even if this means losing out on some time to myself once the children are in bed. In the long run sleep is more important. I've had some tough days simply because I've been too tired and that's going to change....

Once I've had more sleep, I will no doubt be in a better frame of mind to consider all the other things in my life that need attention! But staying with the subject of how to approach the 'new year, new start' craze, I was encouraged to read a fascinating expose on new year resolutions by Oliver Burkeman in Saturday's Guardian Weekend (1.1.11). Mr Burkeman writes a weekly column actually called 'This column will change your life' and so he is probably best placed to approach the issue of how to attack the seasonal urge to re-invent oneself as a better and (usually) fitter being.

His advice is to abandon new year resolutions and his reasoning certainly rings true: the energy expended in striving to achieve one's goals is willpower and this is a 'depletable resource'. Far better, Mr Burkeman argues, is to change habits and then willpower is reserved. The example he gives is that it is easier to watch less television when you don't have one. I have certainly found that it is easier to go to bed early one night of the week if I know that I can get my time to myself in the evenings of the other six days of the week.