‘Christmas’ lunch – mid week random

I am a bit of a planner (when it comes to food) and have already been thinking about our forthcoming Christmas plans. I had considered a mushroom and chestnut pie for Husband-g (who had recently seen the same cooked by the Hairy Bikers on tv) and I inevitably cook gammon and cauliflower cheese for Boxing day.

All that planning meant a trial run was clearly in order, and when we unexpectedly had Baby-G home from school for a couple of days it seemed the perfect time to celebrate a cold Autumn day and the coming of winter.

I made gammon with marmalade, potato dauphinoise, roast potatos and also kale. We have a cabbage lurking in the fridge but the kale needed to be eaten first so kale it was. The kale was simply cooked- just sauteed in olive oil until wilted then a drizzle of walnut oil over the top.

The chestnut and mushroom pie was from this recipe.

I made some slight changes- I did not have any dried porcini mushrooms so instead used a mushroom and garlic paste from a jar. I also did not have marsala wine so used a little bit of red wine and added a teaspoon of sugar. The sugar just took some of the sour taste away and worked quite well. Husband-g made the pastry himself. We are lucky to be able to easily find chestnuts in the supermarkets- usually vacuum packed. I love chestnuts and adore chestnut paste in pancakes…… that might be another Christmas dish to plan….

All British All the time- Coronation Chicken

I had never heard of coronation chicken before coming to the UK. This ubiquitous sandwich filling is a firm British favourite. It is believed to have been developed for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, although an earlier version was apparently prepared for the Queen’s Grandfather George for his Silver Jubilee some 20 years earlier.

Coronation Chicken can be simple or complex. Husband-G once made Coronation chicken as much from scratch as is possible, bar grinding the curry himself. He made his own mayonnaise and used apricot jam made from the fresh apricots we had bought from a street stall when living in Albania.

There are variations of course. I have even had a hot version served with mounds of fluffy white rice. My favourite variation includes sultanas but I did not have any. I sliced leftover roast chicken; added a dollop of mayonnaise, a heaped teaspoon of mild curry powder, a tablespoon of mango chutney (apricot jam is also used) and some flaked almonds. Mix, and eat as a sandwich or as a salad (inside iceberg lettuce cups for full retro street cred). I ate this as an open sandwich on rye and topped with fresh coriander.

I am a bit of an obsessive Afternoon Tea fan and coronation chicken sandwiches (on white bread clearly!) is an ideal addition to a proper afternoon tea. Hmmm….. cucumber sandwiches; coronation chicken sandwiches and some scones and jam. What could be nicer?

Nursery food- Porcupine balls

This was a staple not of H-G’s nursery days but mine. Or at least it made a regular appearance in my 70s and 80s Australian childhood. I love this dish. It is a little fiddly but delicious.

The name comes from the little grains of rice that stick out from the meatball like porcupine spikes. I am also told via Dr Google that the dish was first created in the Depression as a means by which to stretch meat further. So it is a frugal yet delicious and nourishing dish.

I did not really measure any of the ingredients (unhelpfully) but the basic idea is ;

-mince beef

-half a cup of white rice (uncooked)

-1 medium onion grated

-1 egg to bind.

Mix the ingredients together and then roll into meatballs. I did fairly large meatballs, just a bit smaller than my palm. In a casserole dish pour in a tin of tomato soup and then half the tin again of water.

Gotta love a family meal that incorprates tinned soup.

I browned the meatballs off, but online recipes differ on this point. But I wanted to start the cooking process and then drain off the excess oil.

Simmer the browned meatballs in the soup. I then added a tablespoon of sugar and salt to taste.

I then cooked this on the top of the stove at a low simmer (while watching the dish closely to ensure it was not running dry and topping with water or stock accordingly. The meatballs are ready when the rice is cooked and no longer crunchy. It took about 40 minutes on a low simmer.

I enjoyed this dish (although it has to be said that my mum makes it better) and I have quite a bit leftover for freezing. Baby-G ate an entire meatball which means it was a win for him.

And just for a random pic- B-G and I went to London for a holiday visit. The Natural History museum as always was a highlight.

Today’s Harvest

I am not getting alot of fruit or veg from my carefully planted plants this year. The yellow tomatoes have done well- the only new plant. Our blackberries in the hedge (many years long standing) are now beginning to fruit mightily. H-Gs damsons have done well, but he denuded the 4 trees this past weel to make jam and these little offerings were left.

Next year I intend to just focus on a single crop, – most likely pattypan squash. This year my patty pan seedlings were destroyed by the foxes who were burying their cheese (and flapjacks provided for them by H-G) into the pot. When my seedlings were growing at a rate I donated 4 to my neighbour. THOSE seedlings are (natch) cropping well. Mine are deceased.

Nursery food- chicken fried rice

I was quite pleased with how this was received with Baby-G. I had some left over chicken and I cooked rice in the morning then chilled it. Cold rice works best with fried rice. I then sauteed onion, peas, red pepper and corn in some olive oil and sesame oil then added the chicken and the rice.

I added a bit of chicken stock to loosen it all up. Then topped B-G’s with an egg and mine with an egg and chilli flakes.

Then for Baby-G I added a fried egg. For me I added a fried egg with chilli flakes.

Lazy Sunday 3 course lunch

I do not think that naturally I am an optimistic person. However, when it comes to lovingly preparing a meal for my loved ones, I always feel extremely optimistic that the resulting dining experience will proceed as follows;

  • a beautiful table in our beautiful dining room will be beautifully set.
  • My loved and loving family will sit down, waiting with much eagerness for my lovingly cooked nutritious and delicious meal
  • we will talk about the day’s events and will emerge from the table nicely full and ever more deeply bonded
  • the cleaning will take mere moments and I will then sit down in front of a film with a restorative glass of wine before reading a few chapters of a classic children’s book (The Secret Garden / Harry Potter) to my riveted son

The reality though is often different. B-G will either moan and not eat his food, or moan and pick at it. H-G eats very lightly and if he ate toast for breakfast that tends to finish him off for the rest of the day. Sometimes I am too tired to set the table and our ill and elderly dog has taken up residence of the dining room anyway and we do not wish to disturb him as he blessedly gets some sleep. I will (may) run the dishwasher and then I will collapse before the evening programme of feeding and medicating ill animals begins. I often come away feeling slightly dissatisfied and resolving to Try Again Tomorrow.

A proper Sunday Lunch also features in my fantasies of domestic bliss. But cooking it can frankly be a faff. But today, it was the day after the End Of Cowes Week (Cowes Week Lite it was this year as things have not yet got back to any kind of normal post-Covid). We were all strangely exhausted, despite the fact we only had one very easy and charming guest to stay and went to not a single (official) function or event. But tired we were and so my my desires warred between providing an incredible Sunday lunch for the family and just sitting on the sofa watching re-runs of Real Housewives. In the end I came to a compromise and we did a little mish mash of the two.

Starter – Avocado with prawn cocktail (Cut and dollop was all that was required).

Main- Poule au pot. A whole chicken and some vegetables gently poached in chicken stock (chicken, leeks and carrots poached in white wine and chicken stock for 50 minutes, then add peeled potato and courgette and simmer for another 30 minutes).

Pudding – Ice cream sundaes. (Go wild)

All served and eaten in front of a dvd. (Naked Gun 2 2/3)

Outcome- Baby-G tell me he does not like cold prawns. And didn’t I know this. No, because last week he did. The main he ate some chicken and glared at me, and the pudding he commented ‘Well, how can I complain about that?’ I am sure the next time I try and serve it he will find a way.

Nursery food- spagetti bolognese with hidden vegetables

I have secretly been enjoying the return to simple cooking and ‘family food’. At the weekend we had a delicious meal of sausages and mash – with a side of sweet corn from a tin and some frozen broad beans. I had forgotten how delicious sausages and mash can be. I am not a fan of flavoured mases like pesto mash or mustard mash. Plain old mash with loads of butter does it for me.

Wednesday night we had a simple bolognese. I more often than not use half meat and half red lentils in my sauce as a means by which to add extra vegetables, but not today. Instead I added mushrooms and courgettes. I peeled the courgettes so that no stray hint of green would make it’s way into the finished dish, making it extra Baby-G friendly. I also added mushrooms which Baby-G declares he dislikes, but with the secret weapon of the trusty stick blender it could be mished and mashed into oblivion.

This meal was very much enjoyed by all. It was also enjoyed when the leftovers were repeated for lunch 2 days later.

I have also recently bought a cheap ice cream maker. I shall be making icecream once we have some room in the freezer to accommodate the bowl. In the meantime we have been eating Cornish clotted cream ice cream with tinned peaches on repeat.

Nursery food- tuna pasta bake

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when I get tired of cooking (or more accurately tired of my family rejecting what I cook) that I turn to very plain cooking. ‘Nursery food’ as Husband-Gusto calls it. He is English (I am not) and has a very clear understanding of what nursery food is. It includes things like the very magical food group- the English pudding.

We are in summer and so a nursery summer pudding will be tinned peaches and ice cream. But dinner was a very plain- but no less yummy- tuna pasta bake.

Cooked macaroni spread into a shallow oven dish.

Add a simple white sauce- flour, butter and milk.

Mix in a tin of tuna

stir in tinned corn

top with fresh sliced tomato

cover with grated cheddar cheese.

This is then cooked in an oven on 170 degrees celsius for about 20 minutes and then a few minutes under the grill so the cheese bubbles.

Baby-G ate all of his, which is a win.

What to do when you are exhausted with cooking

The past few weeks have been very stressful Chez Gusto. End of term, H-G working away from home, serious illness among the four-pawed members of the family and just generally things getting busy busy busy. My cooking mojo very thoroughly left me. I have resorted to takeaway (an unexpected delivery of pizza delighting Baby-G when it turned up at the door); going out to the local pubs; and soup and sandwiches.

So i have not been motivated to cook much or post much, and I hope that this period in my life is starting to change and I can re-gain my cooking equilibrium.

Last night it was warm, and we had alot of things just sitting around in the fridge. We had a ‘mezze platter’ which really is a nice way of saying ‘using up everything we can find’.

My favourite radishes, tomatoes, apples and carrots. Coleslaw, salsa, guacamole, olives and two types of cheeses- herbed feta and comte. Falafels, bread and tempura prawns and scallops I battered myself using the frozen fish found at Aldi. The advantage is that everyone has something they like to eat and it provides a goodly supply of fruit and vegetables. I always think it is odd that if you plonked some raw vegetables and dips on a plate people would think they were being shortchanged (or at least, MY family probably would). But put it on a platter,call it ‘mezze’ and we feel like we are feasting like kings.

I think that while my cooking mojo might be returning, I will be entering a phase of simple family food- what Husband-G calls ‘nursery food’. Baby-Gusto is still a very reluctant eater (although he did recently eat his way through an entire restauarant portion of mussels in a cream sauce which amazed me) and it has become dispiriting cooking things which simply do not get eaten. Tonight’s return to cooking venture will be a simple tuna pasta bake. Sometimes, whatever works just has to do.