Monday, 31 December 2012

Should new acquaintance be forgot...

I'm away from my computer, but I wanted to drop by to say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013 before things get messy later on. Actually we're having a quiet one with family, but it feels like we're going out because the tots are being babysat and we're taking a bottle of champagne with us so that'll do me. It's not 1999 though. It's been a funny old year, 2012; a bit of a curate's egg, but one very positive thing I've taken from it is my blog. It's still a baby really, but I've enjoyed starting it up enormously, and it's been great fun finding blogs to follow and getting to 'know' a few other bloggers.

I don't usually do much in the way of resolutions, and I particularly dislike the 'I'm going to deny myself all manner of fun' kind of resolution. But I do like the idea of resolving to DO things that I've been wanting to do anyway, and I really love the fresh page of a new year, though I sort of wish that Jan 1st came in spring rather than midwinter; it would be nice to be able to leap out of bed on a bright spring morning to start your year wouldn't it, rather than dragging yourself out into the murk of a wet January day that seems to end about 5 minutes after it began. It's a bit scary making resolutions on a blog though - it becomes a much bigger promise if you're announcing it to the world. I really will have to see them through I suppose. <deep breath> Here we go then. In 2013 I resolve to:

1. Bake more bread;
2. Learn to knit. That's one I've tried before, but I've just been inspired by my sister-in-law (or she would be my sister-in-law if I was actually, y'know, married), and my sister-in-law's sister-in-law, who are demon knitters, and have convinced me that I really ought to try again;
3. Try and sort out the photographs on the blog so that they look a bit better;
4. Count to 10 more often.

That's it. I'm not going to over-commit myself in front of you all. How about you all? What are your plans for 2013?

See you on the other side for marmalade, Mrs Beeton, and Italian bread, and in the meantime I wish you all a very happy New Year and a peaceful and productive 2013.

Breakfast lady xx

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The compulsory post-Christmas fruity breakfast post

So, grapefruit is bad for us. Or at least it may be bad for some of us, if we're taking certain medicines.

Like so many of these stories (coffee, tea, red wine, chocolate, burnt toast etc etc) you have to read between the lines to see what's really going on. This story came along just a day or two after I was having a conversation with Mr Breakfast about how the grapefruit seems to have fallen out of favour. I remember a time when half a grapefruit with half a glace cherry on top if you were feeling really fancy was considered the dieter's dream breakfast. I love grapefruit - especially the pink ones. I even love the tinned segments that you get in B&Bs - a big bowl of them with a dollop of natural yogurt. Or sprinkled with demerara sugar and grilled until the sugar bubbles. Mmmm.

My mum made this salad for me once when I was staying with her and it's remained a favourite of mine ever since. It's lovely on a hot morning (ha), or on a day when you may have over-indulged a little - so ideal for post-Christmas slump days. The flavours are really bright - the lovely zingy grapefruit contrasts well with the perfumed lychees. You can make it with all fresh fruit, or if you're feeling lazy (and lychee peeling does get rather tedious, I'll admit), it's also good with tinned grapefruit and lychees. If using tinned grapefruit, make sure it's in juice.

I eat it on its own, with natural yogurt, or with a sprinkling of nice granola on top. I won't be precise with quantities - it depends how the fruit comes in the supermarket and on your own preferences/budget. It'll keep OK in the fridge for a day or so, and it's best if you can chill it for a while before eating (say overnight). It's not really even a recipe, truth be told, just a suggestion for some fruits to fling together for breakfast.

Fruit salad

Lychees, tinned or fresh
A couple of pink grapefruit (or tinned grapefruit segments)
A bunch of red grapes. Or green if you don't like red. Make them seedless grapes anyway.

1 Peel the lychees if using fresh and cut in half.
2 Peel and segment the grapefruit. If you are being truly diligent, I guess you should probably take each segment from its skin too, but I don't usually bother. If the grapefruit is large, cut segments in half.
3 Halve the grapes.
4. If using tinned fruit, just open and pour into a bowl and add the grapes. You may want to drain off some of the juice first.
5. Erm, that's it.

Some other fruity breakfast combinations:

Watermelon and chopped fresh mint
A mixture of melon types (canteloupe/honeydew/charenetais/watermelon) with lime zest, lime juice and a little honey
Red grapes, blueberries and cherries
A mixture of oranges (bloods orange and new season oranges) and grapefruit (pink/yellow)
Chilled stewed early pink rhubarb with greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey (I stew mine in a little orange juice and zest)

What's your favourite fruit combination for breakfast?

Monday, 24 December 2012

Awaffly good Christmas breakfast

My mother sent us a parcel for Christmas, all wrapped up in a big cardboard from you-know-who (the tax-dodgers). Unfortunately, the surprise was ruined just a leetle bit by the fact that the words 'WAFFLE MAKER' were printed in giant letters on the side of the box. Cheers Santa. Well, we've kept it in a cupboard and at least managed to pretend to ourselves that it is going to be a surprise.

I am however, delighted with this gift. I love waffles. Mum used to have a whacking great old waffle iron which always produced really delicious waffles, and I'd asked her if she still had it (we haven't got to the answer to that yet) which must have given her the idea. She rarely used it, because it was so heavy that it almost broke your wrists hoiking it onto the stove, but the results were always splendid.

So, having known for some weeks what I was getting, I've been able to plan for a waffly Christmas Day breakfast. Is anyone else old enough to remember the days when part of the surprise was 'will it come with a plug or not'? That is an improvement (take note, battery-less toy Christmas destroyers). I think one of the keys to a successful Christmas day is to get the children to stop eating chocolate santas for long enough to eat a decent breakfast that will sustain them for long enough to prevent a mood crash before the main event hits the table. Usually this would be pancakes in our house, but obviously we had to try out the new toy, so waffles it is this year. With cream and maple syrup. No pics yet, because that would be cheating. I'll add some after the event.

Whatever you're having for breakfast tomorrow (and I'd love to know what that is), I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a peaceful and happy 2013.

Breakfast lady xx

 Update: it works!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas competition (it's not a real competition)

Thing Two has recently developed a fascination with Egyptian mummies. Most of his large collection of lego people has been prepared for the afterlife in toilet paper and sellotape. He has even written a how-to guide to mummification for his readers:

Being frightfully middle-class, we decided to kill off his interest entirely by taking him to see the real thing at Kelvingrove Museum. It turns out they actually have some sort of Ancient Egypt exhibition going on there at the moment, but we didn't have time to visit that and went instead to their small permanent exhibition. A kind lady shone the torch on her mobile so that Thing 2 could see the skeleton inside one of the sarcopho(er..-guses? ..-gi?) - he was very thrilled, so thank you whoever you are! He also got to confirm a fact told to him by his big brother - that the Ancient Egyptians removed the brains by sticking a hook up the dead person's nose and hoiking them out. This is a most marvellous thing if you are 5.

Anyway, our whistlestop tour of Ancient Egypt done with, we wandered through to a room where some game young ladies from the RSPB were teaching children about animal camouflage. The boys dutifully completed the educational quiz in order to get their hands on the glue. They were making Christmas tree decorations, featuring animals who are camouflaged in some way. Hurrah! I love home-made decorations. However, my joy was somewhat premature. Mr Breakfast and I, old lags in the kiddy craft game, stood to one side muttering darkly 'white glitter, white glitter, that's what this craft activity needs'. These animals are so well camouflaged with cotton wool that even an eagle would be hard-pressed to identify them.

This is what they produced for me to hang on the tree.

I am offering the prize of immense kudos to the first person who can correctly identify the two animals. I can show you what they are by photographing the other side - the cutouts were actually quite good. I will reveal their true identities on Christmas Eve (I bet you can hardly wait).

Meanwhile, I will hang them on my tree, and I will photograph my tree in order to keep the evidence of just how much I love my children, for use at a later date.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Mincemeat update

Ha. After my comments yesterday about how much the British love dried fruit at Christmas, today's Daily Mash has an article which I think proves my point.

Now, where are those dates?

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Multicultural mincemeat

I've long been impressed by the English language's ability to swipe words from other languages and integrate them into our mother tongue. Not for us a hawkish Académie Française banning the use of Anglo-Saxon le weekend. Oh no, give us your tired clichés, your poor comparisons, your huddled mass nouns and we'll take 'em all and turn them into a linguistic stew of a language. Hurrah for that, I say. Vive la différence!

As I've been preparing for Christmas, I've been thinking about how we absorb Yuletide influences from other cultures too. This is nothing new of course - much of our Christian Christmas is nicked from the  pagans in the first place  - all that holly and ivy, mistletoe and wassailing certainly didn't come from deepest Judea - and the Germans have long been purveyors of the finest Christmas traditions to the Royal family of this country.

I've been deep into a book on Scandinavian Christmas cookery this year, and the supermarkets and shops are full of German stollen and pefferknusse, French marrons glacés and Swedish flat-pack gingerbread houses. I've seen little Japanese dolls used as tree decorations, and John Lewis is heaving with Scandi-style red and white ornaments. And of course while the Americans have taken our trees and made them 10 feet taller, our Father Christmas and turned him into Santa, and our string of fairy lights and turned them into entire towns swathed in flashing reindeer and snowmen, they have also given us back some of the finest Christmas traditions - cranberry sauce, It's a Wonderful Life, and...erm..pumpkin pie. Only kidding. They'll have to think of something that's stuffed full of raisins and spices if they want us to accept one of their sweet Yuletide offerings. See, we've happily embraced the calorie-fest that is a German stollen, and the lighter (relatively...), but still fruit-laden Italian panettone, but even they are still bringing up the rear behind a mince pie or a Christmas pud or a big wedge of Christmas cake. It seems that at this time of year, a Brit and his/her dried fruit-based confection cannot be parted.

So, for any American readers out there, here's an idea - a mincemeat muffin. Bear with me, Brits, these really are surprisingly delicious. They are like a mini, lighter version of a Christmas cake, all cinnamony and just reeking of Yule. And you don't have to make pastry, which is always a bonus.  And while I certainly wouldn't eat Christmas pudding for breakfast, I would certainly toy with one of these babies on Christmas morning.

Now, the first thing I'm going to say to you is this: make your own mincemeat. I know that it looks like a thing that would be very time-consuming and faffy, but it really isn't, apart from a bit of apple peeling and chopping. It's the easiest thing in the world and tastes so much better than most shop-bought mincemeat. It'll keep for ages too, so make a few jars and you'll have some for next year too. There are a kerjillion recipes out there in the ether, and the great thing about mincemeat is that it is very adjustable to cater for different tastes, so find a basic recipe and have a fiddle - add cassis or cointreau instead of brandy, or no alcohol (if you must), use cranberries instead of some of the dried fruit, use more nuts, or fewer nuts, or no nuts at all. See? But essentially, it's a case of weighing out your fruit/nuts/suet/sugar/spices, adding citrus juice and soaking for a while, then cooking it all very slowly in a very low oven for a few hours, then mixing in some alcohol, whacking it all into some jars and presto! Christmas in a jar.

Look to Delia, my friends. 

The muffins are as easy-peasy as ever. I've adapted this recipe from Muffins: fast and fantastic by Susan Reimer.

Mincemeat muffins
The dry stuff:
275g plain flour
1 tsp cinammon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
85g golden caster sugar

The wet stuff:
1 egg
240ml milk
350g mincemeat
85g melted butter

The extra stuff:
85g sultanas

1. Mix the wet stuff. In a separate bowl, mix the dry stuff.

2. Add the wet stuff to the dry stuff, mixing in the sultanas with the last few strokes. Pop it all in to 12 muffin cases, and cook at 200C for about 20 mins until they are springy on top.

3. I like to sprinkle a little icing sugar on the top, because the only time I ever sprinkle icing sugar on aything is at Christmas. Best eaten fresh, but they keep for a day or so and freeze very well.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Beanz meanz mines

Cooked breakfasts mostly make me feel like heaving. Unless, ironically, I actually feel like heaving to start with, in which case sausage and beans and a mug of builder's tea is just the ticket. The only time I can countenance a fry-up is after a heavy night of boozing, and since I can't bear the perfect storm of child + hangover, it's been a long time. I used to love picking up the Sunday papers and sitting with my best pal, grunting occasionally, in a greasy spoon on the Essex Road.

But I do feel that any self-respecting blog about breakfast needs to address the issue of the Full English. Or indeed the Full Scottish, which is the-same-but-different. My version would be pretty far from a proper Full English, because it wouldn't EVER include eggs. I have a long-held hatred of eggs. The same best friend will tell you 'Mrs B hates eggs, fairs, and horses'. In fact, I don't actually hate horses, I am just not a horsey person. And I like the idea of a fair, but not the expensive, vomit-inducing reality of a fair. But I really do hate eggs. So, for me, it's sausages, baked beans and chips, which is not at all traditional. If you're waiting for a recipe for the perfect scrambled eggs, it may be a long wait.

Since I don't 'do' cooked breakfasts, I'm cheating rather, because I've been drooling over a recipe for 'proper' baked beans for a few days, and I'm going to cook them for dinner, whilst presenting them to you as an idea for breakfast. When I put the haricot beans in to soak it all looked rather frugal, so at Mr B's insistence I doubled up the quantities and it now looks as if we may be eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner for about a week, so I don't feel as if I'm cheating too much.

If you say 'baked beans' to a Brit, they'll almost certainly think of a tin of Heinz beans, but I want to try out proper baked beans, made from scratch. I think a tin of beans is actually a pretty great thing - I was probably about 75% baked bean when I was 10, and I still love beans on toast for dinner every now and then when the cupboard is bare. Only one of my children likes them though (same old...), so I'm hoping to lure my sausage-loving younger child in by depositing big chunks of smoked sausage in the beans before I give them to him tonight. It's a long shot.

We have finally come to the end of our Laura Ingalls Wilder odyssey - Laura's married, had a baby and burned her house down (did Ma teach her nothing about kitchen safety? Apparently not). Those pioneers ate a whole heap of salt pork, and used that to make their baked beans. The recipe I've used is by Rose Prince, from her lovely book The New English Table, with a few very minor tweaks, and uses bacon instead of salt pork, which is certainly easier to get hold of, and probably less fatty than salt pork. It also includes tomatoes, to make the result closer to our familiar British baked beans, although these wouldn't have been used in American baked beans. Fusion cuisine, if you will. My Little House Cookbook tells me that Puritan housewives would have sent their baked beans off to the local bakery to be cooked on a Saturday, to provide a hot meal for Saturday night and leftover cold food for the Sabbath, when work was forbidden.

I fear many of you are now sitting reading this with that scene from Blazin' Saddles in your heads, but fear not. Beans are great: cheap, nutritious, easy to cook, and perfect for a cold winter's night, with sausages or fried eggs. The fried eggs are Rose Prince's suggestion; obviously I would never suggest them myself.

I found it surprisingly difficult to get hold of dried haricot beans - the main supermarkets only had the tinned kind, and I didn't want to use those for this, because it requires long slow cooking. As ever, the magnificent Whole Foods Market came to my rescue. So, if you can't find dried haricot beans in your local supermarket, try a whole food store.

Proper baked beans

It's almost as easy as opening a can really.

1. Soak about 350g of haricot beans in cold water overnight then drain (that's 350g beans in the  sieve above - that makes enough for about 4-6 big adults depending on what you're having with them).

2. Chop a large onion, and about 4 slices of back bacon - I used unsmoked. Don't chop it too small but cut the onion as finely as possible. Fry these in olive oil until soft. Use a heavy-bottomed casserole with a close-fitting lid (a cast iron casserole is ideal if you have one).

3. Add a 500g carton of passata, the beans and a big spoonful of molasses, add water so that the beans are well covered, and bring to a simmer. Cover the casserole with the lid and put in a lowish oven (about 150C) for about three hours, or until the beans are cooked.

4. Half an hour before you want to eat them, add a big dollop of mustard, a couple of tbs of worcestershire sauce and a little salt and return to the oven.

Post-match analysis: just in case you think my children are freaks who adore everything I lovingly prepare for them, the bean-hater was in no way fooled. When I insisted that he at least try it (after eating FOUR sausages), he put one bean in his mouth, whilst simultaneously wailing, weeping and shouting 'I can't eat it, I can't eat it!'.  The bean-lover was just about OK with it, though he regarded the addition of bacon with great suspicion.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Say HOW much for a loaf of bread?

Every Wednesday morning I seem to find myself blowing up my inflatable soapbox in order to moan about something.  I work from home and after two days of intermittent surfing between work, I've usually found something to get my dander up. Who'd have thought breakfast could be so controversial?

This week it's been hard to pick, my dander has been so very upped by all sorts of things: the internet snooping Bill; the idiocy of having tax laws that allow corporations to avoid tax whilst at the same time telling them that they should be paying more tax; the fact that two female CofE vicars will soon be able to marry each other, only not in their own church. However, since the only way of shoehorning any of these into a blog about breakfast is, as I've just demonstrated, by way of a pre-amble, this week's accolade goes to this article on the rise of luxury bread from the BBC website. What kind of nutter pays £9 for a loaf of bread? There is a reason why bread has for centuries been a staple, and that is because it is, by its very nature, cheap and easy to prepare. The fact that most people can't be bothered to spend the time doing it themselves doesn't mean it's all that difficult.

I understand that a sourdough may be several days in the making, but if you're a professional baker, that's a rolling process, rather than one person taking three days to make a single loaf, so in overall baker-doing-stuff-to-dough time, the time taken is probably not that great.

Now, I like a loaf of fancypants rye as much as the next person, and I'm lucky enough to never have had to buy a 7p value loaf, but it makes me quite angry that a return to 'proper' (ie not Chorleywood-method white sliced)  bread is being turned into some sort of luxury desireable, rather than just the way that bread for everyone should be made. I guess that we must look to ourselves as consumers, and our willingness to pay these prices for the sake of a nice-looking loaf wrapped in brown paper. If I asked these consumers to pay £9 for a bowl of rice in a restaurant, they'd probably laugh in my face, and yet present them with a sourdough loaf and kerching! Yes madam thankyouverymuch, I'll take two. Late capitalism seems to be turning us all into complete idiots. And it's even more shameful when you consider how much of the bread we buy is wasted (I refer you to last week's Wednesday rant...), and how many people are going without.

I imagine that in countries like France and Italy, where local, decent, freshly-made bread is still available in even the tiniest village, and cheaply, they must look at Britain with some bemusement as we go about our bread-buying business. Of course supermarkets today offer a far superior range of breads at a reasonable price compared with 20 years ago, but I still hate that all the decent bread is in the 'Taste the Fabulousness' ranges, while the plebs are expected to make do with a loaf of something that resembles something, but what that something is is not really, you know, bread. I don't know the economics of the business, but if the French can do it, then why can't we?

I'd love to see more independent community-based bakeries. The Real Bread Campaign are encouraging this - have a look at this website which explains the details and has loads of information about inspirational people who are trying to bring proper bread back to the grassroots.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Or out of a jar, or a packet...

When we were on holiday in France in the summer - and doesn't that seem a long time ago now - I picked up a jar of this Bonne Maman chestnut cream, which had been recommended to me by a friend.

You can get most of the Bonne Maman range in the UK now, but this one is rather elusive. I haven't tried Waitrose, which would probably be the obvious place to look, but I can't see it on the Ocado website, and I haven't come across it anywhere else.

 I'm not very familiar with the flavour of chestnuts as my mum never cooked with them when I was a child. They are used much more commonly in French cooking: you can buy chestnut mousse in multipacks alongside yogurt in French supermarkets and desserts such as the Mont Blanc are familiar to all French people. But they aren't used nearly so much in the UK, especially in sweet food. When I lived in London, it was common in the weeks leading up to Christmas to see freshly-roasted chestnuts being sold from stalls on the streets, but it's not something that I've seen in Scotland.  They do seem to have become more common at this time of year in supermarkets, especially vacuum-packed whole chestnuts, which many people use to make stuffing, and marrons glacés. I have no idea what people do with them - eat them straight? Use them for cake decorating? Bof, as the French would say, with a suitably Gallic shrug.

So, with only two weeks to go until Christmas, I've decided to crack open my jar of chestnut cream. I went out in search of chestnut flour, and managed to track some down at Whole Foods Market. 

So, on the menu for breakfast this weekend - chestnut pancakes with chestnut cream. Chestnut flour, it turns out, is ruinously expensive, so this is really a recipe for special occasions - perhaps for Christmas morning, when you want something that will fill the children up for long enough to fuel a long morning of playing with new toys while they wait for the Christmas dinner. If you can't manage to track down the chestnut cream, the slightly nutty flavour of the pancakes would marry well with maple syrup and cream, or indeed with a nice smoky bacon. If you really want to go to town on Christmas morning, it would be nice to add some fresh or stewed fruit - perhaps raspberries or blueberries - to cut through the creaminess.

A final point to mention is that chestnut flour is gluten-free, so if this is an issue for you, it would make a great alternative to normal pancakes, or indeed to all the dough-based baking at Christmas, while still being a bit special for a feast day.

Chestnut pancakes

You can make thick or thin pancakes according to your taste - I prefer thicker, American-style pancakes for breakfast, but if you like crepes better then adjust the quantities (ie add more milk, and leave out the baking powder) to make a thinner batter.

If you are making these for Christmas, you can prepare the batter the night before and leave it in the fridge. It's always good to let pancake batter stand before you use it, and it gets another job out of the way for the big day.

This quantity makes enough for about 6-8 medium-sized pancakes. That's plenty for our family, as the boys don't eat more than one, but you might want to double it up if you're feeding adults or bigger children.

100g chestnut flour
2 tbs caster sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
220ml milk
1 egg
 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
20g butter, melted and slightly cooled
60g sour cream or creme fraiche

1. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a bowl
2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg, and add the milk, sour cream and vanilla
3. Make a well in the flour and add the wet ingredients a little at a time. A stick blender or a hand-held electric whisk is the easiest way to do this, but it's easy to mix it by hand with a balloon whisk or even a fork if you don't have one.
4. Let the mixture stand for at least half an hour.
5. Before cooking, add the melted butter and stir to combine well.
6. Heat a little butter in a frying pan (it needs to be very hot), and drop in a small ladleful of the batter. Cook until small bubble appear on the surface of the batter and then flip and cook on the other side.
7. Transfer to plates and add the topping of your choice (see above)

I've linked this post into the BritMums Blog hop - lots of lovely ideas in here for Christmas food, crafts and presents. Do have a look.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Mouldy old dough

I've been reading this article on the BBC website about a company which hopes to reduce food waste by producing bread that lasts for 60 days without going mouldy.

Now, I understand that food waste is a terrible thing, and we're certainly no saints when it comes to this. I'm ashamed to say that we throw too many unused vegetables onto the compost heap. But I can't help feeling that 60-day old bread isn't the answer. Bread is a living thing, and it seems to me that bread that's been zapped by microwaves so that it doesn't go mouldy is not in any way a living thing. There are some foods that survive the preserving process well - step forward dried fruit, smoked meat and fish, jam - but bread, our 'daily bread' is surely not one of them. Its very essence is its freshness, and for me, bread that has been lying around for two months is like fresh fish that's been lying around for two months. It's got no soul (note that I have avoided the very obvious fish pun there *serious face*).

Surely the answer lies in educating people about food waste, and in learning how to plan and shop properly to avoid over-shopping in the first place. If your bread is starting to look a bit stale, you could be whizzing it into breadcrumbs to freeze for the top of a macaroni cheese, or making it into a creamy, raisiny nutmeggy bread and butter pudding. On this subject, I can highly recommend Rose Prince's book The New English Kitchen. Alongside the recipes, she discusses the cost of all sorts of foods, if you use them properly; for example, how much a chicken costs per portion if you roast it, use the leftovers, make stock with the carcass etc. This is a skill which used to be passed down through the generations, but which many of us have have lost, and it seems to me that it's high time we found it again. That must be a better way to address the problem of food waste than producing blitzed bread that will sit quietly in your breadbin for two months.

When I started secondary school in <ahem> the 1970s - THE LATE 1970s MIND - the school I went to had just built a spanking new Domestic Science classroom - it was all big smoked glass windows and shiny new cookers, and each week we trooped down to make our rock cakes and eggs mornay (I did say it was the 70s, didn't I?). I wonder what that room is used for these days? I bet it isn't Domestic Science, but maybe it's time to think about bringing it back into schools. Perhaps with a rather snappier tag (any suggestions?). It would be such a great opportunity for all that cross-curricular thinking and practical application of principles that Them As Know About These Things are always blethering on about: good for health education, good for mathematics (all that weighing and measuring, and budgeting), good for science, good for geography (source of ingredients), good for literacy (reading and writing clear instructions). They could even tie it in with a school garden and start doing really amazing things like the wonderful people at The Edible Schoolyard.

What do you think? Is the time right to bring food education back to our classrooms?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Oh lordy, it's lardy!

So, December. And ee but it's cold out there. Down jackets, fleecy boots and woolly hats a go-go. We've just had our first snow of the year (although the hills to the north have had a good coating for a week or two now). The boys are thrilled by any kind of snow, and seem to be as happy with the centimetre of wet slushy snow this morning as they were by the foot of snow we had a couple of years ago.

I resist Christmas for as long as possible in December, and refuse point blank to put the tree up until a week before Christmas. I'd hold out until Christmas Eve if I could resist the kiddy pressure any longer, but a week before is about as much as I can manage.

However, now that I'm a blogger, I seem to have been overtaken by the spirit of Christmas when the door has scarcely closed on November. I think it's all the lovely craft and food blogs out there. I can fairly smell the pine needles already. So, I've cracked open the Kate Rusby CD already and have been playing this, while making this (from Handmade Living magazine, via Miss Maker):

And the cake is made and packed away in layers of parchment and foil. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.

I get terribly homesick for England at Christmas. You really can't beat a good English pub with a big fire at this time of year. This is something that Scotland is surprisingly bad at, especially in cities like Glasgow, where the choice seems to be flat-roofed, spit and sawdust or chain-pub with occasional gas flame fire and tartan upholstery if you're lucky. And even in the countryside it's frankly rather hit and miss.

So, with all this Yuleness, and feeling both freezing cold and very English, I have been rifling through recipe books in search of some good traditional English breakfast fare for this time of year, and here it is! The lardy cake. You can tell from the name that it's not going to be good for the waistline, so if you're on a strict pre-Christmas diet in training for mince pies and figgy pudding later this month, then look away now. If however, you are after something fruity and spicy and doughy that is as hearty as a full English breakfast, then this may be just the thing for you.

In fact, lardy cake is traditionally eaten at tea time, and generally as a celebration cake, rather than for breakfast, but hey. Fruit breads are perfect for breakfast, so why not, on a cold morning? It originates in Wiltshire, but there are versions from other parts of England such as Suffolk, Northumberland and Hampshire. Elizabeth David gives recipes for  some of these in English Bread and Yeast Cookery.

Essentially, a lardy cake is a fruit bread, with the addition of (ahem) quite a lot of lard. I must say that it is rather disconcerting to remove your bread from the oven to find it swimming in molten fat, which is then absorbed back into the loaf as it cools. Yikes. The resulting loaf is obviously very rich, and you won't need more than a few mouthfuls. My justification is that it's really no worse than having a croissant or a Danish for breakfast, only using lard rather than mounds of butter. Is that so much worse? Wikipedia tells me that lard is actually lower in saturated fat than lard, so make of that what you will.

I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe from the River Cottage Bread Handbook, which uses only lard, but there are plenty of recipes on the internet using butter or a combination of butter and lard. Elizabeth David, however, insists that lardy cake should only be made with pork lard. I won't repeat the recipe here, as it's given in full on the link above, but here are some photos to tempt you...

Sugar and spice and all things nice

 You can eat bran flakes for the rest of the month...

Friday, 30 November 2012

Pimp your porridge for St Andrew's Day

Today, in case you've missed it, which is entirely possible, is St Andrew's Day, so in celebration of the occasion, I'm doing a Scottish breakfast. I could of course have gone in several directions here. Scotland is arguably the spiritual home of breakfast - Dundee marmalade, Arbroath smokies, Loch Fyne kippers, oatmeal porridge, heather honey, Stornoway black pudding, you name it, and breakfast-wise, the Scots are probably right on it. But today it's freezing outside so there's really only one place to go, and that is porridgeville.

I was reading a funny post by Claire over at the Crumbs blog the other week about how she feels she's a middle-class pariah because she doesn't like porridge. And it's certainly true that the humble oat has made a big comeback in recent years. You can hardly move in the cereal aisle now for variations on the oat-based cereal - rolled oats, oatmeal, oat bran, oats in clusters, oats in flakes, oats in bix (the less said about Oatibix the better- whoever invented that needs a good talking to. Bleuch.), porridge in individual pots with honey/blueberries/raspberries/apples/cinnamon/you name it. And let's  not forget my own childhood favourite Ready-Brek - 'Central Heating For Kids' - which now looks to me uncannily like dandruff. And that's before we even get started on the muesli shelves. But on a cold winter's day, it really has to be back to basics - a steaming bowl of porridge. My grandfather was brought up in the early years of the last century in a West Highland crofting family, and I was regaled from an early age with tales of him being sent off to school (no doubt barefoot...) across the hills with a slice of porridge in his pocket to last him a few days. I have no idea if any of it was true, but what is true is that porridge was, and still is for many, a staple of the Scottish diet.

The basic recipe, as any true Scot will tell you, involves oatmeal rather than rolled 'porridge' oats, salt and water and a bowl of cream on the side. F Marion McNeill, in the wonderful old Scottish book The Book of Breakfasts, tells us that 'a Scot nearly always declines porridge outside of Scotland' whilst also admitting that even here in Scotland, porridge is often not what it was. She blames modern milling and storage methods, and tells us that when she was a child (she was born in Orkney in 1885) the meal was poured into a meal chest and the children were stood on the top and told to tramp it down until it was tightly packed for storage.

She gives this recipe:


oatmeal  salt  water

Allow for each person a breakfastcupful [a wha'?] of water, a handful of oatmeal, and a small saltspoonful of salt. Use fresh spring water, and preferably, home milled-meal, coarsely ground. Bring the water to the boil, and just as it approaches boiling point, add the oatmeal, letting it fall in a steady rain from the left hand whilst you stir it briskly with a spurtle (porridge-stick) or wooden spoon. When the porridge is boiling steadily, draw the pot to the side and put on the lid. Let it cook for 20-30 minutes, according to the quality of the oatmeal. Let it cook for at least ten minutes before you add the salt, which has a tendency to harden the meal and prevent its swelling if added at once. On the other hand, never cook porridge without salt. Ladle straight into cold porringers or soup-plates, and serve with a small individual bowl of rich milk or thin cream. Each spoonful of porridge should be dipped and cooled in the milk or cream before being conveyed to the mouth.

Note: Children often like a layer of sugar, honey, syrup or treacle, or of raw oatmeal. A morsel of butter in the centre of the plate agrees with some digestions better than milk.
Porter, skeachan, and brisk small beer used to be popular accompaniments to porridge.
Porridge may be made with milk or whey instead of water, and with barley meal or wheaten meal instead of oatmeal."
Translation for sassenachs:
Porringer (this one's quite posh)
A spurtle

Now, I think we can make several assumptions here. First up, I'm assuming that most of you don't have the wherewithal to grind your own oatmeal. Or indeed the inclination. I'm also going to hazard a guess that you don't drink porter with your breakfast. I suspect that it is also a bit more difficult to get hold of decent oatmeal in England than it is here, where every supermarket sells oatmeal in different grades.You're looking for coarse or pinhead oatmeal to do it in the traditional way, and you should be able to get it in a health food store if your local supermarket is not forthcoming. Mr Breakfast, regular readers may remember, maintains that steel-cut oats are the absolute best, but they aren't easy to come by in the shops, and if you're going to be as obsessive as him you may need to go online to get them.

Secondly, I think most people are a little less puritanical in their breakfast habits these days. I actually prefer my porridge made with water too, but I think I'm probably a bit of an oddity in this respect and that most people probably use milk, or a mixture of milk and water to make their porridge.

And finally, most people are more than happy to add all sorts of wonderful things to their porridge to make it a little more interesting. When I mentioned to a few people that I was writing this post, I was given some lovely ideas for fancying up your porridge. Here are a few of them:

Alison at Alison's Garden loves porridge for breakfast. As you'll see from her blog, she's outdoors in all weathers, so she starts the day with 'organic jumbo oats with added oat bran, cooked with water, finished with a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon & fresh fruit'. Yum.

Bikelights in the Fruit Bowl has posted her 'super-magic porridge' recipe. I've never heard of adding ground almonds to porridge, but what a great idea - it sounds delicious. I'm sure Ms McNeill would throw up her hands in horror at the thought, but hey. That's progress. Constant process improvement, as they say in the big bad world of business.

For porridge cheats, one of my friends highly recommends Dorset Cereals Proper Gingerbread Porridge. And she's a proper highlander, so I figure she should know her oats from her onions. It has pieces of gingerbread and dates in it and it does sound good - ginger is always great for warming you up on a cold morning and the combination of dates and ginger sounds like a winner to me. Being a cheapskate, I'm wondering how this could be done in a homemade way, without having to actually, you know, make  gingerbread. Ginger essence? Ground ginger? Hmm. I feel an experiment coming on.

Another Scot, Rachael at Tales from the Village, tells me that she likes hers made with milk and brown sugar, which is exactly how my Scottish mum used to make mine when I was little. I loved the way the brown sugar went all fudgy and would eat my way carefully around the brown blob in the middle so that I could save that bit for last.

Nowadays, we usually have ours fairly simply. Firstborn likes a banana thinly sliced into his as it's cooking, so that it melts away into the porridge and just leaves it all 'bananary'. He then likes a wee swirl of maple syrup on top (and cream if  he can get away with it). As an alternative, he'll accept a handful of raisins thrown in as the porridge is cooking.

So, how do you eat yours? However you like it, Ith gu leòir, and Happy St Andrews Day!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Chocolate for breakfast

I've been inspired by the Kitchn blog's '5 ways to eat chocolate for breakfast' post. Delicious as they all sound (apart from Nutella, I can live without Nutella quite happily), it seems to me that they've forgotten the absolute best way to eat chocolate at breakfast, the pain au chocolat.

Now, obviously, making them yourself is a faff, there's no 2 ways about it. But I've made croisssant dough in my bread machine before with great success, and pain au chocolat is essentially croissant dough with added chocolate, so that does take some of the palaver away. Admittedly, you still have the malarkey with the butter and the folding and the chilling, but if you have an evening with nothing much to do then you can make the pastries, chill them overnight, then bring to room temperature and bake in the morning. I promise you that despite the time involved they are quite easy, and think of the payoff: warm pastries, big mug of coffee/tea, weekend papers? Bliss.

<ignores small children whirling round house>

The main secret is to keep chilled.Your ingredients need to keep cool so that the butter doesn't melt too readily, or they'll end up a bit more bready, and less flaky and delicious.

You can freeze the pains once they are made, before cooking, for up to 6 months. Take them out the night before you need them, lay out on a baking tray covered with a plastic bag overnight, then glaze and bake in the morning. So, you don't have to eat them allinonego. Though obviously, that possibility remains open to you.

Pains au chocolat - bread machine method

300g white bread flour
1/2 tsp quick yeast
1 tsp caster sugar
25g butter (wait though...)
1/2 tsp salt
150ml water
1 egg

when rolling the dough:
150g butter

A bar of good quality dark chocolate

Notes: Most croissant recipes don't use an egg in the dough. I haven't tried it without, but it's certainly possible to make them without an egg.
You can make these without a bread machine, but a freestanding mixer would be good as the dough needs to be good and silky before you roll it out.


1. Make the croissant dough as per bread machine instructions, following the usual order of ingredients for your machine.

2. Roll out the dough into a rectangle, approx 20x25cms

3. Divide the butter into three portions. Dot one portion over the top 2/3 of the dough. Fold the bottom third up over it and then fold the top 1/3 down over the top. Turm the dough a quarter turn. Many recipes use more butter than this and roll out the whole quantity of butter between sheets of cling film. The sight of a large slabby sheet of butter like that is too much for me. I think I'd just go and buy them instead so that I could ignore the butter content.

4. Roll out again into an oblong , dot the 2nd portion of butter over the top 2/3 as before and fold again as before. Make another 1/4 turn and repeat with the last portion of butter. Cover the dough and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to rest.

5. Repeat the rolling and folding three more times, then rest dough for 30 minutes.

6. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle and divide into 4 smaller rectangles. Cut each rectangle into two long triangles. Place a couple of squares of chocolate along the wide end of the triangle then roll up the dough loosely. Place on a greased baking tray with the pointed end of the triangle on the underneath. Cover and allow to prove until doubled in size. Brush with beaten egg.

7. Bake in a hot oven at 225C for about10-15 mins until golden brown and crispy.

 Do you have a favourite way of eating choclate at breakfast? I'm thinking of a couple more ideas that I'll share one my ideas are fully formed, but in the meantime, if you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Thanksgiving flapjacks - British style

So, we're British. We may do Halloween US-style, but we draw the line at Thanksgiving. I'll have no marshmallow-topped sweet potato in this house, thankyouverymuch. But in a spirit of transatlantic bonhomie, I wanted to make something for breakfast with an American flavour. I've plumped for flapjacks, with cranberries and blueberries. Now, I believe that when I say 'flapjack', an American will actually think of something quite different from what I have in mind - some sort of pancake? I'm not sure, but anyway, this is the British take on a flapjack, with the addition of the berries that I most closely associate with the US.

Now, I say these are breakfast flapjacks. To be honest though, I'd really only eat them for a breakfast on the hoof, on those desperate-for-carbs-but-no-time-to-eat days. Or possibly if today were a national holiday of some sort... I tried for years without success to make flapjacks that resembled the chewy, sticky ones my mum used to make. I've finally got there, but I'm afraid the results do not make happy reading for any dentists out there. The sugar and syrup are not exactly tooth-friendly, and there is a lot of butter in them too. But they are rather good, if I say so myself. I can convince myself that anything involving oats is health food, and blueberries are a superfood, so they are practically oozing with goodness when you think about it.

Cranberry and blueberry flapjacks

175g unsalted butter
175g golden syrup
175g light muscovado sugar
300g rolled oats
25g dried cranberries
25g dried blueberries
finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon

Notes: If you don't have light muscovado, a soft brown sugar would also work, but will make a slightly lighter flapjack.
Try to use good quality rolled oats - I find that some of the cheaper 'porridge oats' tend to be a bit dusty.
The dried blueberries and cranberries can usually be found with the raisins, sultanas etc in the supermarket. The ones I used are labelled 'dried and sweetened'. I haven't tried it with unsweetened berries, or fresh berries. I'd imagine that unwseetened blueberries might be OK, but cranberries are very tart. Although with all that sugar and syrup, that may not be such a bad thing. You could use all blueberries or all cranberries if you prefer, or another dried fruit such as raisins.
The lemon rind can be ommitted, but it helps to cut through the sweetness a little.

1. Preheat oven to 150C (140C for fan ovens). Line a square baking tin (about 25cm square, but slightly bigger or smaller is fine) with baking parchment
2. Melt the butter, then brush a little of this on the baking paper before adding the syrup and sugar to the butter in the pan and warming until the sugar dissolves.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients.
4. Put the mixture in the tin and squash down a little to level the surface.
5. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown. The mixture will still be a bit sticky and bubbly-looking, but this will set once it's out of the oven.
6. Leave in the tin for 15 minutes or so, then remove and cut into squares.

Couldn't be easier!

Even if we don't celebrate Thanksgiving, it's always good to have an opportunity to stop and think about the good things that have happened this year, especially when 2012 has been a bit of a doozy for bad news in this family. So, along with the usual family/friends/good health etc, today I'm giving thanks for the following two things that have improved my life, particularly the kitchen-based parts of it, over the last year:

Easy-cut cling film. I cannot tell you how infuriated it makes me to lose the end of the cling film at 7.30am when I'm trying to get the packed lunches done. That awful sinking feeling when it peels off half a width and you just know you're in for a half hour of trying to find the end and the bit where the tear ends. But no more!

The person who invented this needs a knighthood, or a Nobel Peace Prize (well, if 'Europe' can win one, then why not easy-cut cling film wo/man?). It's a blimmin marvel.

My laundry pulley. The downside of living in the west of Scotland is that the weather is, quite frankly, dreadful. It rains a lot. My mum, who grew up in Aberdeen, and so really should know better, is always telling me that it's not that much worse than it is in south-east England where she now lives. Yeah, right mum. The climate means that outdoor drying is one of those things you do once in a blue moon, and then spend the rest of the day nervously twitching the curtains. I have a drier but y'know, not very green and all that, and also expensive to run.

The upside of living in the west of Scotland, however, is that you are quite likely to live in a house with great high ceilings, just begging for a laundry pulley. We had one in our old flat and I really missed it when we moved here about 5 years ago, so I'd been thinking about getting a new one ever since and finally got round to it this year. And hurrah. A load of washing on, up and out of the way, and dried in a few hours. The drier is hardly ever on and I am ridiculously, almost Stepford-wifely, pleased with it.

A note of caution, however. The rope on ours broke, and so I pootled over to Amazon in search of a replacement. The things that 'customers who were looking at this rope also looked at' would make you blush. Artificial dog poo and how-to books on Japanese bondage featured heavily, though I am not sure if it was the same customers looking at both. *mind boggles*

Happy holidays y'all!

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Magnificent Tunnock's

Tunnock's (and the apostrophe is intended, grammar fans), for the uninitiated, is a Scottish institution. Generations of Scottish school children have trotted off to school with a Tunnock's Caramel Wafer in their lunch box, and tea with a Tunnock's Teacake is a regular ritual for many a Scot.

I've been desperate to go and see the factory in Uddingston ever since I read about it in this book, (a great choice if you're looking for a quirky guide to Scotland, by the way). And today I finally got my chance. The company is still very much family-owned, and they are kindly donating some teacakes and wafers to our school Christmas Fair this year.  So, I jumped at the chance to go and collect them and get behind the doors of the factory. Yippee! I was beside myself with excitement.

And let me tell you, it is a proper biscuit factory - just what you'd expect from reading Roald Dahl. I only made it as far as reception (the waiting list for the factory tour is a year long), but it was full of lovely friendly staff and had the most insanely brilliant display cases, full of wee models made out of various Tunnock's biscuits.

Here is a helicopter made of teacakes:

Here is Andy Murray in caramel wafer form:

And here, for some inexplicable reason, is a cat with a teacake on its head.

Across the road there is a bakery (which apparently runs at a loss, but they just like having it), with a little tea room in the back selling the usual cafe fare, along with the whole Tunnock's range - including all sorts of exotica that you don't usually see in the supermarket (Florida orange wafers, Meringues, and Cream Wafers for example) as well as the better-known Caramel Logs and Wafers, Snowballs and Teacakes. The front window is stuffed with yet more of the strange little models. It is one of the most wonderfully eccentric places I have ever been, and cheered up an extremely wet Monday morning.

I was a little late for breakfast at the cafe today, but the tea was proper builder's tea (see the picture atthe top), and the presence of bacon rolls on the menu will lure me back very soon. Like I need an excuse. Mug of strong tea, bacon roll, Tunnock's Caramel Log. That there is a pretty perfect breakfast, despite the conspicuous absence of any of my 5-a-day.

Chocolate is more or less a vegetable, no?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Breakfast - famine or feast?

Photo by Gastev:

I read this brief history of breakfast (and lunch and dinner) on the BBC website this week.

One thing that strikes me is that the Romans still don't really eat breakfast. However fabulous the coffee, standing at the counter in a cafe drinking an espresso isn't breakfast. I dare say a single shot of coffee is all they can afford, judging by the eye-watering prices in Roman cafes the last time I was there.

From the sublime (absence of carbohydrates notwithstanding) to the ridiculous. I have an old history of breakfasts called The Great British Breakfast, and in it is a chapter on typical country house breakfasts. In the 19th century, one Major L published a book called Breakfasts, Luncheons and Ball Suppers, which included numerous menus 'deemed suitable for meals in English country houses'.

'In a country house, which contains probably  a sprinkling of good and bad appetites and digestions, breakfasts should consist of a variety to suit all tastes, viz: fish, poultry or game, if in season; sausages and one meat of some sort, such as mutton cutlets, or fillets of beef; omelettes, and eggs served in a variety of ways; bread of both kinds, white and brown, and fancy bread of as many kinds as can be conveniently served; two or three kinds of jam, orange marmalade, and fruits when in season; and on the side table, cold meats such as ham, tongue, cold game, or game pie, galantines*, and in winter a round of spiced beef of Mr Deague of Derby.'

*A galantine (no, I didn't know either) is a dish of de-boned, stuffed meat, usually poultry or fish, that is poached and served cold, coated with aspic (yeurch).

Suggested delicacies on the menus include Roast Larks, Buttered Eggs aux truffes, Devilled Pheasant and Turbot au Gratin.

Blimey. It's a wonder Lady Edith could get up from the breakfast table, let alone dash off to London to write her newspaper column, all whippet-thin in her flapper dress, if the aristos were still at it by the 1920s.

Oh, and the Victorians were also very partial to a wee snifter over breakfast too. Beer or claret with your cornflakes, anyone?