Let’s Talk About Food…

This past week I have had my mum staying with me.  To be clear from the start, this is a very good thing.  My mum is brilliant and as she and my dad live in South West France we don’t see enough of them, so a week long visitation was a lovely treat.

There was only one thing.

The food talk.

If you were married to James Martin, with Mary Berry and Michel Roux Snr as your parents and Matilda Ramsey as your daughter, you would still not experience as much food talk as has gone on in my house this week.

It starts at breakfast with idle musings on what to have for lunch and supper – perfectly reasonable you may say.

BUT, just as you are grabbing your purse to shop for the agreed components for said meals, up pops mum “is it coffee time?”

Yes yes, of course, coffee time.  And a biscuit, no problem.

How civilised, morning coffee and a chat with your mother.  Until she gets that look in her eye and you know what is to come “of course we don’t have to have the sausages tonight, we could have a backed ham or maybe some fish”

I reach into my bag for the shopping list and scrub sausages from the plan.

“So…ham or fish?”  I press for an answer

“Ham, let’s have ham and then we can use the leftovers for tomorrow”

Great!  Two meals decided in one go!  I down my coffee, pocket the list and head for the shops while the going is good.

As soon as set foot in the supermarket the mobile goes “which ham are you going to get?”

“umm..” (this could be a trick question) “unsmoked?”

“a nice joint though.  Are you going to the butcher?  It will be nicer from the butcher”

“Well, I’m in the supermarket but I can go to the butcher afterwards.”

“OK, good.  Will you be back in time for lunch?”

Lunch?  Of course, it is midday, it must be time for lunch.

“I’ll make a start” says mum “what would you like?  Would you like a sandwich?  I’m having a sandwich, I’ve got a craving for white bread, can you pick up some white bread?”

Shopping done, I make it home for lunch (sandwich on white bread) and further discussion about the next meal.

Will we have boiled new potatoes? Or maybe the sliced ones in cream and garlic.  Did you buy some greens? Fresh greens would be lovely.  How shall we cook the ham?  Will you do a honey and mustard glaze?

Finally, a post lunch lull.  Time to catch up on some work, put a wash on, drag the dog around the block.  Better be quick though because before you know it..

…time for afternoon tea!

Cup of tea (milk in first, don’t squeeze the bag), piece of cake (homemade, natch) more chat, mostly food timing related.

What time shall we eat?  Is the oven on yet?  Don’t forget to change the water in the ham pan.  Oh, and you will roll and slice the greens individually leaf by leaf won’t you?  So much nicer!

Finally, the much anticipated repast is upon us.  Teens have been wrenched from screens and reacquainted with the dining room table. Places have been set with cloth napkins and side plates – correct Granny etiquette has been observed.

The potatoes are perfect, the greens sliced correctly, the ham boiled to perfection (we decided against the glaze).

We savour our first mouthfuls and sit in the brief respectful silence that a lovely plate of food commands.


Says mum

“Just what I fancied.  Now, what shall we have tomorrow night?  I saw a lovely recipe for slow cooked lamb in Good Food magazine.  You could pop up to the butcher tomorrow…”


Let's (not) Talk About Food


Stuffed Picnic Loaf

This weekend we actually have a whole free day with no commitments or duties to eat up the time.  So, whatever the weather, I think a summer picnic is in order.  It is nearly the end of term, after school activities finish this week and Sunday will mark to start of a slower (OK, maybe not slower but certainly different) pace to life.

My go-to recipe for picnics comes courtesy of Rachel Allen, the Irish chef and business woman who figures high on my list of ‘women I’d like to be more like’!

Here’s my version of her Muffleta, or stuffed loaf as it is generally known in our house.

Picnic Loaf Ingredients

Delicious ingredients – a round loaf, parma ham, salami, rocket, goats cheese, a jar of peppers, pesto, olive tapenade, red onion and capers.

Cut the red onion into wedges and toss in olive oil in a roasting tray.  Pop the tray in a hot oven until the onions are soft and slightly charred at the edges.  Remove and set to one side to cool.

Meanwhile, carefully slice off the top of the loaf (keep the lid) and scoop out the inside.  I usually blitz the insides to breadcrumbs and put them in the freezer to use another day.  Not only is this handy the next time you need breadcrumbs but it also make you feel like a total Domestic Goddess.

Empty Loaf

Slice off a ‘lid’ and scoop out the insides.

Mix a couple of spoons of pesto with a spoon of olive oil and brush it all over the inside of the loaf.  Then, once the onions are cool, begin layering all your ingredients into your bread container.  The order is up to you – maybe try salami, onion, capers, ham, peppers, goats cheese, tapenade, rocket…keep repeating the layers until the loaf is full.  You need to pack it quite tightly to avoid a disintegration incident when you cut it later.

Layered Loaf

Layer your ingredients until the loaf is full.

Place the bread lid on top and wrap the whole thing in cling film.  Put it on a plate and weight it down with some tins or weights.  Put your wrapped, weighted loaf in the fridge, I usually leave mine in overnight to make sure it is nice and firm.

Weighted Loaf

Put the lid back on, wrap in cling film and weight down with cans.

When the day of your picnic dawns, remove the loaf from the fridge and unwrap.  Pack a good knife (serrated is best) in your basket and you are good to go.  Cut the loaf into wedges and serve.  It looks so pretty with multi coloured layers and tastes really delicious.

Stuffed Picnic Loaf wrapped

Perfect for a picnic.

We’ll be tucking into ours this weekend!

Sunday Lunch

I love Sunday lunch, I always have.  Growing up in our house Sunday lunch was a big deal – a chance for family, extended family, friends and visitors to get together and swap news, laugh, celebrate, remember, argue, and – of course – eat and drink. I have carried this tradition on now that I have my own family and most weeks we will have Sunday lunch.  More often than not it is a roast chicken around the kitchen table, but every now and again it is a grander affair – yesterday was one of those times.

Sunday Lunch Table Collage

I love the ritual and ceremony of the Sunday roast.  The morning spent preparing veg to the gentle burble of Radio 2.  Setting the table with extra care, fishing out some linen instead if the usual kitchen paper.  The waft of cooking smells that make your mouth water and the first sip of ice cold wine once you know that everything is in the oven and on schedule.

Sunday Lunch Main Yesterday we had roast Dorset beef from our local butcher with all the trimmings.  Crisp roasties, pillowy Yorkshires, buttery greens and tangy cauliflower gratin.  A huge jug of marsala gravy and we were good to go.

Sunday Lunch Pudding

Even though you think you are full, there is always room for pudding!  I love to have a chocolate and lemon combo on the table and yesterday lemon meringue pie and chocolate brownies fitted the bill perfectly.  One light and fruity, the other rich and sweet – both with a dollop of smooth, thick cream.

Sunday Lunch Finished

Weirdly, I even quite enjoy the post-lunch clearing up.  Just me and the radio (4 Extra for a good play or Radio 1 if I’m feeling in a ‘down with the kids’ mood) and the chance to put my thoughts in  row and plan the week ahead.  When it’s  all washed up there is nothing better than than cup of tea with the papers.

Do you have any favourite mealtime rituals?

Marmalade Daze

I haven’t made marmalade since I was married. I had stuffed it away in the file marked     “cosy home craft activities for smug marrieds and happy families”. Yes, I know now that this is a crazy way of thinking and so this week I decided that it was time to exorcise that demon and fish the preserving pan out of the garage. I picked up the oranges and sugar from the supermarket and set to the task one a Sunday morning when I knew there were no child ferrying duties required for most of the day. Although it has been a few years since my last batch I was confident that I knew what to do and so I just had a brief check in a recipe book to get the correct quantities – BIG mistake! Having spent one and a half hours squeezing and shredding I was distracted by the tween waving maths homework under my nose and the teen demanding lunch (“why is there NEVER any food in this house?!?) and made a mistake of such epic proportions that the whole lot had to go straight in the bin. I won’t lie, I almost had a little cry and spent most of the day sulking and blaming my children for something that was almost completely my fault. OK, it was COMPLETELY my fault. So, after a couple of weeks to lick my wounds I found myself having a marmalade déjà vu on a sunny Sunday morning. This time, however, I learnt from my schoolgirl error and Delia Smith was firmly in the recipe book stand. If you are thinking of boiling up some oranges of your own, here are some tips from my experience. our own, here are some tips from my experience.

marmalade-daze-1-ingredients2Gather together 900g of Seville oranges, (they have a limited season in January and February but you can bung them in the freezer until you are ready to roll) 1.8 kg of granulated sugar, a lemon and some old jam jars.  You will also need a large saucepan, ideally a preserving or maslin pan, chopping board, sharp knife, orange squeezer, measuring jug, small bowl, a few saucers, waxed discs and cellophane lids,  string and a piece of muslin about 30cm square.  Scald the muslin in boiling water to sterilize it and place it over the small bowl.  Now, time to get squeezing; cut all the fruit in half and extract all the juice which you can tip straight into the pan.  Don’t throw away the mush and pips that collects in the top of the squeezer, scrape this into the muslin as you will need it later. marmalade-daze-2-squeezing1Maramalade Daze muslin

Now it is time to find your inner chopping Zen.  This really does take ages so just go with it and you might find it quite therapeutic – I did.  Using a small sharp knife cut the orange peel into strips.  The size of the strips is up to you, I like a thin shred but I know there are some chunky devotees out there.  As you painstakingly chop and slice add the shredded peel to the juice in your pan, making sure that any stray pips and pulp join the others in the muslin square.  When you are done you will have (a) prune like fingers (b) sore wrists and (c) a pan full of lovely shredded orange and lemon peel.  Add 2.25 litres of cold water to the pan of juice and peel.  Next you  need to tie up the corners of the muslin to make a little bag containing the three Ps – pips, pith and pulp.  This really is a magic bag as it contains pectin (so that actually is four Ps…) which is key to your marmalade setting.  Attach the magic muslin to the handle of the pan so that it is suspended in the juicy water.  Pop it on the hob and bring the whole lot up to simmering point.  Simmer gently,  no lid, for about two hours.  You are aiming for the peel to be completely soft when you gently squeeze it between your fingers.

Maramalade Daze 4 chopping          Maramalade Daze 6 in pan with water

Time for a sneaky coffee now and clear the decks for the next stage.  Oh, a quick word about jars…you need to make sure your jars are clean and sterile before the marmalade goes in.  There are two ways of doing this, thoroughly wash, rinse and dry them (make sure you use a clean tea towel) and then place in a moderate oven for five minutes.  Alternatively you can run the jars Maramalade Daze Sugar in oventhrough a hot dishwasher cycle which is less faff all round.  Back to the marmalade; you need to warm the sugar in a low oven, I lined a roasting tin with foil and tipped the sugar onto it.  Test your peel and when it is completely soft you are ready to proceed.  First, pop the saucers into the freezer to cool down, you will need these a bit later.  Then, remove the muslin bag and place it in a bowl to cool and tip all of the warmed sugar into the pan of hot citrussy deliciousness.  Keep it on a low heat and stir from time to time until all the sugar crystals have dissolved.  You will know when this has happened when you lift out your wooden spoon and there are no traces of sugar crystals at all on the back of the spoon.  When the sugar has melted turn the heat up to high and, taking the magic muslin bag, squeeze out all of the stickiness into the pan.  If you have asbestos fingers you can do this with your bare hands but if you are, like me, a mere mortal than use Delia’s suggestion of squeezing the bag between two small plates.  It’s much easier on the skin and means that you get to keep your fingerprints intact.    You are coming up to the slightly stressful part of the operation now so get rid of any distractions – time to focus!  As soon as your marmalade reaches a fast boil (really bubbling loads) set a timer for 15 minutes.  When the time is up, take one of the saucers from the freezer and put a spoon of mixture onto it then put it in the fridge to cool.  When it has cooled you need to test to see if the marmalade has reached it’s setting point.  Gently push the mixture on the saucer with your finger, if it really crinkles up then it is ready, if it is still a bit runny then you need to carry on boiling and repeat the chilly saucer test every ten minutes.  This stage is all about confidence – if you stop boiling too soon your marmalade won’t set and if you carry on too long it will be too dark and thick.  With that in mind, always remove it from the boil while you are doing the saucer test, just in case.

Maramalade Daze no wrinkle  Maramalade Daze wrinkle

Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to sit for twenty minutes.  Sometimes there is a lot of scum on the top, try stirring in half a teaspoon of butter to disperse it and spoon the rest off.  Put your clean and sterile jars into the oven for five minutes as they need to be hot when you pour in the marmalade.  Spoon or pour the marmalade into the jars, if you have a funnel in your kitchen armoury that’s even better.  Cover each one with a waxed disc and then dampen a Maramalade Daze filled jarscellophane lid before securing it over the jar with an elastic band.  The heat/moisture combo will make a nice seal on the cellophane.  You are done!  Time to stand back and admire your home craft handiness.  It is very hard not to be a bit show offy when you have made marmalade, and I did find myself giving away three jars mainly so that I could make sure that people other than my children knew that I had produced a preserve all by myself.  I think I’ve got the bug now, next time it might have to be strawberry jam…

Maramalade Daze finished