August-in-a-blog-post …

… or something that attempts to sum up what’s happened in my month!

My August got overtaken with illness. Yup, it’s me that’s ill. It’s a long-term thing – been around for too long and not going away anytime in the near future. Some days are better than others and August has been a collection of mostly bad days. Life has been a struggle and finding the energy for the every-day essentials has been flakey, so my blog has sort of slipped …

I wanted to tell you because my blog and the blogging community I’ve found online has become very important to me. I love sharing my photos and life with whoever is reading these pages and getting to “meet” some of you fellow-bloggers and share my passions with you has been an amazing experience! Even though I have not been commenting on your blogs, I’ve been keeping in touch with what is going on in your lives, praying for you when you’ve had tough times and loving all the photos, recipes and fun! So I guess it’s my turn to ask for the prayers and/or thoughts. Not something that comes easily to me, but even though I don’t post as regularly as I want to, I’m not giving up!

Here are a few other things that happened in August …

I cooked a fish meal for the first time! I baked salmon in foil parcels with a sauce of chilli, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and oyster sauce, and lots of spring onion, red pepper and fresh coriander (cilantro). I served it with rice and green vegetables and it seemed to be a success! ๐Ÿ™‚

One of L’s cousins got married in a country manor house in Shropshire! The staircase used for the bride’s entrance was amazing! They handed out homemade dried-rose confetti and had a beautifully done afternoon tea for the first part of the reception! The couple was obviously happy, despite it pouring with rain most of the day and the bride’s vintage-style lace dress was pretty. There were some photos of L and I taken, but my father-in-law still has these! ๐Ÿ˜‰

My youngest sister had her 21st birthday!! Eeeek! Makes me feel old … ๐Ÿ˜‰ I had a lot of fun planning and creating a special gift for her. T has quite a number of pen-friends and writing letters and keeping in touch with them is important to her. I found a Jane Austen-style writing desk which I painted with her favourite flower – daisys! I also covered a box with old stamps from around the world (I love Ebay! ๐Ÿ˜› ) and filled it with notepaper and cards. My other two sisters had informed me that T was very set on having cards with 21 on them … so the card, some of the wrapping paper and a key-ring made sure she wouldn’t forget how old she was turning!! ๐Ÿ˜‰ My sisters and I have had this tradition of giving each other number badges for big birthdays and this year I got to buy the badge – I’ve been assured it will be pinned on her bag for a while! ๐Ÿ™‚

Just this past week we had some good friends of ours round for supper. E and S got married just 7 months after L and I did and L and E had lived in the same houses for 6 years and have been in a prayer-triplet together with another guy for nearly as long … so yeah, they go way back. They have had us round for dinner twice and we really wanted to have them round to our house – once we could find a date that worked for both couples, that is! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I kind of went a bit over-board on the cooking front … not at all common forย  me ๐Ÿ˜‰ I like to cook something which is ready ahead of time and just needs putting in the oven, so I baked Chicken, Leek and Cider Pie. It comes from this amazing pie recipe book that my sisters gave me for my birthday last year. I decided to replace the whole chicken and homemade stock with chicken pieces and chicken stock cubes and made a classic mistake – the recipe called for a chicken weighing 1.5kg so, of course, I bought 1.5kg of thigh fillets … let’s just say that not counting in the weight difference for a whole chicken made a massive quantity of filling! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Apart from that little slip-up, everyone seemed to enjoy the individual pies, sweet potato wedges and vegetables. For pudding we had lemon-curd biscuits, fresh fruit and homemade ice-cream. I’d been wanting to have a go at making my own ice-cream in ages and I found this recipe that just need me to whip up condensed milk, double cream and vanilla, then put it in the freezer and forget about it … until pudding time! ๐Ÿ™‚ So simple!

A few weeks ago L surprised me with this gorgeous bouquet of flowers – he knows how to make me smile! ๐Ÿ˜€

I hope to be writing again soon!

What has happened in your August?

Summer!

I promise you I have not completely disappeared … I just took an unplanned break … doing some summer things …

… like sitting with my hubby drinking wine, chatting and enjoying the evening sun coming through our windows …

… witnessing glorious sunsets …

… eating lots of fresh asparagus (between you and me I think L might wake up one morning and find his wife has turned into a stalk of asparagus ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) …

… reading books on the Cathedral Green …

… attending the lovely wedding of lovely friends …

… and taking photos of fresh, juicy, bright red tomatoes! Not really a must-do summer activity, but come on, the colour has got to make you smile, right?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

What are you doing with your summer?

The other side of my cooking life

I read amazing food blogs and remember my Mum’s dedication to cooking home-cooked food from scratch.

I feel overwhelmed by the expectations I put on myself to prepare every meal from the bare bones up. I feel overwhelmed by the other people who seem able to do that.

I wouldn’t want one of you reading my blog and feeling guilty about your own cooking, so I decided to share tonight’s supper with you!

Meal deal of ready-prepared vegetables, stir-in sauce and straight-to-wok noodles.

A (reduced – of course! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) pack of beef strips.

Beef stir-fry.

Just as healthy and additive-free as it would have been if I’d done all the work.

No sin!

I’m so grateful to my Mum and my Grandma for passing onto me a love for cooking and for teaching me the skills to cook mostly whatever I set my mind too – or at least where to go to find out how to do it! ๐Ÿ˜›

I don’t plan on loosing that.

What I do plan on losing is my self-imposed expectation that anything which is not prepared from the most scratched scratch that I can find, every single meal, is a sin! And definitely before we have kids! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Oh, and my hubby still thought it was delicious, so what’s the problem?!

I hope you’re not too shocked at this little peek into the other side of my cooking life!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Big Brisket Adventure

Last week I was – surprise, surprise! – in the reduced section of the supermarket!

I was on the lookout to for something special to cook for L that date night, as he’s pretty stressed about an interview on Thursday.

They had loads of reduced beef joints and I spied this one:

I’d heard somewhere that brisket could taste amazing and as it was a couple of pounds cheaper than the other cuts, that sealed the bargain for me! ๐Ÿ˜‰

After searching the internet and my cookery books for recipe suggestions, I took a few ideas from each of the recipes that sounded the best – and the easiest! – and combined them to make my own Brisket Concoction!

I started with onions and carrots …

… and chopped them up with a good number of garlic cloves. This was about 2pm in the afternoon.

Now I should have browned the beef, put to one side, browned the vegetables, then combined. However, I had to get to an appointment and was running late (hardly ever happens … ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) so I loaded the whole lot into my one and only prized LeCruset casserole dish, in one go, and browned the beef and the veggies, together with some chopped bacon – smelled good!

Next came the magic ingredient of ale, along with (cubed) beef stock, butter, brown sugar, tomato puree, plenty of herbs and an ingredient that I spent ten minutes popping round the corner to get:

Worcestershire Sauce!

I don’t know if it’s available in America, but I wouldn’t cook a stew, pie or beef joint without it – I even put it in my salad sometimes for an added zing! ๐Ÿ˜›

I let this bubble away and mix for a few minutes, before covering tightly with foil and shoving in the 160 C oven.

Then I dashed out the door and hoped the oven wouldn’t blow up while I was gone …

When I returned over two hours later I was grateful to find the apartment block still standing and the beef still simmering happily away in the oven – phew! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I think it was somewhere close to 6:30pm that I hauled this weighty dish out of the oven, when I removed the beef and covered with foil to keep warm and rest.

Boys and girls, please don’t try this at home …

At this point I intended to turn on the ring under the casserole dish full of sauce … after 7 or so minutes of not understanding why the sauce wasn’t starting to bubble, and why there was a sizzling sound, but no see-able action … I realized I’d turned on the wrong ring and was actually frying the bottom of the beef to a near crisp …

Personally I’ll try and skip that step next time! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Eventually I got the vegetables and sauce that the beef was cooked in bubbling away and thickened with some cornstarch.

I was absolutely thrilled to discover that my beef turned out exactly as all the recipes said it would – it wasn’t so much as carving as pulling melting bits off with a fork! Wow!!

I served the brisket with a generous helping of sauce, new potatoes and fresh vegetables.

I have to say, that sauce was delicious!! My best gravy yet! ๐Ÿ™‚

Oh yeah, and I got another three meals out of the rest of the beef so, I’m happy!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

This evening

The last few days we have had beautiful weather! Blue skies, hot sun, light breeze! Lots of sun, but not too hot – just right! ๐Ÿ™‚

Right now the evening sun is pouring through my windows!

I love that our main kitchen/dining/living room faces west, and so catches lots of sunlight and golden shadows!

It even makes my crowded little tea shelf appear semi-attractive! ๐Ÿ˜‰

As those of you who have read my blog for long will know – I love taking photos of sunlight and shadow – even if that’s my dining room chair!! ๐Ÿ˜›

In this light my sun catcher comes into its own and looks beautiful!

Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of my beautiful flowers in the sunlight! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ok, so maybe I’m a little obsessed with this whole sun-and-shadow-photo-thing … !

While blogging and doing craft, I’m enjoying a big old bowl of fresh salad …

… and a little glass of white wine! Mmm ๐Ÿ™‚

What are you doing this evening?!

Surprise flowers!

I went out to get some wine and a pudding for date night.

I returned to find these sitting on my kitchen table!

Now what lovely man bought these for me?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve heard it said that men are not good at picking the right flowers or the right engagement rings …

My hubby just so happens to be a massive exception to that legend!

This flower L thought I would especially like!

Who couldn’t love this beauty?! I love the interweaving of the petals, the shape and the light and shadow contrasts! Despite not being a “pink girl” I actually think the colour of this flower is magnificent!

I do love taking photos of my flowers and experimenting with my camera!

Now that’s what I call a brilliant start to the weekend!! ๐Ÿ˜€

A little post about a big risotto

I’ve noticed it’s been too long since I posted about what I’ve been cooking. How did that happen?

Well don’t panic! Just in case you were missing my slightly steam-obscured photos and slap-together dishes, here’s a little treat for you! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I hack some butternut squash into manageable sized pieces and slipped them into the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper and mixed herbs. They took 20 minutes to get to a lovely sweet, soft, brown stage – ready just when I needed them.

I used red onion just because it’s what I had, but it does look pretty! ๐Ÿ™‚

I fried in olive oil, addedย  2 or 3 chopped garlic cloves and some cubed bacon – mmm, smelt yum!

After adding a reasonable-looking portion of risotto/arborio rice and frying until starting to turn translucent, I add a good splash of white wine (about a glass maybe?!?) and let that be absorbed before adding chicken stock.

By chicken stock I mean hot water from the kettle and a chicken stock cube crumbled into the pan … ๐Ÿ˜›

Oh, and yes, the picture is out of focus, but try taking a close-up photo with one hand, while trying to pour a limited amount of a bottle of wine into a hot pan, and you’ll see why … ๐Ÿ˜‰

I added chopped leek, asparagus and broccoli to the pan just after the first lot of stock, along with some frozen peas, salt and pepper and my choice ofย  dried herbs.

My most often used herb combo is about 1/2 tsp each of basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and sometimes a bit of sage.

I add my stock in small, but regular quantities, as I fins this produces the consistency L and I like best – not too sloppy, but not at all dry – just to be very clear about it! ๐Ÿ˜‰

When the rice was just soft all the way through, I added grated cheddar, some powdered parmesan and the roasted squash from the oven. The cheese really does make a big difference (even without being biased, honest!), as it holds it altogether and adds a slightly richer, creamier quality to the risotto.

The finished risotto!

i reckeon it take about 30-40 minutes all preperation included.

Scrummy, though I say so myself! ๐Ÿ˜‰

And big – it ended up providing three meals in total! ๐Ÿ˜›