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! πŸ˜‰

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 … πŸ˜‰ ) 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! πŸ˜›

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! πŸ˜‰

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! πŸ˜‰

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! πŸ™‚

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

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A is for Asparagus, O is for Obsession

Right now, I’m obsessed with this fresh, crunchy and green little vegetable!

This is the go-to veggie of the month. For now.

You see, I’m a self-diagnosed Food Phaser*.

* Please note that a) I am not professionally trained in the finer diagnostic points of this condition, so am unable to offer advice and b) it’s a self-created condition and is therefore unlikely to be recognised by clinical dietician. πŸ˜‰

Although I love cooking and baking all kinds of meals for other people, I’m a bit of a fussy eater in my own kitchen. I like the majority of food and cuisines and will like almost everything cooked for me by others, so I am not what most people think of as “a fussy eater”.

It comes down to me being very particular and quite ritualistic about what I eat day-to-day – did I ever warn you that I’m wierd by the way?! πŸ˜›

As a consequence of this, I become obsessed with a particular food for a week, a month, then something else catches my eye and it becomes all about this new vegetable, grain or combination of ingredients.

I remember a time in my teens when I would eat noodles any time I could wrangle it in to my week – with butter and garlic, soya sauce or cheese.

Cheese, of course, is a constant food that has stuck in there through every single passing obsession (bar about 6 months, but we’ll choose to forget that πŸ˜‰ ), so almost all of my food phases have included cheese of some kind or another. Yum. What more can I say?!

Some of my latest obsessions have been cooked vegetables with cheese …

… fresh, crunchy and raw salads (I think there might be some cubes of cheese mixed into this bowl somewhere …) …

… and roasted vegetables …

… all with this strong and zingy sauce of whole grain mustard, lemon juice, olive oil and soya sauce. Try it -it tastes so much better than it sounds/looks, although I am not keen on most salad dressings and would pick savory over sweet any day, so maybe I’m the only one who’ll love this strong and sour dressing! πŸ˜›

The roasted vegetables (and two largely unsuccessful attempts at making spinach and cheese balls) were thanks to the lovely Katie, over at Yes, I want cake. Several times in the past couple of months roasted veggies have been featured on Katie’s blog, including roasted broccoli. Yup, I know, that’s exactly what I thought!Roasted broccoli?! Ewwww! Wrong – DELICIOUS! I’ve actually survived over 25 years of my life without roasted broccoli. Guess I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

For now, however, asparagus is The Vegetable. It’s in season over here, so the local vegetable stalls are selling fresh bunches of it at bargain prices! Maybe Katie’s blog had something to do with encouraging my asparagus-obsession, as I just HAD to try this asparagus pizza:

My first trial was made on an English muffin, but then I had the real thing and now I love asparagus pizza! And yes, I love Katie’s blogg too – it’s another one of my obsessions. πŸ˜€

Last night and tonight I’ve had a pile of asparagus, covered in tomato sauce, some grated cheese and put under the grill until golden and bubbling – scrum-diddily-umptious!

Ok, so the cheese I eat doesn’t really melt properly and go all stringy and gooey, but hey – it’s the fact that it’s cheese that counts, right?! πŸ˜‰

Oh yes, and the asparagus I’m obsessed with right now! πŸ˜›

What food are you obsessed with at the moment?!

Bargains!

Today I bought a massive chicken (meant to serve about 7 people), for the bargain price of .90p (about $1.41)!!!

I snagged a second bargain too … a large duck for Β£1.60 (about $2 .51)!!

I mean, come on, what’s not to find attractive about this stunning bird?!? πŸ˜‰

And stunning is about the right word too!! I’m positive that if I’d been able to get up enough strength to swing my shopping bag with a good amount of power, (providing, of course, I’d found myself in a situation – in the ten minute walk home from the grocery store – that warranted such drastic measures …) I could easily have stunned someone with these two fine gals!! πŸ˜›

My first big worry was weather or not I was actually going to be able to fit these two fine birds in my freezer, which I filled up just last week with a huge batch of Spicy Sausage Pasta, Chicken Curry and reduced bread rolls … thankfully I discovered some utterly redundant items that made space for my latest trophies … phew!

My second, and much larger, worry is really a long-standing fear of mine …

… cooking a roast chicken dinner!

If I’m honest, I have a bit of a thing about all raw meat … due partly to growing up mostly as a vegetarian (from age 2 my Mum cooked meat from time to time but more often pre-processed as I got older, but not much and then after 12 there was no meat at all) … due also to a life-long paranoia of being sick/throwing up, which led at 14 to me refusing to eat any fish or eggs or anything else which had much of a potential to lead to food poisoning …

… Although now I eat pretty much eat anything except courgettes (zucchini), aubergines (eggplants) and any organ-related part of an animal, I’m still pretty fussy about kitchen hygiene (depending on who you ask: L and most friends put me in the paranoid category!! πŸ˜‰ ) … if I can do it without too much extra cost, I always buy pre-chopped meat, that way I have to handle that slimy raw substance as little as possible and don’t get ny chopping boards or knives “contaminated”!! πŸ˜› (and yes, I am laughing at myself and yes, you may laugh at me too!! πŸ˜‰ )

I have now cooked a roast belly of pork and two roast beef dinners, so progress has definitely been made … I don’t have any major issues with the timings or any of the other trimmings to go along side … nope, it’s just the raw joint itself … and for some reason, chicken is The Big Deal … the idea of a big, pink, cold, slimy, raw chicken just sitting there waiting for me to handle it … ‘nough said!! *Shudder*

I am, however determined, determined, to conquer this most fearsome and traditional of roasts!!! I am not going to let myself be beaten by a dead bird! No siree!! Not this girl! If at some point in the next couple of months you hear in the news about a crazed woman who has become the first person in history to take the precise study of roasting chickens to degree-level standards … that’ll be me!! πŸ˜‰

The duck in my freezer would like to be cooked in the yummiest way possible so, as I have no idea how to go about cooking a duck and no particularly firm notions about good duck/flavour combinations …

What recipes/suggestions do you have for cooking duck?!?

My apologies for the photos … right now I can’t access my own photos or take any new photos off of my camera … so here we have internet photos … !

Random happenings

I have a sparkly, shiny, white, pristine bathroom! Thanks to an attack I launched on it this afternoon … yes, it definitely resembled an attack: I put on my Marigolds (the chemicals play havoc with my skin if I don’t wear gloves!), took my bottle of bathroom spray and Demestos toilet cleaner, three big disposable Jay Cloths and my antiseptic floor wipes … oh yes, and a long accumilated dose of confused frustration …

About an hour and a half of vigorous scrubbing, spraying, rubbing, rinsing, wiping, brushing and scouring, I had one sparkly clean bathroom, one aching back, two over-tired arms and two sore legs … !!

But you know what?! The shower I then took in my deliciously clean tub was so very satisfying!

Does anyone else clean the bathroom in their pyjamas?!

I can’t get past the idea that bathrooms are essentially a dirty place … so I have to change my clothes after cleaning it, because now they’re dirty too right? So because I don’t want to spoil any of my clothes with the chemicals, I always clean the bathroom in my pjs and put them straight in the dirty laundry basked – then jump in the shower and get the rest of me clean! πŸ™‚

The other day I had the most satisfying shopping experience …

… I got all of this reduced goodness … for Β£7! Yeah baby!!

I do love my bargains! πŸ˜›

There is a wonderful place on the other side of my city that has big plastic bins of loose grains, pulses, dried fruit, nuts, yogurt or chocolate covered dried fruit, cereal, flour, oats … you name it! You use these scoops to get a bag of how much you want, take it to the counter and they weigh it for you … so much fun!! πŸ™‚ It smells amazing in that shop and you really have to keep a check on yourself, otherwise you’ll end up walking out of there with a bag of practically everything – no joke!! πŸ˜‰

I love this shop! I don’t go there very often, as it’s a bit of a trek from my house, but it’s well worth a visit every now again and nicely rounded out my satisfying grocery shopping!! πŸ™‚

Guess what was waiting for me when I got home?!?

A hungry husband?

Yes, but the hungry husband had been on a secret mission …

… and bought me this gorgeous bunch of flowers!!

He knew that I’d had a hard week and he knew what would bring a happy smile to my face … that evening and for days to come, every time I saw or thought about his flowers!

He was right – they brought a massive smile to my face and still do every time I see their wonderful colours! πŸ™‚

It was the perfect start to our date night …

… which involved brie …

… steak and peppercorn sauce, thanks to a wonderful Mother-in-Law (the fresh tomatoes and all that salad makes it healthy, right?! πŸ˜‰ ) …

… scrummy strawberry cheesecake ice-cream …

… and a delicious and much appreciated bottle of red wine – yes, it was reduced and yes, it did have a cork top!! πŸ˜›

Using up left-overs efficiently in delicious ways is another source of great satisfaction to me … when I can achieve it! πŸ˜‰

This Asian-style beef (aka: left-over stake) and noodle salad was awarded L’s seal of approval! Success!! πŸ˜›

So was that post random enough for you?!? πŸ˜‰

What is the thing from your week that has cheered you up the most?!

Vegetables, glorious, colourful vegetables!

This afternoon I went along to our local just-round-the-corner green grocers to pick up some cucumbers.

I guess I should make a confession about now. I’m an addict. Yup, that’s right, I’m addicted – to cucumbers!! I eat between 1-2 a day and on rare occasions I get through, cough cough, 3!!! :/ I’m kind of wierd, I know, but hey, they have no badness in them and a make a good healthy snack and anyway, I could be snacking on far more unhealthy food, right?!?. So when I spot a bargain price on cucumbers, I dive right in there – today I grabbed 4, just to last me ’till Friday or Saturday … πŸ™‚

The stacks and stacks of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables looked so gorgeous and irresistable that I just had to take some photos!!! πŸ˜›

It almost makes you want to pick one up and eat it like an apple, doesn’t ti?! πŸ˜€

I wonder why it is that potatoes which are still covered in their natural mud look so much more appealing and healthy?

So beautifully red!

Fresh nectarines – yum!!

Love this colour green!

I.Love.Cherries!!

My hubby’s favourite dessert at the moment is cherry pie! πŸ™‚

“I could just do with a big, juicy strawberry. Martin used to bring me strawberries.”

Anyone recognize that quote?!

Aren’t these little apricots so cute?!?

These watermelons are MAHOOSIVE!!! For England, anyway!! πŸ˜›

After admiring all those fresh vegetables and fruits, I felt inspired to make a truly delicious salad!

Lettice, cucumber (I had to really, didn’t I?!), tomato, pepper, radish, raw mushrooms, cheese, chicken, walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, topped of with a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a generous grinding of black pepper.

YUM!!!

Crispy, fresh, crunchy and completely tasty salad!!

Big sigh of contentment! πŸ™‚

What is your favourite kind of salad? Have you tried out any new ingredients recently?

My love affair with books

The steps I walked down during yesterday's adventure!

That’s right – many years ago I fell completely, deeply, irrevocably in love … with books!! πŸ˜€

I love them!

I love the look of them.

I love the feel of them.

I love the smell of new books as I ruffle through the pages.

I love the smell of old books when I walk into an old second-hand bookshop.

I love the sight of page after page of words, just waiting to draw me into their tale.

I love the sight of rows of books squeezed onto my bookcases.

I love walking into bookshops and libraries and being engulfed by that tantalising feeling of being wholly surrounded by 1000s of books in every imaginable – and unimaginable! – subject.

I love opening a book and stepping into another world.

I love the feeling that somehow, when reading a book, I now know the author a little.

I love getting lost in the pages of a gripping novel.

I love curling up on my sofa, cuddled under my favourite red blanket, and leaving behind, just for a while, the gloomy, gray Sunday afternoon.

I love the feeling of adrenaline that rushes through me as I hand over my money and get a book in return.

I love that books are not just books – they are a piece of the author’s life and they become a piece of my life.

Yes, I love them!

Looking back up the steps I'd just come down, I realised I'd have to climb UP those same steps to go home ... !!

So yesterday, when I needed to get out on a long walk and do something fun just for me, going to The Most Amazing Bookshop In My Town was an obvious choice!! πŸ˜›

I’ve been very good recently and not gone, as I know it is such a big temptation for me and it’s not like I actually need any new books right now – I have a few lined up to read and two lovely friends who have a number of books they are going to lend to me. So I haven’t been. The draw has been there. I have resisted.

Well, yesterday I needed to escape into something I love for a while and I felt like I needed a purpose for my walk. Yesterday the draw was there. Yesterday I gave in.

This bookshop is so amazing for lots of reasons, the first being – it’ s “free”!! Too good to be true, right?! πŸ˜‰ I mean, free books?!?

The way it works is that you can choose 3 books in a visit and you decide what amount of money you are going to give in exchange! You can take along your unwanted books (what are those, exactly?! πŸ˜› ) and dvds and donate them to the shop. All the staff are volunteers and once building costs, etc have been met, the rest of the money is used to buy school books to send to Africa, along with selections of books from the shop. Pretty cool huh? You get to buy books and support a charity at the same time! Win!! πŸ˜€

Me being the me I am, with tendencies to be beyond-unrealistically conscientious, I struggle to come to a reasonable decision about how much to pay … I try to go by what condition the book is in (some of them have the cover half-undeteched, crumpled pages and marks of unknown origin throughout!), how recently published it is and how big it is. I try to aim for 50p – Β£1 per book, or Β£1.50 for a big, hardback book in good condition. Is this stingy?!

A little corner of the shop ... just to give you a taste! πŸ™‚

Another reason this shop is amazing is that they leave you alone – if you need help, they give it, but otherwise, you can browse as long as you like without feeling the pressure to make a purchase and go. There are chairs around and upstairs there’s a big, old, cosy couch – an invitation to sit down and rummage through whatever book has grabbed your attention. The staff are friendly to customers and obviously get on with each other, as they chat back and forth while you’re there … making it feel more comfortable and more like a book-lovers-retreat then a business. You can stay as long as you like and read bits from as many books as you like – that’s fine!!

I came away, despite my best intentions, with three books. Yeah, I not only gave into going to this fantastic bookshop in the first place, I then gave in to buying some books … let’s just say that it’s a good job you can only buy three at a time … but hey, I have achieved a major and very important goal this week, so it was my little reward to myself!! πŸ™‚

Two of the books I found were by authors I have already read and like. When I spotted the first one, a crime/detective book by an author I have read twice and been entranced by, I was ecstatic!! πŸ˜› Then I spied the second book, which I never knew had been written! … this author sadly died at a young age and I thought she had published just three books – well, it turns out she published four … ’cause I found the forth, that I had no idea existed!!! πŸ˜€

The third book I selected has a title I had never heard mentioned before, written by an author I never knew existed. I like to do this – discover new writers. That is how I cam to find to find the authors I love reading again and again.Every time I open a book by someone I’ve never read before – it’s an adventure!! If the outline on the back of the book sounds good, I’ll give it a go! I have re-sold and given away a number of books, but I have found many, many gems – I have found way more than twice the number of gems than give-aways, so you know what? I continue, when money and time allow, to buy books I’ve never heard of, but sound amazing!! πŸ˜€

My mystery purchase - it sounds similar to 'The Thirteenth Tale', which I couldn't put down and thourghaly enjoyed! I started reading this today, and until the point where I fell into a nap ... I am entangled and can't wait to read the rest!! πŸ˜›

The next thing which makes this bookshop incredible is that it. is. stuffed. with. books. Every wall is covered in floor to ceiling bookcases. Books are packed in and then more books are fitted sideways on top of those books. The middle of the bottom floor has a row of chairs and low table, stacked any-how with books, more books stacked beside and underneath them and crammed into boxes in any spare inch. Upstairs, as well as shelves like below, there are boxes stacked up with books waiting to be investigated. The other thing I find upstairs is ancient books galore!! Copies of classics which must have been published in the 1800s/early 1900s – all leather-bound, gold writing, brown speckled pages and exuding in look and smell like history.

This is where you find an old diamond-paned casement window, the well-loved and worn sofa and where I found the following verses, which I copied from a Celtic Prayer Book …

God to enfold me, God to surround me,

God in my speaking, God in my thinking,

God in my sleeping, God in my waking,

God in my watching, God in my hoping,

God in my life, God in my lips,

God in my soul, God in my heart,

God in my sufficing, God in my slumber,

God in mine ever-living soul,

God in my eternity.

Carmia Gaedelica

As He is He was: as He was He is.

He shall be as He is and was,

the Eternal forever so be it Armen.

The Forever Eternal so be it Armen.

David Adam

Which is your favourite book-vendor, online or in-the-flesh? Why?

Do you buy what you know, or do you venture into the unknown?

Notes on three things … maybe more …

All who know me (and a lot of people who I’ve only come into contact with a few times) know that I am obsessed with dots!! Yup, that’s right! OBSESSED WITH DOTS! I love them. They’re brilliant. They’re perfect. They’re complete. In fact, I love them so much I even did a talk about them once, complete with a Powerpoint presentation!! πŸ™‚

Please, if you want to laugh, you have my full permission! You won’t be the first and no doubt not the last either! In fact, when I was giving my talk about dots, one of my fellow church-trainees was laughing so much that I had severe difficulty in controlling my voice!! Thanks Phil! πŸ˜€

So I’ve become somewhat notorious for having this unending fascination with all things dotty. I most definitely collect almost anything that has dots on them!! A couple of years ago for my birthday, one of my best friends gave me a teapot and matching cups that had on it – yup, that’s right … multi-coloured dots!

Now that so many people know about my not-so-little-obsession, it’s reaping benefits!! πŸ˜› On Sunday a friend from church gave me this amazing fabric, which she hadn’t used, but know I would love …

How amazingly cool is this fabric?!? Thank you so much Sarah!!! πŸ™‚

Not only does it have dots on it, but its red – my favourite colour! So perfect πŸ˜€

Now to decided what to make with it … cushion covers? Mmm, don’t think the hubby would like that much! … curtains? Nah, too much effort πŸ˜› … a bag? That’s quite an appealing idea … tea-towels? I’m not sure if it’s the right kind of fabric … a tablecloth? Wow, only just thought of that – could be really fun!! … ooooh, so many possibilities!! πŸ™‚

What do you suggest I should make out of my wonderful fabric?!?

Tonight I made that Butternut Squash and Couscous dish that I blogged about a couple of months ago. Not even when I made it for the first time did I follow the recipe, but tonight I made some more additions in the form of chickpeas, apricots and whole blanches almonds. These extra ingredients, along with a double-the-size pack of beef mince that I got reduced price today, has made a wonderfully big pan of yumminess to freeze in portions – just what I like to achieve at the end of a satisfying meal! πŸ™‚

The other addition I made to the dish this time around was a spice I discovered a few weeks ago, when I made a proper Moroccan tangine, that L had requested especially for Date Night. I actually followed this recipe properly, as I’d never made one of these before … well, almost … I think I substituted a different cut of meat or something … in my defense, most cuts of lamb are veeeerrrrryyyyy expensive, so beyond my food budget … that’s the excuse I’m sticking too anyway!! πŸ˜›

I had to go to a local small Middle Eastern food shop to get hold of this fascinating-sounding spice – Ras Al Hanout. The description I read of it made me particularly excited to obtain it: “… good mixes contain more than 20 different spices, including dried peppers, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, rose buds and lavender, but ras-el-hanout can contain up to 100 spices …” How amazing does that sound?!! (Yes, you may laugh at me again!! πŸ˜€ )

It turns out – it’s pretty darn tasty!! So I used it again tonight …

Quite an exotic-sounding name, isn't it? It has the most amazing smell too!!

What new ingredients have you been experimenting with recently?

I noticed an outragious price-difference today – I know there are more and more of these rapidly-increasing-prices right now, but this one in particular struck me as simply ridiculous!!

I use a lot of beans in my cooking – very yummy, very good for you, cheap and a good bulkier. Only the last time I went to buy chickpeas, from my used-to-be-always-shopped-there supermarket Sainsburys, I found out that all of a sudden, they were not all that cheap. They had risen from .52p per tin, (yes, I do buy them ready-cooked, simply because I would NEVER get around to boiling them for hours before I could actually use them in a dish … better to buy the tinned ones then never use them at all!! πŸ˜€ ) to Β£1 a tin!! Β£1?!?? So today I went into a different supermarket (Tesco)Β  – one which Sainsburys is always claiming to beat, or at least match,Β  price-wise – and I could get tinned chickpeas for .47p!! Go take a hike Sainsburys!!!

Nom, nom, nom!!

So my question is this, even though it goes totally against my usual nature to be thinking about this:

Should I make a complaint and point this out to Sainsburys? Should I provide them with the price difference between this item (and a few others!) and ask them – in the light of their promise that they are just cheap, if not cheaper – to lower their price on chickpeas?

Hmm, I’m getting shaky knees just at the idea of doing such a thing …