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! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ˜‰

My youngest sister had her 21st birthday!! Eeeek! Makes me feel old … πŸ˜‰ 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! πŸ˜› ) 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!! πŸ˜‰ 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! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ˜‰

I kind of went a bit over-board on the cooking front … not at all common forΒ  me πŸ˜‰ 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! πŸ˜‰

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! πŸ™‚ So simple!

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

I hope to be writing again soon!

What has happened in your August?

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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˜‰

Bargain Beef

I couldn’t resist telling you about this bargain I got the other day! You know how I love snapping up great deals in the reduced department of supermarkets, and this one was a triumph!

I got this stewing steak …

… for .95p!! .95p guys!! Reduced from Β£2.78p, well, that’s a bargain, right?!?

I fried chopped onions in butter, such a good smell!

I added the beef, which I cut into pieces, and cooked until just about sealed,

Then I added chopped garlic, potatoes and carrots.

I simmered it all up together, with flour, stock, herbs, red wine, Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree and a bit of sugar, not to mention salt and pepper …

I served it up with a soft white baguette and fresh (ish!) veggies – if L’s empty plate is anything to go by, it was a success! πŸ˜€

I put the rest of in the freezer to turn into a pie, which will easily give two portions.

So, would you agree with me? 95p for three meals is a pretty good bargain, yes or no?!?

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! πŸ˜‰

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! πŸ™‚

I fried in olive oil, addedΒ  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 … πŸ˜›

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 … πŸ˜‰

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 ofΒ  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! πŸ˜‰

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! πŸ˜‰

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

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?!

Talk of Haggis – Edinburgh Part 2

I’ve spent most of the last week and a half looking after a sick husband, who’s cold gave into a call for antibiotics – which, I can’t stop myself from mentioning, too a whole 2 hours (yes, that’s right! TWO HOURS!!) to get out of the pharmacy five minutes up the street … but that’s an entirely different story right there …

For now, let’s talk about Haggis.

The ingredients of this traditional Scottish dish might make the vegetarians ans squeamish among you … well, squirm.

Sheep liver, heart and lung is combined with onions, oatmeal and various herbs and spices, before being stuffed into a cooked sheep’s stomach and boiled for about 3 hours.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Traditionally served on Burn’s Night (a day in February which commemorates the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns) with “neeps and tatties” – mashed potatoes and sweed to us – Haggis is eaten all year round in Scotland.

Apparently it also makes up an essential part of a traditional Scottish cooked breakfast – being hungrily tucked into by my hubby, soon after he had given his 8:30am presentation at the conference! πŸ˜€

Whether or not this plate of Haggis, Black Pudding (blood pudding), sausage, bacon, beans, eggs and potato scone is genuinely a Scottish cooked breakfast, I’m not convinced about, as it was eaten in a Turkish greasy-spoon-cafe …

I didn’t consider myself equal to devouringΒ  a plate of Big Meat Breakfast, so I had my haggis with some toast – yes, I really do like Haggis!! πŸ˜› Cook it like a bugger, stuff it in a bread roll with cheese, ketchup and lettuce, don’t think about the ingredients and it’s amazing!! πŸ˜‰

Two wonderful things about this cafe: they gave you proper big mugs of tea, instead of a couple of mouthfuls in a little cup and they spelled toast “toasts”! πŸ™‚

For those of you are seriously beginning to doubt my good taste in food, presuming that you ever thought I had any in the first place! πŸ˜‰ …

That very same evening we had the most amazing steak, chips and grilled tomatoes with fiery peppercorn sauce for L and mushroom sauce for me – It. Was. Delicious.

This restaurant was one of the best I can remember visiting – a wonderful atmosphere, beautiful flowers, warm candles, red walls, quirky cellar building, live piano music and the most discreet staff ever!

I find it rather intimidating when the servers are constantly coming up and asking how your meal was and if we need anything else to drink! They stand around watching you and fiddling with other table settings and I find it impossible to relax, get very self-conscious and feel pressurized to leave as soon as possible – like I’m inconveniencing them by staying any longer after my last bite is swallowed. As you can tell, I have quite an opinion on this! πŸ˜‰

Ryan’s Bar wasn’t high-end dinning, or posh/formal, so there wasn’t an abundance of cutlery options, napkins laid on your knees by gloved waiters in tails (not the kind of establishment I’m in the habit of visiting by the way! :P), but on the other hand, we only ate there because we had a card which gave us two meals for the price of one!

The food was scrummy the wine was really tasty, but the service was truly outstanding!

They gave us a good while to read the menu and choose our drinks before asking what we wanted to order. They did ask which of us wanted to taste the wine (a custom in many English restaurants), but were relaxed enough to make a joke about it. They brought the meal promptly, only asked once if we liked the food, and the head waiter simply removed the empty wine bottle without comment as he kept walking past the table, so as not to interrupt our conversation – brilliant! I felt genuinely relaxed and they didn’t bring us the bill or come for payment until we asked, allowing us to stay and enjoy our time together and our wine without any pressure at all.

The live piano jazz was the perfect icing on a very yummy cake! πŸ˜‰

If you find yourself in Edinburgh, visit the cellar restraint part of Ryan’s Bar. Go on – you can see how loquacious I’ve got about it!! πŸ˜‰

Sausagey leftovers

Monday evening I cooked roasted sausages and vegetables with mashed potato.

I had three cooked sausages left over.

What was I going to do with them?

Call it snobbish/stuck-up of me if you like, but I decided that sausage sandwiches was just too boring – I’ve done that before and I wanted to create something more adventurous with my leftovers!

I took the sausages …

… and a good selection of veggies: onion, garlic, leek and carrot …

… and added a good dose of apple cider, which made the pan bubble into a foam!

After adding beef stock and simmering for a while, I stirred in whole grainΒ  mustard and tomato puree until I had a yummy gravy …

While my filling had been bubbling happily away on the hob, I had rubbed butter into flour and salt, added water and kneaded to a just-combined dough and chilled …

… I thoroughly enjoyed the rolling process (as I always do! πŸ™‚ ) …

… and ended up with a pastry-lined pie dish!! And yes, I am wearing purple catering gloves! πŸ˜‰ I have bad dermo-something skin on my hands, which makes them itchy, raw and cracked, so with food like chillies and onions, raw meat or anything with salt or lots of juice in, I wear gloves so I can at least cook without having hands burning and painful from contact with the food!! πŸ™‚

I ladled the sausage, vegetable and gravy filling into my dish, sealed a pastry lid over the top, sprinkled with herbs and grated cheese and popped it in the oven for 40 minutes.

My amazing, kind and generous Mother-In-Law brought us a massive grocery shop when she came to visit us a few weeks ago … this included a big bag of red potatoes … which last night I turned into potato wedges!

They turned out a lovely satisfying brown and crispy texture – yum!!

accompanied by some fresh vegetables …

… I served L up with this crispy, golden, leftover sausage pie!!

Yup, satisfied with my adventurous journey into Leftovers Land! πŸ˜‰