Saturday, January 30, 2010

Serendipity


I’ve been looking for a console table for our upstairs hallway for ages. I’ve actually got room for two large console tables up there along my very long walls, but I haven’t been able to find even one console table I really wanted at any price. (Except one in Harrods’ antique section, but as it cost as much as a small house it was sadly completely out of the question.)

Then, while looking through a Laura Ashley Home catalogue the other day, I found the “Garrat” chestnut coloured console table pictured above. Isn’t it pretty? It’s the perfect size for one of the walls plus with four drawers and two shelves, it’s the sort of piece of furniture that will be functional as well as beautiful.

I am rarely one to buy things without seeing them “in the flesh”, but I’ve got quite a few pieces of Laura Ashley furniture already, and I’m really pleased with them. As well as several pieces from their Balmoral range in the living room, they also custom made my living room sofas and chairs, plus a wonderful armchair in my library which I have had for nearly ten years now. Their quality is excellent and their customer service is very good too.

So I went online and had a look at the Laura Ashley website. It took me a few minutes to find the Garrat console table I was looking for, but when I did I had a wonderful surprise. It was in their winter sale, and priced at fifty percent off! Needless to say, I ordered it immediately!!

So in less than six weeks, it should be making itself at home in my upstairs hallway. I just know it is going to look really beautiful there and the best part is, for once, I’ve come in under budget!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's© Easy Supper Omelettes


Although traditionally for breakfast, omelettes make a really tasty supper. They are quick, easy, nutritious and economical too.

I used to struggle to make omelettes as I’m not terribly good at complicated flipping manoeuvres, but I’ve found another method that works for me. Instead of trying to turn the omelette, I cook the top under the broiler or grill and then all I have to do is fold it in half, which even I can manage!

Most kids love omelettes, particularly if you let them choose what goes in them. Typical fillings of ham, cheese and chopped tomato are all kid friendly, and I always put the ketchup bottle on the table. I have to admit I’ve always liked a bit of ketchup on omelettes – except some of the more exotic ones!

That is the beauty of omelettes; they can be so simple, or they can be really special. The other night I made roasted vegetable omelettes for dinner and I got tons of compliments. I already had the roasted vegetables on hand and served them with hash brown potatoes, but you could serve them with a nice big salad if you prefer. Either way there is very little effort involved (okay, I admit it, I used ready-made frozen hash browns!).

If you need to make several omelettes, they will keep warm in a low oven so you can serve them all at once, although they taste best served immediately. It all depends on how many oven-safe frying pans you have. I find my ten-inch Tefal frying pans work really well, and the omelettes I make in those using the recipe below will serve a hungry adult or two children.

Filling suggestions are below the main recipe. I highly recommend adding just a pinch of dried oregano to the basic mixture. I would never have thought about using it, but on our last visit to Cyprus the chef made omelettes to order in front of us at the breakfast buffet and he made a big deal about always throwing a bit of oregano in the mixture before he cooked it. It makes the omelettes taste really wonderful.

To make one large omelette you need:-
2 to 3 eggs
1 tablespoon milk
a handful of grated cheddar, Gruyere, Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese
other filling ingredients*
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of good dried oregano (optional)
 
see below

Heat a small oven safe non-stick pan on the stove top.  Turn the broiler/grill portion of your oven to medium. 
 
Lightly beat the eggs and milk together.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the egg mixture into the hot non-stick pan.  Gently pull the edges of the egg mixture towards the centre of the pan with a non stick egg lifter (often called a ‘slice’ in England) so that you get a nice flat omelette. Now put your choice of filling ingredients on half of the omelette and then sprinkle cheese over the whole thing. Let it cook for a couple of minutes.
 
Lift a corner of the omelette and have a peak at it.  If the bottom is nice and brown, it’s time to transfer it to the grill.  If not, watch and wait for a couple more minutes until the bottom of the omelette is a nice golden brown colour. 
 
Transfer the pan from the stove top to under the grill.  Watch the omelette carefully.  When it starts to brown and puff up, remove it from the oven and fold it in half using the egg lifter.  Serve and enjoy!

*Fillings

ham, chopped tomato, canned niblet corn, any frozen vegetable (including mixed vegetables), thawed

canned artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained and chopped or frozen artichoke hearts thawed and cut in bite size pieces along with canned or bottled roast peppers

roasted vegetables – I almost always keep roast vegetables in the fridge.  They are so easy to make.  Simply cut up a red onion, two or three multi-coloured peppers and a zucchini (courgette).  Toss them in about two tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and roast in a hot oven for about thirty to forty minutes - stirring occasionally - until the vegetables are softened and golden, but not charred.  You can read my previous entries about roast vegetables by clicking here.  These can be used immediately or cooled and stored in the refrigerator for three or four days. 

Asparagus (used canned or frozen out of season)

I’ve linked this post up with Friday Food over at Momtrends, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, and Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s blog. Pop on over and say hello.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Family Food History and Recipe Project



Like most people, I have a lot of family recipes scattered throughout my home in recipe books and files. I’ve also got my Mom’s own recipe box, which I “helped” her to organise when I was a little girl. It’s funny, she never changed the green plastic file box she had her recipes in. I made her one of those labels for it using a Dymo embosser, painstakingly punching out “Barbara’s Recipe Box” with my tongue firmly clenched between my front teeth. When I brought the box home after she died, I had to carefully extract the recipes which due to their sheer number had become quite literally stuck in the box. I moved them to a bigger file box (above left), but aside from referring to ones I knew were there, I have not really touched it since her death. I got thinking about it the other day and realised I was probably emotionally ready to go back through Mom’s files and find some of the dishes I have forgotten about - and also the ones that are lost in a fog of delicious memory - the ones I can just about taste, but really can’t name.



I also inherited my Dad’s recipe collection, a large number of clippings and notes encased in a copy of ‘The Microwave Guide and Cookbook’ and secured with an elastic band. Both my parents were very good cooks, and my Dad did a lot more than just barbecue, although that was definitely one of his specialities. Wholeheartedly embracing the trend towards microwave cooking in the late 1970’s, our first microwave oven even had a spit for cooking meat in it, and my Dad had an incredible knack for making it taste like it had been slow roasting for hours.

And then there is my stuff. More notebooks than I’d care to count and more than one bookshelf full of cookbooks are just the beginning. I love to cook, and in the past few years have become really adept at developing my own recipes, but I still read cookbooks like they were novels and love to make other people’s recipes too.


These are just a few of my notebooks. The two on the right I have had since I was in my late teens, and the blue book on the top left is one made by my husband and his sister when they were little, containing lots of recipes from his side of the family. In addition, most of my notes for recipes I have developed myself are on my MacBook. So if I seem a little daunted, it’s probably partially because of the sheer volume of the task I am taking on, but mainly because of how important I believe this task is. Nowhere is our family history evidenced more thoroughly than in our attitudes towards and experience of food, and our traditions round it.

It’s a task I have wanted to undertake for a while now and I’m going to blog about it from time to time over the next few months. As I find some of my old family favourites I will share them with you, along with anecdotes about the people who developed them. I’ll also test and experiment with some of the recipes I don’t remember in the hopes of reviving some old favourites.



There’s a lot of newspaper clippings both in my Mom’s recipe box and in Dad’s makeshift recipe file. I’m really intrigued by these and look forward to testing some of the recipes. This one is from the Hamilton Spectator dated Friday June 22, 1956. I was not born yet; in fact it was before my parents got married. The recipe is for Sweet-Sour Spareribs, but the whole thing is a real piece of the past, with a snippet of an article ‘Report Three Polio Cases During Week‘ just visible at the bottom. I can just read the words “Weekly telegraphic reports from the provinces showed only one paralytic case...” It was such a terrifying disease then. The recipe sounds good though, and I will definitely be giving it a try. It’s more basic than the ones we see in the amazing Chinese cookbooks available today, but it sounds yummy (and pretty easy too).

I’m going to put this post on my food blog Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen as well, and you’ll be able to follow my family food history project over there too if you like. I hope it will encourage you to delve into your own family food history. It can be a great conversation starter between generations and you could even involve your kids. After all, most everyone likes to talk about food and to eat!

I’ll be back tomorrow, attending the Friday blog parties as usual, but for now I’m off to spend a couple hours on this new project. Please drop me an email or comment if you decide to research your own family food history; I’d love to hear about your progress!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's© Sausages and Mash with Onion Gravy


This is a very simple supper that just about everyone loves here in England and I found that it was pretty popular when I made it in North America too! Of course, it is “just sausages and mashed potato” but properly done it can be something really special. The key is to choose really good, meaty sausages, preferably from your butcher. I make the recipe extra easy by baking the sausages, so no standing around by a frying pan, and I find the sausages cook more evenly too. “Aside from having to peel the potatoes, “mash” is pretty easy to make as well.

It is a very quick meal to cook; the whole process only takes about forty minutes. It is fairly hands on during that time, but everything is really easy to do so it is fairly stress-free meal to prepare.

Allow two to three sausages per person depending on age and appetite. Although onions are not normally considered to be kid-friendly, these are slowly sautéed with balsamic vinegar and end up tasting really sweet, so if your kids like normal gravy they should love this. However you can always serve this with ketchup if they prefer; it tastes great too!

This can be a very budget friendly meal as well, particularly if you buy good quality sausages in bulk. If you bake extra sausages, allow them to cool and refrigerate; they make wonderful sandwiches reheated the following day. Just warm them though and pop them into soft bread rolls with lashings of ketchup. Or if you have extra gravy, pop it in the fridge and serve the left-over sausages hot in crusty rolls with a bit of re-warmed gravy over top.

I’ve actually served this at dinner parties, having just added a bit of Madeira, port or sherry to the gravy and using light cream or half and half instead of milk in the mashed potatoes. It feels like cheating, but everyone always raves about how great it is to have “comfort food”!

2 to 3 beef or pork sausages per person
(vegetarians can of course use vegetarian sausages but cook according to package directions)
2 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large potato (or 2 medium) per person
2 generous tablespoons of butter
enough milk or cream to moisten the potatoes (usually about ¼ to ½ cup)
salt and pepper to taste
2 large mild onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 generous tablespoons flour
1 to 1½ cups beef stock (you may need a little more or less)
¼ cup Madeira, port or sherry (purely optional!)

Place the sausages in a casserole dish (use two if you have lots of sausages) and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Bake at 350℉ or 170℃, turning at least once, until the sausages are cooked through. This usually takes thirty to forty minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. Sauté the onions over medium heat. Keep an eye on them and stir frequently. You want them to cook slowly, and not brown, so if you need to, turn the heat down.

While the sausages and onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and cut in medium size pieces. Place in a saucepan and fill with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for about fifteen to twenty minutes or until the potatoes are soft enough to mash.

Mash the potatoes with butter and milk or cream, adding salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.

Now, back to the gravy. Turn the heat up a bit on the onions and add the balsamic vinegar. Stirring constantly, allow it to reduce a bit. Turn the heat back to medium and then sprinkle over the flour and stir through the onions. Cook for a couple moments. Now gradually add the beef stock, a bit at a time, stirring and allowing to thicken after each addition. If you want to use the Madeira, port or sherry, stir it in after two or three additions of stock. You want a fairly thick, but still very pourable, gravy.

Check the sausages are done by cutting into one of them, or by using a meat thermometer. They should have an internal temperature of at least 320℉ or 160℃.

Serve the sausages beside (or on a bed of) mashed potatoes, topped with the gravy. I always like to have some gravy on the side in a gravy boat as well so people can add more. I usually serve a green vegetable too – frozen peas are easy, quick and taste lovely!

I’ve linked this post up to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed with Grace, Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff and Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam. Thanks to all these great blogs for hosting. Do go and visit them for some great recipe ideas!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Place to Rest, Read and Dream




I think every house should have at least one cozy corner where you feel invited to take the weight off your feet and sit down with a cup of tea and a book. This is one of them in my house.

Blue is my all time favourite colour, and I am particularly fond of this blue and cream sofa. We had it made for the living room in our previous home. I think that was my favourite room ever - decorated in French regency style. The curtains, which had gorgeous fabric pelmets, matched the sofa. Then we had plain blue armchairs accented with pillows in the sofa/curtain fabric.

When we moved to our new house two years ago, the living room was a different layout and we realised we needed to start afresh. Plus the chairs were getting very faded and needed re-covering. But there was no way I was parting with my favourite sofa! Luckily, this house has a wonderful kitchen. It’s really big, and as well as space for a sideboard, kitchen table, chairs, lots of cupboards and an island, I also have a corner surrounded by windows that is perfect for a cozy corner. And from the very first moment this sofa just looked like it belonged there.

So I chose curtains and blinds to compliment it and it has lived in this very spot ever since. It is one of my favourite places to sit, and visitors always seem to like to come and sit in here too - despite plenty of other places to sit in our house! It really is the perfect place to read, chat or just sit and dream.

Oh, and if you are wondering what happened to the blue chairs, I gave them to friends, who have used them to make cozy corners of their own!

And as this little bit of my home is blue, I have linked this post up with Blue Monday over at Smiling Sally’s Blog.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An Oddly Lovely Vegetable


This cute little guy arrived in my organic vegetable box yesterday morning, and according to the newsletter that came with it, it’s a “Festival Squash”. What a great name.

There are a lot of things you can do with squash, and although I never liked it as a child, I quite enjoy the taste of it now. Trouble is, this one is so beautiful - such a sunny yellow with gorgeous orange stripes (kind of like a cute little baby pumpkin) I don’t think I could possibly eat it. Maybe I’ll just use it as a decoration...

Or maybe I’ll carefully cut the top off and hollow it out. Next I could sauté the squash flesh with some onion, simmer it all together with some stock, season and purée it. Then I could gently warm the squash shell in the oven and use it as a serving dish for the soup. Beautiful!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pork Tenderloin on Rice with a Mustard Cream Sauce


Pork tenderloin is a wonderful cut of meat. It’s lean and low in fat, and you can so do many different things with it. When I’m buying it I prefer to buy more than I need for just one meal. It’s usually cheaper that way and anyway, pork tenderloin is a great thing to have as leftovers. Among other things you can make really lovely hot supper sandwiches with it, serve it re-heated with spicy onion gravy or you can make it into something very special by preparing this quick and easy dinner with it!

To serve four people you need:-

1 tablespoon oil
1 red pepper, de-seeded and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 heaped tablespoons flour
about 1½ cups milk
1 generous tablespoon whole grain or Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon paprika
about 2 cups cooked pork tenderloin, cubed
¾ cup frozen peas
1 bunch scallions (spring onions), washed and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
enough rice for four, cooked according to package instructions

In a small frying pan, heat the oil and gently sauté the pepper over a low to medium heat.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Now add the milk, a bit at at time, whisking constantly. As the sauce begins to thicken after each addition of milk, add a little bit more, but go carefully - you may not need the whole amount. When the sauce is a nice creamy consistency, stir in the mustard, paprika, cubed pork tenderloin, sautéed red peppers and frozen peas.

Heat gently over medium heat, stirring frequently and adding a bit more milk if the mixture begins to thicken too much. When the pork is heated through and the peas are cooked, stir in the scallions (spring onions). Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste if you wish.

Serve over the hot, cooked rice.

I’ve linked the original of this post from my main website The 21st Century Housewife up with Foodie Friday over at Designs by Gollum, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Friday Food over at Momtrends and Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s blog. Do go on over and say hello!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Work in Progress



When we bought the curtains and furniture for our living room two years ago I really stepped outside my comfort zone. For the first time ever I decided to use the colour red in decorating. I don’t know why I had always been afraid to use it before, but I’m really glad I used it this time.

So it wasn’t all too much, the interior designer from Laura Ashley recommended we use some creamy beiges to offset the red. Our carpets throughout the house are all beige anyway - which may have been a mistake as I am getting to the stage that I think I may need to replace some of it in the higher traffic areas, but never mind. They look lovely, it’s just hell keeping them clean.

Anyway, back to the living room. Although I was really happy with it, the interior designer I used was kind of inexperienced. While everything looked nice, it seemed almost like something was missing.

So recently I bought a really pretty red vase to go on the fireplace, and changed the things I had put on the mantle. I also replaced the white candles (see above) with red ones (see below).



It has made a real difference! I love the Family Unity statue by Brian Mukoka that my friend gave me for Christmas (on the left), and also the paperweight on the right which was a tenth wedding anniversary present from my cousins.

I also managed to find some more cushions and a throw which have helped to brighten up the rest of the room.

Before

After

Before

After

But this room, like the rest of my house, is very much a work in progress. This is our third new-build house so I’m used to ‘magnolia’ (British builders’ fancy word for beige) walls, but it’s definitely time to start looking at paint and wall coverings. I’m encouraged by what I have managed to find in terms of accessories and soft furnishings this last couple weeks, but I’m keen to make this room really flow and also to make it feel a bit warmer. I’m also on the lookout for a throw rug for the middle of the room - you can see in the first photo on this page that the room is crying out for one.

But slowly, slowly we are getting there. I can’t wait till it all comes together. But let’s face it, there really is no great big rush. Houses, like people, take time to get to know. The longer you spend with them, the more you understand what makes them tick, and the more comfortable you become with them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

Today we were scheduled to travel up to the Midlands for an appointment. We awoke to snow. In most places this would not be a problem, but this is England. Here, any form of extreme weather has the potential to cause chaos. This is the land of traffic jams thirty miles long and forty mile journeys that take six hours. In short, it’s a place where you think twice about setting out on a long journey if the weather is looking a bit off, and particularly if huge great fluffy flakes of snow are falling from the sky and not melting when they hit the ground.

What does not help is the propensity for the media to blow any story about the weather completely out of proportion. For the last two days, my local radio station ran “It’s going to snow on Wednesday” as a separate news item - not as part of the weather report. So when I awoke to a traffic report that suggested it was going to take a heck of a long time to get anywhere and “who knows, it will probably get worse”, I probably should have taken it with a grain of salt, but it worried me nonetheless.

You see, I am a planner. I schedule nearly everything. (The thought of being without my iPhone with its calendar makes me break out in a cold sweat.) The positive side to this is that I am nearly always in the right place at the right time. The downside is that when I do have to deviate from my schedule, it makes me distinctly uncomfortable. I do not cancel appointments willy nilly. Even if it is something I really do not want to do, I will be there, on time.

In the spirit of this, I was pretty darn determined my son and I were still heading up to the Midlands today, particularly as our journeys up to the Midlands are usually quite good fun, so much so that I look forward to them. I even debated taking the train. (To the point my son walked off in frustration saying “First it’s the car, then the train, then the car...what are we doing???”) But then even bigger flakes of snow began to fall and an attempt to leave in the car revealed that the roads were really slippery. It wasn’t the getting up to the Midlands I was worried about, it was the coming home.

I thought about what things were like on the roads and the trains the last time we had snow. And as my husband had already suggested (rather strongly) that heading anywhere more than a few miles away - and where we were going is nearly 150 - really wasn’t a good idea, I thought about what he would say if I did get stuck or have an accident. Then I thought about what five hours in a car on a motorway miles from any toilets would be like - or how awful being stuck on a train for hours somewhere in the middle of nowhere would be. And I caved and came back home.

And it kept on snowing....


until just a few minutes after I phoned to cancel the appointment and my son was dropped at the train station to go to college.


Then it started to melt as it fell.


“The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” Robert Burns

(Although the poem this quotation is taken from was written with a political intention, it is a beautiful one if you take it just as it reads, as an apology from a farmer to a mouse for turning over her nest with a plough. To read it, click here. (I particularly like it written in dialect - what a wonderful word is “beastie” when referring to a mouse!) Robert Burns Day - and particularly Burns Night - is celebrated on 25th January each year in Scotland and throughout the world with haggis, traditional Scottish food and whisky. It’s quite good fun, but I’m afraid I always have to pass on the haggis!)

The 'N' Word

I really enjoy my Pilates class on Tuesdays. There are usually only about five of us, and we have some really great conversations. Today the issue arose about what to say when you are asked to do something you really do not want to do. We all agreed that we were not very good at saying “no” and that we often ended up agreeing to do things we really did not want to. We also all felt we had to provide a reason if we did use the dreaded ‘n’ word.

I suppose this isn’t surprising. Although “no” is one of the words we often hear as children, it’s usually a word we are discouraged from using. I can remember getting into a lot of trouble saying ‘no’ when I was a kid. We are taught from an early age that except in cases of emergency, the word ‘no’ is not one you should use very often.

Now all the ladies in the class are really wonderful, but one of us is quite amazing. She’s one of those people who is so full of life and energy it is pretty impossible not to be inspired by her. She a great grandmother, but thinks nothing of jetting off to Malaysia, Poland or China at short notice and seems to take just about everything in her stride. She also looks so young that we are all convinced that she is fibbing when she says she is 76.

This lady maintains that no one should have to make excuses for saying ‘no’ if that is what they felt is appropriate in the circumstances, nor should they have to explain themselves. It’s excellent advice. Seriously, why should you have to explain yourself if you choose to refuse to do something? Then she told us about an old Quaker expression that is still used quite a lot today. It’s “I’m sorry, but I am prevented”.

We were all really taken with this. Let’s face it, unless someone knows you very well indeed, they are unlikely to ask you exactly how you are prevented. Also, the use of an unexpected word - in this case ‘prevented’ - can often throw people off balance. This can buy you time to either change the subject, or get the heck out of there. It’s a definitive, yet not unkind way to say ‘no’, ‘absolutely not’ and ‘forget it’ all rolled into one.

I am definitely going to give it a try next time I am tempted to over-commit - something I do much more often than I’d like to admit!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Making Me Smile on Monday

Mondays can be hard work, and this one has been a bit of a doozy. Nothing serious, you understand, just quite a lot going on all at once plus having to deal with a couple of things I would not have minded missing out on completely. Typical Monday for most folks really. But I have so much to be grateful for! Here are some of the things that made me smile today.


These daffodils are blooming in a container on our patio - despite the fact there is still some snow scattered around and it’s pretty darn cold out there.




I found this gorgeous blue pitcher and matching bowl in the January sales on Saturday. They are by Swedish Grace and both retail at £52 each in House of Fraser. They are the perfect colour for my kitchen and they were marked down to less than £17 each. I wasn’t even looking in the china department - I was actually lining up to pay for some sheets. One of the sales people opened up another till in the china department and asked me to come over. There they were sitting there like some had just left them waiting for me :)


When I got them home I found they matched the blue in my kitchen curtains and blinds perfectly!


I finally found some letters to decorate with in the main “family bathroom”. At first my husband thought I was crazy, but now even he sees how cute they are. And at under £10 they were a real bargain!

Oh, and while I was sorting through some old papers, I found a photo of my Grandpa and Grandma’s wedding day. I scanned it into iPhoto and enhanced it a bit, and now look! What a beautiful couple they made.



Just a few things to make me smile in the middle of a very chaotic day. Hope they encourage you to be on the lookout for things that make you smile too!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's© Chicken with White Wine and Leek Sauce


Leeks have quite a reputation. Many people consider them a bit of an odd vegetable, quite difficult to clean, hard to use, and mostly pretty expensive. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Leeks are wonderful, really mild and delicious, and contrary to popular belief they are not at all difficult to prepare. In years gone by, leeks used to be very dirty when they came in from the fields, but now they are usually pre-washed before they get to the shops so cleaning them at home is a much easier undertaking. Leeks can be expensive (not always, but sometimes) but you usually only need three or four of them for a recipe so it shouldn’t break the bank.

To prepare leeks, simply cut off the dark green ends. You want to use the white bit, and a bit of the pale green part, but where it starts to get really green, it gets tough - so cut that part off. You also want to cut off the very bottom bit, where you can see the roots were. Thoroughly rinse and dry the outside of the leeks, and if they are very dirty, remove one layer of skin. Now lay the leeks on a cutting board and slice them very thinly. Put the sliced leeks in a large bowl and rinse in cold water two or three times, using a colander to drain them briefly between rinses. When there is no longer any dirt visible, drain the leeks thoroughly. That’s all there is to it.

This recipe is an easy way to make chicken taste really special. I use chicken breasts, but there is no reason why you could not use this sauce with roasted chicken pieces. I like to bake my chicken in the oven, just drizzled with a bit of olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. If you are using chicken breasts, you can start the sauce about fifteen to twenty minutes after you have put them in the oven to bake, but chicken pieces take longer so I would probably start after twenty-five to thirty minutes.

Sorry to be bossy, but please use a white wine that you would be prepared to drink from a glass for this sauce, and don’t ever use anything labeled “cooking wine” in any recipe. “Cooking wine” tastes just awful, even cooked. On a slightly less bossy note, it’s nice to drink the same wine you used in the recipe when you are eating the finished dish! By the way, don’t worry about serving a dish with this small amount of wine in it to children. The vast majority of the alcohol cooks off when you are reducing the wine anyway, but the wine still gives the sauce a gorgeous flavour.

The recipe make enough sauce for 4 to 6 chicken breasts or a similar number of chicken pieces and makes a wonderful family meal.

4 to 6 chicken breasts or an assortment of chicken pieces drizzled with a bit of olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 to 4 leeks, finely sliced, washed and drained
¼ cup good white wine
2 generous tablespoons flour
1-¼ to 1-½ cups milk
½ cup frozen peas
salt and pepper

Bake the chicken in a hot oven (about 375℉ or 190℃) until done. Chicken breasts take about thirty minutes; chicken pieces will take longer. When cooked, the meat should have an internal temperature of at least 330℉ or 165℃ and there should be no pink meat remaining at all.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the drained leeks and stir to coat with the butter. Fry gently for three or four minutes until softened.

Add the white wine, turn up the heat and allow the wine to reduce for a minute or so. Turn the heat back to medium, and sprinkle the flour over top of the leeks, stirring to coat them thoroughly. Cook gently, stirring constantly, for a minute or two.

Gradually add the milk, a bit at a time, stirring after each addition. As the sauce thickens, add a bit more milk, continuing to stir. You want the sauce to be fairly thick, so that it stays on the chicken when you pour it over top (not runny like gravy) but not too thick or “gloopy”. (You may not need all the milk, or you may find you need a tiny bit more. Just go carefully.)

When the sauce has reached a nice consistency, lower the heat and stir in the frozen peas. Cook for two or three minutes, still continuing to stir the sauce regularly, until the peas are heated through. If the sauce has thickened a bit more, you can always add a tiny bit more milk and stir it through.

Serve the sauce over the chicken with extra in a sauceboat on the side so people can add more if they like.

I served this with roast potatoes and turnip when my son photographed it, but it would be really lovely served on a bed of rice as well.

I’m linking this post up to Foodie Friday on Designs by Gollum, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Food on Fridays over at Ann Kroeker’s Blog and Friday Food over at Momtrends.

Thanks to everyone who entered the Le Creuset Giveaway. The winner was Joyce from the Flour Power blog. Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sweet Irony

By the time I was ten years old I was a child in a woman’s body. There were absolutely no advantages to this. My burgeoning bosom attracted jeers from my contemporaries and my blossoming hips meant I got called every imaginable name - “lard ass” being the one I hated most. My hips were the bane of my existence and I started my first diet before my eleventh birthday.

By the time I was twelve I thought I looked pretty loathsome. What is incredible is that if you look at photographs of me at that time, I actually had quite a nice figure - a bit on the voluptuous side, and strangely womanly for a twelve year old, but quite well balanced and certainly not fat. I, however, believed myself to be huge and my contemporaries’ bewilderment at my womanly shape meant I was teased relentlessly. I prayed daily to lose weight and in particular, to have a smaller bottom. I dieted obsessively, and developed a relationship with food that was utterly dysfunctional. By the time I was fifteen I was flirting with anorexia, and by sixteen, we were going steady.

I got really, really thin. You could see my collarbones and my ribs and I got light-headed every time I stood up. I weighed just over ninety-five pounds, and my waist was less than twenty-two inches around. Still, in comparison to the rest of my visibly skinny body, my hips were voluptuous. It was beyond frustrating and made me eat even less. But the sad death of singer Karen Carpenter’s in 1983 made me realised that if I didn’t stop starving myself, anorexia could kill me too, so my body and I developed an uneasy peace and I eventually returned to a more normal weight.

I still hated my hips though, and over the next twenty years, pregnancy and getting a bit older meant that they didn’t get any smaller. Even today, when I am more active than I have ever been, practicing yoga and Pilates regularly and working out at least three times a week, my hips still make me sigh. I’m pretty happy with my shape in general now, and my tummy is really flat, but if only my hips were a bit smaller! Nothing I do seems to budge even an inch off them.

But today I am vindicated, and today I understand why the good Lord refused to answer my prayers. As always, He had my best interests at heart. Ladies, if you are pear shaped too, read this article from the BBC and rejoice!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8451674.stm

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My International Store Cupboards


When I first came to England back in 1989, it was nigh on impossible to get any of my favourite things from “back home” in the grocery store - or anywhere else for that matter! Even maple syrup was pretty much impossible to find, and cost prohibitive if you ever did manage to locate it. So whenever we visited Canada or the US, I’d bring things back with me. (I was always very careful only to import legal foodstuffs of course!) My parents would also bring things with them when they came to visit - their suitcases often containing more treats for me than clothes for them.

Nowadays, it is a different story. Maple syrup is readily available in grocery stores, and even things like Bisquick and Stove Top stuffing can be obtained from some retailers. For trickier items, there are websites who specialise in importing the things folks miss from their home countries, and selling them on at a rather inflated but gratefully accepted prices. They are especially handy for things like dill pickles and corn syrup, both things that I would never consider carrying in a suitcase, but two of the things I miss the most. Just imagine what would happen to your clothes if a container of either of those broke!

Although there are many attempts at “dill pickles” in British grocery stores, I have never, ever found dill pickles that taste like the real thing to me anywhere outside of North America. And you can substitute Lyle’s Golden Syrup, a perennial British classic, for corn syrup in most recipes, nut I really can tell the difference. And then there are those things you just can’t buy here - like Sweet Green Pickle relish. A popular UK pickle manufacturer, Branston, briefly flirted with a very good British version of this, but apparently it did not sell well and it soon disappeared off the shelves, much to the disappointment of my whole family.

You see, although my husband is British, he lived in the US for several years while he was growing up. As for our son, he spent so much time visiting his lovely Grandparents in Canada while he was growing up, he got used to a lot of North American favourites. I found some Rocky Mountain marshmallows in Costco the other day (thank goodness Costco are over here too) and he held them hostage until I promised we would make Rice Krispies Squares! Proper North American marshmallows are hard to find over here too. I can’t quite put a finger on how, but the ones made over here are just somehow different.

This is in no way a criticism of British food, the majority of which I have come to know and love over the last twenty years. There is nothing like a cup of proper British tea and the British version of Heinz Baked Beans is by far my favourite. I prefer yogurt made in England to the sort available in North America, Branston Pickle is amazing, and some of the chutneys and sauces over here are so delicious I can hardly begin to describe them. British food and ingredients are wonderful. In fact, it always made me smile that after a few years I began taking some of my parent’s British favourites over to them in my suitcase when we visited!

But if you open up my food cupboards, you will find Skippy peanut butter sitting next to Derbyshire honey, Jell-O pudding near the Hartley’s gelatine and Oreos on the same shelf as Hovis or McVities Digestive Biscuits. There are dill pickles, sweet pickle relish and maple syrup in my fridge. I go to great lengths - and expense - to be sure there is always a tin of Tim Horton’s coffee around, as well as my favourite North American baking ingredients - from corn syrup to cornmeal.

My store cupboard, as well as the things I make in my kitchen, will always have an international flavour. It just goes to show, you can take the girl out of Canada, but you can’t take the Canadian out of the girl!


By the way, I’m participating in Tasty Tuesday, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday and Tuesdays at the Table today over on the Recipe of the Week page at my site The 21st Century Housewife. Do go and visit!

Monday, January 11, 2010

And the Winner Is...


I had a great response to the Le Creuset Oval Casserole Giveaway sponsored by

Cookware.com

The winner (chosen by a random number generator) is the 276th entry -

Joyce Barocas of Atlanta, Georgia, author of the Flour Power blog.

Congratulations to Joyce and many thanks to everyone who entered!!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Pesto Crusted Fish with Roasted Vegetable Couscous


I’ve recently developed this new fish recipe and as it is a Friday I thought I’d share it. Fish is good for you, and provided you buy products that have been sustainably fished, it is good for the environment too. (According to UN estimates, meat production accounts for nearly one-fifth of manmade greenhouse gases.) Although “fresh” fish (which is often previously frozen and thawed under controlled conditions anyway) can be expensive, frozen fish is often a very good buy. I can get a big pack of sustainably fished cod loins really reasonably at Costco, and they are suitable for cooking straight from frozen.

Cooking time for fish will vary, depending on whether it is cooked from fresh or frozen, and how thick the fish is. A general guide is that when fish is cooked it should no longer be opaque and it will flake easily with a fork. The timings I have listed here are for my “cook from frozen” cod loins which are fairly thick as well. So go carefully, as overcooked fish is not nice - but then neither is undercooked fish :). Also oven temperatures can vary pretty radically oven to oven, so the first time you make this recipe, just keep an eye on it and go carefully. You can always turn the heat down a bit if things seem to be cooking too fast.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients; this recipe is so delicious it is well worth the trouble, and it really does not take very long to put together. If red or yellow peppers are too expensive, you can use green bell peppers instead, or even some roasted red peppers from a jar (don’t roast the jarred peppers though, just heat them through with the couscous at the end of cooking). Same thing goes for the red onion - a plain onion will do nicely if the red ones are pricey.

My family love this recipe, but I love the fact that it is special enough for company too. It’s easily doubled if you have extra guests.

For the fish:-
4 cod or haddock loins, filleted, bones removed
(fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons prepared basil pesto from a jar
2 tablespoons matzo meal (or bread crumbs)
drizzle of olive oil
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

For the vegetables:-
1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped in medium pieces
1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and chopped in medium pieces
1 zucchini, chopped in half moons
(cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, and then slice)
1 small red onion, peeled and cut in eighths
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Enough couscous for 4 people, prepared according to package directions.

4 large squares of aluminum foil

Start with the vegetables – place the peppers, zucchini and onion in a roasting dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss to cover. Place in the oven and roast at 400℉ (200℃) for about twenty-five minutes, stirring once half way through.

Meanwhile, mix the pesto, matzo meal and lemon rind together in a small bowl. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into the mixture and stir.

Place each cod loin on a square of aluminum foil, skin side down. Sprinkle a bit of lemon juice over each piece. Using a spoon and your fingers, gently press the pesto mixture on to the top of the fish. Seal the aluminum foil up round each piece in a package shape. (Don’t press the foil down on to the fish or topping.) Place the fish parcels on a baking sheet and bake at 400℉ or 200℃ for about ten to fifteen minutes.

At this point, remove the fish from the oven and open the top of the parcels, leaving the foil open. Return to the oven so that the fish can finish cooking and the pesto crust can brown a little. This will take about five to ten minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish and whether it was fresh or frozen to start with. The fish is done when it is no longer opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

If the vegetables have finished cooking before the fish, just remove them from the oven and cover with aluminum foil and a clean tea towel to keep warm.

Prepare enough couscous for four people according to package directions. (This should normally take about five minutes.) Mix the couscous and roasted vegetables together (including any remaining oil in the roasting pan), and divide between four plates.

When it is fully cooked, serve the pesto crusted fish on top of the roasted vegetable couscous.

By the way, this is your last chance to enter the Le Creuset Giveaway I’m running in partnership with Cookware.com.
So if you live in the United States or Canada and haven’t entered yet, get those entries in! For a chance to win a lovely oval Le Creuset casserole, just send an email to april@21stcenturyhousewife.com with “Le Creuset Giveaway” in the subject line by Sunday 10th January. I’ll be announcing the winner here on Monday so watch this space!

I’m joining in the Friday recipe swaps again this week - Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Food on Friday at Ann Kroeker’s Blog, and Friday Food over at Momtrends.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Big Freeze



The United Kingdom is in the worst cold snap since the 1960’s, and we have had more snow than we have seen in over twenty years. Coming from Canada, I’m quite used to snow - and cold for that matter - but it is entirely different situation here, mainly because we don’t have the resources to cope with it.

To give you an idea, the county council for our area - an area of over 400 square miles - does not have enough gritting trucks and snowploughs available. Supplies of grit and salt are never adequate, and basically, even a few inches of snow can cause just about everything to grind to a halt. The ten inches we had on Tuesday night managed to snow us in more thoroughly than we’ve ever been snowed in before.

The scenery is absolutely gorgeous up behind our house (top photograph), but as you can see from the photo below it, the roads going out of our subdivision are not cleared. I’m standing right at the bottom of the road our house is on, and the “main road” is on my left. Our road itself is nearly impassable. The few cars that have managed to get through have compacted the snow, and the colder it gets, the icier it gets. My husband, son and a friend have just tried to clear part of the road coming down out of our driveway, in the hopes of maybe getting out tomorrow. But even if my husband can get out, the roads leading up to the motorways (which are cleared) are really slippery and dangerous. Not good.

The cold is a huge issue here, as snow is bringing down power lines and leaving folks without electricity and heat. I’m so grateful to be in a new subdivision with underground power lines. We are warm and dry here, and feeling very blessed. I feel so sorry for the thousands of people who are not, especially as they are predicting temperatures right down to minus 20 Celsius tonight. It got down to minus 16 last night, and even we were cold in our nice warm house, with the heating on. I also worry about the homeless people, and pray they are in shelters.

I am a bit of a squirrel, and always stock up on food and provisions before the winter. My parents did that in Canada when I was growing up and it’s just kind of ingrained. For once, it has come in really handy. I have not even had to go to the grocery store (it would have been a long, cold walk!) and I am glad as I have read they are really busy. Apparently people are starting to panic buy with the cold weather predicted to last for at least two weeks.

As for me, I’m just grateful to be warm and dry and have my family at home with me. I may have missed my exercise class today, but I got lots of exercise shovelling our driveway! And as long as everyone stays safe and warm, I really don’t mind the snow at all.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Snowy Day


When I was a very little girl growing up in Canada, this book by Ezra Jack Keats was one of my favourites. I vividly remember it being read to us in the school library when I was in Kindergarten, during one of our forays out of the classroom and into the greater school. It was the early 1970‘s, and as I recall, it was a snowy day. I sat with the other children, wearing my (very fashionable) blue cat’s eye glasses and my “listening hat” as our teacher used to call it, totally caught up in the story of Peter and his wonder at the snow.

There was a certain aura to those winter afternoons in the library, a kind of cosy reverie that descended upon us there as we listened to the librarian read us stories. As well as “The Snowy Day”, we were introduced to Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way For Ducklings”, Virginia Lee Burton’s “Katy and the Big Snow” and “Little Blue and Little Yellow” by Leo Lionni among others.

I got to thinking about “A Snowy Day” today because it is a snowy day here, the snowiest I have ever seen in England in the over twenty years I have lived here. I may also have thought about it because today I am missing my Mom, who died two years ago today. You see, it wasn’t just in the school library that I enjoyed stories and books. My Mom introduced me to books at a very young age, and instilled in me a love for them that I still have today. My Mom loved to read to me, although I don’t ever recall her being an avid reader herself. She used to take me to the “bookmobile” (mobile library van) that came to a street near us once a week. We’d meet up with my friend and her Mom who lived three doors down from us, and after we chose some books, we’d go back to either her house or mine. While our moms had a coffee and chatted, we get some time to play together. We all, moms and kids alike, looked forward to the day the bookmobile came.

Isn’t it funny how our minds work? It’s amazing how one thought leads to another and can pull you back years in a millisecond, to a place where nothing has changed. It’s a place where everyone we ever loved still lives, where the sights, smells and feelings of our childhood are still as vividly alive today as they were all those years ago. For a few minutes I was back there today - all because of the snow, the memory of a book and my wonderful Mom.

Here’s some photographs of our snowy day:-




While I may be embarrassed that this much snow has brought the UK to a grinding halt, it is beautiful, and there is something lovely about having a snow day. My husband has been working all day in the study, but it is really nice just to have him here, with all of us safe and warm under one roof. But I really do think it is time councils in the South of England considered the purchase of a few snow ploughs!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Birthday Tea at The Ritz



Today we took our son to the iconic Palm Court Restaurant at The Ritz Hotel in Park Lane, London for a celebratory birthday tea.

We love having tea at The Ritz. It is such a beautiful place, harking back to an almost lost age of elegance, with its gorgeous surroundings, elegant atmosphere and delicious food. There is a strictly enforced dress code, and gentlemen must wear jackets and ties. For ladies, things are a bit more relaxed than they used to be in days gone by, but you are expected to dress elegantly. Most ladies wear anything from smart trouser suits to very formal tea dresses.

The service at The Ritz is impeccable, and everything is done to be sure you enjoy yourself. Yes, it is expensive, but not eye-wateringly so. It is certainly not the most expensive tea in London. And for us, The Ritz has something really special that makes us come back time and time again.



There is an entire menu of teas - over twenty-five to choose from. I had The Ritz Royal Blend, which was strong but mellow, my husband had Assam, and our son had Earl Grey with its distinctive Bergamot aroma. Everyone gets their own silver tea pot, and all the tea is loose leaf, so you also have your own silver tea strainer to ensure no tea leaves find their way into your bone china cup!

The first course of afternoon tea is always tea sandwiches - tiny brioche rolls filled with egg mayonnaise, and a variety of crustless breads enveloping fillings like smoked salmon, ham, cucumber, poached chicken breast and ham. Next come the warmed scones, served with strawberry jam and clotted cream. And finally, there are the cakes.



Delicate macaroons, flaky millefeuille, rich chocolate gateau, fruit tartlets and an edible gold flecked blackcurrant mousse with white chocolate mousse inside were all on offer today. When we somehow managed to finish them all, the plate was generously refilled - although that time we only managed to eat one or two!

Throughout the meal, a pianist played a beautiful white grand piano. Suddenly, we heard him start ‘Happy Birthday’, and what should appear but a gorgeous little cake for my son, and another one for a lady at a table nearby.



We were too full to eat it though, so a pretty box was produced to allow us to take it home easily.

We all had a lovely afternoon and it made for a really special celebration of our wonderful son’s seventeenth birthday!



(Tea at The Ritz starts at £38 per person and can be booked online by clicking here. Availability is limited so do book well in advance. Please note this is not a sponsored post; we are just very happy customers!)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Not Quite Finished Yet...



Although for most folks the Holiday Season is pretty much over now, for us it always seems to go on just a little bit longer. You see, our son’s birthday is on 4th January so the celebrations carry on just that little bit longer, right up to Twelfth Night. I really like this; it kind of lets us down slowly after all the celebrating but still lets us finish off with something that is a lot of fun.

This is an exciting birthday for us all as it is kind of a milestone. In England you can’t take your first lesson until your 17th birthday, and tomorrow our son has his first one. In my opinion, driving is one of the first big steps on the road to adulthood, so suddenly he seems very grown up indeed. I had to laugh when he said “I can’t believe I’ll be 17 tomorrow” to me this afternoon, because frankly, I can’t either. Where did the time go?

Our son always likes us to leave the Christmas decorations up for his birthday so the house still looks like a celebration. This works out very well because in England as it is traditional to take the decorations down on Twelfth Night. That’s the night of 5th or 6th January, depending on whether you go according to medieval tradition or modern tradition. Some people believe that Twelfth Night is the night preceding the twelfth day - that is the night of 5th January - because in medieval times the next day was considered to begin at sunset. However others believe it is the night of the twelfth day of Christmas itself, which is the 6th of January. Anyway, whether they think it is the 5th or the 6th, people here in England are very superstitious about getting the decorations down on time (it’s something to do with tree spirits...). However, I’m not because where I come from in Canada it really didn’t matter when you took the decorations down. In fact, people were (and are) far more likely to leave them up through the dark days of winter. But I will definitely start to take them down on the 5th and hope to finish by the 6th, just to be safe :)

We’ve got some fun plans for tomorrow. We are heading up to London to celebrate our son’s special day, starting out with an early tea in the Palm Court Restaurant at The Ritz Hotel on Park Lane and moving on from there. I’m seriously excited about it all, and it isn’t even my birthday!

As for today, I’ve been tidying and sorting things out, sale shopping and birthday cake baking. My husband and I had great success at the Laura Ashley sale this afternoon. We managed to get all sorts of pillows, throws, bed covers etc. which have really given the house a lift. Although we have not painted or decorated yet, the house is finally beginning to come together. Here is a peek at how the guest room is evolving thanks to our visit to Laura Ashley today:-



The curtains and the cylindrical pillow were custom made by Laura Ashley Design just after we moved in, but I had been unable to find a bedspread I liked. This one is perfect, and the throw pillows just make it. I’m still looking for a bigger chest of drawers for this room (you can’t see the current one as it is out of shot). The room we use as the guest room is the smallest bedroom in the house so we keep looking for clever storage ideas for it. (We gave the very large guest suite to our son because we figured it made more sense to use the bigger space for someone who is here all the time rather than just for visitors.) I’m also looking for a new lamp for the side table, hopefully one with a shade in the same colour as the bedspread. Then I’ll start to think about paint or wallpaper. I’ll post some more photos of the things we found in the sale for other rooms in the house later in the week.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the tenth day of Christmas (and that no one has given you Ten Drummers Drumming)!