Saturday, 29 January 2011

Six Word Saturday

Car suspension buggered, seasick on land.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Oh well, all my good intentions have crumbled into dust (or rather, cake mixture) as usual.  I managed one 48 minute session on the Wii last week, and that's been it so far!  I'm the laziest, laziest person I know....

But, hey, my whining is not why you stopped by, your eye was caught by the title of this post, wasn't it?  Go on, admit it, you're as much a sucker for baking porn as I am.  And this is a fantastic recipe that never fails.  I promised it in my last post, so here it is.  Please do try it, it's really, really easy and the taste is to die for.

A little background on the recipe - I'm assuming you all know who Gordon Ramsay is?  Yes, he's an arch knobhead and I can't bear watching him (or indeed any of those other macho shouty chefs - yes, we get it, you think your body everyself - as one of my mum's elderly patients used to say - but, frankly, you're nothing but an enormous bully).  He has a (I imagine, long-suffering) wife called Tana who, apparently, does all the cooking at home for the kids.  You know, the normal, life-supporting, every day, vital stuff that he doesn't because it's not 'important' enough.  Anyway, to give her her due, she's published cookbooks and I believe that this Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe is one of hers.  I actually got it from the ever-fabulous BBC Good Food website which says it's hers, so who am I to argue?

As usual, I've tailored the original a little so it's more to my taste - I've used less butter, less flour, a lot less sugar and a bit more lemon juice.   The choice is yours - I'd suggest trying hers first and if you like it, then that's the one for you!  Here we go then:


Ingredients (my quantities):

200g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
4 eggs
Grated zest of 1 lemon
200g self raising flour

For drizzle topping:

Juice of 2 lemons
85g caster sugar

Heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Into a large bowl, put the sugar and butter:

And with a mixer, cream together until pale and creamy:

Add the eggs one at a time, beating them in thoroughly:

Add the flour:

And the lemon zest.  I normally use a proper little zesting thing that makes the job very easy and looks like this:

The little circles at the top have a sharp edge and you drag it over the surface of the fruit and it comes off in little strips.  But I forgot I had this little tool and used the fine grate side of a grater.  I don't actually recommend it as it's incredibly difficult to zest a lemon this way without including bits of your knuckle.  And let me tell you that grated knuckles and lemon juice don't mix.  Ow.  Anyway, add the zest (with or without superfluous skin):

Fold the flour in until it's well combined.  If you don't know what that means (don't mock, someone might not), it means you get a large metal spoon - a tablespoon is best.  Use the side of the bowl of the spoon and cut a line through the mixture from the top edge of the bowl (say, 12 o'clock) down to the bottom (the 6 o'clock position) and sort of flip over the mixture on the left hand side of the divide over onto the right.  Turn the bowl a bit and repeat.  Keep doing this until everything is combined thoroughly but don't overdo it - stop as soon as all the flour is folded in.  The point of this is to incorporate air into the mixture.  If you use a hand whisk or electric mixer, you'll beat the air out of it and will basically end up with a batter rather than a cake mix - the result is it won't rise.  Folding doesn't take very long but is necessary.

The recipe here now says "Line a loaf tin (8 x 21cm) with greaseproof paper".  I say "Bugger that".  Get yourself a silicon loaf tin.  No need to grease or line anything and you can roll the sides down to extract the finished cake - win! I pop mine onto a baking sheet though, just to make it easier to handle, as a silicon tin is not rigid.

So spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and smooth the surface a bit.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  My oven is a bit cool, I think, as it almost always takes nearer an hour for the cake to cook.  So start at 45 minutes and keep testing with a skewer until it comes away clean.

While the cake is cooling (or cooking, doesn't matter which), juice 2 lemons:

Pour into a jug and add 85g caster sugar.  Mix it together.  It will separate but don't worry too much, and don't worry about getting all the sugar to dissolve into the lemon juice:

Right.  The cake is now cooked and looks like this:

Get the skewer you used to test the cake with earlier, and start poking holes in it:

Pour over the lemon juice & sugar mix while the cake is still hot.  The juice will sink in (going down all the holes) and the sugar will form a crisp topping.  You may find you have too much liquid - the beauty of a silicon loaf tin is that you can pull the sides away from the cake and the liquid will run down to the base of the cake as well.

Leave the cake in the tin until it's completely cool, then remove.  It says in the recipe "will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days, or freeze for up to 1 month" or, as in reality, will last less than a day if there are more than 2 people in the house.

It's moist and sweet and lemony and zingy and utterly, utterly fabulous.

Now then, shall I tempt you with my tuna, prawn and anchovy homemade pizza?

Perhaps next time.....

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Something must be done

So the weather didn't let us down, then, did it?  I know the snowiness in December outstayed its welcome somewhat but that least it made a change from the usual British winter weather of miserable grey skies and damp, damp, damp.  Which is what we've now got.  Great.  It's depressing, really.  Some blue skies and sunshine - even if it's cold - would do us all a world of good.

I'm also feeling very, very sluggish.  As always I've eaten far too much over Christmas.  I've not put on too much weight, no more than 3 or 4 pounds but it's enough to make a difference.  I'm also horribly, horribly sedentary.  The weather's not been good enough for me to get out to the allotment yet and, during the better months, that is the only regularish exercise I get.  And it's stupid, because I know from my past flirtations with exercise that it does me good.

So, today, I got out the Wii Fit and plugged it in.  To my horror it said that the last time I'd done any training on it was 995 days ago!  That works out at February 2008!  Bizarrely, it also said I only weigh 3lbs more today than I did the last time I used it, so at least that's been pretty consistent.  It's still too much though.  I know BMIs have lost their relevance a bit but, hey, it's something to work towards, and I need to lose about 27lbs to just edge into the acceptable BMI range for my height.

I managed a 48 minute workout involving the hula hoop one (you don't actually have a hoop, you just stand on the balance board and move your hips around in a circle as if you were hula-ing a hoop), boxing and step aerobics.  I also did a tiny bit of yoga.  I built up a good sweat but didn't overdo it.  Sylvester wandered in at one point and was mildly interested into why I was stomping about the place like a giant heifer but then did the sensible thing and went to sleep.

I'd like to try and keep this up but I have zero willpower, still I'm willing to give it another go.  Of course, rediscovering a love of baking is not helping matters much as I'm a sucker for the carbs but generally I think I'm pretty good - I don't snack, don't drink fizzy drinks regularly, try not to have things like biscuits and crisps in the house, try and watch my chocolate intake, keep puddings to a minimum, only have 1 (at the most 2) courses when I go to restaurants, don't eat convenience foods, but I try not to be puritanical about it.  I think I have problems with portion control, though.  TLH and I are quite competitive about food and for years our portion size has to be identical otherwise there's trouble.  Thinking about it, it's a wonder I'm not the size of a house.  I mean, he's over 6 feet tall and is a big bloke - I should probably be eating half what he does and I am trying with that, I really am but it's tricky.  I shall keep you all posted as to progress, or lack of it.

(I was now going to segue into posting a recipe for cake - Lemon Drizzle to be precise, with some faintly clever wordplay about providing you with a nicer kind of drizzle than that which normally falls out of January skies, but I've decided to do that as a separate post so I can more easily track it down in future.  It's coming right up!)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Making Black Bean Chilli

Now, I don't particularly want this blog to become a recipe one but I have to admit they are pretty easy postings to do, so I may well put up more this coming year when I don't have anything else of more interest to say.

So, a few weeks back, the ever delightful Ms Katyboo mentioned about how she was going to make Black Bean Chilli using a recipe she'd found in a book by someone I'd never heard of (someone called Bill Granger, apparently) and the other day she'd made it and it was horrid.  I mentioned when she was first writing about it that I'd got a good Black Bean Chilli recipe that we both liked, even though TLH said it smelled like boiling socks while it was cooking!  It's quite unusual in that it utilises cider vinegar, sugar and cumin, and it think it's the smell of the hot vinegar that makes him think of laundry but, trust me, it tastes yummy.

Anyway, the extremely simple original recipe comes from the BBC's Good Food Guide website which is a fabulous resource.  You can search for recipes using all manner of criteria and one of its best features is that people can give the recipes a star-rating once they've tried it and also note any alterations/improvements they make to the recipe.  This particular recipe has the full five-star rating from 18 people currently.  You can also post up your own recipe.

This, then, is my slightly altered version (additional red kidney beans, less chilli powder, less sugar), together with photographs.  This will feed 4 generously:


Ingredients (not the oranges, ignore them):

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or a coupla teaspoons of garlic paste)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp sweet pimenton (Spanish paprika) or mild chilli powder
  • 3 tbsp ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 x 400g (2 x 14oz) cans/cartons chopped tomatoes
  • 1 x 400g (1 x 14oz) can/carton black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 x 400g (1 x 14oz) can/carton red kitney beans, rinsed and drained
  • a few, or one, of the following to serve: crumbled feta cheese, chopped spring onions, sliced radishes, avocado chunks, soured cream
Get a big pan, heat the olive oil, add the chopped onion and garlic and cook for about 5 mins, until the onions are soft.  I didn't use much garlic paste in the picture below as TLH was meeting clients the next day and didn't want to be all garlicky over them:

Add the paprika/mild chilli powder and the ground cumin, stir in and cook for a few mins:

Then add the cider vinegar, sugar, tomatoes and a bit of seasoning (if you're going to use feta as a topping, don't add too much salt now).  Cook for about 10 mins:

Open your tins/cartons of whichever beans you're going to use, bung in a sieve or colander to drain and then rinse under the tap.  I use one carton of black beans and one carton of red kidney beans.  Add these to the pan.

 This is also a good time to add anything else vegetabular that you might fancy in order to bulk it out or to try and get more veggies down the kids' necks.  Such things like sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives, sweetcorn, red peppers, that sort of thing.  I actually got mushrooms to put in this particular one but forgot them!  So, add the beans and anything else, and cook again for about 10 mins or so.  Taste it to adjust the seasoning - you may need to add more salt or sugar:

Cook up some rice, if you're going to use it.  Or you could spoon the chilli into hard taco shells or soft tortilla wraps.  We do the rice thing in our house.

The toppings suggested in the original recipe are all good although we've only gone for feta cheese and spring onion, but I can imagine the rest - sliced radish, avocado chunks, soured cream - would all be groovy:

You could try having one lot of toppings on one day and if you make enough to last until the next day, having different toppings next time.

And there you have it - cheap as chips, easy as anything, vegetarian, low fat (apart from the feta), nutritionally balanced and yummy!

Happy New Year

Happy 2011 and all that bollocks.

We spent New Year's Eve in the company of good friends; two other couples that I've known for many years - the wife of one I've known for nearly 40 - and we spent the hours drinking, laughing and cuddling rabbits, of both the hopping & pooing and stuffed toy variety:

This is J, sitting between TLH (on the left) and my oldest friend C (on the right).  J is an ex-punk and a multi-level black belt Master Coach in Wing Chun Kung Fu.  He knows many people, both savoury and otherwise.  He is a diamond geezer and someone I'd want on my side in a battle. I think you can tell this from the picture. 

We weren't intending to stay for long, possibly not even until the chimes but I did point out to TLH that it was pretty pointless going out on New Year's Eve if you don't hang around for Big Ben, so we thought we'd just see how long we lasted.  We eventually rolled home at about 1am - TLH and I were sensibly soberish but S (J's wife) was wandering down the middle of the road declaring her vast and undying love for her friends!

I don't really hold with resolutions.  I mean, I think they're a reasonable concept but, in reality, you're just setting yourself up for failure when you don't manage to achieve whatever target it is you've set yourself.  However, I don't think it's a bad idea to contemplate the forthcoming 12 months and maybe think about stuff, rather than letting the months just roll over you in unstoppable fashion until, suddenly, next Christmas and New Year are upon you once again and you're one year nearer to death.

Sorry to be a bit maudling there but my 2010 had too much death in it for my liking - this year we said goodbye to TLH's father in July and Pepper Bean the cat in November.  We did, however, welcome Lyra into the family in  February, the latest addition to my brother's brood, but it would be nice if no-one else died in 2011.

There is stuff I really ought to do but probably won't succeed at - such as lose some weight, try and make some money, get fitter by doing more exercise - and stuff that I'm more likely to achieve - learn to knit, make more jams & pickles, do more baking, read more, get more proactive down the allotment.  And then there's the stuff that I would really like to do - travel a lot more, go on a whole load of courses to learn stuff like silversmithing, photography, stained glass, painting, languages - which are very unlikely to happen.  But I dunno, the thought of an entire year stretching out in front with all its possibilities seems terribly daunting and a little scary, to tell the truth.  It's very easy to just sit back and resume normal service, and get nothing new done in the process.  Trouble is that I'm lazy and I know it.  I spend far, far too much time piddling around on the internet.  Oh, sure, I've learned stuff from it this year - I taught myself to crochet at the beginning of 2010 via videos online - but I've also spent far too much time living my life vicariously through it.  But I'm not about to chuck away my laptop - it's a dilemma.

And I don't think I'm alone here, am I? Hmm?