A Life of Leisure

I am completely skint. Down to my last £10, waiting for my tiny paycheck on Friday. I shall not moan, though. At least I don’t have to support my family on my pay, and I have a lovely job. Albeit a very part time one!

I may be cash poor, but find myself more time rich. And so, to indulge in one of my most favouritest things. A late, leisurely breakfast.

Over my previous posts, it may have begun to come clear that I am a smidge spoiled, and have rather high expectations. I need things to be just so, and most particularly what goes into the mouths of my beloved family. Also, the state of my nails and coordinating lipstick. But that may be for a different blog and time.

Back to breakfast. Although a bit of a gluttonous type of gal, I don’t really go in for the full works, whole hog English breakfast. Okay, maybe once in a blue moon. My idea of breakie perfection is smoked salmon Eggs Benedict. With a side of glorious asparagus, thank you very much. I have loved this dish since I first had it in Vancouver many many moons ago. As I have matured and grown as a cook, I have become more fussed about what goes into it, and am no longer contented with any store bought additions. I have a wonderful Hollandaise recipe that has been handed down from my paternal grandfather, married to the wearer of blue eyeshadow. My mum made traditional Eggs Benedict for very special occasions, and for the odd honeymooning couple at our short lived B&B on the farm. Even though my dad always supplied our family with amazing bread, he did not use it for the Eggs Bennie, but stuck with the traditional muffin. Looking back, I think that’s a shame. Perhaps the B&B would have done better if those lovebirds had sampled the nutty fluffy wonder of my dad’s loaves. The man has got some serious kneading know how, and the forearms of a Highland Games champion.

Nowadays, I tend to have a jar of homemade Hollandaise ready to rumble in the fridge. Lord, I am just never going to be thin, am I? I also tend to use my own semi-sourdough as the sop up section.

Let’s just imagine the bliss, shall we?

Drop the kids off to school, pop back home to send the hubbie off with his packed lunch and a kiss. Then on goes the water for the egg, out comes the caffetiere….let the glory of the weekday leisurely breaki commence!

I am not going to get into the correct way to poach an egg. I find it a bit hit or miss, and tend to just go with the glug of vinegar in the water, a swirl around the pot with a fork for shape, and 3 minutes on the timer. Sometimes it comes out perfectly, sometimes not. Oh well. As long as I get the sauce, I have to admit that I am not overly bothered! I hereby present you with my recipe for Hollandaise sauce. I will have to kill you later. But enjoy first 😉

Papa’s Famous Hollandaise

 

1/2 cup (125g) unsalted butter

4 egg yolks

2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

Pop a pan of water over low heat, and grab a heat proof bowl that fits on top. Or a double boiler if you are so lucky as to have one. The water should be hot, but not boiling. Divide the butter into 3 equal sections. Put one piece in the bowl with the four slightly beaten egg yolks. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the butter melts. I am fairly convinced it works out better if you use a wooden spoon, honestly! Add  the second piece of butter and continue to stir until the sauce thickens. Add the third piece of butter, and remove from the heat. Beat until butter is melted, and the sauce shiny. Pop in the seasonings, and then the lemon juice, a teaspoon at a time. Mix during this process, and old your breath that the sauce doesn’t split. If it does, adding in some boiling water, a drop at a time should sort it out.

I keep mine for up to a week in the fridge in a sterilized jar. Never last longer than week, as we have usually gobbled it up by then.

For the Bennie:

Toast your bread, and lay it happily upon the plate. Fold on a few good pieces of smoked salmon. Top carefully with the egg, and place some little blanched asparagus on the side. With glee and a bit of drooling, spoon a nice generous amount of your glossy golden Hollandaise over the whole shebang. Dive in, and devour.

 

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict with English Asparagus

 

Blue Eyeshadow Days

My grandmother was a real character, with a vaguely checkered past, and some very bad habits. As a little girl, I thought she was the best person in the entire universe. She wore these enormous, voluminous silk dresses from Hawaii, which she bought on her yearly winter sojourns. Her hair was a close cropped pixie, steel grey. I don’t remember ever seeing her without a cigarette in one hand, and a brandy in the other.

And the eyeshadow. Bright blue, from eye line to brow.

It has been many years since she passed away, and I still miss her every single day. Of all the memories, I do not really remember her cooking. My grandpa was a chef, so she was mostly in charge of filling glasses. But she made one cake that I make often; conjuring her hands in my minds eye, as she carefully arranged the fruit, just so.

Aside from the chocolate money cake my Dad made me every year on my birthday, Nana’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake (or Upside Down Pineapple Cake , as Hubbie and Daughter call it) is my favourite, and my best.

This recipe is adapted from an old Canadian favourite, ‘Five Roses A Guide to Good Cooking’

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Ingredients:

Cake:

2 cups (500g) plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup (125g) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups (313g) sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup (250ml) milk

Caramel Pineapple:

1/3 cup (84g) butter

1  cup (250g) brown sugar

1 tin (400g) pineapple rings

Method:

Preheat oven to 180 C (160 fan). Grease a 20 x 30 x 5 cm pan.

For the cake:

In a bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Cream the butter, and add in the sugar a bit at a time, beating between each addition. Beat in eggs, one at a time.  I use my wonderful Kitchenaid mixer to do the hard graft. Stir in the vanilla. Add in the dry bits, alternating with the milk, mixing until you have a lovely batter. Pop it off to the side for a mo.

For the caramel bit:

Melt the butter, and stir in the sugar. Spread over the bottom of the pan. Drain the pineapple rings, and lay out on top of the sugar, in a very artistic fashion. My grandmother put a maraschino cherry in the middle of each ring. It looks nice, but they kind of freak me out, so I have left them out. Go wild with the E numbers and add them if you so desire.

Pour the cake batter over the pineapple, and spread gently as you do not want to disturb the beauty of your fruit art. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the cake is golden, and the edges show traces of bubbling caramel loveliness.  Cool in the tin for 15 mins, then loosen the sides, and cross everything, before flipping it out onto a serving dish. I usually get Hubbie to help, as I am a bit flappy, and droppy. It sticks back together well if any of the corners get stuck in the pan. Also, sometimes you need to eat the stuck bits. (Just to make sure it’s not poison, obviously!)

Serve it up with a bit of whipped cream.

 

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

 

 

 

 

 

Spears of Joy

Little lambs are leaping about, apple blossoms shower down from the trees. Flowers on my strawberry plants. Baby plants tucked into their new homes in the garden.

Sigh.

Spring.

But the best bit? The very best bit? The very very very best bit?  (Aside from the birthdays of my most precious creations, obvs!)

It’s asparagus season!

When I was but a youngin’ on the farm in British Columbia, we had wild asparagus growing around the base of the trees in the apple orchard. It was always a battle: who shall chomp first, sheep or girl? I stalked those 400 trees, waiting for the first glimpse of a little point piercing through the grass. This may well be the root of my current desire to forage. Elderflower for cordial, blackberries and damsons for jam and I just love a bit of wild garlic….oh, there is some in this weeks’ recipe, too!

I was beyond excited to find the first early cuts of asparagus at our ‘local’, Palmers Green Market, and although hubbie balked at the price, he did stump up, and I promised him something special.  I could happily chow down on the divine little green wands any which way, but other, previously mentioned fusspots constantly kvetch.

Our dear friend Mr. Oliver has a rather scrum item in his ‘Jamie at Home‘….. here is my version. It is a supremely adjustable recipe, and I have served it a few of the wild birthday bashes we host this time o’ year, and it has never gone amiss. And it’s pretty damn easy, to boot!

Asparagus and Potato Pie

Ingredients:

500 g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

500g asparagus spears, trimmed

200g ready rolled puff pastry

50 g butter, melted

200 g grated sharp cheese

3 large eggs

284 ml double cream

nutmeg

salt

pepper

wild garlic leaves

Method:

Boil up a large pot of water. I use it first to blanch my asparagus, chucking them into boiling water for about 4 minutes. Pop the green babies to the side, boil and mash your spuds. Mix in your cheese(s). I used some wicked aged cheddar, again from my local market, and some Emmental I found lurking at the back of the fridge. Go wild, and try some interesting combos! As long as you have some strength in the flavour, you’ll be fine.

Preheat your oven to 190 C. Grab an ovenproof dish, whatever shape you fancy. I used a traditional round fluted edged number this time round. Paint the dish with melted butter, then press your pastry in. I am a terrible pastry cheater, and have never been brave enough to make my own. (It IS on the list!) This is also totally fab made with filo, as Jamie does,  and then you would double the butter and brush between the layers. Put your pastry aside for a mo.

Mix together the eggs and cream in a bowl, then add them to the mash mix. Sprinkle in some grated nutmeg. I used about 1/4 tsp, as I’m not a huge fan, but it does work well in this dish. Salt and pepper to taste. Then the best bits….I have some handy herb scissors, and I chopped in 4 good sized wild garlic leaves. Mix it all up, them plop into your pastry case. Arrange the asparagus spears as artfully as your dare across the top, and then brush with the rest of the melted butter.

Into the oven with her for about 20 minutes. Golden brown is our aim! Delightful with a nice green salad, served hot or cold.

Also rather nice straight from the fridge at 11:30 pm. What can I say? It was calling to me!

Asparagus and Potato Pie

Asparagus and Potato Pie

 

Now that my little delicious buds are more readily available, it shall be a free for all….I am thinking dipped into poached eggs, shaved onto salad, drizzled with homemade hollondaise…..oh the glorious gastronomical possibilities! Hark can I hear the angels singing with delight???

The Mother of Invention….

I am most decidedly not the type of girl that denies herself anything. Be it clothes, food, kitchen gear, or, ahem, a nice bottle of wine. I am the type of girl that likes to stick to a routine, and most especially at breakfast. I am at my most, let’s just call it demanding, first thing in the morning. Some may call it cranky, but not too near to me, or they’ll see just how cranky I can be before 10 am!

For breakfast, I have always been, and will always be, a toast person. Sometimes with avocado, sometimes with smoked salmon. An occasional tomato or cheese. Must be thinly sliced, have lots of butter, and come from a well made loaf.

And so on to the denial of my favourite breakfast. Sigh. No bread. Or pasta or cakes etc….but it is the bread that really makes me suffer. I find it rather annoying how many people tell me they like matza. I think if you could only have matza, you would rapidly come to a different conclusion. (Oh, and it is terrible on the guts) The only saving grace is that potatoes are still on the menu, otherwise their may just be a mutiny here!

There is a positive aspect to Passover cooking. Firstly, the Seder meal is a wonderful experience, and such a marker of how time flies. I have watched all the youngers at the table grow and change, including my own little ratbags. My contribution, year on year, is pudding. For the last few years I have made a divine matza fritter, but the rellies are all a bit sick of them, so I delved into the books….first stop, the goddess herself, Nigella.

I really do pimp every recipe I go near, but Nigella is the exception. I have only very slightly changed her Pomegranate Jewel Cake, substituting pomegranate molasses for juice and  adding in a bit more zest. I am a zesty kind of girl.

Pomegranate Jewel Cake – ‘Feast’ Nigella Lawson (Rosh Hashanah section)

Ingredients

8 eggs

pinch salt

300g caster sugar

300g ground almonds

zest of 2 lemons

zest of 2 oranges

Pomegranate and pomegranate molasses to serve

Method

Grease and line a 23cm springform pan and pop the oven onto 180.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a good size bowl, and the yolks in another biggish bowl as this is where the folding and mixing will happen.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are stiff, but not totally dry. It takes me about 10 minutes with my little hand held electric number. Whisk in 100g of the sugar and then pop then off to the side.

Add the rest of the sugar, and  the zests to the yolks and then beat until light and airy. I used a balloon whisk for about 5 minutes. It’s thick and rather gloopy, and folding in a good dollop of the whites makes it easier to manage. Now start folding the whites into the yolk mixture, about a third at a time. Be light handed so as not to knock the air out of the batter, but don’t be a wimp about it either.

Pour into the tin and pop into the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, checking it regularly after 25 as it burns quickly because of the high sugar content. If the cake is browning nicely, but still wobbly in the middle, pop a bit of foil on top.

As soon as you take the cake out of the oven, pour over some slightly watered down pomegranate molasses so it seeps down into the cake. You can also use the juice of one pomegranate, but I prefer the molasses as it adds a slightly smokey flavour to the cake.

Cool totally before removing from the tin, and then cover with the pomegranate seeds.

Serve with fruit salad and ice cream, a la Shapir Seder.

Pomegranate Jewel Cake

Pomegranate Jewel Cake

(A LITTLE NOTE: after posting this, and tweeting the picture, “Star of our Seder”, The Goddess herself, Ms. Lawson sent me a PM: ‘So pleased.’ TRUE FREAKING STORY!)

 

I did not, however, stop with the above (post mauling). I have a terrible tendency to go a smidge overboard. So, I also brought some Matza ‘Crack’ along. I make a double batch at the beginning of Passover partially to use up some matza, and partially to try and convince myself that it is not one of the most foul foodstuffs available.

The recipe comes from David Lebovitz, who is a god of the kitchen.

Matza Crack

Ingredients

4 to 6 sheets matza

1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 cup (215g) firmly-packed light brown sugar

big pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup (160g) plain chocolate chips

 

Method

Line a rimmed baking tray with foil, making sure the foil goes up and over the edges. Cover the foil with a sheet of baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 190.

Line the bottom of the sheet with matza, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.

In a good sized, heavy duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add the salt and vanilla, and pour over matza, spread evenly.

Put the pan in the tray and reduce the heat to 175. Bake for 15 minutes. As it bakes, it will bubble up but keep an eyeball on it to make sure it’s not burning. If it starts to get too dark in places, remove from oven and reduce the heat to 160C before popping back in to finish off.

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread with an offset spatula. I love this bit as it is terribly cathartic. Love that spreading!

Top off with a liberal sprinkling of Maldon salt flakes.

Cool it completely and break up it up to whatever size you fancy. We are greedy, so they are big chunks in our house! Keep in a container for up to a week, so really most of the torturous bread-less event.

 

Enjoy….the countdown is on! I am already looking forward to making a divine potato and asparagus pie next week 😉

Matza Crack

Matza Crack

(Note: I love the story of the Exodus, the remembrance of our time as slaves, and the appreciation of our freedom. It’s just the matza I hate! )

 

Cheater, cheater, pesto eater

I have a confession to make, so please brace yourself.

I cheat.

Every single day. In a myriad of ways. With wild abandon, and not a hint of remorse.

But not on my taxes, and not on my husband.

I cheat in the kitchen.

Life is a full, crazy, and unpredictable ol’ thing. Mine no less than anyone elses. Once upon a time, I stayed at home, and had plenty of time to slave over that hot hob on complicated and perfect meals. Basically, I was in the habit of spoiling my hubbie and kids rotten. Now that I am working again, I have less time to do so, but I still  want to keep the standards high. I do have a certain reputation to uphold, after all.

There are some days that I find my dining table has had a revolving door attached to it. Mondays are particularly hideous. Between picking up extra kids, snack time, tutoring, picking up more kids, schlepping them around to Cubs and gymnastics, by the time we eat, it’s 8pm, and I can barely muster the energy to boil water.

But you see, I am a cheater, so all is not lost. Admittedly, cheating requires some planning, but it does save the (long) day. My best, and most cherished cheat is the glorious, versatile and damn tasty PESTO.

I make a big pot of it once every ten days or so, and it allows me to feel satisfyingly smug that I have not fallen down on the job. Now, this green goodness is not just for pasta, oh no! I slap it on cod and bake it, cook up chicken breast and toss it about, use it on a tart base with some goats cheese and artichokes…..Getting the idea? Hello, versatile!

There are not really any hard and fast rules with this…You like a little less garlic? Cut down the garlic! Not a fan of pine nuts? Use walnuts instead. The point is, it is one of those things that, with some imagination, can get you through a tough day.

You will need a food processor of some sort, and a sterilized jar.

Ingredients:

Fresh basil, 100g

pine nuts, approx 75g

grated parmesan, approx 75g

garlic, one clove, crushed

olive oil, 175 ml

sea salt, a mighty pinch

 

Method:

Now, this is probably one of the simplest things around. Grab a pan to toast your pine nuts. On medium heat, brown those babies. It takes them a bit to get started, but once they start to toast, stir/flip them in the pan, and keep a close eye as they will burn pretty fast. Pop them aside, and sort the rest.

Wash and shake off your basil. I use the whole thing, including the stalks. Just bend them into the processor’s bowl. Pour in the oil, toss in the rest of the ingredients, including your slightly cooled pine nuts.  Now get whizzing. How much depends on your texture preference. We like ours pretty smooth, but sometimes it is slightly crunchier than others. That’s just how things roll. Now, boil that water, or turn on the oven, or just chuck some on some leftovers…(my boy likes it mixed into rice, actually!)

Pesto

Pesto

 

 

Let me know how you get on, and send on any pictures of your creations!

“That’s the only way I’ll eat a courgette”

Oh, blessed child. My small girl really knows what she likes. Or doesn’t. And will she ever make it pretty clear which is which. Like about a year ago, when she announced “I don’t do cheese anymore.” It has become clear that my youngest may be almost as stubborn as I am.

She can be a bit of a fusspot, but I do try to stick to keeping all our meals the same. She can eat the bits she likes, and get over it. Alas, I  have to admit, she does manage to cross her arms, furrow her brow and get her own way on occasion.

A few weeks ago, dinner contained some crisp grilled courgettes. Her Royalness refused point blank to pass a single bite between her tightly pursed little lips. Then I was informed that if I put the courgettes into cake, I’d be in luck.  “That’s the only way I’ll eat a courgette”.

Well, duh! There’s sugar and chocolate involved!

Today I am laid up on the sofa, too ill to go into work. Unfortunately, I will be invaded by 4 children at some stage this afternoon, and they will be ravenous.  So while I had a smidge of energy this morning, I grabbed the grater and knocked up a couple loaves. I do love this recipe, as it is fast, easy, and I usually have everything in stock.

I bet Roo will even let me kiss her when she has a gander at these bad boys!

Courgette Bread

3 cups (750g) flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

3 tsp cinnamon

3 eggs

1 cup (250ml) vegetable oil

2 1/4 cups ( 560 g) sugar

3 tsp vanilla

2 cups (500g) grated courgette

chopped nuts/chocolate chips

Method:

Grease a large loaf pan, or 2 smaller ones. Preheat oven to 165.

Sift flour, salt baking powder and soda, cinnamon into a good size bowl, as all the mixing will be done in it. In a second bowl, beat eggs and add in the oil, vanilla,and sugar. Plop this gloopy mix into the dry ingredients and mix. Now fold in the courgette, and nuts and or chocolate. It will probably not surprise you to know which my little cherub prefers.

Pop it into the oven for 45 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the loaf pans. When they are done, they’ll be a lovely golden brown, and a skewer will come out clean.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Courgette (Zucchini) Bread

Courgette (Zucchini) Bread

 

 

Now, if I can just manage to hold myself together until this evening, I am really keen to use my leftover roast lamb and try ‘Save With Jamie’s’ lamb pastilla. I may need a nap first.

Lemon Bars for Glamorous Goddesses

It has been a whole 4 days since I was on Lorraine, and I have begun to ‘come down’.

There have been heaps of people coming up to me as I go about my day, with slightly pained expressions on their faces, offering ‘commiseration’. I do try and tell them I’m fine. But no one seems to believe me. And I am fine. Properly. Not in the English sense, but the Canadian. Trust me, if I wasn’t fine, you’d know about it.

There is one exception. I did get a little used to one perk. The cars.

‘Mrs Shapir, a car will be arriving to pick you up at 6:45’

‘Mrs Shapir, if you just ring this number, a car will come to take you home’

Sigh.

I may sit in the backseat whilst Hubbie takes the wheel, just to try and recapture the bliss. With dark glasses and a sun hat on. Might as well go for the whole meal deal. Hm. We may need a nicer car.

So, yes. Back in the real world. And a look at the very very full calendar on the front of the fridge reminds me that we are having Goddesses round for dinner on Thursday.  These two lovely ladies are coworkers of mine, they are terribly glamorous, and I can place my hot pink lipstick addiction firmly at their door. They are wonderful company, and most decidedly deserve a feast of Shelley Standards*.

One is a fussy eater, though. Chicken is really the only decent option. Being a weeknight, and right after work, a good ol’ roast dinner seemed the best choice. As I am new at this bloggy business, I was all gung ho and ready to take some stunning shots of my chicken, steaming out of the oven; slathered in a fragrant mixture of za’atar and rapeseed oil, nestled on a generous bed of succulent roast potatoes, served with roasted cauliflower with a caper, pine nut and parsley sauce.

But the potatoes took longer than planned (as they do every single time I make them), and the fizz had already been popped, and, well, I got sidetracked. We were like heathens and tore into dinner so quickly, the camera was left forgotten on the sideboard. Bugger.

I had made the pudding before hand, though, and did manage some photos, so lemon bars you shall see, and the recipe you shall have. Sticking with my Canadian layered theme, this is another gem from my Dad’s regular repertoire of divine morsels. When we last visited, he always had something home baked ready, and although I attempt to live up to these standards, the loud recriminations from my offspring at store bought proves I am sadly lacking.

The moaning stopped pretty quick when they saw these bad boys on the table after school, though.

Lemon Squares

Bottom Layer

1 1/2 cups (375g) Flour

1/2 cup (125g) butter, softened

1/4 cup (62.5g) granulated sugar

Middle Layer

2 eggs

1 cup (250g) sugar

6 tbsp lemon juice

2tbsp flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Icing

1 1/2 (374g) cups icing sugar

2 tbsp butter, softened

3 tbsp lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon, chopped roughly

Method

Bottom layer: Pop the oven on to 175 C.  Mix all three ingredients in a small bowl and combine with fingers until crumbly. This step is very cathartic, and I enjoyed it whilst listening to Woman’s Hour. Press in to a 22 cm square pan. I used a slightly larger rectangular pan, and the bars are much thinner than my Dad’s. The thicker ones have a chewier texture in the middle layer, and the thinner ones are a bit bitier. Personal preference required. I remain undecided.

Pop into the oven for 15 minutes.

Middle layer: Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add the rest of the list in, and mix it until totally combined. Spread over the bottom layer, and back into the oven with it until it is golden brown, about 30 mins, a bit less if you have gone with the thinner version. Leave it to cool totally on a rack before moving onto the icing.

Lemon icing: Cream the butter, add in the icing sugar, then add in the lemon juice. Add more sugar or juice as you need for the right spreading consistency. Mix in the zest. Spread over the second layer, and cut as you like.

MMmmmm. Just writing that has made my mouth get that sour tingly feeling. I may have one with my coffee for breakfast.

Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars

*Shelley Standard- this will be come clearer, as time goes on. But basically, it means I must over cater, throw in a couple curve balls, pimp every recipe I go near, set a proper table, and always use cloth napkins.*