Pride, Prejudice, anchovies and hairy omelettes…

31 01 2013

Austen“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in turn?”

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”

2388762-MJane Austen –‘Pride and Prejudice’ – (1813)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another fall spectacularly to pieces.”

Helen Fielding – ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ – (1996)

200px-Pickering_-_Greatbatch_-_Jane_Austen_-_Pride_and_Prejudice_-_This_is_not_to_be_borne,_Miss_BennetIt is a truth universally acknowledged that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is one of the best-loved novels in the English literature and its creator, Jane Austen, one of the most widely read authors.

This week marks the bicentenary of its publication, the second of the four major novels published in her lifetime, following her first release ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1811) and preceding ‘Mansfield Park’ (1814) and ‘Emma’ (1816). Two further novels, ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ were published posthumously in 1818, while another, ‘Sanditon’, remained unfinished at the time of her death.

Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is famously scarce. Although a prolific writer of letters, as few as 160 of around 3,000 she penned, remain. The vast majority were destroyed by her heirs, who in the half century after her death were responsible for memoirs that presented the author as a quiet and kindly figure.

She is for ever associated with rural Hampshire, where she was born into a family that lived on the lower fringes of the landed gentry (not unlike the Bennetts in ‘P&P’), her father being an Anglican clergyman who supplemented his income by farming and tutoring.

Jane, who contracted a recurrent form of typhus as a child which in later adulthood would be the cause of her demise, lived most of her life in relative obscurity, within the close confines of her family. She enjoyed an upbringing and education commensurate with her family’s standing in society. She was schooled, in the main, at home where she had access to a wide-ranging library, and developed the many skills expected of young ladies in the Georgian and Regency eras – drawing, needlework, music and dance amongst them.

download (1)She attended Sunday church with the family, while socialising revolved largely around receiving and visiting neighbours, and dances at the local assembly rooms. This is the world which Jane drew upon so assiduously for her writing.

It is believed that she lived in a home, with an easy and open atmosphere, in which conflicting  ideas of a political and social nature could be exchanged and where Jane’s, sometimes risqué early experiments with writing were  tolerated and encouraged.

We know that during the early 1800s Jane’s family moved to Bath. Amongst the places where they lived, was 4 Sydney Place. During this time, on Sunday after church, Jane would frequently promenade along the Royal Crescent, and at other times would no doubt have been a visitor at the famous Pump Rooms, and attended balls at the Assembly rooms. Although Bath tourism cashes in on the Austen connection, it is thought that Jane was unsettled by the upheaval of move from the family home, and her time in the Georgian city was largely unproductive

175px-Winchester_Cathedral_view_1It wasn’t until the Austen family returned to Hampshire, taking up residence at ‘Chawton House’, now the ‘Jane Austen’s House Museum’, where Jane lived for the last eight years of her life, her writing career began to take off.

It was here that she would die. Despite having received considerable acclaim as an author, during her lifetime, no mention was made of her books on the original memorial stone, when she was buried in the nave of Winchester Cathedral. However, by 1872 her fame had escalated to such an extent that it was considered that a brass plaque should be erected to rectify the situation

So what of her writing? Well here I have to hold my hand up and admit that despite Austen’s revered status amongst scholars, critics and an ever burgeoning world-wide ‘Janeite’ fan base, I’ve simply never had the pleasure.

George_Eliot_at_30_by_François_D'Albert_DuradeHer celebrated romantic fiction, set amongst the landed classes of Regency England, for all its realism and biting social commentary, has simply passed me by. During my literary A level studies, it had been another female novelist, by George, George Eliot that is, whose mighty tome ‘Middlemarch’, had demanded my attention. Magnificent though it is, by the time I’d waded through nigh on a thousand pages, I’d had my fill of the country house set and studies of 19th century provincial life…

But it’s never too late, and a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I really should redress the omission of Austen from my reading list. According to my Kindle I am currently 65% of the way through ‘P&P’, having just returned to it following a brief and humorous sojourn with Jeeves and Wooster – to ease the tedium and recharge the batteries for a final push.

I guess a large part of my problem is that I have taken an easy option of choosing to read Austen’s best known work. And although experiencing the story through its original narrative form is an altogether different proposition from watching the various film versions, and I do concede much of the written dialogue is pretty witty, there’s not much I don’t know about where the plot is headed.

pride_and_prejudiceIt’s my hunch that despite considerable angst and prevarication, handsome, brooding, aloof, but morally upright Fitzwilliam Darcy will overcome his rectitude and pride, while lively, attractive, opinionated Elizabeth Bennett will mend her tendency towards prejudice born out of first impressions and they’ll finally surrender to their love for each other and tie the matrimonal knot.

Excuse me if I’m wrong but that’s pretty much what happened to Colin Firth and  Jennifer Ehle in the benchmark 1995 BBC series, Keira Knightley (too stunning and sexy for Lizzie in my opinion) and Matthew MacFadyen in the latest (2005) film version, and even for, heaven’s sake, in the all singing all dancing, Bollywood meets Pemberley movie, ‘Bride and Prejudice’.

The characters and storyline are so familiar that chic-lit author Helen Fielding, famously drew on Austen for the opening line of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and named her ‘true love’, Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth in the film version – who else?

images (2)PD James, the highly regarded and much decorated crime writer, even saw fit to cross-pollinate her passion for Austen with the genre for which she is renowned and came up with  ‘Death Comes to  Pemberley’ a murder mystery set six years after Elizabeth and Darcy have been happily married together. I haven’t read it but understand it was very well received.

Dining with neighbours is a fairly common occurrence in Austen’s novels but, if ‘P&P’ is anything to go by, there is scant description of what was actually served up. But that didn’t stand in the way of Maggie Black and Deirdre le Faye when they came up with their ‘Jane Austen Cookbook’ – literally recipes inspired by her novels.

anchovies_wholeI’m not sure how familiar Jane Austen was with the kitchen, but the authors have clearly done their homework with regard to ingredients, and, interestingly, more than half the recipes call for anchovies – seldom seen these days other than in pizza toppings, but apparently used a great deal in Regency times to add saltiness to dishes.

I have been trying to undertake more of the cooking recently – an informal, off the record New Year resolution. Wednesday is my regular slot – Chris is continuing with her Italian course so I have time to mess around on the culinary front.

Yesterday, in celebration of the Austen anniversary, and the increasingly anonymous anchovy, I came up with a Nigel Slater ‘Observer Food Magazine’ recipe that had been hiding away in my cookery cuttings book.

NigelSlaterPoster-e1352129131503It went something like this:

Tomatoes with anchovy crumb crust:

Serve 4 as a main dish or 5/6 as an accompaniment…

  • 4 x tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg tomatoes
  • 6 x large spring onions
  • a handful of basil leaves
  • a handful of coriander leaves

For the crumb crust:

  • 150g of white bread
  • A handful of parsley leaves
  • 5 x anchovy fillets
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C
  • Put the oil into a deep-sided frying pan over a moderate heat
  • Slice the spring onions and add to the warm oil
  • Cut the tomatoes in half – horizontally and add to the pan
  • Cover the pan with a lid
  • Leave the tomatoes & onions to cook for approx. 10 minutes – or until the tomatoes have softened, but are still holding their shape
  • Add the basil and coriander, with a grinding of black pepper, then remove from the heat and allow to sit for a few minutes, while preparing the crust
  • Blitz the bread in a food processor – to form soft coarse crumbs
  • Add the parsley, anchovies, and a little black pepper
  • Process briefly
  • Transfer the tomatoes and their cooking juices to an ovenproof dish
  • Scatter the crumb crust over the top
  • Bake for approx. 30 minutes until the tomatoes are sizzling and the crust is a deep gold.

I also diced and added a medium-sized aubergine, that needed using up, to the tomato/onion mix, and a mixed a generous portion of grated parmesan cheese into the crumb crust – it worked for me!

hairy-dieters-book-coverToday, Chris went for a pilates taster session. Fishing around for more brownie points, in the wake of last night’s Austentacious anchovy dish, I volunteered for catering duty once more. This time I knocked up a simple, low-calorie, ‘Hairy Dieters’ recipe from Dave Myers & Si King, two guys with whom I enjoy a palpable commonality – and before you ask, it’s more to do with scales than motorbikes!

Minted Pea and Feta Omelette:

Per serving:

  • 30g frozen peas
  • 40g feta cheese – drained
  • ½ tsp dried mint
  • 3 medium eggs
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Place peas in a heatproof bowl and cover with just boiled water
  • Leave for 1 minute, and then drain, before returning to the bowl
  • Crumble the feta cheese on top
  • Sprinkle with mint
  • Season with black pepper
  • Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk
  • Season with salt and black pepper
  • Lightly oil a small non-stick frying pan
  • Place over a medium heat
  • Add the eggs
  • Cook the egg, constantly using a spatula to draw cooked egg from the edge towards the centre
  • When the egg is almost set, scatter the peas and feta over the omelette
  • Continue cooking until the egg is just set – approx. 3 minutes
  • Loosen the sides with a spatula and slide on to a warmed plate – folding it over

 And that, dear reader, is that…





‘Twelfth Night’; or ‘What You Will’ – a whole mess of beanz…

6 01 2013

12night‘Twelfth Night’ – Bard sound-bites:

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

images (2)

“If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,

The appetite 

may sicken and die.”

 

Twelfth_cupid_smsp_AW“Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit”

 

“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.”

 

twelftnight2_340pxl

“In nature there’s no blemish but the mind. None can be called deformed but the unkind.”

Shakespeare wrote his play ‘Twelfth Night’, or ‘What You Will’, around 1602 – an entertainment for the close of the festive season. In medieval and Tudor times, Twelfth Night marked the end of the Winter Festival, which began on Halloween.

It was a day of reversals, presided over by a Lord of Misrule, where the world was turned upside down. The King and all those in high office would become peasants and vice versa.

A special cake was baked, containing a bean. Whoever found it assumed the role of bean king and ruled the feast until midnight when the natural order of things was resumed.

7400809-venice-carnivalThere are echoes of this topsy-turvy behaviour in Shakespeare’s play, with Viola – a woman dressed as a man, and Malvolio – a servant who imagines he can become a nobleman.

Twelfth Night also marks the feast of Epiphany, a celebration of the Adoration of the Magi – a big event in countries such as Spain – which ushers in the carnival season, culminating in Mardi Gras.

art-1cHere in ‘the Shire’ (and other cider-producing counties) it also heralds the traditional season of orchard wassailing, an ancient custom of drinking and singing the health of fruit trees, to awaken them and scare away evil spirits – ensuring a good harvest in the following autumn.

Splash_2At ‘Clive’s’, our nearby fruit farm (Upper Hook Rd – WR8OSA) this ceremony will take place on Sunday 20th January – led by the local, Worcester based, Faithful City Morris Men – as part of an annual Wassailing and Frost Fair.

www.clivesfruitfarm.co.uk

For most of us, however, Twelfth Night is about remembering to take down the Christmas decorations, for fear of tempting fate and causing bad luck to descend upon our homes in the year ahead.

This morning was, therefore, spent clambering up a rickety ladder to stash away glass baubles in the loft, and dispatching our ‘special’ tree, with its crooked top, for recycling.

monkey-christmas-6inch-4There was also an emotional farewell with the PG Christmas Monkey – who only sees the light of day for a couple of weeks each year!

With journalistic Gem already back, hard at it, in the big city, working her notice on ‘Love It’ magazine, before embarking on fresh and exciting challenges at the ‘Sunday Mirror’; and teacher Nicci departing for Oxford, this afternoon, bracing herself for a busy Spring term, the Christmas holiday will soon become a fading memory.

I took time today to gather up presents, still scattered around the house, and spend a few moments appreciating them. We had made a family pact, we would cut back this year, but I still seem to have been the lucky recipient of many thoughtful gifts.

archie_-_tweeting_is_the_new_bleetingFrom number-one daughter, Nicci, a card – but no ordinary card:

“No ifs or butts… this is a great gift – a goat!

Dad, I know they must be missing you in Africa, so now they have a replacement! This guy is just like you … always bleating on about something (just kidding!) Happy Christmas x”

www.oxfamunwrapped.com

From number-two daughter, Gem:

hd_14a7ba6c6a1a1ffbc90e21f8a1ccf15da signed, Pictogram rock poster by Swedish designer  Viktor Hertz – David Bowie www.victorhertz.com

an ‘On The Road’ travel document case, from the British Library, where we recently saw Jack Kerouac’s original 120 feet long manuscript scroll,

and a Moleskine diary/notebook.

I had my present from Chris back in September – a Tricky Trees season ticket!

dandy_1091434tBut there were still a few surprises under the ‘special’ tree, including the 75th Anniversary ‘Dandy’  Annual and a Heinz Baked Beanz book – with recipes, history, trivia and more…

Funnily enough, that brings us full circle. Apparently, today, 6th January (Twelfth Night) is National Bean Day in the US of A.

So in keeping with the whole bean king/Lord of Misrule role reversal thing, it seemed only right that I should try out an ‘original and best’ Henry J Heinz recipe – chilli bean con carne with cheesy scones…

Serves 4

Scones

  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 75g butter – diced
  • 50g strong Cheddar – grated
  • 1 egg – beaten
  • 50ml milk

 

  1. Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl
  2. Rub in the butter and add cheese
  3. Make a well in the centre and pour in the egg and milk
  4. Mix the dough until it comes together
  5. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and roll to a thickness of 5mm
  6. Cut out 8 rounds – 5cm across – & place on a baking sheet
  7. Brush with milk and bake in a preheated oven (200˚C) for 12 mins (or until they sound hollow when tapped)

Chilli con carne

heinz beanz

  • 415g can of (Heinz) baked beanz
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 onion – finely chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves crushed
  • 500g minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 2 large red chillies – chopped
  • 1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • jalapeño peppers

 

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan
  2. Add the onion and garlic and cook over a medium heat for 5 mins – until softened
  3. Increase the heat to high and add the mince
  4. Fry for five minutes – until browned all over
  5. Stir in the tomato purée, chillies, chilli powder and mixed herbs
  6. Cook for a further five minutes
  7. Add the tomatoes and beanz
  8. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes – until the beef is tender

034-chillicheeseTop with sour cream. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with the scones and separate bowls of grated cheese and jalapeño peppers.

Buen Provecho!





Attenborough’s ‘Africa’ / … all about the aubergines

4 01 2013

Thoughts for the day:

DavidAttenborough460“Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique, in the Universe – it contains life.”

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”

Sir-David-Attenborough-001“I mean, it is an extraordinary thing that a large population of your country and my country, of the citizens, never see a wild creature from dawn ‘til dusk, unless it’s a pigeon, which isn’t really wild, which might come and settle near them.”

Sir David Attenborough (British naturalist and broadcaster)

Sir David, he of the ‘Living Planet’, is himself a living legend. Seemingly tireless, after sixty years in the business, of bringing the natural world into our living rooms, on Wednesday night his latest, six part, BBC series, ‘Africa’  swept across our screens in glorious HD.

AfricaIt enjoyed jumbo viewing figures, 6.5 million tuning in for the first instalment – ‘The Kalahari’. I caught up with it last night.

Giraffe_2428794bHighlights included rare black rhinos, getting horny, by moonlight at a waterhole, and a pair of male giraffes knocking spots off each other, in a showdown, over a young female, of spaghetti western proportions. An altogether different take on ‘necking’.

The feet inside my Christmas slippers began to feel increasingly itchy as I slowly began to succumb to the call of the wild – I could feel another African safari coming on…

In an interview with ‘The Sun’ newspaper, the 86-year-old naturalist supposed, “I’m a bit of a fossil. They won’t make TV like this when I go.”  And he’s probably right, he usually is, programmes of this type could become extinct, so enjoy it while you can.      

While on the natural world theme, it is now official, 2011 has been confirmed as the UK’s second wettest year on record, at more than 25% above the annual average rainfall. For England it was actually the wettest year ever, with the south-west hardest hit.

20130101_15According to Met Office, four of the five wettest years on record have occurred this century, i.e. in the last twelve years, and there is a definite trend towards extreme downpours, which last year devastated harvests and resulted in flood damage to more than 8,000 homes and businesses.

Much of ‘the Shire’ has been under water since well before Christmas but there were signs today, as I took a back-roads detour to Malvern, that the floods are beginning to recede –  but just a little.

20130101_33Upton has enjoyed its annual five seconds of fame this week, with local publican Grahame Bunn, formerly of the riverside ‘King’s Head’ pub but now the new owner of the ‘The Anchor Inn’, a mere hundred yards up the road, extolling the virtues of our wonderful new flood defence, on Radio Five Live. The encroaching waters of the Severn have been kept at bay, enabling businesses, that in previous years would have been submerged, to continue trading. Most of them happen to be pubs – perversely, happy to remain ‘dry’ on this occasion!

On New Year’s Day, the defensive wall, a permanent feature topped with glass – so as not to obscure the views, proved quite an attraction, as promenading visitors marvelled at its construction and effectiveness.

NCI_03Today’s circuitous route to Malvern ‘Waitrose’ was all about the aubergines – an exotic delicacy conspicuous by its absence from Upton Spar or Co-op. In a moment of weakness I’d volunteered to cook the evening meal and was promptly handed Antonio Carluccio’s ‘Collection’. That’s what comes of giving your nearest and dearest a useful present, such as a cookery book, for Christmas!

carluccioI opted for a version of Caponata Siciliana – a Sicilian stew, which ‘the greedy Italian’ describes as ‘versatile, delicious, and easy to make… probably Sicily’s best known dish … hints of the French ratatouille… some Arabic influences too.’        

To feed 4 people you will need:

  • 800g aubergine – cut into 3cm chunks
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper – deseeded & chopped
  • 1 stick of celery – chopped
  • 1 tbsp salted capers
  • 20 or so pitted black olives – sliced
  • 1tbsp raisins
  • 1tbsp pine kernels
  • A handful of fresh basil – roughly torn
  • Salt and pepper

And this is what you do – well what I did…

  1. the-collectionFry the onion, in olive oil, in a large pan – for a few minutes, to soften
  2. Add the aubergine and fry until soft – about 10/15 minutes
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, except the pine kernels and basil, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until everything is melted together
  4. Stir in the pine kernels and scatter torn basil on the top.
  5. Serve in bowls with chunks of rustic bread.

Buon Appetito!

A nice glass of red would have been the perfect accompaniment – 27 days to go and counting…





‘Oarsome’ times…

12 04 2012

It’s around 6.00pm and in around 12 hours-time we’ll be setting off for Heathrow Terminal 3 and a long haul, Thai Air – smooth as silk – flight to Ho Chi Minh City, changing at Bangkok!

I’m not quite sure where the last week or so has gone. I notice I haven’t posted for nine days. It’s not for lack of subject matter, more a case of so much happening and too little time to tell the tale.

I’ve set myself the challenge of recording an edited highlights recount of recent events, while Chris is off in search of our fish and chip supper. That probably gives me about 30 minutes, as she’s taken off to the ‘Kingfisher’ in Tewkesbury, which I’m reliably informed is an award-winning  ‘local gem’ on Quay Street, back of Avon, ranked in the top twenty ‘chippies’, nationwide. I hope it lives up to the hype!    

The glorious early summer weather had to give, and did, just in time for the Easter weekend. Temperatures plummeted to more seasonal norms and bang on cue the pump in our central heating boiler breathed its last.

So it was a case of extra layers, strategically placed fan heaters and hot water bottles all round. Never the less, with both girls back in the Shire, for the first time since Christmas, it did not detract from an enjoyable extended bank holiday weekend, which mostly seemed to revolve around food and drink – no surprise there then!

We started the egg rolling with a ‘Good Friday’ evening meal at the Oak Inn, Defford – a pub restaurant I would highly recommend, if you’re ever in the Shire. The baked Camembert starter (to share) was divine, my pate topped Tournedos Rossini, mouth-watering tender, and the lemon cheesecake I forced down, just to help out number one daughter – don’t you know, perfectly hit the spot.

Saturday’s post ‘boat race’ supper was an ‘oarsome’ rib-sticker, a bangers, mash, mushy peas and onion gravy affair – in celebration of a Cambridge victory (no matter how hollow) by our very own Cantabrigian, journalistic Gem.

Sunday was all about a leisurely pint or two at our local ‘Blue Bell’ watering hole followed by Chris’s Great British Menu – traditional Welsh lamb, with roast potatoes, leeks, carrots, peas, swede and Yorkshire pudding. Not bad for a latter-day ‘vegetarian’!    

 

… Yum – the Kingfisher certainly did live up to expectations. And yes that is the only thing the Daily Express is good for! Anyway, on with the show…  

 

On a hectic Easter sporting front it was hard to keep up with all that was happening. For me the three high points of the last week were:

Finally, a winter win for the England cricket team, by 8 wickets, against Sri Lanka in Colombo, to share the two match series. The pivotal performances from an England perspective, a back in form  ‘KP’ smashing 151 (with his full repertoire of strokes on display, including the controversial switch hit) and a 10 wicket match haul for ‘Swanny’.

 

The Tricky Trees, edging seven points clear of the Championship relegation zone, and hopefully to safety. They followed up an undeserved, televised, Saturday tea-time, 1-0 home defeat to fellow strugglers ‘Bristawl’ City – a game they dominated from start to finish – with an Easter Monday comeback at Peterborough. It was my first visit to London Road (another, of the 92, ticked off) home of the Posh, currently managed by Darren, son of ‘Fergy’. Forest ran them ragged and could easily have been 5-0 up by the break, but had to settle for one, a superb pirouette and finish by Dexter Blackstock. In the end a controversial sending off for flying winger Gareth McCleary still couldn’t prevent the Reds comfortably closing out a 1-0 away win.

I’m away for the next three games but I’m pretty sure we’ve done enough to survive now. I look forward to a party atmosphere at the City ground for the final game of the season against Portsmouth. Pompey will almost certainly be singing the relegation blues.  

 

The 158th Boat Race dominated the front and back pages of the Sunday papers. I never thought I’d be writing that! Who says the annual Oxford v Cambridge, university show down on the Thames is ‘boaring’? This year’s event had it all. A crazy Aussie self-publicist, an ‘anti-elitist’ elitist (himself a product of the private education system and a graduate from LSE) was lucky not to be decapitated as he swam into the path of the on-coming boats. 

The race was stopped, half way along the four mile course, and resumed 30 minutes later, only for the boats to crash, causing an Oxford rower’s oar to snap. The umpire ‘waved play on’, as the  Oxford crew were judged to be at blame, and Cambridge surged on to record their 81st victory (hip-hip hooray!) However the light blue celebrations, were somewhat muted, in respect for the Oxford oarsman who collapsed at the finish, with exhaustion, and was rushed to hospital. Thankfully he has now recovered.

I’m afraid that will have to do. My bed is beckoning, if I am to be up bright early for tomorrow’s great adventure.                                      

Our S.E. Asian tour will commence in the South Vietnamese city, formerly known as, Saigon, from where we’ll take time out to explore the mighty Mekong delta. After flying north, to discover the vibrant capital of Hanoi, we’ll be spending a night afloat on mystical Halong Bay – a World Heritage site.  

After leaving Vietnam, we take in another UNESCO World Heritage centre, Luang Prabang, in Laos, before flying south to yet another, this time, the  ancient Angkor Wat temple complex  in Cambodia.

It’s an intensive itinerary but one  we’re looking forward to. It promises to be ‘oarsome’!                  





Weekday Winners – 7up for Forest…

22 03 2012

Leeds United manager Neil Warnock on Nottingham Forest:

Pre-match quotes:

‘They have been a club in turmoil… It’s been a very, very, traumatic year for them… What happened with Nigel (Doughty) was tragic.’

‘Nottingham Forest is a massive club. I know from my time managing Notts County when the great Brian Clough was over there.’

‘They’ll come back because big clubs do. They’ve just got to stay in this league – which I think they’ll l do – and they’ll come back stronger next season.’

Leeds United 3 Nottingham Forest 7

Post-match quotes:

‘I’m quite embarrassed by the result.’

‘Going back to my Sunday League days I’d have been disappointed to have conceded two or three of those goals.’

Neil Warnock of Leeds United has often been called a ‘Marmite Manager’ – for obvious reasons. If he happens to be in charge at your club, and he’s managed a few – with a mightily impressive record at Championship level – you love him. Supporters elsewhere mostly hate him.   

Amongst students of the round ball game, he’s universally known as ‘Colin’. If you don’t know why, treat ‘Neil Warnock’ as an anagram and you’ll get there…

To be honest I think he’s good value. Never other than forthright and honest, you might not like what he says but, but he says it straight. The fact that he riles so many opposition fans, is a sure-fire indication that he does a decent job. Hence there’s always a fine sense of achievement, when your team puts one over Warnock.

So last night’s biggest ever home defeat for Leeds United, at the hands of the Tricky Trees, was all the more satisfying – seventh heaven!

Let’s not get too carried away. Whichever way you look at it, 7-3 was a freak result. But hopefully it will prove to be the catalyst for Forest to pull away from the relegation zone. Although, as an eternal pessimist, I’m already envisaging the, high-flying, ‘Seagulls’ dropping one in the collective City Ground eye, on Saturday. Oh and then there is the little matter of another away derby – at Leicester next Tuesday…       

So given Forest’s recent Jekyll and Hyde performances (how could this be the same team who hoofed the ball around Pride Park last week?) and a propensity for taking one step forward and three back, the relegation dog-fight is still likely to go to the wire.

I’ve already stated my case with regard to Forest manager Steve Cotterill and last night’s result doesn’t alter that opinion. Even after last night’s result I would still do a straight swap with Leeds, and take Warnock – no question.

What I do suspect is that first team coach Sean O’Driscoll (formerly manager of Doncaster Rovers) is beginning to have more influence on the training ground. If Forest can hang on to him next season and successfully marry his fluent passing game, going forward, with SC’s defensive organisation and set pieces, perhaps there could be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.     

Fair play to Cotterill, though, for selecting and getting the best out of wide men Andy Reid and Garath McCleary in recent weeks. If the Tricky Trees do stay up in the Championship, much of the credit should go to this pair.

McCleary was the headline maker at Elland Road, scoring four goals, taking him to nine in seventeen Championship appearances this season. All the more surprising given that he had previously only found the net four times in eighty-nine league outings, since his arrival from non-league Bromley. He has responded magnificently to the faith SC has shown in him.

Reidy had a hand in four of the seven goals, and his wand of a left foot is central to most of the good things about Forest’s attacking play, at the moment. I’m really pleased for him. He’s always had undoubted ability but struggled to stay in shape. Having worked hard to improve his fitness level, he’s now forcing those who, earlier this season, taunted him with, ‘Who ate all the pies?’ jibes, to eat their words.         

Another huge plus for Forest has been the ‘Dex-factor’. Dexter Blackstock’s recent return to full fitness after career threatening injury has greatly improved Forest’s attacking options. He tucked two more goals away against Leeds, to go with his brace in the away game at Brum.   

It’s marvellous what such a great result does for morale. It certainly put an extra spring in my step. The Flymo came out of mothballs for the first cut of the season, and I baked a well-received Roasted Vegetable Lasagne supper – is there no end to my talents?   

Aptly enough it was a variation on a ‘Weekday Winner’ recipe from this month’s Asda.com/magazine.    

‘Weekday Winner’ – Roasted Vegetable Lasagne

(Serves 4)

  • 450g butternut squash – deseeded and cut into 1cm cubes
  • 2 x red onions – cut into wedges
  • 25g walnuts
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 600ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 3 x level tbsp cornflour
  • ¼ level tsp cayenne pepper
  • ¼ level tsp mustard
  • 125g extra mature Cheddar – grated
  • 180g spinach
  • 250g pack of fresh lasagne

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 190˚C
  2. Put the squash & onion in a bowl and toss in the olive oil until coated
  3. Transfer the squash & onion to a baking tray & roast until tender (approx. 30 mins)
  4. Toast the walnuts on a separate baking tray for 4-5 minutes – roughly chop
  5. Mix a little milk with the cornflour, cayenne pepper & mustard – until smooth
  6. Put in a pan with the rest of the milk and bring to the boil – whisking continually
  7. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese
  8. Put the spinach in a saucepan and heat until wilted
  9. Press and drain the spinach to remove as much liquid as possible
  10. Line a rectangular oven dish with lasagne
  11. Layer the vegetables, sauce, spinach and lasagne and bake in the oven for 20 mins

Serve with granary bead & chilled white wine. I would recommend a Villebois Loire – Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (good deals on-line from Naked Wines) – or a celebratory can of clean, crisp, and ridiculously bubbly ‘7UP’  🙂

 

 





It must be half term… / bills midweek paella!

16 02 2012

‘I’m just a home cook, really, a well-meaning amateur who reads a lot.’

Bill Granger (Australian chef and restaurateur)

 

Apparently breakfast at ‘bills’ (his use of lower case ‘b’ & apostrophe omission – ‘struth!’) is ‘bonza’ and something of a Sydney institution. One of these days maybe…   

 

It must be half term. Number one daughter is home for a couple of days TLC / R&R.

In keeping with my new-found enthusiasm for ‘Teach Yourself Spanish’, and ‘Learn to Play Acoustic Guitar’ (not at the same time of course), last night’s meal was an Andalucían classic.

Well, strictly speaking-speaking, it was my take on one of, Aussie, Bill Granger’s ‘TV Dinners’ – ‘Midweek Paella’ – which I snipped out of the ‘i paper’ some time ago.       

This recipe serves 4 – Esta receta para cuatro personas’ just showing off!

You will need:

  •          1 tablespoon olive oil
  •          8 chicken thighs (boned)
  •          150g frozen prawns
  •          150g frozen seafood cocktail
  •          ½ teaspoon paprika
  •          ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
  •          1 x medium onion – chopped
  •          2 cloves of garlic – crushed
  •          200g paella rice
  •          170g jar of chargrilled peppers in oil
  •          1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock
  •          A generous pinch of saffron
  •          100g of frozen peas
  •          Ground black pepper
  •          Lemon wedges to serve

This is what you do …

  • Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan
  • Mix the paprika, salt and ground black pepper – rub into the chicken
  • Fry the chicken over a medium heat until browned
  • Remove the chicken from the pan and transfer to a plate
  • Reduce the heat, add the onion & garlic – cook for 3 mins while stirring 
  • Tip the rice and peppers into the pan – cook for 1 minute more
  • Pour over the stock, add the saffron, and stir well, bringing to a simmer
  • Stir in the peas and cook for 5 minutes
  • Add the chicken and cook until ‘done’, and the rice has absorbed most liquid (approx 15 mins)
  • Finally add the prawns and seafood – continue cooking for another couple of minutes.
  • Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing

 

Accompany with a bottle of ‘Berberana Reserva Clásico 1877’ and John Williams’ ‘Spanish Guitar Music’

¡buen provecho!

 

 

It must be half term. Every day brings another pronouncement on education…   

New Chief Inspector of Schools, self-styled ‘Dirty Harry’, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has come into office with a Magnum type bang, shooting from the hip, in his bid to raise standards in schools – Clint Eastwood style.

He has already condemned 5000 headteachers as ‘lacking leadership’, labelled 3000 schools as ‘coasting’, and announced that 25% of previously ‘outstanding schools’ are not, actually, or at least won’t be, under his proposed new ‘Ofsted Inspection Framework’.

‘Satisfactory’ is now apparently a synonym for ‘requires improvement’ and will be air-brushed from Ofsted speak, in the same way that ‘very good’ disappeared a few years ago. Henceforth schools will fit into four categories: outstanding, good, requires improvement, special measures –good luck to them!       

Wilshaw is clearly a man with a mission, and an ego. It is always worrying when the head of an organisation sets out to promote him-self in such a way that his public image becomes greater than that of the institution he represents.

Wilshaw, like his Hollywood cop hero, thrives on confrontation, and I fear for those heads and teachers, already struggling to do their best in difficult circumstances, who fail to meet the new standards. ‘Dirty Harry’ has them in his sights and they’re set for the, ‘Go ahead, make my day punk…’ treatment, before being blown away.

At least we now know the reason for the gender gap, in school performance, between girls and boys. It’s because female teachers mark boys down, so they don’t bother! According to findings of the Centre for Economic Performance, women teachers, on average, award lower marks to boys than girls – verified by unidentified external examiners. Male teachers, conversely, award higher marks to boys. But as there are far more women than men in teaching – it’s boys who suffer right the way through their schooling.        

This report is a cracker. If the response from number one daughter is anything to go by – stand by for fireworks in every staff room in the country!       

Finally, today, it has been announced by yet another ‘independent’ report, that labelling schools as,‘failing’, does absolutely no harm at all. Far from being demotivating, Ofsted’s ‘special measures’ tag is such a great incentive that almost all schools, branded in this way, raise their exam results within a 12 month period.

So as long as the the ends justify the means, that’s okay. Ofsted is ‘raising standards’, and, under ‘Dirty Harry’, its tough stance is about to get tougher – boom, boom!    

 





From Nigella to Nigel – Ribsticking ‘Ribollita’…

31 01 2012

Nigel Slater (1958- ) – Culinary Quotes:

‘It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you….Once the warm, salty butter has hit your tongue, you are smitten. Putty in their hands.’(taken from ‘Toast: The Story of A Boy’s Hunger’)

‘Food is, for me, for everybody, a very sexual thing and I think I realised that quite early on. I still cannot exaggerate how just putting a meal in front of somebody is really more of a buzz for me than anything. And I mean anything.’

‘Almost anything is edible with a dab of French mustard on it.’ 

‘I have never eaten a boiled egg, but I have had a soldier or two.’

Last week Valeria made four of the hugest (and tastiest) pizzas I’ve ever seen. They were rectangular in shape, two red and two white (without tomato), all vegetarian, and with the magic ingredient of potato added to the pizza dough – Napoli style (apparently).

Tomorrow Valeria has proposed gnocchi with a blue cheese and walnut sauce! I’m salivating already, but for now it’s my turn in the kitchen again…

‘Nigella Express’ is my cookery bible, but today I’m undergoing a sex change and turning from Nigella to Nigel!

Nigel Slater, that is, the ‘Wulver’ampton’ born food writer, journalist and broadcaster. He has moved up in the World now, living with his cats in a Grade II listed Highbury property, where he tends his kitchen garden. For over a decade he has written a column for ‘the Observer Magazine’. He is also the principal writer for ‘the Observer Food Monthly Supplement’, having previously had a five-year stint with ‘Marie Claire’.

But Nigel’s culinary career had humble beginnings, here in ‘the Shire’, where he gained an Ordinary National Diploma in catering from Worcester Tech – way back in 1976. (Michael Gove – please note. This is a valid vocational qualification)

Already well-known through his Channel 4 series, ‘Nigel Slater’s Real Food Show’, with the help of Richard and Judy’s Book Club, his 2004 award-winning autobiography, ‘Toast: The Story of A Boy’s Hunger’, introduced him to a wider audience.

Slater, himself, described it as, ‘…the most intimate memoir that any food person has ever written.’  A revealing interview with Jean Moir (follow the link) throws further light on Nigel’s miserable early life. His autobiography has been adapted for TV, a BBC film starring Ken Stott and Helena Bonham Carter as Nigel’s father and step-mother, ‘the people I most disliked in my life.’       

Most recently Nigel has appeared in an eight part BBC series, ‘Simple Food’ (September 2011), and his memoir, ‘Tender (Volume 1) – A cook and his vegetable patch,’ with over 400 recipes, is now available in paperback.         

Nigel Slater is best known for uncomplicated, comfort food. Although we don’t have any of his books on the ‘Orchard House’ kitchen shelf we do take ‘the Observer’, and sadly, I know, I cut out some of his recipes that I think I might have a go at, one day!  

Well that day has arrived for ‘Nigel’s Classic Ribollita’.      

Ribolitta, a rib sticking, rustic, peasant dish from the Tuscany region of Italy, literally means ‘reboiled’. It was originally made by reheating minestrone from the previous day and adding left over bread, with cannellini beans and whatever other inexpensive vegetables were to hand. Traditionally, it includes spinach or Tuscan Kale.    

If you would like to try my take on ‘Nigel’s Classic Ribollita’ you will need:

  •          1 x peeled onion
  •          1 x leek
  •          2 x carrots
  •          3 x sticks of celery
  •          1 x courgette
    •  All the above roughly chopped into quite small pieces.
  •          400g can of chopped tomatoes
  •          250g can of cannellini beans in water
  •          leftover sweetcorn (from yesterday!)
  •          4 x thick slices of bread – torn into chunks
  •          4 x handfuls of spinach
  •          3 x cloves of garlic – finely chopped
  •          2 x small red chillies – de-seeded & finely chopped
  •          Olive oil   

What to do…

  •          Cook the onion, leek, carrots, celery, courgette, garlic & chilli in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 20 minutes, or until soft.
  •          Stir in the tomatoes, cannellini beans (plus the water) and leave to simmer over a low to moderate heat for 30 minutes.
  •          Tear up the bread and dunk it into the soup, add the spinach (or alternative greens), stir in, season, and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes.

It can be served immediately, with a trickle of good virgin olive oil but ideally should be prepared the day before and allowed to cool, leaving it in the fridge overnight. This is what I did. Apparently, it intensifies the flavours.

Reheat, or double boil as the title suggests, the next day.

As well as drizzling olive oil over the Ribollita, I couldn’t resist, topping mine off with a few shavings of ‘Parmigiano – Reggiano’, and serving with hunks of warm ciabatta – to dunk in it!         

 Valeria’s verdict, ‘Very good…but I’ve never had Ribollita with sweetcorn.’ It didn’t prevent her taking seconds!