Food for Thought

Food glorious food, I truly eat to live and still have my very first cookbook.

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I made these as a kid

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not obsessed by food (*thinks of sister-in-law’s spag bol and salivates*), but I do kind of, sort of, plan my day around what I’m eating. Husband is no different and will often walk in from work and lovingly greet the fridge as if it were another child.

I also have a fair few like-minded friends. There’s the one that compiles an ‘eatinerary’ for trips abroad, plotting what restaurants they will visit and the friend who has a dedicated meal-planning notebook. To be fair, notebook friend has to contend with a nut allergy, a milk allergy and a fuss-pot toddler. (Did I mention that she was a vegetarian?) Busy life, big family, after-school activities – you can see the sense in planning. As Benjamin Franklin says:

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Whilst husband calls me stubborn, I say ‘tenacious’. I hate to fail and firmly believe in the mantra:

‘If at first you don’t succeed, call it ‘Version 1.0′ and try again.’

For example…

Folding a fitted sheet correctly. Whilst my kids watch You Tube videos of FULLY GROWN ADULTS (ffs) opening ‘Shopkins’ packets, this is my ‘thing’.

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#Shopkins, shopkins! Once ya shop, ya can’t stop!#

Opening a jar of pickled cucumbers. Unless Ryan Gosling lives opposite me and I can feign weakness, me and the Jarkey can handle it.

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You really think I perfected my cheesecake the first time I made it? No chance. There were many versions and much critiquing. In my house we call it ‘TBF’. ‘Tried but failed’. TBF often gets used with dinners, clothing, the England squad. It’s so versatile.

Monday’s meal is always sacrosanct. The busiest day for after school activities, dinner needs to be a crowd-pleaser. Eldest calls it ‘Up the Bum Chicken and Crispy Rice’. (She’s very visual). Recipe at end of blog, but here’s a taster:

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Just look how the light catches her breasts…

Whilst I’m all for a cook-fest, I love eating at friends, going to farmers markets and trying new restaurants. I once read that you should always order out the dish you can’t/rarely make yourself. So if it’s Greek, I will almost always order chops. It’s not that I can’t cook them, but more that I can’t bear the lingering smell in my kitchen.

Posh or pokey, there has to be something that sticks in my memory and makes me want to return somewhere. I have a friend who by her own admission isn’t massively into cooking, but she once made a pasta bake and much like the blobs of oozing mozzarella she generously baked inside it, it sticks in my memory. As does her signature Banoffee Pie. I think she must add something magical to it, because I don’t even really like bananas.

Whether a place has got 3 Michelin stars or a drive-through, as long as its tasty, I’ll eat it. An unassuming pub near me does the most delicious burger and chips. Maybe it’s the dinky little condiment pots they bring to your table? The quaint wooden spoon with your order number on it? Or the cosy fireplace in winter? For me, I will go back every time for that dish. Only negative is that you pay at the bar upon ordering and I miss doing the ‘sign your palm’ thing we all do when we ask for the bill. (I also miss the ‘zip-zap’ noise from the old credit card machines.)

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Olden times

Whilst I enjoy reading social media threads about Penis Beakers or discussions about the best eye cream, I’m most happy when the focus is on food. My photo library is mainly foodie pics or screen grabs of recipes.

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Watermelon, Feta & Kiwi Cube. I will never, ever make this

As promised, ‘Up the Bum Chicken and Crispy Rice

Wash the chicken, don’t wash the chicken. Much like Brexit, it’s your choice and you will have your reasons.

Place chicken in an ovenproof dish. I use a Le Creuset dish. All about ease. One dish. Oven-to-table.

Pat chicken dry with paper towel. Salt and pepper all over. Cover with cling film and leave in fridge all day.

Rinse basmati rice until water runs clear and leave soaking in fresh water all day.

Remove chicken from fridge about half hour before cooking – I always cook from room temperature. Pat it dry again – helps crisp the skin.

Preheat oven to 200˚C.

Shove a whole onion and some garlic cloves, both unpeeled, up the chickens bum. I sometimes do a Jamie Oliver variation of this with a whole boiled lemon, garlic and thyme. I talked a friend through this  recipe, thinking nothing could go wrong. Foolish me. (She has since perfected it and now regularly makes it.)

Either way, it’s all up the bum stuff.  (Don’t worry – link is nothing sinister, just a clip from one of my favourite films ‘Wish You Were Here’, with Emily Lloyd. She was due to play Julia Roberts’ role in Pretty Woman. Fact.)

Spray chicken with some extra virgin olive oil and pour about half a cup of water around it. I mix in some chicken stock too. Shove in oven.

After an hour, pour drained rice around chicken.

General rule: 1 cup of rice, 2 cups water. 2 cups rice, 4 cups water, etc. Add some chicken stock to the water, pour onto rice and stir in s&p and a drizzle of oil. If you have time/inclination, fry over some diced onions and add to the rice, but I often just add dried crispy onions. Sometimes egg noodles too. Stir.

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Lazy option

Back in the oven for another half hour. Chicken cooks for 1.5 hours total.

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Rice angels. Never a grain of rice left

Some friends have argued this seemingly short cooking time with me, but I’m yet to kill anyone so I must be doing something right.

If all else fails, at least I can fold a fitted sheet properly…

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Aisle Have What She’s Having…

This is about the extent of a Tuesday evening in my house:

(Shouts upstairs to family)

“Anyone for anything else on the online shop?”

Bissli, please!” [Eldest]

“Soy sauce. Kikkoman not Blue Dragon, please!” [Youngest. So specific]

Jaffa cakes please!” [Husband, he of simple requests. He claims these are super low in fat and ‘all the footballers eat them’. Sadly, he is not a pro-footballer. Nor do pro-footballers eat ‘Jaffa Cake sandwiches’. Recipe at end of blog.]

Aside from the shame of their utterly unhealthy requests, I get so bored of my weekly shop that I will often cold-call my friends and slay them with “GIMME 5 RANDOM ITEMS ON YOUR FOOD SHOP – STAT!” (Stat: A common medical abbreviation for urgent or rush. From the Latin word statum, meaning ‘immediately.’)

Desperate for further inspiration, I have also taken to introducing one new item a week for the family to try. Last week was dried coconut shreds. The kids were totally disinterested until I said they were Daddy’s ‘foot skin shavings’ and somehow the gross concept intrigued them. Eldest even went back for more.

I definitely live to eat and I love to try new foods – goji berries, jackfruit, Popchips (yuuummmm) and so on. With one exception – beetroot. I have tried, really I have. I was about 8, it was 1983 and the biggest famine in Ethiopia was occurring. I distinctly remember standing in the school lunch line as I moaned to my best friend, “I hate Thursdays – it’s salad day.” This meant limp lettuce, shredded carrot and little cubes of beetroot.

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Pure evil. And red. Like the Devil (and Arsenal)

I can still feel the pinch on my upper arm through the flimsy yellow gingham of my summer dress as my Headmistress dragged me from the line and scolded me in front of my classmates,

“There are children starving in Africa.”

From that day on, I ate my salad every week without a moan. My oldest BFF had to endure similar with Tuesday’s ‘Roast’ offering. Potatoes, soggy cabbage and fried minced beef. Somehow, through inner strength or some such shit, she stored the maggoty-looking beef bits in her cheeks, akin to a hamster, finish her mains and somehow managing to eat dessert still with beef-stuffed cheeks. A trip to the loo would then see her spit out stored mince into those green recycled paper hand towels. She was a staunch vegetarian for the next 25 years.

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I can still smell them. They were always green. And utterly non-absorbent

So, as convenient as it is to have ‘Colin, in Raspberry van’ deliver my regular weekly shop, sometimes I like a trip to the supermarket to see what’s what.

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Off I go, trolley bags in the boot. (I have mentioned these in an earlier blog, but they really are amazing.)  Of course there is a method to my madness and these are 5 rules I stick by to get in and out as quickly as possible:

1) I rearrange items in the trolley as I go along, simply because it makes packing quicker. That said, you may get caught behind those gems in the supermarket who wait until the cashier gives them their total before they make a move to get their wallet and loyalty card out to pay. It’s not Supermarket Sweep. You know you’re gonna have to pay. Be prepared.

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When you hear the ‘beep’, think of Supermarket Sweep

2) I often leave my trolley at the end of the aisle (it’s called a ‘gondola end’). What’s the point of playing trolley bumper cars if I only need one packet of rice?

3) I choose my checkout carefully. Much like queuing for car park barriers in previous blog, the shortest queue is not always the quickest. You could also end up behind Mrs. Forgetful who chuckles as she suddenly remembers the ‘only thing she came in for’ and goes off for 5 minutes searching for milk. Yeah. Hilarious. Write a list FFS.

4) I kind of like the self-checkout. Proper fist-punch opportunity if you can do it without ‘waiting for assistance’ all because the feather-light bag of lettuce hasn’t registered in the bagging area. Also, by going down this route you avoid the freaks at the standard checkout. The ones who can’t grab the product separator quick enough to mark the division between their shopping and mine. LIKE I EXPECTED YOU TO PAY FOR MY STUFF?!!!

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5) Sometimes I go stealth if I only have a couple of items. Head towards the customer with the trolley-full, piled higher than a Pizza Hut salad (extra bacon bits please) who no-one wants to queue behind. If you’re lucky, they’ll let you go in front of them with your insignificant couple of items.

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Ahhhhh memories

I rarely give my husband the task of shopping. Aside from he fact that it takes him ages and he returns with enough crisps and chocolate to cater a kids party, I am very specific and he works to utter vagueness. It’s not worth the argument or re-anactment of one of my favourite films ever: (“Clean up on Aisle 5, Irv.”)

As promised, a recipe for you chocolate lovers out there.

Jaffa Cake Sandwiches

Ingredients:

Jaffa Cake triple pack of 36 Jaffa cakes

Method:

Open carton. You will find 3 long packets of Jaffa cakes.

Tear open 1 packet and remove 3 Jaffe cakes.

Place 1 Jaffa cake between 2 Jaffa cakes, sponge sides facing outwards, like a sandwich.

Eat.

Repeat until full. One pack makes 4 sandwiches.

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*enters husband for Masterchef immediately*