Friday, 27 June 2014

Life changes and moving on

Another quick post today - I really really will get a proper one up soon, I promise!  I felt I ought to give a little update about some fairly hefty changes in my life over this first half of the year.
I mentioned earlier in the year that the Chap and I had split, which happened back at the start of February.  Well since then I've met a lovely man who has done wonders in boosting my ego and making me feel good about myself again.  He's ever so complimentary, I'm really not used to it!  He's also a bit of a sci-fi geek like me; Doctor Who is his particular favourite.  So he shall be known as the Doctor on here.  J
The other major change in my life is that after years of being unhappy at work, I finally took the plunge and handed my notice in.  Things had got to the stage where the place was actually making me ill so I decided it was time to remove myself from that environment.  Today is my last day and although I don't yet have another permanent role to go to I am still convinced that I have done the right thing.  I have been so much happier having made this decision, it's definitely a good thing for me.
Which brings me neatly to the #100happydays challenge I started back on the 20th March.  Completely coincidentally and totally unplanned it so happens that today is Day 100!  So as I move on from my ex-work I complete the challenge of finding something to be happy about for 100 days.  And yes, I would agree with the founder of it that it has had a positive, and hopefully lasting, affect on my outlook and life.  If you want to take up the challenge yourself - and I heartily encourage you to do so - you can find the details here.
I have many of my happy photos to post still, I've only got as far as 45 on here!  I've managed to get them all onto facebook though.  For now however I'll 'treat' you to a tongue in cheek image I posted in my count down to leaving work this week.  Enjoy!  J

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Handy kitchen image

I'm slightly horrified to realise it's nigh on a month since my last post - oops!  A longer post soon but for now - I came across this super useful image on line that I thought I'd share with you.

I'm adding the link to the sidebar 'Handy Links' as I think this is one worth remembering.  This and the Oven Temperature Conversion Chart must be 2 of the best I have come across for cooking.  :-)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

#100HAPPYDAYS Set 3: 32 - 45

Time for the next installment of my #100HAPPYDAYS photos.  If anyone missed it first time round or wants a refresher the premise is summed up on their website.

"We live in times when super-busy schedules have become something to boast about. While the speed of life increases, there is less and less time to enjoy the moment that you are in. The ability to appreciate the moment, the environment and yourself in it, is the base for the bridge towards long term happiness of any human being."

You take the time to notice something that makes you happy each day; no matter how big or small.  This in turn should start help to train your brain to notice the things each day which make you happy.  So helping us to stop focusing on the negatives so much. Huff Post have a good explanatory article here.

Day 32: The Dr has brought me free range eggs. Good eh? 
Day 33: I finally got round to acquiring (ahem), a cutting of the most gorgeous and fragrant rambling rose that I've been walking past on my way to and from work for the last 7 years. Yay! 
Day 34: After a friend alerted me by text (thank you!) I managed to snag these couple of bargains at the local Co-op. Smoked salmon is my favourite!!!  
Day 35: Running around with my favourite small person and her pink bunny. (Confusingly called Little Kitty.) She is an absolute joy. 
Day 36: Unexpected catch up with good friends whilst trying out a different pub. 
Day 37: Day 1 of Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink; with my ma. A favourite cheese of mine but I did make the comment (based on it's looks) 'That's a cheese you wouldn't want to meet down a dark alley' - luckily the owner chap found it pretty funny. 
Any TP fans will know what I mean when I say I think it looks like Horace might. Awesome tasting ewe's milk cheese though - get some from the good folks at Wootton Dairy. 
Day 38: The most gorgeous cider ever tasted by mere mortals. The limited edition Maverick from The Orchard Pig at the food festy. Cider with ginger and a subtle hint of chilli. HOW frigging good is it? And I have 4 pints all my own stashed at home. 
Day 39 (Sunday): Food fest haul. 6 lovely cheeses, mushroom and stilton pie, yummy olives, brilliant The Potted Fish Company bits. (YUM!!) Best cider, Elderflower cordial (try it in your G&T) and my yearly stock up on Cornish Sea Salt. More potted fish loveliness - all those on the top left were free at the end of the fest. Result! 
Day 40: My lovely friend donated me this for my spatzle frolics. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi cariad. 
Day 41: Getting home from a trying day at work to find food delivery accompanied by this note. 
Day 42: The smell of spring, and hope, and new beginnings.  
Day 43: The beauty of the sky never fails to inspire and awe me. Truly I live in a wonderful place. 
Day 44: Making new friends. Bigger jug than me!!  
Day 45: Sleepy kitty. Being very caring and loving... and hardly biting my hand much at all...

I have a full post about the food festy to get up sometime soon.  If you're ever in the area at this time of year it's well worth a visit.
I'm hoping for another happy picture later today - Chiefs have their last home game of the season today vs Harlequins.  Could be a hard game...

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A Soup Maker recipe - spicy parsnip soup

Back at Christmas my gift from my mother was a soup maker.  She knows me and my love for kitchen gadgets well!

They were everywhere at the festive season and seem to be the next ‘thing’.  (Move over bread makers, cool your heels ice-cream machines, talk to the hand, cake-pop makers.)  Although I wasn't sure whether they were just a gimmick – after all – I had a blender didn't I? – I was now the proud; if slightly dubious, owner of one.  
A few days later once I was back home I cracked it out for a test run and thought I'd try an adaptation of my spiced roasted parsnip soup recipe.  (May have had something to do with the 4 bags of parsnips I picked up for 25p a go from the CFC too...)
I skipped the roasting this time as I wasn't putting the oven on for anything else and it seemed a bit unnecessary just for a few 'snips.
For some reason the post got lost in the ether but in case anyone is considering the merits of owning one of these, or have recently acquired one, I thought I‘d finally post the recipe.

Spicy Parsnip Soup, for Soup Maker machines
600ml veg stock. 
0.5tsp ground turmeric
0.5tsp ground cayenne
1tsp garam masala
1tsp ground cumin 
1 small Onion
3 sticks Celery
4 small Spud
250g (4sml + 1 larger) Parsnip
100ml water to top up + rinse spices from jug
100ml milk- to taste
100-150ml plain greek yoghurt - taste

Stir spices into stock and leave to cool.  [My soup maker insists on cold stock.]
Chop veg into 2-3cm cubes.
Pop everything bar the milk and yoghurt in measuring jug of your soup maker and check you’re within the volume limits of the machine.  (This will vary from model to model.)
Pour the contents of the jug into the soup maker and press the ‘on’ button.  I used the puree option; my soup maker also comes with a ‘chunky’ option.
Once the cycle has finished taste it.  A little thick and / or on the spicy side – add the milk and yoghurt as desired.

So 20 minutes later and ta daaa – I for one was very impressed.  Super tasty soup in a minimal time frame, especially if you’ve thought ahead and have cold stock to hand.  A short cut for that which I’ll try next time would be to make the stock cube up with a minimal amount of water; just enough to dissolve it, then top up to the required amount with cold water.*
This is invaluable for making fresh soup to take to work for your lunch – you can chuck everything in the jug the night before and just press on when you rise in the morning.  Pop it in a flask and in the colder months it was a lifesaver for this office worker in a building with no microwave!
Having not been totally sure about the benefits of a soup maker, this is a gift that has very quickly convinced me of its value amongst my kitchen gadgets.  It’s fast and it’s proving to be economical as it’s great for those ‘bottom of the veg drawer’ soups –chuck it in and hit ‘puree’.  It’s not the quietest thing in the world when it hits the blend part of the cycle but then, neither is a regular blender or FP.  I’m a firm fan!   Now, just to find somewhere for it to live...
*I've tried this since and it works a treat.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

#100HAPPYDAYS Set 2: 18-31

Time for the next batch of images I've taken for my 100 Happy Days challenge.  Starting with a rare appearance of myself - not something I make a habit of on here that's for sure!

Day 18: Loving the amazing voice of Angelina on a drizzly Sunday afternoon. Being captured looking like a muppet enjoying it.
Day 19: Yorkshire pudding w' wild garlic experiment WIN!!  [As seen here.]
Day 20: Walking home in the sun and realising - IT'S SPRING!!! Finally.
Day 21: Catching up with a good friend I haven't seen since January, sat by the river looking at the beautiful evening sky.
Day 22: Spring flowers of Blue (my fave) from the garden. Gorgeous smell from the bluebells. 
Day 23: Nearly got mown down on the bridge on my way home from work, by 7 or 8 little girls, all on matching purple go-karts. Pretty random. Bringing up the rear was one small boy on a big yellow tonka truck style thing, with his dad. Their pure delight made me laugh in the sun.
Day 24: (Before scalding myself with boiling water!) The kids on Easter hols round here have discovered a love for pavement art. These dinosaurs (?!) are a fave on the way back from the shops. 
Day 25: A cider in the sun from my good friend and her somewhat over exuberant pup.
Day 26: Getting home rather later than anticipated to the cat, sofa, warming soup and my current guilty viewing pleasure. Mmm; cosy.
Day 27: It's getting nice enough to sit out on my lunch with a good book and soak up the vitamin D. Aaaahhhh.  
Day 28: Discovering a secret pond on campus on my way home that instantaneously brought back happy memories of a childhood holiday and my dad rowing us across a similarly weed choked lake. I know this pondweed is an invasive git but it's such a GREEN colour in spring!  
Day 29 - Beautiful sunny morning on the way to work today. Blue sky, cherry blossoms bobbing in the breeze, lush fresh spring green grass and burbling river. Last day in work for 11 days. Nice.
Day 30. A man in a bow tie made me smile. Sadly I don't have an actual photo so this will have to do.*
Day 31: Having a cheeky bubble bath in the middle of the day just because you want to, and you have 10 days off so can sacrifice one to the Radox gods.

Now the more observant of you may have noted that I mentioned scalding myself with boiling water in amongst that lot.  Yes - I did.  And it bloody hurt.  All I can say is stick your hand in a pot of cold water for several hours and be glad to have an aloe vera plant at home.  Eeek!
Day 2 after doing it
Today, mostly peeled!

Happy Easter everyone!

*If anyone is a Dr Who fan you can find that T-shirt here.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Yorkshire puddings with wild garlic

Just a quick idea, as it's Sunday and you might be making your yorkies later for the roast.
Mix your normal yorkshire pudding batter mix.*
Rinse a handful of wild garlic (ramson) leaves under the tap and squeeze the water out.  Finely chop and add them to the batter.
 Cook as normal.  Yum!
This was an experiment as I wasn't at all sure whether the garlic would burn during the cooking process or whether the flavour would work but it was a success.  As I love garlic and don't have meat for my roasts I'd put these with anything but I'd imagine them working well with a chicken roast, and maybe lamb.
*My regular go to batter mix is 4oz plain flour, 0.5 pint milk and one egg.  There's been a lot in the media over the last year suggesting that actually these quantities should all be the same. IE by volume - crack the egg into a measuring jug and add the same amount of milk and flour (not sure how you do the flour?).  Yorkshire chef Brian Turner advocates the addition of a little vinegar for a good rise; and in fact explains the 'measure the same method' by using a cup.  (Video here.)  Pretty much all the recipes (including my own) recommend a resting period for the batter mix before cooking. Although not Queen Delia!  In fact there's a whole lot of discussion and arguing on the 'perfect' Yorkshire pudding.  See here for a little more info.
Anyway, I like to mix mine up a little by adding herbs to the batter, or try a little hard full-flavoured cheese, or wholegrain mustard.  I guess horseradish could work for accompanying a beef roast - try it and let me know!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Food swap - pasta with salmon and capers paste from Pantelleria

Manu from the beautiful Cooking Manu blog had the great idea of hosting a food swap for bloggers and non-bloggers alike.
I was partnered with Silvia (co-incidentally Manu's sister in law) who is based in Milan, Italy.  I sent her some local Devon wholegrain honey mustard.  I'm intrigued to see what she comes up with for that!
She sent me something new to me - capers paste.  It's from Pantelleria which she explained is an island in Sicily.  (There's a very interesting post about why capers from that region are so special here.)
Now, I was supposed to have posted a recipe using her ingredient by the 31st March but with typical 'Ruth-time' I'm just a little bit late - oops!
I played with various ideas in my head before deciding to use it in a fairly simple pasta dish.  As I'd never used it before I wanted to get a feel for the strength and depth of flavour first time round.

This made a large meal (with leftovers) for 2.

1 bag fresh pasta
2 salmon fillets (mine happened to be hot smoked ones with peppercorns)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic*
1 tsp+ dried basil
1tsp+ dried oregano
1tbsp+ capers paste (pasta di capperi)
Handful calabrese florets
Handful wild garlic (ramsons) leaves*
Little grated strong cheese, if liked
Black pepper
*Use less garlic if you're not a fan.  I am so it tends to go in everything!

Heat a splosh of EVOO over a low heat in a decent size frying pan.
Finely mince the garlic and add to the pan once the oil is warming up.
Finely chop the onion and add it to the pan.  Sweat down for several minutes.
Get a large pan of water boiling for the pasta.  Once it comes to the boil add a generous pinch of salt and the pasta.  Fresh pasta generally only takes 3-4 minutes so keep an eye on the time.
Add the herbs to the onion pan and stir well.  If you feel the mix is drying out now or at any point you may want to add a little water - nab some from the pasta pan if so.
Add the capers paste a little at a time, stirring in well each time and giving it a minute to cook in then tasting.  Bear in mind that the plain pasta will soak up a lot of flavour.
Drain off the pasta once it's done, reserving a little of the cooking water.
Cook the salmon fillets in the pan with the onions and garlic, flake them up as they cook through.
Throw in a handful of calabrese cut into small florets and 4 or 5 minced ramson leaves.  Add a little of the pasta water now to steam the veg.
Grind in black pepper to taste and stir into the pasta.  Add a little grated cheese if liked, I felt the dish needed that extra flavour to balance the salty umami notes from the capers and the strength of the garlic.
Serve and enjoy.
 This was delish and gave me a good idea of how the capers paste works in a dish.  It certainly has a big flavour but also seems invaluable for the umami notes.  I can see this having an incredible affinity with good tomatoes and black olive tapenade on some fantastic bread...Mmmmm...