Thursday, 31 December 2009

Where I've been...

Nearly 2010? What!? Where did the year go? As someone in the office commented a few weeks ago "it can't be nearly 2010, that's the future!"

I was hoping I'd make it to 300 posts before the year was out, but it tu
rns out the fates were against me, so I shall finish the year on 298, with some reflections on where I've been, and a totally random recipe for some damn fine ice cream. Because despite what N says, there is no weather too cold for ice cream, especially not when it's your first ever homemade batch, it's rather tasty, and you're tucked up on the sofa with cricket highlights!It's been quite the year here in the North London Kitchen. It was the year I went public with the blog, and as a result I have met some really special and lovely people. I thank you for coming into my little corner of the interwebs and coaxing me out of my comfort zone to meet you, or write to you. It goes without saying that this blog wouldn't be what it is without the people who pop in and say hello. You have made the year very special indeed. Thank you.

In the wider world of the North London Kitchen it's been quite the year as well. I managed to travel to three countries, sell my products on Covent Garden, watch one of my closest friends get married at the most beautiful wedding, and then watch the newly married couple cut a cake I had made in fr
ont of their guests. All the while in the background I was hurriedly battling with words to meet my PhD deadline (done! wow!), whilst trying to learn even more about gardening, and thinking about where on earth my future might take me. I got my first ever 9-5 job, and somehow still managed to learn how to quilt and continue on my knitting and sewing quest (don't ask about the knitting, I still have yet to make a successful garment, although my scarves and gloves are coming on some!).

I'm not sure how I managed it all, and reading that back I'm beginning to understand why by body has given in to a bad cold and forced me into bed for the final day of the year. Now I get why I feel exhausted!

This week I made my final and controversial act of the year, which perhaps implies where I might go next. In a dramatic change of form I had my hair cut. Not just trimmed, but chopped off a full eight inches! It went from my waist to just below my shoulders. If I'd have done that this time last year I'd have cried and cried to see it gone. But right now it feels like the right time.And on that note I give you ice cream, because it's always the right time for ice cream!

I was very lucky as Father Christmas (the northern branch) left me a Kitchenaid ice cream bowl for Christmas. It is something I had long admired, and so have spend a year collecting any and every ice cream recipe from magazine, "just in case." My patience won out, and on Boxing day we tucked into fresh homemade damson ice cream! I had damsons tucked away in the freezer for such an occasion, but if you don't you could use plums, or any deep rich berry.
This recipe if very loosly adapted from a Nigel Slater one. What's below is for a very small batch, but it can easily be doubled.

Damson Ice cream - serves 2 generously

250g damsons
2 large egg yolks
100g caster sugar
125ml double cream
125ml natural yoghurt
2 tablespoons of champagne or dry white wine

Place the damsons and wine in a pan and cook over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, or until you have a good amount of juices. Push the mixture through a fine sieve until you only have the stones and skins left. Leave the puree to cool completely.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Warm the cream in a saucepan and then add to the egg mix, stirring constantly. Rinse and dry the saucepan, and then return the egg and cream mixture to it, and heat gently to form a custard. Stirring constantly so it doesn't get too hot. It is ready when just thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Immediately transfer to a bowl in shallow sink of cold water, again, stirring the whole time. This will stop it curdling. Leave until cold.

Mix together the damson puree, custard and yoghurt. The pour into your ice cream maker and freeze as per the instructions and then transfer to the freezer. If you don't have an ice cream maker, place the mixture in a tupperware and put in the freezer. Remove every hour and beat the frozen edges into the middle until desired consistancy is reached. It won't be quite as creamy as that made in a machine, but it will still taste great!

I found that it needs to be removed from the freezer a good 30 minutes before serving, in order to be soft enough to scoop.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Old traditions, new traditions.

It was three years ago that we first started having our Christmases together, alone, in Our Lovely Flat. It was quite the revelation of calm, and something we'd both find it difficult to give up now. The family visits are lovely - perhaps not accompanied by the best weather or travel conditions, but lovely nonetheless - we get to see each others in the two weekends before Christmas, delivering presents (when they're not forgotten! Oops!) and enjoying long lazy evenings of wine and chat, and if I'm particularly lucky N's parents will break out the card games, and then thrash me at all the one they know and I don't. Cribbage? "fifteen two,fifteen four" what's all that about then?! We just like being able to do our thing.

But what is that thing?!

That first Christmas in our flat was quite the revelation in other ways too. There was a conflict of traditions, and much confusion about how to resolve them. We shared stories in the run up to the big day of how each of our families played out Christmas morning. In N's family presents were opened immediately, in pyjamas and accopanied by glasses of Bucks Fizz. In my family however, it was quite different. My stocking, kindly left outside my bedroom door by Father Christmas, was allowed to be opened in secret, in pyjamas, and then shown off downstairs in a haze of excitement. The presents under the tree however had to wait. Everyone must be washed and dressed, all food prep done, and the all important clincher, it must be done whilst eating mini-sausage rolls, mince pies (in exploding pastry - aka, very short shortcrust) and sipping hot fresh coffee.

There were other conflicts too, N and his brother always had chocolate advent calendars, I on the other hand always had beautiful old fashioned ones with windows and pictures. Oh, and don't get me started on what you had to eat on the day!

We weren't quite sure what to do about these traditions. We knew Christmas wouldn't feel quite like Christmas without them, but somehow it didn't feel right to pick some over others. This, of course, led to an inevitable stumbling into Christmas with no clear plan at all. And it all worked out wonderfully. Some traditions have been kept, others discarded, and naturally new ones have evolved over three years to become our very own, and I couldn't be happier!

We have lazy Christmas mornings, and open mini-stockings in bed with coffee, and then carry that coffee to the tree, spread a quilt on the floor and open big presents, with Buck's Fizz, mince pies, and coffee, all in our pyjamas! As for the advent calendars? Well, I still have one with pictures, and N still gets chocolates, albeit homemade and tucked into a fabric calendar.

Old traditions and new traditions, all good traditions. The food has also evolved over the years, as we have gradually come around to the idea that you should only eat what you want to, no matter what anyone says about brussel sprouts being The Law. So, we have nut roast, potatoes,stuffing and stir fried carrots and broccoli. The latter is not very festive, but it's a darn sight nicer than watching two people push sprouts round their plates trying to hide them!

And so, here, I finally come to a recipe to share with you. Nut roast. We're seasoned veggies, and have been around the ring with many a nut roast in our time, more than a lot of which have been mediocre at best. This one is not. We have it every Christmas, and every year we complain that we eat it and then forget about it for another twelve months, as it's so good. I can also tell you that it feeds 4-6 people, but that it's always best to make more, so you can have nut roast and gravy sandwiches on Boxing day. No really, make it just for that, a wonderful sloppy indulgence that has officially been added to next year's list of traditions! (This image is just before I heaved the sarnie onto the plate and dumped a load of onion gravy on it, oh yes!)

Luxury Nut Roast

My exact version of this is a very closely guarded secret, and I'm afraid I'm not sharing all, but this is what I start with before the tinkering, and it is hands down, delicious. Make it, even if you're not veggie. I made this for a bunch of meat eaters for Sunday lunch once, and there wasn't a scrap to be seen.

I should warn you that I've never successfully turned this out in a loaf shape, instead I scoop it from the pan onto plates. Frankly we don't care that it doesn't look pretty because it tastes so good, but if you're looking for presentation, you might want to reconsider!

Also, I make mine the day before and leave it to rest overnight in the fridge. I swear that this makes the flavours much better, and it saves time on the day.

Serves 4-6 (just!)

2oog mixed nuts (use whatever suits you, walnuts, hazels cashews, brazil, peanuts and any seeds go well in this)
75g dried cranberries
100g shallot (I use basically half an onion and it seems to be fine)
400g tin chopped tomates, drained in a colander for 10 mins
1 large egg
100g strong cheddar, grated finely
dash of dried mint
dash of dried sage
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp marmite, mixed with 1tbsp red wine and a 1tsp orange juice
pinch of salt, and lots of grinds of pepper
tsp mustard

Grease a large loaf tin and set aside.

Lightly toast the nuts in a frying pan until just becoming fragrant. Remove and cool, then whizz in a food processor until finely ground.

In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. Place in the prepared pan and leave overnight in the fridge, or for at least an hour to let the flavours deepen.

Preheat over to 180C. Cook for 45mins to an hour until firm and golden. Serve with cranberry sauce and onion gravy.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and are bounding towards the new year with happy thoughts and outrageous resolutions.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

"one day we'll all look back on this and laugh..."

..So, apparently things get worse before they get better.

new flight delayed by five hours...flight home flight booked, again, then a text to say it was cancelled...finally arrived home a day late, to discover I wasn't paid this month.


Not quite the relaxing stress-free run up to Christmas we had hoped for. But we are thankful for the small things, and the not so small things, like not having been booked on the Eurostar, having family to entertain us with card games and whiskey, a cat who loves us despite the fact that we couldn't get home to him, a friend and a neighbour who were happy to look in on the cat and be messed around because we were, friends who listened to us moan, and bought us drinks, and made us laugh all night.
And being home on Christmas eve, in our lovely flat, with a beautiful tree full of decorations that remind us of people and places that we love.

The halls are decked, and so it's time to bake the gingerbread, mull the wine, have a bath and let the relaxing festivities begin.

I hope you are all surrounding by the friends and family that you love. Have a very merry Christmas, and thank you for reading my little corner of the interwebs. Normal service will resume after all the mince pies have been eaten and the recycling put out!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Out of Action

Sometimes you just have days (ahem, weeks) when the world seems out to get you. I had plans for lovely posts this December, but it seems to be the 19th, and my blog remains sparse. Why? Well, it started with work getting incredibly busy, throw into that a round of pre-Christmas parental visits, and a list of outstanding Christmas presents long enough to make even the saner amongst us weep, and you begin to get an idea of how my December has been shaping up. Now, granted, this is probably exactly how everyone else's is going. But I haven't gotten to the good bit yet!

Last weekend, whilst potting in my parents brand new beautiful kitchen I started playing with some settings on my camera. I decided to do some black and white, and I was really pleased with them. So, after the six and a half hour drive home I eagerly fired up the laptop to blog about them. Oh no, my memory card had other ideas! No pictures to be found. Not only were the black and whites missing, but about a hundred others, including the ones of the delicious port and prune brownies I was going to include in said post. I was not amused.
So I was nervous about using that memory card to take pictures, and of course, could I find my spare, of course I couldn't. Almost a week passed before I was able to do anything.

Then yesterday was the final straw. Trying to fly out to Europe over Christmas is always a tough haul. Especially when the flights you have are with a budget airline, because they were the only ones you could get. Add snow into the mix, and you have total chaos. Trains don't run, planes don't fly, and heaven forbid anyone should be on hand at the airport to help you. We waited and waiting, and were finally told that all flights were cancelled and we should go home. Cue a battle back across London and a whole bunch of upset family members. Then we made the mistake of getting online to claim our compensation, only to discover our flight had actually taken off.

Angry doesn't cover it. So today, we try again. Different airline, different airport. And goddamnit I don't care how long I have to wait, but we are getting to France tonight, no matter what.

Er, yes, so that's why I haven't posted. I will have to leave you today with the only festive picture I have managed to snap, and the promise (yet again) that there is more on it's way next week when I finally get to breathe again.

I hope you're all having better runs up to Christmas, and in the midst of your own baking/shopping/entertaining chaos, you are managing to enjoy a huge glass of mulled wine and a whole host of chocolate goodies.

p.s. During the writing of this post my computer crashed. Seriously, the world is against me right now!