Saturday, 27 October 2012

Falling at the last

This Blogtober thing, I mean.  I don't think the last few days can really count as proper posts and today I'm only posting so no-one thinks I have inadvertently shuffled off my mortal coil.

Normal service will resume soon (ie I won't be trying to post every day!)

(But  right now I'm off to see Mr Bond...)

Friday, 26 October 2012

Blogtober Cop-Out Number Two

With a very limited time to spare this evening, a quick update on the MI5 story.

Miss U-t-B enjoyed her Russian lesson and now has a smattering of useful phrases. She wants to learn Finnish and Japanese at university.

When Mr U-t-B asked her what else happened, she said, 

'I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you!'

She is currently out.  Allegedly with her sister, on a mission to Farnborough Gate, to see a Mr R McDonald. Should I be concerned?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Photo-free Thursday

...because I can't be bothered to climb the stairs to download any!


Miss U-t-B arrived home from school today to announce that MI5 are coming into school tomorrow (well, one of them!) to give a presentation to the Year 11s, and that she is one of ten hand-picked to then attend either a Russian or decoding lesson.

Should we be looking out for a change in behaviour from now on?  Do they recruit fifteen year olds nowadays?


I've just come back from the school Hallowe'en Fancy Dress Disco.  I was on 'loo patrol' with a colleague  ie stationed on the corridor near the loos, to bark at the ones who run along the corridor, and keep an ear open for noise and shenanigans in the loos.   (We had volunteered for this role as it means a) we could get on with putting the Christmas shoeboxes together and b) we weren't expected to do the Macarena or listen to Agadoo!

Most amusing snippet of conversation from the evening came from a tiny Year 5 boy, dressed in black and with more than the necessary face-paint.

'Don't you know that I am technically the Grim Reaper?"

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Stuck-in-a-Traffic-Jam Kind of Day

I feel like I've been stuck in a huge and very noisy jam most of today.  

It was a strange kind of jam, with a weird mix of bad-tempered tractor drivers, numerous angry car drivers, fire-engines whizzing by and strange Casey-Jones-style American steam trains running alongside from time to time.

And all because Mr U-t-B (in his infinite wisdom) decided to purchase this book at Lidl this morning...

...and it was, of course, an enormous hit with Sophia, pushing Upsy Daisy

very firmly into the background, and even  denying us the pleasure of a protracted search for a cave-dwelling mammal...

Thanks, husband dearest!  May your night be as haunted by the din as my day has been!

(I may just sneak the darned thing under my pillow and give it an occasional press through the night.  That'd teach him the error of his ways!)

Short post as I have lots to do!  There are baby shoes, fairy houses and all sorts in the making, and I'm working to a deadline.  Half-term next week, so am looking forward to a change of pace...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Sausage, Spinach and Red Pepper Pasta Bake

I have been continuing my foray into new recipes, but I haven't shared a couple of them because we didn't like the end results.  And if it's not good enough for us in Used-to-Bees HQ, it's not good enough for you, dear readers!

Today's recipe was a bit of a hit-and-miss affair.  I liked it (with a tweak, I'd like it very much, but more of that later) but Mr U-t-B wasn't all that keen, and Miss U-t-B wasn't feeling very hungry (ie: had arrived home from school ravenous and eaten toast and Doritos not so very long before it was ready!) so she ate a small portion and expressed no real opinion, except by leaving all the red pepper.  Anyway, as my judgement in these matters is supreme, I will share!

First I skinned and fried some tasty sausages in a little oil.

Then I added a cut up red pepper and fried till the pepper was soft and there were some nice bits of caramelisation going on in the pan...

Then I strained it, as I wanted to get rid of as much of the fat as possible, and put it aside.

I cooked some pasta shapes (a mixture of penne and farfalle as they take the same time to cook and I wanted to finish off the packets).

I made a quick cheese sauce using my lazy method  (explained here).

When the pasta was cooked I drained it and added half a packet of young spinach leaves.  The idea was that they would wilt and get mixed through the pasta.  My pan wasn't large enough, so I had a devil of a job (and messed up almost every pan in the kitchen)...

...before I eventually had (in an ovenproof dish) the pasta into which had been stirred the cheese sauce, the sausages and pepper and the bag of spinach.  This was topped with mozzarella. (There's the tweak I'd do - I'd not bother as I find these days I only like my mozzarella in salads.  I might put a bit of cheddar on top instead, but to be perfectly honest, it would be fine without.)

Into the oven it went to melt the mozzarella.  

Once it was out of the oven, my stomach took over and I dived in to eat rather than taking photos of the finished meal!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Step away from the classic...

There are some things that just should NOT be messed with!

Today, Chris Evans informed me that it is thirty-five years since Meatloaf's 'Bat Out of Hell' was released.

I can see no earthly reason why I shouldn't indulge in a clip at this point...

Was it really that long ago?  It is one of those tracks that immediately transports me back to a time and a place, namely driving round Clapham Common in one of my uni friends cars, sun shining and everyone singing at full throttle!  Not that that was thirty-five years ago, but by the time I was a student, the album had acquired the status of a classic.  Nobody would DARE mess with it!

So HOW has this been allowed to happen?

Gary Barlow to perform on War of the Worlds album remake

But not just any track, oh no, 'Forever Autumn'.

I love the original - it may be overplayed on some radio stations but it doesn't matter to me (because I'm a soppy, sentimental fool).  Justin Hayward's version is so full of emotion - you really feel the pain.

(Oh - and he wears a mean floral shirt!)

I'm loathe to provide a link to the ruined updated version, but for the sake of comparison it must be done...

Nah!  It just doesn't register on my own personal 
hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck-standing-up and eyes-welling-up scale.  
I actually quite like Mr Barlow when he sticks to singing his own songs, but this is a mistake.  A BIG one!

Which song would you hate to hear messed with?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A nice roast and a bit of a get-together

Today marked the start of the best 
season of the year for me - the roast season!

Mr U-t-B likes to tell everyone that when we met I had never cooked a roast, and that he taught me everything I know on the subject.  It's actually true that I'd never rustled up a roast before I knew him, though I think have also learnt a few tricks of my own since then.  

As a result, we always enjoy the cooler months and the chance to get family or friends round for a good chunk of meat with lots of trimmings and some good puddings.

Today we had Mr U-t-B's two eldest, with their partners and the two babies, Sophia and Dylan, plus Dylan's Dad's Mum and her partner.

We started with champagne cocktail (a sugar cube, two dashes of Angostura Bitters and a tablespoon of brandy in each glass, topped with champagne)  to finally pop the cork of a bottle of champagne that Dylan's Nanna had brought here on the night (way back in June) when we thought we were going to wet the baby's head, but then he didn't put in an appearance till the next day! (And champagne at ten-ish in the morning didn't sound like a good idea!)

The roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings  went down very well, and then it was time for pudding.  I'd used two untried recipes - a cheesecake that claimed to be 'the best cheesecake ever' and a chocolate-y one that was to be served with poached pears.

I was a bit suspicious of that cheesecake recipe, with all that trumpet blowing, but I have to say I rather agree now. I'm not a mad fan of cheesecake in general, finding them often too rich, too sweet or too cloying, but this one was excellent.  So here is the recipe - it's adapted from Galton Blackiston's 'Return to Real Cooking'.

As good as it looks!

Prep time: 35 mins plus chilling

Cook time: I hr 40 mins
Do ahead: Needs time to cool and chill overnight. Once cold, the cooked cheesecake and topping can be stored in the fridge for up to two days.  

For the biscuit base
165g soft butter
40g icing sugar
165g self-raising flour

For the filling
2 x 300g full fat Philadelphia cream cheese
1 x 500ml tub creme fraiche
365g caster sugar
60g plain flour
6 large eggs, beaten
100ml double cream
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the topping
400g blueberries
50g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp arrowroot

You will need 
a 28cm, 6cm deep spring-form tin and a small shallow non-stick tin measuring 15cm x 25.5cm both lightly oiled

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, fan 175 degrees, gas 5.  Make the biscuit base by creaming the butter and icing sugar together, using an electric hand whisk, till light and fluffy - this will take about five minutes.  Sift in the self-raising flour and whisk that in too.  Spread the mixture evenly in the shallow tin and bake for 10-12 mins or until lightly golden.  Leave the biscuit to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  In a bowl, using a wooden spoon (oh I do like a recipe that makes one feel like a proper old-fashioned cook - just a bowl and a wooden spoon - none of these mod cons!) beat together  the cream cheese, creme fraiche and caster sugar.  Sift in the plain flour followed by the egg, in batches, stirring well between each addition.  Stir in the cream and the vanilla.  Don't worry if there are still a few lumps.  Cover and set aside.

When the biscuit is cold, whiz it briefly in a food processor until you have crumbs.  Press the crumbs firmly into the base of the springform tin, using the back of a spoon.  Put the tin in the fridge to chill for 30 mins.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees, fan 140 degrees, gas 2.  For the topping, put the blueberries, sugar, cinnamon stick and 4 tablespoons of water into a pan and heat over a low heat. By the time the sugar has dissolved, the fruit should be softened but still whole. This should take about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix the arrowroot with a small amount of water.  Stir the arrowroot into the pan and bring the liquid just to simmering point so it thickens slightly.  Pour into a bowl, cool, then chill.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the biscuit base. Bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes.  The cheesecake will have risen to the top of the tin and will be just firm on the outside and slightly wobbly in the centre.  Remove from the oven and allow it to cool.  Don't worry if a crack appears as it will be covered with the topping.  Once cold, cover the tin with clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight.

Take the cheesecake out of the fridge an hour before you wish to serve it.  Remove from the tin, transfer to a plate and spoon over the topping (after discarding the cinnamon). Serve any leftover topping in a jug.

(NB: If you make this, DO put the finished cheesecake on a plate with upturned edges, not a flat platter like this.  The blueberry juice stains on one of my favourite linen tablecloths were somewhat alarming - though I think Oxi-Action has sorted the problem out!)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Saturday in London - A Make-Up-the-Story-Post

...'cos I'm a wee bit tired, I'm determined not to fail the Blogtober challenge and it's 
mostly self-explanatory!

(Highly recommended - very funny and clever!)

Friday, 19 October 2012

Getting ahead for Sunday lunch

We are having a crowd over for lunch on Sunday, but are heading into London to the theatre tomorrow, so I thought I would try and find some recipes that I could do ahead. Otherwise my Sunday morning may become a little fraught with too much to do and too little time!

We're going to have Roast Beef, so I thought I would do some braised red cabbage. This is handy because it can be made a couple of days in advance, and it always seems to taste better on re-heating.  It also is so gloriously red that you feel it must be doing you LOTS of good! I normally use Delia's recipe, but thought I'd try this new one, Ruby Braised Red Cabbage with Beetroot (from BBC Good Food) as a nod to the Polish contingent!

First melt 50g of butter...

Add a couple of star anise and a couple of cinnamon sticks...

Add in a finely shredded (after quartering and coring) red cabbage, and 5 raw (okay, mine were cooked) peeled medium beetroot, cut into thick rounds..

Add one large sliced red onion...

Three tablespoons of sugar...

100ml red wine vinegar...

...And (my first substitution) 100ml of apple juice.  The recipe calls for the juice of an orange, but as oranges (however much I like them) do not agree with me, I substituted the apple juice instead.

Season well then cover and simmer for about 40 minutes.

Now add in 2 peeled, cored and roughly chopped Bramley apples, and cook (covered) for a further 35-40 minutes, till the cabbage is tender.

At this point the cabbage can be cooled and refrigerated for a couple of days, or you can freeze it for up to two months. 
(Get ahead for Christmas!)

All I need to do on Sunday is reheat it in the microwave or oven (depending on what space is available) then add 6 tablespoons of fresh, grated horseradish, a handful of  parsley, chopped, and the zest of an orange. 

I'm going to use a bit of creamed horseradish, as I couldn't find fresh, and omit the zest.

Later I'm going to make a cheesecake and a chocolate pudding, both of which say they are better made ahead. If they come out well you can bet you're going to see them here.  
(And if it all goes quiet on the pudding front, you'll know what happened...)