January Food

January is a month when the comfort of warming food is an important part of family life and it is a pleasure to be inside the kitchen looking out (click on the links to see previous posts on these subjects).

Butternut squash became a regular feature in my shopping basket this month.IMG_5940so that I could make tasty, filling soup.

I also bought red cabbage again. It’s perfect with winter meals like casserole and toad in the hole.IMG_6112There have been a lot of one pot meals. This one uses swede (turnip if you are from the North-East), a vegetable that is always cheap and cheerful and surprisingly sweet and fragrant when cooked Moroccan style with cumin, coriander and chick peas.

IMG_6089‘Tis the season for Seville oranges…IMG_1418IMG_1419to become…IMG_6023marmalade. This year with added sparkle.IMG_1500Little onions took a bath in vinegar and spices to become…IMG_6108pickled treats.

The oven was busy with plenty of baking…IMG_5996snowflake biscuits…IMG_6086cream sponge cake with home made jam topping…IMG_6115after school muffins…IMG_6052belated birthday treats for work colleagues (The Husband was responsible for this feast, not me)…IMG_6166more muffins, dairy free this time by substituting soya milk… IMG_6142and finally, four Christmas cakes. I said I was going to be organised, didn’t I?

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Teacher’s Pet

Being a teacher in a primary school at Christmas is a Good Gig. They get a gift from pretty much every child. I have a friend who timed her maternity leave based around this fact. I bet it kept her in chocolate for the rest of the year. Well, at least until Easter.

I think I have always given a home made gift, usually because I haven’t been organised enough to go to the shop and buy something. This year has been no different. Last week consisted mainly of nursing sick children. Any time I had left over was frantically devoted to (online) Christmas shopping and card writing. Thursday night rolled around and I had only just started to think about the obligatory gifts for teachers. Fortunately, I had a few things to hand….

I raided my preserves store (that sounds so grand doesn’t it – what I mean is a couple of shelves in the garage) and decided on jars of home spiced pickled onions and pumpkin and ginger jam. They needed a bit of perking up and fortunately I had a few checked paper jam pot covers hanging around. A bit of ribbon finished everything off quite nicely, though clearly, I forgot to take a photo of that!

Do you remember the stars I was blocking out the other week? I decided to turn them into tree decorations by adding a few bells, beads and buttons.

What do you think? Not bad for last minute? I seem to be using that expression quite a bit lately.

I always worry that the teaching assistants might get missed out but I also don’t really know which ones work with my children. I did what I usually do and decided to make a cake. At least then cake can be shared out with the right people. By this time it was so late at night that I decided to make my No Fail Muffin recipe and customise it as ‘Spiced Cranberry and Orange’ so that it seemed a bit more festive. No Fail Muffins are great: quick and easy. I’ll share the recipe soon.

This is how they looked when I packaged them up at about 6am the next morning. What was I thinking getting so obsessed with this stuff? I think I had about 4 hours sleep. StUpID! It would have been far more sensible to go to a 24 hour Tesco. I must really not like shopping.

I could only console myself by thinking that somewhere, somebody’s teacher had probably been up for a similar number of hours working on lesson plans and marking. Who knows how long my children’s teachers have worked this term. They deserve a little love.

In a Pickle

Yes, Yes, it’s a cliched title. I never claimed to be original.

My Mother decided that pickled onions were in order the other day. “I thought I’d make some” she declared. “Home made ones make good Christmas presents”. Since it was Sunday and our local market garden was closed, she toddled off to Tesco to purchase the onions. Now, Tesco is a very useful store but it doesn’t always deal in specialities. The nearest thing she could get to a pickling onion was shallots at £1 for a 300g bag. I already had all the vinegar and spices that I needed but that didn’t stop Mum buying a rather large  jar of Sarsons ‘ready spiced’ pickling vinegar. She brought everything back to my place and then the usual chaos of Sunday night took over. Dinner was cooked and eaten, children were bathed and put to bed, washing up was done and packed lunches prepared. Of course, the shallots and vinegar were put to one side and Mum went home without them, secretly hoping I would peel and brine them ready for the next day. It was wishful thinking on her part for that had also been the day when I measured out the ingredients for the fruit cake.

Monday came and Mum was back on her onion mission with me tagging along. We decided to try and get some more onions of the proper pickling kind. The market garden was still shut but we found a nice little fruit and veg shop that had a good supply. This time I think I paid about £1.60 for 1.2kg, about a third of the price of Tesco. Back at my place, we got going on with the peeling process.

I got out my trusty copy of River Cottage Preserves, knowing its pickled onion recipe also had an optional shallot version. It suggests getting the skins off by first snipping off the top and bottom of the onions with scissors, pouring boiling water over them and counting ‘evenly’ to twenty and then plunging them into cold water. I had to hold Mum back as she was already busy attacking the onions with a knife. “Try it like the book says” I suggested. I suspect Mum slightly rolled her eyes. We differ a great deal in our approach to instructions: I like them, she does her own thing. However, she indulged me and did agree that the skins came of quite easily.

As we peeled the onions we started  reminiscing about when our other Aunty Betty (not my Grandmas sister who I mentioned in the fruit cake post, but her sister-in-law) used to join in with pickled onion making. No one seems to quite know how Aunty Betty (I’ll call her Betty Mac because that’s how she was referred to in the family, to distinguish between the two Aunty Bettys) came to be associated with peeling onions but she always got called in if there was a pickling project on the go. We all seem to remember her working away wearing diving goggles to try to stop the onion fumes making her cry. It was quite a comical sight, let me tell you. Fortunately for us, the River Cottage peeling method seemed to reduce the fume effect and neither of us was particularly teary.

Look at those colours. Beautiful. Mother Nature never gets it wrong.

Once the onions were all peeled and covered in salt I prepared the vinegar. Again, Mum and I differ here. She likes her ready made Sarsons vinegar. I like the extra depth of flavour that comes with spicing your own vinegar. I’ve made the River Cottage version a few times and it suits me. I like a bit of sugar in (I used half the amount stated in the recipe) and I use a few chilli flakes in standard onions. This was the first time I’d done shallots. There wasn’t much difference in the recipe except it suggested using half red wine and half white wine vinegar and adding a mint leaf at the end. Alas, I couldn’t get hold of mint. I’m afraid I got a bit carried away with the macro setting of my camera while I was getting the spices ready:

A macro lens can reveal a lot! It certainly makes you appreciate the beauty of everyday things. Logos on food containers are so iconic. No wonder Andy Warhol found them interesting. Anyway, I digress. Here are a few pictures of the end results:

The pot covers were made by my Mum on her fancy sewing machine. Don’t they look pretty? Hopefully they will make a nice little Christmas gift for somebody. I suspect my children’s teachers may be getting a jar to liven up their Boxing Day spread. Happy Pickling!