Category Archives: Food

Perfect and simple home-made pasta

Pasta

March is a depressing month. Grim weather, cold, grey and right now, pissing down with rain. Winter food consists mostly of meaty things with plenty of fat, slow cooking, and acres of cabbage (what, it doesn’t for you?), probably partly because by now I’ve run out of imagination for after work dinners! But by now I am craving vegetables and fresh tasting things,  without relinquishing the soothing comforting side of things.

So – fresh gluten-free pasta and tomato sauce. Especially good after a person has overdone it on the roast pork front…

I’d only seen (gluteny) pasta made twice before this, and neither experience made me think that this would be as easy as it is. I remember my Mum making it for us when I was small, rolling it out by hand. There are six of us, so the kitchen was festooned with strings of pasta laid out on tea towels. It must have taken her ages to make enough for all of us, no wonder I only remember her doing it once!

The other time was at a school friend’s house with a proper pasta maker, rolling it through again and again until it was thin enough and slicing it thin. Lucy’s family had the house and lifestyle I wanted when I was a kid, big old rambling house full of old things, with an Aga in the kitchen and ducks in the garden. They made proper food like real pasta and mayonnaise, and bought their cheese from the only delicatessen for miles around. Her family used proper tea cups and cloth napkins at the table. I realise now that they did that because they enjoyed it, but at the time it made me feel even shyer than normal as I didn’t think I had the proper manners for the occasion.

Still, a boring job is good for something, and that’s to give you the urge to investigate ways to achieve what you crave. I had been reading Smitten Kitchen at a slow moment, and a comment mentioned making their own noodles for chicken soup – obviously I needed a way to do this gluten-free! (It was raining then too…).  A bit of googling around brought up Gluten-free Girl‘s recipe for pasta. I’ve amended it a fair bit to fit the paucity of gluten-free ingredients in British supermarkets, but it still makes ace pasta, and is much quicker than you would think – definitely doable on a weekday if you are up for some rolling out.

The sauce is a basic tomato sauce, but I recently read (on Rachel Eats) that Italians always make their tomato sauce smooth, whereas I’ve always left it chunky like my Dad’s. Once you think about it though, the smooth texture of the sauce lubricating and coating the pasta, sounds really really good. I pushed mine through a sieve, because I find when you blend it, it goes kind of orange. Still tasty though, so whichever you find easiest!

This amount will make enough for one with seconds (!) or you could share it.

Gluten-free Pasta and Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce:

Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 400g tin chopped plum tomatoes
Pinch brown sugar
Salt and pepper

Pasta:

3 ounces Doves Farm Gluten Free flour
1/2 tsp xanthum gum
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch nutmeg
1 medium egg
1 medium egg yolk
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water

Method:

I make the sauce and the pasta at the same time, because the pasta dough needs time to rest and the sauce needs time to cook down. But you could easily do one and then the other if you have the time or don’t want to rush about – I would on a weekend.

Start by putting on the onions to gently cook in the olive oil in a saucepan.

While that is cooking, bung all the dry pasta ingredients in a food processor and give them a whizz. Beat the egg and the yolk together with about half the oil and water, and then drizzle into the food processor to combine – it should stay in big crumbs but look sticky enough to come together. Add a spot more oil, and a spot more water if it still needs it. It shouldn’t be too squidgy and wet.

Stir your onions!

Turn out the pasta dough onto a board sprinkled with flour, and give it a bit of a knead – push it out with the heel of your hand and pull it back in. It should come together and feel smooth. Wrap it in a bit of cling film and put it to one side. It needs to rest at least 30 minutes.

Back to the sauce. It’s just basic tomato sauce, so make this your preferred way if you have one. The onions should be translucent and gently golden. Add the tinned tomatoes, and season. Add herbs (oregano, marjoram) if you want. Bring to the boil and then turn down low and cover and let it simmer, stirring occasionally. You want it to cook down till it’s good and thick and tasty. If it gets too thick, add a spot of water.

Once it’s ready you need to sieve it. Careful, it’s hot! Put a sieve over a big bowl and pour in a little of the sauce at a tim. Push through with a wooden spoon, mixing it around to get as much sauce as possible. Then put it back into the pan and to one side.

Pasta time. Sprinkle a little flour on the board and give it a bit of a knead again. Rolling out is the important bit – it will plump up when you cook it, so you need it ridiculously thin, and then thinner. Keep rolling it one way and another, but try and keep it oblong. Then use a sharp knife and to slice into tagliatelle-ish pieces – be slow, it’s easy to snag.

Almost time to eat! Put on a big pan of water to boil and add plenty of salt. Put the sauce on to gently re-heat, and check the seasoning. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add your pasta and give it a gentle swirl. It only needs 2-3 minutes to cook – best way to find out if it’s done is to test a bit – you want it with bit of a bite but not floury tasting.

Drain your pasta, and try and arrange it on a plate as beautifully as I have (ahem). Eat, and glory in the knowledge that the world of pasta is now your oyster. Ravioli, anyone?

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Summer Holiday (British style)

We’ve been away for a week in Brighton for a Great British summer holiday. As we’re neither of us sun-seekers, and we just wanted a week to relax, it seemed easier to stay in the country rather than head off somewhere we didn’t know. Also – we want to live in Brighton! Good practice.

Perhaps not the best week to choose (not that we had a choice). After watching torrents of rain fall on the Jubilee weekend (poor street-partyers!) we were hopeful it would improve for us. Well, some of the time it did at least. It never got hot, but at least we got some walking on the beach in the sun time! We stayed in a flat near Brunswick Square, so it was very handy for catching unexpected sunshine after tea.

But (adorably) well wrapped-up. Winds got to gale force by the end of our week. It made trying to walk into town for some food … interesting. By the time we got there, something light had turned into a joint craving for steak and chips.

Most of our focus was knitting, and eating. And knitting while eating. Here’s a look at a view of the places we visited:

Nia is usually our first stop, because they are comfortable and spacious and do good coffee, excellent cake and usually tasty meals too. I say usually because on one of our trips for lunch we had a bit of an unpleasant encounter with a kedgeree that included capers, pomegranate seeds and a sort of cheesy garlicky sauce on a poached egg… This was good if messy – literally – the Nia mess. It looked bizarre, like 3 purple nipples in individual pools of yellow lemon curd. Damn good though. Also, one of the waitresses is a knitter.

The Marwood cafe was found by happy accident when we were looking for some good coffee and a snack in town. It calls itself quirky, and dammit, it is. But maybe a little too much so, so it feels a bit ‘vat-grown’. Possibly I am wrong about that. It did bloody good food and coffee, and there seemed to be a steady stream of regulars. I had the green eggs and ham (hold the toast – which they were fine about) – and that, my friends, is PROPER HAM. Yum. You may have noticed that we usually remembered to take photos after we had started to dig in. We also sat and knitted and discussed seats made out of apple macs until a group of numpties turned up to make stupid jokes about knitting… grrr.

Here’s L sampling a flat white. Decaff is declared ‘not cool’ behind the bar, and is subject to a 20p surcharge. Not that we are uncool enough to drink decaff. They did tease L with her raspberry muffin though by positioning it in eye-view but failing to hand it over until prompted. Bit harsh.

We ventured down the road to visit Hove’s best cafe Treacle and Co on a drizzly day. This is a cafe that does quirky classily. Usually they have a good selection of gluten-free cakes, though I had only one choice this time – pistachio and orange-water – bit too sweet for me, but very good. Lauren had a sausage sandwich that was rather excellent, with home-made chutney. We sneered at the bloke who wanted his sausage sandwich with just sausages.

Interested parties will be pleased to know that Debbie’s cardi accompanied me around Brighton, and we paused at every possible moment to have a spot of knitting with the last dregs of the teapot.

Obviously, there are other places I have missed out here (fresh rejuvenating juices, coffee and sandwiches elsewhere, the afore-mentioned steak and chips) but nothing else was blog-worthy except my venture into whelks… We went to have conveyor belt sushi at Moshi Moshi, and I thought I would give them a try. I’m hard enough. Well, not again thanks. Probably cooked with plenty of garlic butter these would be good. These were super chewy, and marinated in something like soy sauce and mirin. Meh. I gave up after a while and spat it out (discreetly!) – probably good thing too, as most soy sauce contains wheat, and my tummy grumped later on.

We did spend a fair amount of time snoozing on the squooshy sofa at the flat, and spent the most of Thursday stuck indoors out of the rain till it finally blew over at 4, so other knitting did occur too!

I finished my monster orange cardi (ravelled here) and bought some extra buttons from Fabric Land on Western  Road as my Liberty ones were too big. Late afternoon sunshine gave us the chance to photo-shoot on the beach – along with some odd pirates.

I’m pretty happy with it though unsure about the short sleeves. I think I have enough left to make them three-quarter length, but L thinks they look good. Soo cosy though, and I was glad to have it by the end of the week.

Anyway – back now, and trying to settle in to the idea of work. Bandit was quite glad to see us back, but now seems to be disappointed that it means Kate won’t be coming round every day. He is also miffed that I took his window-seat:

The snails got some of the garden, and the rain has been at some of the rest, but all in all, looking good, so hopefully be back here soon to tell you about it!

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Honest Burgers and some Fair Isle Knitting

Honest Burgers. Not exactly an unknown entity for most savvy Londoners who use the internet, but I wanted to start this post just to say I love this place, cos they do tasty burgers, but also – they are really, really nice. And it is so reassuring when people are actually good.

We’ve been partaking of these most tasty, and peculiarly English, burgers for a couple of months now after we (finally) made it in to explore Brixton Village Market. What can I say? We’re kind of recluses. Reclusi. Funnily enough, the first time we went for a wander, we did indeed see Jay Rayner standing larger than life, presumably considering which of the many options there were for his lunch.

Anyway! The burgers. Oh my god. Very good. Yes. And gluten-free. Their specials look great but it’s the honest burger that I can’t resist.

Beef burger, pink in the middle (always) with pickles, and cheese – choice of English cheeses – and onion relish, with rosemary fries, crispy and delicious. They have the perfect crunch. And a gluten-free bun from the WAG (Wheat and Gluten-free) bakers down the end of the market. They work pretty well although I am still jealous of the glazed buns the gluten-eaters get! This is what made me fall in love with Honest Burgers – when we waited for an hour for our oppurtunity to sit, we found out they had run out of gluten-free buns. Sheer horror on our faces prompted our waiter to dash down the hall to the bakers to beg a bun – he came back with a loaf, gratis, only to be told they had already restocked! So he gave us the loaf. Now that is class. Stuff all this careful waitering – give me someone who will RUN for my dinner any day.

Then we went to the Ritzy cinema to watch The Avengers, a perfect day perfectly ended. Maybe I should get L to expand on that though! I just enjoyed the film. Ahem. Sorry.

I think I must have worn myself out effusing now, I have nothing left. Sorry, but it really is how I want to talk about them even in person!

After all that getting out the excitement, time for some settling down for a day of knitting. The bottom picture is how I started, and how I usually work. Not pretty. So the top picutre is how I cleared my mind to try and get somewhere!

I’ve had a stash of Shetland yarn culled from charity shops in Aberdeen for some time, and I am determined to knit a fiar isle jumper from them. It’s hard to resist the sheer endless numbers of patterns and colours and combinations of fair isle. The skill and the difficulty of it is making it work in a balanced way, so that the patterns work in harmony with the colour changes, while the patterns don’t overwhelm each other. Knitting is not hard for me, I like the challenge and learning different techniques. But choices! Not my forte. And trying to decide on which patterns to go for and how to use colour is really really hard. L does it almost without thinking, because she has a real talent for it, developed with seriously beautiful cross stitch samplers that she used to do… before I hooked her on knitting.

At the moment, I am whittling down my colour choices, focussing more on the blues and greys as my main colours. But I need a contrast colour too. THis is much harder when you have a limited palette! I wish I could just choose all the Jamieson and Smith colours. I am determined not to add to my stash this year though, unless there are mitigating circumstances… like, I dunno, an awesome sale, orr…

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Tiny Veg Patch Adventures

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Ahem. Actually, I’ve TONS of thinks I’ve been going to blog about, but I’m still trying to find the balance of doing the things I want to do, and writing about them (and, you know, working full time – but that bit’s the boring part).

So I guess you are just dying to know what made me break my two month break, huh?

Whoop whoop! Can you tell what it is yet?!

We’ve generally been moaning about our little back garden, which is half decking, half patio, and the mess that the rest of the garden is in – it belongs to our landlords who are going to expand their garden into it. And I’ve been making plans about how to maximise my veg-growing potential with a North-facing patio and tiny south facing concrete box in the front of our basement flat.

Luckily for us, our landlords have decided it’s too much for them to handle in one year, and asked if we wanted to use some of it this year? HELL YES!

Faster than we could blink (sorta) Tim had some steps put in the slope at the end our patio, and Karen had cleared the ivy. In the pictures above you can see that me and my sister have been busy with large amounts of string and some sticks marking out our plot.

We didn’t really get started till this Saturday past, when L kindly lent her labour and her mother came round to generally encourage and beautify our patch.

We switched things around only slightly – L’s Mum decided that seeing as we were allowed to use the brick rubble from the dividing wall, we should edge all the beds in it, and because our ‘official’ garden is down a steep drop, we extended the path of paving slabs round the front! I’ve been picturing myself weeding and falling off the end…

Bandit was interested, but preferred sunning himself on the cardboard our landlady is using to protect her veg patch! He definitely approves of sunny paving slabs at the top of the slope though.

So far the plan is to grow:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Jerusalem artichokes
  3. Runner beans
  4. French beans
  5. Peas (mange tout and garden)
  6. Cavolo nero
  7. Spinach
  8. Beetroot
  9. Lettuce
  10. Radishes

What?! Optimism is a good thing… so I’m told.

The tatties are new potatoes that were sprouting in my cupboard, so I won’t be surprised if they don’t come up. I’ve planted them on the East side next to the wall, so I’m expecting even less light than usual there. The jerusalem artichokes were originally to go at the bottom of our slope to screen the patio from the landlords patch, but they have just been bumped up to the top instead. My Dad suggested them – he grew them way back when we lived in London [before me?]. They should grow 6 foot, so we’ll have to include some supports if they come up. Another re-purpose in a way, I bought them from a friendly French lady selling them at Brixton farmer’s market.

Beans and peas will go along the sunnier West wall where the curve ends in what ued to be the outhouse (it still has the toilet-roll holder!). Incidently, I am trying to convince L that the outhouse would make an excellent chicken hutch, any internet support gratefully received…

The other greens etc will be stuffed in every space we have and the central patch. We’ve planted one row cavolo nero, beetroot, lettuce and radishes so far. L got to do that to make up for her having to put up with me teaching her how to dig!

I’m still going to try the tomatoes and some beans at the front, along with some flowers (sweet peas, morning glories, nasturtiums).

The rest of the garden has been tidied up, but I need to some proper planning to work out where my seedlings will go and whether I need to find some more containers. I hate that the garden is North-facing, but am trying to see it as a challenge! Also, it will be better in summer than a sun-drenched space, so we don’t over-heat out there. Got to admit for a desire for sunshine well-developed in the hearts of all Scots I think. I will soothe myself with some of those figs you see in the picture on the right there. [Figs! Growing! On a tree! Free for me to help myself all summer! Swoon…]

A reward for all that hard work came from L’s amazing cooking and her Mum’s amazing recipe.

But more on that next time.

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I made a pie!

I am pretty damn chuffed with my pie. And with L for suggesting it. It’s what I’m going to call a chicken pot pie… although maybe I should find out what that means first. It has a chicken, leek and pea filling (leftover, very frugal), and a gluten-free shortcrust pastry top.

Leftover filling came from an attempt at Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for chicken and dumplings – my gluten-free dumplings came out a bit lumpy and chewy. And the gloopiness of the sauce did not impress L (even though I put in 2 tablespoons less flour). I think of floury sauces like that as being particularly American in style, but maybe not actually – I remember my Mum making some tasty chicken casseroles with one of those packet sauces things that were pretty solid. Nom.

Anyway – the pie used up the leftover gloop nicely. I made the pastry in the food processor (much quicker), fished out the leftover dumplings, and reheated the sauce before I put it in my lovely enamel pie dish from Utility. I rolled out the pastry between two layers of cling film, which I hadn’t tried before but seems to help A LOT when trying to get big pieces of g-free pastry moved across.

And … can you see my little pie support? My Nanna let me take it home when she moved North to be near my Mum. It’s little and white and the glaze is crackled. It belonged to my great-grandmother, and I was so chuffed to get it back in action. Don’t know what they are actually called though?

It was supposed to be an Apple Sharlotka, but I don’t think I cooked it long enough, and then trying to flip it onto the rack failed miserably. The bits around the edges were tasty though. ;-P Bandit says :

“This human is mine”. He is sorry that we are both mostly recovered from our various bugs and has no warm bodies to lie on during the day. He made the most of the weekend though, which is more than I can say. The cold has prompted me to cast on two more projects, but more on those next time.

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Chicken Noodle Soup for the tummy

The first week back at work has (of course) been a bit of a shock to the system, even though it was only 4 days. L needed one of her favourite comfort foods making for tea – chicken noodle soup. This is super easy – I’ll put the recipe on the Recipes page. Sorry about the photo – the fade out looks a lot more obvious when it’s not on a phone! I hoped you could see what the bowl says around the edge…

Today we are making ourselves feel better with a lie-in, and a trip to Loop. L wants to look at Jamieson and Smith Shetland yarn for a super-secret-squirrel knitted birthday present for me. I am going to very carefully NOT look at yarn at all…. I may have already been to visit the John Lewis sale this week, and purchased a bag of wool… Years of buying all my yarn in charity shops has taught me to find the wool first and then think about what I would like to make with it, but I think that’s not cost-effective anymore (!) I think I need to start choosing my project and then buying wool to fit. It’s nice getting unexpectedly reduced wool – but it makes more sense to buy only what I need RIGHT NOW. Maybe.

Anyway – right now I working hard on my grey jumper that i started as soon as all my Christmas knitting was done (umm – on Christmas Eve). I am hoping that this will be warm but light, something I can reliably grab and pull on to keep me warm but not weighed down or constricted. Here’s hoping anyway. None of my actual garments have turned out to be regular parts of my wardrobe. No picture’s yet of progress but it’s knitting up fast. Hopefullly this weekend I can work on sorting out my ravelry page – maybe if i update my stash and link projects to it, i can persuade myself to take some wool back to John Lewis before it’s too late.

I need a plan for this blog too…. It’s difficult to decide what to write, and to get the time. Also – I need a camera so that I can include pictures without having to bug L for use of her phone! At the moment I want to try to blog at least twice a week, maybe 3 times. I reckon twice on weekdays, and once on the weekend seems like the absolute minimum. The bonus of making myself do it is less decision making on what to include!

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Happy New Year!

Thought I would show off my successful turkey pies from Christmas day. We had some leftover gluten-free pastry, some awesome gravy and turkey – together they make super tasty meat pie!I chopped the turkey small and mixed it with the gravy (enough to moisten and bind it) and then made the pies just like mincemeat one. Baked them at…. errr…. 220°C for about 10 mins and then turned them down to about 190° for 20 mins. Nom!

Definitely best hot though. I ate the rest of them on the evening train from Aberdeen – sorry L!

Need to keep fingers crossed for our new year’s dinner today though. Disaster struck – we have no electricity to the kitchen until the landlord gets us an electrician (soon please!) so we are running our oven via an extension lead to the hallway. Landlord insists this will be fine, I just hope it works for long enough to roast our pork joint!!

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