Monday, July 30, 2012

A wet walk along the beach

On Sunday we decided a trip to the beach was in order.  We're lucky that one of our nearest beaches allows dogs all year around as it's so big, there's room for everyone and everything.  Our dog Daisy loves the beach, Joe's not so keen on all the sand in the car afterwards, or the hairs, or the dog slobber on the window...

We set off with our picnic packed which mostly consisted of cakes from my Saturday "new oven bake-athon" (more on that later this week).  We left home in cool sunshine but by the time we got to the beach the rain had set in.  After the last week or so of beautiful weather it was actually quite nice to have a small break from it but a warning and some waterproof clothing might have helped!

A very murky Mont St Michel

One very happy, speedy, sandy dog (who was incredibly tired when she got home and snoring very loudly last night).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

À bientôt Remoska

Today is an exciting day.  Not only is it the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics (I feel very sad not to be there to enjoy the party) but also, for me, it's New Oven Day.  The electrican will be arriving shortly and later today the new oven should be up and running and I can't wait. It was more than a year ago that I gave up on the gas guzzling, bottom burning oven that we inherited with the house and turned it into a cupboard.  What have I cooked with in the meantime?  Well...

Last summer, after much deliberation, we bought a Remoska from Lakeland   The Remoska is a mini oven that has been used in the Czech Republic since before the Second World War.  In 1990 two Czechs bought the manufacturing equipment and started making them again.  It's so easy to use - it just has an on-off switch, that's it!  It's all Teflon coated so easy to clean and runs on a fraction of the electricity of a standard oven.

It was one of the best purchases we have made.  OK, it's not overly attractive, especially as mine doesn't look as clean and shiny as this anymore as it's been so well used, but it is such a great thing.  Over the last year it has helped me rustle up full roasts, lasagnes, cakes, scones, biscuits, toasted sandwiches and so much more.  The claims on the Lakeland website are completely true (although I've never managed crisp roast potatoes in it).  Whilst I'm really looking forward to the versatility and size of a normal oven it won't be goodbye "Moska", you'll still be brought out for smaller things when I don't need a full oven.

Tonight though, I'm dusting off the pizza stone, cranking up the new oven and will be eating celebratory pizza for the Opening Ceremony.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What to bake first...

The cooker countdown is well underway, it's less than a week before my lovely new cooker is fully up and running so now I have the big question of what to cook first.  It's a lovely decision to have.   Thinking ahead as ever, when we brought the oven over from the UK I also bought some new baking books!  I was able to get three books I'd had my eye on for ages from The Book People;

The Boy Who Bakes by Edd Kimber
Home Bake by Eric Lanlard
Tea with Bea by Bea's of Bloomsbury.

I also snuck in Miss Hope's Chocolate Box by Hope and Greenwood.

I've had plenty of time to study all three (sometimes while eating chocolates from Miss Hope's book) but now decision time is upon me - what to bake first?  All I can say at the moment is that over the next few weeks we're going to be eating rather a lot of cake, biscuits and tarts as I just can't decide.  So many delicious things to choose from.  Infact, as the weather is so good, I may just have to have another afternoon in the sun with the books to make a decision...

Meanwhile...I'm looking for suggestions as to what to cook to christen the new oven.  Feel free to send them in!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A vide grenier bargain.

Look what Mr Joe spotted at a recent vide grenier (a sort of car boot sale)!

It was missing it's base but we couldn't resist.  We've been looking for a raised pie tin for a while but didn't want to spend the £90+ that they seem to cost.  This bottomless antique one was a bargain at only €10 but Mr Joe still managed to haggle and got it for €8!  Even more of a bargain was the collection of other pie dishes which were only €1.  Some of them are very well used - imagine all the tarts that have been baked in them before...

They were pretty rusty when we got them but we thought that one of them could donate itself as a base for the raised pie tin.  I've given them a quick scrub with vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda to remove the rust. Some of them need another go with the mix but I think at least three of them will be useable such as the brioche and circular pan.  In the meantime, our lovely neighbour has since very kindly made me a base for the pie tin so 0I don't have to sacrifice any of these.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cooking up an Electrical Storm (Now we're safe from Witches!)

When we bought our house, we inherited a cooker.  It was a real gas-guzzler that burned the bottoms of everything I put in it and left the tops soggy and anaemic looking.  It did, however, have an enormous oven so, after several ruined cakes it became an expensive saucepan cupboard.  I really didn't like it so, after a lot of deliberation and a subscription to Which magazine, I dropped the idea of a beautiful, new Rangemaster and bought a lovely Leisure Cookmaster which I'm desperate to start using.  That's where the fun began.

Mr Joe checked the fuses in the house on our antiquated electrical system and concluded that we needed to get an electrician to come and put in a special cooker fuse for it.  He was right.  We do need a new fuse. And a new, upgraded, extended fuse board. With new safety cut outs. Connected to a different type of supply. Then, all the other circuits in the house will need to be re-wired to work on the new system.  Luckily the electrician broke the news gently and got onto EDF to arrange their portion of the work, bringing the new supply into the house.

As Mr Joe put it, my new, bargain cooker has ended up costing the same as an Aga. His favourite book when he was little (and that he monopolised from his local library!) was The Witch in the Cherry Tree by Margaret Mahy.  It's about a witch who tries to steal cakes through wickedness.  Despite being 41 now and running his own company, he's just bought the book from e-Bay so he can try out the recipe for Gingerbread Witches in the back so I don't think he's too fussed about the new oven!!  Until recently we had a beautiful old cherry tree just by the entrance to our house but the farmer removed it as it was in the way of his ploughing.  Mr Joe claims that it's now safe to install the oven and bake some cakes as there's nowhere for a witch to land!

My lovely new cooker has two good sized, efficient, electric ovens, grill, plate warmers, storage, hot plate and lots more.  It's basically the same specification of the Rangemaster but less than half the price.  I'm now deciding what to bake/roast/grill first when it's wired in.

Happily, Mr Joe and the electrician managed to talk the man from EDF into doing a far simpler installation which avoids trashing our new sitting room by drilling through the walls to the outside and then boxing in the lovely stonework.  This also saves more money and, even better, means that the work can be done on July 27th rather than in October when the EDF workmen could fit it in!

In the meantime, this is the longest I've had a clean oven!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Random Recipes – something a little different

Recently there has been a lot of sport on TV and so I've spent the evenings browsing the web.  The other night I struck gold and found Dom's blog at Belleau Kitchen.  Dom has been running a "Random Recipe" challenge each month where you (randomly) select a recipe from one of your cookery books and you have to cook it.  The aim is to get people to steer away from their usual cookery books and recipes and try something new.  A fantastic idea.  Then I read the challenge for this month which has a bit of a twist.  Instead of randomly selecting a cookery book and page, you're asked to photograph your cookery books - it's a genius idea!  Anyone who knows me knows that I love to sneak a peek at other peoples' kitchens and cook book collections (not in a creepy way obviously!).  There couldn't be a better month for me to start this challenge.  I've already had a little peek at other peoples' posts and I realise that I'm not alone in my cook book habbit, so, here we go...

Strangely, I don't have any cookbooks in the kitchen, although on the beams dividing the kitchen and the sitting room are a couple of shelves full, and to the right of those, another three shelves full, although these aren't quite so tidy...  Both these sets of shelves "should" be sorted by author or cookery type, baking, region etc.  Bottom right of the second picture are Mr Joe's tiny collection.

I then have some recent purchases which haven't found a home yet as all the shelves are full.  And some thought that limited shelf space would curtail my habit!

By the bed there are some of my Sunday morning lie-in reads.

In my little studio I have my vintage collection which I find fascinating to read through even if some of them are a little battered;

and my Where Women Cook magazines which are read slowly with a cup of tea and biscuits and then neatly put on my desk for future reference, with more tea and biscuits.

Finally, there are the bakery books which were my Grandad's (who sadly I never met). He was a master baker.  They include all sorts of information on running a bakery as well as recipes from the era.  I'm working on scaling the quantities of some of the recipes down so I can give them a try.

So there you have it - My name's Cat and clearly I'm a bit of a cookbook addict.  Thank you Dom for the challenge.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mr Joe's Homemade Pimm's recipe

Given our web speed has plummeted to barely nothing this afternoon I can't share any photos so instead, partly because it doesn't require a photo and partly because after several hours of trying to upload stuff I've feel driven to drink, I've decided to share Mr Joe's Pimm's recipe.

For several years we lived in the south of France, lots of lovely sunny weather but you can't buy Pimm's in France - I don't know why, I really think they're missing out on something.  While we were there, and a long (very long) drive from the UK, Mr Joe spent many an hour searching the internet and then experimenting with various measures to make the perfect Pimm's.  Now we live in the north of France, the weather isn't quite as sunny but it's far easier to travel back to the UK so buying Pimm's isn't a problem but we both developed quite a taste for the home-made version.  So here it is:

1 measure of gin
1 measure of red vermouth
1/4 to 1/2 measure of Cointreau (depending how "sticky" you like it)
a dash of Angostora Bitters

Dilute with lemonade and the foliage/fruit of your choice.

Enjoy but watch your head - it seems to be a touch stronger than the real thing.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Biscuit weather

The calender says July but frankly the weather is still saying spring (looks like mid winter at times) and to me says curl up on the sofa and have a cup of tea.  Today I rather fancied a biscuit to go with that cup of tea.

Several weeks ago Mr Joe suprised me with a copy of Biscuit by Miranda Gore Browne who was a finalist on the first series of The Great British Bake Off.  As well as her beautiful biscuits I was also very taken with her shirts.  I'd gazed at the book longingly online long before it was published and obviously dropped quite a few unsubtle hints as to how good it looked!  Today seemed like a great day to try some of the recipes out.

It's a superb book, lots of different styles of biscuit and with beautiful photographs.  I love the stories that go with the recipes and there truly has to be a biscuit for every occasion - there's even a biscuit for adventures, who wouldn't want to make those?

I started with the Twirly-whirly biscuits, a chocolate and vanilla swirl biscuit and decided also to have a go at the Marmite morsels, yummy little Marmite and cheese mouthfuls.  The instructions were easy to follow and both sets of biscuits were very yummy indeed.  I even managed to take photographs before they were eaten.

One of the (many) great things about both these biscuits is that you can freeze some of the dough for a later date.  Don't get me wrong, Mr Joe and I we could easily have finished them all off in one sitting, but, so that our clothes still fit, it's probably not the best thing to do!

I can't wait to try more recipes, you never know, I might yet get to try some of the summer biscuits.

Monday, July 2, 2012

My new kitchen!

Well it's nearly finished.  After over a year of struggling with the what had to be one of the worst designed kitchens going and it's 30cm of "worktop" we decided enough was enough.  We didn't have masses of money to throw at it and, in the long term plan of things, it isn't going to stay a kitchen so we had to be inventive. 

The kitchen as it was:

First thing was work top and having been starved of worktop for a while I wanted lots (and now have about 4m, oh yes!!).  We were going to buy an oak block worktop from the UK but living in France getting it here proved difficult.  It was a bit big and heavy for the car roof and getting someone to bring it over cost almost as much as the worktop itself.  Instead, we bought a belt sander, which was a similar price to the oak worktop, and turned some of the remaining original floorboards from the bedroom into a beautiful, characterful, solid chestnut worktop.  We removed the streaks of owl poo first!

How the worktop started out:

Then cupboards.  Fitted cupboards were out of budget so instead we found an old sideboard which was the right dimensions, only 35 euros and came complete with a rectangular marble top ideal for rolling pastry.  After ten minutes with "Reg" the wrecking bar removing some of the extra detailing and a quick sawing off of the legs the cupboard was ready to paint.

Trying the sideboard out for size post Reg and saw.  This wasn't our paint job!

Next was the sink.  The existing sink I actually didn't mind too much, even if it's draining boards clearly weren't designed for draining.  The main problem was that it was just too big so, another shopping trip found us another sideboard for 45 euros (complete with a top we've yet to use).  We used it as a temporary kitchen cupboard before we took the kitchen apart.

Again, after a few minutes with "Reg" taking the top off, some sawing at the back and another paint job we dropped the new white ceramic sink in.  The sink cost 73 euros from the local brico shop.

Finally, after a trip to Ikea for some shelves, the purchase of some end of line, 50% off tiles and a quick paint of the walls our new kitchen was finished.  Well it wasn't quite that simple, there was some swearing, a broken tap, numerous trips to the local brico and probably some more swearing but we think the end result was worth it.

The butchers block that Mr Joe built from the remains of old oak cider press.  The curtain hides the gap for the dishwasher.

A wall to display my lovely cat plates.

And finally with my lovely new oven raring to go - or it will be when the house electrics are sorted, a very long story...