It’s all Lotte’s fault

Last Saturday Lotte had her food fair. I went along (of course) only to be greeted in her warm, cosy, Christmassy cottage with wafts of mulled cider, curried sausage rolls and cakes. Hmmmm.
Last night I felt the need for more mulled cider so made my own with some of Lotte’s boozy mincemeat that I’d purchased. Man alive it is strong, my brain went into a mild hazy delightful fog. Half an hour later, a little tipsy, I became STARVING. And so, of course I tucked into Auntie Mary’s Chicken Liver Pate that I also purchased. All this is entirely unhealthy but totally divine.
I will be making my own boozy mincemeat this weekend and those sausage rolls. I have accepted it’s December and it is just a fat month, plain and simple. I will be doing 30 day Bikram yoga in January to sweat off the fat! Delightful!

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The concept of time

How is it that some months eek by (October) and others whizz past your face as you scrabble around trying to get everything done. To be quite honest November has passed me by. My beautiful nana died at the very end of October. She was 96 and only unwell for a short time. She went in her sleep and the last time I had seen her the week before she was her lovely chatty self. She was a shining example of a great person. Kind, funny, she had the most fantastic laugh. She was a wonderful cook. I used to go to her house on a Friday afternoon up to the age of 11 and she always made homemade fish and chips, I have never since and never will taste fish and chips as good as those. She also made the most divine pickled cabbage. Her name was Adelaide Coleman and I already miss her.

November has also seen a visit to Prague and Vienna. We flew to Prague, Mr Smithshire had to work so I sauntered around the city aimlessly which was a deliciously indulgent thing to do. I loved it. Prague is a great city. A little austere but I enjoyed seeing it. We then caught a Harry Potter train to Vienna. I know everyone loves Vienna but I really wasn’t that fussed (ooh shock horror) It was very austere, rather unfriendly and a bit uninspiring. Both cities did not provide a culinary whirlwind… it was all a bit bland and soggy.  It made me realise how lucky I am to have London on my doorstep. Colourful, inspired, engaging, forward thinking and diverse.

Anyway this is all a very long way of saying I’m behind with my cooking. I’ve done one recipe from November which was divine. I may have to catch up in December which is after all the month to EAT and drink far too much.

 

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For a brother

Doddie's Almond and Chocolate Meringue

Quite simply for my lovely brother Mouse x

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Halloween Pie

It is Halloween, the clocks have gone back, the fire is lit, what better than a cosy chicken pie. Or chhiiicken pie as I feel oddly obliged to call it.

I roasted a chicken especially for this delight, I cannot say how impossible it is to cut up a chicken and not eat some… needless to say while Mr Smithshire dozed quietly by the fire next to the dog I silently scoffed a chicken leg.

The bones then boiled merrily for an hour to make the most delicious chicken stock, of which I have some left over for chilli and squash soup.

Now the pie was a strategic challenge for Mr Smithshire as I am famous (within our household) for my creamy chicken pie; I make it with tarragon, lemon, chicken stock and crème fraiche. He asked me what I would do if he preferred Lotte’s pie. I just smiled and said cookery improvement is part of this journey.

The filling was quick and easy to prepare (chopping assistance from lovely Mr S again) and in went the pie. I saved Mr S a bit of pastry for his signature pudding; pillow pie (don’t ask).

Mr S ate his chicken pie heartily, then sidled over and said ‘I still love your ccchhiiicken pie’. I have no idea now whose he prefers… I will have to alternate until it becomes clear.

I have one more October recipe to make which is the meringue cake, I am delaying slightly and making this for our family bonfire night on Saturday. Mr Smithshire doesn’t eat cake of any kind so I felt it a bit indulgent to eat an entire cake all by myself, although if I’m honest I would give it a go!

 

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Dumpling delight

Lamb with damsons and rosemary dumplings is a perfect Autumn Sunday meal. It requires little work, especially if you have gorgeous man chopping vegetables and the result provides huge reward. Mr Smithshire and I had a perfect Sunday. We woke mildly hungover after a lovely (if slightly alcohol immersed) evening with my parents in London. We travelled home at midnightish on the train, I always marvel at Paddington at midnight on a Saturday. It is exactly like rush hour on a Monday; incredibly busy but on a Saturday all inhibitions and Englishness have been removed… loud chat, banter between strangers and dare I say it …eye contact.

Anyway back to our hangovers, we had a cooked breakfast, and a saunter into Henley. We decided as it was such a perfect morning to hire a boat for an hour and tootle up the river to blow the cobwebs away. Very refreshing and somehow life affirming.  After that a walk with the dog up on the hills by Russells Water. We then spent all afternoon in front of the fire surrounded by the Sunday Times. I love literally being surrounded by the newspaper and cast carelessly the section I have read aside. Mr Smithshire tries to tidy it up into a neat pile which removes some of the Sunday messy contentment, but at least the man is tidy.

As I mentioned earlier, preparing the main body of the stew was easy and took about 15 minutes. I used kallo organic beef stock cubes as these I find to be the best. Not too saltly and have a lovely flavour, as do the chicken ones. I don’t have any thyme so we chucked in some mint instead. Our herbs grow in a planter all together so you generally get a bit of a mixture which I think is nice.

I have used plums as these were the closest to damsons I could get. My parents have damson trees but they were lying hungover in a hotel in London (my parents that is not the damson trees) so I couldn’t access any free fruit this week.

I put the plums in a little earlier than suggested as they weren’t very juicy, still slightly under ripe. I also added a little extra water at the dumpling adding stage as I think I was a bit over zealous with my flour. I made far too many dumplings for the two of us, but they are just so tasty and I figured I could have leftovers for my Monday working at home lunch.

A totally delicious supper was had sat in front of the fire. A perfect Sunday.

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Everything Pink

For some reason Rosé wine evokes some kind of memory in people of a certain age. Red and white wine don’t seem to have this effect yet the soft rose (or should I say Rosé) tinted glasses of a better time seem to be in full force with this pink bottle of pop flavoured tipsiness.

Lotte describes her fond memories in her book, mine are of my childhood and yes my parents quaffing what else but Mateus Rosé. We spent two weeks at Easter and Summer every year until I was 11 in Portugal, at the same hotel and, eventually because we went so often, the same bedroom! These holidays were just heavenly to us. The hotel was relatively small, family run and deemed safe for me and my two older brothers to go a wondering about. There was the card playing room with it’s delightfully tactile green tables full of seemingly very ancient stooped over people being held up by their playing cards, the always empty dancing room with a naff organ which cha cha cha’d and slippery dance floor, which my older brother used to love to skid across and then of course the toilets. What is so fascinating to children about toilets? I have noticed my step children go to the toilet at least twice when we go out for food, is there access to Narnia in there? I recall once asking my middle brother what was in the boys toilet and so he launched into a big stealth mode operation. I was to wait outside the mens loo on the little low wall, he would check to see if it was empty then he would zip out and grab me. I remember it vividly, there I was all angel faced hair tied up in a bow, my pretty dress that had a bell in the hem so I tinkled like a cat when I ran (I have no idea why this was a good thing), there I was staring at some urinals. I was horrified at their ugliness. How did these work? Where did you sit and where on earth are the doors?! Most disappointing.

So whilst we were tootling around our palace of freedom, mum and dad were making their way through the weirdly fizzy but not fizzy Mateus. Mum with her finest Farrah Fawcett quiff and dad with his very current Terry Wogan side parting. The word Fandango seems to sum it all up perfectly.

I have not returned to Portugal since then, I have never since tasted the blissful taste of a perna de pau ice cream (Although sometimes I think of flying there purely to eat one again) or heard my name echo down a long corridor as one of the cleaners recognises me and calls me for a hug. To be honest I am not sure I could go back, my memories of that time are so deeply and richly happy that I wouldn’t want to tarnish them with the movement of time. I have a book’s worth of funny, happy memories about our holidays there.

My parents have recently started drinking Rosé again (my father was a strict red wine drinker for many years) and I was delighted to see a case or two of Mateus in their cellar. It is for this reason and the world of happy memories they gave me I felt it necessary to cook them Annie’s Rosé Chicken.

It is daddy Mac’s birthday tomorrow so I have come up to stay at my parents house which is affectionately known as Chadders by the family. Chadders is a wonderful home, grand yet cosy and simply stunning in Autumn. It also has the added wonder of an Aga. I dream of having an Aga one day. They are the delight of cookery. The Rosé chicken was very easy indeed to make, the ingredients are simple yet combined quite delicious. The orange zest and juice really lift the dish to make it refreshing and moorish. I also added a bit of parsley as it was lingering there in the fridge. It was served with daddy Mac’s world famous mash. Mummy and daddy Mac loved it and daddy Mac had seconds. We had a TV supper in front of Midsommer Murders with a glass of Mateus. Sometimes there’s nothing quite like being at home even if you left years ago.

I didn’t see the end of Midsommer (I don’t think I have ever managed a whole hour) as I am missing Mr Smithshire desperately so I ran off like a teenager to Skype him. I am pleased to report he is OK though, he has had a jacket potato and is sat watching television wearing my pink dressing gown.

So there you have it. Annie’s Rosé chicken is divine and I shall be cooking it often for my beloved Mr Smithshire.

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A slippery fish (cake)

Poor Mr Smithshire has had man flu this week, he has struggled on with work though poor love. So he was very much looking forward to being cheered up with a Lotte recipe this weekend.

The trouble was the next recipe involved fish and Mr Smithshire is not so keen on fish. He will eat haddock if forced (or lied to – I often tell him I’m cooking chicken until the very last moment) and he loves fish pie as long as it’s full of cheese and cream but other than that no. The announcement of a fishy dinner is greeted with a harrumph. The next recipe was fish cakes and involved mackerel… a very fishy fish indeed. What to do? Replace with haddock or tell a little white lie? I chose the white lie option of course. ‘I will just tell him it’s Haddock’ I thought. Genius.

I have to admit, I don’t like mackerel either but in the spirit of this quest I am cooking everything in the book. I also don’t like gherkins or caper berries so this recipe was going to be a challenge.

The making of the fish cake filling was met with suspicious sniffs from the snug. I had commandeered his children to sit on daddy and keep him in his seat, away from the evidence of fish type. I chopped and squidged and refrigerated. All very successfully. The mayonnaise was a joy to make, I love homemade mayonnaise and I didn’t realise how simple it was to make. My mayonnaise was particularly yellow which worried me to begin with but then I realised Waitrose had laid my eggs (Old Cotswold Legbar from Clarence Court) and these are particularly fine yellowy egg yolks as eggs should be.

I served Mr Smithshire with his Mackerel, Caper and Gherkin Fishcakes with homemade horseradish mayonnaise. His poor flu ridden face dropped. ‘Fish? When I’m this unwell?!’ I felt so guilty. The children all gathered around the table to watch him eat. At this point Smithshire 2 (boy aged 9) read out the full title. ‘Capers?? Mackerel??’ Mr Smithshire pushed his plate away and said he hated capers, horrible little fishy things full of bones…..

I poured him a glass of wine and explained a caper was a green berry and he might be thinking of anchovies. We then turned the page in Lotte’s book of delights to see the promise of a hunk of lamb with DUMPLINGS for next week. Mr Smithshire smiled a dreamy smile.

I am forgiven.

PS – I forgot to take a photograph, I was busy being a doting step mother!

 

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