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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Remembering Dad, Sunday 15th Jan 2012

Yesterday was the anniversary of the day we lost Dad, or should I say Dad meeting Mum again.  Life goes in cycles, so I shouldn't harp too much on a single day.  But I will never forget that morning at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead.  Of all the events I have been privileged to attend, I honestly feel that being there that morning was at the top.  Before we lost Mum, she asked me to be there for him.  So I was happy that to his last breath I had made an attempt to keep my promise.

After we had laid some flowers on Mum and Dad's grave, and also my brother George's (who would have celebrated his 59th birthday Tuesday week), we headed over to Hampstead Heath for a walk.  As kids Mum and Dad would often take us over the heath for a walk on a Sunday afternoon.  But we rarely ended up over West Heath.  So Dawn and I drove to Jack Straw's Castle and made our way to the Pergola.  Here there were long corridors of trellises built on the earth that had taken out of the tunnels that had become the Northern Line on the London Underground.

From here we spent a good hour or so wandering through woodland that was open and sparse with the trees barren of leaves that in the spring would create a blanket of green.  But even in the winter months the view of this natural landscape was beautiful.   Incredibly Dawn reminded me that despite having lived in London for eight and half years (either side of our time in Florida) she had only been to the heath once before.  And that was when I took her there when she first arrived in London over 15 years ago.

Hampstead Heath is more than just woodlands.  It has several large meadows, as the map calls them.  Above you can see the fields in front of Kenwood House.  This, I will add, was not on our planned route.  We took a little detour (we're still not sure how) and ended up a little off course.  Let's just say we enjoyed the walk rather than using the "L" word or that someone misread the map.

Below is the fabulous building that is Kenwood House.  Somewhere in my collection is a photo I had taken during one school trip in the late 60s.  I can picture myself posing with my classmates.  We (all boys) knelled and stood like we were a football team after a kick around on the heath.  We were no more than 8 or 9 and all thought we would be footballers one day.  Kenwood House was also the destination of one of the many trips we took with Dad and George after we had returned from Florida.  Memories I will cherish for as long as I live.

Anyone that knows us knows that at some point during the day there will be food on the agenda and that the camera will also be present.  We did try to grab a bite at Spaniards Inn where we once celebrated Father's Day with Dad.  But it was way too crowded and we couldn't be bothered to wait for a table.  So we headed towards Hampstead High Street and grabbed an Indian instead.  I know that Dad would probably not appreciate this type of food. But I think he would of the rest of the day.  RIP Dad.  We miss you.

These are just a handful of the photos we took today.  If you want to see the rest please feel free to click on the link below to see the best of the rest.
More Photos

Monday, 9 January 2012

LM Burgers on Holly Bell's Walnut Bread

Over the last few momths my obsession with cooking vegetarian food has grown to include baking. In fact, baking bread has been a dream of mine for quite a while. And thanks to Holly Bell and a Kenwood Chef Santa got me for Christmas, it's now become a reality. Holly, The 2011 Great British Bake Off finalist, maintains a blog called recipesfromanormalmum with loads of recipes and frequently tweets with her many followers of which yours truly is one. This was how I came across her recipe and decided to give it ago.  And to my delight it came out perfect first time.  I have since tried it a few more times and each time the bread has got better and better.  I'll giver you a link to her page shortly.  But here is what I do to end up with a loaf like this.

Ingredients :
500g Strong White Bread Flour
50g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
60g Chopped Walnuts
13g Easy Bake Dried Yeast
5g Salt
250ml Milk (I use soya)
60g Unsalted Butter
4 Tbs luke warm water

1. Put the flour, salt and sugar into the mixing bowl of your mixer and with the dough hook combine the ingredients by using the lowest speed for a couple of minutes. I usually stop the machine half way to scrape the sides.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until it starts to turn brown, then pour into a measuring jug.
2. Warm the milk in the same saucepan until it is about blood temperature, then pour this into the measuring jug, add the water and then stir to combine.
3. Ensuring that the milk mixture is not too hot, add the yeast to the milk mixture and stir.
4. Allow the milk mixture to rest for around 10 minutes.  This will allow the yeast to go to work and will result in a bubbly froth on the top.
5. Again turn the food mixer on to its lowerst speed. As the dough hook stirs the flour and sugar mixture, pour the milk mixture into the flour. After about 2/3 minutes the mixture will become sticky; at this point add the chopped nuts while the mixer is still stirring the flour and milk mixture.
6. After about 4 minutes the dough should have formed around the hook. Stop the machine and press the dough with your finger.  The indention should bounce back and the dough should not be sticky.  If it is still sticky, give it another minute or so.
7. Now pull the dough off the hook, roll into a ball in your hand and place in a large bowl.
8. Cover the bowl with cling film and a tea towel and place in a wamr place away from droughs.
9. Allow the dough to double in size.  This should take about an hour.  Maybe a little longer if the room is cold.
10. Now punch the dough while it is still in the bowl to deflate the ball. Remove the dough and roll into an oblong shape in your hands by folding from the ends.
11. Lightly grease a 2lb loaf tin (or as I do, place a silicon loaf liner in the tin.)
12. Place the dough into the tin (or liner).
13. Again cover the tin with cling film and tea towel and allow to double in size (around 45 minutes).
14. About five minutes before the dough is ready, turn the oven on 240 degrees.
15. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the cling film and tea towel and place in the middle of the oven.
16. After about 10 minutes, I turn the oven down about 20 degrees and turn the loaf around.
17. Bake for another 25 minutes and then remove.  The bread should look like the loaf above.
18. Tip onto a wire tray and allow to cool.  You're done bar the slicing, buttering and eating.

If you want to follow Holly's recipe, click on the link here.  Even if you you're happy with my interpretation, please check it out anyway.  Her narration alone is worth the visit. And my apologies for tweaking Holly's method.  As Dawn knows, I never ever stick to the recipe.  But thankfully it works.  Apologies Holly.

Anyway, once you have baked the above bread, you can then create your open-faced veggie burger dish with sliced tomatoes and caramalised onions.
To make my open-faced burgers for two, you'll need the following:
A box of Linda McCartney's Mozzeralla 1/4 pound burgers, a large juicy tomato (sliced), a large onion (sliced), your favorite mayo, some ketchup, olive oil and butter (or margarine). Not to mention four slices of walnut bread.

1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees (160 fan).
2. Place the frozen burgers on a baking dish and cook for 20 minutes, turning once half way through.
3. While the burgers cook, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a hot pan and add the sliced onion. After a few minutes, turn the heat down to medium and add a knob of butter and allow the onions to caramalise. I usually turn the onions with a spatula every few minutes and add a couple of tablespoons of water every seven minutes to keep the moisture in the onions. Then season with salt and pepper before removing from the heat.
4. Just before the burgers are done, throw the four slices of bread under the grill and brown lightly on one side.
5. Lay the bread toasted side face down on a plate and spread some mayo over the bread.
6. Slice the burgers in half and lay a slice on each piece of bread.
7. Lay the sliced tomotoes on the burgers.
8. Spoon the caramlised onions onto the sliced tomtatoes.
9. Top the onions with a dollop of ketchup and enjoy.

Give it a go and see how it comes out.  And please drop me a line, as I'd love to know what you think of both the bread and the meatless burgers.  Healthy and tasty.  Definately a win-win.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A day in the kitchen, Sunday 8th January 2012

On New Year's Eve I completed a list of things for my 2012 to-do list.  Some would call it resolutions, but seeing as these normally end in failure, I called it my to-do list.  This means that things will usually get done.  However, not always in the time frame that I had planned.  Two things on this list related to food. To be honest, many related to food.  But for the purpose of this blog posting, the one that reminded me that I was going to cook a new recipe every week and the one that said bake a new recipe every week were the ones I was referring to.

The new recipe of the week was last night's dinner.  The sausages were Linda McCartney's, the greens were just cooked in vegetable stock for around 10 minutes and the black eyed peas had been a new recipe on the 1st (but were leftovers I'd got from the freezer).  The macaroni cheese was my new recipe.  Dawn's mum swore that this was the best she'd ever had, so I gave it a go.  It completed the meal and was good.  We have leftovers this evening.

This week's new baking task turned out to be two-fold.  The first was from an EAT IN magazine.  I had asked Dawn to list dishes that she would like to me to try and this Cranberry & Sunflower Nut Muffin was on her list from the January/February 2012 edition.  The cake tray, by the way, was Mum's.  I think it will get plenty of use now.

In rummaging through the fridge, I noticed that I had a carton of buttermilk and asked myself, "How could I use this?"  The response was cornbread.  Usually I bake a cornbread in an iron skillet, but over the weekend I picked up the Hummingbird recipe book and noticed their corn meal muffins.  Hence the above.  I used my own recipe and added some chopped shallots and grated cheese.  Can't wait to try this out later.

In the middle of all this, I also threw lunch together.  Sauteed an onion and sliced red pepper, grated some cheese and we have a quesadilla.  I did also make some guacamole from scratch.  But the chips were Doritos.  Can't take the credit for these.

The afternoon started by baking a loaf of Holly Bell's Walnut Loaf.  This my third attempt in eight days and I can vouch for Holly's claim that this is easy to bake.  I will also confirm that it tastes better than the one we used to get from one of the large retail chains.  Oh yea, that's another food to-do.  Make all bread eaten in our house from scratch.  Buy no prepared bread from the store.  If you're interested in Holly's recipe, you can find it here.

My penultimate stint in the kitchen was to bake some biscuits.  I'd been reading The Great British Book of Baking (from the 1st GBBO series) and came across what I thought was an easy recipe I could fit in with the rest of the baking and cooking I was doing today.  The result was the above plate of Somerset Easter Biscuits. 

So this is what I did today.  I'll be back in the kitchen shortly to dish up last night's leftovers with a corn muffin each.  I don't think I've done too bad considering I'd not really tackled baking until recently.  And like they say, practise makes perfect.  So I'll be doing plenty of practise from now on.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Hertford - A walk into town, Saturday 7th January 2012

Following our walk to Ware at the end of last year,  Dawn and I promised ourselves that we would make more of an effort to get out and explore Hertford by foot.  We've spent far too much time with our backsides fixed to the car seat instead of enjoying the benefits of living outside the capital. So this morning when we headed into town for a handful of groceries, we decided to walk in.  And as we needed to pick up some parcels from the sorting office, we went the long way past County Hall instead of along West Street.

Our walk took us around the back of All Saints Church with its large graveyard.  According to its website, there was a meeting of the Church Synod in 673 AD, so there was likely a church in the town then.  And All Saints was one of two churches listed in the Doomsday Book, the great land survey of 1086. The current structure dates back to the 1890s.  The most interesting fact is that Charles Bridgeman held the office of organist there for a record 78 years from  1792 until 1873.

The River Lea is an important landmark in Hertford and many locals get great pleasure from feeding the swans and ducks at the back of Waitrose and Starbucks on the south bank and The Old Barge pub on the north.  Although we usually grab a double tall soy latte most weekends from the coffee house that kids seem to get the most pleasure of. Not to mention the countless dogs whose walks seem to end up along this path.

Like many provincial towns, Hertford can boast a farmers' market.  However, this is only once a month.  But at least on the other weekends there are always half a dozen regulars that pull out their stalls and give the locals a chance to pick up some fresh produce and baked goods from somewhere else other than chains.

The best part of the walk, however, was the short walk along West Street. Leading into Hornsmill, it captures many characteristics which are typically English. There is Bridgeman House, which is a two story brick building dated back to the first half of the 17th century. This short road has many quaint buildings, including a quaint pub and terraced houses which are typically British. There is also Hertingfordbury Park, the home of Hertford Town Football Club and AFC Hertford. The latter were actually playing today as we walked past.  Not only could we hear the small crowd, but could also see the players on the field. Quintessentially  English is the West Street Allotment (above) where locals grow their veggies surrounded by a handful of fields where we you can always see horses.  Today, like most winter months, they were grazing in a field with blankets on their backs to keep them warm.

The final leg of our walk, which was around three and half miles there and back, took us over a little brook that runs parallel to Brickendon Lane.  It doesn't appear on the local maps, but it always seems a fitting end to our walk into town.  The other side of the bridge is a row of terraced houses that is the local neighbourhood where we live.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Our Walk to Ware, Friday 30th December 2011

Our Christmas was a wonderful time full of food, drink, presents and best of all each other's company.  However, all this good living was taking its toll on our weak bodies.  We needed some E stuff.  You know, exercise.  We had enjoyed our first vegetarian Christmas dinner and all the goodies I had baked, but our bodies were feeling sluggish.  Which is why we decided to to get out of the house and have a nice leisurely walk.  As we were dropping the car off for its annual MOT and service, we decided to have a walk along the River Lea to Ware.  

We've lived in Hertford over five years and this was the first time we had made the three mile walk along the tranquil river. Why it had taken so long neither one of us could explain.  But what we could confirm is that it wouldn't be the last time.  Admittedly it was a little fresh and a few days before New Year, so not many others were walking along the path.  But even had there been, it could not have detracted from our pleasure.

Walking along the path we came across many runners, walkers, cyclists and fishermen.  Even parents and grandparents walking their grandchildren in prams or carrying them on their shoulders.  However, best of all was seeing doggies racing along with their loved ones without a leash or chain to restrict their pleasure.  Even with the river just a feet away, they had full trust that man's best friend wouldn't run off or jump in the water.  That is with the exception of the dog in the photo above.  We thought that these two were together, but just past the building in the photo, the path split and they each went their own way.
We also saw some horses and some cattle.  The cows were roaming freely in one of the fields without a care in the world.  A path crossed through the middle of this field and you could get right up close to them.  They were like gentle giants with a cute patch of curls above their forehead.  As you could expect, both of us kept on asking each other how could anyone eat one of these.  They were so adorable.  We also saw a few horses and countless ducks. Many of the latter would follow us hoping that we had some food for them.

Another frequent site were barges moored along the waters edge.  Most were brightly painted and one was even decorated for Christmas with lights and tinsel.  And each of them had been named after a special person or place.  This one didn't leave much to the imagination either.

After a stop in Ware for a cup of latte, we returned to Hertford and grabbed some lunch in The Old Barge. The six mile round trip (including coffee break) didn't take more than about three hours, so it didn't take too long.  It also built up a little appetite, so we shared a vegetarian chili and some fries. Dawn washing hers down with a pint of Carlsberg, whilst I had half a Thatchers.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year Breakfast Tradition

As a child growing up in Holloway, North London to a Protestant father and Catholic mother, my brothers and I rarely had a breakfast during the week.  We did, however, have fried porridge and bacon on a Sunday.  And on Christmas Day we would have a special breakfast.  I have no idea where it originated, but I grew up calling it mushrooms and bacon.  And since meeting Dawn, I moved this meal to New Year's Day, as we have another tradition for our Christmas breakfast.  Also this year, as we became vegetarians last year, I had to find an alternative to the streaky bacon that went with this dish so well. 

300g Organic button mushrooms
80g Organic salted butter
375 ml Organic full cream milk
200g Smoked Tofu (found at Waitrose)
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1/2 tsp salt
Tsp black pepper

As you can see from the ingredients, it may feel like you've busted a New Year resolution with the first meal of the year.  But we feel it's worth the pain.  It's a rich meal that you won't want to repeat too often in the year.

Making this meal is as easy as it gets.  First pour the milk into a saucepan and add the butter. Then slice the mushrooms (in large chunks, not too thin) and add them to the milk.  Add the salt and pepper, stir, and then bring the milk to a boil.  Once the milk has boiled, reduce the heat and let the milk simmer for around fifteen minutes.

While the milk is simmering and the mushrooms are soaking up all the juices, add the olive oil to a frying pan and then slice the tofu into thin slices (about 3-5mm in thickness).  Once the pan has heated up and the oil is hot ,add the tofu and cook it until it is nice and crispy on one side (this should take no more than 3-4 mins).  Then turn the tofu over and repeat for the other side.  Once both sides of the tofu have been cooked and are now crispy, drain any excess fat on a kitchen towel.

Finally, cut the tofu strips into three even pieces (around 2 cm long) and add them to the mushroom and milk mixture and remove the sauce pan from the heat.  The meal is now ready to dish up.

Now all you need to do is ladle the milk, mushroom and tofu mixture into a bowl and serve with some home-made bread.  This year we had a couple of slices from a walnut loaf I'd made yesterday with the new Kenwood Chef that my personal Santa got for me.  This too tasted fantastic.  However, the credit for this needs to go to Holly Bell.  I used her recipe and it can be found on her website by clicking on this link..