Over the last few months I have introduced a few monthly features to my site (‘Five Favourite Finds‘, ‘My Top 10 Online Reads‘ and ‘What Little H Did‘). But I’ve felt for some time that I needed one more. Whilst ‘inventing’ our lunch earlier today, as I often do on Sunday’s, I decided that perhaps sharing a monthly recipe might be the missing blog post. The intention is to go for recipes I’ve invented or enhanced myself. Hopefully it will encourage me to experiment more in the kitchen as I always did pre-Motherhood! The meal for this month is: Thai-style chana dal. Here’s how I did it!
I am suffering from a quite severe and long-running affliction. “What is it?” I hear you wonder. Well I shall tell you…it’s guilt. Yes, guilt. And it’s just a little feeling of unease or regret that I suffer from; It’s the kind of guilt which eats away at me and makes me question my decisions throughout every day.
We’ve been weaning for about a month now and it’s going well I think. H is now on three meals a day plus a mid-morning yoghurt and fruit snack. She has dropped down her milk feeds so she is only really having a morning, mid-afternoon and bedtime milk feed. Despite this, the amount she eats is really quite phenomenal given her size. Today she ate:
My in-laws were coming round last weekend and I needed to make something for lunch. I had also, in error, opened a tin of chopped tomatoes so the the aforementioned lunch needed to make use of those! So, I decided to make a variation of my normal veggie lasagne. It worked really well and was well received. So, in keeping with my recent bout of food-based-blog-posts, here’s how to recreate it yourselves!
Tomato Sauce: 1 diced red onion, 3 cloves garlic, 400g tin chopped tomatoes, 15 cherry tomatoes (quartered), 2tsp dried basil
Vegetables: 1 medium sized butternut squash, 1 aubergine, 2 courgettes, medium sized bag of spinach
White Sauce: 25g plain flour, 25g butter, 300ml milk
Other things: Mozarella (1 – 2 balls depending on pref), lasagne sheets (enough for 3 layers – approx 6 – 9 sheets usually), baking dish
Tomato Sauce: Gently fry the diced onion for about 5 mins on a medium heat – do not let it burn. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 mins. Add the remaining ingredients and add a small amount of water. Leave for about 15 – 20 mins to break down. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn. Add a little more water if it starts to get too thick.
Vegetables: Heat the oven to about 160c (fan). Peel the squash and cut in to pieces about 2 – 3cm long/wide (removing all the seeds from the middle). Brush pieces lightly with olive oil, place on a baking sheet and bake until starting to soften (approx 20 mins). Slice the aubergine in to 2cm cubes and slice the courgettes in to rings. Lightly brush with oil and place on a second baking sheet in the oven until they also start to soften (approx 15 mins). Check the vegetables a couple of times and give them a mix round so they bake evenly. Whilst they are cooking, wilt the spinach for a few minutes in a pan.
White Sauce: Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the flour and mix to a smooth paste. Slowly add the milk ensuring each bit is fully combined to the flour/butter mixture before adding more. The mixture to should initially start to form a ‘dough’ before it then starts to smooth out in a thick sauce. Heat through for a few minutes and then remove from the heat.
Assembly: The lasagne is formed of 3 layers so split the vegetables in to 3 portions. Pop a 1/3 tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan, add in 1/3 vegetables, tops with lasagne sheets and then cover with 1/3 if the white sauce. Sprinkle on some mozzarella and then repeat for another layer. For the final layer, repeat previous step except before adding the lasagne sheets, layer in the wilted spinach.
Cooking: Cook immediately or later as required at 170c (fan) for approx 30 mins. Watch the top to make sure it doesn’t over brown – cover with a bit of foil if it does!
I was reading a back issue of Stylist the other day and came across an interview with Gemma Arterton. It told of how she had moved to Paris 4 months ago to learn French, in advance of shooting a French movie. In the interview, they referenced a direct quote in which she said
“Every year I like to have something that I learn and this is the challenge this year – learning French.”
It got me thinking, is it really possible for someone in a ‘normal’ job to do that? So perhaps her job makes it easier for her both financially and time-wise to up-sticks and live abroad for a while. But, ignoring that, how easy is it to do something as ambitious as learning a language fluently whilst also dealing with the demands of daily life: work, commuting, house work, family, etc.
Every year I tell myself to be more diligent at practicing my Spanish. I keep starting books and making pledges to watch more Spanish TV but by the time I get home, my brain is just too tired. Given that I can’t even stick to practicing my Spanish, other past ambitions to learn new languages (getting back in to French or German, and learning Polish have both been past ‘good intentions’) never stood a chance. Similarly, I keep thinking how I should further hone my coding knowledge to ‘enhance’ my work skill set, but I don’t. I can’t bring myself to sit in front of the computer for that long after a day at work.
So, after all of my grumbling about not managing to successfully learn anything new, Sam made the wise observation that compared to many others (to a degree, Gemma Arterton included), we have quite ‘brain heavy’ jobs. I’m not implying other careers, such as acting, don’t use brain power but there is a stronger physical element to non-office jobs. I, on the other hand, spend most of the day sitting or moving between seats. So, Sam further pointed out, there is the gap for me to learn something new if it has a more physical / practical dimension.
For someone who has always been an academic at heart, it still saddens me I can’t find the energy and focus to learn languages etc more easily. But I have realised that my interest in cooking and baking is something I should start to see as much more of a hobby than I have in the past. It is also an area where I can develop my skills a lot more. So that’s the plan. On that note, I leave you with todays creation:
So I have been making use of the Bank Holiday Monday. We started the day with a 13 mile bike ride. I then got on with muchos cleaning (including windows and frames!) and dusting. I also touched-up some paintwork and applied a second coat of stain to the most recent conservatory sanding. I updated my finance spreadsheet and did the ironing. I then make a Angela-style Melanzane Parmagiana (I added in slow roasted peppers and courgettes along with the aubergine) for dinner. The house is now wonderfully clean and tidy (Well, except for the bathroom and the kitchen floor… I’ll do those in the week.); Sam and I are both well fed!
I’m now officially zonked. I would kick back and enjoy a nice Bank Holiday film on the telly, but as I have previously mentioned, that doesn’t happen anymore. So, I’m going to just hope Sam picks something fun whilst I make a suppa and locate a tasty cake!
About a month ago, James May and his team made a pizza oven on James May’s Man Lab. It made me not only want pizza, but home made pizza. So, I have had a couple of goes since then and I think my creations are getting better. The first pizza was made using a strong white bread flour for the base. It was topped with a passata base, mixed grated cheese and a medley of vegetables.
Unfortunately, my main criticism of my first try in a long time was the base was too heavy. So, whilst away last week, I found a recipe in Waitrose Kitchen which used ’00’ flour instead (typically used for pasta) because it’s lighter. I cannot find the exact recipe on the website, but this one is very similar. My recipe used 350g of flour to 250ml luke warm water, but I did have to add a fair bit more flour because it was just too sticky; so I expect these quantities may work better. It also said in my recipe that you could use 2 tsp of dried yeast if that’s what you had, rather than fresh yeast. Oh, and I also didn’t add any honey! The dough rose really quickly though once kneaded. When cooked, the base was significantly lighter.
I topped it with red pepper pesto, roasted pine nuts, pre-boiled sliced baby new potatoes, chargrilled courgette slices and torn mozzarella. Cooked at 200c (fan oven temp) on a pre-heated baking sheet, it came out pretty darn well, even if I do say so myself!
I have done a fair bit of cooking over the last week. Whilst not being a huge believer in the new year being a ‘fresh start’, I naturally seem to want to be extra healthy as we come out of Christmas and move in to January. (That said, at least one of the things I have made (shown further down) is certainly not healthy, unless you take the fact it is made from just basic ingredients.) However, I think the additional ‘free time’ I find myself with between Christmas and New Year lends itself nicely to a bit of cooking or baking.
So, a short gallery of my recent creations, going backwards in time (to mix it up a bit):
Today I made a vegetable masala, tarka daal and naan breads (from scratch). I forgot to take a photo before we gobbled it down, but here is a shot of the remains cooling to go in the freezer!
The masala was based on this recipe from BBC Good Food. I made my own paste, per the recipe, but I omitted the chilli because I forgot to buy one. It was nice without it but would have been better with the zing. I also halved the recipe because I didn’t need to serve 10!
The daal was a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey (this book I think), whilst the naans were from this Bread book. Main learn from the naan’s (it was first ever attempt) was that I didn’t shape the dough thin enough.
The next two dishes were for our New Years Eve dinner with out neighbours. I did the starter and the dessert. Both came from this Baking book I was given as a Christmas present. I used shop bought pastry for ease / because of laziness. Otherwise both dishes were really well received!
Only challenge with those two dishes: the caramel for the toffee! It took a second attempt and even after that, it needs some work.
My laze around in bed was clearly the trick to a productive day! I have cleaned our bedroom from top-to-toe and finished all remaining skirting board / door frame painting in there. Hurrah! It has been bugging me for a while. I also made Sam some rock cakes, made a crumble (to have in a bit) and cooked Sam a steak dinner (salmon for me). My finances are up-to-date and I re-potted my yukka which has been flopping around and looking a bit worse-for-wear for some time. Hopefully I have not left it too late. Oh, and I did all the ironing (except the napkins but they can wait). Now, shower, put clothes away, change the bed and finally chill time. I do feel happy after a productive day 🙂 Oh, and there was Dr Who watchage too. Hehe!
We got back home yesterday after our Christmas visits. We had really enjoyable visits this Christmas but I must say, it’s good to be home! Yesterday we went and did a big food shop. I then did my customary cupboard and fridge clean before having a lovely long soak in the evening, accompanied by my January edition of Astronomy Now!
Today has been uber rainy so aside from going and propping up a plant in the garden and going to the post box, I haven’t been out. I did an erg this morning and then cleared my back-log of ironing. Sam us doing a curry for tea and I am attempting a lentil dahl! My new astronomy book also arrived this afternoon so I am going to sit down and have a read before dinner! Can’t believe tomorrow is the end of 2009 🙁