Monday, 24 December 2012

Season's Greetings

I would like to thank all of you who have taken the time to read my inexpert ramblings this year; I have been surprised and delighted by the huge response to my posts.

The recipes for Chili Jam, Moroccan Chicken and Herman Cake have been extraordinarily popular as have my Blogs on Mushrooms and Foraging, I promise to expand on these next year and to add to the bread posts which have been some of the most requested.

I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas and all you would wish yourselves for 2013.

My sincere thanks.


Saturday, 22 December 2012


'Despite the falling snow...'

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

It has always amazed me that while we get on with surviving the dark gloominess of winter, whiling away the languorous hours of semi-daylight and assuming that all around us is dormant, "Earth puts out grass and flowers despite the snow, despite the falling snow". Robert Graves may have been equally awed, but his description is much more perspicuous than my maladroit meanderings and certainly more poetic.

Winter is not simply a time of hibernation but is rather a pause, a lull in the frenetic growth of spring and summer, a culmination of the autumnal slowing, a stillness but not a death. It is the hour for gathering strength and while we look around us and see decay and lifelessness, beneath the surface is the concentration and storing of nutrients, and the necessary constituents to provide next year's growth and renewed life.

the attenuated light of Winter....

As we walk through the woods on the shortened days in the attenuated light of winter we still see the signs of life but at a much slower pace than that experienced in the spring of the year. The ability to almost see the bracken uncurling, the leaves unfolding and stretching cat like from their buds, the grass becoming a lusher green and the daffodils bursting from their bulbs in the spring, is replaced with a latency, an unseen but still perceived strength hidden beneath the detritus of the passed year. Everything is suppressed beneath the leaf induced sussuration of our footsteps along the wayside paths, the tessellated pattern of sunlit leaves throwing splashes of colour at the eyes and the longer, brighter shadows add length to our following forms.

....even hailstorms in April.....

Yet immediately after the Christmas celebrations are over the daylight hours are lengthening too. Imperceptible at first, but gradually even the most  inward of us notices the lighter mornings, the opening out of the evening gloom into a brighter walk home, the streetlamps not quite so harsh, their glow lessened by the available natural light and the cold, biting winds seem to dissipate as the additional daylight reduces their impact to freeze our bones. Optimism for the coming spring inures us against the vagaries of the weather and we anticipate the warming sun long before it's advent. Naturally, we can be caught out; a late frost killing buds on trees, snow showers in March, or, as in April 2012, a severe hailstorm leaving the very pavements panting as the temperature dropped 6 or 7 degrees in seconds depositing in its wake a heavy mist of cold breath upon the woodland floor. But these are only brief barriers along the road to spring, the inevitability of whose arrival can only be forestalled fleetingly and the temperatures rise, the world turns - the summer solstice hastens towards us like a mother  rushing towards her long lost child....

Winter is a beautiful time too.....

In the meantime, we too should make the most of the longer evenings, the colder daytimes and the chance to recoup our energies for the long, hot months ahead....well, winter is a time to dream too....

A heavy mist of cold breath upon the woodland floor

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Schnitzels and Childhood

When I was a child I lived in Germany; my father was in the British Forces and we lived in Minden and Hanover until I was about 12. Winters were cold and snowy, summers were dry and hot and being of that age some of my most formative memories belong to those years.

I remember catching crayfish by hand in the local streams, starting my own paper round for the estate on which we lived, my red bike with only one brake - the other was a kick brake, implemented by back peddling - visits to the NAAFI, a dreadful dentist who always left me with a mouthful of pain and a nausea from the gas he used...and I remember schnitzels!

I had forgotten all about our  visits to the restaurant in town to pick up a big dish of kartofell salat and schnitzels for the family back then, until I revisited Germany in 1991 and discovered them all over again in the centre of Bonne. It was a momentary, extremely odd feeling of déjà vu combined with euphoric bliss and a sublime confusion as to whence the apparent knowledge of such a dish had come. But a second or so later in a rush of nostalgia it all came back like a wave of warm soapy water covering me in warmth and comfort. I often think that nostalgia can be tasted and smelled. Every time I listen to Wish You Were Here or Shine On You Crazy Diamond, I can smell the vinyl, the black plastic wrapper the album came in and almost taste the atmosphere of my Mam's kitchen back in 1975. It's like a tangible entity - something that can be touched and if you could just reach you hand far enough into the past you would feel it, taste it, smell it...Oh and God Bless Syd and Rick....I can always get off to sleep late at night by listening to Pink Floyd, it's as if my cares  and worries are carried away by the wistful memory of how simple life was in my teens...

May it thinner if you need to...

Schnitzels are so easy to prepare and cook and you can use turkey, chicken, pork or veal. Just ensure your escalopes are thin enough to cook quickly - you can make them thinner by using a rolling pin - and coat them in seasoned flour, dip them in beaten egg and then roll them in freshly prepared breadcrumbs - don't buy breadcrumbs, never buy breadcrumbs. You're just adding to the coffers of the corporate conglomerates who think British people can't cook anything for themselves. And never buy "Wonder" bread....Oh, I mustn't start...

Bread, then egg, then breadcrumbs

Anyway, then you can fry them off in a shallow pan until they are a golden brown colour on both sides, pop them in the oven to keep warm on a low heat for a few minutes while you prepare whatever you fancy to accompany it.....and enjoy...

Quick, tasty and nostalgic...for me anyway...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Patatas Bravas - Mikey Stylee....

A great main dish, starter or accompaniment but as with the Cha Cha Cha chicken it needs pimenton pepper - available from all good food outlets.

The ingredients are pictured:

Boiled potatoes of choice
Pimenton (I use dulce - sweet)
Garlic chopped
Tinned tomatoes ( I blitz mine until smooth)
Tomato ketchup
Rosemary chopped
Thyme Chopped
Cumin seeds
Chilli (not too much it's a small dish, but it's your choice!)

Fry off the garlic and chilli in a deep pan until they are soft but not too coloured. Add the potatoes, cumin seeds and half the chopped herbs and continue to cook until some colour is given to the potatoes then add the blended tinned tomato, tomato ketchup and pimenton.
You can also add water if it dries out too much.

Cook until the potatoes have used up the liquid and are taking on more colour.


Cha cha cha chicken...

A lot of garlic, one hot chili and Pimenton

My wife devised the appellation for this dish, it's based on a Spanish favourite. I love one pot cooking so much and this is one of the most wonderfully flavoursome in my repertoire of chicken dishes. The chicken always ends up so tender it melts in the mouth, the chorizo adds depth, sweetness and a peppery hit, the chilli gives heat, but the pimenton is really the ingredient of note. It turns the dish into a deep, richly robust prize of a meal with notes of roasted peeper and molasses.

Here are the ingredients I used, but as always you can substitute:

Chicken (any cut you like)
Chorizo sausage (I used 'forte' - hot)
Tin of tomatoes blitzed
Tomato Ketchup - a dollop
Tomato puree - the same
chopped thyme
dried oregano or rosemary
2 heaped teaspoons of dulce pimenton
Chili (amount of choice) Chopped
Chopped red onion
Chopped garlic (I used 5 cloves)
a dash of balsamic vinegar
Chicken or vegetable stock if needed

Ok, I fry of the cubed chicken after coating it in plain flour seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper, when it has browned i remove it from the pan and clean the dish if necessary, add more oil and gently sweat the chopped onions for 5 minutes or so. They should be soft not browned. Add the chopped garlic and chili and put the lid back on to sweat for a few more minutes.

The paramount ingredient
Add the tin of blitzed tomatoes with a touch of sugar, the pimenton, dried herbs and chopped thyme, the ketchup, puree and stir well for a few minutes before adding the chorizo and sealed chicken cubes. Check the seasoning.

I then simmer on the hob for 10 minutes or so before checking how much sauce is left and if necessary add some stock - the meat should be covered - and remember, the flour in which the chicken was cooked will thicken the sauce nicely. Then put the dish in the oven and cook slowly for 45 minutes or so (my fan oven at 140-150) The chicken should be soft enough to cut with a spoon when it's done...

Served with Patatas Bravas and home made seeded loaf

This could be served with my Patatas Bravas dish, bread or even rice, I think you'll enjoy it.