Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Blackberry Compote and Blackberry Diet Panna Cotta

Yes, it's that time of year again - or rather, given the amount of rain we've been having, it was that time of year again two weeks ago.  The blackberry season is over - tomorrow will be September, and according to the old wives, the Devil will be out pissing on them all making them shrivelled and sour tonight.  Not to mention the usual amount of pee at dog level.

It was moving into the boyfriend's mother's house which kept me away, and so when I finally got back to the railway 'towpath' at Wimbledon there were only enough berries for a single pudding.  Less than half a tub.  Pathetic.  I didn't even bother to weigh them.  I did however bother to eat them.  You could simply wash a meagre crop and make into a crumble or pie; I went for the slightly posher Blackberry Compost and Blackberry Diet Pannacotta.

Blackberry Compost
(Ok, 'compote' but it's supposed to have a circumflex on the O and that means 'missing S' and it's so much more amusing.)
You Will Need: Blackberries, caster sugar, small pan, wooden spoon, sieve, measuring jug, container.

1) Wash the berries thoroughly, and discard any ants or spiders.  Add to the pan and half-cover with cold water.
2) Bring to a simmer.  Dredge the berries with sugar - this is a generous drizzle which covers the entire surface in a layer 1mm-ish thick.  Stir.  Bring to the boil, and gently boil, stirring all the time, for 10 minutes.
3) When the berries have all turned red and the liquid is a lovely deep purple, strain the liquid using the sieve into the measuring jug.
4) You have some choices about what to do with the remains; they would add a little flavour to some pie or  vodka, but not much; I chucked mine.  Likewise, the liquid can be saved for decorating/saucing/tarting up gamey meats and desserts in a container, or used straightaway in...

Blackberry Diet Panacotta
You Will Need: Blackberry compote, equal amount of semi-skimmed milk, small saucepan, caster sugar, packet of leaf gelatine, wooden spoon, small bowl of cold water, smooth bowl or individual moulds, eggs, small bowl and whisk

1) Measure how much blackberry compote you have made.  I made 200ml of it, so you can use my proportions to scale up to how much of everything else you will need.
2) If 200ml of compost: Soak 3 leaves of gelatine in the bowl of cold water for five minutes.  Meanwhile,
3) Beat one egg in a small bowl.  Heat 200ml semi-skimmed milk to hot bath temperature and whisk into the egg.  Return to the pan and heat very gently indeed.
4) Add the compost to the milk and whisk to a smooth colour.  If you like, add another tablespoonful of sugar at this point for a sweeter dessert.  Allow this to dissolve.
5) Fish the gelatine out of the water and add to the compost mixture.  Stir over a low heat until dissolved completely, about 2 minutes.
6) Take the mixture off the heat to cool a while, and prepare your moulds.  I used a smooth, laquered tin pie dish for my little experiment but it struck me that the silicone muffin cases you can get nowadays (in Lakeland, yay!) would be ideal for cute individual puddings.  Pour an equal amount of mix into the moulds and leave to chill in the fridge for approximately four hours.
7) Turn the pannacotti out onto little plates, garnish with a few blackberries if you have any good ones left and a dribble of red wine Creme d'Mures.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

The preceding dessert is a little liver-coloured which is why garnish is so important, but tastes deliciously cool and fruity.  Because the milk is semi-skimmed and there's so little sugar in it, it's relatively suitable for those watching their figures.  Unless you dump in the optional extra sugar.  Or use single cream instead.  Both of which I will be trying as soon as I'm not in a dieting household...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Hangover Omelette

So, on Friday night I went out.  To make new friends, who knew some of my old friends.  It's a simple concept - you all arrive at a pub, share a table with some strange faces and at the end of the night - two pints of cider, a double Amaretto, and a lot of ill-advised conversations about one's personal life - you invite them back to your house for some Sloe Gin.

That night you remember that you are drunk, and very so, because it has now been Saturday for four hours.  So you drink a lot of water.  Nevertheless when you get up on even-more-Saturday morning, you have a headache and not a lot of motivation.  I prescribe:

1) Lots of water, and no caffeine - coffee and tea are diuretics and will make you more dehydrated.
2) Fizzy-good-make-feel-nice (alka-selzer) or paracetemol, for the immediate problem.
3) Hangover omelette.  You Will Need:

2 eggs
a splash of milk
stirry spatula
leftover potatoes (or something)
sharp knife and board
frying pan
ketchup, to serve if desired

Melt a large knob of butter in the frying pan.  Slice the potatoes if using and fry them in the butter until browned and sticking annoyingly to the pan.  Add more butter.  Beat the eggs with a little milk in the bowl, and tip them into the hot pan.  Allow them to cook undisturbed for a minute, then try to turn over sections of the omelette one spatula at a time.  Shuffle the resulting chunks of eggy potatoey goodness around a bit until cooked through.  Flop onto plate.  Reflect dizzily how lucky it was that you didn't throw up, as that is what this creation reminds you of.  Put ketchup on it.  Remember to get a knife and fork out of the drawer to eat it with.  Serve with more water and a side of remorse.

4) Go back to bed to think about what you've done, and add some people on Facebook.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

How To Throw A Dinner Party As Far As You Can

Tonight in the name of Friendship, Love, Career Prospects, and all good things, I am throwing a dinner party for the boyfriend, myself and two very good friends with Rather Good Jobs which I hope will rub off on me.  The food has been calculated to delight the eyes (male friend) the palate (female friend) the stomach (boyfriend) and the nerves (me).  Calculated is the right word; like the Bistromatics in Hitchhikers' Guide, dinner parties have their own ratios, sums and correlations which must be measured before you can start.  Once you have your totals, you can throw a dinner party like a Lithuanian shotputter, which is to say well.

step One: Calculate the relationships between all the people you wish to invite, and subtract or add until everybody has at least one person to talk to.  When introducing a new person to a group, calculate the contents of the group so as to include your most welcoming and outgoing friends, so as to involve the new person automatically.

step Two: Work out what you want to make.  This involves several variables:
-Dietary requirements, including allergies and so-and-so who say they hate cream and are therefore not a human being
-Time to prepare.  Starters where possible should be cold and made the night before, or easily reheated before guests sit down (e.g. soup).  I have made things difficult for myself by making a cook-on-the-day starter, but it looks posh and comes with a preparable-ahead and impressive sauce.
Main courses should be started before guests arrive and ready by the time you've finished starters.  Time the arrival of guests and amount of booze available accordingly.  Once again I have broken my own rule by making something which will need to be prepared while starters are still happening for everyone else.
Puddings should always be reheatable at a moment's notice, to go in when the main course comes out, or cold and prepared the night before.  This time I have managed to obey; the pudding is already only awaiting presentation.
-Faff.  The Faff Index is personal and varies greatly.  A general rule of thumb is that you should never expend more Faff on a dinner party than 7:5, where 7 is party and 5 is your usual tolerance when cooking for yourself.
-Cuisine.  It's often nice to have all your dishes from the same area, like Spain or Italy, as it creates a Theme (i.e. Posh) and means you can use all the same cookbook.

step Three: Calculate the amount of food needed.  This is not the same as the number of people; some (like me) can only manage halves of everything (but being hostess I will tolerate leftovers.)  Boyfriends on the other hand usually go back for seconds.  Most people will eat more main course than everything else, and more pudding than they say they will. The sums are something like this:

Size of portions of courses is inversely proportional to the number of courses
Size of portions of courses is inversely proportional to number of eggs/floz cream used in meal total
Size of portions of courses is inversely proportional to the poshness of each course

Let Starter= s.  If S=1, Main Course =2 and Pudding (P) = 1.7 (Oh, Go On Then, Just A Slither).

step Four: Shopping For Posh
Regarding the Faff Index mentioned earlier, you can reduce the Index whilst increasing the poshness of your meal by adding what is known in my family as 'Garnish, that's what that is.'  For example:
-slices of citrus fruit, thin, cut along a radius and twisted to stand on things
-corainder, parsley or mint sprigs, or chopped and sprinkled chives
-grated chocolate off an ordinary large-hole cheese grater
-cream, oil, condiment or balsamic drizzled in an artistic drizzle
-chillies cut on the diagonal to reveal the seeds
And, my personal favourite and trick for this evening:
-Colourful, foreign and where possible tiny vegetables, and a variety of them.

step Five: Schedule, Schedule, Schedule!
You don't have to be all 'T-minus etc. eighteen hundred hours' about this, but do work out before you start what needs doing in what order.  Then when you're turning back to the cooking after five minutes talking and drinking gin, you won't have really forgotten where you are or what you're supposed to be doing.

Let's see how it goes...

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Since the boyfriend and I both started our new jobs, it has been imperative that a quick and Simple breakfast be devised which can be eaten together at the extremely stressful time of day, known as When The Today Programme Is On Radio 4.  He has gone for a mushroom omelette, being a manly man and requiring cooking.  I have settled for the default of the nation.
It's one of those delightful English words which is both a noun and a verb -  a Make and a Do.  Perhaps the simplest Make/Do of all.  The words 'I can't even make toast' are known to be a lie (always) and excuse to get out of cooking/healthy eating the English-speaking world over.  How to make really nice toast just the way you like it however is a little more of a struggle, and requires personal experimentation.
From Vogel's website

I have always had to balance the desire to make perfect toast (which has in my humble opinion to be white bread, for that golden-brown look) with my desire to make perfect sandwiches, which vary depending on filling but generally call for more 'interesting' bread.  Vogel's products, pictured, in their green-and-purple or red-and-yellow striped packets, are a good compromise.  Burgen also do a seedy loaf with slightly larger, whiter slices.  Each loaf can keep me in toast (2 slices) and sandwiches (2 slices) for the vast majority of the working week.

Seedy bread is a great way to eat slightly better and tastier food without having to go down the brown bread route.  It doesn't feel like brown bread, which even home-made can have a slightly dusty taste to the crust; with jam, marmite, smoked salmon, hard and soft cheese the little niblets add texture and vitamins without impacting much on the overall 'white' taste of the bread. 

Seedy stuff also makes good eggy bread, or 'French toast' as they call it across the pond.  Take 1/2 a beaten egg per slice, dunk the slices in the egg so they're soaked all through, and fry in a chunk of butter.  I've had eggy bread with ketchup, or maple syrup and bacon, or sugar for pudding.  Yum.

Now all I need to work out how to do is get up at 7am!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Twitter - The Surrender

I had told myself that I would never get a Twitter, that it was a pointless waste of everyone's time, and that I couldn't understand it.  But that was in the early days, when everyone's Twitter was 'going to the loo' 'on the loo' 'reading the paper.'  Now it seems to be all about the linksharing, and after familiarising myself with its uses for work, I realised that having a Twitter feed could, actually, serve me well.

I often find myself collecting items for a project, thinking about a project, or doing something tiny yet creative which doesn't merit a full blog post.  For these snippets - such as the 'invention' of DIY egg mayo which formed my first post - Twitter is an ideal repository.

There are also several websites and resources which I use/rip off/exploit whilst seeking Simple Dos, which I could use Twitter to share much more efficiently than just posting them on here.  It's also an opportunity to do some ruthless self-plugging of this site whenever I post something new, which will hopefully increase traffic and therefore creative goodness vibes in the general population.

You'll be able to see my last 3 tweets on the right-hand side of the blog now, thanks to a cunning 'gadget' available through Blogger.  Points for Blogger modders.  I encourage you all to follow me, simplymakeanddo, and make this work.  It's a co-operative effort, people!


This is really a post about leftovers, especially garden leftovers.  Whilst (very sadly) unable to grow my own vegetables, I was bequeathed some home-grown things by the boyf's mother what was probably weeks ago now.  The potatoes and beetroot have kept well in the fridge, being roots which could traditionally keep a whole winter in a freezing Lithuanian cellar.  It is time they were used up.

It was (as usual) stepmother N who introduced me to borscht as a concept for home cooking; having previously thought of it as something foreign to be perfected by restaurants, I have now realised it to be as perfectable and yet homely as Momma's Apple Pie.  A quick search for a basic recipe on the Good Food website turned up some VERY angry commenters, each of whom had a different 'authentic' take on what is a national dish for about 9 different nationalities.  Given how little I have left in the fridge of any suitability, and my woeful lack of Eastern European ancestry, I present to you my riff on borscht - or what might be called Boish - 'almost Borscht', for the purists.  All nine of them.

You Will Need: Large pan, wooden spoon, large-hole grater, kettle and measuring jug, chopping board and sharp knife, potato peeler, apron or unfavourite clothes to wear (beets are super-purple), large dinner spoon and bowl :)

Knob of butter
Red onion
Two beetroot
Three potatoes, medium-sized
One sad tomato (as opposed to very fresh, happy tomato)
Remains of head of savoy cabbage
One teaspoon Bouillon veg stock powder (from all good retailers)
750ml boiling water
Approx. tablespoonful tasty vinegar
(sour cream optional serving suggestion - I didn't have any)

1) Peel and grate the potatoes and beetroot; chop the remaining nubs finely.  Set the striplets aside.  Peel and finely chop the onion.
2) Gently fry and soften the onion in the pan, with the knob of butter.  I use lightly salted butter for all my fat requirements nowadays, as it goes with pretty much everything, especially toast.
3) Boil the kettle.  Make 750ml of stock in the measuring jug with the Bouillon powder (that's a brand, and a good one, but it doesn't matter what you use.  It's best of course just to always have stock left over, but that's another story.)
4)  Add the beetroot and potato to the onion, and let the potato go purple before adding some of the stock.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer.
5)  Finely chop the cabbage and tomato.  Add to the soup.  If it looks too chunky, add more stock.  SImmer for approx. 25 minutes, or one episode of 30 Rock.
6)  At the last 5 minutes before it's ready, add some red wine vinegar to taste.  Borscht is characterised by a sour taste, which is what the optional cream is for taking the bite out of.
7)  Serve hot or chilled, blended or chunky - although chunky is more authentic, and involves slightly less washing-up.  If you're feeling really posh, put some dill or lovage on the surface and get admiring cheffy glances from your co-diners.