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Chocolate Solves All Problems January 28, 2010

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Advice, Foodiness, Life, Chatter & Politics.
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I have discovered the most amazing and absurd vintage eBay shop in America, I will have to share it with you later today!

Homer Simpson In World Of Chocolate

Today lots of people around the web seem to be suffering from all manner of ills. People are having issues with technology, getting ill, making mistakes and generally just feeling down in the dumps. I, usefully, have been on hand to prescribe one thing to all of them, regardless of what the actual situation is – chocolate. Whilst I think if the problem was a chocolate allergy I would be lucid enough to hold back from the prescription, I can’t guarantee it, and I know that I perhaps shouldn’t recommend the god of all sweet stuff quite as much as I do.

The thing is, however, that I love it. Even when I am full and satisfied a huge bar little square of chocolate can make the world seem a brighter, happier place. Much like Homer Simpson in his hallucination of a world of chocolate, everything seems wonderful (although disappointingly not quite as edible!). The smooth feeling of chocolate melting on my tongue feels like home, and whatever form it comes in I love love love it.

So, is this love purely based on the taste? Or perhaps it is based on the sugar rush, the immediate high and reasonably fast-following sugar low that follow its consumption? It is that, like cheese, it releases those same endorphins into our brains, giving us a natural chirpy high that is, as far as we know, only bad for our hips? Maybe, and I don’t like this idea, it is all psychological, and it is just an enviable placebo effect?

What do you reckon?

Never mind what the explanation, if you are feeling down and low, follow my advice – have some chocolate and see if it helps!

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All on the hips October 26, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Foodiness, Inspiration, Life, Chatter & Politics.
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I am thinking of starting up my Digging for Truffles food blog again. Whenever I do it inspires me to eat well and record my food habits, something I really ought to work harder on as there have been rather a lot of chocolate bars passing my lips recently! Of course, my body doesn’t crave or desire chocolate bars that often – I just eat them because somewhere deep down I feel I ought to! I also need to started using the Wii fit and exercising, so it is time for some real change to occur!

Other than food thoughts, however, I have been thinking about women, and our hips. My hips have always been a bit straight and boring, and I have this habit of assessing other women’s wonderful snake hips with utter jealousy.

How do their hips wiggle in just the right way? I have no natural swing to my hips, no rhythm – they just twitch occasionally and that is about it. How I long for svelte curvy hips swinging seductively from side to side. I have heard that practise can make perfect, but so far my hip swinging efforts have been failing terribly!

It doesn’t help that I am a straight figure, with few of those womanly wiles that make our bodies quite so beautiful, no matter what size they are.

The most wonderful hips have to belong to the stunningly curvy Christina Hendricks, and the equally brilliant Kate Winslet. Something to aspire to!

Curvy Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway in MadMen) and her hips and breasts!

Curvy Christina Hendricks and her lovely hips!

English Rose Kate Winslet

English Rose Kate Winslet

Giveaway – Slow Gin and Beeswax Book October 24, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Books, Foodiness.
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Earlier this week I ordered a book on eBay. It arrived, but unfortunately the cover was a little ripped. I contacted the seller who was lovely, and sent out a replacement in the post. As she did so, she encouraged me to keep the old one as a wonderful gesture of goodwill. Now, I obviously don’t need this first copy, with its little rip. But it is a brilliant book, and I don’t want it to go to waste. I want people to be able to benefit from this woman’s kindness, and experience one of my favourite seasonal reads.

Now, what is the book all about?

Apparently according to the cover it is ” Seasonal recipes and hints from traditional household storerooms”. It is jam-packed with advice on what to cook in what season, how to cook it, cleaning tips, chutney recipes, and other such worldly gems of wisdom. I have read this book back to cover, absorbing all that knowledge, and it still hasn’t gotten old!

Sloe Gin and Beeswax - you can see the rip (sellotaped) at the top!

Sloe Gin and Beeswax - you can see the rip (sellotaped) at the top!

Now, last time I hosted a giveaway on my blog, someone unfortunately won with a monosyllabic answer and was incredibly ungrateful when I contacted her – I requested the address and literally got just that – no world of thanks or even any message! This time, therefore, I request that people just give a little answer to the question below along with some method of contact (a link to your blog or email address). The competition will close on the 7th November!

To enter, simply answer this: What is your favourite old wives tale or culinary tip?

To tweet this competition if you so desire, simply paste this into Twitter: “RT @LaurenEACooke Head over to my blog for the chance to win a copy of the wonderful “Sloe Gin and Beeswax” http://tiny.cc/8Y2p3

The ultimate comfort foods October 22, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Foodiness.
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When times are hard it is no hidden fact that many of us turn to food (and the occasional glass of wine…) for comfort. These foods make us feel full, warm, satisfied and most importantly have flavours that in our head are associated with good time. The smooth creaminess of chocolate, the salty flavour of crisps, the burst of a fresh tomato (this comfort food may be just me…) – all of these flavours give our brains something else to think about other than the ever impending doom and gloom.

Delicious comfort food!

Delicious comfort food!

(Rather scrumtuous image from here)

So what is the ultimate comfort food? What will make our hearts sings and our taste buds swoon? Here is my vital list of things to make comfort eating an art!

  • Jacket potato

Oooozing melted cheese, swathes of piping hot baked beans and enough butter to give a horse a heart attack. As a recent convert to jacket potatoes, I suddenly can’t get enough of them – and the starch and fat overload is perfect tor true and traditional comfort eating!

  • Chocolate

Mmm, chocolate. Any excuse, eh?! In fact, I have found myself making up multiple excuses in the past as to what terrible tragedy has befallen me – so any actual comfort eating is consequently jam-packed to the rafters with this substance. Personally chocolate bars aren’t my comfort food – but cream buns, chocolate mousse and cake are definite winners!

  •  Fast food

Generally this one doesn’t cut it for me (although the crunch for McDonald’s fries will always be an exception). I prefer real hearty food, like a totally inappropriate mid summer stew or an onslaught of muffins. Salty snacks are popular with comfort eaters, however, and a KFC Zinger Tower meal wouldn’t hurt…

  •  Cheese

God cheese is possibly my biggest failing. Eaten in excessive quantities at the best of times, cheese can help with any problem. Releasing the same chemicals as good chocolate, cheese makes me feel really happy! Whether the potted cheese I made at the weekend, basics cheddar or breaded brie, cheese truly is my saving food!

  •  Pasta

Finally, that nightmare of convenience foods, pasta. Whether ensconced deep in the bubbling cheesy tummy of a mac and cheese, or coated lovingly in salty basily pesto, or even just tossed in olive oil and tomatoes, pasta is the best carb, in my humble option. I love the softness, the flavour, the roundness it brings to a dish. This love affair may last for a long time.

So there you have it, my favourite comfort foods. What do you like to eat? I am always open to new options!

When comforting others, however, I stick to baking and baking well. When I get home today, it is straight on with my gingerbread man baking. Yummy!

Puff Pastry Parcel September 22, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Foodiness.
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Mmm, I had a delicious dinner last night. in fact, I will be having a delicious lunch today too, from the leftovers.

We had some puff pastry left over in the fridge from a scrumptous chicken pie Ben concocted last week, and I hated to see it sitting there, looking forlorn and unloved. So, a quick trip to the supermarket to pick up a few jars of expensive-but-long-lasting ingredients and some tasty extras resulted in this idea – which, incidentally, turned out delicious and yummy!

Bacon, Feta and tomato puff pastry tart

Bacon, Feta and tomato puff pastry tart

feta, bacon & tomato tart

The pie close up!

 How to make this scrumptous, salty and tangy pie? Read on!

Ingredients:

  • Puff pastry, rolled to 0.5cm thickness
  • Half a normal block of feta
  • Bout 6-10 sun dried tomatoes
  • 3 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • A teaspoon full of capers
  • 4 rashers of bacon
  • 1 onion

Finely chop the onion, and fry it with the bacon. I fried it in basil/lemon oil to add some flavour, and added oregano as the main herb near the end of frying. Chop the bacon, and put both it and the onion into a bowl. To the bowl add the feta (sliced or chopped), the cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes (chopped) and the capers. Mix hard with a spoon, ensuring that everything is broken up and mixed together thoroughly.

Spoon into the middle of the rolled puff pastry, fold over into a parcel and glazed with a little beaten egg. Cook in the oven for approximately 25 minute until golden brown.

We served it with a variation of garlic bread, butter and boursin toasted. To be honest though I would almost have preferred just eating the stinky boursin on a spoon straight from the fridge! hehe.

Accidental Onion Soup September 16, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Foodiness.
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I have discovered that if you make onion gravy and it doesn’t work, all hope is not lost. I managed to make the most lovely onion soup I have had since Paris, with only the effort of making a gravy! How did I do this wonderous thing, that resulted in Ben drinking from the jug? Read on!

 First I fried onion gently in butter until it was soft and going translucent. Then I mixed flour with a little water to make a paste (1 onion, 1 heaped teaspoon flour), and added this to the pan. I stirred hard with a wooden spoon to absorb the butter and scrape up anything on the pan base. To this mixture I added a beef oxo cube and stirred that in too! Next was a healthy dose of white wine, which I boiled until reduced and stirred continuously. Add a good half-pint to a pint of water and boil hard, adding a little cornflour paste, a veg cube and perhaps a dash more wine. I kept boiling but it refused to reduce. The (very hot) result was the onion soup!

Yum!

The importance of food September 8, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Foodiness, Life, Chatter & Politics.
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Cie’s post, Success on a Plate, has got me to thinking about the importance of food in our society. And, more specifically, the importance of food to me.

Personally, I am not a breakfast girl. The idea of it makes me feel nauseous, and despite repeat encouraging I simply cannot enjoy it. If I don’t get food when I need it, however, I am grumpy, vial even – my temper becomes lethal and all I need is a little snack to tip me back to normal. Physiological food reactions aside, however, and I am shocked by just how much my life is governed by food.

Sometimes it is all about the taste – chocolate and mangos and other such delicious bounties. Other times, however, a food will have nowhere near the same impact on my feelings when taken out of context. A simply tomato salad without the hot sun pounding through the window is never as vibrant, as refreshing and exciting. A breakfast of fresh bread, oranges and cheese can never be enjoyed properly unless on a balcony in some sunny foreign clime. Those sweets at school that made us all go hyper never had any effect when eaten alone.

When sad, I will often turn to food. My small stomach capacity means I generally can’t stuff myself silly, but fatty, sweet and salty foods can bring back a shred of happiness. Munching on soft supermarket cookies can make a bad evening better, and delicious curries can make all the difference on a cold depressing night.

Interestingly, however, unhappiness never makes me want to cook. I read with envy all the food bloggers who will whip up a feast to cure a dull day or resurrect a failing weekend. Instead, I cook only when happy, and tend to pine when alone or feeling sad. Other peoples sadness too makes me want to cook, to fix problems with a tub of Ben & Jerries and a pile of cakes. I love baking cakes, attempting biscuits and producing roasts on an epic scale. If I ever cook for you like that, you can generally rest assured that it means I am in a chirpy mood!

And then, of course, come those special foods. The rare taste and flavour that can take you back to simpler times. Whether specific moments and memories, or more general “feelings”, dishes have an ability to transport you, and mean a whole lot more than the sum of their edible parts.

Mmm, lunchtime is here, I think! A simple feta salad – tasty, good for you, and just the right choice for our last day of sun!

Domestic Goddessery (Watch out Nigella) September 1, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Foodiness, Life, Chatter & Politics.
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Well, this weekend has been full of domestic goodness and foodie crafting. If I do say so myself, I am quite the domestic goddess, and Nigella may ave a real contended for Domestic Goddess of the year. I may not have the hips, the looks, the breast or the pout… but I can sure as hell try!

First off, here are some foraging images shamelessly nicked from Cie’s blog, or our trip down leafy lane to pick early sloes and Mirabelles. If you love plums and damsons, Mirabelles are a free alternative that are perfectly ripe just about now!

foraging         benlauren

sloes and mirabelles

The product of all this woodland foraging was 1lb of sloes (which are in the freezer) and the mirabelles, which I talked about yesterday. Anyway, I mad some chutney, and also bought a big bag of windfall apples with which I made apple pies (all be it with self raising flour as that was all I had!) and delicious apple sauce.

mirabelle chutney and apple sauce

How did I make them? My amounts are flexible and largely made up, but here are the recipes:

Apple sauce:

  • Windfall apples
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice
  • Cider
  • Butter

Boil your chopped, peeled and cored apples in water and a mug full of cider, just enough to cover. Add sugar – the amount is about personal preference, but remember that the more sugar the longer it will last. To keep the pale colouring I used white caster sugar, but brown will produce a richer more caramel apple sauce. Boil until the water is reduced and apples have turned fluffy and mushy. A good beating with a spoon will turn it into a thick fluffy sauce. At this point, boil to thicken more or remove from the heat. Whisk in a good large nob  of cold butter until melted, and stir in a hearty splash of lemon juice to bring out the flavours. Jar is serialised jars, and store. I always prefer to store apple sauce in the fridge.

Mirabelle chutney:

  • Mirabelles (pipped)
  • Large onion
  • Brown sugar
  • Vinegar
  • Rasions/Sultanas
  • Spices – ginger, cinnamon, cloves

Add Mirabelles to a pot, with sugar (For about 2lbs mirabelles I used 400gm sugar) and 1pint vinegar. I also added some cider, but should have used the damson liqueur we had hanging around! Add a chopped onion, all the spices and the raisins, and bring to the boil. Add a big dash of salt too! Boil/Simmer until at the desired thickness, which should be very thick but mine simple would not boil down! After about 45 minutes, with occasional stirring, decant into sterilised jars and seal. Delicious immediately, but mellowing over a period of time will allow the flavours to infuse and mature.

Elderberries and Juniper August 30, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Books, Foodiness.
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What a misnomer this post is! The title refers to my adventures in sunny Stafford this weekend for Ben’s mother’s Birthday. Alongside socialising and general chatting, I got to do some outdoors hunter/gatherer stuff that I love doing yet never do enough. Whenever out in the real natural world picking berries and collecting summers windfall fruits, I always feel that I am doing what we humans were mean to do – and that somewhere along the line, with our agriculture and digital world, we strayed an awful long way from the path.

As it happens, we didn’t picks any elderflower, elderberries or juniper on our trip down the leafy lane in the English countryside. We did, however, collect a pound each of sloes (currently residing in our freezer to simulate their “first frost” to make them perfect for making sloe gin), and the delightful crop of little British Mirabelles. Kind of like mini golder plums or damsons, this very British crop are destined for a few mirabelle jams, mirabelle chutneys and delicious Mirabelle cakes/tarts. I am also planning to head down by the canal with Cie to harvest some rose hips (for rose-hip marmalade) and whatever else our greedy hunter/gathering hands can reach.

summer mirabelle crop

Plenty of sloe and Mirabelle recipes to follow people! And I have also just ordered a wonderful book called “Sloe gin and Beeswax“, which will give me plenty of natural countryside recipes for old classics like potted cheese (cheese, butter and brandy, what could be better?!), natural cleaning products (egg shells dissolved in vinegar, anyone?), and other such wonders. I can’t wait!

Like Peas in a Pod | How to make Delicious Pea Soup August 17, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Foodiness.
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Inspired by this post over at Backwards in High Heels, I have spent the past few weeks intending to make my own version of pea soup. I finally got around to it yesterday and have to say that I was very pleased with the results. For someone who has never eaten or made pea soup, split pea soup, pea and ham soup or any more distant cousins of this luminous green delight, it had to be a brilliant start.

My general soup making mantra goes something along the lines of “stock stock stock stock stock” – you can have the best ingredients in the world, but they only ever taste as good as possible with proper stock in the mix! I have Knorr stuff at home but most people I know swear by bouillon! To me, of course, anything salty is great! Sometimes I wonder if I am bit of a philistine with food and leaving it only moderately seasoned! Is an addiction to salt conceivable at all?

delicious pea soup recipe

So, how to make it? I don’t use amounts really (plus soup can always be boiled down if too thin).

The incredibly simple pea soup recipe is as follows:

  • A small bag of frozen peas
  • Boiled water with 1 chicken and 1 veg stock cube dissolved in it
  • 2 small onions (1 large)
  • 2 cloves of garlic

Chop the onion and garlic finely, then sweat in a pan with a big knob of melted butter. Don’t let them go brown. I also added a little basil oil to the mix for a fresh herby taste, but you don’t need this by any means!

Add the peas and toss to coat in the butter, and also to thaw them slightly. Add the boiled water and bring to the boil, stirring.

Leave to simmer for about 2 minutes. Add a handful of chopped mint, and a spoonful of sugar – this is Tania’s biggest tip and it was amazing!

Blend everything in a mixer until very smooth and green. At this point, blend in some small knobs of chilled butter to emulsify.

Return to heat, and simmer the fresh pea soup until at the desired consistency. Serve with cream (in a smiley face if you are as sad as me!), a sprig of fresh mint and a healthy dash of ground black pepper. A squeeze of lemon would work well too!

Delicious pea soup!

refreshing pea soup recipe