Saturday 24 November 2012

Christmas Market at Harrogate

A white penetrating frost came with the morning on Tyneside but there was also a clear blue sky which heralded what I hoped would be an enjoyable day out to Harrogate Christmas Market in North Yorkshire. Heading south we soon hit banks of freezing fog and the blue skies were gone. Instead we were blanketed in  grey mist with a very pale and watery sun that offered no heat whatsoever.

The coach we travelled on was freezing and by the time we got to our first stop at Thirsk my toes felt like they would drop off. We spent two hours at Thirsk and my prime objective was to get a pair of fur lined boots. I was lucky and thankfully my toes were a lot warmer for the rest of the day. While at Thirsk we also browsed around the market and John bought me three cyclamen plants, two red and one white, for my birthday. They are very pretty and hopefully will last throughout the Christmas Season.

Needing to warm up we decided to get a hot drink and a snack and visited the Yorks Tea Rooms in Thirsk where I enjoyed gluten free toasted muffins and Christmas spiced tea while John had the best ever bacon sandwich in granary bread with salad garnish and a generous cup of latte.

We continued our journey through eerie landscapes but by the time we got to Harrogate the mist had lifted a little and it wasn't so cold. 


We had three hours at Harrogate and headed straight for the Christmas Market. It was packed with people and difficult to stand still long enough to check out the festive stalls. We did manage to buy some speciality cheeses. Cheddar with Ale and Mustard, Goat Cheese and cheese with Garlic and Chives.

We also took time to visit Santa's reindeer!

The penetrating cold was setting in again and we looked for a restaurant to get warm and have something to eat. It seemed that everywhere was full, brimming at the seams with 45 minute waits for tables. We were lucky to  get a table at the Petit Bistro, which is anything but petite when you get inside and although we waited a considerable time for our meals we were able to enjoy hot drinks first and get warmed through again.

The busy order of the day spilled out into the main shopping area of Harrogate and Christmas shopping was in full swing. I would have loved to spend more time there but next time I will visit mid week when there shouldn't be such crowds of shoppers.

Festive lights and Christmas cheer were abundant each way we turned and it was good to bring the Christmas spirit home with us.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Using up the last of the tomatoes

Some days I just can't eat meat and nothing would tempt me to even try. Today is such a day. So what can I make that is vegetarian?

The last of the home grown tomatoes were picked about a week ago and a punnet of them have been sitting on the worktop ever since. They kept on saying 'what are you going to do with me'? Well I didn't have the answer until today when I realised they were getting past their best and a healthy...or not so healthy white fur was growing in the bottom of the punnet. I hate waste so knew I had to do something.

I picked out the ones not affected by the mould, yellow, red and green in various shapes and sizes, washed them and then put them in a pan with a bit of water and brought them up to the boil. I simmered the tomatoes  until soft and tender then rubbed them through a sieve to make a puree and was then able to discard the skins. There wasn't enough puree to make a pasta sauce so I improvised and decided to saute some chopped onion with a withered but perfectly OK yellow pepper in a touch of olive oil until tender, then added the previously cooked tomato puree, a squirt of garlic puree, some mixed herbs and a jar of basic tomato pasta sauce with herbs. I then allowed it to heat through before turning off the heat and allowing it to cook gently with the remaining heat from the hob.

The sauce was satisfyingly good on pasta twists with a dusting of grated hard cheese and some chopped celery leaves and though my carnivore of a  husband added slices of smoked sausage to his, I opted to have it 'as it comes'.  Mmmmmm, very nice!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

It seems my creativity is centred on cooking 'free from' dishes these days. I made my very first Coq au Vin using chicken thighs and it was delicious. Why haven't I made it before? My next cooking project is curried squash soup. I can't wait!

Monday 5 November 2012

Cranberry and raisin polenta cake with very dark chocolate


A while back I tried cooking with ready made polenta and it was hugely disappointing. However! I don't give in that easily so when I found a recipe for polenta cake in Phil Vickery's Gluten Free Cooking for Kids I took the challenge and decided to have a go. 

I had bought some ground polenta as opposed to the ready made and set to finding the rest of the ingredients in my store cupboard. Of course I didn't have I ever? That made no difference, I decided to adapt the recipe according to the ingredients I had and hoped for the best.

The first traybake I made  was my contribution to my daughter's fireworks party. I used dried ready to eat apricots and marmalade with ginger instead of the frozen peaches and lemon zest as listed in Phil's recipe. I also substituted demerara suger for the recipe's golden castor sugar and Willow spread instead of butter. The resulting baked cake was sweet and moist with an interesting rough texture that everyone liked. 

My granddaughter Natalie had an upset tummy so couldn't have any of the cake and poor mite must have dreamt about it all night long because that's what she wanted for breakfast the next morning. Of course there was none left and the tears flowed. I said I would make another one and this time I decided to use the correct sugar and butter as listed in the recipe. A quick trip to our local Asda got some castor sugar and butter but there was no frozen peaches or similar to be had. The dried apricots were a ridiculous price so I decided to buy dried cranberries and mix them with raisins from my store cupboard at home. I also bought some silver shred marmalade and although I only needed a dessert spoon full the rest will come in very handy for spreading on toast at supper time.

I'm so disorganised! I couldn't be bothered to use an electric whisk as it was packed away with its attachments in a box at the back of a cupboard somewhere so used a fair bit of elbow grease instead and eventually the cake mix creamed together. I got a lot more cranberries and raisins to the pound than I did apricots and ended up with a very fruity cake mix. This was where I started to panic. Would it end up in disaster?

The cake mix rose in the oven but left most of the fruit behind so when it had cooled I treated it as an upside down pudding, turning it over so that the layer of fruit sat on top of the traybake cake. Luckily I had lined the tray with baking paper otherwise I may have been scraping fruit off the tray and then the cake would have been ruined. I gently peeled back the baking paper to see a butter glistening jewel like layer of juicy fruit. Oh yes! This cake is to die for! The cake texture was different, more like a buttery Madeira. I thought all that sweet stickiness would marry well with a touch of bitter dark chocolate so melted some and dribbled it over the fruit layer. Yum Yum Well Done! 

Warning! The calorific value of this cake doesn't bear mentioning.

British Banger Week - Spicy Sausage Casserole

Its British Banger Week and I thought I would do something different to standard bangers and mash so searched my store cupboard for ideas.

It was the last day for using up my pack of gluten free sausages that had been sitting idly in the fridge so I grabbed them and decided to make a casserole. Gluten bangers can be a bit dry so cooking them in a sauce makes them more palatable. Any bangers will do of course but any excess fat needs to be drained away early in the cooking process.

My store cupboard produced a tin of baked beans in tomato sauce, a beef stock jelly melt and a tomato cup-a-soup. A rummage in the fridge produced three big chestnut mushrooms and I found an onion in the potato store. Yes! I had my main ingredients together.

I cut the thick sausages each into four making twenty four large bite size pieces and put them into a wok with a little hot cooking oil, added chopped onion and roughly chopped mushroom. I swirled them around a bit until they started to colour and got to the sweaty stage. I didn't need to drain any excess fat away. I then added the rest of the ingredients plus a large cup of hot water and brought it up to the boil. I then let it simmer gently with a lid on for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a drop of hot water when necessary.

It was time for the taste test and though the casserole was full of flavour I thought it needed just a bit of spice to give it a kick so I added half a teaspoon of madras curry powder. That did the trick and my spicy bangers casserole was ready to be served up with good helpings of creamy mash. I had a small portion which was ample for me while my other half, had a full plate and came back for seconds. There was still enough left over for two small lunches which will see me through the next couple of days. I reckon I made enough to serve three or four regular portions,

I can pat myself on my back (smile). Whose a clever girl then, lol. I've done my bit for the great British Banger!