Saturday 29 November 2014

Butternut squash and apple soup

This is one of our favourite winter soups.  And really easy to make.  Recipe here if you want details (last recipe on that post).  I sometimes add soy cream or coconut milk to take the heat out if I've been over zealous with the chilli flakes!

I've currently got the above goodies roasting in the oven while a batch of Helen's Brilliant Bread is rising. 

That's today's lunch sorted!

This afternoon I'm trying to make bao, those wee steamed dumplings we had in Singapore.  I'm going to attempt a few Chinese ideas for our family dinner tonight.

At least there will be soup if it goes horribly wrong!!

Sunday 23 November 2014

Hot Water Bottle

When it's cold I love to snuggle up in bed with my hot water bottle.  I've never liked an electric blanket (The Teenager loves his!!) even though they only cost pennies to run. I recently bought a few new bottles for Christmas presents but they didn't come with covers.  So today I finally dug out some felted tartan and quickly made a cover.  This is the first crafting I've done since school went back in August!  I really enjoyed it. It's not perfect but it's just for me. I'll road test it tonight to see how it performs before I go into production!

A cautionary tale.  Please please never buy a cheap hot water bottle that doesn't have the BS kite mark (or whatever legal safety mark your part of the world uses) and never over fill it.  And regularly check the rubber to see if it's perished. Earlier this year, OH's son had a very serious accident when a filled bottle exploded at the side seam and gave him very serious burns.  His arm, chest, back and cheek took months to heal but luckily he didn't need skin grafts. 

It gave us a huge fright at the time so now we're extra careful using them.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Cooking therapy

The weather here has become rather cold and damp.  Dark mornings turn into dark days and early nights.  Not my favourite time of year.  I love it when it's cold and crisp but the damp seems to turn me into a miserable cow and I just want to hibernate!  Best way to cheer myself up is cooking therapy and if it includes wine so much the better!  Last night's tea was Chicken and Broccoli Risotto.  My basic recipe is here on my old blog although now I use Pure spread instead of butter, Alpro cream and goat's cheese to make it dairy free.  There's loads leftover to make risotto cakes for my brunch today.

I had to pop into Sainsbury's last night to pick up some things for my oldest son who doesn't keep well.  I always have a quick look at the yellow stickers and found some packs of lean casserole steaks reduced.  I got 4 x 450g packs for £10.76 instead of £16.  There were 10 steaks in total (2 of them quite small) so definitely will be able to make 8 or 9 generous meals from them served with dough balls or pastry.

This morning I chopped 4 onions and about 6 carrots and threw them into the slow cooker.  I coated the steaks with GF flour and layered them on top.  I poured in some hot stock (made from Marigold powder) and red wine to cover.  I'll cook it on low for about 8 hours checking it every now and then.

I didn't want to buy a whole bottle of red wine as I can't drink it (gives me a migraine) so I saw this and thought I'd try it.  It cost £1.02 for 250ml, contains 60% de alcoholised wine and 40% 'normal' wine.  Also contains salt!  I'm now wondering if I would have been better just buying a cheap £2.99 red from Lidl and freezing the remains for the next time. I'll report back on the taste.  Kitchen smells lovely already after an hour so I hope it tastes as good as it smells.

Monday 17 November 2014

Potatoes, tatties, spuds....

What can you do with a 2.5kg bag of potatoes that cost only £1.25?
Make rosti by grating 2 large potatoes (skin on), squeeze out the excess liquid, season well and fry in small heaps in oil until crispy and brown. Be brave and don't turn them over until they're really brown on the first side.  I made 8 but some got eaten before I got my camera out!!

Make stuffed cheesy baked potatoes by baking 4 potatoes until the skins are crisp and the insides soft.  Cut them in half and scoop out the flesh.  Mix with butter and grated cheese and pile back into the shells.  Reheat until the tops start to brown.  This is a family favourite :-) They also freeze.

Boil the rest and turn into mash to top one individual cottage pie (using yesterday's batch
cooked mince), one decent sized pie for 2 hungry people and a portion for my lunch at work today.

Honey and Tamari baked chicken mini fillets ready for stir fries

Lots of cheap nutritious filling meals for not much money and just a bit of effort.  I'm going to try to make more of an effort at weekends to stock up on meals for the week ahead and for the freezer.

Sunday 16 November 2014

And back to normal blogging

Okay, just one last holiday pic!  Indoor sky diving!! Totally amazing experience.  I don't do heights and would be too terrified to jump out of an aeroplane at 12,000 feet to sky dive so this was a unique opportunity to experience sky diving without the dangerous bit.  I loved it!!

And now back to normal blogging!  I got 3 x 500g packs of Scottish beef mince for £10.  So I browned them along with 3 large diced onions and 3 grated carrots (to bulk it out a bit), a goodly shake of mixed herbs and a tablespoon of stock powder, then it simmered for about half an hour.  It's currently waiting to be portioned up into bags for cottage pie, bolognaise and tacos with the appropriate seasonings and extra veggies. 
I also got a couple of bags of British frozen chicken mini fillets (2 x 1kg for £6).  These will be drizzled with honey and Tamari and simply baked for about 20 mins.  I use these chopped up for my lunch with some veggies or in a stir fry for my evening meal.  That's a few meals for this week sorted out and some for the freezer.

Finally a very simple makeover.  This has been annoying me ever since I moved in.  My dining table is too big (it seats 10) but I didn't want to get rid of it and buy a new one.  When we moved in it was positioned horizontally in the alcove.  It fitted, just!!  But you couldn't walk round it and anyone sitting at the back had to climb over seats.  So I had the idea of turning it round.  It's basically a large piece of glass (very heavy!!) that sits on 2 solid pillars.  Last night we had enough people to manoeuvre it into its new position.  Huge improvement!! And I was able to bring my Rennie Mackintosh style table out of the garage too.
No cost makeover, the best kind!

Saturday 15 November 2014

A Chinese Wedding

Of course the main reason for our holiday was that OH's brother was getting married.  Chinese weddings can last all day with various events so it was wonderful to be part of something completely different from a Scottish wedding.  Although there were some elements that were similar.
There was a family and friends dinner on the Saturday evening (I guess a bit like a rehearsal dinner that Americans have)  This was in a local restaurant used by the locals so completely authentic cuisine, not modified for tourists.  Sadly I didn't get any decent pics but we had the mostly amazing tofu dish, chicken dipped in a potato flour batter and prawns to die for.

On the Sunday morning we arrived at the bride's parents flat where the groomsmen and groom are then locked out and have to perform tasks to win the bride.  There was lovely lady (an aunt I think?) who explained to me that this is a local custom.  Tasks included drinking beer spiked with chillies, a wasabi sandwich, picking up beans with chopsticks to make a heart shape and a few other challenges.

The chopstick challenge
The groom then has to pay the chief bridesmaid a dowry to be given to the parents.  Negotiations were tough! She'd get a job with the UN easy peasy!!!  When the groom gains entry he has to make his vows and convince his bride to come out of her room.

Once she has agreed to be his bride the most important part of the day takes place.  They acknowledge the family shrine and then begin the tea ceremony. Traditional ceremonies can last hours.

The bride and groom present tea to their family thanking them for bringing them up and supporting them through their lives.  As this was all in Chinese I wasn't sure what was said.  This is OH with his tea. His brother thanked him for putting up with him as kids!! 
The bridesmaids and groomsmen then get a gift from the couple and all the children get an envelope with money.

Once the tea ceremony was over it was time for lunch!  There was a fabulous professional caterers buffet laid out with lots of food.  Despite my dietary restrictions I still managed to stuff my face!

Luckily there were rice noodles as well as rice
After lunch everyone goes home.  Or in our case, back to the hotel for a swim and a snooze.  Then there was formal dinner in the evening at a very beautiful restaurant on the quayside.
This is me in my wedding outfit that didn't cost me a penny.  The Teenager is wearing a suit jacket and shirt he got last year for his school dance and is actually wearing his school trousers! The only item bought for either of us was a pair of shoes for him as he's still growing!

Being vegetarian The Teenager is used to having limited choice but they brought him some lovely vegetable fried rice with steamed veggies on the side.

This photo really doesn't do justice to the beautiful restaurant.  If anyone wants to check it out it's the Peony Jade in Clarke Quay, Singapore.

The happy couple pouring champagne in a tier of glasses which was then shared with family and a toast is made to the couple.

This is the banquet menu.  It was called Elements of Infinity Banquet.
Peony Jade's Signature Crispy Suckling Pig Platter
Chilled Scallops Salad Mayo with Tropical Fresh Fruits
Roasted Crackling Skin Suckling Piglet Sliced
Deep Fried Dragon Beard Roll
Marinated Sea Blubber
'Cheng Du' Spicy Cold Chicken
Peony Jade's Signature Sautéed Fresh Prawns with Salted Creamy Yolk
Braised Golden Pumpkin Broth with Seafood and Bird's Nest
Steamed 'Soon Hock' Fish Honk Kong Style with Premium Light Soy Sauce
Fillet of Tea Smoked Duck served with Mini Flower Buns
Stewed Fragrant Rice with Premier Shredded Conpoy, Dried Octopus and Diced Chicken in Lotus Leaf
Chilled Fresh Mango Puree with Pomelo Sacs and Sago Pearls
Excuse the level of detail but I loved this menu and have been finding out more about some of the unfamiliar things since we got back.  Although I didn't eat everything on the menu it has reignited my interest in Asian cooking and I'll be researching how to re create some the above dishes.  I'll pass on the sea blubber though (it's jellyfish!!!)

I really enjoyed the day.  This was why we took our kids out of school for a week (very naughty I know especially as I'm a teacher)  But what they gained in experience couldn't be replicated.  Not all learning takes place in the classroom.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Tiger, tiger

Sadly the holiday is over but what an amazing week we had.  There's just so much to put in one post so I'll spread it out.  You hear people use the expression 'once in a lifetime' and this truly was a once in a lifetime holiday.  I feel so lucky that we were able to do it.
We flew to Bangkok (via Dubai and Singapore) for our visit to the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi Province.  I had a few misgivings about the aspects of keeping wild animals before I went but all my questions were freely answered (as were other people's) and there was no mistreatment of these beautiful creatures.  They are well cared for and respected by the monks and tiger handlers.

Yep that really is a real tiger cub! :-)  Just as we use collars and leads to keep puppies safe, these cubs were on leads (leather and chain ones).  This wee sleepy one above is one month old.  He'd been abandoned by his mother and would not have survived if he hadn't been hand fed.  There were other cubs still with their mothers but we were assured they were not viewed by the public.

This cheeky chap is 4 months old, about the size of a Labrador.  That's me bottle feeding him!  The 4 month old ones were feisty and we were warned to watch out for them testing out their sharp teeth and claws on our hands.

This a sleepy 2 month old.  Look at the size of those paws!!

The monks at worship.  We were allowed to watch as long as we were seated on the floor and our feet were pointing away from them.  Ladies were not allowed on the platform.

Just chillin'
Like puppies and kittens they just wanted to play and loved getting their tummies tickled!

Wee sleepy cub!

This one was very feisty and kept biting my sleeve!

Yep, he's really hand feeding a year old tiger!! But notice the 2 handlers poised for action.  We were given very strict instructions on how to approach them and how to hold the meat.  If they said drop it, you dropped it!

And just like cats they like to play with cat toys.  Instead of string on a wee stick, we had bags and bottles on the end of a bamboo pole.  We lined up against a wall and 'played' with some one year olds.

That one is playing with my stick!

We then took some adults for a walk.  On leads just like walking a dog.  These ones are 4 and 5 years, all hand reared and used to human contact.

That's the Teenager with a fully grown male tiger's head in his lap!! The tiger was not drugged.  He was just well fed and snoozing in the sun.  He really was just like a big pussy cat!  Minutes later he was running and splashing about in the pool.

Time for a swim and play!

The entrance to the Tiger Temple
While some animal rights activists disagree with the set up, I can only comment on what I saw while I was there.  The tigers are well cared for and looked healthy.  In the wild they live to about 10 or 12.  In captivity these ones can reach up to 20.  They don't have a breeding programme as such but they do let them breed.
It really was an amazing experience.  They are such beautiful animals and it saddens me to know that they are hunted and killed for their skins, bones and teeth.  There are about 200,000 of these Indo Chinese tigers left in this part of the world.  They need protection and even if we approach conservation in a different manner in the West, the monks' dedication to the protection of the tigers isn't in question.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Snowed under

Help!!! I am snowed under with paperwork.  There are 3 sleeps left until I leave for Singapore and the wedding.  Gulp!! The next 2 days of work will be hectic as not only do I have to leave a fully planned week for the teacher covering my absence but I also have to make sure my files are up to date.  The school is getting a Quality Assurance visit the day before I return.  And paperwork is my weakest link so really need to put in the extra work so I'm not the one who spoils the school's report.

I'll take lots of photos while I'm away.  Really looking forward to the break as I've got a few major decisions to make.  I'm hoping the warm climate will help me unwind and relax.  See you all soon :-)