Most of my time not taken by work has gone into my various hooky projects in the last little while and keeping my head not just around work, but also around the requirements of various patterns developing in tandem, has taxed my powers to keep on top of the complicated quite a bit. As a result, not so much time has gone into cooking and when it has, it's only been on simple things. Even though the weather is still pretty uninspiring in the UK and not very summery, at least we have moved into that zone where the season brings stuff to the fore that makes simplicity serendipitous.
As the weekend is busy workwise (and I shall probably want to spend what time is spare on the aforementioned hooky complicatedness) this mode is set for the next little while.
I don't think anyone's gone hungry with the "simple cooking" routine although one or two lapses of culinary concentration have resulted in some surprises at meal times.
Here's a quick look at what's been happening in my kitchen:
1 Yoghurt-making - I make a lot of this or rather, I start this off and it makes itself a lot. Making your own is cheaper and greener than buying it all the time and it also tastes substantially better than the commercial variety - milder and less sharp. All you have to do is boil up milk, let it cool to blood heat, stir it into a couple of spoonfuls of the previous batch and leave it in its insulated jar to get on with it. As I always have milk in the fridge, it's never not possible to make it even when I've forgotten to go shopping. Good for breakfast or the basis of pudding when there isn't much else.
2 Rhubarb - historically I haven't really liked rhubarb all that much but there's been a great patch of it that's been growing like Jack's Beanstalk in all this rain and looking accusingly at me every time I open the back door. I gave my friend Sarah a couple of armfuls of it a) to salve my bad conscience about not using it and b) so that she could fulfil a desire to make rhubarb jam but there was still a mighty lot there so I thought, in order to deplete the patch a bit further, I would just quickly chop some up and shove it in the oven with a duvet of soft brown sugar - yes, it does need that much to cut the tartness especially for some of those more tree trunk-like stalks. The idea was to leave it to stew at a low temperature for half an hour or so. Unfortunately I forgot about it and it stewed for much longer than I intended - about 2 hours. When I retrieved it however, it was a happy mistake as it was sitting beautifully softly in its own reduced juices, which had turned a sort of rhubarb toffee colour which was what it tasted of too. Not quite so sure I dislike rhubarb now, so I may try to replicate the error.
3 Muffins - these shouldn't really be seasonal but I feel they are somehow. I don't make them in the winter but all the time in the summer. Sorting through the freezer revealed raspberries, blueberries and blackberries from the garden or the "Pick Your Own" farm down the road, frozen and squirrelled away last summer but not used over the winter. Perfect for muffin-making because using them from frozen means they don't get mashed up in the mixing. It's now muffin-season again and I want to use up last year's fruit because it won't be long before I shall need the space to freeze this year's. They are also dead simple and quick to make so Raspberry-and-Blueberry Muffins and Blackberry-and-Apple Muffins have been filling my cake tins and being wolfed at hungry moments. Who says it's odd to eat Blackberry-and-Apple muffins in May?!
4 Sweet Breakfast Rolls - I've got a bee in my bonnet about salt-consumption at the moment sparked by one of those scaremongery articles that pop up periodically about such things. I don't want to be a zealot about it - life's too short, with or without salt - and I still want to use some salt in my cooking but I am aiming to reduce it a bit and this goes for one or two salty habits in others. H's salt consumption in particular is scarily high when I totted it up - he's a Marmite fanatic - he'd have it at every meal given half a chance. Recently breakfast has, without variation or exception, been Marmite on homemade bread or toast and this boy doesn't do Marmite in thin scrapings, we're talking Thickly Spread. Fine up to a point but add in the inevitable teenage devastation of bags of Kettle Chips, dry-roasted peanuts, ham, bacon, salt-sprinkled scrambled, poached and fried eggs etc, etc and it's beginning to look a bit salt-heavy. Also I need to use up last year's jam before I make any this year. Answer - Sweet Breakfast Rolls that are a bit like brioche in consistency and which Do Not Go With Marmite but need a spoonful or two of homemade jam and not much else. The dough is a normal white bread dough with added eggs, UNsalted butter, milk and some sugar and you glaze the rolls with more egg and sprinkle with poppy seeds before baking. Very simple and very good and has proved an acceptable substitute for the Marmite toast routine, temporarily anyway. The only snag being the number of said rolls consumed at each sitting. Making bread you might say is not Simple Cooking but I cheat and get the breadmaker to do the work and then shape and bake the rolls once it's done the strenuous business of mixing and kneading. What a time-saver this little ruse is and frankly I doubt we'd eat homemade bread all the time if I had to make all of it by hand even though it's fun to do it like that on occasion.
5 Earl Grey Fruit Loaf - I remembered late yesterday that I had promised to make a cake for the church fête today. Aaaaargh! Why do I never remember these things until the last minute? Repeating to myself "Simple is Best" I wondered what could be rustled up last thing. Nothing fancy or requiring icing which can be tricksy to transport for both seller and buyer and something that could be packaged up nicely and will sell easily. Fruit cake is a winner on all fronts except that it is not the simplest or quickest cake to make on the block. Enter Earl Grey Fruit Loaf which tastes like fruit cake and behaves like fruit cake; it is a fruit cake but doesn't require any of the hassle of fruit cake to make. You soak dried fruit with some soft brown sugar in Earl Grey tea, ideally overnight but what is a microwave for if not for speeding things like this up?! You cool it a bit (if using the fast forward mechanism) then you stir in flour, spices, a dab of orange oil and a couple of bantam eggs and tip it into two small lined loaf tins and bake. A piece of cake you might say! Once cold, they can be wrapped in cellophane and tied up with a bit of raffia and a sprig of flowering rosemary and look OK to take along to the cake stall. Forgot to add the labels before photographing but too late now - they've gone!
6 Asparagus - miracle of miracles, the asparagus that was planted from seed two years ago has actually produced spears that can be picked in the vegetable patch. They are still rather thin but the flavour is something else entirely, even compared with the stuff from the farm shop. It needs only a few minutes steaming, a sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper, a swift, sinuous swirl of green olive oil on top and it sings all by itself! Supper doesn't get much better or simpler than that.
Which is all to the good because while the cooking is simple, there's time for hooking that's complicated! More of that in due course!