Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Roofs, rain and red rings of death!

Our roof has sprung a leak. So much so that we've had to move the bed! It's not too bad at the momet however, and we only have to use the bucket when the rain is torrential! Of course, it couldn't have happened in November when Kevin was still employed.....oh no, it had to wait until the end of December! Luckily his consultancy seems to be taking off, so we'll be able to afford to get it fixed soon.

As if that wasn't enough, on Sunday we were on our way to see my eldest son; he's at Canterbury Christchurch, and as the M25 was a bit snarled up, we decided to go to Broadstairs via the North Circular. Good job we did because the car suddenly decided it wasn't going to work anymore! Luckily there was a bus stop, and as Kevin pulled in and switched the car off (can you tell I'm not a driver?!), the roof started to go down. It was pouring with rain at this point! It was pretty comedic! Luckily, Kevin had joined the RAC last week.

An hour and half of playing hangman later, the engineer arrived and decided that it was something to with an electrical fault in the transmission. Another hour and half (and more hangman) later, the towtruck arrived to take us back to Northampton! The garage said yesterday that they've fixed the transmission but the roof and the wipers are still being mental! Apparently they are ringing Smart to see if they will cover part of the cost of the repair because it's going to be pretty expensive.

Bizarrely, whilst we were waiting for the RAC, there was an accident across the road from us. Fortunately nobody appeared to be hurt but one car's entire front resembled a concertina. Ouch.

We've decided that actually, living in the middle of the town, we don't really need a car that much, especially not now both of us work from home. Any travelling that Kevin has to do generally requires a train journey into London, or a flight. Shopping is not really an issue because I'm happy to walk to the market every couple of days, and for other stuff, Waitrose delivers. So it's only really visiting which we'd need a car for, and it would actually work out cheaper to hire one for two weekends a month than to keep a car on the road full time!

The worst thing however.....last night Kevin got the Red Ring of Death .

Poor man switched on his 360, and there it was in all its reditude. (Sob) He spent half an hour on the 'phone to Microsoft, arranging to have it fixed (£59 - gulp), only for them to ask him to call back because rather ironically, their system had just crashed! (Doh!) Thankfully, mine seems to still be fine, so we can carry on playing Mass Effect together!

They say bad things happen in threes don't they? Fingers crossed that's right then!

EDIT: Those nice people at Smart have said they'll cover £1,000 of the £1,500 repair bill, despite the car being out of warranty. That's a loyalty scheme that's really worth having!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Baked Vegetable Crisps

Servings: 4
Cooking Time: 120 min

Spray oil
2 medium parsnips
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 large carrots
Freshly ground salt and black pepper if desired

Preheat oven to Gas Mark ½/130°C/250°F

Line a couple of large baking trays with parchment or spray with a spray oil (try Filippo Berio Spray Olive Oil – much nicer than Fry Light).

Peel the veggies (I set aside the peelings to make stock with later), and then finely slice them. I use a food processor to do this but you could use a mandoline or do it by hand.

Blot the veggies with kitchen paper, muslin or a clean teatowel to remove as much moisture as possible. Once dried, spread them out evenly on the baking trays. Don’t worry that it seems a lot – they will shrink considerably.

Coat the veggies with some spray oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 1 hour and then turn the veggies over. Roast for a further 1-2 hours, or until the crisps are crunchy….but not charred!

Store in an airtight container or bag for up to three days (if they last that long!).


Last night we went to see Defiance. It wasn't bad - not a great film but certainly not a bad one. Daniel Craig, despite being stubbly, scruffy and largely dirty (and not in a good way!), was still gorgeous - he was the highlight of the film! Great to see him actually acting again too...although I have absolutely no objection to his eye-candyness of James Bond (aesthetically, I still prefer Mr Brosnan though).

Two things which struck me about the film; the sense of doom - no matter where they ran to, they would always be hunted. How on earth do you manage to keep up morale in that kind of situation? I suppose given that they didn't actually know how long the war would last, they just hoped that tomorrow it would all be over. Even so, it was surely unutterably grim. I don't think the film really conveyed just how awful it must have been.

Secondly, the film conveniently neglected to mention anything about what happened to them between 1944 and the end of the war. If it's OK to show that the Nazis slaughtered Jews, why is it not OK to show the same regarding the Russians? OK, it may not have been the wholesale slaughter of the Nazis but we know that once the Russians gained control of Belarus, many Jews returned home and were promptly murdered by the Russians who'd taken over their homes, farms and factories, so why not say so in the epilogue? Instead, it was all happy happy, nice nice. Sure, for some there was a happy ending but for others it was completely tragic. I do think that if film makers feel the need to inform through their storytelling, then they should do it properly, and not be so keen to turn a selective blind eye. Surely in doing so, it devalues to some extent, the magnitude of these people's travails?

On a happier note, I am feeling justifiably pleased with my own defiance in the face of demon Minstrels! No, not some hellish fiddlers forcing me to dance unceasingly on the Sabbath, but those of the rather more chocolatey variety! Previously, our cinematic experiences have always included a pot of Minstrels and a large cup of Diet Coke (with no ice, for certain they are the Devil's lumps!).

Not last night though. Oh no, I planned ahead!

I knew my resolve would probably not be enough to tell me that snacking at the cinema was just a psychological habit, and that I didn't actually need anything to eat; aware of this, I made myself some baked vegetable crisps (recipe to follow), and took along a banana and a bottle of water. As yummy as they were (and believe me they were), I didn't even eat half of the crisps! But even better, Kevin had a pot of Minstrels (he didn't munch his way through all of them, I hasten to add), and I wasn't even tempted. In fact, I can honestly say I didn't so much as think about it!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Paneer and Spinach Curry

Servings: 4

280g pack paneer
150g frozen peas
1 large tin chopped tomatoes
1 large white onion
100g fresh baby spinach leaves
1 tbsp mild cumin & coriander curry paste
50g Total 0% fat Greek yoghurt
30g Fresh coriander
2" cube of fresh ginger
Freshly ground salt and black pepper
1 tbsp rapeseed oil

Chop the onions as finely as you like them and fry gently in the oil. Peel and finely chop, or mince, the ginger and add this to the pan. When the onions are soft, add the curry paste, peas and paneer, stir, making sure everything is coated, and fry off for about five minutes.

Try not to inhale as you stir as things can get a little acrid at this point!

Add the chopped tomatoes and the coriander, which you will have had the foresight to chop finely or shred before you get to this point! Stir and leave to simmer for 10 mins.

Stir in the yoghurt and simmer for another five minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. If in a hurry, it can be served now but it will be much better if you let it simmer on as low a heat as possible for another 15 minutes.

Whichever you choose, just before serving, stir in the spinach. The heat from the curry will just wilt it, so you still get max vitamins etc, plus all the taste. I personally can't bear it flaccid but if you prefer it that way, then add it a little earlier.
Eaten on the day of making, the flavours tend to cycle, which is great, but if left for 24 hours, all the flavours tend to infuse and blend together, so it’s almost like having two different meals from the same recipe!
By the way, for those worried about the ethics of cheese, if you get the paneer from a Hindu-friendly place, you at least know it has been made after the calves have had their fill of the milk, and that the cow has been treated properly. It doesn't contain rennet, so is suitable for veggies...but obviously isn't vegan.

Pasta e Funghi alla Goktor!

Servings: 2

Preparation Time: 10 min
Cooking Time: 25 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy

1 large can tomatoes
200g fresh mushrooms
1 medium onion(s)
3 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 tablespoon low-fat plain fromage frais
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil (shredded)
½ tablespoon mixed Italian herbs
300g cooked pasta
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the sugo: Finely chop the onion, and gently sauté in the oil in a large pan or wok until softened and beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic and mix in well (if you add the garlic before now, it will turn bitter and also risks burning).

Continue to sauté on a low heat while you prepare the mushrooms; wipe off any growing medium with a piece of kitchen roll, and then slice finely. Add to onion and garlic mix, increase the heat and cook off for about five minutes, keeping the food moving all the time to prevent burning and sticking (I use two spatulas for this as it makes life much easier!). Add all of the herbs except the basil.

Once the mushrooms have browned, reduce the heat to its lowest setting once more, add the tin of tomatoes and stir in well. (You could use fresh plum toms if you prefer but in all honesty, good tinned ones are just as acceptable, and much less bother.) Simmer on a low heat for around five minutes, and then stir in the tablespoon of low-fat fromage frais. Continue to simmer for a further 10 minutes. Add the shredded fresh basil just before serving, and check for seasoning.

Cook the pasta: In the meantime, cook the pasta according to its instructions until it is al dente – you need this slight bite to it because it will continue to cook for a couple of minutes once the sugo is added to it. If you cook it until it’s completely soft, it will become overcooked at the final stage.

Drain the pasta once it is done, and place into two warmed dishes. Divide the sugo between them. (Normally I would mix the pasta and sugo together and then serve up, but I think that by doing it separately, it’s easier to check that everything is divided equally, thus making it easier to calculate the calories.)

To veganize: Substitute the fromage frais for low-fat plain soya yoghurt. I suspect it will be just as creamy but I can’t verify this because I have a soy intolerance at the moment. If anyone does use the soy yog, please email me to let me know whether it works! (nicole AT nicolelestrange DOT com)

A note about pasta: I used a good-quality dried spaghetti for this recipe, which works really well, but it’s entirely down to personal preference as to which type/shape you use. Just remember however, that if you opt for fresh pasta, it will alter the calorie value of this meal.

A note about herbs: Whilst it is always best to use fresh herbs (not just because of the flavour but also for the vitamins etc.), if you don’t have them, it’s okay to use dried ones, provided they’re less than a couple of months old. It’s really not worth keeping them any longer than this as you lose so much flavour. If using dried, halve the amount called for in the recipe because the drying process intensifies them. If using frozen herbs, use the same amount as for fresh.