Lessons Learnt

“Wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle age, and old men’s nurses.” 
– Francis Bacon
 
 This is my post of discovery – The lessons learnt since May 7 2011. 
 

I swear I didn’t possess this wisdom until I married.  It’s like how when you become a mum your saliva is suddenly magic; when you become a wife you somehow acquire insightful knowledge. 

(Hubby is clearly still in training as the only thing he needs to understand is to say yes dear but these words still seem to be omitted from his list of vocab).

I’m sure some of these points of learning will ring true with the millions of wives out there, but for all those new to marriage, I thought I would share the small amount of wisdom I have picked up in this short time.  I hope, with time, there will be more to come and/or deleted if they turn out inaccurate!

So, what is Marriage? . . . 

  1. It’s telling him you love him every single day
  2. It’s always kissing each other goodbye and hello
  3. It’s knowing when to stop Nagging
  4. It’s hating your husband but loving him all at once.
  5. It’s having an argument and him sleeping in the spare room, but you still make him his lunch and leave a love note on the kitchen chalkboard
  6. It’s calling each other names but being secretly turned on by how he is when he’s angry
  7. Its being all forgiving although you know you’re right – it’s just as important to keep the peace as prove you’re right – women naturally have to swallow their pride but your man will realise it in the end, he just won’t tell you when he does.
  8. It’s suggesting an idea and having it rejected immediately, but having the patience to wait for him to think about it and realise that it’s not so bad – now this one is interesting,  as depending on the man he could: a) bring it up two months later and acknowledge your suggestion, as it wasn’t so bad (I’m lucky as this is how my hubby works) or b) pass it off as his own, in which case just congratulate him on his wonderful idea!
  9. It’s letting him sulk while you take out your anger scrubbing the oven, smashing plates or hitting the gym.
  10. It’s knowing when to throw down the dish cloth, grab your coat, grab your man and take him on an overdue stroll and glass of vino or hot chocolate
  11. It’s still celebrating valentines and the day you first met
  12. It’s being his secretary – knowing your diary and his
  13. It’s knowing where he left that tiny piece of blue wire that would one day come in handy and doing well to refrain from throwing it in the bin
  14. In fact it’s know where everything is, even when it’s right in front of his face!
  15. It’s accepting his team is his life
  16. It’s admitting when you’re wrong.
  17. It’s not turning into your mother
  18. It’s not acting like his mother
  19. It’s accepting this statement is true: you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom (Jerry Hall)
  20. It’s ensuring life doesn’t get mundane and stale.
  21. It’s not brushing things under the carpet
  22. It’s having dinner at the table and catching up on each others day
  23. It’s not taking your work home with you
  24. It’s accepting you are a women and therefore superhuman and have special powers such as being a mind reader, able to do 10 things at once, able to juggle full-time job still make home-made food and keep house.
  25. It’s being naturally capable and mindful of how to do every household chore and every housewife secret even though your mum never taught you.
  26. It’s accepting that you never will be perfect, in your own eyes (as we always see room for improvement), but realising that to those who love you, they already think you are – so don’t be so hard on yourself!

 

“You never know anyone until you marry them.”

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

Victoria Sponge

One of the centre pieces to the baby shower was the Victoria Sponge Cake.

Sadly, on this occasion, although lopsided, it looked better covered in icing-sugar than it tasted.  In my husband’s words, and he never insults my cooking, he said “urgh Claire! This cake is really dry. Possibly the worst you ever made!”  Ahh.  How lovely.  I wouldn’t say it was that bad.  I remember the rock cakes I made when I was eleven, now they were bad!

The reason for its apparent dry nature, was due to my own rushy nature.

It was late on friday night when I set to baking and although the butter had been out of the fridge all day, it still wasn’t soft enough and I failed, miserably, to whisk it into submission.

I did the cardinal sin of baking. I gave up!  Stupid considering I have an electric whisk.

So, tip number 1 when baking a sponge. It’s all about air! 

When they say whisk the butter and sugar until pale and creamy.  They really mean, whisk the butter until pale and creamy.  If your butter is still cold like mine, just keep going, eventually it will turn.  But whatever you do, don’t cheat and think it will be ok and then add the eggs before you have pale and creamy!  Or you’ll just get pale and lumpy.  Which in turn gives you dry, flat cakes!  Cannot stress this enough.  Unless you like your husband screwing up his nose and saying “urgh!”

So, I knew that I did that bit wrong, but I’ve realised whilst learning to cook that sometimes unless you really understand why recipe tells you to do something, you think it’s ok to cheat and then you end up with disappoint results and wonder how it happened (when really you should know!) 

Therefore, I’ve done a bit of digging into the technicalities of Sponge cake.  And also, I thought it might be interesting to find out Victoria Sponge is called after Her Majesty – Thank you Wikopedia and a few other websites I persused!

Making a sponge cake

Simple sponge is made by beating the eggs with sugar until they are light and creamy, then carefully sieving and folding in the flour.  Sieving from a high height over the bowl also adds more air.

Use a plastic spatlula to gently fold with smooth strokes through the centre of the bowl, around the sides and lifting through the centre again, repeating until mixture is smooth

Apparently some recipes will say to add baking powder if you’re using plain flower, others may rely just on the air your tired old arms incoprorate into the mixture and something to do with eggs and thermal expansion.   Either way,  your objective is to produce a really, really light cake so the air in the mixture is key. 

Another point of importance is using really fresh eggs, at room temperature.  Warmed eggs hold more air and create more volume when they’re whipped than cold eggs

Similarly, your cake can can lose it’s air if you remove it too soon from the oven, so check you oven times.

Sponge cake recipes are best made with an electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer, so your hands are free.  (I don’t have one, but I think it may be on a Christmas list!)

Always, always, always use scales for measuring ingrediants – my grandfather was a baker and I remember him saying how important this is – one ounce or gram too much and you whole cake can come crumbling down!

Your cake tins should be greased and lined with parchment, and your oven preheated – when your cake mixture is ready, it should go straight in the oven, don’t be thinking that cakes are like other foods, and can wait to go in or develop in flavour.

 
Why is such a simple cake named after royalty?  (From Wikipedia)

The Victoria sponge cake was named after Queen Victoria, who favoured a slice of the sponge cake with her afternoon tea.  It is often referred to simply as sponge cake, though it contains additional fat.  A typical Victoria sponge consists of raspberry jam and whipped double cream or vanilla cream.  The jam and cream are sandwiched between two sponge cakes; the top of the cake is not iced or decorated apart from a dusting of icing sugar. However the Women’s Institute do not class this as a Victoria sponge. Their version only has raspberry jam as the filling and is dusted with caster sugar, not icing sugar.

The Recipe

  • 200g unsalted butter , softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • Strawberry or Raspberry jam – personally believe there is only one make to use, and that’s Tiptree Jam.
  • Butter icing (if using jam)
  • 250ml double cream , whipped (with jam OR if it’s a beautiful summer’s day with FRESH STRAWBERRIES!!!! – most wonderful)
  • icing sugar , for dusting

How To

  1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5.
  2. Grease and flour 2 x 20cm sandwich tins.
  3. Place the butter, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and beat well until . . . .pale and creamy.
  4. Slowly beat in the eggs, one by one.
  5. Fold in the flour and mix well – don’t knock the air out of it.
  6. Divide the mix between the two tins.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 20 mins until risen and golden brown.  A test that they are ready is that they should spring back when gently pushed in the middle.
  8. Once out of the oven, allow to cool for 5 mins in the tin, before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
  9. Spread the jam on one side of the cake plus the cream of your choice.  Or if using fresh strawberries, lay these one top of the whipped cream before sandwiching the cakes together and dusting with icing sugar (nicer than caster sugar I think).

Tip – if your cakes rise too much in the middle, so it doesn’t look like two pyramids balancing on top of each other, just chop off the peak.  It gives you an excuse to make your own mini sandwhich in the meantime!  Cook’s perrogative.

Pies

This evening I cooked a cracker of a pie.

My lovely husband gave me the Hairy Bikers Pie Book for Christmas. What a fabulous read. It really does tell you everything there is to know about pies. And has every recipe possible from the fancy to the family favourites; savoury to sickly sweet. A delightful collection.

So tonight I gave the book a whirl (after 2 weeks of not-so-comforting low fat meals) it was time for a homely winter warmer.

I probably started off with a rather strange choice, but upon receiving the book on Christmas morning, I was instructed to cook this pie: Corn Beef and Onion.

I’ve never had this before. But I must say I was presently surprised. I don’t know how to describe it really. Working class food – of which I am anyway! But tinned meat and veg with ketchup – it was dead tasty. Not dry as I expected. I prepared some gravy just in case but it went in the bin! So in conclusion: It was nice – would do it again.

I took me over 2 hours to knock together though. Longer than I expected. But. I made my own short crust pastry by hand. I feel there’s something exceedingly satisfying about making your own pastry. I love that there’s a bit of science to it. I love the challenge of trying to get it just right. Making sure the butter’s cold. The water’s cold. Your hands are cold.

Brilliant thing about the hairy bikers book is all the little tips they give. Here are my top three:

1. Especially when using puff pastry, ensure your filling is cool before you fit your pastry lid or it could become very sticky (this happened to me at Christmas and I blamed Jus Roll – turns out its because my filling was piping hot!)

2. Left over homemade pastry – keep the cuttings in the freezer either in muffin tins already rolled and ready to make into jam tarts or in strips to make fancy fruit pies.

3. (My favourite as I hate waste) leftover egg used for glazing, pour into ice cube trays and keep for another pie. It only takes about 15min to defrost. So you can save whole eggs for something more important – chocolate cake!

Back to the pie. The filling was … Interesting. Quite old fashioned. Carrots, onion, potato, celery (why does everything always have 2 sticks of celery and you can never buy just 2 sticks so unless you have dips the other sticks end up going mouldy in the bottom of the fridge a week later?), corn beef and tomato ketchup. How retro?

But I must say it was rather tasty. Andy’s mum used to make this pie, but apparently minus half the ingredients. However he also approved this version. Which is lucky as there’s loads leftover!

Apart from that today, I had a lovely 30minute potter in Leigh. popped into the little kitchen shop to find a pie plate and discovered a treasure trove of cake decorating accessories and tools including edible glitter for only £3. Bargain. When I’ve lost a few more pounds and can treat myself I’m definitely heading for a shopping spree.

Anyway. Today’s point being: buy the hairy bikers pie book. You’ll be the better housewife for it.

Or, if you can’t wait, you can see the recipe online on the bbc website.

Celebrating the twelfth night (or not)

I can’t think of anything more depressing.  Some people like returning their house to normal.  Me – I love Christmas.  I love twinkle lights and pretty trees.  Tonight, I’d much rather be eating minced pies, drinking mulled wine and admiring the beautiful baubles I hunt tirelessly for every year. Instead I’m taking down all of our Christmas decorations and packing them carefully away for the rest of the year and dreading what comes next. 

The diets. The workouts.I used to be a gym addict. 5 times a week. Some times three hours a day. Buns of steel. Well nearly. Then I met Andy and instead it was cinnamon buns and three hour stews! Since we married I’ve put one a whole stone. But I’ve so enjoyed putting it on. The baking.  The roasting.  The glazing.  But apparently Andy’s put on a whopping two stone. All from my addiction to cooking rich French food. So alas. It’s coming to an end. Not only Christmas but my addiction. Bring on the healthy cook books. Sob sob.

So January.  What else do we have to look forward to?

Apparently from the 8th of January it’s Universal Letter Writing week, so I’m going to put pen to paper and say thanks to all those who were kind enough to send me nice Christmas presents.  Plus, I honestly feel these days people don’t even bother to check their mail.  Either they get everything by email or in the post it’s just junk mail or bills.  So once in a while it’s nice to see something land on your doorstep nicely hand written and with some positive words enclosed.  I’m not saying what I’ll be sending will be anything special, I’m not into all that handmade card business – I did that for our wedding and it was quite frankly painful, but maybe I might learn one day, at least for special birthdays or occasions – we’ll see where this perfect housewife road will take me.

From the 23-27th it’s Clean out your inbox week.  My work inbox isn’t too bad really, I have on average 45 emails in there a day which need answering.  I know the status on all of them.  My personal inbox though, oh my days.  8126 emails.  Can you believe that?  So, this year.  I will be celebrating this new international holiday and will be determined to deal with at least half of them. 

(It’s January 27th – just spent the whole night going through my emails and got them down to 555 – I’m so proud.  My husband thinks I’m silly!)

29th January – 2nd February is Meat week – and I will be looking forward to that.  A brisket perhaps.  Or some duck.  I will be sure to post some inspirational recipes for you all.

And then, back in the homestead, Hubby will be fitting us a new downstairs toilet.  Since we moved in, this poor loo has featured a leopard skin cover fitted by his ex.  I cannot say I will be sad to see this go.  It’s bloody hideous.  I will need to take a photo before it’s taken away to help expose its vulgarity.  So, that will be nice.  More dust to look forward to as walls are ripped apart and I’m sure there will be plumbing episode or two, but at the end of it, we will have a nicely working toilet downstairs for any visitor to frequent – currently they are banished to the upstairs loo as no one is allowed to use the vulgar “builder’s loo” except builders and people who stand to pee.

Then, I think, this will be the month we may finally finish the kitchen.  After months of searching for suitable tiles, we have officially given up and decided to just paint the backs of the kitchen units, covered by a piece of glass or Perspex above the cooker to aid cleaning.  I can’t wait for this to be finally finished.  My kitchen is my joy.  When I moved into Andy’s house, this was where all my money went from my flat sale.  It was what made the house ours. We knocked down walls, put in a brand new kitchen and added a conservatory.  Andy has done a wonderful job decorating.  It really looks beautiful.  And I love cooking in there.  I feel like a cross between Nigella and Julia Child! 

And lastly, I will be hosting my first ever baby shower for my work colleague who’s baby is due in March.  I will be sure to post any successful game ideas, food thoughts, and gifts to help any others who maybe planning similar events.  It seems everyone is having babies at the moment. 

Apart from that, January is the month for hibernation.  So I will be mostly staying at home, developing my mind . . . watching TV box sets and snuggled up on the sofa drinking cocoa.

Leftover Christmas ham and pea tagliatelle

LeftoverPasta_5

It’s January 4 and we still have ham leftover from Christmas dinner.  Ham recipe is being kept top-secret until official ham baking day on Christmas Eve!  But it will be worth it.

Obviously you don’t need leftover ham for this, or perhaps you have ham left over from a normal roast or similar.  But this quick evening tea takes about 20 minutes, and is only 500 calories.

Serves 4
Cost: approx. £2 per serving
300g Tagliatelle
325g frozen peas (optional)
1tbsp olive oil
250g mushrooms slice (optional*)
2tbsp fresh chives (chopped)
140g of thickly carved roast ham, trimmed of fat and chopped into bite-size pieces
200g reduced-fat crème fraiche
1tbsp Dijon Mustard
25 Parmesan (grated)

1.       Add the pasta to a pan of boiling water.  Bring back to the boil and simmer as per the packet instructions (approx. 9minutes).  Add the peas for the last 5 minutes.  Drain and reserve 4tbsp cooking water.  Return to the pan.

2.       While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil and cook the mushrooms (optional).  If not, just add the crème fraiche straight to a small pan, plus the ham, chives and mustard and heat until simmering.

3.       Season with pepper.  Add the sauce to the pasta with the reserved cooking water and toss together.  Serve immediately with grated Parmesan and ground black pepper.

 

LeftoverPasta_3

 

*you’ll notice I always say mushrooms are optional.  It’s the only vegetable I cannot stand.  But I do recognise others love them and when a recipe probably would taste better with them – in which this one is the case.  But it does work without too.  Peas are also optional, this dish works with and without.

 

LeftoverPasta_2