Monday, 25 January 2010

Stiff muscles and soggy potatoes

Saturday lunchtime Steve decided to go down the gym for half an hour but when he got back I decided to go for my own workout - on the allotment. I started by ripping up great carpet-like clumps of grass from under the raspberries. The conditions right now are perfect for this, with the roots unable to keep hold in the wet soil. Already warm from my exertions, I then tackled the parsnips. Last year I managed to grow 18 inch long parsnips, which caused huge problems when trying to dig them out of the soggy ground. Well, this year they are even longer. With much grunting and groaning I managed to wrestle a couple from the ground which were 2 foot long. Actually, they were slightly longer than that because the last tapering end of the roots snapped off.

Next it was time to dig up the last row of potatoes. These had been subjected to snow and frost so I wasn't holding out much hope. And indeed I was right, about 50% of them had turned into rubber balls, all squidgy and disgusting. A few others had damaged patches on them but were still usable and some were still perfect. I harvested enough to last the week but that is it now, end of homegrown potatoes until June. Ah... June... new potatoes... what a difference harvesting experience that will be in comparison to this soggy, sticky, slightly depressing job.
Back home I turned some of the potatoes into chips to go with our fish. Over the next few months I shall increase our in take of pasta, rice and bread and demote potatoes to a bit part until new potatoes are available.

On Sunday Steve headed off for another workout at the gym and whilst he was gone I had an experiment with a recipe to use up a couple jars of plum jam by making it into a crumble cake - something with the flavour of plum crumble but that can be eaten like a cake and without the need to heat it up and pour custard on it.

Plum and Cinnamon Crumble Cake

For the crumble topping
2 oz butter
3 oz wholemeal flour
2 oz oats
1 oz oat bran
1 oz sunflower seeds
2 oz light muscovado sugar

For the cake

5 oz plain flour
2 oz wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 oz caster sugar
2 eggs
7 fl oz double cream
8 oz plum jam (or plum and cinnamon jam)

Grease and line a 8 inch square cake tin and preheat oven to 180°C, gas 4. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a pan then add the other crumble topping ingredients to it and stir until well combined and still crumbly. In another bowl, sift the flour, raising agents and cinnamon then add the salt and sugar. Beat the eggs and cream together in a jug then pour into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Spoon this mixture into the cake tin and level out. Dollop the jam on top of this layer and spread out, mixing slightly with the top layer of cake mix. Finally, sprinkle over the crumble layer and press down lightly. Bake for 40 minutes then cool in the tin and cut into pieces once cool.

Variation: substitute the oat bran with ground almonds and the plum jam with cherry jam.

Once this was cooked and cooled I decided to tackle the front garden for my daily workout. Anyone looking at my garden would think I don't like gardening much because it is a bit untidy and could do with some serious attention. I think maybe I need to make a sign, like those keyrings that say "my other car is a Porshe", only saying, "my other garden is an allotment". I have an amazing herb garden in the front garden. I say amazing because I planted it about 10 years ago and it is still going strong. The bay tree is as tall as me and then it steps down to a large rosemary, then to a sage and there is oregano and savory in there somewhere too. The whole garden is surrounded by a low lavender hedge which in the summer is something of a bee magnet. The whole lot needed a trim, not least so the postman could find the way to the front door, so I got out of the shears and set to. I don't use the shears very often so those particular muscles don't usually get that kind of exercise and after about half an hour my arms were beginning to tremble and today I'm suffering from stiff muscles. On the plus side, I had filled up my usually stinky green wheelie bin with beautifully scented bay and rosemary twigs.

Later that afternoon my step daughter arrived for an unscheduled visit. She hadn't planned to stay for dinner but as she was saying vague things about possibly opening a can of soup for tea when she got home I invited her to stay. We were already planning to have Chinese crispy duck and pancakes for dinner but I figured I could just expand the quantity of rice and stir-fry to provide her with a meal. Being vegan I knew she wouldn't want to join in with the duck, which is just as well as I don't like to share when it comes to crispy duck! So in the end she had a big plate of rice, rice noodles, stir-fried vegetables and a couple of vegetable spring rolls. I did check to see if the prawn crackers were vegan but you know what, they actually contained 7% prawn! It's not as daft as it sounds as chicken flavoured crisps and some forms of instant gravy are vegan! I was pleased that she went home with a proper meal insider her and pleased too that I managed to pull a vegan meal out of the air at a moments notice.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Sometimes things don't go to plan

After the success of cooking with my girls last week I was keen to give it another go this week. As an added bonus I thought we could try a raspberry muffin recipe to use up some of the raspberries still frozen in my freezer. My new year's resolution is to empty the freezer in time for the fresh harvests in June. I think 6 months is probably what I shall need to use up all the stuff in there - not to mention the fruit still remaining in Sue's freezer! And with recipes that only require 140g of raspberries it will certainly take some time.

The first hurdle for this recipe was tracking down a lemon yoghurt. Considering that the yoghurt aisle in Tesco has nothing but yoghurts down both sides of it you would think that they would have an abundance of lemon yoghurts to choose from. It took me a good five minutes to run up and down both sides before I finally found the only lemon yoghurt they had on sale and that was in a multi pack of Weight Watchers citrus yoghurts.

So, armed with my yoghurt, I retrieved 140g of raspberries from the freezer to thaw and waited for the end of the school day for my girls to return home. On getting back they decided that in fact they would like to play outside for a while. I was hardly going to say no to this as fresh air and exercise are so important so I agreed that they could scoot around the residential car park for a while whilst I tidied the kitchen up a bit. I was just wondering when they might come in when they suddenly burst in, telling me that my youngest had stepped in a pile of poo. Oh joy! On with the rubber gloves to sponge down the scooters, shoes and their hands.

Eventually I was ready to get started but by now my youngest had settled herself down to drawing a picture and she wasn't happy when I told her it was now time to bake. She came to the kitchen anyway but crying and complaining. My eldest was less than sympathetic and decided to wind her up a bit for her own amusement. This was not what I had imagined when I had thought about the afternoon's cooking experience.

We paused for a drink and a few stiff words then washed hands and got our aprons on. Things went a little smoother from this point although the girls were a little less patient than usual. I think we were all a bit tired to be honest. Then we tipped in the thawed raspberries and stirred them into the muffin mixture. For one exciting minute we had a lovely pink batter but then some unexpected chemical reaction occurred, probably between the raspberries and the lemons and the muffin mix turned an unappetizing shade of chewing gum grey. My youngest found this quite upsetting and was on the verge of bursting into tears when I pointed out that the muffin mixture was now elephant grey. She brightened immediately as elephants are her favourite animal!

So we persevered and got them into the oven where another chemical reaction occurred and the muffins turned blue! Well, some of it was blue and some a bit green and some bits bright red. Clearly I had chosen completely the wrong time to make these muffins as they would have made perfect Halloween ghoulish muffins. But despite it all I retained my sense of humour and we had a good old chuckle about it. In fact, the girls were keen to take a muffin each to school in their lunch boxes so they could show off their weird greeny blue cakes to their friends.

We were still left with the remaining yoghurts in the multi pack so I decided to see what exciting dish I could whip up with the orange flavoured one. My eldest was still keen (my youngest had gone back to her drawing by this point) so together we juiced 3 large oranges and the half a lemon left over from the muffin recipe. To the juice we added the yoghurt and whisked it together. Finally, I melted a sachet of gelatine and added this to the mixture, poured it into 5 moulds and put it into the fridge to set. Later that night I tried one of these orange yoghurt jellies and was pleased with the lovely fruity favour. It was certainly a healthy dessert with no added sugar and only 1g of fat in the yoghurt.

Orange Yoghurt Jelly
3 large oranges
1/2 lemon
120g orange flavoured yoghurt
1 sachet gelatine

Put the sachet of gelatine in a small pan and splash on about 3 tablespoons of water and set aside. Juice the oranges and lemon then add the yoghurt to this juice. Taste this mixture and add sugar if you wish. Gently heat the gelatine until it has melted then pour this mixture into the juice mixture. Stir then pour into moulds and refrigerate until set.

It was just as I was washing up our baking equipment that Steve came home. He balked at the muffins and asked me what had happened. He didn't fancy a blue muffin for his afters so I offered to quickly cook him a batch of flapjacks. Fortunately, the fish pie and potato wedges were in the oven by this point so dinner was happily cooking itself whilst I made the flapjacks.

Potato Wedges

Olive oil
Salt, pepper
(optional other flavours: dried thyme, crushed garlic, chilli powder etc.)

Preheat oven to 200°C, gas 6. Scrub but don't peel the potatoes. Cut each potato into 6 to 8 large wedges. Rinse the potatoes then pat dry on kitchen paper. Put the wedges in a bowl and add the other ingredients. Stir until evenly coated then tip onto a large baking try. Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes until golden.

Vanilla Flapjacks

4 oz (110g) butter
4 oz (110g) soft light brown sugar
1 dessert spoon of honey
A few drops of vanilla extract
6 oz (170g) oats

Preheat oven to 150°C (gas 3). In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter with the sugar, honey and vanilla. Add the oats and stir thoroughly until evenly coated. Grease a small baking tray and spoon the mixture onto it. Spread out and press down with wetted fingers. Bake for 25 minutes until gold. Cut into flapjacks whilst still hot then allow it to cool in the tin.

The muffins turned out to be quite tasty in the end, although I think next time I'd use plain yoghurt and a whole lemon instead. I think fresh raspberries would probably lead to a better end colour so maybe you should keep an eye out for a raspberry muffin recipe in July. Hopefully, next time everything will go a little more to plan.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Cooking with children

My daughters' school is in the process of starting up an after school cooking club and they were looking for volunteers to help run it. Yes, I know I already run the gardening club but this sounded so up my street I just had to volunteer for that too. This week I, along with another volunteer, was sent on a training course for the club. That turned out to be a fun day in which we made our own elevenses and lunch, mostly based around modifying a basic scone recipe to make scones, "bread" and pizza bases. It was a good simple way to make a variety of different foods using just one recipe and the food tasted great. I had to admit, however, that when I got home my stomach felt as if I'd eaten rather too many scones!

I'm always enthusiastic about food but after the course I felt inspired and very keen to try some of the recipe out with my children. As it happened my eldest invited herself over to a friends house the next afternoon so this presented me with the perfect opportunity to do some one to one cooking with my youngest. It is easy to always treat children in relation to their position in the family rather than by their actual age - I always treat one as the eldest and able to do lots of things and to have responsibility, and the other as the youngest, not able to do so much and in need of more help. This is, of course, the genuine situation but sometimes I have to step back and think what was my eldest able to do at the age of my youngest. My youngest is five years old now - still very little but also able to do more than I probably give her credit for. One of the things they had talked about on the course was taking health and safety into account but teaching the children how to do "dangerous" things such as chopping and cooking safely.

So I told my youngest she was going to make some biscuits and I was just going to help her with reading the instructions. She was surprised when I told her that she was going to turn the oven on and was going to use the hob to melt some butter. She was even slightly anxious about it but I explained that she would not be burnt if she did what I said and was careful. The recipe for oat biscuits was beautifully simple and it took her only half an hour to make them. I had to stop myself jumping in a couple of times to help speed things along or to make the biscuits a tidier shape. And what pride she had when the biscuits were finished. She excitedly told her sister all about it when she got home and told Daddy he was only allowed to eat one and not the whole boxful!

After this my eldest was keen to have a similar one to one experience and this suited my just fine as I was equally as keen. She had received a box of recipe cards for Christmas and this morning she searched through it, having difficulty deciding what she would like to make as so many recipes appealed to her. We selected an apple flapjack recipe straight away to make for Daddy and I said she could choose something else to make her and her sister. I helped her narrow down her choice by removing cards that required ingredients I didn't have. Finally, she decided on a Victoria sandwich cake as she is studying the Victorian Era at school at the moment. This pleased me as it meant I could use the two new sandwich tins I had bought earlier in the week in the sales and I could use up another small jar of my homemade seedless raspberry jam.

My eldest was also equally as anxious about switching the oven on and using the hob to melt the butter for the flapjacks but she was keen to peel and chop the apples. In fact, we were in the kitchen for about 3 hours, including tidying and washing up and she really enjoyed herself and asked me if there was anything else she could help me make. I suggested we make some coleslaw for dinner. Coleslaw was one of the recipes we had made on the course as it gives plenty of opportunity for the children to learn grating and chopping skills.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a beetroot in the fridge for the coleslaw and I had to nip to the allotment for it. It is nice to see the allotment again, newly emerged from its snowy blanket. I have missed the colour green in the last fortnight! But soggy doesn't even begin to describe what it was like round there. Very wet clay soil and foliage that has collapsed under the temperate and weight of the snow. Icky!

I emptied the kitchen compost caddy into the compost bin then grabbed a few small beetroots and some leeks before heading over to the brassica bed to inspect the plants. Earlier in the week I had been idly staring out of the girls' bedroom window at the snow-covered allotment only to spot a fat wood pigeon sat amongst the sprouting broccoli, gorging itself on the purple buds. I know I like to feed the birds but there are limits! So it was no surprise to find no flower heads left today. I picked some more Brussel sprouts then pulled a large sheet of galvanised netting over as much of the brassica plants as I could.

Back home my daughter had settled down on the sofa to watch TV and wasn't enthusiastic about making coleslaw anymore. I'd clearly missed the moment but there was no point nagging - I was feeling pretty tired of being in the kitchen myself by then. Still, whilst I was still in the allotment mood, I put a little bit of potting compost into a tray and planted 7 peanuts into it. At least now I feel the growing season has started even though I shall have to wait a few more weeks before tearing open the seed packs that arrived in the post this week. Patience... patience...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A bubble of springtime

I have always enjoyed feeding the birds in my garden but since our neighbours built decking in their back garden about two years ago every time I put food out for the birds a rat appears in the garden. So for long periods of time I don't put food out for the birds but every now and then I feel so sorry for the birds that I relent. I try, of course, to only put food well out of reach of the rats but birds are untidy eaters and always drop some to the ground and on one occasion a rat climbed the tree to reach the food.

Just before Christmas when the snow first started falling I decided it was time to put out food for the birds again. As it was just before Christmas it also coincided with a clear out of the fridge and food cupboards. I cut one of my small pumpkins in half, scooped out the middle and made another pumpkin bird feeder. Then I mixed some sunflower seeds, some pecan nuts past their use by and some old duck fat together and dolloped this into the middle of the pumpkin halves before attaching each half onto the string holders I had made back in October when I had made the last pumpkin bird feeder. Back then the pumpkin halves had survived about a fortnight before rotting. This time, instead of rotting, they froze and have remained frozen ever since, some 3 weeks later.

All was fine until the current snowfall. Until then the blackbird had been able to find food by throwing fallen leaves into the air in his usual untidy manner. But now he just bobbed about in the snow in a fruitless search. I couldn't stand it and dug the hanging bird table out of the shed and put it in the cherry tree. You'd think this would be OK but it was this that drove the rat to climb the tree last time so I wasn't sure. Still, I crumbled some stale flapjack onto it and scattered a few seeds on for good measure. Unfortunately, even before the blackbird had discovered it the rat was in the garden. Sigh!

Well, I have persisted with feeding the birds during the snow but the rat has left deep tracks in the snow, giving away its presence. Yesterday morning I poured some warm water into the birdbath too and was amazed by the number of birds that arrived to drink from it. The robin even braved a bath despite the sub-zero temperatures. I restocked the feeders then threw rat poison down into the tunnel the rat had dug under the garden fence. I hope that is the last of that particular rat.

Back in the warmth, watching the birds through the window, I set about stock-taking my vegetable seeds and deciding what I needed to buy ready for the new growing season. Looking at all the catalogue photos of perfect vegetables on sunny days quite cheered me up. My girls were excited too and enthusiastic about what they might like to grow. My youngest's favourite colour is yellow and I soon noticed that each item that she pointed too excitedly was yellow so I suggested to her that maybe she should try to grow all yellow vegetables this summer. She loved this idea and with a bit of careful searching through the catalogues we managed to find 11 different things for her to grow that would be yellow: potatoes, sweet corn, mangetout, climbing beans, carrots, beetroot, radish, tomato, cucumber, cauliflower and courgette. My eldest then jumped on the same idea and wanted to see if she could grow red and purple vegetables. Again we managed to find 10 things for her to grow: potatoes, carrots, beetroot, borlotti beans, radish, tomatoes, peppers, peas, basil and lettuce. I hope they find it as much fun to grow as they did to select the seeds.

Later that evening I went online and placed orders with 4 different seed catalogues for a huge range of seeds, potatoes, onions set etc. Next to me were two pots of hyacinths that we had forced in September and brought into the house at Christmas. All six bulbs are flowering right now, filling the room with the distinctive smell of hyacinths. So despite the snow and cold outside, for one afternoon I felt as if I was in a little bubble of springtime and now I'm excited about the prospect of getting sowing again.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Snow Day

The snow reached Milton Keynes during Tuesday night and by Wednesday morning it lay thick on the ground. After getting the girls up and dressed as usual I discovered their school was closed so rather than rushing breakfast I decided to do something a little more interesting. I had a couple of bananas in the fruit bowl that had passed their best so I decided to experiment to see if I could substitute them with the usual pureed pumpkin in my pumpkin pancake recipe. What a result! They were delicious.

Banana Pancakes (makes 16)

250g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
55g light brown sugar
3 eggs
284 ml carton buttermilk
A few drops vanilla extract
2 over ripe bananas, mashed
4 teaspoon sunflower oil

In a large bowl, sift together the flour and raising agents. In another bowl, mix together the sugar, egg, milk, vanilla extract and banana and oil. Make a well in the centre of the flour and gradually mix in the wet ingredients until a batter forms. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add 60ml (2 tablespoons or 1/4 cup) of batter at a time. Cook until the base is set then flip and cook until the second side has set and browned. Either serve hot with whipped cream, or cool on a wire rack and freeze for use later.

With a warm breakfast in our bellies it was time to go and play in the snow. The allotment is the best place for this because nobody else goes there when its snowing so we get virgin snow to ourselves. It also has a useful collection of tools and things to use to decorate snowmen - assuming I can find these things under the blanket of snow. So after the usual excited running around the girls set about building a snowman or two. Then before leaving I thought I might as well harvest a leek. Fortunately, I could remember where I had left the knife because I knew there was little hope of just pulling one out of the frozen ground. Sure enough a tug proved that the leeks were firmly stuck. Instead, I dug down to find the soil and sliced one off at ground level with the knife.

Back a home the girls continued to play in the snow in the garden whilst I made some soup for our lunch. Since Christmas I have become a fan of roasted butternut squash so I wondered if this would make a nice soup. I still have 4 squash left in storage so I need to get on and use them before they go over. Making soup is certainly more time consuming than opening a tin but it is very satisfying and the girls came in all pink and soggy just as I was ready to blend the ingredients into soup. So I soon had warm soup ready to thaw them out.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (serves 4-5)

600g butternut squash, yielding about 450g once prepared
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
1 onion
1 carrot
1 potato
1 red pepper
100g red lentils
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 200°C, gas 6. Peel and deseed the squash and cut into chunks. Place in a bowl and add a crushed garlic clove, a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss the squash until evenly coated then place in a tin and roast for 30-40 minutes until soft and just beginning to brown along the edges. In the meantime, peel the other vegetables and chop. Pour some more olive oil into the bottom of a large saucepan then fry the carrot, onion and potato for about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper, roasted squash, lentils, bay leaf and about 1 pint (660 ml) water. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring and checking the water level about every 10 minutes. Note that as the lentils cook they will absorb the water and will stick and burn if you don't add more water. Don't, for example, let yourself be distracted by children coming in from the snow! After 30 minutes remove the bay leaf, add more water (cold) if necessary then allow the soup to cool enough to blend it in a blender. Return to a clean pan, check and adjust the seasoning then reheat to serve or ladle into warmed jars and seal immediately.

After lunch the girls decided they were bored with snow so whilst they settled down to watch television under blankets for a while I made some fish pie ready for dinner. I had planned to do this when I'd picked up a pack of "fish pie mix" fish in the supermarket for £2.99 the day before. This was 320g of pieces of fish - salmon, cod and smoked haddock for £2.99. With enough fish to make 4 individual pies, that works out about 75p per pie. The pies can be either eaten fresh or frozen for later and at this time of year it is a good way to preserve some potato before the potatoes start sprouting again.

Fish Pie (serves 4)
1lb 8 oz (700g) mashed potato
2 carrots1 clove garlic
2 cm root ginger (or 2 shallots instead of garlic and ginger)
1 sachet miso soup making 160ml (or fish stock)
4 fl oz (110 ml) white wine250ml single cream (or soya alternative)
1 oz (25 g) butter
1 oz (25 g) flour
320 g fish pie mix
Sprigs lemon thyme (or parsley)
Grated Cheddar cheese
Two slices wholemeal bread, crumbled
Black pepper

Make the mash potato in your usual way and leave to cool. Peel, finely chop and cook the carrot until tender then leave to cool. Peel and chop the garlic and ginger then fry in a little oil for 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and heat for 5 minutes until reduced by half. In the meantime, make up the miso soup then dilute with 140 ml water. Add the soup and 150 ml of cream to the wine and heat for 10 minutes until reduced by half. In the meantime, make a roux by melting the butter in another pan, stirring in the flour and gradually pouring in the remaining cream. Pour the soup mix into the roux and cook for 5 minutes until a thick, smooth sauce is made. Leave to cool completely. When everything is completely cool assemble the pies in 4 individual dishes or foil containers. First divide the fish mix evenly between the dishes then sprinkle over the lemon thyme and carrots. Pour over the sauce and stir. Layer over the mashed potato and level. Sprinkle over the cheese then the breadcrumbs and finally grind over black pepper. The pies can now be frozen. To cook, thaw completely then bake at 200°C, gas 6 for 20-25 minutes until hot through and golden. Serve with seasonal vegetables.

It had been a bit of marathon day in the kitchen and I was tired but we had 3 lovely warm meal inside us and with no sign of things thawing I figured there would be no school run to rush out of bed for in the morning.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Christmas leftovers - part 3

Having eaten all the Christmas leftovers it was time to take some meat out of the freezer and eat some "new" food in the new year. I started on New Year's Day with a tasty mixed grill using sausages and black pudding from the freezer and one of the 5 packs of bacon I'd ended up with over Christmas (I don't think that counts as leftovers because the pack was unopened and good till mid-January!). Then to go with that a perfect poached egg (Steve is a pro when it comes to poaching eggs so that's his job) and some beetroot rostis. For these I needed a couple of beetroot from the allotment and some of the potatoes I'd dug up on my last visit.

Beetroot Rostis (serves 4-6)
4 medium to large potatoes
2 medium beetroot
1 clove garlic
Seasoning to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut into large roast potato sized pieces then par boil for about 10 minutes (depending on your potato variety - I was using large Charlottes). Once cooked, drain and run under a cold tap to cool the potatoes down enough to pick them up. Grate the potatoes into a large bowl, using long strokes on the grater. Wash and peel the raw beetroot then grate into the bowl with the potato. Crush or grate the garlic into the bowl too then season. Combine well then mould into potato cakes. Place them on a floured plate, cover with Clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour. You could also freeze them at this point if desired. To cook, heat some oil in a frying pan then fry for about 5 minutes on each side.

The rostis come out an amazing deep purple colour and taste great too, especially dipped in ketchup. On the topic of potatoes and leftovers, my mum likes to make bubble and squeak from leftover boiled or mashed potatoes and cabbage and at Christmas she makes it with leftover Brussel Sprouts too. It's simple to make, just mash the potato if necessary then stir in some cabbage (or similar) then mould into cakes and fry for 5 minutes on each side until browned. I haven't tried it but I reckon red cabbage bubble and squeak would look great too.

Yesterday it was time for the first roast dinner of the new year. I like to make a roast dinner every Sunday because it is one of those meal that everyone loves to sit down to and eat and it is also relatively good value for money, epecially as it is usually possible to make more than one meal from the piece of meat. In the middle of summer cooking and eating a roast dinner can be a bit of an ordeal, although the lovely fresh summer veg is always a delight. But at this time of year it is just what you want to eat - filling and warming - and the seasonal veg just suit the meal so well.

So yesterday afternoon I went round to the allotment to dig up some more potatoes. I took my youngest with me so she could practise riding her bike without stabilisers ready for the school run on Monday morning. As she rode up and down I lifted off the top frozen inch of soil and dug up some potatoes from underneath. It didn't take long but sadly my daughter's bike suffered a puncture and I had to spend the next three quarters of an hour in the freezing garden, struggling with half numb fingers to fix the 4 holes in her inner tube. That's almost enough to wreck an Sunday afternoon!

After warming myself with a bath, it was time to make the Sunday roast. On this occasion I had chosen a piece of lamb rolled shoulder. Whilst the oven was preheating to 180°C, I stabbed the meat and poked slices of garlic and sprigs of fresh rosemary into it. Then I made up a bit of English mustard and smeared this over the ends before putting it into the oven. It was then time to prepare the potatoes. First I spooned some goose fat into a tin and put it into the oven to melt then I peeled the potatoes and cut them into large pieces then I par boiled them until they were just going soft around the edges. In fact, just as I put them on to boil I peeled a parsnip and cut that into large chunks too and threw them into the water with the potatoes. Once drained, I put the lid back on the pan and shock it vigorosly to fluff up the edges of the potatoes. I then tipped the lot into the tin of hot goose fat and used a large spoon to turn them over until they were evenly coated in the fat. Once these were in the oven I prepared some chunks of butternut squash and crushed garlic and put these in to roast too. Finally, I peeled some carrots and cut them into large lengths. I placed these on a drizzle of olive oil on a piece of foil then sprinkled over a pinch of five spice powder and wrapped the foil around them to make a bundle. This too went into the oven. With dinner cooking nicely in the oven it gave me an hour to get on with other things, such as the necessary prepartions for the return to school and work.

With all the mince pies and Christmas cake eaten I needed to think of some other treat for the lunchboxes. This is when I realised I hadn't in fact finished with the Christmas leftovers at all because both cranberry sauce and mincemeat make perfect easy flapjacks.

Cranberry Flapjacks

4 3/4 (135g) unsalted butter

4 oz (110g) cranberry sauce

2 oz (55g) golden syrup

8 oz (225g) oats

3/4 oz (20g) sunflower seeds

1 3/4 oz (50g) raisins

Preheat over to 190°C (gas 5). In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter with the syrup. Remove from the heat then add the remaining ingredients. Spoon the mixture into a small tray and press down with wetted fingers. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cut into flapjacks before allowing to cool in the tin.

Mincemeat Flapjacks

4 3/4 oz (135g) unsalted butter

8 oz (225g) mincemeat

8 oz (225g) oats

Preheat over to 190°C (gas 5). In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter with the mincemeat. Remove from the heat then add the remaining ingredients. Spoon the mixture into a small tray and press down with wetted fingers. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cut into flapjacks before allowing to cool in the tin.

After an hour the meat was cooked (it wasn't a particularly big piece), so I took it out to let it rest. I turned the oven up to 220°C and move the veg to the top of the oven to crisp up. Then I just needed to make some gravy from the meat juices and stick in some ready-made Yorkshire puddings for my girls before everything was ready to serve. Whilst we sat down to eat the flapjacks cooked in the oven and after the girls were in bed they were cool enough to wrap up to add to their lunchboxes. Cheeseboard cheese sandwiches for one, pate for the other... maybe Christmas isn't quite over yet. Actually, it was time then to iron the school uniforms... definitely the end of Christmas!