Follow by Email

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What to do now?


What to do now? I started this year feeling optimistic that things were on the up and going to change for the better. Don’t get me wrong I love my husband dearly and I am always proud of him no matter what, but this year yet again things aren’t good for us. At the beginning of the year Glen got a new job, it was promising, an opportunity for growth, with better money eventually and with it being less than 10 minutes down the road the location was brilliant. It meant using less fuel and less wear and tear on the car (which obviously is also money in our pocket) added to the fact I also quit smoking and because of the medication I take I can’t drink alcohol, so all the super expensive things we used to use and indulge in were almost non-existent, we had booked a two week holiday in the South of Spain and were looking forward to that, I couldn’t wait to be lounging on the beach with a good book, Spanish food and a few drinks in the evening, maybe a little sight-seeing between  days at the beach. Our last holiday was four days in New York back in 2010. (We got on the bus from Washington D.C and got a cheap hotel, it was a bargain break). We had to cancel the holiday, which of course incurred a cancellation fee, less money in our pocket.

In April Glen went to work on the Thursday, he would work Sunday-Thursday which would throw me out on my days but in the grand scheme of things particularly when he went from days to nights, it meant we had a few extra hours with each other where we weren’t sleeping, on the one side of things we were elated, the money wasn’t brilliant by the time we had been taxed and the money went in the bank he was working for less than minimum wage, but it was a job and it had potential to go further, we weren’t anxiety free though there is always that three month probation period and as that dead line approached our anxiety just increased, it’s hard to explain we are both hard working people, my husband is a proud man and it’s important to him as a man to be working and supporting us. We aren’t greedy we want to be able to pay our bills and have a roof over our head the remainder is just icing. So when we got the call on the Friday to say “Thanks for all your hard work, but one of our permanent members of staff is out of work and we are giving him your job.” It came as a huge shock, particularly as he had passed the probation period and we thought we were home free, nobody had even inferred that he wouldn’t be back on the Sunday night. That was it, both of us aren’t working, I can’t work because I am constantly high on tramadol, which I have to take all the time for knee pain. It’s frightening when you have normal bills to pay and you’ve no money to pay for them. It’s funny because whilst we are open people, we are also very private so when we try to insinuate that we are skint and have no money people think we are joking, or that we are skint but only in the we can’t buy that Xboxone we want, sort of way. No we are really broke, hair pulling, tears and stress, how do we pay the rent let alone put food on the table type broke. On the upside I do have a car which I can sell, which means I will be able to pay off the finance and then hopefully have enough left over to last for another month, is this a way to live? Of course not…. Are we depressed and miserable? Absolutely there are days when neither of us want to get out of bed. But we do, well he does, I live on the couch (another long story, which started out because Glen was working nights and I was struggling with the stairs alone, I had fallen down them a few times). He is on the internet every day and applies for jobs, I don’t know how I can make him feel better, which makes me feel as though I am failing as his wife. He feels as though he is failing as a husband……

I just pray that we can live on love alone because right now that’s all we have. We have a lot of that, I met my soul mate that first day in November 2006 and that hasn’t changed I couldn’t imagine life without him. Our time together so far has been fraught with problems, one after the other almost, but we are still here, we still smile and laugh, although jokes and fun are admittedly half arsed attempts at humour, the rough times are taking their toll. Are we anti-social? I think so, we don’t venture out very far, contact with the outside world is kept to a bare minimum, Doctors appointments and the shops when needed. We aren’t like this because we want to be, we are like this because we are ashamed and embarrassed, until now we have always had money, not a lot, but there has always been a few pounds left in the bank every month, and like most people I think we had better months than others, but since Glen got out of the Army bad luck and misery has befallen us. Most of our friends are working and own their own homes, regularly go out with friends for a night out and things, we aren’t in that position, we don’t have that luxury, we avoid unnecessary trips in the car to save fuel, and we can’t afford to go out with our friends on evenings out, so we stay indoors, hiding our shame from everyone. We were doing quite a good job of it too I think, until now. We wallow together, who we are behind closed doors is not who we are in public…… Well I say that but Glen still picks on me mercilessly all day everyday (all in good fun of course) and I occasionally get my own back, it’s normally a good one, but not always I am not very spontaneous that way, so they are few and far between.

We haven’t given up we fight tooth and nail every day for better, better for us, better for our children… and our fur babies since they are the only children living with us all the time. I am now making jewellery in an effort to make some money, I have made a little but nothing to really write home about, I am secretly really pleased that some of it has been bought (nothing like an ego boost when the chips are down). I don’t think I am going to make a fortune, I do have plans for my little business assuming I can sell my items, I have called myself Bex’sBits&Bob’s that way I am not restricting myself to any one kind of product. Just as well really because I tend to lose concentration really easily and I keep needing to change what I do, I think it’s one of the side effects from the medication I am on, I struggle to concentrate on any one thing for too long and actually find it easier to have several things going so I can swap and change things up, it seems to help keep me focused a little better. I am an insomniac, I normally sleep from about 0500 – 0530ish and then again from 0700 – 1100 but those 4 hours are not solid sleep, I wake up 6 or 7 times periodically throughout that period, I use those night time hours to create my things. God willing I will be able to sell them. I won’t be able to return to work so I have to do something from home. That I can actually do from home. I have looked into these companies that advertise working from home, most of it you have to get up and out and about delivering catalogues, collecting orders and then delivering the product, or that kind of thing, trying to find a job that I can actually do from the comfort of my own couch is proving to be elusive. Which is why I am trying to sell my things, taking matters into my own hands, so to speak.

I’ve no doubt that things are going to get better, we are good people, we, Glen more than me deserves better than this….. and we will always strive for a better life.

So at the moment my recipe posts are having to take a back seat, meals are basic, meat and 2 veg or a salad, Friday nights we have pizza because I have acupuncture on my knee which is quite painful and makes me feel quite ill afterwards so something easy is nice, besides even Glen can launch a £2.00 pizza in the oven. I am being mean he can cook, and he does know where the kitchen is and what the appliances are used for, well maybe not the dishwasher, I have genuinely banned him from that.

Here’s to a better tomorrow

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fragrant Chicken


In late September of 2013 our eldest started university, a proud moment to say the least. Of course you’ll say that I am bias, which if it had been anyone else I could understand and possible agree, however we have been blessed with a beautiful daughter inside and out, she’s kind and patient, she works extremely hard, both at school and at her job, she has fun but remains sensible, not only all that but she is REALLY smart, we’ve been blessed with a child who has it all. An enviable quality for sure, she’s not of my blood though, she is my husband’s daughter with his first wife and she has done an outstanding job at raising both the girls, I love them both as I love my own. I have the same hopes and dreams for them as I would have, had I given birth to them myself. I worry sometimes that I don’t show the girls how much I truly love them. I feel like I have to try harder because I am their ‘step-mum’ and I so really hate that label it’s synonymous with, wicked or evil. The word step-mum makes me automatically think of the ‘evil stepmother’ fat with loads of makeup and a wart on the end of my nose, incapable of anything but jealousy and resentment. That couldn’t be further from the truth though, those girls had my unconditional love before I had even met them, how could they not? They are a part of their father and I love him with my entire being, because they are part of him I don’t see it as being possible that you can love one without the other. I wanted/needed to do something for our eldest, something that I could put my stamp on and say you know what this is me I did this for you because I love you and I wanted to show you that I love you, but I am limited as to what I can do to help, something’s really are mother and daughter things and I wouldn’t ever just assume that I can do ALL mother daughter things with either of them. I would hate to do something that was special between the girls and their mother, by accident of course, and for it then to take away slightly from that special feeling that they had with their Mum. So as far as quality time is concerned unless it has been prior organised between my husband and their Mum, I try not to get overly ambitious…. I have a tendency to get all flighty and lost in the moment. So anyway, that leaves very little that I can do, that says I love you and I did this just to let you know that I love you (a small token of my affection). I had already told Glen that I was going to cook a whole bunch of meals that he could take to work, it seemed logical therefore to make dinners that could be frozen, so that Glen got some for work and I could give some to our eldest too. To be honest it was a short lived project the initial idea was perfect, the practicality however turned out to be quite different. The next few recipes are all ones which I cooked portioned off and froze for later.

Fragrant Chicken

2 chicken breasts

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2tbsp chopped parsley, tarragon, oregano

½ lemon zest and 2tbsp juice

Ground black pepper

Courgette and green beans to serve

  1. If there are any remove the sinews and the skin, off the breasts, place them between two bits of cling film and bash them with a rolling pin until they are about 5mm thick.
  2. Add the oil, herbs, zest and lemon juice and the black pepper to a Ziploc freezer bag, then add the chicken to the marinade leave for at least 30 minutes, longer is better if you have the time, turning them every now and again.
  3. When the chicken has been marinating for at least 30 minutes heat a George Foreman type grill or a griddle pan to cook the chicken breasts, press down (using a spatula if you are using a griddle pan) this will seal the breasts and sear a griddle pattern on them.
  4. Serve with courgettes and green beans.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cotton Candy Cupcakes


I’m bored and what’s more I no longer feel as though there is much validity behind my cooking. Sure I have evolved tremendously in the past few years, I can pretty much cook and nail anything even my “baking nemesis” is less of a problem for me now and much less of a bug bare.  This next recipe is a cupcake recipe, I chose it because there was very little about the original recipe that appealed to me, so I altered it somewhat, however in my quest for finding validity again, I went totally overboard with the differing flavours, because I was over excited, eager to try my new ideas . What I should have done was make two different batches with two distinct flavours, but I went all out and stuck them all together. In my opinion the end result was very sickly, however several people who had no reason to be bias tried and enjoyed them and they asked if I had more so for that reason in particular I am adding the recipe. Besides it’s only right that I should include what can only be described as my ADHD first attempt at going it all alone. Sure I alter most recipes all the time but baking ones? It’s all mine every last hyperactive flavour.

 

Cotton Candy Cupcakes

With White Chocolate and Orange Frosting

For the cupcakes

110g unsalted butter, softened

380g caster sugar

320g plain flour (all-purpose)

4tsp baking powder

1tsp salt 320ml Butter milk

3 large eggs

1tsp cotton candy flavouring

For the frosting

60g white chocolate

500g sifted icing sugar

160g unsalted butter, softened

50ml whole milk

1-2 tsp finely grated orange peel

  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/340˚F and line a 12 cupcake/muffin tray with large cases.
  2. In a mixer or using a hand held mixer, mix together the butter, sugar and the other dry ingredients, until you have a sandy, fine breadcrumb consistency, be sure there are no large clumps of butter, that it is all well incorporated.
  3. In a jug, mix the buttermilk and eggs and once they are well combined add the flavouring.
  4. On a medium speed very slowly and in a steady stream add the wet ingredients to the dry ones. Scraping down the sides and mix again until the batter is even smooth.
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the cupcake cases, I use a 1/3 cup scoop, this will ensure an even bake. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until a cocktail stick comes out clean.
  6. Next make the frosting, melt the white chocolate in a bain marie.
  7. Using a mixer, gradually mix together the butter and icing sugar until it is well combined, then mix in the milk, turn up the speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, add the chocolate to the mixture and stir in the orange peel, mixing until it’s all well combined and then spoon over the cupcakes and smooth over using a knife.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tuna wrapped in Herbs


I think we all have our demons, past experiences that shape the way we live our lives, or see potential friends and partners. Much of the way I live my life today has vastly been influenced by my past, which is ultimately where my cooking obsession has come from. For as long as I can remember, cooking has always been something I enjoyed and had a passion for and ultimately when push comes to shove, given the right opportunity I am quite good at it. I have cooked hundreds of dishes over the past five years. Some very similar to one another and some that are in my book, which was very limited, quite out there. I like easy recipes, ones which can be produced in minutes, for those really busy days, when even the biggest cooking enthusiast just can’t be bothered to spend what seems an age, cooking, chopping, peeling, mixing, blending, rolling, bashing, chilling, simmering or baking, those lack lustre days when the mere thought of moving your baby finger feels like it is the most exhausting task known to man. Most of the time though, I love to do recipes like this one, it’s certainly one that I wouldn’t have been able to do until Glen. It’s a real shame really because I am able to turn out almost anything I try my hand at, and it seems a travesty now to have missed out on so many delicious dishes.

Tuna can be cooked and eaten like you would your steak, personally I prefer mine to be cooked through, but it is exactly like a steak (although I like my steak to be medium rare) down to your personal choice.

Tuna Wrapped in Herbs

250g tuna fillet

Pepper

1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

4tbsp parsley

4tbsp chopped chervil

  1. Season the tuna with salt and pepper. Tear off a piece of foil big enough to encase the tuna with enough extra so that you can twist the ends (so that it looks a bit like a Christmas cracker)
  2. Brush the extra virgin olive oil over the foil, just the bit that will touch the fish, scatter over the herbs, then roll your Tuna in the herbs to coat.
  3. Roll your herb-coated Tuna tightly in the foil, next bake it at about 180˚C/350˚F, for about 15-20 minutes.
     
    Serve with your favourite vegetables and buttered new potatoes.

Vegetable Curry


I like to try recipes that are a little out of the ordinary for me, nothing too obscure but recipes that I would normally skip over in favour of playing it safe. Although vegetable curry doesn’t  sound that adventurous, for me it is because I would have only considered lamb, chicken, tomatoes, onion and spinach as curry ingredients, oh and shrimp, I am not sure why my list of curry ingredients is so small, was so small. I guess certain memories from my childhood and my first marriage tend to overwhelm my ability to try new things. That could also be the reason I simply cannot get over my aversion to pork. I have tried to get over that one but I just can’t. I have given up on pork altogether now and anything with bones, I don’t have an issue with filleting meat or fish before its cooked and I can fillet which helps, but the pork thing I just can’t get past it. This vegetable curry though is delicious, easy to make and can be frozen quite well, for another day. I have served it to Glen with rice and without, on its own, or if you can be bothered you could serve it with all the other curry accompaniments you can think of too.. Or indeed add meat or fish if you are so inclined.

Vegetable Curry

750g mixed vegetables of your choice

3tbsp sunflower oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped

1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed

½ tsp ginger powder

1tbsp Garam masala

400g can chopped tomatoes

400g can chickpeas, drained

175ml pineapple juice

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut all the vegetables into bite sized pieces, making sure they are all about the same size so that they cook evenly. Heat the oil in a medium sized pan, over a medium heat, add the onions and cook until browned, this should take about 10 minutes stirring regularly.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring bring the mixture to a simmer, next throw in the vegetables, cover with a lid or tin foil, over a low heat cook for about 15 minutes, the veggie should be just tender taste for seasoning and adjust as needed, then serve.

Fish and Bean Casserole


I try not to get into the battle of who is right and who is wrong anymore, when it comes to my Ex. There are times when I can’t help myself, but I have gotten to a point where it seems pointless, I can’t change anything, it is what it is and I am quite sure that in his version of events he feels just as wronged as me. The truth of it though is we were equally to blame, we each had our own part in what happened, and I am (said with a huge sigh) certain that some will say it was doomed from the very start. Going right back to the start though, all the way back to the beginning. He alone is to blame only for the beginning though. He is 17 years older than me the same age gap pretty much as there is between my son and I. I was too young and vulnerable back then, messed up, desperate to be loved and feel wanted and incredibly insecure not just with how I looked but within myself in general, convinced I had no real friends and that I was virtually alone in the world. There was of course the “secret” which although will always remain a “secret” loomed over me like a bad omen, that fear that someone might find out and judge me for that too, it was enough to make me feel truly worthless. My Ex is to blame for how it started because he should have known better than to take advantage of someone so much younger than him, no matter how mature I may have seemed at the time. Most of the time these days I rarely dwell on what was, my past mistakes. I just get enraged with the present and how things are, now, but what was, needs to be left there. Despite that though I am crassly reminded of him, every time I try something new, particularly this sort of recipe, because you can safely bet he wouldn’t have allowed this one and if he had, he would have made a fuss about how horrid it was. When Abby was here I made a pasta dish, which she chose (I will post that recipe eventually) in total it cost me about £7.00 to make it. It serves four and that was with generous helpings, that’s £1.75 a head if you hadn’t worked it out already, but according to Abby’s father it was too expensive to make, at least that was he reasoning when she took the recipe home with her – I have come to the conclusion though that it had more to do with the fact I gave her the recipe than to do with the fact it was too expensive, and that in part he does it on purpose by buying the most expensive ingredients, and  we get back to the you pay for the quality you can afford.. Hand on heart I know that the best quality ingredients are going to make an outstanding dish, of course they are but if you can’t afford them you have to buy cheaper. It’s that simple, I won’t go without so I buy what I like to call midrange ingredients, better than the super cheap, less expensive than the best quality that my budget won’t allow for. You’ll have to compromise somewhere, I will for example buy proper Philadelphia cream cheese if I am going to eat it pure, on a sandwich or crackers, but unless it is on special offer, if I am making a cheesecake which uses lots of other ingredients too, I use the cheaper no brand variety. It’s quite simple, when you are on a tight budget you must choose your products carefully. The biggest trick though is to have a constant supply of kitchen staples in your cupboards. Each family is different and my staples won’t be the same as yours, but whatever they maybe, things like a selection of oils, herbs and spices, tinned tomatoes, pasta, grains and rice, tuna, tomato puree, etc. that way when you are looking at a recipe, you’re only having to buy the main ingredients not the entire list. This next recipe for example, I would only have to but the red pepper, butter beans, cherry tomatoes and cod fillet. I am not saying this cuts down on the cost of the meal, of course it doesn’t but with these staples in the cupboard already, it cuts the costs further down the line.  

Fish and Bean Casserole

1 large red pepper, halved and deseeded

3tbsp olive oil

4 rashers/slices of bacon cut into bits

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 onion thinly sliced

2tsp paprika

1 tsp smoked paprika

Generous pinch of saffron

400g can of butter beans, drained and rinsed

600ml fish of veg stock

6 plum or cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters

350g skinned cod fillet, cut into chunks

3tbsp fresh parsley, plus extra to garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh bruschetta to serve

  1. Place the red pepper, cut-side down, in the grill pan. Grill the pepper under a hot heat for about10-15 minutes, until the skin is black. Then place the pepper in a ziplock freezer bag and leave to sweat for about 10 minutes. The bag should stream up which will make the process of peeling the skin off a little easier. Once this is done, peel off the skin and chop into large chunks.
  2. Next you need to heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the bacon and the garlic, fry for a couple of minutes, then add the sliced onion. Cover the pan with either a lid or foil and leave to cook for around 5 minutes, stir in the two paprika, saffron and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Add your beans and just enough stock to cover them. Bring the stock to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes stir every now and again so it won’t stick.
  4. Add the peppers and tomatoes give it a good stir, then add the cod covering them in the sauce, simmer, with the lid on for about 5 minutes until the fish is cooked, stir in the parsley.
  5. Serve the stew into the bowls, garnish with parsley sprigs, with bruschetta.

Muffuletto Sandwiches


I love sandwiches, but I try to avoid eating too much bread because it seems to be one of those ingredients that will insist, on going straight to my hips. Every now and again though I like to eat a big sandwich fully loaded with amazing fillings, this one is no exception. The meat, cheese and then the pickle just work really fabulously together. For a sandwich this was a little time consuming and fiddly, to me a sandwich is a quick meal, something slapped together when time is of the essence, however even with my sandwich mind set, this is definitely worth the effort in my opinion.   

Muffuletto Sandwich

For the olive pickle

1 garlic clove

1 canned/jarred sweet red pepper, drained and finely chopped

75g stoned green olives, chopped

2tbsp cocktail onions, roughly chopped

2 tsp capers, drained and chopped

3 tbsp olive oil

2tsp red wine vinegar

For the sandwich

1 large French loaf

4 thin slices of parma ham

50g cheddar and emmental cheese

50g black pepper, coated salami

  1. Mix together all the ingredients for the olive pickle and then place in the fridge.
  2. Next halve the French loaf, length ways. Layer the sandwich filling parma ham first, then the cheese followed by the salami.
  3. Finally top the sandwich with the olive pickle before you close it.

Almost like a Betty Crocker cake mix.


 

For months I have been searching for that perfect cupcake recipe, the type that is made from scratch but gives you the Betty Crocker type consistency. Everything that I have read on the internet, has said that it is virtually impossible to get that perfect Betty Crocker consistency because of ratios and types of ingredients that go into these mixes, I forget all the reasons there were many of them and to remember them all would require me finding the website again, and making notes. Notes help me to remember these sorts of things and because I have literally note books everywhere for everything, I am easily able to find the information I need if I do forget. I have two for blog notes, four for recipes, one for general notes (that would be this sort of thing), one for recipes I want to try and shopping lists, and I have one that is for lists of any kind and nothing else (I need my lists, I rarely follow them but I can’t function if the list is not there) I have two others that were for course work, one was my creative writing course which took a dramatic nose dive once we got back to this country, work, stress and other commitments, not to mention bad back and dodgy knees, made it impossible for me to get out and do the ground work I needed to do for my articles, I am genuinely gutted about that because I was very much enjoying it…. Writing about something I know gives me a bit of an ego boost. Quite often people call me thick or stupid, usually because I don’t share the same opinion as they have. If I am honest though I would much rather be called any other name under the sun, it just seems at times as though I somehow attract the “You’re mince” comments, which I find far more hurtful than if I had been called a female dog. Obviously I mean the curse word, or perhaps the rude equivalent of a lady of the night/ill repute, or that sort of thing. I hope that my writing shows that I have a little bit more substance that people give me credit for. Then of course my last notebook was about my coursework for my health and social care, which I had started through work and can only do through work, so won’t be able to continue to do that….. I hate to waste paper, but I hate having notebooks for loads of random stuff, which means I’ll end up ripping the pages out, so my notebook is super thin and then it will go in the cupboard and rarely get used, because I am very particular about my stationary, it has to be just so, but I can’t throw away perfectly decent writing paper.. After all that, all I can say is I probably should have made the notes, on why the cake mixes can’t be replicated at home in the first place. One thing I did notice between the Betty Crocker batter and the cake batter that I was following is that the Betty Crocker mixes are somewhat looser so I wondered if a looser batter might be the answer I was looking for. This recipe is pretty close to the Betty Crocker batter and it tastes really good too!


Jaffa Cupcakes

For the cupcakes

70g unsalted butter

210g plain flour (all-purpose)

250g caster sugar

1tbsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

210ml full fat milk

2 large eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

100g marmalade with no bits

For the frosting

450g icing sugar, sifted

60g cocoa powder, sifted

150ml unsalted butter, softened

60ml full fat milk

Mini jaffa cakes to decorate

  1. Preheat your oven to 170˚C/325˚F and line a 12 hole muffin pan with large cupcake cases.
  2. Using a mixer and your K paddle attachment if you have one, mix together the butter, flour, sugar, salt and baking powder, until they look like breadcrumbs.
  3. In jug mix together the milk, eggs and vanilla extract, then with your mixer on a slow speed very slowly add half the milk mixture to the crumbs mixing until combined. Speed up the machine and beat just until there are no more lumps, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to get all the batter mixed.
    Finally slow down the machine again and add the remaining milk mixing until it is completely combined.
  4. Fill each of the cupcake cases so they are about 2/3 full of the batter. Put them in the oven and bake until they are golden on top and skewer comes out clean, about 15-20mins. Leave them to cool a little in the tin and then transfer to a wire rack. Allow them to cool completely before you start to frost them.
  5. On a slow speed mix together the first three ingredients for the frosting, once it is well combined add the milk and turn the speed up, beating until it is light and fluffy.
  6. Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, using a cupcake corer if you have one, otherwise a sharp knife will work, cut a hole in the cupcake, keeping the bit you removed, fill the hole with the marmalade and then replace the cut out bit, press down gently and trim the top so that it is level with the rest of the cupcake if need be. Finally pipe on the frosting, and top with a mini jaffa cake.