Thursday, 26 April 2018

Meet my new control journal (Filofax Notebook review)

I've always been an organised person, at home and at work. I have a work diary, a calendar in the bedroom, a family planner wallchart in the hall, I menu plan and write my shopping list as I go, 99% of our bills are on standing order and I pay those that aren't as soon as they come in, ... However, since Madhouse Daddy died - and in particular since going back to work last week - I feel like my brain has reached its maximum capacity. Part of that is the fact that, seven weeks on, I am still dealing with a mountain of paperwork - a mountain that never gets smaller because as soon as I get close to clearing it, a load more arrives that needs filling in and sending off, accompanied by various photocopies of things that have been filed away for the last couple of decades. Another part is that now, I have to deal with everything and remember everything without a back-up. Madhouse Daddy always did the shopping and, although I gave him a shopping list with everything I needed to get dinner on the table, he was in charge of checking household essentials like toothpaste, toilet roll and dog food. I've forgotten to pick those up on more than one occasion - luckily we have shops very close to the house ! When Filofax got in touch and asked if I'd like to review one of their notebooks, I jumped at the chance. 

There's something very cathartic about starting a new notebook and turning to the first blank page. It's like a literal version of turning the page, wiping the slate clean, finding a new beginning. Very apt for the situation we find ourselves in here at The Madhouse.

The hardest thing is deciding what to write where - there's nothing worse than filling up page 1 then suddenly thinking oh, I wish I'd left a blank page at the start to put that instead. Filofax makes things easier because both the pages and the inserts can be removed and reinserted wherever you want. I keep switching mine around so it's great if you're indecisive or a bit of a perfectionist and want to start certain parts again.

I've decided to make mine into a control journal and it's ideal. As well as having lots of pages to fill, there is a useful pocket that can be used for storing bills to be paid, important notes from school, party invitations or flyers about events you want to visit, all in one place so you know where they are. I also love the ruler that can be pulled off then reattached whenever you need to underline things or make tables to be filled in.

So where to begin? Well, for me, it was time to empty my brain of all the things I need to do, from big stuff like arranging for the headstone and chasing up the remaining paperwork to small, inconsequential things (that are always the ones that risk being forgotten) such as buying a book for Sophie for school or dropping off a cheque at the bank.

Next, a basic shopping list of all the things that are likely to run out regularly - store cupboard basics, cleaning supplies, the aforementioned dog food and toilet roll ! This is my master list, to scan through after menu planning to complete my weekly shopping list and minimise the number of emergency trips to the local shops to pick up what was forgotten.

I'm not someone who stresses over things but I was starting to feel strangely serene and totally in control as I was writing everything down, so I decided to continue "emptying my brain". (I feel like a computer doing a clean up, emptying the recycling bin and deleting old files that aren't needed any more !) Even if they're already jotted down in various places, I made a page of all the upcoming events for me and the kids - meetings, sleepovers, dental appointments, ... The kids invariably tell me about upcoming school events or things they've arranged with their friends while I'm busy cooking dinner or washing up, so this can be the place to jot down anything they don't want me to forget.

It's not allabout serious planning and the boring day-to-day obligations though. I've also started a section that I've called our Fun Times Bucket List - both Big Plans and Small Stuff. Big Plans are mainly days out that will take some organising, like trips to theme parks or towns that are a train ride away, but also include the kids' bucket list of travel destinations. Juliette wants to go to NYC and Canada (sounds good to me !), Sophie wants to discover Antarctica (might be more complicated !) and Pierre wants to visit Paris - well, that one is easy enough ! My work colleagues made a collection after Madhouse Daddy died and gave us a card with a cheque in it, "for us to do something nice as a family when we feel up to it". I promised the kids that we'll go for a day or maybe even a weekend at EuroDisney, maybe for Halloween or Christmas, which they're excited about - I just need to plan it now ! I've also started jotting down things that the kids have asked to do at random moments, so that I can remember during the holidays or weekends. Top of the list was making edible slime - I can tick that one off already ! (Click through if you want to see how we got on.)

 It's a well thought-out notebook, with all sorts of different types of pages that you can buy as refills (blank, lined, squared, ...) and it's already become an integral part of my day-to-day organisation, whether looking for a form that needs to be filled in in the front pocket or checking what I need to buy when I pop to the supermarket.

Filofax Notebook Classics are available in a variety of colours and designs and cost £12.99 each. If you need a reason to treat yourself to a new notebook, did you know it's National Stationery Week this week (23rd–29th April)?

Disclosure : I received the product in order to write to write an honest review.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

#KitchenClearout recipe : Poutine-style chicken & potatoes

I'm on holiday and that usually means I turn to my baking cupboard for a huge clearout, using up ends of packets and seeing what is lurking right at the back. For some reason, this time I decided to tackle the fridge. After a huge stocktake and dejunk of all the half-used condiments and assorted jars, I got out all the leftovers and decided to throw them all together and see what happened. It was actually quite successful ! We'd been to a restaurant with the visiting French grandparents earlier in the week and I opted for a Canadian dish called poutine - their version was made with pulled pork in gravy and BBQ sauce, with chips mixed in and cheese melted on top. That was my inspiration for using up the leftovers from Sunday lunch (and whatever else was in the fridge !).

After a good rummage, I had : 2 roast chicken thighs, 1 ready-cooked smoked chicken thigh, some chips from the chippy - the kids have jumped on board the zero food waste bandwagon and won't throw anything away now ! - some roast potatoes and carrots, as well as some gravy. I also had the end of a bag of grated cheese and some puff pastry offcuts.

 Poutine-style chicken & potatoes

ingredients :

leftover cooked chicken
leftover cooked carrots
leftover cooked roast potatoes
leftover cooked chips
BBQ sauce
offcuts of puff pastry (just because they were there and needed using up !)
grated cheese

Chop the chicken into chunks and put it in an oven-proof dish. Add the carrots, a good squeeze of smoky BBQ sauce and gravy and give it a stir. Scatter over the offcuts of puff pastry (if you happen to have any to hand - I wouldn't add them specially !) and put in the oven at 180° for half an hour while you prepare the potatoes.

Chop the roast potatoes into thick slices and rissole in a large frying pan until they start going golden and crispy. Don't move them about too often, to allow the brown crust to develop. After 10-15 minutes, when they are getting nicely browned, add the chips. Cook for a further 5 minutes until they are heated through and crispy.

Season with salt and pepper. Scatter over the grated cheese and heat for a couple more minutes until it has melted. If you let the cheese melt through to the bottom of the frying pan, it will make a lovely layer of crispy cheese.

Serve the cheesy potatoes then pour the chicken mixture on top.

The kids did say that it looked like a pile of sick, but they wolfed it down all the same ! Tummy fill 1, land fill 0 :)

If you want to see a recipe for a more authentic poutine, you might like my Poutine AKA Posh Cheesy Chips & Gravy post.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Madhouse Diaries : Making Edible Slime

Juliette and Pierre have been obsessed with making slime for months now : fluffy slime, gooey slime, crunchy slime, you name it, they've tried it. Well, there was one type of slime they hadn't tried until this week : edible slime. Pierre has been excitedly showing me videos on youtube about all the different sorts of edible slime you can make and started making a note of all the different lists of ingredients in a little book : Recettes - Slime Comestible (Recipes - Edible Slime). Seeing how seriously he was taking it, I couldn't say no, could I ?!

OK, recipe 1. Take some jelly type sweets and melt them in the microwave.

Mix in icing sugar and a tiny amount of oil to stop it sticking.

 Hmmmm not very convincing as it stayed quite hard. More like modelling clay than slime. But it tasted nice !

OK, attempt number 2. Starting off with mini marshmallows.

Melt them in the microwave and mix in icing sugar.

Supposed to make fluffy slime. Well, it sort of worked because the marshmallows puffed up but it went all hard and breakable when they'd cooled down again.

Next recipe, using gelatine sweets. Melt them in the microwave.

 Add icing sugar and keep on mixing until it starts to change texture. Add a tiny amount of oil if it's too sticky in the bowl.

I was getting bored by now and wandered off but I was summoned back to the kitchen with excited squeals of "Mum, it's working" ! I have to admit, this one was quite impressive (if you're a slime fan) because it genuinely does look and feel like slime and it tastes nice - but I've told them not to eat too much because there are vast amounts of sugar in all of these edible slime concoctions, plus they're sticky so they'll rot your teeth !

Not to mention the fact that's it not very clean to keep squishing it through your fingers before eating it !

Pierre wanted to try one final recipe, using a jar of marshmallow fluff, mixed in with icing sugar and oil. As you can see, it was a total failure but I did get a good laugh out of it !

As I'm on holiday this week, I'm on a concerted effort to clear out the baking cupboard and this was a great project for doing that. I used up a bag of Pina Colada flavoured icing sugar that nobody liked much, some mini marshmallows that had gone hard and a jar of fluff that was lurking in the back of the cupboard, so I'm adding it to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Monday, 23 April 2018

#readcookeat recipe : Lamb Tagine (Court of Lions)

Jane Johnson's Court Of Lions (click through for my review) is a book set in Granada, in both modern and past times, following the trials and tribulations of the last Muslim sultans as they were ousted by the Spanish Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. I have already recreated a Spanish dish that was mentioned in the book - Piquillos Rellenos or Spanish stuffed peppers - but I was also tempted by the mentions of Moroccan and Tunisian style dishes.

p415 After dinner that night - a tagine of chicken with olives and preserved lemon that Abdou had managed to throw together as the sisters talked and talked - Jess took Kate's passport out of her bag and slid it across the table to her twin.

This is a dish that I discovered in Morocco and I've already shared the recipe here : Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons.

I read with great interest the description of another tagine, which cleverly combines influences of Morocco and Spain.

p215 "Lamb tagine," Khadija pronounced. "A classic Berber dish, but with a few Andalusian additions."
She handed Kate a plate and cutlery, then dealt out heaped spoonfuls till Kate had to protest about the limits of her appetite. She was, she noticed, the only one thus honoured : all the others used their flatbreads and fingers to delve into the tagine, selecting their mouthfuls deftly and without spilling a morsel. A neat trick if you could manage it,  but she was glad to have her spoon and fork. Among the tomatoes, peppers and onions and the browned chunks of lamb, Kate found garbanzo beans, apricots, almonds and the hard-boiled eggs Salka had been shelling. The spices were less easy to identify. Chilli seared along her tongue, but its edge had been gentled with cumin and something sweeter - not cinnamon, but something similar that held a faint taste of flowers and honey. And was that saffron that gave the onions their golden glow?

I didn't have garbanzo beans so I replaced them with chickpeas, which are a common ingredient in Moroccan and Tunisian tagines. I rarely cook with lamb - it's an expensive meat and the Madhouse kids aren't that keen on red meat - but I bought some slices of lamb, rather than a big half shoulder, and, mixed in with all the other ingredients and spices, they agreed that it was tasty and made a nice change. They weren't keen on the apricots though - although they like them cold, they didn't like them hot. I thought they added a lovely sweetness and softness to the dish though.

Lamb Tagine

ingredients :

2 onions
1 clove of garlic
drizzle of olive oil
300g lamb, chopped into chunks
salt, pepper
1tsp ras el hanout
1/2tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp ginger
1/2tsp cumin
1/2tsp coriander
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
tin of whole plum tomatoes
1tbsp tomato puree
handful of dried apricots
1/2 large tin of chickpeas
handful of flaked almonds

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic over a low heat until soft but not browned.

Add the chunks of lamb and increase the heat so that the meat is seared on all sides. Season with salt and pepper. You can throw in all the spices at this point or after the tomatoes, whatever you prefer. I usually add them to the meat, so that they form a slight crust, then taste and add extra spices if necessary once the sauce has reduced, just before serving. It's better to add extra later than be too heavy handed at the start and regret how spicy it is !

Add the chopped peppers - you can use red, green or yellow, whatever you prefer. I opted for a mixture as I like the splash of colour that it adds to the dish.

Add a tin of tomatoes and break them up slightly with a knife. Give it all a good stir.

Toss in the apricots and make sure they are submerged in the sauce so that they will go nice and soft.

Finally, throw in the chickpeas and leave to simmer for 20 minutes, adding extra liquid during the cooking process if necessary.

Once the sauce has thickened, taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle over some flaked almonds just before serving.  I realised at this point that I'd left out the boiled eggs that were mentioned in the book - feel free to add those too ! Serve with couscous and flatbread - you can choose whether to eat with a knife and fork or your fingers !

Adding to the #readcookeat linky over at Chez Maximka.

Adding to the #KitchenClearout linky as I used up some ends of bags of dried apricots and flaked almonds, as well as peppers from the fridge.
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