Sunday, 30 June 2013

Salmon Pepita

I'm always looking for ways to jazz up fish a little.  We probably don't eat enough of it in our house, mainly because it can be a bit dull.  I came across this recipe in my wanderings on the internet and thought with a little tweaking to suit our tastes it could be worth a go for an easy weeknight supper.
The flavours are fresh and punchy so I combined the salmon with seared asparagus tips and smoked sea salt and garlic new potatoes.  Perfect for a summers evening out in the garden with a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some jazz playing softly in the background.  Or in front of the TV while the kids argue about bath-time.  Whichever.

3 fillets of fresh salmon
1 packet new potatoes
1 packet asparagus tips
20g pumpkin seeds
1 red birdseye chili
1 lime
2 cloves garlic
Oak smoked sea salt

Lightly toast the pumpkin seeds in a hot pan until fragrant.  Tip into a cold bowl and grate the lime over the top.  Add the juice of the lime, the chili (finely chopped) and a slither of butter.  Set aside.
In another pot combine another slither of butter with the crushed garlic and oak smoked sea salt and mash well.  Set aside.
Season the flesh of the salmon with pepper and the skin with salt.
Sear the salmon skin side down in a hot skillet lightly brushed with oil until it turns golden and crisp then turn the heat down, flip the fillets and continue to cook until the dark pink turns light all the way through.
In a separate pan boil the new potatoes and the asparagus tips.  After 2 minutes whip the asparagus tips out and add them to the skillet.
When the salmon is cooked, set it on a plate with the asparagus and tip the pumpkin seed mix into the hot skillet.  Cook for 10 seconds until all the butter has melted, remove and top the salmon with the sauce.  Add the garlic and salt butter to the new potatoes and serve.
PS.  This little number ticks all sorts of health diversity boxes.  It's low in fat, low in calories, diabetes appropriate, gluten free, low in saturated fats, low in carbohydrate and high in omega 3.

Clever fishy.

Friday, 28 June 2013

'Tis Pity It's A Wrap

Our production of 'Tis Pity She's A Whore by John Ford has finally wrapped.  I was asked if I would be able to come and do the photography for the play at the dress rehearsal as our usual photographers were not available.  I warned them that I have never photographed a play before and I am still not that confident with the camera but they told me to just come and do the best I could.

I have to admit, I rather surprised myself with the results!  Ok so it's not the best photography in the world but bearing in mind I have NEVER photographed a play in action before and I was competing with the actors (very selfishly I may add) acting, ie. moving, gesticulating and pulling funny faces, I think they came out rather well overall!  I spent most of my time crouched by the bottom of the stage freaking out the cast with my eyes and nose peering up at them like a demented gnome, trying not to trip on my maxi skirt or running up and down the aisle stairs to get elevated shots and occasionally cursing the lighting changes as they played havoc with my focus. 

The only annoying thing was the fact I had not anticipated how quickly this would drain my battery and I was restricted on my options for the dramatic last ten minutes.

I did a little bit of touching up of the photos but nothing too extreme.  I have discovered that the edit tool is handy for getting rid of the annoying neon green exit signs in the theatre that looked rather out of place! 

As mentioned before, 'Tis Pity is not a happy play by any stretch of the imagination.  For those of you unfamiliar with the play, the remainder of this post will outline the plot, complete with pictures.  It's like a blogging picture book.

Giovanni, newly returned from University has developed a passion for his sister, Annabella, despite their blood relations.   He seeks advice from his mentor, Father Bonaventura who discourages the relationship, desperately trying to persuade Giovanni to set his sights elsewhere.
Annabella in turn has numerous suitors begging for her hand in marriage. Bergetto, the simpleton nephew of Donado who is carefree with a happy-go-lucky attitude that means he takes nothing in life particularly seriously.
Grimaldi, a gentleman of Rome and beloved of the Cardinal and an intense rival of Soranzo
And Soranzo, a nobleman who relentlessly pursues Annabella's hand in marriage
Annabella rejects them all and when Giovanni confesses his love to her while briefly hesitant, she reciprocates and they swear their vows on the blade of a knife and their mother's ashes to be with each other or die.
Time passes and the siblings have become lovers, aided and encouraged by Annabella's guardian Putana.
Annabella continues to reject the advances of the suitors.  Bergetto takes this in good spirits and falls in love with a young musician called Philotis.  The two make plans to marry.  Philotis' uncle is Richardetto whom everyone, including his wife Hippolyta, presumed to be dead.
Hippolyta and Soranzo had conducted a sordid affair before the 'death' of Richardetto and she was distraught to learn that Soranzo had now rejected her in favour of Annabella.
Richardetto was aware of the affair and wished Soranzo dead.  He persuaded Grimaldi that the only way he would be free to woo Annabella would be to murder Soranzo.
Grimaldi lay in wait one night with a poisoned blade and ambushed whom he thought was Soranzo, not realising until it was too late that he had in fact murdered Bergetto who was on his way to marry Philotis.
Grimaldi sought refuge against the vengeance of Bergetto's uncle Donado with the Cardinal, who forgave him due to his noble status and sent him back to Rome in penance.
Meanwhile Soranzo was still trying to woo Annabella who continued to reject him to the delight of Giovanni.
The siblings may well have been able to continue their incestuous affair for a long time had it not been for the fact that Annabella fell pregnant with Giovanni's child.  To protect her reputation she was forced to accept Soranzo's proposal and much to both Annabella's and Giovanni's distress, the wedding took place.

At the wedding the guests were entertained by three dancers including a strangely familiar woman.
After the dance was over Hippolyta revealed herself to the guests to the dismay of both Soranzo and Annabella.  Hippolyta had been scheming with Soranzo's man servant Vasques to poison Soranzo at his own wedding.  In return for Vasques' help she would marry him and make him lord of her estate.  However Vasques proved a loyal servant to Soranzo and gave Hippolyta the poisoned cup, murdering her instead.  She dies uttering prophecies and curses at the newlyweds. 
Shaken by Hippolyta's death, Richardetto abandons his plans for revenge and sends Philotis to a convent to save her soul.
Annabella and Soranzo are now living as husband and wife when he discovers her pregnancy.  The two fight and she refuses to tell Soranzo the name of her baby's father.  Soranzo confines her to her room and in desperation she writes a letter in her own blood and gives it to Father Bonaventura to give to Giovanni, warning him that Soranzo knows she is pregnant and will come looking for revenge.
Vasques befriends Putana and bribes her into revealing whom Annabella's bedfellow was.  After Putana reveals all Vasques has her taken away and her eyes put out for the terrible events she witnessed and encouraged.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, events escalate rapidly.  Soranzo plans a birthday party for himself and invites Giovanni and his father, Florio, along with other dignitaries to attend.  Giovanni accepts, well aware that the party is a trap.  He visits his sister in her bedchamber who begs him not to attend knowing that they will both die that night.  During a passionate kiss Giovanni fatally stabs Annabella who dies in his arms.
Utterly crazed by now, Giovanni enters the birthday party covered in blood and holding his sister's heart in his hand.  The shock kills Florio.

Giovanni and Soranzo fight, with Giovanni able to stab Soranzo who collapses.  Vasques in turn fights Giovanni and manages to severely wound him.  Both Giovanni and Soranzo die from their wounds, Giovanni still clutching his dead sisters heart.
The Cardinal pours justice on the remainder of the characters, banishing Vasques back to Spain for his wrong doings and ordering Putana to be burnt at the stake while the church seized all the wealth and riches belonging to the deceased.

The play ends with the Cardinal saying of Annabella 'who could not say "Tis Pity She's a Whore?"

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

When She Got There, The Cupboard Was Bare...

I hate those days when I go to the larder and just stare at it.  Nothing is inspiring, there are just a random collection of tins and jars and you really can't be bothered to go to the supermarket.

I had one of those days this week after work.  I was in a rush, needed something quickly and there was nothing there.  I reached in and came out with a tin of chickpeas and a tin of tomatoes.  That was it.

I rummaged in the freezer and came up with a pack of frozen sausages.

Right - lets work with this!
This is one of the reasons I keep a very well stocked spice cupboard.  I ended up making some sort of chickpea and sausage daal like curry thing.  No idea what you would call it but it was tasty, filling and nutritious.  Considering the disaster most of my food experiments are I was rather proud of this.

I admit some of the spices may be unfamiliar to you but just improvise.  Chaat masala you can buy pre-mixed or just substitute for some cumin, mint, ginger and garam masala and urfa chilli flakes can be substituted for any warm smokey chilli such as chipotle (not birdseye as you want a warm not intense heat here).  You can buy both either online or from any good middle eastern supermarket (Urfa is Turkish, not Indian in origin).

3 sausages
1 tin chickpeas
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 onion
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 tablespoons urfa chilli flakes
2 tablespoons crushed fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons chaat masala (amchur, sea salt, cumin, black pepper, coriander, ginger, ajowan, mint, asafoetida)
Oil (for frying)
Salt and pepper
Good handful fresh coriander

Chop your onion finely and fry in a little oil until soft and translucent.

Finely crush your fenugreek seeds and add it to the onion with the crushed garlic, fennel seeds, urfa and chaat masala.
Cook until fragrant then add the chopped tomatoes and simmer.  Add a little water if it gets a bit dry.

In a seperate pan fry the chopped sausage until browned then add the chickpeas, draining off any excess water during the cooking process.

Add the tomato sauce and a good handful of coriander and cook for another 10 minutes.  You are using the coriander like another vegetable here rather than a herb so be generous.  Spinach and bacon would also be fantastic additions.
Serve sprinkled with some more fresh coriander.  I ate this just on it's own but it would be great with rice, couscous or on a baked potato.
It is not hot in terms of chili heat so good for those who like the complex flavours of curry without the burning mouth and ringing ears that come with it.
Also really nice a day later after the flavours have mellowed and combined a bit more.

Anyone want to name this for me? 

Monday, 24 June 2013

Cupcakes and Cocktails: A Harry Potter Hen Party

One of my best friends is getting married later this summer and as one of her three bridesmaids it fell to the girls and I to organise her hen do.  We spoke to her about what she did and didn't want from her day, what kind of 'vibe' she wanted and what her priorities were.  Ellie was very clear that she wanted an event that was relaxed and where people could get to know each other as there were quite a few different groups of friends coming.

We nodded, took notes and then got our heads together and banned her from all knowledge of our plans.  It drove her mad with frustration but she wanted surprises!
The proposal was seriously romantic in the Great Hall of Hogwarts so when it came to finding a theme to tie all our activities together, it had to be Harry Potter.  It is amazing how far you can run with this once you get going although we were careful not to let it get too 'Halloweeny'.
The theme started a week before when we delivered a poem to Ellie over dinner in one of the best kept little Italian secrets in Canterbury.  The poem was filled to the brim with clues about the activities that she would expect the following weekend.  The poem was delivered via Owl Post and contained as many HP references as I could squeeze in.  It was cryptic but helped to build her excitement (and nerves!)

We had booked a beautiful little village hall for our daytime activities, told the girls to dress up in HP clothing and get there before midday and then we got decorating.

We created a 'Potions' corner and filled it with old jars and bottles that I raided from our Canterbury Players prop warehouse.  I filled the jars with various liquids dyed with food colouring and made mystic labels to try and replicate the potions cupboard.  Some of the contents were edible, but not all!  We had balloons around the room in spring time colours and even an 'owlery' in the foyer.  There were large gothic candlesticks on the window sills, antique clocks and brightly coloured strips of cloth (also raided from our warehouse - it is really rather convenient...) to make tablecloths.  The hall looked like Harry Potter had collided with Easter and we were rather pleased with the effect.
The chocolate ducks, bunnies, hedgehogs and owls were all bought from Badgers Hill.
Ellie loves baking and decorating so a cupcake workshop was the perfect first activity.  The lady who ran it had been briefed about the HP theme beforehand and came fully prepared with a whole host of templates and ideas for decorations.
Each chick got to make a sugar rose with a leaf tag with their name on it for a bouquet for the bride-to-be and then decorate 6 cupcakes to take home.  There was a lot of discussion and friendly competition as the girls tried to make the best witches hat or owl.  I went for a toad contemplating a spell book on a lily pad as my masterpiece!
After the workshop it was time for some lunch and drinks out in the sunshine.  I had made a vast batch of Basil Lemonade which went down rather well with the ladies.
Once everyone had sated their hunger I broke out the next surprise.  We divided the girls into teams and sent them on a HP themed treasure hunt in the hall and the gardens.  Girls who didn't know too much about HP got paired up with girls who were experts.  Giggling the girls sprinted around the hall following a series of carefully devised rhyming riddle clues.  Some of the teams were particularly competitive.

I wonder if you would be faster than the teams were?  Here are two of the clues that the teams had to solve; have a go and write where you think the teams would have found the sticker in the comments section!

This work commute is an unusual sort
All use it the same whether tall or short
Get the wrong one, it could be quite tragic,
It's this way to the Ministry of Magic!

I sat on her shoulder through ages long past
Graceful and deadly and wise
Now I flit through the air so silent and fast
Reflecting the ancients in my goddess' eyes
Once they had returned all the stickers they found to me they each got a little red box with a chocolate frog inside.  Sadly the frog didn't jump and there were no wizarding cards to collect but they were still very tasty and somehow everyone made room to munch on theirs.  It was probably a good thing for all the chicks to have a fully lined stomach as we were nearly ready to move onto the next stage of the hen do.
Treasure hunt complete everyone got dolled up into their glad rags, we quickly tidied the hall, tied the balloons to the hen and told her she had to look after them all evening and we piled into cars to head into town for the next activity.

We parked up and walked Ellie into town.  She had no idea where we were headed but thought it may have been Bramley's, one of our favourite haunts, as we turned down a side street.  We didn't stop there though.  At a rather closed looking venue we opened the door and Ellie found herself in Margaritas, a cocktail specialist.  Here Ellie (and the rest of us) were to receive a master class in mixing cocktails.  We were given tables of shots, mixers and glasses and given a lesson about each cocktail we made, including how to recognise the tell-tell signs of a pre-mix being used; very handy information.
This was fantastic fun as not only did you get to learn about different cocktails and spirits but you also got to drink each and every tasty (and strong) creation.
9 cocktails later we were all feeling decidedly merry and a little woozy!  We sent the below picture to Ellie's fiance.  Annoyingly it didn't go through (although in retrospect it would have made him worried so it's probably a good thing).  I was definitely starting to feel the effects of so many shots in a pretty short amount of time and was finding a lot of things rather amusing.
 Including this toilet sign which I thought was absolutely hilarious!  I still really like it sober as well.
It was definitely time for some food to soak up the lingering effects of those cocktails so we headed our way back out onto the high street, a bit less steady on our heels than we were when we first came in (Canterbury = cobbled streets.  Cobbled streets + heels + alcohol = dangerous) and made our way to the next stop for some pizza.  Our route took us past various well wishers, including one fellow who wished the Bride-To-Be 'Congratulations!  Good luck, men are b*****ds!" 
Over pizza and wine we gossiped, laughed and drank and wolfed down the food as it arrived.

So far we thought we had been pretty nice to our hen! We had let her decorate cupcakes, play in a treasure hunt, fed her numerous cocktails and given her pizza.   It was about time we upped the stakes a bit!  One of the other bridesmaids is incredibly crafty and had made The Monster Book Of Monsters and filled it with a parchment Mr and Mrs Quiz and Russian Roulette chocolates.
The rules were simple, each chick picked a parchment scroll out of the box and asked the hen the question on the scroll that Mr Bride-to-Be had already answered.  If she got the answer right (and the answer was not necessarily the truth but what her fiance would have said) she didn't have to eat a chocolate.  If she got it wrong then she played chocolate roulette.  Some chocolates were nice with peanuts or solid chocolate centres, others less so.  The anchovies in the middle were particularly nasty!
She got her revenge though.  There were three chocolates left at the end of the game...and the three bridesmaids had to eat them!  I got lucky - I had a peanut one but the crafty bridesmaid who had made the game got the last anchovy!

Finally we made our way to The Picture House where we had reserved the gallery for dancing and drinks until the small hours of the morning.  It's an interesting venue, as it's name suggests its also a cinema and while we were there they happened to be showing one of the Bond films (muted) on the giant screen as the DJ did his stuff on the dance floor.
After a lot of dancing, more drinks and a lot more gossiping we realised that the place was closing for the night.  We tumbled out into the street in high spirits, gave out hugs all round and made our way back to our respective homes.  The balloons that Ellie had to carry around for the day were looking a bit bedraggled by this stage, but like the bride-to-be, had survived the hen do!