Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas leftover casserole

I cannot believe 2013 is quickly drawing to a close. It feels like it was only just New Year 2013. Thinking back of the year, so much has happened. It was a bad year, it was a great year. We found our dream house and are so happy here, getting settled, enjoying the garden and planning all the things we will do with the house when we can afford it. But from a professional view it was a disastrous year. Which brings me to why I haven't been bloggin in the last few months. And also to why it will hopefully change from now on. 

As I have alluded to before, I have had a rather rough autumn as I have really been miserable at work. I was so excited about my new job in the beginning of the summer, but it turned out to be more or less a nightmare. So I spent most of the fall being completely miserable and then I finally decided I have to do something about it. Since then, pretty much all my energy has been directed at finding a new job. Which I eventually did, and I will start my new job at the University of Cambridge in March. Unfortunately I still have two months left of my old job due to my unreasonably long three month notice period, but it's easier to bear that when I know it will come to an end soon. Not that I'm counting, but when I go back to work after New Year, I have 38 working days to get through. Monday February 24th will be my last day at work and then I have nine glorious days of holiday before I start my new job in Cambridge. 

So eventually 2013 turned out to be the year I quit two jobs. Obviously the first resignation was expected as I came to the end of my post-doc fellowship, but the second one was completely unexpected. I have never truly resigned from any of my jobs before. But there is a first for everything. And one thing I have come to realise is that life is too short to be miserable, even if it did mean I am taking a bit of a pay cut now that I'm changing jobs. I'm not convinced my new job is my all time dream job, but until proven otherwise I will believe it can't be worse than the one I've got now. And hopefully I will stay for more than 9 months, which is how long I managed in the current one. 

But hopefully now that all my evenings won't be spent job hunting I can focus more on cooking and blogging again. And hopefully I will be able to start fulfilling some of my plans such as improving my food photos here on the blog. Now I finally have a bit more space for the food photography, I need to set up some nice backgrounds I can use for my photos.

I started my blog in 2012 and managed a respectable 103 blog posts in the first nine months (I started the blog in April 2012). Sadly, in 2013 I only managed 65 blog posts all through the year, with only four measly posts in the last quarter of the year. Although I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, I am making a New Years wish. I wish I will be able to beat my 65 blog posts in 2014, and I hope I will keep discovering amazing and exciting recipes. 

This year I didn't go back home for Christmas, but we hosted Christmas for the first time in our own home. And not only one Christmas, but two Christmases. In Finland the main Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve. So for Christmas Eve, me the Culinary Consultant and Sis enjoyed a traditional Finnish Christmas Dinner. Then for Christmas Day, we cooked a British Roast Dinner for the Culinary Consultant's family. Cooking two dinners was a bit overwhelming, but on the upside all turned out great. We were also left with a ridiculously huge amount of leftovers. I love leftovers, I love being able to just pile stuff from the fridge onto my plate and eat a mix of everything that was served over Christmas. And I love trying to figure out ways to make something new and delicious from leftovers.

Breakfast casseroles are excellent places to use up leftovers. You can hide anything in a nice mix of eggs and cream. I got rid of my left over sausage meat, leftover ham, some leftover egg yolks, leftover cream and leftover cheese. Actually, the only thing not left over was eggs and the onion. You can replace the sausage meat and ham with any left over meat you happen to have lying around such as beef or turkey.

Christmas leftover breakfast casserole (serves 4):
1 onion
1 tbsp olive oil
250 g sausage meat
3 slices of Christmas ham
5 eggs (I used 4 eggs and 2 leftover egg yolks)
2-3 tbsp leftover cream (can be omitted)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
75 g grated leftover cheese (I used cheddar)

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Chop the onion and the ham. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion until translucent. Add sausage meat and cook for about 10 minutes. In a bowl, lightly beat eggs and cream, add black pepper. Add ham to the onion and sausage meat mix and transfer to an oven proof bowl. Pour egg mixture on top, and top with grated cheese. Cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes until egg has cooked and top is golden brown.

The verdict:
I love breakfast casseroles, I make them all year round. They are perfect for getting rid of practically any leftovers, sometimes I use leftover veg, meat, cheese, practically anything I need to get rid of. Just add eggs (and cream if I happen to have any lying around, but I never get cream specifically for the casserole) and top with cheese. If I'm trying to be really healthy, I leave out the cheese. But as it is still Christmas (kind of) , I added both cream and cheese for that extra yummy finish. The sausage meat we had was also really great, we bought it from our local farm (Johnston of Old Hurst, and no I'm not getting compensated for writing about them, I just happen to like the produce very much). The breakfast casserole turned out really delicious and was a perfect brunch/lunch with a slice of bread.

Card of the day:
I had so many Christmas cards I wanted to show you, but they will have to wait until next December. Also, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sent us Christmas Cards, it has been great to get your greetings and I have all the cards out in our living room, sending good thoughts your way and hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas. 

And now, as the days have started to get longer again, it's time to start getting excited about the arrival of spring. I admit I'm a bit early as we haven't even made it to New Year yet, but I can't wait for all the planting to start. I can't decide which herbs I want, all I know is the abundance of parsley currently occupying the herb garden will go and be replaced by other herbs such as coriander, dill, basil and thyme.

Today's card is made using the Stampin Up' Mixed Bunch stamps and Blossom Punch. The idea is stolen with very little modification from this Pin. The colours are Daffodil Delight, Marina Mist and Pear Pizzazz. The paper is from the International Bazaar DSP and the sentiment is from the Hobbycraft General Sentiments. The ribbon is from my stash of random ribbons. I love the card as it's so versatile and you can add any sentiment inside the card to follow on from the "Just a note to say...". 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Pickled cucumbers and gingerbread houses

I cannot believe it's over a month and a half since my last blog post. I am going through a difficult phase in my life right now, and although I am working really hard to make it better, every time I get close to getting things resolved, I slip right back to the start. I am trying really hard to be positive and believe things will get better, but recently I have been so exhausted that everything apart from the absolute minimum required, i.e. getting out of bed to go to work, have been put on the back burner.

However, I am trying not to sink further into the swamp I feel I am in right now, and trying to get back into some old routines. I suddenly felt like I wanted to write a blog post again. Although I'm not cooking nearly as much as I used to, I am trying to make just a little bit of something every once in a while. The problem is, I haven't been photographing most of my food as blogging has been very far from my mind. I have been crafting a little bit recently, as currently it is a better outlet for my anxiety and depression than any other of my hobbies. So I think for a while, the blog posts will focus more on cards than on cooking.

A while ago, I made some pickled cucumbers. I had no idea how they would turn out, but I took a few photos of them just in case they turned out good enough to blog about. Surprisingly, they turned out not just good enough, but really good! Next year I will definitely make a bigger batch of pickled cucumbers if we manage to get a good cucumber crops. It was also surprisingly easy, although I was a bit worried about sterilising the jar and things like that. But like with so many other things, once you actually get going, it's not as complicated as you made it out in your mind to be. So if you like pickled cucumbers but think it's too hard to make yourself, don't worry, just go ahead and try!

I googled several recipes and made a bit of an amalgamation of them all. They all seem to be along the same lines, although the Culinary Consultant picked this particular one as he liked the thought of the sweet peppers in there with the cucumbers. 

Pickled cucumbers:
3 lbs cucumber (I used one really big cucumber)
3 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar (I used pickling vinegar)
1/4 cup salt (recipe said canning salt, I used regular sea salt)
2 medium white onions
2 sweet peppers
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

The howto:
Slice the cucumber thinly in any shape or form you prefer. My cucumber was getting a little out of date, so I scooped out all the seeds, and then sliced it thinly. I also sliced the onion very thin. Most recipes then instruct you to put the cucumbers and onions in a colander, mix with some salt, weigh down with a plate and leave over night to drain. I was too impatient so I only drained the cucumbers for a few hours. After that, rinse and drain well.

To prepare the jar (I used a Kilner 1l canning jar), wash it well in hot, soapy water. Line a baking sheet with newspaper, and after letting the most of the water drain off the jar, place on the sheet. Preheat oven to 140 degrees C, and place jar into the oven for at least 10 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated. Keep it in the oven so that it is hot until you use it (you should never put the hot pickle mixture into a cold jar). If your jar has a rubber sealing ring, it should be placed into cooking water for a few minutes.

To prepare the pickles, mix the sugar, vinegar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add cucumber, onions and peppers, bring to a boil and let cook for one minute. Add the mustard seeds and dill. Scoop into the can and seal. Let pickle for at least a week or two. I made my pickles a month ago, and they are still fine, so seems like they keep for at least a month, probably much longer. I make sure I only use a clean fork when I scoop my cucumbers from the jar to keep it as sterile as possible, I think this should definitely help keep the cucumbers good for longer.

The verdict:
I was very sceptical about how this whole thing would turn out, especially since the giant cucumber I was using was looking a bit... weird. But the end product is absolutely amazing, and tastes exactly like pickled cucumbers are supposed to taste. We have been using them a lot on sandwiches and burgers. I never thought we would get through the whole big jar, but we have already eaten half of it in a month! Next year I think I will make two different batches, one with the peppers and one without and see whether that makes any difference to the flavour. 

Card of the day:
I recently bought a papercrafting magazine and it came with some free giveaways, such as Christmas themed papers and chipboard cutouts of gingerbread houses. I couldn't resist to play with them a bit and these are the cards I made. Almost all of the materials, apart from the kraft card, some brown cardstock and some ribbon I had in my stash came with the magazine. I also used some Tim Holtz vintage photo distress ink to ink around the edges of the papers to give them a bit of a vintage look.