Running in Winter

It can be difficult to motivate yourself to keep running when it gets cold and dark. I certainly find it incredibly hard. But here are my top tips for keeping yourself going when all you’d rather do is snuggle up in your PJs, cracking out the Cadburys….

  1. Go running first thing in the morning, even if it’s dark. Think about how you’ll get to enjoy watching the sun rise as you run. Other motivating mantras at this difficult time include: “I will work up a wonderful appetite for breakfast” and “My boss will be incredibly impressed at how wide awake I am in the boring morning meeting, thanks to the exercise endorphins buzzing through my body…” Your muscles will also be nice and warm from being snuggled up under the duvet, instead of stiff and cold from sitting all day in a slightly chilly room.
  2. If you can’t run because you have to get to work too early, try making it part of your morning commute.
  3. Make it a fixed part of your routine. Don’t keep changing the times you head out. Then you’ll feel off when you aren’t actually running at that time.
  4. Wear lots of layers when running, including gloves, and waterproofs when it rains. Fewer excuses.
  5. Wear decent running shoes that cope with slippery, icy and muddy conditions. Those trail shoes may be expensive but they are worth it!
  6. Short runs, but often are the key. Tell yourself you’ll just do a quickie, and be back in no time, and see how you feel once you’re out there and warmed up.
  7. Play your favourite dance tracks as you run, to get you energised!

Now I’m just going to have to practice what I preach!

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Cheesed Off

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I’m a scrooge at Christmas time, really I am. I am pissed off, and peed off, and cross and grumpy and all manner of things that would have a triad of ghosts clanking their chains hurling down my chimney. There’s something about enforced jolliment that doesn’t seem to work with my nature. I hate all the obligations that I forget to fulfill and how I offend people left, right and centre. Not to mention that there’s not much of a holiday in it for me either – I have worked over many many Christmases, and forsee working over many in the future to come.

Anyway, moving away from this grumpy note, I have had a lot of cheese in the fridge to use up. Hard, soft, squishy – how it all piled up there, I’ll never know. Tarts and quiches are a great way to use up all this leftover cheese. I’ve been making 2 over the past few days, using up all the frozen wholemeal pastry I have stockpiled in the freezer, and they’ve gone down very well. Looking online, I don’t understand why quiche recipes always seem to call for double cream. I use milk, and honestly can’t tell the difference. The wholemeal flour pairs really well with the savoury filling, and next time I think I’m going to use less egg/milk mixture, and throw in more vegetables to cancel out the unhealthiness of the pastry itself.

It’s not a particularly festive thing to make – certainly there is a remarkable dearth of turkey, cranberry sauce or mincemeat, but in my book, it’s far more delicious, and great for entertaining veggie friends – although you could always carnivorate it with chunks of cooked pancetta, bacon, salmon or whatever else you have to hand.

Cheese and Onion Tart

  • 250g wholemeal flour (sift out the chunky bits of bran)
  • 125g butter, cut into chunks (or half butter, half lard)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • a few spoonfuls of water
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • handful of leafy green veg
  • 3 tsp cornflour
  • 250ml milk (roughly)
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g cheese (but you can give or take here)

Make the pastry first by rubbing flour into the butter until breadcrumby then stir in the egg and extra water to form a soft dough. Chill for 30 mins, then roll out to cover a 10 inch tart tin, prick all over the bottom and bake in the oven at 210˚C for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the base with some grated cheese. Set aside.

Gently sautee the onion and veg in a saucepan until soft and wilted, then mix in the cornflour, followed by the milk and cook until the liquid has thickened slightly. Take off the heat, beat in the eggs, and most of the cheese, reserving a little for the top.

Pour the liquidy filling into the pastry case, sprinkle the top with cheese, and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the middle is set. Eat warm.

Chocolate Christmas Cooking

Cooking and baking for communal occasions tends to be freakingly stressful as an experience. You never know what other people will enjoy eating, and thus the bar is already set very high. Chocolate usually goes down very well, so all my Christmas baking ended up having a very cocoa-y theme.

There was quite a lot of stomping around getting cross with myself as I turned out failure after failure. A pastry case crumbled into pieces the moment I removed it from the tin. The chocolate cake initially seemed fine, but the caramelised nuts decorating it decided to start dissolving and ooze messily everywhere. Not the worst thing that can happen in one day, to be sure, but it’s not a great feeling putting in a lot of effort and getting very little success in return.

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I haven’t sampled either of these yet. The cake I’m fairly certain will go down well, it is a tried-and-tested faithful recipe, although it’s not as pretty anymore as it was in the photo. The tart remains to be seen. It’s full of ingredients mashed together in a wholly improvised fashion. So, bon appetit, mes amis. It’s not my best effort, but I tried.

Later: Well, astonishingly the tart turned out to be the star of the day. It was really rich, but everyone loved the flavours. The cake went down well, but really it was the tart that won all the accolades and I’ve been asked to make it again over this festive season – who’d have guessed!

Don’t stop, keep going…

I’m absolutely exhausted. This was one of those weekends that felt like a massive test of my endurance. I’ve been working without a holiday for what feels like a very long time, and I really need a break over Christmas to recharge my batteries!

The tiredness has been affecting my running, which hasn’t been going to plan at all. I’ve managed a couple of short runs here and there, but not much beyond that, which aggravates me like mad. It’s also been impacting of my most recent bakes as well. For instance, last week I decided to bake some fork biscuits, but completely forgot about them when they’d gone into the oven, resulting in the lingering smell of burnt baking wafting through the flat, and potentially most of the building.

So it was with trepidation that I approached the making of my friend’s birthday cake. I decided to go straightforward and simple – make a chocolate sponge in advance, and smother in chocolate icing closer to the date. Easy peasy.

Well, not quite. The sponge went fine – it didn’t rise as well as it could have, but I think that was due to the use of almond milk instead of cow’s milk, as that was all that I had. I tried to make a fancy hazelnut praline to sprinkle on top, but I didn’t have enough sugar, and ended up playing around with it and it somehow ended up as a crunchy chocolatey mixture that didn’t seem much good for anything. Loath to waste it, I spread it into the middle of the cake as a crunchy nutty icing. Dubious about the success of that – but the remaining stages are yet to be finalised when I drape the whole confection in a layer of ganache, and hopefully decorate the top in a suitably celebratory manner. We’ll see.

 

Saffron Risotto

Alternate title for this post: I MADE RISOTTO AND IT WORKED!

But that sounded a bit overexcited.

I love risotto, and it’s one of the dishes I always end up ordering in restaurants. I love the way the grains of rice clump together on your fork, and the smooth melting texture as it enters your mouth and clings to the palate. Yum.

Anyway, it was also one of the dishes I tried multiple times to make, and never succeeded. It was always crunchy and hard, and rather like eating raw rice – not pleasant at all. I couldn’t figure out what I’d been doing wrong at all – until I finally watched somebody else make it from scratch – and realised it had been staring me in the face all along. I simply hadn’t been cooking the rice enough. It’s really important in risotto to use hot stock, but I’d been lazy and not bothered.

Well, to finally have a gloopy (uncrunchy) risotto sitting invitingly on dishes waiting for Friday night supper is a joyous feeling.

Another note, risotto shouldn’t be quite as firm as it appears in the photo, but for some reason I was determined to mould them into mounds, and in retrospective shouldn’t have, because it is lovelier in its less solid form.

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Saffron Risotto

Serves 3

  • A generous glug of olive oil
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion, very finely chopped
  • 300g frozen/fresh prawns
  • small handful frozen peas
  • 300g risotto rice
  • salt and pepper
  • a glass of white wine
  • vegetable stock
  • 1 pinch of saffron strands
  • small bunch of finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp butter

First add the olive oil to a pan, and heat up to a medium-high temperature. Sautee the shallots/onions until soft, then add the prawns and the frozen peas. Sautee a couple more minutes until cooked.

Then add the rice in one go, and sautee on a high heat, mixing well so it’s thoroughly coated in oil. You want to cook it properly at this point, or it stays horribly crunchy later on, and never gets creamy. Once you have cooked the hell out of the rice (but don’t overdo it), add the glass of wine, and enjoy the sizzle as it hits the pan. Add the saffron at this point and a sprinkling of salt.

Meanwhile you should have the stock bubbling away in a separate pan. It must be hot, but you can keep it at a gentle simmer. Add a ladleful to the risotto, and stir ferociously until the liquid is all gone, then keep repeating until the risotto rice is creamy, with just a little bit of bite left. At this point add the salt/pepper/fresh herbs. Then stir in the butter/grated parmesan and serve.