Too much process, not enough outcome

Listening to Dame Kate Bingham of vaccine delivery fame on the radio: she was commenting on the Civil Service and their inability to respond quickly enough to the pandemic.

Having worked with many Departments, I can recognise her weariness.   Just lately I commented on a Disability Strategy: not a number in sight.   There was no sense of what targets might be met or by when which, of course, meant that there was no chance of measuring progress or failure.

But perhaps we are too simplistic when laying all the blame on those civil servants.   Perhaps it is a Ministerial trait, of all hues, to avoid publishing anything to which they, their Department and Civil Servants can be held to account.   Promising lots is easy but delivery is difficult.   All sorts of problems can arise in the interim, including a pandemic, that throw the best laid plans awry.

On the other hand, isn’t it better to know where a plan has failed, for whatever reason, in order to pick up the pieces, reset the goals and start again?   Talking of plans failing…. …

It was Christmas cakes this week: one big one, 3 smaller and 22 individual.   Just imagine a mix using 4 packs of butter, a kilo of honey, 16 eggs and a kilo of flour.   The Kenwood made short work of the basic mix although the bowl was about full to over-flowing.

There’s an extra-large food quality plastic box kept specially for this annual purpose: alternately layering in the cake mix with masses of brandy-soaked fruit and nuts.   It all went so well with more folding in and spooning into the cake moulds.

Ready for the oven until I remembered that the lemon and orange zest and juice had been forgotten.   Thank goodness for Karen, who diligently and delicately mixed the fresh fruit into the cakes en situ – too messy for me to attempt.

Covered with foil, the cakes took about 2-4 hours to cook at 135C, Gas 1.   Ample time for washing up bowls, work surfaces and me: sticky to the elbows.

Now I’ve time to inject them with more brandy before the final decorations.   I made tiny Christmas crackers in pewter that get piled on top.

(This is the same recipe as the Easter Simnel cake earlier this year but four times the amounts and no marzipan in the middle.   I’ll be posting it in my free Christmas recipe booklet at the start of December – watch out for it or get in touch for a copy.)

My last on-line cooking demo this year is at 1030 on Monday 13 December.   You can sign up here:

Eventbrite:

https://open-sight-humous.eventbrite.co.uk

or follow-on Facebook:

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/events/289090496430530

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gammon rillettes

“Two-thirds of women in the Armed Forces have experienced bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination during their career.” (Parliamentary Report in 2021).

I’ve never been a shrinking violet but still faced the sort of sexual harassment and discrimination that is clearly systemic now.

Joining the Women’s royal Naval Service back in the late 70s, I was completely unprepared for a culture in which women could be denigrated and side-lined.   I still remember physical sexual harassment on two occasions (both by senior officers); being told a job opportunity wasn’t for me because the senior officer would make decisions “with his glands”; being ignored when I complained of discrimination.   There was more and many others faced similar problems.   When involved with the performance appraisal system for some 37,000 RN and RM other ranks, we tried to make improvements by including “equality” in their assessments.   But the officer corps utterly refused to consider that such applied to them.   Years later after leaving the Navy, when advising the MOD, I tried again to Persuade the then Chief of the Defence Staff that equality was fundamental but met with angry rebuttal.   Now it has come back to bite them and about time too.

Just tried to book a Covid booster jab: earliest is a month away and they judge distance as “as the crow flies”.   Portsmouth or Southampton may be only a few miles away if you can walk on water but us lesser beings have to cope with the traffic – and heaven help other older people with disabilities.   I’m not convinced that there is the same sense of urgency or the practical arrangements to make all of this workable when winter flue and other bugs are imminent.

Meanwhile, I was happily making at least 30 delicious meals from a couple of gammon hocks: Under £8 for all the ingredients!

A couple of gammon hocks.

A mix of vegetables, chopped (carrots, onion, celery, parsnip).

Herbs and seasoning (spoonful of black pepper corns, handfuls of fresh rosemary and thyme leaves)

Seal all in a bag and vacuum pack before placing in a sous vide water bath at 70C for 30 hours.   Alternatively, seal in a roasting bag and cook in a very low oven until the centre of the meat reaches 70C – perhaps 6-12 hours depending on size).

Remove the skin, fat and bones to leave just the meat, vegetables and stock.

Shred some of the meat and pack into silicone muffin trays, topped with a little stock mixed with gelatine.   Chill.  (Served with homemade apple, date and walnut chutney plus a little salad garnish for a light supper/lunch or a starter)

Meanwhile, add soaked dried split peas to the stock and vegetables and simmer until the peas are soft.   Whizz until smooth, adjust seasoning and top with small pieces of meat: pea and ham soup.

Freeze the remaining meat for more meals on other days.

Vary the gammon rillettes with chopped parsley, some soaked mustard seeds or both.

 

 

 

 

Fills me with despair

Who would believe that both the United Nations and the UK Government couldn’t plan well enough to make the COP 26 event fully accessible for disabled people.   But I guess that they assume that none of us was likely to be there.   That’s over a billion people worldwide who have just been relegated to the side-lines.

On a more positive note, this year has been one of receiving bounty from many home-growers with surplus produce.   There have been our own apples, Ursula’s quinces, Peter’s blackberries, plums and grapes and now, Joan’s Sarpo Mira potatoes.   These came from her allotment and were a bit too knobbly, slightly damaged or too small to be worth storing.   They’ve promptly been cooked and frozen: enough for 18 individual meals!   Thank goodness we’ve saved them from the compost.

Pommes dauphinoises doesn’t really deserve the title of a recipe but I have learned to use milk rather than cream for better results.   Peeled and sliced potatoes are simply layered into an ovenproof dish with some chopped garlic, butter flakes, salt and pepper between each layer.   Pour milk to nearly cover the top layer and put in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 until the potatoes are soft (probably at least an hour depending on how deep is your dish).   Allow to cool if freezing or devour greedily straight away.

I swear by my potato masher.   It is like one of those hand wand whisks but has a very different action.   Instead of just chopping/whizzing the potato which risks it becoming too starchy, the blades push the potato through little holes – just like an old-fashioned hand-masher.   Perfect for your neeps and tatties or other mash/puree.   I’m sure that the uses are endless and there’s another blade that is apparently for making cakes – never used it!

My apologies for getting the date wrong for the great Christmas pudding free demo next week: Monday 8 November at 1030.   Book via:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/190904710127

I’m trying to eat up the last of the 2020 puddings which have lasted perfectly in a cupboard and take only 3 minutes in the microwave on Defrost.   Christmas any day of the year which pleases the sous chef enormously.

 

 

 

 

 

Simply delicious

The sous-chef has had his booster shot this week.   More by luck than due to any organisation.   Bookings had been made for over 350 people within about 45 minutes at one single-handed chemist.   The maths just don’t work when there’s paperwork to be filled in too.

It was a very long queue with many very old, disabled and fragile people spread out through the car park and pavements of adjoining streets.   By the time he was about 100 away from success, they were already running out of vaccine.   Being a man of initiative, the sous chef grabbed the chance of an alternate pharmacy a few miles away: no queue, three people manning the operation and totally slick.

Reports that booster jab offers aren’t being taken up may be misleading.   There’s lots of willingness out there but an organisation that isn’t working (and it’s not the NHS).

On a happier topic, what do you do with quinces?   In the past, I’ve reduced them to a puree, thickened it with sugar and made simple little fruit pastilles.

But this week, a neighbour delivered her total crop of 10 quinces (bad weather etc) and I was in a quandary as to how to use them with no effort.   Here’s the resultant recipe that proved quick and easy:

 

Half a lemon, juiced.

1 litre water.

250g honey.

250g sugar.

10, quinces, washed.

 

Place the husk of the juiced lemon in a pan with the water, honey and sugar.   Bring to the boil gently to dissolve the sugar and allow to cool a little.

Quarter the quinces and remove the pips with a dessert spoon before rolling them in the lemon juice.

Place the quince pieces in a flat-bottomed roasting pan, pour over the syrup (having removed the lemon husk).

Cover with baking paper and a tight cover of foil.

Bake at 150C, Gas 2 for 3 hours.

Remove the paper and foil before returning to the oven to colour a little for 20 minutes at 200c, Gas 6.

Remove the quince pieces and reduce the syrup in the roasting pan on the stove top.   Pour over the quinces and serve.

These are still mouth-puckering tart and we found the answer was a light crumble topping.   Simply rub oats, butter, soft brown sugar (or honey) and crushed hazelnuts together (Proportions are 2:1:1:1 by weight).   Spread a few handfuls on baking parchment and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes.   With a dash of cream, yoghurt or custard, the crumble-topped quinces were perfect.

Don’t forget the free Christmas pudding on-line demo at 1030 9 November:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/190904710127

 

 

 

 

Last of the apples?

How sad am I?   Learning the authentic names of our “heritage” apples was rather thrilling!

Thanks to Chris Bird of Sparsholt Horticultural college (near Winchester), we learned that apple trees over 50 years old are deemed heritage.   Ours are remnants of a Victorian orchard that pre-dates the 1890s house by at least 20 years.

Many modern apple varieties are often self-fertile whereas older ones tend to fall into one of four different pollination groups.   With the help of bees and other insects, they will cross-pollinate with other trees in the adjacent group so the most popular trees were those in group 3: able to pollinate with both 2 and 4 which explains why many orchards were a mix of trees.

The College is undertaking a major research project (DNA and all) into such trees in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.   Rather than somewhat boring Golden Delicious, our yellow apples, each with one or two ridges from stalk to top, are much older Emneth Early culinary (cooking) apples.   The other cookers are more esoteric than the usual Bramley: Victorian Lord Grosvenor and Lord Derby varieties.   The Cox’s Orange Pippin was highly commended for great colour although our fruit was sadly subject to “bitter pit” due to not enough water or calcium!   We even sneaked in a couple given to us by French friends in Normandy: Ashmead’s Kernel and Lord Lambourne look-alikes.

He gave tips for pruning: cut out dead, disease, damaged and crossing/congested once the leaves have fallen from full-size trees.   You don’t need to worry about cavities but might prune to reduce the weight and risk of breaks.   Even fallen apple trees are able to regenerate as they send up new growth.

Seaweed is excellent nutrition for apple trees and is applied around the “drip-line” (below the outer edge of the branches as the root structure mirrors the tree shape) twice a year just after the leaves have dropped and just before they bud again.   Sticky bands are good for winter moth whereas pheromone traps sort out the male coddling moths.

Apples are best stored at about 3-5C, don’t need wrapping in paper and should be stalk down.   I need to revisit my mushroom trays in the shed and get them the other way up.

I learned lots about old, big apple trees but he had tips galore for those dwarf patio trees, espalier and more.

Meanwhile, I’m still getting the odd windfall and made this quick apple sponge:

50g butter.

1 tablespoon honey.

3 firm eating apples, cored and sliced.

3 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced.

3 eggs.

same weight butter.

same weight honey or sugar.

same weight self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

 

Generously smear the sides and bottom of a 9-inch silicone mould with butter and add a tablespoon of honey.

Layer the eating apples around the base and top with any remaining pieces of the butter.

Layer with the cooking apple slices, retaining about eight slices.

Whisk the butter and honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in each egg separately with a teaspoon of flour and then fold in the remaining flour and vanilla extract.

Pour the mix on the top of the apples, thumping the whole cake mould on the work surface a few times so the mix settles amongst some of the apple.

Decorate the top with the remaining slices of apple.

Place on a pre-heated tray at 180C, Gas 4 for 30 minutes.

Cover with a double layer of foil and cook for another 20 minutes.

Switch off the oven and let the cake continue to firm as it cools.

Turn-out upside-down on a plate once cool.

 

Free on-line Christmas pudding cooking demo – laugh as blind cook struggles to cover the puds:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/190904710127

 

 

 

 

 

 

A breath of French air

I only just survived the traumas of a quick trip to France which was complicated by the tail end of the Covid tests.

We went fully equipped with £270 of test equipment as required by the Government and sold by the travel company.  Diligently, I had sticks pushed down my throat and stuck up my nose, scans taken and uploads repeatedly attempted.  Absolutely no luck as the recipient website refused to accept all data as did the official at the ferry terminal a day later.

It was late at night and we had no choice but to find an emergency hotel: rooms so small that they were called cabins and I could touch multiple walls without moving so no chance of getting lost.  But we were hugely thankful to get a bed for the night, an immensely helpful French pharmacist who resolved the tests in a trice (and at less than a quarter of the price) and were gleefully admitted to the hallowed ground of the ferry queue.

Even better, the daytime sailing allowed a little recreational shopping before all the facilities on board, including the café, closed.  Even better luck in Portsmouth: I was concerned that we might have exceeded our wine allocation and so was ready, receipts and purse in hand, to satisfy the duty Customs officers.  But nary one in sight – we were simply pushed through the Exit.

The roads home were less propitious: dark, heavy rain, multiple flashing police lights and a diversion through the nether regions of Paulsgrove and Portchester.

The utter delight of one’s own bed, safe and sound for a long sleep.

This recipe was inspired by another beekeeper who has plied us with his enormous harvest of delicious grapes.  Between this, litres of juice, attempted drying and an experimental  chutney, I hope we have done justice to his crop.

Grape and frangipane tart.

1 sheet bought or home-made puff pastry.

3 eggs, beaten.

150g honey.

150g butter.

1 teaspoon almond extract.

150g ground almonds.

500g grapes, picked and washed.

Cover the base and sides of a loose-bottomed tart tin with the pastry, prick with a fork and tightly cover bottom and sides with a sheet of foil.

Cook in a preheated oven 180C, Gas 4 for about 14-15 minutes.

Remove the foil and brush the base and sides with some of the beaten egg.

Return to the oven for a further 3-5 minutes.

Rebrush the base with a little more egg while still hot.

Leave to cool.

Beat the honey, butter and almond extract together until light and fluffy.

Add the remaining beaten eggs a little at a time with some of the ground almonds, beating until fluffy.

Fold in the remaining ground almonds.

Place a layer of grapes on the base of the tart.

Cover with the frangipane filling.

Press any remaining grapes into the frangipane.

Cook for 30 minutes then cover with a piece of foil for a further 10 minutes.

 

Winter warmer: tarragon chicken

Want something to cheer up a wet miserable morning?

Sign up for a free on-line cookery demonstration on Monday 11 October at 1030 at:

Eventbrite link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/winter-warmer-baking-session-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-people-tickets-171094306677

 

You can cook along with us or just sit back and enjoy the fun.

This is a perfect dish to cook ahead: simple; one pan so not much washing up; freezes well; good for colder weather.

All you need is:

3 onions peeled and diced

5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 knob butter

10 (1kg) chicken thighs, skinned

1 large glass dry white wine

1 lemon, zest and juice.

2 chicken stock cubes

1 tablespoon fresh French tarragon leaves, chopped

3 heaped teaspoons cornflour

Salt and pepper to taste.

A large lidded pan that can be used on the stove top and in the oven – I use a cast-iron pan.

 

Next time in November, we will be making Christmas puddings.   If you get the chance, start soaking the raisins, currants and sultanas in some brandy, port or sherry.   Details to follow.

 

 

 

Last of the tomato glut

The joys of dealing with Government civil servants: they knew that I use a screen reader but still wanted to send me documents in large print!   I’d be more empathetic to their ignorance if they weren’t under a legal responsibility to make their services accessible.   If they don’t understand the basics as part of their professional skills base, what hope is there?

But, in case you too are befuddled by some of the adaptive technology speak, here’s a little crib:

Braille: used by some visually impaired people; often those who have had limited sight since an early age; learning Braille after about age 50 is difficult due to reduced fingertip sensitivity; many Braille users may also use other forms of IT accessibility; they may “print” Braille on special printers and may have electronic Braille readers.

Large print: some may require documents in different sizes (I used to use 36-point font in Bold; many will use other IT accessibility methods; many will adjust the size of an electronic document to print the appropriate size if they need a hard copy.

Screen magnification: various features enable the text, cursors and other features displayed on the screen to be enlarged; often this means that individuals cannot see the whole screen at one time (avoid material that is on the right); they may also print in large text.

Screen readers: people like me can only access documents independently that are provided electronically and formats other than Word may be inaccessible with their particular screen reader software; pdf documents are often inaccessible; tables ditto; images and logos are inaccessible; punctuation needs to be immaculate especially at the end of headings and in lists or all the words are read as a long sentence; documents don’t need to be in any different size font; Excel spreadsheets are highly risky; form completion can be impossible.

Hope that this little taster is useful –it doesn’t attempt to cover speech recognition and more.   Accessibility of electronic information varies between different software as some is free with such as Microsoft and Apple whereas other costly software is specifically created for disabled people.

Now for something much more fun and positive: immeasurably precious after months of nurturing, the last tomatoes are ripening and I wanted to make the best of those that had split or gone a little soft.   A pasta sauce was the answer:

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped.

4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped.

2 sticks celery, peeled and finely chopped.

3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped.

10 pieces dried tomato, finely chopped.

tablespoon each of thyme, rosemary and tarragon leaves, chopped.

teaspoon ground black pepper.

3 tablespoons olive oil.

750-1000g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped.

large pinch of salt.

tablespoon basil leaves, torn.

 

Sauté the onion, carrots, celery and herbs in the oil over a gentle heat for about an hour.

Add the tomatoes and salt and continue to gently cook,

Add the basil and any other fresh herbs to hand and continue to cook for about 30 minutes.

Serve with cooked pasta, topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese, chopped black olives or the garnish of your choice.

My Tips:

The key to this sauce is the slow cooking.   I used a heat diffuser over the lowest gas flame possible and let it splutter away for at least two hours.   With the lid on, the vegetables reduced to about a quarter of their size before the tomatoes were added.   It took no effort after the initial chopping other than to stir occasionally and check nothing was sticking.

Delicious, robust and full of fresh goodness that celebrates tomatoes.

 

The next on-line cooking demo is at 1030 on 11 October.  Please do join in.  The links are:

Eventbrite link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/winter-warmer-baking-session-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-people-tickets-171094306677

Facebook Link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1073961713195536

 

 

 

 

London Pride

Staggering: the value of vulgarly ostentatious cars littering the streets in the capital.   Totally alien for we country mice.

Here we are: moving sluggishly towards better environmental living while some are still strutting their stuff: ridiculous personalised number plates; boorishly huge cars; speed capacities that can never be legal on UK roads.   It probably seems a bit sexist to guess that most of the drivers/owners are men but who else needs to constantly primp and preen their alleged prowess with something as culturally obsolete as a big fast car?   Though there were some women who flaunted names on their plates.   Too many with too little self-confidence.

Amazing what was on show during 12 hours in London and on the road. Some of them seem an alien race.

Back in the simplicity of home, the preserving goes on: more dried plums, tomatoes and apples; more grape juice; experimental grape jelly; outstanding homemade Christmas mincemeat with our own apples and honey.

The high spot has been making Karen’s Mum’s marmalade cake with a jar of homemade from Liz and then, of course, changing it a bit.   This is a very unusual mix with water, not much butter and the marmalade.   On the other hand, I made the whole thing in a saucepan and cooked it in a silicone loaf mould so not much washing up!

 

250ml water

220g sultanas (previously soaked in some alcohol if possible)

50g butter

220g orange marmalade.

150g sugar

3 eggs, beaten until fluffy.

300g self-raising flour.

Pinch salt.

 

Put the water, sultanas, butter and marmalade into a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat, stir in the sugar and leave to cool.

Mix in the eggs and then fold in the flour and salt.

Place in a silicone loaf mould and cook in a preheated oven 180C, Gas 4 for 45 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 165C, Gas 3, cover with a double layer of foil and cook for up to a further 60 minutes.

Check that the cake has reached about 95C or a skewer comes out clean before removing from oven to cool and turn out.

 

This cake was still moist a week later and had a subtle orange flavour – the sultanas sank a bit but nothing’s perfect!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Garden Party

 

Thanks to the Not Forgotten Association for organising a lunchtime musical entertainment at the Grange, near Arlesford in Hampshire, this week.

Amidst the singalong sessions, the high spots were: The venerable gentlemen of the Glen Miller Tribute Band, complete with huge American flags; the ladies of a certain age from a care home winning their champagne prize for distinctive pink wigs – definitely the Best Dressed; the owner of the striking 5 litre Audi v10 car who opened his rear engine compartment to show everyone his parts; the stream of volunteers from the military and business who’d given up their time to assist – even sprays of water in the hot September sun.   There was no doubt that songs over 50 years old got the best reception but nothing stopped the mature jivers strutting their stuff.

Lord Ashburton told us a little about the Grange’s history: originally a simple brick building, an ambitious owner centuries ago had commissioned the National Gallery architect to create something more splendid.   The result was a new-build: large and impressive with striking Doric portico.   Not to be outdone, a subsequent owner had added a flashy Ionic portico at the other end (in front of the old orangery).   Nowadays, the orangery has been replaced with a new building hosting opera and other events while the house is too dilapidated for occupation and has passed into the grasp of English Heritage.

At our more humble home, apples are still thumping off the trees.   Homemade Christmas mincemeat is one solution for using about a pound of peeled, cored and chopped fruit.   I’ll be doing an on-line demonstration of this at 1030 on Monday 13 September – sign up for a free ticket: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week we have also been managing a glut of tomatoes and decided to dry them.   The result is not quite the authentic “sun-blushed” type but will be good to bring the taste of summer into winter dishes.

Many people simply place dried tomatoes in jars covered with olive oil.   I was trying an extra step by using heat to both expel all air from the jar and avoid botulism.   I’m told that the bug is killed at 85C for 5 minutes.   I gave the jar 30 minutes at a degree higher to allow the temperature to fully penetrate the contents.   If I’m dead next year, you’ll know it didn’t work!

 

ripe tomatoes.

sea salt and ground black pepper.

a little vinegar (optional).

olive oil.

 

Halve or quarter the tomatoes and dip the cut sides in a mix of the salt and pepper.

Place on racks in a dehydrator or on parchment paper lined trays in the oven (150C, Gas 2).

Keep drying until they feel leathery.

Place in a jar or airtight container for 24 hours to “condition “.   The degree of driedness equals out between the tomato pieces.

If using, briefly dip in vinegar to offset the tomato sweetness with a little acidity.

Pack in a jar with a silicone ring and metal clip, topping up with oil.

Place the clipped closed jar in a sous-vide waterbath or saucepan and bring the temperature to 86C for 30 minutes.

Remove and cool in cold water.