Risotto pescatori.

 

Liz, I know that you are out there! I wonder if you remember us searching restaurants in Caserta looking for one that would serve both spaghetti alla putenesca  for you and risotto pescatori for me?  My recollection is of two tall, bronzed, dark-haired young women striding through the streets – we looked quite Italian but, being so much taller, drew many eyes.

We finally found a restaurant and devoured our lunch with at least one bottle of Mateus Rosé and were complaining to each other about our respective love lives.  Then we went to the Palace of Caserta and took a pony and trap ride up the length of the very long water feature in the gardens.  The driver tried to make us walk up the steep bits but we declined.  There was a fountain at the very far end and we caught a little train coming back.

My sous chef has been experimenting with the risotto and adapting his usual prawn version with the addition of mussels and scallops.  I made your spaghetti and thought of you many times when I was cooking it in France, where it was extremely popular.     It is over 40 years since I first went to Italy thinking no further than spag bol – now, I know much more about Italian cuisine and can even cook some of it too.

 

 

 

Hot Stuff

What Government organisation interacts with just about every disabled person in the country and should be leading the field on accessibility etc?

Give up? It is our National Health Service and you may already have heard the reports that disabled people are disproportionately dying from Covid.  Set aside the arguments about priorities for vaccinations and just consider the mechanics of actually getting one.  For me, our glorious NHS stumbled at the first fence: is there any point sending a printed letter to a blind person?  Years ago, I’d done as requested and told them how I need information but it was clearly barking at the moon.  I realise that I could have waited for contact from my GP but hadn’t had a peep after four days.

Luckily, I had someone around who I could trust to read my mail, take me to the appointment, guide me through the various stages and get me back.  But I suspect that there are many others who don’t even know that they’ve been counted towards the target as having been “offered” a vaccination, let alone been able to get it. OK: rant over.

These samosas filled with lightly-curried vegetables follow the theme of eating lots of different plant-based foods – and are also a good way of using anything left over at the end of the week.

 

1 tablespoon oil.

1 onion, peeled and diced.

2 portions GGG.

2 rounded teaspoons garam masala.

1 teaspoon each cumin and coriander powder.

Half a teaspoon each of turmeric, chilli and paprika powders.

A mix of vegetables cut according to their hardness – carrots small, mushrooms larger.

About 6 tablespoons water

2 rounded soup spoons coconut powder.

12 sheets filo pastry, cut in half lengthwise.

Oil for brushing/spraying.

Sesame seeds to finish.

 

Gently sauté the onion and GGG in the oil until softened.

Add the curry powders and heat until they smell spicy.

Add the hardest vegetables, followed by the remainder after a minute or two.

Add the water and stir to remove any of the curry powder on the bottom of the pan.

Cover and cook over a gentle heat:  the vegetables on the base will be heated while the remainder steam.

When the vegetables are just softened, stir in the coconut powder and remove from the heat.  Replace the lid and allow to cool (perhaps overnight in the fridge).

Cut the filo pastry in half lengthwise and keep covered with a damp tea towel while making up the samosas.

Brush a strip of filo with a little oil.

Place a spoonful of the vegetable mix at one end of the strip – in a little and on the right-hand side.  Fold the left-hand corner over the filling to create the basic triangle shape.

Fold the triangle away from you, then to the left, away from you again.

You will probably have got nearly to the end of the filo strip so fold over the last pieces, brush with a little oil and dip one side in sesame seeds before placing on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Cook for 10 minutes Gas 4 and then turn over to crisp the underside.

 

If you don’t have a whole range of ground spices, just the garam masala or a curry paste/mix will do as well.

I used: 2 carrots, 1 sweet potato, 12 French beans, 12 sugar snap peas, 1 red pepper, thinly-sliced broccoli stalks, 2 tomatoes, 5 mushrooms, 1 courgette – whatever you have available – and had some filling left-over.

GGG is ginger, garlic and green chillies (de-seeded) in weight proportions of 8:4:2.  Roughly chop and then reduce to a rough paste in a food processor.  Divide into teaspoon portions and freeze ready for future curries (Indian, Thai, Sri Lankan etc).

These are quite fragile crisp hot parcels with a moist but not runny filling.  They need something “wetter” served with them – perhaps a yoghurt raita or we have delicious home-made and home-grown tomato chilli jam.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/baking-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-blind-people-tickets-141946530895?ref=eios

 

Desserts from leftovers

 

Another week of culinary experiments – it is good to have the leisure with lock-down.

Firstly, I’m proud to report that the sous chef’s panettoni was magnificent on the second try and made full use of the faffing candied Seville orange peel from a few weeks ago.

 

But it did produce spare egg whites and I’d already done macaroons last time.  I made up this chocolate mousse dessert with what was to hand including some rather mature 70% cocoa solids chocolate that had developed a bloom (not mould but just the surface discolouring).  I used cream to replace the egg yolks and, only having single cream, three threw in some milk powder.  Thanks to a super American cup measure, it is easy for me to put the ingredients together when using American measures in recipes:

 

200g dark chocolate.

1 cup single cream.

1/3 cup milk powder.

3 egg whites.

 

Very gently heat the chocolate, cream and milk powder in a pan until the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients can be mixed together.  Allow to cool.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peak.

Place a quarter of the egg whites in a bowl and fold in the chocolate mix.

Add a further quarter of the egg whites and fold in.  Repeat twice.

Place the mousse mix in containers and chill for at least 12 hours.

I made four huge servings – these amounts would really do 6-8 of normal size.

 

I wanted to use more of the spare single cream so knocked up some very simple egg custards to turn in to crème brulée using the trusty sous-vide.

 

2 eggs.

¼ cup sugar.

1 cup single cream.

1/3 cup milk powder.

½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

Small pinch salt.

 

 

Place all the ingredients in a jug and whizz with a wand-blender for one minute.

Pour the mix in to bottling jars (the sort with rubber seals and clips or screw tops).

Place in a sous-vide water bath, covered with water and cook at 81.5C for an hour.

Chill and turn out on to a plate.

Top with a little caster sugar and caramelise with a blowtorch (others with no sight like me may care to entrust this bit to the sous chef).

Serve with some fresh fruit to pretend it is healthy.

These quantities made 4 servings (normal size!) but we ate them before remembering to take a picture.

 

 

 

 

 

Too many cooks?

 

No, it was super to be doing another on-line cook-in  this week  https://youtu.be/4lkmaV_8Yx0 -mainly people from Hampshire but also drop-ins from India and Holland.

We were doing the excellent ginger biscuits which seemed to work for most people but one thought there was too much spice.  Another had probably got the proportions a bit awry and ended up with rather a sticky mix and enormous biscuits (more like brandy snaps).  Hopefully, we will be doing some more sessions in the future.

Yes, there were too many cooks a little later as I started on the washing -up: good squeeze of Fairy and hot water pouring in only to discover that the sous-chef had already filled the bowl with spinach leaves for lunch!  It took a lot of rinses to remove the lingering lemon fragrance and bubbles – one way of making sure that the Covid virus hadn’t strayed in!

We’ve been counting how many different plant foods we eat after hearing Professor Tim Spector on the radio (The Spark on BBC R4 29 January for those using BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000rlpz ).  He’s a whizz on gut flora and fauna: the basis of good health, diet and weight-loss.  Thirty different plant-based foods a week sounds a lot until you count garlic, herbs, rice and more.    Yesterday, we gleefully achieved 30 in one day, thanks to simple roast vegetables (and feel so much better and virtuous for doing so).

 

Hard vegetables: all peeled and chopped.

2 potatoes.

1 swede.

2 parsnips.

1 turnip.

4 carrots.

 

Softer vegetables:

2 onions, peeled and diced.

3 tomatoes, quartered.

A handful of dried tomatoes, chopped and soaked in a little water.

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped.

3 sticks celery, peeled and chopped.

3 peppers, de-seeded and chopped.

1 bulb fennel, chopped.

1 butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped.

1 heaped tablespoon thyme leaves.

1 heaped tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves.

Olive oil.

Salt and pepper.

 

Cut the vegetables to about fork-size – not tiny pieces nor great lumps!

Put the peeled hard vegetables in a pan, just covered in cold water, and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Drain.

Meanwhile, line a deep roasting tin with foil (to save on washing up) and mix in all the softer prepared vegetables with a tablespoon or so of oil, herbs and a good seasoning of salt and pepper.

Mix the parboiled vegetables and place on top of the roasting pan, seasoning again.

Drizzle over with a little more olive oil.

Cook Gas 4/180 C  for about 45 minutes before mixing again and returning to the oven for about 30 minutes.

Cooking times are flexible as it depends on the size of the pieces– test them with a knife.

By my reckoning this would give you about  half the different plant foods you need a week in one dish so some greens on other days plus fruit should about meet the target.  Freeze portions of the roast veg for future weeks so they are half done too!  You can vary the herbs and vegetables  according to season and to ring the changes.


Sticky to my elbows

 

Part of the fatigue management programme (see last posting) is about doing something each day just for fun and pleasure.

This week, it has been candied peel for the sous chef who has been making panettone, that tall Italian brioche-like bread.  Of course, being a man, he has to have all the right accoutrements down to the fancy cardboard case for the final rise and baking – with bamboo skewers inserted so that the edifice can be suspended upside down when it cools (avoids the soft creation collapsing).

Anyway, he wanted proper candied peel and, with Seville orange season upon us, I obliged and now have a stock for fruit cakes, Christmas puddings and gifts.

The actual work of this recipe is dead easy, doesn’t take much time but is spread out over about a week.  The really messy bit is taking the peel off the parchment paper, rolling in caster sugar and storing in boxes.  Even with several hand-washes, I was sticky everywhere and the floor needed a good mop through.  But the result was worth it all.

 

3 lb Seville oranges (or any citrus fruit)

1500g granulated sugar

Caster sugar for storing.

 

Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out all the juice.    I have a whizzy electric “lemon squeezer” which makes this very easy.  I used the juice in marmalade.

Remove any remnants of the flesh, pips etc. from the fruit halves.

Place the fruit halves in a pan, covered with water (weighed down with a plate if necessary).  Don’t use more water than needed.

Simmer for 1-2 hours until the peel is soft but not falling apart.

Add 500g sugar and stir gently over a low heat so that it dissolves without breaking up the peel.  Once dissolved, boil rapidly for 30 minutes.  Leave the peel in the syrup for 24 hours.

Repeat the addition of 500g sugar, dissolving, boiling, standing.

Repeat again.  By this time, the cold syrup should have reached the consistency of thick honey.

Gently warm the peel and syrup – just enough so that you can remove the peel from the syrup.

Place the drained peel on baking trays lined with parchment paper and place in the oven on the very lowest heat for 6 hours to dry as much as possible.  Leave in the oven until completely cool.

Put caster sugar into a bowl and roll each piece of peel in the sugar before placing in an airtight storage box, interleaving layers with parchment paper.  Add any remaining caster sugar to the layers to keep the peel separate.

I’ve stored peel like this for at least 12 months.

 

The remaining orange-flavoured sugar syrup and the caster sugar from the boxes can be used in puddings, baking, pannetone and next year’s marmalade.  Nothing wasted!

Slothful suppers

 

I’m half-way through my “fatigue management” programme – trying to resolve the shattering exhaustion that can creep up on me following the accident.

Getting   thoroughly overtired plus the slower brain (another consequence) on top of blindness makes me a risk to everyone: clumsily blundering around and not quite knowing what I’m doing.

I am managing to pace myself a bit better, take a break when I notice the warning signs and set better daily and bedtime routines but there’s still some way to go.

One of the tips from the Occupational Therapist was to have a light and early supper, ideally by about 1900.  Usually supper is now homemade vegetable soup, sardines on toast or a little paté – and it means that there’s more of the evening to enjoy too.  My latest creations were Mediterranean vegetable tartlets:

3 onions peeled and roughly diced.

1 bulb garlic peeled and chopped.

3 peppers, de-seeded and chopped.

2 courgettes, chopped.

1 large handful dried tomatoes, soaked and chopped.

3 tomatoes, chopped.

4-6 slices ham or bacon.

2 handfuls pitted olives, halved.

4 mushrooms, sliced.

Leaves from a large handful thyme.

Leaves from 3 twigs rosemary.

500g shortcrust pastry.

4 eggs, beaten.

3 tablespoons cream.

 

Sauté the onions and garlic in a little oil until softened.

In a separate pan, sauté the peppers until softened then add the courgettes, tomatoes, ham, olives, mushrooms and herbs.

Add the onion and garlic to the rest of the vegetables, mix and allow to cool a little.

Roll out the pastry and line individual loose-bottomed tartlet tins.  Prick the bases with a fork and press a piece of kitchen foil over the pastry (easier than using beans when baking blind).

Cook the pastry cases 200 C  or Gas 6 for 10 minutes, remove the foil and brush the pastry with beaten egg.

Return to the oven for another 2 minutes for “waterproofed” pastry cases.

Fill each case with vegetable mix.

Beat the cream into the remaining eggs and divide between the tartlets.

Cook 180 C or Gas 4 for about 15 minutes until the custard is setting.

 

This quantity made 10 tartlets (foil wrap and freeze once cooked for another day) plus 2 Mediterranean salmon crumbles (poached salmon portions topped with the veg and a savoury crumble of oats, hazelnuts, dried stuffing mix and butter) plus a final portion of veg to serve another day!  I used “black” garlic which I wouldn’t recommend as it darkened all the vibrant colours of the vegetables.

 

Friends have been sending their own suggestions for light suppers and here are some of the more unusual:

“Fish Mixture – tin of tuna, tin of sardines, anchovies to taste. I use the oil from the tins. Heat until the anchovies have incorporated, add more oil or butter to make it spreadable, plenty of pepper. Now you have a tasty mix which can be frozen. Useful on toast, with pasta, in jacket potatoes.”

 

“Meat Loaf en Croute

1 lb pork sausage

1 apple peeled and chopped

2 onions chopped

2 small eggs

Salt, pepper, maybe herbs

12 oz. short crust pastry

2 x 1lb loaf tins

Mix together.  Line tins with pastry.  Place filling in.  Place pastry on top.  Brush with egg.  Cook for 25 minutes 200 degrees.  Remove from tins.  Brush sides with egg.  Cook for 15 to 20 minutes.”

 

“Tinned tuna, tinned beans and red onions mixed up.”

 

“Potato cakes are good, I use up left over mashed potatoes or cook and crush up potatoes, mix with herbs and spring onions, again grill with a poached or scrambled egg. They freeze OK as long as they don’t have added milk.”

 

“Mini fish pie.  Get medium size potatoes, wash and bake.  Scoop out the inside and mash with butter and seasoning.  Coat the skins with oil and fry in air fryer till crispy.  Fill with a creamy seafood pie mix.  Top with the mashed potatoes and grill.”

 

“My sister cooks a beef Pattie using a Cornish recipe of our Grandmother, you can make them in batch and freeze them.  We used to take them to the beach as children.  She just softly poaches a good quality beef mince, cover in cold water with a lot of salt and pepper, lightly simmer for 20mins. Let it go cold in a bowl.  Skim off any fat from the top.  Roll out puff pastry and use a muffin shaped tin, the same as you would when making a Christmas mince pie, put mince beef inside and pop on a pastry lid.  Egg wash and cook for 20 mins on gas 4.  You could make them in a larger tin.  They can be cooked from frozen.  “

 

Visit to the physiotherapist

It was all a bit traumatic: still wary of being in a car since the accident; the first time in another enclosed space for many months;  having to go through all the injuries from nearly three years ago.  The final straw was the utterly awful blaring radio playing in the waiting room.

We were gratefully wafted aloft in the lift and I went through the now rather tedious litany of damage, pain and limitations.  A thorough inspection and a trio of exercises to practice over the next few weeks and we were out and back to the lift.

My trusty escort was mightily impressed that the Covid-secure precautions had extended to a plastic label over the call buttons to make cleaning easier.  But the lift refused to budge: the doors opened and shut; the announcement said “Going Down”; increasingly frantic button presses gained reaction but no descent.  The escort disappeared to investigate an alternative route via stairs.

The lift ping-ed, the doors opened and someone stepped out.  “Is it working?”  I asked and the engineer replied, “Not at the moment.  I’m servicing it.  There’s a sign on the buttons saying “Do Not Use” “.  But he relented and we went rather shame-faced on our way.

Two morals to this tale: don’t trust (male) partners to read even three-word instructions and please try to service lifts after disabled people have left the building.

Oriental-style duck.

1 duck breast (about 250g).

1 teaspoon honey.

1 flat teaspoon five spice mix.

A pinch each of salt and pepper.

A dash of soy sauce.

A portion of GGG.*

A tiny amount of oil.

 

Place all the ingredients except the oil in a bag and vacuum pack.

Place in a sous vide water bath or pan of water, ensuring the bag is submerged, and cook at 55C.

When cooking like this at a constant water temperature, the timing depends on how long the heat takes to penetrate the meat.  As the temperature is constant, the meat can be left in the water bath until you are ready for it – with this recipe, I’d left the duck in the sous vide for three hours although 45-60 minutes would probably be long enough.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and place the duck breast in it, skin side down.

Cook for about 5 minutes until the skin is browning and crisping.

Remove the duck and keep warm while it rests and then slice thinly to make two servings.

Meanwhile, pour all the liquid from the bag in to the pan and reduce to a syrupy sauce to pour over the duck.

 

  • GGG is 4 parts fresh root ginger (peeled and roughly chopped), 2 parts garlic (peeled) and 1 part green chillies (de-seeded). Put everything in a food processor and whizz to a rough paste.  Freeze in teaspoon portions and use in curries and oriental dishes.

 

 

No greater love…

Many will know that I don’t eat cheese, loathe the smell of it and it gives me migraines.  So it was a sign of true love to order a whole Stilton for Christmas.

I confess I was somewhat laissez-faire in the ordering – I was anticipating a nice neat plastic-wrapped two pound drum.  I should have paid more attention to my trusty butcher who was procuring this secret Christmas gift: he rang to check that I really understood what was coming and, rather loftily off-hand, I said I did.

An enormous box disguised in a black bin liner arrived and I could only just lift it.  The monster weighed in at just under 8kg and will be enough to satisfy my cheese-eater for months … years …

The whole concept had been to “port” the Stilton: cutting off the top to make a neat lid, scoop out some of the interior and skewer the rest so that the alcohol could permeate through.

But how were we going to cut it?  Even the biggest kitchen knife wasn’t going to make enough impression.  Thankfully, neighbour Roger donated a reel of wire which, once sterilised, was wound around two wooden spoons to make an improvised cheese wire.

Off came the top and  the centre yielded a substantial cylinder for segmenting and vacuum packing for future months.  A groove or rill was spooned out around the circumference of the base and holes skewered down to just avoid breaching the bottom.  Then the first port infusion was applied – with more over following days – before the lid was replaced.

Throughout all of this I had to actually touch the cheese, smell it and feel it under my finger nails – shudderingly awful!

Now I have to endure the consequences of that rash gift for months to come.  At least Roger took a piece in return for his wire: one less and much more to go.

Super Christmas present

 

If you haven’t received a Dutch dough whisk for Christmas, you just don’t know what you are missing!

This handy culinary tool was bestowed on our kitchen by friends Liz and Dave.  I suspect that it may be designed for somewhat looser yeasted batters but is also perfect with sourdough mixes.  Here’s the triumphant ‘hybrid’ sourdough recipe that produced both a baguette and batard (silent S):

200g Sourdough starter (fed within the last 24-48 hours).

7g dried organic yeast.

One teaspoon sugar.

About 350g warm water.

500g strong white bread flour.

250g wholemeal or other interesting bread flour.

10g salt.

A good slug of olive oil.

 

Mix the dried yeast with the sugar, a tablespoon of water and tablespoon of bread flour to make a liquid paste and leave in a warm place for an hour until fizzing.

Mix the bread flours and salt together, making a crater in the centre of the bowl.

Add the sourdough starter and fizzing yeast mix; fold the flour in to the centre adding more water and stir with your trusty Dutch dough whisk.

Add the olive oil.

Continue to mix by hand until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes – the surface should spring back when pressed.

Return to a clean bowl  that has been lightly floured or sprayed with a little oil, cover and leave to rise in a cool place overnight until it’s doubled in size. The front porch is ideal!

Turn the dough on to a floured surface and press flat to expel all the air.

Divide the dough and shape for your containers.  Perhaps a proving basket for the batard and a baguette mould.

Cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. 

Preheat the oven to Gas 9  and place a roasting tin on the bottom.

Transfer the batard from the basket to a baking tray, dust with flour and slash surface with sharp knife.

Reduce the oven to Gas 7, place batard and baguette in to oven and pour a cup of water in to the hot roasting tin – watch out for instant steam.

Bake for 25 minutes and test if the bread is done: knock the bottom to hear if it sounds hollow or insert a probe thermometer which should reach 88-99C (more to the top end).

If necessary, turn the bread over and return to the oven for 5 minutes to finish cooking the base and centre.

Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before slicing.  Delicious with smoked salmon now that we have re-discovered the pack down the back of a fridge drawer – thankfully it is still in date!

 

Tip if some of your vegetables are looking weary: broccoli responds very well if the base of the stalk is sliced off and it is stood in a little water in the fridge for 12 hours or more – it becomes far more turgid as the water is taken up.  Cauliflower and cabbage are likely to respond too.

 

 

 

Ho, Ho, Ho!

 

Just when you thought it was safe to go out …

The frustration, rage and misery of all those truck drivers stuck at Dover is not the image we want to see just before everyone starts their Christmas holidays.  Here too, we will be in Tier 4 within days – but probably not making huge difference as I haven’t been in a shop for nearly a year – so the Christmas presents were somewhat sparse as on-line buying really doesn’t work if you are blind.  But at least I know that all the packages of preserves, home-made confectionery, cakes and more are all Covid-secure: they’ve been self-isolating for weeks.

Here’s a very simple Christmas roast fruit salad:

1 pineapple, cored, skin removed and cut in to mouth-size pieces (or open a tin).

2 eating apples , cored and chopped.

2 pears, cored and chopped.

2 bananas, peeled and chopped.

2 handfuls dried sultanas.

2 handfuls dates, chopped.

2 handfuls crystallised ginger, chopped.

2 oranges, zest and juice.

About half a pint apple or other fruit juice.

Optional spices: 1 inch cinnamon, 2 star anise, 4 cloves, 4 green cardamon pods.

Mix all the ingredients in an oven-proof bowl and cover with a double layer of foil.

Cook for 30 minutes at Gas 6 and a further couple of hours at Gas 1.

Serve hot or cold.  Reheats very well in the microwave and is a good alternative to Christmas pudding.

You can vary the fruit or add more – today’s version has a mango (peeled and chopped).

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas, a much improved New Year and very good health.