Good food can make life so much better.

 

Too much time with lawyers this week trying to capture the consequences of the accident that took place about three and a half years ago – it’s no fun going over all the continuing miseries.  But life improved with celebrating the first meal in a restaurant (Lauro’s in the High Street, Fareham) for over a year.  Strange to be in an enclosed space with other people but good distancing, masks, excellent ventilation and a bottle of wine made all the difference.  Good food as always: I’m inspired to try making my own confit duck.  The homemade chocolate ice-cream was superb but I’ll try to resist.

It must be well over 10 years since I bought 24 little silicone pots with lids in France.  They were sold for “oeufs en cocotte” (the posh French version of coddled eggs) but, in those days, I was making lots of my own ice-creams, so they were perfect for freezing individual portions – and were in the Sale too.

Good kitchen kit has multiple functions and not always their original.  Last week I was using one asparagus pan for blitzing chicken liver parfait, another one is used to store individual flan tins and I cook the asparagus in the microwave.  In place of the cocottes, small ramekins with a lid of kitchen foil would work too.

When the heat’s on, no-one wants to spend much time in the kitchen.  Here’s the simplest little lunch/supper or even a starter.

Per cocotte:

tiny knob of butter.

half slice of ham.

1 egg.

1 teaspoon cream.

Pepper.

3-4 spears asparagus, trimmed.

knob of butter to serve.

 

Rub the butter around the cocotte and leave a tiny piece in the bottom.

Thinly slice the ham and put half in the bottom of the cocotte.

Break the egg on to the ham and top with the remaining ham.

Add the teaspoon of cream and a grind of pepper.

Place on the lid and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200C, Gas 6 for 12 minutes.

While the egg is cooking, rinse the asparagus and place on a plate.

Microwave on Medium power for 3-5 minutes until cooked.  Serve with another knob of butter and the egg in its cocotte.

 

Cooking times may depend on your oven, the shelf position and whether you put the cocotte on a baking tray.  It may take a little experimenting to get the egg cooked just as you want it.

 

Don’t forget the shortbread virtual baking session on Monday 14 June at 1030 (see previous post).

 

World Baking Day

I expect that there will be cakes galore out there but here’s something different: a pastry that anyone can make.

I’ve been celebrating this special Baking Day with a virtual on-line live bake-in with blind and visually impaired people – and there will be a video published soon too.  It is part of our series of bakes to create a special tea for family and friends as the Covid lock-down eases.  So far, we’ve made ginger biscuits, soda bread, lemon Victoria sponges and, today, individual pork pies.

I’ve heard from so many people that they are no good at making pastry, their hands are too hot/cold/rough or whatever.  Hot water pastry is like play-dough: beautifully malleable and forgiving. Left-overs can be stored in the fridge or freezer for another day.  Pork pies and raised game pies are the traditional uses but I’ve made open tartlets and even used a vegetable filling.

We have been experimenting with different fats for those who don’t want to use lard.  Trex is based on oil and is one possibility and those who feel self-indulgent could use all-butter.

One of the plus points with this pastry is that it can be moulded very thin – not like those wedges of dough in shop-bought pies.  You can therefore pretend that it is nearly good for you.

The beaten egg brushed over the pastry is primarily for those who eat with their eyes – it makes no difference to the taste.

 

Hot water pastry:

100ml water.

90g lard.

200g plain flour.

50g strong white bread flour.

Flat teaspoon ground mace (optional).

Flat teaspoon salt.

50g butter.

 

Filling:

About 300g sausage meat.

Ground black pepper.

Fresh thyme leaves.

1 lemon, zest only.

1 egg, beaten.

 

Preheat oven to 200C, Gas 6.

Place the water and lard in a pan and heat gently until the lard has just melted.

Meanwhile, mix the flours, salt and mace (if using) in a bowl.

Rub in the butter.

Pour in the water and lard and stir with a wooden spoon.

Use your hands to make a dough ball and allow it to cool (press out and put on a cold plate in the fridge).

Mix black pepper, the herbs and lemon zest into the sausage meat.

Line the pie tins with the pastry (either roll out or mould with your hands).

Fill with sausage meat and press out a lid and mould over the pies.

Make a hole in each pie top to let steam escape, brush with the beaten egg.

Place on a tray in the oven for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 140C, Gas 2 for 20 minutes.  If you have a probe thermometer, check that the filling has reached 70C.  Cover with a loose double layer of foil to stop the pastry over-cooking if necessary.

 

My Tips:

I will use a bun tin with loose bottoms or small foil containers with high sides.

It is difficult to be accurate about the amount of filling you will need as it depends on the size of your pie tins, how thin you get the pastry etc.  The above quantities made three generous individual pork pies.

Trex or butter might replace the lard although I haven’t tried it.

If I was experimenting with a wheat-free flour, I’d try adding about a teaspoon of xanthium gum to the flour – but no guarantees!

Vegetable fillings are equally possible but will need part-cooking beforehand so that the mix has cooled.  I’ve used: sautéed onion, mushroom, courgette, potato, fresh thyme, seasoning.

If you want to chill the pies, you might consider adding some “jelly”: a stock pot/cube, a little water and some gelatine to make the jelly that is poured into the steam hole.  Good to do this while the pie is still warm and it will spread through the pie.

 

 

Awning gap.

Nightmare as making preparations for the first outdoor entertaining: day before, tested the electric awning over the terrace.  Went out beautifully; retracted perfectly. Then, entirely of its own volition, extended again and promptly stopped, refusing to respond to frantic presses on the remote control.

All would have been well other than for the gale force winds and rain that then ensued.  Result: one dramatically flagging large awning, dipping down to about a foot off the ground, filling with water and banging on the house.  Too risky for the sous-chef to resolve without another pair of eyes to monitor troubleshooting in such a hazardous situation.  Fortunately, located a couple of experts who cut out the canvas and tied up the frame – electrics and motor burned out.

But I did manage to feed the visitors despite the chaos and finished with an experimental chocolate cake.  I’m convinced that most people rely on their eyes to taste the chocolate so, if its brown with cocoa powder, it’s OK – but not so for us who can’t see it.

Here’s a better version based on the famous Viennese Sachertorte:

 

150g plain chocolate, melted and cooling.

6 eggs, separated.

150g butter.

100g castor sugar.

Half teaspoon vanilla extract.

55g plain flour.

100g ground almonds.

1 heaped tablespoon cocoa powder.

 

Whisk the egg whites to soft peak stage.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the chocolate and vanilla. Followed by the egg yolks (one at a time) on full speed.

Fold in the flour, ground almonds and cocoa powder.

Fold in one third of the egg whites and then the remainder, gently.

Pour in to 23cm tin (buttered and base lined with parchment paper) in one go and level gently.

Cook in pre-heated oven at 180C or Gas 4 for 45-50 minutes.

To finish the cooled cake (optional), brush with warmed apricot jam and cover with a chocolate icing made of 200ml double cream heated and poured over at least 115g plain chocolate -cool before covering cake.

(I made two smaller cakes and cooked for about 20 minutes by when the internal temperature had reached over 95C.  The finished cake keeps well and retains its moistness for at least a week – there was only this scrap left by then).

 

 

 

 

Back to basics

I’ve been doing a series of on-line live bake-ins exclusively for visually impaired people – and even getting bakers taking part from different parts of the world.

The goal is to make enough different bakes to create a celebration tea when we are all able to mix again.  So fa, we have achieved ginger biscuits, soda bread and, this week, lemon Victoria sponges.    Our next session will celebrate World Baking Day on 17 May  https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/world-baking-day/ – and we will try hot-water pastry for pork pies.

This week, with the joys of Zoom (and a difficult echo) a whole group creamed, folded and drizzled our delicious individual cakes.  A couple of mine went over the road to cheer-up neighbours  – something as quick and simple as a homebake can bring a smile to faces when we are all feeling a bit glum.

Touch is key for me with this cake: I have to feel when the butter and sugar have become light and fluffy and when the cakes are cooked – that soft sponginess.  But I have also found that a temperature probe reading (literally) 98 degrees Centigrade is also a good test.

The flavour variations are endless as long as you remember that the sponge probably isn’t dense/strong enough to hold up a lot of fruit – who wants sunken cherries?  Ideas might include: basic vanilla; chopped dates and ginger; lemon and orange St Clement’s; mixed spice and a few sultanas; coffee and walnut.

I’ve added a couple of handfuls of fresh raspberries (in China) and chopped coriander and chilli (in Costa Rica) – there’s no end to the madness.

It’s an easy recipe to remember: just weigh the eggs and everything else is the same – so you can make a smaller or bigger cake just as easily.  Here’s my lemon drizzle version:

2 lemons, zest and juice.

1 tablespoon caster sugar.

3 eggs, weighed in their shells.

Same weight butter, softened.

Same weight caster sugar.

Same weight self-raising flour.

Gently heat lemon juice and tablespoon of sugar in microwave until the sugar is dissolving – leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time, each with a teaspoon of flour.

Fold in the remaining flour and lemon zest.

Spoon into a bun tin or two sponge tins or a loaf tin.

Cook for 20 minutes (probably 25 minutes for sponge tins and 30 for loaf tin).

Test cakes are cooked.

While still hot, prick with a cocktail stick (I can’t remember the last time I used one with a cherry) and then spoon the lemon juice syrup over the cakes.

Allow to cool enough to avoid burning your mouth.

 

 

 

.

Here’s one I made earlier.

My hand injury is still recovering so the beekeeping sous chef has been responsible for conjuring up outstanding flapjacks for friends who have dropped in for tea since we could meeting the garden.  Even though most of us have done very little for months, it is amazing how much talking is still needed to bring each other up-to-date.   And how good to hear others laughing.

This is our Easter Spring cake: a cross between a Christmas cum Simnel recipe that I had started at least two months before the injury. Although there are lots of ingredients, it actually takes longer to weigh out than mix.

The dried fruit had been soaking in brandy for a month and the strained residue was later injected into the finished cake (syringe, needle and all).

The sous chef’s home-produced honey replaced the usual sugar, with a little extra flour to offset its 17% water content.  This made a lighter and more flavoursome cake.

To stop the cake drying out, I gave up on the traditional Simnel top layer of marzipan plus 11 apostle balls.  Instead, and completely optional, the cake was covered top-to-toe with more marzipan.  The sous chef made and lovingly applied the final finishing touches of royal icing plus festive birds and bees. (He has to get all the praise as he posts these pieces for me!).  The cake is so unctuous and moist that it nearly needs serving with a spoon.

 

4oz currants

4oz sultanas

8oz raisins

Enough brandy to cover the dried fruit.

8oz butter

8oz honey

4eggs

16oz self-raising flour

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons mixed spice

Half teaspoon salt

2oz candied peel, chopped.

250g glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dried dates, stoned and chopped.

Zest and juice of 1 orange.

Zest and juice of 1 lemon.

3oz whole almonds chopped

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

500g pack marzipan.

 

Soak the currants, raisins and sultanas in brandy – ideally for a month but a week would do.

Drain and set aside the strained brandy.

Cream   the butter and honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in each egg with a teaspoonful of flour.

Fold in the flour and the remaining cake ingredients.

Fill a cake tin halfway and top with a layer of marzipan, pressed out to fit the tin.  Fill the tin on top of the marzipan.

Cook Gas 1, 140C for 2 hours 15 minutes, reduce heat for a further 45 minutes.  Internal cake temperature should reach at least 96C.

This quantity was bigger than my cake tin.  I put the extra into a loaf tin and cooked at the same time on the oven second shelf for 2 hours 15 minutes.

Optional: once cake has cooled and been removed from tin, inject with strained brandy over a week.  Brush with warmed apricot jam and cover with marzipan (around 750g) and allow to dry for a few days.  Cover with royal icing and allow to dry.  Decorate with whatever grabs your imagination.

Please don’t forget the live on-line bake-in on Monday 12 April at 1030.

 

Not Cheese Straws

 

I keep forgetting that being over-confident often ends up in tears.

Starting to feel miles better as the fatigue and physio therapies progress, I was moving much more quickly.  Consequence: misjudged where the wall was, smacked my hand on it and heard two awful cracking noises.  I can still move my fingers and hand but have probably torn something or similar.  Lots of ice packs and painkillers later, it is just about useable again.  And, you guessed, my right hand with all the complications that follow when it is out of action.

Being blind, small injuries are part of life: the bruises, the sore spots, the cuts and burns, the lumps on your head.  Usually, I don’t even remember how I got the injury but this one had rather more impact:  using a keyboard with dud fingers isn’t very comfortable.

I’ve been feeling rather guilty too: there was a request after one of the on-line baking sessions for me to do cheese straws.  The problem is that I utterly loathe cheese: the smell, taste and texture and, if I eat it, I get migraines.

Instead, I’ve adapted a recipe to make Not Cheese Straws – replacing the offending articles with walnuts and herbs.  The added bonus is the end product has far less fat – as if you care about calories when being tempted by warm, savoury slivers of deliciousness!  For those who prefer the authentic version, I’ve given the cheese proportions.

 

185g plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt.

¼  teaspoon English mustard powder.

Tip of teaspoon paprika or chilli powder.

110g butter, cubed.

100g walnuts, chopped and a generous tablespoon rosemary and thyme leaves, chopped (or 75g Cheddar cheese and 25g Parmesan cheeses)

1 egg (or 1 egg yolk and about 2 tablespoons water).

Place the flour, salt, mustard and chilli in a bowl and rub in the butter.

Mix in the nuts and herbs (or cheeses).

Bring together using the egg (or egg yolk and water).  The result will be a soft sticky dough.

Chill for at least 30 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll or press out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm.

Cut into 1 cm wide strips and place on a baking tray lined with parchment.

Chill thoroughly (I left the tray in the fridge overnight).

Pre-heat oven to Gas 4, 180C, 350F then cook for for 15-20 minutes.  I could hear them sizzling on the tray.

(If you are using cheese, the recipe suggested rolling the dough to the thickness of a £2 coin – whatever that is – and cooking at Gas 5, 190C, 374F for 10-15 minutes)

Leave to cool on the tray as they are quite fragile.

 

I’m very pleased with the end result which will be good with a glass of wine or similar – don’t be mean with the salt, mustard or chilli.  Next, I’m thinking of a sweet version to serve with desserts.

Don’t forget: there’s another live baking session on 12 April: lemon Victoria sponges.

 

 

 

 

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!

Winter cheer

The Not Forgotten Association  (www.thenotforgotten.org) Jingle Bells Rock drive-in entertainment and lunch at Southampton Airport was the highlight of this week.  It was covered by ITV local News.

We all sat in our socially-distanced cars with special speakers that blasted out the jollity of popular Christmas songs rendered by a stalwart and talented group of entertainers on the stage, battling the winter chill.  They had to be wildly determined and motivated as the only audience feedback was the hooting of car horns and waving of arms.  We and other veterans with health conditions and injuries from military service were welcomed with beakers of mulled wine (tea or coffee for the drivers) and fed a simple but delicious hog roast lunch.  Songs, dancing and hooting continued for a couple of hours, punctuated by silly games and a raffle.  The synchronised horn hooting to the “12 days of Christmas” was the fantastic finale.

As a blind person, the spectacle wasn’t so obvious but the sheer energy, enjoyment and happiness of the event was wonderful after nine months of hibernation.

For anyone else with little or no sight, there’s a possibility that a mobile phone and artificial intelligence could help you get around. See more on: www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/technology-55178066

Meanwhile, I’ve been re-making this simple lamb tajine https://youtu.be/z5YjvpvwVOg.  It is fragrant with spices, is not too hot and reheats perfectly from the freezer.

2 medium onions peeled and diced.

1 tablespoon oil.

2 portions GGG*.

500 g lamb, diced.

1 teaspoon turmeric.

1 teaspoon ground cumin.

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

1 teaspoon smoked paprika.

1 rounded teaspoon harissa.

500cl water.

1 handful stoned dates, chopped.

7 fresh tomatoes, chopped.

1 rounded tablespoon almonds, ground.

2 chicken stock pots/cubes.

A good squeeze tomato paste.

1 medium tin chick peas (240 gram, drained.

1 orange – zest and juice.

 

Sauté the onions in the oil until softening then add the GGG.

Add the lamb to the pan and sauté.

Add the spices and sauté for a minute or two until their fragrance can be smelled.

Add all remaining ingredients (except the orange juice and zest) and bring the pan to a very gentle simmer.

Cover and continue to cook over a very low heat (over a heat diffuser, in a very low oven, in a slow-cooker) until the lamb is tender and the tajine is unctuous (at least 2 hours and sometimes 5-10 hours depending on how you are cooking it).

Add the orange zest and juice before serving with couscous.

 

*GGG is 4 parts fresh root ginger, 2 parts garlic and 1 part green (or red) chilli.  Peel and de-seed and roughly chop before whizzing in to a rough paste in a food processor.  A portion is one teaspoonful.  I freeze portions in an ice-cube tray and then store in a box in the freezer.  Excellent for all curries too.

 

 

 

 

Goose getting fat?

 

The first two of the Christmas trees are now up and sparkling here, gifts are being wrapped and festive menus planned.  Christmas is just around the corner and let’s hope that the news of the roll-out of a vaccine is a gift for thousands.  It’s time to smile again – even behind your mask.

I’ve been reviving a classic country recipe from the Vendee. I first tasted this recipe in France with friends, Joan and Jeff: simple and hearty for a comforting lunch.  If you are having goose for Christmas, then it is worth saving some of the fat for this dish.  Alternatively, there are jars of both goose and duck fat around for roast potatoes so you could use what’s left-over.

In France, a boudin noir would be steamed on top of the mogettes (white beans).  My UK alternative of black pudding is close enough.

 

4 large handfuls of dried white haricot beans, soaked in water for at least 24 hours.

2 medium onions, peeled and diced.

2 carrots, peeled and diced.

4 sticks of celery, diced.

6 cloves garlic, peeled and diced.

1 tablespoon goose fat.

2 chicken or vegetable stockpots/cubes.

A good squeeze of tomato puree.

Half a glass of white wine.

2 stems rosemary, leaves removed and chopped.

3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed.

Black pudding

Apple puree.

 

Sauté the onions, celery, carrots and garlic in the goose fat until softening.

Add the drained beans (they will have become about 6 large handfuls).

Add enough water to cover plus the stockpots/cubes, tomato paste, wine and the herb leaves (about a tablespoonful).

Simmer very gently until the beans are soft (about 8 hours) when nearly all the liquid will have been absorbed and check seasoning – perhaps some pepper.

About half an hour before serving, place the black pudding on top of the beans to heat through.

Warm the apple puree in the microwave and place a spoonful on each plate – top with some black pudding.

Serve the beans alongside.

 

I brought the beans to a simmer and then put a heat diffuser between the pan and gas.  They cooked for five hours one day; were switched off overnight and re-simmered the next morning.  A pressure cooker (too terrifying for this blind person) would probably be quicker or, in desperation and at the cost of authenticity, a can of pre-cooked beans (NOT Baked Beans!) might do.

I tossed a diced courgette on top of the beans before the black pudding so I didn’t have to trouble with any more vegetables.

Be aware: this bean dish is long-winded in more than one sense!