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.

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Lock-down.

 

The traffic isn’t as quiet but the people are definitely louder.  I wish I’d maintained a graph of the exponential increase in sociability during the last few months – it would have been a wonderful antidote to those awful official Covid ones.

Over at our local Blackbrook Park, there’s a new community life thriving.  When we first ventured there in March while even breathing in the same square mile as anyone else seemed too dangerous, other walkers were distinctly chilly.  As time has passed, distancing still stays social but exchanges have become happily chatty.

Dog-walkers are easy prey for anyone seeking some human contact: the smallest pooch generates a whole conversation from age and breed to obedience and energy.    Familiar faces have graduated from a bare nod to exchange of greetings.  Even the local teenagers can be persuaded to swop a few sentences.  Even on a damp grey November afternoon, the park literally hums with people talking to each other.  We may not be putting the world to rights (yet) but we are all living, breathing proof that man and womankind is a sociable species that relishes interactions – even at 2 metres distance.  Perhaps we can build on this new community spirit for the future and find the silver lining to the Covid cloud.

Simple suppers this week with my favourite smoked salmon mousse:

3 leaves of gelatine, soaked in cold water.

500g smoked salmon pieces (ideal for this dish and less expensive than posh slices).

2 tablespoons cream

2 tablespoons mayonnaise (optional)

Zest and juice of a lemon

(lots of) ground black pepper to taste

 

Pour off most of the water from the gelatine and heat in a medium microwave until dissolved.

Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor to make a thick and fairly smooth paste.

Adjust the seasoning with more black pepper if needed.

Spoon into serving dishes, cover and chill.

Serve with bread, toast or savoury biscuits plus a slice of lemon.

 

Lest we forget.

 

Not even Covid can stop us remembering those who gave their lives for our futures, freedom and democracy.

Get your Poppy face mask from the Royal British Legion on-line shop and put on a brave face amidst our own troubles today.  I’m hugely grateful to friend Jane who found one of these for me so I too can honour those who served the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I’ve been busy with some different flower arrangements too: one features the iridescence of old CDs plus a little tinsel while the other sports a fluffy pink straw bird’s ness and a black beaded cone – just a little reflection of Halloween and all created with just three stems of lilies!

And talking of forgetting: friend and frequent co-cook Karen created a superb Pavlova meringue for her son’s birthday and left it in the oven to finish cooling.  The drama of the weekend lock-down announcement threw all her plans awry: last minute dash to the supermarket to grab some essentials, pizza for supper and oven on to heat them.  A pall of acrid smoke greeted her on return: the Pavlova had been reduced to cinders and they’d been lucky to avoid a fire.  She had to re-start her birthday confection and I inherited over a dozen yolks.

Luckily, there were just enough oranges and lemons languishing in the fridge to make this

St. Clement’s Curd.  You can definitely reduce the proportions:

12 egg yolks

12 ounces granulated sugar

8 ounces butter, cubed small

Zest and juice of 3 and a half oranges plus 3 and a half lemons

 

Put the egg yolks into a heat proof bowl to reach room temperature while preparing the other ingredients.

Add the zest, juice, sugar and butter cubes to the bowl.

Place over a pan of barely simmering water and gently whisk ingredients together until the mix reaches 71 degrees Centigrade throughout the mix.

Pot in to sterilised jars and eat soon, keeping in the fridge.

 

 

Accessible communications.

 

If you need some tips about making information easy for anyone, try this little handbook I put together:

http://www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk/index_htm_files/151123%20-%20Accessible%20Communications.docx

 

One colleague sent me this feedback this week:

“I’m a carer for my dad who has advanced Parkinson’s disease and dementia and the following points especially hit home with me:-

1/ ‘a person may be one of the over 2 million people who need others to have more patience in listening to their speech which is less fluent due to a speech impairment, a stroke’.

My dad now has a severe speech and cognitive impairment and we really have to listen very carefully and try to interpret what he is trying to say, more so now than ever, he often can’t think what he needs to say either.

2/ Talk to the disabled person, not the support person.

This is so true, when we take dad out people often talk to us instead of him which is also frustrating.”

 

I completely recognise that frustration: I was at a hospital just recently and the person controlling entry and Covid safety measures just couldn’t manage to speak to me.  It was rather as if my white cane had become magical: I was invisible, incapable of either hearing or speech.  Those who know me will understand how it became an utterly humiliating and embarrassing  experience for that wretched person – thank goodness her manager saved her!

 

The handbook is short, straightforward and free for anyone to use so please share it around.  And it helps with Equality Act compliance too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super supper soup.

It takes more than an ordinary bowl for the Christmas cake mix here and inspired my very first Baking Blind video by brother Martin  https://youtu.be/Y81yGF72dUQ

In the past, I’ve used a pristine washing-up bowl but even this isn’t big enough for, by my calculations, nearly 10 kilos (20 lb) of ingredients.  Luckily, my Covid home clear-out unearthed an even bigger food-quality plastic box.  The dried fruit had been soaking in brandy for months;  two hours chopping the nuts gave me cramp in both hands; I layered the butter/sugar/eggs/flour mix with the other ingredients in the box, folded them all together and filled all the cake tins and moulds. It was a juggling act to cook them in two ovens, turning and changing their positions over several hours.  Thankfully, there was enough to have a “test cake” shared with guinea pig friends, Sue and Rod.  Verdict: perfectly moist but I’ll still be injecting brandy for the next week.

Other cooking was rather on the back burner in the midst of these culinary challenges but I did manage a new B&B soup:

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 sticks celery, peeled and chopped

250g smoked back bacon, de-rinded and chopped

1 butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped

3 vegetable stock cubes

Salt and pepper

 

Sauté the onion, carrots, celery and bacon.

Add the butternut squash to the pan plus the stock cubes.

Cover the ingredients with water and simmer until the squash has softened.

Whizz to a smooth soup in a blender.

Season to taste.

 

Even Martin, staying overnight and no fan of butternut squash, declared the result to be delicious – served  with home-made soda bread to make that super supper.

 

 

 

 

Last minute buys

 

There’s a fruit and veg stall in one of the small local shopping precincts – all the traditional calls and a fine array of good produce.  At the end of the day, there are bargains to be had if you can use them fairly quickly.

The punnets of strawberries made a quick pudding and half went into the dehydrator for another day.  Baby plum tomatoes were halved and dried in the oven with a little salt and pepper – now in jars steeping in olive oil.  Raspberries went straight into the freezer but I wanted something special with the fresh figs.

 

9-12 fresh figs, stems removed and halved

1 orange, juice and zest

2 teaspoons of butter

2-3 tablespoons of honey

Handful of walnuts, shelled and chopped.

 

Place the figs cut side up in an oven proof dish.

Pour over the orange juice, dot with butter, anoint with honey and top with walnuts.

Cook in a pre-heated oven Gas 4 for 45-60 minutes.

Serve with yoghurt or cream, sprinkled with the orange zest.

 

Don’t be mean with the honey or orange juice – it is delicious.

 

And I’ve been experimenting with my hot water pastry.  It made excellent cases for turkey and mushroom pies – hot or cold – and also for vegetable tarts (sautéed onion, courgette, mushroom, potato, fresh thyme with a little well-seasoned egg and cream   custard).  The pastry had been sitting in the fridge overnight after making pork pies but was still easy to handle and cooked perfectly.  This is a pastry that can do more than just raised game pies.

 

 

With apologies to GBBO

This week I had a fresh pineapple that was getting past its best.

A pineapple upside-down-cake/pudding seemed the answer.  But little did I know that the very first episode of the new Great British Bake-Off series was going to steal my thunder – and with a hilarious political spoof too.

My version of the TV technical challenge is probably simpler.  I had the remnants of a bottle of caramel sauce that cut down on the preparation and I made the whole edifice in one large silicone ring mould: the problem of cooking so much wet pineapple is all the steam which can make the sponge soggy.  The ring mould ensures that heat gets into the very centre of the pudding so that it cooks nearly as quickly as the edges.

 

1 fresh pineapple, top, skin and core removed, flesh chopped small.

2-3 tablespoons caramel sauce

3 eggs, weighed

Same weight butter

Same weight caster or granulated sugar

Same weight self-raising flour.

2 handfuls sultanas

 

Place the pineapple and caramel sauce in the bottom of the mould.

Cream the butter and sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time with a teaspoon of flour, beating after each addition.

Fold in the flour and sultanas.

Place mix in mould and place mould on a metal tray.

Bake for 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven Gas 4, covering the top of the mould with cooking foil after about 20 minutes.

Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes for the pudding to finish cooking once out of the oven.

Turn out with care to avoid any hot juices.

 

Once cooled, you could fill the centre with whipped cream, any spare pineapple or other lavish decoration.  It keeps well for a few days and can be served warmed in the microwave or just as it comes.

Individual moulds or other cooking containers would work just as well but I’d reduce the cooking time by about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your vessel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bee Whisperer

Fact or fallacy: do bees respond to the human voice?  I’m not sure if it is the words that are spoken or the breath that speaks to them.  but there’s no doubt that our two bee colonies are calm, relaxed and reciprocating with their bounty.

We’ve managed to harvest our first honey: over 10lbs (5kg for the modern).  It was an intensely focussed activity that started the night before.  A special board that excludes bees from part of the hive is installed so that the frames of comb and honey can be removed next day without having to brush away straggling bees and risk harming them.

There’s a special tool for removing the wax caps at each end of the honeycomb cells before the frames go into the extractor.  Think of something like a handraulic spin-dryer: the frames are suspended in a cage that is whirled around to enable centrifugal force to spin the honey out.  A golden sticky mass oozed from the extractor and through two filters before resting overnight in the settling tank for the air bubbles to surface.  The filled jars are a glorious celebration of the bees and their hard work over the summer.

My great friend and frequent cooking companion, Karen, had brought five egg yolks leftover from a birthday party Pavlova.    The obvious use was lemon curd with honey rather than sugar.  Honey can be up to 21% water (23% for heather honey) and ours was 17% on the refractometer.  Just using yolks rather than the whole eggs should counterbalance the extra water.  Here’s the experimental recipe I made this morning:

zest of 3 and a half medium lemons, juice of 2 and a half.

5 egg yolks.

6 oz honey.

4 ounces butter, cubed small.

Mix the lemon juice, zest and egg yolks together in a heatproof bowl.

Add the honey, stirring again, and then the butter.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Stir the mix from time to time while it heats to just over 70C.

Allow to cool a little before pouring into sterilised jars.

Keep in the fridge and eat soon.

(I’ve just checked and it is setting perfectly).

 

 

Waste not, want not.

 

The apple trees in the garden here are at least 130 years old – the house was built in about 1890 on part of an orchard.  There’s a Worcester Pearmain, Cox’s Pippin, Bramley, another cooking apple and an intriguing Golden Delicious that produces fruit with one or more “seams” – ridges from top to bottom.

Every year I’m overwhelmed with windfalls so have a nifty piece of kit to transform them into Juice.  It’s a Scandinavian aluminium pot comprising (bottom-to-top): a water tank, a juice reservoir with a funnel through the middle for the steam to pass plus spout for the rubber hose and clip, a basket for the apple pieces and lid.  It is supremely simple to use just chop up the apples, extracting the worse bruises and any wildlife.  Toss the apple into the basket, switch on the hob and let the water boil to steam them.  The juice drips down into the reservoir where it, in turn, is heated by the water – nearly pasteurised, ready for drawing off through the rubber pipe, controlled by the clip.

Reusing plastic water bottles is the ideal storage.  Not only are they saved from landfill but the hot apple juice makes them collapse a little, just about vacuum packing the juice.  This is where I need a hand: managing wilting bottles of very hot liquid isn’t safe when you can’t see what’s going on!  The bottled juice needs to be kept out of the light and I tend to store it in the fridge.

My goal is to use the juice within a year but I have had some several years old and it was still delicious.  It is an excellent thirst-quencher when diluted with fizzy water (keep the bottle for next year) or we use it in the homemade granola.

I try to use every apple: dried in the dehydrator for the granola or cakes; frozen as puree; in crumbles, pies and puddings; the Cox’s sautéed in a little butter and sugar until caramelised are the base for many a Tarte Tatin.  And I haven’t even started on all the chutneys and other preserves …I’ve even used an apple press and made my own cider.