Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The time has come...

This morning I am off for my wisdom teeth out. I haven’t quite managed to make the shed-load of ice-cream that I’d planned to. I am trying to be healthy though, so it’s probably not a bad thing. I have, however, made a shed-load of soup. I’ve done three Grigson ones, and I’ve picked ones that are liquidised, so that I can drink them out of a mug or with a straw. I’ve made tomato and carrot, watercress and green pea. Yumbo! I shall write up the recipes throughout the week.

I’m not particularly nervous about getting them taken out – but I am worried about how sore it’s going to be afterwards. I had a choice, you see, of having all four out at once, but with a general anaesthetic or have pairs out in two sessions with a local. I chose the former; best to get all over and done with, I reckon. It’s going to be sore though. At least I get to laze about for a couple of days – I’ve been busy working on the PhD, and the data collection is so very BORING, so I’ll be nice just to watch crap telly.

Speaking of telly, I watched Market Kitchen on UKTV Food the other day. If you haven’t seen it, it is actually very good. It’s filmed in Borough Market in London and lots of good chefs and food writers go on it. It also has the lovely Matt Tebutt presenting. Anyways, Jane Grigson’s daughter, Sophie was on it cooking Singin Hinnies – a favourite of hers and her Mums. She was saying that, had Jane not died, she would be 80 this year. She spoke of Jane’s upbringing in Sunderland, where people were so poor that the kids didn’t have shoes even in the wintertime. Everyone ate Singin Hinnies, though, from Rich, Middle Class (like Jane) to The Poor. I’ve never had them. I shall endeavour to cook them soon. Most importantly, Sophie said that English Food is her favourite of her mother’s books.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

#66 Shortbread

I made these shortcakes to go with the Mangoes of the Sun dish, but make them any time you want. Greg, Lee and I polished the remaining ones off with mug-fulls of tea and even white wine (we were a bit pissed by then, though!). Make the biscuits any size you want – I used a fluted pastry cutter, but use whatever is at hand, or cut into fingers, or even to a plate sized bit. Traditionally, oats should be used, but the English way is to replace them with flour and corn flour to give the biscuits a delicate, crumbly texture

First, make a flour mixture made up of two parts plain flour to one part corn flour (or rice flour). Either make a big batch of this or make precisely nine ounces. I made just what I needed, though I think I’ll be making some more pretty soon. Mix in 3 ounces of cold, cubes butter and one of sugar (In other words, a ratio of 3:2:1, so you can actually use any amount you want!). Either use a mixer or the tips of your fingers to rub in the butter, and once the mixture is breadcrumb-like, bring it together and knead briefly to form a dough. It will seem too dry at first, but the heat of your hands will help it. Don’t over work the dough either – you want a crumbly biscuit, not a cookie. Roll out the mixture to your preferred thickness and cut into your preferred shape. Put on a baking tray and scatter with more sugar. Bake at 180°C until cooked, you must take them out before they stat to colour, so keep an eye out for the merest hint – the timing will depend on the shape and thickness of your shortbreads.

Lee with said shortcake and mangoes

FYI: Traditional Scottish shortbread goes back to around the Twelfth Century, and it is traditional in the Shetland Isles to break a giant shortbread over the head of the bride on the day of the wedding.

#66 Shortbread - 9/10. Wonderful, crumbly and tasty; and this was the first time I'd ever made them. You cannot but shortcakes like this no matter where you go - they are too crumbly and short to be packaged. You'd just end up with a packet of dust.

#65 Mangoes of the Sun

I need to catch up on the old recipes…

At the weekend Lee came over – I’m glad to see that he’s enthused by the whole Grigson thing – so I made a Green Thai Curry (recipe coming soon) and I wanted a nice healthy pud to go with it. It had been warm and sunny all week, so I went down the tropical route with (#65) Mangoes of the Sun. What this has to do with English Food I do not know. Nevertheless it’s really simple to do and is a really refreshing end to a Thai meal, or indeed any meal. The dessert didn’t stay healthy for long seeing as Grigson says to serve it with shortcake biscuits (recipe coming later today!). Like with tomatoes, leave your mangoes out on a sunny shelf to ripen up – to use an unripe mango would be a disaster!

This makes enough for three: Slice two mangoes down the sides of the large stone, cut the slices in half, peel them, and then slice again but nice and thinly. Cut away any other fleshy bits that are still around the stone. Arrange the slices on a large plate. Next cut three passion fruit in half and scoop out the seeds into a small pan along with 60 ml (about 2 fluid ounces) of water, along with a squeeze of lime juice and half a tablespoon of sugar. Heat the mixture, but don’t let it boil. After a couple of minutes the pulp should be softened and easy to pass through a sieve, leaving just the shiny pips behind. Taste the sieved juice and add extra sugar or lime juice if necessary. Add a few of the black seeds back to the juice and pour over the mangoes. Lastly, cut thin slices of lime and then quarter them so you have little triangles and scatter them over. Hey presto!

FYI: If you are vegetarian, you might be interested to know that mangoes are a source of Omega-3 oils; better than having to eat those crappy flax seeds. Everyday’s a school day!

#65 Mangoes of the Sun: 8/10. Delicious and summery; I could’ve eaten it all to myself. I was tempted to serve cream as well as biscuits with it, but am glad I didn’t. The shortbread soaks up the juice a treat too. Brilliant. Make this whilst it’s still sunny!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

#64 Soyer's Orange Salad

All is going well thus far re: fitness. I’ve been to the gym every morning so far this week and I’m determined not to eat to much fatty greasiness. That said, one must treat oneself, mustn’t one? So I’m sure that I’ll do something naughty later on in the week. By compromise at least one of my 5 a day will be included (does butter count?). For tea I had salady bits - a green salad, hummus, coleslaw, brown bread etc etc. For dessert, Soyer’s Orange Salad. The recipe is taken from his 1860 book Shilling Cookery for the People (full title, Shilling Cookery for the People: Embracing an Entirely New System of Plain Cookery and Domestic Economy). You can still buy it as a paperback. Odd though that there’s an orange recipe, as they were pretty expensive up until post-war times. Also it contains Madeira wine. Anyways, it’s very easy - all you need is a very sharp knife or a Japanese mandolin and time for the oranges to macerate. The quantities I give are for four people:

Thinly slice three oranges, making sure that you remove pips; don’t buy the great big warty navel ones, get the small thinner skinned ones. Don’t slice the ends as they’re too pithy. Arrange the slices on a large plate, keeping the best ones for the top. Next, sprinkle two ounces of sugar over them, and then 2 fluid ounces (80 mls-ish) of Madeira. Cover with cling film and chill for a few hours, or overnight.

FYI: Alexis Soyer is considered the first ‘celebrity chef’ and was an all-round nice chap: he took his travelling kitchen to Ireland during the potato famine to feed the poor, and to the Crimea and was a contemporary of Florence Nightingale.

#64 Soyer’s Orange Salad - 4/10. An odd creature. Not sure if I liked it, so I erred on the side of caution with score. The sweet Madeira is a treat and got easily drink a vat of it, but the oranges were odd - I don’t eat oranges like this normally - as the pith and peel were very tear and made my tongue a bit numb. That said, I couldn’t leave it alone. Maybe the slices weren’t thin enough, or perhaps I didn’t leave it long enough. I’ve got some in the fridge and will see what it’s like tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I know what you are thinking, but it's a glandular problem.

I can see you there, judging me. I my have piled on the pounds but it's my glands, you see, my glands. There's nothing I can do. It has nothing to with the huge selection of meat and cake I've scoffed both in France and coming back, or that I've not been to the gym for nearly a month. Ok, I sort of is. Ok it is! It will all change however now that I'm back at the gym and on a low-calorie diet for a bit. I must get back to the svelte chap I was before the field trip. Therefore all Grigsons are to be low-or-no-fat, contain loads of fresh fruit and veg, and/or be high protein. If she can't provide, then I will have to temporarily look elsewhere. I'm sure I won't though. Flicking through the book there's light salads, fish dishes and summery soups.

I shall be thin, I shall!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

#63 Fruit Tea Loaf

The third bit of stodge I made for the little gathering at mine for my birthday. Tea loaves are great and very Yorkshire, but I’d not made one before – it’s extremely easy, in fact, if you’ve never baked or have some terrible affliction, like feet for hands or something, then you should try this. People don’t eat this kind of stuff any more, so many don’t like dried fruit for some reason. They are better left in an air tight container for a few days before scoffing (if you can last that long – I couldn’t). Always serve your tea loaf with butter spread generously over it, or as they do in Yorkshire – though non-Yorkshire folk never seem to believe me – a slice of cheese. Sorry for the shit picture, folks.

To produce a squidgy ingot of loveliness of your own, start off by mixing 12 ounces of mixed fruit with 4 ounces of dark brown sugar. I like the soft, moist molasses sugar that you get in boxes best. Pour over half a pint of strained, well-stewed Indian tea, I used Assam. Leave this mixture overnight, so that the syrupy tea is absorbed by the fruit. Next day, mix in 8 ounces of self-raising flour and an egg. Pour the mixture into a lined 9 inch loaf tin and bake for one hour at 180°C, then down the temperature down to 160°C for a final half hour. Like all baking check with a larding needle or a knife toward the end of cooking, in case of funny temperatures in weird ovens like my fan one.

#63 Fruit Tea Loaf – 9/10. Cheap and easy and delicious! I also seem to have converted people who don’t like raisins with this one. The molasses sugar and the tea make the cake moist and rich. A perfect little gem of a cake.

Monday, July 21, 2008

#62 Mrs Sleightholme's Seed Cake

Seed cake, it seems, goes way way way back. Jane mentions books from the 1700 with several recipes. A classic English cake if ever there was one; except I’ve never heard of it. In fact there’s two seed cake recipes in English Food itself. The seeds are provided in the form of caraway, a most English of spices. The cake itself is an unusual one – half way between a traditional recipe, where you cream butter and sugar and a sabayon, where eggs are whisked up until thick and frothy.

To make the cake, cream 6 ounces each of butter and sugar and stir in a rounded dessertspoon of caraway seeds. Separate three eggs and whisk the whites until stiff, but still creamy. Beat the yolks and carefully fold these into the whites with a metal spoon, then fold the eggs into the creamed butter. Next, stir in a tablespoon of ground almonds and eight ounces of sifted self-raising flour. I find it easier to mix the flour in three or four stages to avoid getting a lumpy batter. The mixture should be slack enough to ‘fall off the spoon when you shake it with a firm flick of the wrist’, and we must do as we are told. If too thick, add a little milk; a tablespoon or two should do it.

Pour the mixture into a lined 9 inch loaf tin and smooth it down with the back of a spoon. Decorate with blanched, slivered almonds if you fancy. Bake for up to an hour (but check on it with a larding needle as it may be less) at 180 degrees Celsius. Let the cake cook for 15 minutes before taking out of the tin to cool on a wire rack.

FYI: In Henry IV Part II, Falstaff is invited by Shallow to have a snack on some of ‘last year’s pippin [apples] of mine own graffing, with a dish of caraways’. So if Mr. Shakespeare liked them, they can’t be bad.

FYI 2: Mrs Dorothy Sleightholme was a cook on Yorkshire Television. Growing up in Yorkshire and being an avid telly watcher naturally means I have no recollection of her whatsoever.

# 62 Mrs Sleightholme’s Seed Cake: 4/10. A low scorer, though not foul tasting. It was like a dry Madeira cake. It certainly needed tea to go with it as it was on the claggy side. The caraway seeds save it to some degree. There is, of course, the slightest chance that I over baked it, but I find that very hard to believe…

Friday, July 18, 2008

#61 Melon Water Ice

Melons are on tip-top form in late Spring and early Summer so I thought I’d better do the only (I think) melon-related recipe in the book. It also seems that we are not going to have any decent weather either, as it rained on St. Swithen’s day and that means it’s going to rain for forty days. Bloody St. Swithen. A bit of a crap Saint if you ask me, if that’s all he did/does. I digress…..Make sure you get a good, ripe melon. I used cantaloupe as it’s the most fragrant, but apparently any will do. A small one is just the right size for the recipe too. I tried doing it using the ice cream maker, but it turns out it’s easier just to stick the mixture in the freezer and break the ice up every now and again. To stabilise it, it has whipped egg whites, which didn’t down well with some that ate it. I don’t know why, as it’s pretty commonly used in all sorts – next time there’s something like that I shall not mention it! If you are squeamish about it, please don’t be, and have a go at making it:

Start off by making a stock syrup by boiling half a pint of water with 4 ounces of sugar and letting it simmer for four minutes. Allow to cool. Whilst you’re waiting, liquidise enough melon flesh to give you about half a pint’s worth and stir in the cool syrup. I found that after adding about three quarters of it, it was too sweet and added a bit more water, so be careful. Add enough lemon juice to bring out the flavour of the melon – it shouldn’t actually taste lemony – about half will do. Freeze the mixture and keep breaking it up with a spoon or wire whisk. When it starts getting quite firm, whisk an egg white until stiff, but not dry, using an electric mixer and add the melon to it spoon by spoon. It froths up a bit – it’s the bubbles in the egg white stabilises the mixture and makes it easy to spoon out when frozen. Return the mixture to the freezer, and when you want to serve it, bring it out at least half an hour before.

#61 Melon Water Ice: 7/10. A lovely, refreshing dessert. The egg made it nice and light. It was very sweet – perhaps too sweet, so I knocked it down a bit for that. I would probably mark it higher if I had eaten it on some sunny veranda somewhere, but hey-ho…

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another year closer to the grave...

It’s my birthday today. Thirty-one years old. I don’t worry about age and all that nonsense these days – I got over that one on my 28th. I found that ‘late-twenties’ was tant amount to thirty, and was therefore officially no longer young then. I have dealt with it. It is fine.

Anyways, Lee, Evelyn, Ed, Dean, Christine, Stuart and Jamie were coming over so I did a few Grigsons. I’m still pretty brassic so they had to be cheap yet tasty, though I’m not sure how well down they actually went. I did Melon Water Ice, a traditional Seed Cake (though I’d not actually heard of them before) and a Tea Loaf, plus some vegetable soup, of my own devise (recipe somewhere within this blog). They were all pretty easy to make, which is good as I’ve done in an intercostal muscle or something and was off my tits on Cocodamol by mid-afternoon.

It was nice to get food-related pressies off everyone – Cheers Chaps!

I will try and pull my finger out and post up the recipes so that you can relive the excitement of the day…Though I’m off out tonight on a secret birthday treat with Greg and then I’m off camping to Bridlington with my family for the weekend. The weather report says it’s going to rain. Boo!!

Monday, July 14, 2008

#60 Tomato Soup

I still haven’t make anything since I got back, however I did do (#60) Tomato Soup before I left for France. I think it’s important to use fresh tomatoes in this, as tinned have a taste of their own, that although very good, are not suitable. I bought tomatoes on the vine and kept them on the windowsill so that they got nice and ripe and, er, tomatoey. Even then I still had to add extra sugar and tomato puree. Anyways, it was nice to have a cream of tomato soup that wasn’t from a tin.

Soften 3 ounces of chopped carrot, 2 ounces of onion and a garlic clove in two ounces of butter, and then add a pound of peeled tomatoes that have been halved. (To peel them, put them in a bowl of boiling water for 30 seconds and the skins just slip straight off.) Add 1 1/4 pints of stock – chicken, beef or vegetable (I did veg). Bring to the boil and simmer until everything’s cooked through – about 15 minutes. Test the carrot, as it is this that takes the longest. Liquidise the soup and push it through a sieve leaving behind the tomato pips. Now the important bit: the seasoning. Add salt and pepper as you normally would, but also add some sugar and around 2 teaspoons of tomato puree, if the tomatoes need it. Also add some freshly-grated nutmeg; I think it makes all the difference. Boil 1/4 pint of single cream and add the soup mixture. When you are just about to serve it, sprinkle over some chopped parsley. Serve with bread, or maybe a giant crouton.

The Grigson says that you can serve it cold: Chill the soup before adding cold cream.

#60 Tomato Soup: 7/10. A really good, light summery soup. It wasn’t packed with tomato flavour, but it was delicious. I’ll certainly do it again.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Manchester, so much to answer for

Sorry for not adding an entry for a while…

I got back from the beautiful St Auban last Saturday evening and haven’t quite got back into my routine, which means I haven’t done any cooking – at least not proper cooking – since I got back. I’ve done lots of stir-fries and eaten several pizzas. This is not good. I reckon I’ve put on at least half a stone (I dare not weigh myself). This is, in part, due to the field trip. I managed to do no exercise, eat two three-course meals a day and drink every night. The food was all home-cooked and very nice indeed.

St Auban is about 30 miles north of Nice and resides in the Alps; it was once a ski resort in the winter, but due to climate change this no longer happens, although there is evidence of it’s past in the rusting ski-lifts that run up the mountainside. The place is beautiful, there is the most amazing geology – layers of buckled meandering limestone, caverns, canyons and crevices. There is wonderful wildlife – after all that’s why we were there – wild boar, red deer, chamois, red squirrels, golden eagles, crested tits, Bonelli's warblers and my favourite bird, the nightjar. Many of these animals can be seen in Britain, of course, but you have to go to Reserves or the Scottish Highlands to see them. The other great thing about the mountain habitats is the smell – walking through the wandering, purple thyme creates a floral mist around you, plus there are lavender plants and juniper berries to crush between your fingers. Ahh…

...and then there’s Manchester. Since returning, there’s been nothing but rain and thunder storms. The temperatures have been similar to what we had in January, for God’s sake. I should be excited as all my favourite foods are in season now, but I feel like it’s all passing me by.

It’s my birthday on Thursday, so I think I’ll get back into the swing of things by treating myself by making some kind of pudding containing all those lovely summer ingredients I’ve been thinking of – raspberries, gooseberries, cherries and the like. Hopefully they’ll give me some pep…