Friday, July 31, 2009

#174 Grasmere Gingerbread I

Gingerbread is of course, not bread but a biscuit. According to Griggers, the biscuity gingerbread that we know and love, and (I assume we use for gingerbread men) is in fact Grasmere gingerbread, and although you can buy it and make it, the original recipe is a secret. Apparently, it is still sold in Grasmere from the local church (William Wordsworth is buried in its grounds). There’s another Grasmere Gingerbread recipe in English Food as well as a Medieval Gingerbread – gingerbread has a long and chequered past, but I’ll save that story for that entry.

One weird thing though – there’s no other gingerbread-type things in the book; where the heck is the Yorkshire Parkin? I shall add it to ever-increasing list of glaring omissions from the book.

Melt 5 ounces of slightly salted butter over a low heat and allow it to go tepid. Meanwhile mix 8 ounces of plain flour (or fine oatmeal, or half-and-half) with 4 ounces of pale soft brown sugar, a teaspoon of ground ginger (though I misread and added three, it was fine and suggest adding three instead of one) and a quarter teaspoon of baking powder, then add the butter and mix well. Press the mix down well with your hands in a baking tray that has been lined with baking paper and bake at 180°C for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cut into oblongs, but allow to cool in the tin.

#174 Grasmere Gingerbread I. I’ve not done many of the biscuit recipes from the book, as I don’t really get that excited about them, but these were delicious and very easy to make. I’ll never do cartwheels, however, so I’ll give them a stoic 7.5/10.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

#173 Summer Pudding

The quintessential English pudding for, er, summertime. The summer pudding is one of my favourite desserts; I’d never made one before, but had eaten many. It is my favourite because it contains a massive load of summer berries, in particular, raspberries. For those of you that don’t know, a summer pudding contains lightly stewed summer berries encased in slightly stale bread. The ‘soggy’ bread seems to put many people off, but it doesn’t even seem like bread. Trust me. Apparently, the summer pudding arose in care homes of yore because many invalids couldn’t stomach the rich and heavy pastry or suet puddings.

Make this pudding whilst there is a glut of summer berries that are in season and therefore won’t cost a fortune. (The original recipe is for a huge one that serves eight to ten people, but I halved all the ingredients).

Place a pound of summer berries in a bowl with 4 ounces of caster sugar. Grigson says to use blackcurrants, or a mixture of raspberries, redcurrants and blackberries. The truth is, you can use whatever you want – chopped strawberries are a common addition, for example. Stir, cover and leave overnight. Add the fruit and the juices to a saucepan and bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes to lightly cook the fruit. Next, prepare the pudding basin – you’ll need a 2 ½ pint one for this amount of fruit. Cut a circle of slightly stale white bread for the bottom of the bowl, and then cut wide strips for the edges which should overlap as you place them inside the mould to produce a strong wall with no leaks – make sure you remove the crusts!. Once they are all arranged, pour in half the berry mixture, then add a slice of bread, then the rest of the mixture. Cut more bread make a lid and then fold over or trim any surplus bits. Put a plate on top and weight it down with a couple of food cans and place in the fridge overnight. Turn the pudding out onto a plate and serve with plenty of cream. (Grigson suggests making some extra berry sauce to cover any bread that has not become soaked, though you can get around this by dipping te bread in the berry juices before you place them in the pudding basin.)

#173 Summer Pudding – 9.5/10. It is jostling with Sussex Pond Pudding for first place in the pudding stakes for me. What is there not to like about a big load of tart berries and a dollop of cream? Anyone squeamish about the soggy bread really needn’t be – it is an English classic and everyone should try it (if not this one, then the Sussex Pond Pudding!).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

#172 Cucumber Ragout

I chose this unusual recipe as the accompaniment to roast chicken – Griggers really bigs this “delicious” and “piquant” dish up and suggests eating it with chicken, veal or lamb. I had never eaten cucumber as a cooked vegetable before and was not feeling too hopeful about it (she bigged up the Mocha Cake and that was total crap!). However, a quick look in Larousse Gastronomique showed me that we English are missing out on something – there are loads of cooked cucumber recipes! Still dubious, I made it in advance so that if it did become watery pap, I could cook some peas and carrots to go with the chicken!

FYI: the word ragoût can mean two things: a stew (usually poultry or meat), or something usually a bit boring, tarted up into something delicious (from the French ragoûter, to revive the taste), which generally applies to vegetables, particularly if you are French.

Peel and slice two cucumbers and brown them in a wide saucepan with some butter. In a separate pan, brown two medium onions and brown those in some butter too. Place them to a saucepan and add 8 tablespoons of chicken stock and 3 tablespoons of dry white wine. Cover the pan and simmer until the cucumber is tender. Mash together 2 rounded teaspoons each of flour and butter and add it bit by bit into the cucumber mixture until it thickens into a sauce. Season well with salt, pepper and ground mace.

#172 Cucumber Ragoût. A revelation. I can’t believe how transformed the cucumber becomes once it is cooked. It is like an extra-tasty courgette. Why on Earth do we not as a nation cook with cucumbers? The same I suppose goes with lettuce, which is used extensively in French and Italian cookery. I say we should try and revive it. Give it a go, you shall not be disappointed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

#171 Herb Stuffing

I have been trying to address an FAQ recently: “how far through the book are you?” I have been a right old geek and calculated it on a spreadsheet! Unfortunately I can’t work out how to put a table into Blogger and I’m no good with html script. If anybody reading this knows how to do a table please leave a comment. I did notice that I have not paid much attention to the Stuffings section, having done the Parsley and Lemon Stuffing at Christmastime. I went for this herb stuffing for two main reasons: firstly, Grigson uses this stuffing in many other recipes; and secondly, I had all the ingredients. I wanted to judge it in its own right and not part of another recipe, so I made it and used it to stuff a roast chicken for Sunday dinner.

By the way: There is no method for roasting a chicken (or goose for that matter) in English Food, so I went for the method normally used: 20 minutes a pound plus an extra 20 minutes at 200°C. Make sure when you calculate the cooking time, you weight the chicken after you’ve stuffed it. Place the chicken in a roasting tin, rub in plenty of butter into the skin and season well. Cover with foil and baste every half an hour. Remove foil for final 30 minutes and baste every 15 minutes until cooked. Leave to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Anyway, back to the stuffing: Gently fry a chopped medium onion in 2 ounces of butter until nicely soft and golden and pour the contents including juices into a mixing bowl. Now add 2 ounces of chopped ham or bacon (I went with the latter; black bacon from the Cheshire Smokehouse), a tablespoon of chopped parsley, a tablespoon of chopped thyme, 4 ounces of breadcrumbs, and egg, an egg yolk and finally a seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir well and use it however you like: stuff poultry, veal, rabbit or tomatoes, or even roll into balls and bake on a tray in the oven.

#171 Herb Stuffing – 9/10. Absolutely delicious! Such a massive return for such little effort. It is really full of flavour; it is very important that you use good ham or bacon and fresh herbs for this as they should be the dominant flavours. There’ll be no Paxo in my house ever again! If you are doing a roast chicken dinner, give it a try – you will not be disappointed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

#170 English Salad Sauce

English salad sauce was used as a cheaper alternative to mayonnaise and other similar posh or tricky to make dressings. Nothing to be ashamed about, says Jane, and it comes from Eliza Acton – a cook that pops up again and again in English food, so I assumed it would be some kind of delicious sauce that would be akin to Heinz Salad Cream. In fact Charlotte and I were actually excited at the prospect. We shouldn’t have got excited though as it was pretty crap. However, as a bit of English food history, it is interesting; it’s unbelievable how much our palates have changed. By the way, the sauce is a basic sauce that can (and definitely should) be flavoured with extra ingredients: tomato ketchup, anchovies, or whatever. I went for capers as we were having it with salmon fishcakes.

Sieve two hardboiled egg yolks and stir in one raw yolk and season with salt, white and Cayenne pepper and ¼ teaspoon of sugar along with a teaspoon of water. Gradually mix in ¼ pint of double cream and whisk until thickened. Now flavour with a little lemon juice or a flavoured vinegar. Lastly, add any additional flavourings. Dress the salad with the sauce - don't forget to slice the leftover egg whites to use in the salad.

#170 English Salad Sauce. Not what I was expecting at all. Quite runny and unsatifying, bland and boring. We made taste okay with the addition of lots of seasoning and a shed-load of capers. Definitely give this a miss, tartar sauce, salad cream or mayonnaise would have been the best thing to have. Oh well, you can’t win them all – 3/10.

FYI: Eliza Acton (1799-1859) was a cook and poet. She was the first person write a cook book for normal folk, anmd was the first to include cooking times and ingredients lists in her recipes. Years later Mrs Beeton based her much more popular book on Acton's writings. Cheeky!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

#169 Salmon Fishcakes

Now that I have decided that smoked salmon is not the work of Satan, I thought that I’d have a crack at some more salmon recipes. This is a good thing seeing as the freshwater fish section of the book is woefully under-represented. Still being a little tentative, I went for these fish cakes that do a great job of padding out some salmon fillets. They are a very old-fashioned style of fish cake – based on a very thick béchamel sauce, not what we are used to at all these days where we would expect chunky fish and potatoes. However, I’ve had the man flu coming on for a while and needed some comforting stodge.

This recipe makes eight to ten fishcakes, depending upon how big you like them.

Begin by poaching a pound of salmon in water that has been seasoned well with salt, pepper, white wine vinegar and some bay leaves. Also, mash 4 ounces of potatoes. Allow these to cool. Meanwhile, you can be making the béchamel sauce: melt 2 ounces of butter in a pan and stir in 3 ounces of plain flour. Cook for a few minutes before gradually stirring in ¾ pint of milk. The sauce will be very thick. Let it cool a little bit, then mash the salmon and stir in the sauce. Also mix in a tablespoon of dill and/or parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Beat in an egg and the mashed potatoes. Chill the mixture in the fridge and form into cakes; this is quite tricky as the mixture is soft. The best thing to do is to use a tablespoon to scoop out a large amount of it and place it in some prepared breadcrumbs and coat each one. You can place it in the fridge again if you like, but you don’t have to. Fry on a medium heat in a mixture of butter and oil for 4 minutes each side. I served it with lemon wedges and a green salad dressed with another recipe from the book: English salad sauce.

#169 Salmon Fishcakes. A tricky one to score. I enjoyed them – I even went back for seconds, but they were slightly too stodgy, even for me. However, the flavours were very good – not too fishy, nice and herby and delicious a piquant lemon taste. I would make them again, but with some modifications, I think – more potato, crushed rather than mashed; chunky fish rather than mashed…you get the idea. 5/10.

Monday, July 20, 2009

#168 Smoked Fish Souffle

This one is just a quickie: With the bit of smoked trout Butters and me had left over from our trip to the Cheshire Smokehouse, rather than just scoff it au naturelle, I made this smoked fish trout. The recipe is exactly the same as the cheese soufflé I did a wee while ago, the only difference is that the cheese is omitted from the mixture and flakes of up to 8 ounces of any smoked fish you like are folded in after the egg whites are incorporated. The soufflé is topped with a tablespoon each of Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs for a good crunch.

#168 Smoked Fish Soufflé – I gave the cheese soufflé high marks and this was good – if not, better – so I reckon it’s a 9/10. This soufflé recipe is really good – the egg and smoked fish combination in this case really was sublime; the perfect way to use up any off-cuts or leftovers. Brilliant stuff.

P.S. No photo! My stupid camera takes pictures and then they aren’t there when I come to view them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

#167 Brown Bread Ice Cream

Aside from all the smoked stuff we bought at the Cheshire Smokehouse, we also got ourselves some nice desserts (and VERY nice they were too). To go with them I knocked up this very traditional brown bread ice cream. It’s an easy one as you don’t require an ice cream maker to make it, and is also the last of the ice creams in the book. It’s seems a little over-simplified as dry baked breadcrumbs are used – as far as I know it is caramelised breadcrumbs that give it a special crunch. Hey-ho – one must do as one is told.

I don’t know anything about its history – I know it’s very English, but I can’t find any websites that say how or why the addition of brown bread to ice cream came about. If you know, send me a comment! Ta.

First of all spread six ounces of wholemeal breadcrumbs on a baking tray and bake in a moderate oven until crisp – around 20 minutes. Whilst they cool, beat together ½ a pint each of double and single cream along with 4 ounces of pale brown sugar until it thickens and the sugar dissolves. Now mix a tablespoon of rum into 2 egg yolks and add that to the cream mixture and beat it in well (the rum is optional, but makes all the difference). Whisk 2 egg whites until stiff and fold those into the creams, and then lastly the cooled breadcrumbs. Pour into a tub and freeze. There’s no need to stir it.

#167 Brown Bread Ice Cream – 6/10. A nice ice cream, but I was slightly disappointed; the brown bread, brown sugar and rum produced a lovely subtle malty taste, but because the crumbs were not caramelised with some sugar, they went soggy. I’m not sure why Jane doesn’t include this step, as it would take a good ice cream and transform it into a delicious one. If I were to make it again, I would caramelise the dried crumbs with a tablespoon or two of sugar and an ounce or two of butter so that they get really crisp before folding them into the cream.

Monday, July 13, 2009

#166 Smoked Salmon

Butters and I went to the Cheshire Smokehouse at the weekend and bought lots of good things: smoked nuts, smoked trout, bacon and – amongst other lovely stuff – smoked salmon. You may be wondering why I’ve left such a simple thing out for so long – it is simply because I don’t like the stuff. It’s one of the problems with this whole plan; what do I do if I don’t like the ingredients? As it happens, I went to Glasgow on a conference earlier in the year and tried some there and it was, unbelievably, okay. So I thought that if I’m to do this I need to try really good salmon, not cheapo crap from a supermarket.

It’s perhaps I little bit of a cop-out citing this as a recipe, but I’m including it anyway. Jane makes a good point about smoked salmon that are worth reiterating and it applies to any food, really: always by the best quality, even if that means you buy less of it; I think that this is particularly applicable to any meat, fish or dairy product.

When you buy your smoked salmon arrange slices on a plate with brown bread and butter and some lemon juice. I added some capers and a little creamed horseradish, otherwise, that’s it. If you have a bought a side of salmon, use the trimmings for scrambled eggs or soufflés.

#166 Smoked Salmon – 7/10. After all these years, it turns out that smoked salmon is nice; I’ve just been eating the rubbish stuff! (Or I have expensive tastes.) It’s a simple concept – salmon, bread, butter and lemon juice, but that is really all you need. What have we learned: buy the best you can afford and do as little as possible to it to get the most out of it. Here endeth the lesson.

Friday, July 10, 2009

#165 Indian Soup

A soup “with a lively freshness and a spicy flavour” says Jane, just the ticket for a summer soup, it is also a thrifty soup as it requires left-over boiled rice and left over chicken bones and meat, of which I had both from the chicken curry I had made the previous night. It is basically an Indian-style version of chicken noodle soup and is, of course, about as Indian as Prince Phillip, but this is the 1970s so we shall allow it. Anyway, who cares as long as it tastes nice; and I had high hopes for it after the disappointing mulligatawny soup I had cooked previously.

To start, bring 3 pints of beef stock, 2 large sliced onions, a large Bramley apple, a tablespoon of desiccated coconut, 2 teaspoons of curry powder and the bones from a chicken or game carcass (minus meat scraps) to the boil and simmer for an hour. There is no need to peel or core the apple, because the stock is then strained through muslin into another pan. The resulting cloudy stock now needs to be made clear – this is a two-stage process. First, use kitchen paper to blot off any fat that may have risen to the top; secondly, put over a moderate heat and whisk in two egg whites. Keep whisking for a few minutes and then leave to simmer for five more without stirring. The idea here is that as the egg whites cook they mop up any solids that make the soup cloudy. When ready, strain again; the result should be a lovely golden-brown and clear broth. Season it well with salt and both black and Cayenne peppers, plus a squeeze of lemon juice. Finally, add a few tablespoons of boiled basmati rice and the shredded scraps of meat.

#165 Indian Soup. Well, Griggers was right – it is a delicious soup, clear, spicy and fruity with a lovely tart finish supplied by the lemon and Bramley apple. It would make a perfect starter to a meal – not too filling and interesting in its flavours. However, it is a bit of a faff – it’s not something that can be thrown together and liquidised at the end of cooking, and although tasty, I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort (making a clear consommé is a tricky business). After weighting up the pros and cons, I’ll give it 6.5/10.

FYI: a simpler way to clarify a stock is to freeze it and to let it strain through muslin slowly overnight in the fridge. Obviously you need to remember to make the stock a couple of days before you want to use it, but it’s very easy indeed! It also gives a more clear stock too in my experience.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Well, I am back from the French field trip and full of meat, meat, meat! That is mainly what I’ve been eating for the last two weeks; well, that and bread, bread, bread!! I have been craving vegan food a bit, which does not sit well with English Food.

I’ve just about come round from the trip though and am ready to cook some nice summery dishes. The problem is that this month is very busy indeed and I doubt I’m going to have time to cook much. I seem to remember having a similar problem this time last year. I will simply have to freeze everything and eat my summer pudding in January or something.

One thing I did notice whilst on a wee walk around Chorlton Meadows with Butters was the amount of freebie food – blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, elderberries and sloes all spotted in a single trip! So later on in the summer we should have lots of nice stuff (whether there are recipes in the book or not, I shall report on them – too good an opportunity to miss).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July food

Probably the most exciting food month - all my favorite fruits are here in abundance. It's also my birthday this month so I expect many gifts. I accept all major credit cards.

I managed to get quite a few seasonal ingredients last month, so hopefully I will do this month - it shouldn't be too difficult as I'm spoiled for choice, plus I've got my fruit, veg and herbs growing away in my garden. Again not all of these are in the book:

Vegetables: globe artichokes, beetroot, broad beans, carrots, cauliflower, courgettes, french beans, garlic, kohlrabi, lamb's lettuce, onions, pak choi, peas, potatoes, purslane, radishes, rocket, samphire, sorrel, spinach, tomatoes and watercress.

Fruit: apricots, blackcurrants, blueberries, cherries, gooseberries, raspberries, red and whitecurrants, rhubarb, strawberries and worcesterberries (whatever they are).

Wild greens and herbs: horseradish, marsh samphire and wild fennel.

Wild flowers and fruits: elderflowers and wild strawberries (loads of these in France!).

Fungi and nuts: chanterelles, chicken of the woods, pignuts and summer truffles.

Fish and shellfish: black bream, crab (brown, hen and spider), signal crayfish, cuttlefish, pollack, scallops, sea bass, sea trout and river tout.

Game: rabbit and wood pigeon.