Spring is in the air

There’s a change in the air, you can smell it. Fresh growth is sprouting under the weak sunshine and the birds in the garden are busy collecting nesting materials. The domestic birds: Verity, Scootaloo, Meg and Moriarty, can feel it too and laying is in full swing. Visitors are compelled to leave with half a dozen eggs whether they like it or not.

Do you know what really yanks my chain? The way simple seasonal things have been annexed by popular celebrations. Chocolate eggs are for Easter, pumpkins for Halloween, turkey and cranberries for Christmas, anything red, white and blue is “patriotic”. Well I want them when I want them and refuse to be tied down by man made traditions, so there (raspberry noise)!

Inspired by the busy bird life outside the kitchen window I wanted to made birds nest biscuits (cookies, for any American readers). You probably already have recipes for shortbread and chocolate crispy cakes So go rootle them out and gather the ingredients. You will also need a bag of marshmallows (the proper ones, not Flumps) and about 200g of chocolate mini eggs.

Birds Nest Biscuits

A batch of round shortbread bicuits (I used about 10, with some left over)

A batch of  chocolate cornflake or rice crispy cake mix

Marshmallows

Chocolate mini eggs

Bake the shortbread until pale gold in colour.  Cut some marshmallows in half and put half a mallow on each biscuit. Pop them back in the oven for a couple of minutes until the mallow has melted slightly. Put them on a wire rack to cool.

Prepare the chocolate cornflake mix. Put a large spoonful of mixture on top of each biscuit, covering the marshmallow. Press three chocolate eggs on top of each one and leave till the chocolate has set.

Don’t do what I did and try to melt all of the marshmallows at once in a saucepan. You will never get the resulting sticky mess as far as the biscuits; have you ever read the story of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby? Need I say more!

distorted eggs

Did you know?: The reason that so many flags are red, white and blue is because indigo blue and the colour known as “Turkey Red” were the only reliably colourfast  dyes until chemical dyes were invented in the 1800’s.

 

 

Vintage is the new modern

Cook books are a weakness of mine. Eldest son rolls his eyes and tells me I have too many and I can’t possibly need them all. What does he know? I NEED THEM! As much as I like new shiny ones with lots of pictures, there’s something about the vintage ones. A step back in time, a glimpse of the real day to day lives of ordinary people and a slice of social history that you can recreate and experience for yourself.

In an attempt to prove that I do use all of the books, week by week a book has been pulled out of the hat (yes, I assigned them all a number and category) and that has been the chosen one to provide family meals. Some are more successful than others, some have to be quietly put back on the shelf because of certain fussy eaters. Husband won’t eat fish, small boy won’t eat white sauces, potatoes or eggs, eldest son won’t eat onions, mushrooms and various other vegetables, so finding something to please everyone with minimal bits to pick out can be a trial!

Anyway, I thought it would be nice to share some of the highs and lows from my vintage collection, sometimes you find something really good that you go back to again and again.

Cookery in Colour, edited by Marguerite Patten (who at the time of going to press is still around at the ripe old age of 99) is a collection of recipes from various food councils, marketing boards and bureau’s, first published in 1960, easily recognizable by its bright blue cover. If you grew up any time between 1960-1980 the chances are that your mum or gran had a copy on the shelf. The pictures are mainly in a glorious technicolor so garish, that reading the book for any length of time is apt to give one a headache!

We tried sausage roly-poly and it was great! Served with veg and gravy one day and heated up with some baked beans the next. It felt like good honest nursery food. I adapted the recipe slightly for modern  households.

Sausage Roly-Poly

8oz (240g) self raising flour

3.5oz (105g) beef suet

a pack of 6 good quality sausages

a pinch of salt

1 slice of bread, crust removed and whizzed into crumbs

milk for brushing

Pre-heat the oven to 180°c. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over a baking tray.

Mix the flour, suet and salt with enough water to make a soft but not sticky dough. Knead briefly then roll out on a floured surface to make a rectangle roughly the size of the baking tray. Brush the upper surface with milk, lift the dough and put it MILK SIDE DOWN onto the crumbs.

Squeeze the filling out of the sausage skins and spread evenly over the dough, Starting at a short end, roll the dough up like a Swiss roll. Bake in the oven for 40 mins. If it looks too brown before the end of the cooking time cover with a piece of baking paper.

Serves 6-8cookcolour1 saus slice

 

 

Ice Cream For Breakfast?

Ice cream for breakfast day today! It sounds crazy, but is actually a yearly event to “honour all children who have fought or who are fighting a battle with cancer…”

Many of my friends have battled cancer in the last few years. I know from experience,having lost my own daughter a few years ago, that it’s harder to bear when a child, who’s life should be full of promise, becomes ill

So “… support the fighting, remember the resting & party on with the survivors.” www.facebook.com/eaticecreamforbreakfast

I’m interested in the idea of breakfast flavoured ice cream now. Last year I made marmalade on toast flavour, which was pretty awesome and this morning we had cornflake flavour, also pretty awesome. Would you like to try it? Be warned, it is fairly wasteful of milk and cornflakes, unless someone in the family likes squishy cereal.

I would love to know what breakfast flavour ice cream you would like to see?

Cornflake Ice Cream with Butter-Toffee Cornflake Crunch

  • 150g cornflakes
  • at least 1l milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 100g sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1tsp cornflour

Put the cornflakes in a large bowl and cover with milk. Leave to soak for a few hours, preferably overnight. When they’re done most of the milk will have been soaked up. Tip them into a sieve over a jug and squeeze out 250ml of milk. Put the milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil.

While the milk is heating up, separate the eggs, putting the yolks into a large bowl (use the whites to make angel cake or macarons, they also freeze well) beat in the cornflour and sugar. Beat in the only just boiling milk. Turn down the heat to medium.

Return the milk/egg mix to the saucepan and heat gently, stirring briskly the whole time, a wooden spatula is good for this job, until the custard is lightly thickened, about the consistency of cream. Don’t be tempted to let it thicken too much because it will just curdle.

Pour it into a jug and stir in the cream. leave in the fridge to cool down.

To make the cornflake crunch

Melt 25g butter with 2 tbsp of golden syrup and 1 tbsp of sugar. Let it bubble for a minute.

Add three large handfuls of cornflakes and stir till coated. Spread them out on a baking tray and bake on a medium low heat for ten minutes, stirring them about half way through the cooking time.

Spread out on a plate to cool. When they are cool enough to touch, break up the larger clumps with your fingers.

When the custard has cooled down, follow the instructions for your ice cream maker to make the ice cream. Add some of the cornflake crunch to the ice cream and save the rest to sprinkle over the top.

Serves 4-6

Based on a recipe published in Olive magazine.

Fish and chips

Monday 16th February is the start of national chip week.

Ah! Fish and chips that quintessentially British combination, or is it? In the 1850’s they were referred to as potatoes “fried in the French fashion” and the fried fish was introduced by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain. The first recorded Chippy in London was opened in 1860 by Jewish immigrant Joseph Malin.

But we took it to our hearts ,we did and made them our own. Cheap, hot and tasty, and more nutritious than you might think (potatoes contain vitamin C, vitamin B6, niacin, potassium and manganese among other nutrients). A staple of the working classes, fish and chips were one of the few foods not rationed during war time, increasing the nations morale. George Orwell stated that fish and chips were one of the home comforts that kept the masses happy and “averted revolution”. These day’s chips are increasingly vilified because of being deep fried, probably in hydrogenated fats which we now know are worse than saturated fats. Oh well!

Like most things it’s a case of everything in moderation. Enjoy fish and chips every now and then, support your local chippy (unless they’re not that that good, in which case support someone else’s) Enjoy home made chips, deep fried or better: given a light coating of olive oil, herbs or spices and a sprinkling of sea salt or Marigold Boullion powder and baked in the oven. It honestly only takes a couple of minutes longer than bunging a tray of rubbery pre-packaged oven chips in to cook!

Chips go with everything, don’t let food fascists tell you otherwise.

Butter Me Up

So, according to new research, butter is not the evil artery clogging (or indeed, kitten hating) fiend we were brought up to believe. I would like to take this opportunity to say I ALWAYS BELIEVED IN YOU, BUTTER!

Experts now say that there is no evidence to show that eating saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease (just like the cholesterol in eggs was found to be “good” cholesterol)  Margarine on the other hand (and fats used in factory made baked goods) often contains hydrogenated and trans fats known to increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. And they taste gross. Did you know that the buttery flavouring in various “I can’t Believe I’m Eating This Fakey Butter Substitute” spreads comes from…..petrochemicals….no kidding! You are eating a butane derivative mixed with a few other nasties, yum! Working in the factories where it is produced puts you at risk of bronchiolitis obliterans, a particularly unpleasant lung disease sometimes known as “popcorn worker’s lung”

Butter is real, natural and tasty. It gives the best flavour and texture to whatever you are making be it a cake, an unctuous hollandaise sauce or a good old fashioned piece of toast. Unless you have a dairy allergy there really is no excuse. While you’re in the kitchen you may as well have a glass of red wine, some dark chocolate, some eggs and a nice bit of red meat.

But it will still make you fat, so enjoy butter responsibly kids!

Picture courtesy of Brownie Comic Writer whose work can be found on www.deviantart.com

Arnold Bennett’s Omelette

Arnold Bennett (1867-1931)  was an English writer born in the Potteries area of Staffordshire, same as me. A prolific writer, some say this affected the quality of his work, though he was cheerfully realistic about it  “Am I to sit still and see other fellows pocketing two guineas apiece for stories which I can do better myself? Not me. If anyone imagines my sole aim is art for art’s sake, they are cruelly deceived.” We are not all able to produce art for art’s sake, we must also earn our bread and butter, or omelettes.  While staying at the Savoy hotel in London the chef’s created an omelette for Arnie which still bears his name today.

I hate making omelettes, it’s a right pain in the bum. Nigel Slater says “Stick with the classic interpretation unless you want the wrath of Arnold Bennett’s  Ghost upon you” I say phooey, he might have liked it better my way anyway.

Scrambled Eggs a la Arnold Bennett

1 smallish fillet of smoked haddock

1½ oz (45g) butter

5 tablespoons (85ml) double cream

3 large free range eggs

Parmesan cheese

Toast to serve

Melt 1 oz of butter in a small frying pan. Add 2 tablespoons of cream. Cook the haddock in the butter and cream until it will flake apart easily, put on a plate to one side. Add the beaten eggs to the pan, stir with a spatula until they start to clump together (I’m assuming you’ve made scrambled eggs before, right?) When the eggs are nearly done add the flaked haddock back to the pan along with a generous grating of Parmesan (I used a supermarket own brand of “Italian Style Hard Cheese” it tastes just the same) Finish cooking the eggs then stir in the remaining cream. Eat on its own or on toast, finished with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Serves two

Mr Bennett’s better known works are ‘Anna of The Five Towns’ and the ‘Clayhanger Trilogy’, I have not read them, sorry chuck!

Gordon Bennett: A ‘minced oath’ first appearing in print in 1937. Probably taken from James Gordon Bennett Jr (1841-1918), a New York playboy known for his erratic and sometimes shocking behaviour.

Tarra a bit!

Artisan Vinegar

I love ‘Delicious’ magazine. I love the pictures, the editorial and the recipes, which are exactly the kind of food I like to cook. One of the most amazing dishes we have tasted in a long time was the Braised Lamb Shanks with Red Wine ,Tomato and Vinegar. http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/braised-lamb-shanks-with-red-wine-tomato-and-vinegar/

Debbie Major introduced us to the artisan malt vinegar being produced in a de-commissioned nuclear bunker in Cornwall http://artisanmaltvinegar.co.uk Never has malt vinegar sounded so exciting. I couldn’t get my hands on any in time to cook the meal so I used Debbie’s tip to add a little balsamic vinegar to regular malt.

I adapted the recipe for my slow cooker by using a little less wine and hardly any stock. The result was rich, pungent, sweet and utterly wonderful. There are quite a few steps involved, but on the whole it was a relaxing recipe to cook, filling the kitchen with the heady aroma of herbs and wine. Served with celeriac mash and buttered greens, it makes a lovely family meal that would be just as good doubled up for an informal dinner party. See if anyone can guess the secret ingredient!

I’m now down to my last bottle of home made wine, I hope the next batch is ready soon! We are blessed with a south facing garden with just enough brick wall to grow a grape vine up.

Lastly isn’t it annoying that since so called “cheaper” cuts have become fashionable, they ain’t cheap anymore?

 

I made you a pie…

The problem with pies is getting the first slice out of the dish. The pastry falls to bits as you try to dig it out, then of course (unless you have a super thick filling) the inside comes oozing out to fill the gap.

Individual pies are the way forward folks. The filling stays in the middle and no one can complain that someone else’s bit is bigger than theirs (you know who you are!) They’re easier to make too. Less pastry to handle in one go and no need to blind bake.

Talking of pastry, for a simple rustic fruit pie don’t bother with a sweet or all butter pastry. Half the weight of the flour needs to be fat. I use equal amounts of butter and hard white vegetable fat, though you could use lard. This will give you a lovely crispy pastry with a slight savoury edge that complements a sweet but tart filling nicely.

Finally, the secret of making good pastry? Cold hands!apple pie2

The King Of Covent Garden*

Today is the start of Bramley Apple Week. Everything has a day or a week these days. Some see  it  as an annoying gimmick and I can see their point, but I think it’s harmless fun and if you’re stuck for things to do or something to cook, it can give you a starting point. Some events such as marmalade week or apple day for instance, have local activities or competitions to join in with.

In England at any rate, Bramley’s are the most popular cooking apple (mainly because they’re the only ones supermarkets stock). Excellent for apple sauce because they cook down to a pulp. They also store very well, so with care you can enjoy them all year round.

bramley adAlthough planted from seed by a girl named Mary Ann Brailsford in her garden in Southwell, Nottinghamshire in 1809, they take their name from local butcher Matthew Bramley who bought the cottage in 1846.

The original tree blew down in a storm in 1900, but survived, growing again  where a branch touched the ground and rooted. It still bears fruit to this day.

Take a look: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13764153

 

 

*The nickname given to the fruit by wholesalers in London’s Covent Garden market.

Fact: Covent Garden was originally the garden surrounding the convent of St Peter of Westminster which went into decline with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Redeveloped by the 4th Earl of Bedford in the 1600’s to include a market and houses for the wealthy. By the 1800’s it had become a notorious red light district. In 1974, because of traffic problems, the market relocated to New Covent Garden about three miles down the road, where it can be found today.

A treacle pudding with actual treacle in it!

It’s cold outside today. While the days are getting longer and spring is on the way, the chill winds, sleet and snow of February make it seem a long way off. A great big helping of steaming hot suet pudding and custard is just the ticket!

To get the perfect taste and texture that will bring memories (the good kind) of Grandmothers and school dinners flooding back, it is essential to use a blend of flour and breadcrumbs (the breadcrumbs give a lighter, looser texture); also you must use at least a little suet. Unless you are vegetarian or have another health condition, don’t bother using vegetable suet. I always used to, having been brought up to believe that fat, especially animal fat, was revolting and evil. One day I was forced through necessity to buy beef suet, only to find that it gives a far superior taste and texture.

Which brings me to the subject of treacle puddings. WHERE’S THE TREACLE PEOPLE? If it ain’t got treacle in it how can it be a treacle pudding? What you have there is a SYRUP pudding, my friend. Tastes may change over the years, and treacle may not be as popular as it used to be, yet put half to one teaspoon of treacle in your tart or pudding and prepare to be blown away by how delicious it is.

A Good Old Fashioned Steamed Treacle Pudding With Treacle in it: Serves 4-6

  • 150g self raising flour
  • 1 medium slice of bread (it will weigh about 45g)
  • 60g butter and 60g suet
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons golden syrup and 2 tsp treacle
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Pinch of salt

Grease a pudding basin. Whizz the bread into crumbs. Mix together the syrup, treacle and 2tbsp of breadcrumbs, put them in the bottom of the basin.

In a large bowl stir together the flour and the rest of breadcrumbs. Rub in the butter. Stir in the suet, salt and sugar.

In a separate bowl beat the eggs and milk. Add to the dry ingredients and stir till combined.

If your pudding basin is a sturdy one with a lid it will be fine as it is, otherwise wrap the basin in baking paper and then foil. Place in a large pan and fill it half way with boiling water. Simmer gently for about 1½ hours. You may need to top up the water from time to time.

Alternatively cook in a roomy slow cooker on high, for 2 to 3 hours. Test it by sticking a skewer in the middle, if it comes out clean the pudding is done. Serve with custard or cream.
Update: These days I prefer to use individual pudding basins, which cook in 40-60 minutes.
It’s common to diss custard powder as “a cheap substitute “. However, it was in fact invented by Alfred Bird in 1837, because his wife was allergic to eggs.
Making real custard with eggs is tricky and liable to go wrong, while custard powder makes a lovely thick, tasty custard that is just right for a hearty pudding. Just promise me you won’t use instant!