Friday, May 31, 2013

Has Summer Arrived?

We are forecast a sunny and warm weekend, and as this morning has begun with a cloudless sky and very little breeze am hoping that I will be able to spend some time in the garden today, even if only sitting on the bench sunning myself.  Temperatures can be anything from 15C to 20C depending on the area, and although that may seem cool to some, to me it will be (hopefully) warm enough if I sit is a sheltered spot.

It would be lovely if it gets even warmer, just as long as there is little humidity in the air. 'Dry' heat I can stand, but not 'sauna' type weather. 

Believe, Margie, that Paul Hollywood's new lady-friend is his co-judge (or maybe one of the presenters) in the US 'Bake Off' series that you mentioned seeing.  Apparently there was a noticeable 'rapport' between the two, so did you pick that up?  Can't remember the girl's name - but perhaps his 'marital problems' have also been big news in the Canadian and US newspapers.  Or is it only us in the UK that feel he has behaved badly?

Was reminded yesterday, when watching Alan Richman (Man v Food), how about a year ago he came to Britain.  He was interviewed on TV but missed seeing that, and wondered if he was hoping to do a similar Man v Food series set in the UK.  Am sure he would never have been able to for we just don't have those sort of 'diners' that serve large portions, and to expect a man to sit and eat about 10 times a normal amount in one sitting (in under an hour) would seen to be obscene in this country and there would be a huge outcry of 'wasting food', not to mention the problem with obesity and other health issues.   Why, in the US, does being served such large portions when 'eating out' seems so important?   It is true the food LOOKS well cooked, and I'm drooling much of the time when I see the lovely meats served, and only wish we had the opportunity to have the same here (for the same price), but it all comes across (and this includes the cup-cakes/celebration cakes) as all TOO much.  Maybe this is the US version of 'comfort eating'?

Even the Barefoot Contessa seems to cook and serve large portions when making meals for either herself and Jeffrey, or when entertaining others.  Maybe the difference is that the US cooks don't want to cook 'cheffy' meals.  Here in the UK a 'gourmet' meal is something about the size of a postage stamp served on a large platter.  We need a magnifying glass to see it.

Yesterday, in The Chef's Protege, one of the young chefs-to-be made a consomme (clear soup). In each large individual soup bowl was placed a very few prepared vegetables (as garnish), plus a tiny slice of cooked pheasant breast.  Then - at the table - the consomme was poured over, yet barely enough to cover garnishes, the soup coming less than half-way up the bowl.  Call that a meal? 

Of course it wasn't the whole meal, there were four courses, but why serve the consomme in such a large bowl, it - to me - looked like a very mean serving.   Gourmet food, and esp. Michelin star food seems to be 'small but perfect',  like just one mouthful of gorgeousness should be all we want.  Perhaps it is if when we are not hungry, but myself (and esp. my Beloved) do like to get our money's worth.

On Planet Cake this morning, a cake was made that cost the recipient $3,500 dollars, and in all honesty it was just one square cake, the icing made to look like marble.  On top of this was a 'gold' horseshoe and lady's shoe, the made from cardboard that was iced.  A lot of work went into making it look as thought it was the real thing (a horse-racing trophy), but the profit margin must have been huge.  This was not the only cake made that week, there were several more, all priced at thousands of (Australian) dollars.  Let us hope the team of cake makers and decorators get a good wage, for the owner of the company never seems to do anything but take orders and almost bully her staff to make the cakes 'the best in the world'.

Very little in the cake-decorating programmes seems to give much of a mention of the actual cake itself.  Those who order them are given samples to try, but they all seem to be made of sponge, either plain or chocolate, with various flavoured fillings.  Nothing clever there.   But then again, when it comes to a celebration cake, it's all to do with 'the look' I suppose.  The more elaborate the better. 

Mind you, there are some really beautifully decorated cakes seen on the Amazing Wedding Cakes series and I'd really love to be able to make something that looks even half as good.  They are true works of art, and suppose that is what people pay for.  What a pity it is that they have to be sliced up and eaten.   Think I'd rather go down the war-time rationing road and decorate a cardboard box with icing so that it can be lifted off (and kept, like forever), with the real cake hidden underneath.  That way we could have our cake and eat it too.

With a fine weekend on the horizon, some families may be opting to go further afield and take a picnic, others may wish to stay at home but eat 'al fresco'.   Plan today to make a few of the following and grab the opportunity to sit in the sun while we can.

Butter Pots and Open Sandwiches:
Drain and mash one can of salmon with a little dried dill (or fresh dill or parsley), and season with salt and pepper. Put into individual pots and cover with melted butter.  Serve with crispbread or toast.
Alternatively mix 100g minced cooked chicken with a pinch of dried thyme and the grated rind of half a lemon....
...OR, mix 100g minced cooked roast beef with 1 tsp horseradish sauce.

Make OPEN SANDWICHES by buttering bread, then top with sliced ham and gherkin fans; sliced salami or chorizo and olives; pate and tomato; halved canned sardines with mayo and a slice of lemon.
Serve with a mixed salad:  celery, spring onions, cucumber, radishes and cherry tomatoes.

One of my favourite meals is a Dip with Crudites.  Both can be prepared in advance and kept chilled in the fridge.  Here is a dip that is easily made from ingredients most of us will probably have in store.  It goes without saying that this makes good use of the scraps of ham left over after slicing our home-cooked gammon.  Use the curd or cream cheese at room temperature or it won't beat to a cream easily.  If you have the chive flavoured cream (Philly type) cheese, then omit the fresh chives.
Pea and Ham Dip: makes half a pint (300ml)
half oz (15g) butter
4 tblsp water
4 oz (100g) frozen peas 
8 oz (225g) curd or cream cheese
5 fl oz (150ml) Greek yogurt
2 oz (50g) cooked ham, finely chopped or shredded
1 tsp finely chopped chives (see above)
salt and pepper
Put the butter in a pan with the water and heat until melted, then add the frozen peas and cook until tender.  Drain the peas and put them into a blender and pulse (or mash by band) to a coarse puree.
Blend the cheese and yogurt together, then fold in the pea puree, the ham, chives, and seasoning to taste.  Place in the serving bowl, cover and chill.   
You can if you wish make this well in advance.  Put into a rigid container, cover and freeze. Use within one month.  Thaw by placing in the fridge for a couple or so hours and stir well before serving.
Place chilled dip in the centre of a large platter and surround with strips of raw vegetables (crudites), such as  carrots, celery, cucumber, young courgettes, bell peppers, mangetout or sugar snap peas, and also chunks of raw mushroom, cauliflower florets.

There is something about mint that is so refreshing and almost essential when serving an al fresco meal on a hot day.  Myself I love to add chopped (or torn) mint leaves to a green salad (and probably other fresh soft green herbs as well).
When making the Indian meal, because my own mint was not yet growing enough to harvest (due to the cold weather), I had to buy a pack of fresh mint, but after removing the lower leaves to chop to add to yogurt (when making Raita), stuck the stems (with top leaves still attached) into a glass of water and now these have rooted, so will be planting these to grow on.  'Free' mint for the future.

Here is a lovely summer drink using mint.  To make it go even further, add ice-cubes to the glass before pouring in the drink, and make these ice-cubes even more special by putting mint leaves or tiny wedges of lemon or orange, cubes of pineapple or other fruit, even olives, into ice-cube trays, then covering with water and freezing.  If you wish to colour the ice-cubes, add a little food colouring to the water.

Mint Punch: makes about 6 glasses
1 tblsp chopped fresh mint
5 fl oz (150ml) water
2 oz (50g) sugar
1 pint (550ml) chilled apple juice
fresh sprigs mint or slices cucumber
Put the mint and water into a small pan and heat until boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain and stir in the sugar.  When dissolved, cool and then put into a jug with the apple juice, and fresh sprigs of mint and/or slices of cucumber.

Seeing the lovely sun is now tempting me to down tools and go and sit outside with a mid-morning cup of coffee.  Maybe I'll even take the crossword outside with me as then I'll feel less guilty about sitting 'doing nothing'.  Why should I care?  It's my life (what's left of it), might as well enjoy the sun while we have it (in this country summer could last only a very few days, or it might last a few weeks, we never know until it happens).

Hope you can join me again tomorrow, if so - see you then.