Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Specials...

Alright, I know it's Sunday and I said I wouldn't be blogging, but as we'll be going to Barton Grange on Monday (leaving early to make sure I get a scooter), won't be blogging tomorrow.  Taking three days off is a bit much, I thought, especially as I said I'd be back by then, so am up early today to make sure you get a blog to read.  Whether it will be worth reading is another matter.

How sad it was to watch the final episode of Poirot.  I was close to shedding a tear.  The programme that followed (after the news) was much more fun - David Suchet talking about his life as Poirot, and as he visited Greenways, saw more of the property and A.C's family.  I've looked it up on the Internet: Agatha Christie's House will find it, and is seems it is now owned by the Nationas Trust.  My neighbour will be able to go and visit her old 'home' with her sister.

Each week my new friend and I have coffee, and this week I learned more about her life at Greenways. Myself was more interested in the culinary life there, and asked if A.C. kept other servants besides my neighbours mother.  As the mother was cook/housekeeper, she and her two daughters lived in the house, but there were other ladies who came during the week to clean (and maybe do the washing?  I haven't queried that bit yet). 

Wasn't able to find out A.Christie's favourite foods, but was told that when she had visitors - which was quite often - breakfast was served in the breakfast room in the Edwardian style:  silver dishes with lids, holding kedgeree, kidneys, kippers, presumably some sort of eggs (poached? coddled?), and there would be toast and marmalade, possibly porridge in a porringer. 

Trying to remember exactly where the tennis court was, my neighbour happened to mention a large vegetable garden at on side of the house.  I asked if her mother would go and gather the fruit and veggies when she made a meal, but it seemed that A.C. ran her house almost 'Downton Abbey' style.
The cook/housekeeper (neighbours mother) would meet with A. Christie once a week (she thought it might have been a Saturday) where A.C. would give her the menu worked out for the week ahead. The groceries would be ordered by the cook (and delivered to the house), but the gardener would come to the kitchen first thing in the morning to find out what fresh fruit and veg would be needed that day, then gather them to bring back to the kitchen.  Not sure if the cook had to go shopping for the meat and fish or whether that would also be able to be ordered by phone and delivered.

It seemed that Agatha Christie's second husband (Max someone) was very rarely at the house, believed to be working abroad, and I asked if A.C. was now called by her married name, my neighbour didn't know as her mother always called her 'Madam'. 
As the servant's quarters had their own 'back stairs', and although the children often were in the kitchen with their mother, they hardly ever saw A.Christie unless she had some reason to come to the kitchen, and the children had to then remain perfectly still and quiet (the old-style 'seen but not heard'). Those were the days, or should I say those were the ways.

The other day I had reason to knock B back into the shape I felt he should be.  Not for the first time he was shouting at me as if to blame me for his own mistake.  I asked him to stop shouting as I'd done nothing, and he said he wasn't shouting, just raising his voice.  To me that IS shouting.
Anyway, it gave me the chance to mention how he always wears a coat of two colours.  Constantly blaming children for having bad manners, never saying please or thank you, and I reminded him that all the time I've known him he has never said please or thank you for anything I've given him, always making me feel he didn't really like it, or wanted something better. 

Think something I said must have stuck as yesterday cooked for B one of his favourite meals - Fish Risotto.  This I always try to cook correctly, adding the wine first, then chicken stock ladle by ladle, stirring constantly for a good 20 minutes.  After eating it yesterday, B popped his head round the living room door and thanked me for the meal, saying it was just perfect.  Think he meant it too.

Being Sunday feel that I should serve B a meal that has leanings towards the old-style Sunday Roast. However, it will be my short-form method, thawing out sliced of roast chicken that had been frozen in it's own gravy, probably roasting some potatoes, maybe make a bit of stuffing to also cook in the oven, perhaps even a couple or so bacon rolls.  Serve it with carrots and a green veg (which may be peas or string beans, but if I have Brussels sprouts....?). 

While the oven is on will also cook a 'sort-of' pudding.  Probably a type of Bakewell tart as I have a piece of shortcrust pastry that needs using up, spread this with jam, top with sponge cake batter, flaked almonds on top and bake.  Can then be eaten hot (reheated later in the microwave) or cold.

Just a couple of comments have been sent since I last wrote - these from Liz and Joy, and both saying how good their Thermomix is.  I thought that Lakeland might sell this appliance, but can't see it in their catalogue, although they do have something called a Vitamix that looks as though it is something similar.  Similar to an electric blender that can also heat the contents if needed.  Too expensive to make it worth buying, but only because of my age.  If younger, I'd be saving up for one.

There are so many new appliances these days that I makes me wonder how people, many centuries ago, used to cook meals.  But then it was only in the larger mansions/castles, where there was anything served that had the similarity of the food we eat today, and cooks then were always male.
In farmhouses food was very simple - made from what was grown locally, and probably wild animals (rabbits, birds...).
So it's with delight that I'm now watching the new series 'Tudor Farmhouse Kitchen', with (again) Ruth Goodman and the gorgeous Peter Ginn, along with a new companion this time.  Their previous  series where they lived life as it was in the Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, and World War II Farm I found enthralling, especially the 'domestic bits' - in the kitchen and around the house.  How things have changed, for the better when it comes to life-style, but not so sure that the meals we eat today match up to many served in the olden days.  Perhaps because then all the food was organically grown, and only eaten in season and as fresh as could be, certainly in the country, not sure about town folk having everything 'fresh'.

At this time of year many of our TV ads are encouraging us to buy expensive presents and even more expensive foods.  Have to say, seeing the tables groaning with all the food we can buy from Iceland, Sainsbury's, and all the other supermarkets, deep inside me I wish I could - just for once - buy everything and not cook at all over the Twelve Days. 
Yet, to me, home-cooking is PART of Christmas, and I read this week that it is often the only time that women can 'show off their culinary skills'.  If that's the only time home-cooking is done, then there would hardly be any 'skills' to show off.  Or perhaps it's more 'buy the food, heat it up in the oven, then pretend I've made it' sort of thing. 

The weather is supposed to turn much colder on Tuesday, so really warming meals seem to be the way to go.  As you know I make myself a chilli flavoured tomato soup for lunch, nearly every day, and do find it very warming/comforting, probably due to the chilli.   So here is a recipe for something similar with the addition of chicken, turning soup into more of a light lunch or supper dish.  
The original recipe used a large dried chilli, seeds removed and softened in boiling water, but I'd use a simpler method (because I've got the necessary) and just add a good squirt (to taste) of Heinz Tomato Ketchup with Fiery Chilli.   
The other day B brought me in some canned chopped tomatoes that included chilli, and one can of these would make the perfect base for this soup.  When I use these to make my soup I don't need to add the above ketchup.

Mexican Soup with Chicken: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
chilli sauce or dried chilli (see above) to taste
1 tsp ground cumin (or less to taste)
1 x 400g can chopped or plum tomatoes (see above)
2.75pts (1.5ltrs) chicken stock
1 large chicken breast,  sliced into strips
juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry the onions for 5 minutes until beginning to soften.  Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute, then stir in the chilli, cumin, tomatoes, and chicken stock.  Remove from heat and blitz in a food processor or blender to make a puree (do this in batches).
Return the mixture to the pan and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and add the strips of chicken, simmering for about 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Stir in the lime juice and seasoning to taste, then serve hot in individual serving bowls.
To make it more of a meal, serve with bowls of tortilla chips, chopped avocado, wedges of lime, chopped red onion, and sprinkle some of each of these on top, or serve plain with croutons or chunks of crusty bread.

Final recipe today is another soup, this time made using the scraps that always seem to cling to the carcase of a roast chicken (removed either before or after making chicken stock from the bones). As many readers now make their own yogurt, and most of the other ingredients are in a cook's kitchen, then this should be a soup that is quick and easy to assemble.  If you haven't fresh herbs, use a smaller amount (to taste) of dried.

Chicken Soup: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 tblsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2.5 pints (1.4ltrs) chicken stock
10 oz (300g) cooked chicken, shredded
7 oz (200g) frozen peas
salt and pepper
3 tlsp Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
sqeeze fresh lemon juice
Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions, carrot and thyme.  Fry over low heat for 15 minutes, then stir in the stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the chicken, then divide the mixture into two.  Either blend one half in a food processor (or in the pan using a stick blender), then return to the pan adding the remaining (unblended) half together with the peas and seasoning to taste.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or until heated through.
Mix together the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice, and spoon/swirl this into the soup once it has been ladled into individual bowls.  Serve with crusty bread.

That's it for today, a reminder that I won't be blogging tomorrow, but expect to return again on Tuesday.  Looking forward to chatting to you then.  TTFN.