Thursday, January 16, 2014

Best of British...

Thanks so much to all who went comments.  When I saw the list pop up on my email inbox it felt like a warm glow, a group hug. 

We give a welcome to Wendy who is hoping for cookery to be brought back in schools - this I thought is happening, but maybe it all takes time to be organised.  Possibly the teachers themselves are of the no-need-to-learn-how-to-cook generation that they first have to teach themselves.

What I find annoying (and really none of my business anyway) is that I see a new 'craft' magazine on sale that shows us how to make sweets.  First issue comes with a 'free' sweet mould and some gold paper (for wrapping) and I think, a box to put the made sweets into.   What's all this about?  Are we not being advised, almost daily, to cut down on the amount of sweets we eat?  Why doesn't a reputable magazine company publish a cookery mag that gives only cost-cutting recipes and 'free' gifts that are useful?  Am sure every copy would be sold, especially if the recipes, hints and tips were used and proved to save even more money than the cost of the mag.   If I knew how to go about it, I'd feel like writing and publishing it myself.

So pleased Susan G. that you enjoyed the recent recipe given (and good to hear from you again). If there are any foods you (or any reader) prefers to eat, then let me know and I'll hopefully be able to provide you with more recipes to please.

Never heard of Russian mustard Margie.  Have heard of American mustard (sold to pipe on top of hot dogs I believe), this US mustard is sold in our supermarkets, but have never been tempted as much prefer my three favourites (English and French).
A reminder that when mushrooms are on offer, or the chance of buying some cheaper at the end of a day (farmers markets etc), surplus mushrooms can easily be dried, and then stored in airtight containers to add to casseroles etc.  I have given details before, but can give them again if any reader wishes.

A welcome to Mandy who is a good home-cook.  Working on what she said, it seems she was fortunate to be taught cooking at school.  My daughter who is in her late fifties was taught how to cook 'properly', but the younger two (young fifties) were not.  By then schools seemed to have worked 'convenience' into the cookery tuition, and making an apple pie meant taking a pack of pastry mix and a can of sliced apples to the class and make the pie from these.   From then almost everything made seem to start with something in a packet and something from a tin.  Shortly after, cooking was removed from the school curriculum.

A comment from Anonymous, who - as a regular reader I will give a reply to, but hope all who comment will give a name, as it makes it more personal.  I've no objection to my name or details of this blog being given to others (as long as it is positive).  As I try to keep my hours at the comp as low as possible (better for my sight for one thing), am not a 'tweeter' or Face Book user.   Apart from writing my blog, the only other reason to use the comp is to check on emails and to look up certain facts/recipes via the internet.

Ruth Mott could be the name I had forgotten (TV cook).  Thanks for reminding me Alison (Essex). As I can only recall two cooks of that time (other than the 'celebs'), am assuming it must be her, yet Ruth seemed quite at home in front of the camera, while the other cook I was thinking about was much more uncomfortable.  Do remember her being quite stout and dumpy, and not particularly good looking (or was that me?).  Maybe there was a third cook.

When it comes to food that we consider to be traditionally British, the first thing that comes to mind is Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding (and two veg).  With the cost of a good cut of beef today, that's out for a start.
Next has to be fish and chips, and I'd be inclined to say almost the same thing, as cod and haddock (in my youth these were the cheapest of fish), now almost as expensive (by weight) as a joint of beef.. But we all know how to make fish and chips, and most of us would prefer to use the British way and buy them directly from a 'chippy' - this being probably the first British 'take-away', although I'm sure that there were many outdoor stalls and some shops that sold things like jellied eels and meat pies even before the fish and chips became popular.

Not sure when the word 'casserole' became familiar to us older domestic cooks.  All I can remember is my mother cooking her meat and veg in a pot on top of the cooker and calling it a 'stew', and she wasn't wrong as - when we wish to be correct - a 'stew' is cooked on a hob, and a 'casserole' in the oven.
Even using the same ingredients, there is a distinct difference in taste between the two once cooked. Oven-cooking seems to bring out much more depth of meaty flavour, while a 'stew' seems - to me - more bland.

Here is my (cheaper) version of a traditional casserole that would normally be made with topside or silverside.  Both cuts are almost identical but the latter normally slightly cheaper.  When we use a flatter cut of meat, even one of the same weight, it will cook in less time and the heat reaches the centre of the meat sooner than if a round cut.
For me there is not much difference between silverside and brisket, and as brisket is cheap and also a rolled cut - as this can be unrolled before cooking, the meal will then be less expensive and also take less time to cook.

Because nutritionists recommend that 4 oz (raw) meat is the right amount per person, then any recipe (such as the one below) that works out at 8oz (and many recipes do) would encourage us to serve more meat than necessary.  However, it has to be said that it is always worth buying a larger joint because this then gives the dish a better flavour, BUT we don't have to serve it all in one go.  Canny cooks would follow this recipe then save half the meat to use in other dishes that can then be frozen.
If you prefer to buy less meat in the first place, then add extra vegetables or include dumplings to fill any gaps.
Farmhouse Pot Roast: serves 4
2.4lbs (1kg) silverside or brisket see above)
2 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
8 small carrots, tops trimmed
1 rib celery, chopped
7fl oz (200ml) white wine
1 pt (600ml) rich beef stock
2 bay leaves
Unroll the brisket and rub with half the oil, adding plenty of seasoning.  Heat a large flame-proof casserole, add the remaining oil and place in the meat, browning it all over - takes about 10 minutes if a round cut, less if flat).  If there is room in the pan, also add the carrots and celery and fry these for about 10 minutes (or fry in a separate pan).
Remove the beef (and veg) from the pan, and add the wine, blending this into the pan juices.  Boil for 2 minutes then pour in the stock.  Return the beef to the pan, placing the carrots and celery around the sides and tucking in the bay leaves.   Ideally the meat should sit in the liquid, the veggies above (so they steam).  Cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours (170C, gas 3).  If using a round cut of beef, turn this halfway through the cooking time. 
When the meat is cooked (it will be tender and begin to fall apart at the edges), remove from the casserole and keep warm.  Use the casserole liquid to make a gravy, then take the meat to the table surrounded by the carrots and celery, and serve with mashed potato.  If using a round cut you may prefer to slice the meat first before serving (and save the rest of the joint to use for other meals).

Quite honestly I'm finding it difficult to remember any British meals that I really enjoyed (other than the two mentioned above).  Maybe this was because my mother, although a good cook, served only 'good plain food' as was common in those days.  Starting with a roast joint each Sunday, then the rest of the week meals made from that (cold meat with jacket spuds on washing day, Cottage pie the next, then a meat 'stew', maybe bought chops on Thursday, always fish on Friday, and egg and chips on Saturday.  Boring, boring, boring.  The only thing that was worth looking forward to was seasonal differences with fruit and veg.  Winter time was the worst. Memories of stewed prunes for pudding, or sago pudding, or tapioca pudding.  Not even sure that suet pudding was such a favourite as my B seemed to think (he's always asking me to make him one). 

Perhaps a bit of 'fusion' might be the way to bring the past and present together.  Not a fusion of national dishes but a fusion of time.  Old recipes with a bit of modern flavour.  So let's try this one for size.  Tell me what you think.

Many readers past a certain age will remember that the only pasta we remember being given as a child was macaroni (or possibly tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce), the macaroni being served either as macaroni cheese, or macaroni pudding. 
Another traditional dish that used to be served (and of course still is) was Cauliflower Cheese, so by fusing the two together this brings it up to date. 

This recipe is a cook's delight as there are so many substitutions we can make.  Use any pasta shapes, any hard cheese, a different blue cheese (omit if you haven't any and use extra hard cheese), broccoli instead of cauliflower (then omit the spinach, we don't want double greens), we can even use an alternative mustard.  Instead of mustard add a different 'bite', omit the mustard and add chilli ketchup when making the tomato sauce.
This makes enough for six, but as it can be frozen why not divide into single portions to freeze and serve as and when you wish.
'Mac 'n Cheese with Cauliflower: serves 6
1.5pints (850m) milk
2 oz (50g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) butter
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar, grated
2 oz (50g) blue cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
9 oz (250g) pasta penne (or other shape)
2.2lb (1kg) cauliflower, cut into florets
1lb 10oz (750g) frozen spinach, defrosted
1 oz (25g) toasted pinenuts (opt)
1 x 700g jar tomato passata
Make a cheese sauce by heating the milk, flour and butter together, whisking continuously until smooth, then stir/simmer for 3 minutes.  Leave to cool for five minutes then stir in the Cheddar cheese and mustard, adding seasoning to taste.
Boil the cauliflower and pasta in salted water for 8 minutes (cooking them together in the same pan if you have one large enough), until the pasta is al dente and the cauliflower just tender.  Drain but keep two tablespoons of the cooking water (from the pasta if cooking separately).
Melt 1 tblsp of butter in a pan, add the drained spinach and cook for one minute to remove any excess moisture.
Set aside half the cheese sauce and add the cauli and pasta to the remainder.  Divide half the passata between 6 individual dishes and top each with the spinach, cover with the cauliflower mix, then with the remaining passata, finishing with the rest of the cheese sauce, and sprinkling over the blue cheese and pine nuts if using.
At this point the dishes can be covered with cling film and can be chilled for up to 2 days OR frozen for up to a month.  Defrost before cooking.
Cook prepared dishes by placing on a baking sheet and placing in the oven set at 200C, gas 6 and bake for 18 - 20 minutes until golden and bubbling.  Can be eaten as-is or with a side salad and/or crusty bread.

That's it for today.  A reminder I won't be blogging tomorrow (new 'hair' day, followed by my coffee morning), but will return again on Saturday. 

The weather remains fair, a lovely morning today, bright and sunny and it feels almost springlike. Could we be fortunate and get away with just rain and no snow this winter?  Or has this still to come. At least the days are getting longer and as long as the sun shines, it seems all's right with my world.  Maybe, having my days free from B have also brought more light into my life.  Do other readers who have retired feel that their husbands seem to be around their feet all day, and they wish they could have a bit more 'me' time?   It does seem that men seem to enjoy retirement (feet up, snoozing often, or out enjoying new hobbies), but then do wives ever retire?  Life for us seems to carry on as normal (never ending household chores: washing, cleaning, cooking...).

Looking forward to meeting up with you again on Saturday.  Enjoy the good weather.  TTFN.