Thursday, May 15, 2014

Less is More - or Could be....

Went out with B this morning and on the way home he suggested we go to the Half Moon Bay cafĂ© for a bacon butty (they have lovely bacon).  I asked for a bacon sarnie as there is too much bread in a butty, even so the sliced bread ended up toasting thick.  Still nice though.

We sat in the car munching our late breakfast and suddenly I thought I hear a siren.  B turned the car window down and it was one - probably from the Nuclear Power station barely a mile away.  Being exactly 10.00am B said they were probably testing a fire alarm.  It sounded exactly like the All Clear siren that was sounded in war-time. 

This only lasted a minute, but very shortly after they set off another alarm, this time exactly the same as the Air-Raid Warning sirens of World War II.  Have to say this upset me greatly, I clapped my hands over my ears and burst into tears.  Just the sound of the siren took me straight back to Coventry when these sirens sounded every day for weeks.  I sat in the car, eyes tight shut, waiting for the drone of the enemy planes as they flew low overhead, then the whistling sound as the bombs fell, and the thump when they hit the ground.  Just the very - and unexpected - sound unlocked memories I thought I had put out of my mind.  Thankfully all over in a minute, and as we drove away the sight of all the hedgerows and grass verges covered in white blossom, their scent in the air, really brought me back to normality.

I've been thinking quite a bit our food (well, don't I always?), especially traditional meals, or - if you like - farmhouse fare (not quite the same thing but nearly).  Every household in those days kept a thrifty kitchen, even those who lived in a mansion had a cook who knew how not to waste food, and use up every bit (even though those below stairs ended up eating meals made from the left-overs).

Today, budget meals ARE cheaper than those we normally cook, but still not cheap enough.  We see recipes in magazines where several cans might be opened, the contents thrown together and these end up as a very good meal, but taken individually, each can could be the base of a meal in its own right with little extra expense for the few extra ingredients needed. 

Maybe I've scraped too many barrels, but I still feel it's not just 'make a meal from what I've got', but 'make the most of what I've got', stretching everything that little bit further.  Not always of course, but knowing how can help when belt-tightening time comes round again.  As it usually does.

The first recipe today uses that cheapest of pulses: split peas, and it's a classic traditional pea-soup, named after the London 'pea-souper' smogs.  The early versions of this soup would have been made with pig's trotters and a marrow bone.  Today we can make it using a ham bone to make a basic stock (some butchers/supermarkets still sell these cheaply).  Or - as in this recipe - we can use the slightly more expensive cheap fatty bacon.   At one time I used to buy ham stock cubes to flavour the stock/soup, but not sure if these are still sold. 
This is a good soup to make when cooking a gammon (on the hob), add the veggies to the pan with the gammon, and then use these and the stock to make this soup.  All you need do then is fry the bacon with the diced (cooked) veggies and continue with the recipe.  If you use ham scraps instead of bacon the recipe then gets cheaper and cheaper to make, but still has oodles of flavour.l

London Particular: serves 4 - 6
12 oz (350g) dried yellow split peas
1 oz (25g) butter
5 rashers, streaky and fatty bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, finely sliced
3 pints (1.75ltrs) ham or chicken stock
3 tblsp double cream
salt and pepper
Put the split peas into a bowl and cover with boiling water.  Leave to stand for half a hour.
Melt the butter in a large pan, add the bacon, onion, carrot. and celery and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring, until the veggies are soft and beginning to turn golden.
Drain the peas and add them to the pan, then stir in the stock.  Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for about an hour or until the peas are very soft.
Cool slightly then blend or process to a puree.  Return to the pan, add seasoning to taste and stir in the cream. Heat until just simmering, then serve with croutons or crusty bread.

With my usual attempt to remove at least one ingredient from a recipe to use in another dish, this next dish would work with the above soup.  Omit the bacon from the soup and use it to make these Tyneside 'floddies'.   Traditionally these were served in that area as a breakfast dish, cooked in bacon fat and served with sausages and eggs.  Said to have originated with canal-workers who cooked them in flat pans over a fire.  Served crisp and golden brown they can be eaten any which way you choose.  Today I'd fancy eating them with a crunchy green salad.

Bacon is another ingredient that seems to get dearer by the month, and the best way is to buy those much cheaper packs of 'bacon bits', or offcuts.  Some packs contain a lot of fatty bits, but when these are rendered down they provide lovely bacon fat that can be used for frying, and which adds wonderful flavour.  Any chunky bits of bacon could be finely chopped/minced (or processed) and this makes a little go a lot further and spreads the flavour amongst the rest of the ingredients.

Gateshead Bacon Floddies: serves 4 - 6
9 oz (250g) potatoes (weight after peeling)
1 large onion
6 oz (175g) streaky fat bacon, finely chopped
2 oz (50g) self-raising flour
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, well beaten
oil for frying
Grate the potatoes and onion onto a clean tea cloth, then gather up the sides to make a pouch. Twist the ends together tightly to squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then tip the spuds and onions into a bowl.  Add the bacon, flour and seasoning and mix well together before stirring in the beaten eggs.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan, then add generous amounts of the potato mixture, flattening them to make thin cakes.  Fry over medium heat for about 3 - 4 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through.  Drain on kitchen paper and serve.

In Edwardian times, potted cheese was a very popular dish, and one much loved by cooks as it was an excellent way to use up odds and ends of cheese.   We don't have to add sherry but it does add a bit of luxury (port could also be used).   Readers who do a lot of home-baking and have several food flavourings in stock will be interested to know this cheffy tip:  Emulate the flavour of sherry by combining rose and almond extracts.  You can also create the flavour of pistachio nuts by mixing vanilla and almond extracts.

Use oddments of any hard cheese to make this, and if - like me - you tend to buy pre-wrapped cheese you will find that most seem to be much the same in flavour.  We need to pay a lot for real farm-house cheese, cut from the round, when we want a mature flavour we can recognise. 
Myself find Double Gloucester has more flavour than (wrapped, mature) Cheddar, Red Leicester also.  Lancashire, Cheshire....much the same although vary in texture.

Potted cheese is best served with toast or oat cakes (that we can make ourselves).  Even good with cream crackers, and especially Cornish wafers.  For appearances I tend to use ground white pepper to avoid the black flecks, and occasionally might use sweet or smoky paprika to ring the changes and give a slightly different flavour.
The easiest way to make this is use a food processor, but the cheese can be finely grated by hand and the rest of the ingredients worked in with a wooden spoon.  That's how it used to be done and no reason why we can't do the same now. 

Potted Cheese: serves 4 - 6
9 oz (250g) any hard cheeses
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
half teaspoon (or to taste) English mustard
pinch ground mace or nutmeg
2 tblsp sherry
freshly ground black pepper
little melted butter
fresh parsley as garnish
Chop the cheese into small chunks and put into a food processor, using the pulse button to chop the cheese into crumbs, then add the butter, mustard, mace and a little pepper and blend again until smooth.  Taste, adjust the seasoning and finally blend in the sherry.
Spoon the mixture into a dish just large enough to leave half an inch (1cm) gap at the top.  Level the surface. Pour a layer of melted butter over the top to cover the surface and chill until required.  When ready to serve garnish with parsley and serve on thin slices of (melba) toast or crispbread.

A welcome to Alessio (who I think maybe comes from Italy?).  I do remember the programme about spaghetti growing on trees.  This was on April 1st some decades ago as an 'April Fool' joke, yet many people actually believed that the pasta DID grow on trees.
Not sure what you mean by 'foot pastry', but when pastry cracks when being rolled this is usually because it doesn't contain enough fat or liquid.  The amounts of fat to use (butter, lard or a mixture of both) is half the weight of plain flour (eg. 200g flour, 100g fat). Some cooks add an egg (or egg yolk) to help the mixture bind together, usually a few teaspoons of water will do the job.
If a pastry case cracks after baking blind, beat an egg and brush this over the pastry, well into the cracks, and then return it to the oven to set the egg, this should seal the cracks.  Then it can be filled to continue baking.
Don't be put off if the pastry goes wrong.  I've never been able to master it, and why I always buy pastry ready-made, then roll it out.  This can also crack, but I seal it as above when it does.

Your cream crackers or other biscuits shouldn't go soft if you store them in airtight tins/containers Hazel.  If they do, just pop them into the oven for a few minutes to dry out and they will then crisp up again.  Rice Krispies can be used as a coating, but best to crush them slightly before using, and these may be slightly sweeter in taste.

I've checked past postings Les, and these seem to be given the date and time of publishing (allowing for the fact they haven't got their head around BST, so the time is given an hour earlier than it really is).  Previously they did give the time as when the blog was first begun, but now - even when left in draft a day - I understand it is the actual publishing time they use.

Final recipe today is taken from 'More For Your Money'.  Again traditional but yet another way to use up those odds and ends of cheese lurking in the back of the fridge.  Although Cheddar cheese is suggested, any hard cheese will do, and considering the name, perhaps Caerphilly cheese should be used (apologies if that name has been spelled incorrectly).
As I have no chives at the moment, rely on the green shoots that have sprouted from one or two onions in my onion basket.  I just let them grow and snip off a few leaves as I need them,
The recipe as printed used half a tsp dry mustard, and although I do have this in my larder, rarely use it, preferring the made mustard sold in small jars (the jars being very useful when empty).

Glamorgan Sausages: serves 2
2 oz (50g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz (50g) fresh breadcrumbs (pref brown)
1 tblsp chives, finely chopped (see above)
1 tblsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp made mustard (see above)
salt and pepper
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon water
3 tblsp sunflower oil
Mix together the cheese, half the breadcrumbs, chives, mustard, salt and pepper.  Add the egg yolks and the water and mix everything together until it binds into a compact ball.  If too dry add more water (a drop at a time).
Divide into 4 equal portions and roll each into a sausage shape.   Dip the rolls into the egg white, then into the remaining crumbs.   Put the oil in a frying pan over high heat, and when hot add the 'sausages' and cook, turning/rolling them so that they brown quickly and evenly all over.

That's it for today, and should be back again in 24 hours to write the next blog.  Hope you can join me then. 
The forecast is for a mini heat-wave this weekend, so am hoping to be able to sit on the bench this Saturday, under the wisteria, with a cup of coffee and soak in some sun.  Probably time I cleaned out the containers and got them ready for planting out flowers in a few weeks.  I can't believe that summer will soon be hear - am still waiting for last winter to arrive.  TTFN.