Category Archives: Cookery

Wednesday 8th July Part IV

Poppy and chamomile

The day is passing faster and faster.

Julia is on the phone to one of her needier clients. Again, I cannot describe the conversation due to issues of confidentiality, but it is circular. And long. And, as it is on something modern like an app or a zoom, it is loud and intrusive too. She might be working from home but technically this is a day off for me, even if I am treating it as a work day. Obviously in this context “work” is an expression of hope rather than fact.

I have researched a number of magazines as recipients for the articles I wish to write. I have read several of the magazines more deeply than necessary and I have made a list of possible articles. My plan is at the stage known as “getting there”. In other words it is a rag-bag of elements which don’t amount to much.

It is more of an intention or an outline. Time for some more work, but this time I will do it in front of the TV whilst watching Pointless. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Ironically that’s a very dull saying. Equally ironically, I haven’t done much work.

Back again…

Having watched Pointless and failed in a few rounds – notably the modern music and the football questions – I meant to get back to work. Instead, I watched Eggheads. It is one of the dullest quizzes around, but we had tea and biscuits and I can never resist temptation to sit and drink tea, with or without biscuits. As a late lunch we had corn on the cob (Julia went out for a walk and, as usual, nipped into a shop to buy something. She can’t break the habit. Today she bought corn on the cob.)

I am quite hungry now and have just put the vegetables into the oven to roast. Carrots, parsnips, leeks and potatoes. I will put sprouts in when I put the pasties in. It’s a meal we have nearly every week but I never get fed up of it. Apart from being year round comfort food, it’s healthy and easy to make.

It’s been eleven hours since I started “work” and I have not managed to complete anything yet, apart from some TV viewing and three blog posts.

As I started this one I noticed my total was 2,000 which means I missed the chance to write a post about reaching my 2,000th post. I may have to plough on to 2,020 before marking the occasion.

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I’m now going to put the pasties in and about 25 minutes after that will make the gravy. It’s only made with gravy granules, so is nothing exciting. Then I had better get the shopping ordered. I only have until midnight and it can be a slow process. I also get distracted easily.

I have already done the shopping list relating to the spice kits – we will be having linguine with prawns and rocket. I’m not sure why, because we make that anyway.

We are also having Iranian Vegetable Stew, which apparently takes its inspiration from Persia and North Africa. This tends to suggest it isn’t really Iranian or a proper recipe, just some vegetables to soak up some spices they wanted to get rid of. Pardon my cynicism. I keep meaning to give ras-el-hanout a try, so this is my chance.

Finally we will be having nasi goreng. I’ve wanted to try it since I read about it as a teenager reading my dad’s Somerset Maugham books. It’s typical that I’ve always steered clear of cooking it in case it didn’t live up to my expectations. Next week will be an interesting time.

I will try to take photographs before I eat everything.

Photos are recycled from here.

Eleven Photos and the Benefits of Blogging

Mint Moth

Wednesday 8th July Part I

Wednesday 8th July Part II

Wednesday 8th July Part III

Wednesday 8th July Part IV

Wednesday 8th July Part V

A Cheap and Easy Meal

Take a bag of ready chopped stir-fry veg, a pack of noodles and some sauce. Put them in a wok, mix them together and let them heat through.

It takes ten minutes, is very simple and is safe for those of us with poor knife skills.

I ordered it from TESCO as a special offer package deal on our last Click & Collect order but they didn’t have any sauce so they just sent me the veg and noodles. I wasn’t happy and really, if they don’t have all three offer items, they shouldn’t just send you two. Fortunately I had suitable sauce so we were OK.

Cost about £2 for two large portions. It could have been cheaper if we’d cut our own veg into little strips but a few pence seems good value to avoid cutting my fingers. It’s healthy, though I’m sure the sauce has a lot of sugar in it.

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Stir Fry Vegetables

Note how I have avoided mentioning flavour. It’s quite bland, even with a good helping of plum sauce, and the bean sprouts can be overpowering. It would probably benefit from some prawns or meat, but as we are trying to cut down our meat consumption, we are trying to like the taste of vegetables.

That isn’t quite fair, as I do like the taste of carrots, parsnips, peas, beans, chickpeas, broccoli, cabbage and onions, to name just a few. It’s bean sprouts I’m not that keen on, they are watery and they somehow seem to kill the flavour of the meal. They aren’t just tasteless, they seem to drain flavour and make everything else seem less tasty. When we are doing our own stir fry we tend not to use them, though I suppose we really should start growing our own as they are cheap and easy.

Cottage Pie

Inspired by the box of meals that I had for my birthday, I decided to make meatballs. That involved buying mince, which we haven’t had for over six months as part of our new healthy eating regime.

As a result, we had a very pleasant meal of meatballs, mashed potatoes and greens. I used nutmeg and chilli as seasoning and it seemed to work well to make a Swedish style meatball. Unfortunately I broke the blender whilst making the bread crumbs (put the lid on wrong, twisted and locked it all together in the wrong place). It won’t switch on and I can’t get it to release itself so I can try again. As a result the kitchen was a mess by the time I’d finished – a broken blender, the mess from making meatballs and, even worse, the debris from making breadcrumbs using a hand blender, a mixing ball and a lid fashioned from a tea towel.

No, I didn’t take photos.

However, this left us with quite a lot of mince left over. That left three choices – cottage pie, spaghetti bolognese or chilli. I suppose the title spoils the surprise.

I softened onions and browned the mince, added a stock cube, Hendersons, mushrooms and, at the last minute spinach. I was working on the principle of using what was too hand and needed using up. As I’d made a vegetable soup earlier in the day I didn’t have as much choice as I normally do, and couldn’t be bothered to chop more veg.

Top with mustard mash and grilled with a cheesy topping, it turned out reasonably well. I wouldn’t normally use cheese, but ordering food by delivery rather than shopping myself has meant we have more of some things than we need.

We had it with stir-fried black kale, because we are quite trendy. Though some of the black bits are there because I fried too much and stirred too little.

Note: this is the second post of the day. The first is here. The first one is more interesting but this one makes my mouth water.

Cottage Pie and black kale

Cottage Pie and black kale

 

 

 

The Secret Life of a Blogger

I’ve just been looking down the list off drafts for the last week. They are also known as false starts, ideas and notes and are there for various reasons.

Last night’s effort stalled after 200 words on the grounds that it was depressing. I can’t see much in it worth salvaging and when I have a clear-out it will probably go. It falls in the gap between being entertaining and cathartic, and that’s a very dull and self-indulgent gap.

The one before that has a copy of Agatha Christie’s Great War VAD record Card, and I have not yet written anything to go with it. I may or may not develop that. Again, it’s just going to be a re-hash of available facts and I’m not sure I can add anything useful to the amount that has been written about her.

The third is my drfat for the 12th May Mass Observation Diary. I’m not sure whether it would serve any purpose if I sent it in.

Fourth is a five line false start on dead badgers. It probably needs a recipe to get it going again. That was originally going to be about blood tests but it was overtaken by the phone call requiring a repeat test. When I returned I started the post again.

Fifth is the start of the original 1926 post. I started that the night before my 1926th post, which ended up being about blood tests. It was not as good as the opening I eventually used. This is saying something, as the opening I used will hardly go down in history with “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

For more good opening lines read here. I must try harder. It’s slightly depressing that a search for ‘best opening lines’ resulted in six sites offering conversational openers for Tinder. They aren’t all great lines, though I did like – “Do you have an ugly boyfriend? No? Want one?”

I’m going to try that on Julia.

The next two are about regimental brooches. Whether they are attempts to bore my readers or drafts for articles, I’m not quite sure, but I have plenty of photographs and I may well put something together to teach you about regimental brooches and the depths of a collector’s soul.

Finally we reach back to Scone Chronicles 38. It was written just before lockdown and I lost the photos. It features scones and Sir Bradley Piggins.

This isn’t quite an accurate account, as I cleared out a few weeks ago and these are just the eight most recent. The real stinkers get binned regularly.

Do you have a similar system, or are all your starts true sparkling jewels of blogging excellence? Or do you clear out more often? I still have some from years ago, where I’m hoping to use a title or a well-turned phrase at some point in the future. I am, in psychological terms, a hoarding optimist.

Finally, the pictures are from the  chickpea and peanut butter curry we had from the boxes last night. It was the one I’d looked forward to most eagerly, and the biggest disappointment, as it was tasty but not spicy. I liked the meatballs and the pork steaks better. However, we will be incorporating it into our menu rotation as a variation on the veggie curries we already make. The two photos show natural light and flash versions of the same meal. The one with flash (seen here) is much more welcoming.

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Thai red curry – chickpeas and peanut butter

I could have done without the roasted broccoli, which seems to have been a feature of the three meals (it’s covered in sauce in this picture) and there was enough lime with the grated zest on the rice, without using the wedges provided.

Of course, as soon as I say that, WP decides to stop showing me my photographs…

A Meal in a Box

We dined on one of the meals from the birthday present box last night. It contained potatoes, shredded greens, garlic, pork steaks, squares of strong Cheddar and a pot of onion marmalade made by Tracklements, the top notch pickle company. All the ingredients were good and the recipe sheet had a colour picture and clear instructions.

To be honest, I could have sourced the ingredients and made pork steaks with cheese and onion topping with potato wedges and garlic greens without the instructions. However, after weeks of lockdown it’s comforting to be given a meal that hasn’t taken a lot of thought. More to the point, it’s nice to have something different too. We have been getting very dull with our menu. It’s also nice to have something a bit more tasty than usual – I wouldn’t have added the onion marmalade and cheese if I’d been left to my own devices.

Tomorrow we will be having the meatballs with roast broccoli and cheesy mash. The same comments apply. I’d have used ready-made meatballs if left to my own devices, and I’d just have used beef with bread crumbs made from leftover crusts. The kit includes beef and pork mince (in two different packs) and a pack of panko breadcrumbs. It’s a much more elegant way to live.

If I was younger, and had a proper job, I would seriously consider buying a box every week. The quality of ingredients is good, the presentation is good and the result was good. However, I’m one of those old dogs that can’t learn new tricks. Apart from the question of buying a food kit that includes bits I don’t want (like all the cheese) there is the question of ordering things over a week in advance and having to be around to accept a delivery. They had some good ice packs in the box but minced meat and summer heat can be tricky.

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It’s meant to be meatballs – I really must work on my presentation.

Tonight we had the meatballs. It’s the first time I’ve used panko breadcrumbs and they were (a) dry and (b) pointless. I can’t see that they were any better than ordinary breadcrumbs for making meatballs. I have no doubt they are better for some things, but I’m not sure you need them in meatballs.

I just looked them up, and added the link, and see that they absorb less fat when being fried. If that’s a concern, I would have thought the easiest way to cut the fat would be to stop adding cheese to everything.

Tonight’s meal – meatballs with cheese mash and roasted broccoli was very nice but, to be honest, making meatballs does involve a bit more standing than I would have liked. The meal was, I think, tastier than last night’s meal, but the instruction sheet was less clear.

Having said that, they have both been excellent.

The only drawback is the aggressive marketing campaign of the company, which made me sign up for regular deliveries just to redeem the gift voucher, and which made it difficult to cancel. They have already invited me to give them another chance three times.

It has, however, persuaded me that I must start making my own meatballs again. They are so much better than the bought ones, though the bought ones are good because they keep well, which is important in lockdown.

Soup!

I have 28 minutes to post, and am going to give it my best shot. Please excuse the haste and the worse than normal editing.

Today’s main event, apart from a hospital phone call (which was a duplicate of the one I got yesterday) was the soup. We had half a dozen manky carrots, a medium sized parsnip and a swede (rutabaga) which was beginning to look a bit grey round the cut end. My solution – root veg soup.

This is a lockdown recipe, because with only shopping every week or ten days I’m not quite getting the supplies right and we needed to get through a few more roots.

I also had the green end of a leek, so I softened that and roasted the roots whilst cooking the tea last night. I then boiled it with stock and spices (2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, half a tsp of lazy chilli from a jar) and left it covered overnight. No need for a fridge, we are having a cold spell here at the moment. We always do once we start putting plants outside.

Today I added some lazy garlic from a jar, a touch more chilli and reduced it to a smooth consistency with a stick blender. I tried to leave  afew flecks of red, but they didn’t stand uput in the finished soup. Sometimes I use finely chopped red chillis – they stand out better.

The result was a nice beige soup with an interesting flavour and a touch of mild heat. I’m not sure that it needed the ground coriander, as I can never really taste it when I use stronger tasting spices.

Finally I added a spoonful of turmeric to brighten it up a bit. I’m not sure if the photos show it, but you get a slightly brighter orange/yellow soup when you do that.

Things I didn’t add – mushrooms and kale (despite kale being virtually compulsory in recipes these days. I thought mushrooms would be confusing, though they do need using soon, and I couldn’t be bothered to take the kale off the stalks (I didn’t want to spoil the consistency by putting stalks in. I was going to put kale in at the end rather than boil it with the rest of the veg.)

It made far more than we needed and we will be having it tomorrow too. And Friday. However, it’s good and cheap and you can have sandwiches with it so it helps dodge the salads.

The one on the left has no added colour, the one on the right has the turmeric added. The one in the header picture was taken with flash, which made it look a richer colour and wasn’t a fair comparison to the original beige.

Charred Red Pepper Dip

First char your pepper. I used the garden flamethrower again and it did a better job than it did on the aubergine last week.

I shoved it in the blender and added the half carton of soft cheese left over from the Smoked Mackerel Pate. It looked a bit watery as it went in. With hindsight I should have taken it as a warning. I may have said that before.

I think I’ve also said I will look at recipes instead of working from memory. I tried but I couldn’t find the one I wanted, and as I had the soft cheese ready I just blundered ahead.

Add some garlic and smoked paprika and blitz it. Mutter. Add bread. Add more bread. When it looks firmish taste and add black pepper. It needed seasoning but I didn’t want to add lime juice as it was already sloppy. Even with the bread it was not exactly firm so I drained it in a sieve and managed to produce something with a consistency like a soft humous. I note from my spellchecker that the Americans spell humous differently too. You live and learn.

Charred Red Pepper Dip

Charred Red Pepper Dip

It was just about firm enough to be  acceptable and tasted OK. It needs some work but we ate it all so it can’t have been too bad. The photograph makes it look like something from a post-mortem examination but in natural light it lacked that spongy, moist lung-like quality.

We had it with green leaves, tomatoes, crackers and falafels. I’m going to try making my own falafels. The spellchecker doesn’t like that either. Falafel, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is a variation of felafel. Google prefers falafel. The spellchecker doesn’t like either.

Before I do that I’m going to make sure I have all the ingredients and a recipe.

Flowers - detail

Flowers – detail

I thought I’d have another crack at the flowers. There’s not much else to photograph when you stay inside.

Lockdown Cookery

There are, I’m pleased to say, signs that the grocery situation is easing.

I managed to book a Click & Collect slot at ASDA on Saturday afternoon. It’s for April 30th, which left me with a trip to the shops this week.

Or did it?

Browsing the TESCO site revealed some Click & Collect slots for Monday. I suspect they are putting them on at random to spread them round a bit. Or to annoy me. It could be either.

I will be collecting an order tomorrow afternoon, which is awkward because it leaves a 10 day gap, but is handy because it avoids a walk round the shop. After what happened last time I can do without people invading my personal space. I’m not saying that isolation is bad for me, but I’m turning into a recluse. I nearly said “Howard Hughes” there, but didn’t want people to get confused and think I was building an aeroplane in the back garden, craving banana nut ice cream or storing my urine in bottles.

You still can’t get ordinary flour or various random vegetables. Calabrese seems to be off the shelves for the second time in three weeks (that’s purple sprouting brocolli on the plates in the pictures), though courgettes are back.

The problem with flour is that although we have plenty, and the mills are running round the clock, it takes so long to bag it up in small bags that they can’t keep up with demand.

Ah well, I haven’t baked for the last three years, so I can probably survive without flour a bit longer.

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Cauliflower Steaks

I cooked cauliflower steaks for tea – not a vegetable disguised as meat, just a cauliflower cut in a slab.

First trim the leaves and stalk, then cut it half. From each side, cut a piece about an inch to inch and a half wide. If it’s a big enough cauli, and you aren’t bothered about your fingertips, you can possibly get another steak out of each side. I didn’t. Tomorrow we will be having cauliflower cheese.

Oil a roasting tray, put the steaks in it, oil and season the top (I used a reasonably conservative sprinkle of cumin and black pepper) cover the tray with foil and cook in a high oven (250° C) for 10 or 15 minutes. This steams it. Then remove the cover, turn it over, season and cook for about 8-10 minutes a side. You might be able to get away with turning it once, when you uncover it, but the recipe left room for doubt so I turned it twice. It needs to be seared to look the part.

We served it with nut cutlets from the freezer, which were very pleasant. Julia thought the meal might be a bit bland without the cutlets, but I thought the cauli was OK as the main item. I served it with cheese/mustard sauce, though there are other sauces and flavourings. I may experiment with other seasoning in future, though it’s a big chunk of vegetable, and my digestive system is currently gurgling hard.

Cauliflower Steak with vegetables and Nut Cutlets

Cauliflower Steak with vegetables and Nut Cutlets

Adventures with a Pan

We had smoked mackerel pate for lunch yesterday. That involved the use of the food processor, so, for me, was a real technical challenge. I had to ask Julia to dismantle it at the end, because I can never work the catch that releases the bowl. You would have thought that in the 21st Century they would have thought of making this obvious.

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Smoked Mackerel Pate

It was a simple recipe, involving two bits of smoked mackerel (about 200 g) and half a pack of cream cheese. I pulled the fish off the skin and broke it up, added the green bits from a large spring onion, a big spoonful of wholegrain mustard, some black pepper and then gave it a whizz in the food processor. Then I opened it up and pushed the big bits of fish down into the mix before having another go. I think that if I’d broken the fish up more I could have omitted that last step. I will aim for pieces about the size of a finger top joint next time – some of the ones I tried were nearly the size of my thumb and managed to ride up to avoid the blades. People often use horseradish, as it is traditional with mackerel, but I didn’t have any so I tried mustard and it seems to have worked.

I’m saving the last lime to make an avocado dip, so didn’t use any citrus, but it didn’t seem to make a difference – the mustard and spring onion gave the mix a good, fresh taste without citrus.

We ate it with toast. There was plenty of pate for four thickly spread rounds of toast.

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Smoked Mackerel Pate with Toast

Today’s lunch was vegetable soup with warm rolls and smoked mackerel pate. The rolls were Paul Hollywood part baked rolls and there was enough pate left to be generous, though the rolls weren’t exactly huge.

The soup recipe was four manky carrots (though I suppose good clean ones would be just as good), a chunk of swede (rutabaga) that was starting to change colour at the back of the fridge, the potato offcuts from the oven-baked chips (keep reading for details of them) and some leftover peas. Boil it up with water and a stock cube, reduce to soup with a hand-blender, season, eat. It probably needed onions but we only have enough to last until the next shopping trip so I left them out. I also added garlic from a jar, but should have put more in as we couldn’t really taste it.

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Vegetable Soup with Rolls and Smoked Mackerel Pate

Yesterday’s tea (sorry to wander about so much), was chunky oven-baked paprika chips,  with fish fingers and mushy peas. It’s not great food, but it is a change as we haven’t had fish fingers for a month. I arranged them like something off Masterchef for the photo. I’m not sure it looks any better than throwing a pile of food together. It just looks like an idiot has been playing with his food.

Paprika Potatoes, Fish Fingers and Mushy Peas - Gourmet Fodder

Paprika Potatoes, Fish Fingers and Mushy Peas – Gourmet Fodder

As they were cooking, I made a pot of curry (chickpea and sweet potato – using a base of last night’s chilli) and the previously mentioned soup.

Tomorrow I will use the rest of the cream cheese in a charred red pepper dip and we will also have an avocado dip using the lime I saved by not using it in the pate. It can be quite tricky cooking when you can’t nip out to the shops.

 

 

 

Burnt Aubergine Vegetarian Chilli

We had Burnt Aubergine Chilli tonight. It’s not the first time that the word “burnt” has entered the conversation about my cookery, along with its synonyms – charred, scorched, over-cooked, cremated, incinerated and inedible. It is, however, the first time I’ve it’s been a deliberate choice.

The recipe is ‘low fat and four of your five a day,’ according to the website.

I didn’t quite follow the recipe – life is too short to cut carrots into tiny cubes, but I did use tinned tomatoes, red kidney beans, green lentils, onions and aubergine. As I recall, you can only count the beans and lentils as one portion, and it’s possible we have to discount the onions as not being a full portion. Call it 3½ portions, even without the carrots.

It wasn’t great, but to be fair to the recipe, I used it as a guide rather than a recipe.

I missed out the carrots because I’m lazy and some of the soy sauce because I’m an idiot (I forgot that a tablespoon is the really big one, not a dessert spoon – I’m always doing that). To be honest, I’m not sure that missing out a few mls of soy sauce was the main problem.

I also missed out the red lentils (replaced with extra green ones), the coriander and the cinnamon because I didn’t have any. (It turns out we did actually have cinnamon but ‘men can never see anything even when it’s straight in front of them’). Again, I’m not sure that missing out a few sprinkles of spice was a major problem.

The major problem may well have been that I was hungry, so I omitted the 800 ml of stock and most of the cooking time. I was using tinned lentils so it wasn’t as if they needed a lot of cooking. This may have deprived us of a great deal of flavour and texture. Or it may just have meant we ate sooner.

It was, as I say, not great. The spicing was quite hot, though acceptable by our modest standards, and the flavour was not as good as I would have liked. On the other hand, it wasn’t bad either. In truth, I’ve never really rated vegetarian chilli so I wasn’t particularly disappointed by the result. I will try it again and see how it goes.

Burnt Aubergine Chilli with brown rice

Burnt Aubergine Chilli with brown rice

The scorching of the aubergine skin, done using the garden flamethrower, did not produce the smoky flavour I was hoping for, though the discarded skin smelt reasonably smoky as it went into the compost. I was hoping for something spectacular for the photographs, but the camera seemed to filter the flame out.

Another problem is the chocolate. I used some of Julia’s hoard of 80% dark chocolate, thinking that if something is doing it is worth doing properly. It didn’t add anything to the taste, but when I mentioned it, it did add something to the conversation. I won’t go over the entire discussion, but Julia isn’t happy about the idea of me throwing her decent chocolate into a chilli. From the note of indignation in her voice you’d have thought I’d been using puppies, not chocolate.