JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Labels on fruit & other produce

You know those funny little irritating labels on fruit? The ones that tell you that, yes, you have picked up a Granny Smith or whatever? Well, they've got some seriously useful information on them, if you know how to translate the code.

They are actually called PLUs, that's Price Look Up in English. They are there to make things easier (and cheaper to run) for supermarkets, never mind that consumers really really don't want to have to remove little stickers from their apples. It's not much of a consolation to find that there are plans to overcome consumer resistance by branding fruit and vegetables with blueberry juice.

PLUs are numerical codes for loose produce, a sort of bar code for fruit and veg. All the numbers mean something - some for different types of fruit and veg, some for sizes, some for colour, some restrictive/geographic (to take account of both metric and imperial weights and measures). None of this needs consumer translation ... but there are two that do: they are both prefixes to four-figure numbers:



You wouldn't believe how long it took to find this information - do you think they're trying to keep it secret from ordinary consumers? Or does that sound too much like paranoia? The reason I wanted to check it was to make sure that these two codes work everywhere in the world - and they do.

All over the world: 9 for organic, 8 for GM.

Just so's you know.

Full details of all the codes can be found at the International Federation for Produce Standards website. But those are the two you need (p 17 of the users' guide, which is a pdf). The examples they give, to be really clear, are: 94011 is an organic banana; 84805 is a GM vine-ripened tomato.

I mention this now, because fruit is such a good thing eat when you're out and about (check out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's diet), and I often forget to take it with me, so I end up buying it in the garage or at corner shops. Lucius has just had his hip replacement operation, so I'll be back and forth between home and the hospital for the next few days ... & probably forgetting fruit as often as not. I've just phoned the hospital, he's awake and everything's fine. I'm off right now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Machine bread, local flour

Until yesterday, I felt a little embarrassed to have bought a bread machine ... truth to tell, though, my handmade (artisan?!) bread has always been a little hit and miss: either delicious - or else so heavy as to be barely edible (even using the same recipe). I've inflicted this on my family for years, and they have put up with it with characteristic humour (also on occasion other characteristic reactions which I think I will not share).

The bread machine makes it all so simple. And edible. Every time. Every single time. And you don't have to bake your dough in the funny machine shape, you can whip out the dough and shape it however you'd like. Last week I made dough sticks, foccacia, fougasse, pizza, and rolls. All delicious, light, airy - also no trouble. (Hence, I suspect, my embarrassment.)

Yesterday, I bought flour from Wessex Mills, ground from wheat mostly grown around half an hour from here, at five named farms, one of which I can picture, and at least two more of which I have driven past. And the resulting bread, made in under two hours automatically on the rapid setting while I was at a meeting, was ... wonderful. The wheat was grown at Ash Farm, West Hagbourne; Manor Farm, Westcott Barton; Shalstone Manor, Shalstone; Woodway Farm, Aston Rowant; Church Farm, Lewknor. How's that for traceability?

Quick white bread in a machine

1 tsp quick yeast
400g strong white flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
280 ml water

I used demerara sugar because it was there. In future I plan to use honey or maple syrup (lovely lovely Christmas present) or molasses, all of which will add depth of flavour. I use Maldon salt for everything.

My machine is Panasonic, so I always start with yeast then flour, adding liquids last. I gather other machines require you to add ingredients in other ways.

Set the machine to basic/rapid/medium. That takes just under two hours in mine.

Related posts:

Antioxidant teabread
White pizzas with fennel seeds

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nigel Slater's Eating for England

Would you like me to give you a recipe book?

Actually, this week it's not a recipe book, it's a memoir by Nigel Slater, the one that came out in time for Christmas. It was my Christmas present to myself. A fun read, but not one I'll want to go back to and re-read.

The idea of this book arose when an American radio reporter asked NS to describe British food.

Do I tell them about the meltingly tender lamb from North Ronaldsay, the famous apple hat pudding with its tender suet crust, or the northern teacake known as the fat rascal? Do I have time to enthuse about the joys of medlar jelly, damson gin and the unpasteurised cheeses made down long leafy lanes in Dorset, Devon and Dumfries? Perhaps I should wax eloquent about Wiltshire bacon, sherry trifle, Christmas pudding, or steak-and-kidney pie with its crumbly pastry and dark and savoury filling? Will there be time for name-checks for Scottish heather honey, toasted teacakes, gooseberry fool and Caerphilly cheese? And will they let me squeeze in the glory that is a decent haggis, Welsh rarebit or Cornish pasty?

Or do I tell them the truth? That for every Brit eating our legendary roast beef and jam roly poly there are a million more tucking into Thai green curry and pepperoni pizza. That more people probably eat chocolate brownies than apple crumble and custard, and that it is now easier to find decent sushi than really good roast beef.

The main thrust of this book is Sweets-I-have-loved, Biscuits-I-Wish-They-Still-Made. Amazing, really, that his palate is still intact. There's a lot of dissing English cookery, some of it called for. There's a not-very-nice story about taking his elderly aunt out for lunch. So all my prejudices are intact (although I'd like you to know that I'm probably not going to give away my copy of Kitchen Diaries, at least, not yet). The mix of - to me - irrelevance and negativity means I won't want to read it again. But I'd welcome another view, so I'm giving it away.

Would YOU like it? The usual rules: just email me (joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk) and let me know why you'd like it, and I'll pick a winner, and post it off. All I'd like you to do in return is write a post about the book, linking back here.

Last week, I said I'd give away my duplicate of Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food. It's going to Anke at Vegan Bounty. She posted some great recipes for this month's Heart of the Matter on soup. And she's a fan of Nigel.

I posted off a spare copy of Jane Grigson's Fish to Helen at A Forkful of Spaghetti ... and here's her post, her first take on this excellent book.

Related links:

Would you like me to give you a book?
Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food

HotM 11: Soup - the round-up

Soup isn't an everyday event in this house ... more of a once-a-month thing. As a child, we had soup for supper on a Sunday evening, made by my stepmother from whatever was in the fridge. She's a great cook, so mostly it was delicious, but even she would agree that it was a little hit or miss. She's a Scot, hates waste - and, on one never-to-be-forgotten occasion, she chucked in a little chocolate cake which just happened to need finishing up.

So when I make soup, I like to know what is in it, what it is. If I'm not making one of my standards (minestrone, parsnip soup, lentil and bacon, potato), then I like to follow (more or less) a recipe. Here are loads of new ones ... and enough variations on lentil soup to mean that even I, with a house-ful of lentil-haters, have got to be able to find one soup that they'll all eat ;)

As you'll see from my submission, Lady Westmorland's Soup, I'm in need of a bit of soup inspiration - and there's plenty here.

I'm giving them in the order they came ... there's not much scope for dividing them up scientifically, so it seems fairest. Thanks to everyone who took part - it's been really fun reading all these different takes on heart-healthy soup for a winter's day.

Sophie at Mostly Eating has made a thick chestnut parsnip and orange soup, using vacuum-packed chestnuts. There's interesting nutritional information about chestnuts (not your average nut), and a zesty fresh yoghurt mix to drizzle over the finished bowl.

Franz from Duesseldorf has given us an old family recipe for vegetable soup with - intriguingly - coffee-flavoured buckwheat pancakes. In English & German.

Take a look at these carrots Ann found at her farmers' market. She made them into a carrot and cumin soup, which you can find at Redacted Recipes.

Nupur made her roasted allium soup to keep out the cold of a St Louis winter. It's very low in calories, fat-free and vegan. You'll find it at One Hot Stove

Helene at News from the Kitchen has given us another bi-lingual entry for German-readers to enjoy: it's a three-coloured soup, using fennel, spinach and tomatoes, to beat the grey winter light.

Dhivya at Culinary Bazaar gives us a vegetarian Vietnamese Pho soup, something I've never tried, which is a broth full of floating goodness.

Lisa at Unique Little Bits says she's been reading HotM for a while, but this is the first time she's taken part. Her soup is an earthy mixture of barley and mushrooms with herbs and wine. Mmm

Co-host Michelle, the Accidental Scientist, has made a lemongrass and ginger scented chicken soup for the heart. Lovely flavours to keep out the cold and remind us that there will be warmer days!

Doodles at Peanut Butter Etouffee has made a lovely lentil soup, packed full of flavours and goodness, and a little wilted spinach or kale to finish - an idea which could be used in a number of the soups featured here.

Chris at Melecotte has made a chunky tomato soup which she finishes in a variety of ways - I like the sound of grated lemon zest, another combination I might not have thought of, but which I will definitely try.

Diane at Gluten-Free Journey gives us a recipe for a quick cock-a-leekie - a Scottish classic soup based on chicken broth. She promises haggis if we come back again!

Over at Thyme for Cooking you'll find Katie's fabulous post on winter soup: is it vegetable soup? or beef vegetable soup? You decide - and if you've never made beef stock before, you'll find clear instructions in her post.

Lisa at Food and Spice has made a lightly-spiced soup of black-eyed peas and vegetables, which is also finished with wilted greens for extra goodness.

Anke at Vegan Bounty has made three soups ... this roasted pepper with cinnamon and ginger was a New Year's Eve treat (made the day after she got back from her honeymoon). Then there's Caldo Gallego a la Scarborough Fair, lots of beans, potatoes, herbs. Finally, broccoli-cauliflower-yin-yang-soup, complete with really useful and clear instructions for making vegetable stock. She asks if she went over the top ... I don't think so, they're so unusual and beautiful.

At Green Gourmet Giraffe you'll find a chunky beetroot soup with kidney beans, originally created by Anthony Worral Thompson. Johanna says it's summery, but that it reminds her of winter days huddled round the fire in Scotland. Low GI as well as low fat.

Pumpkin notchilli
soup got it's name after a family row about whether chilli should have beans or meat, what vegetables there should be ... well, you get the picture. They grumbled, but they ate it up - and then asked for more.

Christine Cooks a heart-healthy lentil soup: loads of vegetables, a little tuna if you'd like, and a good squeeze of Meyer lemon.

Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska gives us a traditional Turkish soup, Ezo Gelin Çorbasi - Red Lentil and Bulgur Soup with Mint and Lemon. She also tells us the beautiful story of this dish, which, she explains, is sold in most kebab houses, eaten for breakfast, and used to cure hangovers. It is low in fat, full of legumes and grains, and very heart-healthy.

Last but not least, David at Book the Cook, gives us a flavourful and earthy Brown Lentil, Smoked Bacon and Swede Soup. He says he's feeling jaded because of the weather, and isn't up to creating new dishes, but regular readers of his blog will know that David has very high standards ... and won't be surprised to find that this traditional-sounding soup is full of modern twists - I bet his granny didn't put garlic or chilli flakes in hers!

Did I say last but not least? Here's Ilva's lovely hot broccoli soup, which I saw at the time, but she forgot to send me the link, and I would have forgotten to include it except that we were emailing each other about next month's HotM. Phew!

Thanks to everyone for taking part ... as always, lovely recipes, beautiful pictures, some great posts and moving stories. Next month ... well, Michelle will be posting about that in the next day or two.

PS somehow, not at all sure how, this delicious recipe got left out: labelga's beautiful and fragrantly-spiced red pepper soup, which you'll find at Leafy Cooking.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Processed foods: some nutritional info

Once you start reading the labels on industrially processed foods, you've taken the first step towards healthier eating. I mean, who wants to eat a chemical cocktail they can neither pronounce nor understand? My rule of thumb is not to buy processed food containing things I either don't or wouldn't have in my kitchen.

The Food Standards Agency has some nutritional guidelines for those reading labels: don't buy processed food containing more than: 20% fat, 5% saturated fat, carb sugars 10%, and 0.5% sodium.
Useful - although they've set the bar pretty high: the definition of a low-fat food is 5% overall fat, so I suspect less carb sugars and less salt would also be a good thing.

The Observer Food Magazine yesterday printed extracts from something called the Good Nutrition Guide: best and worst of various types of processed food. Here are a couple of examples, taken from the kinds of processed foods our children like to eat:

Breakfast cereals:
Lowest salt: Nestle Shredded Wheat; Quaker Oats; Ready Brek, Sugar Puffs
Highest salt: Kellogg's Corn Flakes; Kellogg's Rice Krispies
Lowest sugar: Nestle Shredded Wheat
Highest sugar: Kellogg's Coco Pops; Kellogg's Frosties
Highest fat/saturates: Jordan's Original Crunchy fruits
Best overall choice: Nestle Shredded Wheat

Sad, really, because NOTHING is ever going to make me like eating those bird's nests. Porridge, no salt, a little soft brown sugar, skimmed milk. Mmmm

Lowest sugar: McVitie's Original Digestives
Highest sugar: McVitie's Jaffa Cakes
Lowest fat: McVitie's Jaffa Cakes
Lowest saturated fat: WeightWatchers Oat Crunch
Highest fat: Cadbury Milk Chocolate Biscuit Collection
Lowest salt: Baiocchi hazelnut and cocoa filling
Highest salt: Fox's Butter Crinkle Crunch
Best choice: McVitie's Jaffa Cakes

When they say Best Choice, they surely must mean Least Worst Option ... but good to know, all the same.

Lowest salt: Doritos Lightly Salted Corn Chips
Highest salt: Walkers Sensations Oven-Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Thyme
Lowest sugar: Hula Hoops
Highest sugar: Golden Wonder Wotsits
Lowest fat: Jacob's Twiglets
Highest fat: Pringle's Originals
Best choice: Kettle Chips lightly salted

Again, this is a pretty weird thing to be finding in a Good Nutrition Guide, but this is useful information for some members of this family (!)

Pasta sauce:
Lowest sugar: Loyd Grossman Carbonara
Lowest saturated fat: Dolmio Original Light
Lowest salt: Loyd Grossman Puttanesca; Loyd Grossman Carbonara; Bertolli tomato and basil
Best Choice: Dolmio Original Light

Lowest sugar: Goodfella's Loaded Cheese (frozen)
Lowest saturated fat: Pizza Express La Reine
Lowest salt: Goodfella's Loaded Cheese; The Pizza Company Thin and Crispy cheese and tomato
Lowest calorie: Pizza Express Sloppy Giuseppe
Best choice: Pizza Express American/American Hot/La Reine/Margherita/Sloppy Giuseppe

Horatio and Alfred will breathe a sigh of relief at these findings, since they are addicted to Pizza Express midnight feasts!

Related posts:
Our basic rules
Pyramid plan for healthy eating
HFW's slimming diet
80/20 rule

Useful links:
The Good Nutrition Guide
The Observer Food Magazine
OFM nutrition article

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lasagne topping

All of the children were home for lunch today, and my parents. Rare event. Lasagne for lunch - easy (necessary, since lunch was late because everyone was caught up with watching the final of the Australian Open). I'd cooked the bolognese yesterday, Lettice layered it with the sheets of pasta, while I mixed up the topping:

2 eggs, beaten
500ml 0% yoghurt

Mix all this together and pour on the top of your lasagne. Either, drizzle with a little olive oil, or grate on a little parmesan.

The result is a tangy topping, lighter and rather more interesting than a bechamel-based cheese sauce. It's also quicker - important if you arrive back from the station (fetching elder daughter) after your guests.

No photograph: you all know what lasagne looks like ;)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

HFW's saltfish and parsnip rosti fishcake

I haven't tried this recipe yet, but I intend to. I copied it out of Anna's copy ofHugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish on Boxing Day, with a black crayon onto an old airmail envelope, the only writing tools that could be found. Now I'm in danger of losing the envelope, so I'm posting to keep it safe: I'm unlikely to buy Fish until I've given away a few more recipe books :)

I've never cooked saltfish, though I've meant to ever since I ate it at the end of a long day's train journey from Brittany to Lyons to fetch my (then) 10-year-old daughter, who had been staying with friends in the French Alps. I volunteered for this break from our family holiday because I wanted to go to a museum in Paris during a two- or three-hour pause in the journey, and because I wanted to visit the Jean Moulin Museum in the old Gestapo headquarters in Lyons (I was studying 20th century French history at the time). But it was August, and both were shut. I'd also taken the wrong book: one about the history of the English landscape - singularly inappropriate when every time I looked up I saw the markedly different French landscape.

But dinner that evening was magical: in a little street restaurant, not on the tourist map, hardly any choice, and starting with a saltfish puree - oily, garlicky, almost worth the hours and hours of solitary journeying.

It used to be a trek to the next town to buy any interesting fish, but now the butcher is my wet fishmonger, and the supermarket in my village stocks saltfish, so there's no excuse - except my lingering suspicion that I'm going to be the only person in the house who will actually want to eat anything I make with saltfish. And Elizabeth David - SO discouraging about making brandade de morue at home.

Saltfish and parsnip rosti fishcake

for 4-6 as a starter, 2-3 main course

1-2 parsnips (250-300g), grated
1 small onion
100g rehydrated* hard salt fish (or 200g lightly salted white fish fillet) cut into 1 cm cubes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
rosemary, finely chopped
1 beaten egg
oil for frying

* to rehydrate saltfish, soak for 48 hours in cold water, changing it twice daily (and HFW says that it's important to taste - I think he means the water, but perhaps someone with a copy of the book can enlighten us?)

Mix everything together. Heat the oil, drop in handfuls, squashing them to a cake 8cm in diameter and 1 cmthick. Fry gently so that they don't burn, but enough that they heat through to the middle - 5-7 minutes. Flip, brown the other side, rest on kitchen paper. Eat hot with a green salad.

Doesn't that sound good? That's why I didn't want to lose it!

Related posts:

Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food
Would you like me to give you a recipe book?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Spiced chicken with orange

This is what we had for dinner last night - really good, fuss-free. The recipe is from Diana Henry's new book, Cook Simple, although I tinkered with it a bit (no chicken stock, so I used dry sherry and water, which meant I had to use more honey, also a little balsamic vinegar). Even though this dish contains cooked oranges, there's not a hint of marmalade in the finished dish. It's particularly good at this time of year, when oranges are plentiful and in season - I used blood oranges (although Waitrose, irritatingly, now call them blush oranges). Warmly recommended.

Turkish chicken with oranges and warm spices

for 4

8 chicken thighs (I used strips of breast)
2 red onions, sliced into wedges
2 oranges, sliced into wedges
5 crushed garlic cloves
1 small red chilli, chopped small
3 tsp ground coriander
1 cinnamon stick
75g raisins
juice of an orange
150 ml chicken stock
1 1/2 tbsp honey
a small handful of mint leaves

Brown the chicken thighs on each side in a little oil in a shallow casserole; lift out and set aside (skip this if you are using strips of breast). Briefly saute the orange and onion wedges, add the garlic, chilli, spices and raisins and carry on cooking for a few more minutes. Add the juice, stock and honey. Simmer for 10 minutes. You can do all this ahead if you like. I added a little dried mint, because there's no mint in my garden at present.

Put the chicken into the pan and simmer until done - 20-25 minutes for thighs, 12-15 minutes for breast strips. Chop in the mint leaves (in summer). I stirred in some mixed salad leaves. Serve with plain rice and Greek yoghurt.

Related links

Lemon chicken
Spicy chicken with dried plums

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Antioxidant tea bread

Lucius is going into hospital for a hip replacement next week. A friend mentioned someone she knew who had recovered in double-quick time, surprising his surgeon, by eating lots of antioxidants. Sounds interesting and worth trying, although I'm out of my comfort zone here, so I'd appreciate any advice or tips anyone can give me.

I'm making a start with this teabread, from the Carrs flour website. (I should say that this is a bread machine recipe, but it could easily be adapted by hand bakers.)

Antioxidant blast

1 tsp fast action dried yeast
500g strong white flour
1 1/2 tbsp skimmed milk powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp sunflower oil
350ml cold black tea

2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
50g dried blueberries
50g dried cranberries
20g sunflower seeds

Make the tea strong, and leave to infuse for five minutes, and let cool. My usual tea is Lapsang Souchong, so I couldn't just use the end of a pot, I had to make it specially, so I made it stronger than usual.

Mix the berries, seeds and spices. I used more blueberries and less cranberries, but only because I didn't want to be left with a uselessly small amount of blueberries. These go into your raisin dispenser, unless you have to add them by hand later.

Put everything else into the bread machine, and switch to wholemeal bake/raisin setting, large loaf. Five hours in my machine.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food + lentil stew

Would you like me to give you a recipe book?

There are too many recipe books in this house, so I'm giving some of the surplus away to readers of this blog, one by one, to ease the pain. Last week, I asked who would like my spare copy of Jane Grigson's Fish Book. I'm giving it to Helen at A Forkful of Spaghetti, a new London-based blog. It was really hard to decide (although not quite as hard as deciding on this week's book), and in the end I thought I'd give it to someone in England, because I thought people from other places might have trouble sourcing some of the fish, and you know how we're all locavores now.

This is what Helen said:

When I was 'getting into' food in my late teens, I used to read Jane's columns and recipes in the Observer from time to time until she died. I always liked her clear style of writing, and her evident enthusiasm for food - and her equal enthusiasm for sharing her amazing knowledge.

For reasons I can't now remember properly, I never got around to buying any of her books - I think it's probably because I was moving around a lot in those days, and was trying to keep my 'baggage' to a minimum.

All these years on, and speaking as someone who adores fish, it's fantastic to see fish making a 'comeback', championed as it now is by the new breed of celebrity food writers, such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

But Jane got there first, didn't she? Quite simply, I would love this book because I love fish, and even now, I can't think of many people who wrote better on the subject than Jane. Since I don't have any of her books, this would fill a very shameful gap on my kitchen shelf!

This week's book is another duplicate - and I'm horribly afraid that every single one of you already has a copy, because it's a real classic, hugely popular, and this particular copy was a magazine giveaway. I can't do better than to quote from the blurb on the back:

Real Fast Food contains over 350 recipes and suggestions which show that food in a hurry can be creative, delicious and nourishing ... all the dishes can be ready to eat in 30 minutes or under - less time than it takes to heat up a ready-made supermarket supper.

Real Fast Food was Nigel Slater's first book, a huge bestseller despite the lack of pictures. It's hard to remember now what a sensation it caused in 1992, because it was so influential. I'm not very keen on Slater's later books, but this one is fantastically useful: there are everyday ingredients (no problem about things in cans), there are endless variations on a number of themes (eggs, canned fish, bread etc), there's a strong can-do feel about it, you don't have to be an expert to make a good supper out of what there is in the fridge.

This is what I'm going to cook for lunch (p 207):

Lentils with tomatoes

100g brown lentils
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 chopped fresh red chilli pepper
400g tin plum tomatoes

Wash the lentils in a sieve under running water. Cook them with the bay leaf and a tablespoon of the oil in boiling salted water for 15 minutes. Drain them in a colander.

Meanwhile, fry the onion in the remaining oil for about 5-7 minutes, until soft and golden. Add the chilli and cook for a further minute or two. Add the drained lentils and the tomatoes with all their juice, salt and pepper. Simmer gently for 10 minutes and serve hot.

Once associated with slow-cooking, the lentil, which cooks to perfection in 15-20 minutes and sometimes less, is good snack material. Sometimes I boil them with a bay leaf and a little oil, then just drain them and smother in soft butter and black pepper. How to feel indulgent on 30p

That last paragraph is typical: first a recipe, then a fuss-free way to vary it.

So, if there's anyone out there who doesn't have a copy of this excellent book, email me (joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk) and let me know why you'd like it, and I'll pick a winner, and post it off. All I'd like you to do in return is write a post about the book, linking back here.

Related posts:
Would you like me to give you a recipe book?
Pasta with braised lentils
Lentil soup with ruby chard
Beetroot and lentils
Lentil salad with homemade cheese

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Birthday flowers

Today it's my birthday, and I've had a stream of visitors. The first was Amy, standing on the doorstep with a lemon drizzle cake and LIT candles. The rest of my visitors have been eating lemon drizzle cake all morning.

Eleanor sent me tulips, really lovely tulips because she knows they are my favourite. Yellow and orange in a white jug, and brightening the kitchen table.

The garden ... well, I can hardly believe the presents it's given me today: the first tiny snowdrops, primroses, a cowslip in amongst the celandines, helebores galore (five different types), and one tiny purply-black iris reticulata. Oh yes, and a forgotten pot of last year's hyacinths left in the greenhouse instead of being planted out - badly in need of splitting - but starting to bloom today, and now on my desk.

Blue sky, too, a perfect cold winter's day, not like all the rain we've been having and all the grey skies that are forecast. Magical.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Kippers - without stinking out the house

We eat kippers for breakfast every Saturday morning, without stinking out the house, which it seems is a major factor in putting people off these delicious fish. This morning my father told me he was banned from cooking them because of the smell. So he occasionally goes to the Loch Fyne Restaurant a few doors down from his house, specifically to eat kippers.

For years and years, cooking kippers was easy for me, as an Aga-user: all the cooking smells go up the flue - which means that you can burn food to a crisp black cinder without realising until you go into the garden. But now my Aga isn't working, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to have it taken out (in favour of a wood-fired oven), so I've had to solve the odourless kipper-cooking problem. It turns out to be the original, traditional & popular method in the north east of England, which is where kippers were invented (by John Woodger of Seahouses in Northumberland, in 1840). The most difficult thing about it is finding a jug which is tall enough but not too wide (otherwise you'll need two kettles-full of water), and I keep thinking that there must be a pottery, perhaps in Craster, where they make the perfect kippering jug.

Jugged kippers

Put good kippers (ie undyed, preferably from Craster, Uig, Loch Fyne) into a jug, heads down, and pour boiling water over them. Leave for at least six minutes and no more than 10. Pull them out, shake off the drips, and serve on hot plates. Pepper, a little well-strained yoghurt, some finely chopped onion (probably not at breakfast), lemon juice are all good accompaniments, and a little toast and marmalade to follow is utter bliss.

This works well, but only if you use a jug (or similar) rather than a flat dish. If you do that, the water cools too fast and you need to heat it up - which produces a smell, as well as perfectly edible kippers.

The other difficulty people have with kippers is the bones. WC Hodgson explains in The Herring and its Fishery (quoted by Jane Grigson in her Fish Book):

"Eating a kipper is quite simple if it is laid correctly on the plate to start with, that is, with the skin uppermost. With the head twoards you, lift up the skin from half of the kipper by running the point of the knife along the edge and fold the skin back. This exposes the flesh on top of the bones, and it is quite easy to remove it in fillets, leaving the bones untouched. When this side has been eaten, turn the kipper round on the plate so that the tail is towards you and repeat the process on the other side."

Jane Grigson comments: This works. It's true, it does, because we both tried it a couple of weekends ago. But it's more of a palaver than what I normally do, but, unlike Mr Hodgson (somehow, I feel he must be a man), I am not equal to the task of describing it. But it works too.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lady Westmorland's soup

This is a recipe to challenge your definition of luxury, however frugal you are. It's from Florence White's Good Things in England, first published in 1932 with the idea of preserving six decades of traditional English methods of cookery. This particular recipe proves that there is nothing new under the sun; it could hardly be more pared down, more minimalist (if you can have more minimalism).

Lady Westmorland's soup

This is nothing more than the water in which young cabbage has been boiled according to the directions given on page 208 ... It is extremely good and delicate and tastes very much like chicken broth. It is not merely an economy but a luxury; one of the best of health and beauty drinks.

The instructions given on page 208 are headed The Right Way to Cook Cabbage. These instructions are a culinary operation that has been dealt with scientifically by Dr Ellen Marion Delf (Mrs Percy Smith DSc) whose name is known all the world over in connection with the scientific tests she made for several years with various fruits and vegetables (particularly with orange and swede juice, cabbage and tomatoes) to discover their vitamin value and the best method of preserving it when they were cooked.

This is what you do to Cook Cabbage the Right Way: wash the (young) cabbage (old cabbage should never be cooked at all: it is worthless), cut it into quarters, remove old leaves and cut out tough stems. Put the quarters into rapidly boiling slightly salted water. Boil rapidly with the lid off for 10 minutes, and absolutely no longer than 15 minutes. Lift out, drain by pressing slightly. If you have cooked it properly it will be slightly crisp, and not saturated with water. If you want it chopped, now is the moment to chop it. Cabbage should not be kept waiting; it should be cooked and served immediately.

I haven't yet cooked Lady Westmorland's Soup - first of all the cabbage in my fridge could really only be described as old, so I thought it was better not to risk Dr Delf's wrath by cooking it. And secondly, I have a problem with this: if the cabbage can't be kept waiting, then we'll have to eat the vegetable course before the soup. Or reheat the soup, which probably isn't very good for the vitamins, especially the fugitive delicate Vitamin C, as Florence White calls it.

All the same, this is my entry for this month's Heart of the Matter: soup is this month's theme. It's undoubtedly heart-healthy, it's certainly frugal, and is, I suppose, luxurious in the sense that it's very very good for you, rather than in the sense of let's-spend-all-the-money-we-haven't-got-in Harrods/Armani/Gucci/Jimmy Choo/etc etc

I'm sure many of you know the HotM "rules" by now, but here's a recap: all you have to do is to send me the link to your entry at joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk by 24 January, make a link to Joanna's Food and to the HotM blog as well if you like. I'll post the round up on both blogs. In order to keep this focused on heart health we ask you to consider this as a one-entry event, i.e. we prefer that you don't use your post for other events as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Quick supper: savoury chicken

This supper takes less than five minutes to prepare, 40 minutes to cook, and is my new favourite. It's hardly a recipe, really.

I'm leaving quantities up to you, but you're aiming for roughly equal amounts of chicken, potato and onion. Tonight I'm using chicken breasts (cut into two lengthwise), but it's just as good with thighs, and would work with other joints. Or a jointed chicken, if you're up to such a thing.

Savoury chicken with roasted onion and potato

chicken pieces
onions, red for preference
waxy potatoes
fat garlic cloves
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
Maldon salt

Heat the oven to 200C. Find a roasting dish big enough to take all your ingredients.

Peel the onions and slice them thickly. Add an equal amount of potato: you can use baby potatoes for this, but I prefer to use slightly larger ones cut into two or four, as the cut edges become satisfyingly crunchy. Chuck in some cloves of garlic, separated but not peeled, enough for at least one per person. Add the chicken pieces. Chop a good lot of rosemary needles onto this (saving a couple of sprigs), then douse in oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Mix it all up well. Crumble salt over the dish, grind on as much pepper as you like, and top with two or three sprigs of rosemary.

Cook for 40 minutes (the exact timing will depend on the size of your chicken joints).

When the chicken is cooked, everything else should be cooked through and blackening at the edges. Make sure everyone has a clove of garlic to squeeze out onto their plate, making a sweet and unctuous sauce.

Good with green salad. Or tomato salad.

PS this is good warm, as well as hot from the oven. Just as well, because supper is now ready and Lucius is still in the workshop - I can hear him hammering. I'm not complaining, he's building the world's most beautiful pergola

Monday, January 14, 2008

Anchovy, Garlic and Caper Sauce

I said I'd cook one last recipe from each book I give away ... today's prize book is Jane Grigson's Fish Book. I'm only giving it away because I've got two copies. I use this book all the time, not just to cook from, but also to read.

This 18th-century recipe for Anchovy, Garlic and Caper Sauce is one I haven't tried before; it's perfect for today, when Lucius may or may not be coming home for lunch, and when there's lots of oddments in the fridge that need eating up. I'm going to serve it with vegetables, rather in the manner of a cold bagna cauda (the recipe for which is also given).

I halved the quantities, left out the salt (lots in the capers), and made it with a pestle because I wanted a lumpy texture. It's a sort of winter, herb-less version of salsa verde, which we eat a lot in the summer. A good discovery. Thank heavens I've got two copies of Jane Grigson's Fish Book!

Anchovy, garlic and caper sauce

Serves 6

An 18th-century sauce that goes beautifully with hard-boiled eggs - halve them across, spread the sauce on a dish and put the eggs, cut side down, in neat rows on top. Allow 6-9 eggs. Serve it with cooked haricot beans, salt cod and grilled white fish, or tuna.

10-12 large garlic cloves, in their skins
8-10 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons small capers
dash of wine vinegar
salt, pepper
about 12 tablespoons olive oil

Simmer the garlic in water to cover for 7 minutes. Cool under the tap, remove their skins and put them into a blender (better than a processor for this kind of sauce) with the anchovies, capers, vinegar and a little seasoning. Whizz to a puree, then slowly add the oil to make a sauce of mayonnaise consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings.

This is a strong sauce - you could use half sunflower or safflower oil and half olive oil to make it blander.

PS Fabulously easy, even in a mortar. Utterly delicious, especially with cold potatoes. Who needs hard-boiled eggs?

Would you like me to give you a recipe book?

The other day, in the post-Christmas sales, I bought yet another recipe book. When I got home, I realised there really really wasn't anywhere to put it. Not a bookshelf, not a worktop, not a table. Some weeding of cookery books is required. 101 cookery books? Here, that's only the beginning.

I read somewhere that most cookery books are either not used at all, or only for a couple of recipes. In this house, cookery books are frequently consulted - often several at once for versions of the same recipe - but rarely used chapter and verse. Many are kept for one recipe, perhaps two. But there are a number that haven't been consulted for years, even for the one treasure they (may) contain. And so I am going to weed them out. One by one: it's too difficult - painful even - to make a huge pile in one day.

Each book will be read one last time. I'll post about it, document the recipe/s I actually use from it (maybe even cook it) ... and then give it to one of you ... just email me (joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk) and let me know why you'd like it, and I'll pick a winner, and post it off. All I'd like you to do in return is write a post about the book, linking back here.

I'm aiming - but not promising - to do this once a week. There's enough to keep us going for at least a couple of years. Some of them are in the picture. Some of them are in a pile on the floor. Some of them are covered in food stains. They need a new home. Yours?

So ... I wrote all that a couple of weeks ago, and have spent much of the intervening time thinking, either that I've gone stark staring mad, or about which book to give away first.

Well, maybe I have gone mad, giving away my books to strangers (although I have many real friends in cyberspace, AND there's something very intimate about food blogging, something which goes right to the heart of how people live their lives & what they consider important). I'm going to start with a favourite, which I'm giving away because it's a duplicate.

Jane Grigson's Fish Book

All of Jane Grigson's books are magisterial yet accessible, scholarly yet fun. This one is no exception: it's full of erudition, AND is written with the confidence of someone who has cooked everything not just once for research, but daily weekly monthly because that's how she lives.

As a sourcebook of coldwater fish, this cannot be beaten. For instance, in the section on flatfish (just one of over 40 chapters on individual groups of fish), she explains the differences between dab, flounder, fluke, lemon sole, megrim, whiff, sail-fluke, west coast sole, Torbay sole, witch (with separate sections for halibut and turbot). Whatever you impulse-buy at the fishmonger, you'll find great advice and inspiration. There are no pictures, just a few lovely line drawings by Yvonne Skargon.

I said I'd cook one last recipe from each book I give away ... and I have, but I'm putting Jane Grigson's Anchovy Garlic and Caper Sauce in a separate post, because it's so delicious I shall want to find it again easily.

Both my copies are a 1993 Penguin reprint (it was first published in 1973), and I'm giving away the pristine, unused one, because I've made notes in the other one, and I find those indispensible when I'm returning to a recipe I don't often use. Would YOU like it? Just email me (joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk) and let me know why you'd like it, and I'll pick a winner, and post it off. All I'd like you to do in return is write a post about the book, linking back here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

White pizzas with fennel seeds

Lunch yesterday and today was white pizza, no cheese. Less is more.

I made the dough yesterday morning, using 300g strong white flour, a slug of olive oil, some salt, 170ml of water, half a teaspoon of quick yeast and a couple of teaspoons of fennel seeds. One half went into the fridge overnight, the other straight onto a pizza tin.

Sicilian-ish white pizza

This was topped with a few sultanas (softened for a while in a little hot water), some large capers, and three or four snipped anchovies. A drizzle of oil - c'est tout. When it came out of the oven, I covered it in chopped parsley.

Roasted onion white pizza

This pizza was liberally covered with roasted onions: I won't say they were "left over" from last night's supper; I deliberately made enough for two meals. Lots of pepper. When the pizza came out of the oven, I could have added some Greek yoghurt, or chopped parsley, but I didn't - I wanted the sweet taste of the onions oozing into the lightly-cooked dough.

Just one thing - I'm almost embarrassed to confess: I made the dough in a bread machine, which I bought at the beginning of the week. Richard Bertinet would be very surprised to hear that his highly-enjoyable course drove me to buy one of these machines which he so despises.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sort of Waldorf salad

This is a variation on a salad I often eat for lunch during the winter months, and which I invented when I found there were no walnuts in the house. These days I always use sprouted seeds, because I prefer them to the more traditional/authentic walnuts.

Generally, I dress this with oil, lemon juice and zest. Today, I wanted to use up the end of a pot of 0% Greek yoghurt, so I squirted in a little Heinz salad cream, which made a really delicious dressing, surprisingly so. However, it could just as easily have been a little chutney, or soy sauce, or horseradish.

Waldorf-ish salad
for one

One Cox's orange pippin (or half a larger apple)
One stick of celery
A handful or two of sprouted seeds

2 tbsp 0% yoghurt/fromage frais
a squirt of salad cream

Chop the apple, leaving on the skin. Cut the celery finely. Add the sprouted seeds. Mine were a mix of aduki, mung, lentil and chickpea, but any will do. Place in a shallow bowl, and dollop over the dressing.

Related post:

A lighter Waldorf salad

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sweet/sour marinated white cabbage

This is NOT sauerkraut, nothing like it. This is a lovely sweet spicy salad for anyone who loves coleslaw but has got a bit fed up with eating it through these winter months. That's to say probably everyone in the northern hemisphere who is eating seasonally and beginning to feel the annual yearning for some soft green salad leaves.

It's got other virtues, too: you can make it ahead, in fact it's better if you do. Better to wait 24 hours before eating, so that the flavours can intensify (although this is hard, once you start nibbling at it). Which makes it a good thing to use up the cabbage left over at the end of the week (there's always a little something left when the next veg box comes, the trick is to make sure it's stuff that will keep well in a cool place). So at least one vegetable dish for supper is made before you even start to think about what to eat.

Sweet/sour marinated white cabbage
to fill one .75l jar

half a white cabbage
200ml cider vinegar
200ml caster sugar
6 tbsp oil
4 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tsp black mustard seeds
salt and pepper

Dissolve the sugar in the cider vinegar over a gentle heat. Leave to cool. Finely shred the cabbage and put into a large bowl. Add oil (sunflower is fine, no need to use olive oil), seeds and seasoning to the vinegar. (I gave the seeds a bit of a bashing in a mortar, but it's not strictly necessary.) Mix well and throw over the cabbage, making sure everything is well coated. Press the mixture into a .75l jar, cover and refrigerate for at least several hours.

This should keep for a couple of weeks, but there's not much chance of that in this house.

I should think it would be just as good with Savoy or red cabbage - but, then, I make coleslaw from them, too, which may not be to everyone's taste.

Related posts

Lady Diana Cooper's spiced cabbage

Kohl slaw

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Claudia Roden's orange cake

I make this every year - double the quantities, eat one freeze one. It always takes me a while to find it, so I'm reposting it. You can use clementines, too, and I've often wondered how it would taste with lemons.

Claudia Roden's orange cake

2 oranges
6 eggs
250g sugar
2 tbsp orange blossom water
1 tsp baking powder
250g ground almonds

Boil the oranges in water until they are soft. This will take about an hour, perhaps a little more. Carefully drain them in a colander, and, when they are cool, split them open with your hands and take out the pips. Put them into the Magimix with all the other ingredients, and whizz until everything is smooth (the oranges will disintegrate in moments, which makes me think you could probably mix this by hand without any real difficulty, although I have never tried this).

It would be better if you beat the eggs and sugar together first, but I never do. It would be better if you ground your own lightly toasted almonds, but I seldom do. It does not much matter if you leave out the orange blossom water, which I sometimes do. Last time I made it I forgot to put in the baking powder, and the result was a little less light than usual, but it did not spoil the cake. This is a very forgiving recipe (and you can make it with any sort of orange citrus - clementines are good).

Pour into a 26cm tin which you have greased (I always use olive oil for this). CR says you should dust it with flour or Matzo meal; I never have, because I use a clip tin with a removable base. Bake for one hour at 190C, and leave to cool in the tin before turning out.

Related posts

Claudia Roden's orange cake
Claudia Roden's sweet and sour aubergine
Claudia Roden's savoury baked quince: avya dolmasi

Friday, January 04, 2008

Baked shredded wheat

Last night, after Newsnight, there was a programme on BBC2 on the history of food, exploring 20th century branded foods invented before the first world war. Perrier, Tyhphoo Tea, Cadbury's Dairy Milk (known at that time, amazingly, as CDM), Marmite, Shredded Wheat. Then there was some rather bizarre cooking by the chef at Manna, a London vegetarian restaurant which claims to be the oldest in England, Europe, maybe the world (I wasn't listening too carefully). He had an Edwardian vegetarian recipe book, and made a vegetable stew (browned the onions, chucked in lots of chopped root veg) which he covered with a "stock" made from Marmite and hot water. Then he covered it in a dumpling mix, clamped on the lid and cooked the whole thing for 50 minutes. Then he said he couldn't taste the Marmite. Hmm. (This, by the way, was called Sea Pie. No, I don't understand either.) Here's a link to the original Sea Pie recipe, from The Reform Cookbook, an early (first?) vegetarian cookery book.

So the next course should be taken with a pinch of salt. Or just not cooked at all.

Baked shredded wheat

You get two Shredded Wheat, spread them liberally with butter, put them in an ovenproof dish and into a hot oven for an unspecified period of time. Not too long, because you don't want it to burn. When they come out, you pour a little of this so-called Marmite stock on and around the SW, and serve. The chef's guest said she was surprised that there was Marmite in this, and that she couldn't taste it at all.

Personally, I think it sounds utterly disgusting - I loathe Shredded Wheat with a passion, and, although I am very keen on Marmite, have never liked it diluted with water (that's what Bovril's for). And then there's the butter ...

On the other hand, my son, a student, likes the occasional Shredded Wheat, can't cook, and is living in a house with three or four other young men from the start of the next academic year, so this may be just the recipe they need. (They have decided on a single-sex house so that they don't have to worry about washing up and clearing up ... I wonder whether they will find a landlord to take them on.)

Do me a favour, let me know if you give it a try.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

HotM 11: Soup

Hard to believe that it's nearly a year since Ilva and I set up Heart of the Matter to gather together heart-healthy recipes from around the blogosphere (& thanks Michelle for joining us as you promised at the start). We've tried to keep it topical - so this month it's soup to keep us warm in winter ... or chilled and cooling if you are in the southern hemisphere ;)

I don't really start thinking about soup until after Christmas, and then for me it's a natural - all that turkey stock; although, in this house, stock is mostly used for risotto. Our New Year's Eve celebration dinner always starts with consomme. In a good year I make it; this year it came courtesy of Cross and Blackwell. If it's tinned, then you should float something in it - lovely mushrooms, a few herbs, a little spice. One year I added chopped chilli, far far too much chopped chilli, and it flavoured the soup so that it was inedible. Everyone stopped being polite after the second mouthful.

I haven't yet made any soup this year, but I'm planning .... French onion soup will be much better in this house now that I have a grill and can finish it off with a cheesy croute. I want to experiment with lentil soup, as it really irritates me that everyone in this house goes irrrrrrr when they find lentils on the menu: I suspect that mixing them with potato will be the way forward, and would be very keen to hear from anyone who has been experimenting along these lines.

Obviously the key thing for Heart of the Matter is that the recipe should be heart-healthy - and soup is such a good food here, because it can easily be made of vegetables, which are on the must-eat list for anyone watching their cholesterol. No butter, not too much unsaturated fat either, no cream. Listing no-nos makes the heart-healthy diet sound austere, but I have never found it so ... just fresher, and full of herby, spicy flavours. Here's a couple of useful links for anyone in doubt.

I'm sure many of you know the HotM "rules" by now, but here's a recap: all you have to do is to send me the link to your entry at joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk by 24 January, make a link to Joanna's Food and to the HotM blog as well if you like. I'll post the round up on both blogs. In order to keep this focused on heart health we ask you to consider this as a one-entry event, i.e. we prefer that you don't use your post for other events as well.