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

Monday, September 29, 2008

Caffeine drinks: a warning

from today's Times ... we're talking Red Bull (80mg caffeine per can*), Relentless (160mg), Cocaine (240mg per can) ... also Coke (35mg), and to some extent coffee (although you sip that because it's hot, whereas these cooled drinks are gulped, often several times a day):

Scott Willoughby, of the Cardiovascular Research Centre in Adelaide, Australia, recently showed how the sugar-free version of Red Bull can cause the blood to thicken, raising the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

In his study, Willoughby assessed the cardiovascular systems of 30 young adults one hour before and one hour after they had drunk a 250ml can of sugar-free Red Bull. He describes the results as "remarkable". Sixty minutes after drinking the Red Bull, the subjects displayed the kind of cardiovascular abnormalities that might be expected in a patient with heart disease, including an increased stickiness of blood.

"If you add in other risk factors for cardiovascular disease - stress or high blood pressure - this could be potentially deadly," Willoughby says. "The can comes with a warning of its own. But if you have any predisposition to cardiovascular disease, I'd think twice about drinking it."

*Caffeine stats from Professor Roland Griffiths, of The Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA. He found 505mg of caffeine in an American canned drink called Whoop Ass.

There's not much official UK guidance on this - according to The Times, just two pointers: any drink containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre has to say so on UK labels; & the FSA advises pregnant women not to consume more than 300mg/caffeine per day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Prune and armagnac tart

Computer still dead, so once again no pictures. This is fab. Also a bit of a triumph for me, as it was an experiment in baking on our new Esse woodburning stove - even the manufacturers are dubious about how much cooking you can achieve ... so I'm feeling particularly pleased that I managed an entire roast for six PLUS this baking. Lovely traditional French food.

Prune and armagnac tart
for 6 individual tarts

200g Agen prunes
2-3 tbsp armagnac
15-20g ground almonds
1 beaten egg
20g sugar
100 ml cream or creme fraiche

enough pastry for six individual tarts

Prepare the pastry cases and rest in the fridge.

Pour armagnac over the prunes and leave for at least an hour, more if they are not already very soft.

Prick the pastry cases and bake in a hot oven (200C) for 15-20 minutes (or don't prick them, but use greaseproof paper and baking beans). Remove from the oven just before they start to brown, brush with a little of the beaten egg and give them another couple of minutes in the oven.

Drain the prunes, reserving the armagnac in a bowl. Add the almonds, eggs, sugar and cream. Arrange the prunes in the pastry cases, then pour over the custard. Bake at 180-190C for 45 minutes.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Quick mushroom tart

My computer has crashed and I fear the hard disc is broken ... this lovely tart from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Mushroom handbook cheered me up at lunch. I made it with wildly different amounts, and it made a delicious lunch for my parents with some Charlotte potatoes and a tomato salad. Thrifty, too - impressive-looking in individual portions, but inexpensive to make. Sadly not with foraged mushrooms, I haven't yet found any in my usual spots.

Mushroom tart

Pastry - bought puff is the easiest here.
100g mixed mushrooms per person
a little chopped garlic
fresh breadcrumbs made from half a slice of white per person
grated zest of half a lemon
grated parmesan
chopped parsley
1 beaten egg

Roll out the pastry - either into one big round, or several smaller ones for individual portions. Place on a baking sheet and rest in the fridge.

Gently fry the mushrooms in a little oil (perhaps with some butter too). When they are nearly cooked through, add the garlic and take off the heat after a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, blitz the bread with a small lump of Parmesan and a handful of parsley. Stir this fragrant green mess into the mushrooms.

Arrange the mushrooms onto the pastry, leaving a clear band of pastry round the edge to puff up. Brush the edge with the egg.

Bake for 20 minutes at 180C.

Serve hot or cold.

No pic ... no time, I made this in the five minutes between getting back from the station (dropping off Eleanor who had to go back to London) and my parents arriving with Lettice, who spent the morning playing hockey. I used bought pastry - it would have been just as quick if I'd had the wit to make the pastry as we were clearing up breakfast. Hey ho

Friday, September 26, 2008

Meat hammer

This is my new weapon to reduce meat consumption. Also stress.

Last week, we ate pork escalopes for dinner ... slices of pork egged and breadcrumbed, then flash-fried. Good, but not thin enough. And so I bought a meat hammer. I used it last night to bash some fat lamb leg steaks, with delicious results.

The Cook's Companion - a useful book by Susan Campbell subtitled The Complete Manual of Kitchen Implements and How to Use Them (beginning with your hands) - is pretty sniffy about a meat hammer: These tools should never be used on really tender meat. If you want thin escalopes, ask the butcher to cut them that way; or if the meat is so tough that it actually needs beating, cook it differently. There is a slower, but culinarily superior, method of tenderising the very tough cuts of meat - a long, careful marinading, followed by leisurely cooking.

I like the idea of leisurely cooking; I think that marinading has been proved by scientists to be useless for tenderising; and what happens when you want an escalope, or a thin steak? You bash it out. Just like a cheese-paring restaurateur. Just like a four-year-old boy with a toy hammer. Very therapeutic. Great fun too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sweet potato rosti

Frugal food involves using up every last little bit - and is often much more delicious than extravagant food. This sweet and crunchy rosti is a case in point.

Tuesday lunch always involves clearing the fridge and the last of the veg box before the new one arrives. There were several tiny sweet potatoes to eat up (and, in truth, they were just beginning to look shrivelled).

So I peeled and grated them, together with a couple of small potatoes and a small onion. I put the resulting mess into a colander for half an hour, squeezing it every so often to force out the moisture. Fried for 15 minutes or so in a non-stick pan with a little sunflower oil - I pushed it around for the first 10 minutes, then formed it into a cake and browned one side to a crisp. Lettice ate it with a little mince that needed finishing, I ate it with chilli jam and some Greek yoghurt. Green salad. Yum.

I'm SO glad that this week's box also contains sweet potato.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Late summer hearth bread

This weekend we've eaten meals in the garden for just about the first time this year. But summer is officially over, so lunch was an amalgam of the seasons: autumnal leek and potato soup, lemony courgette salad with the last of this year's crop, and a simple late summer hearth bread which makes the most of the sweet seedless grapes in the market at the moment.

Late summer hearth bread / focaccia /fougasse

To make this variation, use your normal dough, roll it out flat but not too thin, let it rise, throw on a few grapes, some chopped rosemary, a little salt, then make dimples with your thumb and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake in a very hot oven for 10-12 minutes. Eat warm.

The dough I used was mixed in a bread machine, but it could easily have been made by hand if I'd felt like a little kneading. There's no reason why you shouldn't use a bread mix, although, for me, much of the pleasure of making bread comes from choosing the flour - most of the wheat I use is grown and milled locally.

Related posts

Lemony courgette salad
Essence of courgette
White pizza with fennel seeds
Pizza bianca with rosemary
River Cafe pizza dough
Quick white bread in a machine

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stuffed cabbage

In the 50s and 60s, advertisers used to trumpet that their food had been untouched by human hand. My father always used to say - still does, actually - that he preferred food that had been well touched by human hand. He'd like this stuffed cabbage.

It's a great way to stretch a little mince twice as far. Thrifty, eco-friendly, heart-healthy. All in one little green parcel. Good to eat, too. In fact, both the people who turned up their noses at the idea of stuffed cabbage ate seconds (you know who you are).

And if you think this is a little fiddly, then split the work into two: cook the mince in one session, assemble the little packages in another. It doesn't take long, and is oddly soothing. It's also a dish that can be made ahead and kept in the fridge.

You could use any mince you happened to have left over, or you could cook some specially. Either way, it needs to be well flavoured, because you're going to add bread (or rice). I used fresh breadcrumbs, liberally mixed with chopped herbs, but if there had been some cooked rice in the fridge, I'd have used that.

You also need a green cabbage which hasn't had all its outer leaves trimmed off before you get to it. The big leaves are much easier to fill, for one thing, and they are - in this dish - much tastier than the little yellow ones in the middle. Save those for a coleslaw.

You'll have gathered that what follows is not a recipe that needs to be followed to the letter; it's more of a method, one I hope you'll try, because this thrifty dish is delicious, and well worth reviving.

Stuffed cabbage
for 4

outer leaves of a large cabbage

350-500g minced meat
a little chopped bacon
1-2 chopped onions
2-3 slices of bread, blitzed into crumbs
2 handfuls of fresh herbs (I used parsley, basil, oregano)
1 tsp smoked paprika
an egg

a little stock/passata/wine and water etc

Gently sweat the onions. When they are soft, add the bacon and fry till cooked. Add the paprika and cook for a further couple of minutes. Tip into a large bowl. Brown the mince. Add to the bowl. Blitz the bread (it needs to be something better than cheap sliced white), then add the herbs. The exact amount of bread depends on how thrifty you are needing to be; just bear in mind that the more bread you add, the more flavouring you should use. Add to the bowl. Mix everything together, then stir in the egg to bind the mixture.

Meanwhile, blanch the cabbage leaves in a large saucepan of water. They need to be dropped into boiling water for a couple of minutes. Drain and cool in a colander. Cut out the inflexible part of the spine.

Wrap little dollops of the mixture in the leaves, fixing with a toothpick if necessary (and it only will be with the smaller inner leaves). Lay the parcels in a shallow baking dish. When it's full, put a little liquid into the base. This can be stock, a little wine and water, even plain water. Cover the dish, and bake in a medium oven for about an hour and a half.

I dotted last night's stuffed cabbage with little tomatoes, in the hope that they would cook down into a tomato sauce, but no such luck. All the same, they were a good, easy accompaniment. And another option for the liquid would be tomato passata.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cheesy biscuits

You may be a little surprised to find these biscuits here, considering the ingredients, but they are a fine way to use up ends of cheese. Top of the canon of extravagent cookery comes Mrs Beeton - take a dozen eggs and all that. Nigella comes a close second, and this is based on a recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess. Hers involved blue cheese and blue cornmeal, but we don't bother with that showy-offy palaver here - and, anyway, why on earth would you want to eat blue biscuits?

Cheesy biscuits
makes about 30 bite-sized biscuits to serve before dinner

175g cheese, whatever you've got, mixed if you like
100g soft butter
1 egg
125g plain flour
50g cornmeal (polenta)

Whizz the cheese, butter and egg, then add the flours. This is essentially a pastry, so don't overmix, but draw it into a ball. You can rest it for half an hour in the fridge at this point, but I prefer to roll it out while it's soft, cut the shapes and then give it half an hour in the fridge.

I used half this mixture immediately. The other half was rolled into a cylinder and kept for a few days in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm. You can see that the lozenge-shaped biscuits have a slightly different texture - that's because I cut them straight from the log in the fridge ... quick and effective, but not so pretty.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Plum jam

Both our plum trees failed to produce any fruit this year - I think they were frosted in the spring. But there are plenty of plums in the market at the moment. The little hard ones which aren't much good for eating are cheap - and brilliant for making jam. I bought small Sungolds for this jam, and the plums were cheaper than the sugar.

I've been eating this with a slice of homemade wholemeal bread for breakfast every day this week. No butter/marge - no need, it would only mask the fresh flavour.

Plum jam
for about 2.5 kg

1.5kg plums
1.25kg sugar

Halve and stone the plums. Simmer them in 400ml of water until they are cooked through (once you put in the sugar, they won't soften any more) - 15/20 minutes. Add the sugar, bring to the boil and cook rapidly until setting point is reached. This will take at least 10 minutes.

Test: I use a thermometer AND the saucer method (put a drop of jam on a saucer, wait til it's cool, then see how runny it is). You want quite a firm set. Bottle in sterilised jars (put them through a dishwasher cycle). Cover while hot; label when cold (otherwise the glue melts).

This is my entry for Heart of the Matter's September topic: preserving the harvest. Hosted by Michelle The Accidental Scientist.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Delia's spiced apricot chutney

I'm having a clear out, and in the larder I found a number of old packets of apricots. I also put Delia's Christmas book in the Oxfam pile. Then I remembered her recipe for spiced apricot chutney, utterly wonderful, the best thing in the book (the only thing I've cooked more than once). I've given it away for Christmas presents, and I often use it to liven up the leftovers which are my lunchtime staple. Delia recommends using it as the basis of a sauce to go with roast pork; that's good too. I'm posting the recipe because the book is definitely going to Oxfam. And because I'm down to my last half jar.

Spiced apricot and orange jam
enough to fill a 1-litre jar

400g no-soak apricots
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
225g soft light brown sugar
425ml cider vinegar
1 medium onion, chopped
50g sultanas
2 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 chopped cloves garlic
grated zest and juice of one orange

Chop the apricots small. Dry fry the coriander seeds; when they are toasted bash them with a pestle. Put everything together in a stainless steel saucepan, bring up to the boil and simmer gently for up to an hour (it will take at least 45 minutes).

When it's good and thick, pour into sterilised jars and seal. (I sterilise my jars by putting them through a dishwasher cycle.)

Spiced apricot sauce for pork

Pork pan juices
15g plain flour
570ml white wine
3 tbsp chutney
grated zest of an orange

Blend the flour into the pan juices (I wouldn't weigh this, I'd do it by eye/feel, but you know what a stickler Delia is for detail). Gradually stir in the wine (I might well use stock, cider, or even water). When you've got a smooth sauce, cook it gently for a few minutes until the flour is cooked, then add the chutney and zest. Simmer for a little longer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tasty tomatoes to grow next year

This blighted year has been hopeless for growing tomatoes - what with one thing (slugs) and another (blight), we've had very few, Sungold doing best (although my extremely conservative family would prefer it red, rather than that wonderful yellow).

At the end of August, there was an article in the Telegraph by Sarah Raven about home-grown tomatoes with the best taste. Here are her key findings - now I can chuck out the paper yet still be sure of finding this very sensible list next year.

Her main piece of advice is to grow one or two of several varieties: any tomato dish is better for having a mix of varieties - different shape, colours and sizes, all with varying levels of sweetness and acidity. If you use three or four different forms, your salads will look more attractive, your sauces will be richer, and your tomato jams and chutneys will taste better.

Sungold: truly outstanding. Can be grown inside and out.

Gardener's Delight: Sarah has long championed this tomato, which just beat Super Sweet 100 in her trial this year. Both form long trusses which ripen over a long period for nonstop harvesting.

Black Krim: this tomato comes from Crimea. I've never grown it, but I have eaten it - delicious, once you've got over the monstrous appearance of black skin and startlingly green inside. Sarah says it has good disease resistance, and that it was the last of her outdoor tomatoes to get blight this year.

Costoluto Fiorentino / Costoluto Genovese: two old varieties from Italy, better grown in a greenhouse. Highly productive of large fruit. She says that about one in eight plants will go blind ... mine (outdoors) were the first to get blight this year.

Brandywine: obviously wonderful, but tricky to grow - it only performs well in a greenhouse in a good hot year, and even then only produces small amounts of fruit. Very comforting words to someone who has tried and failed several times to grow this delicious giant fruit.

Tigerella: medium-sized, stripey green and red skin. We got a few of this before the blight struck. Sarah's sister grows this under glass in Edinburgh, Sarah says it can be grown outdoors in the south of England.

Red Alert: outshines all other tumblers in terms of flavour. No need to train, can go in a window box, gives vast amounts of tasty fruit

Sarah also says that she's not going to bother with plum tomatoes next year, as they have a grainy texture, are quite dry and not good eaten raw, even the foodies' favourite, San Marzano, which I don't think is as good as is claimed. The best, she thinks, is the hardier Purple Russian, but she says not as good as any of the others on her list.

Things to do with tomatoes

Roasting tomatoes
Roasted tomato ketchup
Slow roasted tomatoes
Homemade tomato ketchup - and caponata-ish
Chilli jam

Links to tomatoes on other blogs

Fried green tomatoes - haven't you always wanted to know how to make these? Here's how, from the blog at the Whistlestop Cafe
David Lebovitz's take on an heirloom tomato salad
Gazpacho from Kalyn's Kitchen

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Old Sailor, by A.A. Milne

The Old Sailor

by A.A. Milne

There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew
Who had so many things which he wanted to do
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
He couldn't because of the state he was in.

He was shipwrecked, and lived on a island for weeks,
And he wanted a hat, and he wanted some breeks;
And he wanted some nets, or a line and some hooks
For the turtles and things which you read of in books.

And, thinking of this, he remembered a thing
Which he wanted (for water) and that was a spring;
And he thought that to talk to he'd look for, and keep
(If he found it) a goat, or some chickens and sheep.

Then, because of the weather, he wanted a hut
With a door (to come in by) which opened and shut
(With a jerk, which was useful if snakes were about),
And a very strong lock to keep savages out.

He began on the fish-hooks, and when he'd begun
He decided he couldn't because of the sun.
So he knew what he ought to begin with, and that
Was to find, or to make, a large sun-stopping hat.

He was making the hat with some leaves from a tree,
When he thought, "I'm as hot as a body can be,
And I've nothing to take for my terrible thirst;
So I'll look for a spring, and I'll look for it first."

Then he thought as he started, "Oh, dear and oh, dear!
I'll be lonely tomorrow with nobody here!"
So he made in his note-book a couple of notes:
"I must first find some chickens" and "No, I mean goats."

He had just seen a goat (which he knew by the shape)
When he thought, "But I must have boat for escape.
But a boat means a sail, which means needles and thread;
So I'd better sit down and make needles instead."

He began on a needle, but thought as he worked,
That, if this was an island where savages lurked,
Sitting safe in his hut he'd have nothing to fear,
Whereas now they might suddenly breathe in his ear!

So he thought of his hut ... and he thought of his boat,
And his hat and his breeks, and his chickens and goat,
And the hooks (for his food) and the spring (for his thirst) ...
But he never could think which he ought to do first.

And so in the end he did nothing at all,
But basked on the shingle wrapped up in a shawl.
And I think it was dreadful the way he behaved -
He did nothing but bask until he was saved!

image from Christie's auctioneers

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pork chops with plums and spices

Here's a lovely seasonal recipe, hard to beat when the plums are on the trees (although all ours were barren this year, frost I think). It's adapted from Diana Henry's lovely book Cook Simple. Despite the chilli and ginger, it's flavoured rather than hot, and was fine for my family of spice-haters. This amount of sauce will do for 4-6 chops

450g/1lb plums, stoned and halved
4-6 pork chops

5 tbsp runny honey
1 tsp Chinese five-spice
1 tsp ground ginger
a little red chilli, chopped fine
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
juice of an orange
1 tsp wine vinegar

Arrange the chops and plums in a single layer in a casserole, then pour over the mixed sauce ingredients. Cover and cook at 180C/365F for 45-50 minutes. Diana Henry cooks this in an uncovered pan in a slightly hotter oven: hers is crisped and brown at the edges, mine is soft and succulent.

I cooked this in the oven of our new wood-burning range ... I'll post about that soon, when I'm over the euphoria of cooking entire meals using a couple of small logs for fuel.