Past Food - just recipes of the day

Food eaten, cooked or thought about. Just food.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanks for the cabbage

We've encountered sauerkraut in all the usual places: a memorable, heart busting triple sausages and ham platterful in Strasbourg (of course) where they manged to serve their traditional dish with some subtlety and well as monstrous portions; then there were the barrels of dozens of different ones at the Christmas market, we think it was Baden Baden, but it could have just as easily been anywhere in Alsace or southern Germany; and then the famous Eisbahn, eaten this time in Berlin where there idea of a piece of ham seemed to include best part of a leg, for one of course.
Thanks to the Polish invasion, the base ingredient - the pickled cabbage - comes in giant jars from Asda as well as the wonderful Wally's. The brand is Krakus who do all sorts of marvelous things in jars. The problem then, to recreate the idea of lots of tastes of porky things, without going over the top, and encouraging heart attacks.
The first trick is to extract the cabbage - you need about half a large (900 gm) jar for two, but it's packed in solid. I used a fork to start with, then my hands. As you pull the cabbage out, carefully pull it into its shreds, if you don't you'll just have an indigestible lump. Put into a large bowl with some crumpled bay leaves, some juniper berries and a real crunch of pepper. At this point I also added the last chunk of the home cooked ham diced into bite sized bits. Give everything a good mix by hand and cover.
At this point a pack of tasty sausages went in the oven to cook: flavour is what we're after and if you're cooking for more than two then a couple of kinds won't go wrong either. If you want a kick a piece of chorizo would be good.
The last taste was going to come from some bacon - in this case unsmoked cubes gently cooked off in a non stick pan, but again anything goes.
Once the sausages were well cooked and sticky the cabbage, well infused with its herbs by now, goes in the microwave. Give a stir halfway through. Then assemble by stirring in the hot bacon bits (and yes, the flavoursome fat ..) distributing on plates and adding the sausages.
Traditionally the only extras are steamed potatoes, plain as they come, and mustard. There's a very nice mustard and horseradish courtesy of the Poles' too, so try it for a change.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Retro wraps

Way back in those Babby Belling days (passim) someone hit on the idea of adding curry powder to baked beans: it gave a whole new life to end-of-the-month beans on toast. Then Heinz got clever and started doing them in the can, but they added raisins too, a truly terrible idea that I hope has died along with Vesta curries. Still, it gave me an idea for a quick - don't mess up the kitchen 'cos we are 'open house' - supper.
Take can of beans (yes, low sugar and salt is fine) add loads of hot stuff (Tabasco, chilli sauce etc and a fresh chilli or two), chop spring onions for crunch, and loads of small cubes of the home cooked ham.
Stuff four wraps and place in an oiled dish, cover with grated cheese, bake and eat.
Posh it ain't, but retro wraps were not bad at all.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Spiced up mussels, another variation

We've a house "Open Day" tomorrow, hence the paucity of food blogs, we daren't use the kitchen! But tonight the mussels were demanding something a bit more seasonally warming than just, say white wine and cream. So a spiced broth in which to steam them:
a glug of oil, two finely chopped small onions, a large splash each of fish sauce, white wine vinegar, lime juice, dry sherry: some larger than others depending on the result you want. A chunk of ginger, a whole but deseeded green chilli and a big handful of parsley and some lemon thyme add the spicy flavours.
Cook for 15-20 minutes and then leave to cool. Pick out all the stalky things before adding the mussels to steam. Serve with lots of finely chopped parsley (coriander would be even better methinks) and a splosh of sweet chilli sauce: maybe that's a glug too far, but this is November guys!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Stocking up makes sense

There's been much about this week on how much food goes to waste, and our own experience is that far too much languishes at the back of the fridge when the weekly restock happens. Today it was clear that with what was leftovers, and not likely to be used, there was plenty to start a fine vegetable stock.
Leftovers yielded a third of a swede, some sad but fine once peeled carrots, half a lost onion and a chunk of courgette - where did the rest go? Into the stock pot.
Incoming from the shop went the leek tops - does anyone get dirty leeks these days? - the tops of the spring onions that were already a bit limp, quite a chunk of parsley stalks and some lemon thyme. Bay leaves and marjoram, home dried, and some juniper berries and pepper corns introduced some flavour. Oh, and a couple of garlics and a chunk of ginger. All ready to hubble and bubble and do magic for tomorrow's soup.
Except, along comes himself wanting know what's happening to the piece of ham that's been waiting to be cooked for a week. So that goes in too.
Result after 90 minutes? One ham with much more flavour than it might have had otherwise and ready to be chilled down.
And the stock, strained it went back on the heat to reduce and when tested it had a fine flavour that would have made an excellent broth on its own: in the restaurant we used to take very, very hot soups bowls, put in a scant handful of julienned vegetables and pour on boiling stock like this. Just a tablespoon of dry sherry on top. Very grand, but it's the stock what does it.
Or you could convert into Tom Yam: never be without a jar of this wonderful paste. If doing for one, similar process - in a hot bowl just slice some mushrooms, or chicken or a mix, add a teaspoon - to taste - of paste and boiling stock. Stir and eat.
In the end though the stock was used to help with the left-overs mountain: sweated leeks, carrots, garlic, ginger, a chilli and half a squash soon started to smell delicious. Half the stock went in together with a handful of chopped parsley. When cooked the rest of the stock was added for a quick cool down so the vegetables could be liquidised in the pan. Checked for seasoning, but it didn't need 'owt. A handful or more of red lentils to give a bit of substance and bite and there we have it, sense of stock and leftovers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Does a great kitchen a good cook make?

Not sure that it does, but I need a good reason to mention our's today 'cos it's up for sale. Not just the kitchen either, but the whole of the aptly named Pendenis House around it!
We're learning just how important the kitchen is by looking at other people's. We've decided that whatever its fittings and posh work surfaces, the first requirement is that it fulfills a role as the hub of the house. Ours is visible from the front door, inviting you in, it's the natural place to go when you arrive. And it runs into a breakfast room conservatory so that for informal eating the food has just seconds to the table and you can eat every meal with a wonderful view of the garden.
These are requirements that we won't want to give up.
Of course you need lots of work surfaces if you are to do decent stuff: but hey, my first bedsit had a sink and a tiny Baby Belling and still I did three course dinners! The fact is however that surfaces just attract junk in inverse proportion to their surface. And who's got room for all the appliances that you really need right there if you are going to use them?: ice cream making, espresso machine, toaster, juicer (citrus), juicer (vegetable), microwave and the Magimix.
While we have lots of storage cupboards, again, enough is never enough. So we'd really like a new house with larder (with a proper cold slab), utility room in which to store all the machines, the pots on shelves so they don't get bashed, and all the laundry junk. Wishful thinking? Probably.
Still we'll miss this one. Go have a look.
We won't promise a discount to Past Food readers, but we might manage a light lunch while you look round!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cheats' Moussaka

A restaurant described Moussaka as a lamb and aubergine pie ... well, I suppose it is sort of, but of the many variations I've never had it topped with pastry. The whole fandangle takes some effort, so here's the quickie version - well, at least to prep, it still takes 40 mins in the oven.
You need a really rich lamb mixture: fry off the minced, lean lamb and put aside giving a chance to reduce the fat further. Clean out the pan and soften onions, peppers, maybe a slice or two of fennel, celery and when soft add the meat back. Add tomatoes, fresh skinned or tinned (passim) and a smidge of tomato paste. I usually add ginger, garlic, thyme, rosemary and parsley as the base flavours, pimento and chilli flakes can spice it up a bit. Leave to bubble away merrily.
Slice your aubergine, circle, cross lengths, long lengths, whatever will fit your deep dish. You can salt them and dry them but I've never noticed the difference. Fry them off and as you do so layer them in the dish: aubergine at the bottom, then the mince, more aubergine, more lamb, finally aubergine. Then my cheats' topping.
For a four person dish you need half a large pot of plain yoghourt (low fat's fine) into which beat three nice eggs (a couple if you use duck's), plus salt and pepper. Now pour the mix onto the last layer of aubergine - it should be quite thick. Slip a knife down the side of the dish at intervals to give the topping a chance to slither down the side - it looks very attractive if you are using a clear soufflé dish for example. Then - most important - lots and lots of grated nutmeg, and nothing but the real thing, ready ground is just sawdust.
Forty minutes at about 160 and the topping will brown, rising like a soufflé itself. You should be able to take out a slab in a whole piece, spooning out any reluctant lamb. Serve with steamed veg.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Leek and potato soup with bits

It sounds like an oxymoron, cream of leek and potato with bits, but that's how himself likes it: something to do with with childhood memories, which in his case ain't so far away.
I've tried in the past to get to the blending stage and then to take out some of the cooked leeks and big bits of potato, chop them up and put them back in. It doesn't really do it for me because they just end up mushy on reheating. A different technique is required.
First I cut most of the leek white off and sweated the rest in the pan. Then added some chopped potatoes and the home made stock from yesterday's poached chicken, a handful of chopped parsley and seasoning.
All this took place in the giant steamer/spaghetti pot so there was plenty of space to lodge a large seive on the top, fill it with bite sized pieces of potato, and add the saucepan lid so the spuds could steam. Concurrently I gently cooked the chopped leek whites in a pan until they were sweet and sticky.
When the soup was cooked - 20 mins - so were the potato cubes. All that was left was to blend the soup, add some milk (cream would be better, but diet you know), put in the perfectly cooked spuds and leeks, and Voila, cream soup with bits.
It actually tasted better for the additional fried leeks and the cubed spuds made the whole thing very robust.
With cold roast lamb sandwiches, rather a good, doing the chores Sunday, lunch.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Retro fishpate with twists

Who - at least of my age - hasn't made tons on smoked mackerel pate? And weren't we so taken aback when they started doing fillets encrusted with pepper so that this good old sixties stand by could take on yet another life! All those cheffy variations too - adding fresh horseradish seemed positively cuisine minceur .. or not.
Fact is it's good stuff, but it needs a bit of variation after fourty years. So I tried this one: the technique, as you all know, is simply to stuff the ingredients into the Magimix in order needing to be chopped. So start with some spring onions (half a red one would do nicely too) and a good handful of parsley (get of rid of the worst of the stems but don't pick off every leaf - this is meant to be easy!); zapp. Pile in a box of philly like cream cheese ('lite for us porkies) and a pack of smoked salmon pieces and two large or three smaller skinned smoked mackerel fillets (with peppers if you like). More zapp.
It should be spreadable, but with noticeable contents, not just a mush, so I use the zapp button rather than leave it to blend.
Put into brown dishes - yes, they have to be to be properly retro. If you are being posh and not dieting then there's no doubt that a layer of clarified butter doesn't do anything but good. Freezes great. But please, please don't eat straight from the fridge .....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mediocrity reigns when away

I spend a lot of eating time away from the kitchen and always wonder, "could I do better?". Have to say the answer's often a grumpy "Yes" and today was no exception.
Marooned in Taunton's Holiday Inn - on the same car/park industrial/shopping/estate on the edge of the town as the Express by Holiday Inn - I had a least enjoyed the excellent pool. There didn't seem much prospect of eating anywhere that wasn't a taxi ride away, and I have had not bad experiences at other HI's including Bradford and Calais (well, I know it's in France ....).
At least the blackboard of 'specials' suggested that some of it wouldn't be boil in a bag, head office designed cooking. Wrong.
Ok, I chose 'rough pate' thinking no one can muck that up, and rough at least means it won't be 'Brussels Smooth and Pink'. Wrong. The three kinds of bread were interesting, but fridge cold. Butter, when provided, practically frozen. And the pate, well cold, tasteless and yes, Pink.
My chalky, handwritten special was described as "Whitby Scampi in a sweet and sour sauce on a bed of fragrant rice". Now that sounds like a delicate enough thing, fresh pieces of scampi in a spicyish sauce with rice and a side salad.
Now imagine: a microwaved pile of rice that lost its aromatic qualities - if it ever had any - some time earlier; a pile of breadcrumbed fishy pieces of doubtful provenance - Whitby, not likely - deep fried to an inch of their existence; an even larger pile, a monstrous pile, of previously frozen peas; a tiny dish of sweet and sour sauce that had been zapped. And a typically thrown together side salad of wet lettuce, cold peppers and onions.
What's to complain about? It was what it said - just. Each item was edible - just. It filled a hole - just.
So it didn't meet my expectation, who's fault's that? Mine I suppose for imagining that £20 bought you a decent meal, not one that was just ........

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The shame of food miles

From last week's bargain shop a frozen half kilo box of prepared mussels for £1.25, all ready to reheat in their shells. The only problem - they were from New Zealand, half way round the world. And of course we have perfectly good mussels from just down the road in west Wales. So what price guilt?
In this case the only answer seems to be that we'll go on eating them until they are priced in a way that makes us conscious of the real cost. There's no way anyone can grow and prepare, package and ship these mussels 12,000 miles, and sell them at a profit for that price. £2.50, not likely; £4.50 maybe, but that would then make them competitive with local products so we might not buy them. In the meantime we just eat them.
I adapted an idea on the box: melted a large chunk of butter, added a couple of tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce, the juice of half a lemon, a finely chopped chilli, and a teaspoon of ready chopped garlic.
The mussels were placed in a single layer and the sauce spooned into each one. Under the hot grill for about eight minutes and ready to eat with a large salad and lots of bread to mop up the really delicious juices.
And the guilt?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Comfort pie and no work

It's been a theme of the week, raiding the freezer, but then that's what advance cooking and planning is all about.
So after a truly hectic day - all morning fighting a licensing application as the standard bearer for hundreds of residents opposing a 120 hour a week 'social club' extension, followed by a long telephone conference, a recording for a 30 sound bite for tv news, and then live radio for the drive home ... phew I needed easy.
And I didn't have to do anything, for which I was really pleased. The fish pie (previous appearance here) had defrosted overnight and was accompanied with steamed carrots and beans. And brown sauce of course.
Even the fruit salad was there, ready to eat. Perfect Friday. Plenty of time to think about cooking again at the weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Observer status as beef stew hits home

A day rushing about ended by walking into a house filled with the smells of home cooking, for which I had not had to lift a finger. The day picked up no end!
In my absence a hearty beef casserole had been made from some really good looking chunks of English beef. I was too late to observe the work, so no recipe here, but what's there to say about making a fine casserole? Leave yourself plenty of time so that cooking can be slow and easy, otherwise you just have to decide whether it is basically going to be based on a red wine and root vegetables mix, or perhaps more tomatoes and summer veg like peppers. Or, of course, a pragmatic combi of both if that takes your fancy, or you're using up stock.
I was roped in to assist for a few minutes whilst a minestrone soup was being finished - cutting off the corn cobs and measuring the tiny pasta shells: these jobs I could be trusted with apparently.
Chilling down and boxing spares and leftovers was my job after we'd happily devoured the casserole - rich, tomatoey, and full of vegetables - with steamed potatoes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wrapping it easy

Turns out today was a double leftovers, so not much cooking involved, but non the less memorable for that.
We don't normally do lunches together when I'm working - the office is just five minutes walk - as our body clocks don't seem to say 'food' at the same times during the day. So my eye was caught by the two left over chapatis and the knowledge that there was leftover vegetable curry from last night. Wrap the two up and zap - scrummy indeed.
Supper, pasta and salad. Lazy is good.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tuesday is Two Curry Night

Part of Monday's mega shop had included bargain vegetables like okra and aubergine so a vegetable curry was well in mind. We stopped off at the Indian supermarket where they had run out of fresh coriander of all things, so it had to be a bunch of methi instead. We also got tinned chick peas, what turned out to be a great new pickle, and the odd spices we'd run out of.
The heart of the meal was to be lamb curry - yep, straight from it's short rest in the freezer.
To go with it a vegetable curry of ochra, baby aubergines, a bit of onion and that can of chick peas. All the veg were put to sweat whilst I added some coconut milk to the base curry sauce that someone had already thoughtfully prepared from scratch. As soon as the vegetables were ready the sauce was sploshed on, the chopped methi and peas added and the whole left to simmer.
Even the rice had been precooked - seven portions of organic brown, white and wild rice mix, all ready for the freezer too. So all there was to do was to heat and eat: we just put a portion in a dariole dish and cling film for reheating in the microwave. The size of the dish btw helps avoid over large portions.
The ready made chapatis were unusually good, being reheated by placing directly on the iron heat diffuser we use on the cooker - a kind of mini griddle. The new chutney great. Plain yohourt to blob on and all is good.