Mostly Concerning Food
It’s a while since I did one of these and a crop of tasty photographs have been building up in the abeyance file. This is pure self-indulgence and a letter of best wishes and tasty morsels to my children. This is what we’ve been eating at home in the last week or so. It had seemed a quiet, make-do-with-what-we’ve-got sort of a week but a recurring delight with these food blogs is to realise that life is actually rather good, and eating well is a mainstay of this. It constantly surprises me when I put these posts together that we’ve had more treats than I’d thought. Eating well is as easy and cheap as eating badly. Eating exceptionally well is exceptionally well covered in other blogs. My food interest is putting something tasty and well-cooked onto the everyday meal table. There was one special occasion during the week as we gathered to wish Steven a happy birthday but it was a birthday celebrated with Cornish pasties and jam tarts rather than oysters and foie-gras.
It has been a week where meals have been made up at the last minute from what happened to be in the fridge, but, what happened to be in the fridge came from the Welbeck Farm Shop and some other decent suppliers rather than from the shelves of Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Aldi. The flour bin played a crucial role. There is no finer indication that I’m finding life enjoyable than if I’m baking and the happiest I am, as a baker, is doing my impression of a pastry chef. Here, as elsewhere I like to keep to old-fashioned and tasty rather than fancy. Shortcrust is my pastry of choice and the only variety here is between those pastries cooked for the family carnivores and those baked lovingly for the vegetarians.
Cooking is in large part nostalgia. The fact that a meal takes us back to childhood or to some happy occasion years ago (if the food was good the memory will be good) is enough to make the meal an enjoyable one. Our taste memory is apparently stronger and more accurate than our memories of sight and sound. Proust knew what he was doing when he introduced a million words of reminiscence through the taste of a little madeleine cake.
I’ll begin with the birthday.
When you’ve got people arriving, from different destinations, its a good idea to have a meal that can be ready when it is needed. When you want to sit and talk to people you like you don’t want to be in and out of the kitchen. Roast dinners are easy until the last ten minutes. Anything with a sauce keeps a cook on their toes. Pasties and salad rather look after themselves. The salad wants to be prepared so it is still very fresh but, so long as you don’t add the dressing, can sit and wait until everyone is ready. Once they are made pasties merely sit in the oven and then sit on people’s plates. It may not seem like a celebratory menu but a good pasty is a good pasty.
Trifle. Well, T makes a trifle I would cross continents to enjoy. The danger with this dish is everything ending up tasting the same. The key here is last minute preparation and a team effort. The cream has to be whipped just so and the skill involved in smashing up a Cadbury’s flake with a rolling pin is not to be under-estimated. As half the family goes into the kitchen to put the trifle together and talk about food, the other half stay around the table and catch up with the week’s news. I was a very late convert to puddings. This simple English, working-class pud is one of my very favourites.
The pasties crimped at the top are potato, cheese and onion made with all butter pastry with an egg yolk incorporated and Cornish cruncher cheese. The pasties crimped to the side are traditional Cornish pasties with beef steak, onion, potato and swede (and made with pastry incorporating lard), and the funny things on green rice paper are slightly over-cooked coconut macaroons. The accidental extra five minutes in the oven didn’t help appearance but did nothing to hurt the flavour or the texture when eaten the day after. Difficult to only have one!
My mother liked to add apple and orange to her tossed salad. The orange in this certainly helped to bring back memories of childhood to me. I may have lacked a sweet tooth as a boy but I was always fond of salad. I added a balsamic vinaigrette just before serving. It acted as a good foil to the pasties.
Welbeck ham and pastrami. The ham is flavoursome and well grained. I often cook a full ham myself and would claim my own to be a superior product, but there isn’t much in it and this saves a lot of work. I’ve never made pastrami and have often been disappointed with the stuff that goes by that names in supermarkets. This is the real deal; meaty, beefy, spicy and tasty.
This photograph makes me happy just to look at. The macaroons were crispy on the outside and moist and chewy in the middle. The Victoria sponge says “Happy Birthday” and “Welcome to Summer”. And jam tarts are the most under-rated treats. You cannot buy good jam tarts for the same reason that you cannot buy good scones. Namely; that they are past their best once they have been out of the oven for an hour. Commercial bakers have to rely on various preservatives and even then they are disappointing. Here is the perfect use for left over pastry. Always use good jam for these. Always use good jam full-stop!
I’ve never been a big fan of coleslaw in its bought form. Again it is a product that must be eaten fresh. Bought versions tend to slimy or bland or move dangerously close to a strange product called sandwich spread that Heinz sold in the seventies and maybe still do. Here I wanted a green and white look and mixed chopped (never grated) white cabbage, celery, green pepper, white onion and Cornish cruncher cheese with mayonnaise. I was very happy with it. If all coleslaws were as crisp, tangy and tasty as this I would become a true supporter.
I made a lot of pasties; 3 lbs of flour went into the pastry. there were no pasties left the following day.
For the rest of the week there were just the two of us (if you discount Jolly, Stewart and Percy). Marriage is much-maligned as a state of being. To me it is my highest achievement and a continuous source of happiness. I read a lot. I read this this week in a book by Michael Dirda.
“But a fortunate marriage offers more than mere “tranquil affection.” It is, in essence, a civilisation of two, and its greatest joy is a conversation that goes on for decades.”
In our case, much of the conversation has taken place over the meal table. Candlelit suppers for two still have their place as do picnics on the banks on rivers in June. Shepherds’ pie with baked beans and a decent mug of tea also serves.
This is a relatively fancy shepherds’ pie with lots of mushrooms to supplement the mince and spiced with turmeric and ground cumin. The mash is a combination of desiree potato and butternut squash. A re-chauffered portion turned a few heads and drew envious comments (pleasantly and complimentarily envious) in the staff room next day.
Ah, the cheap cuts. It is so nice to have a decent butcher. He celebrates the unfashionable cuts of meat just as much as the prized joints. The fillet has its place. This week I’ve gone for the often despised and dis-regarded. This is a breast of lamb; roasted just as it comes with a little drizzle of oil, some sprigs of rosemary and some salt and pepper. Cook it slowly for an hour and then give it a blast for the last 30 minutes and you’ll have a real mid-week joy. Any chef will tell you that the majority of flavour of meat is in the fat.* The trick is in being able to cook it so the fat is either moistening the lean or crisp and crozzly. Here it is both.
It would be a rare week that I didn’t have at least one cooked breakfast. These can become meat feasts. This isn’t the healthiest but it isn’t the unhealthiest.
The breast of lamb cost around £2. I paid a similar amount for a decent size piece of belly pork. I cooked it on Friday evening when neither of us fancied a full dinner. (I stole a slice fresh from the oven and it was unbelievably nice). So we served it as a cold cut on Saturday. Maybe not quite as perfect as serving it hot, but a wonderfully flavoursome way to enjoy the various delightful textures of this meat.
Sunday breakfast comes from the book of literary meals. Ian Fleming fans will be aware that James Bond likes his food and that he likes well-cooked simple fare. He regularly breakfasts on scrambled eggs and bacon. This morning we did too. The eggs from Frances’s chickens continue to be peerless in freshness and flavour (and colour), the bacon is cooked to be as crispy as I can make it (almost crumbling) and the bread comes from the local Spar. I’m off to make dinner. I’ve got duck breasts in the fridge and some excellent English asparagus. I couldn’t decide whether to go with the duck or to follow a recipe I got given for an asparagus risotto. I rather fancy I may go with both.
Have a good week
Three meals eaten out. The top has already featured in my blog post on Tewkesbury but I like to be reminded of how much an ordinary ham sandwich can be boosted with the right mustard. These have Tewkesbury mustard which was popular for centuries and is undergoing something of a renaissance. (It is a mixture of English mustard and horseradish). It was served in a retro café in the town. The second is scrambled eggs on toast which was also served in a retro-café (this time in Bath). The third are bacon and sausage “cobs” served and wrapped in the Coop in Creswell. To describe the shop (or indeed the town) as retro would be both ironic and a paradox. They made for a “tasty” breakfast on the Robin Hood Line.
*For proof and explanation read McGee on Food and Cooking