Mostly Concerning Food
A simple week. No meat. No feasts. No family gatherings. A couple of little jaunts out but mainly a quiet week at home eating sensibly and well. A little bit of baking. I made a batch of shortcrust pastry using all butter and an egg and that brought about a couple of pies which saw us through the early part of the week. I even made some pikelets. The weekend papers came with some recipe booklets from Paul Hollywood. I’ve tried a number of his recipes in the past and have always found them easy to follow with excellent results. These are right up my street; older, more traditional recipes from different parts of the British Isles. I’d quite fancy doing a food and travel project where I get to explore different parts of the country and eat the traditional foods thereof. Jolly limits my travel opportunities (along with two fine feline fellows) so a saunter through the regional foods of Paul Hollywood’s recipes is a decent substitute.
On the tight-fisted side, I looked on the bookshop shelves and the freebies in the Telegraph have almost all of the best recipes. Between the two booklets there are a couple of dozen. I have a lot of cook books and very few that I’ve followed more than 24 recipes from. The pikelets are his (except I only had self-raising flour which worked just as well) and the leek flan is close to his recipe. Everything else this week has either been something I’ve made up myself (can anyone really claim a recipe for onion soup or pumpkin pie?) or else something I’ve made so often I’ve forgotten where the original recipe came from.
I rarely follow recipes to the letter and even when I do I’m careless with measuring (often using tablespoons instead of scales, an approximation of liquid rather than use a measuring jug). I like getting a sense of the thing developing. I like food. I like eating good food, I like buying good ingredients. I even enjoy growing food. Most of all I like cooking food. If I’d taken to it in my younger days I think I would have made a reasonable career out of it. I didn’t. I cooked at home instead. After fifty years I’m still cooking at home, still enjoying it; and occasionally turning out dishes that beat those that I enjoy in restaurants. It isn’t really my game though. I set out to put traditional home-cooked meals on a plate. I don’t try to produce ornate arrangements of food. I haven’t the time, nor the inclination to produce little blobs of sauce or coulee or ganache to decorate a slice of pie. When I’m eating out I absolutely love these.
Next to a bowl of cereal, the simplest and quickest meal I make. Tortillas with cheese and (I think) red onion. Cooked quickly on a griddle these are ideal to eat before cycling or when watching sport on telly. I ate these while watching a lecture on the Scottish Clearances (on Youtube).
I’m lucky in that I seem to have been born with the knack for making good pastry. Ever since I was a little boy I’ve turned out pies and tarts where the shell is as good as the contents. This pastry is half butter to plain flour by weight with a pinch of salt, an egg and 10 tablespoons of cold water (which was fractionally too much … no problem, I put extra flour on the board for a (very light) kneading). I rarely follow rules about keeping everything cold (butter tends to come out of the fridge so is cold and the same with water from the tap) and rarely let the pastry rest in the fridge before using. Mine is rolled and in a pie tin almost as soon as it is formed.
The leeks were lightly boiled and tossed in a little butter. They were placed into the pastry case (already blind baked) and a mixture of 3 eggs, double cream salt and pepper is poured over. Blue cheese (Stichelton) was crumbled on top and baked at 160c for 40 minutes.
Monday was Canada’s Thanksgiving and I made a pumpkin pie to pay a quiet tribute to that country. Again I blind baked the pastry case. Not quite sure what went into the filling. I’ve had a tin of pumpkin flesh in the cupboard for a while. To this I certainly added cream, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and some brown sugar. I have no idea of the amounts. Just until it looked and tasted right. I’m not an expert on pumpkin pie but if this fellow was served up to me at a Canadian party I wouldn’t send it back.
My mistake with this French onion soup was to use large sweet Spanish onions. They did eventually begin to caramelise but only after giving off the best part of a pint of water. What normally takes 20 minutes took nearly 50 and even then I had to settle for a much lighter colour than I would have wished for the final soup. Very enjoyable but very sweet.
T was working late on Wednesday. Neither of us are big eaters after seven o’clock so I made a few Marmite and cheese straws. The pastry had been resting in the fridge for two days so was well chilled. It was easier to control in the rolling than very fresh, room temperature pastry but was not noticeably superior in the final product. Not the product lasted long enough to draw any serious conclusions.
With soup the question is often whether to blitz of not. If I’d had company coming round I would have reserved a third and blitzed the rest before pouring the chunky soup back in. For family, I prefer soup to be as simple as possible. This is potato and leek with some carrot and the last (for quite a while) of the Spanish onions. The English ones are scruffy buggers in comparison but have three times the flavour!
Pikelets area huge treat. I’m not sure if they are known outside the U.K.. I’m not certain how well known they are inside these borders. They are traditional in parts of Wales, the Midlands and the North. They are related to the crumpet in being made from a yeasty batter and having lots of holes in the top. They are thinner and less regular. I enjoy making crumpets but pikelets are much easier and quicker. These went perfectly with cheese or strawberry jam.
The batter needs to rest (and grow) for at least an hour before cooking (which takes a very few minutes on a medium hot griddle or heavy based frying pan…cast iron in our case). Recipe either on request or in Paul Hollywood’s new book.
I could write an entire blog post on the difficulty of finding somewhere to eat in Huddersfield earlier today. There are good places but they tend to open in the evening. There were certainly plenty of places that didn’t tempt me. After two hours searching I had a cup of coffee and a slice of cake in a really nice Asian dessert shop and settled for a cheese and onion sandwich when I got home.
There is an art to preparing a grapefruit. It is time consuming and relaxing at the same time just so long as you don’t rush. If done properly the grapefruit is one of the great simple pleasures of life.
We stopped into an Italian restaurant in Chesterfield and had a very good bowl of pasta each (forgot to take photos …sure sign I was impressed) and followed it with pud. This lemon tarte did me proud. The snake is a jelly of Earl Grey tea and the foam is a froth of grappa…the first alcohol I’ve had in half a decade… to be honest it didn’t add that much. The filling had been added to a baked pastry case rather than cooked in it. I enjoyed it enormously.
T had the Semi Freddo and was equally well-pleased.
And the cake and ice cream that saved the day.