Mainly Concerning Food
It has been a quiet month here in North East Derbyshire. Some visits by me to other English towns, some visits to us by family and friends, some reading, some cooking, some gardening, some gainful employment, some leisure time. One thing that has been completely absent has been rush. As I get older the word urgent has become an infrequent visitor to my thoughts. On some days it has been cold enough to light a fire and some days it hasn’t. But the fire is so nice to sit by that I light it anyway. It’s a family tradition. We come from folk who have known hard times but folk who kept the fire well stoked. Whatever season you visited a cousin, auntie, grandma in this family, you’d be offered cake and a seat in the chimney corner. We continue the tradition. Modern fires don’t use a lot of fuel and they give off a lot of heat. I’m looking forward to winter.This is a favourite. Unbeatable as a quick snack, a budget meal and a tasty treat; but also scores high on nutrition, sustainability and gastronomy. It’s the humble but very delicious sardines on toast. Can be made using a toaster but, like toasted cheese, is better using a grill. Toast the bread fully on one side and partially on the other. Butter (real butter please) and spread a couple of tinned sardines straight from the can. I prefer the ones in tomato sauce for this recipe. Sprinkle a few drops of tabasco sauce and return under the grill for a minute or two to finish. It’s one of those meals that don’t tempt until you’ve made it and then it is irresistible. What’s for tea? Sardines on toast. Can’t we have something better than that? Here you go. Any chance of some more?The East Midlands hasn’t yet developed a strong reputation as a food capital. Some supposed lesser counties have become associated with fine food shops and innovative restaurants. Shropshire is now known for good eating as is Cumbria. But we do have the same supermarkets (for better or worse) as the well-heeled areas and we have a few gems of our own. Some brilliant farm shops and a local charcuterie and smoke house in Bolsover that trades under the name of Jaquest. This is a piece of smoked cod that is absolutely full of flavour. The firm is discretely sited and run by a modest man and wife team who pick up gold, silver and bronze medals for their products from food fairs around the country. This is as good as you’ll get anywhere in England and you’ll enjoy the experience of shopping with them. They are lovely people and to top things off, it’s superb value for money.Their bacon is a treat. Several different cures. I usually choose the standard cure which gives you a flavour and texture from the past. No un-foodlike slimy white oozings from these rashers as they cook. This is the real stuff. It has so little in common with the pre-packed product that comes off the supermarket shelves (even the supposed dry cure) that it seems incredible that we give it the same name. The taste of bacon like this, cured by strictly traditional methods on a small scale by people who care about food, is what gave bacon its reputation. That rubbery, squirmy stuff inserted into a pappy bun, at all too many sandwich shops, isn’t bacon. It’s a horribly processed meat that we have learnt to tolerate. And we shouldn’t. This is like comparing a true stilton to Dairylea. Even the rind cooks perfectly and adds crunch and depth of flavour to the sandwich or the breakfast.Jaquest also do a smoked Holoumi cheese. A single slice added to the nearly made bacon sandwich and then melted under the grill before eating turns a treat into a feast. There are as many different recipes for kedgeree as there are bogus recipes for Paella. It comes from the Raj and is obviously a dish prepared for people who are used to having servants and others to do for them. A real hotch-potch of ingredients. It all ends up in one dish but there is a lot of washing up with a kedgeree. I like Britain but its Imperial past isn’t an aspect that I feel any pride in. My recipe is the one I was brought up on. If any of my family made it to India it was as foot soldiers. Neither side of my family ever sat at the top table (on my mother’s side many were in service…my father’s side consists of miners, steel men and factory workers). My mothers favourite flavouring for fish and rice was parsley. I enjoy spicy kedgerees but given my druthers I’d always select this combination of Basmati rice, hard boiled eggs, poached smoked haddock (Jaquest), lots of black pepper and handfuls of chopped parsley. Serve with brown bread and butter. One of the great legacies of British imperialism is the wonderful multi-culutural society that parts of the country have become. My life has been enormously enhanced by this multi-culturalism. Never had a fig until I was married with children. Only once had a pomegranate. We were told to use a pin to pick out the seeds. It took far too long and we lost interest. If you cut them in half and gently beat the outside with the back of a large knife the seeds fall out very easily. Suddenly the pomegranate is available in large numbers and low prices in most supermarkets. Visually stunning, as fresh as a morning meadow and apparently very good for you. To use the current stock phrase; what’s not to like? I love bagels. Here the unusual combination of good cream cheese, capers and thin slices of venison salami (Jaquest gold medal winner, judged best salami in Britain). The salami is far too flavoured to over-indulge. It needs complimentary ideas and this works perfectly. I enjoyed these and then had two more!This black pudding was delicious and I cannot remember who made it. It came from a supermarket and I deliberately kept the card container somewhere safe so I’d know to buy it again. I found a very safe place and hope to find it one day. Black pudding has become the both ends of the spectrum and nothing in the middle food. You’ll find it on the poshest menus and you’ll find it in working class greasy spoon cafés but you won’t often see it in the centre field.Smoked rib of beef. I forget the exact name of the cut. Smoked to order by Jaquest, this isn’t easy to come by. I was lucky. Very lucky, this is a superb product. I simply took the proprietors advice and roasted it very slowly for 10 hours. I love cooking that fills the house with good smells. This was exceptional. It produced several meals. At first the richest flavoured roast beef I can remember eating for a long time. Here served English style with new potatoes, carrots and kale. The gravy from the roasting pan was unbelievable. Fabulous on its own but once I added a little English mustard it sang to the four corners of my mouth. I’m not a great multi-tasker. I do like the golden filigree on the bottom and edges of my fried eggs but I have to confess that I rather over-did these fellows. It made no difference. I call this a Morland breakfast because this is what Nicholas Jenkins and Hugh Morland had on a memorable occasion in A Dance to the Music of Time (one of the truly great sequences of novels written in English). Every time I have this most simple of breakfasts I’m reminded of so many things from my own past as well as that fabulous book.Cold slices of smoked roast beef. Or roast smoked beef. Either way they made the most delicious sandwiches with some horseradish (T) and mustard (me).I have a slight regret that I stopped drinking beer at the same time as the craft beer movement really took off. The regrets are minor. I’m happy with the improvement in the British banger over the same period. I have mixed feelings about middle class people with no experience setting up companies with the words artisan and provender in the titles. But I’m happy to eat a good sausage wherever it comes from.The finest of many fine dishes to come from that £21 piece of beef. The bones were stocked for a number of hours and the stock made into a beef broth. Lots of the cold cuts plus onions, carrots and kale all supplemented with classic soup mix ingredients like yellow split peas, red lentils and pearl barley. This could have been made my my mother, my grandmother or my great grandmother…and that is the sort of food I like the best.Another tasty breakfast and a morning with the newspapers. As the only member of the family who likes seafood I suffer a feast or famine regime. Long periods of going without and then finding I have to eat enough for four or five. Mussels are sold in bags of about a kilogram in Britain. This moules mariniere meant I didn’t have to eat again that day. Four oysters. Some pepper, some freshly squeezed lime. Another working class staple that has made its way up the food hierarchies.I began this post with tinned sardines and now add a few fresh sardines. I head and gut them and fry them for a minute of two on each side and serve with bread and butter. Every bit as delicious as the earlier dish and just as east to make. (Both attract the attention of two cats and a sheep dog. I’m afraid there wasn’t enough to go round.Perhaps I spoke too soon. Maybe this was the piéce de resistance of the smoked beef. There are many ways of attaining the depth of flavour that separates the really good chilli from the ordinary. With this beef it didn’t matter. The depth of flavour was there. Quite simply this was the best chilli I’ve ever tasted. Far too good to serve in any other way.Remarkable how much a sprinkle of lime and a dollop of soured cream adds to the dish. Do you use the word dollop in Australia, New Zealand and America?No month is complete without a simple steak dinner. It’s what I dreamed of as a boy and now measure out my happiness with.A simple cake baked by T for a school baking festival. Wonderful balance between the flavours of the different elements.How I plan to spend the winter. I travel a lot less in the darker months. I mostly work from home these days and once I’ve lit a fire I rarely move more than a few yards. Books, food, dog walks and music. Travel can wait until the days start to lengthen again.Mind you. A family trip to York included breakfast at Bettys with David and Melissa made a very special treat.And ice-cream in a York ice-cream parlour.I wasn’t part of the big family trip to Harry Potter World. Jolly and I stayed at home and read a travel book by the fire. Before they set off I put in my biggest ever stint at the pancake pans. 2 pounds of flour, a dozen eggs made two large mixing bowls of batter and two pans going non stop for over half an hour. All our children with their partners filled the dining room with good cheer. It felt very quiet when they’d gone.