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Mainly Concerning Food

It’s easy to forget how much I enjoy doing these, and seeing them. It never fails to delight me. They don’t get a lot of thought during the month; the philosophy is simple. Try to find at least one point in the day to sit down together and enjoy nicely prepared food and conversation. So it’s make a meal, take a photograph, eat the meal and forget it. I work mostly from home these days so the cooking falls to me. Our lifestyle determines the food to some extent. Something that can be easily prepared and left to stand, sit or roast for half an hour while we walk the dog and talk about the day.

We lack sophistication. We were both brought up to expect the evening meal to be on the table at six. We stick with it out of habit I suppose, but also because it suits. I’ve never much cared for evening dining and the Spanish idea of eating towards midnight would be plain crazy in this house. How can you enjoy a meal when you’ve been asleep for the last two hours?

So I enter the kitchen sometime between 4 and 4.30 to rattle the pans. Once it’s ready I take a photo, then forget about it until the blog appears. I’m always surprised at just how many enjoyable meals we have had. I expect a simple menu and get a banquet. Life is far too important to manage without good food.

The cooking varies. I’m a better than average cook, if I may pay myself a compliment, and am capable of restaurant quality food on a good day. I’m also a fellow from a working class background who, though delighted to have had his tastebuds awakened by the many delights of the modern food world, can take enormous pleasure in the simple fare of my childhood. My cooking ideal is the sort of wholesome, tasty meals that were put on the table in the smallholding farmhouse kitchens that I am descended from. I love stews and roasts, have been brought up to liver and kidneys with steak as a very special occasion treat. I’m also more than happy with a tin of beans or a fish finger sandwich.dsc_0058There was a birthday last month. We gathered to celebrate T’s anniversary and a family gathering will often involve a trifle. It goes back to when the children were very small. Trifle was a special occasion treat for a while in the seventies. It’s gone out of fashion. People tried to fancy it up – often with the addition of alcohol – usually sherry – but this doesn’t help. Sponge, fruit, good custard and whipped cream are all delightful ingredients in themselves. They don’t need jazzing up. I’m not a fan of adding alcohol to food. There is a real skill in knowing which alcohol, how much and what blend. Most of us don’t have this skill. I don’t drink alcohol these days- no longer like the taste – not sure that I ever did. I never much cared for sherry which is the drink that has ruined many an inoffensive trifle. By all means have a glass of sherry with your trifle. It’s like the English ‘artisan’ (translates as a middle class person who has decided they can set themselves up as a food producer) cheesemakers putting apricots and cranberries into the cheese. No!!! A hundred times no! Serve the cheese with anything you like but don’t incorporate it into the cheese. And don’t put alcohol into trifles. If you don’t like trifles without alcohol have a different pudding. (My blog; my prejudices!)dsc_0057This was intended to be a fancy checkerboard cake but I couldn’t find the icing bags needed to create the pattern so I thought I’d attempt my own record for the highest Victoria sponge. The photograph doesn’t have anything to allow you to gauge the scale but take it from me, that is a big plate it is standing on. It was T’s birthday and a fun cake seemed to be in order. I’ve also just had a new cooker installed and sponge cakes are an excellent way of getting a feel of cooking times (every cooker is different). The jam is my own home made plum jam. The cream is shop bought double cream whipped.dsc_0056Having been carried away by the delights of sour dough I have been a little negligent with yeast based bread. The day I made this loaf was hot and humid. The dough had been double proved and the loaves into the oven within 3 hours. The same process can take twice as long in the winter. In my new found love of sourdough I’d forgotten how nice this bread can taste. And it is perfect for sandwiches. Many restaurants and tearooms, including some very good ones, use sliced bread for sandwiches because it is impossible to cut fresh bread thin enough. (Paul Hollywood) Some leave the proper loaves until they are a day old. With well  baked home made bread you can cut the bread as thin or thick as you like as soon as it has cooled to room temperature.dsc_0055Uncle Bernard (sadly no longer with us) loved what he called comfort food. We all have our own definitions of comfort food. Fish pie is the epitome of it to me. It fills the kitchen with warm, safe, nostalgic smell, it evokes kind memories, is the sort of food you can eat on a tray in front of the telly in your dressing gown, and it’s so dashed tasty. This is as simple as fish pie gets. Cod fillets, parsley sauce and good mashed potato. I love frozen peas with many things but they fit the comfort food label perfectly. I felt a whole lot better after a portion (or two) and I wasn’t even ill before I began.dsc_0047We’ve had another wonderful late summer. The sun was a long time coming this year but it is in no rush to leave. We’ve had a lot of meals in the garden this September. I really enjoyed this bowl of chilli con carne made with three different sorts of beans and good cubes of beef cut from a piece of topside and stewed slowly. A few tortillas and a dollop or two of Turkish yoghurt; and lots of late season sun. Blooming marvellous!dsc_0029A plate of happiness. This was my platter for the rugby league challenge cup final. In previous years I’ve enjoyed hotdogs or burgers or a packet of crisps (chips) or a plate of chocolate biscuits to enjoy this essential part of Simon’s sporting calendar. Fruit, bread, cheese, cold meats and a cracking match between Warrington and Hull with the Humberside team sealing it with a breath-taking match-saving tackle in the last minute. Perfection!dsc_0027Figs were things we never saw as children. The occasional mention in Bible stories at school and a place in an oft-used figure of speech “don’t give a fig” meaning “don’t care” “not bothered”. I was a parent before I cut open my first fig and saw this delightful sight. As good to look at as to eat and a real treat to do either. Here served with a Yorkshire curd tart. The sweet tartness of the fig off setting the creamy stodge (not often used as a compliment but very much so in this case) of the tart.dsc_0026The bread is mine but everything else is from the deli counter. Do they do Scotch eggs in other parts of the world? Some people have passed unkind comments on the Scottish diet and perhaps this way of serving the humble egg says a great deal about Hibernian attitudes to food. Take a perfectly innocent egg and give it a thick jacket of sausage meat, roll this in breadcrumbs and deep fry it! If you make these yourself with good quality sausage meat they are wonderful. Occasionally you can buy a good one. More often than not they are a victory of hope over expectation.

I’m delighted to see that I’d bought some tongue for the cold meat plate. Tongue, along with seafood and offal is my preserve. No-one else in the family will eat it. Every generation seems to find something that their parents ate disgusting. I make no apologies for enjoying tongue, liver, kidneys and heart. Ethics says that if you are going to justify killing the beast for food then you should eat all of it. I do my best and think that cured tongue with English mustard on white bread is about as good a sandwich as you can get.dsc_0019Can’t remember whether this was breakfast of tea. The cups of coffee suggest it was the first meal of the day. Nice to see two coffee pots, a fresh pineapple and a jar of home made chutney in the background. I’m less impressed with the packet of pre-sliced cheese.dsc_0018Comfort food part two. Spaghetti Bolognese as taught to us by our (English) mums. This was the first dish we (as a nation) learned when pasta first became readily available (in blue sugar paper packages in the early 60s) We’ve adapted it slightly and serve it with good Parmesan cheese these days, but it is otherwise unchanged from the way mother served it to a hungry family of nine.dsc_0011I’ve featured quite a few cooked breakfasts in these blogs over the years. You are actually far more likely to find this on the Johnson breakfast table. I love fruit however it comes, and can think of no better accompaniment than yoghurt.dsc_0010The simplest and perhaps the tastiest of the pasta dishes. Spaghetti Carbonara. Ten minutes well spent of anybody’s time. Beaten eggs added at the last minute and cooked in the residual heat of the pasta and sauce as it is stirred to thicken.dsc_0007These innocent looking little treats should come with a health warning. Any actor needing to bulk up for a part would manage it in a month on croissants. They look light and fluffy, are oh so easy to eat, and the weight just piles on. A treat is a treat though. They are far too good to cut out all together. Impossible to manage on just one!dsc_0006Home made vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries.dsc_0004A writer’s lunch. A whole Camembert, a small French loaf and a few grapes.dsc_0004In between jobs that have to be done I’m trying to find a couple of hours a day to practice the array of musical instruments I have surrounded myself with. In the foreground a fish finger sandwich. In the background, Worcestershire sauce, ukulele tutor, selection of picks and a harmonica.dsc_0009Home made scones with my own gooseberry and apricot jams. These scones are my effort. I usually leave it to the current Mrs J and she does a much better job.dsc_0013Not a vintage year for produce but we had plenty of broad beans, gooseberries, black and white currants, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.dsc_0014Home grown tomatoes  (and chilli) on toast with bacon.dsc_0016My snack tray for the Australian Rugby League Grand final. Cronulla just beating Melbourne while I eat crisps, mini salamis and apples.dsc_0017No month is complete without steak. Yellow fat is almost always a sign of quality beef. This tasted superb.dsc_0019Good mushrooms on good toast. What more do you want?dsc_0020dsc_0022dsc_0023The greatest snack food of them all. Toasted cheese!dsc_0003When we were young and courting I made steak with corn cobs and baked potato for T on her birthday. The tradition was in need of revival. 35 years on it is still just about my favourite meal.dsc_0026Home made chicken soup.dsc_0027dsc_0032Rack of lamb.dsc_0035dsc_0036Ernest Hemingway’s favourite breakfast. Eggs sunny side up with fried potatoes.dsc_0037

Toasted cheese with home grown tomatoes and capers.