Mostly Concerning Food
Bumper Christmas Edition (Without any Christmas Food)
I like looking at fancy food and love even more being taken to a decent restaurant or two to enjoy something complicated made with great precision and skill. I’m incredibly impressed when fellow bloggers are able to emulate these recipes and even come up with a few of their own. But I don’t often cook this way myself. This diary is essentially a record of how I try to emulate the good working class cook of the 1920s and 30s. My cooking idols are my late mother and her three formidable sisters. They were brought up on a small holding in North Staffordshire and all learnt their crafts around the scrubbed wooden table in the tiny kitchen. (The house is still there, has been extended to double the size but it still baffles how a family of seven could have lived there on the proceeds of a few acres and a handful of cows).
They went their own ways before the war but to visit an auntie was to be immediately at home. The gardens bloomed with the same cottage flowers in huge swathes of contrasting colours, the decor was basic but the ornaments were all highly polished. A sepia print or two of the lakeland hill farmers my grandmother was descended from and a photograph of a fine house near Kendal where the younger sisters were taken in after the early death of my grandfather. My Auntie Marie used to say that my grandmother’s greatest achievement was keeping her girls out of service.
The kitchen was always the active heart of the house. Always a fresh smell of baking (they all prided themselves on having a slice of freshly baked cake for any unexpected visitor), a large pan of soup was often on the go and, when it came to mealtimes, the portions would do justice to a banquet. You were never stinted with one of this sisterhood. Roasts, stews, cold collation, salads, pickles, jams, jellies and marmalades; it mattered not a jot if you were with Bunt, Marie, Mac or Mum. Rarely fancy (a baked Alaska was talked about for months afterwards), occasionally original, always tasty, always plenteous and always home made. I veer into dishes they’d never heard of in the old homestead but the central core of my cooking is a conscious attempt to keep this tradition alive. I don’t know how long this blog will survive but while it does it is, in large part, a record and celebration of what poorer people who liked their food were eating in times gone by.More and more of my time is spent at the computer. Working late into the night can be hungry work. A decent midnight feast helps. Cheese and crackers are an almost perfect combination but cheese and Christmas cake is even better. Should be Lancashire but you can’t always get good Lancashire cheese in supermarkets. Hawes Wensleydale is a close second. Here I’ve had to put up with a strong cheddar.Ah, Jaquest. By far the best small food producer in this whole region. I’ve always sworn by kippers from Fortunes of Whitby but these match them for deep smokey flavour. (And they save a long trip to the coast). I’m still arguing with myself as to whether they are best grilled or poached. I don’t think there’s a lot in it taste wise, or texture wise, but I think the bones come out easier if you’ve poached them.My mother taught me how to poach an egg. I’ve never come across anyone who can do it as well as either of us. We never had asparagus as children. It was far too expensive.Supermarket pastrami is very much the weak link here. Happiness is a baked potato, a sprinkle of salt, butter and a big pile of grated cheese. This is from Jaquest. Cave aged cheddar bought in a proper sized piece. Jolly waited patiently under the table and was rewarded with the pastrami.A handful of rocket helps no end; taste, texture and visually.Apple pie fresh out of the oven.Shortly afterwards.Happiness has many forms.Fishcakes with a runny cheese sauce centre tempted me when in Lidl. Not bad. Not worth travelling for though.Good black pudding (Scottish…can’t remember the firm) with lightly pan-fried scallops on toast. My aunties didn’t often cook with scallops.I’ve acquired a hand peeler that cuts carrots into thing spaghetti type ribbons. Blooming wonderful in a stir fry.Black pudding, fried eggs and brown bread and butter. Why don’t more hotels and B&Bs offer stuff like this instead of the inevitable “full English”. Less on the plate and tastier please Mr hotel keeper!My favourite easy meal. Toasted cheese and tomatoes. Brilliant for late night working.A handful of well drained spinach adds enormously to a piece of poached smoked haddock.A simple long grain rice chicken risotto. Doesn’t need the chicken. Spinach, peas and peppers have enough flavour between them.A good sized fillet of line caught wild Salmon on lightly cooked spinach and granary bread and butter. Just looking at that and remembering is going to require a pause and a trip to the kitchen. I don’t often get hungry writing these but I am hungry now. Given the choice, always choose the wild over farmed salmon. For so many reasons.I could, and have, described so many foods as happiness on a plate but the true holder of this title in England is shepherd’s pie.I married someone who put baked beans between the meat layer and the tatties. In this one I’ve stirred some spinach into the beef. It made a huge difference to flavour and made it much moister.Another of my attempts at scones. The current Mrs Johnson does them so much better than me. It’s a case, along with Yorkshire puddings, of some people being blessed by the cooking angels. These aren’t bad but not a patch on T’s.Spaghetti with aubergine in a tomato sauce. I’m a late convert to the aubergine. I blame writers of seventies cook books. We got ten years of bad advice and it put a lot of people off.Pan-fried goose breast with a plate full of the vegetables you’d get round my aunties. You’d probably get a good dollop of gooseberry jam as well.This was Sunday tea at our house. Most of it would have come from the garden in summer (just as it does now…the gardening genes have been passed on as well. Many of my own plants were taken as splits and cuttings from my mother’s garden).A good pork pie is a good pork pie. A bad pork pie isn’t worth eating.Poached eggs, poached smoked haddock. A perfect combination.Cold collation with Jaquest’s award winning cured pork. It is only one of many prize winning (and we’re talking national competition here) products from this wonderful shop. If you’re anywhere close to Bolsover call in. I’m not sure if they do mail order. They’ve got a web-site though. You should be able to find it. Not many shops called Jaquest in the Bolsover area! Like many I can truthfully quote Oscar Wilde and say that I can resist anything except temptation. In the run up to Christmas chocolate biscuits are cheap, plentiful and very good. In my childhood we’d very rarely see them, and if we did we’d get one, maybe two. I confess to being a complete pig for anything that was rationed (in our family…I’m a little too young to remember wartime rationing) as a child.A pan full of spicy “Wagamama” type chicken noodle soup with peppers, chillis, bok choi, mushrooms and, in this instance, because I didn’t have any noodles, orzo. (pasta grains…looks like big rice) A working lunch from the depths of the freezer. Sometimes I fancy what used to be called convenience food. Frozen Bird’s Eye fish portions with oven chips. 99% of our food as children was prepared in our kitchen. Sometimes we craved the stuff we saw advertised on the telly. Mum made it all herself because she could, because it tasted better, because she knew what was in it and, having 7 children and limited “housekeeping”, it was a lot cheaper.Take a chicken fillet, lay it on a layer of spinach on puff pastry. Fasten it into a pasty with a layer of fried mushrooms on top. Bake for about 40 minutes and serve with couscous, green beans and a great deal of pleasure. I suppose its a sort of chicken Wellington. Whatever it was, it was blooming lovely.There must have been a lot of those cheese sauce fish cakes. I was glad to see the back of them.We no longer have a fishmonger in the village but we do have a travelling fish van that parks up every Thursday morning. It’s quite a treat to see just how fast the lady can dress a crab. £3.95 and done before your eyes. Fabulous.A simple beef stir fry.If you buy Jaquest’s venison salami you are in for a treat of flavour. I can think of few foods that contain quite as much taste bud stimulation per gram as this. Truffles maybe. There is a skill to learning how to slice it. It’s worth mastering.It’s too flavoursome to have on its own. With some good cream cheese (anything except Philadelphia) on blinis is good. The smoked salmon is also Jaquest and is as good as you can get. The out of focus ‘thing’ at the back of the photograph is a lemon. Honest!De-boned roast shoulder of lamb.With mint sauce.Jaquest own dry cure unsmoked bacon with their smoked Halloumi cheese.Makes a serious bacon sandwich. Pasta is great. A few vegetables, some cream, some spaghetti. Quality food in 20 minutes.More from Jaquest. These are simple potato fish cakes made with generous amounts of their hot smoked salmon. You’ll have to believe me (and I don’t often lie) just how good these are. I gave some to Steven and he agreed. And Steven never lies. Cream of celariac soup.That’s the full piece of cave aged cheddar I got from Jaquest. If you ever wish you could find food that tastes as good as you remember it from the fifties and sixties I seriously recommend you pay them a visit. This is wonderful cheese. The cold meat was not bad either. That was from M&S.This was my attempt to try to make a proper Vesta curry using real ingredients. Anyone who remembers Vesta curries will realise that this is a contradiction in terms. The only spice I used was medium curry powder and the sauce is largely a packet of passata. It tasted rather nice. The rice is a variation on a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for Basmati rice and was wonderful.Poached eggs on toast are a full meal in themselves. Chicken Kebabs on spiced Basmati rice. Carrot cake mix. This is a Primrose Bakery recipe and worth buying the book for this alone. You will not find a better carrot cake. I’ve made it several times now and it is simply a Wow! cake. (Enough over for 9 carrot cake buns!)I made a checkerboard cake for my birthday with white chocolate ganache between the layers and dark chocolate ganache to cover. A lot of work but worth it for when you slice it and a chess board appears.The completed carrot cake with icing made from cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and orange zest. There’s over a pound of carrots in this baby. My birthday presents.Lots of orange zest needed for the two cakes means plenty of fresh orange juice.Pasta, vegetables, creme fraiche. Delicious and easy. Practice Christmas dinner number one. A glutton’s (mine) portion of roast chicken.And yet more poached eggs to finish. This time with the spinach served on top.
Happy Christmas From
Simon & Jolly