Friday, 1 April 2016

Johnny Depp Naked

I realise this is not for all tastes, but some of you are diehard fans. Yes, even those of you who claim not to be. So get your magnifying glass out.



As you can see, this was actually a test of the Facebook notification system, to see if my posts are being seen by my friends. If you can see this (no, you can't see THAT, far too small) please reply, ON FACEBOOK, something like "WOW" or "Dear God" or whatever. Don't spoil it.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Strawberry Bed

As I've been neglecting this blog (too much doing, not enough recording for posterity) and I have a lot of photos of this small project, this seems the best way to do it.

I grew strawberry plants from seed*, and they did well, so I needed somewhere to put them. We had an old raised bed from years ago that was totally lost to weeds, so I decided that was the place, but I hadn't reckoned on the weeds having other ideas.



It was a thatch of vetch and grass, and despite soaking it for several hours, I couldn't get the bloody weeds out.

So, I discussed it on Facbook as I planned to smother the weeds. I got some good advice from friends who'd tackled similar challenges.

The first suggestion was before doing anything to cut the weeds right down. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that myself, but actually that became step 1.



Which was a lot of hard work, as you can imagine.


OK, maybe not. Martin did it with the weed whacker. Once he had you could really see what we were up against.


There was literally a mat of roots.

The next suggestion was to cover this with newspaper rather than my idea of landscaping fabric. The thing was I had no newspaper, but I did have landscaping fabric. Then somebody said cardboard...so that's what I did.


I opened up boxes and filled in the gaps with other bits.

Then we filled it with soil. OK, Martin did.




And finally I planted the strawberries and watered them in.



This is the end - or the beginning , depending on which way you go - of our new "fruit walk". Fruit bushes and trees are going along both sides of a path through the wildflower meadow, along the back of the pond. I'll show you all the steps in this ongoing project.











*My latest "thing" is growing everything from seed.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

What The Phok?

When we are talking about likes and dislikes in food, inevitably I get called picky. I'm not actually any pickier than anyone else, it's just that the the things I won't eat tend to be very specific (I'll eat a hard boiled egg white, but no other egg white) or things that are generally very popular. To make up for this latter issue, I love many foods that are often unpopular. So for example, given the choice between liver and chocolate, I'll take the liver. So, it's not a question of me being pickier than average, I'm just non-mainstream. And nothing new there.

In fact I eat most regular foods. There are, for example, very few vegetables I don't like. In a world where some simply don't eat vegetables, or only do so because they feel they ought to, rather than enjoying them, I am far less picky there.

But in fact I don't find anything wrong with being picky about food. It isn't like I only eat a short list of food items, the type of picky I usually see. I just don't see the point of eating something I don't like. My entire philosophy about food is that if it's not delicious (i.e. not a question of being passable, I must actively enjoy it) I don't eat it. Life is too short for bad food and I don't need the calories.

I'll give you an example - burger buns. Most of them are pretty awful, actually. I'm told it doesn't matter, it's just there to hold the burger. Well, you may as well eat a napkin then, because eating a food holder is ridiculous. When I eat burgers I will either:

1. Obtain a good bun.
2. Go without a bun.

The latter is a great low carb option anyway.

Pasta on its own leaves me stone cold. It's not unpleasant, but it's just dull. Adding butter only raises it a level. Add cheese and it's good. Therefore if I eat pasta, there must be cheese.

I don't eat plain boiled rice because it's dull and sucks away flavour from other things. Fried rice, risotto, or pilaf are all just fine. I don't eat brown rice because I don't like the taste. Some say it tastes "nutty". Well, so does dirt. If I seek a nutty flavour, I eat nuts.

I love fish, never met seafood I didn't like. I love all meats except venison, and I wasn't keen on moose but it may have been the recipe. I don't like slow cooked poultry, but I do love it fried or grilled or roast.

I bet I eat, and enjoy, a longer list of foods than most people, actually.

No, my tastes issues are quite specific. Mostly to do with quality. I don't eat stale or dry food. I don't eat burned food. I don't eat overcooked food. I don't eat bland, watery food. This isn't picky this is discerning. Gourmet even. Anything wrong with gourmet?

The real problem is that the specific flavours I don't like keep cropping up these days.

There are fashions in food the same as in everything and people are discovering the wealth of foods from around the world. Being English, I grew up with curry, but it was a specifically English version of it, using a limited range of spices to suit the English palate. But now, thanks to TV chefs and people being more adventurous, a more authentic Asian cuisine is arriving in the west.

Enter a long list of flavours that I really can't stand.

You can group these into three categories:

1. Flavours that I might well enjoy in sweet items/desserts, but find completely off-putting in savoury dishes, often to the point where I simply can't eat it, depending on quantity.

This includes spices such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, ginger, and also most fruit.

Tiny amounts of cloves or ginger in a spice blend, you may get away with. But too much and I'm pushing it away. My taste buds say no, and my gag reflex wakes up ready to go if pushed.

I can tolerate raisins in SOME savoury dishes, pickled fruits in chutney is sometimes OK, and citrus is usually just fine, but if you start mixing raspberries into my salad, I am not going to eat it.

2. The aniseed family. From fennel to licorice, and even dried basil (fresh is fine), I simply don't do that flavour. I can't even bear the smell. This also means no pastis or ouzo, thank you. Can't do it. Just.....no,

3. Cardamom. It gets its own category because that shit is just nasty. It tastes like furniture polish. No, I've never eaten furniture polish, so don't be difficult. Taste is mostly done in the nose - actually - block your nose and you can't taste anything. So there. Cardamom tastes the same as furniture polish smells, and I don't even understand why anyone would think to use it in food.

I've heard people say it has an "interesting" flavour. Well so does bleach.

So, last week quite by chance I learned about Pho. I've never had Pho, and after reading about it, I'm never going to.

I learned two things about it.

1. It contains several of the above mentioned spices,
2. It is pronounced "fuh".

I'm used to oriental languages being spelled in ridiculous ways when using the Roman alphabet, because I'm attempting to learn Mandarin, and it is written in pinyin using a system invented by a madman. This is why Feng Shui is actually pronounced fung shway. Because using vowels that made sense would have made it all too easy for those of us already struggling with Chinese characters and 4 effing tones. Don't even get me started.

But if it's pronounced "fuh" then I can put a k on the end, and you know what that means? Yes it means I have found another way of spelling the word that gets me into trouble.

Now I can write What the Phok?

And indeed, while I often say "WTF"? when told many things, if they are food-related, it is more appropriate to say "WTP?"

So when I hear about balsamic pears next time, you know what I'm going to say.






EDIT: This was supposed to be a humorous piece. I've already had one complaint and it was only published a few minutes ago. Please find your sense of humour and read it again.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Minestrone

First a bit of food history. I love this stuff. Minestrone comes from the same root as does ministry, i.e. to serve. The minestras were the serving people in Ancient Rome, and what they got to eat was any leftovers from preparing meals, or food returned to the kitchen unfinished. They survived on this and so can you.

So minestrone is a "throw it all in" soup, which means there is no recipe for it. What? But I can find hundreds of recipes for minestrone online! Sure you can, and they're all different. You'll find a favourite sooner or later, but you'll also discover you can make this out of leftovers/what's on sale/what's in the garden in a glut/what needs using up in the fridge, etc.

So a question arises, when is a soup NOT a minestrone? Well, that's an argument you can have all day, but in my opinion the guideline is as follows:

Minestrone is a hearty soup, with a lot of different vegetables, possibly meat (but not essential), and definitely including beans, but also possibly pasta or rice. It usually includes tomato but that's not essential. Served with bread, it's substantial enough for a main course meal. It is also my considered opinion that as this dish originates from Italy, then flavourings should be those typically found in Italian cusine, in other words, if you used Indian or Mexican spices, it ceases to be Minestrone (but it would still be most excellent).

Because it can be varied so much, it's possible to slip this into the dinner menu weekly, or even more often, without the family crying "Oh no, not again".

Here is an example for making minestrone, using leftovers:

http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Minestrone-1000090697

You can substitute to your heart's content.

Here is a totally different version, so you can see how flexible it is:

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/12013/minestrone+soup

And here is a more "authentic" version, if there is such a thing:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/classic-minestrone/

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Sausage Rolls

I never finish learning, and today I learned that pigs in a blanket is NOT the same as a sausage roll.

Anyway, this is how you make sausage rolls.

First you need pastry. You can buy it frozen of course, or you can make your own, and there are several types of pastry suited to this. Puff or flaky pastry is increasingly popular, in fact for some people that's the only pastry they'll accept. Then there's an old-fashioned shortcrust pastry which is sturdier - if you plan on transporting these it might stand up to it better.

But we have developed a taste for a pastry that is halfway between the two, and the recipe is printed on a brand-name lard here in Canada, called Tenderflake. The Tenderflake recipe is so good, that frankly we don't bother with anything else.

You'll find it in detail here:

http://www.thekitchenmagpie.com/tenderflake-recipe

Tom is the pastry maker here and he says just use all the damn water, it turns out fine.

Anyway, having made that, let it sit, covered while you make your sausagemeat filling.


You'll need
1kg of lean ground pork
A medium onion chopped up very finely
1 tablespoon of parsley
2 tsps sage
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper.

Get your hands in it and mix that all up.

Now grab a lump of pastry dough and roll it out to a long, long strip about 4" wide. Then take the sausage meat and create a snake right down the centre third of the pastry. Now flip the sides up and overlap them so the meat is covered and you have a very, very long sausage roll.

First time I got Michael to do this he struggled with it, and I said to him "Call yourself a teenager, and you don't know how to roll a joint?" He was horrified.

Cut it into shorter lengths. short ones for parties, a bit longer if you're serving it for a meal. Repeat until the pastry and sausage meat is all gone. Turn them over so the join is on the bottom and line up on parchment lined pans. Slash the tops with a knife, and then paint them all well with an eggwash.

Bake at 180C for about 45 minutes.

This makes a lot, but don't do less. They freeze well, and besides, they are so good they'll go fast.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Sandwiches

I eat a sandwich virtually ever day. Have done my whole life. Isn't that a bit boring? No. Actually, no. Lots of variety possible.

There is something deeply cultural about it. Somehow, probably because it was cheap and easy, I grew up thinking that lumch and sandwich were synonymous. Lunchtime? Eat sandwich.

Not only that, but I refuse to eat a sandwich at dinnertime. That screams "insufficuent" to me. And somehow just wrong. And no, I don't include burgers or tacos or quesadillas in that restriction. They are not what I think of when I think of a sandwich.

And I even like those simple, somewhat plain sandwiches from childhood. That is to say a ham sandwich, or a cheese sandwich, with nothing else other than butter and bread. These will please me greatly, at any time.

But I'm also very fond of elaborate sandwiches, crusty French bread split lengthwise and stuffed full of all manner of salads, meat, and condiments.

Still, the topic of sandwiches can be as massive as the entire topic of food. And I can be just as fussy.

Remember: I don't believe in eating bad food. EVER. I'm not poor enough or hungry enough.

The first issue is the bread. There was a time, I swear, that white sliced bread in a bag was edible. But that was at least 20 years ago. Of course our tastes become more sophisticated with age, but this is a comparison thing - 20+ years ago, bagged sliced white bread was similar to fresh white bakery bread, just not as good. NOW? No comparison. The white bagged sliced bread has a texture of polyester quilt batting, and tastes like cardboard. It has neither the texture, nor taste of bread at all. Cheap burger buns are as bad.

So, if that is all that's available, forget it. There's nothing you can add to make it enjoyable.

But let's return now to the question of culture.

I failed "Being English" miserably. From a young age I was far too interested in foreign food/culture/travel, and new experiences. I hate tea, have no time for royalty, cricket bores me silly, and the abiding English attitude that while the empire may be long gone, anything English is automatically better just disgusts me. It's complete bollocks, and is a simmering mild bigotry. Yeuk.

Nevertheless, I was raised in a land where bread was spread with butter, and it feels like a default to me. That's the first step. After that, all bets are off, but butter my bloody bread, will you? This whole North American thing of mayo instead of butter will not do. I love mayo, oh yes I do. And I will add it to many of my sandwiches. But I still want butter first.

That's not the only problem I have with the typical North American sandwich. Why does it have to have cheese in it? You make fun of me for my butter default, but you have a cheese default. Cheese in every sandwich just ends up making all sandwiches too alike. Again, I love cheese. I love a cheese sandwich. But if I ask for a roast beef sandwich, for example, if I don't mention cheese, it means I don't want it. Otherwise I'd ask for a roast beef and cheese sandwich.

In particular I do not want ham and cheese. Yes, I know it's popular. Yes, ham on pizza is fine. But cold sliced cheese should not be adulterated with ham, and cold sliced ham should not be adulterated with cheese.

And while I'm at it, processed pretend cheese has no place ANYWHERE. If you put that in my sandwich I'll throw it at you.

Then there's the BLT. Which I don't understand. Or, to put it another way, I'll take my BLT without lettuce or tomato, thank you. A bacon sandwich is a thing of great beauty. Buttered bread, obviously, well-cooked bacon (no flabby fat), and ketchup will do nicely.

A sausage sandwich is good too. Cooked sausages, cold, sliced lengthwise, with ketchup. A hot dog is NOT good. Sausage in a bun? Sure. But not a nasty quilt batting bun (see above). Good bread. And not a nasty wiener, a good sausage. Any kind of good sausage, doesn't matter. Add ketchup, or mustard, or both, or sauerkraut. But no bloody hot dogs.

Then there's seafood. Sardines, tuna, salmon, shrimp, all will make me quite happy. I was in my 30s before I discovered tuna mayonnaise, and I quite like it now, but I'm just as happy with regular tuna, and some sliced cucumber. My husband does a beautiful salmon "salad" mix, with lots of black pepper.

Liverwurst, pâté, and potted meats (or fish) are all just fine with me too. Cucumber makes a good addition.

As for ham, so long as it's not too cheap and nasty, it's all good. What goes with ham? Well, tomato, and/or mayo, or Branston pickle, or mustard. Or a full salad. That all works. NO CHEESE.

Roast beef, add tomato or horseradish. NO CHEESE.

Chicken or turkey, only from a real roast. None of the processed deli meats quite work. White meat only, and fine just as is, with salt. Or with Branston, or salad. NO CHEESE.

And the vast majority of deli meats are nasty, especially the soft ones. Bologna, mortadella, and all that. Yeuk.

Salami is good though. Add mayo and thinly sliced green pepper. Maybe some olives. Cheese here is optional, but it has to be a suitable cheese.

Eggs, ah yes. Egg mayo or just sliced hard-boiled egg is fine. Add tomato. Or cress. Or just as is. NO CHEESE.

I do not eat fried egg sandwiches, because I do not eat fried egg white. I particularly dislike the weird pseudo-omelettes that fast food places put in breakfast "sandwiches". And their greasy sausage patties are vile too. I have a problem with grabbing breakfast "on the road" for this reason - these tend to be their idea of breakfast.

Peanut butter? NO. Never, don't eat it. And as for combining it with jam.......bizarre. Just bizarre.

I don't eat Marmite (see note above on failing "Being English").

And don't get me started on sandwiches with soup.

Oh, while I'm here, we must discuss grilled cheese sandwiches. First of all, the name. Because usually they are actually fried. So if we are talking ACTUALLY grilled, like panini, that's fine. I'll even mix cheese and meat then. But a fried cheese sandwich? No. Forget it. Give me a slice of cheese on toast any day, and for preference with sliced tomato on top.

Have I forgotten anything? Probably, because people put some weird shit in sandwiches.









Monday, 2 June 2014

Bechamel Battles

I was reminded this morning to do this, but I've been meaning to for a long time.

There is a........thing...........that some people do, which is to use condensed soup as a sauce.

It's not for me to tell you what to do, for a number of reasons, and if you like that, or you simply find it convenient, that's fine, just don't feed it to me. YEUK.

But if the reason you do it is fear of bechamel/white sauce/roux sauce then we can fix this.

Bechamel is a very basic sauce, and it was the first thing I was ever taught as an 11-year-old in HE at school. Although it has a French name, versions of it exist all over the world, and my guess is that it is a very old idea.

The principle behind it is to melt butter, add flour to make a sort of paste, then add milk to thin it back down to the thickness you want.

There are actually names for the different thicknesses, depending on your purpose, e.g. "Panada" for a very thick sauce. And you can look up measurements/proportions of the ingredients to predict accurately in advance how thick it will be, and your total yield. These usually keep the milk quantity stable, while adjusting the amount of butter and flour. Here's a handy olde fashionde chart to give you an idea.

Thin sauce  1/2 oz butter, 1/2 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Pouring sauce 3/4 oz butter, 3/4 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Coating sauce 1 oz butter, 1 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Very thick sauce 2 oz butter, 2oz flour, 1/2 pint milk

If you stick to these for quantities you will have consistent results.

But I rarely measure it. I do it by eye and I'm going to teach you how to do it.

First get a "knob" of butter. How much is a knob? It's described in cooking glossaries as a walnut sized piece, or about a rounded tablespoon. I've even seen it given as 25 grams, and that's just silly. Decide on your own knob, and stick to it. Roughly.

I did this by eye and it came to 28grams.



Melt this in a saucepan. You don't want it too hot, but you don't want to wait all day so on a scale of 10, 5 is a good heat. Let it completely melt, but don't let it start to burn.

Now, with a wooden spoon, stir in enough flour to make it all stick together. For this amount of butter a heaped tablespoon of flour is roughly right. There is considerable variation possible here, but I'll show you what exactly equal parts (by weight) butter and flour look like.


This is your roux. A mixture of fat and flour, that is now heating through, but again, you don't want it to change colour, so keep it moving about. Cook it in this way for about 1 minute.

Now add milk. The trick is to pour slowly and mix fast. Use your dominant hand to mix and your other one to pour. Slowly means slowly. Not a trickle, but a slow pour. Switch to a whisk as soon as you can, and mix FAST. When all the milk is added, keep whisking, as the mixture will thicken a little more once the heat stabilizes. Some people use warm milk to minimize that, but it isn't necessary.

So let's recap in brief.

Melt butter.
Add flour.
Pour milk in SLOWLY, and whisk it FAST.

That's it. That's all there is to it.

Typical problems:

#1 Too dense a roux, due to too much flour in proportion to fat. This is not insurmountable, and is sometimes deliberately done to get a lower fat sauce. You'll just have to whisk like a mad thing.

#2 Sauce comes out too thin. Too much milk added. If you are adding it slowly this will not happen. So pay attention.

#3 Sauce too thick. So add more milk. End of problem.

Questions?