Thursday, 26 December 2013

Feed Me Well, Or Don't Feed Me At All

I have been strangely inspired to write by a friend's bad experience in a restaurant.

I eat out very rarely. Apart from it simply not being in the budget, it's neither necessary nor convenient. The closest decent restaurant is a 45 minute drive. When I do go out it's normally to visit friends, at their homes. So they cook. I work from home. I'm a good cook, my husband is a good cook, and my sons are good cooks. All in all, eating out is currently not a big thing in my life.

But if I do eat out I expect good food. And good service. I only eat fast food in extremis, and consequently, it's not cheap for us to eat out. When I'm spending $50-100 on a meal it'd bloody well better be good.

For a start I do not wish to eat something I could cook better myself. This applies to the vast majority of hot plain vegetables, BTW, so I hardly ever order them.

In fact, I really don't want to eat something I can cook myself anyway. I tend to chooses dishes that I wouldn't have at home. Unfortunately, I have had a taste of very fine cuisine and my standards are quite high.

Which is not to say I insist on posh food. Not at all. I love fish and chips and I'm perfectly content with a decent steak or even a really excellent burger.

The point is, whatever it is, it had better be good, it had better be served well, in an appropriate amount of time, and it had better not cost an arm and a leg. That is to say it should be worth what I pay for it.

I have voiced these views many times over the years, and usually people agree with me. When they don't it's normally because their lifestyle involves eating poor food out of necessity, i.e. business trips with insufficient expenses, long drives away from civilization, unpredictable hours, whatever. They suffer and suck it up.

Occasionally the objection I get is that I should be grateful I have enough to eat, as so many people in the world don't.

This is a very silly objection. If I were poor and starving I'd be grateful for a bowl of rice, and I'd probably enjoy it. When you are incredibly hungry some very ordinary things taste great.

But I'm not poor and starving. If I eat bad food it doesn't help the poor and starving. It doesn't help me either.

In fact as is common here in the decadent west, I'm financially comfortable and overfed. So it makes absolutely no sense for me to eat bad food. I will not starve if I reject something on the grounds of quality, and therefore I can sensibly do so.

There is no logic whatsoever in eating bad food. So I refuse to do so. I won't eat just because it's there. I don't need the calories. I won't eat just for something to do, and I certainly won't eat when I'm not actually hungry.

Now, then if in the situation that even though I am reasonably hungry, and I've travelled some distance to your restaurant, and you put bad food in front of me, I am not going to eat it. Because I'm paying for that. At least 5 times what it would have cost me to cook it at home. Which, generally speaking, as I said, with a few exceptions, I'm perfectly capable of.

Yes, I will return things. Yes, I will complain. Yes, I will refuse to pay. Yes, I'll get up and walk out if the service is too slow, or rude, or whatever. Done it before and will do it again.

There is absolutely no excuse for a restaurant to serve bad food. It's a purpose-built facility for cooking, with qualified staff.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Cornish Pasties

When I mentioned these the other day I had a lot of people ask about them.

The recipe is very easy.

Cut up into small cubes (1/2") some stewing steak,  onions, carrots, potatoes and rutabaga. You need about the same quantity of vegetables as meat, or heavy on the vegetables is fine for economy. Toss together in a bowl and add salt and LOTS of pepper.

Roll out pastry into elongated rounds, place a handful of the filling on one half, avoiding the edges. Paint the edges with beaten egg to seal, fold in half, then crimp around the edge to make a strong seal. Brush tops with egg and bake at 175C for about 40 minutes.

It's simple because this is peasant food. This was what tin miners took for their lunches. That's the reason you find them in South-West England and Chicago, because when the tin mines in Cornwall were depleted the miners emigrated. A little bit of social history there.

There are plenty of variations, including seafood and dessert versions. You can even do savoury at one end and sweet at the other to make a two course meal. And modern pasties include chicken tikka masalas, surprise surprise. So you can be very creative here.

There are a few things to remember when making them.

1. The ingredients go in raw (for the traditional recipe) so it's very important that the pastry is airtight. Everything steams in its own juices inside, like a mini crockpot. So always check there are no holes, and be generous with the egg glaze.

2. For the same reason the pastry needs to be slightly thicker than you'd normally roll it out, so use a pastry that's not too dense. It can be flaky or shortcrust, but we like the halfway-between-the-two recipe on the back of the Tenderflake tub. However, the steam effect does make the inside "fluffy" so this is a really good project for those still nervous about making pastry. (Note: The authentic Cornish Pasty pastry is either suet-based or butter-based depending on who you ask, and I'm not getting into that argument.)

3. They are good hot or cold, but don't try to transport them hot, they fall apart easily. Left to cool they freeze well so it's a good idea to make a lot.

What to have with them is totally up to you, as it's really a meal in itself. I usually serve baked beans simply because that's what my family like. As you already have both pastry and potato included, you don't really need another carb, but nobody said this was diet food anyway, so you can also serve mashed potato or fries. I like ketchup on mine, BTW.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Thanksgiving is always followed by the question of what to do with the leftover turkey. Having discovered this year that I really don't like it reheated, I thought I might put together a rather fuller dissertation on the whole theme.

I have an issue with poultry. It's a minority thing, but I'm not the only one. By having the courage to talk about it, I have learned that quite a few people share my issue. It's complicated and cannot be explained to those who don't share it, but if you are interested, it goes like this.

Farmed poultry, by which we are generally referring to chicken and turkey, have two flavours each, not one. One is released by fast cooking and one by slow cooking. This is not my imagination, it is a known culinary fact, and is used by chefs to make it the flexible meat it is.

Most people enjoy both of these flavours. In fact they've probably never really thought about it, or even been aware of it. They are just as happy with fried chicken as with chicken stew.

Some of us are sensitive to the difference. Some are so sensitive, in fact, that it tastes like two completely different foods. So sensitive that even the smell, and not just the taste, is totally different.

And of those who are aware of the difference, some of them like one more than the other. However, some actively dislike one to a much greater extent.

A final subset is those of us who find the smell and taste of slow-cooked poultry extremely unpleasant indeed. Not just "not to my tastes", but can cause nausea. Yes, really.

When you consider the widespread popularity of foods such as chicken soup and chicken stew, this always causes a surprised reaction. Which is fair enough.

But if you find a taste/smell offensive, then you do, and that's that. And, like I said, it's not just me, and we're not being difficult.

If you wish to make fun of people who find slow cooked poultry offensive, have at it, but try to remember it. Thanks awfully.

I am used to the offhand remarks. I don't expect sympathy. Just know that if you are cooking chicken stew I may have to leave the premises. OK?


Having roast a turkey for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whatever leads to a few weird conversations. Roast turkey (fast cooked, yes, actually) is something I enjoy, but I prefer it cold. And I have to explain that repeatedly too. But I love nothing better than a cold roast turkey sandwich. No fuss. Just bread and butter, slices of turkey, and a bit of salt. Yep. That simple. It's good. I never tire of it.

Of course you can fancy it up. You can add anything. If I seek variety my usual additions are Branston Pickle (British food, Google it if not familiar, it's widely available in Canada), Heinz Salad Cream (ditto), or some nice crisp lettuce. Or both of the last two.

And I'm sure you can think of many other things you can put in a turkey sandwich.

So. After the roast has cooled we separate the meat, fat, and bones, etc. The meat is divided between light and dark. The fat goes to the dogs. The bones go to make stock. The breast meat is my prize. My sandwiches. You may prefer dark meat for yours, and you are welcome to it.

So, we can cut up the meat and freeze it for later use. This does away with the issue of "Bored with turkey". Of course not everyone has a freezer, so they have to use it right away. So how many things can you make from leftover turkey?

It cannot be counted. The only limit is your imagination.

The obvious one is our first go-to meal, "Day After Soup".

This is where you use up not only meat, but the vegetables, the gravy, the stuffing, and even the cranberry sauce if you like.

Day After Thanksgiving/Christmas Soup

Sauté some onions, carrots, and celery, very finely diced. Cut up and add meat, potatoes, and any vegetables, then add stock. You can throw in the strangest things to this. I've tossed in sausage rolls before now. It all cooks down and nobody notices. You probably won't need any herbs or seasoning if you include the stuffing and gravy, but otherwise the usual: salt, pepper, and some herbs to taste.

Bring it all to the boil then simmer until it looks like soup (at least an hour). Serve with bread and butter.

Turkey Pie

This can be done two ways.

1. Follow the soup instructions, but make it much thicker. Add less liquid and/or include a thickener. If there is enough potato included that may be sufficient, otherwise thicken with flour or whatever you normally use.

2. Cut up your turkey meat, and dice up a couple of onions. Sauté this until the onion is soft (or the meat is slightly browned if you like). You can add other vegetables (leftover or new), and mushrooms are good. You can put all of this into the pie as is, or you can add a sauce. I usually make a béchamel but with half milk and half stock.

Turkey Stew

Thicker version of soup, using leftover and/or new vegetables.

Turkey Curry

Start with stew, add curry spices.

If you were expecting recipes for the last two you are missing the point. This is food from LEFTOVERS. I have explained soup/stew/curry in other blogs, so you can refer to those, but the idea is to make it up as you go along.

Turkey Quesadillas

Again, refer to how my quesadillas are not really quesadillas, but if you:

Take two large flour tortillas.
Cover one with chopped up turkey, grated cheese, maybe some sautéed veggies, and some Tex-Mex spices (see my Taco blend blog),
Top with the other tortilla.
Bake it until cheese is melted, everything else is hot through, and the tortilla has slightly changed colour.

Then serve with sour cream, salsa, guacamole and whatever else you want.

It will be a very good quesadilla even if it's not authentic.

Likewise Turkey Tacos

Just throw the chopped up turkey meat and spices in with grated cheese, chopped lettuce, tomato, and green onions, and add salsa.

Turkey Generic Italian

Make a meaty tomato sauce by adding chopped up turkey to sautéed onion, peppers, and garlic, add tomato sauce, and then herbs and spices as required. Other vegetables can be added such as mushroom, zucchini, and so on. Use this over pasta, in lasagne, with orzo, etc etc.

Turkey Primavera

Instead of tomato sauce add béchamel sauce, with plenty of black pepper and use fast cook veggies. Peas and corn are good.

Turkey Carbonara

As above. Add bacon. Don't shush me.

Turkey Risotto

Bit more complicated, so take any risotto recipe, as you'll need it for the rice/liquid proportions, follow that and invent the rest with turkey and whatever vegetables you feel like.

Turkey Stir Fry

Speaks for itself. Serve with rice or ramen noodles.

Turkey Generic Middle Eastern.

Same as stir fry but add chick peas and harissa. Serve with rice. Oh yes it is. REMEMBER: THIS IS LEFTOVERS, not haute cusine.

Turkey Goulasch

Like curry but with different spices. Serve with sour cream.

Don't tell me I'm wrong: Goulasch just means "stew".

Turkey Salad

Chunk of cold turkey. Add lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, and green onions. Choose your dressing. I never said it was an imaginative salad, but it's a salad.

This should keep you going until you run out. You can also make meatballs, and a ton of other things, but I never want to hear you say you're bored with it. Thank you.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

And the kitchen sink

When I talk about Tom's cooking, people who understand the autism spectrum are often surprised, because it is typical for ASD people to be fussy eaters.

However, if you actually look into it further, ASD can affect tastes two ways. It either results in very particular food requirements, in not just taste, but in texture and presentation. Or it results in a person who will eat virtually anything that isn't running away. Tom is the latter type.

I think part of it comes from being the 5th of six. In a large family you either grab what's going and eat it, or miss out. It probably also helped that I never had any truck with fussy eaters, not even right at the start of my mothering career. This is dinner and you have two choices. One is hunger. I could go into great detail about that whole attitude (which was coloured partly by low income) but let's just say, I never actually considered the possibility that a child might refuse something. When you approach it that way, your expectations tend to be met.

Not that Tom never had strange eating habits. He was a food thrower. He was also a messy eater. Nobody ever needed to ask what he had had for dinner because it was all down his shirt.

Anyway, fast forward to a 20-year-old Tom and he has learned not to wear his meals. But more importantly he has become an extremely competent cook. This is not at all unusual among Aspies, especially if they DO have strong food preferences. They become adept at making things exactly so. Tom eats anything so his culinary skills are pretty broad. He is famous for his pastry, but he's also very good with seafood.

However what he likes best is Indian food. He will eat curry three times a day, AND snack on it in between. I assume that when (if) he moves out, he'll make a big pot once a week or so and live on it. He could do a lot worse. It's very economical, and perfectly healthy if served with some fresh veggies.

The point here is that curry when cooked by a person of English heritage is not REALLY Indian food. The way I cook curry - the way he learned, the way he likes it - has been filtered through English culture for around 200 years. Today in England recipes by top chefs are re-introducing many of the spices and vegetables we hadn't bothered with (too difficult to obtain, or too expensive) for so long, and it's all become very authentic again, with such a massive import trade from South Asia. These are now trendy not just in Britain but all over the world. Which is great.

But out here in the Canadian countryside, we cook a vaguely Victorian style of curry. You can too. It won't win any awards in posh circles, and cooks in Mumbai would mumble. But it's good, it's easy, and it's economical.

Think of stew. Any stew. A stew you know well, perhaps or one you just made up. You can put anything in it really, but bear in mind this is going to cook quite a long time, so don't use vegetables that are ruined by long cooking. Of course "ruined" is a matter of personal taste. I would not use broccoli or green beans, but your mileage may vary.

Stew is easy, it can be made from leftovers. It doesn't even need meat if you have none or want to avoid it - this is a very good way to make a vegetarian dish.

Not only that, this doesn't need to be hot. You can give it to the youngest child, and add only the merest hint of hot spices (no more than in ketchup) and they will enjoy it. My youngest grandson is a huge curry addict.

So, start your stew, that is, brown the meat and base vegetables, add your long-cook vegetables, and add any combination of:

Tomato juice
Coconut milk

It can be 1/3 of each, or half and half of any two, or whatever ratio you like, but it's best with more than one. Add salt and pepper as required, and a generous amount of garlic. It should already taste good.

Now your spices.

You can buy "curry powder" ready blended, and some of them are perfectly adequate.

BUT. The hot spices (cayenne) are already included. To get more flavour, you have to add more blend, which means you get more heat. You can, if you wish, use curry powder as a "base" and add more individual spices, but if you are doing that, why not just create your own blend?

It is fun, is FUN. Huge fun. A bit of this, a bit of that.

But it can also be intimidating if you haven't done it before.

So here's my "starter" or "beginner" spice blend, which you cannot go wrong with.

You need

3 parts coriander
3 parts cumin
1 part ginger
1 part turmeric

The parts can be teaspoons, tablespoons, or cups. If you use cups you'll make enough to store in a jar for  several meals. Having made up this blend from that ratio, add as much to your stew to give it a lovely rich flavour. Of course, you can add other spices that you like/are familiar with. There are many possibilities. But if you do just these 4 it will taste like curry.

Having done that, NOW add the hot spices, either fresh chilies or cayenne powder, as you wish, and as little or as much as you want. You are complete control of the heat of this dish.

Now simmer it until everything is tender. Add any short-cook vegetable you want at the end (I like to throw peas in) and serve with rice and/or naan bread, or for variety, over a baked potato. \

Mrs Beeton would be proud.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Gravy Myth

I promised my food groupies a dissertation on gravy and I keep my promises.

There is this myth that making gravy is difficult. No, it isn't difficult, BUT it's intensive and trying to do it at the same time as all the other things you are doing when serving a meal is a bit of a bother. Even with assistance, I find this to be one of the frustrating aspects of cooking. For that reason I am trying to get into the habit of saving the meat juices from one roast dinner, and using them for the next one.

Anyway, there is more than one way to make gravy, but you need the same ingredients no matter what.

Some fat.
Some meat juices.
Some flour.
Some stock.
Some flavourings.

If you have these you don't even need the roast meat/pan. You can make gravy out of the blue as it were. You can even make gravy using other types of fat (butter, olive oil) but we are concerned here with using the fat from the same thing as we are pouring it over.

What most people do is take the roast meat out of the pan, and put the pan up on top of the stove, skim off most of the fat from the juices, add flour, whisk like crazy, then add stock, and flavourings.

This is a classic gravy method, but it does assume that you have the facility to do this. I don't. My roasting pan is huge, if I want to put it on top of the stove I have to remove ALL of the others pans in use, which as noted earlier, only works if I'm not actually cooking a whole meal and trying to serve it RIGHT NOW.

So, what I do is pour off all the fat and juices into a jug. separate out the fat and juices and do the thing in a saucepan.

The next question is about stock. I've posted about this before but I want to stress something right here and now. If you find it difficult to make stock, or you just don't have time, good quality stock cubes will do just fine. I use them unashemedly, and here's my rationale.

Stock made from stock cubes is not as good as good home made stock, but it's infinitely better than bad home-made stock.

Gravy made from meat juices and good stock cubes is EXPONENTIALLY better than commercial gravy.

There is only one commercial gravy I will even eat, and that's Knorr Gravy Granules. I use this for things like sausages, because nobody, not even Gordon Ramsey, can make gravy out of the juices from sausages. It cannot be done. Yes, I know there is such an entity as "sausage gravy", but 1) it's not actually gravy, and 2) it's not what I'm seeking.

Even then, I use vegetable water to make it up, rather than plain water, as it tastes sterile otherwise.

So, here is a step by step guide to making a good gravy in a saucepan.

1. Pour off all the meat juices that you have into a large jug. Scrape the pan well. If you have a turkey you probably won't need to scrape.

2. Let the fat rise to the top, and skim it off into a separate container. This is the fiddliest part of the job. You can buy special jugs with the spout at the bottom, but I can't get on with them. Use a flat spoon and skim.

3. Now put a few spoonfuls of the fat into a saucepan over a low heat. Fat is flavour but too much fat is greasy, so you don't need very much.

4. Stir in enough flour to make a paste. This lump is called a roux. Scientifically it should be half fat and half flour, but it's just as easy to eyeball it as to weigh it. And it is MUCH easier to judge by eye how much flour you need faced with just the fat, than when adding it to a mixture. Start with just a little, and add more until you get your paste. If you can pick the paste up with your fingers - but only just - it's right. It shouldn't be as dense as pastry, but it shouldn't have any "drip" to it either.

5. Cook this gently for about a minute, moving it around.

6. Now add back the meat juices very slowly while whisking, a little at a time, so you don't get lumps. If you have a large turkey this may be sufficient liquid to get your gravy to the thickness required. If not, now add stock, again slowly, whisking constantly, thinning the gravy out to the desired texture.

7. Now taste it. You may be happy with just salt and pepper added (if you used a commercial stock cube you may not need extra salt, so check first), or you may want more flavour. We like ours with herbs added, and you can also add wine, garlic, onions (cook onions first, either separately, or in the fat right at the beginning) etc.

If you follow those steps it should work fine. The usual issues people have are with lumps (from not whisking enough), runny gravy (adding the liquid too fast and overdoing it), or tasteless gravy (using poor quality stock).

If you want to plan ahead, you can save the meat juices by letting them go completely cold in the fridge (will become a jelly-like texture). At this point it is even easier to skim off the fat, as it settles and thickens from chilling. You can then freeze them separately. Then, next time you have a matching roast dinner, you can prepare the gravy leisurely while it cooks.

You can also freeze gravy. It will separate when thawed but is easily whisked back together over a low heat. It WILL be a little thinner, so make any gravy you intend to freeze a little thicker initially.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Cheesy Breadsticks

Here's our basic bread recipe:

In a large bowl:
6 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
And set aside

In a measuring jug:
2 cups tap-hot water
4 teaspoons traditional active dried yeast
2 teaspoons sugar

When the yeast water froths (about ten minutes) mix it into the flour blend.

Knead well. 5 minutes in an electric mixer, or 20 minutes by hand. It should feel smooth and elastic. Add a tad more flour if too sticky.

To this basic recipe, for the breadsticks, add 1 tablespoon garlic powder along with the flour.

Cover kneaded dough with cling flim or a damp tea towel, and leave to rise until double in size. Depending on room temperature this could take several hours so allow time. Don't be tempted to use it before it has doubled! Pre-heat oven to 200C.

Now roll it out to fill a large parchment lined baking sheet, and cover with cheese (we used parmesan and cheddar, you can use others) and any herbs you feel like.  Doesn't need a second rise. Cut into strips with a pizza wheel then bake about 20 minutes. Cut through again before serving.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Eat What You Like

I've touched on this many times, but it's part of a whole area of thought that bugs me, and while I'm talking specifically about food here, believe me, this extends to every other aspect of life.

I enjoy my food. I enjoy talking about it. I enjoy cooking. I declare myself a foodie. However, there are those who say I don't qualify, because a) I don't eat everything (some of the things I don't like are widely popular, making me appear picky), and b) I don't over-indulge. I don't think it's funny or clever to eat until I groan or feel ill. YMMV.

There are several ways in which people take it upon themselves to criticize what other people eat. I think this is complete bollocks. Sure, there are things I wouldn't eat, so I don't eat them. End of problem. If somebody else wants to eat it, not my problem.

It's fun to joke about these things sometimes. There are the same basic rules in these discussions as in all discussions. Teasing should be kept under a certain level so that nobody is hurt. Know who you are joking with. Preaching is not acceptable, ever.

I am so done with food preachers. They are no different to any other preacher. I have no time for preachers.

If I like cheap supermarket yellow mustard, I shall eat it. I don't give a shit if it's not gourmet. I also occasionally buy expensive fancy mustards, and I like those too. But for my ham sandwich at lunch, I'm perfectly content with the yellow stuff.

But I am a person with a certain attitude. I'm not affected by the opinions of others. Most importantly, I never have been. I was born with that attitude, and encouraged by a mother who believed in the right of people to have opinions of their own. Yes, she was a radical for her day.

However, I still come across those who try to sway my opinion. After 5 decades, I think I know what I like.

I'm not worried about me. I can look after myself. I do get annoyed when I see others being picked on.

In a world where we already have enough of this nonsense going on, do this, don't do that, be this, don't wear that....we don't need food bullies. That's what they are.

"You shouldn't eat that"

Says who?

"It's not good for you."

Maybe not. And? Mind your own damn business.

"That doesn't go with that."

Nope, but I like them together, so bugger off.

"That's not authentic."

So? I like it. Get over yourself.

"You should try this."

Why? You should try shutting up.

"You're not going to eat that, are you?"

Yep. And it's mine, and you can't have any.

"I didn't want any."

So what's the problem?

And let's not forget:

"You shouldn't eay animals."

Oh really? I have canine teeth and a digestive system that can process it. There are clues there.

And so on.

You've all seen it, maybe you've been a victim of it. Maybe you've been guilty of it. Well, it's bollocks.

Eat what you like. So long as you are not forcing your tastes on others, it's all good.

I have made a conscious decision to call processed food just that. Not junk food. If I refer to what somebody eats as junk food, simply because it's not something I eat, I am being judgemental, and it's wrong. So long as they don't make ME eat it, where is the problem?

"Oh, but I'm concerned about their health."

I doubt it. You are just saying "What I eat is better than what you eat, ner ner ner ner ner."

Bullying. It's bullying.

No, I don't want to eat it. And I will say so. And that's fine. That's me. But I will not tell another person what they SHOULD or SHOULDN'T do. Should is a very ugly word.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Stromboli, Sorta.....

It all began when a friend posted this on Facebook:

I liked the look of that. I have a serious pizza addiction and I'll take any excuse to eat something that is similar to pizza.

But after reading it more carefully I saw two basic problems.

Firstly, no sauce. Well, that's easily remedied.

Secondly, no veggies. Likewise.

Thirdly, some comments that the centre was raw when cooked for the time suggested. The answer to this was to let it cool after taking it out of the oven. I want this hot, for dinner, so I was a bit concerned there. I decided to slice it prior to cooking, like cinnamon buns to make sure it cooks through.

There were a couple of other changes that came to me right away, cheddar cheese instead of parmesan.

And my own bread dough, which I use for pizza too.

By this time it had become a rolled up pizza, and apparently that's called stromboli. Who knew. Except, well, it's not quite stromboli either really. But I'm calling it that because it sounds cool.

Anyway, Tom started prepping.

Because the humidity today is just this side of Bengal jungle, the dough didn't rise very well, but as it's being rolled anyway, I wasn't bothered.

We rolled the dough out, and began with sauce, instead of the oil (quite enough greasiness in the cheese and pepperoni, methinks). Added all the toppings.....well, fillings, I guess....... including some garlic, and added fresh herbs instead of dried because it's July and I can.

Then rolled it up and sliced it, just like when we make cinnamon buns. It all went very easily, and very little fell out. I just used the bits that did fall out to fill the end slices out, as they are always a bit puny.

Because we used regular bread dough we let it rise for 30 minutes, then baked it.

Took 30 minutes to cook, longer than pizza and DEFINITELY longer than the time suggested.

And........ we served it, perhaps a tad more elegantly than intended:

So what did it taste like?


This will be served at Sian's wedding. Oh yes.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


This is a somewhat different blog for here, but it was inspired by a friend stopping herself from ranting last night. You know who you are!

My friend has a strong dislike of onions. She gets teased about it (I tell her how I feel sorry for her husband) and she takes it in good humour, but there's something not funny about it. People who think they know better than she does, and try to sneak it into things they feed her, telling her it's only a little, it's red onion, it's sweet onion etc.

This annoys her, and it annoys me too.

I love onion. I put it in everything. I would waste away without it. But as in so many aspects of life, I am capable of sympathizing with someone whose tastes are different to mine, and I've written some pretty strongly worded stuff on my regular blog about this.

So, briefly, what is it about some folk that they can't get their effing heads out of their arses for ten seconds to understand the numbingly simple concept that tastes vary? I can feel my hackles rise every time a person insists that their tastes are somehow "right". It is food bigotry. It is also patently absurd.

I mention my friend specifically because dislike of onion to that extant is fairly unusual, although far from unheard of. If you dislike a food that is commonly disliked, you're fine. The mob say it's OK. If you profess to a dislike of liver, or green vegetables, or fish, etc, you are in so much company, you'll get away with it. Even those who like these things themselves will allow it.

For some reason if you dare to dislike a widely popular food, you have problems. Socially. Some people will get angry with you. Why?

Everybody is picky. Everybody has things they won't eat. The reason may not be taste. It may be texture (more common than you might think, actually), it may be ideals (Vegans fall into this category), it may be snobbery (the Queen likes Heinz ketchup, ACTUALLY), it may be fear (some health extremists won't eat lard). All sorts of reasons. But there are so few people that will eat ANYTHING, that we can largely ignore them.

In addition, people have preferences. Foods they would eat if that's all there was, but they'd really much rather have something else. This is so common as to be normal, which is a tricky word but you know what I mean.

No, when you claim somebody is picky it means one of two things.

The first meaning is actually incorrect, if you think about it. This is when it is used to describe somebody who eats a very narrow range of foods. It's common in children, but is often caused by parents (don't get me started) and they grow out of it. But some adults are very limited in what they eat. Using the term picky to describe them (and we do) is "off", really. It suggests careful choice, but this is more to do with lack of experience, unsophisication, lack of courage, laziness, and so on.

The second, and far more correct meaning, is someone who tastes things and having done so, declares them unsuitable for their palate. Why is that unreasonable?

We are not dealing with starving people here. If you are truly hungry, in the famine sense of the word, not the privileged modern, western sense, you'll eat anything.

But we are not starving. We can choose. In fact, eating something you don't enjoy is plain silly.

Would you poke yourself in the eye? Would you deliberately get a sunburn? Would you remove a layer of clothing when you're already cold? I could go on, but you think up your own examples of deliberately doing something unpleasant to's bloody stupid, isn't it?

I don't walk on gravel in bare feet, if I can avoid it, so why would I eat something I find unpleasant? It makes no sense whatsoever.

Therefore, rather than deriding the validly picky, I say they are the WISER among us.

I know what it's like to sense the frustration coming off other people. Pretty much all the food items I actively dislike, to the point that the taste is so unpleasant to me that it puts me off my other food, or makes me nauseated, and generally miserable, are typically popular and enjoyed. Mention one of these and you will be teased. Mention several and even the kindest folk start to get irritated by your pickiness.

And when they show their frustration, and call you names, what they are really saying is "Why can't you just be like me?" An attitude we frown upon in other social and political areas. An attitude of ignorance and immaturity. It's rude. It's uncaring. It's ignorant.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Rib Sauce

Reprint of old blog:

So the first few times I used rib sauce from a jar, but you know how I hate to do things like that and Rhiannon developed a home-made sauce. Then Sian took that recipe and played with it, and made a hotter and rather more Oriental-tasting version. Recently Tom has developed it a bit more. I have spoken to a few people about this sauce and they always seem rather shocked, no idea why, but it's good.

3 cups ground tomatoes/passata
1 small can tomato paste
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 teaspoons crushed garlic
3 tablespoons onion powder
Dash mustard powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cayenne powder
2 tsps Thai chili sauce
1 tsp chili powder

Sian had included a squirt of Hoi Sin, but we ran out. It seemed to work without.

Sunday, 16 June 2013


The coldest, wettest spring as far as I can recall, since we came to Canada 20 years ago.

Many of the seeds I started in May rotted instead of germinated, and I've had to start over on quite a few things. This is in direct contrast to last year, when I had an early start to the season and was well ahead. It's frustrating, but at least we don't rely on it to eat.

We do have radishes ready to eat however, and lettuces I shall use, even though they are small, because if they get any bigger, for some reason on our soil they get bitter, long before they bolt. I pretty much treat lettuce as mesclun. Spinach could also be used if I was desperate, as later sowings will take their place.

Some of the seed that failed may have been too old. Some seed stores better than others, and the cucumber seed seem to be no good this year, not a single one came up. Was it the weather or the seed? I really don't know, but it's too late to try again with those as the crop won't be ready before the frosts in September. This is a shame as home-made pickles are vastly superior, but we may have enough to last until next season if we are sparing with them.

So, I had a great day yesterday, got lots of weeding done and put various seeds in, but today it is raining hard. Once it dries out, I'll do more weeding as it's easier in wet soil, but I do get filthy. Martin planted some more trees, our goal is 99.

All the sunflowers I have grown are at exactly the point they should be to be on target for flowering for the wedding in September. But I'll sow a few more seeds in case the forecast hot summer brings them on too early. I'm assuming everything else that's running late will catch up then, but it'll probably mean duff broccoli (again). I am experimenting with growing a few "quick to bolt" plants in the shade of the runner beans, see if that helps.

For those of you who like flower photos, here are the "portraits" I took yesterday.

I have a passion for lupins, they take a whole year to flower but's worth the wait, and they will flower 3-4 years more if you're lucky. This apricot colour goes so well with these:

The "blue" is close to the wild type, and I am trying to get them established as wild here, no luck so far. We also have a few of a darker shade:

Plus yellow:

They all came from the same packet of seeds, some years ago now, and altogether they have a distinct "ice cream" colour palette.

We have some large poppies:

The flowers are short-lived but pretty spectacular, about 6 inches across when fully open. Another thing I'm trying to naturalize, and will keep trying.

So sign of the row of three aquilegia that were beside the poppies last year, but a young one has popped up nearby, and will flower later this week.

But my favourite right now is this blue iris:

The first of well over 20 blooms (I lost count, which is fantastic) on a well established group, all from one original rhizome about 6 years ago.

Less showy, but still adorable is this verbena, and I wish I had more.

The shade garden at the side of the house is coming along slowly. We have a foxglove in full bloom:

And some fancy pansies:

With promise of more to come soon.

By the time I photographed the lilac arch yesterday the light was going, but the blooms will come out more soon anyway, so I'll take another shot later in the week, but you get an idea of it here:

The fragrance is pretty heady, and my potting tables are right behind that, so I get to enjoy it a lot. I also need to prune out inside the archway again too, it keeps trying to fill in. My next project is to plant something where you see brickwall through the arch, that flowers at the same time and is a contrasting colour. Something in the orange range.

Michael created a small flower garden in a raised bed beside the deck. Raised beds here are a magnet for my barn cats, who think they are public washrooms, so when he'd finished putting in the seeds and a few plants we started in pots, he covered the area in cayenne. They hate that.

After this heavy rain we'll go back and put some more down, and will keep doing so through the summer as the flowers grow. Morning glory at the back, sweet peas at the side, and cosmos over the rest. Again, they may flower too soon, but we are aiming for September.

I had some casualties from the last frost, mostly zinnias and antirrhinums, which was a bummer, so now I have gaps. I have things in pots to fill in (I never take any chances) but also as usual, there are a few pretty weeds (viola tricolor, for example) that I just leave be, and they help out. No nigella came back this year as self-seeded volunteers, the first time in ten years, likewise marigolds. I think the weird spring messed with them.

I'm sure I've forgotten something, but thats most of the report, and I'll catch up next week.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Meatloaf Story

I did not grow up with meatloaf, and so I don't have the whole "comfort food" thing there. I tried it experimentally MANY times as an adult, and hated it every time. I tried many recipes, some given by well-meaning people who insisted I just needed a better recipe. Hated all of them, and came to the conclusion that I simply didn't like meatloaf. And I was OK with that, it's not like I needed to eat it.

For some reason about 5 years ago, I decided to try again. It was a series of accidental things. I had made a huge batch of sweet and sour sauce for Chinese food. I don't like most sweet and sour sauces (too sweet, SURPRISE!) so I have, over the years, perfected my own. It's just sweet enough, but not like having an ice cream topping sauce, which the commercial ones remind me of.  I had a lot leftover, and for some reason, I don't remember how or why, I used this on a version of the meatloaf recipe Rhiannon gave me.

And I freakin' loved it.

So here's the meatloaf:

2lbs LEAN ground beef
2 eggs (extra large, or use 3)
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced 
1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs**
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 tbslp dried parsley
1 tblsp garlic powder
1 tbslp onion powder
4 large cloves minced garlic

All SMUSHED together well, and pushed down hard into baking dish. 

And here's the sauce:

1 tbslp onion powder
3/4 tblsp garlic powder
1 tbslp Maggi*
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp mustard powder
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar

Pour sauce over top, and bake. We often cook it in larger batches, and the time required varies by shape/size of container, but you'll need at least half an hour at 175C. 

This will SLICE, not slop. I mean, what's the point of a "loaf" that you need a spoon to serve it with? 

*Maggi is a commercial food additive which is mostly monosodium glutamate, a modern version of a seaweed extract from antiquity in the Far East, and is not the poison that some flakes claim it to be. Don't get me started. Still, some people claim to be sensitive to it, whatever, so a good substitute is soy sauce. 

**I use Aurora brand, there are other good brands, I don't think much of Pastene, but it's easy to make your own, just put some bread in a food processor, until you have crumbs. For every cup of crumbs add: 1/2 tsp each salt, pepper, parsley, oregano or marjoram, garlic powder, and onion powder, and a whole teaspoon of finely grated parmesan. 

Some more alert readers will notice an odd combination of Italian Breadcrumbs and Chinese Sweet and Sour Sauce. Yeah. I know. But I love it. You could always use plain breadcrumbs if the idea scares you.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Egg Separating in Four Easy Steps

I was asked about this recently and tonight we had to do some for a soufflé, so Tom agreed to demonstrate for a video. You are very honoured, because he normally runs a mile from cameras. Anyway, I hope this helps, seeing it done by a normal person (mind you, with Tom I use the term loosely) rather than a chef (although I would never be surprised if this one ends up cooking for a living......) to show it is not really as difficult as they'd have you believe. Don't be intimidated by eggs:)

Step 1: Crack the eggs as you normally do, but gently. Just enough to break the shell.

Step 2: Pull it apart, so that the contents are in one half.

Step 3: With your hand holding back the yolk, pour the white into a bowl. Some are more tenacious than others, you'll see one here that needed a bit more coaxing.

Step 4: Drop the yolk into a separate bowl.

There. What's hard about that?

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Broccoli Salad

You've all had this at a party, maybe you make it at home, but it's one of those things that gets varied a lot. Some of the time it's just because of what you have on hand. I'm going to give you the proportions, that I think are PERFECT, while showing just how varied the ingredients can be. Of course, after you've made it this way, you add more or less sugar etc. But for a first timer, follow this to get a feel for it.

First make the dressing. This is sweet, creamy, and vinegary. It's especially interesting because I'm a weirdo who dislikes sweet, but I have discovered over the years that if the sweetness is offset with certain things (in this case vinegar) then I find it pleasing. I wish a food chemist could explain this, but as yet.......

So, you need:

1 cup mayo (olive oil based is best)
1/2 cup sugar*
2 tablespoons vinegar*

It's important that the sugar dissolves fully, so stir well and prepare ahead of time.

Then you need:

2 heads fresh broccoli cut up very small
1 red onion, finely diced*
1/2 pound bacon cooked until crisp, cooled and crumbled*
3/4 cup raisins*
3/4 cup nuts, chopped small*

The Variations:

Instead of red onion you can use green onion or shallots, but red onion is best.

You can use walnuts, pecans or almonds, or to avoid nuts many people substitute sunflower seeds, it is VERY good, and this is a good choice for catering, when you don't know about guest allergies.

I have used dried cranberries instead of raisins, and it's very good.

In addition, a vegetarian can omit the bacon, and this will also cut down on fat/calories. I have also used chopped salami when out of bacon. Very different but still good.

You can use white or brown sugar, it will change the flavour a bit, obviously. Try white first.

I have used several different vinegars, plain white, malt, white wine, red wine, rice, cider, and even raspberry. All good, all slightly different, but try white first as it's the simplest.

So, mix all that together with the dressing in a bowl.

Make this at least a few hours ahead for the flavours to meld.

Questions? Here or on FB, as you wish.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


"Read Budget Savvy Diva's post on How to Get Box Cake to Taste Homemade! ( pinned to our Desserts board on pinterest) 
Read your instructions and add one more egg, two if you want it more rich. For the next step you use melted butter instead of oil and twice as much. Ditch the water and use milk! Finally mix and bake, it really is a huge difference that you’ll be able to tell by the first bite."


So, you buy an expensive boxed cake mix. Which contains sugar, flour and flavourings. Then, because it tastes like crap, you add more ingredients to it, to try to get that home-made taste.


Why not just, oh I dunno....BAKE A CAKE????

How Do You Spell......

I was reminded the other day about the spelling of certain food items. Usually these are items that have come from another language and when they started being used in English there was no real agreement. So several versions have survived. As you know me as a bit of a spelling nazi, you may be surprised at my attitude here.

There is no right or wrong spelling with a number of food items, there is just local variation. I will never remember all of them, so this list is not complete, but it'll give you an idea.

1. The one that reminded me. Perogies. Also: pierogies, pyrogies, pyrohies, pirogies, and more.

The Polish word is pierogi, which is a plural, and means "little pies", but they exist in a similar form in many other countries.

2. Kebab. Also Kebob, Kabob, Kabab, Kibob, and more.

The Turkish word is Kebap, but this is a dish known throughout central Asia and Eastern Europe, with hundreds of other names and variants. The word simply means "cooked" but has an implication of an open flame.

Shish Kebab (şiş kebap) is meat on a skewer.
Doner Kebab  (Döner Kebap) is sliced from a rotating spit.
(Shawarma and Gyros are similar)

There are many other forms.

3. Lasagne. This is an Italian dish, refers to the type of pasta (wide, flat) and is a plural word, but North Americans put an a on the end (which is actually the singular, i.e. one piece of pasta) because it looked right.

Etymology uncertain.

4. Kolbasa. Also Kielbssa, Kovbasa, Klobasa, Kubasa, Kobasa, and many more.

The Polish word is  Kiełbasa and simply means "sausage".

5. Ketchup. Also Katchup, Catsup, and others.

The Malay word is "kĕchap" - the word meaning "sauce", which in turn possibly came from a Chinese word "kê-chiap".  The tomato version was developed when tomatoes were first introduced to the Far East, and the word is now most commonly used to refer to this, although mushroom ketchup, and others are also widely popular.

6. Chamomile, camomile. Like many of these, it depends on whether you prefer the French spelling or an Anglicized one.

7. Chile, Chilli, chili. Likewise for Spanish.

8. Doughnut, donut. I have never found out for sure which of these came first, as I've heard so many versions, but I don't think donut is used outside North America.

9. Yogurt, yoghurt, yoghourt, joghourt, and more.

The Turkish word is  yoğurt meaning "curdled", and Turkish ğ used to be changed to gh when used elsewhere.

10. Then of course there is zucchini/courgette, eggplant/aubergine etc. and many words which are spelled the same but pronounced differently, including herb, basil, oregano, and so on.


Phyllo, fillo, filo.

3 ways of transcribing from the Greek alphabet. The first letter in Greek is Phi, which we have transcribed in words like photograph. Take your pick. Pronunciation is also optional. In Greek the Upsilon is pronounced ee, making it "fee-lo". But "fy-lo" is not wrong, just a variant. Once words leave their birthplace, they evolve. You don't have to like it, that's just how it is.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Baked Beans

Let me tell you the story of baked beans as I was told it. It may or may not be 100% accurate. But this is close to how it went.

Some time in the late 19th century a businessman from England was in the southern US, and met some cowboys who were cooking beans in a pot over a campfire and he thought it was interesting enough to take back to England and sell as a novelty food. There's no record of how they were cooked, but they were probably boiled with some salt pork added.

Baked beans were subsequently sold in cans to the very rich as something exotic, a delicacy from a foreign place. The Victorians liked stuff like that.

Now, as you know food evolves. Over the next century lots of things that started out as food for the desperately poor became far more respectable and vice versa. In North America beans went upscale. Good cooks added different flavours in different locales according to local cuisine, until it became a bit of  luxury food because of the long cooking time.

In Britain however it became mass produced as a canned food, and extremely popular as a working-class vegetable, to the point where it reached a level approaching "national dish" status.

While canned beans were also subsequently sold in North America, they never quite reached the same status.

When I was a child I was introduced to beans in two main ways. One was beans on toast. This was a quick light meal, very cheap, and a bit of a staple. I have given this considerable thought, and decided that it played the same role in Britain as boxed mac and cheese played in North America. When money was short, this was a common option, and I still joke, when we have a big expense "Hey ho, beans on toast for dinner for a month".

And just like the North American attitude to boxed mac and cheese, many people nevertheless developed a fondness for this poverty food. Despite eating beans on toast during my most broke days, I still like it. I especially like it upgraded to beans on cheese on toast.

But how I serve it now is usually with sausages or pie. Again, this was how I experienced beans as a child. A slightly spicy tomatoey flavour right alongside a slightly spicy pork flavour. Not a million miles from the North American connection to pork, but in a different way.

When we first came to Canada I had problems finding canned baked beans that I liked. Different market, even the Heinz ones were a slightly different recipe. I found they lacked the punch of the ones I was familiar with, so I stirred in a little ketchup. But over the years I have adjusted to the Canadian brands, and find the British ones a little bland. So either that recipe has changed, or I have.

PLEASE NOTE WE ALWAYS BUY THE "REGULAR" ONES. Not the ones with things added (blob of fat, etc).

So. I had heard of people making these from scratch. People raved about it as comfort food, it was always an old family recipe and so on. Food nostalgia, a very powerful thing. I thought it was an awful lot of work for a side dish, but it would be an interesting experiment.

I used a recipe for making them in a slow cooker. It was described as a traditional recipe, and had a long list of ingredients, which I followed faithfully with one exception, molasses. I don't do molasses. I especially didn't want these to come out too sweet.

After 4 hours they smelled OK, but not right, so I tasted it. Didn't taste REMOTELY like the beans I was used to. Wasn't nice at all. I suppose that only goes to show just how different modern canned beans are from older dishes.

I then set about trying to improve it. I added ketchup for a start. That helped but now I had left behind any ideas of a scratch recipe. I then added various other flavours until it was palatable. It took me a long time, add a bit, cook, taste, and so on. By the time I'd finished, what I had achieved was a pretty close approximation to a can of beans, if I say so myself, and it had only taken me all day to do it.

The conclusion is clear. I am better off buying them in a can. I tried making ketchup from scratch once, too, and found that just as disappointing and just as futile.

You may be shaking your head at me now, the person who advocates scratch cooking. But only a really hifalutin gourmet chef makes everything from scratch. I've even seen Jamie Oliver use ketchup in recipes.

What we're talking about here is not so much about cooking but about expectations, and to a certain extent culture. The idea of the modern British having a culture at all makes you laugh, but it's there, living quietly in older people and quite naturally, especially in ex-pats.

I have been teased, gently, by North American friends, for my love of baked beans, and a sort of purist attitude towards them. But I take no notice, as they all have something boxed or canned that they proudly love, or even eat with guilt, or make excuses for.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Oops Quesadillas

Some of you saw on Sunday that I was having foodgasms over the quesadillas my boys cooked for me. It was my Mother's Day treat, and of course, was not planned in advance. So when they asked me what I wanted, after the shops were shut on a Sunday afternoon, and I said "quesadillas", there was a short panic, because we had managed to run out of peppers.

The interesting part here is that it was Michael's fault. I'll tell you the whole story. The other week I decided rather suddenly to make jambalaya. I can't tell you why, but having decided that, I realised I had no red peppers, so I sent Michael to buy some. He came home with green peppers. Michael's hair is almost black, but he carries a blond gene. We had been talking about red peppers, but somehow he bought green ones.

It's one of my favourite foods, green pepper. I probably eat peppers 5 days out of 7, so I try not to run out, ever, and keep a good stock. In addition, when they are an especially good price, or in late summer when the ones I grow are all ready at once, I freeze them. Frozen peppers work just fine in recipes. But I currently have none in the freezer.

I now had lots of green peppers in the fridge, however. A good stock AND then extra. I should have frozen some, but I didn't.

When you have extra of something, two things happen. One, you remember this when you go shopping, and deliberately avoid buying more, and two, they quietly go rotten.

So, on the day we needed them, we had none.

At this point I'm quite sure that cooks from "down south" are shrugging. After I read up on quesadillas LATER I discovered that what we were actually having wasn't quesadillas at all, but sincronizada de pollo. Never mind that, you food purists, what I've called quesadilla for years, involves peppers.

But as we didn't have any, we used what we did have. So, the filling became:

Shredded roast chicken
Cheese (cheddar, because Monteray Jack is too spendy)
Black Beans
Tom's Spice Blend

With salsa and sour cream on the side.

Can I just say that I'm hard to please. I don't demand expensive food, but I do demand a certain level of perfection. These achieved it.

Whatever you want to call it, and feel free to get your knickers in a twist about nomenclature, it was very, very, very, very, very, very, very good. It was so good I want them done like that always in future. Please and thank you.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Macaroni and Cheese

I know some of you will say that it comes out of a box so why bother? If you like that stuff, you go right ahead and don't let me stop you. I fail to see what relationship it bears to the baked dish, apart from including pasta. It tastes WEIRD. But I didn't grow up with it, and have no nostalgic connection.

I don't make macaroni cheese (as we call it) very often, because it's not the most interesting dish in the world. You can add things to it, but it's just not a big part of my repertoire.

But last night we had chicken, cooked as is, and I wanted to do a fancy pasta to offset that. I decided it was a good time to do macaroni cheese. Add a few veggies and it made a fairly balanced meal.

I found Martha Stewart's recipe. Yes, her. It looked OK apart from a couple of details and it was exceedingly good. I believe it was my alterations they took it from "recommended" to really very good indeed. About as good as it's going to get, in fact.

And because I'm totally pissed off with American recipes assuming that everybody sells things the same way they do, I have converted the butter and cheese.

The recipe says it serves 12. TWELVE? 12 cats possibly. This was all gone when divided between 5 adults, and I had very little frankly. You know, if your portions sizes are designed for anorexic supermodels you probably shouldn't be including pasta smothered in butter and cheese in your dinner to begin with. Just a thought. Anyway.....

1/2 cup butter, plus more for dish (4oz)
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon  black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 bar 500g 1/2 lb SHARP cheddar cheese
1/2 cup parmesan
1 pound pasta

The original recipe called for nutmeg, and if you like it you go right ahead. I'll save mine for my pumpkin pie, thanks all the same. Some similar recipes call for gruyere and/or other expensive cheese. I am not that rich.

Also, Martha wanted bread cubes on the top. Yeah. OK. Whatever.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Snacks and Dollars

I was inspired to write this after reading a couple of things yesterday posted by friends. I'll try to make sure the tone isn't preachy because that is absolutely not my aim.

You are an adult. You are capable of making informed decisions. Some of these decisions are made within a framework of restrictions, such as limited budget, limited time, and the requirements of others. Nevertheless you are master of your own destiny, and I know, and you know, that when something is really important to you, you make sure it happens.


We all have to eat. We have to find a balance between affordable, enjoyable, and nutritious. This balance may require a bit of sacrifice sometimes, but tell me, why do we still, in this age of knowledge, see things like this:

And what are these twin obsessions with sugar and bacon?

If I voice my thoughts on how it might not be the best decision in the world to live on such things, I am called names. I am told that a treat never hurt anyone. No, of course it doesn't, but I think the definition of treat varies.

I freely admit that I don't care for sweet things, and rarely buy them. My son said to me last night "Is there anything sweet in the house?". I racked my brains, and suggested yoghurt. I think we may have some marmalade left too. I don't expect others eat as little refined sugar as we do, and while I eat dessert about once a month, I am perfectly open to the idea of those who want it eating it daily. But perhaps 3 or even more times a day might be extreme in the other direction?

And I like bacon, I have nothing against bacon, but once a week, a little is fine. I don't obsess over it. There is something I said I don't wish to be preachy, but there's a lack of balance when you are trying to get bacon IN your dessert.

Anyway, here's an observation.

When I was a child, you know, when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, we ate more boring food, but it was good at the time, we didn't know any better. The variety today is a globalization thing, and I'm grateful for it, but there's something else today we didn't have much of back then. Snacks.

In fact we saw snacking as a bad thing. We were told it ruined our appetites when "real" meals came along. So it was avoided. Now and again, as a special treat, it was OK, but it wasn't regular.

The one thing I had never come across was "late night snacks". That still blows my mind.

Now, it's none of my business how you watch your health. What is very much part of my aim on this particular blog, however, is how you watch your wealth. The whole Rutabaga concept is of eating GOOD food, for the LEAST money. The vast majority of snack food is not good food, it is junk, and it's very expensive.

When I'm asked directly, the easiest, fastest way to save money on the food bill, I will tell you - CUT THE SNACKS. Look back at those photos. A cart full of junk like that costs twice as much as a cart full of food that will satisfy and nourish.

If you have children, you will need to provide some small items between meals. They can still be real food. This is where fruit and vegetables come in, and of course yoghurt, which most kids will devour. I hear complaints about the price of yoghurt, and I agree with you. The 12 packs here are often $6. That's 50 cents per pot, in fact. Which soon adds up, I agree. But you can look for sale items, and simply substitute other things when it's only available at full price.

It's a bargain compared to some of the things I see people buy for their kids!

If you have a kid going through a weird eating phase, here's a tip I learned 30 years ago. Create a box of fruits, veggies, cheese, etc, and whatever carbs your kid likes, maybe cut up bagels or whatever, and let them choose from that.

While I'm here, one of the articles yesterday was a list of foods you could buy with no red dye in it. I admit I was baffled. If you care about one artificial ingredient, why not just avoid all of them and make your own food?

I repeat...if you want to eat bad food, that is your prerogative. But if you want to save money and eat well, avoid the high-priced manufactured snacks. They serve no pupose, they have no benefit. This is logic.

Saturday, 20 April 2013


I love a good meatball but have never been very good at them, they wouldn't hold together. I just gave up on the whole idea. Then somebody said to me "Why don't you bake them? End of problem". Yes, true, but I had lost interest by that point.

Last week a found a baked meatball recipe on Facebook. I'm going to post it in its entirely and add a few thoughts. You'll see my comments in red.

This Italian Spaghetti and Meatball Recipe is a little bit of work and takes some time. Makes me wonder how fast people expect it to be. Yes, creating little balls takes about ten minutes, but sheesh....It was well worth it. Yes, it is. My Family just loved it. I think we have Spaghetti at my House for dinner at least once a week. This recipe is just great. Because there is a lot of baking it takes a little more time. No longer than lasagne, or a pie, or a gazillion other things. You will love it! Well, we did.
Ingredients for Meatballs
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 Large eggs, slightly beaten

 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese We were out of parmesan so we used cheddar. Will do so again.

1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs

1-2 tablespoon fresh minced garlic or Garlic Powder to taste We used pre-grated in oil in a jar.

1 teaspoon salt We halved this. Most recipes are too damn salty.

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/3 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano We used a mixed "Italian Seasoning" for a more rounded herb flavour.

2 Tablespoons dried parsley

Directions for Meatballs

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

2.Shape into small to medium size meatballs, place them on a baking sheet.

3. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until fully cooked. They were perfect at exactly 25 minutes, wow.

While the Meatballs are baking prepare the Spaghetti Casserole Dish

We didn't bother with this step, just served buttered spaghetti, tossed the meatballs in heated sauce and poured over. But I provide this if you want to bake it. Handy if you have leftover pasta.

Ingredients for Spaghetti Casserole  1 (16 ounce) package thin spaghetti

3 tablespoons oil

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

3 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

black pepper (to taste)

2 (28 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce (or use your own favorite sauce)

parmesan cheese 

1. Boil the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling water until just al dente; drain then place into a large bowl.

2. Toss the spaghetti with 3 tablespoons oil; cool slightly, then add in eggs, 1-1/2 cups Mozzarella Cheese, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper; using clean hands toss until thoroughly combined (you can use a spoon but hands are better!

3. Place the spaghetti into prepared baking dish, then press down slightly with hands.

4. Scatter the cooked meatballs over the spaghetti.

5. Top with spaghetti sauce over the top making certain to cover the pasta completely.

6. Cover with foil and bake 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

7. Remove from oven then sprinkle about 1-1/2 cups Mozzarella Cheese (or amount desired) over the top, then return to oven uncovered for 3-5 minutes or until the cheese has melted.


Tom actually made this without any supervision, so when I say we I mean he:)

These are very good meatballs, and could probably be made even better. Fresh herbs, for example, especially fresh basil, would lift this up a notch. Using cheddar instead of parmesan worked extremely well. I will make them with parmesan, but will also happily do them again with cheddar. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


Today I'm going to tell you about Michelle. This is not her real name. Michelle is just the name I chose as nobody who reads this is called Michelle (I don't think). The person in question is unlikely to read this either, but you never know, so I've changed her name.

Anyway. Michelle and I were friends many moons ago when we were both young mothers. She was an intelligent, educated woman, and came from a rather upper-middle class family. I labour this point because so often when we discuss a situation like this there is a tendency to assume the person in question is compromised by social background/intellect and so on. She wasn't. She was a smart cookie.

But she couldn't fry an egg. When it came to the domestic arts, her skills lay elsewhere. She had a lovely garden, a beautiful home, and her daughter was well-cared for, but not fed well. I don't mean the child was malnourished, but she didn't get gourmet food, let me tell ya. Michelle couldn't cook to save her life.

I learned to cook at a young age, because my mother couldn't, and I like quality food. I had a cookery teacher at school who was a genius. She had a motley bunch of 11-year-olds and she turned us ALL into very competent cooks using traditional French techniques. I combined what I learned in school, with my own experiments at home, and then married a man whose mother couldn't cook, and made him a very happy man.

Michelle's husband was not a happy man. She admitted as much, and she asked me to help her out. Give her some recipes. That was how it began.

They never turned out right. Not once. She didn't outright accuse me of giving her bad recipes, but after a few times, both of us were wondering what the hell was going on.

Of course, as you can guess, we figured out what was wrong - she wasn't following the instructions.

You would think that an intelligent person could do that, but I am here to tell you many years later, after repeated experiences with this, that it happens all the time. I've even watched my kids do it, as they've been learning. They skip a bit, either deliberately (oh, that can't matter, surely?) or they just read it wrong.

So, let's look at two ways this goes wrong.

1. Unintentionally. Often in measurements, but just as often in the directions. Careless reading. My daughter once tried to make custard with water instead of milk. The word MILK was right in front of her, but for some reason, she used water. Obviously, this doesn't work, but at that point in time there was no "obvious" going on. The thinking part of her brain had gone on holiday.

It could be a whole line that gets missed: "Remove pan from heat." "Cover with tight-fitting lid." "Add more liquid if necessary." "Turn after ten minutes." and so on.

One way or another carelessness causes errors.

2. Intentionally. These are harder to explain. The recipe says "Stir constantly" but you decide you're too busy, so it sticks/goes lumpy/burns and you wonder why? The recipe calls for 4 eggs but you only have two, so the quiche doesn't set, and you wonder why? The instructions say "Use parchment" so you use foil, and have to peel it off bit by bit.

But my favourite has to be the substitutions that aren't. This was Michelle's particular area of genius. The recipe called for diced tomatoes, she'd use diced carrots. The recipe said sour cream, she'd use milk. On one spectacular occasion, after berating me for her lasagne being crunchy, she openly admitted to using meat without sauce.

Then at the other extreme, she could never judge how long to cook something for, so NOW she'd follow the recipe TO THE LETTER. The recipe said cook for approximately 15 minutes, but she'd take it out when the timer rang, whether it was done or not.

Which is all rather funny, except that even after we'd discussed it, and we knew what the problem was, she carried on doing it. Time, after time, after time.

I was actually there to witness the pastry disaster. I am not a particularly good pastry maker, but what I make is usable, and edible. Hers was neither. I was actually standing behind her telling her what to do, and she was ignoring me. When it failed to roll out (because it was too dry, and falling to bits) she actually started kneading it. The end result, it goes without saying, was packaging material. I hoped she'd learn from this, as we went through it afterwards, but she just could not seem to take on board the idea that you have to follow the instructions to get the intended result.

Years later I watched a TV show about really bad DIY, where people were ignoring instructions, that reminded me of Michelle. These (mostly) men were told to use a screwdriver, so they'd use a hammer. They were told to cut a hole with a reciprocating saw, so they'd poke a rough one with any old pointy thing, they were told to measure proportions of a compound, and they'd do it by eye, they were told to brace something and not bother, they'd be told to ensure a surface was dry, and ignore that....and so on. The end result was always bad. But they could never see where they were going wrong. So this phenomenon is not confined to cooking. I've also seen it with gardeners.

It's special kind of stupid. What goes on in their heads? Do they think they are saving time?

When I go to recipe sites these days they almost always allow review comments. You can ALWAYS find comments about it not being very good/not turning out right AND they often admit to doing something different. Which almost certainly means a lot of other critics aren't admitting it.

Maybe you are reading this thinking, "Yeah, I don't follow it exactly, but it's OK. Everyone does it. That's not why mine doesn't turn out right, the recipe is bad." Now, I'm not saying this never happens, but if other people are getting good results, and you're not, SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT. There are more of you out there than are willing to admit it, are you one of them?

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Back-Engineering a Recipe

All over the world are people converting standard recipes to short-cut versions. Instead of doing this. Half the work is done for you. Don't bake a cake from scratch, use this box, and add this, it changes it.

Well, OK, if that's what you want, none of my business. I find these short-cuts to be mostly useless. Often they don't save any time. They certainly don't save money. But the main thing is, they generally aren't as good.

Now, before you all roll your eyes at me, I'm not totally against cheating. If it tastes fine, isn't too expensive, and saves HOURS, I say go for it. But anyone who thinks that adding things to a boxed cake mix saves you a lot of time is deluding themselves.

My main objection to some of these recipes is that the cheat ingredient is either poor quality or really not good for you. Nobody eats healthy food all the time, not even me, but given a choice between two thinngs, that do the same job, why choose the unhealthy one?

So last night I promised to back-engineer this:

Lemon Delight


1 stick butter - melted
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cup pecans - chopped (reserve 3/4 cup for topping)
1 16 oz. container Cool Whip
8 oz. cream cheese - softened
1 cup sugar
2 boxes Lemon Instant Pudding - regular size (made to directions and refrigerated)


Making 4 layers in a 9 x 13 glass dish

1st layer - butter, flour and 3/4 cup pecans mixed together and pressed into the bottom of glass dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 15 min until light brown. COOL completely.

2nd layer - cream cheese, sugar and 1 cup Cool Whip. Blend until creamy and spread over 1st layer.

3rd layer - Lemon pudding (made to box directions) spread evenly over 2nd layer.

4th layer - extra Cool Whip spread evenly over 3rd layer and topped with remaining pecans.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Let's begin with a complaint to the recipe-maker about the stick of butter. That is no freaking help to those of us in place where butter is not sold in sticks. It's the usual Americentric rubbish. But it's a 1/2 cup or 4 ounces or 113grams. 

While I'm here I'll add that 1 cup of flour is 4.4 ounces or 125 grams. 

The first item there I will change is the Cool Whip. I'll eat it, I'm not totally opposed to it. But it really serves no purpose. Use whipped cream. It's cheaper. Don't pay for AIR, that's just silly. To achieve the same final quantity (volume) as 16oz container of Cool Whip, you don't need 16 fluid ounces of whipping cream. Half that is plenty. 

Now the Lemon Instant Pudding. When I've had a similar dish to this it was not the lemon flavour, and in fact you can make ANY flavour "pudding". There are two ways. Simplest first.

Pudding is essentially a commercial version of blancmange, and nowhere near as good. All you need are sugar, milk, cornstarch, and flavouring. 

Cornstarch is funny stuff, and can mess you around when you try to mix it. Always add sugar to it, and then just a little milk, to make a thin paste, before you add anything else.

Pudding 1

You'll need:

3 tablespoons of cornstarch (cornflour)
1/3 cup sugar (2.65 ounces or 75 grams)
pinch of salt

2 1/2 cups milk (1 pint or 1/2 litre)
1 tsp real vanilla extract

So, as I said, add a splash of the milk to the cornstarch, sugar, ands salt, along with the vanilla, then heat the rest of the milk, but don't boil it. Then add the hot milk to the rest while whisking, and continue to whisk while heating gently, it will thicken. So long as you keep whisking and don't overheat this (i.e. don't burn it). You will have a perfectly good blancmange. Flavour as required. This is the basis of simple CHOCOLATE pudding, simply add 2 1/2 tablespoons of good quality cocoa powder along with the cornstarch. Any other flavour can be made.



With lemon pudding, you are better making a slightly more complicated pudding, that includes eggs.

Pudding 2

You'll need:

1/4 cup of cornstarch (4 tablespoons or 1 ounce or 22 grams)
3/4 cup sugar (6.6 ounces or 187 grams)
pinch of salt

3 egg yolks, beaten together

2/1/2 cups milk (1 pint or 1/2 litre)
1/2 cup lemon juice (8 fl oz or 227ml)
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons melted butter

Start with the cornstarch, sugar, salt, and a splash of milk, then add hot milk while whisking as before. Now add in those egg yolks, and the lemon zest, and continue to whisk while it thickens. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and melted butter. If you want this absolutely smooth you can put it in the blender, but for pity's sake let it cool first, because if you don't you're cleaning up the mess, not me.


The second version can be adapted to any fruit, and is the better choice, in my opinion.

Please note the tablespoon is a standard measurement (15 ml).

The question that remains, is how much is equivalent to 2 boxes of commercial pudding? Well, how much milk do you add to the box ingredients? Compare that to the milk in these pudding recipes, and you can figure it out.