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.