Recipe-go-round

I’m old enough to remember the traditional British menu plan. Roast on Sunday, cold meat and fried potatoes on Monday, cottage pie on Tuesday…etc, etc… fish on Friday.

Try as I might to avoid this myself, I find, from time to time, my menu plan centrifuges down to a woefully small number of dishes. When I find we’re getting round to spaghetti Bolognese every five days I try to take action and spread my wings a bit. This week I decided it was time to try some new flavours.

I have special difficulty thinking about British recipes. I get stuck with a traditional Sunday roast, which really isn’t one of my favourite meals. I was impressed with the Hairy Bikers’ Scotch broth, and decided to try it out. It was delicious. The thyme and bay leaf gave it a really rich scent which permeated the whole house, and the lamby soaked pearl barley was sticky and gorgeous.

The lamb was soft and moist, and there was plenty left over to make some minty rissoles which I tried to give a real Mediterranean kick by serving with Couscous and my own version of hummus.

Then I blasted the tastebuds with a completely different set of flavours from Japan, with my Lottie Sushi, followed by the Hairy Bikers’ Poppy Seed Tempura with Soba noodles and dipping sauce. It was lovely – really different flavours! I particularly enjoyed making some ‘shichimi’ (ground chilli, schechuan peppercorns, sesame seeds and orange peel) for sprinkling on the noodles. Wow! The Japanese like their heat in a truly original way – in hot pockets in amongst lots of bland rice! It’s a digital approach to spicing – either on or off!

Tonight we’re having Tuscan bean and squash soup with Cornbread. I’ve never made Cornbread before, so that should be interesting.

I thought I would get this lot blogged for the next time I get stuck in a three recipe rotation. Life’s too short to be bored.

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Pizza Brixhamara

Pizza with Brixham fishing boat

The best of life in Brixham!

This is my kind of meal! Everything fresh, grown, recycled, found or gifted!

At this time of year, sprats are fished in the area. The seagulls know what time the boat is coming back in (how do they know?) and go out to meet it, so I was ready with my camera when I saw them flocking out to sea. Sure enough, within a few minutes, the sprat boat hove into view, complete with every seagull in Brixham in tow.

Actually, if the sea were warmer, I would be following the boat too, like a large seal!

We’ve been lucky and have occasionally been given a mixed bag of sprats, anchovies and herrings. And when I say ‘bag’, I mean shopping bag held under the boat hopper and filled with about 20 pounds of quivering silver beauties!

This time the herring were full of roe and I was able to have a delicious fried roes on toast for lunch, as well as a freezer full of fish.

Anyway, back to ‘Pizza Brixhamara’, which is more of an idea than a recipe.

My greenhouse tomatoes are still ripening – amazing when it’s nearly December! I had about a kilo, which I chopped and sweated with a couple of cloves of garlic and olive oil until they were well broken down (about 20 minutes). I pushed this mixture through a sieve. That’s essential at this time of year because the tomato skins are very tough, and if not removed they roll up and stab your throat like pine needles. Not nice.

I returned the ‘passata’ to the pan, added a splash of Balsamic and a teaspoon of brown sugar, and simmered until reduced down to a thick sauce.

I used leftover mashed potato to make two bases. I added 1 egg, then self-raising flour until I achieved a pastry-like consistency. This was the pushed and patted into pizza bases and cooked in a hot oven for 10 minutes. I then spread the tomato paste on the bases. I had way too much, so I put half of it on, then gave it a blast in the oven for 5 minutes, took it out, added the rest of the sauce and blasted it again for a further five minutes. These little miracles are VERY tomatoey!

Pizza base, ready to freeze

Pizza base, topped with tomato that has been reduced and double baked to make it even MORE tomatoey!

At this point I cooled one of the bases down and froze it for future use. To the other I added sliced mozzarella, fileted fresh anchovies and capers*, then drizzled it with some anchovy paste which I’d loosened with some olive oil. Whack it in the oven for a further 15 minutes, and serve. It’s a perfect mix of crisp, sweet, salty, and creamy, with a taste of the ocean. I always think I’m only going to eat half of it, but I usually go back for seconds and end up eating it all.

* Actually, my capers were pickled nasturtium seeds that I’d rescued from my hanging baskets. They’re not entirely successful this year, having a great flavour but being a bit crunchy!

So, a real taste of Brixham, which only cost me the price of the mozzarella (Sainsbury’s Basics, 41p). That titillates my tightwad taste buds!

Bottling battles

‘Why do your bottles have too much airspace at the top?’ says hubby.

‘I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to matter,’ say I.

‘Why don’t you process them in the pressure cooker, then open them up and add some more liquid?’ says hubby.

‘Because that’s NOT how preserving is supposed to be done!’ snap I. ‘You don’t understand the preserving process! You’re supposed to seal it, then sterilize it all thoroughly by heating it, then let it cool, SEALED, so no contaminants can get in.’ Grump grump.

Sometime later…

‘You did WHAT?!’ shouts hubby, with some alarm.

‘I filled the bottles right up, then put the lids on tightly so none of the juice would come out during processing, and you wouldn’t be able to complain that my bottles weren’t full enough.’

‘Don’t you understand the heating process? Things get BIGGER! You’ve probably cracked all your bottles because the pressure would build up too high inside them,’ grumps hubby.

‘No – I heated the bottles, lids and all the contents, so everything was as big as it was ever going to get,’ I replied, with a somewhat wavering conviction.

Sometime later – I slipped the top off the pressure cooker, with trepidation.

Yeah! I was right! All is well. Everything has to be really hot before you start processing with the pressure cooker, and I’m now working my way through bottling the huge sack of pears we picked from our dinky little pear tree.

Bottled pears and cook books

Bottled pears and a couple of my preserving 'bibles' - 'Jams, Preserves and Chutneys' by Marguerite Patten, and The River Cottage Handbook, 'Preserves' by Pam Corbin.

Can sauerkraut be ‘off’?

Can sauerkraut be ‘off’? How can you tell?
I’ve got a crock full of it here. It’s a strange concept – I suppose it’s ‘off’ to start with. After all, it’s just a bucketful of festering cabbage.
I need to examine some further concepts, such as ‘how can you tell if Stilton cheese is moldy?’, and ‘Gravadlax… mmm, tasty buried fish’.

Potatoes!

There’s nothing like digging up a good crop of potatoes. How does planting just one seed potato create a dozen or more of the plump little rascals? They make such a satisfying thump as they go into the bucket.

Digging potatoes

Digging potatoes - you never know how many you are going to get, or what size. It adds to the magic.

In the kitchen, home-grown potatoes are so well behaved. They fluff up to make beautiful, smooth mash. Their soft edges rough up evenly to make super crisp, golden roasties. I even pushed some through my ‘spiralizer’ and made potato noodles to add to a duck soup. They held together astonishingly well.

Even the best supermarket potatoes just don’t perform as well. Being grown and stored in slightly different conditions means that the individual potatoes don’t respond evenly to cooking. Hence it’s no surprise to get lumpy mash and roast potatoes where some are burned before others are barely cooked.

This is before we even start to consider the taste. Truth is, home-grown potatoes actually have a taste, whereas bought ones tend not to.

This year we have a fantastic crop. We’ve done some blind tasting and arrived at the conclusion that:

Picasso – best for baking. They have beautiful skin that crisps up like flaky pastry and creamy flesh that pulls the butter right into its heart.

Red Cara – very floury, and great for mash. It’s a great ‘gluey’ potato and sticks together for dishes like potato pancakes, or my ‘Burger in a potato crust’ recipe. Heavy cropping.

Valor – reliable and even sized. Excellent for all culinary uses.

Trouble is, what to do with them? Potatoes seem to scream out for lashings of cream, cheese and butter. Not in our house, unfortunately, because hubby is lactose intolerant. I’ve had to be inventive to come up with some ways to add interest to the bounteous crop. I’ve found some!

Potato Bread. This was an agreeable surprise. I thought the result would be really heavy, but it’s not too bad. It’s quite chewy and supposed to store for up to a week, but we haven’t managed to make one last for more than a couple of days. Must be tasty, then. It’s easy, involving substituting approximately one third of the flour with plain mashed potatoes. It titillates my tightwad tendencies by allowing me to get four loaves out of my 70p bag of Morrison’s bread flour instead of just three. Wow – a loaf for less than 30p. Can’t be bad.

Potato bread

Chewy and tasty - somewhere between ciabatta and an English crumpet.

Indian food has a wealth of ways for using potatoes with splendid results.

Potato parathas. These are fascinating and incredibly easy. A blob of spicy mashed potato is placed on a disc of thin flour dough, gathered up into a dumpling shape, then carefully rolled out into a pancake. It should be fried, but I paint them with a little oil (to make them less fattening! Yeah – right!) and cook them in the oven until they are puffed and golden.

I make samosas and saag aloo, too. I make my own thin pastry for the samosas, which hubby always complains about and says I should use bought filo. My home-made ‘filo’ is about a quarter of the price, so he’ll have to put up with it being twice as thick.

The Red Cara seem particularly gooey and floury, and respond well to being modelled up into a potato crust. I use the finest possible setting on my mandolin to make almost transparent slices to stick around a greaseproof lined chef’s ring. ‘Burger in a crust’ is new invention of mine that I’m particularly tickled with right now! I’ve filled it with seasoned raw beef mince, and cooked it slowly, wrapped in greaseproof (or ‘en cartouche’, eh?). Don’t you just love those dishes that cook in their own juices? Cornish pastie, pork pie… This one’s the same. Right at the end, whip off the paper and crisp up the crust. So far I’ve cooked it with a hidden nugget of onion marmalade at it’s heart (cheese would be good, too). I’m going to experiment with minty lamb mince with a blob of redcurrant jelly in the centre, and perhaps a pork, apple and black pudding medley. I’ll keep you posted…

Tomatoes not happening

I don’t know what’s wrong with my tomatoes.

I messed things up last year by planting them in too-shallow grow-bags, leaving the greenhouse door shut at all the wrong moments, letting them get bushy and out of control. By watering them twice a day and tending them as carefully as I could I pulled them through and had some good crops.

This year,  I’ve done all the right things. I’ve planted them in special tomato compost in good, deep buckets. They’ve been pruned and titivated at all the right moments. The door has been left open to let insects come in and do their work. The bottom trusses set beautifully, and we’re just eating those, but it’s all coming to an abrupt end.

The trusses on my favourite Italian varieties – Cuor de Bue and Costoluto Fiorentino – just aren’t setting. I don’t know why.

It's just not set

The whole truss hasn't set.

Cuor de Bue

Cuor de Bue. A lovely dense, sweet tomato. Early trusses have set (ripened, and been eaten!) but later ones just aren't happening.

A variety new to me – Harbinger – is setting perfectly, like a ‘how to grow tomatoes’ illustration, in the same greenhouse.

Harbinger - a healthy, productive plant

Harbinger. This one's doing all the right things, with full trusses busily ripening all the way up.

This deepens the mystery. If I was doing it all wrong, none would be setting, but it’s just the Italian varieties. The French ‘Marmande’ has also run out of steam after a glorious start.

The only thing I can think of is that it’s been fairly cold during a lot of the growing season. It’s been going down to 12C most nights in my greenhouse. Am I to think that the Mediterranean varieties just aren’t being fooled into thinking they’re at home, even under glass?

Any suggestions anybody?

My chillies are rubbish, too! Some kind of leaf miner pest; all the leaves have jumped off once and this is the second growth. I don’t think it’s got time to grow any actual chillies now.

Poorly chilli

Poorly chilli with miserable leaves. This one's been thrown out of the greenhouse to see if it can sort itself out before being let back in.

Bottling time!

Best bit of the year is upon me. Time to gather courgettes and French beans by the bucketful. I love the way you never know how many you are going to get. If you plant a cabbage, you know you’re going to get just one cabbage. Planting a courgette plant, you could have one or dozens (usually dozens!).

The only problem is that hubby only likes a couple of courgette recipes. One is battered and deep fried, with a crispy batter full of fresh curry spices. The other is fried with bacon and onion.

That leaves quite a few kilos of courgettes unaccounted for.

Then, why do so many French beans come at once? I’ve tried freezing them but I don’t like the watery result.

I can’t bear to throw anything away, so I’ve devised a few recipes for preserving them so we can eat them through the lean winter months. These have been evolved from the wonderful Margeurite Patten’s book of ‘Jams, preserves and chutneys’.

My own cook-in sauces

Dhansak sauce and Greek Beans, awaiting their labels.

Important points

  1. This can be a dangerous operation because of the enzymes in vegetables and the lack of acidity, so you must ensure that the jars are pressure cooked (gently) for 40 minutes, no less. Fruits, including tomatoes, can be sterilised in much less time, but vegetables must go through the full process.
  2. You’ll notice I’m not using posh Kilner jars. Firstly, they’re expensive. Secondly, the stoopid things are the wrong size to fit in my pressure cooker!  Amazingly, recycled ‘cook-in’ sauce jars work just great. I’ve looked into buying new ones on the internet, but they are colossally expensive if you want less than 30,000, and I can’t find the all-important tops with the safety buttons. I did experiment with some VERY cheap jars last year, when our Sainsbury’s was offering it’s ‘Basic’ curry sauce for a staggering 4p a jar. (We actually ate the sauces, though my original thought was to throw them away and just use the jars. Not bad….) It didn’t work too well because the jars and lids were flimsy, and I didn’t have a great rate of lids sealing properly.

Slightly acidic sauces work best, hence the tomato in the beans. The curry sauces are good with the addition of lime or lemon juices, and tamarind seems to have enough natural acidity to help out.

Potential disasters

I was experimental last year, and had a couple of disasters. I made a curry sauce with a cashew nut paste in the sauce. Delicious when made fresh, but cashew nuts really don’t like being tortured in a pressure cooker for 40 minutes. The result was a bitter mess. The aubergines stuffed with coconut, peanuts and spices and cooked in a tamarind sauce taste good, but look like bottled poo, so I won’t be doing them again.

Bottled, stuffed aubergine

Bottled, stuffed aubergine - tastes great, looks like sewage.

Please excuse the haphazard nature of quantities in these recipes. It’s a question of eyeing up how many veg you have available and how many bottles you think they’ll go into!

Greek Beans – so called because they are based on beans I remember eating in Corfu on one of my first holidays abroad. They were meltingly tender, heavy with garlic and oil, and some tomato. This is one of those recipes that probably tastes nothing like the original, but has been filtered through my memory banks and has popped out like this.

Vegetable dhansak. When you want a curry in a hurry, fry some meat in spices, cook until tender and then add this sauce for the last ten minutes. You’ll notice there’s a lot of spices in the sauce itself. It needs to be tasty and pungent to because all the vegetables will absorb the flavour. Also, the preserving process itself seems to quieten down the flavour, so you need to make it really zing.