Not quite the Good Life, but it’s a start…

Aside from a bit of baking to help me relax I’ve been attempting a little bit of gardening. I have no idea what I’m doing at the minute, but I’m aiming for two things: one, some kind of fresh produce for myself – though in very small amounts as my back yard is tiny; two, British flowers that will not only look nice but attract any passing wildlife that has dared enter darkest Levenshulme. I’m hopefully choosing plants that tick both boxes simultaneously. Thus far: rosemary, red basil, chives, leaf beet spinach, mint, marjoram, blackberry, raspberry and blackcurrant. I also plan to attempt some broad beans and maybe some peas too, as well as extra hard-to-get herbs like tarragon and chervil, plus some wild flowers too. All this should add up to a lovely little oasis in a sometimes miserable South Manchester.

Thus far only the red basil has germinated, I shall keep you posted. Has anyone got any tips or suggestion as to what else I can plant? It has to be something easy to look after that takes up little space. Any comments are very welcome. Ta!

Everything you wanted to know about bouquet garnis but were afraid to ask…

Ok, you weren’t afraid to ask…

Not really had time to add extra entries other than the stuff I’m cooking from the Tome. However, I did come across this information in the very excellent book A Celebration of Soup by Lindsey Bareham on the subject of bouquet garnis – I usually guess as to what should go in mine, and try and match it to the ingredients of the soup/stew etc, but Lindsey gives an ultimate list here, which I’m reproducing – I’m using it as a benchmark from now on and thought you might like to know too… So whenever I mention that I’ve used a bouquet garni, unless Griggers is very specific as to what should go in it, it’ll be one of these and I’ll link back to this post. Hope it’s useful!

Poultry – stick of celery cut in half, parsley stalks, a couple of sprays of tarragon, a bayleaf, a sprig of thyme and leek trimmings.

Game – A sprig of rosemary, ½ an onion, 3 inches of pared orange peel and a sprig of thyme.

Fish – A couple of fennel stalks or leaves, a sprig each of chervil and tarragon and leek trimmings.

Meat – One clove of unpeeled garlic, parsley stalks, a bayleaf, ½ an onion studded with a few cloves and a sprig of time. (I’m also adding a spring of sage with pork and rosemary with lamb).

#139 Bakewell Pudding

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve got quite a lot on at the minute – the main ball-ache being that I’ve been in work almost everyday over the last few weeks including weekends. Therefore, on Saturday after a big lab sesh, I really felt the need to do some baking, so for pudding on Saturday evening I plumped for the Bakewell Pudding. Don’t be getting this confused with a Bakewell tart – they are similar, but with important differences: Bakewell tarts have a pastry base, a thin layer of cherry jam, frangipane, and then a covering of icing with a cherry on top. A Bakewell pudding, pastry, raspberry jam, then a layer of egg custard mixed with ground almonds (in fact, in days of yore, there would have been no almonds at all, so the emphasis is definitely on the egg custard). These may not seem like important differences, and they are not, but just pointing them out for any pernickety people out there who like their factoids.

Anyways, have a go at this pudding – serve it warm or cold. Griggers doesn’t mention cream when serving it or anything like that, but I can’t imagine it would do any harm!

Start by making a sweet shortcrust pastry – I made mine from 6 ounces of plain flour, 2 ounces of icing sugar, 4 ounces of butter and a little milk. Griggers says to line an 8 inch tart tin with the pastry, but I found that there was mixture left over, so make it in a 9 inch tin if you have one – alternatively make additional mini ones as I did! Once lined, spread over a thin layer of raspberry jam – not too much, a good dessert spoonful will do it.

Now make the main filling: gently melt 4 ounces of unsalted butter in a pan and leave to cool. Then beat or whisk together 4 eggs with 4 ounces of caster sugar until creamy and frothed up (use an electric whisk/beater, unless you like doing it by hand). Slowly pour in the butter and mix gently before folding in 4 ounces of ground almonds with a metal spoon. Pour the mixture into the case and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the filling has set, at 200-220⁰C.

#139 Bakewell Pudding – 7/10. A real homely comforting pudding/tart, very sweet and moist. It reminded me of the cakes my mum used to make when I was little – I think hers was coconut rather than almonds, but the effect is pretty much the same. Really nice with a cup of tea or a glass of milk.

#138 Cheese Souffle

For the last few weeks, I’ve been dreaming about soufflés – I don’t know why but I had a real hankering. I hope I’m not pregnant. Luckily for me Lady Grigson always obliges – there are loads of soufflé recipes in English Food. Obviously the soufflé does not have English roots, but up until recently, they were pretty popular – particularly in the 1970s and 1980s when English Food was written. They do have a bit of a reputation for being tricky little devils – I had only cooked one once before when I was about 10 – I remember it completely sinking, but being delicious.

I like one comment Jane makes about soufflés when they are ready to come out of the oven:
…it is better to have everyone sat at table. In a properly trained household, the cry of ‘Souffle!’ should have the same effect of assembly as ‘Fire!’

We loves her.

FYI: the soufflé was invented in the late eighteenth century – around 1782, but the first recipes didn’t not appear until 1813, when several were published in Louis Ude’s The French Cook of 1813. The idea being they were cheap as they are essentially just eggs and air with some kind of flavouring so they were a good meal the common man.

This cheese soufflé feeds between 2 and 4 people depending upon how greedy they are. There’s a couple of stages, but they’re pretty straight-forward and not as tricky as people seem to make out:

First of all make sure you have a soufflé dish (or similar) that has a capacity of around 2 ½ pints and grease it with butter, then preheat the oven to 200°C. Next, heat ½ pint of milk to just below boiling point and melt 2 ounces of butter in another (decent-sized) saucepan and add 1 ½ ounces of flour to it. Allow to cook for a minute, take off the heat, and add the boiling milk. Whisk well to form a smooth sauce and then incorporate 4 large egg yolks, one at a time. Mix in 3 ounces of Cheddar (or Lancashire) cheese and season with salt, pepper and Cayenne (which I forgot!). Put back on a low heat and stir until all is nice and smooth. Easy-peasy thus far.

Next, whisk 5 large egg whites together with a pinch of salt until they reach the stiff-peak stage – you should be able to upturn the bowl without any of the contents to fall out. Take a tablespoon of the whites and mix it in to the cheesy sauce to slacken the mixture, then tip in the rest, folding the whites in carefully with a metal spoon until incorporated. You need to do this with minimal stirring, so don’t worry if there’s a few specks of white knocking around. Stir in a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese and pour/spoon the mixture into the soufflé dish. Lastly, sprinkle over another tablespoon of Parmesan and a tablespoon of stale breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes – do not on any account open the oven door until the time is up. Serve straight out of the oven with a nice green salad.

#138 Cheese Soufflé – 8.5/10. This was really nice, and definitely English – just like Chicken Tikka Masala become part of our cuisine more recently. The top was very crisp and the centre was just cooked and extremely light. We wolfed it down. Bring on the other ones, I say – but which to do next..? You have to make sure everything is ready – salad dressed, plates laid out etc – otherwise as it does collapse, but I have to say, not that much. All I have to say is – give it a go if you’ve never made one, it’s no way near as tricky as I thought it would be.

#136-137 Sponge Cake II and Butter Cream I

April has not been a bumper Grigson month like March was. This is due to the fact I am uber-busy with my PhD work at the minute, plus I’m doing the tiling in the kitchen too which does not help. No indeedy. Anyways, enough of the excuses… A kick up the arse came from the fact I had to provide a cake for the Dictyostelium group lab meeting, so I thought I’d do something straightforward – a sponge cake with butter cream. Great stuff; they have separate recipes in the book, so it would be two Grigsons with one stone. There are two recipes for sponge cakes and two for butter cream in English Food and I have already attempted one of each (see here and here), although in a funny order as you can see – this is because the Butter Cream I required a sugar thermometer, which I didn’t have at the time.

Ok, here’s the cake recipe. A word of advice though before I carry on – do not attempt this cake unless you have either an electric mixer or a very strong wanking hand…

Start off by whisking three whole eggs together with 6 ounces of caster sugar until light and frothy – this took 10 minutes using the Kitchen Aid on full whack. Stop when the eggs have reached the ribbon stage. Whilst you are waiting for that to happen, heat the oven to 190°C and grease and lightly flour two 7 inch sandwich tins. Also, gently melt 2 ounces of slightly salted butter with two tablespoons of water. Once melted, leave to cool until at least tepid. When the eggs are whisked, gently stir in the butter. Now fold in 4 ounces of self-raising flour by sieving a small amount in at a time and gently folding it in with a metal spoon to prevent the air bubbles from popping. Divide between the two sandwich tins and bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked – use a skewer, or whatever, you know the drill. Cool on a wire rack. Griggers says jam and cream is the best, or a nice butter cream, like this one…

The butter cream can be made whilst you are waiting for the cake to cook – especially if it takes two attempts to get the bugger right!

Melt 4 ounces of caster sugar and a tablespoon or two of water in a small saucepan. Once dissolved, raise the heat and boil it until it reached the ‘soft crack’ stack, or 135°C. Be careful here: use a very small pan – too large and the sugar overheats too easily becoming a caramel, which will ruin the whole thing. Whilst it is heating up, put two egg yolks into a bowl and lightly whisk them. When the sugar is ready vigorously beat it into the eggs with a whisk. The mixture thickens up as the yolks are cooked by the hot sugar. When just tepid, beat in 4 ounces of unsalted butter in small amounts until it is all amalgamated. Once cool, you can add all sots of flavourings – I went with some vanilla, but Griggers recommends plain chocolate or a tablespoon of slaked coffee granules. Just go crazy, kids!

#136 Sponge Cake II – 9/10. When Griggers this recipe is foolproof, she did not say it was foolproof and brilliant. The sponge extremely light and not at all rubbery like the usual Genoese sponge on account (I assume) the addition of the melted butter. This is the best sponge cake recipe I have used. Excellent – go make it right now!

#137 Butter Cream I – also 9/10. Griggers totally slagged-off the half-butter (or even margarine, heaven forbid!), half-icing sugar as essentially awful. Having a soft spot for that type of butter cream I was keen to see the difference. The difference is huge – I know it is a bit of a faff using the sugar thermometer etc., but it is well worth it. Once you’ve tried it, ladies and gents, you’ll never go back…

#135 Butterscotch Cake

I was a little bored on Tuesday evening so I thought I’d bake a nice cake for Cake Wednesday at work. I knew there had been no takers this week with it being close to Easter. Plus I’ve not made a normal cake for ages. This one is a variation on the pound cake – I’ve made them before (here is the blog entry) so I won’t go through it. The only difference is that caster sugar is substituted for soft dark brown sugar which gives it a richer, denser molasses flavour. The exciting thing being the butterscotch icing – I’d bought a sugar thermometer recently and not used it yet. I went a bit wrong with icing. Because I was in a rush, I heated it too rapidly before the sugar dissolved properly. Plus I accidentally heated it to the firm ball rather than the soft ball stage, which meant it went a bit too stiff. Hey-ho. If you try it, remember that slow and steady wins the race here. A little practise is required I feel. Any hints and tips are happily accepted!

For the icing (do as I say, not as I do…):

Slowly heat 6 ounces of soft dark brown sugar, an ounce of butter and two tablespoons of double cream until everything had dissolved. Now raise the heat and boil until the sugar reaches the soft ball stage using a sugar thermometer (turn the heat off as it approaches the temperature, as it keeps on a-rising!). Allow to cool until ‘tepid’ and beat. I’m not sure what it’s meant to turn into, but mine was a very stiff blob of sugar. I managed to spread it over the cake top with a wet palette knife and everything looked okay.

FYI: In case you were thinking that butterscotch doesn’t sound very English, but rather Scottish, you would be a fool (as I was). Scotch is a ye olde English word for score as proper butterscotch is hard and needs to be scored before it is broken.

#135 Butterscotch Cake – 6.5/10. I liked the cake as it was piled with dark brown sugar, so it could not be bad, but it was a little dry. I have a feeling that it was overcooked though – I still haven’t got to grips with the old fan oven and sponge cakes. I remember getting a handy hint from Anthea (a sometimes commenter on the blog) that you should put a some boiling water in a roasting tin and place it in the bottom of the oven to stop it drying the cake out. Needless to say, I forgot to. Oh well. The butterscotch topping was very sweet and very tasty, even though it didn’t quite turn out as expected…

#134 Mushrooms, or the Pearls of the Field

The male cook/chef that seems to appear often in English Food is one Alexis Soyer – he wrote a book called Shilling Cookery for the People in 1854. I’ve done one of his recipes before (reproduced in English Food) using oranges. This one is a method of doing good service to a large field mushroom, should you find one, as I did in Asda the other day. I thought I’d quote what he says about this dish straight from English Food as the language is brilliant, though the people for whom he was writing probably thought he was a right old ponce:

“Being in Devonshire, at the end of September and walking across the fields before breakfast to a small farmhouse, I found three very fine mushrooms, which I thought would be a treat, but on arriving at the house I found it had no oven, a bad gridiron and a smoky coal fire. Necessity, they say, is the mother of Invention, I immediately applied to our grand and universal mamma, how should I dress my precious mushrooms, when a gentle whisper came to my ear…”

This is what he did:
Place the mushroom on a round, or rounds of toast, depending on size, that have been spread with clotted cream (I had some left from the junket I made the other day). Have the mushroom stalk side up and spread that with more cream. Season well and place in inverted Pyrex dish over it and bake in a hot oven (200°C) for 30 minutes. He used a glass tumbler – to prevent the smoke spoiling the flavour of his precious mushrooms. It’s a good method, as it does keep all the mushroom juices in.

He goes on to say:
“The sight when the glass is removed, is most inviting, its whiteness rivals the everlasting snows of Mont Blanc, and the taste is worthy of Lucullus. Vitellius would never have dined without it; Apicius would never have gone to Greece to seek for crawfish; and had he only half the fortune left when he committed suicide, he would have preferred to have left proud Rome and retire to some villa or cottage to enjoy such an enticing dish.”


#134 Mushrooms, or the Pearl of the Fields – 8/10. I have to say, although he talks a load of nonsense, he knows how a treat a mushroom fairly. This simple supper dish is maybe the best way to show off the earthy flavour of those large meaty, juicy field/Portabello mushrooms. The clotted cream soaked into the crispy bread and also formed a rich sauce in the cap. Brilliant.

#133 Welsh Supper Herrings

After the creamy and rich oyster loaves last night, I thought I’d go for something a little bit more fresh-tasting and the Welsh Supper Herrings seemed to fit the bill. I chose herring because, like oysters, I’d never knowingly tried them except, of course, in the form of kippers. Herring are quite cheap as are most of the other ingredients so it didn’t break the bank. The odd ingredient here is the Bramley apple, but apparently it’s a traditional thing, herring and apple. First I’d heard.

Gut, clean, descale, behead and fillet a pound of herring – ask your fishmonger to do this, I tried to fillet them myself and was reasonably successful but was a bit of a ballache. Now mix an ounce of softened butter with a tablespoon of mustard made up from mustard powder (Why? Because Griggers says so, that’s why). Spread the butter over the cut side of the fish fillets and roll them up.

Next get to work on peeling and then finely slicing a pound and a half of firm potatoes – Jane recommends using a mandolin for this. Please, please, please be very careful here – I managed to slice a piece of my thumb off doing this last night so watch out. You have been warned. Don’t go suing me if you open a vein… Plunge the potatoes into boiling salted water for a minute she says – though I would do them for 2 or maybe even three (see below). Then slice a large onion and two Bramley (or other cooking) apples that have been peeled and cored. No need for the mandolin for those. Use a little more softened butter to grease a pie dish and make a layer using half the potatoes, then half the apples and half the onions, seasoning as you go with salt and pepper. Next, the rolled up herring fillets and sprinkle them with half a teaspoon of dried sage (Why not fresh? Because Griggers says so, that’s why). Then add the remaining apple, onion and potato, adding a brief painting on of melted butter to the last layer of spuds. Pour boiling water so it comes around half way up the dish. Bake for around half an hour until the potatoes are cooked.

#133 Welsh Supper Herrings – 3.5/10. Not sure if this was a bad dish or a bad recipe for a good dish. The potatoes, apples and onions were very nice – the apples especially lifted it, but the potatoes were not cooked after half an hour even though I blanched them in the boiling water. They were done after an hour, but unfortunately this meant that the herrings had cooked down into a mush not unlike cat food. So pretty disappointing seeing as I almost sacrificed a digit for it. Hey-ho, such is the nature of this undertaking…

#132 Oyster loaves

One of the least-explored chapters in English Food is the Fish chapter. The main reason for this is that I have the least experience of the foods therein. Being English (I won’t say British as Wales, N. Ireland and Scotland may be different) means, generally, the only fish you get to eat is white fish – cod and haddock. Though I love the fish I’ve tried, one thing we have never eaten as a family growing up in Yorkshire is shellfish. The only exception is prawns because my Mum likes them. Because I’ve never really tried the bivalves – cockles etc., I find them tricky to get my head around them – they look like something from a biological specimen jar and do not resemble anything else that might turn up on the dinner table. I felt an inauguration coming on, and “why not” I thought, start at the top, with the king – oysters.

I popped on down to the Arndale Market in Manchester, got some rock oysters for 70p each and an oyster knife for a fiver from the cooks stall. Hopefully I’ll get to use it more than once…

I thought I’d better not go straight in at the deep end with a raw squirming oyster, but instead get there by degrees. First step – oyster cooked and smothered in some kind of sauce with lots of other flavours. Second step – oyster cooked but by itself. Final step – raw oyster. Griggers was there to help, natch, with this recipe straight out of the 1970s:

This recipe is per person, so multiply up depending on how many you’re cooking for:

Begin by heating your oven to 220°C whilst waiting for it to heat up, open 4 oysters with an oyster knife. This can be tricky if using large rock oysters with big gnarly shells, but with a bit of patience it’s quite easy to get the knack for opening them. Give them a rinse and a scrub under the cold tap first and make sure you hold the flat side of the oyster uppermost and with your grasping hand wrapped in a tea towel. Use the knife to prize the hinged back part of the oyster open. Do this over a bowl so you can keep any liquor that escapes – very important for later. I found that placing a sieve lined with some kitchen paper filtered away any sand or cracked bits of shell.

Now hollow out 2 bread rolls by first slicing the top off and then scooping out the centre, making sure you don’t make any holes in the side. Brush the lid and roll inside and out with melted butter – about ½ an ounce – and bake for 10 minutes until crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, melt another ½ ounce of butter in a pan and cook the oysters for around a minute and a half until they are opaque and firm. Remove them and cut them up into two or three pieces. Pour the oyster liquor into the pan along with 2 tablespoons each of double and soured cream, and season with salt, pepper and 3 or 4 drops of Tabasco sauce. Reduce it down to a thick sauce, stirring all the time, and warm the oysters through in the sauce. Check for seasoning. Lastly, divide the mixture between the hollowed bread rolls and serve immediately.

“Feed me, Seymore”

#132 Oyster Loaves – 7.5/10. I really enjoyed this. I’ve heard people say that oysters taste of ‘the sea’, or ‘ozone’ or iodine’; I’ve never been sure what they meant by that, but now I do! The oysters were sweet, rich and very soft and the piquant, yet creamy sauce really worked well. The idea of putting them in a hollowed bread roll might seem a bit naff now, but you could serve on a circle of bread fried gently in butter to make look more with the times. One would make a really good first course. I am very impressed with my first oyster adventure and would definitely encourage anyone who is squeamish about them to give this recipe a try – it simple and not expensive.

FYI: In days of yore, oysters were considered food for the poor and were largely ignored by the posh. They were used as a substitute for mushrooms (hence steak, kidney and oyster pie) in many dishes as they were very rare due to the fact no-one had worked out how to cultivate them. It wasn’t until they became scarce due to loss of habitat and pollution that they were thought to be a delicacy.