Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Celery, salad and soup

Whilst the flights might have resumed, the pause in air freight would seem to have temporarily paid off for local produce: I managed to get both domestic celery and spring onions for the first time this year.

The celery went straight into a cream of celery soup. I'm very fond of this soup, which Heinz seem to have stopped doing. It's a standard white soup (onion, roux, milk, stock) with roughly chopped celery in it. The longer you can leave it to simmer with the celery in it, the tastier it gets, although like all white soups, watch for it catching - especially if using household (ie dried) milk.

This was meant to last two nights, but we fell upon the saucepan and devoured it all in one sitting. So I had to quickly come up with something else to bridge the gap. This was leek and potato soup - again, just a white soup, with big lumps of potato and leek in it. Very filling, so this did go over two nights.

Sunday was a salad. This is where the spring onions come in. Now, celery is lovely in a salad, but having eaten all I could get in the soup, I'd none left and the Egyptian stuff has displaced the local stuff. Still, not having celery doesn't ruin a salad. Two salads, in fact, as I made salad niçoise for CJBS and a cottage cheese salad for me.

This salad spread well into Monday, with the addition of fish fingers (and fake fish for me) for a little change.

But now it's back to soup. I've got some potatoes and some cabbage leftover from the salad, so I'm going to make a cream of cabbage and potato soup. That should stretch to two days, too.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Eyjafjallajökull pie

The sporadic blogging continues, with my apologies. There's also less soup than you might imagine for a soup month.

Saturday was a rare, and expensive, Chinese takeaway with a marathon of TV shows I loved as a child remade to modern standards (Doctor Who: this episode okay; V: meh; The Prisoner: brain damage).

Sunday was fish for CJBS. This being sporadically available in wartime, we've made it sporadically available by requiring it being bought from the fishmongers, who have the most remarkably variable and unpredictable opening hours of any shop you could think of.

I made cod in breadcrumbs: blitz 6 slices of brown bread, add a chopped up slice of smoked bacon, a chopped tomato and a chopped onion, place the cod skin-side down on a glass baking tray, cover with the breadcrumb mix (pack it down a little) and bake in a medium low oven for 45 minutes. I served it with mashed potato and some steamed broccoli. I had fake fishfingers. No fat was used!

For Monday, I had leftover mashed potato. That suggested something pie, with a mashed potato topping. At the supermarket, I was able to get a large slice of braising steak for half the week's ration of red meat. So that's a steak and ale pie, I reckon. This type of steak is like leather, but it can be made tender with some work. First, make sure it's at room temperature. Sprinkle with some salt and a little garlic powder, then, with a rolling pin or one of those scary pointy mallets, bash the hell out of it. Turn it over and do the same. Then dice it.

I melted a tiny amount of CJBS's remaining margarine in a frying pan, getting it very hot, then added the beef cubes. When it has browned all over, add a chopped onion and let the two cook through together.

When the onion is cooked, add some gravy browning or gravy granules to soak up the fat and add a small glass of Guinness. Then add a chopped carrot and some chopped mushrooms. Stir it in and add more Guinness. A dash of Maggi or half a teaspoon of yeast extract, a stir, and some more Guinness. Eventually, just under a pint of Guinness has gone in, thickening and reducing all the time. Take it off the heat and cover.

If you've got enough fat for pastry, a shortcrust base is nice. I had pastry I'd previously frozen and I cheated by microwaving it back to being malleable. I lined a pie dish with it, poured in the steak and ale mix and then spooned the leftover mash on top. I forked the top of the mash, then brushed it with milk, then forked it again: this stops the mash being dried out, but also creates a crispy top.

Into the bottom of a low oven for an hour and a half (the meat really needs pampering) and bake.

In the meantime, I made my equivalent: a vegetable pie. I fried off an onion in a tiny knob of margarine, then made up a roux into a white sauce. To that I added a chopped leek, a chopped carrot, some chopped mushrooms and some of the leftover uncooked broccoli from Sunday. Let that simmer slowly (beware, it can catch very easily, so stirring is very much on the agenda) for 10 minutes, then put it in a pie dish and cover with mashed potato as before. Into the top of the low oven for 45 minutes and you're ready to serve both together. Which I did.

We're having this again today - there was plenty - so Wednesday will be my next soup. With the volcanic ash disrupting flights, Morrisons is starting to run short of the stuff I'm forbidden by the rules of the project from buying anyway. I'm hoping this means they'll source a bit more locally (no celery so far this year because it's all Spanish, Israeli and Egyptian) to increase my choices. Certainly I'd expect my greengrocer to go back to offering more local produce - they got sloppy over the winter with too much exotica, including stuff they could've got from just down the road.

If the ash makes for an increase in local food, I'm going to really enjoy the two weeks of soup-making. It'll be very nice to be spoiled for choice for once. Although they're talking about lifting the flight ban for freight, alas and alack, but there still might be a couple of days with fresh soup made from domestic ingredients.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Organising a pea soup

This stupid virus (well, it's now a bacterial chest infection, but I'm an asthmatic smoker so I've brought that upon myself) has slowed my cooking and blogging down to a dribble.

This is no use when trying to remember what I've made recently: my memory is dodgy at the best of times, but when ill I can (and have before now) forget my own name. Vaguely, I recall making a pea soup, although details are hazy (like, what day).

The pea soup was fun to make. CJBS has entirely appropriated both of our fat rations (cheerfully) but I snuck a spoon of his margarine and fried off a small onion and a leek. I made the roux with a small pot of single cream, made it up with stock and then added an (anachronistic) bag of frozen peas. I brought this to the boil, then took it off the heat and went to bed to feel sorry for myself.

The next day, I strained the liquid from the solids, blended the solids and recombined. Brought back to heat and served, this was lovely: sweet without being desserty, a lovely colour (many recipes require adding green food colouring - ignore them unless you wish to channel Fanny Cradock, in which case pick a colour other than green) and a fascinating texture. I had two bowls. Then I went to bed to feel sorry for myself.

The next day (no, I don't know which days these are) I didn't have seconds. CJBS went off to the late shift with tinned sardines, toast and the fat ration. I went to bed to feel sorry for myself.

Today (possibly), CJBS ate the rest of the soup. He tried a spoonful, then heated the rest up and ate it much in the manner of Cookie Monster. So it was clearly very good. I made myself a vegetable chilli, but picked at it and in the end gave up and opened a bag of Fox's Glacier Dark, bought on points. I've been craving aniseed for the entire time I've been ill and aniseed balls would've been ideal... but impossible to come by. These liquorice-aniseed boiled sweets are not the same thing, but they're doing for the craving nicely. I'd still like a bag of aniseed balls, though.

My policy is to never ignore a craving, especially if it is truly odd: I trust my body to know what it wants and to ask for it. Previously when ill I've craved blue cheese (I hate blue cheese) but a cube of it has been all I can think of. I suspect there's penicillin in them there veins (or equivalent, as I'm told I'm allergic to penicillin, according to childhood medical notes). A craving for aniseed fits this pattern (although I love aniseed normally... but, just to be contrary, dislike black liquorice and hate Ouzo and Pernod) and I've been obsessing about aniseed in my fever-dreams, so this is obviously going to do me good.

And it was worth taking the bag of sweets out of the sugar ration, even if it does put me back on the Camp coffee-substitute in a week.

Saturday, 10 April 2010


Soup month continues, albeit with some alterations due to circumstances beyond our control (and we apologise for the disruption this may cause to your journey this evening).

As previously detailed, I made minestrone soup on Monday. That was excellent and lasted two days. On Wednesday, I went out drinking, very early for me, with Scott and CJBS (and had a great time: must do that again soon), so I made up a stew in the slow cooker to be ready on getting home. This departs from the soup plan, but only slightly (it's only an unpureed vegetable broth, after all).

I've always loved stew, especially stew with suet dumplings. But suet comes out of our fat ration and that requires husbanding, so this was stew without it. A selection of diced vegetables, some pearl barley, a dash of dried herbs and cover with stock. On high 8am to 3pm, on low until we ate at 8.

That lasted two days as well. On Thursday, I started to come down with something virus-y and nasty. By the evening, I was decidedly unwell. Like a wounded animal, I'm best left to get on with being sick alone. I don't do sympathy and people floating around me looking concerned. That's lucky, because CJBS was away at Aintree, making the trains run on time by barking orders at the drunken racegoers there for the meeting that culminates in today's Grand National.

That means he needed feeding on getting home at 9pm, a time when I wanted to be in bed slowly dying. Fortunately, there was still plenty of stew left; but it must've started to look a bit dull. I thought so anyway, although CJBS was game enough to keep on at it. I decided to liven it up a bit for him by drawing on his meat ration. I bought a sliver of nasty-looking frying steak for £1.29 and did my best to enliven it.

This, first of all, means letting it get to room temperature. Then I gave it a good rub with salt and Worcester Sauce and heated a non-stick pan to very hot without any fat. The steak went in and I browned it both sides, then took the heat down and added, in stages, half a pint of Guinness and a few dashes of Maggi. That was all allowed to reduce until the steak was cooking in a thick oil-like liquid. I diced the steak, then added it and the liquid to the remaining stew, topped it up with a ladle of stock and put it on to slow cook on medium for 4 hours.

I'm told the result was lovely, and CJBS enjoyed it enough to have it again on Friday night (when, with no appetite appearing, I had salad sandwiches as a way of getting vitamins and stuff into me) but I think he's already picked out and eaten all of the (not very much) beef in it.

Having it again tonight, which would be stew day 5 and beefy stew day 3, seems dull. I roused myself from my pit and got him some canned tuna on points and made him a pasta bake - it can sit in a cold oven and all I need to do is shove the heat on 45 minutes before he wants to eat it, allowing me to retire to bed before he comes home (he's old-fashioned enough to want his dinner on the table the moment he gets in and this is as close to that ludicrous Ozzie and Harriet-style idea as he's ever going to get).

Pasta bakes are easy. You cook off the pasta until it's al dente - ie, not quite cooked enough - then make a standard roux. Add 90% of the cheese ration for one person (almost 2oz) and a small tin of sweetcorn (on points, but actually bought last month for the store cupboard and not used, so not drawn from April's points) and bring up with milk. Then mix the pasta into the sauce and stir in the tuna.

Finally, take two slices of bread and the remaining cheese and blend to make breadcrumbs. Put the pasta mix into an oven dish, spread the breadcrumbs on top and bake in a slow oven for 45 minutes.

I think my appetite may be coming back - or at least my ability to taste - so I'd like something strong in flavour to tempt me to eat rather than just refuel. So I'm going to make curried rice again, using some dried mushrooms and peppers I've got in, plus some frozen peas (in a complete cheat). Plenty of stirring required, but my racking cough can only help stop it from sticking by invigorating my stirring.

I'll eat early, what with Doctor Who coming up tonight and Ashes to Ashes from last night still to watch. That's after I've cleaned the kitchen (if I can drag myself up to do it; no, that's not right... if I can make myself do it) where, transferring a can of Guinness from the counter to the fridge this afternoon, I managed to catch the can on a nail and spray its contents through the entire room, across the hall and into the utility room. And spilt Guinness sets, so I better do something.

On the plus side, the whole house currently smells of beer, which is exactly what I've always wanted out of life.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Chunky soup

Today's soup is minestrone, or at least my version of it. Or at least I think it's soup.

I love my slow cooker (crockpot, I think they call it in the States) but I don't make as much use of it as I always think I'm going to. Perhaps because I work from home, I don't need to slow cook as much as I thought I would. Or perhaps peeling and chopping vegetables at 0730 doesn't appeal to me as much as I thought it would (and it didn't appeal to me at all).

But for this soup, I wanted to try it in the slow cooker, mainly in order to give me a Bank Holiday devoted entirely to the internet and the TV. So yesterday, whilst making bubble and squeak, I also baked half a dozen tomatoes. A quick blast in the blender, a glass of wine in the resulting mix and into the slow cooker. Two diced potatoes, some dried peppers, some "soup mix" (dried beans, lentils and barley) and a little bit of macaroni.

A little bit? I'll come to that. This morning, I switched the slow cooker on to medium and walked away. Slow or not, the cooking smells filled the house quickly, so it all seems to be going well. Then I glanced at the bag of pasta. Hmmm, a little bit of pasta? No, quite a lot, actually. Still, the soup looked fine and I'm mindful of the instructions to never remove the lid during cooking. But I never listen to instructions anyway. A brief stir revealed minestrone-flavoured pasta bake.

This wasn't thick soup, this was pasta and potatoes with a thin covering of tomato water. The pasta and potatoes had sucked all the moisture out of the sauce. This is easily solvable, I just added a couple of pints of stock - yes, pints - and gave it a good stir. Back on to medium until we eat it tonight. I'm assuming the macaroni - since each tube is now the size of a finger - can't soak any more water up, so all will now be fine.

So now I can get back to that whole internet-and-TV thing I've got going: more so, now that I've connected the internet to the new TV and can watch the BBC iPlayer or SeeSaw from the comfort of my own living room. I may never emerge from there again.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Parsnips, bacon, chips, peas and chow mein

This soup lark is working really well, despite having the same meal for two days running each time. But a bit of cheat now kicks in.

Tonight I'm making a parsnip soup. Now, I loathe parsnips. They're horrible. So this is an excuse for me to have my monthly portion of chips, with mushy peas. Which CJBS thinks are horrible, so it's a fair exchange.

Since this soup isn't for a vegetarian and CJBS is due some of his meagre bacon ration, I'm going to do a bacon and parsnip soup. This just adds bacon at the frying stage of the roux, plus a carrot for the colour. A little bit of evap, on points, makes it into a cream of parsnip soup.

Tomorrow is a very special day: Doctor Who is back on and we promised to celebrate with our first Chinese takeaway this year. Britain's Chinese population have been here almost as long as our Asian population, but whilst the white British took to Indian food very quickly, they were slower to embrace Chinese (more precisely, Cantonese) cookery.

There is an exception to this: Merseyside. Here, Chinese food became a normal part of the diet early on, perhaps because the port of Liverpool, formerly being so huge, has long made the area very cosmopolitan (despite the poverty, of which there is a frighteningly large amount, Merseyside has very good 'race relations' - racism does exist, but not in the confrontational style seen in such dumps as Dagenham or Blackburn) and the people have historically been quick to adopt 'foreign' food.

The vast majority of the fish and chip shops on Merseyside are British Chinese owned and operated, a fact that surprises people from other areas (for some reason). Chinese food got in through the back door because of this: selling fish and chips, but also offering rice, then noodles, then stir fries... and soon Merseysiders were commonly buying fish and chips with chow mein and fried rice in the same way other Brits ask for fish and chips and a battered sausage.

From there, it's a short journey to Chinese sit-down restaurants without the fish and chips, of which Liverpool has a number worth visiting (and it always pleases me no end to see people making their way from Argos and Primark, laden with cheap shopping, stopping for a quick lunch of sweet and sour chicken and some prawn toast before getting a bus back to their terraced house).

All of this is a long way of saying that tomorrow's dinner is not anachronistic to World War II eating habits, at least locally. But normal service will be resumed on Sunday, where it's that old standby bubble and squeak, with a week of soups to start again on Monday. I'm thinking Minestrone, made in my slow cooker...