Monday, 2 November 2009

Climbing a Jacobs Ladder to Heaven

Recently my lover and partner Julie aka Sweetness and Light  was bemoaning the lack of good local shops in her post starting "Supermarkets ........". This is something that I could become a "moaning old git" over, a great loss from our highstreets; Butchers, bakers, green grocers and fish mongers replaced by Estate agents, charity shops and chain stores. Lets be honest does every town and village (and out of town retail estates) need a Next outlet, THEY ALL SELL THE SAME DAMNED THING.

Anyway, where do you find a good local food shop. Fortunately here in Durham we have an indoor market, and it does have a good Butcher, Baker, Fishmonger, Fruit and Veg. stall, and a host of other fine shops. Thinking about it, most town markets still have good local traders, who are so very helpful and courteous, (perhaps they have a hidden agenda! Could it be they want you to come back again?), and seem to fall over themselves to give you just what you want. Refreshing, when you remember that , Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, etc. give you what they want you to have.

My market butcher, Norman of Piper's, will never get rich feeding Julie and I, for a start there are only 2 of us, Zak is on a special dog food diet, and we do eat a very mixed diet where meat forms no more than 30% of our main meal ingredients. We also eat a lot of vegetarian meals and fish. So we only spend an average of £10 a week.

So why does he seem to bend over backwards to be so helpful? I recently asked someone in Tesco's (yes unfortunately I do have to use them, some shops, General Grocers have completely dissapeared) where the Strong bread flower was, grudgingly a hand was waved down the store " aisle 15" with a tone implying that I was stupid. Aisle 15 was Juices and Breakfast cereals. I asked Norman, if he had real beef suet, "Oh sorry, we haven't got any, but I can get it for next week, How much do you want, a couple of kilo's" This if for a few pennies a kilo!
On our butchers stall I found a joint I had never seen before, the Jacobs Ladder, a beef joint, from the end of the rib, with the ribs still attached, I think this is what in America is called short rib, a popular joint. I know that beef on the bone is the best for flavour, and this had a lovely layer of creamy fat, looked very full of promise. Norman told me it was great for either slow roasting or cooking in a pot (casserole). I fancied a lovely roast, so that is what I am going to do. I think it is odd, my belief is that America is the home of the big supermarket, yet they do seem to have a range of meats that we don't have.

I like to take meat out of the fridge for at least a couple of hours before I start cooking. I like seasoning meat with coarse pepper and sea salt, I think it brings out a great flavour. As I was going to slow cook it, I decided to let it sleep in the company of some Veggies, onions, carrots, a few whole cloves of garlic and a couple of sprigs of thyme.

I popped the meat on top, bones down and put on the lid. I wanted to cook it for a long time so put it in the oven at 120C/250F/ gas mark 1/2.

After about 31/2 hours I wanted to cook my roast potatoes, so I turned it up to 200C/400F/gasmark 6, took the lid off and let the meat crisp up for about half an hour.

I put the meat in a dish to rest for 20 minutes while I made the gravy and finished off the roast potatoes. I do very much as my mum did, put a tablespoon of plain flour into the casserole with the veg. browned it over the heat on the stove top, then added about half a pint of stock (my mum always used the veg. cooking water) , brought to the boil to thicken.
Mum didn't have a hand blender (don't think they had been invented in the 1960's), but I blend all the veg in the casserole to make a sauce, adding a bit more stock as it was quite thick

It looked good on the plate with some broccoli, home grown carrots and roast potatoes

As you can see it didn't go down that well, (I have only one bone because Zak begged the other)

Actually it was a little chewy, not badly, but the taste was out of this world, real, real beef. There was gravy left over, Julie ate this the next day, sliced on a sandwich, no, honest!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

What to do with a large cabbage

Recently I was the recipient of a large cabbage. Julie's sister, Miriam, had opened the door one morning and found the beast on the step, although not expected it was a gift from a well wisher. Well it was large, weighing in at 12 pounds, and while not a Guinness book of records entrant, it was non the less a daunting task for any cabbage cook. Any way Miriam decided that it was too much for her and donated it in my direction.

Well I do love cabbage, boiled, steamed, stir fried, stuffed (Julies speciality) or just plain raw; but this was a big 'un. One thing I have always likes was sauerkraut, the tangy European delicacy also well beloved of the North Americans. However legends or requiring barrels and vast amounts of greens had put me off. Any way I started searching on the Internet to see if I could find some ideas and came up with this site Kitchen Gardner's International.

So this is what I did.

  • I dug out of the shed a 3 gallon plastic brewing bucket, I don't think you would get away with anything less although that does depend on the size of your cabbage! But it must be food safe! This I washed well and sterilised with boiling water.

  • I found a round plate that was a reasonable close fit to the bucket, and a 1 Gallon Demijohn jar which I washed and filled with water

  • I removed the outer leaves from the cabbage, cut it into quarters (not as easy as it sounds), trimmed out the hard core, and shredded each into 2-4 mm slices (needs a large , sharp knife and a degree of concentration)

  • As each shredded quarter was added to the bucket i sprinkled 2 oz of salt over and pressed down as well as I could. This I repeated with the other 3 pieces, salting and pressing down each layer

  • I put the plate on top, the demijohn weight on that, covered it with a cloth and put it in the corner of the kitchen.

I left this for 24 hours, after which I took a peek, the instructions said, if there wasn't a layer of liquid covering the cabbage add brine (2oz salt to pint of water) to cover the plate. I needed to add 2 pints too mine. This I left alone to do it's thing. About 4 or 5 days later i came down in the morning to a terrible smell in the kitchen, a mix of bad egg and 8 pint flatulence. I lifted the cloth to find a crusty layer on the top of the cabbage water. Now it did say in the instructions that I could remove this, but I didn't want to interfere.

A few days later, about a week after starting the smell decreased and i took a sneak taste from the bucket. It was slightly sharp, salty crunchy cabbage! So far so good! I left it another week, tasting every day, well you have too don't you? At the end I had, really fresh tasting, well sauerkraut.

Two weeks later I am still eating it, it has been served Au naturel, cooked in soup, with potatoes and cream and in sandwiches, even Julie likes it, and my family had it as an accompaniment to a roast at the weekend.

Making sauerkraut is that easy, it does smell, I don't think too bad, but Julie doesn't agree with me on that. Guess if you have a utility room it could be a better option.

But it is easy, it is very good and the web site says it is good for me as well!

This is the site, very informative with an explanation for it all.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Curried Parsnip Soup

The thing I love about this time of year is I get to make loads of soups, stews and other warming wonderful fare. I think if I were rationed to one type of food it would have to be soup, it can be infinitely varied from clear and thin through to thick almost like a stew. As well can be hot or a refreshingly chilled for a summer day, and even sweet and fruity.

Parsnips are a vegetable I had a love hate relationship with, for years I hated them so much I loved avoiding the horrible things at any cost. I would like to blame my mother for loading my plate with mushy boiled specimens, but in fact I think it was the opposite, we simply never had them. When I was first faced with a parsnip it was charred black alongside roast potatoes, obviously something to be shoved off the edge of the plate; and so it went for years.

I first tasted this soup from the Covent Garden range, and loved it, it's been a favorite for those chilly days ever since.

This is how I make it for about 4 big bowls
  • lump of butter, or glug of oil (how much depends if you are fat conscious or not)
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic crushed or chopped fine

Melt butter or heat oil in a large pan, add onion and garlic and let is cook slowly, a bit less than what you would call frying, after 2 or 3 minutes add

  • medium potato (about 3 inch diameter) peeled and diced
  • 3 parsnips (about 6 inches long!) peeled and diced

and let them sizzle for a few minutes, you don't want anything to brown, if it starts to, take the pan off the heat, turn down the cooker, and stir the mix in the pan too stop it sticking and burning. Then add

  • dessert spoon of mild Madras curry powder (more or less, depends on how you like it, if you find it's not curry enough next time add a bit more, if its too much add some cream or extra stock, or pour it over rice as a curry and next time put less in)

Let the mixture cook for a minute or two then add

  • about a pint of stock, I use the Marigold Swiss Vegetable Vegan Bouillon Reduced Salt. But you can use what you want, either home made, veg, chicken anything, but watch out because some are very salty!!

Bring to a slow simmer, and cook until the veg. are soft, should be no more than 20 minutes

Now you have a choice, you can eat it lumpy as it is, bang it in a blender, use a hand blender, or mash it with a potato masher (sieve out the veg and put in a bowl first, then add back to the soup), and have it either smooth and velvety or rough and chunky. But which ever taste it and decide if it needs salt, pepper or throwing in the bin.

I add dash of cream, but that's because I can.

I love it and so does Julie, it's warming, filling and really easy, I use a pressure cooker and the whole thing takes only 20 minutes, but that's because I am really impatient and have one.

I would give you a picture of what it looks like but its just a bowl of pale orange, looks a lot less interesting than it is.

Tip. When you get a clove of garlic it can be difficult to get the fine skin off. I trim off the flat rooty end, put the clove on the chopping board, place the flat of a wide knife blade on it and give it a thump with my fist on the blade above the garlic clove. Not hard enough nothing happens, too hard and it almost disappears and just right the clove will squash slightly and the skin will fall off. Practice.