November 14, 2012

Duck Soup

We fancied a ready meal and Sainsbury's offered us a whole crispy aromatic duck with pancakes and hoisin sauce for £9, which is only slightly more than they sell a duck for. It proved to be a bit of a bargain; as well as feeding us that night, I scraped enough duck off the carcass to make my son a duck wrap (using the last solitary sad tortilla) for a packed lunch, and the very last scrapings of duck and the end of the hoisin will go into special fried rice. The duck was provided in a really sturdy foil tray, ideally suited to packing up a pasta bake for the freezer. And that left the carcass, which got boiled up for stock.

I often plan my runs so that they end up in the market. This time I was looking for cavolo nero but ended up with some very lovely spring greens. I have a deep-seated conviction that winter soups are improved by greens, the darker the better. I googled 'kale soup' and turned up many recipes for caldo verde; a happy chance as I also had a big sack of potatoes and some leftover chorizo. I was much taken by the Hairy Bikers' recipe, which starts you off by drinking a small glass of port, but in fact I think Nigel Slater is more on the mark, with his suggestion that this is food for when there is precious little in the store cupboard.

This Portuguese website says helpfully 'it's not kale. The green cabbage you want is the one known as 'spring greens' in England. Splendid, because that's what I've got; I can see that it would be hard to cut kale as finely as is recommended for caldo verde. Even more reading persuaded me that it's not even spring greens, it's collard greens or walking stick cabbage. But spring greens are fine; I used the outside leaves of two big heads, keeping the sweet insides for another day. And I cut them very fine.

Slater warns against over-fussing with this soup, which slightly worrys me because my normal way with soup is to sling in everything in the fridge. But I stole one of his suggestions; as this was a main course soup, I added tiny pasta (adorable concligliette) like I do with minestrone. I doubled the quantities other than the chorizo, and I fried up the chorizo separately (and first, so that I could use the bucket of fat it released to cook the onions and garlic in). The duck stock was thick and rich and this soup was delicious. It generated five main course portions, but only because I made everyone stop eating so that we could have rhubarb crumble for pudding. So. Serves four.

Oh, and have some Groucho:

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2012

Pizza Toasts

I'm explaining to the kids that they'll need to be able to cook for themselves one day. Plus I'm only feeding two of us tonight. Pizza Toasts are a gift under these circumstances. This is a classic student dish, but it's still completely delicious.

Lightly toast sliced bread. Top it with proper tomato sauce if you have it, or passata, or tomato ketchup in a pinch. Add grated cheese. Top with toppings (in this case red onion, red pepper, chorizo), whack under the grill till it looks cooked. 2 slices of toast for a main meal, one for a light meal. I've just counted these up on My Fitness Pal and they come to about 350 cals per toast. Obviously you could use less cheese, or thinner toast, or have one and a half instead of two.

I think onion is essential if you're going to do this without pre-making tomato sauce (and you are, let's face it). But otherwise just about anything that you'd put on a pizza goes, and it generates about 80% of the joy of pizza for about 5% of the work. Though you probably wouldn't serve it to guests.

Posted by Alison Scott at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2012

A million ways to make coffee

Our Bodum electric Santos has, I think, finally given up the ghost. The last jug is leaking coffee into the electrics, which is sort of terminal. I have set up a zillion eBay searches to try to catch these, but still one sold the other day without my noticing. I haven't given up hope, though 12 cup Santos in good condition sell for more than their new value these days in the US. We do still have one of the smaller ones somewhere, tucked away for emergencies (like this).

This might or might not be related to my drinking at least twice as much coffee at home as I was six months ago.

In the meantime, we are going to try a Chemex CM-4, sourced from Has Bean. It will fill a sort of 'bigger version of Aeropress' niche in our lives, and people seem to like them very well. But it's not fire and forget like the eSantos.

Food notes -- a chicken & peanut stew defrosted on Wednesday; this hadn't been frozen for terribly long but had lost some texture so that the sauce was much thinner. It had been a very 'what can I make from stuff in the house' dish in the first place, nothing special but perfectly tasty. Greens Frittata with mozzarella and prosciutto on Thursday. I originally sourced this recipe by searching on things we needed to eat up, but it's very tasty and got a permanent place. Obviously the greens can be anything green, the mozzarella could alternatively be feta, taleggio, gruyere or even cheddar, the prosciutto could be ham or bacon or anything of that kind. In this case, I had slightly run out of meals to cook the day before the groceries came, but we had plenty of eggs and greens (rainbow chard), some cheap mozzarella from Lidl, and the last two tiny chorizo. It was very nice but didn't set in the limited time I gave it; I've scribbled digitally on the recipe to allow longer next time. We had it with some potatoes that were meant to be sauteed but went a bit soggy. They tasted good though. Salmon with baby new potatoes and peas and beans tonight -- I think edamame rather than frozen broad beans because I appear to have two packets and because frozen edamame don't have the grey skins. Looking at the BBC's minimal recipe, which I mostly saved as an aide memoire, I'm not going to microwave the salmon, so it's not going to come out *quite* as healthy after its run-in with the grill pan.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:04 PM | Comments (3)

May 19, 2012

Lunching on Loaves and Fishes

I reckon that you should count half an hour per day and a pound per person per meal (including breakfast) as the basic eating overhead for adults or bigger children. Say £84 and four hours per week for the four of us. You could save £25 of that by carefully eating exclusively from value ranges, or you could spend £30 more and mostly eat premium brands or ready meals. Either everyone can take a turn cooking or one person can do it all, feel smug, and cash it in against other chores.

Anyway, I very rarely account for weekend lunches when I'm meal planning. If we have a lot of leftovers then we have Leftover Roulette, where everyone grabs something. Plus we're quite often out, or we just have toast or sandwiches, or we've got up so late that we can just have a late breakfast. But today we'd just come back from playing badminton, where Marianne and I actually won a game against Steven and Jonathan; the first time since we started a couple of months ago that any partnership has won against Steven. He was, to be fair, playing left-handed. Mind you, so were we. A proper lunch was called for.

So. This was an onion, half a pack of streaky bacon that needed eating up, a fennel bulb ditto, half a bag of slightly sad rainbow chard, all chopped up and sauteed, and then finished with the leftover sauce from yesterday's Dungeon Crawling Pork and a couple of spoons of tahini. I had planned on pasta, but while the kettle was boiling I noticed a pack of instant couscous I found tucked away at the back of the cupboard, saving a few minutes and a bit of trouble. Perhaps fifteen minutes start to finish.

This was very tasty, but salty. Bacon is salty of course; careful readers will remember that the basis of the pork sauce was the packet of BBQ sauce that came with the spice-rubbed pork, so obviously pre-packaged food tends to be salty, and the instant couscous was salty. So next time I might leave the bacon out, for all that my family love bacon and will eat any amount of green vegetables provided they're cooked with an ounce of bacon per person. Or serve it with unsalted couscous.

Tahini, meanwhile, like peanut butter, is becoming one of my go-to sauce finishers. Obviously it's fatty. But I can't really believe that it's any worse for you than an equivalent amount of sour cream or creme fraiche (I use those too).

Posted by Alison Scott at 01:53 PM | Comments (2)

May 10, 2012

Kinnersley Castle

Kinnersley Castle is the first of the two 'Mazurkas' played by Mabon. I have it in the excellent Jamie Smith tunebook Tunesmith, which I'd recommend to anyone. Anyway, it's in the only partly melodeon friendly key Bm, but every note is playable on a standard 2 row D/G and most of the chords are at least approximatable. So that has amused me this evening. Target date for playing this out: perhaps July?

I thought I'd written a little this morning about dinner, too. We had Jonathan's parents' night tonight, so something cooked in advance was called for. Soup, then, given the duck stock. I also have fresh kaffir limes. First time ever, thank you Ocado, but they were very expensive (about £2.50 for two small limes) so I want to make sure I use them. Thai-influenced soup then, but without additional fat (the duck stock still had a little fat in it so I left that in rather than skimming it). I ended up making a lentil soup with the duck stock (perhaps four pints), a bag of red lentils (puy are more traditional with duck but I didn't have any), a couple of onions, several sticks of the Floppiest Celery in the World (thank you Walthamstow market for selling me celery suitable only for stew), and a couple of pounds of halved cherry tomatoes (also from the market). Flavoured with some indifferent red curry paste and the zest of one of the limes. This turned out very tasty indeed; the original plan was to add sliced peppers, fennel and courgettes when I returned from the parents' night, and perhaps some peanut butter, but the soup was splendid without it.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2012

Rendering a Duck

Ducks were half price at Ocado last week, so we had roast duck instead of roast chicken. And this one had giblets (quite a lot of my chickens don't these days). I roasted it on a rack, with loads of veg underneath (potatoes, celeriac, fennel, carrots, red onions, butternut squash, red pepper, garlic); I poured off the excess fat several times during the cooking, so I think I have enough fat for about four more lots of roasties. The skin was crispy but not quite crispy enough, and the meat was fantastic. I'd planned on there being leftover vegetables but I turned my back and they'd all been eaten; that's how much duck fat and juice had soaked into them. Oops. Next time ducks are half price, I'll roast in an empty pan and cook the veg separately with just the regular amount of fat.

We had red cabbage with it; the benefit/catch with organic boxes is that you have to cook what you get. Red cabbage keeps for ages, and this time I'd had one sitting at the bottom of the fridge until the next one came along. My children don't like it, but it's one of my favourite things, and the slightly sharp taste really goes well with fatty meat like duck.

Duck isn't like chicken; a good sized duck famously feeds three, though it's enough for 'just the family' for four; you don't actually need that much roast meat. When the kids clamoured for seconds, I pointed them at the carcass, figuring they'd do as good a job as I would of stripping it.

I was wrong. I threw the remaining duck in the stockpot without a second glance, expecting that when it came out I would have no more meat than would enhance the inevitable soup. But there was loads; silly me. Enough for a stir-fry and the topping for a pizza. I used to discard the vegetables from the stockpot, believing the chefs who say that all their power is used up. But then Allegra McEvedy set me straight, in a recipe for ham hock soup where she purees the stock vegetables and adds half of them to the soup and saves the other half for another soup.

I love giblets; I think of them as a sort of magic meaty lucky dip because they're always a bit random. No sign of a gizzard or kidneys this time, but instead at least two livers and what might have been a third liver or alternatively perhaps lungs; it was attached to the heart. The heart and neck went in the stockpot, but I turned the rest into awesome pate. If you've ever stared at a giblets pack wondering what you've been sent, I recommend Chicken Giblets: an illustrated guide.

I'd never made pate before. When you buy duck liver pate from the supermarket, it's often a bit insipid. I realise now that that is because actual duck livers or other duck offal are very thin on the ground (typically 20-30%), the excess being made up by duck fat, skin, random bits of duck, chicken livers, and who knows what all else. I used Delia's recipe, chosen mostly because it didn't involve chopping and frying an onion or shallot and so is very quick. I didn't use as much butter as Delia does so my pate was about 70% duck meat; the balance being butter, cheap cooking brandy, and spices. This made enough to fill one largish ramekin to the brim; it felt about as much as a small supermarket tub. It's amazingly delicious but actually, just the fried duck liver was amazingly delicious and another time I might just fry that up with butter for my lunch and forget about pate making.

Finally, the pate required clarified butter, and one website said 'don't throw away the curds! They're great on popcorn'. I will try and report back.

None of that will feed us tonight; we're having a fish pie. The fish was planned for a much posher fish stew, but a couple of ingredients didn't turn up, and besides, I couldn't be bothered. So. Fish pie; I put the peas right into the pie these days because that way people eat them. In terms of pie wars, this is of course not a pie; the topping is mashed potato and dishes of this kind are sometimes called fisherman's pie by analogy to cottage pie and shepherd's pie. This used up a couple of random pots of stuff; some leftover white sauce because I made too much for something the other day, and a bit of what I thought was mash but I think was actually gnocchi dough. If the mash ends up tasting like dumplings we'll know why.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:52 PM | Comments (1)

October 07, 2006

Squeezy Marmite

The tube is covered with ads for Squeezy Marmite. You either love it or hate it, with artwork of things we love or hate, mostly hate.

A typical ad:

I fell to thinking. Squeezy is the nickname of famed melodeon player John Spiers. And melodeons are the sort of thing you either love or hate, right? And it was ages since I'd given my Intuos a proper workout.


melodeon drawn in 'Marmite'

One slightly altered Squeezy Marmite ad.

Spiers is of course the melodeon player in Bellowhead, and the much anticipated album launch at Bush Hall last night was Just Fab. Victorian costumes in profusion and great music.

Posted by Alison Scott at 05:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 26, 2004

Buzz Buzz Buzz

We finally collapsed the dither function on a new coffee machine, though not without some added extra dither. The Bodum shop was selling the small version of the electric Santos, reasonably cheap. They also had a good price on the large one, but didn't have it in stock. So we bought the small one, and then spotted that the Starbucks right next door was selling the Barista Utopia for less than Bodum's reduced price on the identical large Santos. Some time later, we'd returned the small one, and bought the big one (and two grande skinny lattes with extra shots and two lollipops, which between them added 10% to the price of the machine).

This is an electric vacuum brewing machine. I've owned a Cona in the past; they make lovely coffee, but are far too troublesome first thing in the morning. Remember, we're the people who enumerate 'coffee disasters' for filter machines:

  1. forget to put water in
  2. forget to put coffee in
  3. forget to put filter in
  4. forget to put jug in
  5. forget to plug in
  6. forget to switch on
  7. put water in the place where the coffee goes
  8. put coffee in the place where the water goes
  9. put beans in the filter instead of ground
  10. leave the hopper out of the grinder so the coffee goes everywhere
  11. grind the coffee twice so the hopper overflows
  12. add the water twice so the machine overflows
  13. making coffee with half the water you intended to so it comes out too thick
  14. forgetting to empty old coffee out of the jug before you start
  15. leave machine turned on overnight

[EDIT: I forgot a whole pile the first time. And we've done each of these at least once, most several times.]

We have friends who use a Cona all the time, and who have an exciting history of coffee disasters far more spectacular than ours. After all, filter machines rarely implode, or fall off the stove spewing near-boiling coffee all over the kitchen.

The promise of the electric Santos is to deliver vacuum-brewed coffee with no more hassle than a filter coffee machine. The web offers mixed reviews, partly because of the original high price, and partly because this machine does not allow you to tinker the way that stovetop vacuum brewers do. But the biggest gripe is inconsistency of timing; and that's because this gadget is, at heart, an electric kettle -- and individual electric kettles vary considerably in the point at which they turn off. So you have to fiddle with your specific machine until you have the right combination of coffee quantity, grind, strength of vacuum seal and slope of kitchen counter. After which it's highly consistent.

Anyway, we've brewed two pots so far, and jolly nice they were too. It's superficially harder to clean than a filter machine -- but actually easier, because of all the bits in a filter machine that you can't get to and which eventually clog up your coffee. It does have that classic Cona taste, where you get all the flavour and no grit. And it is, unsurprisingly, great fun to watch.

Incidentally, the Rhyl SeaQuarium may be the single worst value tourist attraction we've ever visited. I'm not exaggerating in the slightest here; it has remarkably few fish, it majors in UK coastal fish, which tend towards the grey and dull, there's very little educational material on the walls, the roof leaks in wet weather, and it charges £5.50 for an adult and £4.50 for a child or pensioner (though Jonathan was free). Several of the exhibits were closed for winter, though there was no reduction in charges. It kept us entertained for 37 minutes, of which at least half I spent trying to take pictures of the dozen or so tropical saltwater fish while the kids moaned at me to hurry up. Don't go there. Next time we're in the area, we will try the Blue Planet Aquarium, one of the UK's largest, which is slightly more expensive but holds much more promise.

Posted by Alison at 12:57 AM | Comments (1)

June 06, 2003

Major Domestic Tragedy

After several years of good and faithful service, our filter coffee machine turned up its little toes last night, going postal and blowing fuses all over the kitchen as it went. We could, of course, just buy another filter coffee machine. But when researching options for doing so, our heads were turned by the discovery of domestic beans-to-cup machines.

Wow. What better way to spend my latte-free-lifestyle money?

Of course, they're roughly the size and price of a solid office laser printer. And we're supposed to be back in Anti-Consumer mode, after the troubling discovery that the amount of money on the currently-interest-free-credit-card is somewhat greater than the amount of money in the savings account that's supposed to cover it when the interest free period runs out. (And it's a *lot* of money, too.)

In other news, I read a little about Buddhism; and in particular the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, full of people who don't enjoy the simple pleasures of life because they're always faunching after the next consumer good.

Posted by Alison at 10:19 PM | Comments (7)

February 24, 2003

Advertisers' Dream Girl

While I was ill, I watched television. So I saw some adverts. As it was mostly daytime telly, these were mostly for loans, credit cards, refinancing schemes, car credit, and accident compensation lawyers. Some ads, however, just act as public information bulletins, providing instructional material for how to live your life.

One of these is the current ad for HP Sauce, which shows a woman making and eating a bacon sandwich. Which reminded me that I'm very fond of bacon butties. So Jonathan and I had them for lunch today.

The ingredients that set brown sauce apart from other sauces are date and tamarind. For a while it was possible to buy a date and tamarind pickle from Sharwoods, which sort of tasted like upmarket brown sauce, but they discontinued it a few years ago. I'd never really had the habit of brown sauce until after I started eating the pickle; my mother disapproves of ketchups of all kinds and, although she eventually relented on the matter of tomato ketchup, we never had brown sauce at home.

At any rate. Really soft white bread; you can use thick sliced if you like, but I prefer to take slices off a loaf. Butter; it's critical, for all you're about to add your own weight in bacon fat. Bacon; and I like streaky because I like it fairly crisp but still soft in bits. Brown sauce, by which I mean HP Sauce, because I am an advertisers' dream girl. You don't cut up the sandwich unless you're feeding it to a toddler.

Interestingly, HP Sauce is now part of the Danone group, "committed to improving the lives of people around the world by providing them with ... more healthful pleasures." Mmm mmm.

Posted by Alison at 02:34 PM | Comments (0)