The Most Important Meal of the Day

Anyone who knows and loves me knows that I am a great fan of bacon – smoked back, dry cure if possible, British back bacon, grilled to my idea of perfection and ideally served with scrambled or poached eggs, black pudding, red pudding, good quality pork sausages and mushrooms.  And I’ve been known to add haggis into the mix, and in Ireland white pudding.  Yup a proper cooked breakfast.  In days gone by I enjoyed fried bread too, but seem to have lost the taste for it over the years.  I wouldn’t turn my nose up at bread dipped in bacon fat though, even now.  (Remind me again why I needed to diet?)  I used to really enjoy doing a cooked breakfast on a Sunday morning when we were still in London and serving it to family and whatever waifs and strays were staying over that night.  This amazing meal would then keep us going until the family meal in the evening.  Sundays were epicurean excellence for me, and I can’t tell you how much I miss those brunches (as they inevitably were – no-one got up very early on a Sunday), and those Sunday evening meals.

Now most of the cooked breakfast fits in with the high protein, low carbohydrate style of eating but honestly they don’t really keep you going.  There has been much in the news recently about the advantages of eating porridge and how good oats are for lowering your cholesterol and that porridge is in fact the best meal to keep you going through to lunch without any hunger pangs.  I am also an expert on porridge, on the eating of it, that is.  I knew the weather had turned cold when Papa offered porridge in the mornings and it was he who taught me to make it.  Now Papa liked his porridge thick so that it would ‘stick to your ribs’ and keep you warm.  Grandma didn’t like hers quite so thick.  (Just realised that there are shades of the Goldilocks tale in this!)  I didn’t care so long as someone else was making it for me.

I remember that when we still had milk delivered in bottles, and therefore still had a top of the milk, ie, cream that gathered at the top of the bottle, we all preferred the top of the milk on our porridge.  I can still hear Papa (who got up first, made the porridge and thus almost inevitably got the top of the milk) shouting at us to finish one milk bottle before we opened another.  I don’t remember taking any notice though.  Sometimes I carefully poured the milk around the edge of the bowl, sometimes I put the milk in a cup so that it stayed cold and dipped a spoonful of porridge into that cup.  I always sprinkled sugar on top.  I can see Papa ladling sugar or golden syrup onto his, and happily telling me how his grandfather had warned him that he would get diabetes because of his sweet tooth.  Papa had also eaten sugar sandwiches as a child.  And of course sadly his grandfather was right.  It was hard for Papa to learn to eat porridge without sweetener, but he did.  I too have learnt to enjoy it without sweetener but it took a while.  I still prefer full fat milk though – I would rather eat porridge ‘nude’ than with skimmed milk.

Papa used to say that in the olden days, when winters were hard in Scotland extra porridge was made and it was spread into a drawer, where it hardened and was then cut into pieces for lunch for the workers.  Sounds grim.

Anyway, today’s recipe is Porridge.  The recipe is simple, but you have to remember to stir with your left hand in a figure of eight – this is the way I was shown by Papa (who was left-handed) and it seems wrong to use my right hand.  No idea why it has to be done in a figure of eight but since it’s always worked, I’m not changing it.  Ideally you will be using a spurtle but a wooden spoon works just as well.  Porridge pans can be horrible to clean, so as soon as you’ve served it, fill the pan with warm water.  Latterly Grandma and Papa made their porridge in the microwave because it was quicker and you didn’t have to clean a pan.  Unbelievably I’ve never done this.  I enjoy stirring the pot, thinking of Papa every time and laughing at the fact that I still believe that I have to do it left-handed.

Porridge

(Serves 1)

Ingredients

  • 280 ml / 1/2 pint water
  • 2 heaped tbsp oats – I tend to use rolled oats because you don’t have to think.  Papa’s favourite was pin head oatmeal, but he soaked the oats overnight.  It’s worth buying good quality oats – they last forever and the difference in the porridge is worth it.
  • Pinch of salt – it is not Scottish porridge without the salt.

Method

Put all the ingredients into a pan, and bring to the boil, stirring often.  Simmer for about 7 mins, stirring all the time, until it’s the required thickness.  Leave to stand for a minute and serve into warmed bowls.  Serve with sugar, honey or syrup and cold cold milk.  I doubt you’ll find top of the milk nowadays!

Enjoy!

Man’s Best Friend

Last weekend we visited Shelter Island, at the eastern end of Long Island.  One of the things I enjoy about being here are some very obvious place names.  Long Island is long, and Shelter Island lies between the North Fork and South Fork of Long Island where it is indeed sheltered.   Many of the houses are second homes and the population grows six fold during the summer, to go back to about 2,000 for the rest of the year.  The house we were staying in is on the beach and this was the view from the sitting room

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To the right of the photo is a sand bar, and we walked to the end at least once a day, usually twice because it was so lovely.  Like many areas of the East Coast, Shelter Island had been famous for seafood, in this case scallops, but over fishing has led to a shortage, of course.  The waters are still beautiful and conservation efforts are helping to restock.  We watched a large seagull as it caught and ate quite a large crab.  Stuck me as a very dodgy thing to do, but the seagull seemed pretty confident.  He saw us watching him, and held on even tighter.  In my head he was squawking ‘Mine’ but believe me none of us were going to challenge him for it!

Shelter Island itself doesn’t have any vineyards but both the North and South Forks do, and on the Sunday afternoon we visited a couple.  Being a fan of big, in yer face reds meant that I wasn’t a massive fan of the pinots on offer, but there were a couple of very nice dessert wines.  Prices were ridiculous though, even buying direct.  When we moved here we were looking forward to learning about US wines, but we decided very early on that they are very overpriced and so tend to buy European wines which are much much better value.  We also visited a liquor store, where, Nico, we were surprised to see Commandaria on sale.  I suspect that once the summer visitors have gone, there is very little to do and a sign in the liquor store did little to dispel my thought that drinking would help you to get through the long dark nights

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He also had a sign which regular readers will recognise as yet another of those ‘funny’ look after your children warnings which I find amusing

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And one last sign which seems to sum up many of us

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Now I haven’t been drinking much while on this diet and so I have had to find other ways to unwind.  Knitting and needlepoint are perennial favourites, but on Shelter Island we had the added bonus of Golly Gee, a rescue dog who I found an absolute delight and was part of the reason why we walked to the end of the sandbar twice a day.  She sheds hair everywhere, can’t be let off the lead because she’s not good with other dogs, mooches at the table and sleeps on her owners bed, everything I dislike about dogs.  But she was lovely and by Saturday lunch time I was almost convinced that we should get a dog.  Luckily Dad kept his head and this won’t be happening!

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Golly

So what is today’s recipe?  Well I’m still feeling the onset of autumn and I’m still thinking quick, easy and cheap so I’ve decided to give you the recipe for another soup, Cream of Celeriac Soup with Crispy Shreds.  I was a late convert to celeriac and I’m not really sure why.  I very much enjoy it’s nutty flavour and once I tried it there was no looking back.  I found this recipe in a magazine and have made the soup several times, but never made the crispy shreds because one of you wasn’t that keen on celeriac.

I usually find celeriac a pain to prepare, so make sure your knife is sharp.  Take off any straggly bits (it’ll be obvious if your celeriac has them) and make sure the beards have gone.  Scrub well and peel carefully.

Cream of Celeriac Soup with Crispy Shreds

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 25 g / 1 oz butter
  • 800 g / 1 lb 8 oz celeriac (you really don’t need to be this precise – if your celeriac is larger it’s not a problem).  Cube 600 g and leave the rest to one side uncut.
  • 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 litre / 1.8 pints of vegetable or chicken stock
  • 200 ml / 7 oz fromage frais
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil for frying

Method

Melt the butter in a large heavy-based pan and cook the celeriac cubes, carrot, potato and garlic over a high heat for 5 mins.  Stir and do not let stick.  Pour in the stock, cover and simmer gently for 15 mins until all vegetables are tender.  Blend either in a liquidiser or very carefully using a hand blender.  Add half the fromage frais, stir, taste and season to your taste.  Reheat gently.

Shred the remaining celeriac using a knife, a coarse grater or a mandolin.  Heat the oil in a frying pan until very hot.  Sizzle the shreds of celeriac until golden and crisp.  Drain.

Put the soup into four heated bowls.  Decorate with a swirl of the remaining fromage frais and the crispy shreds.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Keep the Doctor Away

The leaves are starting to turn here although despite my previous post about how cool it had become, we are in fact having yet another Indian Summer with temperatures in the high teens, lots of sunshine and that ‘I really don’t know what to wear because it might get colder’ feeling.  I did wear a pair of tights the other day and suffered because of them.  New York City has some of the bluest skies I have ever seen, and they have been stunning this week.  I have done a lot of walking about, because a friend was visiting and really the best way to get a feel for this city is on foot.  The autumnal leaves with the blue skies with this ever present orange for Halloween is really very very lovely.  On a walk around Chelsea Market, we saw the following carved pumpkins.  I am posting them all because I think they’re absolutely wonderful.

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Aren’t they fabulous?  My particular favourites are the raven and Hitchcock.

New York State is famous for its apples and they are everywhere.  All shades of reds, oranges and green, and cider is on sale throughout the city, hot or cold.  Cider here is non-alcoholic – hard cider has alcohol – but whilst cider here obviously is just apple juice, it’s very thick and very lovely particularly with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Grandma and Papa had apple trees in the garden in Northallerton which produced Cox’s Orange Pippins (still my favourite apple variety) and Bramley cooking apples.  Papa spent some time as a student working on a fruit farm in the Scottish Borders, and he often said how there was nothing to compare with the taste of fruit fresh from the tree.  He was right.  It didn’t matter whether their apples were beautiful or not, the taste was exquisite.   When Grandma and Papa were coming to see us in Hong Kong, I was asked what I really missed.  My answer?  Cox’s Orange Pippins and Wensleydale cheese.  The apples we got in Hong Kong looked beautiful but were Washington Reds and they were waxed and tasted of nothing.  Jet Fresh from the USA they may have been but en route the flavour was lost.  Grandma made apple pies, crumbles, sauces, jellies and other goodies, much frozen.  I do enjoy apple pie, but sadly the one I remember as the best apple pie ever was not Grandma’s but was eaten in Germany, at the top of the Lorelei.  It had an almond pastry and blanched almonds mixed in with the apples – superb!   The Yorkshire way of eating apple pie is with a slice of cheese (preferably Wensleydale) and my mouth is watering at the thought!

Anyway, today’s recipe is a cake I have made several times – it looks pretty and tastes scrumptious.  It is Spiced Apple and Ginger Wine Loaf – I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I love ginger in all its forms, so this for me is a wonderful combination.  I think the recipe originally came from Good Housekeeping magazine and I haven’t changed it at all.

Spiced Apple and Ginger Wine Loaf

Ingredients

  • 400 g / 14 oz Bramley apples
  • 85 ml / 3 fl oz ginger wine, plus 2 tbsp extra
  • 150 g / 5 oz butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 250 g / 9 oz plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 nutmeg, grated
  • pinch of salt
  • 150 g / 5 oz soft light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 75 g / 3 oz icing sugar
  • 1 Cox’s apple

Method

Peel, core, quarter and slice the Bramleys and then put in a pan with 85 m / 3 fl oz of ginger wine.  Cover and cook over a low heat for ten mins until the apples are very soft.  Beat with a wooden spoon and leave to cool.

Pre-heat oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4.  Butter a 1.5 l / 2.5 pint loaf tin and line the base with parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices.  Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Beat the cool apple into the eggs with a pinch of salt if the butter was unsalted.   Add half the apple mixture to the butter and sugar together with two tbsp of the sifted flour mixture.  Beat.  Add remainder of apple mixture and tbsp of the sifted flour mixture.  Beat.

Fold in remainder of the flour mixture.  Spread into prepared tin.  Bake for 1-1.5 hours, until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.  Cool for ten mins and then turn out, right side up, onto a baking rack.

Mix the icing sugar with the remaining ginger wine, making a thin paste.  Spread over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.  Decorate with thin, blanched slices of the Cox’s apple.

Enjoy!

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

We are definitely at the turn of the seasons here in New York.  Temperatures have dropped (although it’s still 18 deg), and I am wearing socks and jumpers.  For the past two years, we have had an Indian summer, where there has been a sudden spate of warmth around Columbus Day.  Well it’s Columbus Day on Monday and there’s no Indian summer outside!   Instead it is cloudy and I am just about to leave for the long weekend.  We are going to Shelter Island which is on Long Island and about as far away from the city as you can get without crossing the water into Connecticut.  There are a few wineries out there and maybe the weather will be good enough to play in a boat.

When the weather gets colder, my mind turns to soup.  For me, it was always lovely to make the first Scotch broth, or first leek and potato of the season.  Grandma never wasted anything and soup was a wonderful way of using less than perfect vegetables and a cheap and usually healthy lunch or starter.   I haven’t finished my diet, but I’ve lost 74 lbs now (about 34 kg) and I think I may have another 7-10 lbs to go.  It’s all a bit hard because my shape has changed because of the working out, and I said at the very beginning that I didn’t want my face to look scrawny.  I am quite vain (about what, you may well ask), and I’m also at the border line where too much weight lost and I’ll look like a grandmother.  I think that really what I need to do is tone what I have rather than lose too much more.  Anyway, my inclination is to slowly reintroduce carbs but to keep on working out and see what happens. How did I start talking about losing weight?  Well soup to me means at least one crusty roll, or croutons, or a Cheddar sandwich on the side, and it’s quite nice to think that these are becoming possible again.

As I think of soup, New York is slowly but surely turning orange in anticipation of Halloween. I still find it interesting that the Celtic feast of Samhain was brought over, adopted, changed and became this huge festival.  There are special sweets for Halloween, many shops have pumpkins outside and there are so many costumes for sale!  Last year we had a Halloween pop up shop underneath this block.  This year it’s been replaced by a Fairway supermarket so at least I don’t have to see those horrendous vampire baby dolls.   As it turned out, Halloween last year was cancelled in this bit of New York because of Tropical Storm Sandy and the resultant loss of power.

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Anyway today’s recipe combines my love of soup with Halloween and is Pumpkin and Chilli Soup.  Pumpkins can be hard work to chop, so feel free to substitute butternut squash which is marginally easier to prepare.

Pumpkin and Chilli Soup

(serves 8)

Ingredients

  • 2 kg pumpkin
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp crushed dried chilli peppers, plus extra to serve
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 parsnip, chopped
  • 3 cm fresh root ginger, grated
  • 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock (I use vegetable)

Method

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6 / 200 deg C / 400 F.  Cut the pumpkin in half.  Remove the seeds and fibre, then slice each half into four slices and put into a roasting tin.  Use 1 tbsp olive oil and brush onto each slice.  Season and sprinkle the chilli peppers on top too.  Roast for 20 mins (until soft and slightly burnt – note the ‘slightly’).  Cool and then removed flesh from skin.

Whilst the pumpkin is roasting, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large pan.  Cook the leeks and garlic until soft and translucent.  Add the parsnip and ginger and cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Pour in the stock and bring to the boil.

Turn down and simmer for about 20 mins (when the parsnip is tender).  Stir in the cooked pumpkin and check seasoning.

Cool the soup before either liquidising or using a hand blender.  Return to pan and heat through.  Serve with some of the extra crushed chillis on top.

Enjoy!

The Wild West part 2

It has taken forever for me to upload and sort out the photos of our trip to Arizona – don’t worry I’m not going to post them all here.  Disappointingly, and as we had feared, the Grand Canyon simply doesn’t photograph well with the lens that we have.  It is truly impossible to describe the beauty of that place, the awesomeness (real definition of the word) of what you’re looking at, and glory of Mother Nature.  The trip was one natural wonder after another, from the drive down to southern Arizona with mesas in the distance, to the petrified forest and the painted desert, from the drive to Monument Valley (the scene of so many westerns), to the jaw-dropping, tear-inducing (on my part – Dad was very manly about the whole thing), utterly amazing wonder that is the Grand Canyon.  Natural wonders apart, we saw the Lowell Institute where Pluto was discovered; stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona (and had Take It Easy going through our heads for days); ate some wonderful meals, almost all with a south-western flavour; saw John Wayne’s cabin; and saw more turquoise jewellery and Navajo rugs than you can shake a stick at.

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Wet petrified wood in the Petrified Forest

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Left Mitten, Monument Valley

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Sunset, Grand Canyon

South-western food almost always has a bite to it.  The Mexican influence cannot really be avoided and nor did we want to.  Lime has always been a favourite flavour of mine.  I find it a very clean taste and much prefer it to lemon.  We ate all kinds of guacamole, from the simplest with just lime and chilli, to much more complicated with lime, chilli, onion, tomato, coriander and other seasonings which I couldn’t immediately identify.  Salsa was eaten in all sorts of forms too – none quite as hot as the one eaten at Guadalajara in Tucson, thankfully.  We had traditional dishes, fusion dishes and new south-western cookery – none of which we disliked and all of which were much appreciated.  The obvious thing would be to give you a recipe for one of these dishes?  Indeed but I’m not going to yet!  Autumn is drawing in, and people are back at university.  Some people don’t have a huge amount of money for one reason or another.  Some of you don’t have much time.   So I’m giving you an easy, quick and warming recipe.

Pasta with Courgettes and Cheese

(serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 2 medium courgettes
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped – you can use a small onion but the flavour won’t be quite as sweet
  • 1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 250 g / 8 oz pasta – like penne, orechiette or fusilli.  This recipe is a US recipe and the quantity may be too much.  Recommended amount of pasta for one person is usually 75 g.  Leftovers are not the end of the world though!
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 125 g / 4 oz cheese – I have used both blue cheese like gorgonzola or a strong Cheddar
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped – not necessary for flavour but looks pretty
  • Parmesan to grate on top

Method

Bring water to boil for pasta.  Cook pasta.  Meanwhile wash, trim and grate the courgettes.

Heat the oil and butter.  Add the shallot/onion and celery.  Cook at medium heat until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the courgettes and cook until soft.  Season.

Just as pasta is about ready, add lemon juice and 6 tbps of pasta water to the vegetables.  Add cheese.  Stir.  Add parsley and simmer for a few seconds.

Drain the pasta.  Add to pan with vegetables and stir carefully, coating the pasta with the vegetable mix.  Cook for about a minute.

Serve immediately and grate fresh Parmesan on top.

Enjoy!