Christmas left-overs – Mincemeat

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Happy New Year – rather belatedly – to everyone out there, and apologies for being such an intermittent blogger. My problem (or, rather, one of my many problems…) is that now that I am retired with all the time in the world on my hands, I lack the discipline that comes with a structured existence. I can do whatever I wish with my day and there is no urgency – most of the time – to do any of the many tasks that do actually still need to be done, with the sorry result that I am inclined to flit from one thing to another and struggle to commit to anything properly… and so it is with blogging. I am too old to contemplate – and also do not need – a new career, so am not trying to write with an end goal in mind. It is easy to put it aside while I do something far simpler, such as the day’s cryptic crossword or take myself off on a walk round the village, birdwatching. To be (slightly) fair to myself, I had been unusually busy in the month before Christmas, having signed up to help with a local university’s November graduation ceremony (gowning the students), and immediately thereafter working at Royal Mail’s sorting office, sorting the Christmas post. Both jobs, though very different, are good fun, although hard work, and I meet some very nice people, mostly retired like myself.

At this point I feel I must digress, having reminded myself of my time at the sorting office, to issue a stern imperative to everyone sending cards, letters or parcels through the post (at least in the UK – I cannot of course comment on the efficiency of other nations’ postal services):

  1. Do not on any account send anything of value or that is breakable through the post. I spent a very pleasurable morning sorting parcels one day, with the packets hurtling down and dropping onto the conveyor belt towards us eager sorters, whose task it was to pick them up and throw – and I mean literally throw – them into huge cages marked with the respective post codes [zip codes in N. America]. Writing ‘fragile’ or ‘this way up’ on the parcel is a pointless waste of time and ink, all parcels suffer the same fate.
  2. Wrap all parcels properly and securely, preferably in multiple layers of bubble-wrap, to minimise the effect of the inevitable rough-handling by our postal service. It beggars belief how many parcels are utterly inadequately wrapped.
  3. Write the intended recipient’s address on the envelope (or parcel, though by now you will have made a mental note never to post a parcel again). This may seem an unnecessary instruction, but believe me, so many people just put the name on, add a stamp, then forget to add the address.
  4. When adding the address, write it legibly and large enough to be read without the aid of a magnifying glass. Do not scrunch it up in the top left-hand corner, or scribble it right at the bottom, nor should you write in huge, pseudo-artistic, flowing script that you may think looks very impressive but is in reality a nightmare to read.
  5. Write the WHOLE address. Do not put, for example, ‘1 High Street, Local’, or ‘1 High Street, Tiny-village-nobody’s-ever-heard-of’ without the county/area. This is not a joke, I lost count of the number of similarly-addressed Christmas cards. The sender clearly intends to send a card to someone living very near him/her, probably in the same village/town, but unfortunately the post box is not emptied and dealt with by the local postman, it is spirited away to the big sorting office in the big city many miles away where the poor Christmas casuals who deal with everything that the automatic reading machines cannot sort, have to try to fathom out where to send the card.
  6. Put the post code on. It is common sense. Every address has a post code, and has it for a reason – to identify quickly and accurately where to send the letter. I do not know whether this is a phenomenon at Christmas time or happens all year long, but I do not exaggerate when I tell you that almost half of the cards I dealt with had no post code on them. Are people just too lazy to add the post codes onto all their Christmas mail, or is their time so precious they refuse to spare the couple of extra seconds per card to write the proper address? Perhaps they are impoverished and are eking out the ink in their pens? Their omission causes so much extra time for the sorters – certainly, if the town is included, then I can sort it into that town’s inbox for delivery by the huge lorries which travel the country dropping off mail to other sorting offices, but when it reaches the other sorting office, some poor worker has to go online to find the correct post code so that it can go to the correct local delivery office.
  7. Once you have decided you will include the post code, put the correct post code on – obvious you may think, but so many people appear just to guess it and put down whatever comes into their heads, such as B… for Bristol instead of BS… (B is for Birmingham). We are instructed not to read the address, just to look at the post code (the expected rate of sorting is 31 letters per minute – quite a feat even if every letter is addressed clearly and accurately), but very soon I learned not to trust the post code and to glance at the town as well to prevent the letter being sent to the other end of the country, only to be sent back again another day.
  8. Do not post cards with silver/gold or red or similarly dark envelopes. The automatic sorting machine cannot read the address, neither can it read addresses written on white/light-coloured envelopes in silver or gold ink. It all looks very pretty, but is guaranteed to delay your letter reaching its destination by anything from one day to several days. The machine rejects it, it goes into an enormous stack of post to be hand-sorted and then you are in the lap of the gods as to when it will arrive.
  9. Do not buy the tiniest (cheapest?) Christmas cards on the market, nor the most extravagant over-sized ones, if intending to send them through the post. Neither will go through the machines and must be hand sorted. The tiny ones fall down through the cracks in the pigeon-holes used to sort the mail and can get lost, the large ones are too big for the pigeon holes so are put to one side, causing even more delay in them reaching their destination.
  10. Do not put your cards for family and friends, which you intend to hand over personally, into the letterbox. This may seem an obvious injunction, but every day we came across cards addressed simply to ‘Mum’ or ‘Jane’, and obviously without an address or a stamp. ‘Mum’ or ‘Jane’ will not receive them. They will be thrown away, not by the harried sorter, but by some poor higher-paid official whose job it is to sift through mountains of incorrectly addressed mail to see if there is any way that the correct address can be identified.
  11. Finally, put a stamp on the envelope… Again, seemingly obvious, but I came across piles of envelopes clearly written in the same hand, all without stamps. Far be it for me to suggest that the sender fraudulently chose to omit the stamps in the hope that at Christmas there is so much extra post to be sorted that the omission will be unnoticed or overlooked (although I suspect there may be an element of that). I assume – and hope – it is just an oversight, but that again delays the post as the cards are removed from the normal system and sent to an office which adds a penalty to be paid by the recipient.

I could go on forever complaining about the sloppiness of countless people in addressing their envelopes. I did not come across isolated incidents of the above, but a sizeable percentage of the post I handled (all rejected by the machines) fell foul of one or more of the above. I can only conclude that there must be hundreds of people out there sending mail who do not care a jot when their mail reaches its intended recipients, or whether or not it reaches them at all. A real eye-opener.

Having got that off my chest – very much later than intended, as I left off writing this blog to deal with more pressing matters (including the happy birth of Chomeuse’s second child, my granddaughter), my topical recipe is for using up Christmas left-overs.  This may seem rather a long way after Christmas, but then again it is in plenty of time for next Christmas… It is only a useful recipe (and obviously that’s a matter of opinion in any event) if you make your own mince pies, and that pre-supposes you are British or have access to a shop selling quintessentially British produce, so apologies to all North Americans and others living abroad.

Left-over Mincemeat meringue:

Any left-over pastry, especially with egg yolk (from making mince pies?), or make some fresh                                                                                                                                                  Rind from an orange if you have one                                                                            Mincemeat                                                                                                                              Meringue made from 1 egg white and 1 1/2 oz caster sugar                                                       1 or 2 apples, eaters or cookers, peeled, cored and sliced

1. Mix/knead the orange rind (if using) into the left-over pastry and press into a small ovenproof dish. I am a lazy cook and rarely can be bothered to roll out pastry.                   2. Prick the base and cover with a generous helping of mincemeat. If you have sloe or damson gin [I make my own] you could mix a little into the mincemeat before spreading over the pastry.                                                                                                                                     3. Cover the mincemeat layer with the sliced apples, then bake in pre-heated oven at 190C (170C fan oven) till pastry cooked (15 – 20 minutes?) but not too brown. Allow to cool a little.                                                                                                                                           4.  Spread over the meringue, making sure the pastry is completely sealed by the meringue. Return to the oven and bake till meringue lightly browned. Eat hot or cold. 

Now I must try to catch up with reading other people’s blogs and get back into a routine…

 

Conkers and chestnuts

 

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Prompted by replying to a post by  thehomeplaceweb about horse chestnuts (known to us Brits as conkers) to write a blog including a recipe for sweet chestnut stuffing, I shall start by explaining the very special place horse chestnuts/conkers have in the hearts of the British. I make no apology for cutting and pasting from my reply to my fellow-blogger’s post as it is getting late and I am a very slow typist, being entirely self-taught at an advanced age:

‘Conkers’ is an ancient British tradition – essentially a children’s school playground game where you put a hole through the conker with something sharp like a cooking skewer or screwdriver, then thread a long piece of string or an old shoelace through and tie a knot in the end. The exciting aim of the game is to destroy your opponent’s conker by hitting it with yours, each player taking it in turns to strike their opponent’s conker. It is a very long time since I have played, but I understand there is a national, if not international, competition (for adults…) with strict rules about what you can and cannot do to the conker to strengthen it. I seem to remember my brother trying all sorts of things such as soaking them overnight in vinegar…

The game of conkers conjures up visions of Morris Dancing, skipping, Maypoles and everything that is quintessentially British – old-fashioned and just a little bit quirky, especially in this day and age. It harks back to a time when summers were always long and hot, it always snowed in winter and the world was irrefutably a wonderful place to live in… or so it seems to me looking back on my childhood. My present use for conkers is as a deterrent for spiders. I collect them each year – or, rather, I send my husband down the main road to get them for me as he is bigger than I am and can put up more of a fight for them should he encounter any small children collecting them to play ‘conkers’ – and place them along my window sills. This is supposed to deter spiders from entering the house through open windows as they are put off by the scent the conkers emit. I steadfastly maintain to my incredulous husband (who nevertheless humours me by gathering them) that we have had fewer spiders since I started doing this, and I am not alone over here – many people have commented on seeing them and say they do the same.

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Sweet chestnuts are entirely different and are edible – conkers are definitely not edible. A walk into the countryside in autumn when the leaves are turning colour and falling can often discover sweet chestnuts on the ground in their spiky, prickly cases, though the nuts themselves are usually too small to use. In the UK they are primarily eaten in winter, and Christmas markets sell hot roasted chestnuts cooked over braziers in the street. Dickensian films have us believe that in Victorian times chestnuts (in the UK we usually refer to horse chestnuts as conkers and sweet chestnuts as chestnuts) were sold on every street corner in the season but they appear to be more of a gimmick nowadays. They come into the shops – or at least into my local supermarket – around November time, though Chomeuse tells me they are already in the shops in France, probably because of greater demand for them. I don’t think many Brits cook with them now, especially as it is so much easier to buy chestnut puree or peeled chestnuts in jars, though only in larger supermarkets or delicatessens. Every year, though, I buy a couple of pounds (around a kilogram) for chestnut stuffing, which I make and then freeze till Christmas to stuff into the turkey.

My recipe comes from my late mother-in-law, from whom I begged all my traditional  British  recipes for the accompaniments to the Christmas roast. My family being Czech/Slovak, my mother had no idea about chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce or bread sauce (which she now loves but has never made), so her take on the Christmas Day lunch, though excellent, is not traditionally British, and I wanted to cook a ‘proper’ Christmas meal for my husband. I adore my mother-in-law’s recipe for chestnut stuffing so much that I submitted it to a national newspaper for a feature on readers’ Christmas recipes and was, surprisingly, published (and received an unexpected £25 for my effort). I had not mentioned to my own mother that I had submitted a recipe (I sent in a couple) and was surprised when, on my next visit to her after the recipe was printed, she excitedly told me of a very strange co-incidence. We read the same newspaper, perhaps unsurprisingly, and she had saved the clipping of the recipe, which included a short note I had added to it, which went along the lines of my having no family background of traditional British Christmas cooking as my family are of central European origin, so I was sending in my very traditional English mother-in-law’s recipe. They published my full name at the end. My mother’s rather bizarre comment to me on showing me the clipping was that wasn’t it a strange coincidence that there was someone with my same Christian name and Surname – my Christian name is foreign and my (married) surname English – and she thought I would be amused. Indeed I was, very much so, that it had not occurred to her it might have been from her daughter. We still laugh about it every Christmas.

Here is the recipe, but I must confess to never following it precisely. I invariably add more milk as the chestnuts soak it up in cooking, and I never weigh the chestnuts properly – if I’ve too many or too little I just guess the rest.

2 lbs whole sweet chestnuts – pick fat ones and squeeze them to make sure they’re not hollow                                                                                                                                                  1/4 pint milk                                                                                                                                           2 oz butter                                                                                                                                             2 teaspoons white sugar                                                                                                                  salt and pepper to taste

Cut the very tops from the chestnuts and roast in a moderate oven – 350F/180C? – for about 20 minutes (test after 10 minutes, it is not an exact science), then remove the outer and inner skins. This is an absolutely hateful job and one done exclusively by my husband if he wants chestnut stuffing. Best done in small batches as once the chestnuts go cold they are not easy to peel. You need asbestos fingers for it as it is impossible to do wearing heat-proof gloves. It does not matter if odd bits of the inner skin remain, but cut out any bad black bits you find. Alternatively, buy whole chestnuts in a jar ready peeled…

Put the peeled chestnuts in a heavy-bottomed pan with the milk and simmer till the chestnuts are soft and a knife goes thorough them easily. Add more milk if it dries out. Then either mash with a fork (not easy) or use a hand blender or food processor, but it does not want to be perfectly smooth, unless you prefer it that way. I prefer a little bit of bite, but that may have come from being too lazy to mash it perfectly. Add the butter sugar and salt and pepper to taste and mix well. It it is too stiff, add a little more milk or cream. It must be stiff enough to stuff into the turkey, but not too dry.

I put it into an old ice-cream tub and put it in the freezer until the night before Christmas as it needs to be completely thawed before stuffing into the turkey and sewing up the neck flap. I pack as much into the neck as I can and any remaining I use for soup – see below… The photo is from last Christmas and you can see some of the stuffing in the tub by the turkey, to get an idea of the consistency. No, that’s not me stuffing the bird. It is my – much-loathed (I hate getting my hands dirty) – early Christmas Day task, but last year I had broken my wrist in November and had a cast on my right – dominant – hand/arm, so for the first year I was let off the hook. Chomeuse very kindly did it for me, and she and her sister cooked Christmas lunch together, with me supervising.

You may wonder what this has to do with the theme of my blog, namely cooking with left-overs…. Probably an even better way to eat chestnuts is to have left-over chestnut stuffing and turkey stock soup. This is the ultimate Christmas treat. Just chop an onion and fry in a little oil till softened. Add left-over chestnut stuffing from the turkey and whatever did not go into the turkey (which can’t be eaten without further cooking as it will have come into contact with the raw turkey on your hands in stuffing it), cover it with left-over turkey/giblet stock/meat juices and cook till the stuffing is properly cooked. Blend (a stick blender is sufficient, straight in the pan) till lovely and smooth, add more stock if too thick (I like it fairly thick) and add some cream and salt and pepper to taste.

That is probably my all-time favourite soup.

Butternut squash recipe for View from the Teapot

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Recipe as requested by View from the Teapot – this was the only way I could think of sending it. It comes from the excellent ‘Anjum’s Indian Vegetarian Feast’ by Anjum Anand. I have tried quite a few of the recipes from this book and all are wonderful. I can highly recommend the book to anyone, even if you are not vegetarian (I’m not), provided you like Indian food.

Ham and cheese pie

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This is my very lazy take on the excellent Michel Roux Jnr’s ham and cheese pie, which is a real delight to eat but is rather fiddly and time-consuming to make. It was one the buffet foods I made for Chomeuse’s wedding (catering-size quantity and made in large roasting tins then cut up cold into squares) and then I didn’t cheat but made the proper recipe. For my husband and myself, I cannot justify all that effort just for two people, so have developed a perfectly acceptable alternative that uses all sorts of left-overs. Chomeuse (assisted by myself) made Michel Roux Jnr’s recipe for us all on our recent visit to France, which reminded me how good the original is and I was castigated for venturing to make any other version. I take the moral high ground that I am using up all kinds of left-overs. I make sufficient for four people so that we eat it twice, saving me the effort of cooking another day. This freezes very well, so the second half has gone into the freezer rather than eat the same thing two days running. I keep a store of  home-made ‘ready meals’ in the freezer for when I go to France to visit Chomeuse on my own (so that her Dad, who does not cook, does not have to think about what to eat – or rely on the local take-away); for when we go away in our camper van (when I just re-heat it in the microwave – I do not cook in the camper van and we rarely go out to eat as that rather defeats the object of the cheap weekend away); or when I do a bit of casual work and get back too late to want to start cooking from scratch. On our last trip in the van, last weekend (to lovely Crickhowell on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in Wales, pictured)

we ate  butternut squash cobbler (I am indebted to Chomeuse for introducing me to this recipe when she made it for us on our last visit) and red onion tart, rather exotic for camping.

I have signed up for four days’ work next month helping one of our local universities with their graduation ceremony, gowning the students, which gets me out of the house and gives me something different to do. I did a week’s gowning at the other local university in summer and thoroughly enjoyed it, working with nice people and chatting to students and lecturers. Unfortunately the hours are long – I was doing 12 hour days, finishing at 7pm, then having to walk to the car park and driving half an hour home. Not a job I should want to do permanently, but the odd week here and there makes a really nice change and adds a little to the holidays’ fund. After I finish there, I start a month’s work with Royal Mail at their sorting office, sorting the Christmas mail. I did this two years ago and, contrary to my husband’s fears that I should hate it, really took to it, meeting all sorts of people, many retired like myself but also students in their holidays and people looking for any work while trying to find a permanent job. I find it interesting meeting different people and learning about new things and was quite fascinated by the whole mail process. I liked finding out what happened to the mail after my part had been done, though no on else seemed to be asking questions about it. I was to have worked there in the run-up to last Christmas but unfortunately broke my wrist in November so had to pull out, so am now being very careful not to get injured again. At least I shall be working an early shift, finishing at 2pm, so shall still have half a day to do all  the usual chores and cooking.

So, to the recipe:

Small piece of frozen puff pastry (I re-freeze cut-off pieces if I don’t need the whole block), sufficient for the size of pie you want, thawed                                                                  1 small onion, chopped (MR Jnr doesn’t use onion, but I prefer to add it in this version)    Generous piece of butter/sunflower spread to make a sauce                                                      Plain flour                                                                                                                                              Milk                                                                                                                                                          Left-over pieces of cooked meat, whatever you have, I prefer to use ham, but anything would work, chopped into small pieces                                                                                            Good quantity if cheese, grated – whatever you have needing to be used up, can be hard like cheddar, or soft (then you don’t need to grate it, just cut into cubes), even blue cheese, or a mixture                                                                                                                        Salt and pepper, chilli flakes or a little chilli sauce if you like the heat                              Little bit of milk to glaze

1. Make the sauce a little in advance as if it’s too hot when you put it in the pastry, the pastry will melt. (I know this because I found out the hard way…)  Melt the butter/spread and fry the onion in it till soft. Add the flour and cook, stirring all the time for a couple of minutes to cook the flour.  Add the milk  to make a stiff-ish sauce – you don’t want it too runny – then the cheese and ham. Turn off the heat and add seasoning and chilli if using (my husband loves anything with chilli so I usually add it). Set aside to cool a little. It will also thicken up.

2. When the ham mixture has cooled sufficiently, roll out the pastry on a floured surface to a square big enough to cover the mixture in an envelope. Lay pastry onto a baking sheet, either greased or, preferably, non-stick/silicone. Put the ham mixture onto the middle of the pastry. Brush the edges with a little milk and bring up each corner to meet in the middle like an envelope and firmly seal the 4 edges  together.   (See photo – I got the idea for this from the wonderful  Delia Smith’s recipe for Turkey en croute in her ‘Delia’s Christmas’ recipe book, which I make every year with left-over turkey and gammon after Christmas – anyone from the UK will know who she is, she is a real mainstay of good old-fashioned British cooking and her recipes always work without fail.)

3. Make a couple of small cuts in the top with a knife to let the steam escape, then glaze all over with a little milk (you can use an egg wash, which is better and certainly prettier, but unless I have some left-over raw egg I can’t bring myself to crack an egg just to do this). Cook in  the middle of the oven pre-heated to 200C (180C fan) for around 20 minutes till nicely golden all over.

4. Remove from oven and leave for 10-15 minutes before serving to prevent filling running out everywhere as soon as you cut it up. I try to serve it with vegetables such as cougettes (zucchini…) cooked in the oven at the same time to save wasting gas.

Egg whites

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I have a friend – not an old friend (though she is in her 70s so probably counts as old), but one I met about 18 months ago through working in our village’s community shop, where I volunteer a couple of times a month since retiring 2 years ago – who is a playwright. She is a very interesting lady but has a difficult home life and she comes round for a cup of tea and home-made cake every month or two and I have taken her to the theatre in the evening twice. I have mentioned to her in passing that Chomeuse has always wanted to write a book and that years ago I also harboured a wish to write. Time I fear has run out for me now to write, even if I had the imagination, which I realise sadly that I lack, and my personal history and experiences are not sufficiently interesting to fill a book or sustain any reader’s interest. However, as I suspect every writer of a blog would like to write a book and possibly be published, I pass on the details of a book my friend kindly gave me to pass on to Chomeuse. She shops in second-hand bookshops, then passes on the books after she has read them to appropriate friends or to our community shop (which operates a book swap/borrowing service). The book is ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott, an American author who also teaches writing classes, and is a guide to writing with all its pitfalls – it is an interesting insight into a writer’s life. I have yet to pass it on to Chomeuse, having decided to read it myself first as Chomeuse has her hands full, but shall hand it to her when we drive to France to stay with her next week. I can recommend the book to anyone who aspires to be published.

As my blog pretends to be about cooking (though in reality it is a means to unburden myself of things I feel I cannot voice in the appropriate  quarter – usually concerning my mother – and also a way of communicating with people and making online friends, filling my otherwise solitary days), I had better address myself to sharing a recipe. I recently had spare egg whites, which usually I put in the freezer in small containers for one or two whites – they freeze really well – but decided to use them instead. I looked in my cupboards and fridge to see what I had available and found a (shop-bought – in readiness for mini baked alaskas – see my post ‘Meringues’  https://wordpress.com/post/rhc687420078.wordpress.com/30)                                          swiss roll, blueberries that had been in the fridge and not all eaten by Chou during his recent visit (the Chou loves ‘blues’ so I had bought them in industrial quantities) and I always have tinned custard. So, here is my take on a sort of baked trifle without the jelly (and yes, I know it is very similar to my baked alaskas…):

Line the bottom of an ovenproof serving dish with generous slices of swiss roll (or any left-over sponge cake you have). Drizzle over a little fruit/vanilla/caramel syrup or some fruit liqueur. Scatter over blueberries (or any other fruit you have, even stewed apples/pears etc would do), then cover with a layer of tinned custard – use the whole tin. Creme fraiche or equivalent should work fine for those not lucky enough to be able to buy tinned Ambrosia or other custard (Chomeuse disagrees with me, she doesn’t like it…). Finally, whisk the egg whites (use one if the dish is small, two if it is large) with 1 1/2 oz caster sugar per egg white, to make meringue, then spread that over the custard, completely sealing it. Put it in a medium oven for 5 – 10 minutes till the top is lightly browned. This can be eaten warm or cold, it is equally good either way.

One warning, it is not for those who do not like things very sweet. I have a sweet tooth and confess it is deliciously sweet.

I inadvertently forgot to take a photo of the finished product (too eager to eat it…), so a picture of  a beautiful lilac-breasted roller from our holiday in spring will have to do instead.

Fruit ‘fools’

Having returned from a short stay with Chomeuse, looking after a very lively, demanding Chou, I am prompted to write a short blog about the joys of almost instant fruit ‘fools’. Anyone from the UK will know what I mean, other nationals may not be aware of this quintessentially British nursery pudding – basically fruit in custard.

Before I share my cheat’s take on this dessert – ideal for all lazy cooks – I must offer an apology on Chomeuse’s behalf for her recent inactivity. She has been unwell for a little time and is not up to writing her blog. Hopefully she will be recovered soon and back to entertaining her followers (or at least me…). Hence my flying over by myself last week for three nights to give her a hand.

I had the privilege of sole charge for a number of hours each day of my rascal-of-a- grandson. Being brought up bilingually, his speech in either French or English is naturally not as advanced as a single-language toddler of two and a half, and my ear not being as finely tuned to his interesting vocabulary (a mixture of English, French and his own concoction) as that of his parents, there were moments of deep frustration on his part when his obviously foolish Granny (‘Gee’), clearly suffering the early stages of dementia, had not the slightest inkling of what he was trying to say to her. I quickly caught on to most of it and by the end of the third day we were getting on famously – that is, he made demands of me and most of the time I obliged. Given the lovely, kind nature of Chou’s mother, and Chou’s laid-back father, I suspect Chou must have inherited his tyrannical nature from one or more of his grandparents, and I confess to have being a strict parent in my children’s early years. So, when the adorable little tyrant, who had apparently prior to my visit been almost terrified of the hoover, on seeing me use it and deciding it was not so bad after all, started demanding repeatedly “Gee – hoover…Gee stop…Gee hoover”, I may possibly have only myself to blame. Or perhaps it goes even further back than that and he has inherited his bossy genes from my draconian mother (who at 97 still bosses me and my siblings around and believes she holds the only correct view on every subject).

Among the many joys of spending time with Chou was playing or doing little jobs in the garden. Chou loves being in the garden and loves ‘helping’. He helped me pick the last of the fruit on the bushes (he insisted on doing it himself), which reminded me of fruit fool. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it in France, not having the ingredients, so Chou just ate the fruit as it was, but here is my recipe for an almost instant pudding with no effort at all. I know it doesn’t really count as using left-overs if you pick the fruit specially, but you could have fruit left over which was going a little soft, so this would be an ideal way to use it up, so I think I am justified in including it.

I tin of instant custard – Ambrosia is my favourite, but any brand will do                      Fresh fruit, any type – raspberries, strawberries, cherries, currants, gooseberries go well  Sugar if needed, to taste

1. Start early by putting the tin of custard into the fridge to quicken the cooling process, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t. If you use fresh strawberries or raspberries or cherries that are in good condition, all you need to do is wash them and mash them quickly with a fork. If they are past their best, or you use sharp fruit like gooseberries or blackcurrants, cook them in the water clinging to them after washing, with sufficient sugar to taste, till soft, then give a good stir to break them down and leave to cool a little. I sometimes use vanilla sugar for a change.

2. Empty the custard into a bowl, add the fruit and give a good stir. Cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours or more to cool the warm fruit and also to thicken the mixture – it will become ‘gloopy’ once left in the fridge long enough.

You can of course make your own custard from scratch, but that defeats the object of a quick pudding. Even my husband, who doesn’t really care for fruit, likes this. To vary it a bit, or to stretch out the quantity for more people, add crushed amaretti biscuits (I just crush them in my hand quickly), which add a lovely crunchy texture and are delicious. My only problem is that whenever I open the tin with the amaretti biscuits, I end up eating half a dozen – one of my weaknesses.

The photo is of mulberries from our tree last year which I had frozen – I needed space in my freezers, which are always full of fruit from the garden, so I had to thaw something and use it. The fool works very well with mulberries and if used fresh and properly ripe from the tree, you wouldn’t need to add sugar.

Barbecue pasta

IMG_6324Why is it that men invariably take all the credit for a barbecue? My husband, who does no cooking whatsoever and is unwilling even to make a decision on what he’d like me to cook for him (“Whatever you feel like cooking…” is his usual, unhelpful reply, when actually I don’t feel like cooking at all some days so am not well-disposed to thinking about what to make as well), as soon as the weather turns dry in late spring/summer suddenly changes his spots and badgers me constantly for a barbecue. Being averse to sitting outdoors shivering on a typical British weekend lunchtime – the rumour perpetrated by Chomeuse in  her latest blog about my dislike of being cold may have a tiny grain of truth in it – I ration barbecues to days when I can be guaranteed glorious weather. The downside to doing a barbecue is that while the sun beats down relentlessly outside, I spend all morning indoors preparing the food, wearing a thick cardigan to protect me from the chill of our cool kitchen, while he basks in the sunshine in shorts, straw hat and sunglasses on, cold beer in hand, playing around importantly with the barbecue and idly cleaning the table and chairs – idyllic. He then proceeds to cook the food on the barbecue as apparently I, with a lifetime’s experience of cooking (the last 34 years for him), am not sufficiently qualified to place the food on the grill, baste it and turn it over from time to time until it is done. When it is ready, who do you think has cooked and deserves whatever praise may be appropriate? Fortunately I am thick-skinned and resigned through long experience and also by the certain knowledge that this is not a trait peculiar to my husband, but one shared by, I suspect, the majority of his sex. [I could digress and wonder that men ever considered – and I’m sure many still do – themselves the superior sex, when so much of what they achieve is only possible as a result of the support, advice, self-sacrifice and other input of the women in their lives, who often choose to put their careers aside once children come along…. but that is not my blog’s brief.]

One of the nice things about having a barbecue is having lots of left-overs. IMG_6322It is a shame to go to the effort of lighting a barbecue just for a few bits of meat, so I always make a large quantity, which then saves me the effort of cooking for a couple of days. One of my favourite ways of eating barbecue left-overs is in ‘barbecue pasta’, which takes next to no time – quantities depend on how many people you are feeding:

Onion, sliced                                                                                                                                          1 pepper, any colour, sliced                                                                                                        Garlic, crushed                                                                                                                                Left-over barbecue meat, eg chicken, sausages, burgers, whatever you have, cubed            Double or whipping cream                                                                                                      Lemon juice                                                                                                                                    Fresh coriander (my favourite) or parsley                                                                                  Salt and pepper to taste                                                                                                            Cooked pasta – I do 2 oz per person

Fry onion and pepper in a little olive oil, with garlic if using. When soft, add the meat and stir for a few minutes. Put the pasta on to boil. Add enough cream to make a little sauce, plus a decent amount of lemon juice and cook till meat is hot and the sauce has a lovely sticky texture, it doesn’t want to be too runny. Add more if needed. I add coriander or other herbs generously and you can add fresh or dried chillies (carefully), Season to taste and toss the cooked pasta into it when ready. If it too dry, add more cream or lemon juice. I serve it with a green/tomato salad. (It does taste better than it looks – I prefer my food to taste good and have never been too worried about how pretty it is.)

Another way of using up barbecue food is in an omelette, particularly burgers which can disintegrate when chopped up into barbecue pasta:

https://rhc687420078.wordpress.com/2018/05/23/omelettes

I usually start with barbecue pasta then use up the rest in an omelette the next day.

Elderflower cordial

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This isn’t really a left-overs’ recipe – unless you can describe buying oranges and lemons and picking (and sourcing if you don’t have a ready supply) elderflowers specifically to use up 2 1/2 pounds of sugar you have going spare in your kitchen (which I do)  as using up left-overs…… and you also need to keep a ready supply of citric acid at home as well. I make no apology for straying from my brief, as this is a lovely seasonal recipe I make every June, so thought I would share it.

To anyone living in the UK – at least to anyone living in a large city such as Bristol – you may find citric acid hard to buy in shops. Chemists are the best bet, or health food shops, but in Bristol every would-be purchaser of citric acid is viewed suspiciously as a potential drug dealer (citric acid being a common cutting agent for cocaine) and I eventually gave up trying to prove my innocent credentials, running the gauntlet of a barrage of questions seeing if they could trip me up in my knowledge of legitimate uses of citric acid (of which there are plenty) before being allowed to purchase only the smallest amount imaginable and only just sufficient for one batch of elderflower cordial. Boots, the UK’s largest chemist, even completely stopped stocking it so I was left with no alternative but to ask my younger sister who lives in the middle of the countryside a two-hour drive away from me (where of course there couldn’t possibly be any drug dealers) to purchase it for me and then arrange to meet up so I have my supply in time to make the cordial.

The long-term, and successful, solution was to buy it over the internet…. Hurrah, I can now buy it in 1 kilogram or more packets instead of the measly 2 oz from the chemist, at a far cheaper price, no one asks me why I want it and I don’t even have to leave the house to find it. Of course, drug dealers would far rather buy their citric acid in tiny quantities at 20 times the price and run the risk of having their nefarious undertakings exposed…. Well done chemists of Bristol for protecting the public by refusing to sell such a common ingredient.

[I even share my enormous stock with Chomeuse, though I do so  cautiously as she has a history of drug-dealing connections. When only 18, she ventured into our dangerous drug-fuelled city one sunny Saturday summer’s afternoon, on her own, dressed in a very pretty sleeveless white broderie-anglaise modest-length dress and was accosted by a man who asked her if she had any cocaine to sell?!!! A less likely-looking drug dealer than my modest, sweet, barely 5 foot tall daughter you could not find, but perhaps she is the master of disguise and has been living a double life all these years. Chomeuse – if you are running low on CA, let me know and I shall bring some over with me…]

So….here is the recipe:

2 1/2 lbs sugar (white)                                                                                                                          2 oz citric acid                                                                                                                                        2 lemons and 2 oranges, washed                                                                                                      20 heads of elderflowers, rinsed

Dissolve the sugar in 3 pints of water in a large pan with a lid (quicker to boil a kettle), then simmer for 5 minutes. Add the citric acid and stir to dissolve. Chop up the lemons and oranges roughly and add to the pan with the elderflower heads, shaken of their water. Give it a good stir then cover with the lid. Leave in a cool spot, doesn’t need to be in the fridge.

Stir twice a day for 4 days, then strain through a jelly bag or muslin over a colander and pour into clean bottles that have been washed through with hot water. Store in the fridge. If you have too much to use up fresh, freeze the rest for another day.

To use, dilute with water – tap or sparkling. I don’t recommend using lemonade as it is already sweet. Lovely on a hot summer’s day.

I shall give you a recipe for left-over cordial another day…..

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The finished product.

Omelettes

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Apologies to anyone interested and who may have noticed my absence, but I was busy travelling the globe on holiday for over three weeks, came back to a pile of washing and some very serious photo ‘weeding’ – over 3000 taken, though multiple snaps of the same birds and other animals accounts for a lot of that (see brown-hooded kingfisher attached). An obsessive ‘photographer’ of birds, I have to take as many as I can before the subject flies away to make sure I get at least one which is properly in focus and displaying his/her best side… As soon as that was done, less than two weeks later, we were off again, this time for 8 nights in our tiny camper van up to Skye. The logic behind the trips being so close together was sound, namely choosing the best time of the year for each trip, particularly Skye, where we had to go before June to avoid being eaten alive by the Scottish midges as I have been a midge-magnet all my life and can suffer quite badly from unpleasant reactions. The downside of having the trips so close is, of course, that we ended up exhausted, I have yet more photos to go through before having done anything with the last lot, and we now have a long wait before we can justify another proper holiday (I do not expect any sympathetic noises). We shall have to console ourselves with a long weekend in France next month, flying with our youngest two offspring to celebrate Chomeuse’s significant birthday, plus our annual 10 day+ ‘road trip’ in the camper van to France, stopping off at usually historically-interesting places on our way there (and back) to do some sightseeing before arriving at Maison Chomeuse.

Since my return from Skye (which is breathtakingly beautiful and it is a real shame it has taken me so long to visit):

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I have indulged in a little casual work (I do not want a permanent job since retirement as it would severely limit my ability to go on holiday and spend the kids’ inheritance) and can now add school exam invigilator to my – short – list of accomplishments. An interesting experience, but not recommended to anyone relying on it for an income.

To get back to – or, rather, to get on to – the subject of this blog, you may wonder what all this has to do with omelettes (clearly the kingfisher has nothing at all to do with them, he is just really pretty). The link I admit is very tenuous, but has to do with Scottish ingredients. My husband  – and all our children I believe are/were – is very fond of omelettes. I no longer make a specific recipe for omelettes, but fill them with whatever is left-over and needs eating, especially if it is not enough to make into a meal by itself. If you have bits of cooked ham, or salami, or a sausage, then fry some onion, plus chopped pepper, add the meat, chopped and stir till thoroughly cooked if the meat is a bit close to its ‘use by’ date. Add left-over mushrooms/any green vegetables/a few herbs, fresh or dried, or chilli flakes (my husband’s favourite – he will eat absolutely anything if I put a generous helping of chilli in it), then cook a basic omelette. I make one large one, 2 eggs if it is for two people, plus a little milk and salt and pepper. When starting to set I add the cooked filling, cut up whatever cheese needs eating (being a ‘lazy cook’ –

see  https://wordpress.com/post/rhc687420078.wordpress.com/22 – I hope this works, if it doesn’t, see ‘placky..’ on my site –

I don’t bother to grate the cheese as it just get smelted anyway, I just cut it straight over the omelette) and add a generous amount on top of the filling. Finally, put the pan under a hot grill and heat till the cheese has melted and the omelette is browned and bubbling. Serve with whatever you have available, or just a tin of baked beans if you have nothing fresh.

 

Now for the Scottish connection… one of the best fillings I have put into an omelette is left-over haggis. To anyone not from the UK who is unfamiliar with haggis – and to whom I extend my commiserations – it is a very Scottish meal of minced meat (it’s best not to inquire too closely into the precise sort of meat or part of whatever animal is used – all sorts of urban myths abound), mixed with barley and highly seasoned. The overall colour is very dark, suggesting offal  may be one of he ingredients. Although my insufficient description makes it sound less than a culinary delight, I can assure you it is a real treat. Absolutely delicious. It is bought ready for cooking wrapped in a huge fat sausage like ‘skin’ (originally, I suspect, from mysterious parts of some poor animal, but now – or at least in England – in synthetic non-edible wrapping)  and the easiest way to cook it is in the oven in a pan half-filled with water. Simple. For anyone interested, it is traditionally specifically eaten on Burns’ Night, 25 January (but eaten all year – I had some in a pub on Skye) – Robert Burns being probably Scotland’s greatest poet, who lived in the 18th century and gave us ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and also was responsible for the naming of  ‘The Cutty Sark’ through his poem ‘Tam o Shanter’.

All haggis omelette needs is a generous layer of haggis covered by lots of good cheese, preferably mature cheddar, but whatever is in the fridge asking to be used up will do.

 

Marzipan

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As I am about to go on holiday for 3 weeks and probably unable to do anything other than ‘like’ bloggers’ posts (and perhaps not even that), I  thought I had better post a further recipe before I leave. This one has a seasonal theme, but is really a cheat as it is almost impossible to have left-over marzipan, at least in my home. I have never had an addictive personality and have never craved anything, which I know sounds both dull and – for me personally – rather disappointing. As with thousands of school kids I tried smoking with my friends, largely because I knew it was forbidden by my draconian mother – pathetically, never to her face and I was always far too scared of her to admit it even – and even carried on for a while once I had my own home. I neither liked it nor needed it so my sensible self decided it was an expensive and pointless rebellious ‘gesture’ to my unknowing mother and I stopped. Again, however much I drank in my youth, I have never needed a drink.

When I first became pregnant, I really looked forward to craving exotic foods; there was a TV advert at the time where a pregnant woman woke in the middle of the night and demanded her exhausted and long-suffering husband get dressed and fetch her pizza. I don’t remember what was being advertised, it may well have been pizza or even something else, I just remember wanting to be able to dispatch my poor husband at a moment’s notice to the local supermarket. I had a good friend who could not stop eating cheese when pregnant and would come to work with a bag of cubed cheese which she tucked into all day long, so it was with great anticipation that I awaited my uncontrollable urge for some unusual snack. Absolutely nothing happened, I neither craved nor went off anything, not tea or coffee, nothing. I was sorely disappointed (I wasn’t even sick once, but that wasn’t a disappointment).

My youngest daughter, when she had braces fitted to her teeth, was very concerned not to damage her teeth so gave up drinking coke, her favourite drink other than tea and coffee. The poor girl suffered so badly from withdrawal symptoms that she physically shook for a short while (I know, I’m clearly a very bad mother for letting her drink so much of it). Some years later she, equally addicted to tea and coffee and not believing that I could live without caffeine, challenged me to go a week without it. I don’t drink coffee at all (unless socially obliged to when no alternative is offered, in which case of course I can drink it, but I add so much sugar that I can’t taste the coffee – that reminds me of an incident when I attended my kids’ school for some evening function and we were all standing around when the headmaster himself handed round only coffee and offered the sugar bowl; he controlled himself magnificently and only slightly raised his eyebrows and imperceptively curled up the corners of his mouth as I kept him standing there while I added spoonfuls of sugar to my cup)… so I drank nothing but (caffeine-free) redbush tea for a week. Absolutely no side effects whatsoever.

So, it is hard to understand why I cannot resist marzipan. I do not crave it in the sense that I go out and buy vast quantities of it and surreptitiously hide it at the back of a kitchen cupboard for late night feasts after my husband, who has to get up very early for work, has gone to bed. I can live very happily without it unless I have a reason to buy it. This happens twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, when I make Christmas and simnel cakes. There should always be some left-over marzipan after the Christmas cake is iced, but sadly not. I have to eat it, regardless of how much is left – I cannot stop myself – and even as I do I reason with myself that it is not good for me. My husband buys me marzipan fruits each Christmas as one of my ‘surprise’ presents; they are good, but not as good as a simple block of marzipan from the baking section of the supermarket. This Easter just gone, the simnel cake has no ‘disciples’ as I had snacked on too much of the marzipan between baking the cake and covering it so there was not enough left for the 11 round balls and I was too ashamed to admit what I had done and buy more. It was disingenuous of me to suggest that their absence was due to the fact they made the cake too high to fit comfortably into my favourite cake tin. I must now diet, but not until after we have consumed the remaining cake and Easter biscuits, though fortunately our son and youngest daughter were packed off with generous helpings of both to speed the process.

So, for anyone who has left-over marzipan, there are two options for using it up: simply eat it (and then buy more for the following recipe – the start of a vicious circle); or make open fruit tartlets:

  1. You need a small quantity of ready-made puff pastry. I find the frozen blocks are too large for daily use so once thawed I cut off what I need and re-freeze the rest, either in one piece or two smaller pieces depending on the size left-over. It re-freezes perfectly well, I have been doing it for years with no adverse effects.
  2. Roll the pastry into a thin oblong  and roll the marzipan into a thin, smaller oblong, about half the length of the pastry. Turn over the pastry to sandwich the marzipan inside it and seal in the marzipan well – it does not want to protrude out of the edges of the pastry.
  3. Roll the pastry/marzipan sandwich into a square or oblong, making sure the marzipan does not seep through. It does not want to be too thick. Score a line a centimetre or more from the edge of the pastry all the way round, but not all the way through.
  4. Cover the pastry inside the scored line with fruit – apricots and cherries are my favourites for this, but anything should work. Sprinkle with a little sugar, then add a little glaze over the top. I make my own fruit jellies in autumn and like to use a plum or sloe jelly, but you can use a little thinned-down jam or commercial fruit jelly mix (not the stuff for making kids’ moulded jellies). Don’t put too much fruit or jelly on or it will melt and run everywhere – I know, I’ve done that.
  5. Brush the edges with a little milk or an egg wash (I’m too lazy to break an egg just for this) and put in a hot oven – 200C or 180C fan oven for not very long – 10 minutes max?? – till pastry is golden and fruit bubbling.

Eat with ice-cream/cream. It’s really quick and easy. I got the idea from a friend we met on holiday abroad three years ago who made something like it for us when we visited her and her husband in France, where they live, and just made my own version of it. Needless to say, I cannot add a photograph as I have been unable to make it as I had no left-over marzipan…

 

As a complete aside, for all the many Janeites out there, I read this in the weekend paper’s magazine and thought it might amuse you. Also, I’m just showing off that I too can now add photographs, thanks to everyone who showed me how to do it. (The birds with the pelicans are blue-footed boobies…)

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