Wednesday, December 27

Things I Have Learned This Christmas

The road to a peaceful Christmas does not involve going to Waitrose. It does involve going to Midnight Mass. And singing.

Picking up your turkey from the butcher on Christmas Eve saves a lot of hassle and a considerable amount of fridge room.

Having your veg delivered saves time and energy fighting over the last parsnip in the shop.

Sprouts are best cooked slightly under, chilled rapidly, then zapped in the microwave with a little stock or butter when needed.

Having double cream and decent chicken or turkey stock on hand makes so many dishes just a bit more special.

If you do it properly, a three-course Christmas dinner will mean you do not get hungry for at least twenty-four hours after. (Or was I a bit greedy?)

A juicer is for life, not just Christmas. (Though actually that was a birthday present, ten days before Christmas). A glass of freshly made carrot and pear juice with ginger on Boxing day sets you up for the second round of the festivities like nothing I know.

And something I already knew, but it bears repeating….

There Is No Such Thing As Too Many Cookbooks.

Sunday, December 24

Chim Chim Cheree

In the days of open fires it was considered lucky to have a chimney sweep attend your wedding. In these days of radiators, chimney sweeps are somewhat difficult to come by. The lady phantom and I went one better at our wedding – we had a road sweeper. He didn’t just attend the wedding, he performed the service!

A little background would help here. Imagine the early to mid ‘Eighties – Thatcher is getting into her swing, local authorities are reeling from competitive tendering and round after round of spending cuts are hitting home.

The Phantom is yet to don his cape and tights. He works as a Home Help, shopping and cleaning for mostly elderly clients. His fellow Home Helps are mostly women, all poorly paid. The Phantom decides to try and make things better, and becomes a Shop Steward in the National Union of Public Employees.

One day, over a long oak committee room table, he spies the woman who is to become his wife. She is a shop steward at a local swimming pool. After the meeting, on a bus home, he gives her his phone number. She rings, arranges a date, and the rest is our history.

One of our fellow activists was a road sweeper. But he had a big secret. He was also a worker priest. He was a good friend of ours, so when we decided to marry, he seemed to be the natural choice to perform the service. There were surprised looks upon the faces of some of the wedding guests when they saw their mate the sweep standing up on the altar in full priestly regalia. It gave the local paper an interesting story too…

We hadn’t seen him for a few years. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was walking past a building society at lunchtime and almost bumped into him. As luck would have it he was only down for the day, but I got his new address, up in Tyneside, his native area. Our last few Christmas cards had never got to him. We posted one to his new address right away.

If you are reading this, John, we’ll be raising a glass to you on Christmas Day.

We would both like to wish all our friends a very happy Christmas. Once the madness has settled down I’m sure we’ll have some interesting leftover recipes to post!

Thursday, December 14

Food For Thought

I would like to point my reader to this extremely interesting …article on food politics in the current issue of The Economist. Forgiving myself the pun, there is a lot of food for thought contained in it.

I do have one objection though. The article quotes from a DEFRA report which says “It turns out to be better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter, for example, than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain.” Surely this is approaching the argument from totally the wrong angle. It must be better for the environment to only grow tomatoes in season, in the summer. We don’t need to grow tomatoes in the winter. That’s what tins and jars are for, and they taste better in season too.

It is a very interesting article nevertheless. Do read it. I look forward to any comments.

Tuesday, December 12

Die, Lady, Die

An article in today’s Guardian
gives more information of Princes Harry and Wills’ plans for a tenth anniversary celebration commemoration of Lady Diana’s death next summer. Their will be a concert which will take place the day after a church service…

"We want [the anniversary commemoration] to represent exactly what our mother would have wanted; how she was and all that sort of thing," said William. "So therefore the church service alone isn't enough.”

…”how she was and all that sort of thing”… Like Diana, expect all the artistes to have to undergo virginity checks before performing… The stage will be set with a grand staircase which will allow star turns of the calibre of Elton John and Duran Duran to throw themselves down it in a bid to attract attention. Acts will then gorge on food, and vomit over the audience, grabbing the hands of land-mine victims suffering from AIDS and singing “We Are The World”. Oh, hang on, that last bit was Michael Jackson…

The concert is on 1st July 2007. (If Wembley Stadium is finished by then of course.) Tickets go on sale tomorrow at this website.

Wednesday, December 6

Chocolate Pecan Pie

As promised. The recipe seems a bit lengthy, but comes together pretty quickly. The result is definitely worth the effort. The recipe is from Anton Mosimann's "Naturally", (Ebury Press 1991.) Curiously both the Legal Eagle and the Phantom have the book in their collections.Serves 8

OVEN: Moderately hot, 200 C/ 400 F/ Gas 6, then moderate, 180 C/ 350 F/ Gas 4

1 quantity Sweet Pastry (see below)

Roll out the pastry, and use to line a 20cm (8in) tart tin. Line with foil, fill with baking beans, then bake blind in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil and bake the flan case for another 6-7 minutes. Cool.

Reduce the temperature of the oven.

The Filling:

Melt together over a pan of hot water

120g (4 ½ oz) plain chocolate, chopped into small pieces

50g (2 oz) unsalted butter

Whisk together

4 eggs
230 ml (7 ½ fl oz) maple syrup
a few drops of vanilla essence

Then blend the melted chocolate into the egg and syrup mixture. Mix well.

Stir In

250g (9 oz) shelled pecan nuts

Stir in, then pour the mixture into the pastry case. Bake in the moderate oven for about 30 minutes until the tart has puffed slightly in the centre, and has just set.

Icing sugar
Whipped cream

Serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar and some whipped cream.

For The Sweet Pastry

150 g (5 oz) plain flour, sifted
100 g (4 oz) unsalted butter, cut into cubes,
30 g (1 ¼ oz) icing sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk
finely grated rind of ½ lemon

Place the flour in a mound on a clean work surface, and make a well in the centre.
Add the butter, sugar, egg yolk and rind, and work together with the fingertips, gradually incorporating the flour, to a smooth paste.

Roll into a ball and rest for at least 20 – 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Roll out and use to line a greased 20 cm (8 in) tart tin. Leave in a cool place to rest for 30 minutes.

Culture Corner, or, On The Way Home From Work Tonight - a true poem

He got on my bus,
The Poet, John Hegley,
And sitting
Quite close
His hand brushed my legley.

Sunday, December 3

Old Friends

We had the Legal Eagle and her partner around for a meal last weekend. As usual too many months had passed since we last met, and we couldn’t remember the last time we had them round for dinner.

I did the main course, my feathered friend the dessert.
(The Eagle has always had cold hands, which may be a discomfort as the weather grows more wintry, but has decided advantages when it comes to making pastry).

Now, I wouldn’t say that the Eagle is always late. She was on time for our wedding (as a guest, that is!). But in the ensuing nineteen years shall we say she has been tardy more often than punctual. To the extent that I either cook something that can stand without spoiling, or something so quick I can put it on when she arrives! I guess having to be on time for court appearances during the week produces a reverse tendency at the weekend. This time was no exception. At the appointed hour the phone rang. The pudding had just gone into the oven. They would be over as soon as possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it was worth the wait. My aquiline dinner guest arrived within the hour, bearing a Chocolate Pecan Pie. The smell of butter and chocolate filled the room as soon as it was unveiled, born aloft on a wooden board, looking somehow mediaeval and rather grand. (the Pie, not the Guest).

We managed to get a photo before it was too late...

Unfortunately you can’t taste the lemony pastry or the rich eggy chocolate filling.

I will post the recipe soon.