Sunday, 23 December 2012

50s dinner - Harlequin Blancmange

"Summer days and party occasions call for a veriety of cold sweets." 

Well, we're in the dead of winter, but catching up with an old friend is a good excuse for some festive dessert.  The book has a range of jellies, trifles, creams and ice creams (none of which contain much actual cream of course), but I fancied having a go at this 'Harlequin Mould' as I'd never attempted to make a blancmange before.  It also looked pretty impressive in the picture.

1 1/2 oz. cornflour
1 pint milk
2 oz. sugar
Colourings & Flavourings

First blend the cornflour with a little milk.  Bring the rest of milk almost to the boil, then pour in the blended cornflour mixture.  At this point I ended up with with a big lump of gluey cornflour in the pan, but giving it a whisk blended it right into the milk.  Cook for 2-3 minutes before adding the sugar.  At this point I was stirring what felt like a big pan of milk, and not sure if or when it would turn into something that could set.  After another minute or two it suddenly thickened up to the consistency of custard and I took it of the heat.  At this point it had developed some more lumps, but agian giving it a whisk solved the problem.

At this point I divided the mixture into two jugs (you could do more if you're feeling extra festive) and added the colourings and flavourings.   The reciepe recommends that you co-ordinate your colours and flavours, so I matched the pink to the strawberry and the lemon with yellow.  Note, you will want to use a separate teaspoon for each colour unlesss you're pretty artistic or don't mind your pudding turning puce.  For the strawberry layer I used a teaspoonful of both the colour and flavour.  For the lemon layer I added a little more flavouring.  Not sure if I just couldn't taste the lemon as all my other senses were telling me I was eating birds-eye custard!

I poured some of the first batch into my mould.  Then I had to wait for it to set.  This was a pretty anxious time as I was worried that the rest would set in the jugs before I could get it into the mould.   So I risked defrosting the fish fingers and popped it into the freezer for a few minutes.   It still seemed fairly soft, but had formed a little skin, so poured the next layer.  I used the old bartender trick of pouring over the back of a spoon, but the first layer seemed to hold up well.  I then repeated the process with a third layer and left to set in the fridge overnight.

Getting the jelly out the mould was a nerve wracking business.  I immersed it in hot water before tuning it onto a plate.  It didn't come out first time, but another shake and, plop, it was on the plate.

The taste test
This took us back to our childhood days, sickly sweet, brightly coloured and packed with those  classic artifical fruit flavours.  Texture wise I enjoyed it - creamier and not as 'bouncy' as jelly can be.  Perhaps not one for sophisticated adult palates, and not in line with the current vouge for all things natural and organic , but lots of fun.  I know my little girl would be impressed! 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

50s dinner - Cucumber Gratin & Potato nests

And so to the accompaniments....

I wanted to try this dish as the idea of cooking cumber seemed to ludicruis.   I then read about a french dish where they do this and I wondered if it was so crazy after all.  Still sounded like a pretty odd idea.

Cucumber au Gratin

1 cucumber
2 oz. grated cheese
1/2 pint white sauce

Steam peeled pieces of cucumber for 20-30 minutes until tender.  Place in a dish with most of the cheese and sauce,sprinklinkg a little more cheese on top, and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brow.

The taste test

I thought the cucumber would be all slimy, but it was firm, with a similar texture to a gherkin.  Not strongly flavoured in itself, but good with the creamy, salty sauce.  We all had seconds.

Potato Nests

These are simply mashed potato piped into 'nests', baked and filled with cooked peas.  I say simply.  Have you ever tried piping mashed potato?  Yeah, it looks easy when they do it on Masterchef.  I have more respect for this skill after having my piping bag exploded and I enedd up with mash in my hair. 

The taste test
Well, it was mashed potato with peas.  The presentation doesn't change the basic flavour.  It looked great, but I needed a bath.  Maybe I'll stick to dinner lady presentation in the future.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

50s dinner - Steamed Meat Roll

There is an extensive pastry section in the reciepe book, so I did want some kind of pastry dish represened in the meal.  Suet crust pasty is unusual in that it is boiled or steamed rather than baked, with steamed savoury puddings of this sort not being seen very often now.  It also seemed a little more approachable than puff pastry or choux pastry! 

For the suet crust:
8 oz flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4 oz. suet
cold water to mix

Sieve together flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix with cold water to a soft, not sticky, dough.  I did get my mixture a little sticky at one point, but just brought it back by adding a touch more flour.  The pastry was easy to work with and to roll out.  I rolled mine straight onto greaseproof paper to make the next stages easier.

For the filling:
1 lb. beefsteak
1 onion or leek
1 carrot

Mince the meat, onion or leek and the carrort, season and moisten with a little stock (I acutally used gravy).  Spread the mixture on the pastry, moisten the edges with a little cold water and roll up.  I was aiming for a swiss roll type of thing, using the greaseproof paper to coax it into place.  I didn't end up with a perfect spiral, but it got the job done.  

The greaseproof paper stops the pastry sticking to the pudding cloth.  I tied it all up with a muslin square (the type mums will be familiar with from mopping up baby sick), but a thin tea towel would do as well.  It shouldn't be too tight, as the roll will expand during cooking. 

By this time, despite my careful measuring, I'd created a monster too big for my steamer.  After some improvisation with a giant jam pan I got it going and, 3 hours later (checking as I went along that the pan hadn't boiled dry), we were ready to serve with a little gravy on the side.

The taste test
This was quite a hit.  Not the most sophisticated dish, but lovely rich and comforting flavours of beef stew, snuggled in a dumpling duvet.  Perfect for a cold dark night.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

50s dinner - Salmon Creams

When designing my 50s menu I had to restrain myself from serving every course as a jelly in a mould.  These Salmon Creams let me play with aspic jelly and kept up the presentation being served in grapefruit 'water lillies'.

Salmon Creams
1/2 lb. cooked salmon
1 hard boiled egg
Tomato & cucumber
4 tbsps. mayonnaise
4 tbsps. aspic jelly

These are essentially little salads - flake the fish and mix with the chopped egg, tomato & cucumber, dressed with mayonnaise, and the jelly of course.  Aspic jelly is traditaonlly made from stock, but the reciepes in the book call for commercial aspic which you mix up from powder.  I couldn't find aspic available nowadays, so used plain gelatin.

You can put the the mix straight into the 'water lillies' to set, but as I hadn't started the grapefruit carving and I wanted to give it plenty of time I popped it into a dish first.  I was planning to cut out circles of the set mixture with a pastry cutter to place in the grapefruits, but the mixture was too soft, so I spooned it out instead, onto a bed of lettuce.

The grapefruit water lillies were fairly straight forward. Cut around the grapefruit it a zig zag shape, digging into the centre of the fruit so you're cutting through the flesh as well as the skin.  Give a twist and a good pull to separate the two halfs.  I found the best way to remove the flesh inside to was to use my fingers to get between the fruit and skin, with the flesh then coming away cleanly.

The taste test
The main unknown for me was how the consistency of the dish would be with the aspic.  It wasn't actually very noticible, especially along with the mayonnaise, and I'm not sure anyone else would have even known it contained jelly if I hadn't told them.  All the other salad ingregients were light and tasty, although I'd nomrllay have gone for a different type of dressing over the mayo.  All in all, we started the meal with a sucess.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

My 50s dinner party

In only own one true historic cookbook, which has made it all the way from the 1950s (all my others are reprints of old texts).  So I was excited to put it into use and terrorise delight a friend with a 1950s style dinner.

Good Housekeeping's Cookery Compendium from 1955 brings 3 books together in one trusty volume - Basic Cookery, Picture Cookery and Picture Cake Making. The book has lots of black and white photos to help illustrate every recipe, and even more exciting some colour pages, where you can gaze on dishes in lurid technicolour. 

Covering breakfast, lunch and dinner, it gives a real window on what people were eating.   Dishes are generally fairly plain fare, with directions for roasting, grilling and boiling meat.  Pies, stews and the occasional curry also feature.  In terms of salads and cold dishes, aspic is big news.  Why serve your ingredients fresh when you could encase them in jelly?  Pastry and cake making were part of even the basic cookery requirements back then

The book also highlights some of the continuing post war hardships.  "Cream, which formerly played so important a part in the making of cold sweets, is unfortunately now decidedly expensive".  Alternative mock creams and ice cream recipes feature heavily, using margarine, gelatin or evaporated milk.  But what they may have been lacking in ingredients, they certainly made up for in presentation.  Elaborate vegetable carving and moulded desserts were the order of the day.

I leave you with just the Hors d'Oeuvre as a taster for now - celery tassels, radish roses & lilies, with gherkins and pickled beetroot.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Absolutely Kippered

We brought back a souvenir from our trip to Northumberland - kippers. 

Kippers are salted and smoked herrings, and were very popular in Victorian and Edwardian times, particularly as a breakfast dish.  The modern kipper was invented in Northumberland, and we bought ours from Swallowfish in Seahouses, who have been in business since 1843.  With no additives, preservatives or colourings, these are about as authentic as you can get.

There is a lot to be said for kippers.  They are high in omega 3, cheap and sustainable.  So why have they fallen so far out of fashion?

Kippers Benedict
My first experiment was a Nigel Slater recipe "Kippers Benedict", where the kippers are teamed with hollandaise sauce.  What isn't delicious with  butter sauce after all?

My first task was to cook the kipper which was very simple.  Just put in hot water for 5 - 10 minutes.  The next step was boning the fish, which was a royal pain in the ass.  I'm no expert in fish anatomy, but even when I did manage to lift off a fillet, this was full of tiny hair-like bones running right through the flesh.  While the answer is maybe to 'man up' and just eat the bones, it was my lunch and I didn't want to. I actually gave up half way through and made Mr G do the rest.  He didn't fare any better, which was relieving and disheartening in equal measures. After all that palaver I didn't feel bad about cheating on the hollandaise front and using a shop bought sauce.

The taste test - I was pleasantly surprised by the flavour, being not as strongly salty or 'fishy' as I'd feared.  While it did vary a little with the edges of the fish tasting stronger, much of the flesh was plump, moist and quite mildly flavoured.  While I'd expect sharp flavours like vinegar or citrus to complement an oily fish, the creaminess was actually a nice balance to the salt.

With both me and the house already smelling of fish, and another kipper still to go, I kept up the kipper odyssey.  
Eliza Acton's recipe is a little different from the one we'd recognise today, being more of an omelette.  It includes cold rice, cold fish and cayenne, but the eggs are beaten and mixed in, with the dish then cooked until set.  Mrs Beeton's later recipe again contains the same basic ingredients, but the eggs are boiled this time.

My recipe:
1 kipper, cooked and bones removed
1/2 an onion, chopped
Curry powder (1 tbsp)
1 cup rice
1 cup peas
2 hard boiled eggs to garnish

I fried the onion in a little oil together with the curry powder for few minutes.  I then added the rice and 2 cups water and simmered until the liquid was nearly all absorbed.  I added the peas for the last 2 minutes of cooking.  I peeled and quartered the hard boiled eggs to garnish.  You could use the cooking liquid from the fish instead of plain water, but I wanted to dial down the fish flavour.

The taste test - This turned out to be a very good dish.  There was a nice ratio of rice to fish and the curry powder provided a good balance to the strength of flavour from the kippers.


Overall, I'd be surprised if kippers do manage to stage a strong come back.  For all their positives, there an embodiment of why people don't like fish - full of bones and too 'fishy' tasting.  The smell and taste really did linger.  Hours later despite repeated washing my hands still smelt like a fish wife's.  I ate a chocolate biscuit after lunch, and this too ended up tasting of fish.  That definately got the thumbs down on the taste test!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Northumbrian Delights

Before we set off for Northumberland, I had high hopes of combining our holiday with a kind of gastro-tour of the region, seeking out traditional foods.  While that was a tad ambitious for a family break, we did eat very well from a selection of farm shops, tea rooms and cosy pubs, and I even managed to sample a few traditional dishes along the way.

Pan Haggerty

I got to try this delicacy in the in the Copper Kettle in Bamburgh.  The tea room is in a lovely cottage built in the early 18th century as accommodation for the labourers in the castle.  So far, so historic.  Pan Haggerty is a traditional Northumbrian dish of potatoes, onion and cheese, normally layered and baked in the oven.  In this case, I had a Pan Haggerty pie, with the filling being more of a mash consistency.  How much you enjoy a cheesy mash pie served with potatoes on the side probably depends on how much you love your carbs.  Potatoes happen to be my favourite food, so I loved it.  If I was being critical I might say that the pastry on the bottom was a little tough, but on the plus side it would mean your filling wouldn't  fall out of your pie and onto the beach if you decided to eat al fresco.  Delicious and, although it was pretty hearty, I did manage a slice of cake afterwards.  Would have been rude not to.  

Crab Sandwiches

Being by the sea, crab sandwiches were a big thing in the area.  Craster is a little harbour, famous for it's traditional smokehouse.  We didn't actually make it into the smokehouse shop, as the toddler developed an irrational fear of the place and was sick in car park (clearly professional travel writers and restaurant reviewers are wise enough to leave the kids at home).  Before this debacle, we did make it into the Jolly Fisherman - the best place in town for a crab sandwich.  I've eaten dressed crab before in Scotland, but strangely never in a sandwich, so I'm going to qualify this as a regional dish.  I can't fault it - sweet crab and tangy sharp dressing enveloped in brown bread.  On the side, some truly delicious beef dripping chips on the side and a view of the sea.  

Fish & Chips

Ok, so fish & chips are ubiquitous rather than unique, but this has been a British staple for over 100 years.  As essential a part of a seaside holiday now as it was then.  I'm not snobby, and very fond of the combination of crispy batter with soft fish below.  And a few more chips too.....

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Cocoa-nut Soup

Azure waters lap golden shores. Shadows from the lacy fronds of the coconut tree dance on the bleached sands under the blistering sun.  A coconut falls with a tiny thud, which reverberates around the world.  A journey, a foreign land, ........and a soup pot?

 Image courtesy of Exsodus /

Forgive my tropical musings, it's been a wet summer.  On my first flick through Eliza Acton's 'Modern Cookery for Private Families', the recipe for Cocoa-nut soup caught my eye.  It certainly had novelty value for me.  I've eaten plenty of coconut in desserts and Thai food, but never in beef soup.  I was also surprised about the wide availability of coconuts in 1845 - this was a book aimed at the domestic market rather than professional chefs.  Coconuts still seem pretty exotic to me after all! 

Coca-nut Soup
  • Pare the dark rind from a very fresh cocoa-nut, and grate it down small on an exceeingly clean, bright grater;
Eliza Acton gives no instructions on how to open the coconut.  Apparently everyone knew how to do it back then.  I certainly didn't.  After consulting google, I moved through various techiques from tapping round the coconut with a knife to the more effective, if less professional looking, 'putting the coconut in a bag and hitting it really, really hard with a hammer' method. 
  •  Weigh it, and allow tow ounces for each quart of soup. 
After all that work, only a very small amount of coconut actually went into the soup.  It seemed a bit of a waste of effort, but did leave me with plenty of left over coconut to play with.
  • Simmer it gently for one hour in the stock, which should then be strained closely from it, and thickened for table.
I used a good quality bought stock, but Eliza Acton has several different reciepes in the book.

  • Veal stock, gravy soup, or broth, 5 pints; grated cocoa-nut, 5 oz.; 1 hour.  Flour of rice, 5 oz.; mace 1/2teaspoonful; little cayenne and salt; mixed with 1/4 pint cream: 10 minutes.
My only substitutions were to use cornflour rather than rice flour for thickening, and mace rather than nutmeg.  As mace and nutmeg come from the same plant, I don't think this changed the flavour too much.

The taste test

On tasting the soup, what surprised me most was that it was not  at all sweet.  I'm mostly used to coconut in desserts and cakes, so although the sweetness comes from added sugar not from the cocont, I think of coconut as having a 'sweet' taste. Even in savory thai dishes, the coconut milk gives a sweetness to counteract the chile.  The coconut certainly didn't clash with the beef, but added a warmth along with the spices.  A good soup for a Scottish summer, even if it doesn't quite catch on down at the beach.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Pudding Fit for a King (well, the chancellor at least)

Mrs Beeton was a bestseller in her time.  While her critics say she didn't write most the recipes, and that Eliza Acton was the first to include a list of ingredients, she is  the best known cookery writer of the period.  She certainly knew what her audience wanted, and could be considered as the first celebrity chef.

In view of the current economic situation, and thinking that the chancellor may need some sustenance in these troubled time, I picked this pudding for my first Mrs B recipe.

Cabinet or Chancellor's Pudding
Ingredients - 1 1/2 oz candied peel, 4 oz of currants, 4 dozen sultanas, a few slices of Savoy cake, sponge cake, a French roll, 4 eggs, 1 pint milk, grated lemon-rind, 1/4 nutmeg, 3 table-spoonfuls of sugar.

Melt some butter to a paste, and with it, well grease the mould or basin in which the pudding is to be boiled, taking care that it is buttered in ever part.  Grease the mould, thoroughly.  This is important, as you want to be able to turn out your pudding once it's done to present to your guests, not dig it out the mould.
Cut the peel into thin slices, and place these in a fanciful device at the bottom of the mould, and fill in the spaces between with currants and sultanas; then add a few slices of sponge cake or French roll; drop a few drops of melted butter on these, and between each layer sprinkle a few currents.  Proceed in this manner til the mould is nearly full; Simply build up the fruit and cake it layers
then flavour the milk with nutmeg and grated lemon-rind; add the sugar, and stir to this the eggs, which should be well beaten.  Beat this mixture for a few minutes; then strain it into the mould, which should be quite full; This is your basic custard to go over the cake.
tie a piece of buttered paper over it, and let it stand for 2 hours; then tie it down with a cloth, put it into boiling water, and let it boil slowly for 1 hour.  I used a plastic pudding basin with a lid.  I trust Mrs B would recommend the same if they'd only been invented, as it's much easier.  Just don't fill it too full, or the lid might ping off when your pudding expands.
In taking it up, let it stand for a minute or two before the cloth is removed; then quickly turn it out of the mould or basin, and serve with the sweet sauce separately.  Miraculously, my pudding turned out! The 'fanciful device' was a little worse for wear, but otherwise perfect.  I served it with a little jam sauce.

The pudding was absolutely delicious.  I was a bit worried, as I'd had a nibble of the cake while building up the pudding, and it was pretty nasty.  So, a real Cinderella story for the supermarket sponge. I'd also been expecting it to be quite stodgy, but it was very light, more like a baked custard than a heavy pudding.  The fruit was soft from soaking up the liquid, not at all chewy.  Couldn't taste the lemon, but Mrs B does suggest you could substitute essence of vanilla or bitter almonds, or make it richer with cream.  I loved it just the way it was.  Mrs B says seasonable at any time and I agree.  I don't know why it ever went out of fashion.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Medieval Feast II - Compost

When faced with turnips, parsnip and cabbage, I'd probably just end up making a big pot of soup.  So would have most people in the middle ages too (or pottage as they called it back in the day, or frumenty with cereal, or a luxury mortrew).  Clearly this wouldn't cut ye olde mustard if you were cooking for the king .  It's time to pimp that root veg.

Compost (composed, rather than decomposing) is a kind of spicy pickle of root veg.  Bear in mind that all these spices were being shipped from the furthest corners of the world, and you realise this wasn't an everyday dish.

Take rote of parsel. pasternak of rasenns. scrape hem waisthe hem clene. Take root of parsley (I just used parsley leaf), parsnip (pasternak of rasenns  got a 'Qu' from Mr Pegge, but pasternak is parsnip) and scrape and wash them clean
take rapes & caboches ypared and icorne.  Cut up turnips and cabbages
take an erthen panne with clene water & set it on the fire. Take an earthen pan with clean water and set it on the fire. Or  in my case, take a cooking pot and put it on the gas hob.
cast all þise þerinne.   Put all the veggies in.
whan þey buth boiled cast þerto peers & parboile hem wel. When they've boiled, put in pears and boil them.  I've heard in medieval times they had some large, hard pears called warden that needed cooking.  My pears were so soft and juicy, so I felt mixing them in with the still hot veggies would be enough. 
take þise thynges up & lat it kele on a fair cloth, do þerto salt whan it is colde in a vessel take vineger & powdour & safroun & do þerto. & lat alle þise thinges lye þerin al nyzt oþer al day. When they've cooled add salt, vinegar, powder douce, and saffron, and leave all day.
take wyne greke and hony clarified togider lumbarde mustard & raisouns corance al hool. & grynde powdour of canel powdour douce. & aneys hole. & fenell seed.  Take greek wine and honey clarified together, (lumbard?) mustard and whole raisens.  Grind cinnamon powder, powdour douce and whole anise (I used star anise) and fennel seed.  I did the grinding by hand in a pestle and mortar, which was a bit too much like hard work for me. 
 take alle þise thynges & cast togyder in a pot of erthe. and take þerof whan þou wilt & serue forth.  Put everything in a bowl together and serve it forth

The recipes in the Forme of Cury have no ingredient measures or cooking times, but nearly all have instructions to 'serve it forth '- as if that was the part of the recipe you're likely to struggle with.

Having served it forth, and even eaten it, what did I think? Well, it was interesting.  There was a sharpness from the vinegar, and different spices in every mouthful.   There are no instructions to reheat before cooking, so the first day we had it cold.  I'm not used to cold root veg, and not sure I want to be.  The next day I heated some up, which made the root veg nicer, but then the vinegar didn't work as well as for a cold pickle.  All in all, I think I'll stick with the soup.  But maybe that's just the peasant in me.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Medieval Feast - Chykens in Hocchee

Where to start for my first venture into historic cooking?  Well the beginning seemed a good place.  

The Forme of Cury is was written in 1390 by King Richard II's chef, making it the oldest known cookbook in English.  While the original was written on velum (calf's skin), I got a shiny new copy from Amazon.  However, the recipes inside are still in meadieval English.  Oh dear.  
The text has had the "benefit" of an editor (Samuel Pegge), but his notes and translations through the book are pretty variable in their usefulnessSome words he doesn't translate at all, some more obvious words are translated [peeres = pears], and there are quite a few times he has noted 'Qu.', which I'm guessing just means 'question?'.  His foreword is totally unreadable, but he did write it in 1791, so maybe it was just the style of the time.   

I found that between reading the recipes out loud (this was before standardised spelling, so things were written as they sound) and Samuel Pegge's notes, and getting my husband who has studied middle english to help translate, I could start to make sense of it all.  The recipes have no quantities or cooking times, so give me plenty of creative licence to do what I fancy.

Chykens in Hocchee
(a little note, þ=th)
Take Chykenns and scald hem. Take chickens and scald them. I didn't feel the need to scald my chickens. They were from a supermarket, so I didn't need to finish plucking them myself.
take parsel and sawge withoute eny oþere eres. take garlec an grapes and stoppe the Chikenns ful and seeþ hem in gode broth. so þat þey may esely be boyled þerinne. Take parsley, sage, garlic and grapes and stuff the chickens full. Boil them in a good broth. I just used stock, but I suppose they hadn't invented stock cubes in the middle ages.
messe hem and cast þerto powdour dowce. Send them and put on 'powdor douce'.

Powdor douce seems to have been sprinkled over everything like some kind of medieval ketchup.  Being so ubiquitous, they didn't include the ingredients with this recipe.  I found a recipe in a little Medieval cookbook (by English Heritage) which used cinnamon, grated nutmeg, black pepper and sugar. The recipe is sourced from Mrs Groundes-Peace's Old Cooker Notebook - I love her name.  So much I might even change mine.

So, how did it all taste?

The chicken was very soft and tender from poaching, but didn't have a lot of flavour by itself, so it really needed the extra spice from the powdor douce.  Even though it sounded more like something you'd put in a Christmas cake and not with chicken, it worked well and reminded me of middle eastern cooking.  The stuffing was very good - the grapes soft and mellow, with just a touch of sweetness, and the garlic also  mellowed by the slow cooking inside the chicken.  

I may not be a convert from roast to poached chicken, but I would make the grape & garlic stuffing again, and I might even go for some more powdor douce.  At least at Christmas.........