Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Sardine Pate

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – The more it changes the more it is the same thing:  Jean Karr, Les Guêpes, 1849.

My Mother thinks I’m cruel serving little kids cold sardines when they come round to my house for lunch, but my daughter and her friends seem to love it and will eat this by the spoonful. My son is less enthusiastic, but usually eats a little. It really must be served chilled, so ideally, make a little ahead of time or put the tinned sardines in the fridge.  Seasonable at any time!
Blend a whole tin of sardines (in tomato sauce or just oil) in a food processor and add variations of the following; olive oil, lemon juice, fresh tomatos, cream cheese (or natural yogurt).  The sardines without the fresh tomato/ tomato sauce look a little grey (and to my mind unappetizing), but some friend’s kids prefer this if they’ve an anti-tomato thing going on.  (I’ve left out the dairy before too, for a lactose intolerance 3 year old).  I like a little texture to my pate, but the kids seem to like it smooth.  We serve either on toast (can be grilled topped with fresh tomatoes), or in individual pots with toast fingers or that toddler favourite; the bread stick. 
Elizabeth David refers to a version of this recipe twice in “An Omelette & a Glass of Wine” as Sardine Butter with versions given using the same amount of sardines as butter; a “scant ounce of butter” and also adding cayenne pepper.  She clearly took her sardines very seriously as she spent time touring French sardine-canning factories as research. 

Nosey Parkin

“Vox et praeterea nihil” – A voice and nothing besides”. Latin
A dear friend came over today and during the afternoon I suggested we did some baking.   A Yorkshire lass, she suggested her mother’s recipe for Parkin; a soft treacle cake with oats.  She asked for a cup and a mug to measure dry ingredients and proceeded to make the Parkin from memory and calling out the ingredients as we went along.  Genius!  We mixed the whole lot up and put into a baking tray of six buttered mini-loaves.  At which point I over enthusiastically bunged it into the oven, the tray fell and somehow ended upside down in the bottom!   The smell was fantastic as the hot oven singed a thin layer of the fallen mixture.  We shovelled it back into the tray with spatulas and after the clean up all went well.  Against the all the rules of cake making, I kept opening the oven to take a peek.  The result was delicious; the oats and black syrup gave the Parkin a robustness and depth which contrasts with the surprising lightness of the cake. The mini-loaves looked cute too.  I’m going to save some for a few days to see how it ages.  We ate some for desert with blueberries, which I’m sure they don’t do in Filey. 
I scribbled the recipe down as; 1 x mug of SR Flour (we used both wholemeal and white); 1 x cup of sugar (brown); 1 x cup of oats; t-spoon of ginger; t-spoon of bicarbonate of soda; 2 x tablespoons of golden syrup; 1 x tablespoon of black syrup; 1 cup of hot water (or warm milk); one beaten egg; 5oz soft butter.   

Saturday, 8 January 2011


"The worth of a thing is best known by the want of it"  J Ray, English Proverbs, 1670
Post Christmas, I'm craving simple, nourishing, veggie dishes.  Having bought celery for the expressed purpose of making a Minestrone soup, I first turn to Elizabeth David's Italian Food (1954).  She gives five different recipes for Minestrone using various kidney beans, marrows, leeks, and gammon.  They are all quite different and I seem to be missing key ingredients in any of them.  By now, my 25 month old son is keen to "help Mummy" so we quickly pull out the excellent Prue Leith's Cookery Bible (1991).  It has a single recipe for the soup and the ingredient list seem to almost match what is now gathering on my kitchen table - haricot beans, garlic, onion, carrots, celery, potato, vegetable stock, basil, parsley and olive oil.  I don't have tomato puree so substitute some of the vegetable stock for tinned tomatoes (seems to work).  I'm a little saddened to then leave out the fresh tomatoes*.  We don't have any white cabbage either.   
My son takes great delight in stirring the soup at various stages, picking and washing fresh bay leaves, pouring, draining (and tasting) the haricot, grating Parmesan and his favourite; breaking up spaghetti and mixing it with small macaroni.  He is enjoying himself so much that when the soup is simmering, he agrees to set the table (rather haphazardly) for lunch.  *We eat the fresh  tomatoes as a salad dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  He eats the whole meal and asks for seconds.  The next day, at the mention of lunch he asks, for "my zoupe, my zoupe". 

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Case of the Hidden Vegetables

'He that hides can find' - 15th Century Proverb...
Let’s face it, lots of kids don’t really like eating vegetables and it seems to be an obsession among parents to get their kids to eat the darn things.  The suggested approach from food writers, nutritionists seems to be;
a)     disguise/ hide them  (see Annabel Karmel’s Hidden Vegetable Sauce).  I have moral reservations about this.  OK, I have, in the past, pulped perfectly good courgettes into tomato sauce to go on pasta.  But isn’t this just plain deception?  I mean, if I knew an adult who didn’t like carrots, I wouldn’t dream of grating them raw into his bolognese sauce as I know best.  Likewise, I wouldn’t disguise meat in a  vegetarian’s food to widen their palate.  My poor compromise is to serve up the hidden vegetable in its complete form alongside the hidden version.  At least then they’ll be able to recognise a vegetable in a line up.  You might also get the pleasure of them eating the hidden vegetable while simultaneously telling you that they don’t like it. 

b)     The second idea seems to be to dress vegetables up into some pretty picture on the child’s face to make a smiley face, a sailing ship etc.  I did this once and my kids just stared at my work of art in disbelief and wouldn’t touch it. (Annabel Karmel’s Crunchy Salmon Fishcakes).  Perhaps they thought my artistic effort so fantastic they couldn’t possibly destroy it.  Life is definitely too short to be doing this. Besides, I personally think this sort of cuisine should be saved for  serving up to teenagers with the purpose of slightly unnerving them or when they bring their new girl/boyfriend home to meet you for the first time. 
PS Nothing will hide broccoli

Like porridge? .... you’ll love this!

"Save your breath to cool your porridge"  16th century proverb

We’ve slipped into some bad breakfast habits with the kids in recent weeks with sugary cereals making their way into our larder. Everyone was also getting a little bored of hot porridge every other day during the recent cold spell.  So it was a relief that, at the request of my four year old, we went back the other day to the summer favourite of Bircher Museli. My kids rather disgustingly call it ‘cold porridge’, but they love eating it and helping to make it the night before. 
The key elements are oats, grated apple and raisins soaked in milk overnight in the fridge.  You then get a creamy consistency that fine as it is or can be embellished with other dried or fresh fruits, nuts (ground in our case for the kids), yogurts, honey etc. It’s also good for two days, in fact like many foods, it’s actually better the next day.  We added chopped dried apricots one morning and fresh blueberries the next.  I first read about this in a Jamie Oliver’s ‘The Return of the Naked Chef’ about eight years ago.  He called it ‘pukkolla’ with no mention of Bircher Museli.  By co-incidence my husband simultaneously read an article on Bircher museli in one of the broad sheets and started making it. It’s made regular appearances on our breakfast table since.     

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Why Twenty-one times?

Well, simple really ... this is the amount of times in one week that I put a meal (excluding snacks) on the table for my family.  This blog is my attempt to approach the essentially monotonous task of day to day family catering by finding some kind of poetry and inspiration to it all.
I won’t just be sharing my cookery tips and seasonal meal plans with you (oh joy!) but also putting the food we eat into an historical and cultural context. I’ll also be testing out recipes from contemporary food writers alongside those from long forgotten, by-gone eras. 
My family of diners consist of two young children (just turned 2 and 4 years old), my husband (with impossibly high minded culinary ideals) and various visiting family and friends.  Each with our own foibles, loves and dislikes.  Join us as we eat our way through 2011 – it should be a feast! (P.S. Twenty-one is also the amount of times in a week I wipe clean my son’s high chair, twenty-one times a week is alot of washing up......).