cooking

Is Life Ever Long Enough To Peel A Beetroot?

When I was in regular work, I was in the habit of packing a small container with a handful of assorted nuts and dried fruits. This would be my mid-day meal along with a banana and a muesli bar. I say “mid-day meal” but it was easily convenient to pop open the container at any time of the day and graze, though the banana and bar I always kept for lunchtime.

As soon as I stopped work, I hit the bread. It’s one of my foodie weaknesses, especially as it comes in so many tasty varieties. As does my other food weakness – cheese – so I lazily hit the cheese roll/cheese sandwich habit.

Sorry to be crass but the trouble with habitual bread eating is it bungs up the old system and I find few things spoil my day more than a sluggish constitution. In an effort to regain my previous health, I substituted bread for a mixed veggie bake down. This comprises half a butternut squash, two or three bell peppers, three banana shallots and whatever else I find or fancy. Often there’s half a fennel bulb going or maybe some spare root vegetables.

Once baked, I peel the skins off the shallots and peppers, but not the squash – it doesn’t need it – cut it all into bite-sized pieces, mix in a little dressing, and pop it into a container for the fridge. That’s my lunches for every other day of the week, alternating with the nuts and fruit as I did before.

Yesterday, I fancied some baked beetroot and put four in the oven as well. They bake a treat and their flavour is sweeter and more intense, but this means ending up with beetroot juice stained fingertips which no amount of scrubbing seems to remove.

It looks as if I’ve been out and multiple-voted in an Afghanistan general election!

My wife says I should have left the skins on but I think the burnt skins can taste a little too gritty. Now I’m wondering if she isn’t right.


And here’s one I pre-prepared earlier.

Would you say what I’ve done is “pre-prepared” my lunches? I’ve seen this term used before and recently in a Food, Health and Wellbeing article advising against so-called “ready meals”, or as they called them “pre-prepared meals”. For me, the term not only looks tautological but it doesn’t roll cleverly off the old tongue either.

What do you reckon? According to the OED, the pre- in prepared stands for before or beforehand, so pre-pre- logically stands for before before. Isn’t that just one too many befores in the process? What do I know, English is crazy.

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Fat Tuesday, No Pancake

So, today is Fat Tuesday! Mardi Gras, if you prefer, or Pancake Day here in Britain.

I don’t know about you but pancakes are one of those foods which you imagine are better than they actually are. Fried batter with raw lemon juice and white sugar. Yum. Like you could eat any of those ingredients on its own, in quantity, with relish.

In my youth, I vaguely remember an eatery chain dedicated to pancakes. What was it called? Pancake Hut? Pancakes R We? Flat Batter Fry House? I honestly don’t remember. Inside, the menu was almost entirely pancakes. You chose a savoury filling for the main course and a sweet filling for dessert. I think the savoury ones were stuff like chilli con carne, ratatouille or fried beans; the sweets were predominantly stewed fruits with ice cream on top. It was somewhere to take your girlfriend when you wanted to impress her without much money. We were young, see!

Well, much like Christmas mornings and Hallowe’en, Pancake Day hasn’t a lot of traction without kids about the house. I think we may forgo them this time. We have some venison meatballs in the freezer and I might do a wild mushroom and shallots gravy, some parsnip mash and lightly steamed cavolo nero. Enjoy your pancakes!

image: detail from The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel, the elder (1559)

Smorgasbord Me

Blogger BeetleyPete is currently showcasing some of his favourite followed blogs. It’s interesting to see what ideas bloggers have and I am inspired to give this one a go as it could be fun. (As I think it may be to promote authors, and as I am not one, I will just keep it to this place.)

The request is to write 100+ word responses to five of the 52 prompts listed. For an extra challenge, I dialled the Random Number Generator 1-52 to select the five questions from the list.

12. What is the one ambition that you still have not achieved?

I know the permanent answer to this is a peaceful departure. The old joke which tickled me on hearing went,

“When I die, I want to go like Grandfather, dying quietly in his sleep – and not like his passengers, terrified and screaming behind him on the bus.”

I wonder how we would be if we all knew precisely how and when we would die, whether it would be worse or better, psychologically. Of course, we don’t until near the very end and so we convince ourselves it’s best not to know, and so there’s hope. It’s difficult to view it any other way.

45. What is your favourite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?

I love veggies, and don’t really go in for favourites, but I will say Asparagus. They have to be fresh, and they cannot possibly be too fresh, which means growing your own. Once they’re cut, the sugars begin to starch up and they lose that desired sweetness. The season is quite short in England though, about six weeks, and then the plants need to revive and replenish. Fortunately, we used to grow them and will try to do so again soon.

We’ve tried all kinds of ways to prepare asparagus, and all sorts of dressings, but we always liked simple steaming, and a dollop of yellow butter and freshly ground black pepper over to serve.

They make your pee smell funny, that’s about the only downside.

3. Tell us about your craziest experience.

Looking down the list of prompts, I see this could also be the answer to question 14 because my craziest experience has to be a recurring dream. We all dream but the idea is that we shouldn’t remember them upon waking; this, I’m told, is the healthy option. As a rule, I can’t recall my dreams but during two, separate periods of my life, I have experienced troubling recurring dreams. The latter one in adult life, I can probably explain was triggered by stress. It’s the earlier one that’s a puzzle.

I had it from before I can properly remember much else of my life and came often up until the age of about seven when it completely disappeared. It was a very intense and abstract dream, beginning with just a long sensation of passing blindly along a passage or tunnel. Then suddenly, I’m aware of being in a room full of regular geometric shapes: pyramids, cuboids, cones and cylinders. I am perfectly still in this space though not calm. Then the dream ends. That I can remember this vividly after so many years adds to the mystery. I wonder if it has anything to do with the naturally forgotten experience of being born.

42. What is your favourite music genre and why?

I’ve had so many, I might have had them all. My most recent habit is Jazz though it’s a big field and I can’t say I love all Jazz. The thing I like most about it isn’t so much the composition as the instrumentation. I got into Jazz as an antidote to electric guitar bands, in particular Indie rock/pop which was indistinguishable from any other rock/pop to me. The sound of Miles Davis exquisitely soloing a muted horn was instantly attractive, as was a Joe Morello drum solo, an Oscar Peterson-Count Basie piano duet, and a Dan Berglund augmented double bass intro.

I’ve always loved Jazz, to be fair. I was brought up in the period when Jazz was the go to sound for incidental music on movies and dramas. It was in the air, as much as pop music is now – but it had no longer been youth music and so I had to get youth out of the way first and become educated. Now I like to hear lots of different music but I’d probably put Jazz top of the list.

5. If you were to become invisible for a day what is the one thing you would do?

I have a mischievous character and a healthy amount of curiosity – and I also live in a town which boasts about the excellence of its cctv security below its welcome signs – so such a thing could be like all the Christmases and birthdays happening at once. My immediate thoughts, however, are overwhelmed as to what I could do.

As a foodie, I may find myself in some unaffordable restaurant – unaffordable to me but not them – sampling my way through the menu. Maybe get into a West End show gratis.

I feel a lot of obvious things might actually be disappointing. Peeping into any person’s private life, for instance. I’ll probably stick with a bit of free grub.


inspired by and borrowed from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

A Tin Opener

In Britain, before the can, there was the tin. I mention this only because, I think, in America it is a can whereas we seem happy to interchange between tin and can now, although for a long while it was only a tin. Some bifurcation in English probably occurred with “tin can”.

When I was a kid, a lot of food was bought in tins, mainly because domestic freezers weren’t in common use. “Pudding”, as dessert was then called (and still in our house referred to as “pud”) invariably meant opening a tin of fruit, divvying it out into bowls, and pouring on a serving of evaporated milk, again from a tin.

Tinned fruit favourites were apricot halves, sliced peaches, pear halves, mandarin orange segments, pineapple rings, and fruit salad (sometimes labelled as fruit cocktail). All of these fruits were canned in a sweet syrup presumably made from fruit juice and sugar. All in all, it was extremely calorific.

Other foods I remember my folks buying in tins were beans, peas, soups, ham, corned beef, “pink” salmon, “red” salmon, sardines, and tuna. And not forgetting the SPAM!

I believe you could buy anything in a tin in these days – even a steak and kidney pie! – but you had to draw the line somewhere. Tinned potatoes? Unless you were expecting a nuclear attack and preparing a bunker, tinned potatoes or almost any root vegetables, seems unnecessary.

Celebrity frugal cook, Jack Monroe, is in the news saying we shouldn’t be snobbish anymore about tinned food. I’m not sure it is, or was, snobbery though there must now be a case for revisiting the tin what with all the bad news about plastic waste. Surely the quality of food in a tin need not be different from similar food in a carton or plastic container.

Come to think of it, in our kitchen, some tinned goods have never gone away. Tinned tomatoes are a better product than fresh in our climate, and are always chosen for chillis and bakes in preference. Tinned beans, though not quite as good as dried, are far more convenient. And lately, being fed up with disappointingly dry, fresh grapefruits for breakfast, we have been buying tinned grapefruit segments in juice – now a store cupboard essential. Along with succulent tinned prunes, and a spoonful of natural yoghurt (albeit still from plastic tubs), it makes a perfect breakfast first course.

I draw the line at tinned tuna though. Such a noble fish, and expensive too, ruined by boiling it ready for the tin. It’s simply not the same product as fresh; it ought to be banned.


Stop being snobby about tinned food (Telegraph)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

The rule for pasta requires the water to be as salty as the Mediterranean. Paolo gives thanks it’s not Jordan and the Dead Sea. Nonna scrutinises him as he puts the chopped guanciale in the pan, heating slowly, extracting its flavoursome fat.

She’s a fine mentor; he’s a teaser. He gets the cream jug from the fridge; she cries out, “ai-ai-ai!” and tries to snatch it but he keeps it out of reach. He laughs then, returns the jug and chooses an egg for beating. She pinches his cheek, within reach. So he knows Carbonara; she’s taught him well.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Word Prompt Challenge.

In 99 words, no more, no less, write a story that includes “Pasta”.

Mine is inspired by the late Anglophile Italian TV chef, Antonio Carluccio who admonished all his viewers who thought Carbonara involved cream. It patently doesn’t.

It’s a simple dish, its success really hinges on the final addition of the beaten egg to give the pasta, usually spaghetti, a smooth and silky consistency and avoiding scrambled egg. The word Carbonara is associated with charcoal burners though the origins of the dish isn’t clear.

Being English, I apologise to all Italians if any of the above description is wrong! It’s done with love.

Compound Interest

You know that trick about Compound Interest? You start early, put a modest amount away regularly and then some years later, you see what you have and find it’s quite an impressive amount, and accumulated relatively painlessly.

Then you kick yourself, wishing you’d put a little more away and started even earlier, instead of blowing it on silly things like magazines and take-out coffees and designer label jeans. My own stupid awakening has shown me I could have paid off my mortgage a decade ago and be retired by now. Hindsight, eh? Never mind.

I think I’m becoming aware of other things which act not unlike compound interest but in an intellectual sense rather than a financial one. Reading has to be the most profound and obvious of these. Since I was about sixteen, I’ve nearly always had a book on hand, reading. I wouldn’t say I’m an avid reader and I’m definitely not a fast reader, rather a continuous and steady one. I think my tastes have been broad; I tend to mix it up, avoid getting into genres or sticking with a particular writer’s oeuvre to exhaustion; it’s been a varied habit. And it has taken on the character of a habitual endeavour. Often I can’t remember the books I’ve read, can’t recall the story precisely or its conclusion. But I do remember most of the best details; they seem to embed themselves automatically in my subconscious. I’m sure it’s the same for most people who read.

Lately, I’m becoming aware of the benefits of a longterm reading habit. Knowledge, wisdom, facts and ideas seem to crystallise and form an interconnecting whole. It’s a bit like reaching for an ingredient whilst cooking and finding it close at hand. It feels quite wonderful.

In its own way too, cooking is an art and a life skill acquired with a modicum of effort, regularly over time. I’ve always liked to cook; funnily enough, I enjoyed cooking probably before I enjoyed eating; I used to be a fussy eater as a kid. Without much effort, I now have enough confidence to prepare a good range of meals without recourse to recipes, have an understanding of food pairings, flavours, nutrition and diet, all simply from getting stuck in in a small way, from an early beginning.

And there are other skills, picked up in a similarly effortless way, which pay dividends in time. Simple life skills. I trust you’ve each got one or two of your own. I can’t help thinking, if we’d only dismissed the stupid, trivial, nonsensical things we habitually do over a lifetime, we’d be better people in the longer term. Is that wishful thinking?

Flash Fiction: for the Purposeful Practitioner

“You can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs!”

Gran was giving us boys another cookery lesson. She insisted on handing down her “essential life skills” to is, on a plate, so to speak, along with a generous side portion of her homespun philosophies.

“But, Gran, you can!” Eddie, our middle brother, was forever the smart-Alec.

Gran gave him her most withering look, and seasoned it with a “hummm” for good measure.

“But, Gran!”, chimed Eddie. “All you have to do is prick a hole in each end with a pin, and just blow it out.”

Thereby a great flurry of activity took place in the kitchen: pins were procured for all and the four of us, with an egg apiece, set about pricking our two holes. Only Gran, poor soul, didn’t get it. Instead of an eggy liquid depositing itself into the bowl, nothing emerged; her round cheeks refused to deflate and then her face suddenly took on a sickening expression.

Just then, Grandpa walked in and stopped to assess the scene before him. Then he understood. Folding his arms against his chest, he tut-tutted at us all.

“Are you boys teaching your Grandmother to suck eggs?”

(199 words)


This is a submission for Flash-fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner 2018 week #16

It’s a photo prompt (see left). Anything goes.

The one hard rule is for the piece to be less than 200 words.

Click on the blue FROG button below to read other stories submitted.

A mushroom that bleeds

I almost choked on my muesli this breakfast (Simply Sumptuous Special Luxury Fruit & Nut from Lidl – no finer muesli have I eaten). A vegetarian food company has invented a vegan burger that bleeds! But it’s not for vegans, or vegetarians – their target market is “omnivores”.

The Indy news reporter (link below) says she wouldn’t have guessed it isn’t meat, though she couldn’t have said which meat it isn’t. Although it’s not clear in the video that it’s actually “bleeding”, the blood effect comes from the addition of red beetroot,while the majority of the burger is based on that old meat impersonator, mushroom.

So, to recap, it looks like a burger, tastes like meat and bleeds like it once was an animal. And is aimed at “omnivores”.

“Omnivores” will know that, for as long as most can remember, burgers should not bleed. Not unless the diner wishes to play Russian roulette with his or her gut, with the ever present bullet of bacteria in ground or minced meat products. The advice has long been to cook until the “juices” run clear and no amount of pinkness remains.

So, it’s really for those “omnivores” with long memories and a touch of nostalgia. Their target market seems to be shrinking faster than a well-done burger.

The Independent: Food news – meatless bleeding burger (video)

Bobotie

I enjoy cooking. It’s an extension of my love and appreciation of food, and a certain mindfulness of my health and what I eat. It began for me when I took it upon myself to cook my folks a paella recipe from my Mum’s Corden Bleu Cookery Course magazine collection. Talk about jumping in the deep end. I don’t know what it was like really, but they were appreciative. I must have been twelve or thirteen.

Although I had been cooking at that time in the Boy Scouts at camp. Over a camp fire and mostly involved boiling tinned beans, tinned vegetables, and potatoes, and frying sausages and eggs. The regular apogee of our culinary tasks was to bake a cake, in an old biscuit tin oven covered with earth. Needless to say, results were random and variable. I think I owe a great debt to my time as a scout.

Anyway, the point of this is should I blog about my cooking? I’m of two minds on this but yesterday I had a go at a Bobotie which turned out well, and so, while the oven’s still hot…

The Bobotie.

We ate our first Bobotie earlier this year. We were at a charity quiz evening and a South African friend had cooked a huge Bobotie for everyone to have at half-time. (Someone else had prepared a veggie alternative but I can’t remember what it was.)

Some say the Bobotie is South Africa’s national dish. It is a red meat dish, spicy, fruity, slightly sweet and its peculiarity is it’s topped with what is essentially an egg custard before baking in the oven. One good thing is that, after looking over about twelve recipes and videos, apart from the meat, custard and bread, the choice of ingredients varies as many times as there are cooks. So this was my take on the dish, it’s for two people,

The “Curry” Paste

Firstly, prepare the curry paste (some use shop bought Madras powder or paste, so you get an idea). I went the home blend route, using a pestle and mortar.

First grind up the hard ones; a pinch of caraway seeds, a pinch of coriander seeds, 2 dried juniper berries, the seeds from 3 cardamom pods.

Next grind in the medium ones, chopped; 1 medium red chilli, 2 peeled garlic cloves, 1 tsp grated ginger, some fresh coriander stalks

Finally mix in the powdered ones, a good heaped teaspoon each of; cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and a little sea salt and ground black pepper.

If it seems too dry, as mine did, add a little vegetable oil (rape seed, olive etc.) Then give it a good smell: you should get the character of the spiciness right away.

The Spicy, Fruity, Nutty Meat

Next cut the crusts off a slice of bread (I used sourdough), place it in a bowl and cover the bread with a half cup of milk, breaking the slice a little to get it all under. Leave to soak. Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Next, finely dice a large onion. Heat a large pan and melt 25g of butter, then cook the onion until soft and slightly coloured. Add your spice paste and mix in and cook through for a few minutes.

Add 250g of minced beef, breaking it down into the smallest pieces as it cooks. When it’s browned, drain and squeeze the bread slice and add the bread to the mix, breaking it up into crumbs as it cooks. Cook for another 5 minutes, then add 3-4 teaspoons of sweet chutney (I used Mango chutney), and all the fruit, nuts and carrot. Mix and cook for another 5 minutes on a lower heat.

The Baking (with Egg Custard Topping)

Transfer the mix to an oven proof dish and pat in down firm and evenly. Beat an egg and add half cup of milk (you can use the milk the bread was soaked in), whisk into a custard and carefully pour over the meat mixture. Decorate with a couple of bayleaves and pop it in the pre-heated oven, 160 C, for about 30 minutes. The topping should be slightly set and coloured.

As you see, I served it with some fragrant boiled basmati rice, simply cooked with one whole clove and three pierced cardamom pods. Also a chopped cherry tomato, radish and onion (scallion) salad (or salsa). Bon Appetite.

Ingredients for two people.

250g minced or ground meat (beef or lamb)
1 large onion, diced small
25g butter
1 slice bread
1/2 cup milk
4 tsp sweet fruit chutney
1 small grated carrot (or apple)
8 dried organic apricots, chopped
8 whole almonds, chopped
1 tbs raisins
1 large egg
2 bayleaves

1 rounded tablespoon approx. of curry paste (see above) or equivalent curry powder.

Prep. time about 20 minutes (allow more for first time)

Oven baking time, 30 minutes. Fan oven, 160 C (no higher else the custard may split)

Notes and afterthoughts; grated apple seems the popular choice in recipes but we didn’t have one so hence the carrot, which was okay but next time I’ll make sure I have an apple.

The almonds don’t feature in most recipes but our friend suggested them and they worked really well, providing occasional delightful crunchiness and nuttiness. They’re staying in.

I used a fresh chilli which while offers more fruitiness, which I like, sometimes doesn’t provide enough punch. Though this dish isn’t supposed to be full on curry hotness, maybe a little more chilli might be required.

It’s a relatively simple dish to prepare, I think I’ll enjoy cooking it regularly. It is like comfort food.

Thinking about…

Cooking eggs.

How do you like your eggs, fried or boiled?

Apparently, the answer is geo-cultural. According to the Co-op as reported in the London Evening Standard,

A Co-op study of just more than 2,000 people found that Liverpudlians prefer poached eggs, fried tops the list in Cardiff, Edinburgh loves an omelette, Glaswegians like a hardboiled egg while Belfast opts for soft boiled.

Londoners, like me, like theirs scrambled, like I do.

Old Woman Cooking Eggs by Diego Velázquez

My mum, who I’d observe at the cooker in order to learn, would make scrambled eggs by boiling them in a little milk and butter, in a milk pan, stirring all the time. And it did take time, waiting for the mixture to “catch” on the pan and continuously lifting it away. This method was adapted to the microwave oven when they became available though stirring would need to be intermittent.

This is how I made scrambled eggs for a long time until I read a story how a British actor once had scrambled eggs cooked by Jack Nicholson. He cooked beaten eggs in a hot frying pan with a little melted butter. It takes seconds, and they taste better.

Much, much later, I cottoned on that there’s little to gain by beating the eggs beforehand. Simply beat them in the pan while cooking. (I think I got this idea from an Asian cookery source – but I could be wrong.)

Fast food isn’t all bad.

The Co-op on Eggs

More thoughts…

I think maybe sometimes nothing is better for lunch than a soft boiled egg sarnie. Soft yolks but not too runny, between buttered, crusty white bread slices, liberally seasoned with salt and black pepper before closing…

When my Gran was living alone, I would visit her every Tuesday, after college, and she enjoyed feeding me, as I think all Gran’s do. One favourite was egg and chips, with a slice of bread. Simple but Gran had a way to make it taste memorable. I know she only ever had white pepper which gives a different bite to the more fruity black. Her “chips” were round slices of spud shallowed fried in a frying pan. Soft, runny yolks, liberally peppered. Exquisite. I can taste them now…

Poaching is a tricky business but done properly, they look good on a kipper or any poached, smoked fish. Brown bread and butter on the side…

Omelette with homemade baked chips is my go-to quick dinner for one, usually if I’m heading out and it’s too early for the others to eat. It’s automatic but joyful. Two cheeses grated in the omelette, three parts Cheddar and one part Parmesan. I’ll have a generous dash of HP sauce all over this, and the customary slice of bread…

There used to be a transport cafe near where I first worked. A small, round, motherly woman did both the cooking and the serving there; she really looked after you. She did a wonderful cheese omelette and chips, always eaten with brown sauce. And a mug of good tea. Her superb apple pie or crumble served in a pool of custard to follow…