Berries!

Sep. 1st, 2014 10:04 pm
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 The beginning of September's coming up which means I should be seeing the end of Beloved's first harvest from the garden. I could ask him if there's a lot more summer fruit to pick, but I live in fear of him saying "yes."

 

Don't get me wrong, i mean he has managed to stick to this obsession for years now - that's almost unprecedented with him! Normally his attention span wanes 12 minutes after he's found out how to load the credit card with useless things we'll never ever use (like his tropical fish which are still in our living room and he still has little to do with them). So a hobby that lasts this long? Excellent!

 

And he's shockingly good at it- at least, so I can guess from the actual harvests he produces which is a) bountiful b) tasty and c) not mutating into evil monstrous plants that try to eat us. Now, my gardening prowess involves going to a wonderfully "wild" (i.e. "completely ignored") part of the garden and sitting down with a book (sitting on a blanket or bench - not on the actual GROUND with the DIRT and the INSECTS!) and I would actually rather murder the neighbours and be covered in arterial spray than get covered in dirt and fertiliser - so I admit some level of being impressed by this.

 

So this is all of the good, yes? Well, yes. It's just... too much of a good thing hits at times. And in July and August we have the SUMMER FRUITS DELUGE! Cherries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Brambles, Gooseberries, Black Currants, Red Currants (what do you actually DO with these anyway?).

 

Last year I made a lot of jam. Which we still have because we don't actually eat much jam; I gave some away but everyone starts to get that "looking for the exits" look because they fear I may press more fruit preserve on them. Also, jam is one of those things that you never ever wants to eat again once you've actually made it (and realised that it's actually 50% sugar. You thought you were eating healthy fruit? Ha! You might as well crunch your way through a bag of caster sugar).


And yes there's loads of cakes and pies you can make with fruit - and we have, all the lovely things. But there comes a time when you've eaten the 9th creamy, meringuy fruity desert that you just crave chocolate. Or treacle. Or cheese. Or anything without berries. 

 

There is one solution to this inundation - ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream. Exactly how long can ice scream freeze anyway? I worry about the ice cream. Ice cream always seems to be something that is oddly random compared to most of what we make - there's always chance of us producing odd, pykrete like blocks of indestructible yumminess

 

So... either I have a freezer full of tasty, fruity ice creamy goodness

 

Or I have the makings of a Summer Fruits Aircraft Carrier.

 

And gooseberries. Why do we grow this many gooseberries? Does anyone truly love gooseberries this much? I don't know what possesses him, I mean between us we eat just about everything. We're not fussy eaters, we'll try anything 3 times (the first two times it could have just been cooked badly. Third time and still awful? Yes, that's just awful). and usually like what we eat - yet he has this truly magical talent for producing large amounts of the few things we don't love: Gooseberries, Kale, broad beans and worse.

 

It's a special talent.

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 ...or digging the whole deeper, Beloved insists on some clarifications
 
 
1) Apparently a pomegranate and a turnip look superficially similar before one cuts into them.
 
Apparently. Perhaps to someone who is not familiar with either...
 
 
2) The pomegranate was put in the vegetable drawer
 
-true... however I only receive an echoing silence when I ask who put them there
 
 
3) He didn't make a mess cutting the pomegranate, but by using the potato peeler on one.
 
...this is apparently better.

This also shows that he only has the slightest idea how to use the peeler


4) He doesn't like pomegranates. 
 
...I fail to see the relevance 


5) He thinks you can put turnip in my chilli
 
...this is why he doesn't make chilli
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 Wishing to "help", Beloved decided to chop vegetables.

 

We will, for the moment, leave aside the fact I didn't ask him to, that he didn't know what I intended to cook, what vegetables I intend to use (if any) or even, really, whether the vegetables he was chopping even remotely go with each other, let alone anything else I intend to cook. Also, of course, "chop" and even "peel" can mean many things depending on what veg you're cutting and for what recipe

 

I mean, I wouldn't mind if he'd chopped an onion. The chances of me not frying and onion in butter and garlic no matter what I'm cooking is pretty remote. All food starts with chopped onion, butter and garlic. Well, almost.


But, no, I will leave that aside. For now.

 

But I do object to him chopping the turnips

 

Because we do not have turnips.

 

We do have pomegranates.

 

I think you can see where I am going with this.

 

I... can't quite fathom how one mistakes a pomegranate for a turnip.

 

I'm also not sure why, even if shocked to find your "turnip" contains a multitude of ruby red seeds, it is quite necessary to spread those little seeds everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. 

 

 

Oh, and if he'd checked the oven he would find the chilli, nicely slow cooking away, already made and in no need of any vegetables at all

 

No turnip needed

 

And most certainly not needing pomegranate. 

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 Today I cooked for an arsehole.


I do not like said arsehole and would normally draw the line at cooking for arseholes, but I was assured by F (whose judgement I generally… well, do not trust to be honest, because she’s a very random person) that he’s probably being an arsehole because he’s trying to impress his new girlfriend, her friend N. We both are very confused at the straight guy thing of acting like an arsehole to impress girls. Peacocks have shiny feathers, stags have antlers, straight guys have loud, showing-off arseholery. Does it actually work?


Anyway, said arsehole had previously expressed his taste for very spicy food, but that neither I nor F could possibly understand for I am not a real man and she is a delicate little flower of womanhood so neither of us could possibly handle spicy food.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Now I am partial to hot food and will cook with all kinds of spice, chilli etc, but I generally disapprove of the macho posturing of making food blisteringly hot for the sake of it. Heat should enhance the dish or be a natural side effect of those flavours – actually setting out to make food painfully hot so you can prove how tough you are strikes me as ridiculously childish and a waste of perfectly good food. Also, I think a lot of spicy food should (and usually is) served with a cooling agent – soured cream, yogurt, guacamole, chutney, raita, salads, tzatziki, etc.

 

I would never ever make food ridiculously hot just to prove that I (and F) can handle far hotter food than he and he should go home sobbing like a little boy. Of course not.

 

Cooking extremely nice food where the heat is an entirely natural part of the food process and adds to its delicious flavour and just happens to be very very hot indeed? Why, it’s a pure coincidence, I assure you!

 

It was even optional! Crispy fried chicken (in my own spice mix. Which wasn’t hot. Much. *ahem*) and dipping sauces: piri piri, Mexican chilli and tomato and Thai sweet chilli.

 

Did I mention that Beloved’s Bird’s Eye Chilli plant has a truly impressive crop of teeny tiny red chillies?

 

He was quite capable, at any time, of recognising the sauces were far far too hot for him and kept to the sour cream and hoi sin dips. And just because F and I were double dipping didn’t mean he had to, now, did it?

 

 

Oh how I do love to cook for people J.

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 After a couple of weeks of doing nothing but poke obsessively at Fangs (due to current bad mooseness I’m on all hands-on-deck mode in a classic obsessive need to DO ALL THE THINGS) and poke obsessively at work and occasionally poke obsessively at various other projects (which also somewhat explains my not entire presence here or on twitter which may continue for some time), Beloved decided I needed a break and booked tickets for the Great British Food Festival; a nice day out where I could indulge all my foody leanings.

 

See, he can be a good one when he chooses.

 

Ok there were hiccoughs. No.1 was his insistence that the festival is pretty close until our Satnav informed us that the site, Shugborough Hall, which is in Staffordshire, aka FREAKING MILES AWAY. This meant getting up at yefuckinggods o’clock on a Sunday morning. (Also worth noting, yes Staffordshire is a pretty pretty county and yes those olde timey hump-back bridges are pretty – but single lane blind humpback bridges allowing 2 way traffic is a whole new form of quaint and picturesque terror).

 

 

The Good:

Food! There were so many food stalls with so many things cooked and just begging me to try! Food of all kinds, lots of local produce, lots of different cooking styles, a few odd exotics (kangaroo?). You could walk around buying and eating stuff and trying all the wonderful things. If I had even the slightest complaint, it’s that too many of the stalls didn’t embrace the idea that we want to TRY ALL THE THINGS and needed to sell food in smaller portions


Price! Ok it wasn’t cheap – certainly not the drink (but zomg! Scrumpy slushies! REAL scrumpy! And crushed ice!) – but nor was it price-gougy ridiculous that you often expect at these things (except the lemonade. I don’t care if it is home made from diamond encrusted lemons and limes, £3.50 is silly).

 

Produce! Ok there was the craft fare clinging to a corner (who goes to those things?) but other than that there were lots of butchers, brewers, wine makers, cheese makers, bakers et al providing a gazillion free samples of truly awesome yumminess; including some amazing infused oils and a rhubarb and Custard cordial. Rhubarb and Custard drink that is just so good. Some of these stalls were good enough that I didn’t just eat samples and buy stuff, but made a note of the company so I can find the nearest supplier (Snowdon cheese? Your whiskey cheese owns my Soul!)

 

Cooking demonstrations, a local chef gets up on stage and cooks and shows us how; these probably needed a bigger tent because they were popular. We caught 2. The first was really excellent – funny, clever and informative. Ok what he cooked wasn’t complicated, I’ve done it before, but he had ideas and techniques and hints that I hadn’t.

 


 

The second one was also pretty fun to watch – but he was far more ambitious and not nearly as good at explaining what he was doing or why (like the first chef would tell us what oil he was using and why). It was hard to keep track since he did 3 dishes simultaneously and he rather liked more obscure ingredients (and don’t you just hate chefs who can’t cook a meal without special braised antelope horn or mermaid pubic hair?) He seemed much more interested in promoting himself – to an extent where I was rolling my eyes and muttering at the guy to get over himself. Still it was good to watch and fun.

 

 

The Bad:

There was a shuttle bus taking you from the car park to the site, but it wasn’t clearly labelled. More to the point, no-one was warned that the site is actually an incredible hike over 10 squillion fields. A sign would have been nice “Here is the bus. If you don’t want to take the bus, have 3 hours to waste and are experienced in cross country hikes – by all means walk”.  The walk is especially fun because there are hedges that block vision, and each time you reach one you THINK you’ve made it – and then there’s another field in front of you.

 

SHADE! It was probably the hottest, sunniest day of the year yesterday* and the only real shade available was in crowded tents displaying things which were even hotter than the outside due to the crush of people. There was a lot of seating (and more places to sprawl on the grass) but it was all in full sunlight. I’m amazed there weren’t people dropping like flies from the sunstroke

 

Crowds! ZOMG SO MANY PEOPLE!** (To be fair, lots of people but few queues or blockages)

 

Live Music! The singer was… moderate. And, being of moderate talent, he should really really really leave Adele’s songs alone.

  

 

I am willing to declare this day a success, but now I need to sleep for a month. And eat all the things.

 

  

*Beloved is currently unable to MOVE from sunburn. And he even, for once, acceded to my demand that he must must must wear suncream. And that there is no way his Scandanavian skin tone was ever, ever going to tan; sunlight was not something his genetic line has ever been exposed to. But even with precautions he’s suffering today. Even I’m feeling warm along my arms

 

 

**Which is why I am currently unable to do almost anything because I had a full blown ZOMG CROWDS splodey brain which is bad and I will talk about elsewhere because I don’t want my bad brain chemistry overshadowing what was a good day and a good thing

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 Beloved is trying to claim I had a culinary disaster. I challenge his definition and would deny him cake as punishment except for… issues.

While certainly no disaster, I have, perhaps, just maybe, possibly had a culinary miscalculation.

 See, in the grand tradition of English baking, I made a Victoria sandwich cake – with cream (of course with cream). But there’s a problem with my cake tins

 I have many many cake tins, but only 2 are round and the same size. They are 11 inch tins. For those not familiar with baking, they are BIG tins. I could use a smaller tin, make one sponge and cut it in half but I hate doing that – inevitably things crack, fall apart, cut unevenly or just turn into a pumpkin

 So I resign myself to making Large cakes. No-one complains. I just have to double any conventional recipes I have.

 Unfortunately, due to sleep deprivation and distracting husbands, I think I MIGHT have doubled my double. I can only blame Beloved for not realising that 8 eggs were… a trifle excessive for sponge cake.

 The resulting cake was… large. 11 inches in diameter, with each sponge proudly rising over the top of his huge tins. So deep were the sponges I was forced to bite the bullet and cut them in half for a 4 layered cake. With whipped cream, jam and butter cream between the layers.

 Beloved declared himself slighting afraid of the enormous cake.

 We have decided this is Northern Victoria Sponge.

 In the south (were delicate, soft people live, of course), Felicity and Cecilia may have a break in their busy day of flower arranging in silly hats to take tea out of delicate china cups with a small slice of elegant Victoria sponge.

 In the North, Maggie and Tracy, will knock off wrestling mammoths in the coal mines to have a brew (in big mugs of course) and a nice big chunk of Northern Victoria Sponge.

 This is a cake that would eat Delia Smith and possibly traumatise Mary Berry for life (or maybe not, I’ve always thought Mary Berry had a gleam in her eye that suggests she May Cut You if she has to).

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 Beloved bought me a baking recipe book by Paul Hollywood (a master baker and becoming celebrity chef baker)

 

This is how he terms it.

 

I think of it more him buying a list of things he wants to eat and expects me to make. He resents this interpretation of events.

 

And yesterday he found a recipe for a kind of Brioche (French faffy bread of faffiness that is faffy) and the recipe for it is even more faffy than your average faffy French recipe. Supposedly it’s sweet, rich and very very light. Now I’ve made brioche before and it didn’t even remotely resemble this recipe


Because I looked at the recipe and saw “500g flour, 250g butter, 5 eggs” and declared that it isn’t bread, it’s cake. It’s cake with yeast in it. It’s cake without enough sugar. But it’s still cake. Twice flour to fat and lots of eggs = cake batter. It’s a sponge cake pretending to be bread. It also has 140ml of milk which, with the eggs (let alone the butter) is a metric fuckton of liquid.

 

But, fool that I am, I agree despite it taking 2 days. And I try to knead it. Oh how I tried.

 

I would not wish kneading this stuff on my worst enemy. It isn’t bread dough. It’s porridge. Cement porridge. It’s a batter. It’s the gloopiest, stickiest, nastiest stuff you ever did do battle with. You could build buildings with it, it resembled sawdust suspended in vomit, it looked like something they serve you for breakfast in Scotland, it grabbed hold of spoons and wouldn’t let go and if you go it on your hands then, suck it up because you ARE losing a layer of skin. In frustration I corralled the sticky mass into a food mixer and, something I hardly ever do, tried to get it to do the kneading. And the motor nearly burned out. This stuff nearly killed my mixer. It still has sticky goo invading its crevices. A long, hard rehabilitation awaits before it can rejoin kitchen society


The funnies part was when Beloved read aloud the instructions to “tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into balls”. After trying to murder him (damn he can move fast when he wants to), I made a hasty dam to stop the substance from oozing off the counter top.

 

After wrestling it into the oven (not a cement mixer which may have been more appropriate) and cooking it we did end up with something that very closely resembled bread!


And we cut into it and it was so incredibly light – you could cut it with a butter knife.


BECAUSE IT IS CAKE

 

It’s unsweetened spongecake with a crust and a bread-like flavour. It tastes like bread, it has the texture of cake. Which is, apparently, correct – but but but why would anyone want this? Why do you want bread with the texture of cake? Why do you want crumbly bread? WHYYY?

 

And why would you spend so much time and energy making bread with so little substance? Why? Because this is French cookery for you – endless faff for damn little reward *harrumph*

 

It is a little redeemed watching Beloved try to make sandwiches with it.

 

 

 

In defence to the recipe, I have found 2 issues that are Beloved’s fault:

 

Flour. He assures me he hasn’t mixed up my flour containers and put the wrong kind in the wrong tub. He swears he hasn’t. He’s also a lying liar who lies. Because that “strong white bread flour” had wholemeal in it.

 

 

Butter. When I say “I need 250g softened butter” he interprets that as “250g of spreadable alleged-butter”.  Which doesn’t solidify when fridged of course.

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Being under the weather I couldn’t face cooking – odd I’m not nauseous or not hungry, but I am hellaciously exhausted.

Which is a problem – because there’s WANTING to eat, yet not being able to cook and facing… Beloved’s offer to cook instead.

There follows the sudden moment when I desperately try to think of what is in the freezer – surely there must be something ready made? Something I’ve already cooked that Beloved just needs to defrost and warm up? Something he can’t ruin too much? Maybe…

It’s like a scene from a horror movie where the protagonist is desperately trying to remember if they’ve locked all the doors, or think of a way out or where there’s a weapon and in a panic they just can’t remember and the monster – the horrific ghastly monster – is just getting closer!

And I have to remember exactly what I’ve frozen – I mean, I know I HAVE frozen meals because I always do… but if I say “yes I fancy lasagne” and it turns out that I haven’t frozen a lasagne, Beloved will then attempt to make a lasagne. The very idea makes me want to cower in terror.

I could say “go see what I’ve frozen because you cannot cook and will kill us all if you try!” but then he will INSIST on cooking to prove that he CAN cook and then he will EAT whatever he cooks and declare it delicious even though it’s a complete and utter lie and the toxic slop can’t even be fed to the cat without us being arrested for animal cruelty. Then I go without food and have to put up with Beloved making himself ill.

So I declare I will cook. A creative lie helps allay suspicion – cooking helps me relax, cooking will take my mind off things, cooking will be good for me! Ha - better for me than poisoning at any rate

Except exhaustion means I don’t do the sensible thing and go rooting in the freezer early enough to defrost and I eventually roll into the kitchen only when too hungry to do anything else (and Beloved was making threatening moves in that direction).

I could have ordered take away, but Beloved lived on it while we were away and looked faintly green at the suggestion.

So… cheese. Screw it, cheese, crackers, fruit and bread (that which is still fresh). We always have immense amounts of cheese lurking in the bottom of the fridge, in the salad crisper to make sure anything green and leafy and healthy is aware that this is a calorie loving household and not to get too comfortable.

Ok not the most involved of meals but we love cheese and eating up some of the vast stock isn’t a bad thing. Except... the brie

 I don’t know where this brie comes from but we always have this massive wheel of brie. Now I’m not against brie, we both quite like brie. A little brie now and then is a good thing. A little – so why do we always have this huge great wheel of cheese that could feed half of France? I would accuse Beloved but I can’t see him getting enthusiastic enough about brie to buy this – if it were cheddar or wensleydale, yes – but not brie. Maybe we have a crafty cheesemonger who can manipulate him into inundating us with unwanted French cheese? Beloved swears it’s not him and I know it’s not me – so if no-one is buying brie where does it keep coming from? Do we have a secret brie mine? The brie elves visit? Or maybe it’s breeding….

 Then there’s the eternal stilton. Now this, I do know where the Eternal Stilton comes from. My uncle – who has given us out own bodyweight in stilton every damn Christmas ever. He does the same with everyone, I don’t think he has ever given anyone a gift that wasn’t a metric fuckton of stilton. His kids first birthday? Stilton. Wife’s anniversary? Stilton. Daughter’s wedding? Stilton! I think he must have shares in the dairy.

 Sure it’s nice in a few recipes – but how much strong blue cheese can you just eat? It’s not like you can put it in sandwiches!

 Even if we liked stilton, this package is too much. No-one likes stilton this much. It’s not actually possible to like stilton this much. Eating this much stilton would actually kill someone. It doesn’t help that it’s in a ceramic container so doesn’t rot and reach a point where it can be thrown away – especially since, as it’s blue cheese, it doesn’t really go off anyway

 But it does get more… pungent. It is now locked in its little ceramic box and… we dare not open it. And if we dare not open it, we cannot check it to see if it is time to throw it away. But the ceramic lid fits really tightly. It’s sealed, I think.

So it remains, in the cheese drawer. Tightly sealed. Watching. Waiting. One day it plans to escape.

 And then may the gods have mercy on us all.

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So, F, she with the emergency appetite, invited Beloved and I to her’s for dinner

 Which translates to “come and cook for me in my house”. Because she’s a cheeky so-and-so (not the words I used) like that, she is.

 And when I get there I find… meat, diced into rough cubes.

F: *proudly* I already defrosted it.

Sparky: What is it?

F: Beef.

Sparky: I can see that. Would you care to narrow it down beyond “lumps of cow.”

F: Its beef…

Sparky: Gods you sound like him.

Beloved: hey!

 Sparky: Fillet, Sirloin, skirt, chuck, silverside, brisket, braising…? Any of this ringing a bell.

 F: yes. Maybe.

 Sparky: I see. And how would you normally cook this?

 F: Apply heat! It turns brown!

 Sparky:… quite.

 Then she announces someone else is coming – and they don’t like spicy. Or curry. Or any Indian. Or chillies, or pepper or cumin or anything that is even slightly hot. They don’t like garlic, don’t like star anise (which I can agree on), they don’t like paprika (what unnatural being DOESN’T like paprika?) ginger only in tiny amounts and don’t over-do the onion. Seriously, the list of anything with an ounce of flavour this woman doesn’t like went on for so long I can only assume she eats boiled potatoes and yoghurt and lives in terror of ever actually tasting anything.

 But it doesn’t stop there – She has no red wine. “I have white.” Uh-huh. That’s nice. She has no cream. She has no stock. NO STOCK! SHE DOESN’T HAVE AN ONION

*record scratch*

How can you NOT have onions? That’s like not having running water. And how does she have a kitchen with galangal, 8 different kinds of peppercorn, 6 different kinds of salt (different kinds of SALT? It’s SALT!) and a full romanesco (the hell is this thing? It’s like some geneticist decided to weaponise cauliflower) but NOT actually have an onion. One onion. Half an onion. Spring onions, a shallot, I’m not proud, anything vaguely allium will do.

 This is why I value my kitchen.

To add: She doesn't own a wok. Who has 11 different shades of soy sauce, but no wok? really.

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 If you’ve been in Britain and not been living in a cave, you’ll be aware of the horsemeat scandal (and related – but horsemeat is the one that the media has been focused on). Lots of food, especially cheap, processed food that purports to be beef apparently contains horsemeat. In the case of a Findus beef lasagne, it contained 100% horsemeat and nary a cow in sight.
 
Needless to say, people aren’t happy.
 
Unfortunately, a significant part of the media reporting around this (and people’s reactions) has been “ZOMG THE POOR HORSEY!” because, unlike our continental neighbours, British people rarely eat horse and there’s something of a social taboo about it. This, in turn, has led to a silly backlash among those who enjoy smugness about how silly silly these silly people are who will eat a cow but not a horse. Oh how silly.
 
Personally, I’ll eat horse. I have eaten horse. It’s nice meat. But the issue here isn’t “silly English people who won’t eat horse, you sillies” but that our food is mislabelled.
 
I don’t care exactly how it’s being mislabelled, I object to the deception. If I get a beef lasagne that claims to contain beef, I don’t expect Dobin. Whatever reasons people have for not wanting to eat certain food – whether it’s religious, philosophical, medical, ethical, or fluffy-fuzzy-bunny-logic – that is their choice to make. Whether they want organic or GM free or vegetarian or gluten free or kosher or whatever – people get to choose what they put in their stomachs. People need to be able to trust food labels. And people deserve to get what they paid for – someone gives you money for a beef lasagne, they are paying for a beef lasagne, not a horse or donkey or scrag end of rat.

Because horse may be fairly benign, but what else passes through? Because this has, if nothing else, exposed a severe problem with the meat industry and the regulatory organisations. We’re being fed horse dressed as beef – what else are we being fed? What else is being passed off? I find it unlikely in the extreme that we can have a horsemeat scandal that is this broad and it be the only problem with our food supply.
 
Illicit meat sources – and unknown meat sources – also damage or destroy the provenance of the meat. This is important for far more than pretentious foodies who only ever eat carrots that have been nurtured on the sweat of French maidens in the Loire valley and wouldn’t dream of eating carrots from anywhere else. The provenance is what ensures that the meat comes from animals that have been reared in the borderline humane methods the weak law demands. Provenance ensures they were slaughtered not just humanely, but hygienically as well. Provenance ensures the meat isn’t full of the chemicals, hormones and radiation that we disapprove of this side of the Atlantic. In fact, a vast amount of our food safety (and simple food STANDARD procedures) precautions requires us to know where the food comes from and that that source is tested and monitored.
 
So this isn’t negligible but it may serve to expose a lot of corruption and even organised crime. But while looking at that, we may also want to consider the very nature of meat production and sale. Particularly the idea that 6 or 7 companies across 4 or 5 countries play pass the parcel with the meat before it reaches our plate. It’s almost comic to imagine. We may also want to consider the very common complaint from food producers of the thumb screws the massive supermarkets are putting on them
 
And maybe, as a “where can we find cheaper food” option, we should consider expanding our palette legitimately.

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So, dinner yesterday was a great success or an attempt to kill everyone, depending on your point of view.

 Chicken and ricotta ravioli (yes, chicken. Yes still.)

 Chicken and pancetta risotto

 Home made ciabatta

 Served in a white wine, cream and wild mushroom sauce

  

Which was yummy, however there was one teeny, tiny, miscalculation

 *zombie groans all round*

 “Atkin’s diet! Atkin’s diet!” *groooan*

 “And this is why our ancestors filled up on carbs” *groooooan*

 “Bread, pasta and rice? What were you thinking?! Where you trying to stuff us to death?”

 “You didn’t have to eat it all. Did I force you to eat it? Did I? No.”

 “Soooo goooooood” *groan*

 It was an hour before anyone could move. My grandmother would have approved – it’s not a proper dinner if your dinner guests can move around afterwards

 

Yes. Again.

Dec. 2nd, 2012 06:55 pm
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Beloved: *smells cooking* ooh what's for dinner?

Sparky: Chicken.

Beloved: Again?


....


...


..


.

I admire his courage.
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Beloved:  *unbelievably cheerful* Sparky!   Hurry home, I miss you!

 Sparky: *suspicious look at phone* what did you do?

 Beloved: What? Can’t I just…

 Sparky:No. What did you do?

 Beloved: Look, before you get mad…

 Sparky: I’m saving time, I’m already mad.

 Beloved: But listen, listen, listen, because this is actually good I promise, listen…

 Sparky: I’m listening. Do elaborate on this “actually good” thing.

 Beloved: Well, there was a huge screw up at my friend X’s work (who works in the meat industry doing… meat industry type things) and he’s got all these chickens going really cheap. So I got some off him.

 Sparky: That’s not bad…

 Beloved: See! I mean, you said we could always use chickens so I said yes and loaded up.

Sparky: Wait wait, I said we could always use chicken. Did you just say chickenS?

 Beloved: yes, same difference.

 Sparky: Whole chickens? As entire full chickens? You’ve just bought a load of full frozen chickens?

 Beloved: They’re not frozen.

 Sparky: …ok… how many fresh chickens did you buy?

 Beloved: Errr… not fresh exactly. More… defrosted. They were frozen and now they’re not. Shall I put them in the freezer?

 Sparky: NO! You can’t refreeze defrosted raw meat! How many are there?

 Beloved: I though you couldn’t, that’s why they’re on the kitchen units. You won’t believe how cheap…

 Sparky: How many are there?

 Beloved: You always said chicken’s so versatile. You can eat it every day for a month and…

 Sparky: How. Many. Are. There?

 Beloved: It’s not that bad.

 Sparky: More than 2? More than 5? More than 10? More than 50? More than 100?

 Beloved: Don’t be silly, of course there’s not more than 50.

 Sparky: …you wouldn’t consider more than 10 to be silly?

 Beloved: 10 is not that silly…

 Sparky: Am I looking at a number between 10 and 50 chickens? Defrosted chickens? Are you telling me this? Really?

 Beloved: Noooooo… don’t be silly! Of course not! Of course there’s less than 10!

 Sparky: ok… so, how many.

 Beloved: Only 8. *sigh of relief*

 Sparky:…Eight whole chickens I can’t freeze?

 Beloved: Yes. Fifty! You don’t have a lot of faith in me!

 Sparky: Eight?!

 Beloved: yes, only eight. See you soon! *hangs up*

 Sparky: Wait! *dial tone*

 Well at least it isn’t 50.

 Looks like I need to cook a few dozen chicken recipes and freeze them. Why why why does he buy food? Why?!

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I have finally made my Winter Feast cake!

 But Sparky, I hear you cry, it’s October!

 I know, I know, I’m running late this year. I normally have all Yule, Christmas and Winter Feast cakes made in September. But it’s still a good time to get them baking.

 I always make these every year partly because of Beloved. He used to hate Christmas cake because his family never baked them – they bought them. Nasty, dry things that they were. And then he ate, in order, my great-aunt’s Christmas cake and then my Christmas cake – he is now hooked and a huge cake

 And partly because of said Great Aunt, master baker for near a century, who finally broke and asked how I made my cake. Victory parade, if you please.

 Since I think Christmas cake – and fruit cake – is sorely undervalued I’m going to throw the recipe I use out there in the hope more people will make this unctuous, rich, boozy, heavy and EASY cake (sans icing since we won’t be doing that until December)

 Note: this cake is very rich, very heavy, very boozy and has been known to pin people to their chairs, caught in the eternal torture of wanting to eat more of the lovely but possibly exploding if they do. If you want a lighter version of this cake, please go look up the meaning of the winter feast, put away the diet books and invest in some elasticated waist trousers. Lighter Christmas cakes indeed! *harrumph*

 The night before, prepare the fruit:

Your ingredients (in metric despite my imperial scales):

420g of Currants

250g Sultana

250g Raisins

160g glace cherries

150g dried apricots

75g Candied peel

9 tbsp of Brandy (or more! I go more, often a lot lot more) Do not stint on the booze!)

3 tbsp of red sherry or ruby port (if you prefer a smoky – NOT peaty – whisky)

 Put it all in a BIIIIG bowl, mix well so the booze can soak that fruit through and through – leave it over night to percolate. I’ve left it a couple of days before to really SOAK.


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The rest:

280g Plain Flour

2-3 tsps grated nutmeg

2 tsp ground mixed spice

2 tsp ground ginger

280g butter (softened)

295g Dark Muscavado sugar

5 BIIIIG eggs or 6 smaller ones (beaten)

80g whole almonds – chopped

2 tbsp black treacle

2 grated rinds of lemon

2 grated rins of orange.

 

 Mix it all into the boozy fruit. Mix mix mix mix. Done. No, really – just shove all the ingredients in a bowl and mix – if you can use scales and turn a spoon, you can make this cake.

 Set your oven to 140 (that’s Celsius. If you don’t work in Celsius – learn) Put in a greased tin and bake for FIVE HOURS. That is not a typo. 5 hours. This cake wants to bake forever!

 When it’s done let it cool and wrap in paper and store in a cool dry place. Every 2-3 days from now until you ice the cake in mid-December you want to take it out, stab it with a thin skewer and drizzle more brandy into the cake. Don’t stint on the booze but don’t drown it. Keep feeding the cake until we finally ice it.

 This is a BIG cake (about a 9” round tin). You may want to make a smaller one but remember – WINTER FEAST! GO GLUTTONY and just make a big one and eat it all. It also keeps forever and a day without going stale

 A note on measures: I guestimate as much as anything. It’s a very forgiving cake – and, remember, MORE IS MORE, especially with the fruit, spice and booze. Winter Feast guys, don’t be stingy.

  
The icing is a nice simple layer of marzipan covered with a layer of diamond hard royal icing. Making it EVEN RICHER.

 


sparkindarkness: (Default)

 Now, there’s a very simple pasta bake recipe I tend not to use (I think it’s just a nasty lasagne without layers) but Beloved can usually manage. It involves mince (that’d be ground beef for the cruel abusers of the English language out there), chopped tomatoes, a few herbs, an onion, some garlic, some mushrooms. They’re all cooked together and spooned over pasta. Then a sauce made of flour, eggs, milk and cheese is poured on top. The whole thing is sprinkled with cheese and put in the oven to bake.

 Yeah, I know – just make a lasagne, it’ll taste nicer and is less ridiculous. But it’s passable when done right and, when Beloved follows the instructions religiously, it’s not awful.

 Yes…

I think the problem started with him not wanting to make a full one (which feeds 8 or something) so he cut the amount of onion, garlic and mince. Sounds sensible but now he is NOT FOLLOWING THE INSTRUCTIONS. We are now in the realm of BELOVED IMPROVISATION!

 DUM DUM DUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!!!!

 Ok, the first problem. Aware he can’t improvise he very very very carefully measures out the right amount of tomatoes for the reduced recipe and puts the remainder in the fridge. Then something distracts him and he puts the tomatoes he measured in the fridge as well. They’re there, right now, chopped tomatoes + tomato puree in the fridge.


Somehow MISSING that he’d completely failed to put tomatoes in he puts his cooked pasta (cooked without seasoning) in the baking dish… but there’s another problem. He only decided to make a smaller version AFTER cooking the pasta and, yes, he put the full measure of pasta in then spooned a micro-meter thin layer of the mince, mushrooms and onion on top. Also unseasoned. He’s in full confused mode now so no herbs have gone anywhere near, he assures me he got them out of the cupboard.

 Now the white sauce. Milk, flour, eggs, cheese (seasoning – oh I how naive to wish for some seasoning). But no! He has taken out too much, silly Beloved. Measuring he puts the excess back – but, alas, he has confused himself and put all the cheese back without realising. And, rather flustered due to some dropped flour, he screwed up the maths on the flour – he has far far too much flour. Unfortunately the extra flour means the sauce isn’t thin from lack of cheese so Beloved doesn’t notice (hah, like he would have – but he assures me this is the reason). This (unseasoned) wallpaper paste is poured onto the bake. Into the oven it goes.

 When it came out, without a nice, crispy cheese topping, I knew I was in trouble.

 It was claggy. It was heavy. It had a truly revolting texture,  a mix between porridge and cement. It tasted bland. It tasted like pasta floating in soggy flour. It tasted of boredom. It tasted of sadness, of hopelessness, of the death of joy.  It may be the worst thing he has ever cooked.

Also, Beloved objects mightily to his food being called “the death of joy”. And he wasn’t very pleased with “it tastes of sadness.”  He declared there is nothing wrong with his creation and he is stubbornly eating it – yes, he is eating it AT me to prove how unreasonable I am.
 

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I am fairly used to dinner guests. Partly this is due to Beloved’s constant inviting of people (which he SOMETIMES deigns to tell me about in advance) and partly due to several friends who are now accustomed to filling their bellies at my table (especially F. who brings doggy bags and will send her menu order in advance) and, of course, my habit of making enough food to feed not so much regiments as legions (as evidenced this weekend with the paella for 12. Now, to be fair, my paella pan is from Spain and advised by a truly expert paella maker, a Spanish grandmother, who didn’t understand why anyone would want a small paella pan so I’m not actually capable of making less).

And since I like to cook, I’m generally fine with that. But there are rules.


{Lafayette Mode} You come in my house you’re going to eat my food the way I fucking make it!{/Lafayette Mode}





So, if I am serving steak, filet or a beef joint, it will not be served well done, it will be cooked properly. If you want excellent beef “well done” you may feel free to chew on some shoe leather. And I shall mock you for it. Or you could eat the actual beef and have your palate educated.

(Yes this applies to Beloved too and his distressing need to reduce perfectly good beef to charcoal – which means he regularly takes his steak back to the grill and mangles our roast by trying to take the slices of meat around the edge of the joint)

There is no salt or pepper on the table. Ever. This is for a reason. I have seasoned the food. I always season my food. Are you saying my food is underseasoned? Are you suggesting my food is bland? Are you? Because I’m sat here with these nice sharp implements and would very much like to know. Oh and may I compliment you on your incredible sense of smell – because you can somehow tell my food is unseasoned WITHOUT EVEN TASTING IT!

And sauces? I will put out sauces if they go with the meal. Some of these sauces will be home made and awesome. I’m sorry, you want ketchup? Is that for the burger? That home made burger which has been perfectly put together with lean mince, breadcrumbs, egg and a blend of herbs and spices to create a truly sophisticated taste? Is this the burger you wish to overwhelm with generic, salt and sugar filled chemical red goop? No? Jolly good. No, I’m just taking this large butcher knife to clean, don’t worry about it.

It is also unwise to ask where I bought the food. I will tell you where I got the ingredients, however, since it is well known by people putting their feet under my table that I even bake my own bread I may experience an involuntary reflex wherein I beat you repeatedly about the head and shoulders with a serving ladle if you compare my food with the plastic, chemical laden, wood pulp filled, salt saturated, insect laced stuff you buy ready made. You will have to excuse the bruise, I assure you it’s quite quite accidental and in no way linked a burning desire to kill you. No, not at all.

No-one would call me an unreasonable human being (not twice anyway). And by following these simple rules everyone can enjoy their dinner with a minimum of lawsuits, screaming and blood on the table settings.

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Since Beloved has been doing his gardening thing still, I found myself rather over-run with salady-type things.

And since I have been to the fish market, I have lots of tasty swimmy things. Decisions, decisions

Stuffed squid with salad! Hey let’s make it a crab salad, a crab nicoise salad. Oh and we’ll use those prawns and steam some razorclams I want to tryu this wine. And bread of course, that’ll go well with creamy muscles and…


….some hours later..


Sparky: Finished!

Beloved: *gape* what did you do?

Sparky: Cook dinner.

Beloved: Which regiment is actually visiting?

Sparky: So we may have some left overs…

Beloved: We need a whole new kitchen to store these left overs.

Sparky: The cat will eat some

Cat: *is daunted*

Beloved: I’m going to call some emergency dinner guests.

Sparky: That MAY be a good idea.


I’m beginning to think there are some people who sit by their phones every night hoping I’ve gone on a cooking frenzy, by how quickly they responded. You’d think I made a habit of it…


F: *bursts into the room* Fear not good citizens, the appetite is here to save the day!
Beloved: You have a costume…
Sparky: With a cape.
F: And elasticated trousers *stretches them* see? Saves me having to undo the top button for extra gluttony
Beloved: Ingenious
F: And it has a satchel for doggy bags.

Ok… maybe I might, just might, have done this once or twice in the past. But that doesn’t make it a habit.
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I try to be an organised person – in particular I always make sure I have food ready to defrost and cook just in case I find myself unable to cook and I am faced with the dire threat of Beloved cooking. Beloved reheating I can just about manage (though it’s criminal what he has done to my food before now), but cooking? I’m a good person, I don’t deserve that.

Unfortunately, as has been previously obvious, Beloved gets his little… obsessions. The garden is continuing, he seems to be revitalising interest in the damn fish –and he wants to cook. To cook. The man who cannot reliably toast bread wants to COOK.

So, unable to cook, I left strict instructions on what beloved was to defrost, how he was to do defrost it and how exactly he could turn the frosty into the edible.

While he ignored.

Instead he decided he would inventively cook pork steaks in apple sauce with baked potatoes. Now, on the plus side it has to be said that he chose a less-than-inventive meal that should not be very taxing. After all, he couldn’t get this wrong, right, could he?

Ah-ha oh yes yes he could. I honestly don’t know what he would have done if we didn’t live together since university (yes, we lived together before we dated. Complicated). He would literally be dead now, dead, if I couldn’t cook. Dead. I’m actually sure that years ago he COULD cook competently back then – I seem to recall eating meals he cooked (for a given value of cooked) without fear… so maybe he’s right* and he has just rusted from lack of use.

Anyway I returned home to find this… meal prepared. And I was afraid, dear readers, I was sore afraid.

Like the baked potatoes. Now, there are 2 ways to do baked potatoes – slowly and lovely in the oven. Or quickly and not nearly so lovely in the microwave. Apparently there’s also a third method – quick and oven baked, all you do is set your oven to HOTTER THAN THE HEART OF THE SUN and then put in the spuds (presumably wearing Hazmat suits to get close to the oven) and they will cook in record time! With charcoal-like skin and completely raw centres.

Then there was the pork steaks. Now there are many ways we can cook pork steaks and make them delectable. Top of the list of things never ever to do? Do not put them under a grill (a raised grill at that) and slowly bake out every last drip of moisture and every iota of flavour. This steak wasn’t dry, it was desiccated. In fact, we need a whole new word for how dry this was. This is the aftermath of a world destroyed in fiery apocalypse. This is what happens if a desert became food. This is the very essence of dryness. So dry was this steak that we could have dropped it into a body of water and it would not only still be dry – but it would destroy all liquid it came into contact with.

And the apple sauce… now, I didn’t complain about the previous items on the plate not being seasoned because, well, it’s rather like complaining that a serial killer said mean things about you. But I found the missing seasoning – it was in the apple sauce. All of it. In fact, I think that someone needs to assure me that the North Sea still exists since I think Beloved dropped one of the steak in there and, after all of the water was absorbed, he scooped up the tons of salt remaining and put it into this… sauce. This over-cooked, stewed, salty mass of vileness. It was actually so salty it was nauseating.

In a perverse kind of way, I almost want to see him cook again – just because I am impressed at how truly awful his cooking can be.

*something I will deny ever ever saying, under torture
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Beloved’s work place has started giving him grey hairs (which is normally what my job does) but with all the marriage equality in the news, he’s treated to daily debates on whether or not “the gays” need marriage/want marriage which is apparently raging fiercely across the work place. He’s the only gay person in the place and his work mates are oh-so-surprised that his extremely patient and affable nature has snapped and he is dragging arses on the carpet for presuming to know what “the gays” want and why, in the name of all that is sensible, do they even give a damn one way or the other since it doesn’t concern them.

His colleagues don’t understand why he’s getting ever more pissed off at them. Because it’s fun to have a bunch of straight folks judge the merits and worthiness of your relationship, right? Let alone getting to enjoy it every damn day.

In general, I think my Beloved is approaching a burn out similar to the ones I have regularly (albeit more stably because, well, Beloved’s brain isn’t full of the badness). His work place has less of the splodey issues as mine and he’s never had the closeness with his family to make them sporky nor has he had a past on the level of mine – but his work place is hardly friendly, his family not exactly warm and his past hardly rosy. He also has a wider circle of friends that, frankly, I would have cut loose (or cut into teeny tiny pieces) long since, one of the barriers to us going out more is any circle of his friends is going to include some friends or acquaintances that will make us both want to slap them before the night is out.

Besides, even if all of these were super shiny, it’s just impossible to duck all of the shit that’s out there. Yes, inset my bitter rant at how much living in a straight world is unpleasant on so many levels. I think it drags us all down now and then. I think Beloved has been brewing this one up for a while – it certainly explains him deciding, after years of being a fan to dump his anime (though I’ve moved it into storage in case he wants to come back to it) with a rant about how he’s sick to the back teeth of dodging round any gay representation because of the trainwrecks.

I’m hoping to batten down the hatches, have a straight-free home for a little while, keep the TV off and engage in some quality hermitting. Quality alone time together to rebuild and recharge. Especially if I can poke him to take some days off away from the “hey, are gay folk really human” debates.

And I’m cooking and baking up a storm – yes good food doesn’t cure everything but at least you can be upset and hurt with bacon, chocolate and lots of cake and stuff that is very not good for you. Actually toasted things seem to be the favour of the day – so teacakes, muffins, crumpets, pikelets and bagels ahoy! I need to stock more yeast.
sparkindarkness: (Default)
So I roasted a chicken (well part of one, the rest will go in a honey and lemon and mustard sauce and be yummy tomorrow or Tuesday) with trimmings (too many veg. BUBBLE AND SQUEAK HERE WE COME!) today – not because it’s Sunday but because it was “how long has this chicken been in the freezer?” day.

So there it was, all laid out. Chicken, peas, carrots, parsnip, stuffing, mash and roast potatoes and, of course, some cranberry sauce.

And then I frowned. I confess, while I make many things from scratch, cranberry sauce is not one of them (simply getting cranberries is a bit of a hassle anyway), besides, I’m not a lover of it (yes, Beloved will no doubt point out that if I don’t love it, it tends not to get made and he is forced to sneak it into the house after late night shopping trips. He exaggerates. A little). Anyway, I frown at the goop in the little sauce thingy because it doesn’t look quite right.

I take some, taste it then smile and watch Beloved eat for a while. Until a confused and faintly horrified look crosses his face. He chews slowly brain trying to catch up with what’s happening

Sparky: Problem?

Beloved: Um… what did I just eat?

Sparky: Well, it looked like chicken, some stuffing, a small piece of roast potato, covered in gravy and a big dollop of strawberry jam.

Beloved: Strawberry jam? *pokes red stuff that does, indeed, have seeds in it*

Sparky: Yes. It looked positively revolting – was it as ghastly as I imagine?

Beloved: Not as awful as you’d think but… yeah pretty damn awful…


I would also like to refer him to an argument I believe we had in, oh, 2009? I think it was 2009. I will have to check my diary of “I Told You Sos” (I get to cross one out!) to be sure. Anyway, this was in the aftermath of one of the great Condiment Wars that constantly rage. However at the time I insisted that if he MUST add ingredients to the food I’ve cooked AFTER I’ve finished cooking then at least put them on the side of the plate for dipping and scooping rather than layering them all over the food until every iota of original flavour is destroyed (especially before tasting. OOOOH is there ANYTHING more annoying than people who add seasoning and condiments to food you’ve cooked before they even taste it? Hanging offence. No, hanging is too good for them.)

See, if he hadn’t decided to “humour” me then, his entire dinner would now be covered by strawberry jam. This proves that I am right. Someone call me the Doctor, I need to go back to 2009 and say “I told you so” with appropriate smugness.

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