The first and the last !

Once upon a time people ate such things as Tripe and Onions, Corned Beef Hash, Cornish Pasties, Shepherds Pie, Steak and Kidney Pie or Pudding or even Poor Mans Scouse.

Most of these have gone out of fashion, especially Tripe and Onions. When I was at college in Manchester, there were butchers that specialised in Offal, Tripe, Lights, Liver, Kidneys, Brains, Heart,Tongue, Trotters, Intestines, Chitterlings, Prairie Oysters ( testicles) and Sweetbreads.

The reason being was two fold, firstly manual labour, both for men and women, the man, work usually meant 10 hours of hard manual labour and for women, laundry, scrubbing floors etc and secondly these meals were cheap and provided the calories needed just for day to day living.

Tripe is very popular in Normandy where it is served Á la mode de Caen, and it can be bought ready made either from a traiteur or even in jars. Throughout Europe there seems to be various recipes for tripe, but I’m not about to give it another try ( I had to make it whilst at college and have to say I was not impressed.)

There is a restaurant in London, St. John’s , which specialises in Offal, worth a visit if that is what you like, and they also have an excellent recipe book, ( NOSE TO TAIL EATING). Another book that deals with the whole pig is PIG AND SONS, a kind of family history along with recipes.

Thinking of how it used to be, farmers would use every single bit of the animal that they had slaughtered, hence we have sausages, all sorts of cured meats, they had to be innovative in how they fed themselves throughout the lean times. And here in the mountains, it is not uncommon to see smoke coming out of a tiny wooden hut, they are smoking, something and it is usually pork.

In the western world we have our supermarkets and for most of us we no longer have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, which probably accounts for the decline in traditional meals.

However, Himself hankers after such foods! Memories of his childhood, maybe but he has been asking for Steak and Kidney pudding for a Long Time! Not something I would ever choose to eat, however, was more than willing to make it, if I could gather together the necessary ingredients !

Somehow or other I had in the cupboard some suet. Suet is an absolutely essential for Steak and Kidney pudding . It is also an essential if making a Jam Roly Poly, who makes puds like these, these days ( although I did read somewhere that Liz Hurley LOVES Jam Roly Poly, though with that figure, unlikely). Otherwise, Steak, not a problem and Beef Kidney. This proved a little more problematic, but nothing other than a trip down the mountain, couldn’t solve,where we found a traditional butchers and yes Kidneys!

A traditional recipe calls for steak, onions, kidneys to be thrown inside the pastry case,(in a pudding bowl) then the top wrapped in grease proof paper, followed by tying around a clean tea towel, standing the bowl in a saucepan filled with boiling water up to the neck of the basin and boiling this for several hours, ( read 5-6) topping up the water as needed .

Most recipes call for several hours of steaming, but this was in the days, before pressure cookers ( what are those?) and microwave ovens. Nowadays, the puddings can be cooked in a microwave oven in about 8-12 minutes, depending on the power of the oven.

This seemed very long winded to me and so, I used ribeye steak (300grms) cut into chunks, fat removed, along with 2 chopped onions , a handful of mushrooms sliced and 125 grams of kidney, sinews and fat removed and cut into chunks.

Sauté the onions in some olive oil until translucent add the meat and mushrooms, add about a glass of red wine, some Dijon mustard, some Worcestershire sauce, all to taste and let it simmer until the meat is really tender, add some salt and pepper to taste. If it begins to dry out add some more wine so that you get a nice thick gravy. I usually add some red currant jelly as well to my sauces, a tablespoon makes all the difference.

The GO TO company in the UK is Fray Bentos, which has been around always under the same name but has had various owners since1881 and named after a port in Uruguay, where the beef came from.

Suet pastry is a cinch to make.

All you need is

  1. 8 oz (225 grams) plain flour
  2. 4 oz (112 grams) suet, beef or even vegetarian suet
  3. 1tsp baking powder
  4. Water to mix
  • Simply mix the dry ingredients, and add enough water to make a soft but firm dough. Roll out on a floured board and use.
  • If using for a Jam Roly Poly, roll out into an oblong, spread with jam, roll up, and either wrap in cling film and microwave for approximately 10 minutes or the old fashioned way, wrap in greaseproof paper and then tie in a clean tea towel and steam for HOURS!
  • One more time, ( the first and last)

    As I was so busy finding out all things Offal, Fray Bentos et al, I forgot to add my photos of THE FIRST AND LAST! And so here they are!

    Pastry rolled and ready to go

    Bowl lined, with pastry and filling in, pastry top added!
    Covered in greaseproof paper and bubbling away
    Cooked but still in the mold
    Turned out of mold ready to be cut into
    And Finally the finished pie, or rather PUDDING, cut and ready to eat !

    Les Agrumes, or Citrus Fruits for cakes.m

    A couple of weeks ago, a dear friend made a cake which was very moist and absolutely delicious. I asked her for the recipe which turned out to be from Nigella Lawson. She is often referred to as a Chef, which she is not, she is a cook, just like Mary Berry or even me ! Actually she ( Nigella) said that her recipe came via Claudia Rodan and now here in the mountains I find yet another recipe for this cake, using citrus fruits. ( but also has some flour and butter).

    I did in fact make this cake the other day ( before I found the French recipe version) and decided that, Why not use other citrus fruits? And so the cake I made was 50/50 clementines and lemons. I cut down on the sugar a tad, as I think it is also possible to do so.

    This actually also necessary when baking at altitude and as our mountain home is at 3,800 feet, it really is an absolute necessity, otherwise a cake or bread will just not be right. Why? You might ask, well, lower air pressure at high elevations causes air bubbles trapped in the mixture to rise at a faster rate, so when this happens, cakes rise very fast and high…then fall. As a result, you end up with a dense, dry cake, or maybe one that looks cooked but in reality might just have a soggy bottom!

    Other tips for baking at altitude :-

    1. Don’t over beat eggs
    2. Raise the oven temperature slightly if using baking powder by 25 degrees F
    3. Cakes tend to stick when baked at altitude, grease and flour the pan well
    4. Reduce the amount of baking powder
    5. Reduce the amount of sugar

    The joy of this cake is that it does not have any flour or fat but is extremely moist. It can be made even more attractive and even more moist by spooning over a thin syrup made from icing sugar and lemon juice.

    For the cake you will need

    1. about 4 large clementines or mixture of clementines and lemons
    2. 6 large eggs
    3. 200-225 grams caster sugar
    4. 250 grams fine ground almonds
    5. 1 tsp baking powder
  • Set the oven at 5/190 C /170 C. Grease an 8 ” spring form pan and flour it, tipping excess flour out. ( I used a deep soufflé dish of the same dimensions, simply because I did not have a spring form pan AND I was not about to spend €35 + in my local Quincallerie ( hardware store).

    Put the fruit into a pan of boiling water and simmer for about 2 hours. Cut them half and remove any pips and then tip them into a food processor and blitz to make a purée. Add the rest of the ingredients and blitz again to mix. Add the cake mixture to the pan and bake for 50- mins to an hour. Test with a skewer inserted into the middle and if it comes out clean the cake is ready. Remove from oven release the spring form but leave the cake in the pan to cool and when cool carefully tip out the cake, onto a wire tray and using a second wire tray reverse this so that the cake is sitting right side up.

    It maybe eaten just as it is, with or without ice cream, and of course with a thin sugar glaze as above.

    I made a second version of this cake the other day, but it is a reminder that before setting out, check what ingredients are in the pantry. Consequently I made the cake with 50/50 ground almonds and grated / desiccated coconut. The result? Very moist, good taste if slightly bitty, because of the coconut and it did stick to the pan, despite grasping flouring etc! Nonetheless, himself has been eating it as his afternoon, après ski Gouter ( snack).

    New Year, New Happenings, maybe!

    This week saw us going to a market! Yes another market, this time in the old Savoie town of Annecy.

    It was Sunday and the Sunday market in Annecy is the best. In summer it is heaving, with tourists, with gawkers, with families just wanting to get the kids out, with kids being trampled on, left right and centre, babies in strollers, so low to the ground, that you trip over them, fashionistas with their designer dogs, either getting under your feet or being carried in arms like babies, people with walking sticks, ready to bash your ankles if you jump the queues, and the locals who come every week to buy their fruit, vegetables, cheese, cold meats, fish, oysters ( when in season) and don’t forget the inevitable roast chicken man, or even men, and of course the Vietnamese with their nams, and the Alsacienes with their plates of choucroute, or the Spanish with their Paella’s, the list is endless.

    In winter it is calmer and by nature not so big, still the fruit and veg, the cheese in abundance, the sausages, the honey, the fish, the oysters and of course the Chicken men! Don’t forget them, they are to be found on every market, winter or summer, and there is always a queue! Added to these markets, of course is the usual array of junk, socks, hats, mattresses and the person demonstrating some useless piece of kitchen equipment, that someone, somewhere can not live without!

    I often accuse Himself of taking me to Annecy on a Sunday, because everything else is closed ( apart from restaurants that is). His father used to take his mother shopping on a Sunday exactly for that reason ( wouldn’t work today would it)? However France is very much regulated, no opening on Sundays, except small grocery shops and then only in the morning, Bakers, Patisseries, maybe a butcher or two, it otherwise FORBIDDEN! Except if you are Ikea, just outside Paris, they open every Sunday, packed to the doors, fined every Monday and open the following Sunday !

    This time round was also the dog end of the Christmas Market, once upon a time, I went every year to the Market in Aachen ( on the German Belgian border) with my kids. We always bought things, handmade knickknacks, fun ornaments for the Christmas Tree and some alternative gifts for school friends. Nowadays, they seem to be just a continuation of a regular market and not much of interest.

    We did explore a couple of shops, that we had not come across previously. One a smart cake shop, but at €5 a pop, I guess it should be, but nonetheless, beautiful looking cakes !

    The other a Traiteur, no not a Traitor but a smart, I suppose Take Away, not sure that they really exist in the UK. Usually very smart and expensive, salad of Gambia’s €49 a kilo, but always doing a roaring trade, so that which is not readily available on the market, will be found here. Not sure I have shopped in a Traiteur, but I always like to look.

    Once the market is closed or close to closing the Brasseries, cafes and restaurants burst into full swing, so if you haven’t had your cup of coffee by then you are too late! Non! Non ! Non! Simplement pour manger! Only for eating and Sunday in France equals La Grande Bouffe, Bouffe actually translates as Grub and as such one can te goinfrer! On the otherhand if one were to stuff oneself at Macdonalds, or the like, then the French have another word for that, Malbouffe, as one can not Bouffe at Macdonalds!

    One last note from Annecy, we found this old street sign, worth noting that this now pedestrianised street was once a Route National!

    Christmas is here, Best time of year!

    Mistletoe and wine and all of the rest, but one thing I do not do, is cook on Christmas Day! This started many years ago, when we lived in Brussels ( and for all of the Brexiteers, an amazing place to live, and we lived there for 13 years).

    But back to my non-cooking on Christmas Day. I actually don’t think I have ever cooked a ” Traditional” Christmas dinner, I did once cook a turkey, but it was Cajun Style. Cajun Turkey is delicious, it is deep fried, and do not throw your hands up in horror, the boiling vat of oil, seals the turkey inside and out and then it cooks very quickly. Another time I had a suckling pig, poor little thing, my oven was not big enough so it meant cutting it in half, stuffed it’s mouth with an apple, nose pressed against the glass door, with tears running down its face !

    But, why do I not cook on Christmas Day? Well whilst living in Brussels, we always had a Christmas Eve party, inviting , other waifs and strays and their houseguests, hence, I cooked and cooked for this event and so the last thing I wanted to do, was to cook again!

    For Christmas Eve, I cooked my version of the Chilean speciality, Nuesto Chupe de Centolla. ( see Are you a Risk Taker November 23 for the recipe) and I have to say it was a success. I didn’t have crab meat, but substituted it with scallops, and salmon. I think that is allowed to use what seafood you can find.

    And so Christmas Day started out as being Left Overs, but that was a bit boring, hence we thought outside of the Christmas Dinner box, and our dinner morphed into a seafood feast. Lobster, giant shrimp, small brown shrimp, cold poached salmon, smoked salmon, , salmon pâté, salmon mousse, , shrimp in Panko breadcrumbs , crispy calamari and Oysters! It still took effort to assemble, but not at all time consuming and all could help out. And so the tradition has continued, though this year was slightly different as we were home alone ( well not quite alone) but we decided to go out.

    After stockings and presents along with the obligatory Bucks Fizz, Himself did Oysters Rockefeller and to save time we used frozen oysters, and they worked very well, just think how long it would have taken to shuck 30 oysters!

    Such a wonderful adventure. Himself and willowy brunette decided to walk, a mere 4 miles and me I took a cab, and they beat me there! We went to The Ned, in the city, not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral.

    I had been warned that The Ned, did the most amazing buffet on a Sunday and Wow, they repeated it for Christmas Day. Normally I abhor buffets, but somehow this was different because they gave each diner a three hour window and so no one arrived at the same time although we must have all had a reservation. I booked a good couple of months ahead of time and our time was 6.15 , it suited us just fine.

    The buffet was in fact amazing, ranging from cold meats and salads, to lobsters, shrimp, smoked salmon, grav lax, to hams, turkey roast beef and of course turkey. Then there was the dessert table, which had an assortment of cheeses including a huge Stilton and Mont d’Or ( one of my favourites ) and of course sweet stuff, strudels, mince pies and the most wonderful little cakes on sticks. I ended up eating one of these just convince a gentleman that they were safe to eat, he was dubious but as he said, he didn’t like to try things that were different! ( Not sure why he had come here)!

    The three of us had Lobster, Shrimp, more Shrimp, Lobster, more Lobster, more Shrimp. Not for us the fillers of salads, not for us the roast potatoes and roast meats, just the Lobsters and Shrimps, and oh yes forgot the Oysters! So Lobsters, Shrimp and Oysters!

    Apart from the food, there was a very good band, playing Glen Miller type of music ( and with a good singer to boot) and it was the most wonderful place to people watch, bling every which way, enough sparkle to decorate many Christmas trees, the scimpiest of dresses worn with vertiginous heels, trip traping across the floor ( a bit Billy goat gruffish) boys and girls getting engaged, mums and dads busy taking their photos, oh what fun it was !

    A fun evening and look forward to going again !