Tag Archives: Food

Baking Daze

By George I’ve done it! I’ve cracked baking both my favourite Black Olive Bread and French style Baguettes. Using bog standard flour, salt, instant yeast and water alone. No baking powder, no additives or ‘improvers’. Better than store bought. More flavour. Ee, I’m dead chuffed.

The trick for French style baguettes is in the dough which should be damp and slightly sticky but not too wet. Too wet and you’ve just baked a twenty inch long muffin, too dry and it comes out like bad pastry. Dry mix the Flour, salt and yeast thoroughly before adding room temperature water. Mix and add flour until you’ve got a dough ball that sticks to the bowl a little, but not too much. Leave resulting dough in mixing bowl for a couple of hours, punch down the dough and knead it until your dough ball gets smoother and more plasticky. Let it rise again. Knead once more then leave for twenty minutes or so before cutting dough into loaf sized bits. Roll and place dough, cutting as per your fancy to be cooked on some baking paper on a tray in an oven pre-heated to 415 Fahrenheit (About 210 Celsius) with a heat proof bowl half full of boiling water on the shelf below. Rotate tray after ten minutes or so. Remove baking parchment and leave loaf on grid or tray. Continue to cook until brown all over (About 15-20 additional minutes). Remove and leave on a grid or some baking parchment to cool. Works like a charm every time. Passes the toast test too.

Thanks to our Landlord’s apple tree, apple tarts have also been created and apple pie filling is being readied for the freezer. The tarts proved an absolute snip with some thinly rolled pastry, thin sliced apple and baking them in the oven for about twenty five minutes at 350 Fahrenheit (175 Celsius), although to get the full glistening glory of a patisserie produced product I will need to invest in some gelatin to brush over the baked apple and cinnamon.

Oh yes, all the wildfire smoke has gone. In forty eight hours. We’ve gone from an AQI in the hundreds (Almost hazardous) to single figures (Good) almost overnight after the Pacific winds drove inland and reports of snow and rain from the interior of BC. Snow in August? WTF? True, the snowfall is all up on the peaks in the Rockies, but hang on a minute! This is still August FFS! And it’s earlier than ever reported before, so what’s going on? Are we in for a long, cold Winter as the US Farmers Almanac is predicting or is this just a blip?

Which reminds me, my old toaster just died and we’ve had to spend a few bucks on one of those fancy long slice models.

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Wheel spin

It’s Friday. The one day of the week I’ve always had a problem with. Mainly because I’m not really a weekend person and always feel like I’m just spinning my wheels, going nowhere fast. The skies are clearing, but there’s still too much wildfire smoke outside to spend much time outdoors. I’ve even taken to wearing a filter mask.

However, because work is still slack and staying out on the deck for too long makes me cough, I’ve been in the kitchen experimenting and come up with a fun dish which isn’t too hard to make. I call them Nested Eggs. Very simple but quite cute. Goes well if you’re fed up of burgers in a bun or feel like showing off some rudimentary culinary skill. Who knows? Your kids may even take a liking to them if you’re having difficulty getting the little horrors to eat whole eggs. who knows? Live a little.

Stuff you will need for two servings;
One large baking potato
Two eggs
Two identical oven proof cup receptacles you can put under the grill. I use two stainless steel baking rings which are like cookie cutters only four inches across and about an inch and a bit deep placed on a piece of folded foil. Individual sized oven proof dishes greased with butter will do.
Salt and pepper to taste
Two teaspoons of Butter
Optional teaspoon of grated cheese, no more.

Method can get a bit finicky, but even I got it right first time so here goes;
Microwave your baking potato so it is fully cooked.
Peel and mash potato thoroughly, adding butter, salt and pepper to mash for seasoning. Mash consistency should be firm but soft enough to mould but which does not stick to the sides of your mashing receptacle. This is British style mash, not that sloppy North American stuff which looks like lightly solidified sludge. Powdered potato or ready mix mash will not cut it for this dish.
Add cheese to mash if you are so inclined. Not too much.
Grease your receptacles (Oo-er matron!).
Put half of mashed potato into each oven proof receptacle. Make a depression in the middle which will fully take one egg.
Put mashed potato cup under low to medium grill until it browns. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Unless of course you like half of your egg white barely cooked. The idea here is to apply heat from both above and below. Besides, browning the mash first gives a lovely crispy note to the end result.
Remove receptacles, cups whatever from under grill making sure that you don’t burn your delicate pinkies when doing so.
Add salt and pepper to the centre of the depression.
While browned mash is still hot, carefully break a whole egg into the centre and put back under the grill immediately.
Cooking times will vary, but if you work to about the same timing as for a boiled egg of the same size, you won’t go far wrong. A large egg will take around eight minutes and thirty seconds. A medium about eight minutes if you’ve got the grill settings right.
Remove from under grill again when egg looks cooked and doesn’t wobble when you jiggle the grill. Again, being oh so careful not to scorch your delicate ickle pinkies. Leave on one side for a couple of minutes to let the cooking finish. The egg should be cooked through, ideally with a solid white and a golden oozing yolk. Sprinkle with a little seasoning to taste and judiciously loosen it from your cooking receptacle with a knife. If you’ve got it right, the nested egg can now be decanted onto your plate ready for consumption. Hold receptacle with a bit of folded kitchen towel while you do this as your cooking receptacle will still be hot and roast fingers are not on the menu here.

A minor note regarding sauce or accompanying dish. Nested Eggs go well with burgers, thick cut bacon, Sausages, a mixed grill or anything carnivorous. They’re even good on their own with Baked Beans in tomato sauce. Tabasco or HP sauce is a tasty accompaniment. Alternatively treat them like an eggs Benedict and smother in Hollandaise sauce but without all the fuss of poaching eggs, which is a skill I’ve never quite been able to master.

On the whole I’ve found Nested Eggs make an entertaining adjunct to casual food. They’re dead simple to make and a welcome change from chips (Fries) with everything. Enjoy.

Happy weekend.

TTFN

Some holiday reading

Back home and unpacking now. Our little deck garden has survived our absence and the Lemon tree seedlings are doing very well indeed. The biggest issue we face having returned to BC is where to get half way authentic French bread in our locale. We’ve tried some of our local outlets, but their output is too dense and not crusty enough. Good French bread is a simple thing but so hard to get right without the correct T55 or T65 grade flour. Which is very difficult to get over here in BC, Canadian import restrictions being what they are.

While we have been traversing the byways and higher ways around Western Europe, I’ve been using a couple of books to pass the time in various airport lounges and flights. The first is a Penguin edition of Orwell’s ‘Why I write’, the second, Christopher Hitchens’ commentary ‘Why Orwell Matters’. Finished ‘Why I write’ on the flight to Marseille and ‘Hitchens on Orwell’ on the flight back to BC.

Conclusion; like another of my favourite writers, Rudyard Kipling, Orwell was a man of his time shaped by conscience and experience. To me Orwell was right as an opposer of totalitarianism, which is a doctrine which always assumes that others should dictate how you live your life, wrong regarding Democratic Socialism, which puts power in the hands of some supposedly benign, unbiased authority. Which as the Communist and every other form of Socialist regime have found and are finding, is a path that leads only to mass graves. Because the tighter the definition of what is mandated by these supposedly beneficent individuals, the less becomes allowed and the more ‘outliers’ there are across the general population who won’t fit.

Think of it this way, we’ve all got enough going on without having some eternal parent figure supervising and regulating our every waking thought. Running people’s lives through fiat and diktat is a bad idea because Government or religious rules set up to tightly govern irrational, greedy, selfish humans are set up and often enforced by, guess who? Irrational, greedy and selfish humans. Possibly more so than in private institutions. If you’ve ever worked in the public sector anywhere, you will know this to be true. The majority of people who work in them are not fit to rule themselves, let alone others, which is an excellent reason to minimise Government power wherever possible. The same goes for cartels and monopolies, like Alphabet inc (Google, YouTube et al) Facebook or Twitter.

Perhaps Orwell, had he lived long enough, would have wholeheartedly agreed. He’d probably have been horrified by the wholesale banning of InfoWars too because someone like him would have been first on their list for no-platforming. Especially when Facebook are sniffing around the US banks after people’s transaction data.

What would happen to someone like George if Facebook etc got that access and enforced their will on his personal life? “Sorry Mr Orwell, but we don’t like your opinions so we’re going to stop you getting a credit card or having a bank account.”

Which makes me look at my LinkedIn and Instagram accounts and think about deleting those as well. That and a word to the banks I’m a shareholder of, telling them that should they enter negotiations with the axis of evil (Alphabet Inc, Facebook and Twitter), I will be voicing serious concerns about security and voting against any board Director who wants to go in that direction.

Update: I see that Instagram have deleted the ‘realtommyrobinson’ page.  Well, he can join another social media platform and take all his followers with him.  Instagram’s loss.

Have you seen this, Bill?

Sometimes you wonder where all the bullshit comes from. Seventy four years ago on the 6th of June and for the next few weeks, my Dad was having a whale of a time (He told me he actually enjoyed being under fire during his wartime service on Minesweepers and Landing ships) as an Ordinary Seaman Signals on the run in on the second wave of D-Day to a place called Juno Beach, Normandy. Today Mrs S sent me the link to this document on agriculture which is a BREXIT consultation paper doing the rounds in Wastemonster. My response; well, fuck me rigid. Are these people proposing what I think they are?

1. Once the UK leaves the EU, the Government plans to incentivise methods of farming that create new habitats for wildlife, increase biodiversity, reduce flood risk, better mitigate climate change and improve air quality by reducing agricultural emissions.1 It intends to do this by leaving the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and implementing a new system based on paying public money for public goods.

I read the first paragraph with a massive WTF? “implementing a new system based on paying public money for public goods” (sic) Like the old and failed milk, egg and potato marketing boards? Not to mention the clusterfuck of the Department for the Elimination of Farming and Rural Affairs, as DEFRA is known in fishing and farming circles (And Private Eye).

I look at this proposal this way; if the Eurocrats put the screws on, as those bitter petty tyrants are likely to do as the UK exits the EU, dear old blighty will need to ‘dig for victory’ in every square inch of their back yards. Because despite all the media hoo-hah about ‘climate change’ (a.k.a. the mythical man made global warming) the astrophysicists are pointing at a deepening solar minimum, reduced magnetosphere, increased cosmic ray radiation in the upper atmosphere resulting in increased cloud cover and albedo. And an overall global climatic shift and cooling. At least if you think that Henrik Svensmark has gotten his sums right.

Now if the folk pointing at a cooling phase of the global climate are right, productive growing areas will shrink and there will be less food overall for UK government policies to create famines from. On the upside this will mean be more marginal land for grazing, so more Lamb, Pork and Beef can be raised. More hedgerows for fences, so more havens for wildlife in the cold times. Which might be no bad thing.

Now I, as my one remaining reader will attest, grew up on home grown food with all it’s benefits and drawbacks. At school we learned about how to grow stuff. Indeed I began learning at my Mother’s knee because she was a born a farm girl and even if you’re a Jazz piano player at heart, you never lose the earth under your finger nails.

The other shocker is that from 30th March 2019 all the EU regs on UK airlines cut off. Which means flying a UK airline or with UK licensed pilots or aircraft might just get a bit problematic. If a flight, pilot, airline or aircraft is only certified in the UK then it can’t enter European airspace. No doubt all the major airlines already have plans in place to get dual certification. Unfortunately this state of affairs, if push comes to shove, may result in a tit for tat where transatlantic aircraft originating in Europe are refused entry to UK airspace. Which will be awkward for all those long distance flights into Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt, requiring extra fuel loads or Icelandic layovers. Just watch the video below of flight paths and take a look at how all the most economical flights to and from the US and Canada to Europe cross UK airspace.

This could be fun to watch.

Cucumber Sandwiches

The wind was howling a little this afternoon, so I busied myself making cucumber sandwiches for tea. With the crusts cut off. Bloody hell Bill! Have you joined the upper crust then you class traitor!? No seriously. There’s something particularly civilised about cucumber sandwiches. Something special about these tiny triangles of bread, butter, thinly sliced cucumber with a swift twist of black pepper. Has to be salted butter, not margarine or anything ‘low fat’ which doesn’t cut whatever mustard you are fond of, be that the savage horseradish bite of traditional English, the fragrant acidity of Dijon or the sharp vinegar twist of Bavarian. The bread must be fresh, white and thinly sliced or else the whole experience becomes muted and insipid. Get it right, even adding a smear of cream cheese to the lower piece of bread and the reward is a fresh, mouth watering experience that is very moreish and dirt cheap.

Which kind of led me to a minor epiphany about all the ‘county’ people I used to know back in my rural English days, they were ‘rich’ because they never spent a penny they didn’t have to. Most of their wealth was / is what’s called ‘family’ money anyway, tied up in trusts and property so tightly it’s enough to give a church mouse a fit of the vapours. Cucumber sandwiches were simply a low-cost way of keeping the grocery bills under control while keeping up appearances with an ease that would make the legendary Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced Boo-kay, you peasant) marvel. And they’re surprisingly tasty if done right. Not Hyacinth Bucket, the sandwiches.

You will need:
Cucumber
Bread (Doesn’t really matter which type, thin sliced is good)
Salted butter
Optional extras:
Ground black pepper
Cream cheese

Method:
Thinly slice cucumber and bread. Warm a little butter, or leave out in a warm room until it is soft and spreadable. Spread butter thinly on one side of bread slices. Lay thin slices of cucumber (the thinner the better) on the slices of bread. At this point a thin smear of cream cheese may be spread on the top slice of bread and a light scattering of ground black pepper added. Put the second slice on top and cut off the bread crusts with a sharp knife. Cut each sandwich into quarters diagonally and serve immediately with a nice hot cup of tea. Preferably on a hot sunny day. They’re quick, easy and can give you an air of charm and sophistication you may not display in your day to day life.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that these sandwiches have to be kept cool, possibly in a lightly chilled container before serving or they will either rapidly dry out and curl or become soggy and inedible. Freshness is important.

Get it right and you will feel the sophistication literally flood into your veins as you partake of this quintessentially English delicacy, making you a better, more rounded person and all your cares will fade into the background. Unless someone else nicks your cucumber sandwiches, then may battle commence. To the death.

Anyway, whilst I was preparing said degustatory delights my email inbox was going crazy with notifications of updated terms of service because of the EU’s latest ERDP GDPR (Whatever) regulations. Several came in making me wonder when I’d actually signed up for these specific accounts. More to the point, why? Note to self. Must get busy with cancellations tomorrow. If I don’t have an account, they can’t slurp my personal data, well not legally anyway.

Another side effect was popping over to Head Rambles and trying to leave a salient comment only to be refused with a message saying my comment had been blocked, directing me to contact the site admin with a ‘case number’. So I dashed off a quick missive to Himself and hoped that it didn’t end up in his spam filter. After a brief email discussion we concluded that neither of us had ever seen anything like this before. Despite significant experience in IT on both our parts. Didn’t happen again, but if it ever does I’m taking screen shots.

As for the censorship that seems to not be on University campuses any longer but spilling out everywhere, with obscure tinfoil hatters being prosecuted for ‘Holocaust Denial’, arrests of protesters against the religion of being blown to pieces etcetera one could be forgiven for thinking the world has gone madder than usual. I blame Donald Trump. If he hadn’t been elected we’d still have no idea that almost half the population of North America (including Canada) is completely out to lunch and screaming to give away their civil rights because they can’t accept responsibility for their own actions. Or have even the faintest idea of the scientific method which demands evidence. There have even been calls to jail people for having a difference of opinion on other scientific, cultural or social issues but who will that benefit? We are either a free society or we are not. Part of our freedom comes from tolerating opinions we do not share. Jailing people who engage in peaceful verbal protest is the hallmark of weakened societal institutions.

Perhaps if all parties could come together for tea and cucumber sandwiches (no food fights) for a polite discussion of evidence and issues we might make the world a better place.

Sweet FA

Not much happening at the moment apart from work, work, work. Sweet Fanny Adams in fact. Just number crunching, which isn’t part of my usual workaday skill set, but it’s not really dragon magic, just a big game of arithmetical join the dots. I’m just mildly surprised that no-one else in this particular company has just buckled down and sorted out the mess they created for themselves. Oh well, it all makes work for the working man to do. As in ‘the gas man cometh’. See below.

I see that Starbucks is caught in a perfect PC storm where two guys who wanted to use premises without the normal niceties of a commercial transaction cried ‘foul’ when they behaved like arses and got nicked. Now that haven or PC hipsters has come under fire for asking two of a protected class to behave like ordinary people or leave. Does the boycott these Twatterers are talking about mean we’ll be able to get a table now all the latte classes will be boycotting Starbucks? Good. Although this means the hate mob will have to find another coffee shop chain to haunt. Who knows. if they all fuck off and stop hogging tables and bandwidth for hours at a time maybe other patrons will get a look in? As far as coffee shops are concerned, these keyboard warriors can’t be the most profitable of customers.

Mrs S likes Starbucks, but honestly I’m not that impressed. My taste is for less bitter brews. I prefer Italian roasts like Lavazza myself.

Froody pron

Recently I’ve been experimenting with that illicit foodstuff, not generally available in Canada. A staple of my UK midlands upbringing. A small guilty pleasure I first encountered in a younger, more innocent time. If food were sex, this would be the knee trembler up an alley after closing time. Quick and deliciously dirty. Feeding an immediate appetite that nothing else can quite touch. A foodstuff designed to make middle class busybody heads explode.

I refer of course to that excellent British delicacy, Pork scratchings, for which I have developed my own so easy to do even-I-can-do-it recipe. This is a dish said busybodies would ban if they could. An ideal accompaniment to beer or ale it is not low salt, low fat or politically correct, but a taste Gods would create from raw firmament if they could.

All you will need is the pork rind most supermarket butchers insist on removing from their pork joints. Why, I have no idea. For best results this should have at least around a quarter inch of pork fat on the inner surface or it just goes all leathery. Pork rind is cheap as well. I can pick it up by the kilo for just a couple of bucks. Over here it’s sold by Chinese owned supermarkets, because they at least appreciate the value of the whole pig, which is an animal venerated in Chinese folklore.

Simply spread your skin (Skin side up of course) on a baking tray, score like with ordinary pork crackling.  I have a dedicated craft, Stanley type blade for this specific purpose.  Give a thorough oiling with a splodge of any old cooking oil, then throw salt on it. About a teaspoon. Rub evenly.  Then add ground black pepper to taste. Heat oven to 420 Fahrenheit, 220 Celsius (200 for a fan oven) or gas mark 7. Put in prepared skin and wander off for forty minutes while it bakes and crisps up like pork crackling. Take out and leave to cool. Break off a piece. Eat, enjoy. and whatever you do, don’t feel guilty. Because guilt is a means of control and when it comes to control, that’s for other people. The rest of us can have pork scratchings and I know which I prefer.

Froody.

An old favourite made new

I like Kent, his YouTube channel is well worth a look if you have the time. He does solid grub for outdoorsy folk to provide a warming welcome after a day out in the cold.

Essentially what his ‘mashed potato bombs’ are, apart from being ace comfort food, a different take on potato croquettes (See video below to ‘make from fresh’). Kids especially love them, and they’re a Sticker family Boxing Day favourite. Although don’t let that stop you preparing this treat any damn time of year.

Now I have an alternative method for the same thing which relies on the mashed potato being done British style. Firm, not all soft and creamy like the North Americans prefer. Nor the abomination that used to haunt 1970’s school dinners. When stirred, the British version (at least my preferred method does) tends to form a single mass rather than look like freshly made cake mix. The trick is to add a little butter while mashing so that the result becomes firm rather than sloppy. So you don’t have to use much, if any, flour. Which can leave a cloying aftertaste. Especially if your mash was made with one of the more floury varieties of spud.

So; starting with, say three and a bit cups of firm and slightly dry British style mash left to cool, crack an egg and whisk it properly with a fork so that the egg becomes a smooth yellow emulsion. Add about a half to your mashed spuds and mix thoroughly. Add a little salt and pepper if you like. I usually use a little more pepper because it gives the potato a bit more bite. You can even add a small pinch of cayenne if you like, but be careful.

Now if you’ve got it right, the mix, when stirred should tend to form one piece like a soft ball of dough. The ideal texture being not too firm but kneadable and not leave sticky trails when you roll it in your hands. Roll into balls, tip; bite size is best, leaving a little over half a cup of mash in the bowl. Make a dent in the ball. Add filling. Spring onions or Chives, a good strong cheese (A strong blue is particularly good) and bacon bits if you wish. A tiny smidgeon of sour cream or cream cheese will help to bind the filling, then use a little of the remaining mash to seal it all in each little ball. You don’t need much filling for each one or they will leak into the frying oil and the desired effect will be lost.

A quick side note; I’ve found alternative fillings like cream cheese and pre-cooked prawn or shrimp bits with Spring Onions or chives are excellent but honestly, the choice is down to your individual palate. Leftover Beef or burger bits, fine cut lamb leftovers in a tiny hint of mint sauce, chicken, whatever. Just so long as it is firm and not liquid. If you are that way inclined and your brand of vegetarianism allows egg as a binder, then even some heavily spiced Tofu can be used. If you’re a vegan, sorry, but you are missing out. It’s why very few people remain lifelong vegans. There is so much they miss out on, poor damned souls.

Now give each filled ball a quick (just enough to round it, no more) roll in flour and paint with the remaining egg mix, then roll in breadcrumbs. Heat oil in pan then gently lower each one of the stuffed potato balls in to cook. I prefer to deep fry mine as you don’t need to flip them as with shallow frying, which runs an added risk that your carefully crafted creations will split and ruin the whole thing, but the desired end result is the same; crispy outside, melt in your mouth detonation inside.

So if stuffing the balls sounds like too much fuss and palaver, there is an alternative. Simply mix your finely chopped chosen filling with the pre-mashed potato and omit the sour cream or cream cheese from the recipe before putting on the egg wash and breadcrumbs. Just as moreish, just as tasty and just as calorific. Which is why I won’t be making any for myself any more. Although I’m very, very tempted.

Yet if you’ve made too many to be consumed at one sitting, despair not my last remaining reader, simply allow to the finished item to cool, then stick in the freezer on a tray for twenty four hours to set before bagging for longer term freezer storage. After that, feel free to take out and deep fry a few every so often to repeat the experience, because good things should never be done just once.

Sauce!

Cookery and diet related post. A few observations on the low-carbohydrate lifestyle we’ve adopted here at Maison Sticker. First, too many almonds give you seriously vivid dreams. Second, after several weeks without potato, Mrs S and I allowed ourselves a portion of chips (fries) as a treat, result; again, hallucinatory 3D and full orchestral soundtrack dreams with CGI. Nothing unpleasant, but unusual for us both, so probably food related. Have decided not to have any more potatoes for the next couple of weeks. That was a bit freaky.

We are both slowly and steadily losing weight without too much inconvenience, although eating out is tricky because all the ‘casual dining’ sector has to offer in Canada is mostly deep fried food or salads smothered in sugar loaded dressings. I guess they’re just catering to their market, but I’m certainly saving a lot of money by not going out.

Instead I’ve been experimenting with our slow cooker or ‘crock pot’ and have worked out how to get the sauce nice and thick the way we both like it without cornstarch. The answer is Arrowroot flour or powder. Which has a similar calorie count to cornstarch or flour, but you use far less of it for the same amount of thickening. I’ve worked out that I can thicken a sauce to the same amount of glutinousness with half the Arrowroot as opposed to cornstarch, ergo fewer calories added to your diet. And no aftertaste which you can get with cornstarch. Especially if you add just a little too much.

Now arrowroot as a sauce thickener reacts differently to cornstarch. Whereas with cornstarch you can put your thickening agent in at any point in the cooking process, Arrowroot works best when stirred in as a cold roux, or water paste, toward the end of the cooking process. A roux being a mix of thickening agent and water in a two part water to one part thickener. But you all knew that didn’t you? Didn’t you? Well now you do.

For a pint of sauce, a half teaspoon of Arrowroot flour or powder should be mixed with a little cold water then added to the sauce juices about ten minutes before taking off the heat. Today I did a poached chicken madras (Two frozen cardboard chicken breasts, a handful of sliced mushrooms, three diced cooking onions and a roughly diced red pepper with a small diced turnip, half a pint of water, two generous teaspoons of curry paste and a pinch of cayenne) with the assistance of Mr Sharwoods Madras paste and an extra pinch of cayenne pepper. Left it in the slow cooker for six hours, stirring in an Arrowroot roux ten minutes before taking off the heat. Result; hot without being scorching, with the chicken falling apart and just enough zing for that lovely little chilli tingle inside the mouth, but not enough to send you running for the water jug. I served it with ten minute simmered Broccoli instead of rice and the verdict from Mrs S was “Bill, is it my imagination or are your curries getting better?” I’d just chucked everything in the pot and switched it on. Frozen ingredients included. No defrost, no fancy prep, just chop the veg up and sling it all in. Set on ‘low’. Walk away for the day, come back, stir in roux, prepare broccoli and enjoy.

All this, a days work and assembling a new dining table to serve it on. I was so damn impressed with myself I lit a candle.

Trip planning redux

Well, now here’s a thing. No sooner have Mrs S and I returned to Vancouver Island than we’re talking about another trip overseas. This time back to Europe.

At the moment we’re talking about flying direct to that shopping centre with an airport attached, Schipol, and using good old Amsterdam as our base to go gallivanting around Northwestern(ish) Europe. However, this is purely the discussion phase; we have to cost out the trip and keep track of our funds. Germany will be expensive, if we decide to include parts of it. I have business to attend to which cannot be put off any longer in the UK, and Mrs S is going to pop into London to visit with Youngest for a few days. By the end of the week we’ll have a better idea of where and when, although my UK visit is going to be limited to the northwestern Midlands. I’ve found out one of my Uncles is still alive and sinning, and I’d like the old boy to know all is good between our respective branches of the clan before he slips into the long night.

Not much else happening otherwise at El Sticker’s Hacienda. I’m already missing Australia, or rather the sunshine and warmth. And the awesome Asian fusion food. Tip for my last remaining reader, in Canada, Gourmet means with extra cheese. In BC most ‘curries’ are just big, very chewy chunks of meat in sauce, not a melt in the mouth spicy sensation at all. In Oz, getting a decent genuine curry is no problem. Why, in some places one almost might be in Manchester’s famous ‘Curry mile’ the quality is that good. Although that’s changing. Which is slightly saddening.

Nevertheless, one thing did tickle my funny bone this afternoon. Mrs S and I went out to purchase a slow cooker for preparing winter curries etcetera and noticed that you can purchase a marriage license at a store called London Drugs. Which kind of begged the question, where do you purchase a divorce? The spares department at Canadian Tire? (Although I daren’t look, herself is watching) You can certainly buy fishing and hunting licenses at most semi-rural grocery stores here on the island. So why not?

Hang on, she’s finding this just as funny, so in the word of the old joke*, I’ll just risk the one eye. Holy Maracas Batman! Divorce for as little as three hundred and thirty bucks? Two hundred for filing with the court plus ten bucks for registration. Eighty for the final registration and another forty for a certificate. Bloody hell, that’s quite a… sorry dear. I’m getting a look now. If you’ve been married for over ten years you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Returning to the less domestically dangerous topic of slow cookers, or ‘crock pots’ as they are called this side of the pond, the smallest we could buy was four US quarts capacity. Which is a tad over six and a half Imperial pints or a large gulp under four litres. That’s a lot of Chicken Madras and no mistake. So batch cooking a few stews will be on the agenda too. Our freezer can handle the overflow. Set everything going first thing and be ready for a substantial supper around six. Well, that’s the plan. Whether said scheme survives contact with reality is another matter.

There is such a concept as too much of a good thing.

TTFN.

* From the old English folk tale of Lady Godiva. The legendary Peeping Tom and a friend are lurking behind a fence with a large knot hole in it as the naked form of Lord Leofric’s wife rides through the streets of Coventry in her one woman tax protest. “Tom, don’t do it mate! Don’t look!” Urges Peeping Tom’s friend. “If you look at her naked flesh, you, you’ll go blind!”
To which the errant tradesman ties a strip of cloth over one side of his face like a crude eyepatch and replies. “Well in that case I’m only going to chance the one eye.”

On the road again

Well we’ve waved TTFN to Melbourne for now and are now on the fourth leg of our Australian Jaunt, dodging ‘roos and Drop-Bears with the added threat of bush fires today. We hope to dodge any large scale fires by hugging the coast as much as possible. Which has paid off so far as we’re heading toward sundown.

Rather ticked off at the car hire company for being a bunch of chiseling cheese parers. Decided to have a go back by painstakingly highlighting every last single fault which they had not spotted in their pre-rental checklist, photographing every single ding or rock chip, as I’m sure the bastards will try to charge my credit card for every last tiny scratch. They didn’t even wash the bloody thing properly. However, I’ve already spoken to my credit card company, and they agree there’s dodgy dealings afoot.

A stern but polite letter will also be going out to the hire company’s head office like the previously mentioned franchise practices I’m not happy with. I did ask them to countersign my updated damage report, but the staff refused. That too will be in my very detailed report to their head office. People who try to cheat me nowadays tend to lose. My ducks are all patiently sitting in a row, each carefully recorded piece of evidence awaiting every attempted incidence of overcharging. You might say I’m being a bit paranoid, but my attitude simply reflects previous experience with car hire companies. Trust does not figure largely in the relationship.

Regardless of the aforementioned, we are now well on our way and have been doing even more “Oohing” at the big sky scenery and deliciously turquoise seascapes. Yes it’s hot, with me taking plenty of roadside time-outs to snooze through temperatures topping 42 Celsius according to the cars thermometer. Well, we’re not in a rush and have made lots of time for this trip, so an impromptu snooze is just the ticket. Tomorrow the temperature is predicted to drop to something more comfortable in the mid 20’s as we round the corner into New South Wales and decide upon whether we’re going to bother with Canberra.

Wildlife sightings have been reduced to spotting roadkill, with two ‘Roos and a couple of Wombats today. Wombats are about the size of a Vietnamese pot bellied pig covered in dark brown fur. There was one bloody smear that could have been an incautious Koala, but it was hard to tell. All we’ve seen of live Australian fauna is cattle and sheep. Oh, and the many Parakeets and Lorikeet variants with the odd Fruitbat around dusk. Beware the Fruitbats, they’re like Socialists, they shit on everything.

Reading has been restricted to my rather dog eared copy of the Gulag Achipelago, Alexandr Solzhenitzyn’s chronicle of his arrest and imprisonment in the Soviet Prison system. It should be compulsory reading for anyone studying ‘political science’ at University. Full text pdf here if you want your eyes opened about totalitarian collectivist government. I first read it in 1975, along with his fictional follow-on “The First Circle” having cut my teeth on the disturbing A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich at school. Hardly holiday reading, unless of course you’re me, but interesting first hand perspectives from someone who survived the Soviet system of thought crime and punishment. Anyone thinking of creating thought crime offences should take careful note.

More cheerfully I can report on my first experience with the notorious Australian “Meat pie” which is as close as the Aussies have to a national dish. The flavour, for my last remaining British reader, is akin to one of the old “Fleur de Lys” latterly “Pukka” steak and kidney pies with a smidgeon of Bovril, encased in pastry that would probably sink a German WWII pocket battleship. Quite tasty, although a little heavy for a hot day.

Anyway, that’s it for now as supper time beckons and I’ve been saving my appetite. TTFN.

Totally tropical

Up in Queensland today, sampling the delights of Brother in laws Tropical domicile. The heat is taking a little bit of time to get used to, but with two showers a day and sufficient cold beer, I’m actually enjoying myself. The only minor upset was when I found I’d forgotten to pack my swimming shorts, so I’ll have to go shopping for a new pair, may the lord have mercy on my soul. Mrs S will no doubt insist I get something a little more colourful, but what the hell.

Which rather sums up my attitude in general. Currently I’m so laid back that I could probably turn my head and kiss my own bum, figuratively speaking. Seen my first Kangaroos. Quite a lot of them actually. Grazing the roadside grassland like some outlandish Megarabbits. I thought we had a lot of Deer in BC, but Kangaroos, they go around in herds of forty or fifty. There are so many that you half expect the buggers to come bounding out of the damn fridge (See below).

I’m told the meat is good though. One of my ambitions to to prepare some barbecued ‘Roo this year, just to see what it’s like. Maybe wrapped in bacon. So brother in law and I will be heading down to the local market to provision the household after Mrs S and I return from a brief sojourn up country to see the Barrier reef, Sharks, Crocs and Koalas. Maybe go see if the legend of the Drop-Bears is true.

I see the war of words between the extreme left and right is making Twatter suspend and delete accounts, again. It still won’t make me use it. Too many room temperature IQ’s screaming at each other like chimps for my liking. Too much knee-jerk emotion. Little reasoned examination of ideas, few cooler heads, too often it’s like watching toddlers in a playground. Where do they think they are, parliament?

One of the things I am getting, from various tours and conversations is an insight into is Aboriginal or First Nations issues, which seem to arise because the natives never had any concept of land ownership. Previously they always lived on the land, but did little or nothing with it. Their territory shifted when they did. Yes, interesting oral traditions and well-adapted way of life, but no real development. Because their societies don’t adapt readily to societal change. Which is where conflict arises between them and incoming cultures. A nomadic tradition will always be at odds with the modern ideas of personal property rights, self determination and challenging old orders. It’s really no wonder they’re so prone to drink and drugs problems. Their traditional way of life is highly structured and when that structure conflicts with external influences, or breaks down the bond between generations, many just can’t cope.

So when someone comes in to build a bunch of new houses the indigenous often don’t really understand why these incomers want to live where they do, and hang on a bit, there was a mountain there last year. Didn’t someone say that was sacred or something? Modern culture doesn’t just live in a place, it actively manages landscapes. Which hunter gatherer societies don’t seem to get. Gardening for example, at least as far as aboriginal cultures are concerned, generally happens to other people.

Just Desserts: Lemon Mousse

Before I leave for Oz, which means I will be incommunicado for a while depending upon the notoriously fickle Interweb service provider service referred to as Telstra, I’d like to donate my low-carbohydrate recipe for Lemon Mousse to posterior. Whatever. Talking of waistline and posterior, mine are much reduced after only a month, so the low carbohydrate diet does work. Plenty of fresh veg, good servings of meat or other protein, don’t spare the fats and salt. Just exclude the starchy stuff.

This recipe is so incredibly easy. Well, it’s easy enough for a bozo like me to get right consistently. Lemon Mousse. Light, delicious and a lovely finishing dessert for after a really Gastrointestinal tract searing curry.

Here’s the low-carbohydrate version first which produces two servings.

Ingredients:

1 Cup Whipping cream
A drop or two or half a capful of Vanilla essence
Zest of a whole fresh lemon
A dessertspoonful of Xylitol sweetener, not any other kind because they don’t work very well in cooking.

Method:
Whip cream until it starts to thicken.
Add lemon zest.
Add vanilla essence
Add dessertspoon of Xylitol
Now whip that cream. Whip it good and hard. Go on. Lay on MacDuff. Spank that whisk mercilessly. Lash it until the cream mix you’re whipping stands up and screams for mercy. Don’t feel guilty. You’re only being cruel to be needlessly sadistic. Whip it enthusiastically until the mix stands erect and doesn’t flop over again.
Decant into portion sized bowls and put in bottom shelf of fridge (Not the freezer!) for at least half an hour.

Remove from fridge when chilled. Eat. Enjoy. Add a little defrosted fruit as a topping or use instead of ice cream.

Of course you could add a dessert spoon of cocoa powder (Not hot chocolate mix) instead of the lemon zest to get a chocolatey effect. Or even substitute the zest of an orange plus cocoa and a hint of vodka to create something that will put a smile on anyone’s face. My wife has officially declared the vodka, cocoa and orange version “Complete evil.” And has stated that it may not be served more than once or twice a week. I was planning to chuck in a measure of Cointreau to create another variant, but have been jokingly warned that this may lead to ‘sanctions’. What forms these ‘sanctions’ may take is not immediately apparent. Although my lady wife has been rummaging in our little bedside box and she’s currently dangling the pink furry handcuffs I thought I’d ‘lost’ sometime last year in front of my nose. Bloody things. Sanctions indeed.

To close; the high-Carbohydrate alternative to this dish is simply to replace the dessertspoon of Xylitol with two of sugar. Change flavourings as need be. It has as many variations as any fevered imagination will allow.

I may be back. What condition I will be in is another matter.

On matters of diet

Regarding comments on the Low Carbohydrate way of life Mrs S and I have recently adopted, I’ve heard about Doctors and Dieticians warning about the risks of dire consequences when ditching most of the starch and sugars we urban humans routinely stuff down our necks and call ‘food’. The general consensus from some expert panels is that we need to ditch fats and proteins for a more carbohydrate based diet. Well, yes, maybe, and then again a resounding ‘no’. Because we’re all different. We grow up with differing tolerances and our digestive systems adapt to whatever foodstuffs are available although even this is not a hard and fast rule.

Now the battle of our respective bulges is seeing real results. Over the last three weeks my belt has come in a couple of notches and I’m feeling much lighter on my feet. Mrs S reports a similar improvement. One of the other improvements is the disappearance of bits of dry skin which no ointment has had any previous effect on. So dropping ‘taters, sugar and starchy stuff seems to have been beneficial. At least as far as we’re concerned. Mrs S’s Cholesterol has dropped well into the ‘normal’ range and her last blood pressure test is well within the ‘normal’ range of 110/70 and 130/80. So all the prognostications of doom for giving up starch and sugar seem to be ill-founded. Indeed, the complete opposite seems to be the case. Could all these dietitians and sciencey (Or at least the ‘educators’) pundits have it bass ackwards? Well, the rising rates of obesity and 30.6% increase in Diabetes II over the last few years would seem to indicate that they have. Despite a plethora of ‘Health’ advice and associated legislation.

A quick over the shoulder glance at our forbears and their way of life would indicate that, well, they didn’t eat much sugar. Not that there weren’t other risk factors in pre modern times, like being run over by a speeding Mammoth on the Stonehenge to Avebury bypass, but at least they were only plagued by things like, well, plague. That and the occasional peckish Sabre toothed tiger. The only real sweetener available to them was honey. Which is still packed with sugars, so we can’t have any of that for our modern Paleo / Keto / Atkins (Whatever, it’s all very similar) type diet to be effective.

A quick word about Gout and similar at this point. Yes it is a risk if you have impaired liver or kidney function, or simply don’t drink enough fluid. But since Mrs S and I drink plenty, it’s not a problem. The possible Vitamin C deficiency we get around by eating stir fried vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Bok choy and cabbage. We’ve also taken to knocking back the occasional sugar free vitamin C tab, so that’s us covered. Mrs S also kicks off the day with a fruit smoothie every morning (No banana), so she’s bouncing with health ans at no risk of scurvy. I get some of my vitamin C intake from a little grilled or fried liver, so we’re both pretty much covered on that score.

My sauces now tend to be sour cream based (Although I’ve just found a local supplier of Creme Fraiche! Yay!) and warmed through rather than boiled to buggery reductions. I’ve even managed to make a few casseroles with nice thick meaty sauces without any flour based roux. I’ll write up the method when work doesn’t take precedence although I have one piece of advice for the interim; do not, under any circumstances use Psyllium husk (Metamucil) as a thickening agent. Unless of course you like comedy food that looks like it was developed for a cheap Dr Who slime special effect. In which case, knock yourself out.

Not your average French Fry

One of the things I’ve been trying to do of late is reduce the amount of carbohydrates (And therefore calories) in our diet whilst retaining variety and taste. To this end, while burrowing around the Internet I found out about the uses of Celeriac or Celery root. At simplest it turns out that you can fry Celeriac like potatoes to make a slightly nutty tasting form of French fry or chips.

Now to look at, Celeriac looks like something dreamed up by a Dr Who scriptwriter with all it’s gnarly tight packed roots and rough skin. You could even be forgiven for thinking it’s some strange sessile alien creature awaiting it’s chance to leap out of the vegetable bin and burrow it’s way into what remains of an unsuspecting cooks brain. But this is not so. This sci-fi looking root vegetable has a firm texture like turnip, without the risk of horror filled school dinner flashbacks caused by mashed Swede or ‘Rutabaga’.

If asked to describe the taste, I’d say it was a mild form of Parsnip with a hint of hazelnut and Crimini mushroom. Actually quite pleasant when you get past the first shock of the unfamiliar, yet definitely superior in flavour and texture to the mouth cloying fries most Canadians are offered in ‘Casual’ dining outlets. There’s no starchiness, and definitely none of that horrible floury aftertaste so many commercially produced French fries leave in the mouth.

Right: Onto the method. Not much to it. Peel Celeriac root and carve off extraneous alien looking tendrils with a knife. Do use a sharp knife unless your vegetable peeling tool is really robust, remembering not to carve off your delicate little pinkies. I refer you to rule 1 of peeling and cutting. Fingers behind the blade edge children. Either that or invest in Bandaid futures.

Once peeled, cut into 12-15mm (About 3/8ths to 1/2 of an inch seems to be optimal) square sections for traditional English style. Put a pint of cooking oil into your oldest and deepest sacrificial saucepan or no more than a third full and put over a medium high heat. Why only a third? It’s very simple, filling less than half your cooking vessel will spare you kitchen fires if you’re called away for five minutes to tell someone on the Interweb that they are categorically in the wrong and you just have to tell them so.

Once your oil goes on the heat, in another pan, boil some salted water and dump your cut Celeriac pieces in. Take off heat immediately you’ve brought them back to the boil and leave for five minutes. Drain Celeriac chip shapes and pat them dry using paper or cloth towels. Check oil temperature periodically by chucking in a tiny piece of Celeriac. If it foams and sizzles immediately, your oil is hot enough for deep frying. If not, patience. All good things come to those who prepare carefully.

When first piece foams and froths in the hot oil, put in as many pieces of cut Celeriac as will fit in one layer floating in the oil and fry for five minutes. Then using a slotted spoon or similar haul them out onto paper towels or into a sieve and wait two minutes for the oil to reheat. Now chuck in the next batch. Follow the same procedure. Let the oil get back up to temperature then put in the first batch again until most frothing and foaming has subsided and the fries are a light browny gold. If you aren’t sure, nick a chip out of the hot oil (Not with your fingers, dimwit!), drain it, dry it off, and when cool enough to eat, taste for desired texture.

At this point it might be a good idea to heat up a serving dish, dry thoroughly and line with paper towels. As each batch of fries becomes ready, drain and decant into this lined bowl or dish to keep them drained and warm. When all batches of fries are done and in the bowl, switch off the stove and serve with Mayonnaise. Or Ketchup. Or Brown Sauce, in fact whatever you want as a dip. Be adventurous. Cook naked if you want (But this blog advises a decent cooks apron, because even a small spot of hot oil on your important little places can really put a painful crimp in the whole experience).

Now serve. Remember, this is a very adult taste, and those under 25 should not bother unless they are as sophisticated as wot you obviously are.

Talking of adventure and I haven’t done this yet, but it’s next on the list; try oven cooking these chips. Instead of deep frying them, after boiling and drying off, roll the cut pieces of Celeriac in a little olive (or any other cooking) oil, dust with dry seasoning of choice, be it salt, salt and pepper, garlic powder, a light sprinkling of curry powder or Chinese five spice, or even a hint (And I do mean only a hint) of Cayenne pepper. Whatever you fancy, but it has to be dry. Then bake, just like you would Oven chips at 220°C/ 425°F for around 30-35 minutes depending on your oven.

Oh yes, a word of warning about Cayenne pepper. Wash hands immediately after handling, just in case you feel the need to rub your eyes. Trust me, you do not want Cayenne in your eyes. Not unless you’re into heavily swollen eyelids and not being able to see properly for a few hours. Cayenne has the same effect as Pepper spray. It stings. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.