Monday, 20 October 2008

What Should We Eat?

Beautiful Exmoor, an upland paradise for quiet walking or riding.

I have been pondering for a while how our food choices have changed over the last 40 or so years, or since I have been in the position to make those choices, and this morning, there was an article in the paper entitled ‘ Should we all be eating more fat?’, once again contradicting the current 5- a- day advice.

Mr. Groves, who has written a book called ‘Trick or Treat: How Healthy Eating is Making Us All Ill’ makes a persuasive case for an Atkins Diet sort of life style, citing more people falling prey to diabetes and heart disease than ever before. The article is third of a page of a broadsheet newspaper, so there is a lot to read , one point I can agree with is that fat laden foods do fill you up quickly, but to give up wheat because ‘it collects bacteria and dirt as it grows and is impossible to clean’? no, life would be sad without a freshly baked loaf.

We personally, use butter, olive oil and sunflower oil, all of which are relatively unadulterated in their production. We eat much smaller portions of meat than years ago, and many more vegetables. Thirty or forty years ago I would not have served a meal that was not primarily meat or fish, but now vegetables and lentils appear on the menu regularly, but how do I know that we wouldn’t have more even more energy if we ate a higher level of protein.

I am very glad that I brought up my sons when food advice was unambiguously pro protein, I cannot imagine them having grown up so strong and fit on a diet of vegetables, but all those extra calories were worked off by our extremely active lifestyle, like most farming families, and even their spare time involved walking long distance foot paths and pony clubs. They are still committed carnivores, I wouldn’t like to give them my vegetable crumble unless accompanied by a decent sized steak!

Not being clever enough to do too much research of my own, I think we’ll just carry on eating something of everything, and enjoying the continuing experience of new recipes and ideas, whether those ideas are of today or a hundred years ago.

Another photo of one of our favourite parts of England

Friday, 10 October 2008

Cheese Bread and Butter Pudding

I’m sure I have seen, in my travels through my cook-books, a recipe for a cheese bread and butter pudding, but can I find it now, of course not.

I do keep a large index file to help me track down things I thought at some time or another were ‘good ideas’, (essential I’m afraid, these days), but I could only find cheese puddings made with breadcrumbs, which I didn’t much like.

Yes, that is butter and cheese bubbling round the edge of the dish, so a really lethal hit for cholesterol levels!

For my cheesy pud I used:-

A largish onion, cooked in a little butter until soft, and 2 rashers of bacon that I had in the fridge, cut up and added to the onion.

(It may well have been those two slices of bacon that inspired me to make a savoury bread and butter pudding to start with, as I don’t like to see things lurking in the fridge).

4 slices of buttered bread, cut to fit the pie dish. I put the first two in butter side down, to make the bottom of the pudding browned.

On top of the first two slices of bread I put the onion, bacon and two thirds of 120 grams grated cheddar cheese. Then the final two slices of bread, butter side up this time.

I used 3 beaten eggs, seasoned with pepper, and enough milk to come up to the top of the bread. The last third of the cheese was sprinkled on the top.

I baked it in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes until it was puffed up and set.

I had started off with two eggs in milk, but the mixture didn’t come far enough up the dish, so I just beat up another egg with some more milk to compensate.

We enjoyed eating this, there was more than enough for four but it is very rich, a probably never to be repeated experiment and certainly not very good for you, maybe I should have been more stingy with the butter. A crunchy green salad on the side was a welcome addition.

I had to put this photo in, picked today, probably the last of the season.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


In last Saturday's paper I found Xanthe Clay's recipes for soup, and loved her idea for beetroot and cardamom. I made it yesterday, the colour is amazing, the taste delightful.
I had baked the beetroots in the oven, which I used to do years ago when I had an oven that was on all the time, but it did seem to take for ever in my electric one. Still reading and sorting old cookery books, I had found a couple by Pomiane, who considered baked beetroots have the best flavour, I expect he may well be right, but as I can do quite a big batch in the pressure cooker which involves minimum water I think I shall definitely err on the side of economy.

Here are the recipes from the paper:-

Serves 4

A simple basis for countless soups. You need never pick up a carton again.

· 2 fat leeks, sliced and washed
· 2oz/60g butter
· Salt and pepper
· 2 medium floury potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
· 1½ pints/850ml pints water (or stock)
Cook the leeks slowly in butter until soft, but without letting them colour. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the potatoes, stir until they are well coated in butter and cook for a minute or two longer.
Pour in the water (or use a light stock if you prefer) and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes are soft.
Purée the soup. Liquidise, pass through a mouli-légumes, or leave it chunky if you prefer. Taste and check the seasoning. Reheat and add a little cream, chopped herbs or a dollop of pesto before serving, if you like.
Great ideas for soup
Just remember that starchy vegetables can be substituted for the potato, but non-starchy ones, such as spinach or mushrooms, should be added as well as the potato in the basic recipe, unless it's a very thin soup you are after.
Beetroot and cardamom Cook the seeds from 3 cardamon pods with the leeks, and use peeled beetroot (about 12oz/350g) instead of the potato. Vac-packs of ready-cooked beetroot can be used, but make sure that it's the kind cooked without vinegar. That said, a squeeze of lemon juice at the end improves the flavour of beetroot soup.
Sweet potato soup with Angostura bitters Sounds unlikely but it's a magic flavour combination. Use about 12oz/350g sweet potato instead of the regular potato and finish the soup with a few drops of Angostura bitters.
Butternut squash and harissa Cook the leeks as above, then stir in half a teaspoon of harissa (Moroccan spice paste). Cook for a minute, then add 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed (seeds removed) instead of the potato. Add more harissa to the finished soup if you like.
Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut Use Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cubed, instead of the potatoes. Liquidise the soup with 1 tbsp hazelnuts (toast them lightly first in a dry frying pan).
As the Soup Season is with us again I am reprinting here my recipe for Squash and Carrot Soup, which could just as easily use harissa paste as the spices I used.

Spicy Squash and Carrot Soup
Use a medium size butternut squash, carrots equivalent to approx. three quarters of prepared weight of the squash and 2 onions.
Lightly coat these vegetables, cubed, with olive oil and roast at the top of a hot oven until browned and a bit caramelised, (the carrots may not be fully cooked all the way through but can be finished later in the stock).
Scrape the browned vegetables into a large pan, and stir in 2 teaspoons of ground cumin and half a teaspoon ground chilli powder, you can add more later on, if it's too bland.
Swish out the roasting pan with boiling water to make sure you have all the juices and add to the pan. Use enough stock to comfortably cover the vegetables, season if using fresh stock, you could add some mint and piece of lemon peel and cook until the vegetables are soft enough to puree, using a blender stick is easiest.
You should have a thick mixture which can be diluted with milk or more stock to the right consistency.
If you want to make it spicier at this stage, cook more cumin and /or chilli in a little olive oil and combine with the soup. Half a teaspoon of ginger could be added to the original cumin and chilli.