Scallion Rap

I wouldn’t dream of trying to compete with A Girl Named Jack, or any other austerity food blogger who has recently had to cope on a low income.  It is many years since I had to count the cost of food, and I also have a very well equipped kitchen, built up over more than 30 years.

But, I did cook on a low income for many years, and I’ve been doing all my own cooking for two decades, so I have a few tips to share:

  • Limit the number of cuisines you cook. That way you won’t have a cupboard full of rarely used herbs and spices and bits of kitchen kit you only get out once in a blue moon.  I cook European cuisine, primarily Italian.  I like Indian and Thai food, but I’m happy to limit my experience of Asian cuisines to restaurants rather than keep a rarely used jar of garam masala or fenugreek.
  • Learn how to joint a chicken into 8 pieces.  Whole chickens are cheaper than the pieces bought individually, and a jointed chicken goes further than one cooked as a whole (strange but true).
  • Find a good butcher who sells the cheaper cuts of meat as well as prime.  If possible buy half a lamb for the freezer and learn how to cook the cheaper cuts.
  • If you are not a vegetarian, become a moderate meat eater.  It is healthier as well as cheaper.  We eat red meat once a week in a portion of roughly 4 ounces.  Ditto chicken.
  • Tinned sardines on toast with a dash of pepper and vinegar is one of the world’s great dishes, is cheap, and gives you one of the twice weekly servings of oily fish recommended by health experts.
  • Get a pressure cooker.  I bought mine for next to nothing from a car boot sale.  I mainly use it to prepare beans.  With a pressure cooker you can have dried beans soaked and cooked within an hour and a half, a job that takes more than twelve hours without one.
  • Don’t buy a lot of expensive electrical kit.  I only have two electrical gadgets I use regularly.  The first is a hand-held liquidizer; my mouli (one of these) would do the same job, but the liquidizer is less messy and because the liquidizing can be done in the saucepan it saves time. The second is a breadmaker. I know that making bread by hand is all the rage, but I find it too time consuming and my arm muscles don’t have enough oomph. Breadmakers can be picked up very cheaply either second hand or in the sales.

Another year has gone by and I’m Christmas baking again, a little late since I was ill on “Stir Up Sunday” which was last weekend.

I’ve commented before that you cannot buy traditional British  Mixed Spice here in Canada, and must either mix your own or buy some when visiting the UK. Sometime this year someone told me that Pumpkin Pie Spice is a good substitute.  I disagree.  Here is a recipe for Mixed Spice and here is one for Pumpkin Spice, which contains fewer ingredients, but  much more cinnamon.

Something else I discovered this year was that in N.Am what I call  currants are known as Zante currants, and according to Wikipedia they also have another name — Corinthian Raisins. Currants are members of the grape family.  I admit that I used to think they were dried blackcurrants, even though their flavour is nothing like a blackcurrant.

This year I’ve got to make some Christmas mince-meat as well as a pudding and a cake.  As usual I got the suet from the butcher, and I’ve grated it myself.  It isn’t a big job, and easy to do if the suet is cold from the fridge. I’d been told that Save-on-Foods stocked shredded suet in the freezer section.  It does, but it is mixed with flour, which I think is very odd.  It would do for the Christmas pudding, but it would ruin the mince-meat.

I adapted the recipe in Jane Grigson’s English Food, for my Panasonic bread-maker. I’m pleased with the result.

Grigson’s recipe contains more spice than any other I’ve come across.  I like it, but some people might want to reduce the quantities. She also uses raisins rather than the more traditional currants.  The raisins are OK, but I think I’ll use currants next time. I think I made enough changes to the recipe to make it my own — so here it is:

Put in bread-maker in this order:

1 tsp baking yeast.

500 grams white unbleached regular flour (in the UK use strong or “bread’ flour)

¼ teaspoon salt

60 g castor or berry sugar

1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 level teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 level teaspoon mixed spice

½ teaspoon ground mace

Just under 300 ml skimmed milk

90 g melted butter

1 medium egg, lightly beaten.

Add 90 g currants and 60g candied peel to the nut dispenser.

Run the dough cycle.

Divide mixture into 16 and shape into balls.  Place on baking trays lined with kitchen parchment. Leave for 30 minutes to rise.

Meanwhile make up a fairly runny paste of ground almonds mixed with sugar syrup (sugar and water boiled together). Cut a cross in each bun, then brush each one with beaten egg, then brush the almond mixture into the cross cuts.

Bake at 230 C for 16 minutes.  While they are baking make up some more sugar syrup and use it to glaze the buns when you take them out of the oven.

 

 

British double cream contains 48% fat.

American and Canadian whipping cream contains 33-36% fat.

British single cream contains at least 18% fat.

American “half and half” contains 10-18% fat.

British half cream contains 12% fat.

(figures from Anne Willan’s La Varenne Pratique).

We held a party yesterday.  I was serving Christmas cake and mince-pies, but I wanted to make another dessert for any guests who didn’t like dried fruit.  I decided on Whim Wham, from Jane Grigson’s English Food.   You soak boudoir biscuits in sweet sherry, top with whipped cream and decorate with angelica.

That would have been an easy recipe to make in the UK,  where I don’t normally bother to use an electric beater to whip double cream. If it is straight out of the fridge it thickens in two or three minutes, beaten with a fork.

After twenty minutes of beating whipping cream with an electric beater, it was still liquid and I realised I had a problem.  The lower fat content compared with double-cream makes all the difference.  I referred to my cook books and I now know that to get whipping cream to thicken, I should have thoroughly chilled the cream, bowl and beaters before I began.

Finally, I can see the point of Whipped Cream aerosols.

 

Castor sugar (or caster sugar) is sold in Canada as Berry Sugar, or Superfine Sugar.  I’m amazed it has taken me so long to find this out.  When I was looking for the equivalent of castor sugar, I’d ignored the packets of berry sugar, assuming they were for jam making.

This year, I’m making Delia Smith’s Christmas Cake recipe again.  I’ve altered it slightly to quarter the glacé cherries, rather than chop them up small, but that’s all.

The pudding is more of a challenge.  Last year I did the Grigson Guinness recipe.  My husband loved it and ended up eating the lot, because I loathed it.  Up to that point I’d never met a Christmas Pudding I didn’t like, but I thought the Guinness recipe was too greasy, and had an unpleasant texture.

So this year, I looked for a recipe that was more like my mother’s.  She always made a good dark pudding.  Mum used to say that she used her mother’s recipe, but when I asked her for it, she’d just say that she used “the same amount of everything, but half as much of some things”, which wasn’t very useful. However, she did also say once, that the recipe in Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England was the nearest she’d seen to her mother’s.

Looking at Hartley’s recipe today, it seemed to me that it wasn’t very like the one I remember mum making, but I decided to make it the basis for my own recipe.  So here is:

The Same Amount of Everything but Half of Some Things Christmas Pudding

Mix together:

4 oz shredded suet

4 oz soft brown sugar.  In N.Am this is often called demerara sugar, but don’t use the bright crystals that are called demerara in the UK. Darker muscovado sugar would be better, but I couldn’t obtain any.

4 oz raisins (black raisins)

4 oz sultanas (yellow raisins)

4oz breadcrumbs

2 oz flour – sifted

2 oz mixed peel (I prefer orange and lemon candied peel mixed, to the “mixed peel” that contains dyed rutabaga)

2 oz walnuts chopped

2 oz almonds chopped

Half teaspoon mixed spice

Eighth teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 medium eggs, lightly whipped.

2 tbsp brandy

2 fl oz milk, plus more if necessary to make a  dropping consistency.

Mix very well.  Leave overnight covered in cloth. Put into one and a half pint pudding basin.  Cover with greaseproof paper and cloth in the usual way.

Steam for 8 hours.

I suspect my mum’s recipe varied a little every year, for the simple reason that she never wrote it down.  She says that the trick is to steam it for a long time, which will make almost any pudding black and rich tasting.

I’ll let you know how my recipe comes out.

Post amended Nov 21st to clarify the definition of demerara.

After Christmas.  The pudding came out well, but was perhaps a little too nutty.  Next year I’ll substitute currants for the walnuts.

I was wrong about my Cuisinart breadmaker.  It wasn’t broken.  My yeast was stale.  So, my neighbour has acquired a breadmaker, and I have a new Panasonic.  No regrets, because the Panasonic is a much better machine.  It makes a lighter loaf than any other breadmaker.  It is no longer the most expensive machine on the market , but it is still the best.

Scallion Rap is dedicated to David Armour, chef and philosopher, 1950-2010.

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