A week has passed since my weekend away in Suffolk. In that time the air has cooled and decaying leaves have begun to fall, a second lockdown looms bringing the wrath of panic buyers with it. My kitchen resembles Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, forcing me to face the supermarket aisles. A common cold not Covid has found me and I want to be snuggled in my pyjamas and slippers in front of the television, not dodging demented shoppers determined not to miss out on their 3 item daily allowance of bog roll. Newsflash! Unlike doctors surgeries, the supermarkets remained open during this pandemic. And if the apocalypse is coming I want coffee and chocolate by my side, not a room full of Andrex. I have a twelve packet at home that will see me through, so I steer wide of toilet aisle asylum and instead search for the ultimate comfort food.
Cinnamon Rice Pudding
Ingredients (Serves 2)
45g Pudding Rice
25g Soft Brown Sugar
Pint of Milk
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
Knob of Butter
Jam to serve
Rice pudding is traditionally done in the oven, but I am not a fan of the skin. I have tried the hob option a couple of times, with varying degrees of burnt milk. Now I use the slow cooker, a sure way to achieve perfectly cooked (skin free) rice pudding each and every time.
All I do is add pudding rice, soft brown sugar, milk, cinnamon and a knob of butter to the slow cooker. Switch it on high and leave for three hours, stirring occasionally. Dish up and add jam. Simple, yummy and not a toilet roll in sight. Perfect!
A Starbucks drive-thru now stands, where a local boozer once stood with dark decor and carpets to disguise spilt ale and cigarette smoke. I am a simple woman who drinks my coffee black no sugar, zoning out while my daughter orders a drink with shots of this and pumps of that. I notice an apple tree in a nearby garden, its bough hanging over the fence laden with fruit. I had never noticed it before. Upon the concrete was a growing pile of bruised fruit turning bad, such a shame, I was tempted to return with a basket knock on and offer to strip the tree of its harvest, but my joints and muscles would never allow that.
So I was unsurprised to read, wheat may be in short supply this year but apples are a plenty. Long stretches of unbroken sunshine throughout spring coupled with lack of late frosts led to an extended blossom season, enabling pollinators such as honeybee and bumblebee to fertilise more flowers. A rainy July and August benefitted the growth cycle further, aiding the fruit to swell and become plump. Autumn in an apple orchard amplifies nature. The air is filled with an earthy blend of sweet and tart as fruit ripen upon laden boughs, amid the gentle decay of plants preparing for winter.
The National Trust manage more than 200 traditional apple orchards in the UK, reporting an early harvest the best in 3 years. Visitors will be invited to pick and take home apples, in exchange for a donation.
So as we wave goodbye to summer, let’s say a sweet hello to autumn.
225g/8oz cooking apples
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp water
Peel, core and chop the apples. Bring to the boil in a pan with the lemon zest, sugar, water and cinnamon.
Take off the heat and beat in the butter. Leave to cool.
My partner is a little more precise about his culinary ventures than me, knowing what he likes and what he doesn’t like. For years we have debated the difference on a Chinese takeaway menu, between a spring roll and a crispy pancake roll. He vehemently defends the latter his reason being more protein, less rabbit food. I always counter attack with ‘if that were true why sell meat spring rolls’. He then gets bored and mumbles ‘well I can tell the difference’. While some restaurants only sell one or the other, I had come to the conclusion they are practically the same thing jumping between to alias.
I am determined to discover the difference, which is not proving easy. Opinion is divided and hazy at best, ranging from size to veg versus meat. My research then dragged egg rolls and summer rolls into the mix. Gggrrrr! Thankfully I quickly clarified a summer roll, which is served cold and of Vietnamese origin. The wrapper is typically made of rice paper filled with shrimp or pork, carrot, lettuce, cucumber, rice noodles and herbs.
Where it get’s interesting is the definition of an egg roll and I believe where lies the answer. Egg rolls are an American-Chinese variant of the traditional spring roll. And the difference lies not in the filling, but the wrapper. Spring roll wrappers are made from wheat flour and water. The batter is steamed to form a thin pancake, thinner and lighter in colour. Whereas egg roll wrappers are made from wheat flour, egg and water producing a dough which is rolled, stuffed and deep fried. The addition of eggs inevitably alters the flavour like my partner claims. Ultimately when I next go to a restaurant which serves both, I will order both and examine the difference.
A warm kitchen filled with the smell of freshly baked bread. Delicious! But kneading has become a painful chore rather than a therapeutic pleasure, as arthritis ravages my joints. A bread making machine bakes a close second loaf, but measuring ingredients and pressing start doesn’t quite bring the same joy. I have however found a wonderful alternative. Sourdough replaces traditional yeast with a fermented flour starter, and the physical exertion of kneading with time.
A sourdough starter or levain is made with flour and water left to ferment, developing the naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts. The bubbles produced enable sourdough to rise. And the lactic acid produced from the lactobacilli give the bread its unique mildly sour flavour. There are many variations of sourdough starter, using different flours and ratios of flour and water. Rye flour is a popular choice for sourdough. I am making a basic white starter.
While rows of jars stand turning sterile in the oven, upon the hob a pot of fruity goodness bubbles ferociously filling the kitchen with a sweet comforting warmth. Slathered on bread or slapped on a scone, jam is a wonderful way to enjoy a glut of fruit months after harvest, which would otherwise have gone bad. But there is a sticky downside to this treat, excessive amounts of sugar, while living in times of mass obesity.
Sugar has an important role to play in jam more than sweeten sharp fruit, it breaks down the pectin present enabling a jam to set, and behaves as a preservative preventing discolouration and mould. So! Is there a way this shrewd use of abundant fruit can be friendly on the waistline?
The answer is yes. And it lies in the edible seeds of a member of the sage family; Salvia hispanica and the closely related Salvia columbariae, are native to central and southern Mexico and the southern western states of the US. These oval seeds are grey with black and white spots, capable of absorbing large amounts of liquid up to twelve times their weight. As they absorb and swell chia seeds develop a mucilaginous texture, and this is what sets a jam in place of excessive amounts of sugar.
Celery is a marshland plant with a long fibrous stalk and leaves at the top. Cultivated since antiquity its seeds have been used as a spice, leaves and stalks eaten raw or cooked, and extracts used in herbal medicine. A member of the Apiaceae family which include carrots and parsley.
Celery is 95 percent water and due to its high water content it has the ability to bring stale bread back to life. Simply place a stalk of celery in a bag with the bread, seal and place in the fridge for a few hours or over night. The bread will have a fresh lease of life, having absorbed the moisture from the celery.
Celery has many health benefits including relieving heartburn and reducing cholesterol. High in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties make it beneficial for arthritis, toothache, insomnia and anxiety. But within seven days of harvest most of the antioxidants will have disappeared. Celery is a fantastic source of vitamin K and fibre.
But unfortunately despite its continued popularity it is not all good news. Celery can induce severe allergic reactions including fatal anaphylactic shock. The seeds and root contain the highest allergens. Cooking does not destroy the allergen and anything that has been in contact with celery can contaminate other foods. The Greek philosopher Socrates chose death by hemlock poisoning when he was forced to publicly deny his humanistic and democratic principles or be sentenced to death; hemlock is in the same family as celery. Consuming large amounts of celery can lead to gastrointestinal problems, goitres and malnutrition. Unless organically grown, celery ranks high on the Environmental Working Groups dirty dozen list of vegetables containing large amounts of pesticide. It also contain psoralens, a chemical which if applied to the skin can induce intense sensitivity to UV light.
Finally a Recipe for Celery Soup
1 Garlic Clove
500ml Vegetable or Chicken stock
Remove the tough string on the celery stalk and chop into chunks, peel and dice the potatoes and garlic. Heat the oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat and add the vegetables. Coat in the oil and season. Add the stock and bring to the boil, simmer the soup until the potatoes are falling apart and the celery is soft, about 20 minutes.
Add the stock to the pan and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 20 mins, until the potatoes are cooked and the celery is soft. Remove the soup from the heat and blend into a puree. Stir in the milk and season. Serve with a good crusty bread.
The benefits of a traybake are endless. They are cheap, simple and tasty, with minimal mess and pots to wash, perfect for using up whatever is lying about in the kitchen. Alternatively experiment with all the taste and aromas that appeal to you, the options are endless. This recipe came about because I had some Jersey Royals, that were going to sprout and turn green if I didn’t eat them soon. I had nothing to go with them, so my daughter and I dragged out our face masks and braved the supermarket. Tiny new potatoes make me think of salads doused in dressing, so sticking with this theme I added red onion, bell peppers and tomatoes to the trolley. On offer at the meat counter were pork steaks marinated in sweet chili dressing. Very nice! And the smell of fresh basil lured us over, so in it went. I was tempted by a tub of sour cream, but my inner calorie counter chose creme fraiche instead. Shopping paid for we went home, heated the oven and began to peel and chop.
Pop goes the toaster and minutes later I’m running for the bus, with a coffee in one hand and a soggy piece of buttered toast in the other. Marmite, cheese, peanut butter, jam; the choices are endless with this super quick and easy feed. But it may become a limited menu option, as the National Farmers Union (NFU) predict the worst wheat harvest the UK has seen in decades. Lockdown and fears of a no deal Brexit have exasperated a flailing farming community. But the climate crisis is at the forefront of issues for crop growers, with increasing years of weather extremes dominated by periods of wet and dry weather. Three major storms produced the wettest February on record, drenching already saturated fields. Farmers were forced to sow a reduced crop and quality is variable.
Classic cheese on toast is a firm favourite when in need of comforting sustenance. There are many varieties of this simple meal, but choice of cheese matters to ensure a perfectly melted slice each and every time.
Dear Wikipedia, famous for its swathe of inaccuracies. I was recently planning a post on a national or international food day and came across National Bakewell Tart Day on August 11th, listed under United Kingdoms national food days. A practised researcher I proceeded to delve deeper into this and hit a brick wall. I discovered from the 10th-16th August is Afternoon Tea Week and some sources claim today to be National Raspberry Tart Day closely related, but sorry Wikipedia I think this is another faux ou inexact. Moving forward: I like Bakewell, I’m from Derbyshire and I love food. So here is a post to celebrate Bakewell and the tart it is known for.