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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Toad in the Hole

This is a British invention, with a cute Cockney name. It is Yorkshire pudding poured over sausages and baked until puffy and brown. I found out recently that it is also a Mennonite dish called sausage pudding. Possibly, the Waterloo County Mennonites in Ontario learned it from their English neighbours.

Yorkshire Pudding is not a sweet dessert. The "pudding" part refers, I believe, to the batter. Usually Yorkshire Pudding is made in the roasting pan after the beef comes out to rest before carving. The egg batter is poured onto the still hot fat after the juices are decanted for gravy. Poor Cockneys: (the inhabitants of the working class East End of London), they got the sizzle of Yorkshire pudding but no steak. A bit of bacon dripping, a few sausages, and the egg batter made a supper dish that served a family for a few pence.

Equipment:Skillet, mixing bowl, wire whisk, baking pan about 9" square, or pie plate.

Ingredients: One pound or more of sausages such as breakfast style or links - I buy locally made sausages, as we have two good butchers nearby; 2 whole eggs; 3/4 cup flour; a pinch of salt; 1 cup milk.

Directions: Brown the sausages in a skillet, adding additional fat such as bacon drippings or cooking oil to make 2-3 tablespoons. Meanwhile, make the batter by beating eggs into milk and adding flour and salt, beating well until almost smooth. Pour hot fat from skillet into baking dish, add sausages, distributing evenly. Immediately pour the batter on top, and place in 375F oven for 30-45 minutes, until batter has risen, top is browned, but the center is custardy. A knife inserted at the middle of the pan will come out clean, without eggy strands.

Serve it immediately with seasonal vegetables. It doesn't need much accompaniment, but some like it with a beef gravy. I like it plain. I sometimes add crumbled bacon to the batter. Fry leftover pudding for breakfast.

My husband's mother made this, as well as other Cockney delicacies like bubble and squeak, steak and kidney pie, and trotters.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Irish Soda Bread

I've had good Irish soda bread and some that was hair-raising. One recipe I tried always fell flat for me, although the original recipe, made by someone else, was delicious. I suspect that an important ingredient got left out in the transmission. Another much-vaunted original Irish family recipe was bitter with soda. Another was just a big greasy scone. I had been using a whole wheat recipe from Britain, but it didn't rise much although the flavour was good. I never thought to look in a Mennonite cookbook for a recipe for Irish soda bread.

Edna Staebler had her original recipe from her great-grandmother, and published it back in 1968. So that's how old it is! I've had to modify it quite a bit to work with today's grocery store ingredients. People don't have buttermilk or soured milk sitting around anymore.

Equipment: Mixing bowl, wooden spoon, pastry blender or fork, two buttered cake pans or pie plates, floured board or countertop.

1/4 cup sugar (or less)
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups currants, raisins, dried fruit, or a mix
1/4 cup butter or shortening (I use lard)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 3/4 cups sour milk - or buttermilk, or milk with 2 teaspoons of vinegar added, or 3/4 cup of milk and a cup of yogurt

Combine all dry ingredients, adding the fruit at the same time. Get the fruit stirred in well to the flour. Cut shortening into dry mixture. (Edna used her electric mixer but I use a pastry blender.) Stir the egg lightly into the milk, add to the dry mixture, and stir until blended through. Knead on a flour board for just a couple of minutes, until smooth. Divide in half, pat each half down into a buttered cake tin, slash top with an X and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. Good while hot, with lots of butter, or cold with a smidge of butter or peanut butter.

The loaf pictured at the top is whole wheat, no fruit, and I served it with homemade chicken noodle soup. You can modify the recipe in many ways. I love the bread with dried cranberries, golden raisins and the nutmeg. Currants and nutmeg is an excellent combination, too.

Delicious Fresh Side Dishes

I once heard a friend's husband grumble, "I'm a meat and potatoes man!" when he was served a salad with his meal. I know, potatoes are vegetables, and the beef is grass-fed. Still, the vegetables aren't just to convey vitamins. They can be the balance to the meat and potatoes, in taste and texture as well as colour.

I'm not a fan of kitchen-sink salads, where everything is tossed in -- raw, cooked or pickled. It was a fad in American restaurants for a while, I think. One was presented with a huge wooden bowl overfilled with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green onion, sliced radishes, pickled beets, boiled egg, three kinds of diced meat and two kinds of grated cheese. This was accompanied by a half cup or more of sweetish cream dressing. There might be olives or peperoncini or nuts in it, too. It was enough food for four people. It was the salad bar brought to you. I see salad bars are in decline. There is a lot of waste in a buffet of any kind, and spoilage. One dish of salmonella salad dressing, and the owner might as well close the doors.

I don't make big salads because my husband is not one to eat raw greens much. A salad big enough for the two of us fits in a small serving bowl. We are almost at the end of our lettuce season in the garden, and I pull what I need for that meal, drop it into a colander in a bowl of cold water, let is sit for a few minutes, take it out, give it a quick additional rinse, then dry it in a clean cotton tea towel. (I do this by laying out the leaves and rolling up the towel.) In addition, I add some of the softer herbs like basil and parsley fresh from the herb garden.

We don't have any tomatoes ripe yet, so for added flavour and texture contrast, I have been using radishes. We have lots of radishes. Radishes do not keep well, getting soft and unappealing in about 48 hours, so I take just what I want for the day. We sometimes eat the small ones whole.

A good light dressing is nothing more than olive oil with a little flavoured vinegar added, shaken together. I make rosemary vinegar by adding about two tablespoons of dried rosemary to a quart of cider vinegar, and letting it marinate for a couple of weeks. Strain, and keep in a jar in the cupboard for, oh, maybe a long time. It doesn't go bad.

I don't recommend making flavoured oils, even garlic. The herbs or ingredients sometimes cause the oil to go rancid faster. The oils, once an ingredient is introduced, need to be refrigerated.

Our peas were late this year and we haven't had many, but they have been really good. If I don't find enough for a meal, I pick some of the small green beans, or snap larger beans into smaller pieces and cook them with the peas. Rather than boiling them hard, I get a few big parsley leaves, wash those (lettuce will work, too), put the leaves in the bottom of the pot, add between 2 tablespoons and 1/4 cup of water, depending on how much vegetable I am cooking, start the beans simmering, and after a minute or two, add the shelled peas. As the peas are small and fresh, I bring this just up to a boil, take off the heat, and drain. It takes the raw edge off the peas but keeps all the bright green flavour.

Carrots, whether the wee new ones from thinning the patch, or larger ones pared and sliced, are delicious with a pat of butter, about a tablespoon or so of fresh grated gingerroot, and a teaspoon of honey. After cooking the carrots, put them back in the pan and add the butter, ginger and honey. They will melt together as you toss the carrots. Some people want to add parsley here, but I think it ruins the balance of honey and ginger.

For seasoning at the stove, if I am using salt at all, I use coarse sea salt on hot vegetables. It isn't as penetrative as iodized fine salt, coating the vegetables rather than inundating them with salt taste. Most of us get plenty of iodized salt every day in prepared foods to meet our requirement for iodine.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Homemade Mennonite Noodles

I can find the "noodles" recipe in my favourite Mennonite cookbook by touch. The page is gritty with flour. Noodle making is a floury undertaking.

I modified this recipe quite a bit as I used it, as ingredients have changed a bit since the 1950s, when it was first written. For one, eggs aren't usually as fresh or as big as farm eggs used to be. Standardization of breeding has changed that. I wonder, too, if flour has changed a bit, with different wheat varieties - there are fewer heirloom types commercially available - and a better drying process.

Noodles are easy but time consuming. It helps to have someone else to aid with cutting and hanging the noodles to dry. I don't recommend doubling the recipe unless there is someone else to spell with the rolling.

The equipment: Mixing bowl, measuring cup, heavy wooden spoon or steel mixing spoon, rolling pin (mine is marble), counter top or pastry board, sharp knife or rotary pizza cutter, floured tea towels or a folding clothes drying rack.

The ingredients: 2 cups flour, 2 whole eggs or 4 yolks, a pinch of salt, 1/2 cup or so of cold water.

Sprinkle the salt into the flour in the mixing bowl, lightly toss with your hands. Make a little well in the middle of the flour, add the eggs, muddle a little, then blend into the flour, adding the water as needed to make a dough that holds together and doesn't leave a lot of crumbs in the bottom.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board or counter top, and knead lightly until it is smooth and all the crumbly bits are worked in. Divide into four balls, add roll out one ball as thin as possible without tearing it. (Here is where a heavy marble pin really helps.) You are aiming for a rough rectangle in shape. You will never get it commercial egg noodle thin unless you have a pasta machine to roll it.

Put the dough sheet on a cutting board, and using a very sharp pointed knife, or even easier, a sharp pizza cutter, cut the rough rectangle the long way into strips about 1/4" wide, or whatever size you want. I toss the ragged edges aside to reroll.

Hang the cut strips on a drying rack - I use my wooden laundry rack, or lay them out on a floured tea (linen) towel or even a clean sheet if you can't improvise a drying rack. Some Mennonite women hang them on broomsticks laid across the backs of chairs. You can hang towels or sheets over the noodles to keep them clean, but it does slow down the drying. I always put a large towel under the drying rack because I will drop some of the noodles, without fail.

Roll and cut the rest of the noodle dough the same way. Leave it to dry at least a couple of hours. Traditionally, noodles were made in the morning for the evening meal. If there are more noodles than you wish to cook at once, let the rest dry overnight and store them in a canister or jar.

To cook: Get the rest of the meal prepared and hold it warm. Bring a pot of water to a boil, throw in some noodles, and cook at boiling for about five minutes. Test a piece for doneness. When it is cooked to your satisfaction, drain in a colander, and wither serve immediately or use in another dish. If you want to keep noodles in the refrigerator after boiling, toss them with olive oil or a bit of butter.

Serve the noodles dressed with butter and pepper, or with gravy. They are also really good with some fresh grated mild cheese, a little olive oil, and some fresh herbs. They can be the platform for Italian style tomato sauces, as well.

My mother would make them evenings my father was working, and we would have them in tomato soup garnished with bacon bits. We still eat them that way. It is a delicious light supper. Use any favourite canned or tetra pak tomato soup, or make your own by simmering tomato juice until it is reduced in volume by about 25%, then add a spoonful or so of sugar, a pinch of salt, and celery seed or other herbs. The bacon I use is smoked locally and is as dense as ham. I don't buy much of it because I use it mainly as a garnish or flavouring. I add fresh herbs to my soup, since I have a miniature herb garden just outside the door. Basil, chives and parsley are good.

Food Photos

Food blogs are nothing without photos. A food blog without good photos might as well be the 1954 Austin Ladies Guild Cotillion Cookbook. At least thirty-eight percent of the fun of reading about food is to see what it will look like.

Here's the problem for me: I have an unusually high degree of guilt over dishonesty. If I exaggerate even a tiny amount, or shade the truth a wee bit, I will lie awake at night thinking of ways to apologize and correct myself without, you know, losing face in any major way. (Mind, I know this isn't true humility.)

So my photos on the blog will be what I really had to start with, and what I had at the end. There may be an occasional disaster, if in any way it will be helpful to others. I know people don't want to read a bad cooking blog.

I'm a pretty good photographer, although limited in equipment right now. I hope the photos contribute to the reader learning about the preparation of the food. But the illustrations will be honest - I don't dress up food. The items get plated on what I own right now. If you read regularly, you will get to know my kitchen almost as well as I do.

Pork Roast with Stuffed Apples

I have no potatoes. My potato plants haven't even blossomed yet. I do have apples, though.

I had a small pork roast defrosted. Apples are always good with pork. The pectin helps break down the fat. Pork in this area tends to be fatty rather than lean. People prefer it that way as it is more tender. Most people here in the northern reaches of the St. John River eat as their ancestors did. The only problem with holding to the traditional diet is that our ancestors worked twelve to fourteen hour days outdoors, with just Sundays and holidays for rest. Now most people work indoors and aren't burning 3,000 calories a day.

I put the roast in a small roasting pan, gave it a light sprinkle of rosemary and fresh ground pepper, and added about a half cup of water to the pan. That went in the oven at 350F.

I cored the apples - I do this with a knife rather than an apple corer, but it is slow and imprecise. I recommend the corer. The stuffing was fresh bread crumbs, torn into pieces about the size of the end of my finger; some green onions from the garden, using both the little white bulb and the top, sliced; some fresh sage and parsley; and a drizzling of bacon fat and stock. I have a small herb garden near the front door so I can just nip out with a pair of scissors and get what I want, give it a quick rinse in the sink, then after shaking off the extra water, snip it into the recipe with the same scissors. The bread stuffing goes into the apples, which are set into the roasting pan. One per serving is enough, but I doubled it since I knew I would have leftover pork. Two went into a separate pan. I could have transferred it all to a bigger roaster, but one pork roaster is enough to wash. I added a bit more water to each pan.

I had started the pork roast with the roaster lid on, then took it off for the last fifteen minutes or so. the roast was small, about two pounds, so the total cooking time was under an hour and a half.

I made gravy with some chicken stock I had in the refrigerator, added to the pan drippings. We had homemade noodles, garden beans, and a salad.

My old meat thermometer had done a lot of work over the past decade, and the last move must have loosened the spring, as it no longer registers. I could covet a digital probe thermometer. My friend, Paula, who lives in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario and raises pork with her husband, tells me that we no longer have to worry about cooking pork to a high internal temperature, as trichinosis is no longer common in pigs. Back when pigs wandered about and got into things it was a problem. I suppose if I let pigs run feral I would be more concerned about it, but commercially prepared and farm raised pork is quite safe. No need to fear infecting the family if the pork is a tad pink inside. Safe handling techniques and a reasonable rinse before cooking are still necessary to eliminate clinging bacteria.

We've been conditioned to believe that a small roast isn't worth the effort. I disagree. Cook a small roast covered, with a bit of added moisture, and for a much reduced time. The slow cooker isn't the only option. We use a wood fired heating and cookstove (Bakers Choice by Suppertime Stoves of Ontario) throughout most of the year, and oven roasting utilizes the "free" energy. A small roast can be done in a dutch oven (a covered cast iron kettle) on top of a wood burning stove that doesn't have an oven, set toward the side so it doesn't get too hot. I once used a dutch oven to cook a moose roast on an open fire. I added half a bottle of beer so it was half-stewed, of course, but with potatoes cooked in the broth and a garden tomato sliced and served alongside, salt and pepper for its seasoning, it was one of the best camping meals I ever had.