Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A simple pleasure

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a lot to answer for. Last night I watched the Channel 4 programme in which HFW attempted to persuade Tesco to change its policy and stock free range chicken instead of those poor flabby barn-raised ones.

What really incensed me was Tesco's attitude in general (making Hugh foot the £85,000 bill for the postage costs; on-camera and off-camera interviews etc). It is far too easy to rely on Tesco. I'm forever banging on about this, but then 'just popping in' for something (pesto, for example) and coming out with our food shopping. (I was going to describe it as our weekly shop, but I only manage to get to a supermarket about once or twice a month - it's 17 miles away and local shops are just more convenient. It almost makes going to such a palace of consumption a bit of a treat. I said almost.)

So this morning, in need of a bit of green grocery I popped out to Narberth (a mere 11 miles away) a nice little town, twinned with Ludlow no less, and filled a bag full of lovely things from the oddly-named Wisebuys. Its name makes it sound like a pound shop, but it is a large deli-style place. Possibly the only place in Pembrokeshire you can get wasabi, for example. It also sells bunches of herbs in buckets, smoked things from local farmers (and Scottish ones too). It probably sells pesto (I must check).

It sells good quality fruit and veg too, such as the monster comice pears I bought this morning. These pears would be far too big for the likes of Tesco, but are pears like I remember from our comice tree in Worcestershire. On slightly breezy sunny pear ripening days the ponies and I used to stand beneath the mighty comice waiting for it to drop its fragrant bounty (it was about half a mile tall - or seemed so.) One gust of breeze and a soft, perfectly ripe pear the size of a small football would plummet to the ground. If it hit you it bloody hurt. Then you'd have to fight two ponies for it, but the taste was worth it... ah, memories.

Anyway, also available today was purple sprouting broccoli. I phoned my husband to brag and then ate all of it lightly steamed with a poached egg, lots of black pepper and a dash or two of tamari. A simple pleasure, a lovely treat, and all thanks to the hard work of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the stubborn intransigence of bloody Tesco.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Taking the pesto

I have a longstanding fascination with what other people eat. This overflows into supermarkets where I love to indulge in trolley gazing and in close analysis of other shoppers' shopping as it flows along the conveyor belt to the checkout.

The old ladies, for example, with their cakes and pouches of Whiskas. Fat chavs, in low slung jeans with low slung bellies clutching sulky sullen kids, with their heaped trollies of biscuits and burgers and smiling fried potato slices.

What do they think of the contents of my trolley? Well Tesco is pretty sure that I'm a vegetarian as I never buy meat there, but I do occasionally buy fish, so what does that make me? A piscatarian? (Or possibly a 'taking-the-piscatarian'.) Anyway, I don't buy many veggies there either as I either grow them or buy them from the Farmers Market.

So what do I buy from Tesco? Those round Finn Crisp crispbreads for a start. These I top with low fat soft cheese (NOT the high fat stuff which is too tongue cloggingly bleurch) and then a scrape of pesto. This is a case in point. It MUST be Tesco's own brand fresh pesto to which I am addicted. It is, in fact, the sole reason I go to Tesco and not Morrisons, Lidl or Aldi. And Delia Smith is totally to blame. I know in the past I was scornful of Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking book, but I did get a copy and she did recommend this pesto and (as expected) Delia was right and now I'm addicted. Which means I must occasionally darken the door of my nearest Tesco to get my pesto 'fix'.

This is quite simply the best pesto I have tasted. I could eat it from the pot with a spoon (and quite often do!) My children love it too, particularly dolloped into homemade minestrone soup or stirred into a quick tortelloni pasta supper. It's also lovely on top of cottage cheese on a nice crunchy skinned baked potato.

Which takes me back to the reason for this blog. What do you eat when you're in a hurry? If it's just me I'll probably eat the crispbread/cream cheese/pesto combo, but if there's a family to feed I have a couple of store cupboard fallback positions.

One is tuna noodles: Take a couple of sheets of dried egg noodles, chop a head of broccoli and add both to a pan of boiling water. Simmer for four minutes, drain and add a tin of drained tuna and a knob of butter. Top with plenty of ground black pepper. This quantity serves two adults and two small children. It's ready in five minutes and is a bit of a life-saver.

Tortelloni gratin: This is for those packs of filled tortelloni that supermarkets offer, but NEVER the ones with meaty fillings (too much like Whiskas). Ricotta and spinach is the best, or maybe the four cheeses or pesto versions. The beef ones are far too spooky. Simmer in boiling water for the recommended time. Meanwhile sweat shredded savoy cabbage, onions, leeks and chopped garlic in a little butter or olive oil until soft and unctuous. Add half a tub of creme fraiche (soft cheese or even cottage cheese) and as much of the aforementioned Tesco pesto as you wish. Mix in the tortelloni. Now you can either serve it as it is (which is quickest) or you can pile it into a gratin dish, top with a mixture of grated Parmesan/Cheddar/Gruyere and pop into a hot oven (gas 6, 200 degrees C) until golden brown and bubbling. This is lovely with a watercress/spinach/rocket type of salad. Serves four.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Throughly yummy sandwich for a Tuesday

I had this sandwich for lunch today. It was one of those lunches forced on me by happenstance. Hannah, you see, in reaching for carrot peelings to feed to the Guinea Pigs, had knocked over the eggs and one cracked.

"Mummy you're going to be cross," she said, leaving the kitchen at a sprint.

Lunch, therefore, began with one slightly cracked egg from our lovely bantam who came into lay, quite festively, on Christmas Day and has honoured us with a daily egg ever since.

I poached said egg and its brother from the day before in a small pan of boiling water. Being so tiny and so fresh, they're a joy to poach, setting to a pleasing oval shaped white with a shocking jaffa orange yolk.

I had a handful of spinach, so I washed it and wilted it in a pan. Meanwhile I toasted two thin slices of white bread and lightly buttered it.

Sandwich assembly time. Place the bottom slice of toast on a plate. Top with spinach and a grind of black pepper, then a dollop - small one, it's January - of Hellman's mayonnaise. Top with the eggs and then the final slice of toast.

Apply, as Nigella would say, to face. If you can eat this without getting egg on your chin, then you're a better woman (or man) than I. Either that or you cooked your eggs for longer. Any which way, it was delicious.

Monday, 12 January 2009

A snuggly pear and almond pudding for a chilly day

I made this last night for to follow a Sunday dinner of Shepherds Pie and Savoy cabbage. It began life as a bag of four rather attractive but hard pears. They were the sort that go from 'hard and inedible' to 'rot' without passing 'yummy and ripe'.

So, something cooked with pears it must be. I'd seen Rachel Allen's BBC2 programme earlier in the day and she had done a very yummy thing which began with peeled chunks of eating apples happily sizzling in a pan of butter, involved a panful of toffee sauce and ended with a heap of crumble topping. Not really what I was after, but I began with the pears in chunks in butter in a lidded frying pan, thinking, possibly, tarte tatin, but veered off into the realms of frangipane.

This is the recipe:

Start with four hard and hopeless pears. Peel, core and cut into chunks. Add to a small frying pan with a heaped teaspoonful of butter. Toss about a bit and then slap on a lid. Leave on a low heat while you make the frangipane.

Weigh two eggs. Remember how much they weigh and put to one side. You then use that weight for the butter, sugar and ground almonds/flour mix. I used two bantam eggs. If you've got monster eggs, use one or be prepared for slightly more frangipane than you bargained for! (Any extra could always be baked separately as a cook's perk.)

Put the eggs to one side while you weigh out the butter and sugar. (I used Clover buttery spread as I had run out of butter.) Beat together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one by one and a good teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Then fold in the ground almonds and self raising flour (in the ratio of about four parts almonds to one part flour, more or less) and a teaspoonful of baking powder.

The pears should now be softened and sitting in a pool of peary buttery juices. Tip them into a shallow oven proof dish, top with the frangipane and cook at Gas Mark 3 for about 45 minutes. It's done when it's golden brown and springs back when pressed.

Serve with lashings of lovely custard.