Freshly Milled Black Pepper (or Garlicky Breadcrumbs with Spaghetti)

So if you are reading this over the posting weekend, this comes to you by the power of cutestcakeseveryday IT support, otherwise known as my better half, who has kindly stepped into the blogging breach and has published on my behalf as I am Laptop and iPad-less at my current location. But more of that next week.

I am trying to post twice a week and according to IT support a higher frequency would be an unsustainable blogging rate. This is actually hard to do currently. Despite having many other activities I ought to be engaged in, frantically tapping away to create a new post has started to become quite absorbing. I went past 600 hits last weekend for which I am very thankful and pleased about and the ‘biggest hitting’ posts are always cake related. Apart from the Chicken Noodle Soup. This analysis of the analysis, which wordpress offers to all those with a blogging account, is a fairly additive past-time too. I fully appreciate that no-one is really interested in beetroot and what one might do with it, but another high performing post has been the first Unloved Vegetables one about celeriac, curious….

So, do I start to pander to the audience. I have a ‘poll’ widget winking at me from mission control and I think I might just be tempted to give it a press. I’m supposed to be blogging about the general output from my kitchen but the hits would suggest I should do more chicken and cake related posts.

Decisions, Decisions….

Anyway, whilst I ponder on that, I’ll talk about Black Pepper.

I think for the first time in my culinary existence I ran out of black pepper a few days ago. Since then I have been frustratingly forgetful about replacing it. It just never occurs to me at the appropriate moment. Now I can’t say as a rule I’m deeply impressed by coincidence or subliminal messages and that sort of thing but when I was making a note of the recipe which follows below I was a little amused.

Black Pepper along with salt is one of those culinary must haves. If you were raised on a diet of Delia Smith’s cook books you will be aware that every savoury recipe ingredients list ends with – salt and ‘freshly milled black pepper’. I consequently have a pepper mill by the hob. Mine looks like this  →

My Brother very kindly bought it for me for Christmas. I pretty much put pepper in everything and not having it available has put me out of sorts with a deep seated achy pang.

Why do we put pepper in everything? Can someone enlighten me?

I expect Wikipedia could tell me but I want to try and coax someone into a bit of audience participation. If I post a poll, audience participation will be key. For anyone who is a little virginal when it comes to blog following, polls are widely used by some sites to whip up some chat. They are very straight forward and look like a multiple choice question. They are neatly arranged and usually look very tempting. You merely click on the preferred answer. The results are fed to me and at some future point I let you know the outcome or act upon it. I really love all the comments I receive and as the commenting is becoming more frequent I’m sure we could try something new?

I’m just warming everyone up to the idea for now.

So back to the recipe and the subliminal channeling. This works really well for kids I have discovered and can be adapted to cope with individual food preferences to some degree. It’s also another barely got your hat off moment, but not quite as quick.

Garlic Breadcrumbs and Spaghetti (Serves 2)

Boil kettle full of water, empty boiled water into a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and a drop of oil and return to the boil. Add the required amount of spaghetti  (200g-250g for adults). Return to the boil and simmer for 9 minutes. You want ‘al dente’, so still retains a bit of bite. (I’ll talk about this soon)

Meanwhile in a frying pan add 2 tbsp of Olive Oil and 1 tbsp of Garlic Oil and once warm throw in 50g of breadcrumbs (one standard slice of bread, chuck it all in the mini chopper, crusts and all). Stir to coat in the oil over a moderate heat and continue to stir frequently until the breadcrumbs take on a toasted look and appear to have crisped up. Remove to a plate.

Now the Italians would stop there really as they have pasta as a starter but for a midweek meal for anyone else, add a drop more oil to the frying pan, if needed, and you can add a half a chopped red pepper and a couple of chopped up rashers of bacon or ham! Once all this is cooked through return the garlicky breadcrumbs to the pan to warm through too. Drain the spaghetti once cooked and just before the very last drops of water are gone return it all to the saucepan. Add a good handful of rocket (peppery or what) and toss in the spaghetti until it starts to wilt. Add about ¾’s of the breadcrumb mixture and toss through too and then heap out into the bowls/plates. Garnish with the rest of the breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and, if you have it, freshly milled black pepper!

Note: I am loving all the comments I have received so far, so many thanks. Discussion is the next goal and I think a poll is a good place to start. Usually once one has decided on an answer there is always a natural urge to justify and expand.

And this is what it would look like, you can ‘select’ and ‘vote’ if you wish.

Perfect Pancakes and no Palaver

At Last! My perfect pancake.

As it’s Shrove Tuesday tomorrow I feel I should blog about Pancakes. However these delicious creations feature large in our house as Child 2 is a creature of habit and campaigns weekly, without fail, to have them for breakfast on Sunday mornings. Seeing as this is the least busy day of the week from the point of view of cooking something up first thing, I have generally been happy to indulge him.

Of course I’m talking about the American variety and therefore Delia just won’t do. I have been through several versions over the years and I have always been left wanting in some way. Typically I’ve used a recipe of Nigella’s but this involves melting butter which then has to be cooled to some degree before being added to the various other ingredients, which I could not commit to memory, basically a bit of a faff. At that time of the week, let alone morning, I want to be able to bang these out in a family-tradition-I’ve-been-doing-it-all-my-life kind of way, with a minimum of brain power, equipment and little opportunity to forget some vital ingredient. I have learnt this the hard way and after 5 years have finally come up with the ideal recipe, and here it is.

Adapted from the inspirational Rachel Allen, and the result of a happy accident, her Drop Scones recipe has been morphed into our American Pancake one, and because it is all about stateside in this post, I use my anglicised version of american measures:

a generous ½ cup self-raising flour, pinch of salt, 1 tbsp (15g) caster sugar, 1 egg, ½ cup milk, a drop of sunflower oil. That’s all you need apart from a bowl, a balloon whisk and a frying pan. (I do appreciate you can buy pancake mix (type in pancake mix at the link) which would be far simpler but that’s not what this blog’s about).

So put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in the middle and add the egg and milk. Whisk until you have a smooth batter and that’s it. Heat 1 tsp oil over a moderate heat and after a minute, wipe the non stick frying pan with some kitchen paper, to remove the liquid oil or use that oil spray. Depending on the size of your frying pan dot single dessert spoonfuls of mixture around the pan. It will spread out, so to a say 22cm (9″) pan add about 3 dollops. Allow the mixture to cook on that side until you can see bubbles popping on the surface of the cooking batter, then get a little palette knife or fish slice under the pancake and flip it over, give it another 30 seconds to a minute and remove to a plate and a slightly warm oven whilst you carry on with the next batch, wiping the frying pan carefully with the oily kitchen paper between each batch. Keep going ’til you have used up all the batter, you will probably end up with around 12 or so depending on how big you decide to make them. There is no right size but you know what they should look like. We don’t go massive.

Delicious with the following:  honey, jam, eggs and bacon, any fruit, sliced to go with, and of course Maple Syrup.

Maple Syrup – Canada – Thinking Day (c.1982). What can the Girl Guides Thinking Day Celebrations have to do with all this I hear you asking? Thinking Day is also this week (22nd) and is celebrated by Guides world-wide as it’s their founder’s birth date. Back in 1982 we were duly celebrating this with other Guides from our town in a school hall somewhere. Each Guide Company providing a display from another one of the Guiding Nations. This was to include food from the relevant country for us to eat ourselves as a snack.

Our Company had picked Canada and so someone had kindly prepared a kind of Maple Syrup Tart (a bit like Treacle Tart) for us all. Maple syrup for the uninitiated has a distinctive, intense flavour in such a dish. I should like to point out that I adore maple syrup but as we all sat there that evening, hungry and picking miserably at this confection, we were all absolutely bright green with envy as we looked across to the Company who had chosen Italy……

Do we still have fish because it’s Friday? Smoked Mackerel Pate for Leaner Lines.

What a momentous first week of blogging I have had. A few statistics are called for in the circumstances I feel, if everyone can just humour me for a second.

Update: have adjusted recipe description to make it clearer, I hope. 

I’ve had 181 overall views (awesome), best day was 52 views with the Cake Pops post (not surprising), 50 referrals from Facebook (such lovely friends), 4 of my friends commented (big thanks guys), 2 people not known to me very kindly commented about the Granola (just for the record I am a big fan of the stuff, and was pleased to see I was not alone in the universe) and I have 1 follower which I’m extremely excited about and it appears not to be my Mother.

A web-based community.

For those of us working from home it does transform our day and provides some ‘office bonhomie’.

‘Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers’. Alfred Lord Tennyson

This sharing of information and advice used to be all word of mouth, and the passing on of cooking knowhow was of course a generational, family affair.

My Mum is a good cook. I’ve always loved her food, and naturally she learnt from my Grandmother.  Very unassuming, Granny would beaver away in her kitchen producing classic british food that just tasted good and she was always interested in what you were wanting to eat next. Breakfasts of white toast smothered in butter and Marmite, boiled eggs, maybe crispy bacon, nothing unusual, but for some reason delicious and memorable. So I watched her and my Mother, subconsciously mainly, but absorbing the knowledge and skills to give me the confidence to get stuck in.

This point can thrown into sharp relief with the following, for which I have permission to share; I shared a house for a couple of years whilst at college with three other female friends, at least one of whom had received a similar educational background in cooking. So, she and I were hanging out in our student kitchen, a natural place for us to be, when another flatmate/friend arrived to make something to eat. She wasn’t much into cooking at the time, preferring the more usual social activites of an 18/19 year old and was a little prone to the odd culinary mishap, today was such a day and so when she eventually left with a sheepish grin, a hastily made sandwich, thoughts of what she would rather be doing and a mildy resigned air, my companion turned to me and declared with a sigh,

‘Of course, Wigs, the reason you and I can at least give the appearance of being able to cook is because we must have been pretty boring as younger teens and sat in the kitchen around tea-time watching our mothers!’

That wiped the slightly wry smiles off our nerdy little faces as unfortunately I suspect there was never a truer word spoken… So we might have been a little uncool, and in my case reading cookbooks rather than classics, but we had absorbed how to check the potatoes are cooked, test if a sponge is baked and peel the pith and peel from an orange (see veg box fruit salad post!). Although anything can be described in print watching it being performed makes it much easier to learn, not to mention finding oneself actually tasked with checking if the spuds are done, with competent verification coming along behind. I’m not really saying anything new or that this is good or a bad thing, it just seems like that’s the way it is.

Fish Fridays

But the overarching legacy my Granny has left (apart from her copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course) is that fact that she was Catholic and so my Mother always had fish on Fridays and this practice lingers on with me.

So, to the recipe for today, this I think may have been inspired originally by the aforementioned Delia, (who I will discuss at length at some other point) but it’s been stuck in my head for years and no doubt tweaked accordingly: take 2 smoked mackerel fillets and flake them into a large bowl or food processor, add to them 125ml or more easily 1/2 cup each of both cottage cheese and fromage frais or soured cream. Squeeze in a little lemon juice and either blitz in the processor, or if you want something less homogenous you can just mash it up with a fork (à la The Fabulous Baker Brothers), add a sprinkling of finely chopped parsley or dill and a little black pepper and lemon zest. Good with toast, bread sticks, carrot or cucumber sticks….

N.B. I think this will work for those on the Dukan Diet, followers of which I seem to be surrounded by at the moment so this is dedicated to all you and my much beloved ex-flatmates. Keep the faith.

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