Daily Prompt: Elegance

I’m not a bad cook by any standards, but somehow my version of any given food dish never looks neat and tidy once put on the plate. None of this minimal bite-sized fiddly delicate artistic presentation for me. If I had to find a food-description genre to fit my cooking it would probably be ‘rustic’.

My food offerings inevitably overflow all around the edges, voluptous portions that are heartily satisfying in taste and texture. I particularly love thick creamy sauces and rich gravies poured generously over juicy cuts of meat and chunky vegetables served on solid, robust plates. Edible it may be, but elegant it is not 🙂

Daily Prompt: Elegance

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Ahh… Bisto…!

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I love cooking, and I still love using some of the very British products I grew up with.

I still use traditional Birds custard powder and always have a tin of Tate & Lyle treacle in my store-cupboard, and when it comes to flavouring and thickening gravy I still prefer to stick to my tried-and-tested favourites – good old Oxo cubes and original Bisto powder (always accompanied by cornflour).

These lovely retro-designed tins sit happily together in my larder, constantly re-stocked as necessary – the Oxo tin speaks for itself, and of the two Bisto tins one holds Bisto powder and one holds cornflour 🙂

Daily Prompt: Spicy

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Our kitchen spice rack contains a very personal mix of flavours and tastes that has developed over the years, a blend of my rather plain-cooking northern Scottish UK roots and my husband’s spicier-palated southern Louisiana US roots.

We tend to cook with a fusion of lots of flavours, some spicy and some not so much – black pepper, mustard powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, chilli powder, various constituent parts of curry powder, dried herbs of several persuasions, chilli flakes, soy sauce, chilli sauce, fish sauce – and also all-spice, ginger powder, and even cinnamon powder (all of which work well as  a flavour-enhancer in savoury dishes).

Most sit in very bland-looking but functional containers, considering the non-blandness of their specific contents, but I particularly like the bright colours in these two small metal tins so have chosen them to illustrate my otherwise rather dull post 🙂

Daily Prompt: Spicy

Daily Prompt: Overworked

Overworked shortcrust pastry tends to be tough as old boots – whereas bread dough definitely needs to be kneaded well, with all the muscle you can muster, the trick with pastry is to apply only the barest whisper of fingertip caress when rubbing in, followed by the tenderest of touch to combine it all together into a soft ball before chilling and rolling out to the desired shape and size. Be gentle and respectful in your approach, and you will be rewarded with the most delicious melt-in-the-mouth pastry – yum! 🙂

Daily Prompt: Overworked

Discover Challenge: Superpower

My personal superpower may not be very exciting, but it’s proved to be pretty useful over the years. I’m well known within my family for being a wizard at being able to create a meal out of nothing. It’s never really ‘nothing’, of course, I just seem to have a flair for finding enough store-cupboard/ refrigerator/ freezer ingredients hiding out of sight (and therefore out of mind for many) to make something edible out of whatever bits and pieces are already there, lurking around, waiting to be found.

My own kitchen larder is always stocked with all the basics I might need, so it’s hardly surprising I can usually conjure up some creative concoction or other at home – but I can often do it in other people’s kitchens, too. The thing is, I simply love cooking, so because I know enough about how even the most simplest of things are made at source, and have a basic understanding of which ingredients tend to go together best in which particular ratios, I’m not afraid to experiment and have fun.

So it’s not really a superpower as such, it’s more of an intuitive knack for trusting in a lifetime of trial and error, of having played about with food combinations enough over the years to feel confident in putting myself out there, knowing that you win some and you lose some, but ultimately it’s all part of the never-ending learning curve of life…

Today, for example, I decided out of the blue to make an apple crumble for dessert, and maybe some custard to go with it. But I know my husband really loves chocolate, so I thought I’d maybe add some cocoa powder to the custard powder and make chocolate custard rather than vanilla. And then I thought – hmmm… maybe I could add cocoa powder and a few chocolate chips to the crumble mixture too, and make a chocolate fruit crumble. But apple and chocolate doesn’t sound good, so maybe I’ll use pear instead, we have some pears sitting in the fruit bowl…

Et voila – chocolate and pear crumble with chocolate custard all done and dusted as if by magic, yet all made with basic ingredients I had in the kitchen already – and by the way it was yum, I’ll definitely be making that again!  🙂

Discover Challenge: Superpower

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Cook

Stream of consciousness writing really isn’t my forte, but cooking… hmmm… maybe for the topic of cooking even I could manage to string something together that makes some sort of sense.

It’s Christmas Eve, and today I’m preparing meatloaf and honey-glazed ham for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner. The thing is, neither of us like turkey, so over the years we’ve variously had roast chicken, roast lamb, or roast pork, and occasionally something completely different – one year in honour of my husband’s Cajun heritage I made red beans and rice and shrimp etoufee with sweet potato and smothered corn; yum!

I’ve loved cooking since childhood; I love the alchemy of putting together raw ingredients and creating magic on a plate. OK, so maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but I’ve written it now and according to the rules, there’s no editing allowed, only correction of typos… oh well!

Anyway, my meatloaf is a combination of minced beef, sausage-meat, smoked bacon, onion, garlic, red pepper, breadcrumbs, seasoning to taste and egg to bind it all. I always prefer to use my hands to mix it up, squishing the mixture through my fingers and blending the flavours together – I’m not one for gadgets taking me out of the process, one step removed – I like to feel the food I make, adding a dash of love along the way.

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The smoked ham I’m going to boil first, not only to take out any excess salt from the cured meat but also to make some lovely concentrated stock for the freezer. Then half the layer of fat is sliced away, the remainder of the fat scored, and clear honey is drizzled over the top before the ham is then baked until golden. Boiling it first keeps the meat moist and succulent.

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Tomorrow we’ll be having our glazed ham and meatloaf with roasted root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots), rich mushroom gravy, and steamed cabbage with bacon and onion. It may be an odd choice for Christmas dinner, but we’re really looking forward to it… 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Cook

Daily Prompt: Echo

I love cooking, and this afternoon I’m making soup, the same way I’ve always made it – the way I learned from my grandmother.

First, I boil up old bones to make stock. Today, it’s a couple of meat-stripped chicken carcasses and a ham bone – I keep them together in the freezer in a big re-sealable bag until I’m ready to use them, then I boil them all up in water with bay leaves and black pepper. While the bones are boiling, releasing all their goodness and flavour, I chop my vegetables – usually just whatever is available. Today I’ve got onion, garlic, chilli, carrot, turnip and parsnip, so it seems we’ll be having a full-bodied and piquant vegetable soup tonight.

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Once the stock is ready, I’ll strain the liquid and discard the bones, then add the chopped vegetables, herbs and seasoning to taste – a touch of tarragon is always lovely with chicken stock, and I’ll add a little thyme too, I think, and thicken it with a little oatmeal before letting the soup simmer until ready. The base stock may vary from time to time, as will the particular vegetables used – leek and potato works well with chicken stock, and lentil and sweet potato is lovely with a strong smoky ham stock – but the underlying process remains basically the same as it always has been.

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I grew up in a poor rural farming community on the North East coast of Scotland, where a bowl of thick belly-filling soup and a hunk of bread was a staple menu choice for many, and wherever I may go in life, and however old I may get, hopefully I’ll always enjoy the comforting echoes of generations past conjured up every time I go through the thoroughly satisfying process of planning and preparing a flavoursome pot of heart-warming soup to feed my family and friends… 🙂

Daily Prompt: Echo