Bronte book challenge

Only a mini challenge this time. Unlike last time.

Samantha Ellis, author of How to be a Heroine and writer of a very funny 2-actor play called How to Date a Feminist, has a new book out. As far as I understand, it’s on why Anne Bronte is the best Bronte.

If you are a Bennet sister, everyone in the neighbourhood compares your looks. If you are a Bronte, they compare your writing. That’s probably better really.

I have no wish to be more intimately acquainted with Wuthering Heights than I already am. I consider it to be full of horrible people being horrible to one another, sometimes in an impenetrable accent.

I have read Jane Eyre, but not recently, so I will reread it. I will ease in gently by reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, which is sort of about Jane Eyre but not really.

I have not read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or the other one, so I have no knowledge of Anne Bronte at all. I can’t even summon the name of the other one without looking, so I shall read both in order to fully appreciate the arguments in favour as Anne as “the best Bronte”.

Purple pickled eggs

These baby beetroots are really nice. Step 1 is to eat half the jar. Step 2 is to remember that you’ve eaten half a jar of beetroot so that you don’t freak out when the red colour passes straight through you.

Hard boil some eggs – I have worked out my timings to have still slightly-gel-ish yolks as:

  • Boil kettle
  • Pour hot water onto eggs in pan
  • Turn on heat under pan
  • Set timer for 6 mins for small eggs, 6 1/2 for medium eggs
  • When timer buzzes or beeps or flashes or cuckoos, put eggs straight under running cold water until they are cold enough to peel
  • Peel eggs, put in your jar of beetroot

Wait. A few hours will give you a pink tinge, a day will give you pink on the outside but still white inside.

A few days gives you THIS

Colour of egg vs colour of beetroot

Inside, the egg is practically glowing.

These would be good in a salad, if you can restrain yourself from just eating them. The vinegar is quite sweet from the beetroot, it’s not as sharp as a pickled egg you might get in a pub.

Thomasina Miers’ Chorizo and Potato Quesadillas

As I may have mentioned, I don’t think a meal is a real meal if it doesn’t have carbs. There are some who say a meal is not a proper meal without meat. I can do without meat. But carbs? Carbs are the essence of food.

These have double carbs. Potatoes and bread. You know what else has both potatoes and bread? Chip butties. And crisp sandwiches. So you know this is gonna be good. It also has chorizo so if you are feeding someone with the aforementioned “must have meat” issue, this fits the bill.

Thomasina Miers is the creator of Wahaca, the chain of Mexican restaurants. Apparently she won Masterchef in 2005 or something. This is from her book “Mexican Food Made Simple”. A lot of it is not that simple, but this is.

Get yourself some potatoes. Cut them into dice, or smaller-than-dice if you can be bothered. The instructions said just to fry them but I find frying potatoes takes forever so I boiled them for 5 mins. Cut up some chorizo very small. Put it in a nonstick frying pan and fry while your potatoes are cooking. It’ll leak lots of lovely orange fat. Drain your potatoes and put them into the chorizo-y frying pan. Add lots of fresh thyme. Cook until you are sure that the potato is nice and soft.

Get your nice big tortilla wrap, put it into a hot nonstick frying pan (you can put some oil if you like but you don’t need to. Cover with the chorizo and potato mixture. Put grated cheese on top. I also added spring onion.

You’ll see the potato is all nice and orangey. Cover with another tortilla. I also used a small plate to hold the top one down to encourage the whole thing to stick together. Another way to make it stick together better is to use a lot more cheese than I did. That’s also a good option.

Cook like that until you sense that the bottom is brown. I don’t know how you expect to do this. The plate is useful for flipping.

Tah-dah! Now it is flipped. Cook til the other side is that same colour (I already told you, I don’t know how to do this, just use your intuition or something).

You’ll notice that I haven’t said any measurements here. I used a sausage of chorizo about 4 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, double that volume in potato, and a small handful of thyme, to fill 4 tortillas (so two sandwiches). How much cheese did I use? That much  <gestures vaguely>

These are great for a lunch where you’re not sure when you’ll be eating. I made mine for friends who were coming round with a baby in tow. They are nice hot, nice cold, and (much rarer) also nice if they are just warmish. They stay warm well stacked in the oven as in the very top picture.

Raspberry and lemon emergency sponge

You have people coming round, you want to make a cake, you realise you don’t have anything to make the cake exciting.

Oh, but you DO.

This is the story of a cake that worked much better than expected.

First things first. Oven on to 180C.

My basic sponge cake recipe is in ounces, because it originates from the days when my mum would bakes cakes because that was the cheapest way of putting something into the lunchboxes. So: 3 eggs, 6 ounces each of butter and sugar and self-raising flour. Add a bit more flour because the raspberries are going to leak some liquid out and you don’t want a soggy cake.

You might think that having raspberries lying around is an unusually luxurious state to be in. I think I bought a punnet of raspberries because I was having a friend round for dinner and couldn’t be bothered to make a pudding, so meringue + raspberries + icecream = pudding. In a fit of organisation I did not leave the remainder to go fluffy but stuck them in the bottom drawer of the freezer.

Alternatively it’s possible to buy bags of frozen berries. They’re cheap too.

Mix some berries into your slightly-stiffer-than-normal cake mix. If they are frozen, that’s fine. It might even be better. Put it in a lined loaf tin. Bought paper liners the shape of a loaf tin are your friend here. Any tin at all is fine of course, if you use a flatter tin it’ll cook quicker.

Blob some lemon curd on top. Don’t worry that the jar say 2016 on it. It’s not mouldy, it’s a conserve, that’s means it’s designed to last a long time. Put in oven. Check after 40 mins. Could be closer to an hour. Don’t plan to go out.

It’s done when you put a knife in it and the knife doesn’t come out covered in cake mix. Because all the cake mix is now cake. You know that by now, right?

Here is it. Nearly gone. I guess that worked well.

The Light Years (The Cazalet Chronicles) – Elizabeth Jane Howard

One of my regular complaints when visiting historical sites is that I don’t get enough detail about everyday life. Yes, the tiles are beautiful, but what kind of furniture did people use? Yes, that’s the kitchen, but how did they cook, what did they eat, what time did they get up? Why are there not pictures of how this would look when it’s full of silk curtains and platters of dates?

Some of my curiosity about everyday life in the past is being sated by The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

The Cazalets are a large extended family who regularly get together in one place in sufficient numbers for me to forget which of the boys is the eldest, and which of the small children belongs to which brother.

In 1937, the generations span the times so that grandmother (the Duchy) is still suitably Victorian in her attitudes, while one granddaughter is starting to wear trousers. (shocking, I know) A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy reflects on how many married women have a few children, a large gap, and then one last baby. She can’t quite figure out who she could ask how to become unpregnant.

And the food! Louise learns how to make Bath buns and is rather good at them. Marie biscuits are kept by bedsides. Someone (Polly perhaps?) doesn’t really like milk chocolate but can’t tell her father because he meant it as a kind gesture. Two children on a rotating basis are allowed to eat dinner at the big table, rather than having supper in the nursery.

The Light Years was published in 1990, but the author has lived through these years (her ages approximately matches that of the elder grandchildren) so it combines the authenticity of a contemporary book with a slightly more modern style of writing, and the ability to look back.

If you like this sort of thing, you should read these books. The closest comparison I can think of is Diary of a Provincial Lady, which can either function as a recommendation for this (if you liked that, you might like this) or an additional recommendation,

 

 

Low-knead bread – no really this time

Loyal readers (hah, I just really wanted to write that) will know that I have tried a number of different bread recipes over the years, all hindered by the fact that kneading is BORING and I don’t knead enough. Because it’s boring. And I get fed up.

I’ve tried overnight breads, and “no-knead” breads, and I’ve learned that I don’t like the taste of soda bread. I have not yet tried sourdough but that’s mainly because bollocks to any bread that requires you to start it 3 days ahead of time, or to permanently keep a “starter” alive (I’m not calling it Humphrey or Herman or whatever it is called by the kind of people who refer to it as “friendship cake”).

This recipe works though. And I have not improved my kneading technique or my patience. It does require you to hang about a bit, so it’s a job for a day when you are going to be in, but you can spend most of the day watching Netflix (The Crown, for preference).

The magic ingredient seems to be sour cream. Mix 125g sour cream (just under a small pot – I’ve no idea what you’ll do with the remaining 25g), 100ml boiling water and 150ml cold water (or 250ml warm I guess, but I like the precision this gives for “how warm should it be?). This did not mix nicely but it didn’t matter. Add a sachet of dried yeast and 2tsp each of salt and sugar. Then put in 550g of bread flour and make dough.

I don’t know if ingredients come in different sizes in Australia but 125g of sour cream and 550g of flour are both slightly-annoying measurements for me (flour comes in 1kg or 1.5kg, so can make slightly under 2 or 3 of these). I’ll forgive it though on the basis that it ACTUALLY WORKS. Cover it up and wait a bit. I just draped a tea-towel over the bowl.

It grows a bit even in that ten minutes

It grows a bit even in that ten minutes

After 10 mins, knead for 10 seconds. Yes really, 10 SECONDS. I think I counted 30 “pushes” on the dough, which was probably more than 10 seconds. This is the only time I have ever kneaded for LONGER than I was told.

Cover, wait 10 more mins, knead for 10 seconds again. Cover, wait 10 more mins, knead for 10 seconds again. Cover, wait for an hour, then squish it into a rectangle, roll up like a swiss roll (note to self for next time – put something IN it at this point?), and put into a buttered loaf tin. Cover, wait 90 mins.

Wait for it...

Wait for it…

..Whoosh! Look at that!

…Whoosh! Look at that!

Into oven at 180C fan (everyone has a fan oven these days right? 200C if not fan, if you have an Aga you’re on your own).

45 mins later… BREAD.

Looks like bread on the inside too

Looks like bread on the inside too

It actually looks like a loaf of bread

It actually looks like a loaf of bread

 

How to decide what to eat

The best way to decide what to have for dinner is to first decide what kind of carbs you want.

There are some people who think a meal is not complete without meat. Personally I can do without meat for a meal or two, but I cannot happily do without carbs for very long.

And carbs define the kind of meal you’ll be eating. Will it be a traditional meat-and-two-veg (one of which is of course potatoes)? A steaming bowl of pasta? Ditto noodles? Perhaps noodle soup? Or soup with bread? Or a sandwich? Or what about rice? How do you feel about a pie? A real pie of course, none of these stews-with-lids (although if you are a reprobate who likes that kind of fake pie, the puff pastry “lid” can form a whole new carb category).

My considered opinion is that once you know what kind of carbs you want, you have a much better idea of what to eat. There’s no point eating something if it’s not going to bring you joy, after all.

And because no post is complete without some pictures…

ramen

Some ramen I made recently.img_20160922_201151

Tonight’s pasta