Cooking


Photo of a small piece of the soda bread, on a floral paper napkin

I didn’t expect to be writing a post about soda bread so I didn’t take a picture of the loaf. Only today, when I found that it was delicious when a day old I decided to post, by which time this was all that remained.

It is well-known that ‘Irish’ soda bread is good only on the day it is made, or so I have always understood (and that has been my experience). Consequently, I only made it when we had an ‘out of bread’ emergency, as yesterday, with no time to make a more conventional loaf (shop bought bread in the UK is not good, even in my opinion expensive ‘artisan’ loaves. I’ve been spoiled by German breads).

Because there are only two of us I always struggled to make a small enough quantity to eat on the same day (I hate discarding food but the birds were happy).

As Wednesday is one of our ‘veggie days’ we decided yesterday to eat an avocado each followed by ‘iahnie’ (pronounced, roughly, yak-nee-ay), a puree of butter beans for us but of the much larger ‘boabe’ (bwar-bay) beans in Romania, with bread. It’s usually flavoured with garlic, maybe other things like herbs.

No bread so I made a soda bread (but not the ‘real’ one as it calls for buttermilk, which I did not have). We ate it straight out the oven – the iahnie is cold. As usual we had some over so it was put in a bag, hot, still steaming when broken, with the idea of giving the birds a feast today. But, guess what, it was soft and absolutely delicious today when we ate it for our lunches. Poor birds!

Here’s the recipe I made:

250g wholemeal bread flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
200 ml full-fat milk
Juice of a lemon
1 tsp honey

Mix the dry ingredients well in a bowl. Pour the lemon juice into the milk (it’s magic!). Stir in the honey till dissolved. Make a well in the flour etc, pour in the ‘artificial buttermilk’ and mix with a spatula till the ‘dough’ is ‘together’. Shape into a round loaf, put on a floured baking tray (I use coarse semolina), cut a deep cross in the top and put in the oven preheated to 180degC (that’s my fan oven; I guess 200degC for ‘conventional’ oven). Bake for 30 minutes or till it sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom.

Note. This made a very ‘sloppy’ dough, difficult to handle and shape, so next time I’d add a bit more flour.

 

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Photo of the Rex Cabernet Sauvignon bottleI can hardly believe that it’s taken me until now to discover Slovenian wine. Several decades ago, when I was a bit ‘wealthier’ than now, I used to buy ‘Grand cru’ wines by the case at auction. Despite this level of interest in wine I’d never heard of Slovenian wine. Shame!

I’d probably have passed by this odd-shaped bottle (red wine) had it not been for following a Slovenian writer/blogger for the past couple of years. That being so, I bought a bottle for interest (Vinakoper Rex Cabernet Sauvignon), quite prepared to find that it was rubbish. What a revelation: intense red, for me (and Petronela and our Saturday evening supper guest) just the right level a tannin coming through all the fruit. Just wonderful. I’ve since researched Slovenian wine and found that this tiny country is among the world’s earliest wine producers (also home to the world’s oldest fruit bearing vine, 400+ years old) turning out top class wines , particularly white wines but not exclusively, obviously. My ignorance is not entirely my fault; evidently until recently little was exported – they drank it all themselves.

From what I’ve read, the vintage I bought (2013) is probably not the best; it seems that 2012 is better so that must be astounding. Sadly, returning to buy another couple of bottles it was no more.

Better than Mary Berry? Did I dare to say that?

Photo of Six of the dozen soft hamburger rolls I made

Six of the dozen soft hamburger rolls I made

Having begun a ‘foodie’ blog, which I haven’t done for some time, I’ll continue but no recipes (though links to a couple), just a run down of our Saturday supper. As the ‘foodies’ among you will know, I rarely follow recipes to the letter but this time I did: Stefane’s grandmother’s Vichyssoise, which cannot be bettered; soft hamburger rolls from Veena Azmanov (they tasted great, beautifully soft, though too soft and sticky a dough to form well – I think I’d add more flour next time). My hamburgers are always based on ‘Biftek haché à la Lyonnaise‘ from Julia Childs, but never quite the same.

Really wicked chocolate mousse

For dessert I started with Mary Berry‘s ‘Wicked chocolate mousse‘ but made it a little more ‘wicked’. For my taste, Petronela’s and our guest’s I think even better than the celebrity cook’s version, less sweet, more intense chocolate taste and with a kick. How? Substituting 85% cocoa chocolate for 40% of the ‘plain chocolate’ specified by MB and dosing it with a little chilli. I served it with fresh strawberries. I’d recommend it.

The Slovenian wine would go well with anything like a steak or game, or such an intense chocolate dish.

I have never seen Romania so green, so beautiful, but it is a beauty only skin deep. Beneath the surface disasters are happening. We left Yorkshire with an extraordinary summer, weeks of sunshine with little rain, a situation rarely seen before. As we ventured further south east, through Germany and Austria, the heat was still evident but more and more rain, often torrential.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

We, the human race, are destroying our life as we have known it. Fifty years ago I was writing, as a journalist, about the dangers of ‘global warming’ though few wanted to listen then. Not enough are listening now to those far better qualified than me, especially ignored by the most powerful ‘world leaders’.

Forest destroyed

Swathes of forest have been felled in Romania and it continues so the natural protection against excessive run-off from the mountains has been and continues to be removed. The effects are clear to see: excessively swollen streams and rivers, moving swiftly to sweep away anything in their paths, including bridges and complete houses and causing wide-spread flooding. And for what? Money, of course.

But not money for the general population, money for a few and mostly for foreign investors. Something like 58% of Romanian land, among the most fertile in Europe, has been sold to large foreign corporations from other countries In Europe but also from as far away as the Arab states and China. This is ‘globalisation’ – stealing from the poor to make the rich more obscenely richer. The fat cat politicians pat their back pockets stuffed with Euros, Dollars, Sterling and other currencies, weeping crocodile tears to swell the already swollen rivers.

The immediate effect on our trip

The final good sleep in our tent, at the excellent Warnsborn camp site at Arnhem, Holland.

We have not escaped. Our tent, resistant to 3,000mm water pressure, did not resist the torrential downpours and for the first time ever we have been woken up in the night to find ourselves wet. We ‘escaped’ at 2.30am on two occasions to sleep in the car and on one occasion where it was clearly going to rain we did not bother to erect the tent – with front seat backs fully lowered Dusty provides a reasonable sleeping position but far from ideal, so until we reached my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc we had not had a good night’s sleep since leaving Holland.

New tent!

Having had an interrupted night with heavy rain in Atea, close to the Romanian border at Petea (a great ‘camp site’ which I’ll talk about sometime later), we ordered a new tent online from a Romanian supplier to be delivered to Petronela’s parents. We’re now waiting for delivery. It claims to have 5,000mm water pressure resistance so with any luck it will resist whatever the weather throws at us till we return home.

Idiot Romanian politicians

If the destruction of the environment was not enough, watching Romanian tv is equally horrific: a Prime Minister who doesn’t know what capital she is in (when I lived here I could stop any high school student, probably any primary school pupil, and ask for the capital of any country and they would answer correctly). Then we’ve had the Minister of Agriculture publicly comparing the incineration of pigs to Auschwitz! The only conclusion we can come to is that people like this are put into positions of ‘authority’ to be easily manipulated.

Some things good to finish

First, the people! Warm, friendly, amazingly hospitable. How on earth they have ended up with a Goverment made up with many idiots or corrupt politicians is almost incredible. Part of the answer is without doubt that so many of the young well-educated, well qualified of the population have left the country.

Second, the food. Tomatoes, giant tomatoes which taste like nothing found in UK. Not from a supermarket but grown by people in the country. Then there’s fresh sheep’s cheese, caș, again made by the country people not in any factory, and together with something I cannot translate, urdă, made by heating the wey after making caș and skimming the solids which come to the surface. When made well it is wonderfully sweet and creamy. That was my lunch and I could live on these three foods with a little home-baked bread, made with flour again from the country.

That is not to say I do not enjoy anything else; I could fill many posts of 1,000-2,000 words just to list the dishes I most enjoy – ciorbe (sour soups), plateau țarănesc (a pile of pork, beef, chicken, lamb from the gratar – grill, which we ate with my former student, Anca, yesterday (see below) and of course, borș (borsch – not the Russian borsch known in UK made with beetroot) made by ‘mama’, which greeted us when we arrived yesterday evening.

Anca

Me with Anca at the

With Anca. Petronela took the photo. Plateau țărănesc (or what remains) in front of us.

One of the highlights of my visit will be the meeting yesterday with my former student Anca, who I have not seen since she was a young teenager. A wonderful four hours with a youngster who has grown to be a successful lawyer and a beautiful woman. I wrote in the past about her finding me through Facebook and our meeting yesterday was everything I expected other than it was too short.

Through her initiative I have contact with other former students from the same class and I intend to meet with as many of them as possible, those who have remained in the country, despite the weather as it is which might limit access to some parts of the country.

Rest after 2,700 km drive

Today I am resting – sleeping, eating and writing this post – after driving about 2,700km (1,800 miles).

Later, I will attempt to write a haibun for each day since leaving UK; at the moment they exist as only rough notes scribbled among the ‘adventures’, mostly down to the weather.


PS. We have today, having access to television news, been following the situation in Athens. I am without words, remaining only with tears.

Women’s Day’ as a protest day is around a hundred years old, International Women’s Day on 8 March is far younger. Far older than either is the tradition of ‘Ziua Femeii’ – Day of the Woman – in Romania. Apart from my ‘feminist’ tendencies, well known to readers of this blog, it has special meaning for me as it was the day I first arrived in Romania. Over the years, particularly as a teacher, I became used to all female teachers staggering home with arms full of bouquets, including Petronela (my wife).

I wanted this year to mark this day in a different way on this blog having in previous years covered all the protests I could think of and the tradition in northern Romania, perhaps only in the Bucovina, of females receiving mărțișori from the men on 8 March, they having given them to the men on 1 March.

Favourite female authors

So I decided to mention one or two of my favourite female authors, two novels I have recently read and one I am awaiting since a blogger friend told me she had finished her second novel.

The Brontë sisters are no surprise as I was born and brought up near ‘the Brontë village’ – Haworth – and went to school even closer, thus being familiar with the Yorkshire moors evoked so well by Emily. She became my favourite of the sisters and later, as a would be writer, I became fascinated with how she evoked the atmosphere of my beloved moors without ever exactly describing them. The whole of her only novel does that, evoke rather than describe I mean. I must mention one of my favourite ‘detective’ writers too, though her only connection with Yorkshire was her infamous ‘disappearance’ to Harrogate, again not too far from my birthplace. Of course I’m referring to Agatha Christie.

Newer literature

Then, to more modern authors, starting with the novel yet to appear. I bought the first volume, ‘Equinox’ (still available on Amazon), of an intended trilogy by my fellow blogger, Kristina Steiner in Slovenia, prompted probably by the fact she was writing a romantic novel from a point of view on equality in a relationship. Anyway, I have great admiration for bloggers who write in a foreign language, English, in her case not only her blog but her novel. I now await the second book in her ‘Alpha series’.

The most read book in my bookcase is written by a woman, for women, “American housewives” the author declared. It’s not fiction. It’s a cookery book which should be familiar to long term readers of this blog – ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. Despite cooking recipes from this book for 45 years, I was not aware of the film related to it, Julie & Julia, until recently. Via a tortuous route watching that film led me to a review of another book – ‘The Art of Baking Blind’ by Sarah Vaughan – a book based in a way on cooking but not a cookbook. When the review said it was written “by a women for women” I was irritated enough to buy it. Anyway, it’s only 99p on Amazon so worth a punt.

I enjoyed it enough to buy Mrs Vaughan’s ‘new book’, ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ published this year. She didn’t disappoint and I learned a lot about the goings on on the other side of Fleet Street to which I worked, where I often wandered down to the Thames but never got into the innards.

The first book should delight any serious cook if only for the numerous cooking tips for classical recipes peppered among the emotional tensions winding us up. They were reminiscent of Julia Child’s authoritative ‘this is the way to do it’ in ‘Mastering the Art …’.

The obvious diligent research of her subject makes both books fascinating but what I would have expected of a journalist of my era. To find it in a journalist of today makes me want to pick up my pen.

I don’t like flash backs but, a feature of both books, I managed to navigate them without getting too lost. I struggled with so many characters in the first book; I was not alone as one reviewer said they resorted to making lists. I didn’t but I did find myself going back sometimes to clarify.

One feature of both books surprised me as Mrs Vaughan seems to be a happily married family woman with an interesting career path: the women in both books are overall strong women; the men are weak or ineffectual (including a Prime Minister).

Overall, four stars from me for each in my Amazon reviews for a good read.

International Women’s Day greetings

So, on this International Women’s Day I send greetings to all the women I follow or who follow me, especially those with whom I have built a closer than usual blogging relationship. They considerably outnumber the men bloggers. More than that, greetings to all women bloggers; keep up the struggle.

A magical day

Today was my ‘baba’, which won’t mean anything to non Romanians nor sadly to many Romanians but I’ll just say that, choosing to go along with this superstition, today was a great day. Magical snow, a fairy land, this morning, succeeded by a sunny blue sky day. Together with another extraordinary ‘happening’ which took me back a quarter of a century – another post in due course – it’s been quite a day. Basically, it means I should have a good year.

The weather brought an unexpected bonus yesterday: with the local village coop low on stocks – almost no fresh fruit and veg, no bread and no milk – and an unwillingness to venture further afield, I was thrown back into what is anyway now my favourite way of cooking. I call it ‘what’s in the cupboard cooking’, though I include what’s in the fridge in that (and if needs be the freezer, but that usually means meat or fish and this concoction was for one of our two a week ‘veggie’ days – Friday).

Having been to Leeds Kirkgate market recently I had a lot of avocados (six for £1 – irresistible). I usually eat them uncooked (I just love them with a simple vinaigrette) but on a snowbound day I thought a warming soup was more appropriate. Thinking how well this strange fruit goes with something hot spicey, like in a good guacamole, I decided on a hot and spicey soup. Also, as it was to be a main course, I wanted it really thick and also added a few chunks of separately boiled potatoes.

Petronela, not the easiest person to please with something new to her, declared the result to be a “super soup” so here’s the recipe. We didn’t need anything more for our evening meal except freshly baked wholemeal bread  but you could serve much smaller portions, without the potatoes and even cold, as a starter. As usual, measurements are approximate as I rarely measure anything (vary the amount of the ‘hot spicey’ things, or leave them out, to suit your taste).

Ingredients

2 large avocado, one small avocado (small for decoration)

2 spring onions

1 large clove of garlic

A chunk of root ginger about as large as my thumb

1 small hot red chilli pepper

1tsp of ground cumin

1 tsp ground  coriander

Small amount of oil or butter (I used Yorkshire rape seed oil)

1 litre of vegetable stock

2 tblsp of sour cream

Method

Cut the spring onions, ginger, garlic and chilli pepper really fine and sweat in the oil with the cumin for a few minutes on low heat (taking care the garlic does not burn).

Add the vegetable stock and simmer for five minutes. Add the ground coriander.

Destone, skin and cut the two large avocados into chunks and drop in a liquidiser. Add the stock and liquidise till it’s a smooth cream. Can be left till required at this point.

To serve heat gently till just at boiling point. Slice and skin the small avocado. When the soup is hot stir in a couple of good tablespoons of sour cream. Ladle into hot soup bowls, float the slices of avocado on top and sprinkle a little chilli pepper on top.

Notes

To make a more substantial meal cube some potato (preferably the soft floury type rather than waxy) and boil in salted water until just cooked. Put a serving of potato in the soup bowl before adding the soup.

You could try stirring in some cream cheese, or creme fraiche, instead of sour cream.

If you don’t want vegetarian soup, use chicken stock in place of vegetable stock.

Decorate with fresh coriander leaves if you have them; I did not.

 

 

One egg chocolate cake

Haven’t had a ‘grump’ for a while but yesterday gave me cause to live up to my name. Up and down the UK yesterday there were ‘celebrations’ for the centenary of women being given the vote in Britain. Celebration? Surely it’s a day of shame that 100 years after passing of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, allowing women (but only those aged 30 and above who owned property) to vote, women are still treated unequally in so many areas, not least in equal pay for the same job. Then of course there’s the ‘glass ceiling’ preventing women taking so many top jobs. And abuse of women is still rife in the workplace and other places. Young women are still being forced to marry men they have never met and millions still suffer female circumcision.

I’ve batted on about this so much in the past that, having made the point, I will not continue here but to say that yes, things are getting better but we’re still a long way from a reason to celebrate. Let’s make 6 February a British ‘Day of Shame’, starting in 2019, until such practices are cleared completely, at least from the UK.

My celebration

I did, however, have something to celebrate. On the 6 February 1999 I went to a birthday party, so did the young woman who was to become my wife a year and a half later. Both of us identify this occasion as that at which things ‘became serious’. So, we don’t celebrate St Valentine’s Day, which sadly has become yet another commercial nonsense, but we do remember this day.

I wanted to make a chocolate cake but I had a busy day so needed something simple, something taking less than an hour to make and, as we had only one egg in the fridge, requiring only one egg. I found this:

http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/one-egg-chocolate-cake-212511

The cake itself is good but the simple chocolate icing makes it too sweet for our taste (and American icing sugar must be different to ours as 2tbsp of water does not make that amount of icing sugar ‘spreadable’). It would be better for me with a ganache made with high cocoa chilli chocolate.

Doesn’t look much does it but in my opinion this is one of the best of all soups. This is in fact vichyssoise though we ate a serving hot.

I bought a couple of leeks with the intention of making a leek and potato soup for Friday, one of our ‘meatless days’. Although no recipe is necessary – there could hardly be a simpler soup to make – I had intended to follow (roughly) Delia Smith’s recipe, my go-to cook for unpretentious but superb food of all kinds. For one reason and another I didn’t make the soup on Friday so went for an authentic vichyssoise and as far as I am concerned that means a recipe from a Frenchman or, as it turned out, from a Frenchwoman.

The only major difference between the soup and the vichyssoise is that the first is with a vegetable stock, generally served hot, the second with chicken stock and served cold. I made four generous servings. We had a small serving hot, the rest we’ll have later cold, ie vichyssoise (it will keep fine in the freezer).

Sadly Stéphane seems to have stopped posting on his blog, ‘My French Heaven‘, his most recent post being in June last year where he gave his grandmother’s recipe for vichyssoise, which is good enough for me. I say sadly because this was one of the best food blogs (and much more) around. Nevertheless, although posts seem to have stopped all the old ones seem still to be there. I love his ‘About’ – that alone is worth a read, but here’s his (or grandma’s) vichyssoise with the story behind it.

https://myfrenchheaven.com/2017/06/22/a-special-vichyssoise-for-my-muses/

This is truly delicious.

If you want the vegetarian version I’d recommend Delia Smith’s recipe (don’t be misled by the added complication from ‘celebrities’ like Jamie Oliver – rubbish). Here’s Delia’s:

https://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/collections/root-vegetables/leek-onion-and-potato-soup

It’s worth adding that leeks are a wonderful, often overlooked vegetable. This was brought home to me just a couple of days ago when I made a mushroom omelette following a recipe from Latvia which added some leek. I’d never have thought of using them in a mushroom omelette but I’m sure that it was this ingredient which lifted this omelette from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Here’s the recipe:

https://latvianmom.com/2018/02/01/mushroom-omelette/

 

 

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