Sorry (again) for the recent silence. I’ve been a bit poorly (again). A bit of explanation at the end of this post.

I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music but I wouldn’t have thought at my advanced age I’d be discovering new forms of music that I enjoy but it’s happened twice in recent months. Anyone who’s followed me for a while will know me as a ‘classical music man’.

Post Modern Jukebox

The first ‘discovery’, being introduced to it by my Latvian blogging pal Ilze, was Post Modern Jukebox. If you don’t know it they do an amazing variety of covers of well-known songs with a variety of amazing singers and other musicians. The pianist, and founder of PMJ, is just wonderful.

Scala Radio

But this post is about Scala Radio, a much more recent discovery. I won’t go into why I was looking for an alternative to my regular radio listening for the past 16 years or so – the ‘other classical music station’.

You can listen to Scala Radio on an app as I do, on internet, on a ‘smart speaker’ (whatever that is) and on DAB if, unlike me, you can tune to it.

Experiencing new classical music

First, after over three quarters of a century of listening to classical music it was rare indeed to encounter something that I didn’t know or at least did not recall hearing before. It’s happened several times with Scala Radio in the short time I’ve been listening to it, perhaps particularly on the ‘show’ from 4 to 7pm weekdays hosted by Mark Forrest. He usually broadcasts from his historic farmhouse high in the Yorkshire Dales.

Enthusiastic chat

There’s quite a bit of chat from the presenters, and banter between them on changeover. I thought I’d find this irritating but quite the reverse. They are so enthusiastic it’s catching and often amusing. Not one of the presenters has me reaching for the off switch; I cannot say that about other stations.

Interviews

There are interviews with artists who come into the London studio and most of these are really interesting. The most recent I heard was with the Balanas Sisters from Latvia – incredible talent (they played live in the studio) and a really interesting story. It was great to hear John Rutter too; in my opinion he’s one of the great living composers, equally deserving of a ‘Sir’ as those who have it.

Food

There’s a food man on Mark Forrest’s show once a week and recently he recommended a ‘tinto’ from Portugal. Following a trial bottle I went back and bought every bottle on the shelf!

Early morning birdsong

There’s a great show from 5am to 7am called ‘In the park’, alternating  calm music with sounds of wildlife – birdsong etc. It’s a perfect accompaniment to my morning tea, Yorkshire tea of course!

I don’t like all the shows: I’m not a fan of film music without the film, nor music from ‘musicals’ except live on stage (there are exceptions to both), and I avoid video game music, so some shows which feature only these get switched off. But on the app I can catch up on something I missed, for a week.

Brass bands and choral music

Being a tyke I really like the fact that brass bands appear now and then. And of course choral music.

I’m not enthusiastic about the some of the musicians(?)/composers(?) championed by the presenters. One I really dislike. I dare not tell you the three I most dislike. They are all very popular. They get paused.

I’ve said enough. Try it!


Regular followers know about the overriding health condition. In recent weeks I couldn’t eat, losing well over 10kg in little over a fortnight. It culminated in camera and surgical instruments being shoved down my throat while I was awake. Far worse than the open surgery I’ve had in the past. But, as ever, I was well looked after by the Airedale Hospital nurses and am now am eating well and feeling good.

 

The nineteenth day of July in the nineteenth year of the millennium beginning in 2000, a special day – our nineteenth wedding anniversary.

A picture of me with the prawns with flames from the flambe with Pernod

The final stage for this excellent starter, flambe with Pernod or Ricard

We don’t usually celebrate our civil wedding as it doesn’t mean much to either Petronela or me (memorable mainly for the unusual happenings associated with it); we celebrate the anniversaries of our church wedding three months later, on 29th October.

Christmas dinner

It was not ‘all the 19s’ which made us make an exception this year but the fact that our 2018 Christmas dinner has been sitting in the freezer since December. Both of us were struck by ‘the bug’ rampant at the time and could handle neither cooking nor eating. We did intend to make it our Easter feast but unexpected guests put paid to that.

Prawns flambéed

The highlight of the feast was what we think is the best starter ever: giant prawns flamed in Pernod (or Ricard). The recipe comes from a much-missed blog – My French Heaven. The prawns had sat for a while in oil with chopped garlic ready for flambé when we were struck down so the whole thing was bunged in the freezer. It didn’t suffer for its 6 month plus freeze.

Nor did the venison steaks for Petronela and wild duck breasts for me – washed down with an excellent Romanian Murfatlar Feteasca Neagra wine: 3 Hectare.

 

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.

Picture from Chefclub video

A surprising number of bloggers new to me liked my variation on a recipe for stuffed mushrooms (posted 1 Dec ‘18) so I decided to post this one. First and foremost it was the way this ‘recipe’ was presented which attracted me. Normally I do not like video clip recipes, in fact I really dislike them, I much prefer written instructions. This one was clever enough (and had accompanying written recipe) but simple enough to persuade me to make the recipe – with a change.

A second attraction was the incorporation of small sautéed cubes of potato which recalled Swedish  ‘pytt i panna’, more usually now written ‘pyttipanna‘, which I used to make regularly years ago to use left over roast beef. Now I understand this is to be found in up-market Swedish restaurants, with a fried egg. I much preferred to serve it with the traditional raw egg in its opened shell to be mixed in before eating. This Swedish dish was in turn brought to mind by a ‘breakfast’ cooked recently by my Latvian blogger friend Ilze (which she referred to as “Latvian rubbish food” 😜).

There was one problem: I doubted Petronela (my wife for any newcomers to this blog) would eat anything incorporating cheese looking rather like Brie or Camembert, neither of which she will eat – though I’m pretty sure she’s never tasted either. We’re talking about that wonderful Swiss cheese ‘Reblochon’, made from a second morning milking of cows, so delightfully creamy.

Without Reblochon

So, for Petronela, how to follow the idea without Reblochon? Rememembering how much she liked the ‘stuffed mushrooms’ I decided to follow a similar idea for the cheese: for the two of us, about 200g of cream cheese with about 100g of Parmesan finely grated into it, well mixed then formed into a little round cake, and four eggs. Like with the stuffed mushrooms we ate with half a baked potato with butter.

I would, of course, recommend you follow the original recipe using Reblochon, but if for any reason you cannot here’s a good, tasty alternative. I’d like to try with a small Camembert too. No need for me to repeat the recipe; just go to this neat chefclub clip:

https://www.chefclub.tv/recette-l-omelette-savoyarde/

‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

I said in my Christmas post that after years of striving to cook classic French dishes (from before the days of nouvelle cuisine) I was tending more and more towards simplicity, to the point of buying some elements of Christmas dinner from Marks and Spencer (branded as M&S now – stupid and probably why they have ‘lost the plot’ in all departments except food! I have always bought my wife a ‘little’ Christmas present from a particular department there, but if for 2016 Christmas it was difficult to find something, last year there was nothing at all appealing).

Back to food; I’ve said before on this blog that I rarely follow recipe’s exactly now, using them as a starting point for ‘doing my own thing’. I do intend to return to an ‘exotic’ – though still simple – starter next Christmas, prawns flambeed in Ricard, learned from the blog ‘My French Heaven’. Unfortunately, as it was one of my favourite blogs, there have been no posts on that since it was back, after a long break, in June last year which explained the absence and gave a recipe for a soup I like a lot in the summer; also simple, it’s ‘cheap as chips’ to make: vichyssoise

Part of the move to ‘simplicity’ in the kitchen has been prompted by a blogger friend discovered early last year who often posts a recipe for Latvian style food which, as she has said, is usually simple compared with, eg, French or Romanian but tasty nevertheless. The final link to a ‘simple’ recipe, for a ‘cake’, below is one of hers. As I had never made anything like it before I did follow her recipe, before making two variations with half the mix.

Something I have not made for a long time, simple yet really tasty, is a soup which, searching for it, I was surprised to find I had never posted a recipe. So here it is:

Tomato and cinnamon soup

Ingredients (for 2 starter servings – double, triple, etc everything for more)

Tomato and cinnamon soup

A can of tomatoes (or use fresh)
A small onion
A few cloves of garlic (to taste)
1 tspn of cinnamon (or more, again to taste)
A dollop of tomato puree
A preserved vegetable/herb mix – dried, bottled or a vegetable stock cube
Extra basil – dried or if fresh also for ‘decorating’.

Chuck everything into a pan (with some water, more if using fresh tomatoes), cook a little (15mins with canned tomatoes, maybe 30 with fresh), liquidise, taste and if you like more cinnamon put it in and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If a bit sour for your taste add one or two teaspoons of unrefined sugar. Reheat and serve with sour cream (or ‘sweet’ cream if you prefer). A variation: if you have a sweet red pepper looking alone cut that up and add to the tomatoes when cooking.

Cacio e pepe

? e pepe

The second ‘simple’ recipe comes from Corrie, another blogger I often go to for a ‘different’ veggie recipe (we eat ‘meatless’ twice a week though we are not vegetarian). In fact she suggested a variation on a celebrated Italian recipe, associated with Rome, ‘Cacio e pepe’ – Cheese and pepper. The year before last this dish became the ‘in thing’ (just as daft as the craze for Prosecco now being overtaken by fancy – ie expensive – gin).  Corrie’s variation adds cherry tomatoes – I didn’t know whether I wanted to do that as in general I don’t like cooked tomatoes (I know, that’s weird having in mind the recipe above, but nevertheless true). Bought tomatoes in UK are a disaster anyway, usually tasteless or worse, but there is one cherry variety which is acceptable – Piccolo – so I did not follow Corrie’s recipe but after taking the pasta out of the water in which I cooked the pasta I dropped the halved tomatoes in the water and cooked for a few minutes.

Both the authentic ‘Cacio e pepe’ and Corrie’s version are very simple – on the face of it. In fact it is, like spaghetti carbonara, not so simple to make the renowned dish well. It takes practice. However, even if not perfect it always tastes good. Important, stir the pasta occasionally while boiling so it does not clump together; have the cheese at room temperature and grate as finely as possible. I followed something between the authentic Italian method and Corrie’s. You’ll find Corrie’s recipe here:

https://corriesrabbitfood.com/2018/01/15/cacio-e-pepe-with-cherry-tomatoes/

Dulce de leche cake – no cooking

Four varieties of ‘dulce de leche’

Finally, I wanted to make a ‘surprise’ cake for my wife and took up a suggestion from my Latvian blogger friend Ilze. Very simple, ‘Dulce de leche’ cake is made of condensed milk simmered sealed in the can for 2-3 hours, butter and crushed biscuits. In Latvia they use Selga biscuits but Rich Tea are an excellent substitute here.

I made only a quarter of Ilze’s recipe (half a 397g can of Carnation condensed milk, everything else in proportion). I wasn’t certain my wife would like the taste of the original, which might be too ‘caramel’ for her, so I divided my mix into two and added a good slug of rum to one half. I then added powdered cocoa to half of that (don’t know how much – till I liked the colour!). The other half I also divided into two, adding poppy seeds to one part and grating chilli chocolate on the top of the other. Of course, it’s simpler just to make one and in the future I’ll make the one preferred – with cocoa and rum. The cocoa powder, being bitter, cuts the sweetness. The one with just rum tastes less sweet cold from the fridge.

You can make the cake(s) into any shape you like by forming with your hands. My guess is that children would love making this cake.

You’ll find Ilze’s recipe here:

Dulce de leche cake 

Notes:

The Carnation can has a warning not to boil in the can. Don’t worry, just make sure the can is well covered with water, adjust heat to be only just simmering and put a lid on it.

There was a good article about the ‘Cacio e pepe’ craze, with good advice for cooking it, in the Guardian the year before last. You’ll find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2016/nov/03/how-to-make-the-perfect-cacio-e-pepe

I like the taste of kale but have never liked the texture, the stalks have been too tough for me to enjoy it. I like brussel sprouts as I cook them, and not just at Christmas – halved and steamed for 15 minutes.

Recently I came across kaylettes, a cross between kale and brussel sprouts, and the first time I cooked them I did the same as I do with brussel sprouts. I very much liked the flavour but thought there must be a better way.

The second time I cooked them I took the suggestion of stir frying them, tossing them in butter in the wok. Not a success for me, again a good taste but those stalks just too tough.

Having a few remaining, I thought they would go with a simple prawn pilaf so tried steaming for 5 minutes before tossing for a few minutes in butter in the wok. Cracked it – for me; tasty but no tough stalks (seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper in the wok).

I think they’ll become regular in our meals. They went particularly well with prawns and I think they will go with other fishy things (which brussel sprouts do not, for me). I made the pilaf a bit spicy with a shake of hot chilli pepper on top of a grating of parmesan. A simple, successful meal.

This is a very simple recipe but my wife has said it is the best ‘vegetarian’ food she’s ever tasted. We are not vegetarian but eat ‘without meat’ twice a week. The recipe isn’t truly ‘vegetarian’ either as it has Parmesan cheese.

I got the basic idea from somewhere but cannot remember where so apologies for no acknowledgement.

This week’s version was slightly different to that of last week as I did not have one of the ingredients – spinach – but I’ll give last week’s recipe because although that of this week was good that last week was better. As usual, I didn’t measure anything so apart from the cream cheese, everything else is an approximation.

Ingredients

3 large flat mushrooms; 1 packet of cream cheese (200g); about 50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated, with a little more to sprinkle on top; 3 cloves of garlic; 4 large handfuls of ‘baby spinach’; 1/4 tspn freshly ground black pepper; 1/4 tspn chilli or cayenne pepper; 1 tblspn good olive oil.

Method

Wipe the mushrooms with some kitchen paper. Carefully break out the stalk. Finely chop the mushroom stalks and garlic and fry in the olive oil (careful not to burn the garlic). Allow to cool. Mix together the cream cheese and parmesan, then add the pepper and chilli and mix well. Finally add the fried garlic and mushroom stalks, again mixing well.

Meanwhile heat the spinach in a large pan until it is wilted and allow to cool.

Squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as possible then put 1/3 in each mushroom top. Then put 1/3 of the cheese mixture on top of the spinach. Finally, grate a little more Parmesan on each.

Lay a sheet of non-stick baking paper on a baking sheet then put on the stuffed mushrooms and put in an oven preheated to 200degC for 1/2 hour or till just browned on top.

Comments

Goes well with baked potato soaked in butter (has the advantage that this too can be baked in the oven at 200degC, put in 1/2 hour before the mushrooms).

The recipe would probably work with creme fraiche, but I haven’t tried it.

If you don’t like ‘hot/spicy’ leave out the chilli/cayenne.