A Welsh High Tea

This was written following a glorious September day. Sadly, it is now finished. You can either read it, or hear it.

A Welsh High Tea

A sunshine filled September day,
the dining room doors framing a view of a few fields
leading us to the expanse of sea that is Rhossili Bay.
The room filled to overflowing: standing on the deck, the grass,
against the field fence where the ponies graze.
Families – the sisters, nieces, aunts and uncles,
the friends from a lifetime of 80 years to the day.
Gathered for High Tea.

A much extended table laid with precision.
Competing aunties’ Bara Brith and Welsh cakes.
Tiny shells filled with lemon cream atop with raspberry, singular.
Sandwiches, definitely for an occasion,
narrowly cut, stuffed to overflowing,
trimmed of crust and neatly laid.
Remembered recipes of jam dipped sponge squares,
coated with coconut shreds,
finished with cherry jam and a cream blob.
Scones, by competitive sisters this time:
small and perfectly stuffed;
or ready to break yourself and indulgently fill,
with more cream and home made jam.
And, more, too much to see, too much to eat.
Celebration for every sense.

In the centre the cake, the birthday cake.
With the champagne, the wishes
“Penblwydd Hapus” by most,
plain “Happy Birthday” the rest.
But the “iechyd da” felt hollow even as our glasses met.
No shared joy blotted out unsaid thoughts.
We knew: no tea would ever be as bitter sweet,
however bountiful or lovingly made.
The sun would never fall on her so radiantly.
The wake, too soon it was to be,
would be no match for her High Tea.

Doreen Page 12 September 1930 – 5 November 2010

©Peter D Cox 2010 all rights reserved


Retro wraps

Way back in those Babby Belling days (passim) someone hit on the idea of adding curry powder to baked beans: it gave a whole new life to end-of-the-month beans on toast. Then Heinz got clever and started doing them in the can, but they added raisins too, a truly terrible idea that I hope has died along with Vesta curries. Still, it gave me an idea for a quick – don’t mess up the kitchen ‘cos we are ‘open house’ – supper.
Take can of beans (yes, low sugar and salt is fine) add loads of hot stuff (Tabasco, chilli sauce etc and a fresh chilli or two), chop spring onions for crunch, and loads of small cubes of the home cooked ham.
Stuff four wraps and place in an oiled dish, cover with grated cheese, bake and eat.
Posh it ain’t, but retro wraps were not bad at all.

Spiced up mussels, another variation

We’ve a house “Open Day” tomorrow, hence the paucity of food blogs, we daren’t use the kitchen! But tonight the mussels were demanding something a bit more seasonally warming than just, say white wine and cream. So a spiced broth in which to steam them:
a glug of oil, two finely chopped small onions, a large splash each of fish sauce, white wine vinegar, lime juice, dry sherry: some larger than others depending on the result you want. A chunk of ginger, a whole but deseeded green chilli and a big handful of parsley and some lemon thyme add the spicy flavours.
Cook for 15-20 minutes and then leave to cool. Pick out all the stalky things before adding the mussels to steam. Serve with lots of finely chopped parsley (coriander would be even better methinks) and a splosh of sweet chilli sauce: maybe that’s a glug too far, but this is November guys!

Stocking up makes sense

There’s been much about this week on how much food goes to waste, and our own experience is that far too much languishes at the back of the fridge when the weekly restock happens. Today it was clear that with what was leftovers, and not likely to be used, there was plenty to start a fine vegetable stock.
Leftovers yielded a third of a swede, some sad but fine once peeled carrots, half a lost onion and a chunk of courgette – where did the rest go? Into the stock pot.
Incoming from the shop went the leek tops – does anyone get dirty leeks these days? – the tops of the spring onions that were already a bit limp, quite a chunk of parsley stalks and some lemon thyme. Bay leaves and marjoram, home dried, and some juniper berries and pepper corns introduced some flavour. Oh, and a couple of garlics and a chunk of ginger. All ready to hubble and bubble and do magic for tomorrow’s soup.
Except, along comes himself wanting know what’s happening to the piece of ham that’s been waiting to be cooked for a week. So that goes in too.
Result after 90 minutes? One ham with much more flavour than it might have had otherwise and ready to be chilled down.
And the stock, strained it went back on the heat to reduce and when tested it had a fine flavour that would have made an excellent broth on its own: in the restaurant we used to take very, very hot soups bowls, put in a scant handful of julienned vegetables and pour on boiling stock like this. Just a tablespoon of dry sherry on top. Very grand, but it’s the stock what does it.
Or you could convert into Tom Yam: never be without a jar of this wonderful paste. If doing for one, similar process – in a hot bowl just slice some mushrooms, or chicken or a mix, add a teaspoon – to taste – of paste and boiling stock. Stir and eat.
In the end though the stock was used to help with the left-overs mountain: sweated leeks, carrots, garlic, ginger, a chilli and half a squash soon started to smell delicious. Half the stock went in together with a handful of chopped parsley. When cooked the rest of the stock was added for a quick cool down so the vegetables could be liquidised in the pan. Checked for seasoning, but it didn’t need ‘owt. A handful or more of red lentils to give a bit of substance and bite and there we have it, sense of stock and leftovers.

Does a great kitchen a good cook make?

Not sure that it does, but I need a good reason to mention our’s today ‘cos it’s up for sale. Not just the kitchen either, but the whole of the aptly named Pendenis House around it!
We’re learning just how important the kitchen is by looking at other people’s. We’ve decided that whatever its fittings and posh work surfaces, the first requirement is that it fulfills a role as the hub of the house. Ours is visible from the front door, inviting you in, it’s the natural place to go when you arrive. And it runs into a breakfast room conservatory so that for informal eating the food has just seconds to the table and you can eat every meal with a wonderful view of the garden.
These are requirements that we won’t want to give up.
Of course you need lots of work surfaces if you are to do decent stuff: but hey, my first bedsit had a sink and a tiny Baby Belling and still I did three course dinners! The fact is however that surfaces just attract junk in inverse proportion to their surface. And who’s got room for all the appliances that you really need right there if you are going to use them?: ice cream making, espresso machine, toaster, juicer (citrus), juicer (vegetable), microwave and the Magimix.
While we have lots of storage cupboards, again, enough is never enough. So we’d really like a new house with larder (with a proper cold slab), utility room in which to store all the machines, the pots on shelves so they don’t get bashed, and all the laundry junk. Wishful thinking? Probably.
Still we’ll miss this one. Go have a look.
We won’t promise a discount to Past Food readers, but we might manage a light lunch while you look round!

Cheats’ Moussaka

A restaurant described Moussaka as a lamb and aubergine pie … well, I suppose it is sort of, but of the many variations I’ve never had it topped with pastry. The whole fandangle takes some effort, so here’s the quickie version – well, at least to prep, it still takes 40 mins in the oven.
You need a really rich lamb mixture: fry off the minced, lean lamb and put aside giving a chance to reduce the fat further. Clean out the pan and soften onions, peppers, maybe a slice or two of fennel, celery and when soft add the meat back. Add tomatoes, fresh skinned or tinned (passim) and a smidge of tomato paste. I usually add ginger, garlic, thyme, rosemary and parsley as the base flavours, pimento and chilli flakes can spice it up a bit. Leave to bubble away merrily.
Slice your aubergine, circle, cross lengths, long lengths, whatever will fit your deep dish. You can salt them and dry them but I’ve never noticed the difference. Fry them off and as you do so layer them in the dish: aubergine at the bottom, then the mince, more aubergine, more lamb, finally aubergine. Then my cheats’ topping.
For a four person dish you need half a large pot of plain yoghourt (low fat’s fine) into which beat three nice eggs (a couple if you use duck’s), plus salt and pepper. Now pour the mix onto the last layer of aubergine – it should be quite thick. Slip a knife down the side of the dish at intervals to give the topping a chance to slither down the side – it looks very attractive if you are using a clear soufflé dish for example. Then – most important – lots and lots of grated nutmeg, and nothing but the real thing, ready ground is just sawdust.
Forty minutes at about 160 and the topping will brown, rising like a soufflé itself. You should be able to take out a slab in a whole piece, spooning out any reluctant lamb. Serve with steamed veg.

Leek and potato soup with bits

It sounds like an oxymoron, cream of leek and potato with bits, but that’s how himself likes it: something to do with with childhood memories, which in his case ain’t so far away.
I’ve tried in the past to get to the blending stage and then to take out some of the cooked leeks and big bits of potato, chop them up and put them back in. It doesn’t really do it for me because they just end up mushy on reheating. A different technique is required.
First I cut most of the leek white off and sweated the rest in the pan. Then added some chopped potatoes and the home made stock from yesterday’s poached chicken, a handful of chopped parsley and seasoning.
All this took place in the giant steamer/spaghetti pot so there was plenty of space to lodge a large seive on the top, fill it with bite sized pieces of potato, and add the saucepan lid so the spuds could steam. Concurrently I gently cooked the chopped leek whites in a pan until they were sweet and sticky.
When the soup was cooked – 20 mins – so were the potato cubes. All that was left was to blend the soup, add some milk (cream would be better, but diet you know), put in the perfectly cooked spuds and leeks, and Voila, cream soup with bits.
It actually tasted better for the additional fried leeks and the cubed spuds made the whole thing very robust.
With cold roast lamb sandwiches, rather a good, doing the chores Sunday, lunch.